Friday 31 May 2019

The Great Outdoors June issue

As well as a feature on my GR5 Through the Alps walk (as described here), in the June issue of The Great Outdoors I review eleven pairs of overtrousers in not the most exciting-looking piece - all the trousers are black - and the rather brighter Mammut Rime Flex insulated jacket. Also more colourful are Alex Roddie's review of backpacking foods he tested on his winter Cape Wrath Trail walk, and Dougie Cunningham's review of the Hoka One One Kaha and Toa boots, tested on a press trip to Iceland.

Other features are Sean McFarlane's account of a two-day trip on the Loch Lomond and Cowal Way, Vivienne Crow celebrating the summer solstice with a moonlit walk between Skiddaw and Blencathra - some stunning photos here, James Deboo spending twenty-four hours on Baugh Fell in the Pennines, and James Forrest climbing all of the 273 mountains on the island of Ireland.

The issue opens with a lovely picture by David Lintern entitled Spring above Lochan na h-Earba, though his caption describes it as an uneasy paradise due to over-grazing by deer preventing any regeneration in the forest. In the Almanac pages TGO Challenge coordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden discuss wild camping 'once you experience the best of sleeping out in the wilds, no doubt you'll be back for more' - that's been true for me for over forty years! And this year I had many splendid wild camps on the Challenge, all pictured in my last post. Also in Almanac Chiara Bullen interviews Anna Wells who is setting out to climb all the Munros in 282 Munros in 62 days, am ambitious target. In book reviews the whole page is devoted to Roger Smith's review of Robert Macfarlane Underland - an amazing book I'm currently reading. I'll post about it when I finish. Roger Smith also writes about Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement and the urgent need to tackle climate change. In his Mountain Portrait Jim Perrin looks at an old favourite of his, Moel Hebog in Snowdonia.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Wild Camps on TGO Challenge 2019

Dawn at Loch Beoraid after a frosty night

At the big celebration dinner in Montrose Hamish Brown, who came up with the idea of the TGO Challenge, spoke about memories of the event being as much about the camps as the walking. That's certainly the case for me. The succession of camps in wild places is one of the big attractions and I usually spend several hours at each site.

Glen Finnan.

This year on the Challenge I had ten camps, with one night in a B&B in Fort William. Here I'm posting pictures of eight of them, with two each for four that were really special. Missing is the one in Dalwhinnie next to the hotel - it wasn't a wild or attractive site and that was the night the weather broke and it rained constantly - and the one the day after Dalwhinnie somewhere above the headwaters of the River Feshie as again it rained all night and this time I was in the mist too.

Coire a'Chaorainn, Gulvain.

My camping gear for this trip consisted of my Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar, which has now seen over 150 nights use, and a Luxe Outdoor Tyvek groundsheet. The Trailstar is still in excellent condition, the groundsheet, which has been used on sixty plus nights, isn't as waterproof as it was so this was its last trip.

Loch Beoraid.

Glen Finnan.

Coire a'Chaorainn, Gulvain.

By the Abhainn Rath below Binnein Mor and Binnein Beag in the Mamores.

In the Uisge Labhair glen between Loch Ossian and the Bealach Dubh.

White Bridge, River Dee. Another Challenger camped on the far bank, the only time I camped near anyone else.

Looking down river at the White Bridge camp. The start of a very wet day.

Camp in Glen Callater after a very wet night when I wondered if the river would burst its banks.

Last and coldest camp. The wet Trailstar froze inside and out. By the Muckle Falloch, a tributary of the Water of Saughs.

Monday 27 May 2019

GR5 Through the Alps feature in The Great Outdoors June issue, links to online posts

The story of my GR5 walk last autumn features in the latest issue of The Great Outdoors, which has just come out. Here are links to a few online posts on the walk for further information and pictures.

GR5 Through the Alps: The Gear - what I took with me and what I thought of it.

Camping on the GR5 Trail Through the Alps - lots of pictures of wild camps!

Food on the GR5 - lots of pictures of food!

In the next few days I'll be posting some of the pictures that didn't make it into The Great Outdoors and my usual overview of what's in this issue.

The TGO Challenge 2019 - first thoughts and pictures

Sunrise, Loch Beoraid

Last Wednesday I walked into Montrose and completed my sixteenth TGO Challenge coast to coast crossing of the Scottish Highlands. Here are some initial thoughts and a few of the 400+ images I took during the walk. I'll write and post more in the coming days as I go through the pictures and contemplate the trip.

The South Top of Gulvain

The walk began with exceptional heat and ended with not-so-exceptional rain and cold. My very last camp was the coldest, my first one the second coldest. Both were frosty, the only ones of the walk. In the usually boggy and wet west where keeping your feet dry can be difficult the ground was crisp and dusty. The heat and a lack of water sources high up were the only problems; sunscreen, dark glasses and a sunhat the most essential equipment. In the east, where it's usually drier, heavy rain made for swollen burns and deep bogs. Keeping warm and dry and not getting lost in the mist were the problems; waterproofs, warm clothing, GPS, compass and map all essential. Once in the west I almost ran out of water, once in the east I wondered whether a river would burst its banks and flood my camp.

Sunset, Gulvain

Both extremes of weather made for interesting walking. I enjoyed it all. The heat brought colour and brightness, deep blue skies and fresh green trees, a touch, it felt, of mountains in hotter, drier countries. The rain and mist brought a northern feel, more arctic than alpine; gloomy, Gothic, Nordic and awe-inspiring.

Binnein Mor & Binnein Beag

Staoineag bothy


Ben Tirran

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Seven camps from seven TGO Challenges.


One of the joys of long-distance walking lies in the wild camps. I like to enjoy these, to spend time in a wild place and not just pass through. On the fifteen TGO Challenge crossings of the Scottish Highlands I've done since the first in 1980 I remember many of the wonderful camps as well as the walking and the views. Here are pictures of a favourite camp from each of the seven Challenges I've undertaken in the last fifteen years. I do have pictures from the eight Challenges I did before 2004 but they're all on transparency film and I haven't got round to scanning these yet. I will do so after I'm back from this year's Challenge which I'm sure will offer more superb camps.






Monday 6 May 2019

The 40th TGO Challenge starts this week. Looking back to the first.

Later this week I'll be setting off for Lochailort to begin the fortieth TGO Challenge. I've chosen Lochailort as that's where I began the first Challenge back in 1980. I couldn't have imagined then that I'd be back there in 2019 or that the event would be thriving and would have become so important to so many people.

In 1980 the event was called the Ultimate Challenge, after the sponsor, long-gone tent maker Ultimate Equipment, though it was organised and run by The Great Outdoors.  For that first year it was three weeks long. I was the only one of the seventy or so Challengers who took more than two weeks. Poor Roger Smith, TGO editor, sat in the Park Hotel in Montrose for a week waiting for me. Since then it's always been two weeks long. I'm going to take a similar route this year but shorter with fewer Munros - there's no way I can do in two weeks what took me three in 1980!

Journal entry for the first day of the first Challenge

Back then I was on my first round of the Munros, which I was mostly doing in a series of long backpacking trips inspired by Hamish Brown's first continuous round of the Munros, described in his superb book Hamish's Mountain Walk. Hamish also came up with the idea of the Challenge. When I saw the quarter page ad for the first event in The Great Outdoors I was grabbed immediately. A coast to coast walk seemed a great idea and I realised I could incorporate many Munros I hadn't yet climbed into it.

Gear list for the first Challenge - continues over the page. Back then I listed every item in first aid and repair kits!

Reading my journal from that first trip there's an air of youthfulness and excitement. I was going into unknown country. I hope I can capture some of that this year, on what will be my sixteenth Challenge.

Saturday 4 May 2019

What I've Been Reading Online No. 6

Snow falling, May 3

Some more of my online reading, covering the last month, mostly on rewilding and conservation. To break up the long list I've added some recent photographs

The John o’ Groats Trail – Filling the Gap north of Inverness

An interesting new trail described by its ranger and creator. I might go and have a look at this.

Death of a Glacier

The story and significance of the Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park

Parakeets, "pests", and the problem of ethical wildlife control

Conservationist Hugh Webster on the problem of the knee-jerk killing anything that might cause a problem without considering other options.

Restoring biodiversity through rewilding

A positive piece by Mark Avery on the need for rewilding.

Two-thirds of glacier ice in the Alps 'will melt by 2100'

Damian Carrington looks at the worrying and sad disappearance of ice in the Alps. 

Are we loving our wild landscapes to death?

Susan Flockhart on the rise in visitor numbers in Scotland the effect on wild places.

It's wrong-headed to protect nature with human-style rights

Law professor Anna Grear explains why she thinks it's unwise to apply human rights to nature

Why do we feed wild birds?

An interesting investigation by ornithologist Dave Clark

Joining the dots between the Clearances, colonialism, land reform and climate change

Land reform is important in combating climate change says Mairi McFadyen.


Findhorn Beach, May 1

Some lessons from Glen Etive

David Lintern was one of the people behind the Save Glen Etive campaign. Here he looks at the lessons that can be taken from this defeat for conservation.

A Diet of Worms 

A fascinating beautifully illustrated look at the importance of marine worms by biologist Paul Sterry. 

Climate change, fires and why we need to rewild grouse moors – starting with our National Parks

Nick Kempe of Parkswatch Scotland on muirburn, rewilding and climate change.

Into thin air: Carol Ann Duffy presents poems about our vanishing insect world

Powerful and moving poetry.

Hunting for the Wild 

Ben MacDonald, author of the new book Rebirding, which I'm looking forward to reading, demolishes the case for driven grouse shooting. 

What lies beneath: Robert Macfarlane travels 'Underland'

Robert Macfarlane writes about the world underground, the subject of his latest book, another I'm looking forward to reading.

The stories behind the notebooks that documented Rob Macfarlane's travels underground

Here Robert Macfarlane looks at the notebooks he kept during the journeys that led to his latest book.

Why Green Pledges Will Not Create the Natural Forests We Need

To combat climate change new forests need to be natural not monoculture plantations says Fred Pearce. 

Lesser celandine, April 29