Wednesday, 3 June 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No. 20

Local woods, May 31

The next collection of pieces I've enjoyed reading online. This time over the last two weeks. The pandemic continues to dominate the world and as last time many of the articles are about Covid 19 or reference it.


1976  Day 12 May 20 North to South Sron A'Choire Ghairbh, Meall na Teanga - Spean Bridge and a night in the railway station

David  "Heavy" Whalley continues his fascinating account of a north-south walk through the Scottish Highland in 1976. The whole series is worth reading.

One  Minute Mountain: Pen-y-ghent

Alex Roddie a favourite hill in the Yorkshire Dales.

Mark Richards, Author of Walking the Lake District Fells

Dan Bailey talks to Mark Richards about the Lake District and his guidebooks.

I cycled across Europe to Istanbul - and learned to live in the moment

Helen Moat takes a slow healing journey across Europe.

Midnight rambler: the joy of walking round Britain after dark

Matt Gaw discovers the joy of night time walks.

Hot rock Clean Sweep Hells Lum Crag

Heavy Whalley remembers a rock climb in the Cairngorms.

Field notes: Back to Basics in Torridon

Alex Roddie goes back to map and compass.

'Why did white men get to have all the fun?': the long road to diverse travel writing

Jini Roddy on travel writing as a young Asian woman.


Red squirrels, May 25. 


Ancient woodlands are more vital than ever

Irreplaceable author Julian Hoffman on the need for ancient forests.

Uisge Beatha: the Water of Life

Polly Pullar on the value of Scotland's birch trees, with lovely photographs by Peter Cairns and Rob Clamp.

The tree that changed the world map

The chichona tree is little-known. Vittoria Traverso shows how it changed the world as the source of quinine.

Nature notes: latest wildlife photography, May 2020

Alex Roddie has his best month ever for nature photography.

The out-of-bounds Cairngorms, May 16


Should I, shouldn't I? 

As restrictions ease in England Lakeland Walker looks at whether walkers should head back to the fells.


One Woman Walks ponders kayaking the river Danube and being alone during lockdown.

Volunteers isolate at Highlands 'lost world' to save thousands of young trees

Six volunteers are spending lockdown at Trees for Life's Dundreggan rewilding estate near Loch Ness.


Extreme night owls: 'I can't tell anyone what time I go to bed'

A look at people who's body clocks don't fit with standard routines. I'm one. 

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Great Outdoors May issue

Here's a belated look at the May issue of The Great Outdoors, which I've only just seen. As the June issue is already out this issue has gone from shop shelves but you can still buy it direct from the publishers

My gear pieces in this issue are a review of the gear I used on my Colorado Rockies walk last year and a report on eight solo tents.

Also in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six pairs of women's walking trousers.

I also contributed to a piece on best wild camps along with eight others including Alex Roddie, James Forrest, Phoebe Smith, and Terry Abraham.

The other big features are Ronald Turnbull on crossing Rannoch Moor, and Ellen Tort camping on a portaledge in the Wye Valley.

Also in this issue there are suggestions for keeping up your spirits during lockdown, with the perspectives of some outdoor enthusiasts including myself; a readers group led by Hanna Lindon discussing Andy Cave's Learning to Breathe; Roger Smith on the importance of the outdoors for all of us; Roger again on the first spring for 40 years without a TGO Challenge; and Jim Perrin praising magnificent Bla Bheinn on Skye.

Friday, 29 May 2020

Memorable Mountains 5: Ben Nevis

Fifth in this occasional series of memorable mountains I've been thinking about while the hills are out of bounds is one I've climbed more than a dozen times, summer and winter. Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland.

I first climbed the Ben, as it's known, over forty years ago by way of the standard walkers route, a long but rewarding slog up a stony path. I didn't then appreciate the true grandeur of the mountain, I was just aware of its bulk and height.

A few years later I began to grasp just how spectacular and glorious Ben Nevis is when I took a winter climbing course. Walking up to the great north face and then climbing through the crags and gullies to the summit plateau was a revelation. The complexity of the giant cliffs sucked me in. Here was world of its own, self-contained, aloof from any other reality.

I climbed two routes with an instructor. My notes are rather sparse - I was probably too tired to write much. Of the first, Garadh Gully, graded II, which means quite easy, I merely noted "2 small ice pitches proved interesting". The second was a little different. "Did what we thought was Jubilee Gully", I wrote. That was another Grade II climb. But the terrain we found ourselves on was much harder than that. "Second pitch a vertical ice wall, bulging at the top - desperate! While on it weather changed and suddenly we were enveloped in a warm wet cloud. Above the ice pitch we moved rapidly together as stones and bits of ice came whistling down". We reached the summit plateau over a large cornice. There was a wide, deep crack some thirty feet from the edge. An exciting day!

Many ascents and years later I had my best day and night on Ben Nevis one May during the TGO Challenge. I went up in the evening after the heat of the day had dimmed and camped on deep snow on the summit. The last of many day walkers passed me descending just above the Halfway Lochan. I was alone with the mountain and would be for the next fifteen hours.

A brilliant sunset lit up Loch Eil and the far western hills. The cliffs of the north face glowed in the last light of the day. I wandered round the summit, lost in the marvellousness of it all.

Dawn came with damp mist and I thought the splendour was gone. But as the sun strengthened the clouds rose and began to dissipate.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

The Grand Canyon twenty-five years ago. In black and white.

In 1995 I spent two weeks walking in the Grand Canyon, one of the most intense and fulfilling trips I've ever done. I've been to the Himalayas, the Alps, the Rockies and more and all are impressive but none startled and shook me as much as the Grand Canyon.

In a piece I wrote about the walk that appears in my book Out There I wrote "I still feel in awe of it. The Grand Canyon is the most incredible place I have ever been".

Those feelings returned unexpectedly when I was sorting through old photographs, one of my lockdown activities, and discovered some black and white prints of the trip. I had forgotten I'd even taken them. Here's a selection.

Photography note. My camera for these prints was a Nikon FM2 SLR. Lenses were Nikkor 24mm, Nikkor 75-150mm and Sigma 28-70mm. Film was Ilford FP4 Plus. I photographed the prints with my Sony NEX 7 with Sony E 35mm lens and processed the raw files in Lightroom. If I developed the negatives again I could probably get better results. I may get round to that one day!

I also had a Nikon F801, which I used for colour slides.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Book Review: The Unremembered Places by Patrick Baker

Patrick Baker's new book, The Unremembered Places, follows the same pattern as his previous one, The Cairngorms A Secret History, which I reviewed here. This time he covers places throughout Scotland. The approach works well, mixing personal journeys by foot and canoe with stories of the places visited. Many islands are covered along with mainland places from the fascinating Bone Caves of Inchnadamph to the wild and exciting Jock's Road from Braemar to Glen Clova and the grim graveyard of navvies who built the Blackwater dam above Kinlochleven. The stories are well told, entertaining and informative, and the author's adventures, which don't always go smoothly, bring reality to the situations  in which the historical events took place.

For anyone interested in the Scottish outdoors and the history of its wild places this is a great read. I thoroughly recommend it.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

The TGO Challenge, pictures from the first two events and this year's "virtual" Challenge

Outside the Lochailort Inn about to start the first Challenge in 1980.

Since I wrote about the first TGO Challenge on May 8 I've located and scanned some of the photos from that trip and the 1981 Challenge. Back then I didn't take many photos - film was expensive and I didn't carry many rolls. I wish now that I'd taken many more!

A camp on the first Challenge. I'm not sure where! The tent is a Field & Trek Pathfinder.

Looking at my journal for the trip I see I wore stiff, heavy leather boots and slept on a 3mm piece of closed cell foam. I can't imagine doing either of those!

View from the Mamores over the Aonach Eagach to Bidein nam Bian

At the time of the first Challenge I was on my first round of the Munros and I used the walk to climb 56 new ones including the Mamores, Ben Alder, the A9 Munros, the Southern Cairngorms, and Mount Keen. That first Challenge was three weeks long so I had plenty of time to do this. No-one else took more than two weeks however and the event was shortened to that the next year. In 1981 I climbed 36 new Munros including the Ben Cruachan range, the Ben Starav hills, the Blackmount, the Beinn Dorain hills, the Ben Lawers range, and the Glen Lyon hills.

A camp on the second Challenge in 1981. I really have no idea where this is!

I stuck with a 3mm foam pad for the second Challenge so I must have slept okay on it. I changed the tent for a lighter weight Ultimate Solo Packer though and saved even more weight by not taking the inner. My boots were half the weight of 1980 too and much more flexible. I was learning! I also saved weight with my stove, taking a cartridge one (Alp S7000 - a long gone brand) rather than the efficient but heavy MSR GK petrol/paraffin stove I'd used the year before.

Somewhere on the second Challenge!

As the actual Challenge was cancelled due to the lockdown I've been sharing these and other photos from previous Challenges on social media, along with many others, after Challenge Co-ordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden set off on a virtual Challenge and invited others to join them. People have retraced Challenges they've done and created new ones at home, often amusingly, with garden camps, ice axe climbs, wheelbarrow crossings of Loch Ness and more. Sue and Ali have written about the first week of the virtual Challenge on the TGO website. With 700 posts, 2,500 comments, 23,000 likes and 3,400 photos on Facebook alone in the first week this has been a successful event. Positive and joyful, it shows just how important the Challenge is to many of us.

Challenge camp, 1989

Photography notes.

The 1980 and 1981 photos were taken on Kodachrome 64 slide film. I digitised them by photographing them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 camera and Sony E 30mm macros lens then processing them in Lightroom. I can see more detail on the digital images than in the original slides. The camera I used in 1980 was a fairly heavy and hefty Pentax S1a SLR with a 55mm lens. This was my first proper camera, bought second-hand. After it was stolen I replaced it, courtesy of the insurance, with a much lighter and smaller Pentax ME Super with 50mm lens. This came with me on the 1981 Challenge and for the first time I had a smaller camera as backup, a Rollei 35 35mm compact.

1989 Challengers

By 1989 I was taking photography much more seriously - my pictures were being published regularly in magazines and had appeared in my first book - and the weight of my camera gear went up. I now had a Nikon F801 SLR (which had the great advantage of a 30 second self-timer) and on the Challenge I also carried 28mm, 35-70mm, and 70-210mm lenses plus an Olympus XA compact as back-up. Film was Fujichrome 100.

Outside the Park Hotel, Montrose,at the end of the 1989 TGO Challenge

Sunday, 17 May 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No 19

Bynack More & Beinn Mheadhoin. May 11.

Another collection of pieces I've enjoyed reading online recently. The pandemic dominates the world at present so as last time many of the articles are about Covid 19 or reference it. One theme I've noticed in some of these and other pieces is the solace provided by nature and an increasing joy in its details.

Alex Roddie also posts interesting links to his online reading. He's more organised than me and manages to post weekly.

What I've been reading this week 


A Very British Bog

Ronald Turnbull on his experiences with "quagmires, morasses, bogs, fens, flows, sloughs and other soggy bits of Britain".

Covid Dreams 15: Glory and madness

One of a daily vignette about the Cairngorms by Neil Reid - they're all worth reading but I particularly enjoyed this one about a wander on a frozen Loch Avon.

The gear that I would have taken on the 2020 TGO Challenge

Alex Roddie describes the gear he'd selected for this years TGO Challenge before lockdown caused its cancellation.

I've Never Climbed ...

Dan Bailey asks some outdoors folk which "blindingly obvious" hills they haven't climbed

Central Buttress of Scafell - Mabel Barker & C. D. Frankland. August 1925

Mabel Barker's account of the first female ascent of a major rock climb from a 1925 climbing club journal.

What I Learned From Walking Round The World

After a year and a half walking 10,000km as part of his walk round the world Tom Fremantle why he's doing it.

The Grahams: a journey I never intended to take

Multi-Munroist Anne Butler discovers the Grahams aren't as dull as she thought and to her surprise climbs them all.

The bittersweet story of Marina Abramović's epic walk on the Great Wall of China

A long-distance walk as performance art, by David Bramwell.


Sunlight in the Forest. May 6.

The Bureaucrats and the Beavers 

A powerful polemic by Derek Gow about what's wrong with Natural England's plans for beavers.

Guest blog: Kevin Cumming project leader Langholm Community Buyout

Kevin Cumming describes the wonderful and inspiring project to buy Langholm a grouse moor in Southern Scotland for regeneration and ecological restoration.

Beautiful creatures in breathtaking close-up

Ben Dolphin watches a hare family right outside his house

Fungi's Lessons for Adapting to Life on a Damaged Planet

Merlin Sheldrake, author of fascinating-sounding new book about fungi Entangled Life, talks to Robert Macfarlane.

The opulence of confinement light and the determination of dandelions

On her croft in NW Scotland Annie O'Garra Worsley finds hope and solace in nature and the coming of spring.

'The bliss of a quiet period': lockdown is a unique chance to study the nature of cities

With cities in hibernation we can look at what is happening with nature in them says Phoebe Weston. 

Muir's legacy lives on

Central Scotland Green Network Trust Chair Keith Geddes reflects on Muir’s relevance today.

Garden birds. May 15


 'Savour solitude - it is not the same as loneliness'

Sara Maitland praises solitude and says she's enjoying lockdown.

Listening, noticing, knowing  

David Lintern enjoys the details of his local natural spaces.

The voices of birds: a greening of lockdown

Lockdown has created the chance to build a closer relationship with the wildlife all around for Alex Roddie.