Sunday 30 December 2018

My Photography in 2018: Thoughts & Favourite Pictures

View from Beinn a'Chlachair after sunset in June. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50mm @ 39mm, 1/30 @ f8, ISO 200

I've taken around 9000 photos this year, which sounds a lot but I do take pictures almost every day and it includes many similar shots and ones of gear, camps, books, magazines, myself and other record and work pictures. Less than half that 9000 are photographs taken to capture a beautiful or spectacular scene. Here I'm posting my twenty favourites of those, with technical info for anyone interested.

Strathspey, January. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50mm @ 16mm, 1/320 @ f8, ISO 100

My photo gear stayed the same all year, Sony a6000 and NEX 7 bodies with assorted lenses.. My most used lens was again the Sony 16-50mm zoom, usually at either end of the range. After that came the Sony 55-210mm and then the Sony 10-18mm. On and off I toyed with the idea of buying the Sony E 18-135mm zoom that was launched last January. I may still do so. On my GR5 walk I took the 16-50 and 10-18 zooms and missed having a longer zoom. The 10-18 and 18-135 sounds a good combination.

Snowstorm, January. Sony a6000, Sony E 55-210 @ 148mm, 1/160 @ f8, ISO 800

View from Toll Creagach, February. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 10-18 @ 10mm, 1/400 @ f8, ISO 100

After sunset, Strathspey, February. Sony a6000, Sigma E 60mm f2.8, 1/1250 @ f8, ISO 200

Woods, Strathspey, March. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50 @ 50mm, 1/80 @ f8, ISO 3200

Ben Rinnes, April. Sony a6000, Sony E 55-210 @ 210mm, 1/500 @ f11, ISO 100

Cairn Gorm at sunset, April. Sony a6000, Sony E 55-210 @ 210mm, 1/160 @ f8, ISO 400

Loch Morlich, July. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 10-18 @10mm, 1/200 @ f8, ISO 100

Mists clearing at dawn, French Alps, September. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50 @ 41mm, 1/80 @ f8, ISO 100

Lac Ste Anne, French Alps, September. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 10-18 @ 10mm, 1/60 @ f8, ISO 100

Forest sunlight, Strathspey, October. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50 @ 50mm, 1/40 @ f8, ISO 100

After sunset, Glen Feshie, October. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50 @ 50mm, 1/80 @ f8, ISO 100

After sunset above Glen Feshie, October. Sony NEX 7, Sony 10-18 @ 10mm, 1/20 @ f5/6, ISO 400

Autumn colours, Glen Feshie, October. Sony a6000, Sony E 16-50 @ 16mm, 1/250 @ f8, ISO 100

Lochan Uaine, November. Sony a6000, Samyang 12mm f2, 30sec @ f2, ISO 400

On Bynack More, November. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 16-50 @ 17mm, 1/320 @ f8, ISO 100

Mists, Strathspey November. Sony a6000, Sony E 55-210 @ 210mm, 1/160 @ f8, ISO 400

Birch trees, December. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 55-210 @ 77mm, 1/125 @ f8, ISO 200

Strathspey & the Cairngorms, Christmas Day. Sony NEX 7, Sony E 55-210 @ 127mm, 1/500 @ f8, ISO 200

Saturday 29 December 2018

Christmas Walks in Strathspey and the Cairngorms

Christmas Day

Quiet weather, calm, misty, mild. A gentle Christmas with little sign of winter. The snow on the hills thawing, the ground soft and damp. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day we went for  strolls in the local woods and fields. The land was silent. Mist drifted slowly across the meadows. Rabbits scurried for cover. A flock of rooks. A wood pigeon. Little else. Nature slept, waiting.

Christmas Eve

Thin clouds streaked the sky. Thin sunshine trickled down, cool and pale. Only as the sun sank to the horizon did colours brighten and glow, the sky turning pink, the birch trees glistening gold.

As the days went by the air warmed. No frosts, no winter chill. On the 27th I went to the Cairngorms and up Creag an Leth-choin. There was no need for hat, gloves, warm jacket. A thin fleece over a base layer sufficed even in the wind. I've needed more in August.

The burns were flowing strongly and only in Coire Lochan was there much remaining snow. The land was brown and faded yellow. Mountain hares and ptarmigan in their winter whiteness stood out, easy prey for any eagles.

On the summit ridge the wind blasting out of the Lairig Ghru was strong and cold enough for more clothing but as soon as I dropped down a little it came off as I was too hot. On Creag an Leth-choin the going was rough - something I know but just how rough always fades between ascents so I'm always surprised. Deep heather, big boulders, steep ground make for slow progress. I came down in the dark looking across Glen More to the orange lights of Aviemore. There were no other lights on the hills, no-one else descending. I saw no-one all day.

Now we wait for winter. Maybe it will return at New Year? Maybe.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Favourite New Outdoor Gear 2018

Tilley Hiker Hat on the GR5

After another year of testing gear for The Great Outdoors here are my favourite items of 2018. As in previous years they don't necessarily replace old favourites and they're in no particular order. More detailed reviews of some of the items can be found in my column on the TGO website, along with other reviews.

Some of these items came on the GR5 Trail Through The Alps with me, along with some old favourites. You can read about the gear I took on that walk here.

Patagonia 850 Down Sleeping Bag

Weighing just 850 grams and with a comfort rating of -7C this sleeping bag is very warm for the weight. It also has an unusual and practical design with a front rather than a side zip that makes it easy to get in and out. This centre zip is also excellent for sitting up in the bag and for using your hands with the hood up. The zip can be adjusted from top, bottom and in the middle so you can have ventilation wherever you want. I find it very comfortable.

MPowerd Luci Pro Outdoor 2.0 

This inflatable light is the best camping lantern I've ever used. It folds flat for packing and weighs 173 grams. It charges via USB or by the built-in solar panel. The variable light is very bright and easily lights up a campsite. I've used it when walking too and it's excellent.

Millican Fraser The Rucksack 32L

At a glance this is just a retro-looking daypack but it does have some excellent features and is very comfortable to carry. It has a padded back, internal framesheet and padded hipbelt.

The Fraser is made from a tough wax impregnated polyester/cotton fabric that looks like old-fashioned canvas. There's a minimum number of fabric panels to reduce the seams and maximise strength. I reckon it should last a long time.

There are eight pockets including one for valuables and documents that's on the back rathert than inside the lid. The buckled side pockets are roomy and there are open pockets behind them. Capacity is 32 litres and it weighs 1.35kg.

Tilley Hiker Hat

I've worn a Tilley Hat on every long walk I've done since discovering them in the Yukon in 1990. This latest model went on the GR5 and was excellent. The design is very similar to the original Tilley Hat but it's made from organic cotton and has a mesh band round the crown for ventilation rather than brass eyelets. The thin pad inside the crown is made from an evaporative cooling material that soaks up water and then cools you as it slowly dries.

Trail Designs Kojin Stove

Trail Designs Caldera/TiTri cone units have been my choice for long distance walks for the last decade. This year a new meths/alcohol burner was launched for these cones and it's excellent. It's a tiny tin full of absorbent wadding and weighs just 17 grams. The wadding absorbs the fuel so it can't spill and if you don't use it all you can screw on the lid so it doesn't evaporate. I took it on the GR5 and it worked well.


I've liked ULA packs for many years, using the Catalyst on many long walks. The 54-litre CDT is a lighter, simpler, frameless pack designed for 5-8kg loads. It only weighs 680 grams but has a padded back, padded hipbelt and five pockets and is made from tough Robic fabric. With light loads it's very comfortable.

Land Rover Explore

I've used a smartphone for navigation, photos, social media, blog posts, TGO articles and more for a decade now. During that time I've gone through a number of different cases to protect the phones from water, dirt, and being dropped. No need with the Explore. It's designed for the outdoors and very rugged. I took it on the GR5 and it performed fine. As a smartphone it's much like many others but the toughness makes it stand out for outdoor use.

Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

Ultralight and packing into a tiny ball the Micro Puff is the warmest for the weight synthetic filled jacket I've ever used. It only weighs 264 grams and is warmer than the thickest fleece. It's also soft and very comfortable.

Matrix Powerwatch X

Smartwatches can do all sorts of amazing things but to do so they need power and batteries are tiny and generally need recharging often. This watch may not have all the functions of other smartwatches but it never needs charging as it works off body heat. I find this amazing!

Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60

Weighing only 945 grams the 60-litre Mariposa comfortably carries 15kg. I took it on the GR5 and found it superb. I especially loved the seven external pockets that held everything I needed for the day. It's proved tough too and shows little sign of wear.

Altra Lone Peak 4.0 Low Mesh

These are the third version of the Lone Peak I've worn and I think they're the best. The wide toebox allows freedom of movement, grip and cushioning are excellent, and the zero drop feels fine. The best trail shoes I've used. I took them on the GR5 and had no blisters or any foot problems.

Lightwave S10 Sigma

Last year the S20 Sigma was one of my favourites. This year it's the smaller, lighter S10, which is ideal for solo use. I still can't quite believe a single-skin tent can be so condensation free. It's roomy and stable too.

Rab Microlight Summit

In really cold weather nothing beats a down jacket and this winter I've been wearing the latest in Rab's Microlight range and it's superb. It's light at 455 grams and very warm. It has hydrophobic down, an adjustable hood and roomy pockets. 

Sunday 23 December 2018

The Winter Solstice In The Cairngorms

Sunset on Cairn Gorm

The shortest day, the longest night. Midwinter. The turning of the light. Every day is longer now. A time for celebration. The sun is returning. The winter solstice is always special. And a hill is the place to be.

Slippery rocks on the ascent

The lower slopes of the Cairngorms were very treacherous to negotiate. Verglas on rocks, frozen ground and frost-slick vegetation made for slippery going. Without my trekking poles I'd have fallen more than once.


Once on the snow walking became easier, firm steps giving secure grip. Then the terrain steepened and the snow became much harder, my boots making little impression. On with the crampons, for the first time this winter, and then the always startling revelation as to the security they bring.

Cloud building over Cairn Lochan

On reaching the Cairngorm Plateau I was met by a fierce westerly wind. Clouds were surging into the sky over Cairn Lochan. I had intended to head that way, maybe even crossing the Plateau to Ben Macdui. But above Cairn Gorm just to the east the sky was clearer with patches of blue. Go that way and I'd have the wind at my back. Plans changed I started the climb. It was to prove a fortuitous decision.

Cairngorm Weather Station

The first inkling that the summit of Cairn Gorm was the place to be came as the weather station rose into view with behind it a splendid sky of streaked clouds and deep blue. The wind was bitter but I was going to linger here awhile and watch the icy world. I wandered over to the summit cairn to see the sun slowly sinking into the clouds behind Cairn Lochan.

Solstice full moon

Then I turned and looked out towards the flat lands beyond the mountains. A pale light shone through the clouds then they parted and there was the full moon rising into the solstice night.

Season's Greetings

Best wishes for the holidays and for 2019 to all my supporters, readers and followers. May you have a wonderful year.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Wild Camps of 2018

Below the Col de la Vallee Etroite, GR5. September

This year I've had many splendid camps in the Scottish Highlands and on the GR5 Trail Through The Alps. Here's a selection of my favourites (you can see more of the GR5 ones here). As last year my first night out was in an igloo not a tent or tarp.

Atop an igloo on the slopes of Toll Creagach, Glen Affric. February

In Glen Feshie. June

By the Caochan Dubh, Moine Mhor, Cairngorms. April

On Beinn a'Chlachair, Central Highlands. June

On the Cairngorm Plateau. June

On the Moine Mhor, Cairngorms. August

By the Ruiseau d'Antern, GR5. September
Opposite the Pointe de la Selle, GR5. September

In Glen Feshie. October

Cairngorms camp. November
In Glen Feshie. December