Sunday 31 March 2019

Seals, Swans & Sun: A Walk At Findhorn

Too long has passed since I last visited Findhorn on the Moray coast. Not since August, I think. That was remedied on the last day of March when it looked as though summer was back again, with sunshine, a blue sky and a calm sea. Only an occasional cold wind was a reminder of the time of year.

The tide was out, leaving vast expanses of rippled sand. We zigzagged along the beach, seeking out the firmer ground for walking. Flocks of gulls floated offshore and rested on sandbanks, only rising when a dog came too close. Oystercatchers flashed black and white along the sea's edge, almost brushing the gentle waves with their wings.

Across the mouth of the River Findhorn a dark band lay along the water's edge. Raising my binoculars I saw it was made up of seals packed closely together. Wandering to the river's edge I could see there were a hundred or more lying on the sand. A few were in the water, calling softly.

A dozen swans floated past, serene and graceful. In the distance were oil rigs and the snow-splashed slopes of Ben Wyvis. Findhorn Bay was more sand than water. Few boats had yet been launched and it seemed strangely empty. We sat outside at The Captain's Table with coffee and tea and watched the water and the sand and the gulls. It felt like the first day of summer.

Thursday 28 March 2019

What I've Been Reading Online No.4

Ptarmigan, Cairngorms, March 5

Here's the third instalment of pieces I've been reading online that I find interesting. This covers the last four weeks.


Will you bag a summit in memory of Sir Hugh Munro?

 FionaOutdoors describes artist Eddie Summerton's Munro Project.

Sky-High trekking: taking on California's High Sierra Trail

Carey Davies hikes from giant sequoias to the summit of Mount Whitney on this superb trail.

Cul Mor & Snowshoes: a walk in Coigach, February 2019

Hazel Strachan praises snowshoes on a trip up Cul Mor, which isn't a Munro!

Thoughts on the legacy of Sir Hugh Munro

A hundred years after his death Stuart Younie looks at Munro's legacy.

The Karrimor Whillans Alpiniste and OMM Villain 45+10 with Mike Parsons

Petesy looks at an old classic rucksack and a current one with designer Mike Parsons

Caledonian pine forest, Glen Feshie, Cairngorms, March 21


Enchanted forests: the women shaking up nature writing

A look at two new nature writers.

Rewilding Abruzzo - bears and wolves and learning to live together

Rewilding working in Central Italy

'Insect Apocalypse': my waking nightmare

Ben Dolphin is quite rightly very worried about the disappearance of insects.

Horizon by Barry Lopez review - magnificent on the natural world, and furious too.

Robert Macfarlane reviews Barry Lopez's new book (which I've just started reading).

25th September 2018 - an historic day for British meteorology

Iain Cameron looks at the day the longest-lasting snow patch disappeared for the second year in succession

Thank you, climate strikers. Your action matters and your power will be felt.

Rebecca Solnit praises climate activists.

Why care? The importance of Glen Etive to mountaineers.

Mountaineering Scotland looks at the Glen Etive hydro schemes and goes back to W.H.Murray and his places of "outstanding natural beauty".

The Decaying Alps: climate change and glacial retreat in the Playground of Europe

Alex Roddie describes the effects climate change is having on the Alps and says writers and photographers should cover this.

Why we need to reinvent democracy for the long-term

Philosopher Roman Krznaric says democracy and politics has to change for long-term thinking

Is Backpacking a Sustainable Hobby?

Hendrik Morkel ponders on the sustainability of backpacking and looks at how it can be improved.

The destruction of the earth is a crime. It should be prosecuted.

George Mombiot praises Polly Higgins, a barrister who has devoted her life to creating an international crime of ecocide.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Save Glen Etive! More Action Needed

Earlier in the month I posted about the threat to Glen Etive from hydro schemes and the need for those concerned to object to the schemes. Since then a meeting of Highland Council has approved the deals. This doesn't mean the end of the campaign. Mountaineering Scotland are asking the Scottish Government to 'call in' the schemes for review. If you live in Scotland you can support Mountaineering Scotland by emailing your MSPs. Everyone can also write to the press about this. There are more details on the Save Glen Etive Facebook page.

Here's the email I've sent to my MSPs.

I am writing to support Mountaineering Scotland in asking for the Scottish government to  formally ‘call-in’ the hydro schemes proposed for three rivers – the Allt Ceitlein, the Allt a’Chaorainn, and the Allt Mheuran – on the undeveloped south-east side of Glen Etive. This area is meant to be protected from damaging developments as it’s in a Wild Land Area, a National Scenic Area and a Special Protection Area. Surely three designations are enough to protect a place? If not, what is the point of such designations?

The small amount of energy produced by these schemes cannot in any way justify the loss of biodiversity, wildness and beauty. This is a special landscape of national importance and is visited and loved by walkers, climbers, canoeists, photographers, wildlife watchers, sightseers and more. Nature and outdoor activities contribute some £1.4 billion per annum to the Scottish economy. 
Damaging places like Glen Etive does not encourage growth in this sector or the return of visitors.

It is disappointing that Scottish Natural Heritage did not assess the impact of the schemes properly. It viewed them as individual applications and not as a major single development that would ruin the character of the glen. The water abstractions from the rivers, the pipes, intakes, and roads will all detract massively from this unspoilt landscape.

The developer says there will be full mitigation for the works but has failed to provide convincing evidence for this. Other hydro schemes show that restoration even when done well – and it often isn’t – still leaves scars and a damaged landscape.

Highland Council approved these developments but there were strong local objections – the motion to refer the decision to the whole council was made by a councillor from Kinlochleven - and a significant number of councillors voted against the schemes, showing they were concerned about the impacts.

Glen Etive is a jewel in the Highlands and Scotland and should be protected as an irreplaceable asset for the nation. With its nature and landscape, it could be revitalised for the benefit of the local community.

I urge you to support reviewing these schemes. For more information see

Monday 25 March 2019

Corbetts for Courses: Mountain Aid's May 2019 Fundraising Initiative

Meall a'Bhuachaille

Mountain Aid, the hillwalker's charity that promotes mountain safety, has announced a fund raising event that it hopes will put a hillwalker on the summits of all 222 Corbetts in May. (For those who don't know a Corbett is a  Scottish mountain between 2,500–3,000 feet (762.0–914.4 m) in height with a drop of 500 feet (152.4 m) or more between it and the next summit). The fund raising is to enable Mountain Aid to continue its programme of free skills training and safety lectures.

This is an excellent venture and I've signed up to climb Meall a'Bhuachaille - which probably won't look as snowy in May as it does above!

This is how to get involved:

Join the Mountain Aid Corbetts4Courses Facebook group (or contact them by email)
Choose a Corbett (there’s 222 of them)
Post your chosen Corbett to the Facebook group (or email Mountain Aid)
Climb your Corbett during May and share your summit photo to the group (or email it to Mountain Aid who will post it for you)
Make a donation to Mountain Aid (£10 is suggested but please give what you can).


Sunday 24 March 2019

Collection Links: This Blog as a Resource

On the Pacific Northwest Trail

In the last few years I've published lists of links to features on this blog covering skills, gear, experiences, and more. I think these constitute a resource that might be useful so here are links to each set of links. I'll keep the lists updated with relevant new posts.

Long-Distance Hiking 

Lightweight Backpacking


Backpacking Photography

Conservation Organisations

Igloo on the Moine Mhor, Cairngorms

Saturday 23 March 2019

On Sgor Gaoith: snowshoes and clouds

Snowfields leading to Sgor Gaoith

Last week's heavy snowfall has been followed by rapid warming and a big thaw as this erratic winter continues. All the low level snow has gone and the hills are streaked with brown. I decided to see just how much snow was left with a walk up Sgor Gaoith from Glen Feshie.
At the car park beside the Allt Ruadh I was surprised and disappinted to see a sign from the Forestry Commission saying 'No Overnight Parking'. I've left my car here many times when wild camping high in the hills. I'll continue to do so.

View over the forests to cloud-enshrouded Creag Meagaidh

The first part of the walk through the fine old pines of the Inshriach Nature Reserve is lovely. As the path climbs through the magnificent forest there are glimpses of the rushing waters of the Allt Ruadh far below. Gradually the trees start to thin and the views open out. Ahead the hills were brown with little sign of snow except for patches near the tops. Looking back over Glen Feshie and Strathspey I could see the Monadh Liath and Creag Meagaidh hills, splashed with white. There was still snow up there.

I'd brought snowshoes, suspecting that any remaining snow would be soft and unsupportive and make walking difficult. I was beginning to wonder if I'd be carrying them all day when I met the only other person I saw all day coming down. We chatted briefly and she told me she hadn't been all the way to the summit because the snow was knee deep and walking just too arduous. "You'll need those", she said, indicating my snowshoes. I felt reassured though plodding up the muddy path I still wasn't really sure I'd need them.

Cornices on the eastern edge of Sgor Gaoith

Only when I reached the broad summit ridge that runs above the deep trench of Gleann Einich did I encounter extensive snowfields. A few steps showed me that the snowshoes would indeed be valuable. The snow was horrible to walk on, or rather in. It was thick and wet and very slippery. My feet either skidded off or sank in deeply. I donned the snowshoes and I could walk easily. They really are a boon in conditions like this and I'm surprised that more walkers don't use them. They're on my feet more often than crampons. I do prefer skis but only when there's enough snow that I'm going to be using them most of the time as they're awkward to carry and the boots aren't comfortable to walk in.

View to the Moine Mhor

The snow reached almost to the summit of Sgor Gaoith. Leaving the snowshoes I walked the last few steps to the top and gazed at the always impressive view. Usually though it's the great bulk of Braeriach rising above the dark waters of Loch Einich that dominates the scene. Today that wasn't so. The flanks of Braeriach were mostly snow-free and the mountain seemed strangely subdued and reclusive. Instead my eye was drawn to the corniced edge of the Sgor Gaoith ridge leading out to the snowy expanse of the Moine Mhor. I'd certainly have wanted snowshoes or skis if crossing that vast plateau. But today I was turning away and descending.

Loch Einich

Not wanting to leave the heights very quickly I made a slow descent along the Meall Buidhe - Geal Charn ridge before dropping down rough, boggy slopes to join the Allt Ruadh path just as it reached the first trees. Mostly the ridge was bare of snow but there was one large expanse where I used the snowshoes again.

The day had been cloudy - interesting clouds in different shapes but covering the whole sky. Then on Meall Buidhe the sun, close to setting, shone hazily under the clouds over Loch Morlich to Meall a'Bhuachaille. The illuminated hills were purple, the shaded ones brown and black, a series of ridges all the way to the horizon. There were only tiny touches of snow on these hills.

The River Spey flood plain.

The sunshine didn't last and grey skies soon dominated again. But as I neared the first trees there was just enough brightness to light the River Spey surrounded by flooded meadows. Then it was down through the dark forest and the walk was over. It's one I've done many times before but it's never the same. There is always something new to see. Light, snow, clouds, water, rocks, nature. Ever-changing. Ever-fascinating.