Age. It gets to us all in the end. Have just received a nice email from Ali and Sue (organisers of the TGO now) telling me that my application had been received. On my form I told them I had completed 6 TGO crossings — they tell me it is actually 7.
One of these must have been completely uneventful although this does seem unlikely. I must refresh the memory !
Routebuddy’s new Coast to Coast Challenge Map utilises the company’s unique screen ‘stitching’ technology to reduce a new map and add-ons that will be useful to anyone planning a coast-to-coast walk across the Scottish Highlands.
On this occasion I thought it would be more useful to you if I produced a video review, as you really have to see it in action to appreciate what this system can do. The review is in html format and should be viewable by all up-to-daye systems including tablets.
The 1:50K base map is available at a reasonable £19.99.
In addition, Routebuddy has created a number of specific 1:25 add-ons which stitch into the base map. These range in price depending on the ground covered. They start at £4.99 for part of the Torridon hills to £25 for the Cairngorms — good value for money.
Any other Routebuddy map can stitch into the base map and this review also displays a Harvey/BMC 1:40 working with the base map.
Not only can you view stitched maps on the same screen but you can print out the stitched maps on the same sheet of paper.
As we approach winter I know that a lot of hikers begin to reappraise their kit and think about new purchases for the winter or the spring. I’ve had a lot of interest in the Exodus pack. I’ve reviewed it before — Review: Mountain Laurel Designs Exodus 2011 Backpack — but this ha the benefit of prolonged use.
I’ve also written this as an introduction to lightweight packs and their use in UK or cooler climate conditions.
25 seconds, f11, ISO 11, 24mm, Big Stopper ND +10 stops filter, ND Grad +2 stops filter
From the world of books you could easily get the impression that treks and trail walking are things of great extremes, undertaken by athletes who suffer significantly for their art! But, of course, it does not have to be like that and the mere mortals amongst us can still enjoy the thrill of a trek albeit one that is measured in weeks rather than months, where camping is often on campsites or where gites or B&Bs are used frequently.
New technology and the internet has made small run publishing — or self publishing — very popular over the last few years. I have reviewed a number of self published books in these pages, books that I have very much enjoyed reading. At the bottom of each review I include an Amazon link. This link allows you the reader to quickly check out other reviews and, if you choose to order the book via this route, I can see how many have been sold. By far the most ordered book from this site using the Amazon system is a self published book. These books fill a real niche somewhere between a travelogue and a conventional guidebook; they can give us a good idea of life on a particular trail.
Every Day Above a New Horizon is another successful self published book which centres around a walk on the Stephenson Trail in France. A few weeks ago I reviewed Max Landsberg’s A Call of the Mountains a book which described the project of a Munro bagger; Max’s book while having a strong narrative also gave many hints and tips that will be useful to those beginning to Munro bag. In this book John Davison does much the same thing for trail walking combining a strong narrative with quite a lot of useful information about wild camping, treating water and so on.
Like John I have had the Stephenson Trail on my list of to do walks for years. The Trail has been developed to commemorate the walk undertaken by Robert Louis Stephenson from the Massif Central to the South of the Cevennes just above the Mediterranean. Stephenson wrote a short book about his trip. Travels in the Cevennes with a Donkey is often considered to be the first modern travel book.
My problem with this trail is that I never seem to be able to find the time to slip this walk into my annual schedule. I have the route planned almost completely but there it sits until, well, one day …
I was pleased to read that John has had the same experience. He too harboured the dream of walking this trail for many years. He even carried around some text from Stephenson as a poster which sat on his office wall. It sat on a number of different walls over the years before he found the time and space to walk the trail.
So, Every Day Above a New Horizon, not only focus on this walk but on those trail expeditions that led up to it. In building up to the Stephenson Trail John walked and backpacked in Derbyshire, Wiltshire and in the Highlands. He then graduated to longer trails including the West highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the East Highland Way before moving on to tackle the big one.
The really great thing about this book is that John writes well. He has a sparse and simple style and is successful in avoiding the flowery language we get from many inexperienced writers. He has a nice gentle sense of humour and a keen eye for important detail. Anyone who has regularly trailed walked will recognise many of the experiences and characters that are encountered along way. There’s the gear bore who carries massive weights and dominates every meeting at a campsite. There are walking companions who value the pubs along the route more keenly than they do the landscape and who sometimes hail down a taxi and thumb a life to get from one place to the other. There are hotels and B&Bs who, faced with a smelly and muddy trekker, suddenly decide that they are full. And there are honest pieces about the horrible nature of the early stages of the West Highland Way which is often more reminiscent of a rubbish dump than of a national trail. I agree with John’s observation that the decision to ban camping in the Loch Lomond area has been a disaster as it simply encourages improvised bivouacs which leave behind tons of debris.
The Stephenson Trail takes up the second half of a book. For me, this gives a pretty open and honest account of a first time excursion on a French Trail, including that rather touchy issue of the French and their dogs!
The Stephenson Trail is not a particularly difficult trail in itself although some of the days are long. However, John makes it clear that UK walkers need to respect the upland areas many of which are higher than any territory in the UK and which can (often) be subject to pretty dreadful weather conditions. Although this is a trail that can be broken with very comfortable evenings in lovely villages it is one which needs to be prepared for properly.
I enjoyed reading this book. It had the right air of authenticity to it. As I’ve already mentioned John writes well and this is an easy book to digest; I read it in two sessions over a Sunday afternoon and earl evening.
If you are thinking of tackling one of these trails for the first time I think you would find this book useful. If you have a lot of experience of trail walking then there is also a lot to enjoy.
I think this is only available in paper cover at the moment, but it is easily bought through Amazon.
I’ve already said that this has been an odd walking year for me with little overnight, wild camping, except for the TGO Challenge. Still, winter is a time for planning and later this week I shall start planning. I shall probably start with the rather radical step of putting my application in tomorrow; I’m told this helps!
Next year’s walk will be a solo effort and these are the walks I put real time into. Last year we took a very gentle route as Kate hadn’t done much walking for a couple of years. Last year’s route was supposed to have all been walked in advance by me although I did manage to find a few interesting detours.
I suspect the planning of next year’s walk will take some time. Up to now I have been working on the basis that I will leave the southerly crossings until the point at which I am more infirm. Until then the intention is to concentrate on more northern routes. Actually, I do feel quite infirm now but I shall use the winter to get a lot more miles in that I did ion preparation for last year.
Northern starts are becoming problematic in a couple of ways. Firstly, I’ve covered a lot to the same ground before. Nipping up Munros provides variety but I always find poor weather and inevitably I’m trotting along the same paths. Secondly, many of these starts see the walker crossing Loch Ness at Drumnadrochit and I crossed at this point on my last two TGOs. A crossing here takes the hiker into the Monaliadth, one of my favourite areas of the challenge. Sadly, the Monaliadth is being wrecked by wind farm development and it is getting increasingly difficult to avoid this large scale development. Alan Sloman has a rant about this on his blog at the moment — Planning a Wind Turbine Free TGO Challenge — but he’s not far wide of the mark.
I’m now really pleased that Humphrey Weightman and I took the opportunity to spend 5 days bumbling around here a few years ago. At its best the Monaliadth is stunningly wonderful wild land. Walking here gives you the experience of some of the wildest and open high land in the country; it is a magical space. Sadly, it is increasingly difficult to ignore the damage to the landscape made by the tracks to wind farms.
On last year’s event Kate and I took the easy route from Ault na Goire over to Glen Mazaran. For me this has always seemed like cheating; the crossing of the main ridge just below Carn Dubh always seems more legitimate. But the last time I went that way heavy vehicles had simply bulldozed there way up to the ridge creating a real mess. I suspect by now this has been consolidated as a kind of track highway. The gentle route takes in some lovely lanes but then shocks by revealing to you the full extent of the forward base or depot for the wind farm development. On these roads we were never alone as truck after truck trundled along, throwing up dust and splattering us with mud. In truth the crossing to Mazeran alone high ground helped restore a feeling of equilibrium but the small number of turbines on the horizon are soon to be joined by many, many more.
I’ve said before that the Monaliadth suffers by not really being on the Munro route. That being said a night camping alongside the Findhorn or Dulnaine is one of life’s great experiences but one that I think is going to be increasingly overlooked simply because of the approach. You will still be able to access the area from the A9 and concentrate on the Munro Hills where there may still be some semblance of wildness. But much of the magic of the place will soon have been destroyed.
So, this year I will avoid my beloved Monaliadth. I think I might find myself reprising a crossing at Coran Ferry and walking towards Ossian, Gaick and the rest.
This year might also see me change the end of my route. The Fetteresso is still a huge building site. I was delighted to find, last year, that my customary camp spot in the forest is still useable but approaching the forest by way of the hills from the direction of Mount Keen is to experience yet more cut through tracks.
This will be only my seventh Challenge (if I get in). But in the nine years since I started this walk it is surprising how much more challenging route planning has become, not least because of the desire to avoid industrial development.
Alan is not alone in his rants about the Highlands. His asking companion Phil has put up (independently) his own view on the development of the Highland in Looking to the Future. As usual Phil adopts a slightly more measured tone than Alan but the sentiments are much the same.
Is this development taking both the fun and challenge out of the TGO Challenge? Well, I hope not but I fear so.
For me an ideal solo crossing involves chunks or lone walking and other bits that are more social but I can sense the importance of the social growing. I crave the wild land but am now beginning to think of long coastal path walks as another way of reflecting and engaging the senses.
I don’t think I am as yet at the point of Alan and Phil in abandoning the Challenge altogether. But it does seem that the Highlands might be best explored in shorter bursts that don’t involve so many connecting walks that are being destroyed by industrial scale developments.
Four or five years ago Alan and I took part in a community broadcast discussion on wind development in Scotland — hosted by David Lintern. Afterwards we went to a pub (no surprise there then). Alan announced that Scotland would soon be dead and would have lost a lot of its attraction — he was planning this change in tack for his walking even then.
I fear he may be right. Yes there is a lot of Scotland to experience and there are always alternatives to take. But — on the TGO Challenge — this wind farm development is making the Highlands a much smaller place.
But what of other hiker visits? Will this development impact on the Munro bagger? I fear it will simply because the views from so many hills will be destroyed. We all know that the Highlands needs to develop its tourist economy. Too many small villages have no shops and few decent transport connections. Too many of the young people we meet have come to work here from great distances as local young people see little sustainable future. This is an area that needs to strengthen its basic tourist offer and not weaken it.
Still, I’m not sure this gets me anywhere. I still have a route to route to plan and an event to look forward to. I shall just have to concentrate more than normal and use a bit more ingenuity.
I suspect, though, that Al and Phil will not be the last to refocus away from Scotland. A crying shame.
However, the route planning will give me something to write about!
One of the great things about living and walking in climates such as Britain’s is the chafing of the seasons.
This year’s extended summer has been welcome in many ways. I love walking in warmth, somehow all of the joints and muscles seem to work at their best. And yet this summer has extended its welcome. There is something wonderful about the coming of autumn; the crispness in the air seems to cleanse and re-affirm the future. Ten days will shorten and, in many places, the weather will become more hostile. But every new season brings with it new experiences, the stimulation of different senses and, often, a completely different outlook on the world.
It seems that this autumn may well be compressed. Certainly in my part of the world leaves are now beginning to drop freely without any great show at all of the reds, golds and yellows of autumn.
For me this weekend there was no walk on the hills, rather I was working in the garden, digging up vegetables that are now past it, digging compost into the ground and generally starting the long preparation for winter. In just a few days the whole demeanour of the garden and the vegetable patch had changed Autumn may have crept up on us hesitantly but once it has taken route its progress is determined and relentless.
Walks now will be shorter but more invigorating. Camps will be longer but with more chance to read, think and contemplate the future. And back at home the evenings offer the base from which to plan next years excursions, starting with the TGO Challenge.
I am sad to see summer finally go but not devastatingly so. We all must move on. Each new season offers much by way of discovery. It could be worse. I could live in a climate without much in the way of changing seasons. What a disappointment that would be!
Summer may be clinging on this year but the new gear season is well and truly on us.
Check out Chris Townsend’s piece in TGO and also — of you haven’t caught them yet — have a look at Bob’s recent videos featuring those items that caught his eye while he was in Germany; it’s easy to miss this stuff over the summer.
There’s a surprising cross over between techno geekery and the outdoors. I suppose it is inevitable given the panic that ensues whenever you get caught in blanket fog or a white out! Of course, these days most of us are using computer mapping and all kinds of other bits of hi-tec. And this week Apple had one of their big launches. Now, while without getting into the debate about Apple good or bad I do think it is always worth following their developments. Apple very rarely come up with a new product but when they do launch something of a a sign of, probably, the best implementation of an idea so far. An Apple development tends to suggest that they have judged that a mass market is ready for a new idea and — so far — their track record is not bad in this department.
I suspect that this week’s most important innovation was Apple Pay but for the outdoor work there are a couple of things hat struck me.
The iPhone 6 Plus
Yes is it a big phone and yet others have had these for ages. I’m struck though by the camera which certainly points towards a consolidation of future trends at least.
Apple should be commended by not being too obsessed with pixel count, concentrating on creating sensors that offer really good sharpness and performance in poor light. The camera on my iPhone 5s is a far better performer than my first DSLR from Nikon was.
The new camera catches my attention in two ways.
Firstly, this phone has the kind of auto focus sensors that you would up to now expect on a DSLR. These sensors can determine which of the picture is in the subject area and sharpen them. They calculate a good average exposure for the scene in front of it. This might not seem to exciting but it will make a big difference to many people’s pictures.
Secondly, this phone features image stabilisation technology. When this first appeared in DSLRs I was a bit sniffy about it. I have a Cannon 24-105 lens with this technology built in; it allows me to take sharp photos at slower exposure speeds that would have previously been disastrous to use. This is a big thing and will increase the usefulness of the camera in poor light — no pencil LED flash will really ever do that much.
Soon all cameras will feature this technology. Small, pocket, cameras really will soon be a thing of the past.
For me the iPhone 6 plus is probably too big. Mind you, the battery life improvements might tempt me.
The Apple Watch
Well, yes, I still wonder what they are for! And there are other watches around. And the watch doesn’t arrive until 2015. And the demos this week, on display to journalists, didn’t do anything much! However, the launch is a sign that change is a coming quickly. But what might this mean to the walker?
Many of us already use computer watches, they are just limited. My Suunto has a barometer chip in it. I tells me about air pressure changes and can warn me when pressure is suddenly dropping (a storm approaching). This may seem odd to some people but I find in high mountains I tend to judge progress by height rather than distance. The Suunto was not a cheap product and was pretty basic really. Newer models have added GPS functions and all kinds of things but for that price you are finding yourself in Apple Watch territory.
So wrist computers are already well used by those in the outdoors. The new iPhones have barometer chips in them and can talk to the watch potentially offering a watch far greater computer and sensor power. This kind of set up could monitor quite sophisticated weather forecasts, send turn by turn instructions to a watch (allowing you to keep the phone in a pocket) and maybe even give you a grid reference fix that included a portion of an OS map. The watch might be a quick glance reference to speed across the ground, distance left on your route and so on.
It would be churlish to think all of this was really luxurious nonsense not least because Suunto and Casio have made so much money out of premium products that are not really that advanced at all.
The first Apple Watch is not waterproof which is a problem for me. I never thought I would want a compeer watch but I suspect we will be all using them in five years time.
Camera phones give you a clue. Long range hikers like Colin Ibbotson now rely exclusively on smartphones for their photographs (an iPhone in Colin’s case). Look at some of his photographs and you have to be impressed. These innovations will extent give people like Colin more reliable pictures in unreliable situations.
Apple have also produced some very effective in-phone software for editing photos and videos. Again I haven’t used this stuff much but I am using it more and more. On trail editing and publishing is not exactly new but it is about to take a great leap forward.
Apple and Google will increasingly ‘enrich our experience’ especially when the next generation o battery technology comes along.
I feel a little sorry for those small companies who have pioneered a lot of technology and who will now be swept aside. And I feel a little bit wary for my credit card (or whatever that might now become).
I don’t have to worry yet but maybe I will have to a little earlier than expected!
How might this watch/phone technology develop do you think?