I’ve just been talking to my source of all information, Humphrey Weightman (well my source of information on most things!) Humphrey has been talking to Fiona of the pub in Ballater. There is some good news.
The Just Giving initiative has raised a lot of money, relatively speaking, and this is helping locals with the clean up — both in terms of residential houses and public facilities. The town is determined to get up and running for the tourists season. the Walking festival is definitely on as are a number music events.
Most of of us will be interested in the campsite. The good thing about a campsite is that it is basically flat piece of ground which can be bulldozed easily. So, the site has been cleared. Most importantly for us I guess the toilet block is still standing! We should all be able to camp there. These days the campsite is owned by the community company on Ballater and the re-opening of the campsite has a certain symbolism as well as practicality. There must stile an issue of longterm viability as the caravan owners were — even before the flood — unable to get insurance.
Anyhow, it looks as if Ballater will be able to give us all as fine a welcome as usual this year. I’m looking forward to it this year.
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.
For a couple of years now I have been looking tropical my main waterproof. This has served me well but after almost a decade of use the fabric has got thinner and the jacket stopped being properly waterproof a few years ago!
Choosing a replacement has been difficult. I’ve tried on a couple of jackets in shops that seem to be sized weirdly, X Large jackets that seem not to the right size across the shoulders. The next problem has been price. The cost of the latest designs and fabrics has become quite ridiculous. I’m simply not going to pay silly money for something that might be a wee bit more breathable.
It was fellow Challenger that first recommended the Alpamayo to me two or three years ago. Gordon is a sensible chap. He likes his gear lightweight but not at the cost of comfort of effectiveness. Everything from PHD I hoverer bought has been top-notch and so in the end I finally got round to following Gordon’s advice!
The first thing you notice about the Alpamayo is its size. PHD size their jackets to allow for the wearing of their down jackets below which is helpful I think. The smock fits nice and loosely but is not flappy. There is no scope tail but the smock has a decent, protective, length to it which I like.
The main zip on the jacket is tough and solid and protected by a proper baffle and waterproof seams. A single chest pocket also uses a similar zip and waterproof protection. There is also an inside pocket with a key holder. The hood is properly adjusted and is probably the best hood I have used on a waterproof jacket. The wire frame is tough and the hood is easily adjusted by an adjuster at the read and my two adjustable toggles on the base. The smock cuffs feature very tough and solid Velcro adjusters. Everything about the construction is very solid and the smock oozes quality. The fabric is not thin but is smooth to the touch
In the use the smock is totally waterproof and windproof without being heavy. The walk on the Black Mountains was a real test of any waterproof garment; the smock design proved more comfortable and protective than I think a jacket would have been. The sealed zips and zip protection proved to be very effective.
While the weather in on the Black Mountain Trip was pretty foul it was mild. Fighting against the wind meant working hard and at no time did I feel the smock lacked for breathability.
The Alpamayo uses PHD’s own HS3 fabric. I’m not exactly sure what this is as many waterproof fabrics — including eVent — can be licensed to be used under individual brand names. What I do know is that this fabric is more than breathable enough for me.
My Alpamayo is X Large size and weighs 470 grams. It costs £259 and can only be obtained from PHD using website. Long experience of buying from PHD tells me that you cranky on their sizing guide — for example, you would have to pretty large to have to go up to the XX Large size (which can be ordered). I idk the over sizing as I thing the option of using a down jacket in cold weather — that is not compacted too much — can be a real bonus. There is a jacket version of the smock available which adds about another 100 grams.
You won’t see this garment reviewed that often as it doesn’t use one of the main name fabrics. However, this is a first rate piece of kit that simply won’t let you down.
Over the next few months I will continue testing and report back with a long term review.
Fuji X-Pro1, 1/125, f11, ISO 400. 18mm (28 — 35 equivalent)
In this internet age it is tempting to think that we know all about the great trails of the world even if we have never ever hiked them ourselves. There are many tells journals to read. There are many hikers who now blog or micro blog as they walk. We know all about the trail infrastructure, we can download the maps and, of course, we all now know about the famous Trail Angels of the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT.
Chris Townsend walked the PCT over 30 years ago. Back then the trail was a reality but it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. I think the year Chris hiked it only 11 people completed it. It has taken 30 years for Chris to produce this book and it seems he only embarked on the task after encouragement from his new publishers, Sandstone Press. Sandstone should take a bow as this is a very fine book indeed. When reviewing Chris’ recent Grizzly Bears and Razor clams (I think it was) put forward the view that Chris’ writing is just getting better and better. Rattlesnakes confirms this.
The PCT is an epic trail and 30 odd years ago walking it was even more epic as the trail infrastructure that we have today simply wasn’t there. To make things even more dramatic Chris walked the PCT after one of the heaviest snow falls recorded making much of the first section of the walk quite a challenge.
The PCT runs for 2,650 miles, starting at the Mexican borders and running North (at least that’s how most people tackle it) through California, Oregon and Washington States. The trail takes in the Mojave desert, the High Sierra Mountains, The Cascade Mountains and many of the great US forests along the way.
This PCT walk was Chris’ first mammoth hike and this book combines both the excitement of that youthful walk with a maturity of reflection that is simply beguiling. Above all else it is the natural drama of the trail environment that is the star of this book but the way Chris details the development of the PCT (both before and since his walk) is fascinating.
A modern journal on the PCT would inevitably feature a lot of words about gear and while this is a book about moving through landscape there’s enough to keen gear junkies happy. For this trip Chris was provided with some of the first Gore Tex waterproofs that landed in the UK. It was also on this trip that Chris saw the light and turned (mid trip) to lightweight trail shoes from heavy boots. There is the drama of a broken pack and the search for a replacement. But mostly this is about the walk.
The heavy snowfall results in a trip that seems a very different one to many accounts that I have read. Chris is famous for walking alone but the snow heavy sections dictated walking in small groups for safety. Not only was there a lot of snow to cross but tiny and often dry creeks had turned into raging torrents. What comes over nicely is the relationship that is built up amongst these trail companions. Chris remarks towards the end of the book tat he had walked much of a thousand miles with some of them and yet they ended up knowing little about each other’s lives back in the ‘real world’. However, you do get a great sense of the trail intensity of these friendships. While not having undertake a venture like this myself this — levelling of human experience — is a feature of any long trail walk and, I think, is one of the reasons for the longevity of the TGO Challenge where you often have little idea about the people you are walking with save for their own views of the immediate experience
A lot of the other usual ingredients are on show here, stories of serial breakfast eating in tiny, backwater, trail towns, the joys of a shower after weeks of walking and so on.
But what makes this a joy to read is the sharing of Chris’ discovery of life on a trail like this, the beauty of the desert, the joys of the high mountains, the fascinating variety of the forests and the glorious wildcamps along the way. I wish I could describe this all a bit more eloquently but you’ll just have to go and read the book!
This was the trip that I guess formed the Chris Townsend that most of us know today. I’m glad that he took a long time to write this as I think we’ve ended up with a fascinating and probably more enduring book.
When I finished reading the book I rang up Colin Ibbotson who told me that the book had made him want to go out and hit the trail again. I know when he means. Putting the book down I had to go out for a walk and spend a night camping on the side of the hill, a far more modest experience without doubt but this is what Chris’ books do. They shake you out of lethargy and install in you that love of the natural world that keeps us all going.
This is very firmly recommended.
Apologies to those of you who have being trying to register recently. I have been a bit slow in processing the requests!
I have now processed all of the outstanding applications. You should receive an email from ‘SLACK’. This will have a link to follow and then complete your registration details with SLACK. Once in the forum you will see a thread _ or Channel as they call them — which is called using-this-system. In here you will find direct links to download both desktop and mobile, dedicated, applications.
I look forward to seeing you over there!
It’s February and time to start rally thinking about that walk across Scotland. The weather forecast is pretty grim, relentless rain and high winds. Perfect. A typical summer’s day in Scotland.
Of course, I jest — but not that much! If you are planning your first To Challenge then you really have to be prepared to walk for days on end through terrible weather. Of course, it is possible to have lovely weather as you walk across Scotland, just don’t rely on it. Mind you, the weather was pretty bad last year so this year it is about to be wonderful, Perhaps.
So, two days in miserable weather and high winds is worth preparing for. But before getting anywhere near a hill the rehearsal is pretty key to sorting out gear. Mainly because I’ve had a lot of trouble with one of my feet, the last backpacking I did was last year on the Challenge. Gear should be where I last left it. But of course it isn’t. Where are those gloves? The first aid kit? The multitool knife? Where has that water filter gone? And so it goes. In my view this is about the right time of year to begin to get all of your gear together. It’s amazing how time flies and how there always seems to be a lot of bluster at the the eleventh hour!
Not mist but rain, more rain to fall on the already saturated fields
Finally, out on the hill, the weather didn’t disappoint. Rain poured down all day; it was, indeed, of Highlands proportions. Paths were extraordinarily muddy, fields saturated, and grassy slopes rather shiny and slippy. So, the first check was the grip on the shoes. I was wearing the La Sportive Ultra Raptors and they passed the grip test in all of these conditions. At the moment I’m thinking of using the Raptors on the Scottish Walk and this was the first time that I’d used them on a two day hike.
The next hazard was wind and stinging hail. At this point I remembered I’d left behind a very important piece of kit, my Paramo Mountain Cap, which provides more protection than the hood of my jacket can give on its own. And then I remembered that the Mountain Cap needs replacing, the elastic tensioning straps have all but given out. So, there’s the first item on the replacement list. And then I remembered the gloves, buried deep in my dry sack. Probably the worst place for them.
All in all it was a pretty miserable day but being part of a two day trip was key to struggling on and enjoying the walk despite everything else. A Munro bagging friend of mine is always bemused by the Challenge. What do you do, he asks, when the weather is really bad? You keep going! You have to because you have to make so much ground in a day or so. And so it was on this mini adventure. We had a destination for the evening. If this had been a circular walk there might have been a temptation to cut the route short.
Our concession was to accommodation, this being too early to start getting the tent out. We were headed for a Youth Hostel reasonably confident that there would be few people there. On the top of the Long Mynd we found ourselves walking directly into the driving wind. The day was dying as we began to drop down towards the hostel and we arrived just as darkness was falling.
The Youth Hostel at Bridges is ideally suited to be near to a fine pub. The Bridges Inn has had mixed fortunes over the last decade or so but is now owned by the Three Tons Brewery in nearby Bishops Castle. The brewery stripped out the pub and completely re-fashioned it. It is now a very comfortable and welcoming place. The beer was as good as it gets. And the food is superb and properly home made. As a rehearsal went it was probably not as austere as a night in a gale eating dehydrated food but you have to build up to that gently?
The rain had that intense stuff that just gets in everywhere. It doesn’t matter how expensive your shell jacket is, in conditions like this it will ‘wet-out’. In the warmth of the hostel it was clear that mid and base layers had been soaked. I slightly regretted not having my full down jacket with me (another thing for the checklist). The rehearsal was also about dealing with wet, wet, stuff. Inside by dry sack I found the rain had soaked through the bottom. This sack is made of cube fibre. Cuben is a fibre mixed with resin. It is pretty tough and waterproof. But constant rubbing and movement will break down the resin and, well, then the bag acts like any fibre container — it sucks up water. Check: time to get another dry sack before Scotland for — from the depths of memory — I recalled this happening in the deluges of last year
Early morning on Adstone Hill
We woke to more rain but — as the forecast had suggested — the skies dried just about the time we set off again. As we splashed on towards high ground we saw clearer skies to the West. A dusting of snow sat on the Stipperstones. As we reclaimed the heights of the Mynd we were walking in Sunshine. We took a long. hill walk, up and over the ridge and — rather like in Scotland — the rain changed again and back came the stinging rain. It was only two days but we’d everything, except snow, thrown at us. Still, we strolled into town through lovely, early spring sunshine, admiring the snowdrops and even daffodils which in protected places were already flowering.
Back into town there was a gap in the train timetable but the cider and the Sunday lunch in the pub were fine. Everyone we chatted too were pretty horrified that we had been walking over the hills during this weekend. But then we knew what they didn’t — that properly equipped even a hill walk in these conditions was a pretty good experience. As Kate remarked, ti would have been pretty horrible sitting locked up indoors just watching the rain and listening to the rain. It was far better to be out in the middle of it all!
Roll on Scotland.
Just a quickie which shouldn’t present too many problems but which you should all probably be aware.
As part of an improvement scheme, Glasgow Queen Street Tunnel will be closed from March through August. This will have an impact on the train to Mallaig and Oban.
The ‘Challenge’ Service will now leave from Glasgow Queen Street LOW Level Station. The journey will I think run as timetabled but it will take 25 minutes, half an hour, longer.
You will still be able to reserve seats as usual.
Thanks to Neil Cuthbert for the heads up!
Neil Cuthbert has brought this petition to my attention — being Scotland based he is probably more focused on this than I am!
This is an official petition on the government website. Now, I know there is this whole thing about the threshold to trigger a debate but forget all that. Any good response on a sensible subject is spotted and fretted over! So, there’s no excuse for not signing!
Make planting trees a priority to reduce flooding by improving soil and drainage
By planting trees we are putting back what we took away a natural means of controlling rain water not only will the trees soak up the water the root systems will hold together the soil and make drainage far better. flood defences have been useless we need trees/hedgerows to support the ecosystem.
The petition is here:
The Scottish Government has today announced the launch of its first national Flood Risk Management Plan, which includes 14 different strategies and a list of schemes that have been prioritised for funding.
Those who walk in the Highlands — including Challengers — will look at the list with interest not least, I guess, as it reflects where the authorities think it is worth making a strategic investment. Arbroath on the Dee is there but not Ballater. Stovenhaven is included as in Drumnadrochit.
What is interesting for me is that each proposed scheme comes with a rating of a once in x years likelihood of protection. For example, a scheme at the Bridge of Allan will protect “properties from a 1 in 50 year event”.
Do these projections actually mean anything?
Ten years ago I spent some time working in Carlisle on an economic development and regeneration plan which had been funded after some serious floods. The floods we were told were a once in a hundred year occurrence. Yet, there have now been three of these events in the last decade. Yes, I know that averages have to be looked at carefully and each year has essentially the same odds but there is a clear case for saying those estimates now have to be seriously looked at.
In my view there is a clear priority to look at the kinds of programmes and changes that George Mombiot is arguing for, less drainage of the uplands, the planing of far more forestry and so on. There is an argument for a clearer understanding of who should be responsible for the dredging of ditches as well. There may be a case for dredging rivers but I’m rather skeptical about the long term effects of these. But above all else it is time focus to understand the real nature of the climate change challenge. Let’s hope the recent Paris talks will, firstly, last and, secondly, actually amount to something significant.
I ended last week in Hebden Bridge, another place that has now had once in a hundred year floods three times out the last decade — and this time was the worst. The area effected and the scale of the damage was extraordinary. The river flooded but equally worrying was the amount of water that simply ran down hillsides without any break. I was staying by friends who live on a hill but they suffered badly from the hill water. Locals had to take to breaking down stone walls in order to allow water to find its natural course rather than to be deflected into their balconies.
The community clean up campaign in Hebden is extraordinarily cheering (as it probably is in Scotland). Shops were generally empty of goods (those that were open) but a few defiant cafés were beginning to get going again. Local traders were amazingly cheerful in the circumstances — and also very glad to see visitors. So, if you are reasonably close make a point of visiting.
Sadly, to stand in the middle of Hebden (or on the bridge at Ballater I guess) and look at the topography tells you that these towns are going to be increasingly vulnerable. Hebden sits in a very narrow V valley, almost a sitting duck for water. And Ballater sits in a bend of the mighty Dee which I guess can offer very little ongoing protection.
Our world is changing and changing, arguably, faster than we thought. Governments have to show immediate action and the spending of money — as Scotland has here. But the big issues remain un-resolved.