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Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Surf paddle for charity

Paddle surfing is great fun for all ages and this event, being run by Belhaven Surf Club in East Lothian, aims to raise a whole lot of cash for charity, too. So what are you waiting for? Now is the time to sign up to an Easter holiday adventure...

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Talking, walking and talking in Aviemore

So while many parts of Scotland – and indeed my house in Glasgow – were drenched in rain on Saturday I spent the day in Aviemore walking in "mostly" sunshine during a weekend of chatting, eating, laughing and walking with great friends Little R and Big M.

Aviemore has recently charted as one of my favourite places in Scotland and Little R and Big M, who had memories of "that huge big concrete hotel thing and that oh-so-disappointing SantaLand from their childhoods", seemed to be as taken as I am with the vastly improved outdoors town.

We arrived at our house let – see here, it's fab! – on the Friday evening and managed to stay up until 2am talking and talking. Sometimes the pleasure of getting away from normal life and partners and children is the simple act of actually being able to finish conversations and see topics through to the end without being interrupted. Clearly we had a lot to talk to the end about!

Since the forecast was for heavy rain we were prepared on Saturday to pull on waterproofs for a brief outing into the wonderful outdoors around Aviemore. Amazingly, however, we awoke to sunshine and only a few threatening looking clouds. With a range of fitness levels (well, Big M ain't all that big on walking and active stuff!) I chose a flattish walk via the Speyside Way. The beauty of this section of the Way is that you can take a delightful steam train from Aviemore to Boat of Garten then alight and walk back along the Way to Aviemore.

The trail is well marked and undulating - and the views of the surrounding Cairngorms are truly wonderful. We had a bit of a head wind to walk into during the six miles but as Little R stated: "Walking into the wind means there's a bigger calorie burn so that means we can eat more cake (or whatever) at the end." Ideal!

Only twice did we feel a few spots of rain – and the walk did indeed give us a huge appetite for lunch. Check out the fab cafe Ski-ing Doo next time you're in Aviemore if you're looking for great service, good music and a range of freshly made dishes. The curly fries were a real treat!

The rest of the afternoon equalled a "nice lie down" for weary Big M and another three miles of walking and talking for Little R and I. Having heard a lot about Rotheimurchus estate, Little R was keen to go for a stroll - and I knew I could bag another castle (from a bit of a distance as it's in the middle of the loch!). We walked a complete circuit of the gorgeous Loch an Eilein following an easy-going trail through pine trees. There's a map available that details a host of walks and cycles on this stunning estate. Or why not simply get a download from the fab website Walking Highlands? See here

By now the rain had decided to move in on Aviemore and so Little R and I headed back to the holiday let. We'd thought about going out for our dinner but ended up drinking sparkling wine, ordering a takeaway and, you guessed, it talking a lot!

By Sunday Aviemore had joined the rest of the country under one big rain cloud. But that just made us feel all the more smug having already been treated to a whole day of perfect walking weather the day before. Sometimes luck is on the side of walkers in Scotland - and I even noticed a few freckles that had been brought out on my face by the spring sunshine!

New ashtanga yoga class in Bearsden

I used to think that yoga was a flimsy sport. I imagined it was an excuse for doing exercise. But once I discovered ashtanga style yoga all my ill-conceived notions disappeared. This is an amazing form of yoga and one that offers a fab workout for the body and mind.

I have found that regular yoga helps to prevent injury caused by my other sports - and keeps me calm. Having started out with the tight muscles of a woman more likely to be in her 80s I can now hold my head high in a class of intermediate yogis. And the poses I imagined I'd never, ever be able to do I now can!

My progression has been thanks to the expert tuition and encouragement of Jo at Jo Lockhart Yoga in Bearsden. Boy, can that lady bend and stretch! Her classes are very popular - and she's now decided to start a new one on a Tuesday evening. If you have the chance to fit this into your diary I couldn't recommend it more highly.

If you want to know more about this style of yoga here's an explanation from the experts: Ashtanga Vinyasa style yoga is a dynamic form of yoga that focuses on posture (asana), breathing (vinyasa) and focus (dristhi or gaze point). The practice moves through a systematic sequence of postures, co-ordinating breath with movement and forming a moving meditation that helps to purify the body, nervous system and mind.

Regular practice builds up strength and stamina, improves posture, cleanses the body of toxins, improves circulation, and lets the energy (prana) run efficiently throughout the body. The regular deep breathing required for the practice, calms the mind and the nervous system. The focus required lets us forget the mental chatter we all suffer from.

The practice is suitable for everyone who is healthy and fancies a wee bit of a challenge and postures can be modified to suit all levels of flexibility.

I'd recommend you check out Jo Lockhart's website – and then why not sign up to her new class? You'll need t be fast though as her classes are very popular.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Why sporty girls won't want to bounce into spring

When it comes to your boobs, it turns out that too much bounce is bad for your health. Whether you’re small, large or somewhere in between, a sports bra is an essential piece of kit for every sporty woman. And this season there’s a budget-friendly trend for wear-all-day sports bras. Find out more by reading my new article on the female magazine website

Review: Hi-tec walking boot

The nice people at Hi-tec have sent me a pair of walking boots to test-drive on the hills around Aviemore this weekend. It's the first time for more than 20 years that I have owned a pair of leather boots. But with so much wet weather around I'm thinking that leather will be a huge asset.

The technical name for boots is: V-Lit Altitude Ultra Luxe WPI in a size 8. They look lovely and the feel very light.

According to the website features include:
  • Waterproof nubuck leather upper
  • Ion-mask waterproof technology
  • Fully gusseted leather tongue
  • Soft-padded leather collar
  • Moisture-wicking lining
  • Rustproof hardware
  • Stabila-Flex contoured bi-fit board for support without the weight
  • Lightweight compression-molded EVA midsole
  • Exclusive Vibram® outsole
  • Comfort-Tec contoured sockliner

The test will come when tramping through the bogs and on rough trails over the next couple of I'll blog my report on these Hi-tec boots after this weekend.

Little Miss Outdoors has also been sent a pair of Junior Renegrade Trail walking boots. We'll be testing these on a hill near Glasgow sometime over the Easter hols.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Scotland's new off-road half-marathon run

The world famous mountain bike trails of Nevis Range, near Fort William, are set to be the focus of a new off-road running event this May. The Outdoor Capital Trail Half Marathon and 5k Fun Run are aimed at trail running beginners, through have-a-go intermediates to all those mentalist mountain goat types.

Runners will be treated to a stunning race course on forestry roads and tracks in the iconic Leanachan Forest. (This is where some of the events in the Mountain Bike World Cop are held each year.) Views will be just as amazing as the route, and with May so often a fantastic month for Scottish weather you'll likely feast your eyes on the eye candy offerings of the Great Glen, the Grey Corries and Ben Nevis.

The event on May 16 is being organised by No Fuss Events. (These are the guys behind a whole host of exciting events in Scotland including the Big Triathlon, the Glen Nevis River Race, and the Ten Under mountain bike series.) The Outdoor Capital Trail Half Marathon and 5k Fun Run costs £20 to enter here

I really fancy taking part in the half-marathon but since it's the day after my birthday I've not yet convinced myself to do so. However, the race does start at a runner-friendly mid-day so really there should be no excuse...

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A fitness website written by FionaOutdoors

Here's a shiny new website written by me for a fitness and health client, Dynamic Core Solutions. The site was designed by WebCreation UK

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The rise and rise of ski touring in Scotland

Ski touring is the big news this winter in Scotland's great outdoors. According to various sources, and including the nice chaps at Aviemore shop and hire emporium Mountain Spirit, the number of people enjoying our snowy mountains on touring skis is "unbelievable".

Rob, who owns Mountain Spirit, says that despite buying a large new stock of touring skis for hire he still hasn't been able to keep up with demand in recent months. "These next few weekends and especially over Easter are even busier," he told me when I phoned to reserve four sets of skis for a forthcoming ski tour adventure.

"The slopes around Cairngorm are just covered with ski tour tracks. People are really keen to make the most of the great conditions out there. We have been overwhelmed by the number of enquiries for tourer skis, especially as we're the only place that hires these skis in Aviemore."

Luckily enough, though, it looks like there will be enough skis ("just") for our trip, although one of the chaps might need to take female skis ("with a flowery design"!). Having never ski toured before I am heading off with an experienced skier, his girlfriend and the G-Force. We're planning two days of touring, hopefully taking in a few of the higher mountain summits in the Cairngorm plateau. I'm expecting the activity to be a lot of hard work – but I'm also hoping for some fabulous views and a lot of fun on the descents.

It'll also offer a chance to "bag" a few more Munros. I'll be writing about the ski touring on this blog, and I'll blog about the Munro "bags" on the new Bagging Scotland website.

Monday, 22 March 2010

21 natural wonders of Scotland

Received through the door today: The award-winning Scotland Outdoors magazine - including my latest feature about Scotland's most inspirational places to visit. It looks good. Thanks guys.

Mighty Deerstalker was muddy, mad but fun

What's wet, slippery, longer than average and dirty all over? The Mighty Deerstalker of course!

I have competed in the madcap Mighty Deerstalker 10k three times now. Twenty minutes into every race I have cursed the agony in my thighs, my mud-squelching trainers, my soaked, chaffing shorts and my bursting lungs. I have doubted my sanity.

But I have also found this unique adventure run that takes place on the beautiful Traquair estate in the Scottish Borders to be enormously rewarding. There is a fantastic atmosphere, the obstacles are bonkers but fun and I have totally loved the bizarre and extreme challenge.

At the end of every Deerstalker event I always have a massive smile on my face – and I just know I'll want to enter again next year.

The 2010 Mighty Deerstalker, which took place on Saturday evening in half light and then darkness, was even better (and crazier) than I can remember. The bogs were boggier, the obstacles were more slippery, the hills seemed steeper, the river crossings seemed longer and the scree seemed less firm. But the participants seem to be having more fun.

This time I had a grinning G-Force running with me (well, mostly slightly ahead!). This was his first go at the Mighty One and despite the scratches, scrapes, rubs and tiredness he crossed the finish line and immediately commented that he wanted to do it again - and faster - next year.

With some 2500 people lining up for the Mighty Deerstalker - and also the sister 5k Deerstalker race – this event just gets bigger every year. The first time I entered there were only 600 people in both races.

The after-race entertainment is also even more impressive as the years go by. The "Beerstalker" party tent was full of happy, but still mostly muddy, participants and a host of friends. Beer, bands and lots of banter. Perhaps I'm getting old, but I couldn't last the pace of the after-race event and had to pull out before the final stages.

Still, I had an excuse for my tiredness. I ran a faster time in the Mighty Deerstalker than ever before and scored a top 20 result in the female stag category. But my 1hr 50 mins was nowhere near as impressive as the first lady stag Mhairi Brown, 28, of Edinburgh, who came home in 1:34. Meanwhile the first male stag was local man Darin Dougal, 38, of Innerleithen, who finished in 1:21. Awesome stuff you fellow stags.

If this sounds like your kind of thing and you can't wait until next year why not check out another event being held at Balfron, Stirlingshire, in May? The Marie Curie Whole Hog Challenge 2010 promises six miles of mud, waterfalls, countryside trails and general madness. You'll also be raising money for a worthwhile charity. To find out more see here

Friday, 19 March 2010

Mighty Deerstalker promises more mud and madness

The Mighty Deerstalker is usually mad - and wet - enough! But listening to the rain battering against the windows last night it occured to me that this year's event (taking place tomorrow evening at Traquair in the Scottish Borders) will be even wetter – and therefore even more bonkers.

I'm thinking of the descents on various slippery trails, and the numerous muddy "slides" down forest embankments, not to mention the dice-with-your-life wet log walks and those mental killer climbs, first in the forest and then up that scree slope. The more I think about it the more I know it'll be carnage. But, you know what, it will also be a huge amount of fun for those who are up for it.

My worry is how much tougher it will all be dressed in soaking Tweeds. Yeh, you have to take part to believe how silly this unique adventure run can be. I can't wait!

Competitive? The tri club? Absolutely!

Tri club coach Captain McKay decided last night that we'd have a "fun" running session. Well if that meant a break from punishing interval training then we were all happy. But, of course, "fun" among a group of competitive triathletes was always going to end in a fierce competition, wasn't it?

And the concept was perfect for pushing our competitive streaks to the limit. Two teams, four slower runners and four faster runners each. Team A first ran the shorter loop of 550m as a relay, while Team B ran the longer loop of 900m as a relay. Then the teams swapped. Team B did the shorter loop and Team B did the longer loop.

But it was only when the final few runners were setting off that we all realised just how close the relay was going to be. The final runner in Team A was Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this. The final runner in Team B was FionaOutdoors!

But Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this was doing the longer loop. And I was doing the shorter loop.

But Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this had a head start because the penultimate runner in his team had made it back to the start line before the penultimate runner in my team.

But then our runner came around the corner, crossed the finish line and gave me the ok to start running.

I knew it was going to be close run. I felt my legs wobble dangerously with nerves. I could feel my stomach churning. But I was determined not to let my team down.

But then as I turned my final corner I heard the rest of the teams shouting and cheering. I thought Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this was closing in on the finish after doing his loop.

But still I ploughed on. Heaving and pushing myself to the edge of my ability (gosh, you'd think this was the Commonwealth Games or something) I willed myself on. And then I saw the finish line. And I saw Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this closing in too. And I kept sprinting for the line. And I thought my lungs would explode and my legs would give way.

And then there was huge cheering in my ears.

And, yes, I'd done it. I'd beaten Ross-I'm-getting-too-old-for-all-this to the finish - by about two metres. Team B were victorious!

It was an amazingly close race and a huge amount of fun. But boy are my legs killing me today!

Great session Captain McKay!

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A reason to run to Arnison Crag

My sense of direction has never been a strong point and this weekend it failed me again. However, as so often happens when I get lost I found myself enjoying a mini adventure. This time I ended up running for about 70 minutes through lovely, undulating Cumbrian fells. But that was Sunday's outing. Let me rewind to the beginning...

Last July, my good friend Ellen's brother Nathan died suddenly. Last weekend friends and family (including is wife and two young children) gathered in Cumbria for a memorial weekend/celebration of his life. Nathan had set aside a sum of money in his will, and his closest friends and family members had decided to organise a tribute weekend, which included a beautiful walk to the top of the perfectly named Arnison Crag, near Patterdale, and a hog roast party at a nearby hotel.

The weekend, based at The Inn on the Lake at Glenridding, was one of mixed emotions but almost everyone I met and spoke to said it would have been the kind of weekend that Nathan himself would have really enjoyed. That was the point really, I guess. Someone said it would have been so typical of him to have organised such a weekend and then for a joke, not bother turning up.

I felt extremely privileged to be part of this tribute weekend to Nathan and to meet so many of his closest friends and relatives. While there was sadness, the two days were also somehow spirit lifting, too. Nathan had clearly lived life to the full and was described by everyone as one of the happiest people they knew. He had loved his friends and family and he had always been up for some madcap adventure, a party or a bucketful of beer.

I had known Nathan as a friend of his immediate family and I had always greatly enjoyed his sense of fun and his chat. I will never forget the hilarious moment as he left Ellen's home after one drunken night in pitch black to cycle to a camp site some miles away.

Part of the tribute weekend walk plan was that everyone would bring a stone to build a cairn atop Arnison's Crag in memory of Nathan. I'd packed mine in my bag but on the day I'm ashamed to say I forgot to pop it in my walking rucksack. I picked up another stone along the way (as did others, some managing to haul boulders up to the top!) and placed this among all the others stones on the summit. But I still felt as though I'd let Nathan down a bit.

Elvis "rocked" up, too. Well, a whole Elvi, in fact. Apparently
Arnie needed little excuse to dress up! And nor did his friends.

So on Sunday morning I set out to take my stone to Arnison's crag. Despite a hangover and tiredness (a late night of partying!) I decided I'd run the route. I figured that a two-hour saunter/walk the previous day should take me only 40 minutes at trotting pace – and I'd heard that some fell runners race to the top of Arnison's Crag in just six minutes.

All this would have worked out nicely if I had not have got lost! (I'm sure I would have managed the top in 10 minutes!) I set out from the hotel and found the start of the crag walk behind the Patterdale Hotel. I only had to ask for directions once! But after this I very quickly seemed to get lost. I've no idea how but that's just typical of me.

Oh well, I thought, at least I will try to enjoy myself. Some 20 minutes later and after a hard slog up a steep "other" hill I came across two walkers with a map. They told me that I was climbing the neighbouring Birks Crag and that Arnison Crag was over there (they pointed).

Yes, I could see Arnison Crag was the next hill along and I realised that if I followed a zig-zagging wall across the fells I might actually navigate my way there. Amazingly I did this. It was a long way round and really blowy but I was on an Arnie Mission and so after almost an hour of running and plodding I got to place my own stone on top of the Arnison Cairn. I'd also managed to head off my hangover.

So Nathan, thanks for some great Arnison family memories. Thanks, too, for a weekend of walking and partying with your friends and family. (You would have love the Elvi!) And thanks for giving me a reason to run two beautiful hills in a part of the world I have rarely visited.

PS. Sorry for the poor picture-taking quality but I discovered my camera no longer has a picture display.

Another website written by FionaOutdoors

Well, I'm not really one to go on about my day-time job as I normally like to blog about my stuff Outdoors. If the two coincide then that's a bonus but blogging about my "Indoors" work doesn't always seem so, well, bloggable. However I know that sometimes it pays to do a bit of showcasing/networking. Actually, I should be doing a bit more of this so that I end up with more work (which would then lead to me being able to afford to do more Outdoors stuff!)

So, here's a link to a new website that I have just finished writing. While the designer did the design for KidiCare Nursery, I did the words. It's becoming increasingly common for a designer to work with a copywriter to create a website that is both appealing to look at and an engaging and informative read. I hope you'll agree that this one does both.

There, that's my website work promotion done. Now back to writing about the Great Outdoors, this time for the Herald.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Couldn't resist the Mighty One – again

Sometimes I can't resist a bit of madness. With just a day to go before the entries close I decided I'd give the infamously nutty Mighty Deerstalker a go again. And I've persuaded the G-Force to take a break from the Munros this Saturday to find out just what this bonkers adventure race – which is set at Traquair, in the Scottish Borders – is all about. He's already heard me raving about it but he has no idea just how silly - or challenging - the event will be. Hee, hee!

I'll be writing about my third go at this addictive event in the Southern Reporter and here on my blog. In the meantime I need to find last year's antlers...

Anyone else fancy giving it a go? There's a 5k race for anyone who wants to take it a little easier... Yeah, right?!

Friday, 12 March 2010

I've entered the Bealach Mor – and now I'm scared

I've been threatening to take part in the challenging Bealach Mor Cycle Sportive for some years. Last September I even made it as far as the Kinlochewe based event in but I chose to help with marshalling and writing up news reports instead of cycling. This year, I have finally convinced myself to enter the 90-mile challenge.

This is tough event with masses of hills, including Britain's longest Alpine-style road climb (2053ft of ascent in6 miles). I witnessed for myself last year just how punishing the Bealach Mor can be as cyclists fell by the wayside throughout the route and those that did finish came home shattered. The weather was almost as punishing as the event.

But, then again, what is the point in setting yourself a challenge if it's not going to test you? A couple of years ago I trained and ran my first ever marathon and although it was tough the sense of achievement at the end was incredible.

I'm hoping that the G-Force (an experienced road cyclist as well as an obsessed Munro bagger!) will be helping me along with the seriously daunting task of training for such an event. He says he'll even help me in the first stage of the event. (I'm sure he'll leave me for dust within a couple of miles but it's the thought that counts.)

I'll be keeping you posted over the next six months about the cycle training – and no doubt the agony of a buildup to such an event. And if you're feeling inclined towards a little pedalling madness later this year why not enter yourself?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The dilemma: Shiny Mac or Matt Mac?

I'm having a dilemma. While I am in love with My Gorgeous Mac I am wondering if I should trade him in for another model. The problem is his lovely shininess.

You see my new MacBook Pro comes with a shiny, glass screen (as opposed to a matt screen). While this does offer an amazing clarity of screen viewing, especially while on-line, it does sometimes act like a mirror. So when the light is bright or the sun is shining through my office window I continually catch sight of my mug in the screen.

My formerBeautiful Mac was a matt screen version and so I am finding the mirror thing a little disconcerting. Frightening even.

This afternoon I came face to face with myself yet again and I noticed that I have deep lines around my mouth and my neck is starting to look a bit like a chicken's. This kind of clarity of viewing is not nice at all.

Yeh, yeh, I know that the lines are what happen when you get older but until this point I've managed to reserve looking in the mirror to a) darker rooms b) times when I'm not wearing my glasses c) very quick glances from a cleverly judged distance..

Perhaps it is a good thing to face the reality of ageing once in a while (although I'm struggling to think why this might be). Or should I simply exchange My Gorgeous Mac for a Gorgeous Matt Mac? I have another week left to decide thanks to the two-week no quibbles exchange rule at the AppleMac store.

Anyone found the same problems?

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The guy who can just keeps on running

I've met this guy and interviewed him several times and he seems plausible enough. Almost sane in fact. But then you find out what he gets up to in his spare time. Based on the tiny island of Sanday, in the Orkney Islands, William Sichel has become over the last decade one of the most talked about British ultra-distance runners.

When this guy, who is 56, runs he just goes on and on and on. He holds all kinds of records including the all-time Scottish record for covering 857.07km/532.56 miles in six days.

William will tell you that he believes he is ideally built for ultra-running. He's just 5' 5" tall and weighs only 9st 2lbs (58kgs). He also says he has a unique physiology being "extraordinarily adapted for fat burning requiring only tiny amounts of energy (less than 100kcals per hour) and fluid to produce optimum performance on long ultras".

Other interesting William facts: he's a cancer survivor, he runs a mail order thermal clothing company with his wife , they harvest fur from Angora rabbits on Sanday and has developed his own weights vest so that he can cover less distance in training for the same development potential.

Now William is taking part in a 1000 Mile World Cup event in Athens. He describes the event, taking place on Monday, as a “step into the unknown”. (I'd describe it as truly bonkers!)

William said: “This will be the pinnacle of my 16-year ultra-distance running career. The event, which is rarely held, is really taking me into foreign territory, as I have never run more than 532 miles in one go before so it is a mammoth step up in distance for me.”

William has prepared meticulously for this formidable event and has also spoken to other Brits who have completed 1000 miles in under 16 days during the past 30 years.

So think of William at mid-day (UK time) on Monday March 15 as he lines up in a field of 24 athletes, representing 12 nations, on the site of the former Athens International airport. He'll have 16 days to complete the miles. What an awesome thought!

And if William manages this, he will be the oldest British person ever to have done so.

Photo is courtesy of Alan Young

Monday, 8 March 2010

You know you're getting old when...

...You do not recognise any of the headlining bands at a major UK music festival!

Writing copy for a forthcoming Explore Scotland guide for The Herald I decided to include T in the Park as a must-do festival. But who are these headlining bands? Huh? Muse and Kasabian. I'm not sure I've even heard of these band names although I expect I have listened to their music (since Little Miss Outdoors is all too often in charge of tuning the car radio these days.)

I think I maybe need to get with the 21st century trendy music programme - or perhaps I should focus on other more worrisome aging features, such as a the sudden proliferation of grey hairs, the appearance of cellulite on the back of my legs, the sadly wrinkling hands, the puffy bags under my eyes. Oh it's too depressing to go on.

Thank goodness I still feel about 25 in my head (and when I avoid looking in the mirror, at the back of my legs, at my hands etc!).

Sunday, 7 March 2010

My very own Ikea Unit Nightmare

There can be few people in the world who have not been directly badly affected by the assembly of an item of Ikea furniture. Whether you were the unlucky constructor or the unfortunate by-stander (listening to someone else's Ikea Construction Nightmare is also extremely painful) the scene of confusion, disarray, frustration and blind stubbornness must surely have been played out in so many livings rooms across every country in the western world.

And so last night I found myself knee-deep in my very own three-and-half-hour I.C.N. The unit in question was the Besta Jagra (forever more to be known as the B*stard Jagra). Now I would consider myself a reasonably intelligent person (I bet all those who've lived through an ICN say they same). In the past I have actually put together a number of other Ikea units without too much trouble. But I swear the instructions for the B*astard Jagra were intended to be deliberately misleading and incomprehensible.

(At one point at around 10.50pm I began to wonder if Ikea had signed a deal with all those small businesses that offer to put together your units for you. It struck me that Ikea could be deliberately writing instructions so as to confuse the average punter, which would give more work to these We'll Do It For You companies. Hmmm. This is, of course, a totally unfounded suggestion but after almost three hours of ICN I could hardly keep a lid on my cynicism - and swearing.)

Anyway, back with the B*stard Jagra. It was the runners for the drawers that had me completely flummoxed. I was so confused as to their positioning that I had to take all four runners off at least twice each. One runner went on and off a total of five times. Surely a special "runners" panel would not have gone amiss Ikea? Show the poor assembler which way up they go and whether the grey or the white wheel sits at the front or the back of the unit...

Half way through the whole ICN I also found that I had put the base on back to front. Then upside down. Then back to front again. Every time I made a mistake I had to removed a ton of screws and those amazing but very annoying curly joint screw thingies. (In the end I found I was four short of the curly joint thingies so I'll need to go back to Ikea to get those. Everyone says this happens to them, too.)

After 3hrs and 25 mins I finally had the B*stard Jagra unit together. It looks okay from the front, but I wouldn't be keen on anyone taking a look from behind. I've no idea why there are gaps between the joints back there but I can't face taken the blasted thing apart again. I also have a screwdriver wounds - a nasty blister in the palm of my hand received due to excessive screwdrivering of excessive screws (for some reason I thought that Ikea units were held together with only six screws, and amazing amount of Ikea magic and negated the use of any screwdrivers instead being affixed by a special fix-all-screws Ikea allen key. In the end I used two sizes of Philips screwdriver, two flat headed screwdrivers, a hammer and a ratchet screwdriver.)

I was also exhausted by the closing stages. Having spent hours in Glasgow's Ikea in the first place (it's a total maze), lugged the unit in two heavy boxes into the car, lugged the same two boxes out of the car and into the house (this is when I need a man to live with), spent more than three hours wrestling with various parts of the B*stard Jagra unit and screwdrivered and hammered until I could weep. So it's no wonder today that I find that my back, core muscles, shoulders, arms, hands and thighs ache.

Oh well, I guess all the Ikea Unit Workout will have burned off the calories consumed in wine over the three hours – it was for medicinal purposes obviously and without it I would surely have become so stressed that I would have given up on the ICN and phoned one of those multiplying small businesses that put Ikea furniture together for you.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Mountain scare ends in helicopter rescue

My most recent Munro bagging hike ended just two hours into the outing – when the G-Force and I were helicoptered off an avalanche prone snowfield by a Mountain Rescue Team. The situation was extremely scary but the call out was not made without a great deal of thought and consideration.

Indeed, there was a 30-minute delay during which the G-Force and I sat stranded but in reasonable safety in the middle of the treacherous snowfield and spoke to other experienced walking friends on our mobile phone. We also discussed our situation with two members of the MRT and considered the possibility of making our own way off the mountain.

But in the end it was decided that the safest option was for an MRT helicopter to rescue us. In retrospect, and having read about a number of avalanche incidents in the past few weeks, as well as two deaths, I believe the G-Force and I made the right decision.

But the question that keeps coming back at us is this: Should we have been on the mountain in the first place? It's something we have seriously asked ourselves and it is also a topic that we have discussed with a wide range of walking friends and MRT members.

Of course, a number of people have also accused us of "wasting tax payer's money" by making a call-out that they considered would not have been necessary if, in the first place, we'd stayed put at home.

So this is what happened. Setting off from near Bridge of Orchy we had planned to summit the Munros, Beinn Achaladair and Beinn a' Chreachain. We were not alone. We walked in the trail of two other experienced-looking hikers, and later we saw at least five other pairs of walkers in this area. Perhaps all of us could be considered foolhardy being out in Scotland's mountains during the winter but this is not my opinion.

We were adequately prepared for winter walking carrying a long list of safety kit. Both of us are fit and experienced walkers, in particular the G-Force, but still we chose a route we deemed to be the safest. We picked a line of ascent that was both sheltered and appeared to have the least snow cover. We were aware of the risks of avalanche in the area but walking in snow always carries a risk of avalanche so we chose the route we felt was the safest.

And, indeed, for much of the ascent the snow was so thin that we could see grass and rocks below. We felt satisfied that this was as safe a route as was possible.

But then we suddenly came across a snowfield just a few hundred metres below the summit. It was the kind of snowfield we'd encountered many times before and so we did not feel terribly alarmed. However, we did take out time to stop and assess our route up. What gave us a great deal of reassurance was a line of obvious boulders and rocks some 100m above us, which we felt offered a safe enough target.

Putting on crampons and armed with our ice axes we started to move up the steep slope. Progress was quite slow and tiring but then the sun broke through the clouds and lifted our spirits. This mood was short-lived, however.

For half way up the slope I heard the first dull cracking sound. Not familiar with this sound – and believing that it was some distance away – I didn't immediately mention it to the G-Force. He tells me later he was in the same situation. Apparently these cracking sounds can appear to be some distance away even when they are within a few metres of your feet.

And then we heard the sound again and this time it definitely sounded much closer. Like right below us.

Things happened quickly after this. We heard several more cracking sounds and then began to see huge cracks suddenly forming right across the snowfield. The situation was extremely scary and very alarming.

With great composure given the potentially lethal situation (this snowfield was well over a metre deep and if it avalanched it would have plunged us more than 500m down a fairly steep ascent) the G-Force looked quickly around and saw we were now within just five metres of a huge boulder, situated to our right. Having completed an avalanche awareness course (as well as a winter skills course) I knew that traversing might only make things worse but it was a case of reaching the boulder or finding ourselves stranded, or worse still being flung down the mountain in an avalanche. Thankfully we made it to the boulder and "relative" safety.

It was from here, hunkered down close to the boulder at ground level, that we began to discuss our predicament. To begin with we thought about simply sliding back down the snow that we had ascended but then we noticed that the cracks were the entire width of the snowfield and directly below our boulder.

Going further up would have meant a walk into the unknown. It was only when we'd reached the line of boulders that we realised there was a further few hundred metres of the snowfield to tackle to reach the summit ridge. Unfortunately, this had been out of our line of sight at the base of the snowfield.

And so we spoke to friends and then the MRT. If we had still been stranded in the middle of the snowfield the MR chap would have suggested a very quick, but potentially risky, descent. But since we described ourselves as being in relative safety and hopefully not in immediate danger he said he would prefer to take us off the mountain by helicopter. "We'd prefer to come out to rescue two people who are still alive than to find we're rescuing two injured, or at worst, dead bodies later," he said starkly. "In any case," he added, "we're about to airlift two skiers who have fallen 2000ft in avalanche in your area so we'll get you guys on the way back."

For the next hour or so we drank warming tea, put on all of our spare layers, huddled together for further warmth and considered rather numbly (both physically and mentally) trying to take in the enormity of the situation. Certainly it felt surreal but it also gave us both some time to reflect on how potentially dangerous winter mountain walking can be.

We agreed that this experience would not put us off our hobby. We both felt that if you were to worry excessively about all the potential dangers of mountain walking, whether winter or summer, you would never get off the sofa in the first place. The key, we believe, is to be prepared and to use commonsense at all times. And, if you do spend a lot of time on the hills, then there is a chance that at some point you will find yourself in a tricky situation.

This was out tricky situation. Thankfully we had the wherewithal to take the appropriate action to make it to a safe-ish place. There is an argument that we should perhaps have avoided walking into the snowfield in the first place, and that the second I heard the first crack we should have descended as fast as possible. But that is in hindsight - and without having been in the tricky situation in the first place we might never have learned to listen for the ominous sound of an avalanche crack.

Being winched off a mountain and returned to safe land was a very sobering experience. The MRT guys were highly professional and we did discuss with them whether we had done the right thing in calling them out. "For sure," they said. "This is what the MRT are for." One team member went on to say that while all walkers should be adequately prepared for the winter mountains – and experience enough to cope in a variety of situations – they were not there to discourage walkers.

And so when relating our experience to friends there have been two definite camps. One group are adamant we are taking too much of a risk being out in the winter mountains. Full stop. The other camp are with us. It's vital that weather reports are checked, that you have the right experience, knowledge and kit, and that you take due care and attention before and while heading into the hills. But, like us, they do not think we should stop walking in Scotland's mountains, whether it is summer or winter.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Mystery of the missing piano lid

I had owned Beloved Piano for five years. In all that time I believed it was missing the lid to cover the keys.

Just after taking delivery today of the BP my French Class Mummy Friend called to ask how she should retrieve the lid that seemed to have disappeared into the piano. I was confused because I hadn't ever seen the lid. I told her I thought it didn't exist but she said she'd seen it when the removal guys delivered the BP.

And, now, for the first time I have seen the lid. FC Mummy Friend has sent me a picture. I have to say I'm delighted for FC Mummy Friend and her family - but I'm a little gutted that I never got to use the beautiful lid. Well, that's one mystery solved!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Sad goodbye and an excited hello

BP1 leaving home..

Not so such outdoors life but indoors these last two days... Today Little Miss Outdoors and I had a tear in our eye as we said goodbye to our wonderful old piano. It's strange how you can become attached to pieces of furniture – and our Beloved Piano has been a big part of our life for many years.

In fact, Beloved Piano, while an upright, is huge and heavy. It used to be a pianola (my uncle removed the mechanism some decades ago) and so it's very big and very heavy. It first arrived with us about five years ago when my cousin moved to Australia. Before that it had served her five children, and before that it had been the piano that my cousin, her two siblings and her dad had played for many years. Before that it was owned by my late grandfather, a piano tuner, and father of my mother. So it has history!

It's not a piano of great distinction in terms of sound and tuning but it has enormous character and it's been part of our family for a very long time. It has moved twice with us and in this house it was necessary to build an extension to fit the piano because it would not fit into any other room!

For three years Little Miss Outdoors has been learning to play on the BP. I occasionally sit down to bash out a few rudimentary tunes.

So why have we said goodbye to it? Well, while downsizing home my mother decided to give me her Better Piano. BP2 arrived a few weeks ago – and since then I have been trying to find a new home for BP1.

The Salvation Army, which has a second-hand furniture shop, came and took one look at the BP, said it was way too heavy and then disappeared! Various enquiries via a second-hand piano for sale website came to nothing after people realised the size of the piano. Then a chance mummy chat found a potential new owner. I am giving the piano away but it did require someone to pay for delivery.

And so, this morning, West End Removals arrived to take away the BP. True to form the removal gaffer took one look, shook his head and retreated back to his van to the mummy who is giving the BP a new home. "Too big and heavy," said Mr Removal. "We'll get it out of your place but it's getting it into the other house, which has stairs, that will be the problem." Further big intakes of breath, much shaking of his head and quite a few derogatory remarks (I stopped these when I told him how fond I was of the BP) and his removal men (five of them) finally decided to take the piano away.

They made seemingly light work of the job – and now I have a huge space left in my living area. (BP2 fitted neatly into another downstairs room.) I'm thinking, nice flat-screen TV and bookshelves for the new-found space... Well, I need some retail therapy to get over the large hole that has been left in my heart now that our beloved piano has gone to a new home.

And the "excited hello"? That took place yesterday after finally realising that my work life could not continue without a new computer. For more than a year I've struggled with a tortoise slow system, a keyboard with 90% of the letters erased and at least four keys actually missing. The final straw came when both the "I" and the "O" needed to be hit repeatedly to work. I could not go on.

And so I am now the proud owner of a beautiful new MacBook Pro. (In fact, The G-Force should be concerned about my new rival, Mr Gorgeous Mac!) If you're an AppleMac user you'll know why I had to spend at least four times as much on this laptop as compared to a PC. If you're not a Mac user then there is no point in explaining my expensive purchase.

Perhaps I need to get out more?!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Why it's not going so swimmingly

Little Miss Outdoors will thank me in the long-term. I'm sure of it! Every week from the age of 4 to 9 I insisted that she attended "proper" swimming lessons. She couldn't see the point of getting wet and cold and having to do numerous lengths of crawl, breaststroke, backstroke etc. She hated getting out to get dried. She moaned and whinged and even had tantrums at the side of the pool on occasions. But I insisted. Because I think that learning to swim is really important.

Yesterday at a Glasgow Triathlon Club swim session I wished I'd been forced to do the same. While I learned to swim at a young age I did not attend "proper" lessons and our school didn't have a pool so I have always been simply a "for pleasure" swimmer. My swimming ability has also been sufficient to allow me to take part in a wide range of enjoyable water-based activities including wake boarding, water skiing, wind surfing, sailing and even canal boating.

But then I joined Glasgow Triathlon Club – and realised that I'm actually a hopeless swimmer! I could manage a few lengths before I collapsed. Literally. At that time one of the coaches described me as "similar to a jumper splashing round and round a washing machine". But I listened to the coaches, I watched cringing underwater videos of myself swimming, I did lengths, I attended sessions week after week – and slowly I improved.

But then I took a year off! This was because a) swimming is not my favoured sport b) I hate getting cold and wet c) I hate the getting out and drying yourself bit d) I prefer to run and cycle e) my new-ish status of single mum doesn't make it easy to attend evening swim sessions with the tri club.

However, I now have a plan to do a triathlon or two this summer and so I need to do a bit of swimming. Which is how I came to be at the local pool last night. (Little Miss Outdoors was being babysat.) And while I have not returned to the days of looking like a jumper in a washing machine it was pretty clear that after just a few lengths I am certainly not swim-fit.

You see swimming is a whole lot to do with technique. Despite being running fit I have lost a lot of the swim technique I learned a year ago. According to last night's coach it would also have been very beneficial if I had learned to swim properly as a child. I think it's rather like driving. If you were required to sit your test again you would have to break all the nasty driving habits you've picked up over the last two decades.

And so you can now see why Little Miss Outdoors may well thank me for her enforced lessons in years to come. Watching her swim is just so lovely as she has learned the right technique from the start. She is oh-so-graceful.

Meanwhile, her mum is attempting to convert from woolly jumper to sleek dolphin. And I've only got a few months to make this transformation. I'll keep you posted as to how I go. Glug, glug...

Monday, 1 March 2010

And finally there is light...

Something great happened during my usual Monday evening run (while Little Miss Outdoors goes to a French class) - it remained light for the entire outing. While this new occurence (for 2010) has obviously been creeping up on me over the past few weeks it was most noticeable this evening. I ran until 5.55pm and still it did not get properly dark. "Woohooo!" - that's what I thought to myself (I may even have let out a happy squeal but hopefully not too loud!)

So finally I can look forward to warmer days and longer evenings. Being a female runner the lighter evenings are a true bonus. For too many months I have been forced to stick to lit-up street areas for evening runs, sometimes going round in circles, or find the time during daylight hours (there aren't that many some days) to go for a run further afield. But now I can begin to stretch my evening outings into the more peaceful and interesting country roads and off-road. I don't mind running alone but I'm careful not to go out in the dark in unlit areas unaccompanied.

The same is true for cycling. The lighter evenings offer greater opportunities for an hour or so of riding without having to worry about bike lights and an inability to see on dark, unlit roads.

I can imagine there are many runners and cyclists like me feeling a little more positive about the prospect of spring and summer training outings. Time for a collective "wooohooo... spring is in the air" moment! (Bet it snows tomorrow just to prove me wrong!)