Saturday 24 February 2024

A Look At The April Issue Of The Great Outdoors


The April issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. I review six budget fleeces (budget in price, but still good quality) and Columbia's Arch Rock Double Wall Elite Hooded Insulated Jacket. Also in the gear pages Lucy Wallace and James Roddie review four daypacks each and Lucy reviews the Jottnar Women's Fenrir down jacket and James the Bach Apteryx 2 tent. 

I also review Alex Nail's superb photo book The Great Wilderness and Megan Carmichael reviews Annie Worsley's Windswept, which is also excellent.

In the main features Mark Waring describes a backpacking trip in the Tombstone Range in the Yukon Territory in Canada. I was looking forward to this feature as I hiked through the area on my long walk in the Yukon back in 1990 and was interested to hear what it was like now. Mark's excellent story shows that the walking is just as tough as it was back then. Now, though, a permit is required and in some areas tent platforms must be used as the area has become much more popular. Mark's splendid photographs show just how spectacular the Tombstone Mountains are.

There are more wonderful photographs in Jess Jones' photo essay on wildlife and in James Roddie's skills piece on how to spot 7 wonders of the mountains such as cloud inversions and alpenglow.

On Dartmoor Alex Roddie walks the Dartmoor Way with local mountain leader Emily Woodhouse while they discuss camping and nature. In Wales Ceri Belshaw and Sarah Hall go bikepacking.

This issue has the 2024 TGO Reader Awards winners. A few of my favourites here! 

Creator of the Month is London Wildlife Trust Ranger Lira Valencia. In the Opinion piece Mary-Ann Ochota asks whether paid 'wild camping' can help transform access rights in England and Wales. Jim Perrin's Mountain Portrait is the magnificent Aonach Eagach. Reminiscing about her coastal walk around Britain Emma Schroeder looks at the things she collected from photos of every cliff warning sign and every anti-seagull poster to edible mushrooms that enlivened her dinners. 

Wild Walks has a wildlife and nature theme this issue. The walks stretch from the Monadhliath in the Scottish Highlands,  where Ian Battersby watches golden eagles in Strathdearn, to the Jurassic Coast in Devon, where Fiona Barltrop watches beavers. Inbetween these places Alex Roddie visits Ardmore Bay on the Isle of Mull in search of otters and wooded Deuchary Hill in Perthshire in search of beavers, Ian Battersby sees frogs on the Cauldcleuch Head round in the Southern Uplands, Vivienne Crow looks for feral goats on Yeavering Bell in the Cheviot Hills, Francesca Donovan shares Y Garn and Foel-goch in Eryri/Snowdonia with wild ponies, Rich Hartfield looks for wild goats on Rhinog Fawr in Wales, on the Pembrokeshire coast Norman Hadley visits seal pups, and in the Surrey Hills new contributor to Wild Walks Nike Werstroh finds bluebells.


Friday 23 February 2024

Communications in the Hills: Masts or Satellites?

A communications mast is proposed for this area in Abernethy nature reserve.

Since I wrote about the threat to wild land from phone masts last November more and more of them are being proposed. The latest I’ve seen is one planned not far from Ryvoan Bothy on the RSPB’s Abernethy nature reserve. The RSPB has been posting about this on social media and says “the proposed mast would include two wind turbines, a solar array, a backup generator and a short stretch of new track”. The RSPB is concerned it “could have a negative impact on Golden Eagles, Black Grouse and Red-throated Divers”. It would also be a gross intrusion in a beautiful area in the Cairngorms National Park.

A 27.5 metre mast is proposed here in the Monadhliath Wild Land Area

Another recent proposal is for a 27.5m high telecommunications mast along with 2 x 15m wind turbines and 36 solar panels in the heart of BrewDog’s Lost Forest in the Monadhliath Wild Land Area. This was flagged up by Parkswatch Scotland, and is No.8 in its excellent series on unacceptable telecommunications masts. The developers assert that telecommunications in such remote uninhabited areas are “essential”.

Now, begging the question as to whether they’re needed at all (they’re not), it looks as though such masts may be unnecessary in a few years anyway due to smartphones with satellite connectivity, some of which are already available. Satellite phones are of course also available now though these are heavy and expensive.

It would be very sad and highly ironic if wild areas were desecrated with developments that soon served no function. Parkswatch Scotland covered this in a good post by Robert Craig who points out that Personal Locator Beacons and satellite communicators have been available for over a decade anyway.

Garmin InReach Mini 2

The first of these devices were just for sending an SOS in an emergency. Then came ones that allowed you to send a simple OK message. I carried one of these for several years so my partner would know all was fine when I was away in the wilds. More recently models that could be used to send and receive messages became available. I now use one of these – the Garmin InReach Mini, which I reviewed here.  This tiny device can send and receive messages and can be connected to a smartphone so you can use the latter’s much larger screen.

So there’s already no need to have a line-of-sight connection with a landbound mast if you have one of these communicators. There is the question of cost of course and carrying yet another device. However given the speed of phone developments I expect that smartphones will offer the same features soon and communication masts really will become redundant.

Until then we need to object to every proposal for masts in wild land that we hear about.  

Tuesday 20 February 2024

A Stormy Cairngorms Camping Trip

Gleann Einich

At the end of last week my friend Tony Hobbs again came up from down south with his dog Lassie hoping to gain some snow skills, just as he had at the end of January.  Unfortunately this time there was even less snow and high winds prevented us reaching it. In fact the wind limited what we could do to a great extent.

Tony heading into sodden Gleann Einich

We began by walking into Gleann Einich where I hoped we might find a reasonably sheltered and dry site above the forest. It was not to be. The ground was mostly sodden from rain and snowmelt and the wind was relentless. After searching along the side of some big moraines that did keep some of the wind off and finding nowhere comfortable we retreated down into the forest and camped in a dip amongst some big pines, a fine forest site.

Shelter in the forest

We could maybe have camped somewhere bumpy, damp, and windswept higher up but there was no need when we knew dry sheltered sites lay not far away. I’ve spent far too many nights in high winds to want to do so if it isn’t necessary.

Morning view

The wind roared through the tops of the trees during the night but only the occasional gust reached ground level. Morning came with dark clouds racing across the sky. The night had been warm, with a low of only +8°C, and I’d been too hot in my -7 degree bag until I unzipped it and draped it over me as a quilt. My heavy storm resistant winter tent was overkill here too and I doubted I’d need the snow shovel, crampons, or ice axe I’d brought. This was supposed to be a winter trip. I’ve had colder weather in May.

Braeriach from Cadha Mor

The second day we decided on a day walk up the long ridge running along the west side of Gleann Einich. We didn’t get very far. Once we reached Cadha Mor on the north end of the ridge the full force of the west wind hit us. Not strong enough to knock you over but certainly enough to impede walking a little. Ahead the ridge disappeared into dark, angry clouds.

Rainbow over Loch an Eilein and Loch Gamhna

As we pushed on a heavy squall blasted over us, leaving bits of rainbow in its wake. The 848 metre summit of Creag Dhubh was the highpoint of the day. We sheltered behind the big rocky tor known as The Argyll Stone for a bit to eat and a rest out of the wind, which was much stronger here. Continuing along the ridge into the cloud wasn’t appealing. Descending west and making our way back to camp via Loch an Eilein was mooted but soon rejected as it meant heading into the wind.

The Argyll Stone

Instead we went east, down through heather and tussocks and boulders into Gleann Einich and then back to camp. We had never reached any snow.

Sunshine!

Bursts of sunlight early the next morning suggested improving weather. It didn’t last and our final view of the mountains was of the clouds surging over Braeriach.

Final view of Braeriach

This was Tony’s fourth Cairngorms camping trip with me. There has been a great deal of wind and rain and he hasn’t reached a Munro yet or had much of a view high up. Maybe next time.

Loch Einich

Tony and Lassie on the descent, Bursts of sunshine in Glenmore

A spring with juniper on the descent

Braeriach almost emerges from the clouds

 

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Dramatic Light On A Walk Up Geal-charn Mor

The top of the Dava Road with the Cairngorms in the background

Six months having passed since I was last on Geal-charn Mor, an 824-metre summit in the Monadh Liath to the east of Aviemore and the high point of Brew Dog’s so-called “Lost Forest”. I wasn’t going to see how the tree planting to create this forest was coming along – I’ve written elsewhere how it should be left for natural regeneration -but to enjoy a walk on a hill that gives superb views and that is usually quiet. As it was a Sunday and the first day with a half-decent forecast for many days I guessed the Cairngorms would be busy, as was confirmed later by social media posts. On my walk I only saw eight other people and no-one at all for the last three hours.


As I set off up the hill track known as the Burma Road weather systems were struggling for dominance in the sky above. Thick grey clouds advanced across patches of blue sky then retreated. In the woods lower down there was no wind and I didn’t need a jacket. Once out of the trees a cold breeze soon had me donning one.


On banks cut by the road rows of icicles showed how cold recent days had been. Underfoot the few remaining patches of snow crunched.

Bursts of sunshine illuminated the dark clouds dramatically. At the top of the Dava Road, marked by big cairns, each looking slightly higher when viewed from the other, the sun turned the gravel a deep intense red. In the distance the cloud-capped Cairngorms rose, dark and splendid.


Turning into the sun for the ascent of Geal-charn Mor I needed dark glasses to cut the glare from the sky and the snow, at least until I reached the mist that capped the summit. Across Strathspey shafts of sunshine lit up the hillsides around the Lairig Ghru though the summits remained in the cloud. The ground was frozen hard, making the walking across this boggy moorland easier than usual.


Visibility at the top was minimal. The broken-down crude stone walls and the trig point were coated in more hoar frost than snow. The wind was bitter now but I found shelter with my back to the trig point while I had a snack and a hot drink.


With no sign of a clearance I was soon on my way back down, hoping to catch more sunlight below the mist. The clouds had won the struggle for the sky though and it was now a solid grey. Just once in the distance I saw Ben Rinnes shining, then all brightness had gone. 


 On the snow there were tracks of mountain hares and foxes but I saw neither. When a slight movement caught my eye it was a ptarmigan, well-camouflaged against the snow. The only other wildlife I saw was an eagle, far away and high in the sky.

Later in the year I plan on returning and having a close look at the trees that have been planted and see what is happening.


Saturday 10 February 2024

Film Review: Terry Abraham's Cumbrian Red - Saving Our Red Squirrels

 


This is the most important film Terry Abraham has made. That's because it's a campaigning natural history film about the plight of red squirrels, a film that is both beautiful and disturbing. As well as showing the wonderful squirrels in their natural habitat Terry looks at the threats to them, especially the horrible squirrel pox, and talks to the people involved in protecting them - locals, rangers, conservationists and more. 

Terry spent many, many hours filming red squirrels and the results are superb. I defy anyone to watch this film and not fall in love with these delighfil little animals as they leap from branch to branch, run up and down trees, and bounce across streams from rock to rock. These images set the context for the vital work being done to protect them.

Red squirrels are native to the UK and were found in woodlands throughout Britain. Now they are confined to a few places in England and Wales with the Scottish Highlands the only area where they are still widespread. In the past red squirrels were persecuted by foresters but today the main threat comes from grey squirrels, an introduced species that carries the squirrel pox disease that kills red squirrels. The only way to deal with this is to keep grey squirrels away from the red ones. In areas like Cumbria where there are grey squirrels close by this means keeping a constant watch for them and swiftly eradicating any that appear. Even then just one grey coming into contact with reds can wipe out a colony as has happened in Cumbria since Terry made the film and which he sadly described in social media posts. 

Grey squirrels were introduced from America in the 1870s and have spread rapidly. They are the squirrels most people see. Of course it's not their fault that they carry a disease that doesn't affect them badly but which kills red squirrels but sadly they do so if we want red squirrels to continue to survive then greys have to be removed. All this is made very clear in the film. Terry does not shy away from presenting the facts of squirrel pox or that greys need to be shot to protect reds. It's a hard-hitting message. 

The dedication of the people Terry interviews in the film  and the effort that goes into looking after red squirrels is impressive. Without all this work red squirrels in Cumbria would have little future.

Cumbrian Red is a wonderful film that deserves to be widely seen.

Cumbrian Red is available to stream from Terry's website. It costs £14.99 to buy and £7.99 to rent for a week. You can also buy a DVD from *Striding Edge at £16.99. 

Terry posts regularly on his Facebook page and red squirrels often feature.



Sunday 4 February 2024

A High Camp on the Moine Mhor & a Windy Camp in Glen Feshie

Dawn on the Moine Mhor. Braeriach in cloud on the left. Sgor an Lochain Uaine & Cairn Toul on the right.

A brief window between storms at the end of January looked good for a high camp so I decided to go up to the Moine Mhor plateau from Glen Feshie. Tony Hobbs joined me with his dog Lassie, having come up from Bristol the day before. For several reasons we didn’t manage to start walking until dusk, with the sky already turning pink.

Dusk in Glen Feshie

By the time we reached the Moine Mhor it was dark. However frozen ground and firm snow made the walking easy though, as Tony found, it was wise to look out for the occasional bit of ice. We camped by the snow-covered Allt Sgairnich on ground that is probably a sodden bog when it’s warmer. 

We didn't get water here!

A short wander beside the burn revealed some open water, though reaching it wasn’t that easy as the snowbanks round it were steep and unstable. We did find one spot where we could fill our water bottles and so avoid having to melt snow.

Frosted tent at dawn. Sgor Gaoith in the cloud.

The night was calm and clear. By dawn the temperature was -7°C and the tents were coated in frost inside and out. The sky was slowly clouding over with summits appearing and disappearing. By the time we set off the sky was mostly grey.

Tony and Lassie on the Moine Mhor

The walk across the Moine Mhor was easy though. I think the only easier crossing I’ve had was on skis when there was complete snow cover. The frozen bogs crunched underfoot, the extensive snowfields were just right for walking – not soft enough to sink into but not too hard to be slippery.

On Moine Mhor snow

If it had been clear we’d have continued up to Mullach Clach a’ Bhlair but as it was in cloud we decided to descend via a track not far from the top. Tony wasn’t interested in a summit with no views and I’d been up many times before.

Meall Dubhag

The best views were on the descent, across the deep cleft of Coire Garbhlach to the steep, rugged, south face of Meall Dubhag. Seen from Glen Feshie and from the Moine Mhor this former Munro (it was demoted to a subsidiary Top of Sgor Gaoith in the 1981 revision of Munro’s Tables) is just a rounded bump with no hint of these dramatic craggy slopes.

Before the storm

Down in Glen Feshie it took a while to find a site that might give some shelter from the very strong south-west winds that were forecast whilst not being under any trees or branches that could blow down. On the drive along lower Glen Feshie we’d seen masses of trees brought down by high winds, a reminder not to camp under any big trees in a windstorm. Eventually we found somewhere by some young trees that seemed safe.

The evening was breezy with light rain. By dawn the wind had picked up and the tents were shaking. It was much warmer down here with a low of only 5°C. No frost and no condensation – the wind saw to that.

Breakfast inside

Tony had breakfast in his tent, which was larger than mine. I decided I wanted to escape the thrashing nylon and have a comfortable breakfast so I packed up and headed for the nearby bothy. The rain was just getting heavier as I arrived.

Tony crossing the Allt Garbhlach

The wet and windy storm blew us down Glen Feshie to the cars. The streams were not high yet so there were no tricky fords. The next day it might have been more difficult. By the time we’d driven to Aviemore the rain was torrential and between there and home there were many flooded fields. The rain kept up all night, a wet end to a wet January.

Friday 2 February 2024

High Summer: New Edition On The Way

I'm delighted to announce that my book High Summer, which tells the story of my long walk in the Candian Rockies, is being republished in a new edition through Andrew Terrill's imprint the Enchanted Rock Press. High Summer has been out of print for many years. It was first published in 1989.

Above is the new cover, designed by Andrew. He has written about the project on his blog. I am pleased to be working with him.

The new book will have more pictures than the first edition and a series of footnotes. I'm sorting through my many hundreds of film transparencies from the walk to decide which ones to scan and reading through the text to see where footnotes might be needed. These are enjoyable tasks - I haven't looked at the book or the photos for a very long time. Some of the material, words and pictures, feels quite unfamiliar. Reliving the walk is suprising me! 

High Summer will be relaunched in the summer.