Summer Highlights!

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Summer Highlights!

Summer highlights!

As unpredictable summer in Scotland can be, I've been very fortunate not to have postponed any of my planned walks. Only once did I have to change my route plans due to weather and that was with a Bronze DofE group near Rynie! A small burn crossing turned into a fast-flowing river! This of course was an ideal intervention to teach hazards and dynamic risk assessments. The weather is never a barrier though and mostly, for me anyway, it's been a good summer. 

You shall not pass

You shall not pass

I've had a few DofE groups throughout the summer, volunteering for Banchory, also freelancing for other providers. There's always a story, a drama, a moan and a groan but followed by a sense of achievement as they finish their expedition. These expeditions they'll remember forever, locked in the memory for the good and the bad, mostly for the good. If led correctly the experience will nurture a love and respect for the outdoors. This combined with the other sections of DofE, the participants learn life skills you can't learn in a classroom.

Dreich DofE..

Dreich DofE..

Apart from my own groups qualification, my favourite DofE trip this year was a week over in Arran supervising a gold team. I’d not been to Arran for many years and forgot how stunning it was. Dramatic landscapes and beautiful coastal walks. Walking through Glen Sannox, over to Glen Rosa gives you a intricate view of the ridge walks on the island. I’ll have to go back sometime for a proper look over these.

Glen Rosa

Glen Rosa

I’ve continued to run mini introductory hill skills at the Bennachie Visitor Centre and will continue these next year. These give a wee introduction to map reading and navigation. The follow up from this course would be the National Navigation Award Scheme courses, I’ll be running more of these in the next few months too. James in the picture attended a Bennachie session and also achieved the Bronze NNAS award, I’ve no doubt he’ll continue to progress through the stages and soon be better than me!

James, future Mountain Leader!

James, future Mountain Leader!

Map setting below Mither Tap

Map setting below Mither Tap

I’ve also been fortunate to guide some lovely clients (now friends) over the hills this year. The Turriff and District Round Table team continued their quest to find Munro his home. These guys did an excellent job of walking up 17 Munros for local charities, finishing on Ben Nevis last weekend where Munro found his dad… I had great fun walking with those gents. Well done to them!

Turriff Team

Turriff Team

Another satisfying trip to Glencoe with some repeat clients too.

Buachaille Etive Mor

Buachaille Etive Mor

Painting the Stuic just below Lochnagar summit.

Watercolour time.

Watercolour time.

As a family we had some relax time over the school holidays in between my walk, some walking involved obviously… A lovely week with our extended family in Portugal then back to the cooler isle of Harris and Lewis. We also decided to take the leap and get a pooch, Luna will be joining me on the hills next year!

Paddling in Portugal

Paddling in Portugal

Beautiful Harris

Beautiful Harris

Hillgoers latest team member - Luna!

Hillgoers latest team member - Luna!

In between clients I've be strolling over the Cairngorms looking for flora and breathtaking views. My wild camp by Loch Etchachan a couple of months ago under the stars, looking north for the aurora, was a special evening. Watching the sun dip her last rays over Beinn Mheadhoin and waking up to the vibrant colours that early morning brings, has to be seen.

Loch A'an

Loch A'an

As we approach winter please look out for some winter skills training if you intend venturing to the hills in the snow, I can't wait! 

Hillgoers can offer guided winter walks when the snow arrives, low level walks also available.

Lochnagar in winter

Lochnagar in winter

Contact us for any bespoke walks or training :)

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June in the Cairngorms - Highlights

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June in the Cairngorms - Highlights

A selection of photos and highlights from June, my favourite moment watching my talented daughter Emma play fiddle at An Lochan Uaine, the green lochan. It's such a beautiful place and the slow waltz added to the special atmosphere.

Emma at An Lochan Uaine

Emma at An Lochan Uaine

I was fortunate to have a few trips to the hills in June with some lovely clients with a few wanders over the plateau, peering into the corries and lochs.

Loch A'an

Loch A'an

Loch Etchachan

Loch Etchachan

I also had a couple of visits to Ben Macdui, mixed weather on both occasions!

Ben Macdui Summit

Ben Macdui Summit

On our way up Derry Cairngorm

On our way up Derry Cairngorm

Derry Cairngorm

Derry Cairngorm

With a few trips to Lochnagar too....my favourite.

Lochnagar

Lochnagar

Walking down to Loch Muick

Walking down to Loch Muick

And some lovely woodland walks as well :)

My June outings were a mix of planned events and bespoke requests. If you'd like to join me on a walk get in touch, navigation tuition also available on my outings.

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Lochnagar Sunset

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Lochnagar Sunset

Lochnagar Sunset

With glorious weather all week I had an itching to get up high for a camp and take in the sunset over the Cairngorms. So after cutting the grass I headed out Thursday afternoon to Loch Muick, via a quick stop in Ballater to drop off some flyers at the library. As usual, Ballater was looking fantastic in the sunshine, a TV crew were out on the village green, probably for voting day, as were many of the locals, taking in the sunshine. The town is so vibrant and the reconstruction of the old railway station is well underway, I'm looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Spital of Glen Muick visitor centre

Spital of Glen Muick visitor centre

The car park at Loch Muick was quite full which was no surprise but folks were starting to return from their walks to head home. Some weary looking but mostly happy! I timed my departure to give me enough time to pitch my tent just down from the top of Lochnagar, over toward the Stuic.

Red Spout

Red Spout

There was a reasonable breeze giving a little wind chill but nothing a hat and warm layer wouldn't fix. On my way up I stopped at foxes for a drink, hearing the noises above, I looked up and watched an eagle and raven in overhead battle. The raven was trying her best to see of the eagle, which flew off calmly in the direction of Conachcraig and didn't seem to be fussed about the raven! After reaching the top, just before 8pm I put on my extra duvet coat and sat watching the clouds and views unfold, with the sun stretching the shadows over the glens, Lochnagar itself completely in shadow.

Campsite toward the Stuic

Campsite toward the Stuic

On my way to pitch my tent I passed a fit trail runner in shorts and t-shirt, a quick run up Lochnagar, a couple of selfies perhaps, then off over the Stuic! I pitched my tent out of the wind best I could, put the kettle on and took in the views until I was in need of my bed.

Stuic and Loch nan Eun

Stuic and Loch nan Eun

In the morning I went back up to Lochnagar, then headed back to Loch Muick via Carn a' Choire Bhoidheach and Dubh Loch. I took a break at Dubh Loch as it's such a beautiful place, I was tempted for a swim but resisted, so instead I sat on a rock and watched the swirls in the water and looked for trout rises. On my way down to the loch, I stopped to watch quite a few mountain hare, now in their summer coats, galloping around the hillside. I didn't see any deer or catch sight of a dropped antlers but I did see some interesting remains of what looked to be grouse and a couple raven feathers.

Grouse feathers

Grouse feathers

Mountain Hare

Mountain Hare

Dubh Loch

Dubh Loch

The heather down toward Loch Muick is starting to take colour too, with the odd sprig of yellow flowers which is really cheery. The sundews and butterworts, really shooting up as well, I've a feeling they will be busy this year!

I've uploaded a wee video to YouTube which you can view here, this will hopefully give you an idea of the views, although they never do it justice, you have to be there, breathe and feel it. Apologies it's a little shaky in places. I was getting fed up with the standard backing tracks offered by Apple so I asked my 15yo daughter Emma to lay down a track for me last night, Maggie West's Waltz by Mairearad Green, this could be a new feature on my videos!

If you'd like to join me on a walk get in touch. Our next planned event is 20th May but we welcome bespoke outings too.

Bridge over the Muick

Bridge over the Muick

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Carn a' Mhaim - bike and hike

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Carn a' Mhaim - bike and hike

Fantastic conditions in the Cairngorms for our bike and hike event to Carn a' Mhaim yeasterday. Why not join us for the next one, or contact us to arrange a trip for you! See our events page for planned outings.

All of our trips are informative and we can include navigation training too if desired!

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Cairngorm Walk - 19th April 2017

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Cairngorm Walk - 19th April 2017

I try to get out every other day for a walk and I try and do a long one at least once a week. When I say long, 25km plus, into a remote area where I can look at that conditions and see the seasonal changes.

Last Wednesday I decided to head for Loch Avon via Glen Derry, Loch Etchachan and over Ben Mheadhoin coming off the north east side down to the east side of Loch Avon. A reasonable walk but I also took my bike to Derry Lodge, cutting off 10km in foot, so in total about 34km, with 970m ascent.

Derry Lodge

Derry Lodge

With the forecast saying the cloud was to lift through morning and wind really light, I knew I was in for a good day. I was only 10 minutes into my cycle along Glen Lui when I heard the call of an eagle, looking up and stopping my bike it was not that far from me, soaring around the trees just beside the path up to Clais Fhearnaig, confirming it was going to be a good day!

As I walked further up and through Glen Derry the noticeable change that struck me this time was the colour of the juniper, the green shoots seemed to stand out more against the brown of the heather. Passing by I like to pinch a piece in my fingers and smell the gin and tonic!  

Hutchison Memorial Hut

Hutchison Memorial Hut

I stopped at the Hutchison hut for lunch before heading up to the loch and beyond. I could've sat there all day, with the place to myself and taking in the views and sounds in the sun, sheltered from the breeze. The only sounds being the cackle of grouse and the creak in the roof from the warmth of the sun.

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan

Loch Etchachan

Loch Etchachan

Loch Etchachan seems to be a prime spot for ptarmigan and with my 200mm camera in hand I was pleased to pick up a couple of good photos on my way up the hill. As you travel up the hill the views of the loch really open up, as do the views over the whole area. And when you reach the flat spot you can really pick out the mountains far and wide. I passed the barns (granite tors shaped by the wind and ice) and headed over to the north side to get a better view into Loch Avon, enjoying every step.

Loch Avon (Loch A'an)

Loch Avon (Loch A'an)

Loch Avon east beach

Loch Avon east beach

My walk back took me close to the Fords of Avon refuge, past the Dubh Lochan and through the Lairig an Laoigh, back to Glen Derry.  I picked up my bike and nearly rode over an adder on my way back which would've spoilt fantastic day!

Dubh Lochan

Dubh Lochan

I'm out walking most weeks, contact me if you'd like to join one of my longer explorer walks or look at my event calendar.

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Bennachie - A long history to be discovered

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Bennachie - A long history to be discovered

Bennachie - A long history to be discovered

Each time I go out for a walk I like to learn something new. I've been using field study council publications for a while now, they produce great fold out study guides that fit easily into my rucksack, ranging from lichens to rocks. There's so much diverse flora, fauna and geology in our hills and it changes with the seasons. 

I also like to learn about the local history, so if you're ever out for a walk with me please share your knowledge! Prior to going somewhere I read up on the area, sources from books to Wikipedia but you can't cover all of the history or stories.

I've walked on Bennachie for many years knowing roughly the older history of the hill. Bennachie, possibly from the Gaelic, Beinn na Cìche (Hill of the Breast), resulting in Mither Tap, the lesser top of the hill, Oxen Craig stands 11m taller. It's also possible it comes from Hill of the Battle (Beinn a' Chath) as it's been suggested the battle of Mons Graupius, a Roman military victory took place there in AD83. Mither tap also has the remains of the Iron Age fort at the top, being the dominant hill in the area, you can only imagine the stronghold and the significance of the hill. Life must have been hard at the top of the hill! Aberdeenshire is notable for it's number of recumbent stone circles, possibly from the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age (c.2700 - 200bc) and I can imagine Bennachie being the epicentre of these circles, although there is a theory Dunnideer near Insch might have been the focal point.

On my navigation session on Monday I was made aware of the air crashes on the hill, somehow this had passed me by previously. We started the session inside the excellent visitor centre classroom, looking at maps and hill kit. Inside the classroom some of the plane remains hang from the ceiling. During the afternoon walk on the hill, two of the local gents were able to share their knowledge of the events. Sadly two young men were the first casualties of WW2 on Bennachie. The Bailies of Bennachie website tells more of the story, you can read it here.

Navigation practice with Mither Tap behind

Navigation practice with Mither Tap behind

I'll visit the memorial cairn next time I take a walk alone on the hill.

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Cairngorm stroll - 2nd April 2017

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Cairngorm stroll - 2nd April 2017

Cairngorm stroll - 2nd April 2017

What fantastic conditions we had for our guided walk on Sunday. A light wind over the tops giving a little wind chill but nothing significant. Snow patches on the north and east slopes receding away and soft to walk on.  We headed on a snow free walk, over to look down on the Pools of Dee in the Lairig Ghru, then to look into Loch Avon, stopping for lunch above the corries. We completed our day with a walk up Cairn Gorm to take in the spectacular views with excellent visibility over the Moray Firth and over the Cairngorm National Park.

One of our clients was a keen bird enthusiast and was delighted to see the Ptarmigan, Snow Buntings and a Ring Ouzel on our way down. It was a really special day all round with lots of smiles!

Our views can be seen in the short video.

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What are we going to do about litter?

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What are we going to do about litter?

What are we going to do about litter?

I was up Bennachie last Saturday running a beginners navigation course. From the excellent visitor centre, there are good walks all over the hill, follow the Gordon Way, then up to Oxen Craig or straight up to Mither Tap. For learning navigation it’s ideal because there are plenty of path junctions through the trees and up on the hill enough features to cover the techniques required.  Bennachie is what I would call an accessible hill, it’s one of the most popular hill walks for all abilities in Aberdeenshire. You can spend a whole day wandering around or you can head up and down Mither Tap in a couple of hours.

walking up Mither Tap

We decided to follow the Gordon way to the south side of Oxen Craig. It’s a pleasant woodland walk for most of the way, with a good variety of trees and habitats. Capercaillie are known to wander in the woods but unfortunately we didn’t spot any.

Mither Tap

One we reached the top of Oxen Craig I started to notice the litter. I didn’t see that much going through the forest but that probably because the Visitor Centre recently ran a litter collection with the help of Baker Hughes Aberdeen. They bagged a large collection of rubbish that day, which can be seen on their Facebook post. Another litter pick was done not long after this one with another group of volunteers.

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Some of the rubbish was perhaps accidently dropped. Some of it deliberately stashed under a rock as if it would somehow never be seen again. I see this often on my walks, even up some our remotest Munros but thankfully not as much.

Oxen Craig is slightly less accessible than Mither Tap, so the quantity of rubbish escalated significantly by the time we reached the lesser summit (Mither Tap is 11m smaller than Oxen Craig…). Again, it could be that some of this rubbish was accidently dropped or blown out of hands. I picked up a few items and put them in my bag.

Bennachie is one typical example of rubbish dropped on our hills, glens and lochs. I see it all over the place. On Ben Nevis last year a fantastic team of volunteers picked up 267kg of rubbish on one day, 100kgs more than the year before! Do we have a growing litter problem? It’s hard to imagine what 267kgs of rubbish looks like!

In an effort to reduce littering, Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park have restricted access to the park (see my earlier post on wild camping). Reactively, Councils across Scotland spend millions picking up litter each year. According to zerowastescotland.org.uk, tax payers spend £53 million pounds each year cleaning up litter. I’d encourage everyone to have a look at their website and resources within, www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/our-work/litter-resources.

Somehow we have to break a cycle that seems to suggest a little bit of littering is ok. It’s not ok, if you think the direct costs of littering above are bad, have a read of this report on indirect costs. http://www.zerowastescotland.org.uk/content/exploring-indirect-costs-litter-scotland.

As this report explains, it’s not just about the money, it’s also about the impact to our environment and state of mind. If no one cares about a wee bit of litter why should I care? It’s a spiral into the abyss of crap.

For your accidental litter dropper, here are my tips:

  1. Take a rubbish bag with you on walks and let everyone in your group know about it!
  2. Open your kid’s sweeties for them, they might give you the main part of the sweetie wrapper but the wee bit they tear off will end up on the path.
  3. Use less packaging, you can put sandwiches in a reusable bag and give it a clean out.
  4. Take refillable water bottles, make your own juices.
  5. Take out everything, banana and orange peel takes months to break down.
  6. Learn how to go to the toilet responsibly outside - https://www.mountaineering.scot/assets/contentfiles/pdf/where-to-go-leaflet.pdf

Finally, if you see litter, pick it up, litter attracts litter. Teach your kids about the impacts of litter. Tell them about the impact to our wildlife and costs to clean up (which they will eventually pay for). On this blog I’ve not posted any pictures of litter on beautiful Bennachie, let’s keep it beautiful.

Sunset over Bennachie
Bennachie

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Wild Camping in Scotland

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Wild Camping in Scotland

Wild Camping in Scotland

We are very lucky in Scotland, not only do we have the most beautiful landscape on this planet but we also have a right of access to most of the land and inland waters, meaning we can go almost everywhere responsibly.

Camp spot above Glen Feshie, near Monadh Mor

Camp spot above Glen Feshie, near Monadh Mor

Wild camping in Scotland can be a truly uplifting experience. There’s nothing quite like camping under the stars on a crisp evening, watching the aurora and listening to the silence. Being off the grid, back with nature, contemplating your existence, resetting your priorities, being happy!

I had some amazing camps last year, watching the aurora over An Teallach, in Glen Affric and above the Lairig Ghru to name a few. My favourite probably just down from the Devils Point, watching the sunset on Ben Macdui, it was just stunning. 

Ben Macdui

Ben Macdui

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established the framework for our access rights. These rights are based on responsible access with conditions for the user and land owners. These responsibilities are set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, know the code before you go! http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Last week’s press was full of comment about the introduction of new bylaws for the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park. These new bylaws restrict access to some of the areas around the National Park and fines can be imposed should the responsible camper go outside the designated (pay to camp) camping areas. The full details can be found on their website - http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/.

These restrictions have been put in place in an effort to clean up the loch sides. Unfortunately they penalise the responsible camper instead of the intended irresponsible “party” camper, who does not understand the concept of “leave no trace”.  True, they might move these people on but they will just go elsewhere. We should be educating them instead and policing using existing laws to penalise unsocial behaviour. Any erosion into our access rights should be a concern but sustainable access must also be considered. It’s never a black and white answer, the key is consultation and buy in. I wonder where the next restriction will be imposed by land owners watching these developments.

I’ll be taking my trusty tent out again this year, so many places to explore. If you’d like to try a wild camping experience just get in touch!

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Lochnagar - Feb 27th

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Lochnagar - Feb 27th

Lochnagar

Mondays don't get much better than this! The good forecast meant I ditched the emails and chores and headed for the hills! Conditions were superb above 850m, nice and crisp, probably -5degC on top, with the wind dropping in the afternoon. A stunning day out!

Lochnagar

Lochnagar

Lochnagar Viewpoint

Lochnagar Viewpoint

Approaching the summit

Approaching the summit

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Morven in the snow

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Morven in the snow

Morven in the snow

Morven in Aberdeenshire is a Corbett standing at 871m. There are a couple of ways to go up the hill, from Logie Coldstone side. You can also approach from the west, taking in Mona Gowan (749m) or from Ballater.

Looking toward Lochnagar and Mount Keen

Looking toward Lochnagar and Mount Keen

When going solo, my usual approach is straight up the steep side from the east. I can normally do this hill walk in a matter of hours and it’s a great training hill to get the legs and heart pumping. There’s a path that goes southwest which takes some of the steepness out. It’s also a great walk, with abundant junipers bushes along that path.

Mountain hare are also very active, I’ve never yet failed to see one on this hill. There’s usually plenty of grouse and ptarmigan too nearer the top.

Mountain hare

Mountain hare

Morven is in an ideal location for me to get up high quickly to check out conditions on the ground. On a good day, you can see clearly over to Lochnagar and into the Cairngorms. On Friday (24th Feb) after storm Doris, I was keen to get up into the snow, having a busy weekend planned Morven was the logical choice.

Being the first one on the hill after the snow I was treated to a wildlife display on the ground, lots of tracks of all kinds, grouse, hare, ptarmigan and fox. I love looking at these tracks, they really show up how busy the hill is, something you only see in the snow.

Snow tracks

Snow tracks

The snow was deep in places and concealed a few holes that seen me up to my thigh. It was hard going too; snow shoes would’ve been great. The wind had scoured the tops but on the slopes and hidden dips I really had to work to get across it.

Deep snow patches

Deep snow patches

Unfortunately, there were no views from the top but on the way up and down the views were good. The sun trying to shine through gave the clouds to the south that orange glow, contrasting the snowy landscape below beautifully.

Trying to break my camera

Trying to break my camera

Caution: Walking in winter requires the correct equipment, knowledge and skills. Please consider a winter skills course before venturing out.

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A return to Loch Callater and Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr

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A return to Loch Callater and Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr

This week I decided to return to an old favourite, Loch Callater. I think the first time I trekked round the loch was probably circa 1995 and there was deep snow all round. I remember me and my pal Ally walking round the loch and crossing Allt an Loch beside Jock’s Road, looking back this was probably a bit daft, with snow up above our knees! We must’ve had cold feet but I can’t remember that, I only remember smiling in the snow.

Before this trip, my previous visit was in May last year during the TGO Challenge, totally unexpected I was greeted to a magnificent reception at the lodge, a night I’ll never forget and it will live with me forever. I’ll return there again this summer with a decent bottle of whisky for Bill, George and Mike, the hosts that evening and caretakers for the Lodge.

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Forecast for this walk was ok, although windy. MWIS suggested gusts of 70mph, that’s why I opted for a low-down walk, just in case it was too bad up top.

I stopped off at Callater Stables bothy, maintained by the MBA. The bothy is nice and bright with the roof windows but has no fire place (which is maybe a good thing). There’s also a good but strange toilet set up, installed by the Boys Brigade, it has two seats next to each other with no barrier….I kind of like my privacy when I’m sitting down!

After a quick bite to eat at the window, I went out in the wind and headed up the path. With no snow lying I made quick time on the path and before I knew it was up on the beallach between Creag an Loch and Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr. The wind was gusting and continuous but not 70mph. With my two down jackets and plenty of layers, I decided to push on up to the top of Carn an t-Sagairt Mòr, passing the 1956 Canberra plane wreckage which always puts a shiver up me.

Returning the same route, I walked back to the car park with a lovely couple from Aboyne who were walking up the other side of the loch.

I have a planned event going back here and the Munros to the south this May, if you’d like to join get in touch, alternatively I can do a bespoke trip for you.

EDIT: I've been reliably informed that the Mòr should actually be Mhòir! I'll let ordnance survey know!  

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A day out hiking with Viewranger

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A day out hiking with Viewranger

I went up Bennachie last November to take in the sunset, it was one of those days where a warm south westerly wind was bringing over beautiful lenticular clouds, with plenty of visibility, so great for photography. I took a few photos that day, in all directions and I also took one using ViewRanger's new Skyline addition.

Not long after I posted the picture I was contacted about the possibility of ViewRanger doing a story on Hillgoers, which I was delighted to accept. I've been using the app for a few years now but it's not a replacement for good navigation skills (see my previous blog, don't get lost). I use the app every other day, for route planning, marking points of interest, occasionally checking position during navigation practice and I do like the Skyline feature.

I asked Jack from the team what he would like to see during our hike and he said a stag would be nice. Having picked Jack up from the airport, we only had a few hours to film the story and I didn't want to take Jack anywhere too technical, so opted for the trusty Loch Muick where stags are a plenty. And true to form, right in the middle of the dog walking area in the car park, stood a majestic Royal Stag!

Jack working his magic

Jack working his magic

We had a leisurely walk round the loch then up to Glas-allt-Shiel and the falls. Walking back the same route apart from going up to the old lodge, then back to the visitor centre to do more of the video (I was pleased it was leisurely as I was nursing a broken rib from a bike fall two weeks before, meaning little sleep, you can see it in my tired face on the video....).

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It was a cold December day with a bit of a breeze which made the sound recording difficult but Jack did a great job editing the video. I'm still a little embarrassed looking at it though...I hope you like it!

If you'd like to learn more or join me on a walk get in touch!

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Dark Lochnagar

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Dark Lochnagar

"Brave Caledonia dear are thy mountains, I sigh for the valley o' dark Lochnagar".

I've lost count of the times I've been to Lochnagar but I'll never tire of it. There's a reason why so many songs and poems have been sung about the mountain and loch, it's a mysterious place with a stunning landscape that looks different each time I visit.

Glen Muick

Glen Muick

Prince Charles tells a story of a wee old man with hairy knees living in a cave by the loch and I can almost believe it. I've been there on days with no wind or people and the only noise you pick up is a grouse or ptarmigan. I could imagine the wee old man fishing on by the loch when I headed home!

Meikle Pap and Cuidhe Crom

Meikle Pap and Cuidhe Crom

I've also been there on days like this week when the wind roars through the col. On days like that there’s not much waiting about admiring views down to the loch, the wind saps the temperature from you. There’s plenty of boulders to shelter behind though, which I did whilst I ate my lunch.

Dark Lochnagar

Dark Lochnagar

A visit to Lochnagar on a windy day between Christmas and Hogmanay

Lochnagar hosts some of the rarest wildflowers in Scotland, the soil being slightly richer than that of the neighbouring Cairngorms. The black face of the corrie is not the true colour, when the snow clears you can see fresh rock fall and the true pinkish rock, lichen growing for possibly thousands of years give the black appearance, adding to the dark Lochnagar.

I’ll be visiting Lochnagar on many occasions next year, join me and I can tell you even more about this magical place.

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Merry Christmas

Wishing all our friends and families a wonderful Christmas and all the best for next year. Thanks for all of your support this year. Looking forward to seeing you all again next year.

TGOC 2016

TGOC 2016

A video from my walk across Scotland earlier in the year as part of The Great Outdoors Challenge.

Braemar wander, views, planes and squirrels...

Braemar wander, views, planes and squirrels...

A frosty Dee on my way to Braemar

A frosty Dee on my way to Braemar

I had a great wee wander in Braemar yesterday, the village was looking festive in the frost and the Christmas tree looked fab with it's woollen decorations! A double shot coffee in the Bothy helped warm me up too, minus 8 degC wakes your senses in the morning.

Braemar

Braemar

I decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and headed up the hill at the back of the village, Creag Choinnich. It's just a short walk up a good path and it gives fantastic views, down through Glen Clunie, along the Dee, Beinn a' Bhuird and Ben Avon.  You can also see right down onto the village, Braemar Castle and Invercauld Estate.

Braemar Castle

Braemar Castle

The view was so good at the top with hardly a breath of wind. As I chomped on my snack bar an RAF jet flew below me, what an experience that must be but I still think I'd prefer to be up a hill watching it! After spending far too long at the top, I headed quietly back down and counted 6 red squirrels on my way, delaying me even more as I slowed pace and took in their playing around.

Camera shy red squirrel

Camera shy red squirrel

Have a look at this walk the next time you're in Braemar, contact me for more information.

Happy Walking!

Derry Cairngorm, Etchachan, Glen Derry and a Monday bike fall...

Derry Cairngorm, Etchachan, Glen Derry and a Monday bike fall...

I've been itching to get up to the Cairngorms after watching the justified social media buzz from last week. The weather last week was amazing, with blue skies, fogbows, brocken spectres and unicorns (joking) I couldn't wait to get into the higher hills. Unfortunately, there was a thaw over the weekend, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect today. I packed my axe and crampons and decided to head for Derry Cairngorm, possibly Ben Macdui and back via Glen Derry.

With my bike loaded onto the car I set off in good spirits and was at the Linn O' Dee by 8am. 15 minutes later I made a complete fool of myself and lost control of my bike on the ice, landing in a heap, all intact apart from my pride. It was a short loss of concentration that caused the slide, which probably gave me the boot up the bum required before I hit the hill.

Limited Views

Limited Views

Forecast for today on MWIS and metoffice looked great, 80% chance of clear skies, sunshine for Braemar, light winds. I was setting myself up for another great day, with lots of views, even thought of applying some sun cream! Unfortunately again, this wasn't quite the case. I did have some views early on but not much. I had light snow most of the day and probably 20mph winds, enough for me to pull out the big gloves!

Derry Cairngorm

Derry Cairngorm

Frozen Loch Etchachan

Frozen Loch Etchachan

The thaw had removed most of the snow so it was one of those days where crampons would be off and on, I didn't need them in the end but the rocks were really slippy. My slow going meant no chance of taking in Macdui, so I headed for Hutchison Memorial Hut for a late lunch.

Bothy Views

Bothy Views

Hutchison Memorial Hut

Hutchison Memorial Hut

Despite my fall and the weather, it was still great to be back.

Glen Derry

Glen Derry

Don't get lost!

Don't get lost!

Hill of Fare, just up from Banchory, is an ideal venue to teach hill and navigation skills. Just a short drive from Aberdeen, it's easily accessible but has all of the features you'd expect to see in the higher remote hills, woodlands, heather moors, rolling hills, changing contours, path and stream junctions. You can spend a full day on the hill and not cover it all. 

Relocating position

Relocating position

The start of the walk takes you through a changing forestry plantation, parts shown on the map, some of it gone, new trees coming through on the hill. A steady climb takes you past plenty of path junctions where you can discuss confirming your position on the map. Once out of the trees you have a better opportunity to cover the shape of the land, swapping between 1:25k and 1:50k maps, you can start to visualise the contours on the map.

The highest point on the hill is 471m and hosts a small hidden cairn on top. With no path to the cairn, you have to walk through the heather on a compass bearing to find it. By learning and practicing this skill earlier on the hill, finding the cairn is just one of the achievements for the day. Views from the top are superb on a clear day, taking in all the surrounding Aberdeenshire hills, into the Cairngorms and down to the sea.

Finding the cairn

Finding the cairn

Map and compass skills are essential should you wish to venture out into the remote areas of Scotland. Relying on a GPS or smartphone to guide you could be a costly mistake as these devices fail. Typically you need to use the devices in poor weather, the cold saps the batteries, you let rain in when changing batteries, they get dropped or lose satellite signal. I carry a spare map and compass inside my bag should the map get blown out of my hand or I break my compass, I use my smart phone as back up. I have a GPS but rarely take it with me now, I take it in winter.

On the walk home, new skills in the bag!

On the walk home, new skills in the bag!

There are plenty of places to go and practice the required skills, navigation strategies, timings, pacing, bearings etc, etc. If you're unsure of your skill level the safest option is to take a guide. Not only are they qualified navigators, they can be informative and pass on knowledge to help build your confidence. The second best option is to book yourself on a skills course!

Happy walking!

 

 

 

Lake District - Navigation Errors

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Lake District - Navigation Errors

I had a superb 4 day trek around the Lake District in August, thanks to a route suggested by Peter Dixon (@munro277) on twitter! The circular route started and finished at the Blencathra Centre and seen me walk approximately 80km with 6000m gain. 

Lenticular clouds over Blencathra

Lenticular clouds over Blencathra

I started my walk in sunshine but that soon disappeared for most of my trip and I spent a lot of it in cloud, which means I'll have to return again to see the views....Despite the cloud, it was a memorable few days, the scenery is special and the hiking is good. Going at the end of August might have been a mistake as there were plenty of people on the hills!

Being in the cloud gave me plenty of opportunities to practice my navigation skills.  I made one error but quickly realised and corrected it. One of my other errors was on choice of route near Scafell Pike. I'd taken the corridor route from Styhead Tarn, which was an excellent suggestion by Peter but my choice of route a km away (NY2150179) from the highest point in England, was not so clever. 

Corridor Route

Corridor Route

I decided to head for the col between Scafell Pike and Broad Crag, although it looked absolutely fine on the map, I ended up with a bit of a scramble up to the col, probably because visibility was so poor and I couldn't see an easier way. The scramble in miserable weather wasn't very nice. I should've stayed on the green dashed route going up the west side, which I'm sure would've been better, although I've never done it, anyone know?

However, after my small scramble and reaching the col, I met a chap who had just come down from the top and he asked me if this was the way to Wasdale, he'd pretty much gone 180deg in the wrong direction. We walked back up to the top together where I spent 15 minutes talking to others having the same dilemma!

Scafell Pike

Scafell Pike

After my tour around the tops I camped just below Thunacar Knott, the clouds lifted, the rain stopped and the evening sun started to break through, kettle on, perfect.

I'm running several navigation skills events throughout the winter, basic skills would have prevented some of the errors I seen on Scafell Pike.

 

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