Saturday 31 October 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No.26

View over Strathspey to the Cairngorms, October 20

Some more online reading I've enjoyed recently. Just two weeks since I last posted links!


Go Outside. Sit Down. Wait. 

Superb piece by zephr on why carrying enough gear is important in the hills. 

Hiker Claims Fastest Known Time For "Twiple Crown"

Humour! An old piece I hadn't seen before by Shane “Jester” O’Donnell on his wonderfully named Night Hiking to Mars blog. 

Scientists Weigh in on The Great Trekking Pole Debate 

An interesting look at recent research on trekking poles by Alex Hutchinson.

How much does a photo bring back memories? The remote Coire a’ Granda Beinn Dearg. The healing power of the wild places to help your well being.

Heavy Whalley on how the mountains helped him cope with illness.

Green Mind: Dow Crag and Coniston Old Man from Torver 

George Kitching on the lockdown, environmentalism, and a walk in the Lake District.

Swallows, Amazons and Adventure Part 1 & Part 2

As a boy the stories of Arthur Ransome had a big effect on me. They are still favourites. In this long fascinating essay Jon Sparks looks at themes of  exploration, independence and freedom in the books. I must read them again with his ideas in mind.

Autumn colours, Strathspey, October 22


Make a difference for wild places with Wanderlust Europe, Alex Roddie, Chris Townsend, and the John Muir Trust

 Alex Roddie on his fundraiser for the John Muir Trust. Bid for a copy of Wanderlust Europe and a walk with Alex and me.

Langholm - a landscape of hope 

David Lintern visits Langholm in Southern Scotland to learn about an inspiring ambitious community-led ecological restoration project. There is still a day left to contribute to this

We Need A Smarter Approach To Mountain Travel 

Alan Rowan - Moonwalker - says we need to get away from cars for travelling to the mountains. 

Open landscapes and closed minds 

Ecologist Gus Routledge looks at opposition to native woodland expansion. Why do people think this and how valid are their views? 

The Wolf: Too Wild For Scotland? (Part 1)

The Highlands could support 500 wolves, says Hugh Webster in this informative, well-argued piece. 

 The lynx effect: Iberian cat claws its way back from brink of extinction

Sam Jones tells the heartening story of how the lynx is expanding in Spain and Portugal.

What Victorian era seaweed pressings reveal about our changing seas

Collections of beautiful seaweed pressings made by Victorian ladies are helping scientists learn how the oceans have change says Laura Tretheway. 

The radical aristocrat who put kindness on a scientific footing

Historical novelist and biographer Lydia Syson tells how Russian anarchist Prince Peter Kropotkin showed how mutual aid is key to evolution. 

Friday 30 October 2020

Waterproof Jackets Review for TGO


My recent review of waterproof jackets has just appeared on the TGO website. Many days in the rain to produce this review! 

Now I'm testing waterproof trousers. Yesterday's walk was good for that and it looks like the next few days will be wet as well. I hate saying I need rain but when testing waterproof clothing I do!

Very wet and windy in the Cairngorms - not the day to try and make a video.


With a forecast for cloud on the highest tops plus a strong wind and showers, sometimes of snow, I thought I'd head again for Carn Eilrig, which is some 500 metres lower than the high tops of the Cairngorms, having failed to reach it due to the burns being in spate at the start of the month. That had otherwise been a good autumn trip with sunshine and fine views. Given that it's been very wet ever since I expected the rivers to be even higher now so I planned to climb the hill from Gleann Einich - there's a bridge across the river! 

Rain started as I took my first steps but as the prediction was for showers I hoped I wouldn't need my waterproofs all day. Five hours later the rain eased enough for me to lower my hood. It turned out to be one of the wettest days I've been out in for quite a while.

The forest is always a joy even in the rain and whilst some of the birches and rowans have lost their leaves and others are fading to a dull brown there was still enough bright autumn colour to raise the spirits. And in the background the brooding hills, dark outlines rising into the clouds. 

As the path rose to run above the Am Beanaidh I looked down on the swirling white water and was glad of that bridge. Carn Eilrig lies on the edge of the hills above the forest with the Am Beanaidh on one side and the Allt Druidh on the other. They converge some 2 kilometres north of the summit. A descent this way looks appealing but it's a terrain trap, leaving you between the two rivers with no bridge.

Once out of the trees I met the buffeting wind, driving the rain down the glen and into my face. Carn Eilrig was behind me now but I was heading for that bridge first. Once across I was glad to turn away from the storm as I climbed boggy slopes to the col south of the summit .

The wind strengthened as I approached the little cairn, blowing me sideways and sending me staggering several times. Without poles I'd probably have fallen. If it was like this here, at 742 metres, what was it like at 1296 metres on Braeriach, which I could see fading into the clouds to the south, a streak of bright white marking a swollen burn crashing down the dark slopes. 

Wondering if I could make a short video showing the conditions even on this lowly top I pulled out my phone. It's waterproof, unlike my camera. Trying to hold it still when I could hardly stand still myself proved too challenging. The short clip at the top of this post was the only half-usable footage I got. 

Returning to the col straight into the storm was hard work, the wind wanting to blast me back up the hill and the rain, halfway to hail now, stinging my face. Turning down into Gleann Enich gave some relief but I only finally relaxed when back in the shelter of the trees. I'd only been out of the forest a couple of hours. It was long enough.

Tuesday 27 October 2020

Alex Roddie launches a fundraising auction for the John Muir Trust - bid for a copy of Wanderlust Europe and a walk with me and Alex.

Alex Roddie, author of Wanderlust Europe (see my review), has launched an online auction in aid of the John Muir Trust

The winning bidder will receive a copy of the book and a day out on one of the John Muir Trust's mountain properties with Alex and myself (possibly an overnight camp too). 

There's an interview with Alex about the thinking behind this fundraiser on the John Muir Trust website and Alex has written about it on his blog

All proceeds go to the John Muir Trust. You can bid here

I think this is a great initiative by Alex and was happy to agree to give my time for a day out with the winning bidder. I've supported the John Muir Trust for many years (and been a Trustee for the last five) and I agree completely with Alex's words: "If, like me, you are concerned about the future of our mountains, wild places, and rural communities, I believe that supporting the John Muir Trust is one of the most positive ways you can make a difference.”

I'm looking forward to accompanying one of you in the hills!



Monday 26 October 2020

Gear For A Recent High Camp In The Cairngorms

Last week's account of my overnight trip to Ben Macdui elicited a number of enquiries as to the tent used and the gear I take winter camping so I thought I'd write a longer piece rather than just give short answers on social media. Because I test so much gear I rarely take exactly the same items on trips so this isn't meant to be a first choice list. I wasn't too bothered about weight either as I wasn't walking long distances and I was only going out for one night, so I took some items that were heavier than I'd choose for a longer trip. Here's a brief overview of the main items I took.

Tent: Nigor Wickiup 3

This is single pole pyramid tent has been a favourite for several years now. It's very roomy for one with good headroom. It wasn't tested on this trip as it was calm but on other trips it has coped well with stomy weather. I reviewed it for TGO in 2016. I used it with the half-size Inner Tent, which I reviewed later the same year. The total weight is 1625 grams.

Sleeping Bag: Sierra Designs Cloud 800

I reviewed this for The Great Outdoors earlier in the year. I hadn't tested it in cold conditions until this trip though. It has a comfort rating of -3C and the overnight temperature in the tent fell conveniently to that temperature. I was mostly warm enough but I could feel ground cold in a few places, which I think was probably more to do with my mat than the bag. The Cloud 800 does have a section under the body with no fill, just a sleeve for the mat, and maybe a bag with a complete fill would have been better. It wasn't a big problem though. I donned extra clothes and slept well.

Sleeping Mat: Sea to Summit Etherlight XT Small   

The Etherlight XT is a very comfortable mat. It only has an r-value of 3.2 though, which basically means it's not warm enough for winter. I wasn't expecting full winter conditions on this mid-October trip but my camp at 1200 metres was on very cold wet ground - there was snow lying not far away - and I think that's why I could feel ground cold. If I use this mat in freezing conditions again - and it really is wonderfully comfortable - I'll take a closed cell foam pad to put underneath it.

Cooking Gear: Soto Windmaster stove, TOAKS 1.3 litre titanium pot, titanium mug, insulated mug

At 67 grams the Soto Windmaster stove is very light. I've been using it on and off for two years, since I gave my initial impressions here, and I've found it works well in the cold. In strong winds a windshield is needed and I took a foil one with me. On this trip I didn't need it as there was barely a breeze. I used the stove with a part-used gas canister and it lit first time and boiled water quickly in the morning after being left on the ground overnight.

My pot was a TOAKS 1.3 litre one, which is very light at 162 grams. I took it to try after it came in too late for a cookware review I did for TGO earlier in the year.  It worked fine but I don't need a pot this big (my standard one is 900ml and I rarely fill that). I also took the old MSR titanium pot that doubles as a mug outside of winter conditions. It weighs 63 grams. As I was expecting freezing conditions overnight I also took a plastic insulated mug I've had for longer than I can remember. It weighs 125 grams and is worth every one. I like my morning coffee to stay hot! (And my evening hot chocolate too).

Down Jacket: Rab Microlight Alpine

This jacket arrived earlier in the autumn for a review of insulated jackets that will appear in the December issue of The Great Outdoors. It weighs 465 grams and is filled with hydrophobic recycled down. It kept me warm in camp and for the hour I spend wandering round looking at the cloud inversion and taking photographs at dawn.

Pack: Osprey Aether 65

The latest version of this pack arrived just before the trip so it was an ideal opportunity to try it out. This is a fully featured pack with a complex adjustable harness and many features. It weighs a hefty 2.35kg. My total load was 15kg and it handled this with ease. I expect it could carry far more.

Footwear: Inov-8 Roclite Pro G 400 GTX

These boots were another item that arrived just a few weeks ago. As it was a short trip I took the risk of wearing them depite little prior use and happily they were fine. They have Inov-8's graphene sole that's meant to be phenomenally hard wearing. I'll need many more trips to assess this. The grip is good though. I crossed wet grass, wet rocks, dry rocks, loose gravel, mud, tussocks, hard snow and soft snow and felt secure. The uppers are a Schoeller ceramic-coated fabric that is also said to be very durable. After this trip I was impressed to see that they are unmarked. They didn't absorb any moisture either and I did walk through some boggy areas. They are Gore-Tex lined and I found them warm enough woth midweight wool socks. They are very light, my pair of size 9s only weighing 840 grams.


As the air was still much of the time I walked in a wool/polypro base layer, Alpkit Woodsmoke shirt, and Fjallraven G1000/softshell trousers. When in damp clouds and a breeze I also wore a windproof jacket. I had waterproof jacket and trousers with me of course but never took them out of the pack. I also took some old Rab PrimaLoft trousers that I wore in camp. I prefer these to long underwear as you can pull them on over your walking trousers. They are very warm.

For head and hands I had two warm hats (wool beanie, lined cap) and four pairs of gloves/mitts (thin liner gloves, medium weight insulated gloves, thick insulated mitts, waterproof shell mitts). These will come on every trip from now until May.


Other items included Pacerpoles and two headtorches (easier to swap them over than change batteries or charge them) plus the usual other stuff. I didn't take ice axe, micro spikes, crampons or snow shovel but I hope I'll need these soon, along with skis or snowshoes. 

Cameras and Electronics

Expecting superb conditions for photography I took two camera bodies, three lenses and a tripod. I used tham all. I also took two smartphones which ended up being mostly used for photography as well. Why two smartphones? Well, I have one to test - the Land Rover Explore R - and thought I'd compare it to the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro I bought last month (and reviewed here).

Saturday 24 October 2020

Food Review: Rollagranola

 Reviewing food is difficult so I rarely attempt it. Everyone's tastes are different. However when I was offered some granola to try earlier this year I couldn't resist. Granola or muesli has been my breakfast on every backpacking trip whether overnight or multi-month since my first one over forty years ago. Cereal like this is my commonest breakfast at home too. I'm always happy to try new versions.

Rollagranola comes in twelve varieties, available in either 300 or 350 grams at £4.99 each. All of them are vegan and gluten-free and contain no artificial additives or added sugar.

Rollagranola's recommendation of 40 gram servings provides around 150-200 kcalories depending on the variety. That's about half what I want for breakfast in the hills so each box contains three to four servings for me. I add dried milk powder and sugar too. I find a filling breakfast is important when walking.

Two of the varieties I've tried are oat-based - Absolutely Chocolate and Awesome Almond. The first of these is 11% chocolate. I found the taste delicious but overwhelming. It's great for eating a handful as a snack but for breakfast I prefer to mix it 50/50 with porridge oats for a less strong taste.

Awesome Almond is my favourite of the four I tried. Mixed with dried milk and a little sugar this makes a satisfying breakfast. The basic ingredients are oats (34%), almonds (16%), and dates (13%). It also contains sunflower seeds, dessicated coconut, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, hazelnuts, flax seeds, apples, avocado oil, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg. I'd be happy to eat this for breakfast day after day on a long walk. 

The other two I tried, Berry Caveman and Zesty Caveman, are both cereal-free 'paleo' ones. I found them quite tasty but better as snacks than for breakfast unless mixed 50/50 with porridge oats or muesli. Both have very high nut contents (over 39% for Berry Caveman and over 44% for Zesty Caveman) plus seeds, dried fruit and more. The Berry Caveman is the sweeter of the two. The Zesty Caveman has ginger in it and quite a spicy kick. Both are strong tasting and good as trail mix, either on their own or mixed with other ingredients (I'd add dried fruit). 

Rollagranola will certainly find its way into my pack again, especially the Awesome Almond, and I'll try some of the other varieties too. Pecan Maple Twist sounds good.

Wednesday 21 October 2020

A Glorious Cairngorms Trip Above The Clouds


Sometimes tiny details in the weather forecast are worth pursuing. Towards the end of last week the gloomy outlook was for overcast skies and the clouds well down on the hills. But in the Mountain Weather Information Service (MWIS) Cairngorms forecast I noticed a mention of the possibility of areas above 1100 metres rising above the clouds. There's only one place with much land above that height and that's the Cairngorm Plateau. A high camp called.

Shrouded in mist I climbed onto the Plateau and started to wonder if I should find somewhere to camp soon. I'd left late and it would soon be dark. I could see little anyway. Then a hazy brightness appeared away to the west, gradually strengthening into an indistinct sun. The land began to glow gold, the mists began to sink away. I was above the clouds. All thought of stopping vanished. I headed for Ben Macdui.

Through the thinning mists I could see Braeriach rising above the cloud-filled Lairig Ghru pass. From Ben Macdui the Cairngorms were an isolated archipelago floating above a white sea. No other hills were visible. There was no wind, no sound except the crunch of my boots on gravel and patches of old snow. As darkness fell I dropped below the summit to camp at 1200 metres, well above the clouds. 

The night was dark, cold and starry. There was no moon. I've rarely seen such a brilliant display of stars. The sky was alive. I wandered round gazing in awe before retreating to the warmth of my tent and sleeping bag. I left the doors open though so I could stare out at the sky. I woke once to see Orion had risen, the constellation of autumn and winter.

Dawn came with a sharp frost. Ice in my water bottles. And a pink tinge on the horizon with blue sky above. Cairn Gorm rose above the clouds. Beautiful. Forgetting about breakfast I was up and out in minutes, watching the still hidden sun lighting slopes above me. The early light was glorious. 

Back on Ben Macdui I gazed again across the Lairig Ghru. The clouds were lower now with some distant hills poking through. The Cairngorms were no longer alone. 

Back at camp strands of thin cloud were drifting past, giving an insubstantial feel to the landscape. Then a fogbow formed, curving above my tent. I'd only ever seen one a couple of times before so I stood and stared for a while, feeling glad I'd seen this fairly rare phenomena. Little did I know what the day was to bring.

Camp packed I returned to Ben Macdui then started back across the Plateau, meeting many walkers heading up. To the west cirrus clouds traced delicate patterns on the blue sky, the precursor to a change in the weather. Ahead I could see that the clouds still covered the northern Plateau. I'd be back in them soon.

The splendour of the day was not over yet though. Another fogbow materialised, an arch I would never reach, never pass through, but which was always there in front of me, never coming closer, never retreating. I walked towards it, mesmerised. 

I lost the fogbow when I entered the mist, which was cold and damp. The world shrank to a few metres.  But then as I approached the edge of the Northern Corries the cloud started to thin and a fogbow started to appear again, this time with hints of colour in it. 

Peering down the steep slopes of Coire an t-Sneachda I could see a bigger fogbow and in its centre a Brocken spectre, my shadow thrown onto the fog. I'd seen this more often than a fogbow but the sight of one is always magical. It was a final touch of wonder before I descended into the clouds and a grey world.

Thursday 15 October 2020

What I've Been Reading Online No. 25

View up the Allt Druidh, Cairngorms, October 2


Another month passes. Autumn is well under way. And here's my next selection of online reading I've enjoyed.



Paths of glory: How 96-miles of the West Highland Way have been Scots’ happiest trail for 40 years

On its fortieth anniversary Fiona Russell looks at the story of the West Highland Way.

Miles and isles: our big Scottish bike ride

Cycle touring and camping in the Highlands and Island with Kevin Rushby.

How to walk across Scotland 

Advice from Ronald Turnbull on how to walk coast to coast across the Highlands

Tackling Jock's Road: a dramatic walking adventure in the Scottish Highlands 

Patrick Baker on the challenges of a splendid high mountain crossing. 

Field Journal: Wanderlust Europe: An Interview With Alex Roddie

Interview with the author of the new book Wanderlust Europe, which I reviewed here.

Country Diary: an ancient forest offers protection from the elements

Carey Davies on the morning after a night in Glen Feshie, on the trip I wrote about here

Autumn colours, Strathspey, October 6


Loch Insh Osprey

Merryn Glover on the ospreys of summer, now departed.

The Oaks of Sunart

David Russell is revitalised in Ardnamurchan.

Nature has its own original music and the wreckers are those who set traps
Trenchant comment and interesting words from Jim Crumley on the slaughter of wildlife by 'sporting' estates.
How beavers became North America's best fire fighters
Beavers can create fireproof refuges says Ben Goldfarb.  

Britain needs to grow more trees - are sheep farms the answer? 
Environmental researcher Connie O'Neill and biologist Colin Osborne on turning land overgrazed by sheep into woodland. 

Re-wild to mitigate the climate crisis, urge leading scientists
Research in the journal Nature shows the value of rewilding writes Guardian Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey.

Nature Notes: wildlife photography, summer 2020
Alex Roddie looks back at last summer
Sunset, Rothiemurchus Forest, Cairngorms, October 2


Tuesday 13 October 2020

The Great Outdoors November issue


Bivvying, backpacking, wild camping, coastal walking, the Himalayas, and more. The November issue of The Great Outdoors is packed with exciting features.

My contribution is a review of ten 50-60 litre size packs. Also in the gear pages Judy Armstrong reviews six women's waterproof jackets. 

The bivvying comes from Hazel Strachan who describes nights out in the Highlands. In Glen Affric David Lintern goes wild camping with his family. Far to the south Tim Gent follows ancient footsteps as he backpacks the Perambulation of Dartmoor. For coastal walking Vivienne Crow picks eight of the most rugged and spectacular sections of the Wales Coast Path. 

Overseas Ed Douglas describes his first visit to the Himalayas in an excerpt from his new book Himalaya: A Human History, and James Forrest explores the Giant Mountains in the Czech Republic.

Also in this issue MWIS forecaster Garry Nicholson gives advice how to predict cloud inversions; James Forrest is interviewed about the planning for his recent two-week record breaking round of all 214 Wainwrights; Roger Smith is shocked by crowds and a scuffle on Snowdon and appeals for respect for nature; Leena Taha describes a walk with her father in the winning entry in a collaborative writing competition run by Black Girls Hike and The Great Outdoors; TGO Challenge organisers Ali Ogden and Sue Oxley describe how next year's event will be run; and Jim Perrin praises Helvellyn.

Thursday 8 October 2020

Review: Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro - a smartphone for the outdoors


When I first bought a smartphone over ten years ago I chose an Android one over an iPhone for one reason - the Android phone had a replaceable battery so I could carry several on long trips and swop them over as needed. My second smartphone was like this too but when that died in 2015 phones with replaceable batteries had just about disappeared. 

They might not have replaceable batteries but some phones were now waterproof, which seemed a good idea, and I chose one of these, the Samsung Galaxy S7. This has been a good phone. It's been on every trip, long or short, for over four years and never failed. Last year though the battery started to fade and I had to charge it more and more often. I had the battery replaced but the new one soon faded as well. I started to think about a new phone.

Then Samsung announced earlier this year that there would be no more security or software updates for the S7. I decided it really was time for a replacement. But what to buy?

Now I'd always used a protective case with the S7 and treated it as fragile, something I assumed was standard for phones. Until 2018 when Land Rover sent me its new Explore phone to test, a phone that was designed to be tough - waterproof, dustproof, shockproof. I took it on the GR5 Trail Through the Alps and really enjoyed having a phone that didn't need much care or even a case. (You can read my review on the TGO Website). My S7 was still working fine so I didn't replace it with the Explore. But I did think my next phone would be a similar one. *

So when I started looking for a new phone this year I concentrated on rugged models, of which there are a surprising number, most of them big, chunky and heavy. I wanted one that was reasonably light and not too bulky though but which still had a decent sized screen and a battery that would last. None seemed to be like this.

Then I discovered the Samsung Galaxy XCover Pro, which was launched last January. This looks like an ordinary phone but is designed for use on construction sites and so is very rugged (IP68 rating). And, wonder of wonders, it has a replaceable battery. After my usual dithering about a major purchase I bought one. I've had it about a month now and so far it's excellent, having been used in rain, sleet, and freezing temperatures. No case is needed. I have put on a screen protector but I'm not sure that's really necessary.

The XCover Pro comes into the mid-range smartphone category, costing around £450. It does everything I want and does it well. It works with gloves and the screen is visible in bright light. I've been using it with ViewRanger and it works just like the S7.

It weighs 232 grams, which is lighter than most rugged phones. My smaller S7 weighs 192 grams with case. The XCover Pro is a little thinner than the S7 with case too. 

The XCover Pro has a 160mm/6.3" screen. It's comfortable to hold in one hand but anything bigger would probably be awkward for me (and my hands aren't small - I take large in gloves). The battery is quite big at 4050 mAh and so far has lasted for well over eight hours in the hills. A spare battery weighs 76 grams. Swapping batteries over is quick and easy and you can have a fully charged phone again in less than a minute. A spare battery is much lighter and more compact than a battery pack too.

There are two front cameras - 25 megapixel wide angle and 8 megapixel ultra wide angle - and a rear 13 megapixel selfie camera. The images are similar to those of the S7, which in its day was regarded as one of the best camera phones. I'm sure today's top phones have better cameras (as they should have at twice the price) but this wasn't a major concern for me as I use a separate camera anyway. As it is I'm more pleased with the XCover Pro images than I expected to be and a few have already been used in The Great Outdoors magazine.

The XCover Pro has plenty of storage space with 64GB built-in and a slot for a MicroSD card up to 512GB in size (I have a 128GB one). I won't detail all the other technical specifications - you can see them on the Samsung website. Suffice it to say everything works fine for me and I haven't noticed any difference with the S7, except that the touchscreen is less sensitive, which I prefer.

Because of the replaceable battery the XCover Pro should last many years. It comes with four years of security and software updates too - many phones only come with two. I'm surprised it hasn't had more coverage and interest. It's an excellent phone for the outdoors. I love not needing a case, not needing to treat it as fragile, and knowing I can swap the battery over if it runs out of power.

*Ironically, shortly after I bought the XCover Pro Land Rover launched a new rugged phone, the Explore R, and sent me one to test. So far it's performed fine. It is designed specifically for the outdoors with useful apps that you don't get with the XCover Pro. It doesn't have a replaceable battery though. Full review to come.

Monday 5 October 2020

Book & Map Review: Tour Du Mont Blanc Guidebook & Guidemap


Last spring Vertebrate published a guidebook and a map to the most famous and popular walk in the Alps, the Tour Du Mont Blanc. With the pandemic it wasn't the best time for new guides to walks abroad though some people did make it to the Alps in the summer. Now though is the time for planning for next summer, when hopefully travel will be back to normal or close to it, and if you're thinking of the Tour Du Mont Blanc both these items are worth a look.

The guidebook is by International Mountain Leader Kingsley Jones, who has guided walking and running groups on the Tour over fifty times, and raced it many times, spending well over a year in total on the trails round Mont Blanc. The book is illustrated with his excellent photographs taken on these trips.

The book has all the usual information and advice for walking the Tour plus clear route descriptions along with 1:40,000 maps. As a standard guidebook it's fine. There's one big addition though that makes it different and special and that's personalised timings using something called the Jones-Ross formula. Now timings are one of my bugbears with guidebooks, especially those that give times but not distances. In the guidebooks I've written I've either only given distances or, when the publishers have insisted, approximate broad times such as 8-10 hours as well. 

With this new formula Kingsley Jones has worked out timings for four different groups - walkers, trekkers, fastpackers, and trail runners. The route has been split into 165 waypoints, 34 of which are also timing points. A chart gives suggested times for the different groups between the timing points along with the distance. Looking at the timings for the section of the Tour I have walked (the bit that coincides with the GR5 trail) I did them a bit faster than a walker and a bit slower than a trekker. I think this timing method is useful and should be easy to adapt to actual experience. No more cursing the guidebook writer for being superfit or wondering if they ever stopped.

Most guidebooks split treks like this into days between places with accommodation, which doesn't always fit with how you want to do the walk (it certainly didn't for me on the GR5 as I was camping and didn't want to reach an alpine hut or a village every night). This guidebook doesn't do that. Instead you can use the timing points to work out where you want to reach each day and how many days the walk will take. There is a list of accommodation at the back with the nearest timing point to each. 

The guidebook is compact and weighs 182 grams so it can easily be carried in a pocket. 

The guidemap contains much of the same information and advice as the guidebook, including the personalised timings and the timing points, plus a link to download a TMB GPX file. What you don't get is the detailed route description. What you do get are five 1:40,000 map sections, each of which shows far more of the route than the many little maps in the guidebook. I prefer this as it's easier to see the overall picture of the landscape but the guidebook maps are perfectly adequate.

The guidemap is printed on tough waterproof material and weighs 45 grams. 

Given the combined weight of 227 grams I'd probably carry both book and map. They're both excellent.

Saturday 3 October 2020

Lovely autumn weather between the storms but the burns are in spate

Rothiemurchus Forest & the Lairig Ghru

After a day of rain yesterday was forecast to be dry and bright before a weekend of more rain. With the midges gone and the autumn colours developing a walk in the forest appealed with an ascent of one of the lower Cairngorm hills, Carn Eilrig, a superb viewpoint. Wet from the rain Rothiemurchus Forest glowed in the sunshine as I strolled along the path towards the Lairig Ghru pass looking down at the swollen Allt Druidh, which I was hoping to ford higher up.

The Allt Druidh

As the land rises the river cuts a deep gorge through the forest. Here the path climbs to run along the edge of the ravine. Ahead Creag an Leth-choin towers over the mouth of the Lairig Ghru. For the ascent of Carn Eilrig I left the path and descended steep rough slopes of heather and bracken to the river. The sound of the water grew to a deafening roar as I approached. I picked a slower-looking spot for a ford and stepped in. The river tugged at my legs, the stones in the river were slippery. Below me the water crashed over boulders, white and fast. One more step. I could see the river was deeper ahead. I backed off. A struggle along the bank in dense vegetation laced with little streams and patches of bog and I tried again. With the same result. This was not a day for Carn Eilrig, not by this route.

The Allt Druidh winding down from the Lairig Ghru

Turning away from the river I clambered back up the steep sides of the gorge to the path then continued up easier ground to Castle Hill, which sits opposite Carn Eilrig, the two rising above the edge of the forest to form a gateway to the Lairig Ghru. The trees are climbing higher though and there's a scattering of tiny pines and low junipers on Castle Hill. The wind was strong on the summit and I was glad I hadn't planned on higher hills. Down below Loch Morlich was a deep blue.

Loch Morlich

Steep slopes led back down into the forest and the path. Late afternoon and the light was changing, shadows deepening, colours richer. The walk out felt different to the walk in. A different direction, different light. This forest is marvellous. Always.

The top of the forest

Looking back Braeriach was gold in the low light, its corries dark above the shining forest.


Down in the forest birches caught the sun, the soft green tinged with the first yellow of autumn.

As I neared the end of my walk the sun was just about to set, casting long bright rays across the land, the sky orange, a peaceful fading of the light.