Over 6 weeks has passed since my incident in Gozo, which resulted in a ruptured achilles, I still have my leg in plaster and at times feel frustrated by my inability to get out on the water.
This weekend I had arranged an Advanced Sea Kayak Leader training course with paddlers visiting the Island from both the UK and France to take part. I was really looking forward to working with Olly Sanders, but it was not to be last weekend. I was fortunate enough to be able to arrange for Calum McKerral to fly down from Scotland and cover me at the last minute.
I was able to spend some of the evening preparing for the Scottish Se Kayak Symposium, which starts this Friday evening on the Isle of Skye. Having attended them all since 1995 it is an event, which holds great memories for me. Some fantastic paddles, inspirational talks and great social evenings over the last 20 plus years.
As this is due to be the last one it was an event I was particularly looking forward to attending and to do some more paddling in Scottish waters. In fact the plan was to remain in Scotland for a further week and to paddle around the Small Isles, with some of the other members of the Jersey Canoe Club.
With my leg still in plaster flying isn’t an option so Nicky and myself leave this evening on the ferry, to start the long journey north, taking slightly longer than normal as we are stopping off in Bristol to see Joan Baez in concert, on her farewell tour.
Instead of being out on the water this weekend with the Advanced Sea Kayak Leader Training, it has largely been spent inside the house preparing my talks for next weekend. I might not be able to paddle but at least I will be able to contribute to the lecture programme.
So it has been time spent re-acquainting myself with PowerPoint and searching through external hard drives for that one photo, which I feel might make all the difference but in reality won’t have an impact at all.
So talks on Expedition Planning, the weather, tidal planning, 12ths,3rds and 50/90, Baja and sea kayaking in the Mediterranean have gradually taken shape. Although there is still plenty of work to do before I am satisfied with the finished product.
Fingers crossed that I don’t have to deliver all of the talks. If there is good weather on Skye next weekend people attending the Symposium should be out on the water, experiencing all that the island has to offer. Far more enjoyable than hearing me ramble on about Proxigean Tides or the Coriolis Force, with the occasional pretty picture of kayaking thrown in for good measure. That said if the wind blows, the rain falls and people feel the need to shelter from the worst of the Scottish weather I will be ready to go.
Whatever happens next I know that next weekend on Skye there is going to be a great sea kayaking event with plenty of paddlers having a great time. I hope to see some of you there.
Those of you who read my previous post will know that I damaged my Achilles heal, last week, whilst kayaking on Gozo. So here are a few ideas about possible site updates.
The following few days was a time of new experiences for me. I had never been put in plaster before, I had never been put in one of those lorries where the cab extends vertically alongside and aircraft, so unscathed you can be wheel chaired onto the plane. I had never traveled through an airport on one of those beeping trucks and I have never had to undergo a course of daily injections last nearly six weeks.
Having arrived back in Jersey I have had time to reflect on the experiences of the last few days. Firstly the medical attention that I have received both in Gozo and Jersey has been excellent. On both islands I was seen promptly by medical staff, including orthopaedic consultants.
Secondly whilst traveling, everything was smooth and timely at Malta, Gatwick and Jersey Airports plus on the British Airways flights. Care and attention from staff in all locations was great and fully appreciated.
I have started to develop a greater understanding of the challenges facing people living with a physical disability. I had to wait in a toilet in Malta as it was too difficult to open the door whilst on crutches. Many thanks to the anonymous Good Samaritan who came to my assistance.
In terms of missed opportunities I am disappointed that I won’t be able attend the French Sea Kayak Symposium, which starts on the 21st April. In addition I won’t be able to assist at the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium, starting on the 25th May. Although it is far enough away that I will hopefully be able to travel to Scotland for the weekend and experience some of what is sure to be a superb event. I have been involved with the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposium since the early 1990’s and it would be disappointing not to be able to attend the last one. Even if it is the role of honorary coffee drinker as opposed to active paddler.
In 1983, on my way to a sea kayaking trip in Svalbard, I flew over a spectacular archipelago, which I promised myself to visit one day. After 35 years of waiting this summer was the year I was going to finally get to paddle in the Lofoten’s. Sadly a destination that will have to wait for another year.
All disappointing but it is important to maintain some perspective, it is only an injury, I will get better and other opportunities will come my way. So facing several months of inactivity it is an opportunity for some new challenges.
I will be able to make sure the Jersey Canoe Club mega SUP racing in conjunction with Absolute Adventures is organised and runs smoothly, although no active participation for me this year.
Later on in the year I will have time to complete my Greenland Paddle. At the moment I can’t put any weight on my leg and I haven’t learnt “woodwork for sitting down” so that will have to wait until my leg strengthens as the summer progresses. It should be complete for the autumn so that I can then work on my Greenland rolling.
One of the things that I have planned are a number of site updates, including completing a number of the Sea Kayaking Guides, which I have started including the one on Jersey. So plenty to do but the main aim for the next few weeks is to keep my plaster dry!
On Thursday morning we received a telephone call from Gordon Brown with the very sad news of the passing of Duncan Winning. Duncan was an immensely influential figure in the world of sea kayaking but more importantly he was an incredibly generous individual and thoroughly decent person.
I first met Duncan in May 1992, when he attended the first Jersey Sea Kayaking Symposium, and was one of only two people from off the island who attended every one. Always willing to give his time and energy to ensuring that the event was a success.
Douglas Wilcox has written eloquently about Duncan and some of their shared experiences on his blog and I would recommend that you read his post.
There is very little that I could add except to mention two things, firstly Duncan did achieve some form of local fame in 1999, when he was able to paddle through the centre of his home town of Largs, due to flooding. Secondly in 1998 at the Jersey Symposium he built a junior sea kayak from wood, the Jersey Junior, over the course of 3 days. A beautiful kayak, which is still treasured by my family.
I last saw Duncan in January when Nicky and myself called in to see Duncan and went out for lunch at the local restaurant. Although he was quite at times the passion that he had for kayaking still shone through with that glint in his eye.
After lunch we sat looking across to Cumbrae, talking about the great times we had on the island in the 1990’s at the Scottish Sea Kayak Symposiums. Duncan said that he wouldn’t be able to attend the event this year but we did make tentative arrangements to call in and see whilst traveling to the event from Jersey, sadly that is not to be.
I feel fortunate to have known Duncan Winning for over 25 years, spending many happy days on the water with him both in Jersey and Scotland. He will be sadly missed, not just by his family but by the wider kayaking community.
Here is another selection of old pictures, illustrating some of the places that we have been paddling over the years. It feels like it is time to pay a visit to some of these places again, its been nearly 40 years since I paddled some of these trips.
Beinn Chuirn is mountain that doesn’t readily spring to mind when thinking of Scottish summits. After two days of inactivity, in the mountains, due to the weather out thoughts were turning to walking uphill once again. The forecast was for improving weather as the day progressed but there was significant wind chill and fresh snow particularly in the morning.
So we looked for a mountain with a reasonable walk in and hopefully fairly steep so that we could avoid the worst of the underfoot conditions. Two days of torrential rain must have produced some challenging conditions in places.
Beinn Chuirn is frequently overlooked by its more majestic neighbours, Ben Lui and Ben Oss. 250 metres lower than Ben Lui and a Corbett as opposed to a Munro it doesn’t have the same appeal. For us though on a cloudy Thursday in January it seemed perfect.
A reasonable walk in, nearly 3 miles along a gently rising valley track, heading further and further into the heart of some dramatic mountain scenery.
Although a mountain area there is evidence of an industrial past and perhaps an industrial future. Just after starting up the valley we passed the site of the abandoned village of Newton and the lead mines in the area, which closed in 1865. Further up the valley, prior to heading up Beinn Chuirn, we could see evidence of the Cononish Gold Mine, with a tunnel being opened in the hillside in the 1990’s.
Once we were past the fences we turned up the slopes of the Corbett, there was virtually no evidence of a path. This could be because very few walkers head this way and also because in places the lower slopes had remnants of the heavy snow, which had fallen the weekend before.
There is always a discussion about the rights and wrongs of using mapping software on mobile phones as opposed the tried and trusted method of map and compass. I love the feel of the paper map and actually believe that the Ordnance Survey is one of the reasons we should be proud to be British but I have also embraced technology. I have downloaded numerous 1:25,000 maps onto my phone but find that I use the ViewRanger App, far more frequently.
There are two advantages of using ViewRanger, the mapping is generally at a high enough resolution, only on a few occasions have I had to switch the OS 1:25,000 map with its detail of walls and small physical features. Secondly, the Skyline facility enables you to take photographs, with physical features labelled, its quite handy to know that you are facing in the right direction, although I wouldn’t rely on it exclusively for navigation purposes.
As we climbed higher conditions underfoot became more solid, clearly the temperature had dropped below freezing last night, and may still have been below zero. The lack of wind actually made the day surprisingly warm, but it was still necessary to put on our crampons, a few hundred metres below the summit.
We didn’t hand around too long of the summit, a quick slurp of warm coffee and a Twix between us, whilst standing before we headed back towards the valley and the reasonably long walk back to the car prior to heading towards Tyndrum and coffee and cake at The Real Food Cafe.
It was another enjoyable day in the Scottish mountains and once again we were surprised by the total lack of people encountered whilst out walking. I know that we are fortunate enough be able to go out in mid week, when it is not unusual for numbers of people in the outdoors to be reduced. I am certain though, that if we were in the Ogwen or Langdale Valleys then we would not have had the mountain to ourselves.
For those seeking solitude and that feeling of wilderness it isn’t necessary to travel to remote corners of the world, midweek in January about 50 miles from Glasgow is always an option.
How often do you hear the phrase “you should have been here last week”? Normally it relates to summer holidays and the beach when the weather isn’t as food as expected. For Nicky and myself it was the phrase in our minds as we drove north from Glasgow Airport this morning.
I have spent the last 7 days looking at fantastic photos posted on twitter and other social media, of people enjoying the snow covered Scottish mountains. At the same time I was studying the weather forecasts in the hope that the cold spell would continue.
Unfortunately the cold spell was breaking down, the winds were increasing and a steady thaw set in as warm air pushed in from the south and west. We still headed north with an optimistic plan to walk up Beinn Each and perhaps head along the ridge to the Munro, Stuc a’Chroin.
The guide book optimistically states ” the described route is very short and would be suitable for an evening walk after a late arrival in the Highlands or a morning walk before a long drive S.” The given time was 1 hour 30 minutes to the summit of this Corbett and 2 hours 30 minutes for the round trip. Now that didn’t seem to challenging.
We kitted up in the small parking area close to Ardchullarie More Lodge and headed up though the woods, where there was still a covering of snow. Reaching the open hill side was relatively straightforward but as we headed up conditions underfoot became slightly more challenging. We saw a deer running across the hillside, coming from Jersey, where there are no large land animals, such a sighting certainly created a degree of excitement. Little did we realise that within a couple of hours we would have seen 100 plus deer moving across the hillside.
As we climbed higher the snow became deeper, we regularly sank up to our waists with progress impeded further due to the increasing wind. We wound our way up the ridge, reaching the 813 metre summit in less than perfect weather with a rather disappointing view.
Feeling the need to get out of the wind we dropped off the ridge just below the summit and wound our way down the snow covered slopes to reach the more sheltered footpath in the valley. As we walked out we were rewarded with superb views of several Red Kites soaring above the edge of the forest.
The predicted 2 hours 30 minutes was in reality nearly 5 hours, conditions underfoot turning what can be a pleasant evening walk into a challenging day on Beinn Each. It was a memorable day out and in common with so many days I have spent in the mountains in Scotland in recent years we didn’t see another person.
Arriving in the car park at Lochearnhead I was amazed by the amount of activity in the car park. It was actually a 10k swim along the Loch, with what seemed like substantial kayak cover. It was interesting to see Nordkapp’s being unloaded on the shores of a Loch. This was just a distraction, I had arrived to walk a couple of Corbett’s with the prospect of some pretty good weather, something which has been in short supply this week.
Finding my way into Glen Kendrum was a bit convoluted but once I was on the track up the valley the views were great. Following my incident with the bull yesterday I was surprised to find a deer standing in my way this morning, but in contrast to the bull, the deer seemed more scared of me than I was of him and quickly disappeared.
Once in the Glen my pace increased and quite quickly I had arrived at the highest point of the pass, ready to tackle the steeper slopes, which provided a barrier to the summit of Creag Mac Ranaich. It was here that I had my first encounter with other walkers, of the week. Quite a surprise, although it was Saturday so could perhaps be expected.
The slopes were pretty steep although there was a line of old fence posts, which gave an indication of the general route. What made this Corbett particularly special were the superb views in all directions. Ben Lawers to the north, Ben Lomond to the south, Ben More to the west and Ben Vorlich to the east, with numerous other Munro’s in between.
A quick break on the summit and an entertaining descent took me back to the pass, ready for the climb up the other side of the valley.
Every now and again there was a slight hint of a path but generally the walking was across rough terrain. The ridge along to the summit of Meall an t-Seallaidh was wide and easy going. The trig point and small cairn confirmed the accuracy of the earlier navigation, so I celebrated the last summit of the day with lunch. Unfortunately some midges decided to join me so it wasn’t too long before I was heading down the grassy slopes to rejoin the path in Glen Kendrum and head towards Lochearnhead.
A lovely day on a couple of stunning Corbett’s.
Meall nam Maigheach wasn’t my initial target on what started off as a very wet day. I decided a longer walk at lower level followed by a reasonably quick ascent of a single Corbett was in order. Car parked, waterproofs on and a steady pace set on the road up the valley. Unfortunately in less than half a mile I had retreated, a rather large bull was blocking my way. I am no expert in bull behaviour but this one didn’t look friendly and there was no alternative route
Due the bull incident and the weather, a shorter walk was in order. I also considered whether it was worth actually heading out for a walk. Over the years I have probably spent hundreds of days wandering around the mountains of the U.K. in the rain and have to admit it is gradually loosing its appeal. On the other hand Jersey to Killin is quite some distance and I wasn’t sure when I would be passing this way again, so the decision was made, on with the waterproofs and boots.
The one advantage of the hills around the Ben Lawers range is the height at which you start walking. There is a small parking area near the large cairn and the northern end of Lochran na Lairige, I wasn’t the first person to arrive but did manage to squeeze in, taking the last place.
The walk up Meall nan Maigheach was described as a pleasant walk to do on a sunny evening, actually doing it on a rainy Friday afternoon free’s up days with better weather for more suitable challenges.
In common with every other walk that I have done this week I didn’t see another person once I left the road but today’s highlight was the number of grouse that I encountered. Strangely there were plenty on the way up but none on the way down. They were the first grouse that I had seen all week. The path quickly faded and in places the going was rather damp under foot, hardly surprising with the rain that has fallen over the last few days. Amazingly though the cloud lifted above the nearby summits giving tantalizing views of past walks and future possibilities.
Lunch was taken on the summit and playing the ViewRanger app quickly gave an idea of what was hidden behind the clouds. Before too much criticism heads my way I know that you can use a paper map but everybody enjoys playing with new toys.
A quick return to the car and a drive to Killin for coffee and cake plus the obligatory visit to the Killin Outdoor Centre and Shop, where I normally find something to purchase.
Actually quite a satisfying day despite the weather and the early encounter with the bull. Just a small mountain, only 3.5 miles walked and 927 feet of ascent but Meall nam Maigheach is somewhere worth saving for a sunny evening or a wet afternoon.
The forecast was for rain spreading from the south so we looked for a couple of Munro’s which might just be in the rain shadow of the mountains to the south. We chose Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a’Chreachrain, two mountains just to the north of the Bridge of Orchy.
I had seen these mountains on numerous occasions when heading A82, whilst en route to or back from a sea kayaking trip on the west coast coast of Scotland. This would be the first time that I had the opportunity to venture onto their slopes.
Arriving at the start there was an immediate change to the, the car park is no longer close to the farm as mentioned in the guide books or shown on the 1:25,000 O.S. map but just on the right as you leave the main road. If we had read the excellent walkhighlands website before venturing onto the hills, as opposed to afterwards we would have prevented a couple of surprises!
The way onto the hills is clearly signposted from near the car park and we were soon following the route into Coire Achaladair. The munro’s to the south and east were gradually becoming obscured but our first summit was remaining cloud free. Perhaps this rain shadow thing was working.
Immediately to the south was Beinn an Dothaidh, where 18 months ago we had spent one of our best days in the mountains ever. Today there was no snow, but also no people. We didn’t see a single person from the time we left to car until we returned nearly 8 hours later.
The ridge to the south summit of Beinn Achaladair provided delightful walking with superb views but as we ascended the main summit slopes the cloud base suddenly dropped, the wind picked up and the rain started. Fortunately it was on our backs so wasn’t too unpleasant. The drop down onto Bealach an Aoghlain was entertaining in the rain and the mist but as we reached the col the clouds dispersed, not to re-appear on the summits for the rest of the day.
We carried on along the ridge to the summit of Beinn a’Chreachain. at 1081 metres the 61st highest Munro. There were expansive views across Rannoch Moor but the wind didn’t encourage us to hand around so we quickly started our descent. It was reasonably quick and easy going but we made one slight mistake when we crossed a stile, it would have been better to stay on the outside of the fenced area.
We could see the farm track on the other side of the railway line and the river and assumed that we would be soon striding out towards the car. As we only read the up to date infomation on walkhighlands on our return the lack of a bridge came as a complete surprise. It was a great opportunity to practice our river crossing technique but it could be a serious obstacle after heavy rain or during the winter months.
A great day out, with a couple of new Munro’s and a few surprises along the way. We walked 13.7 miles (22 kilometres) and climbed 4352 feet (1326 metres), which was further and higher than mentioned in our guidebooks, not that we are complaining.
We were heading to Scotland to hopefully tick off a few more Munro’s. A Munro is a mountain in Scotland over 3,000 feet or 914 metres and there are quite alot of them. As usual when we head to Scotland there seemed to be a degree of uncertainty about the weather in the week ahead, apart from Monday, where there was a high degree of confidence for dreadful conditions.
Plans were changed and aspirations modified but we settled for an early start on Ben Challum (Beinn Challuim) a solitary Munro to the north of the Crianlarich to Tyndrum road. By 08.40 we had parked the car and were heading up the mountain, in surprisingly dry conditions. As we knew only too well, this wasn’t going to last.
Although we have always used paper maps and continue to carry a variety of superb maps produced by the Ordnance Survey and Harvey this was the first time that I had used the Viewranger App on my phone in the mountains, I had used it before in coastal environments so was aware of its potential.
The cloud base dropped and the rain increased as we made our way up the ridge, initially to Ben Challum South Top, a Munro top before continuing to the main summit. Visibility was pretty restricted so we saw absolutely nothing from the top.
The descent was clearly quicker but quite entertaining. The rocks were very greasy, requiring care but even with the extra stability of our walking poles we both hit the ground on a couple of occasions. There was so much water running down the hillside that possibly our best preparation would have been a couple of hours on a stand up paddle board, to improve our balance on moving water.
On the mountain we didn’t see another person but amazingly in the couple of hundred metres back to the car with coincided with the West Highland Way we saw 18 other walkers. We had completed our day but were aware that many of them still had some distance to go in what was becoming heavy and persistent rain.
Looking at the Viewranger app we were able to obtain the following statistics, amongst others:
Length: 7.35 miles
Total Ascent: 3202 feet
Maximum elevation: 3344 feet
It will be interesting to see how these compare to our future walks in the coming months.