Wednesday 30 March 2022

Video on Sgor Gaoith

Braeriach from Sgor Gaoith

I made a little video on Sgor Gaoith on Monday having finally worked out to get Windows 11 to read the files from my Sony camera. Windows 11 still won't recognise the editing software I have so I need to find something else to improve the quality. Anyway, here's my first video for quite some time.

On Sgor Gaoith

View west on the descent

A dense grey sky. The hills hidden in low cloud. The temperature barely reaching 6°C. The barometer falling rapidly. After ten days of high pressure, warm temperatures, brightness and sunshine today felt like a return to normality.

View from Sgor Gaoith

The ending of the fine spell was not a surprise though, having been forecast for several days. For a last day out before the weather changed I headed for Glen Feshie and Sgor Gaoith. March 28th was warm and still but there was rather more cloud than in recent days, a sign, perhaps, of the change to come.

Leaving the forest

Walking up through the fine old pine forest I became aware of a vast silence. There was no sound in the trees, no wind, no birds. The Allt Ruadh down in the long narrow glen below me was roaring with snowmelt but somehow its noise didn’t impede on the quiet of the forest. That silence was with me all day, significant, part of the landscape. Every time I stopped and the crunch of my boots ceased it was there, all around me.

Braeriach from Sgor Gaoith

Above the trees the hills only showed strips of snow. I had expected more. Maybe the ice axe and crampons I was carrying wouldn’t be needed. I met walkers descending. “Which way are you going up there? Left or right?” “Left. Sgor Gaoith”. “You’ll be ok. People going right turned back, saying the snow was too soft and deep”. The snowshoes were in the car. 

Sunbeams & the East Drumochter Hills

The sun kept breaking through the clouds as I climbed, illuminating the sky with its bright rays. When I reached the long wide ridge of which Sgor Gaoith is the high point I understood what the walkers had told me. To the right big snowfields stretched out across the Moine Mhor to Mullach Clach a’Bhlair, to the left the slopes up to Sgor Gaoith were mostly snow free. 

Sgor Gaoith

The majority of the ascent over I stopped for a rest and lay against my pack watching the sky. Again, the silence was overwhelming. And here at over 1000 metres it was still warm. I had no need of a jacket. A t-shirt was enough, as it was the whole day. Not since last August had this been the case.

Snowbanks above Loch Einich

Rather than the main path I followed the eastern edge of the ridge with its tremendous views down to Loch Einich and across the Moine Mhor and up to Braeriach. I didn’t go as close to the edge as sometimes. The little path kept disappearing into cracked banks of snow, snow that I could see formed sagging cornices. Cautious, I stayed on dry ground. 

Sgor Gaoith with cornices
I continued along the ridge beyond the summit, gazing at more impressive cornices and at mighty Braeriach then turned west for the long spur stretching over Meall Buidhe and Geal Charn. This broad stony ridge was grey and brown with only a few traces of snow. I wouldn’t be needing the ice axe or crampons.

View back to Sgoran Dubh Mor & Sgor Gaoith from Meall Buidhe

Out to the west the landscape was hazy and subdued, the hills grey silhouettes lit by more silvery sunbeams. As I reached the edge of the forest the low sun sent an orange shaft like a searchlight through the clouds. 

 Tomorrow snow is forecast. I wonder when it’ll be a t-shirt day again.

Friday 25 March 2022

A Look At The Spring Issue Of The Great Outdoors

 The Spring issue of The Great Outdoors is out now. (Spring? It's the one between April and May - there are 13 issues a year).

In this issue I have a big feature looking at an overnight trip on the Moine Mhor and the gear I used. I also review an insulated jacket from Rohan and a fleece jacket from Montane.

Elsewhere in the gear pages Alex Roddie reviews five hydration products and five water treatment products.

In the main features five outdoor and landscape photographers describe their favourite mountain scenery, photographer Daniel Toal gives a tour of his favourite places in the Lake District in a photo-essay, Nicola Hardy walks round the coastline of the Isle of Man, and Alice Morrison hikes the Jordan Trail.

The issue opens with a dramatic photo of stormy weather with a rainbow over the Cuillin on Skye by Alan Novelli. There's a look at Liv Bolton's The Outdoors Fix podcast, James Forrest describes Buachaille Etive Mor, the new Countryside Code for England and the access debate is discussed, Matilda Wellin from Sweden says the British approach to the outdoors has won her over, Helen Mort looks at motherhood and mountaineering, Jim Perrin praises Parkhouse and Chrome Hills in the Peak District, and Hill Skills gives 5 tips to fight your fear of heights. 

In the Wild Walks pages Stefan Durkacz climbs Beinn a' Ghlo, Tim Gent walks the Erme Valley on Dartmoor, Vivienne Crow goes up Steeple from Ennerdale in the Lake District, also in the Lakes Ronald Turnbull climbs High Street from Patterdale, and in Wales Roger Butler visits Offa's Dyke and Llan-fawr. 

Thursday 24 March 2022

Snow, wind, clouds, sun & beauty on a Cairngorm Plateau snow camp


Recent days have seen the first continuous period of dry sunny weather this year. Just the time for a high camp in the Cairngorms. The mountains are still snow covered high up and the clear nights frosty so there’s not much of a thaw going on. 

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

With the general idea of camping somewhere on the Plateau between Cairn Gorm and Ben Macdui I set off up the Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais with a big pack. As well as my camping gear I had snowshoes, ice axe, crampons, and snow shovel. I would have to climb a fair way before I’d need any of them, there only being small patches of snow on the lower part of the ridge. The sun was hot and I was in shirt sleeves and quickly sweating. The snow- plastered cliffs of Stob Coire an t-Sneachda looked splendid up ahead, reminding me why I was lugging this heavy load.

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda

As I reached the final steepening of the ridge there were more and bigger snow patches, hard icy snow patches. Time for crampons. Once these steel spikes were underfoot my confidence soared and the climb to the big cairn marking the top of the ridge and the edge of the Cairngorm Plateau was soon reached. A cold breeze saw a jacket and hat come on, though I still didn’t need gloves.

Cairn Toul & Sgor an Lochan Uaine

I gazed out on a white world. There weren’t snowfields. There was just snow, stretching across to distant Ben Macdui. Only on Stob Coire an t-Sneachda did rocks protrude through the snow. Cornices overhung the cliffs, catching the late light. I crossed the summit and there, beyond the hidden gash of the Lairig Ghru pass, shone Cairn Toul and Sgor an Lochain Uaine, with the sky colouring with the dusk behind them. The snow was hard and icy, and I kept the crampons on for the rest of the day.

Loch Avon

 I wandered down Coire Domhain, past the snowholes that are dug here every winter, considered camping, then deciding there was enough light to go on I contoured round to the broad shallow recess of the Feith Buidhe, the stream hidden under the snow. I ambled about for a while, gazing down to shadowed Loch Avon stretching out far below and admiring the great cliffs of Hell’s Lum, the Shelterstone Crag and Carn Etchachan. This is a great place to be.


A flat area gave some shelter from the strengthening wind, which was not forecast. The snow was rock hard and once forced in the tent pegs seemed solidly set. I suspected I might need to ice axe to prise them out in the morning. I dug a pile of icy chunks to melt for water and settled down to a supper of instant soup followed by almost-instant noodles.

Snow melting

Late in the evening the wind shifted and started to buffet the tent from the side, though not enough to cause concern. When I switched off my headlamp and pulled the sleeping bag shut the temperature was -1.9°C. How low would it go? The bag was rated to -7 and I had warm clothing. I didn’t expect to be cold.

The tent and the wind

I certainly didn’t expect to be too warm, but I was when the noise of the tent flapping woke me. It was three o’clock. The temperature was +1.7. The snow was softening and a peg had pulled out, leaving a corner of the tent flapping. I pushed it back in and fell back to sleep, leaving the hood of the sleeping bag open. At five the peg was out again, the flapping louder. Two more pegs had risen up out of the snow. I managed to get them back in, though I didn’t think they’d stay for long. The tent seemed secure anyway, despite being a lightweight model designed more for good ventilation on hot summer nights then snow camping in the Cairngorms. 


Dawn came with more tent flapping and a hazy light with many clouds in the sky. I had a pre-breakfast stroll to look at the landscape again then returned to the tent, a tiny green blob in the vast whiteness, for coffee and muesli porridge.


The snow was much softer now so I set off with the snowshoes rather than crampons. The thin sunshine and drifting clouds gave an ethereal feel to the landscape. Nothing was quite solid, quite real. 


Others were about. Three skiers climbing steadily towards Ben Macdui. A few walkers heading the same way. I had thought of doing do myself but feeling weary from the broken night’s sleep and aware of my heavy load I decided to head for Cairn Lochan instead. It is a favourite anyway, a mountain of contrasts. 


Long featureless snow slopes led steadily up to the summit cairn right on the edge of the cliffs high above Coire an Lochain, a sudden dramatic viewpoint, especially on this day with snow filling the gullies below cornices. 

Cairn Lochan

My return took me back over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and back down the Fiacaill a’ Choire Chais, with the snowshoes swapped for crampons at the top of the latter. A grand trip.

Carn Etchachan & Derry Cairngorm


Sunday 13 March 2022

New report shows the rate of loss of wild land in Scotland is increasing

Scotland's renowned scenery: Loch Clair & Beinn Eighe in Torridon

The Scottish Wild Land Group in conjunction with the Scottish Mountaineering Trust and the Cairngorms Campaign recently issued the following press release about a concerning new report on the decline of wild land. That wild land is declining in area and quality will not be a surprise to those who wander the hills. It's all too obvious and it is increasing. I wrote this post about it in 2018, where I also looked at the positive side and listed organisations worth supporting as we try and save and restore what's left.

 New report shows the need for better protection of Scotland’s wild scenery

Scotland is renowned the world over for its wild and spectacular scenery of mountains, moorlands, lochs and rivers and coasts, a draw to locals and visitors alike. Those areas with least human impact have been labelled as ‘Wild Land Areas’ by NatureScot, and research shows that there is strong support from the Scottish people to retain the wildness of these areas.

Our wildest places and scenery need strong protection so they can be seen and enjoyed by future generations.

However a newly published report The State of Wild Land in the Scottish Highlands shows that this wildness is in long-term decline because of the continuing pressure for development, both within the Wild Land Areas and around their fringes.

The report concludes that the overall rate of loss appears to be increasing as the scale of development has also increased. Current developments that pose the greatest threat are energy generation and associated infrastructure (hydro-electric schemes and wind farms), plantation forest expansion and hill track construction, the latter often associated with estate management. This long-term attrition of wild land is not helped by the fact that there has been a lack of consistency by planning authorities in the way they have handled its protection from new developments.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on its strategic plans for the country through the draft National Planning Framework 4 [the consultation runs until 31 March 2022]. If Scotland, and particularly the Highlands, is to retain its reputation for its iconic scenery, it is imperative that the importance of its protection, including its wildness, is fully recognised in the new Framework. This includes stronger protection for Wild Land Areas than is currently envisaged.

Dr James Fenton of the Scottish Wild Land Group, who coordinated the report, says:

“There has long been a mismatch between the commonly stated view that the Highlands are renowned for their scenery and the practical measures in place for its protection. This report should be a wake-up call for us all to realise that the Highland landscape is under threat from ill-sited development.

 “If we really do care for our scenery, we must ensure that there is strong protection for it in the planning system, including the Wild Land Areas. Otherwise attrition of this fantastic asset will continue apace, and, in time, future generations will inherit an impoverished landscape.

 "Of course we need development in the Highlands, but it must be in the right place and not destroy what is the essence of the Highland mountain landscape.”

 Report details

The report was commissioned by the Scottish Wild Land Group in association with the Scottish Mountaineering Trust and The Cairngorms Campaign, all of which are voluntary organisation with a keen interest in the protection of wild land. The research was undertaken by Wildland Research Ltd, who have long-running experience in the mapping and evaluation of wild land in Scotland, and by the Ian Kelly Planning Consultancy Ltd, who have particular expertise in looking at the impact of renewable energy schemes on wild land. A sample of four Wild Land Areas were analysed in detail to show the landscape changes which have occurred from the 1750s to the present day.

The report is available to download from the Scottish Wild Land Group’s website:

Further information and hard copies (free), can be obtained by contacting James Fenton at:


Main findings

1. The wildest areas of Scotland have been mapped by NatureScot as ‘Wild Land Areas’, of which there are 42. There is no absolute protection for them under law, although they are referred to in Scotland’s national planning policy where it states: “We also want to continue our strong protection for our wildest landscapes – wild land is a nationally important landscape.” (from the National Planning Framework 3). However this new report concludes that the Wild Land Areas are at risk from development pressures and that their wild status is under threat of long-term degradation.

2. Development within these areas over the last 250 years has significantly impacted on the remaining areas of wild land. Such impacts are principally from road and track construction which reduce remoteness by providing easier access to wild areas, and from new structures which stand out in the landscape with a corresponding reduction in wildness.

3. Forms of visual intrusion have changed over the period mapped and have tended to go in phases starting with road and rail and construction, and more recently seeing phases of development in renewable energy: first hydro power in the 50s and 60s, wind energy in the last 20+ years and now small-scale run-of-river schemes. Plantation forestry has also moved in phases but at different rates throughout the period. Associated with all of these, and also with estate management, has been continual expansion of the hill track network.

4. It is only eight years since the mapping and designation of Wild Land Areas in Scotland in 2014. This makes it too soon to say whether they have had an effect on slowing the rate of loss of wild land from reductions in remoteness and visual impacts. Nonetheless, long-term and short-term rates of attrition, if extrapolated, would indicate continued threat to the remaining areas of unimpacted, remote wildland. Whether this means that there will be some future point at which all wild land ceases to exist is open to question.

5. Wind farms do not have to be inside the boundaries of a Wild Land Area to affect the experience of wildness because wind farms nearby are still highly visible. There are some Wild Land Areas, such as WLA 39 (East Halladale Flows, Caithness) and WLA 1 (Merrick, in Galloway) that are close to being surrounded by wind farms that have been built, consented or proposed. Additionally, Scottish Ministers gave permission for the Creag Riabhach wind farm which had turbines within a Wild Land Area (WLA 37 Foinaven–Ben Hee, in Sutherland).

6. The recent and current planning policy provisions at national and local level have not prevented the continuing attrition of wild land, whilst wind farm applications continue to be random, speculative proposals which are followed by often inconsistent decision-making. There is an absence of positive and consistent planning oversight.

Ineffectiveness of  the current planning for new wind farms

An analysis on how decisions are made to approve or reject new wind farms in Highland shows:

a)  There has been no positive Council-led land use planning for wind energy.

b) Instead, each application has been entirely locationally specific, largely driven by there being a willing landowner, followed by an individual project recommendation and/or decision often taken by someone with no democratic accountability to the locality.

c)   The result is completely random decision making in respect of wind farms.

d) This non plan-led speculative application and decision-making process lies at the heart of the significant disagreements between interested parties and within communities when individual projects are considered.

The above conclusions are in stark contrast with the conclusions that would be reached in looking at almost any other form of major land use developments in Scotland.

Recommendations relevant to the current Government consultation on new National Planning Framework (NPF4)

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the content on the new National Planning Framework  (NPF4), with a deadline for responses of 31 March 2022. The existing policy as given in Scottish Planning Policy 2 states:

"Wild land character is displayed in some of Scotland’s remoter upland, mountain and coastal areas, which are very sensitive to any form of intrusive human activity and have little or no capacity to accept new development.”

    To ensure there is still wild land in Scotland for future generation to enjoy, this statement needs to be retained in the new NPF4, and the policies on Wild Land Areas must not be abandoned or watered-down. Longer-term, the Wild Land Areas need to be given a stronger legal underpinning so that attrition of their special qualities no longer takes place.

In particular, if the Wild Land Areas and other wild and precious land is to be seen as a national level asset to be protected and managed positively, then three things need to happen:

1) The decisions on the location of renewable energy schemes, and all of the ancillary directly associated onsite and offsite facilities, needs to be a Development Plan led process (as it is currently in England) which identifies preferred wind farm locations.

2)  The process has to be driven by local democracy, community and place, the concepts that fundamentally underpin every other aspect of the statutory land use planning system in Scotland.

3) Within that process, landscape protection, planning and management policy, at national and local level, has to set out a map-based framework that identifies the National Parks, the National Scenic Areas, the Wild Land Areas and their settings; with an associated ban on commercial-scale wind farms in order to consistently and predictably deliver the required degree of protection from harm. It is recognised that this will probably need legislative change in order to modify the procedures for Electricity Act applications.

Report name: Wildland Research & Ian Kelly Planning Consultancy (2022). The State of Wild Land in the Scottish Highlands. Scottish Wild Land Group, 140 pages.

Rate of loss of wild land over time

Long-term trend in wild land attrition rates (1747 – 2020) in the four case study Wild Land Areas (WLAs);from Figure 3.10 of the report.



Friday 11 March 2022

It's Still Winter In The Hills. Take Care!

Andy Ince on a chilly Toll Creagach, March 6

On Toll Creagach a few days ago I wandered round the chilly summit gazing at the spectacular views. In the sunshine and with good clothing against the cold wind it was a glorious place to be. Anyone out on the hills in the Highlands that day will have had a similar experience. But not every day is like that and even on such days winter skills and equipment are required. Toll Creagach is a rounded hill with no cliffs but even so has a steep enough slope to sport a cornice, a cornice that was sagging with much debris below it where sections had broken off and triggered little avalanches. In poor visibility it would be easy to stray too close to the edge.

Cornice on Toll Creagach

The slopes to the summit were icy in places too. I had snowshoes with serrated metal edges and crude crampons. Even with them I took a gentler route at one point during the descent when the snowshoes started to slip. If I hadn't had the snowshoes I'd have been using crampons, which I did have with me, along with an ice axe.

It may feel like spring in the glens. It's still winter on the mountains. 

Ben Nevis from Toll Creagach, March 6

These thoughts were engendered by returning home to the grim news of accidents and deaths in the mountains, six of the latter in the last two weeks. Just two days after I took the photo above a man died on Ben Nevis and twenty-three others were rescued. These are sobering figures, tragedies for many families. 

Due to this high number of accidents Police Scotland has issued the following warning and advice

Take extra care and plan ahead before heading to the hills and mountains

Police Scotland is appealing to hill users and mountaineers to plan ahead and take extra care in the coming weeks.

Mountain Rescue Teams across Scotland have been experiencing a recent increase in callouts and six people have tragically lost their lives over the last two weeks.

Last night Mountain Rescue Teams dealt with an incident on Ben Nevis when police were made aware of a number of people in difficulty.  One man, aged 28 was pronounced dead at the scene and 23 people were assisted off the mountain. Two men, aged 29 and 37 were treated in hospital.

A search for Nick Gillingham, last seen near the summit of Stob Coire Nam Beith, Glencoe, has been stood down today due to weather conditions. It will resume once it is safe for mountain rescue teams to do so.

Inspector Matt Smith, Police Scotland Mountain Rescue coordinator said, “The onset of spring has brought some more settled weather patterns and a welcome increase in daylight hours.  We would urge those seeking to venture into the outdoors to take extra care.  Challenging winter conditions still prevail in the hills with large areas totally covered in snow and ice. 

“Often these areas are completely unavoidable and snow may be rock hard with a high likelihood of a fall unless crampons and an ice axe are carried and most importantly, the group has a knowledge in how and when to use them. A slip in these situations may have very serious or fatal consequences.

“As with all outdoor activities, planning is key and a number of key partners produce resources and guidance to help keep you safe including the current #thinkWINTER campaign backed by Scottish Mountain Rescue and Mountaineering Scotland.

“It is vitally important to understand the risks of your activity, the experience of your group, the prevailing weather conditions during, and at your intended destination and that suitable equipment is carried to allow you to navigate safely over steep or icy terrain. Make a plan, don’t be afraid to adapt and make sure you think about what to do if things go wrong.  The photo you’ve seen on social media is not always a true reflection of what you may find when you get there.

“The volunteer Mountain Rescue Teams across Scotland are an amazing network of dedicated and highly skilled people who will do everything they can to assist you if you find yourself in difficulty but responsibility for staying safe on the mountains rest with us all and involves good planning, sound decision making and the ability to carry and use the correct equipment. By all mean enjoy Scotland’s spectacular scenery but do so safely.”

If you do need emergency help on the mountains, dial 999, ask for the police and then for Mountain Rescue.

The thinkWinter campaign referred to can be found here