My trips this year took in not just Scotland but I also ventured a little further afield to Ireland, France and Indonesia. From mountain to sea and from coast to coast I hiked, biked and camped my way through many adventures.
Take a look as I describe some of this year’s standout memories.
1. Cycling around Lismore
On cold, frosty morning in January I was the only passenger on the first ferry of the day over to the island of Lismore. Sitting in the middle of Loch Linnhe, Lismore has great views north towards Ben Nevis – on this cold morning, snow-topped with light cloud brushing its summit – and west to Mull and the Morvern hills.
Lismore was quiet that Sunday morning in January. I’d passed the Minister already, hopping off the ferry en route to his first service of the morning on the mainland. Other than that, I spotted a farmer feeding his cattle, with clouds of condensed air hung above their heads in the still, cold air.
I’d timed my ride to cycle the 19km length of the island, take in a couple of detours to its many historic sights, then get back to the Pierhouse Hotel on the mainland for a lunch in front of a roaring fire.
2. A snowy ascent of Beinn Creachan, Appin
The previous day saw me ascend from a mundane, brown winter’s morning, through a carpeted wonderland of powdery snow on Beinn Creachan’s ridge, to the sublime experience of crunching across the icy crust towards the Corbett’s summit. On day’s like this, when daylight is short, the combination of sun and snow have a remarkable ability to transform the mundane into the extraordinary.
I tried to sum up the atmosphere in my original post:
Up on the ridge the sun’s rays made a determined effort to escape the clouds, sending sharp tentacles down towards the depths of Loch Etive. The soft light reflected off the dark water, providing the promise of an improving day. As the sun topped the clouds its rays washed the snow with a brightening cast, throwing shadows across the frozen hillside. Then finally, as the bright sun escaped the clouds it illuminated the rime-covered stalks of grass bravely poking through the snow. The ice sparkled and shone with a brilliance that turned the ‘ordinary’ into a truly wonderful sight.
3. Drinking in the ‘super blue blood moon’ at the Wallace Monument
For the first time since 1982 we were treated in February to the spectacle of a ‘super blue blood moon’. It was a chance to see the convergence of three rare events: a supermoon, a blue moon and a total lunar eclipse, which turns the moon a blood coloured orangey-red. A supermoon is when there’s a full moon that happens when the moon is positioned closest to the Earth in its orbit, and a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. It’ll be 2037 before these three phenomena coincide again.
The high cloud seemed to exaggerate the effect, giving a ghostly glow above Stirling’s Wallace Monument.
4. Skiing at Les Arcs
I went skiing at Les Arcs in the French Alps back in February, enjoying the highest snowfall they’d had for several years. We rented at apartment at Peisey, close to the fast Vanoise Express cable car that links Les Arcs to La Plagne. With such a variety of skiing over such a large area we were spoiled for choice. Fast red runs like this one that took us back to Peisey were our favourite, with great views across the valley to snowy peaks all around.
5. A cycle tour of the Trossachs
The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority describes the cycling tour of the Trossachs as “an exhilarating and hilly ride through the heart of the Trossachs – a classic roadie circuit featuring a big climb, quiet roads and outstanding scenery“. And on this sunny day back in April it didn’t disappoint.
With the Trossachs often called Scotland in miniature I decided to re-name this the ‘lochs and bens’ tour. In a 50 mile loop, including a short out-and-back detour to Inversnaid on Loch Lomond it takes in no less than seven lochs (Drunkie, Achray, Katrine, Arklet, Lomond, Chon and Ard) and five bens (Venue, A’an, Vane, Ime and Narnain).
Now, that’s pretty good going for an afternoon out.
6. Hiking the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks ridge
I ventured over to Ireland for the first time in June and climbed the Irish 3000 footers in a week. I enjoyed driving the back roads of Wicklow, Tipperary and Kerry, soaking up the culture and views. I was lucky to have such great weather. It’s not uncommon for hill-baggers to get drenched and see very little from mist-shrouded hills; the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, for example, are notorious for being in cloud for around 75% of the time and receive 225 days annual rainfall. But in spite of building in spare days in case I needed them I walked and camped in warm, sunny weather.
I climbed the ten peaks along the Reeks’ ridge in one spectacular day, one of the best mountain days I’ve had in twenty years. The ridge is home to Ireland’s highest mountains and has a scale and grandeur reminiscent of Snowdonia or the Scottish Highlands.
The photo is taken from the slopes of Cruach Mhor, looking west across Loch Cummeenapeasta and along the ridge towards Carrauntoohill (at 1039m/3406ft, Ireland’s highest summit) and pointy Beenkeragh (1010m).
7. Climbing Mount Brandon
I completed climbing the Furths with a walk up Mount Brandon, Ireland’s most westerly 900m+ mountain. Called Brendan’s Hill after Brendan the Navigator who was born nearby at Tralee in 484AD, the walk starts near a grotto and finishes with the almost obligatory Irish summit cross.
But most memorable were the views. From the top there’s a marvellous view south to the Dingle Peninsular but the highlight of the Pilgrim’s Path is the fantastic view north across Tralee Bay as you descend.
8. Camping on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
Fine weather meant that I climbed Ireland’s highest hills in double-quick time, leaving a couple of days to explore before returning home. While the Wild Atlantic Way stretches all the way around Ireland’s west coast I spent most time following the views around the Ring of Kerry. The pick of the campsites was Wave Crest Camping and Caravan Park at Caherdaniel, overlooking a small beach and with a cafe and shop on site, and a bar/restaurant a ten minute walk away. A great, relaxing spot.
9. A glorious mid-summer’s wild camp
With itchy feet I took a notion one Saturday night in late June. “What about a wild camp?” Within 35 minutes I was pitched up with my own Saturday night TV stretched out in front of me. Grasses waved in the balmy evening breeze. Meadow pippets chirped incessantly, bobbing back and forth. Just the sounds of nature, without the hustle and bustle of people and traffic.
As the sun began to dip towards the horizon, shadows lengthened. Layers of distant ridge lines were laid on top of one another, muted oranges and greys, slowly darkening. I picked out more than 20 Munros and at least another half dozen Corbetts, from Ben Lomond and The Cobbler in the west to the Ben Lawers ridge in the north. A view to savour – and right in my back yard too.
10. Cycling Scotland’s coast-to-coast
Over 3 days in August I cycled the Scottish C2C from Annan to the Forth Rail Bridge, including tacking on an extra 40-odd miles to get me home. Much of the route is on quiet and gently undulating back roads following the Rivers Annan and Tweed. Through rural Dumfrieshire and Peebleshire it was a peaceful, scenic ride with quiet wild camps.
I emerged out at the Forth on a busy Sunday afternoon where it seemed that locals and daytrippers alike had all assembled on the beach at Portobello for an ice cream and a paddle in the sea. Leaving the crowds behind (plus a noisy campsite below the flight path into Edinburgh Airport), the old Forth Road Bridge took me to the quiet NCN76 cycle path from Dunfermline to Clackmannan. After enjoying fine weather for 3 days the heavens opened just a mile short of home.
11. Mountain biking around Beinn a’ Ghlo
I swapped my touring bike for a mountain bike later in August to try out a classic Scottish route that circumnavigates Beinn a’ Ghlo. I was checking out a route for my Duke of Edinburgh group but rather than take 3 days I covered the 35 miles in a day.
Dark clouds and sunshine jockeyed for prime position all day. I barely saw a soul but soaked in the open vistas of moorland and mountains. The highlight was the Falls of Tarf near the head of Glen Tilt, a perfect wild swimming spot if ever I saw one.
12. Sunrise over Bali and Lombok’s volcanic peaks
I flew to Malaysia and Indonesia in September for a ten day break with my daughter, who’d been volunteering in the rainforests of Borneo for the summer. Indonesia (and especially Lombok) have been in the news a lot recently owing to volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis, and I thoroughly researched the trip before travelling. We spent most of the trip in Bali, trying to fit in as much as we could in only a short time. It’s an island of amazing scenery, food and people.
We took a trek starting off at 3.30am to catch the sunrise near the summit of Mount Batur. Mount Batur is a double caldera, in other words a crater that sits within a much larger crater 14km across. From it’s peak at 1,717m we saw the sun gradually rise to pick out three other volcanoes, all in a row. From left to right in the picture below you can see Mount Rinjani (3,726m high, around 60km across the sea in neighbouring Lombok), Mount Abang (2,152m) and Mount Agung (3,142m). The picture really doesn’t do justice to the absolutely stunning view that morning.