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The essence of Scotland

 

Take just two minutes to enjoy this video of the essence of Scotland.

Nate paid a recent visit to Scotland from California and got in touch to share the cool video he’s made.  It was great to hear that he’d made good use of my blog to find out about places to go while touring the country.

How many places can you recognise?  And where’s next on your bucket list?

 

Thanks very much for sharing, Nate!

 

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The Beinn a’ Ghlo circuit by mountain bike

The circuit of the Beinn a’ Ghlo range of hills is considered a classic Scottish mountain bike route, a full 35-mile day out in a scenic and fairly remote part of Highland Perthshire.  If you’re looking for a circular route which is mainly on rough vehicle tracks – plus a pub and/or a chip shop at the end – then consider adding this one to your list.

I was checking out the route for my Silver Duke of Edinburgh group who are walking it over three days in early September.  The start point is at Old Bridge of Tilt, just near Blair Atholl.  The route then follows tracks and paths northeast and parallel to the Allt Coire Lagain to an estate house at Daldhu before turning north along a good track to Fealar Lodge.  It’s a singletrack path from Fealar Lodge west, dropping down to the Falls of Tarf, before the long descent of Glen Tilt along a rough track.

The route can be done in either direction.  How you ride it perhaps depends on the wind direction and/or whether you want to start off with a steep climb and have a long downhill ride at the end of the day (as I did it, anticlockwise) or whether you want to ease yourself in gently by tackling Glen Tilt first of all.

Route description – Anticlockwise

From the car park at Old Bridge of Tilt it’s a long uphill to Loch Moraig, a good opportunity to get the heart muscles pumping hard.  Having gained height, the views open out along the rough track west, with the Beinn a’ Ghlo massif directly in front.  While the main route continues straight on to the northeast, our Duke of Edinburgh takes a detour southeast to the remote farm at Shinagag and so did I.  While it stayed dry all day, dark clouds weren’t far away.

Standing stone near Shinagag

 

The Beinn a’ Ghlo hills from a distance, taken from near Shinagag

 

I took a faint grassy track north from Shinagag to climb a heathery hillside.  This was the start of a tough stretch – certainly easier walking than with a bike – following a path that skirted the hill Sron na h-Innearach (‘inner ear ache’ perhaps?).  The heather was just coming into bloom and the mountains loomed large over the landscape.  Following a fast but rough downhill, and through a couple of stream crossings, I soon arrived at the estate house at Daldhu.

The twisting summit ridge of Beinn a’ Ghlo taking from the hillside north of Shinagag

 

Navigating the path north of Shinagag, looking north to the summit, Braigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain

 

It’s a long, gradual climb north from Daldhu along a good track.  I stopped for a well-earned breather at the summit where I met the only other cyclists I saw all day, a couple of guys who had done the route several times.  I wondered, if this is considered a classic Scottish mountain bike route, why on a Saturday in mid-August it was almost deserted?

The reward for a long climb uphill is a good old blast downhill; it certainly got my eyes watering.  A good track leads to another group of estate buildings at Fealar Lodge before the route turns west along a faint footpath.  Just as I’d needed to push my bike for much of the section north of Shinagag so I also needed to get off quite a bit of the way along this path.  While the last week had been fairly wet across Scotland the crossing over the River Tilt turned out to be easily passable and I hopped across the boulders.

After a short distance I came across the highlight of the whole route, the Falls of Tarf.  This really is a magical spot: two large waterfalls, still pools perfect for wild swimming and even a flat, grassy patch ideal for a small tent.  Maybe it’s just as well this delightful spot is over 10 miles from the nearest paved road since it would have been trashed in a more accessible location.

 

Approx. 2km south of Fealar Lodge with the remote munro Cairn an Righ behind

 

Steep downhill track towards the Falls of Tarf

 

A magical spot – the Falls of Tarf and the Bedford Bridge

 

At the Falls of Tarf the route turns southwest along Glen Tilt and path widens into a rough vehicle track.  I always find Glen Tilt to be quite a dark and foreboding place, with the river hemmed in by steep mountains at both sides.  The coming cold front had already shrouded the Beinn a’ Ghlo hills in low cloud and the gloom hung heavily.  It somehow seemed a spooky place in the dark, late afternoon …

However, all thoughts were erased out of my mind as I cycled down Glen Tilt.  I’m sure the landowners have done a good thing by filling in the potholes with new stones but on a bike, even one with suspension, I felt as though I’d survived an endurance test on a boneshaker by the time I reached the car park again.  My hands were throbbing with the handlebar vibrations.

While this is considered a classic MTB route I have mixed views on it.    Much of it are on rough tracks which can be a little dull, and the path sections can be hard going since they’re not all cycleable.  It took me eight hours, including the detour to Shenigag as well as breaks.  It’s a fairly long day out and a bit of a slog at times.

Having said that, the scenery is great and there’s a real feel of ‘getting away from it all’.  The path sections on the route are most scenic, particularly as the heather was just coming into bloom.  Other than two other mountain bikers doing the route the only other people I met all day were two backpackers just setting out at the bottom of Glen Tilt.

I’ve come to the conclusion that in spite of the long stretches of track I think this is a better route on foot than by mountain biking.  Why not take a tent and make a weekend of it?  In fact, roll on next month when I’ll return with my walking boots and a tent.

 

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Cycling the Scottish C2C

As I lay I listened to the sounds of two fisherman exchanging anecodates and laughter in the warm, summer air while they packed up their gear.  They’d spent another Saturday evening in relaxed company fishing the Tweed at an altogether slower pace of life.  Then as the two car doors slammed shut and the roar of the car gradually faded away, these noises were replaced by the sounds of distant livestock and the breeze softly tickling the trees.  I soon drifted off to sleep.

As I woke the next morning beside the river it struck me that cycling Scotland’s coast to coast (C2C) is really a misnomer.  Each coast is really just a fleeting moment, part of a much longer journey.  The time I actually spent along the coastline was relatively limited.  No, the journey is actually defined by the water in between, by the rivers Annan, Tweed and Esk that connect the landscape to the sea.  Waking up beside the River Tweed, it was comforting to think that I was getting washed in the same river I’d picnicked beside the previous afternoon, and the same river whose source I’d cycled past that morning.  What travelled quicker, I wondered, the individual molecules of water travelling downhill from the river’s source or me on my bike?

The Scottish C2C is a 125 mile (201km) journey from the Solway Firth in the very south of Scotland to the Forth Rail Bridge near Edinburgh.  It always takes a moment to explain to folk that unlike the much better known English C2C which goes east-west across the North of England, Scotland’s C2C dissects the country north-south.

Launched in 2014, it’s only now becoming a little more popular.  But it’s well signposted and has its own guidebook*, and offers most people a two- or three-day journey through some very quiet and scenic parts of Scotland.  If you like quiet country lanes and cycle paths following disused railway lines then this is the route for you.

Scottish C2C route

From Glasgow I’d taken a slow train down to Annan accompanied by Friday afternoon shoppers and commuters.  The train gradually emptied out by the time we passed Dumfries and I soon found myself outside the station trying to get my bearings.  While Annan’s not a big town it did take me three attempts to find the right road to Seafield Farm on the Solway Firth.  Here you can see the line of the old fords which connected Annan to Bowness on Solway, with danger signs warning that the river levels can rise by 7 metres at high tide.

 

My start point of the Scottish C2C at Seafield Farm, Annan

 

Annan

 

A convenient meal of fish and chips at the Cafe Royal saw me cycling about 10 miles northwards along undulating country lanes.  This is dairy country with fields of Galloway cattle everywhere you look.  There was very little traffic to speak of, just the sights and sounds of rural Scotland.  The C2C route traces the line of the River Annan and just west of St Mungo’s church, near Ecclefechan, I pitched up for the night as the evening light faded.  I camped a short distance away from the river’s gurgling and was soon fast asleep.

 

Wild camping near the River Annan

 

Day 2 would take me 53 miles past Lockerbie all the way to Peebles.  The peaceful start to my ride continued with very little traffic on the back roads.  At Millhousebridge I stopped to admire the old signpost, a relic of times gone by but still very much in use.  At Johnstonebridge, with the constant hum of vehicles whizzing along the M74 in the background, I saw another relic of former days.  But this time the old telephone box had been brought bang up to date.  The telephone box had been painted gold in 2017 to celebrate the para-athlete Shelby Watson winning no less than five gold medals in T33 wheelchair racing.  What an amazing achievement!

 

 

By the time I reached Moffat I was beginning to flag.  Coffee and a bacon roll in a cafe thronged with tourists hit the spot.  Renewed, I started the long climb on the A701 up to the Devil’s Beeftub.  This is the big climb on the Scottish C2C and I took it slow and steady, stopping half way up for a breather.  I was overtaken at speed by a young guy on a road bike carrying nothing and who said nothing.   It did seem just a tad rude; we are all cyclists after all.

From the top of the hill at the Devil’s Beeftub I relished the 10 mile continuous downhill all the way to Tweedsmuir.  I passed the source of the River Tweed and then followed its meandering as it became broader and slower all the way to Peebles and then beyond (the next morning) to Innerleithen.  Like a young child the river begins life bubbly and playfully, gains character by the time it reaches Tweedsmuir then enters middle age by the Central Borders as its waistline expands and its movements slow.

I camped at Manor Bridge, just outside Peebles, a place where I’ve often fished myself when I lived nearby.  Several families were camped beside a tributary, chattering beside campfires – I’ve never seen the place so busy – and so I found a quiet spot a stone’s throw from the river.

 

 

Wild camp at Manor Bridge, near Peebles

 

After a great catch up with friends in Peebles over breakfast, day 3 saw me cycle 63 miles from the town all the way to the Forth Estuary, within sight of the C2C’s end point.  The sun shone as I rode along the almost deserted former railway line to Innerleithen.  Quiet, traffic free and very scenic, this was one of the most enjoyable sections of the whole journey.

Leaving the Tweed, a long, steady climb from the small town of Innerleithen saw me cycle over the Moorfoot hills.  Although the B709 is well off the beaten track, this Sunday morning it was almost like the Tour de France and the Isle of Man TT rolled into one.  Almost 50 old-style motorbikes passed me going south – clearly a club outing – and I’m pleased to say that almost all of the road cyclists exchanged greetings with me.

Looking north from the Moorfoots gives a great vista over the Forth.  The Pentland Hills, Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh Castle and the Fife coast all pointed to my route for the rest of my journey.

 

View to the Firth of Forth from the Moorfoot hills

 

Following a fast downhill to Middleton and lunch in the tiny village of Carrington I met urban Scotland on the outskirts of Edinburgh at Bonnyrig and Dalkeith.  I lost the C2C signs here and instead followed the National Cycle Network (NCN1) signs past industrial estates and urban parks.  The constant start-stop to check navigation meant I lost my cycling rhythm for a while.  However, on finding the pleasant River Esk Path between Whitecraigs and Musselburgh my mood improved.  The sound of seagulls meant that the coast was getting nearer.

Being Sunday afternoon meant that … well … there was a definite ‘Sunday afternoon’ feel to this part of the ride.  Families with pushchairs and dogwalkers shared the promenade from Musselburgh, past Joppa and on to Portobello.  Cafes spilled out on the the prom.  Kids splashed in the sea and their dads constructed elaborate castles.  My incentive for getting this far was to get an ice cream on Porty’s prom.  I needed (lots of) cold, cold drinks and food to quench my thirst, and an ice cream sundae and iced coffee were just what the doctor ordered.

Suitably reinvigorated I cycled along the seafront to Leith.  I retraced the route where I’d previously run the Edinburgh Half Marathon, past the swimming pool where I’d tried (unsuccessfully) to learn to roll a kayak a few decades earlier, and passed the drab Scottish Government office at Victoria Quay where I’ve often sat in work meetings.  Leith’s harbour front was buzzing with tourists at festival time and the cricketers were absorbed in their game on Leith Links.

From these familiar sights I turned left on to the Warrington Path in Leith to discover the delights of Edinburgh’s cycle network.  I didn’t own a bike when I lived in Edinburgh and so I’ve never really experienced these traffic-free routes along disused railway lines.  What a delight.  Along the Warrington and Chancelot Paths and through the Trinity Tunnel I avoided the busy streets and soon found myself coming out beside Granton’s gas tower.

 

 

Camping at the Edinburgh Camping and Caravan Club site at Silverknowes probably wasn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made.  There’s nothing wrong with the site itself (unless you like regimented rules and aren’t dismayed at the exhorbitant £22 cost for a bike and one-man tent of course).  However, the site’s location means that it’s directly underneath the flight path to Edinburgh Airport and I soon discovered that planes were screeching just 500 metres overhead every 5 to 10 minutes until 11pm at night.  Whether any planes did arrive after that time I don’t know but I think I was so tired that I was dead to the world.

All that was left of the C2C route was to cycle the remaining stretch of the seafront to the pretty village of Cramond before following the quieter lanes through Dalmeny Estate to the Forth Road Bridge.  I was a little surprised that there’s no sign or plaque to say that this is the end of the C2C, or at least if there is I missed it.

 

At the end point of the Scottish C2C, South Queensferry

 

I rewarded myself with a mid-morning snack in a South Queensferry cafe before stealing myself for the last leg home.  Having cycled 125 miles to get this far it didn’t seem too much of a stretch to tack on another 40-odd miles to get home to near Stirling.  I enjoyed riding over the Forth Road Bridge, still open to bikes, buses and tractors now that the new Queensferry Crossing has opened.  While most folk seemed desperate to take a trip over the new bridge when it first opened I was more concerned about not having a last chance to go over the old, familiar bridge.  But here I was once again.  The real highlight though was hearing a maintenance van pass me, making that very familiar “da-duh” sound as it crossed the big concrete slabs over the roadway.  Ah, memories …

There are several cycle routes round the Forth and my goal was to navigate past Rosyth, up to Dunfermline then join the old railway line (now the NCN76 cycle path) to go west.  This proved to be a really great route and I whizzed the 12 miles or so from Dunfermline to Clackmannan meeting almost no one.  In fact, once past Alloa’s housing estates the traffic-free route continued past Cambus until I was well within sight of the Wallace Monument.

A refreshing milkshake at Corrieri’s famous cafe in Bridge of Allan spurred me on for those last few miles.  At this point the heavens opened and I arrived home wet, tired, cooled-off but very satisfied.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish C2C.  It may be billed a coast-to-coast route but from river to river and railway to railway, what matters most is the journey and not the destination.

 

Crossing the Forth Road Bridge

 

* I recommend buying the Ultimate Scottish C2C Guide by Richard Peace, available from excellentbooks.co.uk

 

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A practical guide to climbing Ireland’s ‘munros’

Having recently made the trip over to Ireland to climb its 3,000+ foot mountains I thought I’d put together a short overview of the logistics behind my trip.  I spent quite a bit of time carrying out research on the web and in print and really struggled to find much good quality information. Coming from Scotland, where munro-bagging is a hugely popular hobby, we’re spoiled by the quality and volume of available information.  Not so in Ireland, it seems. 

I’m sure Irish readers will have their own favourite sources of information but if you’re from the UK and intent on completing your round of the munros ‘furth of Scotland’ in England, Wales and Ireland, then this guide is for you.

 

Planes, trains and automobiles

Since it takes the best part of a week to climb the 13 highest mountains in Ireland, including travel between them, the main choice is to either take your own vehicle by ferry or to fly and hire a car.  Just to get the scale of the country into perspective, it’s a 295 mile (5.5 hours) journey from Belfast in the north to Killarney in County Kerry, and 200 miles (4 hours) from Dublin and Killarney.  It takes longer to travel around Ireland than you might imagine.

There are three main ports serving the island of Ireland from the UK:

  • Belfast – 2 hours from Cairnryan; 8 hours from Liverpool
  • Dublin – 2 hours from Holyhead; 8 hours from Liverpool
  • Rosslare – 3h15 from Fishguard; 4 hours from Pembroke

Living in Scotland with a campervan it was a no-brainer for me to take the ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.  It was fairly pricey at £273 (off-peak) for just a two-hour crossing but at least I discovered that I could use Tesco vouchers to book on the Stena Line website, so it only cost me about £60 in cash.

The ferry was modern and efficient: no complaints.

I left Cairnryan at 11pm to get the cheapest fare, which meant of course that I needed to find somewhere to park up in Belfast since no campsites would be open at that time.  So six hours’ kip in supermarket car park on a rainy night in Belfast isn’t particularly glamorous … but my trip definitely picked up from this low point.

 

What and where are the Irish ‘munros’?

There are 13 Irish ‘munros’, mountains over 3000ft or 914 metres in height. Galtymore is the baby at 918m and Carrauntoohill the highest at 1039m.

As the map below shows, Ireland’s munros are spread across four locations in Wicklow (Lugnaquilla), Tipperary (Galtymore) and Kerry (the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Brandon Mountain).

 

  • Lugnaquilla (Lugnaquillia Mountain) (Log na Coille) (925m)
  • Galtymore (Cnoc Mor na nGaibhlte) (918m)
  • Beenkeragh (Binn Chaorach) (1008m)
  • Caher (Cathair) (1000m)
  • Caher West Top (973m)
  • Carrauntoohil (Corran Tuathail) (1039m)
  • Cnoc an Chuillinn (958m)
  • Cnoc na Peiste (Knocknapeasta) (988m)
  • Cruach Mhor (932m)
  • Maolan Bui (973m)
  • Na Cnamha (The Bones Peak) (957m)
  • The Big Gun (An Gunna Mor) (939m)
  • Brandon Mountain (Cnoc Breanainn) (952m)

You can read my posts describing my ascents below:

 

How many days?

A key question is: how many days should I allow for?  I planned on five days of walking plus two travelling days, with any ‘spare’ time for sightseeing.  Given I ended up driving 1150 miles over the week I definitely needed this amount of time to be confident of doing everything I’d planned to do.

The three single hills – Lugnaquilla, Galtymore and Brandon Mountain – can all easily be climbed in day, with time left over to drive to the next destination (it’s around two hours’ drive between “the Lug” and Galtymore, and between Galtymore and Killarney, near the Reeks).  I took between 3h15 and 3h30 to climb each of these three mountains.

However, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks ridge is the main attraction, with 10 summits across its twisting and exciting ridgeline.  I had originally planned to climb the eastern and western sections of the ridge separately, given the Reeks have an average of over 225 rain days each year.  But given dry, warm weather and clear, blue skies I opted to walk the whole ridge in a longish (8h45) day.  If you get the chance, I’d definitely recommend you doing this.  This also had the advantage of ‘saving’ me a day to tour the Dingle Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Coast.

 

Planning the trip

I was quite surprised that I couldn’t find more information on the web to help me plan.  Perhaps I didn’t search hard enough or in the right places but it was certainly a struggle.  I’d recommend the following resources:

Websites

  • MountainViews.ie is a site for people to share routes and trip reports – this seems the nearest equivalent to WalkHighlands
  • I found other routes and trip reports on ActiveMe.ie
  • High Point Ireland focuses on the Gribbons, the highest Irish mountains and the sport of highpointeering (equivalent to munro bagging)

Blogs and trip reports

Maps

  • The Irish Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 maps for Kerry, Cork and Wicklow
  • The Harvey’s Superwalker 1:30,000 waterproof map of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks
  • A  decent roadmap of Ireland

Books

  • I bought Jim Ryan’s book on Carrauntoohill and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks – A walking guide to Ireland’s highest mountains (reprinted 2015) and would recommend it for the comprehensive set of alternative routes and context section relating to history and land ownership.

[Note: please get in touch if you’d like to buy this book and the maps from me).

I’d never visited Ireland before.  While it felt very familiar, there were a few differences that took some getting used to.  First, the Irish 1:50k maps as well as the Harvey’s 1:30k both use different colouring and symbols.  Second, and more frustratingly, I’d assumed that I could get by with my own roadmap (where Ireland fitted on one page!), then use signposts to navigate locally.  I soon discovered that Irish road signs are a law unto themselves.  Signs on smaller roads hardly ever mention places that are further away that 10 miles, particularly in rural areas.  Of course, since the mountains tend to be at the end of smaller roads, my trusty road map was utterly useless in rural Wicklow and even my usual fail-safe method of following my nose was very hit-and-miss.

 

Where to stay?

I was in a campervan so was looking for some of the better campsites to stay at and potentially some good informal camping spots too.  My impression is that Ireland doesn’t have as many campsites we’re used to in the UK but I did manage to find some good ones.  I steered well clear of holiday parks (of which there are quite a few) and looked for well-run, independent sites.  You can find listings of sites on the Camping Ireland and the Total Camping Ireland websites.  These were the sites I stayed at:

  • The Apple Farm, Tipperary (6km from Caher, 9km from Clonmell).  I’d recommend this place.  As the name suggests, it’s a farm first and a campsite second.  You can just pitch just near the apple trees and can buy the most wonderful apple juice (and other products) from their shop.  Facilities are fine, if a little in need of an upgrade.
  • Fossa Camping & Caravan Site, Killarney.  Killarney is a tourist town, just near the Reeks, so this is a popular site.  It’s just on the edge of town, near the road to the Reeks, and is well run.
  • Oratory House Camping,  approx. 5 miles from Dingle Town.  This is the nearest campsite to the town and actually has a view of Brandon Mountain.  It’s a popular, family-run site.  While there are several campsites around the Dingle Peninsula this was one of the few I could find that didn’t mainly cater for static caravans.
  • Wave Crest Camping and Caravan Park,  Caherdaniel.  This was the pick of the campsites, right on the coast on the Ring of Kerry and with pitches looking out to sea.  Independently run and well-managed, with a cafe and shop on site, and a bar/restaurant a ten minute walk away.

Ireland’s restrictive land ownership laws mean that wild camping in tents is widely discouraged (and signs warn that dogs off leads on farmland will be shot).  I’ve read that informal camping (outwith campsites) is tolerated in rural areas but I have to say that I didn’t find much evidence of it.  While I did see one or two places where it would be possible I decided that the lure of wifi was too great.

 

Fossa Camping and Caravan Site

Wave Crest Camping & Caravan Park

Not a bad pitch! Wave Crest Camping & Caravan Park

OK, apart from mountains what else should I do?

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that there are some great things to see and do in Ireland.  I had one day for sightseeing in Kerry so took a driving tour taking me to Tralee Bay, Dingle and along the Wild Atlantic Way.  The photos below give a flavour of what to expect – when you have the weather!

[Please click on the photos below for larger versions).

Lunchtime at Tralee Bay

On the Ring of Kerry

Coastal view, Dingle Peninsula

 

 

 

Where else can you find a bar and a hardware shop in one? Foxy John’s, Dingle

 

Have you climbed the Irish ‘munros’?  What hints and tips would you add to this brief practical guide to help others?

 

 

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Product review: Montane Halogen 33 rucksac

In my book a good day sack is functional, lightweight, suitable for multiple activities and comfortable.  With one minor modification – easily addressed – the Montane Halogen 33 comfortably ticks all boxes.

I’ve been testing out the new rucksac over the summer during a round of Ireland’s highest mountains as well as on a Duke of Edinburgh silver expedition.  It’s performed very well and I’m sure I’ll get many years’ use out of it.

First impressions

I have to admit that I’m already a big fan of Montane gear, having first bought a featherlight smock almost 20 years ago.  I find their products very well designed and using lightweight, innovative materials.

The Halogen 33 rucksac fits this mould: an attractive pack that is packed with ingenious features.  At 880g it’s not going to handicap you before you’ve even started filling it up and the weight compares well with the crop of similar packs from other manufacturers.  Montane make a slightly smaller 25 litre version of the Halogen but if you want to go lighter still then there’s the 30 litre Featherlight (686g) or the 35 litre Featherlight Alpine (750g), both more minimalist in design.

What you get with the Halogen is a tough but lightweight and durable nylon fabric (210 denier), with an abrasion-resistant 420 denier base (the Featherlight is made with 100 denier ripstop nylon).  But what also marks out the Halogen 33 are the many features.  From the front-facing top pocket to the ice axe and walking pole attachments, as well as the two zippable waist pockets, it’s a functional and versatile pack.

 

 

What’s it like to use?

I found the Halogen 33 to be a good-sized pack and roomy enough to carry everything you’d need to take on a day walk, both in summer or winter.  It has one large packable space, together with a separate internal sleeve and opening for a hydration pack.  The shoulder and waist straps are very comfortable, even when the pack is loaded, and I found the waist band pockets very useful.  The only improvement I would make is to change the zips to waterproof zips to risk getting a phone (or sweets!) wet.

Montane have used their ZephyrFX back system which combines a stiff structure with a soft, comfortable moulded back pad.  This is covered with a mesh designed to allow air to circulate.  I certainly found this extremely comfortable but perhaps because it was close-fitting and moulded to my back, I didn’t particularly notice any ventilation benefit.

 

 

There are two features which I really don’t care for much at all.  First, there’s a stiffened carrying handle that sits between the two shoulder straps, just behind the top flap.  I’m not quite sure why Montane chose to stiffen this so much since I found it sticks directly out from the pack and rubbed against my neck; it really is quite irritating.  In testing I tied the handle out of the way by extending the top closure strap but I think I’ll just cut the handle off completely.  There is in fact a similar, stiffened carrying loop on the front of the pack that seems designed to secure an ice axe or walking pole, and so losing one grab handle is an easy modification to make.

The second, more minor gripe is the chest harness whose ‘Click and Go’ design allows single hand operation.  Since I ‘walk hot’, I never use chest harnesses and this one detached itself even before I even realised what it was designed for.  It seemed a weak part of the design but since I was quite happy not to have unused chest straps flapping about I wasn’t concerned.

Other features I liked a lot.  The zippable top pocket opens at the front to make it much easier for walking buddies to access a map or essential clothing, (and yes, an OS map fits easily), and there’s a neat key clip inside the lid’s internal security pocket.  There are lots of compression straps which work well and something that Montane call ‘baguette’ pockets on either side.  These are effectively a series of multi-purpose side features including an elasticated pocket at the bottom, a stretchy strip of fabric to help secure items as well as a compression strap at the top.  They’re great for water bottles of course but also wet gear, walking poles or a tripod.

 

At the base of the rucsac, just below the removable bungees, are a couple of ‘tool anchors’.  In layman’s terms, one of these is an elasticated attachment for a walking pole and the other, a similar attachment for an ice axe.  There’s also a sleeve of hard-wearing material to loop your ice axe through to secure it safely.

Finally, Montane have a  ‘Cord Lord Lite’ quick release mechanism to open and close the inside of the pack.  It’s a bit different to the usual plastic toggle and to open the pack, involves pulling the closure cord along with simultaneously pulling a short webbing strap.  It sounds a bit fiddly – and does take a little bit of getting used to – but seems to work well.

 

 

Overview

The Halogen 33 is a very useful size of pack and versatile enough for multi-activity, all-season use.  It’s packed with useful features and manages to combine these with lightweight and hardwearing materials.  Putting aside the stiffened grab handle that rubbed against the back of my neck – this can be easily removed – I found this to be a great day sack which will get lots of use.

What I liked:

  • Comfortable, even when loaded (with the exception of the irritating grab handle)
  • Easy to adjust straps
  • Zippable front access lid pocket and internal security pocket
  • Stretchy side ‘baguette’ pockets
  • Zippable hip pockets
  • Ice axe and walking pole attachments
  • Internal hydration pocket and opening

 

What I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The rear, stiffened grab handle sticks out and rubbed against my neck
  • The elasticated chest harness seemed flimsy and I have now removed this

 

The Halogen 33 is available from Nevisport for £89.99.

Note:  I am a gear reviewer for Nevisport and they provided the Montane Halogen 33 rucksac to me to review for free.  I have no connection with the company.  I have provided an honest and impartial review based on my personal experience in using it.

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Brandon Mountain

 

This way to Cloghane and Brandon Point

 

Standing proud towards the end of the Dingle Peninsula in the far southwest of Ireland is Brandon Mountain.  It’s the most westerly of Ireland’s 900 metre ‘munros’, in County Kerry.

In these parts, all place names and landmarks are in the Irish language and so you’ll find Brandon Mountain marked as Cnoc Breanainn (or Brendan’s Hill), after Brendan the Navigator who was born nearby at Tralee in 484AD.  The 3-4 hour walk is a well known pilgrimage route and the most scenic path – the Pilgrim’s Path – starts from a small car park at Faha, above the small village of Cloghane (An Clochan).  It’s a fairly narrow squeeze up the access lane and there are spaces for around 8 – 10 cars.

This was the final Furth I had to climb in Ireland, having previously climbed all of the munros and mountains of equivalent height in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland.  A pilgrimage indeed.

I had intended to do a circular route, returning via the Faha Ridge but owing to deteriorating weather near the summit, instead enjoyed an out-and-back walk.

The path from the car park goes directly past the Faha grotto; make sure you turn right up the hill at the sign below.  Just as the military firing range near the summit of Lugnaquilla earlier in the week was a first in my walking adventures, so encountering a grotto was also a new experience.  I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but it certainly occupied a good view east across Brandon Bay.

This way to the grotto

 

Faha grotto

After a cloudy start it was an improving day.  Blue skies and views opened up as I followed the well marked path west, just below the narrowing Faha Ridge.  After crossing three fences and a wall the path rounds the hill before a wonderful panorama of the SE ridge of Brandon Mountain comes into view.  As the path begins to drop down into a deep glacial corrie you’re surrounded by imposing cliffs on three sides.  It really is a very dramatic location and a geologist’s paradise.  There’s a series of paternoster lakes and deep glacial scouring on the bare rocks.

On a clear day route finding is straightforward but to make things clearer, someone has painted large yellow arrows at strategic points so you can pick your way through the boulders to the path that winds its way up the steep back wall of the corrie.

Climbing steeply up towards Brandon’s summit ridge, you see the narrow arete of the Faha Ridge behind you.  This is more of a scrambler’s route with its three distinctive notches, the final one requiring a 10-15 metre descent down a steep rock chimney.

Mountain panorama

 

This way through the jumble of boulders in the imposing corrie

 

Looking back into the corrie with the Faha Ridge

 

The Faha Ridge and Brandon Bay behind

A signpost marks the route of descent once you reach the summit ridge and from there it’s a straightforward walk along the trail to the summit itself.  I managed to glimpse of the end of the Dingle Peninsula with its scattering of small settlements just before the clouds that had been scooting around the summit decided to cover it completely.  I lingered for a while talking to a group of Americans who had come up from the western side, taking photos in front the obligatory summit cross.

View from the near the summit of Brandon Mountain

 

My final Furth!

I left the summit and walked past the signpost pointing ‘Down’ to the Pilgrim’s Path to try and find the descent to the Faha Ridge route.  I was hoping to find a fairly obvious path dropping steeply down the grassy hillside somewhere east of the 891m point marked on the map.  After 30 minutes of searching in the low cloud I gave up.  I had no view down, didn’t fancy slipping on the now wet grass and wasn’t too keen on having to climb back up again if I’d taken the wrong route.  So retracing my steps to the Pilgrim’s Path signpost I dropped down steeply into the corrie once again.

It actually didn’t take long to drop back down below the cloud base.  It was a really enjoyable walk back, on another warm and sunny day.  Quite a number of other walkers were out, all of whom admired the superb view over the sandy beaches and waves of Brandon Bay.

I can’t think of too many other mountains that have such a memorable view of mountain and coast.  If you’re intending to climb Ireland’s highest mountains I can think of no better place to finish.

View towards Cloghane and Brandon Bay

You can read my other walks of Ireland’s mountains here:

 

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Chanonry Point’s new ‘Dolphin Shuttle’

 

 

Scotland’s Moray Firth coast is home to the most northerly colony of bottle nosed dolphins in the world and Chanonry Point is possibly the most famous – and best – place to see them from land.  I’ve visited with my family a few times and had a fantastic time seeing the dolphins just offshore.

It’s a popular place to visit and unsurprisingly, it can get very congested at peak times.  To relieve these traffic and parking issues the Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council has come up with a fantastic solution – the Dolphin Shuttle.  Running every day from 1st April to 31st August the new Shuttle, run by D&E Coaches, will help provide a much more relaxing and enjoyable experience for visitors.

The best time to spot the dolphins is about an hour after low tide when they come in to feed.  You can read more about the dolphins and buy a copy of the tide times here.

With parking charges being introduced at Chanonry Point in Summer 2018 the Dolphin Shuttle is a cost-effective option.  You can pick up the Shuttle in either Fortrose or Rosemarkie, with a bus connection to and from Inverness.  There is free parking, along with a selection of places to eat and drink, in each village.

By bus from Inverness: Bus 26A/B/C, operated by Stagecoach Highlands runs from Inverness Bus Station (journey time 30 minutes).  It stops either at Fortrose High Street (where it connects directly with the Shuttle) or at the Spar on Rosemarkie High Street (which is just a short stroll from the Shuttle bus stop opposite Crofters on Marine Terrace).

Shuttle route: Rosemarkie Marine Terrace (opposite Crofters) — Fortrose Station Square — Fortrose High Street (outside old church) — down Ness Road to Chanonry Point — then back via Fortrose to Rosemarkie.  (Requests at other stops).  (Shuttle bus stops in red).

By foot or cycle:  Alternatively, you can walk along the beach from the Rosemarkie sea front (about a mile) and take the Dolphin Shuttle back.  Or you can hire a bike from Rosemarkie Beach Café and cycle the ‘Dolphin Mile’.  (Bikes are also available to hire from Fortrose Bay Camp Site.)

Timetable:  The first bus leaves Rosemarkie Marine Terrace at 0947 and then every 30 minutes thereafter until 1617.  The first bus leaves Chanonry Point at 1000 and every 30 minutes throughout the day until 1635. (Journey time 12 minutes).

Prices:  An adult return is £2.50 (single £1.50) and a child return is £1.25 (single £0.75).  A family return (for up to 2 adults and 3 children) is £7.00 (£4.00 single).

Local facilities:  There are no toilet or catering facilities at Chanonry Point but an ice cream van occasionally arrives. Fortrose and Rosemarkie have places to eat, toilet facilities and car parking. A Dolphin Shuttle leaflet is available locally which gives further information on places to eat and drink.

Motorhomes & campervans: there is no overnight camping or parking allowed at Chanonry Point car park but there are campsites in Fortrose and Rosemarkie, both within easy access of the Point. 

According to Sarah Atkin, chairwoman of Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council: “After last year it was clear the situation at Chanonry Point couldn’t continue. Not only was it horrendous for residents, visitors and golfers, the congestion became a public safety issue. Something had to be done and a shuttle bus was one obvious way of reducing car use“.

MSP Kate Forbes, whose constituency includes the Black Isle, said: “This is a great idea, particularly for visitors. It’s clear why so many people choose to visit the area and that is to see dolphins and seals.  The more people that get out of their cars and share transport, the better. It relieves congestion, reduces car emissions and supports another bus service.  It is this kind of creative thinking that we need to see right across the Highlands.”

So next time you’re in the area and looking for a great place to visit, why not pick up the Dolphin Shuttle?

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A lazy summer’s wild camp

 

 

 

Lazy summer days are perfect for wild camping.

With yet another weekend of warm, sunny weather I had itchy feet.  I’d been cooped up in an office all week and had to get out into the hills.  But where to go?  Climbing a mountain felt just too much like hard work in the hot sun.  Driving an hour or so felt unnecessary.  I settled on an impromptu wild camp on a local hill in the Ochils: combined driving and walking time to the summit, 35 minutes.

The sun was still warm by the time I got my tent pitched at 8.30pm.  Time to relax.

The 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.

 

 

 

We don’t often get this kind of weather in Scotland; hardly ever, in fact.  I allowed my mind to wander.  What if this weather was the norm?  If we could expect summers to be lazy and warm and endless.  If we could feel the warmth of the sun every year in exactly the same way as we experience it in the Med or California.  If we could plan a walking or cycling break without have to make contingencies.  If we didn’t need to apologise to visitors for cool, rainy weather.

What if ..?

 

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 Ben Arthur (The Cobbler) in the west to the Ben Lawers ridge in the north.  A view to savour, right in my back yard too.

 

 

I hadn’t planned to wake up for the dawn but stirred just as it was getting light and the birds started to welcome the day.  It was 3.45am.

The sun illuminated high clouds, painting a vibrant, fiery glow across the sky.  The view down to the valley was gone and instead, dark clouds swirled about below me.  The cloud inversion obscured all the mountains along the northern and western horizons that I’d spotted the evening before; only the broad valley of the River Forth to the south remained cloud-free.

It was as if the sun had issued a brief, visible reminder that ‘normal’ weather could easily resume: unpredictable,  brooding and dispiriting.  Don’t be lulled into a false sense of complacency.  Lazy summer days are welcome for sure but not to be taken for granted.


 

By breakfast everything had changed once again.  The sun burned off the cloud, the mountains reappeared and the birds were once again singing in the warm morning breeze.  Another sunny, summer’s day.

 

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Top Scottish campsites for scenic views

 

One of the featured campsites – Fidden Farm on Mull

As schools break up for the summer and this glorious spell of warm, sunny weather is continuing, why not make some plans to visit some of Scotland’s fantastic scenic campsites?

VisitScotland has been analysing Instagram hashtags, and cross referencing these to some of the most popular family-oriented campsites in Scotland, as voted by TripAdvisor users.  Their results highlight twelve most scenic campsites right across Scotland that stand out for their memorable views.  The twelve campsites are categorised by location:

• Stargazing
• Beaches
• Woodlands
• Mountains
• Sunrises
• Sunsets

If you’re looking for some inspiration for a family camping trip this summer, take a look at these instantly instagrammable sites.

Half of them are included in my own recommended top campsites in Scotland.  You’ll find many more suggestions in my article as well as in the companion post on my Top 10 Scottish beach campsites.

And if you’re looking for more info and the inside track on the best places to eat, stay and visit in Scotland, have a browse around the iKnow online community forum.  It contains loads of hints and tips from people passionate about Scottish tourism, including VisitScotland Ambassadors like myself.

Happy camping – and long may the fine weather continue!

 

 

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Hiking the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks

The Macgillycuddy’s Reeks ridge in County Kerry has it all: wonderful views, great scrambling and a superb mountain environment.  I have to say that this combination, together with the fact that there are ten 3000ft summits along its ridge, made it one of my favourite mountain days over the last 20 years.

Cronin’s Yard – car parking and tea room

The Macgillycuddy’s Reeks stand out in many ways.  First, they’re home to Ireland’s highest mountains, with Carrauntoohill (1039m or 3406ft) the highest summit, followed by Beenkeragh (1010m) and Caher (1001m).  They also dominate the attractive landscape around Killarney and neighbouring Killarney National Park in County Kerry, providing a scale and grandeur reminiscent of Snowdonia or the Scottish Highlands.  The names of the mountain features evoke the rugged beauty of the landscape: Hag’s Tooth, The Devil’s Ladder, Heaven’s Gates and Eagle’s Nest.

The Reeks are notable for several other reasons too.  While part of Killarney National Park is in State ownership, the mountains themselves are in private hands, owned by a patchwork of well over a hundred different individuals, either with freehold rights or as commonage (ie shared grazing rights).  It’s said that when the original landowners bought their rights from the Irish Land Commission they paid the considerable sum of 11 shillings and two pence twice a year for many decades.

The mountains are also notorious for being in cloud for around 75% of the time, receiving 225 days annual rainfall.  I had planned on climbing the eastern and western sections of the ridge over two days, keeping a spare day in my back pocket should the weather not be playing ball, but was fortunate to be able to climb the whole of the ridge in a single day.

I parked at Cronin’s Yard at 8.20am, expecting to see many others already there before me, but was surprised it was quiet.  It was a midweek day in May but given the unusually warm, settled spell of weather I thought the mountains would have attracted more walkers.

Take note!

 

It was a glorious morning as I followed the path SW from the car park with the ridge opening up ahead.  I climbed from east to west, turning off the main path just before the first green footbridge to climb the grassy hillside towards Cruach Mhor, the first summit.  There’s a green stile after about 100m and then an intermittent path that gradually climbs uphill.

It was warm work.  Since there’s no water available at all on the ridge itself my plan was to hydrate myself as much as possible climbing this first uphill stretch before refilling at the stream that runs out of Loch Cummeenapeasta.  I’d already drunk two litres by the time I reached the loch and enjoyed a short break to catch my breath.

Panorama of the full Reeks ridge from near Cronin’s Yard

 

Cruach Mhor (left) and Knocknapeasta (centre)

Loch Cummeenapeasta is one of several dark lochs nestled in the shadow of the high peaks, and there’s a great view of three of them from the slopes of Cruach Mhor, looking west towards Carrauntoohill and Beenkeragh.  In bright sunlight from the ridge west of Cruach Mhor you can also glimpse the outline of a plane wing in the murky depths.  An American Dakota plane flew off course en route from Morocco to Cornwall in December 1943 and five airmen died when the plane crashed into Knocknapeasta (Cnoc na Peiste).

Loch Cummeenapeasta panorama from the slopes of Cruach Mhor

 

Lochs Cummeenapeasta, Callee and Lough Gouragh from the slopes of Cruach Mhor

I reached the summit of Cruach Mhor at 10.20am, following an intermittent path up a bouldery slope.  There’s a large two-metre high grotto that dominates the top, said to have been painstakingly built by a local farmer who dragged sand, water and cement up to the mountain top over a two-year period.  There’s no entrance but it does serve as a useful windbreak.  I didn’t need the shelter the day I was there but one or two clouds just brushed the summit of Knocknapeasta as I began the next leg.

Cruach Mhor’s summit grotto

 

Cruach Mhor’s summit grotto

The section from Cruach Mhor past Big Gun to Knocknapeasta is where the real fun begins!  It might not look particularly airy or exposed in the following two photos but in the third one below you can clearly get a sense of the narrow, serrated ridge on this section of the walk.  It’s not for the faint hearted – and needs three points of contact at the more exposed scrambly parts.

It’s an exhilarating ride that needs full concentration, and one that’s definitely saving for a dry and less windy day.  There is a path that tends to drop down to the northern side overlooking Loch Cummeenapeasta at the trickiest parts but it does involve a bit of headscratching and retracing of steps to make sure you’ve gone the right way.  The view looking back from Knocknapeasta along the ridge you’ve just climbed is just spectacular.

Big Gun and Knocknapeasta (Cnoc na Peiste) from Cruach Mhor

 

Looking back at Cruach Mhor from Big Gun

 

The serrated ridge from Cruach Mhor and Big Gun towards Knocknapeasta (Cnoc na Peiste), with Lough Leane and Killarney in the distance

West of Knocknapeasta it’s time to relax a bit and enjoy a more leisurely walk.  A broad grassy ridge extends past Maolan Bui, Na Cnamha (The Bones Peak), Cnoc an Chuillinn, Cnoc na Toinne before dropping down to the col at the top of the Devil’s Ladder.  These summits are less impressive but still grand and chunky hills.

What’s most enjoyable about this section of the walk are the views that open up along the whole of the Reeks ridge.  It’s a complex landscape of ridges and lochs, and coupled with dappled sunlight, makes for very picturesque walking.

Broader grassy ridge to Na Cnamha (The Bones Peak)

Panorama of the Reeks from Na Cnamha (The Bones Peak)

 

From left to right: Cnoc an Chuillinn, Cnoc na Toinne, Caher (both tops) and Carauntoohill

 

Looking back at the eastern Reeks. From left to right: Cruach Mhor, Knocknapeasta, Na Cnamha and Cnoc an Chuillinn

I stopped for lunch at 12.30pm just before I dropped down to reach the top of the Devil’s Ladder.  By this point I’d only passed a handful of walkers and it was clear that the ‘tourist path’ was funnelling many more walkers directly to the summit of Carrauntoohill.

I found the ascent of Carrauntoohill a bit of a slog on its scree path.  I was only too glad to get about two thirds of the way up before I could cut across its shoulder to follow the ridge to Caher.  Once again I enjoyed some peace and quiet, only meeting a group of walkers who were climbing Caher and Carrauntoohill from the south.  Although it looks a narrow ridge I can only recall one or two places where there’s a feeling of slightly more exposure, but certainly nothing like the airiness of other sections of the ridge.  A paraglider was clearly making the most of the updrafts on this sunny afternoon.

Scarred path up Carrauntoohill with Caher’s east top on the left. The Devil’s Ladder is on the right at the bottom of the path

 

Beenkeragah (left) and Carrauntoohill (right) from Caher

 

Carrauntoohill (left) and the eastern Reeks ridge (right) from Caher’s east top

 

The eastern Reeks ridge from Caher’s east top – plus paraglider

 

 

Caher’s east and west tops fro the slopes of Carrauntoohill

The out-and-back to Caher took about 75 minutes.  I soon neared the huge summit cross on Carrauntoohill and enjoyed the superb, expansive views from Killarney in the east over to Dingle Bay in the west.  I lingered only for 10 minutes to replenish myself with an energy bar before tackling the narrow and exposed Beenkeragh ridge.

Contemplating the view at the summit of Carrauntoohill

While the section of scrambling from Cruach Mhor past Big Gun to Knocknapeasta tends to receive most attention in walk descriptions, I found the Beenkeragh ridge to be just as exciting (challenging).  It’s really only the short section once you’ve descended steeply from Carrauntoohill’s summit along to 959m top that requires most concentration.  But here again, it’s not for the faint hearted or for windy/wet days; it’s grade 1 scrambling that deserves a lot of care and attention.  I found the route a little confusing in places and needed to backtrack once or twice to find the intermittent path once again.

The Beenkeragh ridge from Carrauntoohill, with Dingle Bay just visible in the distance

 

Looking back at Carrauntoohill from the Beenkeragh ridge

Once you’ve hauled yourself up the final summit of Beenkeragh it’s (almost) plain sailing from here.  The ever-changing views and perspectives are just as interesting and it’s easier from this angle to trace the many different routes to the various peaks.  The descent from Beenkeragh is bouldery for some distance before grassier walking just to the west of Knockbrinnea (847m).

The choice here is to either drop down quite steeply to the Hag’s Glen path before the Large and Small Hag’s Teeth or to continue along the ridge for another kilometre or so before meeting the path close to the second (most southerly) of the two green footbridges that cross the Gaddagh River.  I opted for the latter, preferring softer ground beneath my feet after nine hours of walking but should point out that the heathery hillside just to the north of the Small Hag’s Teeth is still fairly steep and I was glad to finally reach the main path.

Whatever route you choose to take – and there are many, many different options around the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks – it’s a superb mountain range.  And if you’re lucky enough like me to get a warm, clear and sunny day this has to rate among the very best walks in not only Ireland but also the whole of the UK.

Lough Callee and the eastern Reeks from Beenkeragh. The Hags Glen path is in the foreground and you can just make out the Zigzags path too

 

View of the eastern Reeks and Loch Callee from near Knockbrinnea

 

Resources:

A 1:50,000 scale map is really not sufficient for these mountains.  I used the Harvey’s 1:30,000 waterproof Superwalker map which has a more detailed box at 1:15,000 showing the section around Carrauntoohill and Beenkeragh with descents and accurate compass readings.

There are great many options for climbing the Reeks.  I used the Collins book by Jim Ryan (‘Carrauntoohill & Macgillycuddy’s Reeks – A walking guide to Ireland’s highest mountains’).  This was very useful for understanding the overall topography of the area, possible routes and access options.

The class east/west traverse is also covered by The Big Walks book by Wilson and Gilbert.  However, this is a one way walk rather than the circular route I took.

[PS  If anyone would like to buy the map and book from me, plus other 1:50,000 maps of the Irish ‘munros’ please get in touch)

Guide to timings for my traverse (8h 45 mins walking time):

Start at Cronin’s Yard 8.20am

Cruach Mhor 10.20am (inc. 15 min break at Loch Cummeenapeasta)

Big Gun 11.00am

Knocknapeasta 11.35am

Maolin Bui 11.50am

Cnoc an Chuillinn 12.10am

Shoulder of Carrauntoohill 1.35pm (inc.20 min lunch stop near The Devil’s Ladder)

Caher west top 2.10pm

Carrauntoohill 3.00pm

Beenkeragh 4.00pm (inc. 10 min break)

Cronin’s Yard 5.45pm

 

Read about my other walks of the Irish ‘furths:Lugnaquilla

Lugnaquilla

Galtymore (with Galtybeg)

Brandon Mountain

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Product Review: Olight H1 Nova Headtorch

LED lighting technology has been developing fast and so I’ve been looking forward to testing out a new, lightweight headtorch from Olight.  Here’s my review of the mid-range battery-powered headtorch, the H1 Nova, which packs a powerful punch into a small product.

First impressions

Olight are a new name to me, a Chinese company who specialise in lighting technology for outdoors use.  When I was approached by Olight and asked if I’d like to review one of their products I chose a mid-range battery-powered headtorch, the H1 Nova in cool white.  They also make a rechargeable version (H1R Nova) as well as the more powerful H2R Nova, alongside torches (minus the headband) including the X9 Marauder which produces an incredible 25,000 lumens at full power.

First impressions are good.  The headtorch comes in a neat, zippable case that includes the torch, headband, CR123A battery, pocket clip and manual.  If you’re likely to want the option of using the torch either on your head or clipped to your rucsac strap, tent or clothing then taking the original box with you probably makes sense.  This would also prevent the torch from being accidentally switched on if stuffed in a packed ruscac although, as I explain below, it also has a useful locking mode.

 

 

The H1 Nova has a well-made aluminium body and is about the size of your thumb.  It measures 58 x 21mm and weighs a tiny 39g with the battery included, and 67g with the headband. It’s certainly light enough to keep in your rucsac and not notice the weight at all.  Manufacturing quality is very good and it certainly looks as if it will survive many years’ use.

The base cap unscrews to reveal the CR123A battery compartment.  When you open this you notice that the base cap is magnetic, and a very strong magnet at that.  This could be a really useful feature if you want to attach the torch to a metal object, freeing up your hands to do other work.  On the other hand, storing the headtorch next to your compass isn’t perhaps the cleverest idea and so it’s worth bearing this in mind.

The H1 Nova is highly waterproof.  I hadn’t come across the IPX scale before but the H1 Nova is rated IPX8, which is the second highest on the scale, being described as “suitable for continuous immersion in water“.  While I haven’t personally tested this, I’ve seen a YouTube review of the H1R Nova which was dunked in a bucket for 30 minutes and still worked perfectly in spite of tiny drop of water entering the LED compartment; the battery compartment stayed bone dry.  (For information, products rated IPX9 can withstand “high pressure, high temperature spray downs” and we tend not to be subject to boiling rain when out hiking in the UK!).

The supplied pocket clip pushes on to the body of the torch and allows it to be attached firmly to clothing or perhaps a ruscac or tent strap.  Remove it and then you’re all set to fit it to the headband by sliding it into the silicone mount.  This is soft and stretchy and potentially a weak point of the overall design if, through lots of use, the silicone loosens or even breaks.  In my initial testing there’s no sign of this happening but I’ll keep an eye on this.  The adjustable, elasticated headband is soft to wear and about 2cm wide.

 

What’s it like to use?

The H1 Nova has five modes in all, ranging from 2 lumens right up to shorter-term bursts of 500 lumens.  Press the silicone button on the top of the torch once to turn it on or off.  It also remembers the last mode you used before switching off which I find a useful feature.  Press and hold the on/off button to cycle through the sequence of modes – moonlight (2 lumens) – low (15 lumens) – medium (60 lumens) – high (180 lumens).  Double-clicking activates turbo boost mode (500 lumens), and when the torch is off, pressing and holding the button for one second accesses moonlight mode.  To lock the torch, simply press and hold the button for two seconds until it blinks once and then release; this prevents it from being accidentally switched on.  There’s also an SOS mode; simply press the on/off button three times in quick succession and the torch automatically flashes SOS slowly in morse code.

Battery life is clearly affected by the mode used:

  • Moonlight (2 lumens) – 15 days
  • Low (15 lumens) – 42 hours
  • Medium (60 lumens) – 8.5 hours
  • High (180 lumens) – 3 hours
  • Turbo (500 lumens) – 3 minutes

It’s a powerful torch in such a small body.  An in-built safety feature means that the torch automatically reduces the turbo boost power from 500 to 180 lumens after three minutes.  This is definitely needed since the aluminium body heats up very noticeably on full power, so much so that after only three minutes the torch is very hot to hold in your hand.  Potentially this is quite dangerous.  In fact, in a recent review the much more powerful H2R Nova (2300 lumens on turbo boost) burnt a hole through a tent groundsheet after having been placed face down.  I’ve tested the ‘firelighting’ capabilities of the less powerful H1 Nova on turbo boost by placing it on paper and thin plastic for three minutes and can fortunately report that no damage took place.  Clearly, this torch isn’t at the same risk of overheating as the H2R Nova but it’s still worth being well aware of any potential risk.

I found the headband comfortable to wear and easy to adjust.  To be honest, I much prefer to wear headtorches on top of a hat which I find much more comfortable for extended use but for short periods, the headband was fine.  I also liked a couple of useful design features.  First, you can rotate the torch within its silicone mount to change the beam angle, and the silicone keeps the torch angle in position when walking or running.  Secondly, the silicone control button is fairly chunky which means that it’s easy to locate and use even with gloves on.

While CR123A batteries may be a little more expensive than AA batteries (I bought two replacements on Amazon for £5.30), they’re readily available worldwide.  I purposefully chose the battery-operated version of the torch rather than the rechargeable H1R version since my daughter is taking it out to Borneo on expedition this summer.  She’ll not have access to electricity for weeks at a time and will have 12 hours darkness each night, and so batteries really are the only option.  However, should you want a rechargeable version, the H1 Nova also takes RCR123A rechargeable lithium batteries.  I’ll aim to update this review with her feedback later this year.

How good is it at night?

So much for the look and feel of the headtorch: how effective is it?  So far, I’ve tested it out on a 2-night wild camp in the Cairngorms as well as more controlled testing in my back garden.

I found moonlight mode to be good in the tent when going to bed or in the middle of the night; it gives just enough light to see while not dazzling your eyes.  Low power mode is perfectly adequate for walking around a campsite, cooking and so on.  For use when walking I found medium and high power modes to be very good, giving a good forward beam.  I guess mode selection depends on many things including the extent of natural moonlight, the terrain, the number in your party and so on but I was satisfied with the amount of light produced by each mode.

Switching to turbo boost steps things up to another level again, providing a very effective floodlight.  I’ve been in mountain situations in the dark where you need to assess the route ahead and/or look for suitable campsite locations.  Here, turbo boost comes into its own and at 500 lumens is much more powerful than any of my existing headtorches.  The packaging claims the beam will reach 66 metres.  While I haven’t validated this myself (and I don’t fully understand what this means), it certainly gave a very bright light for 10 – 15 metres across my back garden.

The version I tested was ‘cool white’, giving a fairly stark light, although I’ve read that other reviewers preferred the ‘natural white’ version.  I can’t give an opinion since I haven’t compared the two but you may be able to do this in a shop.

The photos below (taken from my iPhone) compare the three more powerful modes:

Overview

I liked the H1 Nova and would recommend it.  I can see myself using it as an essential piece of kit for summer backpacking and winter walking trips.  It’s lightweight, well made, powerful and functional.  One ‘downside’ is the need to carry a spare battery (the manual doesn’t suggest the torch automatically signals any warning of failing battery power), although I’d far rather have the battery-powered version along with a spare than have the rechargeable version fail on me in use.  The second and more significant downside is the heat generated by the torch on turbo boost.  While this does have a 3-minute safety ‘cut off’ feature – and the torch didn’t show any signs of melting plastic or setting fire to paper when I tested it – I would urge caution in use.

What I liked:

  • Small and lightweight (67g including the headband)
  • Powerful torch with 5 different brightness modes, plus an SOS feature
  • Useful ‘lock’ feature to prevent the torch turning on accidentally in your pack
  • Well made and robust torch
  • Highly waterproof
  • The battery powered version – in my view, taking a spare battery is a preferable option to the rechargeable H1R version
  • Control button easy to locate, even with gloves on
  • Zippable carry case
  • Magnetic base to allow hands-free operation for the standalone torch

 

What I wasn’t so keen on:

  • The torch becomes very hot in turbo boost mode – this could potentially cause issues if not used with care
  • CR123A batteries are slightly more expensive than AA batteries
  • Silicone mount could potentially loosen over time?

 

The H1 Nova currently sells for £45.95 on the Olight UK online store.

Note:  The H1 Nova headtorch was provided to me to review for free by Olight.  I have no connection with the company.  I have provided an honest and impartial review based on my personal experience in using it.

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Galtymore and Galtybeg

Galtymore, taken from the start of the Black road.

At 919 metres Galtymore only just qualifies as an Irish ‘munro’.  It’s part of the Galty mountains in County Tipperary, about 20km west of the attractive town of Caher, and I climbed the peak along with its smaller neighbour, Galtybeg.

There are two main routes up Galtymore.  The first is via the Black road from the south (the ‘tourist route’), with the walk-in along a clear track.  The second is from the north from Clydagh Bridge, a more satisfying though more challenging circuit taking in Cush and Galtybeg.  I chose the former given I’d camped at Apple Farm campsite, on the road between Caher and Clonmel.

There’s a small car park at the end of a lane that winds its way uphill from the R639, just east of the imaginatively-named hamlet of Skeheenaranky.  Here there’s perhaps space for 6 to 8 cars. I left the ‘Cherish the Galtees’ sign on a beautifully sunny, warm day with the gorse out and great views of the Knockmeadow mountains opening up to the south.  It starts as a stony path but widens to become a better track for almost 3km as it gains height.

 

Start of the path near the Black road car park.

 

Views opened up southwards towards the Knockmeadow Mountains

 

Galtymore from the Black road track

 

A well constructed track

I was very lucky to be enjoying the Irish mountains in this weather.  Every trip report I’d read previously featured damp walkers in full waterproofs trudging upwards into the mist.  Today, the birdsong accompanied me up the grassy hillside, past the memorial to the deceased airmen half way up and on to the cairn that marks the start of the grassy track to the mountains proper.

I made a straightforward ascent of the steep grassy/stony slopes of Galtybeg first of all, a nicely-shaped hill that gives superb views of neighbouring Cush and the patchwork of green fields beyond.  I enjoyed lunch on a calm, sunny summit before dropping down to the col, next to the deep corrie on Galtymore’s northeast face.  From here there’s a clear track about half way up before you head straight uphill following an intermittent stony path.

Turn left at this cairn to reach Galtybeg (right) and Galtymore (left)

 

View of Cush from Galtybeg

 

Galtymore from Galtybeg

The trig point sits next to the summit cairn and not very far away, a white metal cross proudly stands overlooking the northern aspect.  It was a day to savour the views: Ireland’s green countryside spread out for miles, dotted with farms and hamlets, and topped off with fluffy white clouds.  I took a shortcut across grassy slopes back the cairn on the Black road track before retracing my steps back to the car park, where a long, cool drink was waiting.

I was back by early afternoon, taking just 3 hours 15 minutes for the 11km walk.  I said goodbye to Tipperary in the heart of Ireland and drove west to the bigger and more impressive mountains in County Kerry.

Galtymore’s summit cairn, looking south to the Knockmeadow Mountains

 

Galtymore’s sturdy white summit cross

 

You can read my other walks of Ireland’s mountains here: