Tuesday, 7 July 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No.22

Late evening view of the Cairngorms, July 1

Here's what I've found worthwhile to read online over the last few weeks.


Why We Won't Be 'Staying  In Our Lane' When It Comes To Race And The Outdoors

Jack Clayton explains why website Mpora won't "stick to action sports" when it comes to racism. 

Diversity is not a hashtag: an open letter to the outdoor community

Long distance hiker

Skin Deep | Why The Outdoors Has A Race Problem And How It Can Be Fixed

Phil Young asks "Why, given the inroads that people who look like me have made throughout British culture, is the outdoors so white?"

Diversity in birding:why it matters

Jamey Redway of the British Trust for Ornithology talks about the barrier to enjoying nature for ethnic minorities.

No Country for Brown (Wo)Men?
Travel writer, adventurer and human rights barrister Faraz Shibli looks at the sadly negative social media reaction to a Countryfile report on ethnic minorities and access to the countryside and considers what can be done.


End of an era

Outdoor magazine OE is no more. Ex-editor David Lintern describes the magazine and  his progressive approach.

How could sweeping NTS redundancies impact Scotland’s landscapes?

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which owns iconic landscapes like Glencoe, Torridon and Mar Lodge has placed 75% of its ecologists and rangers at risk of redundancy. The Great Outdoors looks at what this could mean.

One Minute Mountain: Fairfield

Alex Roddie describes 'a fell of massive presence and stature'

A Sense of Place

Merryn Glove describes her year as writer in residence in the Cairngorms National Park


Twilight, June 26

I wish I had swatted it

Environmental consultant Jonathan Wallace on anti-predator prejudice.

39 hen harriers "missing" or confirmed killed since 2018 

Rapter Persecution UK on the shocking toll of hen harriers in recent years, almost all on or near grouse moors.

The Beaver and the Bee

Conservationist Lucy Hodson on how "bringing beavers back also opens the door to a whole diverse mix of invertebrate life."

Wild Moment

Climber Peter Reynolds is inspired by the restoration of Harknott Forest

Why we need sharks: the true nature of the ocean's 'monstrous villains'

Writer, marine biologist and broadcaster Helen Scales on the real story of sharks.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Book Review: The Big Rounds by David Lintern

David Lintern's first book is an unusual guide to three hill running challenges in the Lake District, Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands, each named for the originator of the route. The best known is probably the Bob Graham Round which goes over 42 Lake District tops with a distance of 98.8km and an ascent of 8,160 metres. The first continuous run was way back in 1932. The Paddy Buckley Round goes over 47 Snowdonia tops and is 100.5km long with 8,700 metres of ascent. Although Paddy Buckley came up with the idea and prospected the route the first continuous run was by Wendy Dodds in 1982.  The Charlie Ramsey Round takes in a circuit of 24 summits around Glen Nevis and Loch Treig, including Ben Nevis. It's 92.8km long with 8,800 metres of ascent and was first run in one go in 1978.

The Big Rounds has details of the routes plus the practicalities involved, with suggestions for runners and walkers doing them over several days, but it's far more than a guidebook. There are stories of how each round came to be and fascinating interviews with many of those involved including Paddy Buckley and Charlie Ramsey plus Wendy Dodds, Nicky Spinks, Helene Whitaker, Jasmin Paris and more. And the book is packed with the author's mouth-watering photos.

Even in my long-gone hill running days I never attempted anything as challenging as these routes (the Lakes 4 3,000' peaks was my longest hill run). However I have done the Ramsey Round as a backpacking route. It took me four days - this was during my walk over the Munros and Tops and I was very fit. David Lintern suggests a six day itinerary, which sounds good. Reading his description of the route makes me want to go and do it again.

All three Rounds would make superb backpacking trips, whether done in single trips or a series.

The Big Rounds is inspiring and informative and a highly recommended addition for any hill lover's library.

Saturday, 4 July 2020

A Glorious Return To The Hills On Meall a'Bhuachaille

Bynack More & Cairn Gorm

The weather forecast was correct and there was an evening of clear weather between two days of rain. So on the first day back on the hills after lockdown I didn't set off until 8pm. The rain had stopped by the time I started out through the dripping woods for Ryvoan Pass. In the trees there was little wind and the midges were out so I didn't linger, pausing only for a brief look at shadowed An Lochan Uaine. I feel it would be sacrilege to pass this lovely lochan without stopping, even though I've been here many, many times.

An Lochan Uaine

The wet woods were rich and green, splendid with the life of high summer. In marshy meadows orchids and buttercups shone amongst the thick grasses.

Once out of the forest I was in the wind and there were no more midges.  The highest summits were still wrapped in clouds, only Bynack More clear. Further west the clouds were thicker and looked more turbulent, swirling around Braeriach. This was the place to be.


As I climbed into the sunset the hills began to glow gold and the sky became streaked with pink and orange. The wind strengthened and the feel of summer faded.


As the sun sank below the horizon the moon, two days off full, rose hazily into the clouds.

The moon over the north ridge of Cairn Gorm

On the summit it was cold - my thermometer read 5.7C and the wind was strong, gusting to 22mph. Straight after taking this quick phone photo I had my hood up. A brief stop in the summit shelter for a hot drink and snack and it was time to move again. If I'd been high up for longer I'd have needed more clothes. It felt so good to be there though, after all the weeks away from the hills.

The hills were darkening as I began my descent, the golden glow gone, but out to the north-west the last rays of the long gone sun were still colouring the clouds.

Quickly out of the wind I soon reached the edge of the forest for a last view of the moon over Cairn Gorm before I plunged into the trees.

Back home I had a celebratory glass of Laphroiag whisky. I could not have had a better return to the hills.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Return to the Hills

On my last hill day it was snowy.

Finally the Covid-19 lockdown is easing in Scotland and we are allowed to travel more than five miles from home from July 3. On my last hill day in March it was still winter, the hills snow-covered. Now it is summer and the hills look green and lush. Spring has come and gone. I've never been away from the hills for so long before and it feels a relief to be going back, a feeling I'm sure is shared by many.

Typically the weather for this first day is very wet and windy with low cloud shrouding the tops. This evening looks better so I'm heading out for a late walk up Meall a'Bhuachaille. This is a relatively short and easy trip, appropriate for finding out how much of my hill fitness I have left. It's also a favourite and I'm looking forwards to seeing the woods, the lochan and the splendid views.

I'm taking a spare plastic bag with me, as always, for any rubbish I find. I hope there isn't any but I'm aware that litter dumping has become a big problem as lockdown eases. I hope everyone going out for the first time since lockdown this weekend takes care not to leave litter and picks up any they find.

I hope too that people don't push themselves too much or do anything risky. I know I've lost some fitness and need to build up to the longest walks again. Mountain Rescue have warned that rescues won't be the same due to Covid 19 and people should take extra care. Let's all go back to having a safe and enjoyable time in the hills.

Wild camping is still not allowed - I think mainly because of fears of crowded roadside camping. July 15 looks like the day when that will change. I'll have a celebratory camp then. If the weather allows.

Mountaineering Scotland has issued advice following the changes on July 3.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Testing Gear During Lockdown

Most of the outdoor gear I review in The Great Outdoors magazine is tested in the Cairngorms and elsewhere in the Scottish Highlands. That's not been possible during the Covid-19 lockdown.  I've been restricted to walks from home.

This limitation on my walking, whilst frustrating (though I understand the need), hasn't affected gear testing because I live in an out-of-the-way corner of the Cairngorms National Park. My house is at 300 metres and is surrounded by woods, rough pastures, and little hills and ravines. There are farm and estate tracks but few footpaths. Mostly I wander at will, going wherever the light or the wildlife of an unexplained whim takes me.

The mixed weather of the last few months has been ideal for trying various items of gear. I am of course looking forward to getting to bigger hills and wider spaces as the lockdown eases but I am glad I've had such interesting and varied country for local walks.

Camping gear has been tested in the garden, which is quite wild itself, and exposed to the weather. In the past I've had tents blown down here.

The pictures here show three of the packs, one of the stoves, and the trail shoes (fourth image) that are reviewed in the July issue of The Great Outdoors.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Great Outdoors July issue

The July issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. I review nine 20-40 litre packs, three canister stoves, and the Merrell MTL Long Sky trail shoes.

With the summer holidays coming up the theme of this issue is outdoor activities with children. It's a long time since this was relevant to me but I do remember some wonderful camps and hillwalks. For those with young families now Hanna Lindon gives some great advice. And outdoor instructor Mikaela Toczek describes how she kept up her outdoor activities while pregnant. There's a list of ten hills suitable for kids too.

Away from families there's an excerpt about the Arrochar Alps from Patrick Baker's excellent new book The Unremembered Places (which I reviewed here) and Peter Elia describes being on Mount Kenya as lockdown began. 

The issue opens with a superb dawn photograph of the Assynt landscape by James Roddie taken on Stac Pollaidh.There's a piece on staying coronavirus-safe when walking. The Great Outdoors Book Club discusses Dan Richards' Outpost: A Journey to the Wild Ends of the Earth. Roger Smith has been reading too and rediscovers Highland Tours by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd. TGO Challenge organisers Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden tell the story of this year's Virtual Challenge. For his Mountain Portrait Jim Perrin praises Y Berwyn in Wales.

Monday, 29 June 2020

On my Yukon walk I reached Whitehorse June 29, 1990.

Ten days after setting out on the Chilkoot Trail from SE Alaska into Canada (see this post) I arrived in Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon and by far the largest town in the Territory.

From the Chilkoot Pass I descended to Lake Bennett, where in the winter and spring of 1897/98 thousands of gold seekers built ramshackle boats while they waited for the ice to break so they could float down the Yukon river to the Klondike goldfields. I continued on foot to the little vilage of Carcross, my first supply point. Collecting the first mail and supplies is always significant on a long walk. It means it really has begun.

Between Carcross and Whitehorse is a range of mountains, outliers of the Coast Range I'd crossed on the Chilkoot Pass. Knowing that beyond Whitehorse I'd be traversing the vast forests of the Yukon Plateau and it would probably be over a month before I could climb above the trees again I planned a route over these mountains, climbing 1773 metre Caribou Mountain and 2020 metre Mount Lorne. Appropriately I saw my first caribou of the trip, a cow and a calf, near the first summit.

Both mountains had rocky sections where some exciting scrambling was required. With my big pack this required care. The views were superb with wilderness stretching out all around. The weather was mixed with showers, sunshine, and a cold wind. I felt exhilarated and excited to be there.

My route beyond Whitehorse was sketchy, the outline depending on where I could reupply and whether I could cross some rivers, the detail depending on the terrain. I might find abandoned trails but some of the time I'd be going cross-country.

There are few places in the Yukon with post offices or shops - indeed, there are few places in the Yukon at all. Only one lay on my planned route between Whitehorse and Dawson in the Yukon, a walk of 600-650km through difficult terrain that looked like taking a month or more. However in Whitehorse I was able to arrange for a tour boat, the Youcon Kat, to take supplies to the abandoned settlement of Fort Selkirk. This split my route into three - I'd only need to carry ten days of supplies at a time. I hoped this would work okay.

I wrote a book about the walk. It’s long out of print but I expect there are second-hand copies around.
Photographic Note: I carried two SLRs, the Nikon F801 and FM2, plus Nikkor 35-70 zoom, Nikkor 24mm and Sigma 70-210 lenses, and a Cullman tripod. Films were Fujichrome 50 and 100 slide ones. The total weight with padded cases was 4kg. To digitise the slides I photographed them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 with a Sony E 30mm macro lens.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Thoughts on Wild Camping

So-called 'wild camping' is in the news and not in a good way. Pictures of dumped tents and camping gear surrounded by trash are all over social media. This, we are told, is wild camping. It isn't. Mostly it's roadside camping, never far from a car. Sometimes camping gear is lugged a bit further before being dumped - there is the strange find of a wheeled suitcase, abandoned tent, and other stuff high up at Angle Tarn in the Lake District - but generally it's people wanting a party rather than an outdoor experience who leave this stuff.

Whilst it's always been a problem, people leaving rubbish seems to have got much worse in recent weeks. The vast amounts of rubbish collected from places like Bournemouth beach and The Meadows in Edinburgh show the problem is general and not just to do with roadside campers. Why this is has engendered much speculation. The gradual ending of the Covid 19 lockdown seems to be the general trigger. Unable yet to return to clubs and bars or visit resorts abroad closed and with little to do in cities and towns people who don't normally do so are heading for the countryside, many, probably, to act as they would in clubs and on foreign beaches or at music festivals.  It seems too many people have become used to assuming others will clear up after them. Dirt cheap disposable 'festival' camping gear contributes too. And in the countryside campsites are closed and there's no accommodation available. Day trips or roadside camping are the only options.

I doubt much can be done about this in the short term. Hopefully as more facilities open the problem will decline. But I suspect there will be an increase in visitor numbers to the countryside over the summer as people choose not to go abroad even if they can. To deal with this I think education and facilities are needed and that means clear signage at access points, more rangers, more litter bins (emptied frequently), and more toilets. Unfortunately there looks like being less of the last three in many areas (for example due to cash problems the National Trust for Scotland is proposing to drastically cut its ranger service - there's a petition against this here). Whilst some people are probably beyond educating there may be many who simply don't know how to act in the countryside. Information and advice is needed.

Back to wild camping - real wild camping, which means taking a small tent into the wilds, staying for a night or two, and leaving no trace. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code says that wild camping "is lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place. You can camp in this way wherever access rights apply, but help to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or farm animals and by keeping well away from buildings, roads or historic structures."  That's how it should be.

A pleasant surprise a few days ago was the announcement that the travel limit of around five miles is being dropped on July 3, twelve days earlier than previously announced, and that staying away from home in accommodation with self-contained facilities will be allowed. I can't think of anything that fits this better than a tent out in the wilds!

During lockdown I have avoided planning hill days let alone overnights. I've found it easier to deal with the situation by  accepting it might go on a very long time and enjoying local walks and a tent in the garden. My last wild camp was on March 4, my last hillwalk March 13. I can't remember ever having anything like that big a gap between trips. I also think it must be over forty years since I stayed in one place so long, just going on short walks around home and driving the five miles into town for groceries once a week. Being able to travel will be wonderful!

Summer isn't my favourite time for the hills due to midges, heat, and hazy weather. However camping high or in breezy spots and being out early and late can make for good days. All the photos illustrating this piece were taken in July and August in the Scottish Highlands. I'm really hoping for some days like these the next two months. I'm not waiting!

Monday, 22 June 2020

The Great Outdoors June issue

A belated look at the June issue of The Great Outdoors - I've only just seen a copy. It is still in the shops, though the July issue will replace it soon.

This issue features navigation. I review 8 navigation apps, and describe 2 more that are only available for Apple devices (I don't have any of these). Alex Roddie goes traditional and just takes map and compass on a winter trip to Torridon. In a separate piece Alex also describes how to get the most out of digital navigation.

I also review three ultralight waterproof jackets. I can say these were thoroughly tested (see pictures below).

Also in this issue editor Carey Davies walks the wonderful High Sierra Trail in the Sierra Nevada in California; and mountaineer Rebecca Coles makes a first ascent in the Himalaya and reflects on the experience. Both features have great photos. There's an excerpt from Terry Abraham's wonderful new book Life on the Mountains, illustrated with Terry's beautiful photos.

In shorter pieces Jim Perrin delves into the legends of The Roaches; TGO Challenge coordinators Sue Oxley and Ali Ogden look at the tents they've used over the years; Hanna Lindon asks what 'normal' might be after lockdown and in a separate article considers what returning to the hills could mean; also on lockdown Kirstie Smith, Stuart Ship and Mark Connelly describe their experiences; Roger Smith explores a local wood; and the online book club, led by Hanna Lindon, discusses Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain.

There is currently a special lockdown subscription off for The The Great Outdoors.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No. 21

The Cairngorms on the solstice

The next collection of pieces I've enjoyed reading online. This time over the last two and a half weeks.


Abandoning Conquest

Why we need to drop the idea of conquering mountains or nature. Good short piece by MyOutdoors.

First Time on Tower Ridge. Sept 1972.

Heavy Whalley describes his first ascent of a classic route on Ben Nevis

One Minute Mountain: Beinn Eighe

The attractions of this superb Torridon mountain described by Alex Roddie

The Mystery of Sandy Irvine

Julie Summers on her great uncle and his disappearance on Everest with Mallory 96 years ago this month

The Going Lighter Guide 2020

First in a useful-looking series on how to lighten your load when hiking and backpacking by Andy Howells

Searching for the magical, unorthodox, and other in Britain's landscapes 

Thought-provoking interview with Jini Roddy, author of Wanderland, a book I'm looking forward to reading

In praise of Wild Camping

David Lintern on the myriad joys of camping in wild places, illustrated, as usual, with his wonderful photographs

Legends Series: Aleister Crowley

Ash Routen looks at the climbing career of the singularly unpleasant self-styled Wickedest Man in the World.

Surmounting Stereotypes with Zahrah Mahmood, the Hillwalking Hijabi

Dan Bailey interviews Zahrah Mamood about hillwalking as a hijabi-wearing Muslim woman

Epic off the In Pin on Skye - 1982

The story of a long difficult rescue after an accident on the Inaccessible Pinnacle.

Ups and Downs - the story of Handbook of the Scottish Hills

Myrddyn Phillips tels the story of EJ Yeaman's little-known but significant classification of the Scottish hills. One for those who like hill lists"

3 Best Satellite Messengers 2020

Good detailed review by Adventure Alan


Mallard with ducklings, River Spey, June 18

Constructing a house with no tools other than the ones God gave you… a bird-brained way to build your own home

An entertaining and fascinating piece on how house martins build their nests by Ben Dolphin

Pheasant or Pheasant's-eye? Nature Connection and Conservation

Miles King on the need to explain difficult aspects of conservation and why a simple love of nature is not enough

Shaun Tan: 'We’re not being mean to animals – but there is evil in obliviousness'

Interview by Sian Cain with the author-illustrator of Tales from the Inner City on animal rights, veganism and winning the Kate Greenaway medal

Political wildlife protection

Mark Avery says wildlife protection is, and should be, a political matter

Please Don't Throw Light-Sticks Into A Waterfall

After a photo magazine published an article on throwing lightsticks into a waterfall (since withdrawn after protests) Andy Wasley explains why this is a really, really bad idea

Nature notes: this week’s nature and wildlife photography, 21 June 2020

Alex Roddie has a great week photographing wildlife

The wild youth of legendary Scottish naturalist John Muir

First of a three part series on the life of John Muir and his relevance today by Hamish MacPherson

Protect NTS ranger and ecology services

An important appeal by Neil Reid about the need for the NTS to keep their rangers, with a link to a petition. Please sign! 


Twilight, Strathspey. June 19

 2020: Waking Up To The New Travel Normal

Holly Tuppen discusses how post-pandemic wanderlust could be a force for good.

Highland tourism: Like the birds, hoping for an income, fat and seed to feed us after an extra-long winter

A look at problems and solutions for the Scottish Highlands when lockdown ends and tourism begins again 


Louise Bacon considers the problems of how to educate the large numbers of people visiting the countryside in a non-patronising and understandable way

Nature Post-Lockdown II

In the second of a three-part series about nature after lockdown Mark Cocker considers the problem of humans failure to give value to the living world 

‘You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone’ – Lockdown Diaries

Lizziwake records her thoughts and activities during lockdown. 'The greatest gift of this time has been the slowing down of life'.

Friday, 19 June 2020

On June 19, 1990, I started my walk through the Yukon Territory

On the Chilkoot Pass

On June 19, 1990 I stood on the windswept banks of the Taiya River in SE Alaska. Here, where the river meets the arm of the Pacific Ocean called Taiya Inlet, once stood the town of Dyea, the starting point for thousands of gold seekers heading for the Klondike in 1988. From Dyea they hauled goods and equipment up to the Chilkoot Pass, where they entered Canada, and then went down to Lake Bennett to build boats and float down the Yukon river to the goldfields. 

Turning away from the coast I took my first steps on a walk that would take me 1,000 miles through the Yukon Territory. I knew little about the country ahead as there were few sources of information.

For the first few days though I would be following the 53km (33 mile) Chilkoot Trail, which follows the route of the gold seekers to Lake Bennett. After that there would be no marked trails, indeed, few trails at all. The journey really was into the unknown and I wondered just how feasible it was.

All that lay ahead as I left Dyea and followed the trail into dripping rainforest beside the raging river. High above glacier-clad mountains rose into the clouds. The last of the winter’s snow still lay up there too and I knew I’d be crossing much of it as I climbed to the 1067m (3,525 foot) pass.

Along the Chilkoot Trail there are campsites, some with cabins. As there are bears here (as there would be the whole walk) I used these for cooking and eating and gear storage, so I didn’t have to hang my food. I slept in my tent. 

The weather was mixed, with some heavy rain, brief bursts of sunshine, and gusty winds. The climb to the pass was steep, the terrain a mix of rocks and snow. 

The clouds were streaming across the sky as I looked into Canada for the first time. The journey had begun.

I wrote a book about the walk. It’s long out of print but I expect there are second-hand copies around.

Photographic Note: I carried two SLRs, the Nikon F801 and FM2, plus Nikkor 35-70 zoom, Nikkor 24mm and Sigma 70-210 lenses, and a Cullman tripod. Films were Fujichrome 50 and 100 slide ones. The total weight with padded cases was 4kg. To digitise the slides I photographed them on a lightbox with my Sony a6000 with a Sony E 30mm macro lens.