May 2009

……nor a hill, hillock, hump or bump in sight. I am sitting next to Breydon Water in Norfolk where most of the countryside is below 20m. Such a change from where I live in the Highlands. I have been walking part of the Weavers Way on a hot, sunny day. I am sat in the sunshine outside the Berney Arms in awaiting a Ploughman’s lunch.

Shaun the Sheep
Image by Diva Sian via Flickr

Don’t get sheepish about this

Ewe will be relieved to learn, as I am, of the existence of the Sheep Trust. I am not sure what this organisation does but no doubt it is a high level lobbying group giving a baa-dly needed voice to so many sheep up and down the country.  This is no woolly liberal thinking group trying to knit together differing views. Butt one that is prepared to grab hold of the horns of a dilemma and ram a distinctive message home. 

The trust’s membership is unique in eschewing the need for one member one vote, instead preferring to follow the rest of the herd. Like the Church of England the trust has its own schisms. Recently traditionalists within the Welsh branch resigned in disgust as modernists tried to bring to an end the rumoured practice of inter-species relationships in the Province.

Controversy flared up following recent proposals to introduce charges for grazing rights, one leading campaigner claimed, “The proposals would result in members being fleeced.”

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Make that no range at all. It’s so difficult to chose when you have the choice. I am sat at Edinburgh Airport having forgotten that the WHSmith shops are the worst in any UK airport. They are stuffed full of gossip and entertainment magazines and little else. Nothing for the outdoor ir countryside enthusiast. Unlike the excellent choice in Glasgow. So I have resorted to testing the new post by email on via my smartphone. A feature we have been waiting for, for a long time. Here’s hoping it works.

TGO Challenger Passes Through

How do you tell a TGO Challenger from a normal West Highland Way walker when they enter your Post Office? Simple, he will be wearing a big rucksack. The majority of West Highland Way walkers tend to have smaller day sacks as their kit is ferried from stop-to-stop by a luggage company. There is no such luxury for a challenger.

Also, they will be carrying a four and a half kilo parcel that needs to be posted second class and ask just out of interest how heavy it is. That was the scenario this morning as my first challenger appeared in front of the counter. A brief conversation established that he had been carrying most of the contents of the parcel and that he was heading to Montrose.

I told him I had been following some of the challengers on their blogs. When asked, I listed a few, Alan Sloman’s alcohol assisted journey and the excellent Postcard from Timperley. My customer agreed they were both good blogs. He then asked if I looked at Whitespider. I am afraid I never have and he looked slightly crestfallen at my response. It was only after his departure that I realised he may have been the blogger himself. If that is so, my apologies, I will make sure I have a look at the Whitespider this evening.

Update: I have just looked at the Whitespider blog. My intrepid challenger wasn’t the same guy, but thanks for putting me on to another great blog.

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Ordnance Survey
Image via Wikipedia

Wet Weather Reading

There is a good article in this month’s edition of Country Walking that outlines the author’s love of maps and in particular those produced by Ordnance Survey. He describes himself as a map addict, which is probably apt as he seems even more obsessed with maps than I am.


He neatly describes the Ordnance Survey, an organisation that so many take for granted:

“For us devotees, the Ordnance Survey is the high altar of our cartographic temple. No other mapping agency comes close, either at home or abroad.”

On Saturday afternoon after a week of nearly constant torrential rain and no immediate prospect of the weather improving, this article prompted me to pull a map down from the bookcase and while away a few hours exploring it.

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Alex & Bob’s Blue Sky Scotland

After the last week of poor weather in the Highlands I sometimes wonder if it ever stops raining in my part of the Highlands. So the premise behind Alex and Bob’s relatively new blog, that it doesn’t always rain in Scotland, is welcome. They take the attitude that it may rain frequently north of the border but it doesn’t the whole country all of the time. More importantly there is often an East-West split where one side can be in brilliant warm sunshine and the other enveloped cold grey drizzle.

Basing their walking trips on the weather forecast, they are flexible enough to head in the direction where the skies are clear, or clearer. This commonsense approach has allowed them to miss the worst of the British weather. As they are not chasing the high peaks it means less well-known areas of Scotland are featured. Recent reports have included Knockdolian (a 265m hill in Ayrshire) and Great Cumbrae Island off the north Ayrshire coast. This is great approach for a walking blog, proving that you don’t have to go high to be impressed.

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The Mamore Loner

If Binnein Beag was a human it would be one of life’s loners. Stuck their in the corner of the playground with its bigger brother Binnein Mor back turned to ignore him, keeping the smaller Beag at arms distance. Why pay any attention to Beag when you can talk excitedly to all your other interesting mates in the Mamores. It’s easy being a mountain when you are the largest in the class. Even the neighbouring bulk of Sgurr Eilde Mor stands to one side a looming, lurking mountain, one you can’t quite trust like the class bully. One moment full of smiles and pats on the back, your best friend and the next a raging temper and pokes in the eyes as you become his sworn enemy, his latest object of spite.

Having larked around with the more interesting boys in the Mamore playground I had seen Binnein Beag from a distance but never up close. I was intrigued, I wanted to get closer, wanted to begin to know this shy, retiring mountain, what makes it tick. My task was to go and introduce myself to this elusive mountain and try and start a relationship. Binnein Beag was not going to make this an easy task. I had a long walk into remote country to even catch a glimpse let alone get up close, but the walk along a fine, airy, stalkers path high above the lonely Loch Eilde Mor makes for a quick, unseen approach. Tip-toeing around Coire an Lochain I get my first glimpse of Binnein Beag ahead of me, trying to hide itself behind the broad shoulder of Binnein Beag My pace quickens, eagerly pushing forward to get closer. Who said this encounter was going to be easy?

Binnein Beag 001 There before me opens the grassy hollow of Allt Coire a’Bhinnein blocking any quick progress towards my target. It is though a deep, fortified moat full of untold horrors has been thrown before me to thwart my onward journey. Not being disheartened I press on, soon descending via zig-zags to the river below, briskly fording it via stepping stones to the path beyond. All the time my goal remains before me.

Perhaps, I have been noticed by my lone quarry as it attempts to hide its face with a scarf of wispy cloud, although it is only a momentary mask soon dissipating to reveal the summit again. There’s no hiding from me now, firmly in my sights I stride on to the high bealach separating Beag from Mor, finally ready to introduce myself.

Hang on a minute, am I rushing things? No loner will appreciate a hasty, over-confident approach – softly, softly is definitely needed on this occasion. I paused awhile on rocks beside a small lochan, to contemplate, over lunch, the life of a loner. I thought this quiet contemplation would be ruined as I saw a group of fellow walkers paused upon the lower ridge of Binnein Mor, but they were to ascend rather than join me in my quiet space. They obviously recognised that today, like the mountain behind me, I was a loner as well.

Close up my quarry doesn’t make it any easier, the shattered slopes of ankle-breaking blocks scattered carelessly in order to catch out the unwary. I am determined though, such defences will only slow but not deter. I make speedy progress nimbly avoiding the loose scree slopes strategically placed to slow and dissuade. The barriers are breached as I reach the small summit plateau and introduce myself to my conquered prey.

Binnein Beag 02

And now I realise that there are sometimes benefits to being an outsider. Binnein Beag’s solitude gives an opportunity to appreciate things from a distance. Those other mountains that you take for granted up close take on a different persona from this angle. The mighty bulk of Ben Nevis dominates Glen Nevis stretching back along the Grey Corries. Straight ahead, the other Mamores snake off into the distance. Glancing behind, you look straight in to the dark barren depths of Rannoch Moor. At this point, as you stare transfixed into miles of nothingness, you understand that perhaps loneliness is all relative.

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