For the second time this month, I visited the Lost Kingdom of Northumberland. The excuse this time around was to attend the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild annual get together.
I was very happy to receive the Award for Excellence for a piece I wrote for the Walk Highlands web magazine about night photography. The Judges commented as follows 'This had a lovely flowing style, and was very well structured - setting the scene with excellent background on night photography in general, different techniques, what can go wrong etc. A thorough and extremely readable overview'.
For my part, it was a huge surprise, as I'd forgotten I'd put anything in for the 'technical feature' category. What was important to me when entering material was that all my entries were Scottish published, and web based - and you can read what suits you into that! Having a regular column is about the best thing going in the wobbly world of outdoors freelancing, and has without a doubt helped me develop ideas and hone the waffle, so a massive thankyou goes to Paul and Helen Webster for giving me enough rope to hang myself occasionally - hopefully not them too! This one is for them.
Aside from meeting a few people I'd only spoken to by email or knew through their work, it was meeting Hamish Brown that was the unburnished highlight of the weekend for me. Whether it was an accident of our menu choices, or that the Chairman believed I was the newest member of the guild attending, I got to sit next to one of my heroes, in the flesh. I extolled the virtues of packrafting (expect a call, Andy!), he gently tested me on my Munro knowledge (sadly lacking in comparison!) and we both agreed that Coire Bà is one of the finest coires in Scotland. A hugely knowledgeable, humble and gentle man, Hamish is still wondering, pondering, still a tireless promoter of human enjoyment and engagement in wild places, and was the rightful recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
It wasn't all 'work'. I managed to morph the occasion into a family camping trip, based at the excellent Kielder forest campsite, cooking the girls their meals before dashing off to the castle on my bike to attend the next installment. It meant I wasn't around for some of the things I'd have liked to join in with, but the woods are always good with the girls... and Kielder is not all Sitka, though you'd be forgiven for thinking it was. On the way there, we stopped off at Samye Ling. Samye Ling was the first Bhuddist centre to be built in the west, and they chose a quiet corner of the Borders to nestle in. A friend of a friend had just been and mentioned it the day before, so y'know, it was meant to be, obviously. It's fairly surreal to see the reds and golds of Tibetan temples surrounded by wet greens and browns of forestry plantation - the alien eagles have landed. Worth a visit.