Saturday, 14 December 2019

Recent Reading Online No.13

River Spey, December 13

Here's what I've enjoyed reading online recently.

Let Loose The Lynx!
We should reintroduce the lynx, says science writer Tom Chivers, and "if lynx work out, wolves. And then, maybe, if wolves work out, one day we could be really brave, and reintroduce bears."

L2H day 0-1: full moon in Aries
First of Carrot Quin's accounts of a hike from the lowest point in the contiguous USA in Death Valley to the highest, Mount Whitney. A walk I did in reverse a few years ago.

The Wisdom of Bears and the Perfidy of Bureaucracy
Review of an interesting-sounding book on bears, One of Us by Barrie K. Gilbert, by bear biologist Stephen F. Stringham.

What can Scotland learn from Australia's national parks?
Thoughts from Nick Kempe of Parkswatch Scotland on what can be learned from Australia.

A pillaged ecology in the Scottish Highlands: 'I am angry beyond words'
Alex Roddie receives an email from an environmental consultant about the "habitat degradation that is leading to vast negative changes in ecosystems, biodiversity loss on an indefinable scale."

Grouse moors, tracks and the protection of peat bogs - Banchor again!
Back in Scotland Nick Kempe considers grouse moors and bulldozed tracks, with one of the latter in the Monadhliath as an example.

The future of skiing in the Alps? Rainer Pfluger and Ali Knappe, Innsbruck
Rosie Watson talks about sustainable skiing with two outdoor activists in the Alps.

Refilling the Carbon Sink
Sharon Levy looks at the restoration of Scotland's bogs. Lovely photos by Peter Cairns.

Escape Back to Reality. Is the outdoor community hostile to minorities?
Controversial and thought-provoking opinion from Andy Kirkpatrick.

The race to lay claim on the Bering Strait as Arctic ice retreats 
On a journey through the Northwest Passage Kieran Mulvaney looks at the history of this much sought after passage and the competition for it now climate change has made it more accessible.


Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Election: Vote to Keep the Tories out

Tomorrow the general election takes place. Social media is awash with posts and comments from all sides. The temptation is to take to the hills until it's all over. But the thing is, it does matter. And it matters for the hills as well as for everything else. It matters for wildlife, conservation, rewilding, national parks, access. All these are political issues.

Dan Bailey has looked at the party manifestos on these issues and written a good appraisal for UK Hillwalking.  The SNP don't come out as well as the Green Party, Labour or the LibDems yet I'm voting SNP. Why? Because they are the only party able to beat the Tories in Scotland except for a few seats and they are still far better on the environment and the outdoors than them. And I think defeating the Tories is more important than anything. The Tories have never been friends of the outdoors. They've opposed national parks, access and many conservation measures. Private shooting estates with the masses kept out are the Tory ideal.

Of course there are many other important reasons for keeping the Tories out, especially the NHS, and also to reject Johnson's worrying authoritarian suggestions (threatening the BBC, Channel 4, tactical voting) and the mass of misinformation his campaign has put out (88% of lies have come from the Tories according to independent research). Then there's Brexit, which if it goes ahead is likely to be disastrous on just about everything, including nature and the outdoors.

My vote is partly a tactical one, and partly because my MP has been good on many issues, especially universal credit, though rather silent on ones like raptor persecution. But if Labour or the LibDems were most likely to stop the Tories I'd vote for them.

I'm not a member of any political party or an unthinking supporter of any of them. There's a good site called The Political Compass which places parties on two axes, authoritarian-libertarian and left-right. By answering the questionnaire you can see where you fit. I'm down in the bottom left corner - libertarian and left wing. The nearest party to me is the Green Party. I guess I'd vote for them if I thought they could win the seat (I did vote for them for the Scottish Parliament because the system here, which is far more fair than the Westminster one, meant they could win, which they did). But I'm voting SNP because they can win and I think defeating the Tories is more important than anything else.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

'Untold Suffering' a disturbing report by OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland (LACSS) as part of the REVIVE coalition

That maintaining driven grouse moors involves killing predators (and other creatures by accident) isn't news. However this new report reveals the vast numbers slaughtered in cruel and inhumane ways. It's depressing reading but the shameful reality needs to be known. Spring traps, crow traps, and snares are all used regularly. As well as targeted species they can catch other species too - the report mentions cats, dogs, raptors and badgers and shows pictures of a hedgehog and a pine marten caught in spring traps.

The Untold Suffering report has many grim case studies and discusses why current welfare regulations don't work. The report also calls on the Scottish government to take action and has these recommendations:

An independent review of the welfare implications of all traps, conducted by animal
welfare scientists

A ban on snares, stink pits, Larsen traps, the use of decoy birds and mountain hare culls.
Driven grouse shooting should end.

A system of mandatory proficiency tests and licences for all shooters

All wildlife management carried out in Scotland to conform to the Seven Principles for
Ethical Wildlife Control

This is an important report. That thousands of wild animals suffer in this way is a disgrace. Change is needed now.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Thoughts on Bothies

Two recent pieces on bothies has set me thinking about these basic shelters and just how important they are in the story of hillgoing. Mountaineer and mountain rescue expert @HeavyWhalley has written an interesting piece here. He mentions that there's a row going on about bothies online. I've managed to avoid this completely, which is a relief! I gather it's about how much bothies should be promoted and how much information should be available. Whatever the rights and wrongs of various opinions it's too late to go back to the days when it was harder to find out about bothies (though never that hard, you just had to join the Mountain Bothies Association, which I did well over thirty years ago). Heavy Whalley also reminisces about bothy days and nights and posts many pictures.

This is the time of year when bothies can be welcome. Bothy afficiando John D.Burns' 10 Tips for a Winter Bothy Visit is useful and entertaining, especially Tip 11! Bothies feature in all his books, one of them being titled Bothy Tales.

A classic on bothies is Dave Brown and Ian R. Mitchell's Mountains Days and Bothy Nights. Published in 1987 and with tales going back to the 1960s this is a fascinating book, well worth reading.

Here's some bothy stories of my own, taken from a piece written several years ago for The Great Outdoors.

My first introduction to bothies was during a Pennine Way walk one April long ago. Coming off Cross Fell in dense wet mist I found little Greg’s Hut and spent a warm night there after drying out damp gear in front of a fire. Since then I have spent many nights in bothies and have grown to love the individual quirks and designs of the many different buildings that have been pressed into service as shelters for outdoors people. Bothies are particularly welcome on winter trips, especially when the weather is stormy, as spending long hours cooped up in a small tent can become wearisome. I was reminded of this one February when I hiked the Southern Upland Way, a 13-day trip on which the weather was mostly wet and windy. My second day was spent in wind, rain and low cloud and by the time I reached the little wooden Beehive bothy amongst the dripping trees in Galloway Forest Park I was very glad of its shelter as I had a damp tent from the night before and the wet mist meant that any camp would be very soggy indeed. 

The next day the weather was worse, starting out with drizzle and finishing with several hours of heavy rain. And throughout I was in thick damp mist. Rather than camp I decided to press on to the next bothy, White Laggan, which I reached long after dark, having been out for 11 hours during which I sloshed some 42 kilometres. The bothy had a good store of wood and a stove, so I was soon sitting in the warm cooking my late supper feeling amazingly relieved just to be there. The next morning I stuck my head outside just as the first light was creeping over the land. My journal entry tells the story – “mist blasting past the bothy in wet waves. Very windy. No visibility”. I was glad I hadn’t spent the night in my damp tent.

Bothies are also a place to meet other outdoors people and share experiences. I have had many interesting conversations with walkers and climbers over a hot brew and a bothy fire. Of course sometimes bothies can be crowded – after an experience many years ago when fifteen of us crammed into little Corrour bothy in the Cairngorms, which was really only big enough for half that number, I have always carried a tent or tarp and been prepared to camp out if a bothy is full. The only exception was when I planned a TGO Challenge Route using bothies plus a few B&Bs the whole way across, including one high level rickety wooden hut that was blown down by the wind a few years later. On this trip I found another disadvantage of not carrying a tent – you have to reach the bothy regardless of conditions. Overall it was a difficult crossing – the hardest of the 16 Challenges I have done. There was still deep snow on the hills and the weather was windy and frosty. An ice axe was essential, and our route was changed a few times to deal with the conditions (we were blown back from an attempt on Ben Nevis). On reaching the Cairngorms we stayed in Ruigh Aiteachain bothy in Glen Feshie before crossing the Moine Mhor to Corrour bothy. The going was hard work due to the deep soft snow and it was late when we arrived on the rim of Coire Odhar high above the bothy. However, the snow on the steep upper slopes of the corrie was hard and icy and, having no crampons, we had to cut steps with our ice axes, slowly zigzagging back and forth across the slope until we reached easier ground. All the time we could see tents outside the bothy so we had the added worry that it might be full. In fact, to our great relief it was empty. If we’d had tents we’d have camped on the tops or found an easier way down.

Another attraction of bothies is the bothy book where visitors can record their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here you can learn about suggested routes in the area, weather conditions at different times of year, problems with river crossings and see how many people use the bothy and at what times of year. (There is one bothy in the Eastern Cairngorms – the Shielin’ of Mark – that has a sudden spike in visitors in the middle of May when TGO Challengers pass by and hardly any visitors at any other time.)

Bothies require maintenance if they are to remain safe and watertight of course. A wonderful volunteer organisation, the Mountain Bothies Association, does the work and deserves the support of everyone who ever uses a bothy. I joined it after my stay in Greg’s Hut and have been a member ever since. The MBA has an excellent website – – where the Bothy Code – sensible guidelines for using bothies – can be found.

What's in the January issue of The Great Outdoors

The January issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. In it I review ice axes and crampons suitable for hillwalkers plus three Pertex/Pile tops. Testing the last reminded me just how good they are.

The opening spread is a stunning shot of An Teallach in the snow at dawn by James Roddie.

Staying with the winter theme Carey Davies has a look at Snowdon, Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis and Helvellyn under snow, and there's advice on winter skills from Glenmore Lodge. Phoebe Smith makes a winter visit to  the remotest place in mainland Britain in the Fisherfield Forest in the Scottish Highlands.  In an article that made me shiver Sarah Stirling goes winter swimming in mountain lakes and rivers. Brrr! Across the North Sea Alec Forss goes ski touring in northern Scandinavia, a feature that brought back memories of my many skiing trips in the area.

Away from winter Hanna Lindon looks at the problem of route markers left after organised challenge events in Snowdonia. Roger Smith gets excited at the idea of 'footpath farming' - grants for farmers to maintain paths. There are book reviews of Alex Stainforth's Another Peak - Everest is Not the Only Summit by Alex Roddie and Nick Corble's Diagonal Walking by Roger Butler. TGO Challenge coordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden praise solo walking in an excellent piece. In his Mountain Portrait column Jim Perrin looks at my nearest Munro, Cairn Gorm, and finds much to praise despite the ski resort. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

If you're looking for an outdoor book or DVD for Christmas ......

My latest book or maybe one of my other books or a DVD.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

December begins with a monochrome day in the Cairngorms

After a brilliant sunny day, which I spent driving over to Aboyne on Deeside to give a talk on my Scottish Watershed walk at Hilltrek (whose new shop looks good), the clouds rolled in across the Cairngorms. With two days in Pitlochry at John Muir Trust meetings coming up I wanted some time in the hills anyway so I scraped the ice off the car and headed for Coire Cas from where I wandered into the Northern Corries.

The ground was frozen but only just and the burns were crashing down from the upper corries, their edges laced with pillars of ice. The sodden boggy ground was treacherous, barely holding my weight. I was lucky to avoid wet feet.

There were only a few other people around, surprising for a Sunday. Later in the day I did see several parties of climbers coming down from the cliffs, after what must have been mysterious climbs in the dense mist.

Once in the cloud I could barely see fifty metres. If there's been more snow it would have been a white-out. As it was there were enough rocks and patches of ice and pools of water not to confuse the ground with the sky.

The mist, snow and ice drained virtually all the colour from the land. The pictures above are not black and white ones.

Only at the end of the day was there a touch of colour above Meall a'Bhuachaille.