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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Winter Munros wonderland

I'm not at all great in the cold. My hands and feet freeze up even when I'm sitting indoors so I had never imagined that I'd a) be able to cope b) enjoy myself in winter in Scotland's great outdoors. But all this was proven wrong a couple of days ago when I headed off to climb a couple of very snowy Munros, Carn na Caim and A'Bhuidheanach Bheag at Dalwhinnie in the NW Highlands.

On the day the weather was about as splendid as is possible in wintry Scotland. A bright sun sat in a clear sky above a landscape of stunning, dazzling white snow – and there was almost no wind and only occasional flurries of snow.

Temperatures were low and as the day wore on and the sun began to wane it did start to feel a lot cooler but I hardly felt cold at all. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, I was wearing a decent amount of winter kit, including numerous base layers and fleeces, trousers and waterproof outers, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and sturdy, heavy-duty winter walking books.

Secondly, I had to carry a much heavier rucksack than normal because of the extra gear required for safe winter walking. So I had on board several extra layers, crampons, an ice axe, heated gloves, a flask of hot tea and plenty of food. The effort required to carry this heavier load helped to maintain my body temperature.

Thirdly, the knee-deep snow required so much effort to tramp through that I mostly felt warm and sweaty rather than cold and shivery. Because of fresh snow I was required to make new steps on virgin snow or walk, where possible, in other people's footsteps. Until you've tried you can never imagine how much energy is required to repeatedly lift your feet clear of the snow and then back down again into the deep, slippery powder. To put it in context, the Munros book reckoned that in good conditions it would take between 3 to 5 hours to summit both mountains (I'd normally be looking at being closer to the 3hrs mark) but thanks to the deep snow the whole outing ran to about 6.5 hours.

But the effort was so rewarding. The views at every turn were more amazing than I've ever witnessed in Scotland. And the feeling that I had really worked to reach these Munro tops left me feeling fantastically exhausted by the end.

Some people have described the walk to both these Munros as a little dull when compared to other more challenging trips but in snowy conditions they rank in my top 10 fave walks so far.

A couple of days later I can still feel an aching in muscles I rarely use, especially my hip flexors and core muscles. I know that the conditions on the mountains could have been so much less favourable – and if there had been any wind I would not have enjoyed the trip any where near as much – but the winter walking expedition has left me with a taste for some more. In fact, that's Hogmanay's plan and perhaps New Year's Day too!

I really should check to see how many Munros I have now completed.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

The sledging workout

Sore thigh muscles, abs, glutes and shoulders this morning just go to show the exercise potential of a couple of hours spent sledging with the kids.

It's also hard to beat this snowtime workout in terms of enjoyment. I'm actually surprised that my jaw is not aching after giggling my way down the hill on a plastic sled many more times than I can count.

Little Miss Outdoors and I returned home yesterday with rosy cheeks, huge grins and a big appetite. While the snow might be causing huge inconvenience to travellers it's certainly brightening up the start of the Christmas hols for parents and children across the country.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Every snow blockade has its silver lining

So I had hiked the gorgeous Ben Ledi (879m, near Callander) in snowy but not treacherous conditions. I had spent some time feeling a little wind blown towards the summit of the hill. I'd lost the feeling in my hands for some 20 mins after trying to sip tea from a flask and eat a sandwich.

I'd also slipped a little crazily back down the mountain on my waterproofed trousered bum (amazing fun) and I had considered popping on the borrowed crampons to the borrowed winter walking boots to see if that would make the going a little easier.

I'd then returned to the car beneath bright blue skies and headed back in the car with two walking pals towards Glasgow.

And, yes, we did see some snow on the roads and a few piled up snow clouds hovering over the hills in the distance.

But I never for a second imagined I would not be able to make it back to my own close-to-the-big-city front door that evening!

I can't recall a time in the last four years when a drive into Bearsden (it's a Glasgow suburb for goodness sakes!) has seemed so remote and snow swept as on Sunday at teatime.

As it turned out it was impossible for me, in my non-4WD Ford Focus, to reach the outskirts of Bearsden via either of the normal routes and, indeed, after trying all ways I finally gave up and abandoned my car at the Tickled Trout pub some three miles from my home.

Having planned to walk home from there I was lucky enough to be picked up by a group driving a 4WD, who then kindly took me home. Even in their car it was not an easy drive and the snow-covered, icy road was littered with abandoned cars and lorries.

Being car-less overnight was fine, but come the next morning I realised I'd need the car for various meetings including lunch with pals and a supermarket run.

So I decided to go cross-country by foot to reach my car. Setting off I wore my trusty Inov-8 off-road trainers, a pair of warming and wick away Skins leggings and a wind-protecting Gore running jacket, plus the Nike beanie and gloves (see previous blog). (Buy all these from one of my fave running shops, Achilles Heel in Glasgow or on-line.)

I'd worried that the going underfoot would be dangerously slippy – and that that I'd look a little stupid trying to run while everyone else was still carefully negotiating still icy and snow-covered roads and pavements.

But it turned out to be one of the nicest few miles of running I've done all year. I took the pace right back to easy and enjoyable (I didn't want to risk a silly injury from sliding over on my bum). I also spent much of my time taking in my surroundings, including the beautiful snow-covered countryside and the icy-looking but oh-so-clear River Allander. And because very few people were out for a walk or a run, it was just so wonderfully peaceful.

The air smelt fresh and my short run left me feeling completely warmed through and mentally high.

Normally when it's snowy and potentially icy I'd give myself the day off from exercise (and certainly I'd not normally run the day after climbing a mountain for recovery purposes) but I'm now glad that I had to abandon my car just a few miles from home.

As I suggest in the blog title, it does seem that this particular cloud had a silver lining.

Tons of fun for the competitive outdoors fan in 2010

Outdoor event specialists No Fuss Events, based in Fort William, have announced their 2010 programme of challenging events. There's a great choice from trail running to downhill endurance mountain biking to the toughest triathlons and world’s craziest water sport.

And you don’t have to be a pro to take part. No Fuss are encouraging participation from first timers, families, work colleagues, weekend warriors and elite athletes.

This year there are three new events being added to the already exciting line-up. These are:

* The Trail Half Marathon: Scotland’s newest off-road run on some of the most scenic trails in the heart of Fort William and Lochaber - The Outdoor Capital of the UK;

* The Tour De Ben Nevis (sponsored by Orange Mountain Bikes): A no frills, 61km point-to-point mountain bike stage race that circumnavigates Ben Nevis.

* The Highland Warrior (70.3) Triathlon: Neither half Ironman nor middle distance triathlon, this is a full on race that will push even the toughest triathlete to the limit.

The full No Fuss 2010 event programme includes:

* 13 & 14 March - The Wee Triathlon, Fort William - due to popular demand the same event is offered on two days

* The Benromach Three Tens Series - The epic 10 under the Ben (15 May) is again joined by 10 at Kirroughtree (10 July) and 10 More in Moray (21 August) as the much loved cross country mountain bike endurance series grows in stature

* 16 May - The Trail Half Marathon and 5k Fun Run

* 17 July - Glen Nevis River Race, Fort William - A wet and wild waterfall jumping, rapid rafting swim and scramble

* 24 July - The Hope Endurance Downhill, Fort William - What goes up must come down…. again and again.

* 11 September - The Big Ben Nevis and the Half Big Ben Nevis Triathlon - Some say this is the toughest off road triathlon on the UK circuit; we couldn't possibly comment!

* 11 September - The Tour De Ben Nevis

* 12 September - The Highland Warrior Triathlon

* 9-10 October - Relentless 24 - A day long cross country mountain biking marathon

Go on, you know you want to!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Scotland's truly GREAT outdoors mag

I'd always hoped that a new Scotland-based outdoors magazine could make it in what is an extremely difficult niche marketplace. And it seems that finally one such magazine has pulled it off.

The quarterly Scotland Outdoors magazine, edited by Richard Rowe, was recently recognised in the PPA Scottish Magazine Awards at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh.

Scotland Outdoors won the prestigious Best Small Publishing Company Magazine 2009 award and was also short-listed in the Best Consumer Magazine Design category.

It's credit to a small but determined team on the magazine – that works within an extremely tight budget and in difficult economic times – that the mag should win such a coveted national award so early in the magazine’s life.

It's brilliant, too, to see the magazine's dedication to quality writing and photographs. All too often new magazines try to go for the cheapest option, using free and inexperienced writers and photographers. But as far as I can see Richard has maintained a highly professional approach to publishing a good quality magazine both in content and looks.

I have been lucky enough to be published in Scotland Outdoors. And I'd write for them again without hesitation. Richard was a pleasure to work with – and, brilliantly, the magazine pays on time. This is no mean feat these days.

Keep up the great work guys.

It's all in the detail

Sometimes I come across new fitness/outdoors kit that includes a detail that is so fab I want to tell everyone about it. This time it's a couple of new Nike products that I recently bought.

The first is a Nike Dri-FIT Running beanie (and also the Nike Thermal Running Skull) that features a small but highly useful hole in the back. For us girls with ponytails this fab detail offers a truly genius solution to the usual bunched-up-at-the-back-of-the-head-hair nightmare that all too often occurs with a ponytail and a woolly hat.

You don't have to have a pony tail to wear this hat as guys or women with short hair won't even notice the hole, but for women with long hair it is nothing short of fabulous. (Actually, come to think of it, guys or women with short hair might find the hole useful for feeding through earphone wires.)

Since buying the hat numerous long-locked pals have commented on the brilliance of this hat. I plan to wear the thinner Dri-FIT beanie under my cycle helmet, too, and as an additional layer when out walking in the hills.

Nike also have a pair of running gloves called Nike Lightweight Running Gloves with a tiny wee pocket on the inside of the palm just perfect for slipping a key into. If you're a runner then you'll know the problem well: you're heading out for a run from the car or the house but you're only wearing a basic pair of leggings or shorts and a top. So where on earth can you stow the key?

These Nike gloves offer the ideal solution. Pop the key in the palm pocket and then hold your hands in the natural curled position for running and you'll find the key stays perfectly in place.

These two features might only be small additions to a couple of pieces of ordinary running kit but they make a huge difference to comfort and practicalities.

The fab running specialist store Achilles Heel, Great Western Road, Glasgow, sells these Nike products.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The smart way to reach your next adventure?

A Scottish company has come up with a great idea. Go Where will provide bespoke transport for mountain bikers, road cyclists, walkers, kite surfers, golfers, first-time Scotland visitors and, really, any kind of outdoors fan to the best locations in Scotland for all kinds of adventure.

GO-WHERE is all about whisking you and your friends off to some of Scotland’s most incredible locations in a fun, hassle-free and (as far as possible) an environmentally friendly way. Put another way, GO WHERE allows you to skip the tedious and potentially planet-damaging drive. GO WHERE will also transport your luggage or sports kit, too.

Because the people at GO WHERE are also big outdoors fans themselves they also know exactly where you can find the best adventures in Scotland. So if you're a keen mountain biker, GO WHERE will transport you to the ideal location to suit your particular desire. Perhaps it's a wild and remote cross-country mountain biking adventure that you're looking for, or the most scenic coastal walk, or the steepest Munro climb, or the finest sea kayak trip. If you can tell GO WHERE what you're after then they will transport you – and you luggage – to exactly the right spot in Scotland.

In essence this company is partly about transportation, partly about taking the hassle out of your trip to Scotland and partly about revealing some of the best locations for outdoors pursuits in Scotland. If you want to GO WHERE the best adventures are to be found then it might be worth giving this company a call.

Oh-so-happy with my new Helly Hansen top

I started with the traditional dark blue version of the Helly Hansen long-sleeved baselayer many years ago. It's the one that almost all sporty, outdoorsy types will have owned/still own. Certainly anyone who ever took part in Army type pursuits would have had one of these tops at some point.

Now, some 10 years later I still wear this much-loved and highly practical top for a wide range of sports, including running, yoga, cycling and hill walking. It still looks good and it does exactly the same warming, sweat-wicking away job as it did when I bought it. It has not stretched or faded or fallen apart. It has simply been/still is a great top.

Then Helly Hansen started to become a whole lot trendier. In the last five years, they have launched a much wider range of tops in short sleeves, long sleeves, half zips, leggings and even pants – and in an ever increasing number of colours.

I now own a bright pink half-zip, long sleeve Helly Hansen, a baby blue round necked long-sleeve and a black short-sleeve. Little Miss outdoors also has her own baby blue Helly Hansen that she's worn every week at her local running club.

The other day while looking round an outdoors shop both Little Miss Outdoors and I eyed up a purple version of the traditional Helly Hansen top (now on Little Miss Outdoors' Santa list) and a turquoise version with a lovely fleecy style inner layer (ideal for colder days outdoors and now on my Santa list).

But this was before I came across the latest range of Helly Hansen tops for women. This time, they are pretty and flowery - but still as practical and hard-wearing as ever before. In fact, the top looks so lovely that Little Miss Outdoors commented: "Mum, you could wear that top to the pub because it's so pretty!" And she's right. The new flowery tops for girls (and checks for boys) looks fab.

It also fits really well. Helly Hansen have managed to create a fitted sports top that hugs slim women in all the right places but without flattening their chests. No mean feat I can tell you.

So now I'm left with a major decision. Should I keep the top for best ie for wearing to the pub and while out with friends, or should I put it on for a sweaty run? Maybe the solution is to buy two: one for best and one for sweaty running.

For stockists and info see here

Monday, 7 December 2009

I survived!

It's not exactly the latest news as I took part in the Survival of the Fittest event some weeks ago but here's the write up that appeared in the Daily Record recently. As one "friend' said: "Aye, Fi, you look like you've just run a 10k!" Which I had – but this was a tough 10k with obstacles and by the time the photos were being taken all my beautiful make-up (not!) had run. I laughed and giggled my way around this event and would thoroughly recommend it. Here's what appeared.

By Fiona Russell

I CAN'T decide if it was the huge waterslide, the urban jungle or the inflatable assault course that made me laugh the most.

Then again, I'm trying to figure out if it was the thigh-sapping climb up the 130 steps of Jacob's Ladder or the 8ft-high Wall of Fame that made me want to cry the most.

For more than an hour, I ran, climbed, jumped, slid, jogged, swung and walked the wackiest 10k race I have ever seen.

And I was not alone. More than 1500 other brave competitors took to the streets of Edinburgh to compete in the inaugural Scottish Survival of the Fittest.

Setting off in six groups throughout the morning, the 1318 men and 195 women were challenged by a hilly course of winding, cobbled streets, steep alleyways and off-road trails.

Then at every 1k, competitors faced an obstacle zone, ranging from fun and inventive to tricky and tough.

My favourite was a long hillside waterslide that took me by surprise halfway around the course in sunny Holyrood Park.

Although it left me with a wet butt for the rest of the race, I giggled loudly as I descended the slippery, plastic sheeting.

A playground-style assault course at the top of Calton Hill also made me smile as I tackled a rope swing, monkey bars and climbing frames - and crawled under cargo nets.

For friends Zoe Hill and Louise Gregory, who had travelled up for the event from the south of England, it was the inflatable assault course in the Royal Mile that had them in stitches.

Working as a pair, they just managed to lift and pull each other over the high walls of the bouncy-castle style obstacle.

Louise, who crossed the finish line with her pal in 1hr 43 min, said: "I'm not really what you would call a runner, but I'm thoroughly enjoying this mad event."

Meanwhile, David Venables, who was running with colleagues from Intercell Biomedical, of Livingston, reckoned the urban jungle obstacle at the top of Tolbooth Wynd at the 4k point was the best. David, who came 50th overall in a time of 51 mins 16 secs, said: "We had to climb through two old cars, heading in through the back window, over the seats, out the front window and over the bonnet.

"As a child I always fancied climbing over old bangers. Now I've had the chance to act like a kid during a race.

"I've never come across a 10k race that is as silly and fun as this one."

Race director Gary Tompsett, of Scotland-based Details Events, had promised Edinburgh a "rollercoaster of an event".

It was in 2008 that the first Survival of the Fittest took place in Nottingham.

This year, the event, in association with Men's Health magazine, became a tri-nations series with new races in Scotland, and Cardiff in Wales.

GARY said: "We knew from our previous Edinburgh events, such as the urban rat race, that the natural topography of the city's old town, with its cobbled streets and ancient steps, would make a great location for a rollercoaster of a 10k.

"Coupled with energy-sapping obstacles every kilometre, we believe the Edinburgh Survival of the Fittest is the most spectacular and hilliest city-based 10k - and also surely the most agonising."

Certainly by six kilometres, after negotiating a Spider's Web and before being doused by two firefighters with hoses, I was starting to feel the pain.

And one kilometre further on, a long ascent and descent of countless stairs inside the Festival Fun building pummelled the last shreds of energy from my thighs and calves.

Then, settling for an exhausted jog, I headed towards obstacle eight, the Under Armour Royal Mile Challenge, for further all-over-body punishment.

If that wasn't enough, the final two kilometres involved a parkour urban gymnastic zone and yet another winding hill.

And that was before I came face-to-face with the Men's Health Wall of Fame.

Situated just a few strides from the finish line in West Princes Street Gardens, every participant was required to tackle the towering wall while hundreds of spectators looked on.

If it had not been for the welcome "leg-up" assistance of a fellow competitor, I might still be standing at the bottom looking up.

Even the guys found the 8ft wall a challenge. One, 6ft 2in Jules Robson, director of male grooming and lifestyle website Urban Tonic, said: "It wasn't until you were actually close up to the obstacle that you realised the height of it.

"I'm quite tall but I still needed to use a lot of effort to get up and jump down the other side.

"The reward though was to see the finish line only metres away."

According to Claire Matthews, of Men's Health, the Survival of the Fittest aims to show the public that fitness can be fun. She said: "We want to promote the benefits of exercise and keeping a healthy body and mind.

"The Edinburgh event is proof that running a 10k can be a great deal of fun - for both men and women."

The photograph as I crossed the finish line in 1hr 3min shows I am smiling ear-to-ear.

I can't decide if this was thanks to the joy - or pure relief - of finally finishing the madcap event.

THE FACTS AND FIGURES First Male in the Edinburgh Survival of the Fittest event was Matthew Sutherland in 44 mins 23 secs. First female, and 81st overall, was Fiona Thompson in 53:04.

Dale Platt ran all three Survival of the Fittest races and came second in Edinburgh in a time of 44 mins 48 secs.

The average time for a woman in the Edinburgh race was 1hr 19 mins.

The average time for a man was 1hr 9 mins.

13 per cent of competitors were female.

A person weighing 10st will burn around 650 calories running a 10k.

Running the Survival of the Fittest 10k burns hundreds more calories - thanks to the range of obstacles.

The Survival event also offers a complete all-body workout with numerous obstacles giving upper and lower body muscle benefits.
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Sunday, 15 November 2009

New navigation course for girls only

Again, evidence of more people keen to get out – and safely – in Scotland's great outdoors. And another nod to a trend I have written about before. The latest outdoors course to be launched is another girls-only GPS session.

This time The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) have joined forces with Chicks Unleashed to run two ladies only one-day GPS (Global Positioning Systems) training courses in May next year.

The MCofS runs a number of safety-related courses throughout the year, including regular GPS courses, but this is the first time they have organised a ladies-only course.

The two courses will be held at Glenmore Lodge on Saturday May 15th and Sunday May 16th, and will be run by the MCofS Mountain Safety Adviser, Heather Morning (MIC)* and Rosie Goolden (MIC) of Chicks Unleashed.

Heather Morning explains the thinking behind the ‘Chicks’ courses: "Ladies can often be discouraged from signing up for an outdoor training course, particularly when it involves use of technical equipment.

"So often when mixed groups are out on the hill, men take a lead role and ladies just follow, assuming that the guys are more competent (big assumption!).

"We all know the old cliché that ‘women can’t navigate!’. Well, here is the chance to prove all those guys wrong.

"The Chicks GPS course will ensure a sympathetic, fun and friendly learning environment for ladies who wish to learn how to use GPS to enhance their navigation skills."

For further info on this course see here

For further reasons why outdoors girls like to learn with the girls only see my article

Sea kayak DVD set to sell out - again

A new kayaking DVD filmed by fellow journo and friend Simon Willis has far exceeded all sales expectations. Simon, of Sunart Media, who is a keen sea kayaker himself, was initially advised to produce just 700 copes of the DVD, SEA KAYAK WITH GORDON BROWN, one of the world's top coaches. Priced at £19.94 in the UK, the excellent instructional guide - aimed at novice and intermediate kayakers - did in fact sell 600 copies in the first 10 days, after the release on November 1. (The DVD is offers newer, easy to view version of the already popular book of the same title.)

Another 1000 DVDs were then produced, of which there are now only a few hundred left. Simon reports that there is sadly no time left to print more before Christmas. So my tip is to get your order in quickly if you want to avoid disappointment. For a taster of the video see here

What is obvious is that the adventure activity of sea kayaking shows no signs of slowing in popularity. I have already posted a blog about the huge growth of sea kayaking in Scotland following an excellent two-day sea kayak outing with the National Kayak School at Oban.

Over the last couple of years the school has seen a huge growth in demand for sea kayak instructional courses and multi-day trips. Many kayak shops also report fast-growing sales from a range of adventurers, including families.

Sea kayaking offers a great way to view Scotland's wonderful landscape, whether on our sea lochs or the open sea. It is important that kayakers learn basic skills and navigation before setting off on their own adventurers but in only a short time they will have the freedom to enjoy some truly scenic and inspirational journeys.

Indeed, just take a look at the number of kayaks now being transported around the country on the top of car roof racks. Every time I head north I swear the number of kayaks I spot doubles.

And another publication by Simon, Europe’s first long distance sea kayak trail, THE SCOTTISH SEA KAYAK TRAIL is also proving a big hit – and reveals that kayaking in Scotland, in particular, is a big passion for many people.

You really have to give sea kayaking a go to find out just how fantastic it is.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

My friend the super STV blogger

So there was a competition for top bloggers to win a place in a final to become STV's new King/Queen of blogging. Up for grabs is a 6-month contract and in these tough press industry times anything written, published and then paid for is a huge bonus.

And brilliantly my good friend Ellen Arnison is one of the 10 finalists. Now she's already an excellent blogger and journalist but to win the contract she needs as many people as possible to love her blogs - and post comments.

She has written her first here

Please do read it - and if you like it post a comment. I'd really like to be friends with someone famous!

Monday, 9 November 2009

And then the sun came out...

How remarkably different was Sunday's walking compared to Saturday's. With only one Munro top to summit to bag we took a more leisurely approach to the day. We were also gratified to find that the weather was stunning. With a low-lying mist (offering numerous wonderfully photogenic opportunities) and bright blue skies with a warm-for-November sun the day promised to be perfect for winter walking.

The chosen Munro, Ben Challum, is a popular route for walkers based in the central belt as it is near enough to tackle in one day's outing and not so steep as to put too many people off. The trail to first the south summit and then the north (proper) summit is easily navigable, too.

While we had met only one other walker during the two ascents on Saturday, on the Sunday the mountain was abuzz with people, dogs and chatter.

The entire outing represented almost everything that is great about Scottish mountains. Fantastic views and scenery, achievable summits, rewarding peaks, camaraderie with like-minded people and the satisfaction of a dry, windless day and tremendous winter sunshine.

Munro mystery solved

If you has asked me a year ago to define a Munro bagger I might have suggested they were a little mad and most likely obsessive. Bagging a round of theses Scottish mountains over 3000ft was not something I had planned and one of my main objections was that I was sure that not every one of the 283 mountains would be worth the hike.

I'd heard it said by some baggers that if it hadn't have been for the quest to complete the round they would have happily missed out several dozen of the more boring, boggy or "tourist ridden" ascents.

Indeed, many walkers in Scotland will tell you that there are many other hills and mountains that do not qualify as Munros but which amount to a much more rewarding and satisfying summit. Some of the most notable are among the Corbett mountains, the 221 mountains that make it to the 2500ft mark but not the lofty 3000ft.

So it was with something akin to reluctance that I set off this weekend to follow a Munro bagging friend to the top of two Munros near Crianlarich. Neither of us had heard a good word said about these two mountains and, indeed, many baggers have left the dastardly duo close to the end of their round simply because they know they have to be done, but not with any great walking joy.

The reasons given for these Munros - Meall Glas and Sgiath Chuil - being less favoured include too many bogs, a difficult, untrodden route, hard-to-find peaks, a total trudge across unremarkable marshland etc.

I wasn't prepared to believe that anywhere in Scotland could be this bad - but I was still a bit concerned that outing would be a bit rubbish.

And, in part, these baggers' tales did turn out to be true. The ground was extremely wet and boggy. The route to the top was particularly hard to find and with swirling fog for much of the day our walk was frequently punctuated with map reading and compass co-ordinating stops. For much of the last few hundred metres of both ascents there was no view (just thick fog) and extremely slippery snow and ice conditions underfoot.

If this wasn't bad enough the final ascent of the second Munro was the toughest, steepest slog uphill that I have ever encountered. The almost vertical slope was as wet as a waterslide and with the added obstacles of slippery snow and icy rocks it felt as though we would never reach the top.

But finally we did make it. Despite a total white out and an extremely unremarkable top the feeling of achievement was amazing.

And it was then, and during the descent back to the car, that I began to realise that Munro bagging is not only about the ticking off of a collection of 3000ft mountains.

While plodding and trudging onwards all day, my Munro bagging pal and I chatted. We spent hours discussing a wide range of topics. We put all sorts of things to rights. We started and finished great conversations. We laughed out loud. And we giggled when things seemed too ridiculous. We also concentrated hard on the navigation and felt a great sense of satisfaction on reaching various points and, eventually, the summits.

We found great spots to sit and take in the views (when below cloud cover) and we delighted over how great it is that average sandwiches and coffee taste so good when eaten outdoors and with a proper appetite.

At the end of the day we were exhausted but how nice a bottle or two of beer tastes after a tricky and tough day in Scotland's great outdoors.

So these two Munros weren't the most beautiful or the easiest but they still offered a fantastic day out doing something that is great for both mental and physical fitness and health. I can now see the many positives of becoming an addicted Munro bagger!

Friday, 6 November 2009

It's faster on foot

Yet again I have found that heading into Glasgow from my home in Bearsden is quicker on foot or two wheels than by car or train. The distance is only around six or seven miles (depending on the route taken) so it's an easy enough run or cycle.

I can recall that when I had a "proper" job in the city I could beat other commuters travelling by car by up to 10 minutes if I ran, or 20 mins if I cycled. This was at busy commuter times.

But even when I head into Glasgow at other times of the day it is much more time efficient to run or cycle. For example, I was working at an office on the Anderston Quay yesterday. If I'd taken the train I would have had a 15 min walk to the station, a 5 min wait for the train, followed by a 20 min train ride, followed by another 10 min walk at the other end.

But if I cycled the journey takes between 25 and 35 mins only. Even an elongated route along the River Kelvin only amounts to around 35 mins in the saddle.

Instead, yesterday, I decided to run. Despite a slow-ish plod I made it from home to the office in 50 mins. Added to this I had a good fitness workout and gave my mental well-being a much-needed boost thanks to the serotonin.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Revenge of the cyclists?

I've been spat on, sworn at and forced off the road - and that's just by pedestrians. Cars, buses and taxis have driven at me, cut me up, swerved into my path and knocked me to the ground. During seven years of daily cycling in Glasgow I have become accustomed to "almost dying" on a regular basis.

My efforts at retaliation are puny in comparison. I might roll my eyes and shake my head in the offender's direction. Once or twice I've mouthed an ineffectual "wanker". On another occasion, when a jeep driver took a fancy to driving into me three times within a 100m stretch of road, I made an official complaint at the police station across the road.

But no action, direct or otherwise, seemed to change the way some drivers (and walkers) in Glasgow treat cyclists. Until recently, that is.

For the past few months I've been wielding a shiny new weapon of defence: a helmet-mounted digital video camera. And I am not the only one. According to Action Cameras, one of the UK's leading sellers of such cameras, there has been a threefold increase in sales during the past year to cycling commuters. Most, it seems, are shelling out on average £200 for one of these cameras as “witness back up`” in case of a road accident.

But now some cyclists are using their camera recordings as a way to highlight some of the worst driving on our roads. A fellow Glasgow commuter, David Brennan, has even gathered something of a fan club for his video postings after starting a commuter from hell video thread, aka Magnatom, on YouTube. Just viewing these clips from the comfort of your own office chair is bracing enough, let alone imagining what it would be like to be Magnatom himself. See a clip

His videos reveal a catalogue of dangers that face the ordinary city cyclist, including "brush-with-death" motoring incidents, inconsiderate and illegal driving, pedestrian misconduct, poor road surfacing - and even careless cycling.

When I caught up with Magnatom one day during his commute via the Cycle Tunnel he told me: “Although my camera has not changed my commute to any great extent, it does make me feel safer and calmer. Now, instead of screaming in annoyance at motorists, I simply point at my camera. It's amazing how quickly they back off when they clock it.”

But Magnatom also makes the point that footage is not meant to taunt motorists. In fact, Brennan believes that his YouTube films could “ignite a campaign to re-educate all road users”.

Perhaps he has something here as this week I came across a petition that is gaining huge momentum. The petition, which will be presented to the PM, was created by Tom Amos and reads:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to introduce
legislation that all motorists must allow a minimum of 3 feet
in distance between their vehicle and a cyclist that they drive

To sign the petition log on here

If the Government can do anything to make roads safer for cyclists then I'm all for it. In the meantime I’m keeping my helmet camera switched on and ready to capture any unwelcome driving antics. So far the only videoing of note was a when I came close to being knocked off my bike by something jumpy and yappy. But Lakeland terriers aren't much concerned by video gadgets.

But perhaps the most noticeable difference has been in what hasn't happened. A bus driver waved me past instead of doing the usual sudden pull-out manoeuvre, possibly because he noticed my filming potential. I'm also sure that a silver sports car gave me a wider berth after I tilted my helmet camera towards the driver.

Then again, perhaps I've just had an unsually lucky few months on the roads.

Arran's sale of the century?

While on Arran it became apparent that many people are selling up and moving on. I imagine that most of the homes for sale (and there were numerous on the market) are in fact "second" homes, it was still jaw dropping to see so many "for sale" signs lining the road sides. It could also be that the credit crunch has hit a number of people living on Arran, thus forcing them to return to the mainland for alternative employment.

I had wondered, too, if a declining holiday market had hit people who run B&Bs but after chatting to a couple of islanders it seems the opposite is true. One told me that demand for rooms in B&Bs remains very strong and perhaps backs up the theory that the "staycation" is still on the up.

For so long Arran properties have fetched prices above the national average and rightly so given their often idyllic location. But the number of homes on the isle bought as "second" homes has been a continual headache for islanders who have frequently been unable to compete to buy the houses.

Now it seems that many more properties are flooding the marketplace. I plan to take a closer look at prices to see just whether a more buoyant property market has brought the cost of homes down a bit. Another islander told me that homes were staying on the market for "quite some time" whereas in previous times they would be snapped up almost before the "for sale" sign was erected.

So, if you ever fancied opening a B&B on Arran perhaps now is the time. It's certainly worth a closer investigation in any case. And it might be worth checking out some of the other popular Scottish isles to see if the same is happening there.

I wonder if anyone else has noticed a higher than average number of properties being sold in more remote locations across Scotland?

Second isle of the week - Arran

Back home from the Isle of Jersey I headed straight from the plane (thanks Flybe for your superb punctuality arriving in Edinburgh) to Ardrossan for the Arran ferry, picking up Little Miss Outdoors en route. (While I was on Jersey Little Miss had been enjoying her own outdoor adventures during a school activity trip to Ardmay House at Arrochar.)

We had planned the weekend on Arran with friends as a chance to catch up on our adventuresome gossip and also because we fancied walking Goatfell.

While Arran is another favourite island of mine, it was sadly a tad wetter than Jersey and also covered in a wad of thundery clouds for much of the weekend. Still, Little Miss Outdoors and I were determined to make the most of a not-so-totally-water-drenched Saturday morning and headed to the grounds of Brodick Castle to begin the ascent of Goatfell, the highest summit in southern Scotland. With a peak of 2867ft it also claims its place among the 221 Corbetts, the group of Scottish mountains higher than 2500ft.

And to start with all went well. Little Miss Outdoors was content to amble along, chatting and jumping in muddy puddles and looking around at the stunning autumnal countryside. I heard all about her many fun activities at Ardmay and found out some great new facts she'd learned about Scotland's landscape and nature.

But as we climbed, so the weather deteriorated until we were walking in swirling clouds and against harsh winds. The higher we climbed, the stronger the winds and the quieter Little Miss became. With another 10 minutes still to go to reach the summit, Little Miss finally decided she'd had enough and promptly burst into tears. I easily weigh twice as much as little Miss and I had been struggling for some time to walk upright. For Little Miss it was a battle to stop herself being blown to the ground even while holding on to my arm.

Although disappointed we decided that it would be safer and more enjoyable to turn around and head back to the less windier lower slopes and so missed out on the chance to bag the summit. On reflection, however, it was much better to finish the walk on a high and with smiles on our faces than to plod on grimly just to reach a mountain top. We had still had a great day out on a fabulous mountain and although we can't claim to have reached the top we can claim to have had a another rewarding day in Scotland's great outdoors.

One day, Little Miss and I will return to Goatfell - but most likely during the summer months!

Another "great outdoors"

Hmm. While I'm a little loathed to admit this, I have discovered a great new outdoors playground that isn't called Scotland - instead it's called Jersey. Ha, ha, I hear you laugh, isn't Jersey just for old people and the very rich? Well, yes, the island - just 15 miles from the northern French coast but still a British Crown Dependency – does have more than its fair share of elderly people with big bank balances (plus an amazing number of stunning detached houses) but it also offers a fabulous holiday destination for people like me (ie not old and with little savings).

During a recent trip to Jersey, I found a jewel of an island that while tiny (it measures only nine miles by five miles) manages to pack in a host of attractions, especially if you're keen on the outdoors life. The picturesque isle boasts a stunning and varied coastline, numerous sublime beaches, many miles of quiet cycle paths and roads, wonderful cliff top walks and so many alfresco eating and drinking spots that you could visit a new one every day for weeks.

Jersey Adventures is one of a number of companies that have capitalised on the growth in outdoors adventure holidaymakers, but it is the island's only fully qualified provider of outdoor pursuits and therefore the best place to head for a range of activities. While on Jersey I went rock climbing at a fabulously scenic cliff face and sea kayaking along a gorgeous stretch of coastline on the south-western corner of the island. I also tried coasteering for the first time, and immediately became an addict.

For the uninitiated, coasteering essentially means a traverse of a section of coastline. Wearing wetsuits, coasteerers (if there is such a word!) scramble over rocks, walk beaches, swim coves and sea pools and jump from cliffs into the ocean to get from A to B. It is tremendously exciting and can be geared as an activity to suit many abilities. For example I totally wimped out of a 12m high cliff jump and plumped instead for a smaller leap without affecting the expedition.

Other activities to try included land yachting, bush walks and caving.

Then again if you're looking for something a little more relaxing but still outdoorsy then Jersey also does a great line in old-fashioned style beach days. Even during October, families were taking advantage of mild temperatures and heading to one of the many wide, sandy beaches for a day of sandcastle building, rock pool foraging, picnics and Jersey ice creams.

Many of the beaches were also lined with wonderful cafes, serving a wide range of foods including delicious fish dishes and my absolute favourite, moules et frites (mussels and chips).

Jersey has other holidaymaker attractions ideal for a rainy day or simply because you want to do something different. While on the isle I visited the fascinating Gerald Durrell Conservation Zoo, the Jersey War Tunnels museum and the La Mare Wine Estate. But these were just a few of the highlights that would easily keep a family occupied for a fortnight or more. For further ideas see Jersey Tourism's excellent website.

Accommodation on the isle ranges from beautifully kept campsites and self-catering lets to some of the most amazing hotels I've ever seen. I was lucky enough to be hosted at the Atlantic Hotel. I wouldn't normally be able to afford such luxury but the occasional press trip offers a glimpse of how the better-off might holiday – and how they eat. The Atlantic also boasts a Michelin starred restaurant and the meal I enjoyed was quite simply the best I've ever had.

So, while Scotland is still, in my opinion, Europe's best location for outdoors pursuits, I'm placing Jersey in the top league, too.

Friday, 2 October 2009

11 Munros in 1 weekend

PIc: The Cairnwell. At 933m
this is one of the easiest
of the 283 Munros.

As one of my friends commented after I told him about my recent epic Munro bagging weekend: "That is so typical of you, Fi. You don't just take on the challenge you take it to the absolute limits of your ability."

Ah, but while the weekend was physically exhausting it also proved to be massively spirit-lifting.

The Friday saw me ticking off a round of six Munros (yes, six!) in the Glen Shee area. After the first serious climb to the summit of Carn an Tuirc
(1019m), the route led over a huge plateau of undulating moorland via Cairn of Claise (1064m), Tolmount (958m), Tom Buidhe (957m), Glas Maol (1068m) and finally Creag Leacach (987m). To qualify as a Munro, the summits must have an ascent/descent of at least 500ft (150m) so while this outing might seem like madness it was actually manageable in 7 hours.

Then again, it wasn't easy! Seven hours of walking, albeit mostly on paths, and another hour's walk along the road back to the car took its toll. By 6pm, and after a bottle of beer, I was close to falling asleep at a hotel table.

Then came Saturday. Only two Munros to complete I thought! But I’d forgotten about my tired legs. And the five-mile hike from the car just to reach the base of the first Munro. And the uncharacteristically warm weather that left me feeling boil-in-the-bag over-dressed.

That first ascent of the day, An Socach (944m), proved to be the toughest of the whole weekend. There was no path to follow, instead only deep heather and boulder fields to slog through. The uphill onslaught took at least 90 minutes … before turning back around to retrace my steps and make a bee line for the top of the second Munro.

Carn Bhac (946m) was no big beast but it still involved a long walk uphill followed by another five-mile hike back to the car.

Again, by 6pm and after just one bottle of beer, I felt like I could sleep under a pub table.

And then, on the Sunday, I got up to face another three Munros. This time the outing took only three hours and the three Munros, Carn Aosda (917m), Carn a’Gheoidh (975m) and The Cairnwell (933), were some of the easiest I've encountered but with tired legs and rising winds I can still recall easier walking days!

Driving back towards Glasgow I could only marvel at how much my body can take. Having only recently become a fan of Munro bagging I'm amazed how well my legs and feet keep going. The mental side is no problem as I am totally love being out on the hills.

But still the challenge wasn’t over. I had a friend’s wedding reception to attend on the Sunday evening. Somehow I made it past the first beer this time – and on to several glasses of wine .. before I made thankfully made it to bed to sleep for more than 12 hours! Bliss!

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Cold comfort

After 10 days of being laid tragically low by a summer cold (not had one of these for many years) I found I could no longer cope with the lack of exercise and the amazingly good weather... so I decided on a bike ride.

(I'd already tried yoga but the upside down postures just caused the copious amounts of "cold gunge" to go straight to my head almost causing me to drown in snot. And one try-out run was impossibly slow and possibly dangerous.)

Now proper cyclists that I know will probably laugh when I tell you that I "drove" my bike to Aberfoyle for a circuit of Loch Katrine and the Duke's Pass. But I wasn't feeling up to the extra miles from Bearsden. I'd been ill, OK? And I've hardly been on my bike for months. OK?

While I'd heard plenty of people raving about this route I'd never actually got around to doing this ride and, boy, have I been missing out. Undulating in all the right places, with a few opportunities for hill efforts plus the ascent, then incredible descent, of the Duke's Pass, as well as the ice cream stop at the pier and stunning scenery all added up to a fantastic outing.

I was pleased to find that my thighs, which had been burning a little on the uphills throughout the circuit, were almost fine the following day. And the ride seems to have almost completely knocked my cold into touch. Now it’s back to proper running again – and maybe I will throw in a few more bike rides with summer suddenly making an incomprehensible return to Scotland.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

You awesome Bealach Mor riders

...So normally I'd be the one up for a mega challenge but the 90-mile Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive is so notoriously tough that I decided to, aherm, marshall and race report at this event! To be honest that was exhausting enough. With a streaming cold and pretty much zero cycle training over the last few months I'd have been lucky to make it through the first 5 miles on the flat, let alone 90 miles with a total ascent of more than twice the height of Ben Nevis. And that included a 6 mile haul up the UK's biggest road pass from sea level to 626m.

Some 380 cyclists set off from Kinlochewe on a mega-raining day on Saturday, most with wide but rueful grins. Of these only around 40 didn't complete, either due to bike failure or exhaustion. The final times ranged wildly from Andy Strathdee's mind-boggling 4hrs 35mins to the final rider at 8hrs 39 mins. As this event is billed as a sportive, it is not a race. But, of course, most riders were out to get their best time. They had battled rain storms, side winds, head winds, thick cloud, terrible visibility and the arduous, mountainous course but still almost everyone was smiling as they finally crossed the finish line.

The comments were all upbeat: "Awesome route", "Amazing course", "stunning scenery", "fantastic organisation", "I totally loved it", "Hard and tough but amazing".

This is another fab event from the highly organised Hands On crew and now that I have seen it in action I might have to get into the saddle for next year. This event is so popular, though, that riders need to sign up within 24 hours of entries opening. Keep an eye on their website. In the meantime there's another awesome cycle challenge to round off the year, the Ullapool Sportives 130 miler or 65 miler on September 26

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Summer whizzed by

And so I have been waiting for the rain to stop. And for an Indian Summer to head to Scotland instead of lingering smugly over the south of England. But no such luck. I have also realised that while I've been waiting for the return of summer (didn't we have something that vaguely resembled that concept for a week in June?) that I have been too busy to keep my blog up to date. Shame on me!

So... over the last month or so I have climbed Munros, mooched around with Little Miss Outdoors on her school hols, climbed another Munro, surfed and body boarded in glorious Welsh surf with great pals G&T and Little A, climbed more Munros, run a few smaller hills, climbed another Munro or two, squeezed in some work, climbed more hills, become a yoga addict, summitted just one more Munro - and generally got wet in Scotland's great outdoors.

I'm struggling to recall a day/evening in many weeks when it hasn't rained on me as I've walked, climbed and run but still I've had a fun so-called summer.

This weekend I'm off to do some marshalling and a race report for the mad but popular Bealach Mor cycle challenge organised by the first rate Hands On Events. Then I might take another opportunity to fuel my new Munro bagging addiction.

And maybe, just maybe I'll see some sun before Christmas is suddenly upon us again!

Friday, 31 July 2009

Bitten by the Sea kayak bug

And so I have finally been out for a sea kayak adventure. It's an activity I have been keen to try for years but somehow I have never found the time to give it a go. This week, thanks to the fab National Kayak School, newly based in Oban, I spent two glorious days pottering in and around sea lochs and islands close to the west coast tourist town.

If you have never given sea kayaking a go then I can't recommend it more highly. Alternately peaceful and relaxing, then full-on and bonkers, I found myself enthralled by the simple art of paddling a kayak along stunning coastlines and around the islands of Kerrera, Lismore and Shuma to name a few.

And while one night was spent in the plush surroundings of the Crerar Oban Bay Hotel, another night involved wild camping on the tranquil island of Kerrera, just a 45 min paddle from Oban itself. I'm not sure which I preferred the most: the champagne-style kayak experience combining a day's paddling with the decadence of a hotel or the sublime adventure package of paddling out to an island for a wilderness camp over.

I now have a huge hankering to head off for a much longer trip, perhaps paddling and wild camping between a larger number of islands off Scotland's wonderful west coast. Or maybe I'll head to Loch Nevis for a kayak trip into the wilderness of Knoydart. That's another outdoors bug that has bitten me!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

To Conic Hill again

Conic Hill at Balmaha appears to have become a family favourite. It's a place where we have often taken visiting friends. At 361 metres the hill is not too hard a climb but it does offer the most amazing views of Loch Lomond and the surrounding countryside.

And so last weekend we set off to walk to the summit again, this time with good friends JoYo, her partner CraigYo and daughter SophieYo. It was a stunningly sunny day and ideal for a saunter and a chat.

But for Little Miss Outdoors there appeared to be something of a mission to get to the top first. Now this is something rather unusual. Until now the Littlest in the Outdoors Family has been a bit of reluctant walker. Yes, she's summitted a fair few hills but mostly because she's been cajoled to join us or because she somehow realises that it's what we do.

However, on this Saturday afternoon we were all having trouble trying to keep up with Little Miss Outdoors. Perhaps she has simply become a lot fitter thanks to her running club and cycling, or maybe she wanted to keep up with JoYo's little dog Buttons. Or perhaps she has suddenly found a little streak of competitiveness.

In fact, every time that I managed to catch her up, Little Miss Outdoors would put in an extra jog so that she was ahead again.

It was only on the final bump of the hill that she allowed me to walk alongside her and admitted that her legs were tiring a little. Then, 10 metres from the summit, she broke into a run to get to the summit first. The smile on her face when she realised she was first was amazing to see.

While I think she would have enjoyed the ascent more if she'd walked with the rest of us and chatted I could see how much of a thrill she had got from being first.

The biggest revelation, however, was realising that for the first time in many years I had not had to cajole my daughter to climb a hill. To me this felt like the most amazing thing yet. It also meant that when I suggested perhaps climbing a bigger hill next time, Little Miss Outdoors appeared really enthusiastic. Now that's my girl!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

I know those Rats!

Picking up the press release about this weekend's Edinburgh Rat Race I was very excited to see that two friends from the Glasgow Tri Club were in the winning team. Iona Robertson and her partner Rich Wild plus a friend Clive Parry beat off more than other 500 competitors to win the notoriously bonkers and gruelling event.

When you know Iona and Rich I don't suppose it should be so surprising to find them victorious in such a challenging race - but it's still really good to know that I sometimes hang out with such great athletes. Ok, well, they're usually running somewhere miles ahead of me at track training sessions but I do occasionally get to chat with them before and after the sessions.

Fantastic effort guys. Here's the race report.

After a gruelling race spanning 85km over two days, team Helly Hansen - Nuun won the 2009 Edinburgh Rat Race.

The team, comprising Iona Robertson, Richard Wild and Clive Parry joined 552 competitors in Edinburgh racing over two days (Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 July) for the sixth Edinburgh Rat Race, the flagship of the seven event Rat Race Urban Adventure Series.

Following the madcap event Iona said: 'We're all really pleased to have won the Rat Race in Edinburgh since the competition was as high as ever. It was a tough couple of days; pretty hard work but on a great course mixed in with some pretty obscure checkpoint challenges'.

The Edinburgh Rat Race is a multi-disciplined team challenge of navigation, endurance, mental agility, running, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking and abseiling, combined with surreal sporting tests and obstacles at different checkpoints across some of the city's most challenging terrain. Team Helly Hansen - Nuun covered the 65km course of Sunday's Nine2Five race in 05:51:41, more than 15 minutes ahead of second placed team Average Joe in a Buff, who crossed the finish line 45 minutes ahead of third placed Team Nopesport THB.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Raining but still loving it

So far this year I've enjoyed most of my outdoor pursuits in fantastic sunshine. This has been a lot to do with luck, and also thanks to unusually good summer weather this year. Therefore, a day of full-on rain and wind could easily have put me off the mountains. Not so, I discovered yesterday.

Joining a group of avid walkers (many of whom I know from working in newspapers) on Saturday evening at Bridge of Orchy I was gutted to be told that while they had walked in mega sunshine that day along the Buchaille Etive Mor and ridge in Glencoe, Sunday's forecast was for typically driech Scottish weather. Hmmm. Well, since I'd arrived I thought I might as well see whether I liked the mountains as much without the glorious sun.

And it really did rain. Setting off from Victoria Bridge to do the Black Mount traverse, including the four Munros Stob Ghabhar, Stob a' Choire Odhair, Creise and Meall a' Bhuirdh, we all needed full waterproof clothing (and wind screen wipers for my glasses!). There were glimpses of blue sky at some points during the day but mostly the cloud hung low and proper compass navigation was required.

Yes, I would have preferred to be able to see the fab views around me all day long, but somehow it seemed just as special to be treated to a jaw-dropping view every time the clouds cleared a little. There were several heart-stopping moments when thick, swirling cloud suddenly opened up to offer a clear, spectacular view down across a valley. I was also amazed on one occasion to find myself on the summit of a mountain in sunshine, but looking down on the cloud.

What also made the day so much fun was walking along chatting to people I'd not seen for ages, or else getting to know those who I had never met before. Walking in our great outdoors affords a great deal of time for proper talking – and the luxury (well, so it seems to me in my busy life that all too often gets interrupted) of making it to the end of my thoughts about a subject.

And while I am not brave/competent enough to navigate myself yet I began to understand the satisfaction of working out how to traverse a landscape with only a map and compass for reference. I also liked the feeling of battling against the elements to reach a mountain top.

So now I know that I love the challenge/camaraderie of walking in the mountains just as much as I love the scenery. It doesn't matter so much any more whether it rains or shines.

I do not have another outing planned at the moment – but I hope to very soon.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Pull of the Munro Bagging Bug

So now I can see why so many people are Munro bagging addicts. I have always loved the Scottish mountains and almost everything else that goes with our great outdoors but until this weekend I'd somehow managed to resist the pull of the Munro Bagging Bug (MBB). Then, all at once, at the top of the third Munro in Glen Carron on Saturday I could feel the hands of the MBB taking a grip around my mesmerised brain.

Looking down from the 933m summit of Maol Chean-dearg and out towards the Torridon mountains and further afield to the Cuillin ridge on Skye it was as if the MBB lightbulb was suddenly switched on. The views were awesome and the immense feeling of cracking three big Munros and a total ascent of more than 2000m in one day totally blew my mind. Of course, the fabulous weather helped and so did the good company of three avid hill walking friends.

On that day we summitted Beinn Liath Mhor (926m), Sgorr Ruadh (962m), as well as Maol. The challenge was pretty big with lots of steep ascent and descent but I loved it all. I am pretty fit but not "walking fit" so the outing was one of the most epic I've ever taken on. But still I could feel a lightness in my step, and heart, as we completed the final couple of miles towards the car – and a large beer.

Sgurr Fiona is the summit in the background on the right (I think?!)

This should have been more than enough walking for one weekend but on the Sunday there was a plan to complete two more Munros, this time An Teallach (Bidein a' Ghlas Thuill at 1062m) and 1060m-high Sgurr Fiona (how was I going to resist climbing to the top of a Munro with my very own name?!). Despite sore thighs and a general tiredness I realised I was up for the challenge of another eight or so hours of walking. Again the weather was extremely kind and the views were astounding. Added to this we saw some amazing wildlife, including pretty dragonflies and gorgeous wee orchids.

There were several highlights, including the scramble (I momentarily overcame my irrational fear of heights) to summit Sgurr Fiona (she was a feisty girl!) and finding a stunning waterfall and rock pool towards the end of the walk.

The only problem with such a spirit lifting weekend is that the normal Monday morning blues are strikingly worse. I found myself extremely flat all day – and dreaming of the next time I could head to the hills.

Meanwhile, Mr Outdoors had been on the Cuillin Ridge with his twin sons and returned as (almost) high as myself. He'd managed to crack some of the toughest sections of the ridge and as this has been a long-held dream he was delighted with the achievement. He tells me that he is still resisting the call of the MBB but i reckon it's only a matter of time!

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Oh well, perhaps I am mad!

The contrast between my triathlon club mates and other pals always makes me laugh. When I mentioned over the last couple of days to various people that I plan to cycle from home to New Cumnock in Ayrshire to visit a friend my tri club mates look kind of envious but not in the least bit surprised. It could amount to about 50 miles all in but to the tri club folk this sounds like a I was going in case they might be able to fit in the ride, too.

However, when I talk about such an outing with other people they raise their eyebrows in shock. They ask why I would not take the car, train - perhaps a plane! They wonder why? They look at me as if I'm insane.

When I think back to my early days in the club I can recall the same feeling. I clearly remember a few conversations where members told me that before coming to the track for the running session they had been out for a 60-mile cycle. Many triathletes think nothing of training twice a day. Back then I thought they were mad. For me a 6-mile cycle to work and back was enough and I ran only twice a week.

Now, having become quite a bit fitter, I look forward to the chance to cycle 50 miles to visit a friend. I don't think it's madness - just a good use of time and a great opportunity to do some training while also seeing some of Ayrshire's countryside.

It would be rubbish if we were all the same, eh?!

Monday, 29 June 2009

How far would you go for a fish supper?

The start

Some people will go a long way to buy a fish supper – but it could be that myself and fellow members of the Glasgow Triathlon Club went the furthest ever this weekend. I blogged previously about the Big Long Chippie Run triathlon but I had no idea, until taking part, what a hugely fantabulous event this would be. Every single person who participated or supported the event arrived at Sunday evening exhausted but utterly uplifted. Some people said it was one of the best weekends of their lives.

The event saw members cycling from Helensburgh to the southern end of Loch Lomond. An 11.5 nour relay swim took our triathletes some 22 miles north to the top of the stunning loch. After a fairly nightmarish night (for those eaten alive by midges at Beinglas Campsite. PS It won't help now but you could read my summer guide to nasty Scottish beasties for future reference!) the following day comprised a mass 95-mile cycle to Kinross. While some went the whole distance others did whatever mileage they fancied, while being supported by a Mitchells Hire drive van and mini bus. (Thanks Mitchells for your generous sponsorship.)

Sunday was another fabulous cycle (should have been 27 miles, ended up 40 miles due to terrible navigation!) and then a 11-mile run. The final mile of the run involved all participants as we ran together into Anstruther.

While utterly knackered I have to say it was one of the most amazing weekends I've ever enjoyed. Fab company, an amazing route and all for charity. Plus I don't think a fish supper has ever tasted so good as it did yesterday after cycling and running some 52 miles!

Let's do it this again next year. . .

The End at the Anstruther Fish Bar

...And you can still donate money to the three charities in recognition our epic effort.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

(I think) I'm loving this. . .

With forecasters predicting a sunnier summer and tourism bods reporting a rise in the value-for-money staycation, it's likely that good old-fashioned camping is going to be a hot trend. So maybe this strange new product is going to be a novel hit.

Actually, when you see it up close, the Slanket (not a great name - but it pretty much does what it says on the label) is a great idea. Essentially a blanket with sleeves, the Slanket offers warmth for campers or any outdoorsy folk on cool UK evenings.

I know it will work for me. Last year on a camping hol in Wales I spent hours every evening sat on a camp chair trying to keep warm by snuggling into my sleeping bag. However, every time I needed to get up to pop to the loo or fix another drink I had to climb out of the bag (or alternatively do a series of incongruous sleeping bag jumps). With a Slanket I would never need to discard the warm outer.

The only thing is the Slanket does look a bit granny-ish (although some colours are better than others) and I don't think the publicity pics do it much justice but having tried one for size I know it'll be the first thing to be packed for this year's camping trip. See

Sunday's "instead" hill run

Campsie Fells

Having not even made it into the car to head north to support the West Highland Way race, let alone on foot into the great outdoors, I was keen to find a hill run to offer some replacement therapy. While I've been up and Dumgoyne a few times recently I have not done so with Mr Outdoors for ages, so this is where we headed.

Mr Outdoors is keen to rediscover his hill walking legs for a forthcoming trip to the Cuillin Ridge so he suggested the idea of running up and down "our hill" (remember, this is where we were married in 2006) twice . This seemed like a good challenge until we reached the summit (in a great time) and looked over to the next summit in the Campsie Fells. Strangely we've never ventured over to this hill called (I think) Earl's Seat (578m). (See here for info about these hills). So two hills in one outing rather than one hill twice became our new goal.

We found the trail was easy to identify and while there was a reasonable ascent it was very easy-going compared to the steep side of Dumgoyne. The views from Earl's Seat (the highest summit in this string of hills) were every bit as gorgeous although I'm still pleased we chose Dumgoyne for the wedding.

The route back would have been oh-so-simple if we'd just retraced our steps but this is so not the way of Mr Outdoors. He likes to try new routes. Instead he decided to navigate us off the hill by another route he swore he could see from the top of Earl's Seat. Only, it turns out, that this trail didn't quite go where he'd expected and we ended up spending 20 minutes traipsing through tedious ankle twisting heather. (Apparently I was also to blame as this route had been a "joint" decision. Hmmm!).

Finally, though, we picked up a trail at the bottom of the hills running back towards the Strathblane Valley. I believe this is called the "pipe trail" or similar. It did offer a lovely final mile or so to our run and meant that we arrived back at Glengoyne Distillery (and the car) with smiles back on our faces.

Update: West Highland Way madness

So it seems that Charlie was proper poorly. Just a few hours into the event he felt weary, clammy and ended up with bad diarrhoea. He was right to stop where he did and to recognise that to continue would have been a disaster, not to mention the potential for laying him up for weeks afterwards. It's a brave man that admits defeat! I spoke to Charlie on Monday and he is majorly gutted not to have completed however he plans to try again next year. Hopefully he'll ask me to support him again.

Monday, 22 June 2009

The madness that never happened

Sadly Charlie was forced to pull out of the bonkers WHW race at Beinglas. He had been running for about 8hrs (some 40 or so miles) by this point and while I haven't spoken to him yet I imagine he was gutted to have come so far.. yet have to go home early. His wife called me at 10am to tell me the news and she thinks it had something to do with a sore throat that Charlie had been suffering the week before.

I was really disappointed for Charlie after all the amazing training that he'd put in this year. I was also (selfishly) a tad disappointed myself. I was really excited about supporting Charlie on those final 20 miles or so.

But the real bummer was that because I wasn't heading north for the event I had to stay home and attend to domestic chores, including the gardening. Boy did I feel sorry for myself by the end of the day. I kept thinking about the allure of the hills vs the repulsiveness of the weeds.

The WHW race did not provide any record breaking runs this year. Bradley Scott won in 16hrs 11 secs (the record is held by Jez Bragg in 15:44 from 2006). While the fastest woman was Sharon Law in 19hrs 55mins (2007 saw the fastest ever lady Lucy Colquhoun in 17:16). I've not heard a race report but the results suggest that conditions were tough at the weekend.

Friday, 19 June 2009

West Highland Way madness?

For those of you who don't know, the West Highland Way is a long distance walking route that stretches 95 miles from Milngavie, near Glasgow, to Fort William. Most people take around five days to walk this trail, stopping overnight at one of numerous B&Bs or campsites. However every year a group of people take part in a truly mad race – walking/jogging/running the full length in one go.

It's hard to believe that anyone can run this far over such tough terrain (we're talking here about a rough trail, lots of big hills and a mountain or two). The West Highland Way Race record is an incredible 15 hrs and 44mins. The female record is 17hrs and 16 mins. Every participant is required to complete in less than 36hrs and for most the Holy grail is sub 24 hours.

Now I have no real desire to complete such an event. The Loch Ness Marathon last year was way more than enough for me. However, I am keen to support anyone bonkers enough to want to give it a go, especially if it's in the name of charity.

Which is why, this weekend, I will be joining one competitor, Charlie M, for the final 23 miles or so. Charlie is a member of my tri club and an all-round adrenaline junkie. He has done this race before but he's also completed a host of other insane events including the Marathon Des Sables. He always raises money for the Beanfeast children's charity. (You can see his justgiving site here)

The things is, until last night, I hadn't really given much thought to what I would be doing. It was another tri pal Jim that first suggested the idea many months ago. Jim supported Charlie on the final 12 miles of the WHW Race a couple of years ago. "Go on." Jim told me. "It's a good thing to do and actually quite ok because Charlie is only able to walk by that point."

Only Charlie has got himself super fit this year. He's ahead of me at tri club track sessions and I've been keeping an eye on various events he's taken part in over the last six months. Charlie has clocked some impressive times.

But I've committed myself and I want to help Charlie out. I hope to start at Kingshouse, head over the Devil's Staircase, then on to Kinlochleven before the final descent into Fort William. Put like this it all seems fine. Afterall I know I can walk 23 miles. But in reality it will be at night, it is likely to be wet and windy, Charlie will be desperate to finish (and in under 24 hours) and I have no idea if I'll be a good support or not. I mean, will Charlie want me to chat to him? Or just be there? Will he be grumpy? Will I be able to keep up?

Goodness knows. Still, I'm pretty excited about it all. I'll report back after the weekend to tell you how Charlie got on. And how it felt to do only a fraction of the epic event.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Bearsden & Milngavie Highland Games

A casual chat with a friend ended up with me as volunteer press officer for the local Highland Games. Hmmm.. Well, at least I feel I'm doing my bit for the good of the local community. So just to add to our publicty drive don't forget to get yourselves aloing to the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games 2009 tommorrow (that's Sat June 13th) at the West of Scotland Rugby ground, Milngavie. There looks like being a tons of fabulous attractions.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

One sister walks Five Sister - but where are all the other sisters?

We found Scotland at its best again last weekend when Mr Outdoors and I joined dozen or so other walkers to hike The Five Sisters of Kintail. The outing was organised to raise money for Water Aid and was initiated by a group of workers (including one of Mr Outdoors's sons) from Edinburgh.

With three Munros, a Munro top and a Corbett to complete during the magnificent, seven-hour ridge walk, this outing was clearly meant for the generally fit. But surely this doesn't mean that all women are incapable/uninterested of/in such hikes.

Mr and Mrs Outdoors
and step-son David

To start with it appeared that I might be the only woman on the ridge that day. Being the only female in our large group of men I was surprised to find that all their various wives/girlfriends had decided to stay home. When asked, the guys suggested that the WAGs were "happier at home doing a bit of shopping", "not fit enough", "not interested enough", "not bothered enough".

Of course, the lack of women could be because the girls were simply content to have some peace and quiet at home while the guys head off for male-only weekend (except I was there!).

But it wasn't only our walking group that was notably lacking in girls. During the entire day I saw only three other women. Now this was a busy route and the weather was mostly fine so it was pretty surprising to find myself in such a male-dominated arena.

Still, it made little difference to my enjoyment of this fabulous walk. The guys in our group proved that they can chat as much as the girls and have as many laughs. The atmosphere was up-beat and the pace was perfect. And if they minded that there was a woman among their laddish group they never said it out loud.

But, really, sisters. You don’t know what you’re missing....

For route details see