Monday, 31 December 2012

Top Ten Favourite New Gear Items 2012



As 2012 draws to a close I’ve been thinking about the trips I made and the gear that helped make them enjoyable. Old favourites dominated of course but I was impressed by some new gear – by which I mean items new to me, not necessarily ones new in 2012. Here are ten of them, in no particular order.

Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar

Having heard much praise from experienced backpackers about this deceptively simple shelter I decided I really must try it for myself. Initially I used the cuben fibre version (thanks to Tony Hobbs for the loan). Whilst I could see the advantages of the design I wasn’t convinced by its adaptability. This turned out to be due to the fabric, as shown in a comparative pitching test with Colin Ibbotson. The silnylon version proved to be much better and I used one on the 2012 TGO Challenge crossing of the Scottish Highlands, where it coped extremely well with some really wild weather. I relished the space as well as the strength and it’s now my favourite shelter.

OookWorks OookStar & OookTub


The Trailstar is just a shaped tarp with no floor or inner. Initially I used it with a flat groundsheet, which was okay as long as I was careful to keep puddles off it and gear on it. The OookTub, a groundsheet with short walls and an asymmetric shape designed to fit the Trailstar, proved to be much more versatile, as I discovered on the TGO Challenge, when I often camped on sodden ground. Later in the year, when the midges came out to play, I replaced the OookTub with an OookNest inner, which kept them out.

Ramche

Berghaus Mount Asgard Hybrid & Ramche Hydrodown Jackets

Mount Asgard Hybrid
The very wet TGO Challenge also gave me the opportunity to really test the water-resistant down used by Berghaus. On that trip I took the Mount Asgard Hybrid jacket, which has Primaloft on the shoulders and arms and down in the body. I quickly found that I didn’t have to worry about getting it damp as the performance was hardly affected at all and it dried quite quickly. I also found there was a big psychological advantage – I didn’t need to worry about keeping it dry. This autumn and early winter I’ve also been trying the much warmer Ramche jacket, which I really like.

Wearing the Mount Asgard Hybrid in a damp bothy on the TGO Challenge                                     

 Ecco Biom Hike boots

Last June I was invited to be a judge for the ScandinavianOutdoor Gear Awards, which involved testing the gear in the Swedish mountains. There was much excellent gear nominated for the award but I was particularly impressed with the eventual winner, the Ecco Biom Hike boots, which I found immediately comfortable with a good grip and supportive uppers. I’ve since worn them a great deal in the Cairngorms and remain impressed.

Lowe Alpine Nanon 50-60 pack

Some items of gear take time to have an effect on me. This pack was an example. I’d used it before and quite liked it but never really felt it was anything special. Then I took it on a couple of 2012 trips and was surprised to discover that I was really impressed with the features, the carrying comfort and the light weight. I’ve never seen much mention of this pack from lightweight backpackers. I think it deserves more attention.


Rab Infinity 500 Sleeping Bag

I’ve always rated Rab sleeping bags as some of the best around but I hadn’t tried one of the new Infinity range until the 500 was nominated for the TGO Awards (in which it was Highly Commended). When I did try it I was very impressed. The bag has a new baffle system to maximise loft and really is very warm for the weight as well as being very comfortable.

Sony NEX 7 Compact Systems Camera

The NEX 7 was covered in detail in this post, which turned out to be the most popular of the year. I’m still enthralled with it, especially the compact size and weight. I now have the new pancake 16-50mm zoom lens to go with it, which means I really can carry it in a jacket pocket (and am looking for a smaller padded case). Being able to produce the best quality images I’ve ever had from such a small camera is wonderful. No more DSLRs for me!

Kindle

Paperback books have always been part of my backpacking load – natural history books, guide books, books to read in the evening or during dull stretches of walking. The weight adds up though – occasionally I’ve even carried a couple of kilos worth – and books are bulky too. An e-reader seemed the answer and early in 2012 I finally bought a basic Kindle (I wanted the lightest, smallest model). I took it on the TGO Challenge and it was a revelation. I usually read a book every three to four days so on a two-week trip like that I’d need at least four books. With the Kindle I could have as many as I wanted, for less weight than most single paperbacks. I no longer needed to worry about running out of reading matter and to my delight I found I could read in the rain by having the Kindle in an Aquapac waterproof case.

Aquapac Waterproof Cases

I’d used these thin, tough, lightweight cases before but only with the addition of an e-reader and tablet to my gear has their worth really been shown. I can operate electronic devices inside the cases in the pouring rain without fear of getting them wet. They’ve become essential items.

Google Nexus 7

Smartphones make good GPS units but the screens are small, as they are on standalone GPS units, so you can’t see much of the map. The first tablets seemed too big and heavy for the outdoors so I never bothered with one. Then the Nexus 7 caught my eye and I soon found it just the right combination of weight and size. The big screen is wonderful but it will still easily fit in a jacket pocket. As well as ViewRanger OS maps I’ve loaded it with natural history guides, which aren’t much use on the black and white Kindle screen. I wrote about the Nexus 7 here.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

A Quiet Christmas




On Boxing Day
Mist, frost, snow, ice, rain, wind, even, occasionally, sunshine – the first part of Christmas (we adhere to the traditional 12 days) has seen a mix of rapidly changing weather with much freezing and thawing. Christmas Eve began with the last and was mostly damp and dull. The cloud though gave way to a lovely orange sunset followed by an almost full moon rising in to the sky.

Christmas Eve Sunset

 Later in the evening as the clouds continued to thin a giant halo – the biggest I’ve ever seen - formed round the moon with the bright dot of Jupiter inside the ring.

Christmas Eve moon halo with Jupiter
The soft nondescript weather continued on Christmas Day but we did venture out for a stroll in the wet woods and fields. Boxing Day dawned brighter and sharper with a frost on the grass and a sharp nip in the air. Layers of thin clouds streaked the sky and patches of mist lay in the glens. In the distance the white snowy peaks of the Cairngorms shimmered in the weak sunlight. I worked off some of the Christmas Dinner  - a delicious melanzane alla parmigiana (aubergine and cheese bake – it sounds better in Italian)  with garlic roast potatoes for which much thanks to stepdaughter Hazel – by cutting wood for the fire before we headed off to wander in the chilly sunshine and gaze out on the misty mountains and dark woods. 

Wood Cutting

Boxing Day Walk

Since then wind and rain has swept in but snow is forecast for the early hours of the morning of the 30th. Whatever the weather the countryside will be glorious.

Boxing Day Walk

Monday, 24 December 2012

Season's Greetings, Merry Xmas, Happy New Year, Happy Holidays Everyone


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thanks Everyone! The Cairngorms In Winter Film Is On!





What a wonderful Christmas present! Pledges for The Cairngorms In Winter have reached the funding goal a week before the deadline. Thanks to everyone who has pledged support.

Now to make the film. Watch out for updates in the New Year.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Snow Shelters





As winter settles in and the snow builds up in the hills I thought I'd post this piece on snow shelters, which first appeared in TGO magazine in November 2011

SNOW SHELTERS

The first snow is lying as I write this with more forecast. As well as looking forward to exploring the hills on skis and snowshoes I’m also hoping to spend some nights this winter in snow shelters. Sleeping in the snow seems unusual but it is actually the warmest and safest way to spend nights out in the winter mountains. Snow has amazing insulation properties and snow shelters are warm, windproof and quiet. They don’t blow down; keep you awake by rattling in the wind or snow inside as frozen condensation falls from the roof. They are roomier than most backpacking tents too as you can dig out sleeping platforms and kitchen shelves and have room to sit up and spread your gear out.

I first discovered snow shelters many years ago on a winter mountaineering course that offered a night out in one. Setting out with overnight gear, but no tent, we found a steep snow bank high on the slopes of Aonach Beag, dug into it and then opened up our little slot into a roomy cave. Once inside we spread out our bedding, set up the stove and made dinner. It all felt very civilised. After spending a comfortable night there I was hooked. The weather was fine though so I didn’t gain any sense of the security provided by a snow shelter. I was just impressed by the space. Later that same year, on a ski tour in the Cairngorms, I was to learn the big advantage of snow shelters when I woke after a night in another snow cave. Pushing my way through the surprising amount of snow that had built up against the rucksack that was acting as a door I climbed out into a blizzard. Visibility was almost nil; the ground and sky a swirling mass of snow. The wind almost blew me off my feet and I soon retreated to the calm and quiet of the snow cave. The storm lasted all day and, apart from one short venture out when we almost failed to find the cave again (this being long before the days of GPS) even though we didn’t leave the corrie it was in, we spent the day in the snow cave reading, making hot drinks and relaxing. I knew from nerve-wracking experience that being in a tent in that storm would have been unpleasant to say the least. We would probably have packed up and descended to calmer conditions.

Years later when I worked as a ski tour leader, mostly in Norway, I taught shelter building and realised that many people thought sleeping in the snow was a very strange thing to do and that for some it was quite challenging. We built the shelters near to huts so people could choose to sleep in them or not and could retreat to the hut if they didn’t like it. Not everyone chose to sleep in a snow shelter. However I think everyone realised just how useful the skill of building a shelter could be in an emergency. On all the tours I led this occurred just once, high in arctic Norway, when avalanche danger during a big storm made it too risky to descend to the hut that was our intended overnight destination. We were carrying two small tents as some of the huts were quite small but these could only squeeze in six of our group of ten so we built a snow dome for the rest of us by heaping up a huge pile of snow and then hollowing it out. That night the temperature fell to -25ºC as the storm faded away and the sky cleared and we emerged to sunshine and an easy ski down to the hut for breakfast.

Igloo Ed at home

My enthusiasm for snow shelters was rekindled a few years ago on a trip to Yellowstone National Park with Ed Huesers, inventor of the Ice Box igloo building tool. With this ingenious device igloos can be built from any type of snow including powder. On our five day trip we built two igloos, which we used as bases for exploring the surrounding wilderness. Night temperatures were all below -20ºC yet the coldest temperature in an igloo was -7ºC. On the coldest night we stood outside as light snow fell and the moon rose listening to the crack of branches snapping as the sap in them froze. The temperature was below -30ºC. Yet whenever we felt chilly we could nip back in the igloo and warm up. On further trips I’ve explored Yellowstone again and the Wind River Range to its south, using igloos throughout. On none of these trips did we even carry a tent, just the Ice Box and snow shovels.

The last two years I’ve built igloos on the Moine Mhor in the Cairngorms with members of the Inverness Nordic and Ski Touring Club. Last January we constructed two igloos on the slopes of Carn Ban Mor. The sun was out and the weather, though cold and with a brisk wind, was pleasant and we were hoping for a good long ski tour the next day. However, after a comfortable night, we woke to a white-out and a strong wind. Instead of swooping across the white expanse of the Moine Mhor we struggled to pack up our gear and then navigate to the edge of Glen Feshie. Only when we were part way down to the glen did we escape the blasting spindrift. Yet in the igloos we had been warm and comfortable. Tents would have been uncomfortable, if indeed they had stayed up.

Whilst building an igloo takes several hours and requires at least two people simple snow shelters can be made quite quickly by one person. If there’s much snow on the hills I always carry a snow shovel and have occasionally dug a small slot in a bank for a lunch stop out of the wind. One day I’ll hollow one of these out a bit more and spend the night there.


Thursday, 20 December 2012

After the Snow, Before the Storm


 

The wind is starting to roar, rain is beginning to fall. A quiet period in the weather is coming to an end. Heavy rain and high winds are forecast for the next few days. Since the snow came two weeks ago there has been a slow thaw, daytime temperatures a few degrees above freezing, night time just a touch below. Mists have drifted through the glens, sometimes rising to envelop the hillsides and leave the world mysterious and insubstantial. 


Out in the woods and fields nature is mostly quiet. A pheasant shrieks and crashes through bushes. High above a circling buzzard mews. A flock of chaffinches flutters overhead. Startled, a grazing deer pauses, looks up, then slips silently into the trees. The land is muted. Underfoot the still frozen ground crunches. Ice remains on puddles. But over the days the snow and frost retreats to shaded hollows, boulders, logs and walls. The grass is still green and out in the meadows under a blue sky it could be another season. But the thin, weak sun has no warmth and the air is chill in the shade and every touch of breeze is cold. On the distant hills the snow slowly fades though the tops remain white-capped.


The storm will change all this, the rain sweeping away the last of the ice and thawing the ground, turning the crisp brown frosted soil back to mud. Higher up there will be snow, replacing that which has gone. Maybe some will drift down here. Maybe.



Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Book Review: Encounters in the American Mountain West by Ian R. Mitchell



Historian and mountaineer Ian R.Mitchell has written some of my favourite books on the Scottish hills – Mountain Days and Bothy Nights & A View From The Ridge (both with Dave Brown), Scotland’s Mountains Before the Mountaineers, On the Trail of Queen Victoria in the Highlands and more. His latest book, though, sees him venturing far afield to Utah, where he first went to give a talk at a wilderness conference and where he became hooked on the landscape and the people and fascinated by the history of Mormonism. Indeed, the strangest aspect of the book is the respect Mitchell – a left-wing atheist (hence the subtitle A Sinner Amongst The Latter-Day Saints) – has for the Mormons who he finds polite and friendly. Whilst he does make it clear he has no time for their religious beliefs Mitchell is also attracted to them as a once-persecuted and once-communitarian group. Having been to Utah a few times myself, though nothing like as often as Mitchell, I can vouch for both the courtesy of the people and the splendour of the landscape.

The book covers the author’s many trips to Utah during which he explored the state mostly by car though sometimes on foot. Each journey and chapter is given a theme to link various episodes together. These range from The Mormon Trail, which tells the story of the Mormons and how they ended up in Utah, through The Trail of the Ancient One, about the Anasazi who lived in the area a thousand years ago and left impressive ruins, to The Miners’ Trail, about the almost forgotten history or organised labour in Utah, something much more akin to Mitchell’s own views than Mormonism. I particularly enjoyed The Cactus Ed Trail, about one of my favourite outdoor writers, Edward Abbey, though Mitchell is wrong in saying that Abbey ended up in a cushy desk job teaching literature. That actually came quite early in his career and he soon abandoned it. I also liked The Trail of the Mountain Men, as this includes some mountain walking, including a venture on Utah’s highest summit, King’s Peak, which I climbed quite a few years ago. There’s also one chapter on Scotland, The Brigadoon Trail, which describes Mitchell taking groups of young Mormons hillwalking and sight-seeing in his home country.

As well as providing much fascinating information about Utah and its landscape and people the book is entertaining and often amusing. The author’s adventures and experiences are well-described and often intriguing. At times he ventures out of Utah into Wyoming, where he feels threatened and uncomfortable. Having walked right across Wyoming on the Continental Divide Trail and travelled across it four times by car I can assure everyone that the state is much more friendly than portrayed here!

You don’t have to have been to Utah to enjoy this book.  Anyone interested in mountains, wilderness, history and good writing should appreciate it.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Red Squirrels


Cold, wintry weather has not only brought a flurry of birds to the feeders in the garden but also more squirrels. Since they returned just over a year ago after a six year absence one or two squirrels have been regular visitors. Recently they have brought relatives as I've often seen four at a time, which must mean there are more than that in total.
 

Recently. on a cold overcast day with frequent snow showers I spent an few hours watching the squirrels, whose agility and ability to feed in any position is always entertaining. Ignoring the snow, and the optimistic watchful eye of a cock pheasant, the squirrels determindely gnawed at the peanuts and seeds, storing up fuel for the next long winter's night.







The photos were taken from inside the house at the telephoto end of my NEX 55-210 lens. I was handholding the camera so used a high ISO speed - 1600- to ensure a high enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. Several of the images have been cropped.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Another Glorious December Day in the Cairngorms


Ben Macdui


December is usually a gloomy month - dark, stormy and bereft of sunshine and light. This year though some of the finest days since last spring are occuring this month, a relief after the wet summer and autumn. Today I went up Cairn Gorm on a cold, calm and sunny day. The sky was streaked with dramatic clouds. Even on the summit the air was still and people were relaxing and enjoying the sunshine - unheard of in December - and admiring the spectacular views.


Cairm Gorm

I skied down the unspoilt, hidden south side of Cairn Gorm - a lovely descent on perfect snow - to the edge of the crags above Loch Avon. Ahead, beyond the deep trench that holds the loch, the mountains stretched out, white and pristine. Early afternoon and there was already colour in the sky. 
 

View south from the slopes of Cairn Gorm

From Stac an Fharaidh there was a dramatic view down to the partly frozen loch. The eastern end was a mass of fractured ice but in the centre there were big ice floes and open water, creating an unusual pattern.
 
Loch Avon

Loch Avon

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Where Has All The Snow Gone?


Warm winds, heavy rain, shrinking snow.A dark, dismal day with low clouds and frequent showers. The air so damp it felt wet even when not raining. Chilly too, despite the thaw. All the crispness and freshness of the sharp, freezing air gone, replaced by a shivery humidity. The snow going so fast it felt you could see it vanishing. Tracks and paths a mess of slush and mud and rivulets. Walking slippery and unpleasant. The other side of the Scottish winter. Home to a fire and a hit drink. A day for the indoors.



Walking the Watershed of Scotland

Stob Gabhar, one of the 44 Munros on the Watershed of Scotland

Next year I am planning on walking the watershed of Scotland from Peel Fell on the border with England to Duncansby Head in the far North-East. I've been thinking about this walk ever since I read Peter Wright's Ribbon of Wildness a couple of years ago. Back then I wrote a piece for TGO magazine about the book and the watershed. It sums up why I'm doing this walk. Here it is.



RIBBON OF WILDNESS

Inspiration for long distance backpacking can come from many sources – the landscape itself of course, studying a map and seeing a line linking summits or coasts, being intrigued by the name of a trail – the West Highland Way, the Kungsleden, the Continental Divide Trail - and books and articles telling stories of places and adventures. Whilst all of these have played a part in the long distance walks I have done it’s the last that is most significant. John Hillaby’s Journey Through Britain made me want to hike from Land’s End to John O’Groats, Hamish Brown’s Hamish’s Mountain Walk led to my continuous traverse of the Munros and Tops, Colin Fletcher’s The Thousand Mile Summer gave me the desire to hike in the wilderness deserts and mountains of California, resulting in my Pacific Crest Trail hike, and Ben Gadd’s Handbook of the Canadian Rockies suggested my walk the length of that range. Sometimes landscapes and literature combine. The writings of Colin Fletcher and Edward Abbey led me to the Grand Canyon where I stared south to the distant San Francisco Peaks and wondered what it would be like to walk there. Researching this I discovered the Arizona Trail which I followed from Mexico to Utah.

These writings all created a surge of excitement and anticipation, a desire to be out there exploring the wild places they described. Of course these were often areas I’d not visited before (when I first read Hamish’s book I’d only climbed a couple of hills in Scotland). I certainly didn’t expect to have such feelings about a place I thought I knew quite well. Then, browsing in a book shop (a favourite hobby!) last autumn, I came across a new book that looked intriguing, Ribbon of Wildness by Peter Wright, subtitled Discovering the Watershed of Scotland. Now many years ago I’d read and enjoyed Dave Hewitt’s Walking the Watershed, about his walk from the Border to Cape Wrath, but this book hadn’t stirred any interest in the watershed itself or in doing a similar walk, perhaps because it was a personal account rather than about the landscape. Ribbon of Wildness is the opposite. The watershed is at its centre and the aim of the author is to show that it is still wild and mostly untouched, hence the book’s title. I found this idea quite thrilling. A wild line running the length of Scotland? Who would have thought it?  I certainly hadn’t. Peter Wright did think it though and makes a strong case for protection for the watershed and for it being better known. As he says, there is hardly a mention of the watershed anywhere. In all the research I did for my recent Scotland book I cannot remember the watershed being mentioned.

Yet a watershed is an obvious line to follow and being on high ground a line that is likely to remain fairly wild. I had followed a watershed once, the Continental Divide of the USA, all the way from Canada to Mexico down the Rocky Mountains. But I had never even thought about the watershed of Scotland until I read Peter Wright’s book. And as I read it back again came those feelings of enthusiasm and exhilaration and a restlessness that made me want to be out walking the watershed immediately. Suddenly there was the possibility of a new long distance walk, a new adventure, right here in Scotland. 

The watershed is an obvious candidate for a long distance route, a challenge for experienced backpackers. Not a waymarked footpath linking towns and villages but a route that is often pathless and remote. Peter Wright shows that the watershed is surprisingly wild, even in areas thick with forestry plantations in the Southern Uplands it forms an open strip through the trees, and that in many places it is rarely visited. Hill routes climb from valleys to summits and back or follow ridges of Munros. They rarely follow the watershed for mile after mile. Being high up the land around the watershed is poor for agriculture and far from roads and towns and other developments (Cumbernauld is the only settlement lying on the watershed). Wright says that 75% of the watershed is classified as of low grazing value and 12% of very limited or no agricultural value. None of the watershed comes into the top three classifications for agriculture. For conservation and wild land values it’s a completely different story and much of the watershed is covered by some designation or other with a plethora of initials – SSSI, SPA, SAC, NNR, NSA, Ramsar – that surely needs some coherence and organisation. Behind this mess though is the fact that much of the watershed is important as wild land and is already protected to some degree.

Peter Wright’s careful tracing of the watershed from Peel Fell on the English Border to Duncansby Head in the far North-East (he argues convincingly that this is the termination of the watershed and not Cape Wrath) results in a meandering line 1200 kilometres long. Wright divides the watershed into five marches, the Reiver March in the Borders, the Laich March in the Central Belt, the Heartland March from the Highland Boundary Fault to the Great Glen, the Moine March in the Northern Highlands and the Northland March in the Flow Country. Only the Laich March has much in the way of buildings or roads and even this sounds surprisingly wild. Reading the description of the watershed, which Wright does from south to north, I realised how often I had crossed it and camped on it without even being aware I was doing so. From Loch Skeen and Lochcraighead in the Border hills via Ben Lomond, Ben Lui, the Black Mount, Ben Alder, Sgurr na Ciche, Beinn Fhada, Seana Bhraigh, Conival and Ben Hee to Ben Klibreck and Duncansby Head the watershed runs through familiar places. Forty-four Munros and twenty-four Corbetts lie on the watershed but also many lesser known hills, insignificant subsidiary tops and remote moorland bumps for peak baggers but important points for watershed followers. I am looking forward to exploring the watershed and seeing the Highlands from a different perspective.

The idea of the watershed as a place for recreation and conservation, as an important feature in the landscape, is one that is worth promoting and Peter Wright has done lovers of wild places a great service in providing the first comprehensive description of it. He has also set up a website – www.ribbonofwildness.co.uk – to promote the watershed and to campaign for its protection and intends setting up a charitable trust. This, I think, is another important aspect of long distance routes. A community can be created that sees the need to protect the landscape along the route. The watershed certainly sounds like an opportunity to conserve a huge swath of wild land running the length of Scotland and to have a superb and challenging backpacking route.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

New TGO: Walking the Scottish Watershed, Scandinavian Gear, Snow Camping & Snow Shelters, Headlamps, TGO Awards

The January issue of TGO is out and the theme is, appropriately, snow. On that subject I have a piece on snow camping and building snow shelters. I also review 15 headlamps - an important item at this time of year - and have a look at the influence of Scandinavian gear companies.

My backpacking column is about the next long walk I am planning - the Scottish Watershed. This has been at the back of my mind ever since I read Peter Wright's Ribbon of Wildness two years ago. As the idea won't go away it's time to do the walk, currently planned for May and June next year. I wrote about the book and the watershed in TGO when I first read Ribbon of Wildness. I'll post that piece separately.

Elsewhere in the magazine the snow theme sees Cameron McNeish writing about the Lake District in winter, 10 suggestions for snowy hill walks, Daniel Neilson describing a Glenmore Lodge winter course in the Cairngorms and Vivienne Crow snowshoeing in the mountains above Sarajevo.In the Hill Skills section there is advice on ice axes and crampons, melting snow and navigating in a white-out. And for those who don't like snow there are suggestions for lower hills that are less likely to be wintry plus Carey Davies praising the balmy climate (!) and rejuvenating effect of the Black Mountains in South Wales after an unpleasant stormy and snowy day on the Tarmachan Ridge.

Also away from snow the inaugural TGO Awards are described, Roger Smith worries about UK government proposals for planning that could have a negative effect on the countryside, Jim Perrin praises Timothy Drever Robinson's essay collection Setting Foot on the Shores of Connemara, Daniel Neilson reviews the Eider Neoshell Uphill jacket and the Mountain Equipment Eclipse Hooded Zip Tee and Cameron McNeish reviews 6 softshell jackets.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Scottish National Trail TV Schedule

Filming beside the Spey Dam loch
Back in October I took part in filming with Cameron McNeish for a programme on the new Scotland National Trail, as described in my blog here.

The programmes will go out on BBC 2 Scotland. South of the Border they can be seen on Sky, Freesat and, normally, iPlayer.

The dates are:

Programme 1
Thursday 27th December at 19-02

Programme 2
Friday 28th December at 19-01

My contribution will be in the second programme.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Birds & Snow

Blackbird and chaffinch.

As the snow keeps falling the number of birds at the feeders in our garden rises. Today I watched dozens of birds flying in from the woods to feed and squabble.

Coal tit, blue tit and chaffinch. The tits are fussy. The scattered seeds are ones they won't eat. Chaffinches eat all the seeds.

Blue tits and coal tits

Great spotted woodpecker


Pheasant. These birds eat seed and bits of peanut scattered by the birds on the feeders.


The photos were taken from the warmth of the house as snow was falling, hence the occasional white blur from snow on the windows.