Year of the Snake

I swore blind to a friend I wasn't going to do this, but as I glance furtively at the year ahead with a mix of anxiety and anticipation, it seems right to cast an eye back over 2013.  Hopefully this isn't too indulgent, and makes for interesting eye candy via the links.

2013 was the year we stopped being visitors in Scotland, and made it our home.  The honeymoon was definitely over, but our comprehension deepened.  Whatever (y)our personal views, Scotland in the year before a vote on Independence is a land full of debate and potential - a vibrant and exciting place to be.  That spirit of engagement is worth celebrating.

Our personal lives grew complex for a time, but slowly we grew alongside.  And I was also outside alot, and for the first time that meant work as well as play.  This was very definitely not a bad thing.  I cut my teeth on some new tricks and (I hope) got better at some old ones.  The new year holds new unknowns, but I guess that isn't new.  In the meantime, here are some personal highlights:

January, and my first Hogmanay in Scotland.  We also built an igloo with some new friends.

February, and I met up with Fraser in the wintery heart of the highlands, for two beginner's mountaineering routes that ended up as a feature in the December issue of The Great Outdoors Magazine.

March, and another winter weather window.  T, phil and I went back to the Cairngorms for Easter.  Our almost alpine weekender ended up featuring in the recent British Moutaineering Council's (BMC) Summit Magazine.

April was busy, first Arran to see family and get blown off Goatfell, Italy for The Great Outdoors, and then back to the Isles for Outdoors Enthusiast magazine. Our squally trip around the 'lost coast' on Skye made for a reflective way to round out the month.

May, I gave a talk about the HRP in London, and we had A Rum One.  On reflection, this was probably the most satisfying trip of the year personally - the right mix of fun, weather, history, exertion and relaxation.  It's due in The Great Outdoors Magazine in Spring 2014.  I also wrote up a route for Walk Highlands across the Rum Cuillin.

June, I learnt how to Packraft in Inverpolly with Backcountrybiking.  Or at least, began to learn.  Articles appeared in The Great Outdoors and Outdoor Enthusiast in the autumn.

In July, there was a heatwave on Ben Lawyers, and an attempt on a classic round that challenged mentally and physically.  A different take on this was written up for Mountain Pro Magazine in the autumn.  I got the gig for the feature by email as I stood on the 18th Munro of the circuit. 

August, I went walking in the Rhinogs on a photo shoot, and then photographed Todd and Phil looking heroic in the Alps.  Our tale of 3 men in a Bongo should be popping up in Outdoors Enthusiast next year.

September saw a trip to the Bridge of Orchy Munros on two wheels, talking at the Edinburgh Night of Adventure about... nights of adventure, and a pitch perfect bushcraft trip across Loch Lomond led by Tam from Wild by Nature.  Another for Outdoor Enthusiast, spring 2014.

October, I was out twice and both times with friends - once on the ridges and scrambles around the glens of Affric and Shiel, and then onto Loch Maree and Torridon with a packraft.  One or both of these are slated for The Great Outdoors Magazine as features next year.

November was spent exploring the gentler parts of Perthshire, and I took a trip around Glen Lyon that I'm hoping will pop up somewhere soon enough.  The packraft section of that trip didn't exactly work out as planned.

December, and a 3 day packraft trip on the River Dee during a huge thaw meant some choppy water and honing some skills, working my way past dangerous to amateur.

May the trail rise up to meet you.  Forward, Avanti!

A call for your views on Wild Land

There is no one left: none but all of us


Sam McClure

Until the 20th December, the organisation that looks after Natural Heritage in Scotland is asking for our views on protecting places of wild character. These are the remote and untamed places many of us visit, as gentle adventurers and extreme athletes, campers, photographers, nature lovers, poets, pirates, refugees and vagabonds of all castes, colours, professions and political persuasions.  Some of these are also places of work as well as play, for hundreds of thousands of small business owners, crofters and scientists.  And these places are also full of wild life and rare species that we depend upon, and that depend upon us...

I'd like to urge you to take some time over the next few days to submit your defence of the Wild Land Map, which is being suggested as a means to protect our collective and fast diminishing inheritance.  We've been asked our views before, and I think it's even more important we continue to give them now: as evidence builds in the case for protection, and inevitably some tire of an admittedly tiresome process.  In the spirit of disclosure, it's no secret that I work part time for an organisation that campaigns on behalf of Wild Land, and I have included my own response below.  This is a personal response, shared on a personal website, written in my own time -  not everyone will agree with its emphases.  If you choose to respond, yours should also be personal - please don't copy and paste, as generic responses are now discounted.  You can find the form required by SNH, and guidelines for filling it in so that your views are properly heard


.  I know things are busy for many in the run up to the holiday season, but please find 20 minutes to respond before the 20th December.  Sharing this information online is also helpful, but you can go one better - submit your own response and share that - even if you live outside Scotland.  The rest of the world is watching, we can lead by example.

My response:

''I believe Wild Land is vitally important as a source of ecosystem services (flood defence, clean water, carbon sequestration) and a source of mental and physical inspiration, solace and adventure.  It has recently been estimated as worth circa £23bn PA to Scotland alone, a significant part of which is tourism.  I am extremely concerned at the present rate of loss of Wild Land as documented by SNH, in particular due to unsustainable and heavily subsidised energy developments and hill tracks.  Two particular examples which come to mind personally are Allt Duine and Stronelairg, but many equally vulnerable areas are in the planning or development stages.

I strongly support the present and future protection of Wild Land and the principle and methods of Core Areas of Wild Land used by SNH, as it provides a readily understood and administratable means by which Wild Land can be safeguarded by policy makers and local authorities, for both people and nature into the future.  The map clearly shows where Core Wild Land is and what is left – the boundaries of these areas should NOT be repeatedly challenged by industrial development but be respected as our common inheritance.  I agree with the SNH statement in paragraph 2.2 that Wild Land

by definition

is not or has not always been devoid of human activities, but request that we manage Core Wild Land from this point onwards for the benefit of a flourishing habitat and wildlife - that is also of wider economic and cultural benefit to humans in Scotland, the UK and far beyond.  We have something entirely unique in terms of World Natural Heritage here, and should not squander it. 

I appreciate that a map may not be an absolute or definitive measure of all conditions on the ground forever, but it is by far the best means we have of measuring CAWL’s at present.  In the immediate future, we should respect the current boundaries of the map and concentrate on protecting what is left, before any more debate and delay causes further losses.  A map is a practical means of protection.  It allows immediate action and therefore I support it.

Our existing designations (National Parks and National Scenic Areas) are not sufficient to protect ALL of Scotland’s remaining Wild Land and I strongly believe all policy makers should recognise all areas identified as Core Wild Land at consulation, in their present and future planning decisions.  Core Wild Land is a more thorough measure of this valuable and finite resource than any other existing designation we have currently at our disposal.

I would like to question the current drawing of boundaries around Core Areas.  Simply because planning permission has been granted, does not mean a development will go ahead.  If we assume an area is no longer wild because permission is or was granted, we risk further ‘creep’ of industrialisation into Core Wild Land Areas.  I would like to see this stopped and a new approach considered.  Given that this is a consultation, I’d like to point out the Public Perception of Wildness in Scotland Survey 2012, for SNH and Scottish National Parks, as well as a You Gov poll for the John Muir Trust in 2013, both of which showed overwhelming public support for Wild Land Protection as well as the effect the current lack of protection may have on tourism.   The CAWL map may not be perfect and could be revisited in the future to include more areas of coast, island and peatbog that have been omitted this time.  In the meantime it offers a practical and structured means to address to an immediate and rapidly degenerating situation.  I believe we need to stem the loss of Wild Land now, and this is the tool to begin that process.''

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world


Paul Hawken 

Nature's Peace - photos for a book

About a year ago, I started taking photographs for Peter Wright's third book about the Scottish Watershed - Nature's Peace, which was published last month.  The book is possibly the most accessible in Peter's trilogy about the subject, benefiting from images from a range of contributors that showcase the hugely diverse landscape that the watershed has helped create. 

I mostly concentrated on the Scottish Borders - because it was relatively nearby, and was a way of getting to know my neighbourhood better.  For me as a newcomer to Scotland, I didn't have a huge library to draw on, so the project became a good excuse for some local research.  I spent longer in each place than I might have done otherwise, sometimes doing repeat visits.  I mostly worked to Peter's shot list, although he was kind enough to allow interpretation of this and not be too literal, if there was a better shot in the vicinity.  We were also careful not to exclude human influence in the landscape, especially in the borders, where intensive farming for both food and energy have left their marks.  I'm pleased to have a few shots inside which aren't necessarily the big, 'iconic' landscapes of the central and northern highlands - but hopefully still show something of the character of the area, that the project helped open up for me.

Here's a small selection from the book:

The Great Wilderness

I'm all out of words this week, so I'll leave you with just a few more and some photos. 
My compadre has a great account over on his site that's worth a look too. 

David, David, Rannoch and Newt went for a wet autumn wander in the space between Loch Torridon and Loch Maree.  We aimed for the Isle of Graves on All Hallows Eve and strange things were afoot in the graveyard.  The weather arrived a day later than planned and we rode the swell to the Letterewe pier and dug in for Beinn Eighe regardless.  By the time of halfway, we were halfway to nowhere - more water was going uphill than down, the lochan was possessed of evil spirits throwing their blue and green weight around.  It was temporarily unsafe.  Heads bowed we scraped a hasty pitch between giant erratics and pretended to ignore the casual glug of the burn right above.  In the morning, tiny, soggy carbon-based lifeforms scurried past solitary architectures, isolated giants standing alone against one another, hopping across a no man's land of scratchy rock and squelchy bog, out past Hamish's favourite and a bothy shut by the new laird Duncan Mackenzie, our paddle plans scotched by heavy doses of storm light and cold showers.  Wet tarmac taken to Gairloch for whisky and candles, then a night walk to a bothy that once was a secret, shoulders and knees feeling the weight of 10 kilos of coal.   An artist called in on our hangovers in the morning, a man called Stevenson who had enough footage and was leaving for Bristol later that day.  We ran the Allt Strath Sealga in lively conditions, except for the rapids down by the loch, and found an old pentax deep in the mire.  The fire wouldn't light that night.  The sun shone weakly the following morning for an hour or two, but the river was too low to run again, so we cut our losses and walked out whilst the memory of that river the previous day was still unsullied.