Wednesday 25 May 2011

A Stormy May

The mountains are shrouded in cloud, heavy showers sweep across the land, trees shake in the wind. The air is thick, heavy and dark. This has been the norm this May in the Scottish Highlands. More often May is one of the driest and sunniest months. This year the sun came early, in April. The fine weather broke as May began. There has been little sunshine and much wind and rain. The stormy weather reached a pinnacle on the 23rd with winds over 100 miles per hour and fierce squalls of torrential rain. There was disruption to travel with many trees down and many power cuts - ours went for half an hour, many people were cut off for longer. The temperatures have been low for May too, with fresh snow on the tops. Through all this some 250+ backpackers have been making their way coast-to-coast across the Highlands from west to east on the TGO Challenge. I have done this walk 13 times and have encountered snow, storms, high winds and much rain along the way but I can never remember such prolonged wet weather. I must admit I am glad I decided not to do the Challenge this year and I have great admiration for those who have done so. Tomorrow, the 26th, I am going to the Challenge finish in Montrose for the send-off for Roger Smith, who is retiring this year after organising the event since it began. I'll meet many of this year's Challengers there. I am looking forward to hearing their stories.

The photos were taken on the 24th, a windy day with frequent showers. Snow is just visible on distant cloud-capped Cairn Gorm and the River Spey has burst its banks, flooding the trees on its banks.


  1. Chris, your comments on the weather in Scotland reflect my experiences in Denmark. I have never met Roger Smith, but his name is spoken in reverent tones when the TGO is mentioned. I have no doubt his knowledge, experience and commitment to the TGO will be greatly missed.

  2. Roger will indeed be missed and will always be associated with the event. However I'm sure his successor John Manning, who has done many Challenges and has been involved for many years, will do an excellent job.

  3. Funny, I was re-reading for the umpteen time 'Isolation Shepherd' last night and I smiled at the comment by the old folks in Glen Stratfarrar saying that the climate had deteriorated, that it had got wetter and stormier than when they were young and the glens were still lived in!

    Golden age and all that, we never change, do we...

    But yes, it has been pretty diabolical of late. I've been waiting for a break in the weather for a while, but then again, this has been so for as long as I can remember...

  4. April was far sunnier and warmer than usual though!

    Adam Watson's recent book shows that winters really were snowier.

  5. You're right there about April and indeed there seems to be a correlation between warmer than average Aprils and rotten Mays (didn't something like that happen 3 years ago when again the TGO had really bad weather?).

    I don't know this Adam Watson book, I'll try to get hold of it, but one thing which I find fascinating is reading through the Historical Review at the end of Martin Moran's book on the Winter Munros. The entry for 1910 says 'first of a series of mild, wet and snowless winters which held up winter pioneering'! Looks like the the period from the early fifties to the early eighties was when snow was at its best in Scotland.

    Let's hope the next winters are just as good as the few last ones...!

  6. Walter, Adam Watson's book, co-authored with Iain Cameron, is titled Cool Britannia (Paragon). The subtitle is "Snowier times 1580-1930 than since".