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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!