Sunday, 17 November 2019

Saturday, 16 November 2019

What's in the December issue of The Great Outdoors

The December issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review nine hats and ten pairs of gloves - there's been plenty of suitable weather for testing these!

I also review the Sprayway Torridon Jacket, a modern take on a classic Gore-Tex jacket. Elsewhere in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six women's insulated jackets.

The theme of this issue is how to love British mountain weather. I have a love/hate relationship! Beautiful autumn weather with a cloud inversion is shown in the lovely opening picture spread of Dyffryn Mymbyr and the Snowdon massif by Alan Novelli. It's impossible not to love  weather like this.

The climate is undergoing long-term change of course, and not in good ways. Hanna Lindon looks at eight ways this could change our mountains.

Sticking with the month's theme Carey Davies writes about how to endure or even enjoy our ever-changing weather, including tips for large amounts of cake and visits to the pub! Paul Beasley crosses Dartmoor despite ferocious winds and possible thunderstorms.

I never thought I'd see an article on commuting in The Great Outdoors but there's one in this issue, and very interesting it is too as Neil Adams undertakes different ways to get to his work in Lochaber. including kayaking, swimming, skiing and walking the Lochaber Traverse over the Grey Corries to Aonach Beag and Aonach Mor. Now there's a commute!

In the Lake District Ronald Tunrbull goes in search of the sublime in the footsteps of the Romantic poets and suggests three walks from Wasdale.

Far away in the Colorado Rockies Andrew Terrill goes backpacking with his ten year old and learns much.

Elsewhere in this issue Roger Smith writes about positive environmental news in his column; TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden praise the volunteers who make the event happen; Jim Perrin visits Errigal in Donegal; and there are reviews of three excellent books - David Lintern's The Big Rounds, Alan Rowan's Mountains of the Moon, and Andy Howard's The Secret Life of the Cairngorms.

Testing hat and gloves in the Cairngorms

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

After the rain - frost and mist

After two days of rain and low cloud - the sky solid grey, the land drenched, the air sodden - today came with frost and mist and glimpses of snow-capped hills.

Wandering in the local fields I stopped abruptly, realising I could see nothing beyond the frosted grass stretching out all around. No walls, no fences, no trees, nothing. Once I'd looked round for a few minutes, staring hard into the mist trying to discern something, anything, I realised I'd lost any sense of direction, something I wouldn't have thought possible here in these familiar fields. I knew I wouldn't have to walk far before the edge of the field appeared but for a few seconds it was disconcerting. On a mountain I'd have been using map and compass. Here I just walked for five minutes until a well-known tree appeared

Late in the afternoon the mist rose and fell, thinned and thickened, revealing hazy bands of pink and orange in a blue sky far above. The forest was mysterious and insubstantial, magical.

The frost lasted all day, decorating the reeds and grasses, beautiful and fragile. A touch of wind and it would be gone.

As the light faded I ambled home after a quiet meandering walk.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Along the Divide: Upcoming talks on my Scottish Watershed walk

On the Watershed in the Fannichs

This month I'm giving two illustrated talks on my Scottish Watershed walk and signing copies of my book Along the Divide.

The first talk is at Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries on Friday 22nd at 7pm.

The second talk is on the 30th at Hilltrek in Aboyne between 1pm and 4pm.

Everyone welcome!

Friday, 8 November 2019

Snow arrives in Strathspey

Last night snow fell. Today the world is white. There have been light snow showers before this autumn but they thawed within a few hours, temporary glimpses of winter. This snow has stayed.

During the morning the snow fall faded away though the sky remained dark and overcast, the clouds low. Walking in the woods and fields, I watched mist drifting across the land, enjoyed the crisp feel of the frosty air, and relished the last dull gold of birches and larches. Soon there will be little colour.

The air was still, thick and hazy. There was no sound. A few rabbits scuttled back to their burrows as I approached. Nothing else moved. No birds crossed the sky. The landscape felt mysterious.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Drifting clouds, snow and cold on Cairn Gorm

Coire na Ciste

An overcast sky solid with dense grey cloud didn't seem to offer much for a mountain day as I headed for Coire na Ciste and the north side of Cairn Gorm. Typical November. Dark, damp and cold. But up high there was said to be snow and I wanted to see it.

Swirling clouds

Arriving at the car park  I looked up Coire na Ciste. Hazily, through shifting clouds, I caught glimpses of rugged mountainsides fading in and out, mysterious and insubstantial. But to the north there was blue sky above the mists shrouding Strathspey. Bands of cloud drifted across the forest below Meall a'Bhuachaille.

Meall a'Bhuachaille and Loch Morlich

A muddy path led upwards. It was soon spattered with white and then faded away as the snow cover grew more extensive. Pools were frozen, the air chill. Frost feathers decorated the grasses. This wasn't the monochrome of deep winter though. The last colour in the grasses still glowed. The land was dull gold as well as white.

The higher summits remained in the cloud. I entered it as I approached the summit of Cairn Gorm. The weather station emerged from the mist in its winter coat, as familair and eerie as ever.

There would be no sunset. I didn't linger long. As the sky darkened I set off down past the forlorn empty Ptarmigan Restaurant, waiting for a train that may now never arrive again. It's over a year since the last one. Beyond Meall a'Bhuachaille mist covered Strathspey.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Book Review: Sky Dance by John D. Burns

Novels about hillwalking and mountaineering are rare and those that do exist are often hardcore adventure stories. Comic outdoor novels with a message are virtually non-existent, which makes John D. Burns first novel especially welcome. Combining serious concerns with humour could easily result in an uncomfortable mis-match. Not with this book. Burns deftly mixes the two, never dwelling on the message too long or taking the comedy too far. The balance he achieves works well.

This isn't a subtle book. The message is spelled out clearly in the subtitle - Fighting for the wild in the Scottish Highlands - and different aspects of it appear throughout the book. These are current concerns - rewilding, landownership, bulldozed tracks, grouse moors, lynx reintroduction. The books title refers to the bird that has become the symbol of opposition to the destruction of wildlife, the hen harrier.

The story is about two mountaineers, Rory and Angus, and their growing dissatisfaction with the state of the wild places they love and their determination to do something about it. Opposed to them is Lord Purdey, standing for every arrogant elitist landowner. Supporting them is a new hippy landowner, Tony Muir. The names are not accidental of course, Purdey being the British maker of the guns used to slaughter wildlife. Muir should need no explanation. Both are comic caricatures. I think Purdey works best. He is over-the-top but some landowners and their followers aren't that far from him. Muir doesn't come across as quite as real, but then his role isn't as important.

I found the story compelling and entertaining. I usually read for a while to unwind before going to bed. A sign of a good book is when I stay up much later than intended. I did that for several nights with Sky Dance. I enjoyed the descriptions of days out, wild places, bothy life and the mountains; I nodded my head at the polemics; and I wanted to know what happened next. That's a great combination.

At the start of this review I said novels like this are virtually non-existent. I can only think of one - the late great Edward Abbey's wonderful The Monkey Wrench Gang. It's long been time for a similar comic romp about our wild places. John D. Burns has provided it.