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?
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.
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:
If you’re looking for some inspiration for a family camping trip this summer, take a look at these instantly instagrammable sites.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Beenkeragh 4.00pm (inc. 10 min break)
Cronin’s Yard 5.45pm
Read about my other walks of the Irish ‘furths:Lugnaquilla
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.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.
It was a day of firsts. It was my first time in Ireland, my first ‘munro’ outwith the UK and my first mountain bordering on a military firing range.
It was also a very long day. Starting with a late night ferry from Cairnryan over to Belfast I arrived at 1am into a rainy and deserted city. It was far too late to contemplate finding a campsite (even if they would stay up to such an ungodly hour) and so instead I’d staked out a shopping centre car park to park my campervan and kip for a few hours. By 7am the rain had stopped and after a quick breakfast I headed south through the morning rush hour.
Lugnaquilla was my first target in a week devoted to climbing Ireland’s highest peaks – or simply “Lug” to the Irish. I’d previously climbed all of the munros in Scotland and the ‘munros’ furth of (outwith) Scotland in England and Wales, and to complete climbing the Furths I set my sights on Ireland’s 13 3000+ foot summits. I’ll share a future post about the logistics of organising a trip to climb Ireland’s highest mountains, together with posts of my walks to Galtymore, the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Brandon Mountain. (And isn’t it interesting that the names of the mountains in each of Scotland, Snowdonia, the Lake District and Ireland are so different?).
En route I had an errand to do: to pick up some of my neice’s belongings from her apartment in Dublin. She’d just quit her job there to go globetrotting for a year or two and with a bit of space in the campervan it seemed churlish not to become a delivery driver for the week too.
The rolling, green hills I’d driven through all the way down from Belfast to Dublin soon started to grow larger as I left Dublin’s ringroad. Sharper, pointy mountain things appeared on the horizon: the Wicklow Mountains. As I turned off the M11 past the small town of Rathdrum towards Glenmalure the roads narrowed and became progressively bumpier. Ah, rural Ireland!
This was also about the time I realised that navigating Ireland by road signs alone is not the easiest task you might imagine. Now I’m sure to locals it makes perfect and logical sense to only name the places within 5-10 miles of where you live. Why bother signposting places much further away? It’s unnecessary information much of the time. But a combination of poor signposting, a roadmap that covered the whole of Ireland on a single page, no GPS in my van and the fact that I was the navigator and driver combined meant that this was just the start of several meandering journeys across rural Ireland. I soon discovered that my usual tactic of simply ‘following my nose’ wasn’t necessarily the most effective or efficient way to get from A to B. Unless you’re happy to check in at C, G and possibly J on the way of course.
At about 1pm I parked in a large car park at the end of the road in Glenmalure and had a quick bite to eat before heading off. I took the mine track once I’d crossed the river. It was an improving day now: dry, warm and with the sun threatening to make an appearance. My first mistake was to lose my map, however. I’d taken a few photos during the first 10 minutes walk up the track and I was nearing the top when I realised I’d dropped my map. I retraced my steps but failed to find it, suspecting that a family I’d seen near the car park had picked it up. Luckily, I’d printed a route map I’d found online and used this alone to navigate. (Not advisable of course but on a clear day with a clear path it turned out to be enough).The path past the old mine joins the main vehicle track through Fraughan Rock Glen, and I in turn soon reached a narrower, stony path that climbs fairly steeply beside a waterfall (which you can just see in the centre of the picture below). The views down the Glen started to open up. I followed a clear, grassy path westwards that slowly gained height, a path that could become boggy in wet weather. The grassy path curves around to the south to follow the broad ridge leading towards the summit. Here the walking is easier, on short, cropped grass. There’s no clear path at this point but by gradually turning southeast as the ridge rises (between two glacial corries on either side called the North and South Prisons), the summit finally comes into view. It’s a substantial summit cairn, together with a small rectangular stone box topped with a copper plaque naming nearby hills (long since unreadable unfortunately). The most notable aspect of the summit isn’t the cairn nor the view, but the ominous warning sign informing you that you’re just steps away from a military artillery range. The warnings are all rather dramatic and given I had no desire to get blown to smithereens I didn’t investigate further. The hoped-for sunshine didn’t appear but dark clouds gathered instead on my return back to the van. Luckily, it stayed dry and gave a good cloudscape to accompany the view down Fraughan Rock Glen.
After losing my map in the first hundred metres from the car park it was an enjoyable and uneventful walk, taking 3.5 hours (moving time) to walk 14km. I left around 5pm bound for Apple Farm campsite in Tipperary, a 2-hour journey. However, owing to particularities of navigating Ireland’s rural roads it took a wee bit longer than that ……..
“An exhilarating and hilly ride through the heart of the Trossachs – a classic roadie circuit featuring a big climb, quiet roads and outstanding scenery“. This is how the cycling tour of the Trossachs is described by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority and who am I to disagree?
Within an hour’s drive of Glasgow and Stirling, the Trossachs is on Central Scotland’s doorstep. It’s been on the tourist map since the Sir Walter Scott wrote The Lady of the Lake and Rob Roy in the early 19th Century, fascinating early Victorian travellers. These days the area can attract swarms of day trippers in coaches and cars – even in late April car parks were filled with foreign accents – but it’s relatively easy to quickly escape the tourist honeypots.
I first discovered this ride described as the ‘7 lochs tour of the Trossachs’, taking in Lochs Drunkie, Achray, Katrine, Arklet, Lomond, Chon and Ard on a 40 mile loop. It was only later I found it billed as the ‘tour of the Trossachs’ on the National Park website, the only difference being that I added a 9 mile detour from Stronachlachar to Inversnaid to reach Loch Lomond.
From the main car park in Aberfoyle it’s a fairly brutal 3 mile climb up Duke’s Pass, notorious for its winter road closures. There’s no doubt about it, it’s a hard slog. A driver coming the other way slowed down to tell me to “stay strong!“. But once at the top it’s a fast, snaking descent down to the shore of Loch Achray. On the way you do pass Loch Drunkie but it’s actually a mile or so east in the forest, so not visible from the road. Two ‘Bens’ stand out at this section of the ride, rounded Ben Venue and diminutive Ben A’an, both guarding the route to Loch Katrine.
The eastern end of Loch Katrine provides a first stop-off with Brenachoile Cafe, a shop and benches. You’ll need to fight through the throngs, mind you, but once fed and watered it’s a fast and flat ride along the road on the northern bank of the loch. The steamship SS Sir Walter Scott has plied to and fro across the loch for almost 120 years and it’s a great sightseeing trip. But today I was keen to escape the crowds, taking care to negotiate past the pedestrians, dogs, buggies and younger cyclists. Within a couple of miles it seems you’re quickly away from the honeypot and able to soak in the scenery.
I always enjoy seeing familiar hills from new perspectives. I admire Ben Lomond in the distance daily from the end of my street but rather than the long whaleback view I see from the east, the view from Loch Katrine shows the deep rocky corries on its northern side. Then, looking due west, the trio of Ben Vane, Ben Ime and Ben Narnain pokes through the gap across the western shore of Loch Lomond.
So far, so good. By my reckoning, that’s 3 lochs (Drunkie, Achray, Katrine) and 5 bens (Venue, A’an, Vane, Ime and Narnain).
Skirting the quieter northwestern finger of Loch Katrine at Glengyle takes you past the historic cemetery of Clan Macgregor then to the pier at Stronachlachar. The road at this end of Loch Katrine is decidedly hillier compared with the eastern end. I was accompanied by the sound of birdsong and the occasional cuckoo and this part of the route feels furthest from ‘civilisation’.
By now you’ll be grateful of a good cafe stop and the Pier Tearoom doesn’t disappoint. On the day I was there the sun was streaming through the conservatory windows at the back, and the homemade soup and steak ciabatta were just what the doctor ordered.
From the junction of the B629 near Stronachlachar it’s a gradual downhill along the north shore of Loch Arklet, before the start of a much steeper descent beyond the dam. It’s an exhilarating downhill ride, with a view of Loch Lomond and the munros beyond. Unfortunately, it’s an out-and-back trip and once you’ve enjoyed a drink and bite to eat at Inversnaid, it’s a real killer of a hill back up again …
On the day I was there the runners on the Highland Fling Ultra marathon were coming through their 34 mile checkpoint, having left Milngavie at 6am. I was tired by this point but took comfort in the fact I wasn’t nearly as shattered as the folk I saw hobbling past to take refreshments in front of the Inversnaid Hotel!
At the B629 junction it’s a right turn this time for a gentle climb through Loch Ard Forest followed by a welcome downhill along Loch Chon. The joy of freewheeling was short-lived though. Not only did a shower come through but the B629 has a few short, sharp summits and the most atrocious road surface.
By this point the end was in sight and the return of smooth tarmac took me past scenic Loch Ard and eventually back to Aberfoyle.
So, seven lochs, five bens and a great cafe stop: not a bad count for a scenic afternoon’s cycle.
On the 25th February 2018 the International Space Station took an absolutely stunning photo of Scotland from space. While you need to tilt your head (or your screen) sideways a bit to align it with the usual map view of the country, you can make out individual mountain peaks, highlighted in the snow.
At the time, the country was gripped in a period of cold, clear weather dominated by a high pressure system sending icy blasts across the North Sea from Russia.
A quick search revealed a number of other amazing images taken from the ISS, the pick of the crop being this one below taken in late January 2013 when the UK was carpeted in snow.
Is it too late to retrain as an astronaut, I wonder?
Have you ever travelled from Kinbuck to Kinabalu? No, me neither. But I’m going to have a good go (sort of …).At the beginning of the year I committed to simplifying my life and spending my precious free time doing the things I really enjoy, which for me includes walking, cycle touring and camping. By ‘simplifying’ I mean consolidating my hobbies: focusing on two or three hobbies, and getting fit enough to enjoy doing them. So in an effort to fight the winter excesses I’m getting in training for two trips that have been on my bucket list for a while.
First, I’m aiming to compleat climbing the Furths (the 3000+ foot mountains of Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland) by climbing the remaining 13 peaks in the Republic of Ireland. I have a week’s trip planned in mid-May: hopefully enough time to climb Lugnaquilla, Galtymore, Brandon and the wonderfully-named Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, a challenging and airy ridge combining ten jagged peaks.
While in some ways this will be the completion of a 20 year quest to climb the highest mountains in Great Britain and Ireland it also represents a first for me. I’ve never before been to Ireland and am soon learning that mountain and place names are just as baffling and unpronounceable as many Scottish Gaelic names. I’m also relishing the chance to discover Ireland’s scenery and culture in an intensive, albeit brief stay.
My second trip is to cycle Scotland’s new coast-to-coast (C2C) route from Annan to Edinburgh over a long weekend in June. I’m going to take it at a reasonably leisurely pace – around 50 miles a day – and wild camp along the way. However, I’m not going to stop in Edinburgh but I’m going to carry on and cycle near enough to home … finishing at the tiny village of Kinbuck in Perthshire.
Which brings me back to my starting point, a journey from Kinbuck to Kinabalu.
I’m going to walk and cycle to raise funds for my daughter’s ten-week volunteering expedition to Malaysian Borneo this summer. She’s been selected to help with the valuable work that Raleigh International, a sustainable development charity that works with young people to support lasting, positive change in some of the poorest parts of the world. She’ll be helping to provide clean drinking water and sanitation to remote communities, assisting entrepreneurs to start up new green businesses, maintaining Borneo’s incredibly rich biodiversity and helping to connect rainforest and other conservation areas. On top of that she’ll undertake a challenging three-week expedition that may even take her to the peak of Mount Kinabalu!
Give or take a little height or distance my 6,000 metres of ascent up the Irish 3000-footers and 165 miles cycling across Scotland more or less equates to a sea-level to peak climb of Mount Kinabalu and a coast-to-coast journey across Borneo. With a little artistic licence it’s a bridge from Kinbuck to Kinabalu.
I’m certainly going to be challenged: to get fit for starters, and then to climb Ireland’s highest mountains on successive days and cycle almost half the length of Scotland. My daughter Georgia is also going to be challenged. At 17, this will be her first major trip away from home by herself, meeting new people, doing new things and exploring the world. She’s really benefited from the Duke of Edinburgh awards, gaining in confidence over the years and has now almost finished her Gold award. But more than that, she’ll be making a real difference to the lives and livelihoods of communities far from home: offering practical support, sustaining communities and forging genuine friendships.
If you’d like to give some encouragement to me over the next couple of months — as well as contribute to the valuable work that Raleigh International will be doing this summer in Borneo — then please consider donating to Georgia’s fundraising page. Any donations you can offer, however small, will be very much appreciated.
Look out for further posts from me over the next couple of months tracking my progress as well as some post-expedition reports from Borneo later in the year.
If you’re taking part in a DofE or scouting expedition, or planning to backpack your way around the world, then the Vango Sherpa 65 may be just what you’re looking for. Robust, comfortable and packed with pockets and other nifty features, it ticks all of the right boxes. I’ve been testing out the rucsac, provided to me to review by Outdoorsupply.co.uk.
Comfort and convenience
Chances are, you’re looking for your first proper rucsac and so comfort and convenience are at the top of your list of ‘wants’. Here, the Vango Sherpa 65 scores highly.
For DofE, scouts or travelling you’ll be planning to carry a fair amount of kit and a 60/65 litre rucsac will be recommended. For most people a fully packed rucsac will likely weigh in at around 12 to 16kg; not an inconsiderable weight. In my experience as a DofE expedition supervisor, young people don’t have much experience of carrying this amount of weight on their backs and so comfort is vitally important.
I tested out the Sherpa on a recent DofE training walk I’m happy to report that it’s extremely comfortable. We use Sherpas for our DofE group and I know that others find it very comfortable too. It has a wide, mesh-padded waist strap that sits comfortably on the hips, and ample padding on the back and shoulder straps. All straps are easy to adjust too. The packed rucsac fitted snugly and was comfortable to wear all day long. While all that padding may become warm in hotter climates I think it’s well suited for the UK’s climate.
The only downside to all this padding, plus straps and pockets, is that this isn’t the lightest rucsac around, although it does compare favourably with other, similar rucsacs that are ‘DofE recommended’. As my mum always says, “what holds a lot holds a little”. But when the rucsac weighs 2.34kg empty you’ll need to resist the temptation to fill all of its 65 litres just because you can.
Besides comfort, what backpackers and travellers really value is handy pockets and easy access to their things. Again, the Sherpa ticks all the right boxes.
There are two large side pockets for those bits of kit you want to find quickly. This is the main difference between the Sherpa and the similarly-priced Contour and Sherpa 60+10; the latter don’t have external pockets which I think makes them less convenient to use. The top enclosure has both an outside pocket (for hat and gloves, maps and suchlike) and a concealed inside pocket for your valuables and paperwork. There are two outside mesh pockets at either side of the waistband for water bottles or sweets and a water-resistant zip pocket on the waistband itself for money or a phone. Finally, a large zipped pocket on the rear would easily hold a map or other things you need convenient access to.
A particularly convenient feature is that the Sherpa can be accessed from the top as well as the bottom. The wide neck at the top has two drawcords to ensure your kit is safe and fully enclosed. Besides providing some compression it also affords some protection from rain – although I would always advise you use a waterproof liner (a bin bag is ideal) to keep your gear completely dry. A large zipped bottom pocket opens up to give access to the lower part of the rucsac. This could be used as a separate compartment (by closing the internal divider with its drawcord) – ideal for a sleeping bag or wet clothes – or alternatively, could simply allow access to gear via the bottom of the bag.
Self-adjust back system
One of the neatest features of the Sherpa 65 is its easy-to-use self-adjust back system. We all come in different shapes and sizes and so the fit of a rucsac really makes the difference between an enjoyable and potentially agonising experience. The Sherpa’s shoulder straps can be adjusted up and down along its stiffened aluminium frame and the accompanying top and bottom straps tightened to fix in place. Take a look at this video to find out how to fit a Vango Sherpa rucsac.
I’m 5′ 7″ and learned that I need to adjust the back fitting to around 50-52cm. However, before I watched the video I had it adjusted to 56cm when testing it out – which actually felt good – and so it seems from my experience at least that there’s some flexibility in this sizing. But if you’re slightly shorter than me, my advice would be to try it out for size in a shop first.
While the Sherpa doesn’t seem to have a place to store a kitchen sink, it does seem to have a place for most other things. There are elasticated loops on either side for walking poles, ‘daisy chain’ straps to secure a rollmat with bungees and it’s also compatible with hydration packs. There’s a small emergency whistle on one of the front straps as well as a bright orange raincover in a zipped pocket underneath.
All in all, the Sherpa 65 is a well-designed, robust and comfortable rucsac which should last many years worth of expeditions and travels.
What I liked:
- Very comfortable to wear
- Lots of pockets and loops to store easy-to-get-at gear
- Adjustable back system
- Dual access from top or bottom
- Separate lower compartment to store a sleeping bag or wet gear
- Robust materials
What I wasn’t so keen on:
- Weight – 2.34kg
- Thick padding could become warm in hotter climates
Note: The Vango Sherpa 65 was provided to me to review for free by Outdoorsupply.co.uk. I have no connection with the company. I have provided an honest and impartial review based on my personal experience in using the rucsac.
If you’ve ever taken a campervan away you’ll know that cooking quick, easy and tasty meals is not always as straightforward as it seems. Those trusty staples from home might rely on that extra burner or grill that you’re lacking, or perhaps some spices or other ingredients that make it just a little too complicated. Alternatively, keeping things too simple – relying on that favourite pasta-and-sauce combo, for example – might just become a little boring after the first couple of nights away.
Clearly, there’s a balance to be struck between a culinary experience and the ‘boy scout’ approach. And I think the new Clever Camper Cookbook achieves just the right happy medium, featuring over 20 no-fuss but delicious home cooking recipes.
Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding spent months exploring the world in their VW camper, and have honed their tried-and-tested menus into the Clever Camper Cookbook. All their meals can be cooked on just two burners, together with a small fridge or coolbox. They know a thing or two about food too, with Simon’s family business, The Apple Pie Café and Bakery, located in the Lake District .
Having tried out some of the recipes I have to say that these are exactly the kinds of meals that we often eat at home and would happily eat away in the campervan. Forget those cookbooks that require you to go foraging in the woods or on the beach before you could contemplate settling down to a meal. Megan and Simon’s recipes for risotto, bolognese and pasta and bean stew are not only filling and tasty but very straightforward. But what about a one-pot Mexican breakfast? I’ve never cooked something like this but I found it really yummy and a doddle to make.
I particularly like the ingenuity and waste-not-want-not attitude in this cookbook. Whatever’s-in-the-fridge Risotto is practical and self-explanatory. If you’ve ever fancied making your own fajitas and wraps from scratch, it’ll show you how. Curry with homemade naan bread … no problem. And you don’t need to take the proverbial kitchen sink away with you to create these delicious meals. As you can see in the picture at the foot of this post, something that most campervanners will have in their cupboard can double up as a very handy cooking utensil!
The Clever Camper Cookbook is published this week by Dog ‘n’ Bone and is available to buy for £8.99.
However, I also have two copies to give away to two lucky readers. If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning a free copy please share a favourite campervan recipe in the comments box at the bottom of this page.
To enter, please describe a trusty recipe that fits the ‘clever camper’ theme of this new cookbook. Ideally I’m looking for a meal that’s no-fuss, delicious and with just a hint of ingenuity. It can be a meal or snack for any time of the day. All I need you to do is to name the recipe and leave a short description of the ingredients and cooking method – just enough that would enable someone else to easily follow the recipe.
The two winning recipes will be selected by Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding personally and the winners will be notified shortly after the closing date. Please read the competition rules below carefully.
- Entries must be received by 10pm on Friday 30th March
- Entries must be submitted as comments to this blog post
- Two winners will each receive one copy of ‘The Clever Camper Cookbook’ by Megan Winter-Barker and Simon Fielding
- The two winning entries will be chosen on merit by the authors personally, selecting meals or snacks that are ‘no-fuss, delicious and with just a hint of ingenuity’
- Open to UK residents aged 18 or over
- Only one entry per person
- The winners will be informed by email within 7 days of the closing date, and must respond within 7 days to claim their prize
- The prizes will be sent out by post within 28 days of receiving the winner’s address.
Thanks to those who entered the competition and congratulations to the two winners, Kate Georgeson and Bethan Scriven.