Wednesday, 11 December 2013
And it's very windy.
And very warm for the time of year.
And the Scottish Avalanche Information Service is about to start for the winter.
Photos taken December 11 in the Northern Corries of Cairn Gorm.
Tuesday, 10 December 2013
The Great Outdoors latest issue: return to the Lake District, winter camping tips, gaiters, Rab Strata Hoodie & Petzl Tikka R+ headlamp reviews
|Camp on Mullach Clach a'Bhlair in the Cairngorms|
The theme of this issue is winter, unsurprisingly (though winter has vanished in the Cairngorms at present with a big thaw having stripped the snow from the hills). Ronald Turnbull looks at four pub-to-pub winter trips in the Lake District and Scotland; David Lintern praises winter wild camps, a piece illustrated with his magnificent photographs; Andrew Terrill has a midwinter climb by moonlight in the Colorado Rockies and editor Emily Rodway has a wintry walk in the snowy Fannichs. In the Hill Skills section Alan Halewood of Glenmore Lodge concludes his series on avalanches; Heather Morning of the Mountaineering Council of Scotland looks at specialist avalanche kit, Pete Catterall of Plas y Brenin explains the importance of staying hydrated in the cold and Art Editor Geoff Barton gives some tips for photographing the winter night sky. And in the Gear pages Daniel Neilson reviews 11 3-4 season boots.
Away from winter Ed Byrne goes to Jersey and tries blo-karting (which I'd never heard of before); Roger Smith looks at Living Landscape projects designed to restore the natural landscape and wildlife and Jim Perrin praises David Craig's On the Crofter's Trail. The Great Outdoors Awards 2013 are covered in detail too, with winners ranging from the Wasdale National Trust Campsite to the Hi-Tec Zuuk shoes.
Friday, 6 December 2013
|A Gap In The Clouds|
The wind began last night, rattling the trees and roaring round the chimney stacks. With it came rain and, oddly for midnight in December, a rise in temperatures. I woke several times in the dark as bigger gusts of wind banged and cracked. By dawn the temperature had dropped below freezing and everything was icy with frozen rain. Light snow was falling and the wind was still very strong.
|Heavy Snow Falling|
By afternoon the wind had dropped to merely gale force. A bitterly cold north-west wind driving thick clouds and heavy snow showers across the sky. The temperature was -1C, the highest it reached all day, when I ventured out to see what I could of the stormy world. Underfoot the ground was crunchy and slippery, icy patches hidden under a thin skim of snow.
The snow came horizontally, driven hard by the wind. Cold and dry it streaked across the land. Gusts of wind picked up fallen snow and sent it whirling through the air in great clouds. At times as the swirl of snow from both ground and sky whipped all around me I was in a near white-out, only able to see hazy distant trees and tufts of vegetation. The snow stung my face and I walked with my gloved hand shielding my cheeks and my jacket hood pulled tight.
|A Glimpse of Distant Hills|
The world felt confined and small, enclosing me in a cocoon of snow, yet at the same time vast and endless, a white cloud stretching to infinity. The hills were invisible except in a brief gaps below the clouds. Mostly the world was restricted to a few hundred metres or less.
As I walked home the clouds parted to reveal a thin crescent moon hanging in the cold winter sky.
Thursday, 5 December 2013
|Above Derwentwater in the Lake District|
I am delighted and honoured to be the British Mountaineering Council's first ever Ambassador for Hillwalking. As is this is a new role I'm not sure exactly what will be involved but I will be popping up at various time to promote hillwalking and the work of the BMC. Whilst the BMC has always represented hillwalkers in England and Wales and has done valuable work in the areas of access and conservation it's public face has tended to be more about climbing. This changed last year when Carey Davies was appointed as the BMC's first hillwalking officer. I'll be working closely with Carey, who I know from his days as Deputy Editor of The Great Outdoors.
This will be an interesting challenge and I'm looking forward to working with the BMC over the next few years. The official announcement can be seen here.
The picture was taken on a visit to the Lake District last May. I do go walking south of the Scottish border sometimes!
Tuesday, 3 December 2013
|Meall a'Bhuachaille, 4pm Dec 3|
The summit was cold and wintry, the sky thick with snow. A brief stop and then down, skidding on the slippery stony path. The cloud base was around 500 metres, the snow was settling down to 400 metres. More is forecast. Winter has returned to the Cairngorms.
Monday, 2 December 2013
The last few days has seen a big thaw of snow in the Northern Cairngorms. All the low level snow had already gone and when the mountains appeared out of the clouds today for the first time in many days it was clear that the thaw had reached the summits. That said, more snow is now forecast for later this week so by next weekend the hills could be white again. The Scottish winter is never predictable!
The photo was taken on December 2 at 3.15pm.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
Last week a report on hill tracks in Scotland was published by Scottish Environment LINK on behalf of nine conservation organisations. Track Changes by Dr Calum Brown shows how current legislation is insufficient to prevent damaging roads being built in the Scottish hills. The report is detailed but it's enough to look at the pictures to see that there is a big problem. The report stirred up debate on social media and blogs, with an especially good piece from Cameron McNeish on the Walk Highlands website.
Reading the report and the response had me thinking about my Scottish Watershed walk last summer and the environmental damage I had seen. A walk the length of Scotland, almost all of it in wild land, was an excellent way to gain a snapshot of what is happening. Firstly, let me say that most of the damage I saw was long-standing and not that obvious, namely over-grazing by sheep and deer. To be truly wild the Scottish hills need far more natural forest. Overall the potential for this is excellent. It just requires the will to carry it out, a will that is being exercised in an increasing number of places.
Whilst my walk showed that most wild country has not been damaged by developments, despite what some commentators say, there are problems, and they are increasing, leading to a slow nibbling away of wild land. Wind farms are the main concern of many people and in some areas, especially in the Southern Uplands, they have had a real detrimental effect on wild land. However my observations on the Watershed put them third after forestry plantations and vehicle tracks in terms of both visual and physical impact.
The hard, straight edges of plantations look unnatural from a distance and draw the eye, breaking hillsides up into rigid blocks. Where there is clear-cutting hillsides look awful, a blasted mess of tangled dead tree remnants. Of course the forest will return to cleared areas and if left alone for many decades a plantation will slowly revert to a more natural state. However, although forest owners are mitigating the effects of plantations in some areas by softening the edges with deciduous trees, overall forest policy is still for blocks of trees and clear-cutting. Inside a plantation it can seem quite natural - I walked through many on the Watershed and much preferred being inside them rather than looking at them from outside. Animal, bird and plant life inside the lines of closely packed conifers is greatly reduced from that found in a natural forest though. Rather than plantations the regeneration of the natural forest (which would now include Sitka spruce, larch and other 'non-native' trees) is the way to increase wildness.
Vehicle tracks, whether bulldozed roads or ones formed by repeated driving over vulnerable areas, are the fastest spreading developments in the hills, hence the need for the Track Changes report. Estates are mostly building these roads in order to get shooting clients in and out of the hills fast. The idea of walking and using ponies seems to have been forgotten. Estates claim the tracks are for 'agricultural purposes' and so don't need planning permission. Some roads are wide enough for two big lorries to pass each other and have huge spoil heaps on either side. The damage they do physically is enormous and they also look hideous. Control of such tracks - and the removal of many of them - is very important for the survival of wild land.
Wind farms also require many tracks but these are included in the permission for the turbines. They do the same damage as any other tracks of course. Wind farms themselves are a problem in some areas and a potential problem in many others. However for most of the Watershed walk I didn't see any so they have not yet had the impact many people believe they've had.
The worst damage I saw was the work along the Beauly-Denny power line, which the Watershed touches at one point. Huge bulldozed roads and massive pylons turn the areas it passes through into industrial landscapes. The roads are supposed to be removed once the pylons are in place (which will be a huge job in itself) but some estates are saying they wish to keep them as they will be 'useful'.
What can be done about all this? Hopefully, the planning proposals to protect SNH's core wild land plus designated National Scenic Areas that I wrote about back in April will go ahead, and will include regulations on tracks. On this there is a Consultationon Core Areas of Wild Land 2013 Map taking place and I would urge everyone concerned about the protection of wild land in Scotland to comment.
All the photographs were taken during my Scottish Watershed walk last June and July.