Thursday 31 March 2016

Interview for the BMC

The longest long-distance trail I've done.

I seem to have been doing quite a few interviews recently. The latest one is for the BMC and is on its website here. It's entitled 'how to get into long distance walking', but actually covers quite a few other topics as well.

Wednesday 30 March 2016

Is it Spring yet?

Strathspey, March 29, 2015

Snow is falling on the high Cairngorms. The air is frosty in the glens. It doesn't feel like spring yet. So when does the season really begin? Here's a piece I wrote for The Great Outdoors last year.

Every year sees a little tussle over the date of the first day of spring. March 1 says the Met Office. The equinox, March 20/21, say traditionalists. Both conveniently divide the seasons into three month blocks. The Met Office likes it neat and orderly so seasons begin on the first day of the month. Tradition goes with the equinoxes, when the hours of light and dark are roughly equal, for the start of spring and autumn, and the solstices, which mark the days when there is most or least daylight, for summer and winter. The latter is more in tune with natural cycles but neither really says when any season begins. Nature isn’t that rigid or predictable. Spring doesn’t start abruptly on any day. Spring comes in gradually over several weeks. It’s a process not a date.

And spring comes in at different times in different places. The further north you are the later it arrives – for an early spring go to Cornwall not Caithness. More importantly for walkers spring comes in later the higher up you go. Mountain summits can still be snow-covered when the valleys are green with fresh grass and bright with the first flowers. This catches some people out. Every year when spring is announced in the media mountain rescue teams and national park authorities issue warnings about winter conditions on the tops and most years someone ill-equipped and ill-prepared has to be rescued because they thought winter was over. Even when there is little snow left the contrast between lush green valleys and withered brown hills can be great. No snow in March doesn’t mean no more winter conditions either. One year recently in the Cairngorms the hills were almost bare when spring officially began but were then covered in snow from April well into May – most of my ‘winter’ activities took place in those months that year and some TGO Challengers found themselves struggling through deep snow in the Lairig Ghru.

Bynack More, March 27, 2015

The idea that each season is equal in length also doesn’t fit with what actually happens. The length of a season is fluid, varying from one year to the next. Spring sometimes goes by in a rush. Leaves and flowers appear, the world turns green and then after just a few weeks it feels more like summer, the newness already gone. In other years late snows and cold winds, even in the valleys, can delay the start of spring and when it begins it may take weeks to develop. Every year is different and this is one of the joys of spring. The same events happen but at different times and speeds.

Waiting for spring is always an exciting time. Spring for me signals the start of the year’s backpacking, the time when my load can be lightened and further distances travelled in the lengthening days. Here in the Cairngorms I think of April as usually being the first full spring month, at least in the glens, with May as spring at its height. By June it seems like summer. How will the spring of 2015 will develop? It’s certainly barely begun in the woods but the birds are singing and the lapwings are wheeling over the meadows, calling loudly. For me the return of the latter always marks the start of spring, regardless of the date. This year I first saw them on March 1st, so this year I agree with the Met Office.

Keen Wanderer boots reviewed for TGO

After wearing them in snow and rain and on muddy, rocky, grassy and snowy terrain I've reviewed the new Keen Wanderer boots for The Great Outdoors. You can read the review here.

Tuesday 29 March 2016

'Out There' reviewed in Scotland on Sunday

'I was struck then by his thoughtfulness and clear-sightedness – as if all his opinions had been slowly, patiently reasoned out during endless hours of quiet contemplation while alone on the trail – and these same qualities are evident throughout this compendium of his best writing.'

Roger Cox in his review in Scotland on Sunday.

Sunday 27 March 2016

Subtlety & Softness: A Quiet Landscape

The week ends with a storm building. The wind rattles round the house. The sky is dark. Rain is on the way. Before this the weather has been quiet with cloudy skies and gentle breezes. There has been little sunshine for days. And little rain. Just a soft grey light. Some might call it dull and certainly it lacks the bright immediacy of strong sunlight or the excitement of a big storm. But there is beauty in the softness. You just have to look closely. The layers of the landscape run into the distance in different shades and densities of faded colours. Hints of green and brown catch the eye. The clouds are layered too, white and grey and black. The distant snow-streaked mountains are hazy and insubstantial when visible at all.

The coming spring is barely visible. Again you have to look closely. At a glance the land is still wintry and bare. But buds are appearing on the trees and tiny green shoots on the ground. That it’s spring is most evident from sounds not sights though. The woods ring with bird calls. In the fields oystercatchers shriek, curlews bubble and the distinctive ‘peewit’ of lapwings is everywhere. They know the season is changing.

One day at dusk the sun broke momentarily through the clouds, sending a shaft of brightness across the tops of the trees. A few seconds later it was gone. Above blue patches of sky showed before the clouds closed in again.

Saturday 26 March 2016

Piece in Outdoor Fitness magazine

There's a short piece of mine in the April issue of Outdoor Fitness, now a sister magazine of The Great Outdoors.

Thursday 24 March 2016

Interview on Out for the Weekend on BBC Radio Scotland now on iPlayer

Update, the interview, which I did this afternoon, is now available on iPlayer here

Tomorrow I'll be talking about my new book and the outdoors on BBC Radio Scotland's Out for the Weekend, which is on from 2 to 4 p.m.

I don't how long I'll be on for but it'll be in two sections, with a piece on geocaching inbetween them (hope they don't ask me about that, I've never done it).

Film Review: Life of a Mountain: Blencathra by Terry Abraham

For over a year Terry Abraham has been working on the second in his trilogy of films on iconic Lake District mountains. The first one, Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike, was a huge success, breaking viewing records on BBC4 and receiving enormous praise. Could Life of a Mountain: Blencathra live up to its predecessor? From clips I’d seen, and knowing how hard Terry was working and how inspired he was, I expected it to be at least as good. I was wrong. It’s much better. Terry has surpassed himself.

The film doesn’t receive its premiere (long sold-out) until May and Terry wants to keep much of it a surprise until then so there’ll be no spoilers here. After the premiere I’ll review it again and comment on some of the aspects that really delighted me. For now I’ll just say that there are indeed surprises – despite having seen clips there was much I wasn’t expecting – but at the same time it’s what could now be called a typical Terry Abraham film in that it has the majestic sweeping landscape shots and awe-inspiring time lapse sequences we’ve come to expect. In this film they are more impressive than ever with what seem like richer colours and more depth. There are some very effective aerial shots too. 

The film covers a year in the life of the mountain though this isn’t explicit. It’s something you realise gradually realise as the film progresses and the landscape slowly changes. There are many fascinating people in the film, mountain people and local people though overall the emphasis seems more on the first than in the Scafell Pike film. The score, again by Freddie Hangoler, is evocative and fits the filming perfectly.

Perhaps the highest praise I can give the film is that, having noted its two-hour running time, and not liking watching movies on the computer monitor that much, I thought I’d take a break half way but ended up watching it straight through as the time just flew by. The pacing of the film is just right, each sequence not too short or too long.

Without doubt this is Terry Abraham’s best film to date. I want to see it on a big screen now!