Saturday, 18 October 2014

Into the not-so-wild-anymore

Approaching the crest of a low ridge on the edge of the Cairngorm mountains, I could sense their massive bulk beyond, out of sight still - the vast plateau, the bite of cold air shifting between granite tors, falling toward the icy depths of high lochans. Nearly there, the scent of heather clear as a weak autumnal sun drew subtle shades of colour from burnished slopes. Cresting the ridge I simply stopped, dumbfounded, the impact of these turbines sudden and absolute, utterly at odds with the landscape that dwarfs them and yet is dominated by them.
The so called renewables debate continues to rage - the questions politicised, the answers polarised, the lay-person seeking balanced objective information left to muddle through a mass of conflicting, spurious arguments. In fact I find it amazing that any real progress has been made in preventing the industrialisation and destruction of wild space which includes far more than turbines like these. The launch of things like the SNH map of wild land areas in June is encouraging, yet the fact that proposals such as the wind farm application between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht continue to be taken seriously is a damning indictment of just how little value so many place upon such spaces. A decision is due in November. Should the proposal go ahead, it will make a mockery of any pretense to the contrary. And so for a little while longer, a few will hold their breath, as countless millions continue, oblivious, into the not-so-wild-anymore.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


One year after launching to critical acclaim, Jottnar has extended its range of technical clothing for mountaineering, winter climbing and all-mountain skiing.
Smith's Route (Image: Mike Pescod)
Conceived in the Arctic and inspired by the brutality of the Norwegian mountains in winter, Jottnar was founded by Tommy Kelly and Steve Howarth. Former Royal Marines, both served, climbed and skied in some cold, snowy, icy, wet and vertigo-inducing places all over the world. 
That experience underpins the design and performance of every item in this uncompromising range.
Rigorously tested at each stage of development and proven by the most exacting users in the most demanding conditions...
This is a tightly focused range for those that want the best.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Snowy owl sighting - Beinn Meadhoinn

A little over a year ago, I rode from the Linn of Dee, through Glen Derry and on, up past the Hutchinson memorial hut - though it is a carry beyond until Loch Etchachan is reached - en-route for the summit of Ben Macdui. It was a superb day and a fantastic descent, one of the best. But as I dropped rapidly toward the loch, I noted the steep track falling from the summit plateau of Beinn Meadhoinn whose tors I had also seen many times from the surrounding ridges, but never visited. A return trip was assured.
Looking towards Ben Macdui from the summit, Braeriach the distant cloud topped summit to the right of the frame - the second and third highest mountains in Britain respectively.
The approach - riding beneath the flank of Derry Cairngorm - easy ground before the steep stuff begins in earnest.
Looking down on Creag á choire Etchachan - one of the most remote and impressive crags in the UK it faces east and lies at 750m, but offers one or two lines that dry quickly including the Classic Rock route: The Talisman. Another climb that I'd earmarked years ago and never quite got round to. No excuse. One for next summer perhaps.
And looking across to Cairngorm itself - an all too brief moment of sun catching the broad flank high above Loch Avon.
Setting off along the broad ridge for the summit tors of Beinn Meadhoinn. Lumpy riding but easier than initial appearances had suggested despite the closely scattered and irregular lumps of granite that litter the ridge.
Not the best image but a beautiful and rare sight - this snowy owl watched warily as I climbed the gentle slopes toward the summit. Native to the arctic, the last recording of a breeding pair in the UK was apparently in 1975 and the last sighting in the Cairngorms I believe was in February 2013.
We watched each other for several long minutes before he took flight - it seemed a casual departure, a moment of graceful power and unhurried beauty.
I stayed a while longer, soaking in the scene - the grey granite of broad summits catching an elusive sun - and pondering my luck, before making my run down toward the loch, bothy and eventually Glen Derry.
A last look toward the tors of Beinn Meadhoinn and a memory that will stay in my mind's eye for many years.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Snowy owl in flight above Cairngorm plateau

The mountain forecast had called for showers falling as wet snow on the Cairngorm summits, what I wasn't expecting to see was a snowy owl.
Seen here in flight from the ridge of Beinn Meadhoinn, we had watched each other warily for some time as I approached the summit tors. Leaving the bike a little distance away and approaching quietly, I was able to watch for several long minutes before he took flight, a casual rather than hurried departure, to follow the ridge toward Loch Etchachan...more to follow.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Testing a Taran

Despite the exceptionally calm weather that dominated our recent trip around the Isle of Mull, I had still managed to break a few things. A visit to Mike's workshop at Rockpool Kayaks was overdue in any case - as was the opportunity to paddle the Taran 16.
Launched in 2010 and moving very noticeably away from traditional British sea kayak design, the Taran was immediately the subject of some controversy but rapidly proved its worth. Within two weeks in 2012, two new records were set for the UK circumnavigation, both in a Taran. At much the same time, the Taran 16 or Tiny Taran as we knew it then, went into production. Reduced in length by 43cm and marginally narrower, the Taran 16 retained an almost identical hull shape to the original Taran, offering greater manoeuvrability and easier storage...
But the story didn't end there. With an overall volume of 369l, the Taran 16 was still in fact, far from tiny - take the Isel at 276l for instance - and so began the process of designing a third Taran. Seen on the rack in the image above and taking its name from folk dances characterised by their fast tempo, the Tarantella offers a true low volume version of the original. In production now, more details are available directly from Rockpool.
Work is also underway on a new rudder footplate - one which will offer greater finesse and which I suspect those familiar with surf skis will immediately appreciate. Expect a number of other subtle but significant changes too as the Rockpool fleet is overhauled in the coming months.
Back in his Atlantic if not on it, Chris returning from a trip around Carmel Head. Not evident here, a good sized tide and fresh south-westerly had provided some interesting water earlier in the day giving me a rapid introduction to the very different handling of the Taran 16 to my more familiar GT.
And a last look toward The Skerries - West Mouse the island just visible immediately in front and to the right of The Skerries lighthouse.