A whole new world

You don’t have to go far or high to have a wonderful experience.

Ben Venue is popular little local hill in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. November’s snow turned it into a beautiful and spectacular new world. We didn’t even feel the need to get to the summit.

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Don’t overlook your local area! Explore and enjoy it….it will never be the same two days in a row.

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An English road-trip

We had a free 10 days in October and plans to explore, walk and climb in the far north-west of Scotland. Then the weather forecast predicted a week of storms and upland gales.

So what should we do? We visited some friends who gave us maps and climbing guide books for much of England and Wales and convinced us to go south.

After dropping in on my family, we drove the van to Devon, where the weather looked friendliest and there was plenty of climbing to entertain us. Our first experience of Dartmoor was a beautiful, calm evening: we managed two good climbs on Hay Tor as the sun was setting and went to bed full of expectation for a few days of excellent climbing.

Note: there are signs in many Dartmoor car parks stating that byelaws inhibit overnight parking in the National Park.

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Climbing at Hay Tor on Dartmoor

We woke up in a big wet cloud. We couldn’t see Hay Tor, so we drove on to Hound Tor, which turned out to be equally wet. We had a leisurely breakfast confident the fog would lift. Instead, a brisk wind blew the drizzle sideways. Eventually, we decided to go for a soggy climb, but even granite is a lot more difficult when wet. After two climbs, I had had enough and we returned to the shelter of the van for hot chocolate and to make a new plan.

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When you can’t climb, go for a damp windy walk with beer?!

We gave up on Tors and headed for Dewerstone, which looked to have some great low-grade multi-pitch climbs and was lower down so we hoped it might be more sheltered and below the cloud. No luck, it was still drizzling. The woods, however are gorgeous so we went for a walk, a look at the crag and had a beer on the moor at the top (we were on holiday after all).

More rethinking…..these were the two “good” days, the next day was to be the rainy day. We decided to temporarily give up on climbing and went for a walk on the moor to a pub. We walked back into torrential rain all the way.

We spent a very pleasant evening with some of Chris’ family, before leaving Dartmoor and heading for Croyde on the north Devon coast.

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An incredible abseil at Baggy Point

We haven’t got a good track record for sea-cliff climbing but we wanted to give it another try. I find it very intimidating but at Baggy Point, it is at least possible to identify the climbing locations from a distance. I teetered unhappily to the belay point, unconvinced about abseiling into the unknown above the waves. However, the sun came out and when I realised we could actually see down the long, gently sloping route, I cheered up. It was a fabulous 40+m abseil into a sun trap, below towering cliffs, with the sea lapping at the rocks below us. We had great fun, it was a brilliant route. We would’ve liked to do the next climb along, but the tide didn’t seem to have gone out far enough for us to reach it, the sun had gone in and it was already late in the day. We decided to quit while we were ahead and go and make dinner.

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Hanging above the sea at Baggy Point

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A wonderful sunny climb!

I was also keen to try out my new wetsuit, so rather than rush and move on the next morning, we decided to stay an extra night. As this is such a busy area, we parked the van in a campsite for the first time ever and went to the arcades after dinner! In the morning, Chris hired a wetsuit and bodyboard and I brought my old childhood bodyboard out of retirement. It was a huge success: we spent a brilliant few hours in the sea and had the unusual experience of trying a sport that I had done before but Chris hadn’t. Even in October, there were lots of lifeguards on the beach, and flags marking designated surfing and swimming areas. In the afternoon, we wandered up into Croyde and sustained ourselves with more pub chips, beer and cider.

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We loved bodyboarding at Croyde Bay

The following morning we drove back up to spend the day with my family. We then had the choice of moving on to Wales (north or south), the Peak District, Yorkshire or the Lake District. Our choice was driven by the fact that the Peak District was the only place that didn’t have severe warnings for wind!

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Heading out for a windy climb at Stanage North

We arrived late and the following morning were making bacon sandwiches for breakfast when disaster struck…..we ran out of gas! Fortunately the bacon was cooked but Chris’ egg was not. Finding new gas meant we were late starting to climb; we got in a few good routes but by late afternoon the wind had really picked up. Despite the short length of most routes at Stanage North, we couldn’t hear each other and I felt like the gusts were trying to pull me off the crag. By the time we decided that we had better stop, everything we put down was blowing away, including shoes, helmets and pieces of gear: I lost a sock on the last route.

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The wind trying to steal Chris’ rope

We thought our previous night’s parking spot, right on top of the moor, was going to be far too exposed with the storm passing through so we drove a little further on to try to get a bit lower. It was definitely the windiest night we have spent in the van and not the most restful with the violent rocking! We decided that the next day was going to be too windy to climb so we headed home to Scotland.

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The last of the sun at the top of the crag as it got too windy and cold to continue climbing

This was our longest van trip yet and it was great to have the opportunity to explore some new areas of England.

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What are these? There are so many of them at Stanage!

 

Summits aren’t that important anyway…

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A friendly mountain hare just getting its winter coat

Last weekend we walked  for four hours up through deep snow, from Achlean in Glen Feshie, into a big white cloud, decided being in a whiteout on the Cairngorm plateau wasn’t where we wanted to be, and walked back down again!

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Visibility wasn’t great!

On the way up, the sun breaking through the clouds on distant mountains was beautiful , there were lots of interesting animal tracks in the snow and we found a mountain hare that ran towards us rather than away. It was a lovely winter walk, but we’ll have to go back to bag our munros, Mullach Clach a’Bhlair and Sgor Goiath.

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We had fun in the snow though

Drinking water when walking and camping in Scotland

I am a very thirsty person and never go anywhere without a drink (usually my Nalgene bottle of water). Therefore access to water when outdoors is always something I plan carefully.

There seems to be a lot of difference in opinions and behaviours up here in Scotland regarding drinking water when out in the countryside. My first taste of “wild” water was from Glenrosa Water in Glen Rosa on Arran; Chris and I camped in the glen for two days, it was very hot and we couldn’t take enough water to last the whole trip. I was quite nervous as prior to that I had only ever drank clearly marked drinking/ tap water.

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Glenrosa Water, Arran

It turned out to be delicious and did me no harm whatsoever. Indeed, drinking stream water in remote locations seems to be common up here, and indeed essential on multi-day trips. Yet, I remain wary: in summer I carry a 2 litre platypus on single day walks and only drink stream water when absolutely necessary. In contrast, Chris never carries more than a litre of water and tops up on many of our days out.

I’ve discussed this with others and come across very differing opinions. The general rules seem to be that if you are well-away from people, high up and the water is clear and fast-flowing, it is fine to drink, and this rule has been effective so far for us.

However, this time last year, we were planning for our TGO Challenge and I was very preoccupied by our water supply. I trawled the internet and the advice I found was very confusing! I found people who stated that when walking in Scotland they carried nothing but a mug as water is plentiful and clean, and others who always avoided drinking water straight from the source and preferred using tablets or a variety of filters.

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There was lots of water in Knoydart

I looked up the price, weight and ease of use of many suggested options and came up with a plan that worked extremely well for us. We had planned a fairly low-level route from the west coast of Scotland to the east, which meant that we might not have access to clear little mountain streams for much of the time. I also read and heard a few stories of people who had become ill from drinking stream water, so I didn’t fancy relying on it for two weeks.

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Water in the Cairngorms

On the other hand, we are in Scotland and water generally isn’t in short-supply, so we opted for a small (500ml) and inexpensive filter water-bottle each (Water-to-Go ~£13), to use when on the move, and which we kept topped up whenever we came across a suitable water source. We both also carried a 1l water bottle that we filled up and added a water purification tablet to, before stopping to camp each night. We used this for cooking and drinking in the evening and next morning. If water sources looked scarce, it also allowed us to carry more than our 500ml during the day. We used the more expensive purification tablets (Life Systems Chlorine dioxide tablets ~£10.50) that supposedly remove the taste, which they seemed to do; the only problem was that in cold Scottish spring water, they took many hours (and lots and lots of shaking) to dissolve. We would also recommend keeping them in their little box, not your first aid kit as we did, because the foil got damaged and many of them got ruined when they became exposed.

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Glencoe water

Spring 2017 was very dry in Scotland and we actually found that many small streams were sluggish and the water was discoloured or contained algae. Although lochs and lochans were still plentiful, it is not recommended to drink unpurified standing water either, so we were very pleased with our strategy: it wasn’t particularly expensive, we didn’t have to carry any extra filter equipment, spend time filtering water in advance, or carry large quantities of water.

Winter has arrived in Scotland: Meall Ghaordaidh

As winter approaches, what constitutes a “good forecast” has a tendency to change slightly. Take yesterday for example: 30-40mph winds with difficult walking conditions on high ground and severe wind chill might sound unpleasant but there was also 80% chance of cloud free munros and excellent visibility. Actually not so bad for a Scottish winter day (we can always turn around if it’s too bad!).

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Another thing to remember when planning routes at this time of year is the dramatic change in daylight hours; in about six weeks, we’ve gone from nice long days to pitch dark beofore 5pm. It can catch you out!

Sunshine through the spindrift

So Kirstie and I decided to stretch our legs and enjoy a bit of sunshine and possibly some snow (!?) with a wander up Meall Ghaordaidh. It’s not a particularly exciting munro, but the route is fairly short, important as we weren’t starting early and Kirstie is recovering from an arm injury. Situated north-west of Killin, it was also in an area we haven’t explored much.

And it was most definitely worth it: a long steady climb but wonderful views of snow-capped hills and great to be out in some snow for the first time this winter (I think it can officially be called winter now!).

Summit views appreciated very quickly!

On the last stretch to the summit, we were bent into the wind, with heads down to protect our eyes. We remained at the summit for about two whole minutes, which was all we could take with the spindrift being blasted into our faces.

A short way down again and we were out of the wind and able to sit and savour our lunch, sweet tea, the views and the simple fact of bring out on such a fine day.

Details

Distance: 9.5km (5.9miles)

Duration: 4h50m

Munro summit: Meall Ghaordaidh (m)

Ascent: 895m

Rab Xenon X Hoodie (women’s)

Do you have a piece of gear that you always take, wherever you’re going and whatever you’re doing?

For me, one of these essential items is my Rab Xenon X Hoodie.

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Having awesome fun on Flying Buttress, a 3* multi-pitch VDiff at Dinas Cromlech in Gwynedd, Snowdonia. My Rab Xenon X hoodie kept me warm through the alternating climbing and belaying.

Since I started climbing I have had a lovely big down jacket but it simply isn’t suited to most British (and especially Scottish) weather, so I never took it out into the hills. Instead my pack would be full of extra fleeces and I would often be very cold.

Having a synthetic insulated jacket changed all that! Now I have something very warm to throw on in any conditions and it made me feel much more confident about going out in winter and poor weather in general.

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When the weather gets wild, I feel much more confident knowing I have something warm to throw on over everything else

The crucial aspect is that the Primaloft insulation in this jacket retains warmth even when damp, which means that unlike traditional down jackets, I can wear it in the rain. And I do!

It is also very light (approx. 301g) and packs down to a tiny size so there is simply no need to leave it at home. Even in summer, you never know when a chilly wind might pick up, so this jacket is there just in case.

I don’t just keep it for hiking, climbing and camping either. It’s a cold evening for karate? Throw it on over my karate suit. Might get a bit chilly cycling back from my friend’s house this evening? Pop it in my bag. It’s frosty while I’m waiting for my train to work in the morning? Bring it with me. Going to watch the fireworks? Put it on under my down jacket…..haha double down is the best!

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Maintaining a warm core while enjoying the spring sunshine and airing my feet on our walk across Scotland (TGO Challenge)!

With a slim fit (according to the description) and a hem draw cord, I find my size 12 jacket easily layers under waterproofs but also over the top of everything. Elasticated cuffs keep out draughts and a snug, lycra-bound hood keeps your head warm under a helmet or other hoods.

The outer material is Pertex Quantum, which after over two years of constant use, shows no sign of damage. The 100% nylon rip-stop lining feels silky soft against your skin if you have short sleeves underneath (my lining is also a fun purple colour). Washing it is easy: mine has been through the washing machine many times with NikWax TechWash with no problems at all.

My jacket only has a one-way zip, but the website tells me that the new ones have a 2-way opening front zip, which would be perfect for belaying. It does have a fleecy bit to stop your chin rubbing though.

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It’s warm but also breathable enough to use while climbing or walking

It has two nice roomy hand-warmer pockets and a huge chest pocket that you can pack the jacket into as a stuff sack; when we walked across Scotland, I didn’t take a pillow, I just used my packed-up jacket!

Basically, this is an awesome piece of kit: I absolutely love it and would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a warm, practical layer for outdoor activities, especially if it rains a lot where you are!

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In Scotland one sunny, summer day can be followed by a day of hail, wind and fog!

 

A solo van adventure and Buchaille Etive Mor

A few weeks ago I decided I should take Bruce (our campervan) for a trip on my own; I haven’t done this before as I’ve only recently started driving it.

The Scottish forecast was best in the west on the Sunday, so I decided to attempt Buchaille Etive Mor. This is the magnificent mountain that dominates the entrance to Glencoe, where it looks virtually impregnable. However, there are two common (non-climbing) routes up: Curved Ridge, which is a wonderful 240m grade 3 scramble, and the walkers route up Coire na Tulaich.

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View from the van door: early morning mist over Loch Tulla

I had been looking for simple munros to try on my own, but I thought that although these munros have the potential to be challenging, I have climbed Stob Dearg twice (once via Curved Ridge and once in a blizzard), and with a good forecast it was likely to be busy so I wouldn’t be on my own up there.

On Saturday afternoon I drove up to the view point situated just before Rannoch Moor, where there are three large car parks. I spent a very pleasant evening reading and writing in the van, wrapped up in my down jacket and watching the sun go down behind the mountains.

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Buchaille Etive Mor in the sunshine

As night fell, it definitely felt autumnal and I had to get all the blankets out for the first time this year. It was a little strange being in there on my own and I had to tell myself a few times that the noises outside were really not likely to be axe-murderers creeping about!

I got up early and drove to the layby at Altnafeadh in Glencoe used by everyone heading up this mountain, but at 7.15am it was already packed! I always love the drive over Rannoch Moor and that morning it was the most beautiful I have ever seen it: mist was caught on the water and the rising sun was shining through it, turning everything pink.

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The route up Coire na Tulaich

I managed to get a spot in the next car park but that was also filling up fast. I had breakfast and set off at 8.30 feeling excited but a little nervous, as despite the sunshine in the valley, the ridge was shrouded in cloud. As I passed the main parking area, I was informed by people with bells that it was the Salomon Glencoe Skyline Race that day!

I headed off past the Lagangarbh hut and up the walkers route onto the ridge. It is a steep and fairly relentless climb up Coire na Tulaich, but a good path has been constructed and there were lots of people to say hello to. As I reached the ridge, the cloud was still clinging on, but through occasional breaks, the stunning views were revealed. The path to the summit of Stob Dearg was helpfully marked with little red flags for the runners. However, near the top I met the pair who had the job of removing them all.

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West to Buchaille Etive Beag (the Wee Buchaille) on the way up

I sat on the summit to have a few sandwiches (cheese and chilli jam), and was soon joined by a magnificent raven, who watched from a nearby rock. It has obviously learnt that walkers are a soft touch, as it soon hopped very close to me to take some sandwich crusts I threw down and, as the summit got busier, it moved from group to group, with it’s finest prize being half a ham sandwich from someone generous!

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North across Glencoe

Happily the cloud did lift a little more, permitting a few glimpses of Rannoch Moor to the east and Loch Leven down the valley to the west. I then returned back to the spot where I had joined the ridge, but rather than descending the same way, as we had done on a previous winter ascent, I continued west before turning south-west towards Stob na Doire. Despite being on my own, I was having a fabulous time!

The descent from Stob na Doire requires a little care as it is very rocky, then there is the final section of proper ascent up to Stob Coire Altruim. From here, it’s a simple walk along the ridge to the second munro, Stob na Broige. This summit was very busy, so I found a comfy seat among the rocks to the west of the cairn, to eat my final sandwiches and admire Loch Etive and Buchaille Etive Beag.

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Loch Leven through the clouds!

A misty drizzle settled on us, so I headed back to the path that descends the north side of the ridge between Stob Coire Altruim and Stob na Doire. It is mainly a steep grassy slope with a gravelly path worn into it, with a few badly eroded and steep sections. About halfway down, I also discovered some steep slabby areas that had to be crossed carefully. One section made me a little nervous looking at it, and had Chris been there, he would have gone first to “spot” me (stand below to catch me if I slip); as it was after a good look, I put my poles away and headed calmly down backwards. A few bum shuffles and careful foot placements were all that was required; I was pleased with myself as I really dislike down-climbing.

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My raven friend

There are stepping stones across the stream at the bottom and I paused for a last snack on the other side. It’s a great valley, surrounded as it is by such steep mountain sides, but the midges soon had me moving again, following the excellent path down the Lairig Gartain and back to the carpark.

I returned home invigorated and full of excitement about my first proper solo mountain trip!

Details

A fabulous ridge walk in a stunning location!

Distance: 13km/8.25 miles

Time: 5.5 hours (Walkhighlands suggests 7-9 hours)

Ascent: 1110m

Munro summits: Stob Dearg (1021m) & Stob na Broige (956m)