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!

 

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Whisky & Mountains

Last week we made the fascinating discovery that the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery is running free distillery tours until March. We quickly formed a plan to tour the distillery as well as bag a couple of munros over a weekend.

Carn na Caim and A’Buidheanach Bheag were our hills of choice as they were conveniently placed across the road from the distillery: whisky on Saturday and mountains on Sunday, the plan fell into place.

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After a civilised start on Saturday, we loaded up Bruce (the camper van) and headed up the A9 to Dalwhinnie. There wasn’t quite as much snow on the hills as we had hoped but it is still early in the season and there was a good dusting of the white stuff, so we were not too disheartened.

Amazingly, we found a perfect spot for Bruce within walking distance of the distillery and there was even time for a cup of tea and a sandwich before our tour. I have always enjoyed the Dalwhinnie whisky, ever since drinking it in a cold and wintry Shenavall Bothy a good few years ago, so I was really looking forward to the tour. Rightly so as well, as the tour was super and the whisky and chocolates at the end were excellent: a huge thank you to the staff at the Dalwhinnie Distillery for a great time.

We headed back to the van for our classic chorizo, vegetable and tomato sauce and tortellini pasta and settled in for the night. It was a cold night which even included a bit of down jacket action in bed!

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A stunning morning

In the morning we tentatively got out of bed and made our final preparations for the day ahead; this included defrosting the inside of the windscreen as it had frozen during the night. It was only a short drive to the start of our walk at the Balsporran car park about 5km south of Dalwhinnie. We planed to follow a circular route described in an old edition of Cameron Mcneish’s Munro book. His route takes you straight up the west slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag and down the land rover track that connects to the A9 about 3km north of the Balsporran car park. In the interest of not wanting to walk along a road at the end of the day, we did this route in reverse, which turned out to be a brilliant idea…

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Summit just up ahead (!).

It was a stunning morning and, although we were walking so close to the A9, it was a pleasant stroll north up to the path that would lead us into the hills. We gained height fast and thought we deserved second breakfast just before reaching the vast plateau of these mountains. At a track junction a path leads north towards the summit of Carn na Caim. This is a very undramatic summit and you only know its the top because of a small cairn, otherwise you would probably miss it if you were not paying  attention. We were paying close attention though, the clouds had been following us since the track junction and by the time we made the summit, we could have just as easily been in a steam room, although a lot colder!

So cold in fact that we needed to keep our primaloft jackets on as we made our way off the summit following our compass bearing. Thankfully by the time we had made it back to the track junction the cloud had lifted and once again revealed the vast open space towards the second munro of the day: A’Buidheanach Bheag.

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The vast plateau

The walking was simple due to the big track and flattish ground, meaning we quickly covered the 2.5km to the summit. It was on our way to this summit that we saw our first hare zooming across the open hillside, we would see two more by the end of the day.

The A’Buidheanach Bheag summit is even less dramatic, if even possible, than the previous one, but at least it was not in a cloud so we could enjoy the superb views across to Glen Garry and Ben Alder.

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Views across to Ben Alder

After enjoying the summit and some more flapjack, obviously, it was time to head back to Bruce. That meant descending the west slopes of the mountain, which certainly added interest to the day. The steep, half snow-covered, half wet grass and heather made for a tricky descent, then there was a small river crossing before slogging over the last bit of muddy ground under the huge electricity pylons before returning to the van. During the decent I couldn’t help thinking “I am so glad we didn’t try to walk up that!”

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In the end we had a lovely time bimbling across these hills but I would not recommend ascending or descending the West slopes of A’Buidheanach Bheag. Descending them isn’t horrendous but ascending them certainly would be. It may be worth heading back to the track junction and walking NW back down the track to the A9: not as adventurous though.

Details

Time: 6 Hours 15 minutes

Distance: 12.8Km / 8 miles

Munro summits: A’ Bhuidheanach Bheag (936m) & Carn na Caim (941m)

Ascent: 610m

 

 

 

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)

Exploring Mallaig and Arisaig

Two weeks ago we managed to go away for a long weekend. Unusually, we decided on a relaxing trip rather than a challenging one, and our first choice was Arran. Unfortunately, there was no space on the ferry so we quickly made a new plan to go to Arisaig and Mallaig, which is a region of Scotland neither of us had explored at all.

These two small towns/villages are situated on the very western end of the peninsula south of Knoydart, and getting the boat from Mallaig is actually one of the easiest ways to access this remote area; Mallaig is also well-known for the ferry link to Skye.

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Mallaig harbour

We left on the Thursday evening, intending to stop somewhere near Glencoe to spend the night before continuing the drive on the Friday morning. However, we hadn’t checked the traffic news (nor did Chris read the signs!), and discovered that the road (A82) was closed at Lochearnhead; this wouldn’t be too much of an issue in England, an alternative could be easily found, but in Scotland, there are so few roads that if the one you need is blocked, it requires an enormous detour (hours and hours!) to avoid it. We therefore turned around and parked in a layby, behind a lorry, to wait until it opened again in the morning.

As this wasn’t a very lovely spot, we left first thing in the morning in order to have breakfast with the much nicer views of Glencoe. Sadly, despite the sun on Rannoch Moor, it was raining in Glencoe, so we had bacon sandwiches admiring the mist.

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Loch Morar

We then continued to Mallaig, via the obligatory stop in Fort William to buy the things we had forgotten. Mallaig turned out to be nicer than we expected with a busy harbour, where we watched some fishing boats unloading their catches. It also seems to have one extremely busy street, full of tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

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Ominous clouds before we got soaked

Loch Morar is lovely, it is worth a drive down the little yellow road to have a look. We parked in Morar to go down to the bay, but ended up having a nap before making it out of the van! The tide was out and the beach was massive; wandering along the northern edge, Chris had a paddle and was caught in a torrential rainstorm without his shoes on.

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Cambusdarach beach is about a 10-15 min walk from the car park

On Saturday, the sun was shining, so we headed for the string of beaches that stretch between the villages of Morar and Arisaig. They were all lovely with white sand and stunning clear blue sea. They were also busier than any beaches we have been on in Scotland before! However, by walking further beyond the first beach at Cambusdarach, we found a quiet spot for a swim with the fish.

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The sea was too perfect to resist going for a swim!

We had lunch beside another beach further south before driving down through Arisaig and continuing south west to the end of the road on the little headland. If you were careful of cars, this road would make a wonderful cycle. Having parked up, we walked further southwest along a track to Rhue Cottage, then on a path down to a secluded beach, Port nam Murach. There were even other people here, though many had arrived by boat, and a big group arrived by kayak while we were there. They set up camp on a wonderful grassy spot above the beach; it looked like an amazing place to spend the night!

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The lovely beach Port nam Murach

We had another calm evening watching kayakers and standup-paddle boarders while we ate dinner.

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Views across to the islands Rum and Eigg

On Sunday we had exhausted our tasty breakfast supply, so we sheltered from the drizzle and had a bacon roll and tea in a café in Arisiaig, before drivng back east along the A830 to a layby just east of Polnish. From there we walked down the Ardnish peninsula to the Peanmeanach ruins. This is a good walk, along a clear, if very boggy, track. The route climbs up the hillside above Loch Nan Uamh, crosses moorland, passing Loch Doire a Ghearain on the left, before descending through a wonderful mossy, deciduous woodland. The path then comes out onto flat marshland, where it’s a case of trying to avoid totally wet feet, before coming to the ruined village on a slightly raised area above the beach. I hadn’t read the route description in detail so it was a pleasant surprise to find a very nice bothy here amongst the ruined buildings. In fact, in his book, the Bothy Bible, Geoff Allan lists Peanmeanach bothy as one of the top five bothies for “Coast and beaches”, “Families and beginners”, and “Romantic hideaways”. I haven’t yet stayed in a bothy, but this one would tempt me: it was spacious, bright, cleaner and more inviting than the others I’ve seen.

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Loch nam Uamh

We had lunch outside, then made our way back. If anyone happens to be there and finds a monocular, I haven’t seen mine since we were there and I would really love to get it back!

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The view down to the coast and the bothy

Dinner was cooked and eaten in Glencoe again, sheltering in the van away from the midges and watching the unsuspecting tourists perform the “midge dance”.

It was a lovely weekend and a very novel and pleasant experience to have no time constraints and be able to lie-in and laze around as much as we liked!

Braeriach: Testing my limits

We climbed Braeriach in April and I will always remember it!

Braeriach is the third highest mountain in Britain, but also very remote and difficult to reach. It is situated in the Cairngorms, south-east of Aviemore and can be accessed a variety of ways: one is as part of the Cairn Toul – Braeriach traverse, which encompasses those two munros, in addition to The Devil’s Point and Sgor an Locahin Uaine; another is as a circular route from Whitewell. As we have already climbed the other three, we chose the latter route.

The forecast wasn’t too bad although MWIS advised that it might be quite windy (up to 40mph), but we wouldn’t be going over any particularly difficult terrain, so we thought it was worth a try. As a long route it would also be good practice for our TGO Challenge.

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At the Cairgorm Club footbridge in the forest

We parked at Whitewell and set off early through the Rothiemurchus Forest on excellent forest tracks. These Caledonian pine forests are wonderful; they are home to capercaillie, red squirrels and pine martin and definitely worth a visit themselves. We navigated the tracks to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge, then followed the path south-east towards the Lairig-Ghru. We continued gradually climbing upwards through the forest above the Allt Druidh. The forest thinned and we were no longer protected from the wind; Braeriach was hidden in cloud ahead of us.

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The Lairig-Ghru looking ominous ahead

The path eventually drops down to the burn and the path from the Chalamain gap comes in from the left. We crossed the burn and started to climb steeply up the ridge on the west side of the Lairig Ghru, still on a fairly good path. However, we soon hit snow, it was still windy and the visibility deteriorated; we could see down the steep cliffs into the Lairig Ghru but not much else. We pushed on but the wind got stronger and stronger; we decided it was time for a break and lunch in the red cafe (our group shelter). Finding a flat sheltered spot on the steep rocky ridge wasn’t easy, and keeping hold of and getting into the shelter was even less easy!

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At this point I couldn’t raise the camera above my waist….

A group shelter gives tremendous relief from difficult conditions, and this was no exception, except that the material violently battering the back of our heads was a constant reminder of what was waiting outside. We were also sitting in a lot more snow than we had anticipated. We had already come a long way, but we started discussing our options: the strong wind and poor visibility wasn’t a good combination, so did we want to head back or carry on? We decided to continue a little further and see how we felt: we were well-equipped, we had lots of time and we could turn around at any point. So after a short but vigorous battle with the shelter which didn’t want to go back into a rucksack, we headed on up the ridge. The clouds had actually lifted somewhat while we were resting, which gave us more confidence, but as we approached Sron na Lairige, the wind roared down the valley pummeling us relentlessly. We had a further battle to get our waterproof trousers on, which stopped the wind biting our legs, but it was starting to become mentally challenging for me, as well as physically challenging. We began to walk for a few minutes, leaning heavily into the wind, then stop and turn our backs to the wind briefly, while I regained my breath, before continuing in this manner.

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View on the summit of Braeriach

As we got closer to the summit, we changed direction, the ridge narrowed considerably and we moved quite carefully. Suddenly the wind dropped. It was an incredible relief. My hair had been flying about my face, making it difficult to see, so I quickly took my hood and buff off ready to re-tie it in the calm, when a huge gust hit us and knocked us both onto the ground. I was shocked: I had never felt wind like this. Whenever I moved, the wind picked up the snow and shot it in sharp spikes into my face, while my hair whipped my eyes. It was awful, so I crouched on the floor with my eyes closed waiting for it to calm down. It did a little. We moved forward cautiously. Then there were more gusts; we tried to move down north off the ridge slightly but having been driven to the ground again, the wind pushed me across the snow even while I sitting down! This was terrifying, I had never felt so out of control. I rolled onto my side and dug my elbow into the snow to stop myself from sliding, unable to see much due to the snow in my eyes and face. Chris wasn’t struggling so much, possibly because, unlike him, I was wearing my large backpacking rucksack to get get used to it before the Challenge and it was acting like a sail; he came and crouched behind me. We couldn’t stay there, so we crawled forwards: the ridge was broader ahead. By this point I had had enough, I wanted to get down.

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How we’d been feeling a few minutes earlier!

I honestly have no idea how long we were in this wind but it suddenly disappeared again. We walked calmly but warily to the summit, where there was no wind at all and we could take our gloves off and have some food. However, we could hear the wind roaring like a massive waterfall around the corries just over the edge, it was very strange. Once again we discussed the options: earlier in the day, we had decided that we should return by the way we had come, rather than complete the circuit, as we knew the way and could follow our prints if necessary. Now, we looked at the map and decided the fastest way down and out of the wind was to continue east and descend into Gleann Eanaich as planned.

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As we left the summit, the wind hit us again, this time pushing us downhill from behind. It was difficult not to go too fast and to prevent my rucksack from coming round to my front! However, we descended quickly and soon it was just a surreal memory. The slope was steep, and we “skiied” in our boots down some gullies still full of snow. We lost the path and picked our way down the steep hillside to the track clearly visible below us, passing a couple of reindeer on the way. We didn’t even get too wet crossing the bog to get to the track. Then it was simply a trot in calm weather along landrover track all the way back to Whitewell, occasionally looking back and thinking “did that really just happen?!”

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Desending steeply down into Gleann Eanaich

Back at the van, we had tea and hobnobs before driving up to Glenmore Lodge for a delicious dinner to celebrate another successful adventure.

Once home, we checked the reports from the Cairngorm weather station, which had recorded gusts over 80mph at lunchtime and reaching 90mph by mid-afternoon.

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Proof we were actually fine despite a little too much excitement!

I think I tested my limits further than I ever have in the mountains that day. However, I didn’t panic, I didn’t cry, I didn’t freeze: we were fine, I was fine. I’m proud to know we can cope with difficult situations. Chris actually enjoyed himself!

However, when MWIS forecast 40mph winds two weeks ago, I changed our plan from climbing a ridge on Ben Nevis to rock climbing at Dunkeld…..

 

Munro summit: Braeriach (1296m)

Distance: 26km / 16.25 miles

Ascent: 1217m

Duration: 9h 15mins

 

Stanage: Intro to Grit Stone

Stanage Edge is a 4km wall of grit stone located on the Hallam Moors east of Sheffield. It is separated into three different sections: Stanage North, Plantation and Popular. All of this together offers you over 1300 climbing routes, giving you plenty to go at no matter what grade you climb.

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Stanage Popular

We had two days in which to sample the most popular climbing venue in the UK and after a delicious breakfast of French toast, we headed up the short hill to the base of the crag. This only took us 5 minutes. We wanted to start on something simple, having never climbed on grit before, so we chose an easy looking gully for our first climb. We both thought that we would be in for a tricky couple of days, as our easy gully proved to be cold, slimy and awkward.

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#vanlife

However, as the sun began to poke through the morning clouds and after getting a couple more climbs under our belt, we started to get the feel for the grit stone. It was new to us both and the super wide cracks and sloping edges do take a bit of getting used to. By the end of the first day we had climbed over 10 routes including: Crack and Corner S 4b, Mississippi Buttress Direct VS 4c and the classic Flying Buttress HVD 4a.

As day two began, after more French toast of course, we were back on the grit and flicking through the Rockfax guide book for the next climb. We never had to look far. Be warned though, when the guide book says it’s a popular crag, it really means it. We were staggered by how quickly the car park would fill up and just how easily your plans for your next route could be thwarted by other enthusiastic climbers. Everyone at the crag was friendly and it made for a great atmosphere and a real buzz about the place which was brilliant to be a part of.

Having added Bishop’s Route S 4a and the brilliantly intense Hollybush Crack VD to our ever increasing tally of climbs, the sun was setting on our Stanage adventure. We had been here for two days and we had barely scratched the surface of what’s available. After our cold and awkward start we were both leaving with fond memories and the fact that this is a terrific place, well deserving of its superb reputation. We can’t wait to get back some time in the future.

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Sun setting on the last climb of the day.

Top tips:

Be sure to get there early as the car park fills up quickly so by mid-afternoon you may be struggling for a space at Stanage Popular.

Bring big gear, and lots of it! You will find plenty of use for your biggest hex, torque nut or cam.

New Year in the Lake District

Rather than celebrate the New Year in Scotland as we usually do, this year we decided to go away in our campervan. One of the wonderful things about a van is the freedom it provides to choose where to go without having to book anything or rely on good weather, as we used to for camping trips. We can also take all our gear,meaning that whatever the weather, we can do something. So, on the 29th , we had a look at the weather forecast: it was going to rain over New Year and then turn cold, which ruled out any climbing. The band of rain was going to move down the country on the 1st, leaving nice weather behind it in the Lake District, so that was where we decided to go.

We received a shiny new book of mountain routes for Christmas, with lots of choices for Helvellyn, including Striding Edge, which is reportedly very good. We set off from my parents place on the afternoon of the 31st, but for various reasons made slow progress north. We arrived in Windermere to a very dark and wet evening, and our first two potntial camping spots proved unsuitable. We then made for Ullswater, and found a remote spot to park up and see the New Year in; also possibly the windiest place in the Lake District! However, for two people used to sheltering in a little two-man tent, the pleasure of being in a nice dry van, while the rain and wind beat the outside, hasn’t worn off yet, so we were very happy! Grandma’s Christmas hamper and a bottle of bubbly also ensured we had a lovely dinner.

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Happy New Year!

We had also decided that due to our late arrival and staying up until midnight, we didn’t fancy the early morning required for a hill day. Instead, we had a lie-in, a rare thing in the van, and easy to do as it was bitterly cold outside (and a little inside too) and the wind was still howling.

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Turns out we chose a great spot despite the pitch dark and rain

In the afternoon we went for a gentle stroll along the edge of Ullswater. There is pay and display parking in Patterdale (£4 for the day) and a route perfect for families, if you walk NW along the A592 and take the first right turn, following a track over the Goldrill Beck, through a farm yard (campsite) and north parallel to the edge of the lake.

 

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Ullswater

We walked up to Silver Point and a little beyond before the weather started to turn and the call of the pub became too strong. You can take a higher route back from Silver Point, which actually gives nicer views for much of the way, and can cross the same bridge as you came over, or another slightly further up, which provides access to the very cute hamlet of Rooking.

 

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Sunny New Year’s Day walk

While out, we noted that there might be a fair amount of snow on the top of Helvellyn, which made us reconsider going up Striding Edge as we don’t know the area and the guide book suggested that snow and ice can turn the easy scramble into a winter climb.

Helvellyn

After another night in our windy carpark, with the addition of snow rather than rain, we got up at 5.45am, had spaghetti and sausages (breakfast of champions) and drove down to Glenridding. We parked in the carpark just off the A592 by the information centre and set off in the dark, using our head torches to follow the signs for Helvellyn. The route goes west along a residential road, after about 500m the houses peter away and you follow the road right then left, following the old mining road on the north side of the stream. This runs for about 1.5km to the youth hostel and the disused mine; by this point it was light but the sun hadn’t yet come over the hills. As you pass some holiday cottages there are more signs, keeping you on the right of way and away from the mining areas. We then quickly started to climb steeply, taking the path to Sticks Pass, which zigzags up the hillside before curving into a small gully. At the top of this, you come out onto a large flattish area that still shows lots of signs of human activity. The sun finally emerged over the hills to the east and turned everything orange for a while.

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Catching the sun’s first rays

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The sun just peeking over the hills

We made our way NE to the bottom of the steep valley side and followed the path west towards Sticks Pass and the broad saddle between Stybarrow Dodd (N) and Raise (S), where the ground was covered with a thin layer of snow. A very clear path runs along this line and we made our way without difficulty up to Raise (883m). By this point it was pretty cold and the cairn was coated in ice on the north side; with clear blue sky, the views in every direction were lovely and we could see the summit of Helvellyn ahead.

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Lots of snow and ice on top of Raise

The ground between Raise and White Side is fairly flat and it was definitely chilly in the wind, but on the south side of White Side we were much more sheltered. Then there is a steeper climb up a narrower ridge to Lower Man; we had a pause at the top as it was sheltered again and ate some hobnobs before the final ascent to Helvellyn. It was bitterly cold at the top and very busy by this time: we took a couple of photos and dashed back down to our sheltered spot for a sandwich, but not fast enough to avoid getting extremely cold fingers (the thing that makes me grumpiest about winter walking!).

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Chris is happy

We descended by the same way, until we took the path that peels off E leading down into Kepple Cove. This is a fairly steep descent down to the stream on a decent path and then a stomp out underneath Stang until you get back to the disused mine.

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On the way down after a sunny, snowy, cloudless day

Having anticipated a long day, we were rather surprised to be back at the van by 1.30pm. So after packing away our stuff, we had some delicious hot chocolate and drove back to Stirling, which left us enough time to unpack the van, shower, change and go out for a lovely dinner! Perfect!

Details

Distance: 17.4km

Duration: 6h 15m

Ascent: approx. 1090m

Summits: Helvellyn (949m), Lower Man (925m) and Raise (883m)

Comments

A pleasant walk with some lovely views and good paths all the way. We’ll be back for Striding Edge, returning via the line of summits south down to Grisedale Tarn.