Tuesday 27 November 2012

Killington Wind Farm - Four Days Left to Object

For anyone who wants to object to the proposed Killington Wind Farm on the edge of the Howgill Fells between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks, as mentioned in this blog post, there's just four more days to do so.

It' easy to object. The various ways of doing so are described on the Stop Killington Wind Farm website along with points that could be made.

The quickest and simplest way to object is the following:

On-Line: Click here to go to SLDC planning website SL/2012/0845
Make sure you click the little ‘object’ button above the comment box.

Please do object. This wind farm really shouldn't go ahead.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Quiet Beauty

Behind the ebbing tide large areas of flat water lay becalmed between the slowly expanding sandbanks. The sea was quiet, the only sound that of distant waves gently rolling, soothing and calming. Hazy sunlight filtered through thin, high clouds, casting a soft subtle light. A cool breeze blew intermittently. Land, sea, sky, light subdued and gentle. A quiet day at Findhorn.

Out on the sandbanks seals, bulbous and ungainly, lay in the faint sunshine, their sad cries carrying low over the water. Cormorants hung their wings out to dry. Gulls stood silent. On the still waters ducks and a lone young swan floated, barely moving. The world felt at peace on this gentle day. Now is the season of autumnal storms, driving the sea in great waves, hammering down the rain, blowing the sand across the beach. But not today. Today nature was resting, waiting, recovering, before the next blast of the coming winter.

We wandered along the beach watching the wildlife and the views of far-off hills. Distant faint Ben Wyvis was snow-capped, lower hills just pale silhouettes. Pebbles crunched under our feet, the still wet sand was soft. In shaded areas the frost still lay. Despite the sun the air was cold, chilling fingers holding binoculars or camera. Wildlife, waves and water watched the cafĂ© called – hot drinks and a late lunch. A pleasant end to a restful stroll. 

Saturday 24 November 2012

Xmas Already?

The Christmas Lights are up in Grantown-on-Spey. There's still a week of November left. Oh dear!

Tuesday 20 November 2012

A Cold Day on the Cromdales

Creagan a'Chaise and the Jubilee Cairn

The long, gently undulating ridge of the Cromdale Hills lies across Strathspey from my home. I see these moorland hills every day. I watch the clouds drifting over their silhouette and, at this time of year, the snowline rising and falling, appearing and vanishing. Yet despite their proximity and prominence in the view I rarely walk on them. The higher, wilder, more rugged and more dramatic hills just to the west call to me more strongly and it is to them that I usually go.

Yesterday was different though. The high hills were in cloud and the wind whistling down the glen suggested it could be hard to stand up at 1,000 metres. The sky above the Cromdales was bright blue though and a faint paleness to the summits suggested there might be a touch of snow so, for the first time in four years, I went to these hills. From Cromdale village lanes and tracks took me through a mix of rough pastures and conifer plantations. Frost lay thick everywhere shady, there was ice on the puddles and the air was sharp and cold. Passing through a dark corridor in the trees I felt the bitter chill sinking into me. At a gap in the trees I looked down a bright corridor to sunlit meadows, a shining gateway to warmth and light, a seeming entrance to a veritable paradise. But when I left the shelter of the trees I found the promise was false. I did indeed step into the sunshine but also into the biting wind. 

The Coronation Cairn and Creagan a'Chaise
Beyond the wonderfully named Claggersnich Wood I was out on open heather moorland, climbing up the slopes on a rough track to the tall Coronation Cairn, built for the crowning of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandria in 1902. Looking back Strathspey was a patchwork of fields and woods and moors with the Paul’s Hill wind farm dominating the horizon. This is developed countryside, not wild land. The woods are mostly commercial plantations. The lowlands are farmed and the uplands are heavily managed for grouse shooting.

The Coronation Cairn and Strathspey

From the Coronation Cairn I followed the broad ridge to the square block of the Jubilee Cairn, built for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, and the trig point on the summit of Creagan a’Chaise, the highest Cromdale hill at 722 metres. The soft and boggy ground was frozen, making the walking easier than usual, my boots crunching into the crisp mud. The wind was strong though, blasting against me and stinging my face. I was glad I had not gone to higher hills. The wind kept the air fresh though and the light was magical with the low sun turning the grasses golden. On the shaded side of every tussock snow and frost lay, protected from the faint heat of the sun and the scouring of the wind. 

Creagan a'Chaise

From Creagan a’Chaise I could see the thick clouds to the west rising towards the setting sun. I huddled behind the cairn for a snack and a hot drink, glad of my down jacket, then set off back down the ridge. The clouds enveloped the sun and the colourful sunset I had hoped for was lost. The world was dull and grey again but the light and the cold and the frost had given these rolling hills a touch of arctic tundra for a brief spell.

Monday 19 November 2012

"Scotland" reprinted with updates

My book Scotland, in the World Mountain Ranges series from Cicerone Press, has just been reprinted with updates and corrections. The book was first published in October 2010 and since then there have been some changes in hill lists (Munros becoming Corbetts) and some interesting new books on the Scottish hills. I've added these to the book. A few errors were pointed out by eagle-eyed readers and these have been corrected. This does not mean there are no mistakes of course and I welcome any further corrections.

The book was well-received and there were many good reviews - excerpts and links here.

This reprint isn't a rewrite and there are no major changes (though those keen on accurate hill lists may disagree!). However it does mean that anyone buying the book now will be getting one that is up to date.

Sunday 18 November 2012

In Praise of the Cairngorms

Cairn Toul, The Cairngorms, May 1, 2012   

The Cairngorms were the first mountains I visited in Scotland and I was over-awed by the wild landscape, which was on a far greater scale than anywhere I had seen before. I’ve lived in the area for over 23 years now and the Cairngorms are my local hills. My feelings haven’t changed with familiarity though. This really is a special place.

The importance of this exceptional landscape was recognised by the Scottish Government when it created the Cairngorms National Park in 2003 (criminally late – it should have been done decades before but until there was a Scottish Parliament the landowners of the House of Lords in London prevented any national parks in Scotland). Now National Geographic magazine has included the Cairngorms in its list of 50 of the World’s Last Great Places, the only British entry. National Geographic says “there are fewer and fewer parts of the earth that remain untrammelled, where beauty reigns … our spirits are refreshed by such pristine locations as the Cairngorms”.

That the Cairngorms are worthy of such praise will not be news to those familiar with the area. Hopefully this international coverage will encourage people to visit the area and to realise that it still needs protecting and that this means the area round the national park as well as the park itself.

This winter I am hoping to make a film about the Cairngorms in winter with Terry Abraham (see box on the right), which will show the magnificent landscape in all its glory.

In the meantime those unfamiliar with the Cairngorms will find various photographs scattered throughout my blog. I also have a photo book, A Year In The Life Of The Cairngorms, that gives a good impression of the area (and which has come second in two competitions this autumn).

Saturday 17 November 2012

Wild Land & Wind Farms News

The peatlands of Allt Duine, site of the proposed wind farm

No CO2 Saved From Wind Farms on Peatlands

Carbon dioxide is stored in peat and released when the peat is disturbed. This has been known for many years. However those in favour of building wind farms on peatlands have always argued that the reduction in CO2 output from having electricity produced by the turbines outweighs the CO2 released by the damaged peat. A letter from scientists in the prestigious academic journal Nature was the basis for this belief. Recently, though, the same scientists have again written a letter published in Nature but this one says the exact opposite - wind farms built on peatland are very unlikely to save any CO2 at all. Their conclusion is that “the construction of wind farms on non-degraded peats should always be avoided”. In Scotland most wind farms are built on peat. It now seems that none of these wind farms are actually doing anything to reduce CO2, which rather destroys the main rationale for them being there and certainly calls into question whether any more should be built.

This news has been covered by the Mountaineering Council ofScotland and the Scottish Wild Land Group. There has not yet been a response from the Scottish government. I have written to my MSP, Fergus Ewing, who happens to be the Minister for Energy and Tourism, and had a response describing it as an “important matter” and saying that he is seeking advice and will respond to me again. I will report when he does.

Waiting for the Allt Duine Wind Farm decision

The Public Inquiry into the Allt Duine Wind Farm ended a few weeks ago and we now await the Reporter’s decision and report, which may not appear until the New Year. Fergus Ewing is the Minister responsible for accepting or rejecting the Reporter’s decision. I may well be writing to him again!

Turbines proposed for Killington Lake on the edge of the Lake District

I have to admit I haven’t paid too much attention to wind farms south of the border in England. One recent proposal did get through to me though, because it is so shocking, and that is for three 132 metre turbines by Killington Lake between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks and right on the edge of the Howgill Fells. This beautiful part of the country has already been damaged by wind turbines at Lambrigg. The new ones will be much taller and more obtrusive if built. Travelling down to Kendal on the train for the TGO Awards a few days ago I enjoyed the views of the Howgills and the rolling hill country on the edge of the Lake District. Turbines here would be a monstrous intrusion into a much-loved landscape. If you feel the same STAK, the group set up to oppose the wind farm, has a good website with advice on what you can do.


I have recently again been attacked as being pro wind farms on wild land because I accept the science behind climate change and also attacked as being a climate change denier because I won’t accept that wind farms shouldn’t be built on wild land! I wrote about my position here.

Friday 16 November 2012

TGO Award for The Backpacker's Handbook

The first TGO Awards were announced two days ago and I am very pleased that TGO readers have voted The Backpacker's Handbook as their Book of the Year. Thank you every one who voted for me.

The Awards ceremony was held in the very nice Burgundys Wine Bar in Kendal, which has some excellent real ales (there's a micro brewery attached to it) and was a great place to chat to the many people from the outdoor industry who attended. A great evening in fact.

Below is the official press release with a list of all the winners.

Monday 12 November 2012

Once Upon A Time In The Distant Past .......

Myself, David & Bob (plus unidentified backside) at the Bickershaw Festival, May 1972. Photo: Pete Crick.

Yesterday the magic of the internet brought a wonderful email from a friend from college days I'd had no contact with for nearly 40 years. David Folkes had been reading and enjoying my book Grizzly Bears and Razor Clams. Noticing that I mentioned the music of The Grateful Dead, which was playing at the Bonaparte Lake Resort, he dug out a few old pictures from the Bickershaw Festival, which I went to mainly to see the Dead. I had forgotten such pictures were ever taken. I remember that the weather was wet and windy - a bit of research found some stuff on the web about it (is there anything that isn't online somewhere?) that says it was "definitely one of the wettest rock festivals of all time". I really enjoyed it though, especially the Grateful Dead.

I have of course been playing some Grateful Dead to go along with the photo and the memories, especially those tracks on the Europe '72 album that were recorded at Bickershaw - the version of Dark Star from the festival is playing as I write this. I'm also currently downloading the free tracks from 30 Days of Dead - the third year running the band has given away tracks each day of November.

By the way, I hope no-one is going to ask me what the tent is in the photo. I haven't a clue!

Sunday 11 November 2012

A First Winter's Day In The Cairngorms

Stob Coire an t-Sneachda & the top of the Fiacaill a'Choire Chais

Snow has come and gone and come again on the Cairngorms already this winter. I missed the first falls but today I ventured up onto the Cairngorms Plateau for the first time in many months and found the land frozen hard in the grip of winter. Dark swirling clouds draped the summits and a bitter and strong north-west wind roared up from the corries. Away from the edge of the cliffs there was little more than a breeze but I could still hear the wind, thundering against the rocks like surf. I could have believed I was on some icy cliff in the arctic and the sound was that of the ocean surging against the rocks below. I’ve never heard the wind quite like that before. There is always something new up here.

Walkers on Stob Coire an t-Sneachda
The wind, strong enough in places to almost knock me off my feet and to make walking difficult, plus the dense cloud, deterred me from heading for Ben Macdui as I’d have had to struggle against it all the way back. Instead I followed the rim of the Northern Corries over Stob Coire an t-Sneachda and should-be-a-Munro Cairn Lochan. The ground was hard and icy with patches of old refrozen snow to crunch through and the stones were coated with hoar frost. The wind was harsh, almost painful, and my face was scoured by the icy blasts. My cheeks felt burnt by the cold. I could not tell if they were hot or cold. There was ice in my beard. This was a real winter’s day. Spindrift swirled around me. Or perhaps it was snow falling. I couldn’t tell.
A pair of ptarmigan in their white winter plumage half-flew, half-skittered over the rocks. In the whirling wind above the edge of the cliffs a raven hung in the air, wings angled, then plunged straight down like a diving gannet, before soaring back up and letting the wind blow it backwards. The birds of the mountains, at home in the snow and rocks.

Cairn Lochan

Down below the mountains in the corries the world was still frozen and monochrome. Ice covered the pools and the bogs were crisp but treacherous, the skin of frozen water and vegetation not supporting my weight.

Feeling refreshed and renewed by the intensity of the winter landscape and the power of the weather I drove home. Rain was falling. I didn’t mind. Up there it would be snow.

Saturday 10 November 2012

New TGO: Waiting for the Snow, Gloves & Mitts, Klymit Inertia Sleeping Pads, Berghaus Vapour Storm,Reviving Down

Igloo in the Glen Affric hills, January 2012
The December issue of TGO is just out. Before getting onto the contents I'd like to echo Acting Editor Daniel Neilson in his editorial in congratulating Editor Emily Rodway on the birth of her son. Emily will be back at the magazine in the spring.

In this issue my backpacking column, written in early October, is about looking forward to a snowy winter and some winter camps and igloos. In gear I review 15 pairs of gloves and mitts plus the curious Klymit Inertia sleeping pads amd have a first look at Berghaus' vented Vapour Storm waterproof jacket. In the Hills Skills section I discuss reviving down clothing and sleeping bags. I also have a trip in the Wild Walks section this month - an account of a stormy day in the Berwyn hills in North Wales.

Elsewhere in this issue there's a lovely picture of Shenavall Bothy by Dougie Cunningham; some wonderful pictures of last month's Northern Lights from TGO readers; John Manning on a stormy backpack in the Northern Pennines; Jim Perrin on a circuit of Snowdon, an excerpt from his new book on this iconic mountain; Cameron McNeish in search of the most remote Munro; more storms with Daniel Neilson on a backpacking trip in the Lake District with a review of the gear he used; Roger Smith on the badger cull; Jim Perrin praising W.M.Condry's Snowdonia National Park; compass navigation, wind chill, snowshoeing and fire lighting in the Hill Skills section; reviews of Patagonia and Berghaus insulated jackets by Daniel Neilson and reviews of 12 women's gilets by Judy Armstrong;

Friday 9 November 2012

A Rare Visitor to the Bird Feeders

Jays are scarce in Northern Scotland so I was both surprised and delighted when my partner told me she'd seen one on a seed tray. Later the bird returned and I was able to take some photographs. It stayed for fifteen minutes or so. Jays are beautiful birds, though they have a very harsh call, and I'd be very pleased to see them more often. They are slowly becoming more common in the Highlands.

The Scottish Bird Report online for Highland 2007 says jays are a "scarce but increasing breeder" and notes for autumn/winter sightings "birds were reported from 10 sites in Badenoch & Strathspey". Roy Dennis's The Birds of Badenoch and Strathspey, published in 1995, says there were just four sightings in the district after 1985 so jays are clearly spreading in this area but still quite unusual.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards Video Shoot - And You Can Vote For Me

Craigellachie woods            

 As I posted last month I've been nominated for the Glenfiddich Spirt of Scotland Awards in the Environment category for my work with the Save the Monadhliath Mountains campaign. This is a public vote and there's still time to support me, if you so wish.

Today Ross, a video photographer, came up from Edinburgh to film me at work. The organisers had suggested that he should video me at my computer but that sounded dull and boring and anyway my office is rather disorganised (i.e. there's outdoor gear, books and magazines strewn everywhere). Instead I suggested we head for the outdoors as that is where I really do my work - the writing is just formalising it. I do actually think out much of what I write while walking as well of course as taking photographs.

Outdoors video agreed we met in the Mountain Cafe in Aviemore (as I've mentioned before this wonderful cafe is a favourite meeting place -I'm happy to use any excuse for a visit!). Then we headed up into Craigellachie Nature Reserve where the lovely birch woods are still showing the last of the autumn colours. Here I wandered round being filmed walking and looking at the trees and the views.

For a bit of variety we decided to film me taking photographs - which seemed relevant as I have visited the site of the proposed Allt Duine wind farm several times over the last year to take photographs and some of these were used as evidence in the Public Inquiry and have appeared in newspapers and magazines. Being filmed taking photographs felt rather odd and I needed to distract myself so I would look more natural. There was only way to do this. Take photographs! So I stopped pretending and started looking for compositions and adjusting the camera. That's when the photos shown here were taken.

Photographing the photgrapher photographing the photographer .......

Then Ross took some close up video and asked me to point my lens straight at his camera, which was only about a foot away. Again I thought it best to take a real picture so above you can see Ross videoing me photographing him. Some of the things we do seem really strange!


Sunday 4 November 2012

Wild Land, Wind Farms & Public Opinion: New Survey

The John Muir Trust has just released a new YouGov poll that shows that more people (40%) want wild land protected from wind farms than want wind farms prioritised over wild land (28%). The survey also shows that 43% of people would be less likely to visit a scenic area with large numbers of wind turbines while only 2% said they would be more likely to visit such an area.

JMT commissioned this poll because previous polls showing support for wind power didn’t ask about locating turbines on wild land. These polls have been quoted repeatedly by energy companies to justify industrialising wild land even though they did not show support for this, only for wind power in general. In fact, as the JMT poll shows, far more people are against wind farms in wild land than in favour of them.

Interestingly, the poll, which covered the whole of the UK, showed that opposition to wind farms in wild areas was strongest in areas like the West Midlands and London, showing that this isn’t a countryside “nimbys” against the rest issue.

Hopefully politicians will take note of this survey and think carefully about where wind farms should be located. It should encourage tourism bodies to more actively object to wind farms in scenic areas too. Overall, I find this poll very encouraging as it shows that those of us campaigning for wild land are not out of touch with public feeling. Rather it is those who wish to industrialise wild land who are ignoring public opinion.

Friday 2 November 2012

Second Place: Favourite Scottish Nature Photography Book 2012

Coming second seems the place for my photo book A Year In The Life Of The Cairngorms. Following the Highly Commended in the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild Awards for Excellence I am pleased to hear that the book has now come second in the Favourite Scottish Nature Photography Book Vote 2012, part of the Scottish Nature Photography Awards. Thanks to every one who voted for my book.

This is my first book of photographs. I am really delighted it has done so well.

The winner of the Favourite Scottish Nature Photography Book was  Eilean Dubh, The Black Isle by James A Moore, Andrew Dowsett and Russell Turner. I must admit I haven't seen this book. I will have to find a copy. Third was Caledonia - Scotland's Heart of Pine by Peter Cairns and Niall Benvie, an excellent book that I reviewed here.