+

Product Review: Kuhl Jetstream Jacket

Many hikers yearn for a jacket that hits that sweet spot: a lightweight, technical jacket that not only performs well in the mountains but is equally at home in the city.  The Kuhl Jetstream jacket certainly ticks the right boxes but does it live up to this promise?  I’ve been testing it to find out.

First impressions

At first glance the Jetstream hiking jacket seems to have all the right credentials.  It’s made with a highly waterproof and breathable 2.5 layer fabric (Airskape™) that comes with a 20K waterproof rating.   All seams are steam-sealed and water-resistant zips are used on the front, chest and hand pockets.  The jacket is made with woven ripstop nylon that gives stretch and strength, topped with a clear hydrophilic membrane that’s breathable but also disperses any moisture so the fabric dries faster.

 

 

So its high-performance credentials would appear to be up to a soggy day in the hills.  But is it suitable to be worn on your local commute as well as on a mountain summit?

In my experience it certainly is.  The Jetstream fabric is soft to the touch, lightweight (the medium-sized test jacket weighed in at 307g) and it packs up small.  There are five, fairly muted colour combinations (mine is pirate blue, similar to a dark denim shade) which won’t stand out like a sore thumb on the station platform.  The jacket is nicely shaped, with five-panel articulated sleeves that add to its comfort.  I found the cuffs to be a close rather than a tight fit, with some ‘stretch’ to the fabric.  So while there aren’t velcro or elasticated fastenings the cuffs certainly keep draughts and water out.  There’s a generous hood with a reinforced brim and an eye-lock adjuster at the rear, although no roll-away fastening.

 

 

The Kuhl company’s brand strapline is ‘born in the mountains’, having emerged in 1990 from Utah.  It makes a range of outdoor lifestyle clothing for men and women and according its website, Kuhl’s staff all have an outdoor passion, whether it be for skiing, moutaineering, backpacking, cycling or global travel.  I first noticed their products about three years ago and have since bought a pair of Rydr trousers and a pair of Renegade shorts, both stylish and hardwearing.  The Jetstream is clearly well-designed and fits well into this outdoor lifestyle brand image.

On test

I found the medium size a fairly generous fit without being overly roomy.  It’s comfortable to wear, the fabric being soft and flexible.  At a fraction over 300g I really like its low weight.  It’s the kind of jacket you would easily take in your rucsac in fine weather ‘just in case’ without weighing you down.  A neat feature is the way the right hand pocket becomes a stuff-sac complete with hanging loop.  The Jetstream then packs down to a respectable 20 x 15 x 10cm.

I’ve been testing it throughout the summer and early autumn.  On a wet day’s backpacking in the Cairngorms in September it proved a great rain jacket, keeping me warm and dry, with the rain beading off the outer membrane.  I did find the size of the hood a little too generous though.  Even with the drawcord adjusted at the rear it felt a little too big and I would have liked the peak to be much stiffer to keep the rain away from my face.  All in all, the hood felt a little too ‘flappy’ to use comfortably on windy summits.

 

 

Not only have I used the jacket when out walking and backpacking but I’ve been wearing it on a daily basis for work and commuting.  It certainly is multi-functional, being stylish and comfortable in the city while also being a practical, high-performance jacket in the mountains.

There are compromises to be made when designing a jacket like this of course.  Its lightweight materials, while great for the daily commute, are not up to all-season wear.  This isn’t therefore the jacket I’ll be reaching for when temperatures drop towards freezing and I’d recommend it only for 2-3 season use when outdoors in Scotland.

 

 

One fairly significant drawback is that the two chest pockets are too small for OS maps.  I like to have a map handy at all times and find it too unwieldy to have to store a map in my rucsac.  The pockets are certainly large enough for a wallet or a pair of gloves, but not for convenient map reading.

The other gripe I have – though less significant – is the front zip.  I’m presuming this is down to US convention but the zip pull is on the right hand rather than the left hand side which would be the norm for mens’ jackets in the UK.  It’s not a huge issue that the zip feels as though it’s on the ‘wrong’ side, and not enough to put me off wearing the jacket, but just mildly disconcerting.

 

Overview

The Jetstream is a very capable multi-functional jacket suitable for walking, backpacking and camping at the weekend, yet smart enough to wear around town on a daily basis.  It’s not without its drawbacks though, particularly the hood that’s a little too ‘flappy’ and small-sized chest pockets.  For the UK climate I’d be happy wearing this between March and October.

 

What I liked:

  • Lightweight (307g) and packing up into a small pocket/stuff sac
  • Highly waterproof, with water-resistant zips and steam seams
  • Comfortable fit
  • Muted colour combinations
  • Multi-functional – at home in the city and in the mountains

 

What I wasn’t so keen on:

  • Over-generous hood and lack of stiffness to the peak
  • Chest pockets too small for a map
  • Front zip on the ‘wrong’ side (for UK males)

 

The Kuhl outdoor clothing range is available in various outlets including Tiso, Blacks and Go Outdoors.

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

+

Product review: Olight M1T Raider torch

The Olight M1T Raider is a rugged, waterproof and multi-purpose torch that’s likely to withstand a lifetime of use.

First impressions

Olight specialise in LED lighting and sell a range of torches and headtorches suitable for walking, camping, hunting and general outdoor use.  I’ve previously reviewed the H1 Nova headtorch and highly recommend it as a lightweight and powerful torch for walking and camping.  The M1T Raider is from their range of torches (“flashlights”) and comes with a wrist lanyard rather than a headband.

At first glance it’s seems quite compact (measuring 91mm by 21mm) and weighing just 69g for the torch and lanyard.  It easily fits in a pocket or can be clipped to a shirt or jacket.  I found it convenient to use: easy enough to hold while walking around before slipping it into a pocket.

 

The M1T is very well made.  The aluminium case is rugged and likely to withstand normal bumps and scrapes.  Olight claim that it will survive the impact of being dropped from 1.5 metres.  The torch also has a waterproof rating of IPX8 which means that it’s capable of operating after having been immersed in up to 3 metres of water.  This should give enough comfort that it will survive outside in the rain for prolonged periods.

For such a small and lightweight torch it packs a powerful punch.  At full power it generates 500 lumens; according to the manufacturer, enough for a beam to extend 97 metres.  I haven’t measured this precisely but can confirm that it provides a bright light that’s more than adequate for general use around a campsite or when walking.  (If you’re looking for something more powerful still, the M2T is a slightly larger handheld torch with up to 1200 lumens brightness).

The single, chunky button on the base cycles between two modes.  After 5 minutes on full power the torch automatically steps the light down from 500 to 300 lumens, giving an additional 120 minutes of power on a full battery.  The second mode gives a much softer 5 lumens of light, with a full battery lasting up to 100 hours’ use.  I found this bright beam for outdoor use and low-level light for close-up tasks a good combination.

 

 

 

What’s it like to use?

The M1T was convenient to use when I took it out on a 3-day walking and camping expedition with my Duke of Edinburgh Silver group.  Around the campsite it gave a really bright beam and I’m pleased to say won the competition to see who had the brightest torch or headtorch!  In the tent the 5 lumen mode was just about right for finding gear at night.

I would still prefer to take a headtorch when out walking or camping though.  Being able to still use both hands is a big benefit and so I’d say the M1T is best suited to general outdoor use when hands-free operation isn’t desirable or essential.  With a battery life of up to 100 hours on low power mode it will be very useful to keep in the car or at the back door of your house, safe in the knowledge that the battery won’t need to be changed very often at all.

Olight produce a range of rechargeable as well as battery powered torches.  Whichever you choose is I think down to personal choice.  I tend to prefer battery-powered torches (such as the M1T) for their simplicity.  CR123A lithium batteries are compact and widely available these days; a little more expensive than AA batteries but perhaps lasting for longer.

There’s no case for the torch, nor is there a locking mode to prevent it being accidentally switched on.  Neither of these are big drawbacks but just something to be aware of if you plan on stuffing it into a rucsac.

 

Overview

All in all, there’s little not to like about the M1T.  It’s powerful, lightweight, robust and highly waterproof – in fact, everything you would want in a small, handheld torch.  Its simplicity means that it’s ideal to keep in the house or car ‘just in case’, and its good battery life means that it’s very practical too.

But given the choice between a handheld torch and a headtorch I would personally choose the latter for the kinds of activities I tend to do.  Given that Olight make also headtorches that can also be removed from the headband and used as a handheld torch (such as the H1R Nova), this would be my preferred choice.

What I liked:

  • Small and lightweight (69g including the lanyard)
  • Powerful torch (max. 500 lumens) with 2 different brightness modes
  • Well made and robust
  • Highly waterproof
  • Easy to operate, even with gloves on

 

What I wasn’t so keen on:

  • CR123A batteries are slightly more expensive than AA batteries
  • I personally prefer a headtorch for hands-free operation when camping or walking.

 

The M1T Raider currently sells for £39.99 on the Olight UK online store.

Note:  The M1T torch 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.

 

Snapshots of Bali – Part 2

Snapshots of Bali – Part 2

Soon after I posted Part 1 of my Snapshots of Bali news filtered through of the devestating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Palu and Sulawesi.  The pictures on TV have been utterly heartbreaking.  

With 2,000 people killed and another 5,000 still missing this disaster is one of the deadliest since the massive Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004.  I’ve donated to the disaster emergency appeal and hope that my contribution will go some way to helping the people of Sulawesi cope with this tragedy and start rebuilding their lives.

It’s with a lot of sadness then that I’m sharing this second post of pictures from my recent visit to neighbouring Bali.  I’m featuring another set of pictures that show some of the highlights of my trip with my daughter.  Following on from my first post, here then are words and pictures depicting another six themes of life in Bali.

Monkeys

In Ubud, the cultural centre of Bali, we visited Monkey Forest, home to several hundreds of monkeys.  This is the number one visitor attraction in Ubud and pretty touristy.  Despite this, it’s in a tranquil location just south of central Ubud, where the monkeys roam free around the forest and temple.

They look cute enough from a distance but if they’re hungry, or simply like the look of something you might be carrying, then they certainly won’t hesitate to jump up and grab it out of your hand.  We quickly walked away when one monkey took a fancy to my daughter’s bag, baring its teeth.  I can’t imagine why some visitors were willing to let the wild monkeys sit on their laps and heads.

Waterfalls

Bali’s stunning waterfalls are firmly on the tourist trail.  Many are easy to reach and have the added attraction of a cooling swim after the walk in.  This is Nung Nung waterfall, north of Ubud.  Our driver suggested it would be quieter than some others and we were fortunate to be there with only a handful of other visitors around.

The water thunders down to an inviting pool 25 metres below, spreading clouds of fine spray that pick out the shafts of sunlight shining through the canopy of trees.  

Volcanoes

The north east of Bali is dominated by evidence of recent volcanic activity.  We took a trek, starting off at 3.30am, to catch the sunrise near the summit of Mount Batur.  The pictures really don’t do justice to the absolutely stunning view.  Although there was a cold wind at the summit we sat entranced as the soft dawn gradually heralded a new day.

Visitors are obliged to hire a local guide, all employed by a single consortium.  A number of paths converge at the top, starting on rock which then becomes (slippery) volcanic sand as the gradient steepens.  Unfortunately the paths are becoming quite eroded and I hope that remedial work takes place soon.

Mount Batur is a double caldera, in other words a crater that sits within a much larger crater 14km across.  From it’s peak at 1,717m we saw the sun gradually rise to pick out three other volcanoes, all in a row.  From left to right in the picture below you can see Mount Rinjani (3,726m high, around 60km across the sea in neighbouring Lombok), Mount Abang (2,152m) and Mount Agung (3,142m).  You can see the black lava that has fairly recently spewed from Mount Batur in the picture underneath; the last major eruption was in 1963.  However, Mount Agung erupted in February 2017 and the Foreign Office still advise staying at least 4km away.

Scooters

Scooters are everywhere in Bali.  It’s expensive to learn to drive and buy a car but almost everyone can afford to buy a scooter.  And in an island where there’s little or no public transport, they’re pretty essential to getting around.

Scooters are therefore where you see can see real life being played out.  People commute to work on them.  In rural parts you see scooters piled high with grass or palm leaves.  Kids sit on their mothers’ laps being taken to and from school.  And you see whole families – including sleeping children – travelling from A to B.

Jungle swings

Instagram has a lot to answer for.  Jungle swings, bamboo lookouts and a range of existing temples and stone gates are must-see attractions for visitors of a certain age.

Given my daughter belongs to the Instagram generation we couldn’t resist either, taking suitable snaps at the Wanagiri Hidden Hills Lookout.  Overlooking a lake and mountains beyond, it’s a great location.  There are several different swings and bamboo constructions that make for impressive pictures.  (What you don’t see of course, are the platforms and steps just out of view, giving the impression that people are standing on the top of a cliff with nothing between then and the water below).

I take my hat off to the enterprising locals.  Seizing a business opportunity to help the hoards of Instagrammers part with wads of cash, they charge handsomely for the privilege.  Great fun, but an expensive photo op!

Sunsets

We saw some wonderful sunsets during our stay on the island.  Seminyak beach looks due west and I love this picture of a guy contemplating the waves and fading light.

And how better to enjoy the sunset than to sip on a posh cocktail at a beachside bar?

A storm in an inset box

The media has taken great delight this week in announcing that the Scottish Parliament has passed a law banning public bodies from showing Shetland in an inset box. 

The Islands (Scotland) Bill aims to outlaw the practice (by public authorities at least) of  positioning Shetland just north of the Moray coast and east of Orkney.  In fact, the islands are around 150 miles from the most northerly point of the Scottish mainland.

The two examples, from different Scottish public agencies, both show how Shetland is commonly illustrated.  In fact, a cursory glance at Google Maps shows that more often than not, Shetland is omitted altogether.

Map by Historic Scotland, a public body
SEPA map of areas of high flood risk

While this move may have satisfied many Shetlanders, it’s not gone down particularly well with cartographers.  According to the Ordnance Survey, inset boxes avoid “publishing maps which are mostly sea“.  An OS spokesman said: “The Shetland Islands are approximately 245km (152 miles) from the Scottish mainland, from the most northerly part of the Shetland Islands to John O’ Groats, and 690km (428 miles) from the most southerly point of the Scottish and English border.  It would be virtually impossible to print a paper map, with any useable detail, of this vast geography.”

To illustrate this, the maps below show Scotland with and without Shetland.  Showing Shetland in its actual position reduces the scale of the map by about 40%.  This effectively means that the names of many important places, motorways and national parks are left off completely.

Comparison of map scales with and without Shetland (Source: Quartz 4/10/18)

Maps, by their very nature, are a gross simplification of reality.  We all understand that it’s a cartographic convention to show large cities as circular dots.  We know that on OS maps water is blue, forests are green and mountains are brown.  We’re not confused by the fact that those 1km grid squares on 1:50,000 scale maps don’t really exist on the ground.

Come on, I don’t think anyone really believes that Shetland is floating in some transparent box in the North Sea.

Boxing islands, and re-positioning them to ensure a map can show greater detail, is a common practice in cartography.  You see it the world over.  The Canary and Balearic Islands are insets beside a map of mainland Spain, and the Galapagos Islands sit right next to Ecuador.  Imagine how ridiculous a map of the US would look if Hawaii and Alaska weren’t inset beside the lower 48 states!

In an interview with the BBC, Tavish Scott, local MSP for Shetland, pointed out that this change is needed to combat inaccuracies and misunderstandings about the islands. “Recognising where Shetland is located would go a long way to understanding the challenges we face as an island.”

I’m sure there are other ways to achieve this objective than banning cartographic conventions.

No doubt this headline-grabbing story has benefited the islands in other ways though.  There will now be people who have actually heard of Shetland.  Others will know that islanders are called Shetlanders and not “Shetters” (as I heard on Radio 4 yesterday, admittedly in a comedy show).

But is this whole story merely a storm in an inset box?  Has this flurry of media attention simply been a minor distraction from something that annoys Shetlanders far more than even putting their beloved islands in a box just north of Fraserburgh? 

What am I talking about?  It’s correcting the common mistake that the northern islands are called “Shetland” and not “the Shetlands“.  Now that’s something that might actually have been worth legislating for.

+

Snapshots of Bali – Part 1

The summer seems to have flown by and my blog’s been neglected of late.  Mainly this is due to a crazily busy time at work (even blogging has to take a back seat when you’re exhausted), but I’ve also been travelling.

For my globetrotting I have my daughter to thank.  She’s been volunteering in Borneo all summer having recently left school.  When her end-of-trip travel plans fell through she was looking for company:  “Help, Dad … I want to go to Bali.  Can you come with me?“.

Obviously, it didn’t take too long to answer that question.  Flights were hastily-arranged, time booked off work, travel options researched and bookings made.

Bali’s a long way from Scotland (around 20 hours flying time, to be precise).  It’s a world away in many senses: climate, culture, people, food and landscape.  It was also a reminder that travel has that endless capacity to instantly ‘change the channel’, switching off one place only to immediately find yourself immersed in a completely new environment.

I found it fascinating.  The stresses of work were soon forgotten and I had so much to catch up with my daughter about, all in culture that’s so open and welcoming to visitors.

Although I’ve travelled in Asia before I’d never been to Bali, a smallish island within the Indonesian archipelago.  Interestingly from a Scottish perspective, Bali’s population is marginally less than Scotland’s (at 4 million) but its population density is ten times ours.  It’s also a comparatively ‘young’ population.  So it’s a busy place, full of young and energetic people whose economy is growing like topsy.

If you’ve never visited Bali then hopefully my snapshots of the country will whet your appetite.  If you know the country well, then my photos should be very familiar.  I’ve selected some of my favourite photos, together with some text to set them in context.  Ayo pergi!

Boats and beaches

Mention Bali and many people first think of beaches.  It really is a paradise island, blessed with warm water, weather and people.  From the world class surfing beaches of Ulu Watu and Padang Padang in the south to the idyllic sandy crescents of the east or north coast, Bali has it all.

We spent a couple of days relaxing at Seminyak before finishing up our trip with an afternoon snorkelling at Padangbai.

Dusk, Seminyak beach
Kuta beach
Padangbai beach

Rice terraces

Rice has been cultivated in Bali for centuries.  We eat a lot of white rice, and occasionally brown, but have you ever tried red, yellow or black rice?

Rice is served at any time of the day; in fact, anything not served with rice is considered a jaja (snack).  The classic Balinese plate of nasi campur has a portion of steamed rice in the middle of the bowl with a variety of meat, seafood or vegetables around the outside, together with a spicy sambal.  Delicious!

At Jatiluwih you can see how rice has been grown over many centuries.  Ribbons of curving terraces adorn the sloping hillsides with as many shades of green as you can imagine.  This is a Unesco-recognised site, where the fascinating system of subak ensures that water equally irrigates the terraces at the foot of the slope as those at the top.  Bamboo channels of water trickle constantly as you thread your way in between the narrow terraces.

Jatiluwih rice terraces
Working in Jatiluwih rice terraces

Temples

There are estimated to be 10,000 temples in Bali.  You see them everywhere, from simple shrines to impressive, ancient sites.  In fact, every home has its own temple, every village has its own temple and then there are more elaborate temples that are the focus for important religious ceremonies.

We were lucky enough to visit Pura Ulun Danu Beraton on a morning when a significant ceremony was taking place, involving several hundred worshippers in traditional dress.  It was essentially a service of remembrance; those attending had all recently buried family members and the ceremony was taking place to commit their souls to god.

Pura Ulun Danu Beraton, Lake Beraton
Funeral remembrance ceremony, Pura Ulun Danu Beraton temple

Offerings

In Bali 85% of people are Hindu, in contrast to the Muslim majority elsewhere in Indonesia. At each home-temple Balinese families make a daily offering.   This can literally be anything that you offer to god as a blessing: flowers, coloured paper, food and such like.

These simple shrines are also to be found in the corner of restaurants, outside shops and businesses and in public places.  You’ll see simple square trays made from banana leaves left on the pavement – and need to tread carefully to avoid stepping on them.


Pura Ulun Danu Beraton temple
Everyday offering in a hotel garden

Bamboo

Just as rice plays a central part in Balinese culture, so bamboo is ubiquitous.  It grows freely on roadsides, is widely used as a building material and is now recognised as a significant renewable resource (bamboo straws are fast replacing the polluting plastic variety).

We loved the entrance to the W Resort in Seminyak, where we splurged for our first two days of down-time beside the beach.  A vibrant green bamboo colonnade provides an incredibly dramatic entrance, providing that ultimate separation between the hustle-and-bustle of the narrow, traffic-choked streets and the serene luxury of a 5-star resort.

Entrance to the W Resort, Seminyak

Markets

In every country around the world, markets are the go-to place to observe ‘real life’ at work.  We visited the combined fish, meat and vegetable market at Jimbaran early one morning as a prelude to an Indonesian cooking class.

Locals bartered and noisily chattered amid scooters, cats, boats and outboard motors.  From fresh lemongrass, aromatic ginger and rolls of banana leaves to coconuts being pulped, chickens being prepared and the most amazing variety of fresh fish and seafood being carried from boats up the beach, it was all on view.

Jimbaran vegetable market
Jimbaran fish market, early morning
Inspecting the catch on the beach at Jimbaran fish market

Have you visited Bali?  What sums up the Balinese culture and way of life to you?

In Part 2 of this post I’ll share another six snapshots of Bali, including some 21st Century aspects of Bali’s culture.

+

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!

 

+

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.

 

+

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

 

+

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?

 

 

+

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.

+

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:

 

+

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?