My outdoor year 2015

Every year I resist doing a year in review, some years I succumb anyway. Like many, I wrestle with self promotion. I'm not in the lifestyle or tourism business. What I try to do is tell real stories about real trips, people and places. Then again it is useful to come up for air and cast an eye back, at least personally, to see where I am now as compared to 12 months ago. I've also really enjoyed reading and seeing others review their own progress in different ways in the last few days, which has lead to a u-turn, at least this time! It's also an excuse to show one photo from each month, not necessarily the 'best' but some that haven't seen the light of day before.

January I had a mini epic on the hills above Crianlarich when both shelter and stove failed on a weekender. This picture was taken on the walk in, and to me at least, speaks of the intense quiet far from the road head, not long after dawn. One of the things about taking pictures for stories is that not all of them fit the brief afterward. I don't always know what will fit at the time, I try to let the trip be what it wants to be and not interfere too much - just keep it simple and shoot from the heart and the hip. Winter and boating gear is heavy enough as it is, so I often leave the tripod at home, and treat it like documentary. Anyway, with any luck you can read all about this one in BMC Summit mag soon enough, but the shot above didn't make the cut. I still like it though.

February I took a friend out for his first Scottish winter mountain experience, and met a new friend Stefan for the first time too. This was a great weekend trip of Corbetts, Bothies and Munros and all the weather from sublime to ridiculous. A real joy (and a learning curve) to introduce a newbie to the winter hills. About to appear in TGO magazine, this was taken on the ascent of the first Corbett with the wind screaming across the Grey Corries. Again, it didn't make the final story but I think it gives a sense of how wild winter can be even when there is blue sky up above.

March. This was snatched on the roadside on Mull, driving back to catch the ferry after a great trip with family and friends camper vanning around the island for Outdoor Enthusiast magazine, one of the 2 outdoor mags I edit for. If we had the spare cash, I'd be investing in a van, it's such a good way to get a young family out and about... need to find somewhere to live first though. I changed my camera system this year from the Canon 5d3 to a Sony A7ii and this was one of the first real keepers. For those interested, I love the body but am not convinced about the native mid range zoom lenses. Put a good non native prime up front and it's every bit as good as a f/frame DSLR, but the AF is a dog with non native lenses, and primes don't always suit the job anyway. As always, good light isn't essential for the kind of photo stories I work on, but it does help, especially if the lens is a bit 'meh'.

April. My childcare duties eased up and I went out for a week with the boat and to do some research, the first 5 days exploring deep time up past Ullapool. A personal highlight was my first night's doss in a cave - hey, some of us are cheap dates. I ended up writing about this trip in two different ways, but as (nearly) always - walk first, talk later. This one, of a dusky Cul Mor from the flanks of Cul Beag I still like alot, although it's probably a bit on the low key side and didn't make it to either publication.

May saw the biggest trip of the year for me, an attempt to link the 9 highest mountains in the UK (those over 4,000ft) with as much packrafting as possible, coast to coast. We're feeling a little uneasy about it, but David Hine and I have been shortlisted for 'best team' in the UK Adventure Awards for our efforts. The point was to do something fairly ambitious, but not totally unattainable (although it was both ambitious and unattainable for us!) and do it in the UK. Anyway, this was taken right back on day 1, in Sanna Bay. An incredibly tranquil evening, the calm before the storm of the next day, a 20mile slog east in the dreich. Again, this photo might have been seen here before but I didn't consider it story worthy for the mags... there is only so much space after all.

June This is the kind of shot that struggles to find a home in outdoors media. It was taken on the outskirts of Inverie in Knoydart, and was part of the process of documenting our stay there. 'Process' sounds terribly convoluted: Sometimes I take pictures to help me see better, to try and understand, that's all. I wrote about it for Walk Highlands afterward, and to their eternal credit they published it, though the atmosphere of the piece was far from straight forward. The image speaks of decay, tension and ambivalence to me. Careful now, that sounds a bit political.

I also took my little one wild camping for the first time, and ticked off my Munro century at the same time. Of no consequence work wise, but important to me.

July and something more straight forward, a beautiful walk from our rented doorstep in Glenridding, which again started as an affair of the heart and ended as a little piece in TGO mag. I was up 2 hours before the rest of the family and came down through a juniper woodland taking over an old slate quarry - just about perfect. This one sort of makes the point to me that I can cover history, culture and conservation without the angst! Or to put it another way, you can write what you like, as long as the images are perdy. Now, that is fighting talk...

August was a busy month despite some temperamental weather, starting on a Black Mount backpack which ended up as a feature, and finishing in Northumberland on a bikepack for another magazine. In the middle, I went back to North Wales for the first time in 2 years, which was at least 2 too long. The shot above was taken from the summit of Moel Siabod, which was easily the finest solo camp of the year for me. No wind, no bugs and a grandstand view of the Snowdon massif, the night before my birthday. Like coming home.

September, conversely, was quiet - my partner went back to work and I went back to pulling some of my weight indoors again! I took the girls with me to the Outdoor Photographer and Writers Guild annual get together, got a dinner gong for a photo article and on the way passed by Samye Ling, a Tibetan monastry in the borders. This was taken in pouring rain on my 'second unit', a Fuji X100T, a superb compact camera with a fast, fixed lens I've grown to love. This year was the year for smaller cameras, capturing scenes on rock and water I couldn't manage with a larger, heavier DSLR.

October I gave my first talk to a photo club and went to join some friends on the Aonach Eagach for a feature, but the photo here is from a sublime 3 days wild camping with the family in Glen Etive. We'd never explored this way and the weather was cold, bright and clear. We didn't make it to the top of Ben Starav - I baulked at the final 100ft of icy boulders carrying the wee one on my back, but somehow turning back was fine, this time. Utterly magic to make a trip like this work for both mum and daughter, and great to see T out in her element again.

November was busy enjoying the bright lights of London and Kendal Mountain Festival, but I rushed back for the first real day of Scottish Winter, and the boat came out of storage for another burst of deep time travel on Loch Awe. Alot of things lined up for this one for me personally and for my fellow travelers, David and Bill. I had a blast and learnt alot, both at the time and subsequently when researching for an article.

December, I was shortlisted for the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year (more accurately described as a longlist, but nice all the same!), David and I tried and failed to cycle around the Cairngorms, and Mick and I tested our mettle on Sron Na Creise (pictured), which we'd missed on our Black Mount backpack in the summer. The weather was equally testing in a different way. It was quite a full on day but then I'm starting to realise I've grown used to that. Learning is still where it's at, but the comfort zone is shifting. Here's to more of the same but different in 2016, and a big thankyou to readers, family, friends and colleagues who put up with my corners and absences.