Monday, 25 July 2016

Cloudy Cairngorms: A Walk Up Bynack More

Strath Nethy, looking towards a distant Bynack More

A rare visit from my London-living brother Steve led to a walk in weather that could be considered dull as the skies were cloud-covered and the light flat. The hills were mostly clear though and the fast moving skies were dramatic with complex cloud patterns in every shade from black to white. And black and white seemed best for the photos too, bringing out the skies. The colours, mostly green, were dark and subdued anyway.

On Steve's last visit we went up Ben Macdui. This time I chose Bynack More, partly for the very different landscape and the lovely approach through the pine forests of Glenmore and the Pass of Ryvoan and partly because the forecast suggested any cloud clearance would come late in the day and would be brief. There might be rain too. Being a pointed peak not that much time is spent up high on Bynack More. That seemed appropriate for the weather.

As always the magnificent old pines and the renegerating forest raised my spirits on the walk to Strath Nethy where I noted that the few trees here - there were none not so long ago - were flourishing. The forest is returning to once sheep-cropped land.

Bynack More & Bynack Beg

The air was warm and humid, making for sticky walking as we began the real climbing up onto the broad northern shoulder of the mountain. Ahead the graceful curve between Bynack More and Bynack Beg held the eye. As you approach it looks like a fine sweeping ridge. It's not. That's an illusion. Once high on the mountain it vanishes, leaving wide stony slopes between the two summits.

As we climbed the air changed. Quite abruptly there was a cool breeze and a fresh feel. The effort of the ascent kept us warm but as soon as we reached the summit the wind dried the sweat and we needed to don jackets. The view was dramatic though with surging clouds over Ben Macdui and Beinn Mheadhoin. The wild heart of the Cairngorms.

The view from Bynack More

We descended over Bynack Beg and down to Strath Nethy. Again there was a sudden change. The wind vanished and the air was immediately muggy. My jacket felt stifling and was soon back in my pack. The promised late clearance in the weather hadn't happened. Just touches of blue sky that vanished almost immediately. Then as we were walking back through the Pass of Ryvoan late in the evening the setting sun cut across the land and a streak of hillside glowed gold under pink-tinged clouds. The moment was gone as quickly as it appeared, just a brief reminder of the difference sunshine makes.

Finally a touch of late sunshine

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Future of Chris Townsend Outdoors

Writer at work

My website has a new look, as many of you will have noticed.  Along with the update I’ve finally got round to revising some of the pages too. The new design, not yet complete, has been done by Kieran Baxter – I don’t have the skills to do this myself. Comments on the new look and content are welcome. 

The site has changed before but not for a few years. My first website was launched eighteen years ago. It was a fairly static affair. Blogging software didn’t exist and editing the site was a slow awkward process so I rarely made any changes. Nine years ago this changed and I added a blog to the site, which has been running ever since (1043 posts before this one – all still available). 

Revising the site has made me think about the future and what I’d like to do here. I have many ideas but not enough time. I’d like to give the site more attention and put some of these into practice. To do that I need to find a way to make some income from the site as it means taking time away from other work that pays now. I write and take photographs for a living and need to go on doing that.  I’ve been pondering how to do this for quite a long time. I don’t want to take advertisements (companies ask if they can advertise every so often) or host paid-for click-bait articles (I’m offered those too). I don’t want to go down the subscriptions route either. I want my work to be free to all without any extraneous material. One of the pleasures of the web is coming across sites that are interesting and exciting and also being able to return to sites you like without having to pay. I wouldn’t want my site to be hidden behind a paywall. 

This leaves one option. Pay As You Feel, aka Pay What You Want. There are many sites with this now and I’m joining them. It means that if you wish you can donate whatever you think my work is worth. There’s no obligation, no requirements, no commitment. The site will remain free to all. How it develops will depend on how much money I can raise however. 

Please let me know what you think of this idea and also what you’d like to see on the site. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Walking Man, the biography of Colin Fletcher, now available on Kindle

I'm excited! Walking Man, the story of my favourite outdoor writer Colin Fletcher, is now out on Kindle. This is a book I've been waiting a long time to read. The physical book should be out soon. I'm buying both!

If you don't know who Colin Fletcher is here's a link to a piece I wrote about him some years ago -

Camping & Cooking Gear for the TGO Challenge & Long Distance Walks

A camp on this year's TGO Challenge

The camping gear I used on the TGO Challenge back in May wasn't new and had all been used on previous long-distance walks. I've described it in my column on the TGO Website.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Hot Day in the Cairngorms

Creag an Leth-choin

Finally sunshine and heat! Away with the dark clouds and the rain and the cold winds. Summer has arrived. Well, for a day anyway. Tomorrow thunderstorms and heavy rain. But that’s to come.
Enjoying this rare burst of summer in the outdoors couldn’t be missed. Real heat, high humidity and the possible early arrival of the first thunderstorm didn’t make a long high level walk sound attractive though so I decided it was time to visit a fine rocky peak that gives superb views and which I don’t climb often enough. 

The Lairig Ghru from the southern slopes of Creag an Leth-choin
Creag an Leth-choin (aka Lurcher’s Crag) is an outlier of the Northern Cairngorms rising high above the deep trench of the Lairig Ghru. In Munro’s Tables it’s listed as a subsidiary top of Cairn Gorm, which always strikes me as odd as there’s two other summits and some six kilometres between them. Out on a long spur jutting north from the Cairngorm Plateau it feels like a separate hill. 

The Chalamain Gap
Although 1053 metres high and with crags all along its west face and a rocky summit ridge Creag an Leth-choin is much easier to escape from in the case of bad weather, something in my mind as I watched the big cumulus clouds building up over the higher hills as I approached the rocky ravine of the Chalamain Gap. Once into this cleft I felt the full force of the sun as the breeze that had cooled me a little vanished. The rocks were warm, the air felt thick and stuffy. I was soon over the boulders though and out into the wind again, a deceptive wind as it was actually quite warm and whipped away sweat that was soon replaced only to be dried again. The result was a big thirst. On damp cool days I often go for many hours without drinking anything. In this heat I needed to drink every hour or so, and drink deeply too. 

Hot weather hill essentials - sunhat, sunglasses, sunscreen and water

An old little-used intermittent path led to the boulder-strewn summit ridge of Creag an Leth-choin. To one side were the great cliffs of Coire an Lochain, still splashed with snow, on the other, even more impressive, steep slopes fell away into the Lairig Ghru with mighty Braeriach rising on the other side. It’s a magnificent view point.

The summit of Creag an Leth-choin with Braeriach in the distance

I followed the edge of the crags for a while, revelling in the view down the Lairig Ghru, then turned and descended rough wet slopes down Lurchers Gully and beside the Allt Creag an Leth-choin and the Allt Mor. The tussocky ground made for hard going with only traces of old paths to follow. But the rushing stream gave clear cold refreshing water and there were flowers and birds and the hills to watch. 

Looking across the Allt Mor to Cairn Gorm and the Northern Corries
Back home and it’s approaching midnight now and a full moon hangs in a clear sky. It’s still 19°C outside. When will the storms arrive?

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Findorn Quietness

With the hills in cloud and the forests and glens midge-infested the coast seemed a good place for a walk so we went to Findhorn to look at the sea and the sand and the sky and the clouds on a day of  soft subtle light. There was a gentle breeze and the air was warm. The clouds were thin but sunshine never quite broke through.

After lunch at the excellent Phoenix Cafe at the Findhorn Foundation we wandered along the beach. The tide was low and the sea calm. Streaks of water ran through wide bands of sand and shingle. Far out to sea yachts drifted slowly. Gulls dotted the sand, occasionally flapping slowly along the water's edge. A tern dived suddenly, plunging gracefully down. Oystercatchers shrieked, breaking the soft silence. Peaceful. It was very peaceful.

As always on Findhorn Beach there was a wonderful sense of space and freedom, a feeling of escape and beauty. We weren't alone. Others wandered the sand, children built sand castles, a few ventured into the sea. But the vastness of the land and the sea and the sky remained. The only jarring note was the sight of the construction of the first beach huts along the edge of the beach. Maybe though, once the machines have gone and the bright colours have weathered and faded they'll sink into the background, overwhelmed by the landscape.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Salomon Wayfayrer Pants reviewed for TGO

Back in 2013 I was supplied with some Wayfayrer Pants for the Cairngorms in Winter film. I duly wore them during filming then put them in a box of gear and forgot about them until this year when I rediscovered them and wore on the TGO Challenge and some subsequent trips. I've written up my thoughts for my Online Column on the TGO Website here.