The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Scotland - Day 18 (Drumochter)

Anyone paying particularly close attention will have noticed I said that yesterday was our last day of walking for this holiday. That left me feeling a little robbed, as originally we would have had an extra couple of days, but an appointment was forcing us back south a little earlier - a situation which wouldn’t have been so bad if the weather hadn’t been so spectacularly good.

To ease the feeling, last night I started looking at what little lump lay close to the A9, which we could nip up on our way home to enjoy one last dose of snowy views. It was Mick who suggested that I should look at what lay either side of the Drumochter Pass. Genius! Rather that finding a little hill, we could drive up to 1400’, without even leaving our route south, and go up a bigger hill!

Geal-Charn was the chosen objective. With the summit being just 2.5 miles away from the parking area, with 1600’ of ascent, it was the perfect objective which would still allow us to get to Ma-in-Law’s house in time for tea (albeit a slightly delayed tea from when she might have wanted to serve it).

The only slight fly in the ointment was that we didn’t have a map for that area, but with there being no possibility of the weather deteriorating, during our outing, from the clear blue skies which have prevailed over the last few days, I didn’t feel too bad about breaking the cardinal rule of ‘take a map, a compass and know how to use them’.

A group of five from Belfast set out at the same time as us, and for a while we walked along with one of them, until he realised that he had left his companions behind. Being on a schedule, we didn’t pause with him, but positively charged up the hillside (showing a degree of fitness which was certainly lacking three weeks ago) pausing only to don Microspikes when the slipperiness started slowing us down.


Snow-free on the summit, unlike the ascent route

Within an hour and a half of setting out we were tucking into our flasks and sandwiches on the summit, and drinking in the views. The views were slightly curtailed compared to yesterday, with a haze in the distance,but it was as windless and as sunny as the last few days have been. Gorgeous!


Downhill was, understandably, faster than up, which was a good thing as if we had been any later we wouldn’t have made it in time for that all-important roast dinner.

As it went, even after getting stuck behind the slowest-lorry-in-the-whole-world-ever, we did make it in time for that roast. And, with the location of said roast being in Yorkshire, I think I can now safely say that our Scotland trip is over and there will be no walking up a snowy hill tomorrow. Only two and a bit months until the TGO Challenge though!

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Scotland - Day 17 (Aviemore)

Our last day of walking today and the original plan for the day with the best forecast (which happened to be today) was to go up Ben Macdui. After a bit more thought, we tempered our plans to the much shorter outing from Coire Cas car park up to the top of Cairn Gorm and back. The route we took is below, and we went anti-clockwise (given there are arrows on the track, I probably didn’t need to clarify that, did I?):


Anyone familiar with the ascent route that we took will probably notice that we started it in a bit of a non-standard way. Merrily we followed the path out of the car park without really paying attention to where we were going, until eventually I came to notice that we were gently skirting, rather than climbing up a spur.

We put that right by simply heading straight up the hill, which put us nicely where we wanted to be.

Having made a bit of an effort to get out of bed at a reasonable time today (Mick did grumble a bit at the 6.30 alarm!) we were up on the steep bit of the spur before we’ve usually even got our sandwiches made, which meant that the snow was still frozen solid, which (in turn) gave us a good excuse to don crampons (something which doesn’t happen very often as Microspikes so often do the job).

It’s steep heading up there, but otherwise easy going, particularly as I wavered around all over the place (zoomed in on the full-sized version of the recorded track you can see the line wobbling around). We were definitely in the minority; the chap ahead of us and the couple behind us were all on skis.


The views from the big cairn at the top of that ridge were stupendous, and we were so eager to see what it was like on the top that we didn’t pause there for tea or cake (admittedly both had featured earlier on). Up to the top of Cairn Gorm we headed, and what should we find there (aside from lots of skiers), but people dressed in jeans and street shoes! Nowt like a funicular railway to give inappropriately dressed people access to very big hills (although, in fairness, it was so warm and lovely up there today that there was nothing inappropriate about wearing jeans).


We tarried on top for a long while enjoying the views, dealing with the rumbling tummies and enjoying the views some more.


As the recorded track shows, we detoured over to the east edge of the summit, just to see the view from there. The snap above is looking back to the weather station. All the black dots are people.


Looking SW from the summit. The best of a bad bunch of photos which completely fail to convey the outstanding views.

The crampons weren’t needed for the downward leg to the Ptarmigan Hut, but it was as easy to leave them on as to remove them. Remove them we did, when we got to the hut, only then to find that our way the other side was a big sheet of ice. We managed about a hundred yards before the spikes came out.

The way down follows ski runs from much of its length, so we got some entertainment as we went. It’s just a shame we didn’t have the camera out and switched on when a Tornado (the plane, not the weather phenomenon) came roaring low up the valley and over the top of the Ptarmigan Hut. That would have been quite a spectacular snap.

Contrary to how our track appears on the map, we didn’t lose the path as we returned to Coire Cas. It was mainly free from snow by then and it’s such an obvious constructed-path that there could be no doubt that we were on it. It’s another example of the path having been moved from the line shown on the map.

It was only a little outing on the grand scale of things, at just a tiny bit over 5 miles with a couple of thousand feet of ascent. It took us just under 5 hours, although I think that if we had the breakdown of the stats we would find that around half of that was spent sitting down, admiring our surroundings (sometimes scoffing sandwiches/cake/chocolate at the same time).

An excellent, highly-enjoyable, little outing it was, with the icing on an already-very-nice cake being that we finally saw a herd of reindeer. When we pulled into the (then very quiet) car park this morning, there they were, right in front of us.

Monday 25 February 2013

Scotland - Day 16 (Aviemore)

As today’s weather forecast wasn’t as good as tomorrow’s, our route choice for today was a couple of little hills, rather than a big hill. I’m not sure how tomorrow’s weather could possibly be better – you can’t improve on perfection!

There being a forest lying between us and our objective for the day, we first had to negotiate it. The plan saw us almost exclusively along forestry roads, but reality varied a tiny bit as, not far in, we came across a path that looked like it couldn’t go anywhere except for in our direction, so we followed it. It not only went in our direction but cut off a smidge of distance too.

The tracks got more interesting (i.e. older and less well used) as we went on, until, at the edge of the reindeer enclosure (in which we saw no reindeer, even though we were within it for quite a while), we ran out of track and started following a path.

When the path disappeared under increasingly large patches of hard, steep snow, the spikes were called into action and a direct line was taken. It must have been a sensible line, as when we got to the top of the bank and beyond the snow, we weren’t many paces away from the continuation of the path.

Elevenses were had (even though it was already gone noon), just below Airgiod-Meall, looking at this view:IMG_2776

Whilst sitting there serious contemplation was given to going over the top of Airgiod-Meall. It seemed wrong to be descending into the gap to the south of the hill when we could just go over the top, but after consideration we decided to stick with the original plan. It was a good plan, as the gap is attractive in and of itself:


‘Twas a bit nippy in the middle though, beyond the reach of the February sun:


At the other end of the gap we were faced with the side of Castle Hill (complete with lots more patches of snow, far more than we encountered on yesterday’s excursion). In the absence of a path there was no reason to faff around, so straight up we went. What incredible views there were to be had. Notably, behind us we could see the ridge along which we had walked yesterday. Oh, to have had today’s weather yesterday!


From Castle Hill it wasn’t more than a few hundred paces over to our highest top of the day Creag a Chalamain where the views were outstanding. Unfortunately, because I took a video snippet up there, I forgot to take many photos, but here’s one with the entrance to the Lairig Ghru on the left side and Braeriach dominating the view:


The spikes were called into action again on part of our descent, as we made our way down to the path which heads through the Lairig Ghru. That wasn’t our direction though; we were heading back north, for miles and miles and miles through the forest. That’s what it felt like anyway. By the time we sat down for afternoon tea (sadly lacking in any kind of cake or snack today, having already depleted our supplies) I really wanted to be tele-transported back to Colin.

Alas, in the absence of tele-transportation, I had to walk, but I did opt not to take the scenic route around the south side of Loch Morlich. Instead the track which runs parallel to the road sped us back to a mug of hot chocolate and a snack. My eagerness to sit down didn’t stop me from nipping over to the water’s edge for one last snap of Cairngorm and its neighbours:


I was surprisingly tired, feeling like I’d walked twice the distance we had (just over 11 miles was the final tally with just over 2000’ of ascent). This is the track recorded by the Garmin Gadget:


(Sorry about the quality of today’s photos – I’ve degraded them more than usual in an effort to help with the upload time. There’s only so long I can sit balancing the laptop in the position it needs to be in order to get a 3g connection!)

Sunday 24 February 2013

Scotland - Day 15 (Aviemore)

We didn’t get the sunshine I wanted and expected for today’s outing. In fact, quite the contrary: it was snowing convincingly as we set out, but it was just one of a number of flurries which passed through today.

The weather, and the low cloud made me think that we should save our intended route for a nicer day, but Mick was set on it, so out towards Ryvoan we headed.

The snow on the track looked pretty as we made our way up through the woodland, but it really was only the slightest of dustings:


By the time we reached Ryvoan Bothy it was feeling like elevenses were well overdue, so we popped in for tea and cake…


Taking a snap of the bothy was something of an afterthought.

…before heading up and up on a veritable motorway of a path which wasn’t where our map said that it should be. Our paper map is six years old now and from the (rather newer) electronic map shown at the bottom of this post it’s apparent that at some point in recent years the path has been re-routed. With us going up and the cloud coming down, we found ourselves shrouded earlier than we would have liked, but after a while spent lunching in the lee of the summit cairn, some of the cloud drifted away again:


The top of Meall a Bhuachaille

By the time we got up to leave, it was even clearer still to the east (i.e. behind Mick in the snap below), but the continuation of the ridge, to the west, was still hidden behind the cloud. I said that there was just no point in walking the entire ridge if we weren’t going to be able to see anything and thought that we were going to have an early descent.


However, by the time we got to the junction of paths, where we would have headed down, the next top was in full view, and it didn’t look very far away, so we thought that we may as well nip up it:


It was in cloud by the time we got to the top, but by then it seemed a better idea to continue along the ridge than to retreat back to the downward path. A good decision, as the weather did clear as the day went on.

In fact, by the time we were on our way through the forest, we even got a glimpse of some of the high Cairngorm tops.

The stats for the day were 10.5 miles walked with 2500’ of ascent, throughout which we were happy to find all of the ground and bogs frozen solid. It was evident that parts of the route could be quite soggy and soft underfoot in warmer weather.


Friday 22 February 2013

Scotland - Day 13 (Lossiemouth)

A lazy day yesterday saw us travel back up from Grantown to Elgin to visit more friends in the area and, with Mick having a get-together with some ex-colleagues tonight, that left us with a day free in the area.

“Do you fancy another walk?” we asked Louise, and she said “Yes please!”, and so it came to be that in the middle of the day we parked Colin very neatly in a suitably wide bit of road in Hopeman and set off up the coast to Lossiemouth.

What a spectacular bit of coast that is! It looks good on the map and the reality is even better, particularly under the stunning blue skies which are, incredibly, still with us.

The first twenty-five minutes did see me a little distracted (and rudely ignoring my companions) as I attended to a phone call from work, but even whilst talking I could appreciate the surroundings and managed to whip the camera out one-handed to take a few snaps (I say like I usually use two hands to hold the camera…).

It was the colourful beach huts which first caught my eye:


As did the ruggedness of the coast:


Lunch was nearly had on a bench by a watch-tower, the white of which was quite startling in the bright sunlight, but with the bench being in the shade, we opted to press on to the next sunny bench. No such bench appeared, but a grassy patch did, so down we plonked ourselves. Moments after lunch, down onto the beach we went walking towards the landmark of Lossie Lighthouse, which flashes no more:


What a huge beach it is!  That section to the lighthouse is only a part of it, as around the corner it continues on for another long stretch (in fact, the map tells me that we walked over 2 miles along the sand), this one featuring anti-tank defences:


Firm sand gave good walking – no ankle-shaping soft sand for us today.

Louise can’t be faulted in her walk planning. Aside from the stunning coast-line she showed us, she had planned an outing which ended at a rather nice cafe, right on the harbour (which Mick tells me used to be full of fishing boats, but now is a hub for leisure than for industry).


A bit of a blip in the weather – a band of high clouds was coming in.

David soon joined us as we supped coffee, to provide our transport back to Colin (thank you David – much appreciated).

Another fine outing, this one being something like* 7 miles long with a few little bits of up (often involving steps designed for people with unnaturally long legs) thrown in.

(* I switched the Garmin Gadget on before we left, but the phone call did distract me enough to make me forget to press ‘start’. Louise did record our route, and I think she said that it was around 7 miles.)

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Scotland - Day 11 (Grantown-on-Spey)

We decided to have a very gentle, lazy day today, so in poring over the maps I chose a forest-and-river walk, starting from the campsite and heading over into Anagach Woodlands. At 7.75 miles and with barely any uphill it was going to be a straightforward, easy stroll.

It didn’t start entirely smoothly. We’d made it half a mile from the campsite before I remembered what I’d forgotten and backtracked, leaving Mick to buy whatever he fancied from the bakers and to sit on the green consuming it whilst waiting for me.

That wasn’t the end of the teething troubles either, as only a few hundred yards into the woodland something didn’t seem right and it turned out that we’d already missed a turn. A pause on a convenient bench to eat the butteries that Mick had bought gave us the opportunity to consider where we had gone awry. After a tiny backtrack and an alternative route we were back on the Speyside Way and our route was such that it would have been almost impossible to lose it again from there.

It was cold in the woodland, and not much warmer when we got to Cromdale bridge and turned back along the River Spey in the sunshine, as there was a chilly wind today.

I’m not sure whether Mick thought he was late for tea with the Queen or thought that he had some other pressing engagement, as once on that riverside track he was fair trundling along – faster than my little legs could carry me. It was time to declare it lunchtime, a ploy which worked as he returned to a sensible pace afterwards.

Whilst a perfectly pleasant walk, there was nothing spectacular about it, although we did particularly enjoy oggling some of the houses we walked past as we came into Spey Bridge.


The only photo I took today. Those clouds were the only ones in the sky on yet another stunning day.

Arriving back into Grantown we were both in agreement that none of the day’s walk had rung any bells with either of us. Odd as half of the walk was on the Speyside Way, which we have walked before, albeit quite a few years ago now.

The stats for the day were 8.25 miles walked (9.25 for me, if you include my ‘ooops I’ve forgotten something’ detour) and a couple or three hundred feet of ascent (certainly not the 900’ being suggested by Anquet).

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Scotland - Day 10 (Tomintoul)

Off to Tomintoul we tootled this morning, under more stunning blue skies. The blue skies did, of course, mean that it had been a cold night, which was to our benefit, as the ground was frozen solid. No mud for us this morning!

Carn Daimh was our objective for the day, which is the one indicated by the shakily-drawn arrow in this snap:

Carn Daimh

The problem of being in our current location, to the north of the Cairngorms, is that when we’re out walking the sun is never in a good position for a picture of the snowy tops. Today’s effort used the shade of some forest to stop the glare, but it still doesn’t show the glory of the view.


The Speyside Way provided our route to Carn Daimh, except that we took a bit of a detour as we passed through a forest. It seemed a shame to be in the cold cover of the trees, without any views, when we could walk a parallel line, less than 50 yards away, outside of the trees. Back on the path, it was a bit snowy:


Happily, the snow was firm under foot, so very little post-holing for us today.

Lunch, on top of the hill, didn’t come a moment too soon for my rumbling tummy. There was a bit more of a breeze (and thus wind-chill) than yesterday, but even so it was nice sitting there in the sunshine, with 360 degree views.


The view to the NW was of the Cromdale Hills, so it was coincidental that whilst sitting there I received an email from Louise asking what the snow conditions were like on those hills. I confess that I would have had no idea that I was looking straight at them if it hadn’t been for the thingamybob that was right behind me (someone, please put me out of my misery. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of one of those round plates that gets mounted on top of hills which tells you the direction and distance to other hills/places).

Having eaten our sandwiches and drunk our tea, a decision had to be made. The route that I’d plotted was a circular walk, but it involved dropping off the hill to walk a circuitous route through a forest plantation. It seemed criminal on such a glorious day to put ourselves in a location where no views would be had. So, instead of following the plan we simply did an about turn and walked back the way we had come, enjoying the sunshine and views all the way, bar one little forest interlude. The snow was somewhat softer on the way down, mind, and the frozen terrain had become mud once again.

Back at Colin, and after a restorative cup of tea (for today’s excursion I forgot to pick up a bottle of water and my hanky; I really do need a checklist for every time I step outside!), an amble was had into Tomintoul itself. What can I say? There’s not a lot there!

In different conditions, we would have spent the night parked up there for another walk in the vicinity tomorrow, but with the skies so clear there’s the promise of another very cold night, and whilst Colin is ‘winterised’, even with the tank heaters on all night there is just too much danger of water freezing somewhere in the pipework where we don’t want water to freeze. So, back down to Grantown we retreated, where (with the benefit of electric hook up), we can leave the heater on low all night.

(Stats for the day: 9.5 miles; 1500’ of ascent)

Monday 18 February 2013

Scotland - Day 9 (Grantown-on-Spey)

After yesterday’s exertions, today nearly became a very lazy duvet day. Then I stepped outside of Colin and saw the hard frost and the perfect clear skies. There was no question, we had to go for a walk!

It was 11 by the time we got going (by which time the makings of a lentil stewy thing were in the slow cooker and the makings of a loaf were in the bread-maker, all timed to be ready when we returned), and the direction we chose was upwards.

Tracks led us much of the way to our highpoint of the day, and even where the track should have expired, 600’ below our first top of the day, it continued. However, with it not being marked on the map and with it seeming to go in the wrong direction we didn’t continue along it. Instead we strode out onto the heather.


With a bit of huffing and puffing on my part, we made it to the top of Beinn Mhor and the views were most definitely worth the effort. Alas, the sun was in the wrong place to get a good shot of the glistening white tops of the Cairngorms, but this one (with the sun almost obstructed by Mick’s hand, which made it’s way partially into the shot) does vaguely show what a spectacle we enjoyed:


A little further on was a trig point and next to it a conveniently located fence post upon which the camera was placed for a badly-framed self-timed shot of us, happy in the sunshine:


The ‘I left my jackets at home’ problem has been solved – I managed to sneak out of Louise’s house yesterday wearing her Paramo Velez, and spent a wonderfully comfortable day in it today*.

Two more tops ensued and although the ground was frozen solid with a hard frost in the areas where the sun couldn’t reach, when in the sunshine, it was hard to believe that it was February and that last week we were wading through snow at this height. It was so warm in the sun, with barely a breath of a breeze, that when we had an extended lunch break atop Laggan Hill I didn’t feel the need to add a layer.

Our intended route had seen us following the track down from Laggan Hill, but it didn’t look to be an interesting route, and would have required us to walk a section of the A95.  Instead, we opted to take a straight line off the hill to take a far more direct, and tarmac-free, route back to the campsite.

It may have been a shorter route, but I’m sure that it expended more energy and took more time than the longer track-and-road route would have. It was also far more interesting.

With 7 miles walked with 1500’ of ascent, we were greeted, on our return to Colin, by the glorious smells of a stew and freshly baked bread.


(* I didn’t really steal the jacket and big thanks go to Louise for solving my ‘I’m stupid and forgot my jacket’ problem by the kind loan of her Paramo Velez)



As an aside, we checked the Mountain Weather Information Service forecast tonight. If this outlook proves to be true, then we could be very smug indeed by the end of next week:


Scotland - Day 8 (Dallas Dhu and the Findhorn)

What had started as a suggestion of a walk sometime whilst we were up in the area had grown into an offer of dinner and an offer of a nice flat driveway on which we could park Colin for the night, and so it was that we spent an excellent evening on Saturday eating, drinking and chatting with Louise & David until, with midnight upon us, off we toddled back to Colin.

Louise had made a number of suggestions as to where we could walk on Sunday and the option that she picked was a circuit starting from Dallas Dhu distillery.

We were a little behind ourselves in setting out, as by the time we had completed the obligatory faff around the car boot, it was 10.45, against an intended 10am start. Louise blames that on the chatting in her kitchen before we hit the road, but there was also the delay whilst I borrowed a screwdriver to take one of Colin’s seats apart so that I could retrieve an expensive electronic item that I had dropped down the back (and, incidentally, a DVD, which I had dropped down there on a previous trip)!

With the car-boot faff completed and having established that wherever my hat was, it wasn’t anywhere about my person or in the car, we headed away from the distillery car park. Onto estate tracks we went and past some interesting buildings, including this one which, whilst entirely out of place, would look magnificent if it was taken back to its former glory:


The estate tracks took us into woodland, where Louise managed to pick the correct tracks out of the plethora which existed there, to lead us up to follow the River Findhorn. There were some excellent views down to the river, but none of the photos I took do it justice at all. Mick put himself into something of a perilous position at the top of some cliffs to take this one:IMG_2713

Louise not only planned and led the walk, but she catered for it too. Elevenses had us drooling over the cake that she provided and she was even good enough to give us rolls for lunch which were furtively eaten when we stopped outside a tea room for coffee:


I took this snap of us drinking coffee, but failed to take one of the rest of the attractive courtyard in which the benches were set.

The track we needed after lunch proved a little elusive, until we found it exactly where Louise thought that it was. It led us, after a short while, onto the disused railway line which is the Dava Way, which afforded views to Findhorn Bay and the hills beyond (I now know that the pointy one on the other side of the bay is Morven).

During afternoon tea-break (not to mention some more excellent home-baking provided by Louise, this time in the form of chocolate and ginger flapjack (yum!)), Mick once again proved that he knows half the population of the area when the only person who passed us during that break turned out to be another ex-colleague, who stopped for a wee chattette.

Suitably refuelled by tea and cake, away from the Dava Way we went, back onto estate tracks and past another interesting, but abandoned, building. Strangely, this one doesn’t seem to have an entrance at all:


Barely a hop and a skip later, after a standing stone and an osprey nest, we were back on tracks that we recognised (having formed the outward route).

The legs were feeling verily exercised after 13ish miles of walking with around 1500’ of ascent. My considered opinion is that Louise had planned the perfect walk, with views, a river, more views, interesting buildings, lovely woodland, a cafe half-way and, most importantly, a good supply of home-made cake. image

Scotland - Days 6 & 7 (Elgin)

Days 6 and 7 saw us leave Braemar to head north to visit friends, starting in Elgin, where Frank & Hilda not only put us up and put up with us, but Frank also took us for a stroll along the coast from Hopeman to Burghead, complete with a pair of binoculars.

Frank is a knowledgeable man when it comes to birds and he pointed out various sea ducks to us (plus the fulmars which apparently shouldn’t be there at the moment). He was managing to identify some with his naked eye, which I could barely even made out as a dot on the sea – I’m not sure how much of that is indicative of my lack of knowledge of birds, and how much is due to my need to get a new prescription in my glasses!

Anyways, we had a lovely walk, in good weather, out to Burghead* where we did a little circuit of the headland before heading back the way we had come (the way back was in the company of two grumpy old men; Mick and Frank can’t half put the world to rights!). It was 4.75 miles of walking with barely a jot of upness.

After a night with Frank & Hilda (thank you F & H Smile), we just had a short journey to visit Louise & David and, with a little bit of time in hand, we thought that we would just nip over to Findhorn and take a short wander around the headland there.

It now seems to me that Mick knows half of the population of the area, as out of the first three couples we passed on that stroll, Mick knew two. It was the third, who approached us with the exclamation of “Well, if it isn’t Mick!”, with whom we stood and chatted for quite a long while, until the sun was dipping down and the day getting cold. It was a good and enjoyable reason to curtail a walk, but we still had time for a very small circuit before we headed back to Colin to continue our journey.

As the sun went down, we had to hope that the weather would hold for another day…

(*There would be a photo from the Burghead walk if I hadn’t been stupid and wiped the memory card!)

Thursday 14 February 2013

OMM Kamleika Smock

A few days ago Katy left a comment to ask what I thought of my OMM Kamleika jacket, which happens to be the only waterproof jacket that I have with me, thanks to something of an aberration when we left home for this trip.

First off, I should clarify that it’s not the jacket that I have (even if I call it a jacket) it’s the smock, and I bought it with two purposes in mind. Firstly, because, as much as I love my Paramo jackets, I don’t trust them to keep me dry in the wettest of weather, so, on backpacking trips, I like to carry something very light and waterproof as a back up. Secondly, I was after something very light to take on our PCT jaunt, where it was unlikely to rain more than a few times (as it went, we didn’t even see a rain cloud in our five weeks, never mind get rained on).

It’s not a highly featured jacket. It’s got a narrow cut, a hood that isn’t quite long enough for my long neck, a very deep two-way front zip and one chest pocket. The cuffs are elasticated, without any adjusters, but they do have thumb loops.

And how have I found it? Well, it’s very light (225g for my size small), which is my main requirement as I have carried it much more than I have worn it.

Being made out of a soft, stretchy material (not a hint of crisp-packetness about it) it’s as comfortable to wear as a sweater, but I can’t say much about its waterproof or breathability qualities because I’ve only worn it in the rain a couple of times (one of which was monsoonal) and I would be surprised indeed if a waterproof jacket didn’t keep my dry on the first few times it got wet.

The real test will be that of durability and it’s going to be a while until I can comment on that.

So, sorry Katy, not much of a review I’m afraid!

Scotland - Day 5 (Braemar)

What a surprisingly good day of walking that was!

The temperature rose last night. By 9pm the snow which had been falling all day turned to rain and by morning the thaw was obvious. The sun was out too and it was looking to be a lovely day, albeit a bit on the breezy side.

Without any real plan, we left the campsite on foot and headed in the direction of Invercauld Bridge with the thought of a walk through the woods there. There’s a perfectly good and easy track, running under the Lion’s Face, which we could have taken to get ourselves over to the A93, and indeed we did take it to just before the Lion’s Face. At that point, with a rush of blood to the head, we opted not to follow that perfectly good and easy track as it went gently around the hill, but rather to go up and over the shoulder. All good training for our unfit limbs, but with the snow being knee-deep, wet and heavy we opted not to go any higher up the pathless hillside in our explorations today.

Mick, Tree, Blue Sky

Having entered Ballochbuie Forest at Invercauld Bridge, I was afraid that a walk there wasn’t going to be particularly interesting, but I’m pleased to say that I was entirely wrong. It’s a lovely woodland and the higher of the tracks that we took was not at all hemmed in, but gave fantastic views of the surrounding white hills, only the tops of the highest of which were in cloud today.

By the time we had dropped back down, to pass an log cabin in a lovely location, my legs were starting to protest at the effort of all of the snow walking. The legs protested even more as we climbed back up to the Lion’s Face on our return to Braemar, but focussing on the hot chocolate that awaited me stopped me from whinging too much!

I forgot to take the Garmin Gadget today, but having plotted a rough approximation of our route on the map it looks like we walked at least 9.25 miles with 1800’ of ascent.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Scotland - Day 4 (Braemar)

“It’s snowed!” I exclaimed as I peeked out the window first thing this morning. It was, however, just the slightest of dustings and things were looking good for a walk in the woods (the forecast of winds gusting to 85mph putting us off the thought of high ground today). Up I sprang and put the kettle on ready for a mid-morning start.

By the time tea had been drunk the weather was not looking conducive to a day outside. Suddenly more cups of tea and finishing our books looked like a better plan, with perhaps a stroll in the afternoon.

Books were finished, tea was drunk, lunch was eaten and more tea was drunk and finally we hit that time of day where, if we didn’t venture out, we were going to find ourselves spending the entire day lounging. The duvet was duly stowed, and out we went into the snowstorm.

It wasn’t bad out actually! The snow got heavier as the day went on, but the forecast winds weren’t in evidence. Accordingly, we opted not to head over to the forest at Invercauld, but to head up the little lump of Creag Choinnich.

From the point at which we made that decision, rather than traversing the hillside to find the path, we opted to take the most obvious route of going straight up. Good fun it was too, often wading through knee high drifts (and once finding myself rather surprised to sink to the hip). Quite a sweat was worked up but by and by we made our way to the top.

The views would probably be excellent on a clear day, but today it was white against white with white falling. We didn’t tarry too long, but followed in everyone else’s footsteps in taking the path down, through the woods, into Braemar. We met a chap just off the top; he looked quite cold:


Back down in town, we were as near to the campsite than we were to the centre, but Gordon’s Tea Room was calling us so we diverted off to answer that call. If I had remembered to turn the GPS off before we went inside then there wouldn’t be the wandering bit at the end of this track:

Braemar Map

It was only just over 2.5 miles of walking and a modest 500’ of upness, but it was undoubtedly good fun and a reasonable amount of effort.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

Scotland - Day 3 (Braemar)

We had two possibilities in mind as we set out this morning. With the weather forecast being the best of the week, one of the options was to go up Creag nan Ghabhar, a Corbett just east of the A93. The other option was to simply walk a few miles up the glen to Loch Callater and back. As both options shared the same first mile an immediate decision wasn’t needed and up the glen we headed.

“You’re the birthday boy, so you get to choose” I said to Mick when we reached the junction of tracks.  The low route, he decided, maybe based on the tired legs, left over from yesterday’s efforts, or maybe based upon the unappealing look of the uphill option, with white hillside camouflaged against the white sky. It was not quite the weather that the forecast had suggested (indeed, the ‘occasional snow flurry’ turned out to be a constant very light snow, from heavy white skies, for most of our outing).

Underfoot today, the snow was even more powdery and soft than yesterday. It was like walking 7 miles across sand dunes. Ankle shaping, some would say. Certainly harder work that the gentle track should have been.

Having admired the frozen- and snowed-over Loch Callater, and having dismissed the notion of walking a circuit around it, into Callater Stables bothy we went for a bit of shelter for lunch. It was Red Leicester (the last of a Christmas Cheese Hamper present) with the rather-odd walnut and ginger chutney on our sandwiches today.

Callater Lodge

The view, towards the Loch, from beside Callater Stables

The return journey simply retraced our steps, with occasional views of yesterday’s hill, Morrone, as we went. Such was the soft powderiness of the snow and the very gentle gradient of the track that the return journey wasn’t an awful lot easier than the outbound one. Skis would have been handy!

Still, it was another good stretch of the legs and an enjoyable outing. It will be interesting to see the same glen again in different conditions when we head up there on the TGO Challenge in May. Hopefully it will be a little easier going then – and hopefully we’ll be a bit fitter too.

Monday 11 February 2013

Scotland - Day 2 (Braemar)

Call us unimaginative if you like, but when the day dawned far nicer than forecast, we decided that Morrone seemed like a good objective. The top, this time, not just some random point half way up.IMG_5084

As an added bonus, we could see the top today, albeit it was a bit white-on-white.

A different route was taken, first heading along a minor road to the south for a few kilometres, so that we could take the navigationally easy option of following the track that heads all the way up to the summit. The snow that had fallen on us yesterday had become heavier overnight but even the extra few inches on the ground couldn’t obscure the line of the track.IMG_5090

See, it’s obvious, innit?

Navigationally things may have been easy, but the going underfoot was sometimes arduous – particularly through the deeper drifts.IMG_5093

No drift at all here, but I’m surprised at how many blue-skied shots we have of the day. I don’t remember the blue sky, and it was only a few hours ago!


That was one of the deeper sections and it was hard going for my unfit legs! It was steeper than it looks in that photo.

I was desperate for a sit down, a cup of tea and a bite to eat by the time we were a mile short of the summit, but by then we had lost the shelter we had been enjoying and it was clear that the only sensible place to stop was in the lee of the buildings atop Morrone.

Eventually we finished our uphill snow-wading and made it to the top and the sandwiches were most welcome (although I’m not sure about the combination of both walnuts and ginger in a chutney). Being hit full in the face by a snowball (launched at me by the roof of the building behind which we were sheltering, when the wind shifted) suggested that it was time to move on and in the absence of any hint of a path from the summit (nor indeed any other bootprints) we just headed off in the general direction of Braemar.


Not the most attractive summit, but the lee of the buildings was a good place for lunch.

It had taken us just over three hours to reach the top (in fact, so slow was my ascent that the GPS gadget spent much of the time auto-paused; I should have learnt by now that I need to disable the auto-pause feature before tackling hills), but it took us less than an hour to get back down again. In the absence of any hint of a path we simply took a direct line.

Some of the snow was scoured, hard and icy. More of it was deep, soft and good fun.


Goose-stepping? Doing the can-can?

We were about half way down when we finally encountered evidence that someone else had been on the hill today. In fact, it seemed that a few people had made it to the half-way point before retreating. We didn’t follow their footsteps back down as in some places they hadn’t half taken an odd choice of line.

With thoughts of hot showers and hot chocolate in the front of our minds, we didn’t tarry as we passed through Braemar, but made a beeline for Colin.

In retrospect, it was a jolly good day out. For three quarters of the day, my feeling was that it was just jolly hard work!

The circuit was 8.5 miles with somewhere in the region of 1900 feet of ascent.