Planning a Trek: Dealing with Data

The internet, of course, is a major asset to those of us who are planning a trek or expedition. I find it very difficult to remember what life was like before we had Google to quickly link us to details of places, train, air timetables, equipment review, trail journals and so on. But it is very easy to quickly accumulate too much data, so much so that it is easy to loose that critical piece of information that you’re sure was saved to read later. The more data you accumulate the more is can begin to resemble that note that was scribbled on a bit of grubby paper which has now being lost on the mound of paper on the desk.

Recently I was talking to a friend planning a trek and I realised that he wasn’t using any of the simple tools that are now available to help you categorise and file your data.

So, I thought it would be worth sharing some of these services with you — and encouraging you to share your own tips for making sense of digital overload. First, off let’s look at three products that I have used extensively.

Delicious Bookmarks

Delicious is a simple but powerful system for collecting bookmarks, saving you the problem of a bookmarks table which is overloaded with information.

Delicious is a simple ‘cloud’ product, i.e. it is a service that sits on somebody else’s server.

To use Delicious you simply have to open an account which is free and download a plugin or extension to your favourite web browser.

Delicious offers you a quick and easy way of keeping track of web pages. You find a page you want to reference later. Press the Delicious button on your browser and your presented with a dialogue box which lists the title and address of your page. You are simply asked to apply some tags to the date. Delicious will often suggest some tags for you to use and will also remember those tags you have used before. As you type the system will ‘suggest’ one of our previous tags to use.

When you want to look at or organise your new bookmarks you simply look at your own Delicious page (login details will have been given when you register).

Here you will find a simple list of your tags. My delicious page looks like this:

delicious

On the right had side of the page you can see a list of tags and clusters of tags.

You could easily tag route details, journals, gear and so on and make sense of the.

For a long time — when starting on a new work project — I would automatically create a new tag cluster for every project that I worked on.

On your Delicious page you can search for tags or combinations of tags, for example “pack AND ultralight”

The advantage of Delicious is that it is very easy to use and doesn’t have much of a learning curve.

Delve into Delicious a little and you can find that you can share tags and links with someone else who is using the service. Each time I log on I will find details of the links and tags that a friend or colleague has sent me. So, as simple as it is Delicious can be quite a powerful tool for collaborative work.

An iphone App is available that allows you to take your bookmarks with you

Diigolet

Diigolet is a more recent service, very similar to delicious, that takes the cloud concept a little further. Diigolet is another cloud service and you subscribe in a similar way to Delicious. However, Diigolet has more services on offer and for some of these you will have to pay a subscription. A fully functional basic service is available for free. More storage capacity and new features are available to subscribers. The top level of subscriptions will only set you back £30 or so, but if you do a lot of research this could represent great value for money.

diigolet-1

Rather like Delicious you install a plugin or extension to your browser. Currently the plugin for Firefox is the most fully featured.

With your plugin installed you have more options when looking at a web page that are given by delicious.

Above is a graphic of my Diigolet page. But the content here is not just bookmarks.

You can bookmark a page with Diigolet and this feature works very much like Delicious. But you can go further.

highlight

This browser window shows how you can highlight text with Diigolet. Also,note the Diigolet menu bar that has dropped down from the main browser header.

Effectively, the highlighting of this text creates a clipping that is saved on your Diigolet page — and you can add tags to it as you can with bookmarks. With Diigolet installed the highlighting will show every time you look at this page. On your Diigolet page you will only see the clipped information but a quick click on the title will bring up the complete page.

sticky

Another option is to attach a Sticky Note to your page — as you can see above. The content of the note will also be saved to your Diigolet home page. You can also add a page comment in a similar way.

Your notes, clippings and bookmarks can be shared with others who have a Diigolet account and who become part of your network.

Diigolet is developing all of the time and is set on becoming a valuable tool for writers and researchers.

This is a more powerful service the Delicious, although there is an option with the Firefox plugin to save your bookmarks to both Diigolet and Delicious at the same time. Delicious’ search facilities are a little more powerful.

The content of your Diigolet page is easily exportable for use in databases, word documents and so on. A series of Apps are available for both Android and iphone/ipads.

Free Form Databases

The more powerful services are probably those that sit on your own computer.

I’m thinking here of the new generation of ‘free form’ databases. These are programmes into to which you can put almost anything. You can make notes in them, drop PDFs and photos in, keep bookmarks together and so on.

Evernote is one of the most popular of these programs and it is available for both Windows and Macs. You can use it to ‘clip’ information in much the same way as you can with the services above, but you have a much more powerful solution for cataloguing and searching for your data.

I use a program for the Mac which really is a killer app — DevonThink. DevonThink does everything that Evernote does and more. It is the natural home for project plans.

The clever thing about DevonThink is that it uses an Artificial Intelligence system to learn how and when you file data. As your database grows it will offer you options of folders for you to put the dat in.The system is remarkably accurate. The same AI system is used to provide you with other documents that already sit in the databse.It is amazing how often these connections are useful.

I have a number of really big DevonThink databases. For example, I have one for Scotland. Into here go all my notes, clippings and bookmarks for Scottish mountains. I have a folder for each TGO route. I also have routes that have been given to me by others and links to blogs, trail journals and so on. I can use ‘smart folders’ to automatically collect information with, say, a specific place name. Nothing is ever lost and Devon Think’s search criteria is as clever as its cataloguing function.

Devon technologies also produce a web browser that is optimised for complicated searches — Devon Agent. Devon Agent allows you more powerful searches than Google. It uses the same AI technology to present information to you in order of relevance. The clever use of graphical maps allows you to easily pick key connections that the program has detected from the mass of source material. You know that feeling when Google presents you with 10 pages of links and data? Well, Devon Agent has an amazing ability to get to the point and to present the data in a visual form that makes more sense.

I could go on for hours about Devon Technologies and perhaps one day I will review them properly.

Summary

The point is that there are now a number of services that will allow you to make better use of the data you find on the net, making your trek planning easier. Services such as Diigolet are improving all of the time and goodness knows what it will be doing for us in two years time.

Dedicated databases like Evernote and Devon Think really do allow you to make the most of a mass of information and to easily retrieve it. There are other options as well, googling Evernote will easily connect you with comparisons to other, similar, products.

If you’re planning a trek in the near future these services and programs will make life a lot easier.

What other services — and workflows — are used out there?

Review: Scotland, Chris Townsend

6 or 7 years ago I bought a new Cicerone title from Kev Reynolds, the first in a new series of World Mountain Range guides from Cicerone. This was (and is) a beautifully designed guide to the High Pyrenees. It was a book, book more of a breeze block than a walking guide. You wouldn’t have wanted to carry this in your pack! The book was a resource tool, a great trip planning companion to see you through the long and dark nights of winter. The joy of this guide was that you had one book with which to select an area for the next trek. The guide covered routes, access, local facilities and amenities, local history and the geology, fauna and flora of the Pyrenees. This book gave you everything you needed to select your destination and leaving it a relatively simple task to consult other specialist guides to fill in the intimate details of the area that you’d settled on.

When I complimented Kev and Jonathan Williams of Cicerone on the guide they laughed. They told me that Chris Townsend had been commissioned to produce the second in the series, about the Highlands of Scotland. There were lots of jokes about this being a project that would keep him quiet for a long time! When I mentioned the project to Chris in a phone conversation there was a discernible groan coming down the line. I think Chris had realised what he’d let himself in for.

Fast forward to this earlier this year I was delighted when Jonathan proudly announced that he was in possession of the finished manuscript. The book was ready for layout and design. And now, the finished product has arrived!

I should say upfront that this is every bit as good — and as useful — as the Pyrenean guide. It is a work of which Chris should be rightfully proud. This book is the starting point for the planning of a trip or trek in the Scottish Highlands.

How does the book work?

The book is over 550 pages long and packed full of useful guidance and information.

First up are the introductory sections and guide to the practicalities of Scotland. There are details of when to go, weather, getting to Scotland, getting around Scotland, accommodation, links to important maps and guidebooks and a section on the equipment needed for the Scottish Highlands.

There is a section of the Topology and the geology of the mountains together with a cultural history of mountaineering in the area. Also upfront is an explanation of Scottish names (useful but I’ve long ago given up trying to pronounce them), details of the national parks and a description of the plant and animal life of the Highlands.

Chris also gives us details of the various mountain activities that are available and includes an important section on responsible mountaineering, including advice on wild camping, sanitation and campfires.

There is a lot in the information but it doesn’t seem to be too much. It says something for this book that 60 pages of introductory information doesn’t impact much on the mass of the substantive guide!

Philosophy

There is a clear statement of philosophy in the book. Chris sets out to encourage people to explore the wild land of Scotland and he uses the practical definition of wild land as set down by the National Trust for Scotland:

“Wild land in Scotland is relatively remote and inaccessible, not noticeably affected by contemporary human activity, and offers high-quality opportunities to escape from the pressures of everyday living and to find physical and spiritual refreshment.”

The guide covers: the Southern Uplands; the Southern Highlands; the Central Highlands; the Cairngorms; the Western Highlands; the Northern Highlands; and the Islands.

Each of these individual sections is broken down into ‘regional chapters’ each of which covers a distinct glen or hill chain.

Book Sections

Each of the above sections follows a similar format.

The section starts with a two page Summary, a list of section assets and contents that is beautifully clear and concise by glen or hill chain.

Let’s have a look at one of the sections, the section for the Central Highlands.

The summary lists the following:

Each summary starts with a Highlights section. This one starts with Low Level Passes and Walks, and there are three of these listed here with each labelled with the Chapter number where they can be found.

Next comes a list of long distance walks — there are two in this section, the West Highland Way and a walk from Fort William to Dalwinnie via.Corrour.

Then come summit walks — there are over 20 of these.

After this come details of scrambles, rock climbs and ski tour options.

Then comes a full contents listing for everything in this section. This section has chapters on: Ben Cruachan  and Glen Strae; Glen Etive; the Black Mount; the West Highland Way; Glen Coe; Beinn a Bheithir and Glen Creran; Rannoch Moor; The Mamores; Ben Nevis; The Aonarchs and the Grey Corries; Loch Treig; Loch Ossian; Ben ALder and Laggan hills; the West Drumochter Hills; The Monadh Liath; Creag Meagidh and Loch Laggan Hills; Glen Roy; and a section a long walks — Kinlochleven to Spean Bridge and Fort William to Dalwinnie.

Chapters can be two to four pages long.

This Section Summary is a wonderful thing, beautifully laid out and magnificently designed, and clearly presented over two pages.

How Sections Work

So, let’s go beyond the Summary.

Each section comes with an Introduction to the region and a crisp and clear, large scale map.

Each chapter is accompanied by a more detailed map (or maps) and offers an introduction to the glen or chain of hills. Individual hills, or clusters of hills, each have their own entry and each one easily references the ‘highlights’ that were featured in the Section Summary.

The text is peppered with highlight boxes that might tell us about the history of the area, give details of a key supply village, share with us a famous story or myth (yes Shirl the Grey Man is here)  or feature on the geography or wildlife of the area. And on every page spread you will find one of more of Chris’ inspirational photographs.

Concise Brilliance

All of this detail is given in the most clear and concise manner which really must have taken a lot of work. Chris has the knack of using just enough words to give us a proper flavour of the place.

Here is detail from the entry for Ben Alder.

Ben Alder (1148) is the dominant summit of the area, a big plateau topped hill with steep craggy sides.It’s flat-topped bulk, with the distinctive slash of the Bealach Dubh to the north, is easily identifiable from many other hills and useful for orientation.

… from the top of either Leachas  it’s a walk of about 1km across the plateau to the summit cairn. The Plateau is extensive, with some 4km2 lying above 1,000m. The landscape is a mix of high moorland grasses, patches of gravel and granite boulders, evoking comparisons with the great plateaus of the Cairngorms.

Just a few details here from the entry on Ben Alder. But you can see how — if you don’t know this hill — Chris gives you the basics of everything that you need to know.

Section Resources

Each section is rounded off with the detail off with a resource section covering details of: access to the area; details of bases from which to explore; maps; walking guides; and climbing guides.

Each Section follows a similar pattern. Phew!

Appendices

The book concludes with a series of useful appendices. There’s a glossary of common mountain words in Gaelic and Scots, en extensive bibliography for further reading, the current list of Munros (with height and OS reference), the current list of Corbetts, an index of maps included, and a comprehensive index.

 

There are other comprehensive guides to Scotland and its regions — I’m thinking about the series from the SMC. But this book is both more up to date and more comprehensive.

The First One Stop Book for Route Planning.

This really is a great and practical guide. Look up an area and you’ll find details of its history, the terrain you will be trekking through, help in approaching summits, details of bothies and tips of great camp sites.

‘Scotland’ really does take you a long way before you have to drill down into the detail with a specific hill guide. As such, this is a book that is a real reference guide to the hills.

Wonderful Design

The content of this book has been put together in a wonderfully effective manner. But the layout of the guide is superb as well.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet the design team from Cicerone and to see them at work in their design studio. Cicerone’s new guides — and new series of more substantial books — are characterised by really effective and clear design. In Scotland they have probably delivered their best work yet. The design really does contribute to this being a very useful book.

 

… In Conclusion

This is a book that should grace the bookcases of all hillwalkers and mountaineers that love the hills of Scotland.

I’m loving the detail here and I’m already using the book to plan a couple of trips to Scotland, including a route for next year’s TGO Challenge. I could go on and on but thing I’d better stop here.

The book retails for £26 but you can pick it up at Amazon for £19 or so. And it is a bargain at the price.

I’d like to thank Cicerone for the review copy. You’re not getting it back!

 

 

 

 

Here’s A Little Tune Wot I Wrote ….

Computers (in this iTunes) can provide you with odd links and memories. Listening to iTunes while writing this morning I found myself listening to a little guitar tune. It was me. A rough recording on my mobile recorder of a tune which, apparently looking at the title, I’d written about the lovely village of Kilchrohane on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in West Cork. I don’t remember a thing about it!

There are one or two fans of the Sheep’s Head here, so I thought I’d share it. And maybe I’ll get around to recording it properly someday.

(For guitarists this is in Dropped D Tuning).

 

Quick Raid on the Highlands Planned

Ah ha the excitement mounts. Have just planned a long weekend in a few weeks walking with Colin Ibbotson and Phil Turner. At last, a chance for an audio interview with Colin to bring you up to date with both his adventures and the latest news of his kit designs.

Phil is in charge of route planning. I have only two instructions, Firstly, don’t kill me. And secondly, can we avoid that Indian restaurant in Aviemore (keen readers of the blog will realise that these two concepts are closely related! Mind you, Colin’s adventurous route planning almost killed me again last year. Sometimes our floating-on-air hero forgets that I’m just a city lubber! Getting a balance that is right will not be that easy mid as Phil seems to spend all of his time rambling around forestry commission forest and woodlands — something to do with some guidebook he is writing!

In a rush of excitement I found myself ordering some new gear — first time I’ve done this is ages. Hopefully, the PHD gear — insulated trousers and booties — might arrive before the turn the the next millennium!

Something else interesting happened earlier today as well. I was sent a proof of a new book on lightweight backpacking to read and to make a few comments on for publicity and so on. I can’t say too much until the book is announced but it basically brings together all you ever want to know about moving to lightweight backpacking. This should save a lot f people hours of messing around on Google.

Other news? I’m currently half way through my review of Chris Townsend’s Scotland Mountain Guide. This has clearly been a mammoth work for Chris and the review is going to be quite substantial — but this is a work that deserves it.

In advance of the review I can only say this. If you are tempted to get hold of copy of this book then don’t wait for reviews — just get on with it! This is a work of which Chris should be rightfully proud.

Chris Townsend’s Scotland

Review copy of Chris’ new mammoth work on Scotland arrived this morning — thanks to Sarah at Cicerone.

On first sights this is a very impressive book, comprehensive and useful. This is the idea companion to the various Munro guides and region specific books.

I know that this book has been a long time in writing and preparation.

A full review will be posted as soon as is practical. But, if you’re planning a TGO Challenge next year I can already see that this would be a good addition to the library.

Coming Home

Chris Townsend has a nice and evocative piece of writing on his site at the moment, and he got me thinking.

Many of you will know that Chris has just returned from one of his mammoth treks in the North American wilderness, pioneering yet another wonderful trail. But this piece — The Hills of Home — is about his first walk in his local hills, the Cairngorms.

There is always something wonderful about coming home. It doesn’t matter whether you have just been away in the UK, Europe or somewhere father flung and more exotic; it’s always good to be back.

I have my own routines which, to be honest, usually start with a good curry the evening I get home. Not something that can really be found in much of the world. Years ago, I was taken out for a curry in Paris by a Parisian friend who was rather proud of the fact she’d discovered this place near the Bastille. the meal cost a fortune and was pretty average by your usual Bangladeshi standards. But I digress.

Returning home always means a walk on local hills with a few days or so. Chris says that he always wonders whether his Cairngorms will seem as good when he returns, but they always do. He’s luck to have the Cairngorms as his back yard, but the same is true for me in Shropshire or Snowdonia.

Familiarity means the experience is different. Not having real navigation worries makes a difference. It’s not better — navigation is one of the great things about a walk in uncharted territory — but your familiar hills allow for more of a ‘chill-out’ I guess.

But although familiar hills are — well — familiar, they are never really the same twice are they? Here in the UK we are blessed with real seasons, that change sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes dramatically. Often the return from the summer offers up a first glimpse of autumn. There might be red and golden bracken on the hillside, a sudden cold edge to the wind and firs signs of leaf fall. Sometimes there is rain where abroad in those exotic climates there was very little. Of course, in Britain we are proud to have ‘weather’ and that is why we talk about it so much!

Weather provides as many wonderful changes as the seasons. There are the smells of course. Woods and fields in the heat after rain. The crisp, cold, scents of Christmas walks. The dank and damp, earthy smells of soil as winter approaches. The scents of spring flowers and hedgerows overloaded with wild garlic.

But weather also changes routes as well. I find I take a different line through my lovely hills in different weather. A lot of rain  might see me head more quickly for the high ground, avoid that muddy woodland path and try (usually in vain) to keep the feet dry for as long as possible. A lovely, British summer’s day might see me linger down below, making use of the cooling micro system of woods to recharge the energy cells for bursting up to the summit. In summer there may be long vistas to consider, wispy clouds and lines of glistening lakes, fells and mountain tops. In winter there might just be the satisfaction of getting to the top and not much else. You certainly can’t rely on a view! And as often as not you get blown down from the top as much as walk down.

Our seasons come with different day lengths of course, and for me this is part of the magic too. I like to start really early on long days and really make the most of the day. But sometimes I like to take advantage of being able to finish early, to stroll around the village, take tea in the local café and to be home before twilight.

Twilight. There’s another thing. Some places don’t have it. Even as far as the Alps and the Pyrenees twilight is unknown. It is light one moment and dark the next. I remember returning home from the Pyrenees a few years ago. It had been a great August walking in the heat and the mountains. The high refuges were wonderful. The low bars and restaurants fantastic. The wild camp sites were heavenly.

And yet, when I strolled back out onto the Long Mynd there was a twilight. The summer evening kind of drifted off in front of me rather than died all of a sudden. There were shades of yellow in the sky, punching through the broken cloud cover. Night seemed to take forever to arrive and before I could really get to sleep under my tarp morning had arrived. And the ravens had also arrived as well, biting away at the guy lines and threatening the structural integrity of my shelter through their innate curiosity.

And how often does a gentle meander in some familiar place reveal some hidden detail, some line of landscape or remnant of human endeavour that you;d never seen before but must have passed a thousand times? It is the familiarity of these places that allows you to see the detail. The views of alpine trails may be superb, but you do push through them at something of a pace.

At the top of hill at lunchtime there is the familiarity of the cheese sandwich or the cornish pasty. And after you descend there’s the flavour of fine, brewed, local ales. Virtually the only time I can enjoy a Guinness is after a day on the hills. In Brazil earlier this year there was Guinness everywhere. In Ireland the summer before there was a lot of it too! But it never seemed right without that hill to precede it.

And then there’s the wildlife, so wonderful that it always makes me wish I knew something about it. Actually, wildlife in the Scottish Highlands is easier because there is so little of it! I jest of course, but just look as Hostile Habitats sometime!

On my local hills there are now Red Kites and other smaller raptors. At this time of the year the sky is full of dramatic formations of animals on their migrating paths. In the green valleys there are now pigs, sticking their snouts in the ground and enjoying the pickings, probably quite unaware of the luxury life that organic farming has given them. And then there are the cow sheds. No walk in Britain is quite right without a cow shed somewhere. And is it my imagination, or does the smell of the cowshed change with the season.

Abroad is good. Exotic is good. But coming home always has something special.

There are, of course, things that are not so good. The trains that mysteriously don’t arrive — not a problem in Europe. The buffet sandwiches which almost defy the trades description laws. The indifferent lad behind the shop counter. Copes of the Sun strewn all over buses and trains. Pub landlords who don’t liek walkers. Farmers with barbed with fettishes. Local kids who turn around footpath signs ust for fun. Campsites that seem not to like tents anymore.

But then when you’ve just come home. Even these things can bring a smile to the face!

Farewell to the Third Element?

Sadly, it does look as if we’re seeing the end of the Paramo Third Element jacket which was a perfect piece of kit for UK backpackers and hill walkers.

I can remember the first time I played with one, at the Outdoors Show. I described it as very Heath Robinson, which it was. This was the jacket where you could remove the sleeves and the hood, stripping the jacket down into a gilet.

I found the Third Element to be the perfect jacket for the cooler months and an ideal companion for the TGO Challenge. I wasn’t the only Challenger using one of these — there were quite a few of us happily stumbling around in one. I found that this jacket really did allow me to go without a mid layer. In warm civilisation I’d take off the arms and hood and be quite comfy without being cold. In full on weather the jacket performed as well as you would expect any Paramo jacket to.

It really was quite versatile. This year May in Scotland was quite warm but the Third Element in gilet form was always comfortable, that Analogy fabric making light work of moving sweat away from the body. The only quibble I had with mine was that I could only find one in red — this jacket was not always easy to get hold of from day one. I’d have much preferred a black jacket and some of my colleagues did manage to hunt one down.

Colin Ibbotson

Colin Ibbotson modelling a  ’stripped down’ Third Element (Yes for those of you with eager eyes Colin’s jacket is a weird shade of Brown)

The last time I discussed this with Paramo — maybe earlier this year at the Outdoors Show, or was it the year before — they told me that they were having difficulty in selling it. People just had no idea how to use it. I’m reminding myself that I promised to write something for their magazine, about how this fitted perfectly into a lightweight gear set. I never got round to it; so maybe it’s my fault!

Perhaps, the problem with the Third Element was that there just aren’t that many of us about. Sometimes I think that 80% of regular backpackers in the UK know each other, if not in person then through the internet. Maybe there just aren’t that many of us!

Anyhow, I’m sad to see this go. But then this was the second incarnation of this jacket, so maybe one day we’ll see it again. Mine is probably good for a few years yet — but what will I do when it is time to replace it! Go back to layers I suppose.

Anyhow, if you see one of these things lying around in a Paramo store, snap it up quickly.

It may have been a slightly weird design and it may have seemed counter intuitive to some people. But the Third Element jacket; I salute you!

Listen to This — New Find!

A bit off topic this but I know there are a number of mussos around here and I thought I’d share this new discovery with you.

Last night I trotted up to my local folk venue to watch one of my heroes Martin Simpson. He was being supported by a young couple David Newey and Christi Andropolis. Both (I think) are graduates from the Sage in Newcastle and (I hope) they have a great future in front of them. Dave is from the UK and Christi from New York State (via. Stockton I think!).

David Christi.jpg

During their second set Christi sang this song she’d written — The Winter Soldier. It was inspired by the Iraq Veterans against the War website and their Winter Soldier section. Here servicemen and women tell their stories, sometimes in small bites and sometimes in long pieces. Anyhow, these short stories inspired the song. It is one of the best original songs from a young songwriter that I have heard for a long time. I thought you might be interested!

 

I hope they don’t mind me sharing this. Links to their websites (and more their music) are found at the bottom.

Dave and Christi sing a mixture of original and traditional songs (from both the UK and the USA) and traditional fiddle tunes from the North East (where they are based) and the USA.

They’re gigging around a lot at the moment and Dave also works with legend Tom McConville. I know a lot of you are in the NE — this young couple are worth checking out!

If David and Christi find this post (through Google Alerts or whatever) — keep going !!!

 

Christi Andropolis — My Space (more songs here)

Dave Newey Website

Dave Newey Facebook

Coylumbridge Capers !!!

Bob Cartwright was back home yesterday after a week of walking in the Cairngorms with mates Lee Wells and Tony Bowe. Podcast addicts might recognise these two for their improvised comedy routines. Bob proudly announced that I’d failed them again!

On this year’s Challenge we started walking together on day one. they were headed for a lovely high loch that I’d camped on a few years before. I had given them explicit instructions on my camping spot. Later, in Montrose, they claimed to have walked past this spot and found there was no camp spot at all. They’d had to walk on some miles (when knackered) to find an alternative. I did wonder about how much they’d drunk the night before!

Blow me down they’ve done it again. Hearing me eulogise about the Colylumbridge Campsite they decided to make a base here for an evening. Now — and many of you will bear me out — this is a superb site. It has the best shower and washing facilities of any campsite I’ve seen!

Most people camp on the island between a stream and the river. Here there a lovely pitches between the pines. You can awake to see red squirrels collecting stores for the winter. It is always easy to pitch.

These three decided to avoid the obvious, scenic spot and seemed to have set up camp around the back of the toilets!!! Needless to say the ground was hard and Bob described — in long detail — the difficulty he had in getting pegs into rocky ground, something that is not a problem on the island.

Anyhow, the moral of this story is not to listen to these three reprobates. They are clearly completely incompetent at pitching tents. Why am I going on about it here? Because I have no doubts this will feature heavily in the forthcoming podcasts — I can hear Tony in my head as I type :-)

Anyhow, Coylumbridge is superb campsite. Here is a picture of my Akto, camped on the island in horrendous wet and windy weather.

Cairngorms July 08 030

A lovely, easy pitch.

 

And here is the ‘wild campsite that never was’ :-)

Loch Mhoicrean Wildcamp

 

Review: Wilderness Dreams: The Call of Scotland’s Last Wild Places. Mike Cawthorne.

My indisposition — nasty bug thing — has offered me the chance to read ‘Wilderness Dreams’, a book that I’ve been wanting to get around to for some time (indeed I think a few of you have recommended it to me).

In honesty I found this to be an un-even and sometimes disjointed book, but that’s not to say there isn’t some very good writing here — there is. I read the book at one sitting and while I found a lot to treasure in it there was a lot that I was indifferent to, or which didn’t seem to work as well.

The book is a collection of pieces written independently of each other, some I guess first published in journals and magazines. It is Mike’s wilderness themes that pull it all together. In the introduction he sets out his aims:

“More people that ever before are now going into the wild places. By wild I don’t mean pristine nature, completely untarnished by human design, which in any case barely exists in Scotland, but areas where, visually at least, nature has the upper hand and holds most of the cards”

I like this definition. It is more honest than much of the stuff you see written about the Scottish wilderness.

“In the eight essays that follow I try to show that Scotland’s last wild places are unified not by the purpose of those who visit them but rather by what they find there”.

I think I know what he means here but I wasn’t’ quite sure about it as I read the book.

The book starts with a confusing piece (for me at least) given that the book is about wilderness. The first essay relates two trips made by canoe along the Dee, from the Linn of Dee to Aberdeen. Interesting enough this but not what I expected from the introduction.

The second essay is more my cup of tea, the account of a ski trek across the length of the Mondaliadth. Cawthorne really has an affinity with the ‘Moanies’ which is one of my favourite places. This is an areas which fits into the framework of the introduction. There is not way this place is pristine wilderness but is a wilderness of sorts and it is a very special place.

Next up is the major piece that anchors the book, an account of Cawthornes’s continuous walk of the Munros. This is well written and quite light — in a good way. The trip was made at the height of the Thatcher recession and Dave, Mike’s mate, ad to break off walking every two weeks to hitch back to Helensborough to sign on! This is an enjoyable and entertaining piece but didn’t strike me as being up to the intentions of the introduction.

I’m being sniffy here. As the boom progresses there is a lot to be fascinated about. The best pieces are those written around backpacking treks in which Mike tells us a lot about the history and the development of the land he is moving through. He is quite non-judgemental, or reasonable, about a lot of things here and I like his style. For example, he discussed wind power, the future of renewable energy and the disaster of the new Hydro plants and reservoirs. He also touches on the moves by some to re-introduce wolves and big cats into the landscape. You certainly know which side of the fence Mike sits on but he does this without preaching to us. Many of those campaigning against these things just rant which gets in the way of campaigning. Mike sets our facts and gives us a commentary which never gets in the way. He treats us like adults and lets us make up our own minds.

Some of the ‘diversions’ work better than others. I really enjoyed a piece written after going on a deer culling expedition. Here Mike crams in an impressive amount of information and observation. Others (for me) don’t quite quite as well. A piece about a couple who moved into the Strathan bothy (near Sandwood bay), after being evicted from their Newtonmore home, was an interesting story but I didn’t really see how it fitted here. This piece is completed by a complementary story about the last hermit in the area. It didn’t really work for me — but then that is probably my fault.

I don’t like writing dodgy reviews and to be honest I hope you don’t see this in such a light. Mike is a great writer of prose and, at his best, he communicates the look, the feel and the smells of this land as well as anyone. Many of you who have walked in Scotland will enjoy this book. he is a talent and I await his next offerings with interest, and will probably buy his other publication “Hell of a Journey: On Foot Through the Scottish Mountains in Winter”, not least because it seems to be a more complete work.

So, I’m being picky. I think the quality control is a bit off in places. But I’d still recommend you to buy it if Scotland’s your thing. You won’t be disappointed.

I should point out that there are two reviews of this book on Amazon and they both give it 5 stars!

Perhaps, I shouldn’t review books when I’m ‘under the weather’.

 

Switch to our mobile site