Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Thinking out loud

Obviously the main point of our little adventure last week was to iron out a few issues and test some of our kit.

Mostly, I think the kit did well, but I have found myself doing a little thinking…

There are one or two things I’d like to improve. I’m not interested in doing major modifications, just perhaps finding a way around things.

My tent. I love it! But I will have to carry a lightweight but very absorbent cloth to dry any condensation I might get on the inner and perhaps the outer too if necessary. I find the tent bag too long and thin. It makes packing it into my rucksack more awkward, so I’m looking at all my tent bags (I have a few…) and stuff sacks to find something that suits better. It needs to be short and fat (Don’t!) so I can flatten it more easily in the back of my pack. I might even have to make one, but I think I’ve got some bits and pieces that will do.

Gayle mentioned that she has found herself pitching a Laser the wrong way into the wind, despite having taken great care not to do so! So, I have attached a small bit of cord to the tail end of my tent in an attempt to make this easier. We’ll see.

I also wondered, if I’d had to separate outer from inner in order to keep the inner dry, if I could then pitch the outer first and reattach the inner, instead of having to fiddle to reattach it before pitching, if the weather is inclement. Well, I tried that out this morning in the garden, albeit in a rather controlled environment. The answer appears to be yes, perfectly possible. Joy!

I’m also rethinking my sleeping mat. It should have been my Synmat 7UL, but now I’m taking my Laser and not the Voyager Superlight, I have a bit of an issue. I can’t get hold of an Exped Mini Pump in time and if the weather is normal (!) I have to lie on my back and blow the mat up on top of me and then turn us both over. It’s tricky and giggly, okay when with a friend but not so good if your camping companions are strangers! Add to that I don’t like to sit on it (in the Superlight I would have sat next to it) and the fact that I like a full length thin mat underneath it to protect it, in total my Thermarest and small sit mat are a lighter and tougher combination.

I think that’s it. For now…

Monday, 29 April 2013

One night only

I should first apologise for my tardiness in producing this post, but I’ve been busy.

Since Laura had gained a place on this year’s Challenge from the stand by list, we had intended a little back pack of some kind, especially since as things turned out, sadly neither of us were able to join The Pieman’s Pre-Challenge walk in the Borders. The main aims were to test one or two bits of kit and make sure the tents were both watertight and although we had intended something a little longer, due to lack of free time we ended up with a simple overnight trip planned.

Thursday morning I went for my daily brisk stroll before performing a little gear magic.


From this…


…to this!

I packed only once as I now have a routine and place for everything that I am happy with. In the end I didn’t take the gaiters or Tilley that I’d intended to wear and I carried my poles the whole way (why, why do I do that?!!)

After an early lunch, I walked into town to meet Laura who had jumped onto the bus in Aberdeen. Less than a mile from home, it began to rain. Obviously my waterproof trousers were packed. In the rucksack sitting in my lounge. Hmmph. At least it was just a bit showery.

After running a couple of errands whilst in town, I met Laura at the bus stop and led her across the road and back up to the other bus stop to catch the bus back to my house to collect my pack and wait for a lift to Dava from where we would start our overnighter. Our chauffeur soon arrived (although we did have time for tea and toast) and whisked us away to our planned start point.


Town centre (it stopped raining)



David neatly set us down on the track to the Dava Way at Dava and we set off north to find a place to pitch somewhere behind the Knock of Braemoray.


Laura heads north, with The Knock appearing over her left shoulder

Although I quite often do parts of The Dava Way and I have walked it’s entire length (all 24 miles of it from Grantown on Spey to Forres) in one go twice, I don’t do the most southerly half very often. I don’t like it much. It’s a real shame, it goes through some wonderful scenery with a variety of environments and habitats, but it runs along the bed of a disused railway line. As such, it is a really stony track for the majority of the way, although it does improve from Dunphail north. These stones are of a very particular type. They are hard and sharp and pointy (we’ll come back to this later) and this is what puts me off the route as a whole. It can be miserable.

Anyway, we strolled along quite happily with the intention of finding a little sheltered spot somewhere along the way. The route is maintained by the voluntary organisation The Dava Way Association and they do a grand job. The path is maintained (sort of…) and not allowed to become overgrown, the gates are all regularly repaired or renewed and various features have been added since I’d last been along this section, including the Half Way Hut. This has a solar-powered, movement sensitive light, a few benches and some interesting information boards and leaflets available inside, plus another couple of benches outside. I forgot to take a photograph but it was a better hut than this one which we passed shortly after.


Anybody home?


We found this little froggy chap on the path


The gate was a little recalcitrant until Laura found the obvious instructions…

We never found the spot I’d intended to use as we missed the turn off I think we should have taken, but we were hardly tired (!!) and were happy to just keep walking, marking possible spots out of ten, although finding few scoring more than three. Eventually we came to a track leading to the ruins at Bogeney and thought the little wood would give a nice bit of shelter. It was worth leaving the Way to stroll along the farm track to investigate. Sure enough, after a thorough inspection and discussion, a pitch was settled upon and tents retrieved from our packs.


Looking north


Looking east

We soon fell into evening routine, with Laura scoffing her home prepared meal and me not feeling hungry. This is always my issue. Instead of hydrating the meal I had brought and didn’t fancy, I had the soup, Babybels and wholemeal roll I’d brought for lunch and a chocolate pancake I’d intended for breakfast. Oh well.

As we were chatting and settling down for the night I mentioned the first time I’d wild camped with David and we had been haunted by the oddest sound that turned out to be snipe drumming. Within a few minutes of snuggling into my sleeping bag, the local snipe decided to start their night time displays. I was thrilled, it made my day. I spent most of the night (that I didn’t sleep) listening to and identifying the local bird life and various other creatures nearby. Very nearby at times…

3.56 miles 203 feet total ascent (although I had obviously done a bit more in total over the whole day)

Friday morning dawned as Laura visited the powder room. Apparently the sunrise was stunning and the tents were covered in a hard frost. I had been aware that it had been a cold night, but I had cracked a couple of hand warmers the previous evening and kept them in my sleeping bag overnight. I had been lovely and cosy. Later, when we were both awake again, the snipe were still drumming, a woodpecker had joined in on the act, a couple of wrens were trilling, curlew bubbling, lapwing making their peewit calls but the local tawny owls had long since stopped calling. It must be time to get up and strike camp. Flashes were struck up and tea made whilst chocolate and ginger flapjack and chocolate pancakes snaffled.

Soon we were taking down our damp tents. As well as the hard frost, there had been some rain earlier in the night and the tents were both quite wet but neither had leaked. I also had a small amount of condensation as we had been very successful in picking a sheltered spot out of the gusty wind that had been forecast. It was quite a fresh morning, showery with hail and due to this, and the dampness of my tent, I found my self suffering an attack of Raynaud's. Damn! My hand warmers last about ten hours but by now were no longer functioning, however, Laura of the Warm Hands came to my rescue. As I crouched on the ground (so I didn’t fall) Laura held my frozen, useless hands between her warm little pandies and performed a miracle. I need to back pack with Laura, my Mobile Hand Warmer more often!

We went on our way, back to the Way and headed north with the intention of stopping at Logie Steading for lunch and may be loiter there waiting for our chauffeur to return and collect us. Along the way we kept a look out for possible pitches, just in case there were any better than the one we’d picked. As it turned out, we’d definitely picked the right one!

There’s plenty of interest a long the route, from wildlife to views. The Dava group have put plenty of information boards up but the one at the top of an impossibly steep bank seemed a bit daft and was left unread.


Our pitch was just left of centre


Lots of learning

We were soon crossing the Divie viaduct, a masterpiece of Victorian engineering. Not far from here is the small collection of houses of Dunphail where once there was a station, now a private dwelling, which meant the Way is slightly re-routed to avoid walkers and cyclists being able to look in through the windows and watch television. Here there is a National Lotto funded Breathing Space, including picnic benches and a bird hide. Not surprisingly we took advantage of the benches for a break, involving fruity chewy things and Lindt dark chocolate with a touch of sea salt. Num num!

As we set off again, I was aware that a slightly sore patch on the ball of my left foot was not easing off. I was concerned it may have been a hot spot forming, right on the point I’d suffered so badly on last year’s Challenge. This was not good news. I made quite a point of saying I was unlikely to want to walk further than Logie, despite it not being at all far from town. As luck would have it, as we headed off the Way along the farm track at Peathillock (which we initially missed, I usually join the Way here not leave it, I was disorientated!) we had another terrific hail storm. Coupled with the steep track down to the steading, which we would have to climb back up if we continued after lunch, I managed to persuade Laura that my plan was good.

We stopped for a lush lunch of brie and cranberry sandwiches, made with walnut bread with crisps and a salad on the side and a rather good coffee. I failed in my training here by not having cake. I led Laura astray as she failed too, but it was my fault. After mooching around the steading shops and making use of the facilities we had eventually killed enough time for David to have finished work and driven straight across to collect us. Fabulous.


Lunch stop

6.4 miles 288 feet total ascent

I later concluded that the sore patch on the ball of my foot was probably not a hot spot, but actually an impact injury from those dastardly stones, curse them!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013


Watched this little chap cross the road ahead of me with my heart in my mouth, it’s a busy road.

He made it.

Then, he scrambled up the kerb before making his way across the path towards the undergrowth, posing for celebratory photographs on the way.

2013-04-16 10.01.53-2

2013-04-16 10.02.01-1

Must be spring!

Friday, 12 April 2013

Walk and talk

Having arranged a meet with Laura at Tomintoul, I got off to my usual flying start and set off a few minutes late. Never mind, she’d be ready for that. Shame she texted me just as I left town to say she was already there. Oops.

Anyway, after a pause at the car park (she’d just left) to call at the powder room, I eventually rolled up just 10 minutes late. Yey!

After a few minutes greeting and faff, we were off, to have our first pause just a few yards from the cars at Queen Victoria’s Viewpoint. I did listen as Laura read the information board and I took the one and only photograph that I took. Can’t remember what she read to me though. It was about the Queen and a trip.


The view was perhaps better in the flesh

We walked and we talked for Britain. Mainly about routes and gear and new purchases and snow and that sort of thing. We talked so much that we managed to walk 9.5 miles and 1299 ft total ascent without even noticing. The only thing we really noticed was the missing building at Dalestie (there were two on the map) the missing bridge nearby and the birds of prey which were probably kestrels and buzzards. We also noticed the fresh breeze as we were looking for a lunch spot, but after we’d turned back we found a nice soft, sheltered spot for two along the side of a deep banked stream.

I had a fantastic day, thank you Laura!

Laura gave me a little gift, an MSR Blizzard Stake. (Not to mention the Cadbury’s Caramel Egg, yum yum!) Despite having another migraine today, (not silent but not deadly either) I managed to convert the stake into a rather neat poo trowel.


Mark I

Then David came along and mentioned some more suitable tape that he had and did this.



Mark II

At 39g, an improvement on my old trowel, although it wasn’t the weight that was an issue, it was the lack of heather root cutting ability. This will be just the job.

Oh, sorry.

And another little project I managed to complete was a minor modification to my brand new shiny Laser, as suggested by Robin, a door tensioner. I haven’t photographed it as I haven’t pitched it, but it should be good.


Only four weeks to go…

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

I think I’m ready

I’ve been weighing kit and crunching numbers and I think I’m ready to pack now. It’s looking a bit like this:

                                 Carry  g       Wear g

Rucksack Exos



Sleeping bag PHD



Exped Synmat



Head torch






Paramo Velez



Waterproof trousers



Montane Antifreeze


















Smartwool base



Icebreaker bottoms



Pants x 2



Socks x 2



Bra x 1



Mock crocs/Boots






Walking poles












Blue towel









Sun cream






Mobile/GPS + charger






Glasses case



Water Treatment






Trowel + paper



2 Cards/cash in purse



Laser Competition



Podsacs lg






Exped c






Jetboil Flash/gas



Midge repellent



Platty Soft Bottle x2









Maps x2



Pillow case






First aid kit + penknife



                                  8967             3078

There will be food and water on top of that, but this is the best base weigh I think I’ve managed so far. There will be one or two minor changes en route. After the first two days, my pack will not weigh as much again on this crossing, as I will only have two days between civilised stops so won’t be carrying so much food again (four days of food is looking like 2622g. I will be eating this year…) When David whisks me away from Coylumbridge for a night in an hotel, I will be swapping one or two items, like the Mock Crocs for my Keen sandals, 564g and perhaps a clean top. I want to carry the Keens because at the end of last years Challenge I was so pleased to be able to wear them to finish in. I don’t think my Mock Crocs are substantial enough for that and whilst I have no intention of having sore feet, I would like the option, just in case.

So, there you have it, The Great Outdoors Challenge 2013 Kit List.

I must have forgotten something…

EDITED 17/4/13 Thanks to Fellbound who pointed out some inconsistencies, although my figures may still be incorrect! What I’m ‘wearing’ has gone up about 350g, what I’m carrying appears to have gone down…

Friday, 5 April 2013

Walking on sunshine


Silver D of E Practice Expedition

Day 1 Monday 1st April

You could be mistaken in thinking we were duped with the date, but no, today was really the day the Rangers had decided to set off on their three day practice expedition and they had asked us to be their Supervisors. Brave girls.


Official jacket

We met them at the viewpoint on Findhorn beach on a cracking day, blazing sun and a light cooling breeze. After a kit check we popped their spare water for camping in the boot of the car along with one of the girls’ packs (she has special allowance to just carry a daysack) A little pep talk and they were on their way towards Burghead and their first wild camp.


Ben Wyvis (will feature a lot…) behind the Findhorn Marina


On their way

We stayed and had a chat with the twins’ dad, an ex-colleague of TTS, before we made our way home for a coffee and second breakfast. It’s hard work, this supervising business.

After a bit of a rest, we jumped back in the car and made our way to Roseisle Forest where we had planned to catch up with the girls. The car was neatly abandoned in the busy car park and we strolled into the forest to find them. It wasn’t long and as luck would have it, we’d chosen the high path and they were on the lower one, so we were able to keep an eye on them without them knowing we were there. This is called Remote Supervision. I’d call it stalking.


The way through the woods


We can see you


Man in black

After a short while they stopped, which we noticed and dived into the undergrowth unseen. after a good break, they set off again and we followed. They took a path that winds through the trees but we stayed on the main path. They obviously realised they were slightly ahead of schedule, so they stopped again! This time on a handy bench. We decided at this point we were so close to the car park we might look a bit strange loitering close by and might be as well joining them for a chat. Not long after we were at the car park again and the girls chose a bench in the sun to relax and have their lunch stop, remembering to take off their boots to cool their feet and tend to any hot spots or blisters.

Once on their way again they didn’t have far to go, about 2.5 km, so we arranged a meet point again so that we could give them their water (forestry camps don’t offer good water) and the pack. Luckily we were able to park less than half a kilometre from our meet point so didn’t have far to carry that enormous pack.


Disused railway to Burghead


Here they come

TTS and I had previously scouted out a good pitch, but just suggested an area to them among the trees so they could find their own. They picked a good spot. We wandered around a while, giving them some time and space to pitch and waiting mainly to make sure they were in good spirits and starting to cook a hot meal. Off we went again, home to collect two of our own offspring to go shooting, their D of E skill activity. We popped back at nightfall just to say goodnight, then it was home to our warm, comfy bed for the night.


Log piles


Catching the evening sun

Day 2 Tuesday 2nd April

The girls had had a cold night and were perhaps less than up beat when we met them. They’d had breakfast and were striking camp, but had the aches and pains you’d expect. Soon they were on their way again, perhaps with less than the usual spring in their step.

I dropped David in Burghead to stalk them alone a while and I drove on to Hopeman to abandon the car at the pretty harbour and walk back towards Burghead to meet them.


Pretty little boat


That hill again

I soon met them coming along the path and this time they were in fair better spirits. Could have had something to do with the easy path they had chosen, but it did get a bit more rough from here on. Only a little bit.


Following the railway line

We left them having lunch at another handy picnic table just by the powder rooms and drove to Lossiemouth Campsite where they were planning to stop for the night. When they’d phoned to book it turned out they wouldn’t accept under 21s, so we weren’t going get to stay in the cosy bed we’d booked for that night, we had to camp too. Joy.

Anyway, we pitched our tent, (the only one at this point) left the car at the campsite and walked back along the Moray Coast Trail towards Covesea as the path is quite close to the cliffs here and we were required to provide Close Supervision for a short distance. Once we reached the Coastguard Lookout Point we took advantage of a handy bench to wait a while.

Quite a while.SG104200

Here they are

And when they arrived, they were again in slightly low spirits. They were however looking after each other and even had an order to walk in in single file to walk along the cliffs. It didn’t take long before we were down on the beach for the last stretch in to the campsite. But they still had time for a break.




Ten green bottles anyone?

They were all very happy to reach the campsite, Popped up their tents, (to bring the total number of tents to three…) out with the Triangas and we popped down the road to the pub for a bar meal. When we got back, they were off to the powder room to get themselves sorted for bed and we popped to the bar for a pint and a hot chocolate! We were soon in our own tent, one complaining of being toasty and the other trying hard not to over-layer in the freezing cold.

Day 3 Wednesday 3rd April

Well, we all survived. It was another bright day and despite having been a cold night the girls were in much better spirits, this being their last day and were up, breakfasted and striking camp in good time. They were ready to leave by 10.15 am, well ahead of schedule. We waved them off and got in the car to go and find something yummy for breakfast.SG104228

Out there, somewhere, were our girls…

A couple of filter coffees, bacon butties, a tea cake and a scone later, we thought we should head off to meet them at their lunch stop and they were bang on time. All smiles and cheeriness, they sat at another handy picnic bench to fire up the Triangas for Heinz Squeeze and Stir soup (I love this stuff, comfort in a mug) and munch cheesy snacks.


Artistic moment

They were now so close to their destination they could almost touch it and were soon on their way again.

At this point, I had to abandon TTS to his fate and rush back to collect youngest daughter for a weekend job interview, but he assures me he neither lost nor broke anyone, which is really good news. They finished feeling a sense of achievement and now with the self belief that they could walk for three days with those packs and survive

Well done girls!

Roll on July. Yey…