Monday, 30 December 2013

Happy New Year!

Well, I suppose it’s that time of year again when bloggers all over the world are writing reviews of the ups and downs of their blogging year. A few might be anyway. I thought I might do a little one too.

Last year started as a wholly miserable year, blighted by illness. It did, however, improve no end when David’s work was brought closer to home and I made a speedy and full recovery.

This year has proved to be a gentle and relaxed year in the main, with just a few moments of teeth gritting.

I have seen far more of my Bestest Walking Buddy and good friends, Laura, Mick and Gayle than usual which has been a treat, particularly as neither party appear to have blogged as much as usual and I’ve been left with few of their adventures to read about! We have enjoyed several walks together, joined on one or two by TTS, so I’ve been spoiled for walking company.


Helped to supervise my first DofE Expedition


Alone, into the wild

SG104425All the best


In disguise

Speaking of walking, in May I set off on my third Great Outdoors Challenge, leaving Plockton and aiming for Lunan Bay. The start of this walk was just brilliant, especially day three, when I left Iron Lodge and set off in to the wilds on my own, really on my own, in to the middle of nowhere, with only my map and compass to keep me right. I loved it! I found my way in to Geann a’ Choilich with little difficulty and then made a confident decision to ford Abhainn a’ Choilich to meet the stalkers path that would take me to Bealach Coire Ghaidheil. It was a fairly bleak day, quite damp and grey, in fact dreich just about covers it, but I was thoroughly enjoying myself on my own, making me own decisions and taking my time. The views were constantly changing with the clouds and mist swirling around me, one minute revealing the mountains ahead of me, the next the glen below me. It was a truly wild experience and I was so exhilarated as I reached the bealach and started to pick my way carefully down to the path on the other side.

Shame that in the early hours of day five a suffered a totally unexpected asthma attack and had to withdraw. I was gutted. There was of course no questions of continuing alone and I know that but, still…I did get to meet up with Laura and accompanied her to the end of her Challenge, which was fun and a privilege.

Since then, things have been a little more family orientated, with exams, Duke of Edinburgh Award expeditions, Guides, weekend work, football, air pistol shooting, archery, competitions and our baby leaving, all growed up, to go to University in Aberdeen to study Psychology. It’s all go around here!

In November Laura and I got the fabulous news that we are Challenging together, as a team, in next year’s Great Outdoors Challenge. I can’t wait! Our route was quickly finalised and submitted and within a short time, given the green light. Then I was able to complete the next phase  of planning, booking accommodation. We have treated ourselves to the odd bed here and there. Team Ls Belles Tea Shop Tour of Scotland is (almost) ready to roll. A bit of food shopping, bus tickets and the odd miscellaneous item to purchase and we’re sorted.

Christmas has been a bit of a haze, it crept up on me whilst I wasn’t looking and was over in a flash. I was given two or three items perfect for Challenging, a purple watch, a Watertogo bottle and a rather lovely new camera, an Olympus Tough, which is proving to be quite a fun toy.


Playing with my new toy on Boxing Day at the beach

So, the New Year? Yep, that’s going to happen, and I anticipate it being another busy year, with more exams, the Challenge, more competitions and expeditions and maybe a completely new direction at the end of the year. Such fun!

Slange Var!

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas!

Well, there it is! Or was. Another busy Christmas almost done and dusted. Lots of lovely useful stuff and I can't wait to get on The Challenge and use some of it.
Merry Christmas one and all!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

When the Wind Blows

Moray Coast Trail

Day Two

Hopeman to Lossiemouth Woods

Or Plan B

(Or Plan C)

The original plan for today was to walk from where we finished yesterday along the path to Lossiemouth Woods, but as we knew the forecast for the end of the week is abysmal and we weren’t going to be able to do the best bit from Buckie to Cullen, we came up with Plan B, to meet at Cullen and do a car shuffle so that we could do the best bit.

Then, I saw the forecast for today and Plan C was hatched, where by I would check the forecast again this morning and text Laura if a change was necessary.

At 6.30am, TTS brought me my mobile so that I could check the forecast before I dragged myself out of bed. Sure enough, the winds were due to pick up during the day in readiness for tomorrow’s storms, and as I don’t do cliff edges well at the best of times, I sent a text to Laura proposing a complete change of plan, meeting at my house before doing a different walk, slightly in land.


Dallas Dhu Distillery, through the wet windscreen


Grey skies

After a small amount of faffing on my part, we departed and I directed Laura to the Dallas Dhu Distillery, which was entertaining. After waiting for a shower to blow through, we abandoned the van and set off on a walk I did with Mick and Gayle on the Altyre Estate back in August. Except…

We set off out of the car park and I decided not to do the first bit of road walk but to launch straight onto the estate paths. As we rounded the corner by Estate Offices about half an hour later, we were confronted with an on-going shoot, which was a tad disconcerting, but they were moving away from us and I knew we were going to be walking on the other side of the estate, so we continued passed Blairs Home Farm and Altyre House. Last time I consulted the map more than I should have needed as I can be a little insecure when leading, but this time I made positive decisions and was therefore surprised when we happened across a ruin I’ve never seen before. So surprised, I didn’t photograph it. However, I could see my then goal (plans changed on the hoof) so easily located our unexpected position on the map and settled on our detour to meet my then preferred track.


We left this nice surprise track behind

We continued and met the little road to Half Davoch where I expected to and a few hundred feet later took a little path I thought would have been useful. It probably would have been except for the un-crossable stream, so we returned to the road and changing our plans, again, continued to Clashdhu instead. We could have taken the track through the farm there, but decided to pick up the Dava Way, which we did. We never did take The High Path that I’d intended.


After displaying her ice-skating skills on the icy road, Laura closely examines the information board about the Clashdhu Crossing


An information board about The Dava Way


Random photograph to illustrate sunshine


A close inspection of the Scurrypool Bridge


Laura, a couple of bridges away from Squirrel Bridge


The Folly

After inspecting a couple of information boards, we beetled along the Way through the estate. There’s quite a lot of railway stuff along the Way, bridges, fence posts and things, so quite interesting. We looked at (what remains) of the Scurrypool Bridge and continued on to Squirrel Bridge, where the Way leaves the now sodden rail bed and continues alongside it. Here however, we left the Way and made our way on estate tracks passing livestock, the folly, the overgrown curling pool (which is being cleared) through the farm yard, passed the ruined church, the currently vacant osprey nest and the cross slab, Ogham, to return to the van and eat sandwiches.

It was another brief and speedy walk, but a nice change of scenery. It was a lovely morning, as it turned out, but cold and I think we would have felt the breeze and the cold more keenly on the cliff edge. Certainly, it is currently horrid out there.

Roughly 7.15 miles, 542 ft ascent at a reasonable speed.

Thank you Laura!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Follow you, Follow me

Moray Coast Trail

Day One

Findhorn to Hopeman

Laura had a plan. She told me about her plan and invited me to join her.

This morning, I was hoping there was a Plan B, as the rain hammered down from slate grey skies and the wind blew.

But no, there was no Plan B, so we did a bit of a shuffle with the cars to leave one at the end and one at the beginning and set off east into the wet, wet rain.

It wasn’t necessarily heavy rain, but it was persistently wet, all day.

The Moray Coast Trail officially runs between Forres and Cullen, following some stunning coastline. Having a little local knowledge, I suggested we started from Findhorn, to avoid either a dull plod along the cycle path or dicing with death along the back road.



There would normally be a lovely view over the Moray Firth from here

We set off a little later than intended after my hair appointment and the shuffling, through the dunes behind the Findhorn Foundation, passed the four turbines and the back of the former air base at Kinloss and into Roseisle Forest. It rained and blew and we chatted and beetled along at a rare pace. We soon found ourselves at the hide before the car park which seemed a jolly suitable stop for lunch, sheltered and less breezy. It turned out to be carpeted and to have plenty of information posters and as we sat steaming gently we successfully steamed up the windows so we couldn’t identify the birds that were visiting the feeding station directly outside the window.


Nice lunch venue


Steaming gently


Lots of information

It turns out that for the first time in a long time, the toilets at Roseisle are shut, so we carried on beetling towards Burghead at a remarkable speed through the trees. Burghead came and followed a direct route to the maltings (more local knowledge) and down the side to pick the Moray Coast Trail back up and continue beetling in a speedy fashion towards Hopeman. Sadly, it wasn’t the sort of day for a coffee or tea stop en route, so we just kept beetling along.

In no time at all, we found ourselves at Hopeman Harbour and back at the van, bundling ourselves inside out of the wet, wet rain. Then, we needed a cup of coffee, so we headed back to Findhorn where the other car was. We did a turn round the village, just in case the Findhorn Bakehouse was open and were delighted to find that it was. We popped inside and found a lovely table for two next to a cosy radiator, ordered our coffees and resisted cake.




Picturesque Hopeman harbour


Nice boat

A lovely day out, if a little damp around the edges. There may have been some whinging, but just a little.

Roughly 9.42 miles, 509 ft and an average speed of 3 mph.

Due to the weather forecast, we may not walk this route in order…

Monday, 11 November 2013

Walking in the rain

After having received the exciting news that Laura and I were successful in the draw for The Great Outdoors Challenge, Ls Belles Tea Shop Tour of Scotland will be making their way from west coast to east next May and we needed to get together for a bit of a discussion. Not so much to discuss the route as to discuss the comments we’ve already received from our vetter.

A plan was hatched and we eventually found ourselves in the car park and Regents Park Keith, outside Boogie Woogie. It was an essential part of our training to go into the coffee shop and practice ordering and consuming coffee and scones.


Boogie Woogie Coffee Shop, Keith

We did that, then discussed the route comments. After a visit to the powder room we left Laura’s little car in the car park and took my tank to the car park at Herrockside. There, we sat in the car a while to allow a few light showers blow through as we just couldn’t be bothered to practice putting our waterproofs on to go walking in the rain. We happily looked through maps of our route which I happened to have brought with me and waited for the rain to stop. When it did, we dithered about which jackets we would wear, which pocket to put our camera in and which path we would take before finally putting on our daypacks and setting off up the hill.


This rainbow grew as we watched from the safety of the car


Heading off up


Looking back through the trees


South west towards Ben Rinnes




South east towards Bennachie


Distant moodiness


Knock Hill beyond the trig point


Pretty in Pink


Endless views

It was a reasonably good path all the way round this walk, with a few stony bits, a few boggy bits and a few slippery bits, but on the whole, nice. The views from the top of the Meikle Balloch hill were splendid, with distant hills to the south, west and east, including Ben Rinnes, Bennachie, The Buck and Knock Hill, and glimpses of the sea to the north. The weather was surprisingly pleasant. I was expecting a chilly wind with a few showers. In actual fact, there was a light breeze, bright sunshine and no rain whilst we walked. No waterproofs were required or worn during the entire training session.

We were back at the car before we’d successfully found a place to stop and have lunch, so we ate our sandwiches and handmade mince pies in comfort. An excellent first training session completed and a brilliant time was had.

Roughly 3.34 miles with 719 feet total ascent.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

In defence

I was browsing blogs the other day, as you do, and came across a post about some young people that had been met whilst doing their Duke of Edinburgh expedition. Whilst the youngsters were admired, there were some issues and questions raised about their training and preparedness for expedition.

I do not know the blogger himself and felt a bit rude commenting directly on his post, but at the same time my feathers were a little ruffled and I felt a need to reply. I can of course only comment with regard my own Duke of Edinburgh area, each area tends to be run slightly differently, although the main training and guidance is the same.

Firstly, in Moray, Expedition Supervisors have completed Mountain Leader training (usually qualified) or Low Hills Award and Moray Award Supervisor training. Assessors will have completed Mountain Leader training (usually qualified) and Assessor training. Leaders also complete their relevant course but as they are not necessarily concerned with expeditions, they do not have to be Mountain Leader trained. As a Leader I have completed mine but also the Supervisors course so that I can assist on an expedition but not supervise alone. All supervisors, assessors and assistants will complete their Outdoor First Aid certificate.

Secondly, all participants must complete their Expedition and Navigation Training before each Award Level Practice Expedition. In Moray, this entails one practical training day at the local award centre in March where kit, first aid, nutrition, camp craft, route card and basic map reading skills, environment and country code and emergency routines are taught. A second day is spent in the local woods with map and compass learning navigation skills.

At our local Open Award Centre, we have found this slightly inadequate, there is a lot of information to be imparted in just a few hours and with at least a couple hundred young people not really giving their full attention, on their mobiles and chatting etc., so this year our local Open Award Centre ran separate training. One night a month for six months was devoted to the ‘soft skills’ and a day was spent in Culbin Forest practicing navigation, a bit of camp craft and emergency routines. This worked well and David and I have also taken two groups out separately to a different local estate to practice navigation further which they all appreciated and enjoyed. This new system was much improved and will be implemented again in the new season. (My Guide and Ranger groups got extra as I covered most areas at a few Guide meetings too.)

As to kit, they are recommended to buy/borrow the best they can afford with regard quality and weight, however, they do have a D of E kit list which they are expected to use. There are points I disagree with, but we go by the book. They are shown and advised how to pack and carry a rucksack, but if they chose not to do so, it’s up to them. The main point is it is Their expedition, Their adventure, Their choice and Their responsibility. We give remote supervision (unless otherwise required) and They do it Their way. They have to follow the route card and timings to a tee, that’s the safety net.

Ultimately, the young people learn from their mistakes, what hurts, how to get lost and find yourself, how to be safe, but with a grown up in the background just in case.

There is more to it that that, but anyone wanting to know more or get involved, this is the place to go. I got involved because I felt very strongly that I couldn’t criticise if I wasn’t prepared to help and share my own knowledge and experience, little though it is.

So there. And sorry for any offence caused!

Monday, 16 September 2013

Stormy weather

Strictly speaking, I don’t suppose my Guiding stuff is of interest, but I did find our last little adventure quite amusing, perhaps for all the wrong reasons.

We had a Guide Camp at the weekend, organised by two of our Guides doing their Camp Permit, so the Leaders took a back seat in the organisation of it other than a bit of guidance through the relevant clauses that they had to complete.

In preparation for the event, I perused the weather forecast for the weekend so that I could pack relevant kit. This takes a bit more planning than the average camping trip as I don’t just need to take clothes to keep me warm and dry, but that I don’t mind getting smoky as we obviously have to spend an amount of time around a campfire, being Guides and all that. I have an old down coat for this purpose, it’s nice and cosy and I don’t need it for standing in a windswept playground with small children anymore. It would be no use in wet weather, but then, we wouldn’t be sitting around a campfire then, would we? The weather forecast was not too bad for Friday night and Saturday, but from the early hours of Sunday they were predicting heavy rain and gale force winds. Deep joy.

When we arrived at camp the forecast was mentioned and it was suggested that certain areas in the camp field were maybe a little exposed, but we’ll come back to that…

Anyway, we had no campfire Friday night as it rained and the two Guides couldn’t light the fire. That meant that when us Leaders were up earlier than is decent for a weekend (and at least two hours before any of the Guides!) we had to prove that we could do it and between us (and a couple of firelighters…) we managed to persuade some damp leaves and twigs to burn a bit and slowly, gradually, we built it up to a bit of a fire. I was then appointed Fire Master, utterly hilarious as I was always the kiss of death to the stove we had in the last house. I took my position very seriously and despite only having damp wood available, I managed to keep it going and ended up with a beautiful blaze, woo hoo!!


I am the Fire Master! (or Mistress?!)

We had quite a bit of fun during the day on Saturday, completing tasks and challenges with our teams (patrols) all within the theme of Fairy Tales. They had based the challenges on various tales with a twist, including Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs. We laughed a lot. We knew we were going to suffer for our exertions… We had a great time around the roaring camp fire before retiring to our tents.

I didn’t sleep well on Saturday night, although I’m not sure why. I wasn’t worried about my tent, I’d pitched in a nice sheltered spot, and I wasn’t really worried about the Guides’ tents and utilities. They were not pitched well or sensibly (I’m not warranted, I don’t know anything) but they were in no danger, what was the worst that could happen? There was rain in the night and I heard the pots and pans go at some point, but no screaming. I stayed snug in my bag.

The Leaders were again up nice and early and I soon realised there was more talking and less laughing than normal, so I got out of my nice cosy bag and started to pull my waterproofs on over my baselayer and Ronhills. Sure enough, a rather stressed sounding Leader called from outside my tent to say they had “an emergency situation” and could I come and help…

So when I got there, the gear from inside the utility tent had been moved to a sheltered spot and the girls told to dress, grab their kit and move into the Leaders’ tent. We took the utility down (with no problems) and I was told “it’s wrecked”. I think the webbing that helps keep the form at the bottom of the tent may have come adrift from the pegging points. Disaster, obviously. The Guides tent looked a little misshapen, but I think on close inspection, there may have been one or two bent pole sections, but nothing disastrous. I don’t think that at anytime the girls were in any danger, we had shelter by way of other tents and the toilet block, the worst that could have happened would have been gear wet and blown around, but no one as in danger of injury.


Windswept and interesting…


There was no one sleeping in that pod, luckily


Er, that’s not right


And nor is that

Mountains out of molehills were made, but then I know nothing. I’ve hardly done any camping with Guides and they have years of experience. I haven’t survived high winds and torrential rain in a tiny tent in the middle of nowhere….

The ‘expert’ arrived. One of the husbands, a Mountain Leader and D of E Supervisor/Assessor. I do agree with him that repairs won’t be too difficult, maybe replacing a couple of pole sections, but I’m not sure that replacing all the poles with fibreglass ones would be the way to go. Speaking from experience, they do break and when they do, they shatter and fibreglass splinters are not fun! The worst these girls could have had was a clonk on the noggin with a hollow aluminium tube. I also happen to think threading a new aluminium section is far easier than the fibreglass ones. They are a nightmare. Anyway, what do I know? I’m not a Warranted Leader or a Mountain Leader with years of experience.

Maybe it was just the lack of sleep made me grumpy.

I kept quiet and came home after camp tired, damp, cold, bruised and aching. Such fun! I suspect we’ll do it all again sometime…

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

I should have known better…

I had a surprise telephone call from the Lovely Laura on Monday and the suggestion was made that we got together for another attempt on Carn Mor, just east of Tomintoul.

I should have known when the travel news mentioned a closed road on the journey to drop David off at work so I could pinch the car.

I should have known when the little car pulled out in front of me at Aberlour, making me brake a little more sharply than is comfortable.

I should have known when there were unexpected road works.

I should have known when there were cows in the road.

I should have known when we got caught behind some slow farm traffic, which I ended up overtaking twice.

I should have known when I parked at the car park at East Auchavaich and couldn’t see our intended hill for cloud and rain. And Laura wasn’t already parked there….

I really should have known when I checked my mobile (no signal) and found a text from Laura to meet in Tomintoul instead.

I should have known that the walk was just never going to happen!

Not only do Laura and I walk together well, we also share a lot of other things. Including our feelings about walking in the rain. It’s fine if you set off and it then rains during the walk, you deal with it, but it is utterly pointless setting off when it’s already raining and there is no hope of a view from the top. So we didn’t! We popped into the Old Fire Station Tearooms in Tomintoul for a nice cup of tea. And a chat. And a look at maps.

After a while, the rain was still falling and the clouds were still low, so we had a second cup of tea.

After a while longer, it was time for lunch, so we left the tea rooms and took ourselves off to a pleasant lay by where we sat in Laura’s van and had our packed lunches and more chat.

At least I was home early.

Mind you, I really could do with some more walking…

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Happy Birthday!

This little blog is now five years old! I can’t believe it’s five years since I first heard about The Great Outdoors Challenge, via The Adventure Show, and decided it was ‘the thing for me’. I have loved the planning, the research, the walk, the people I’ve met and everything about it! And this blog has been mainly about the adventures I’ve had along the way. One day, I hope to be able to share the Big Adventure with TTS as that was the idea at the very beginning, but that’s not yet feasible. I’ll just keep plodding on with the best friends I’ve ever had until my Bestest Ever Walking Buddy can join in all the fun (but I still get to do all the planning…)



Yep, should be fun!!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Chocolate Cake

The day had an inauspicious start. As I walked into the lounge with my breakfast, one slice of toast slid gracefully off my plate and landed on the carpet, marmalade side down.

When we arrived in town where I was to drop David to collect a pool car, the offices were not open.

When we finally got on our separate ways (although initially in the same direction) we got behind every bit of slow traffic we could find and this was to be a theme during each of my journeys today.

As I brought up the rear behind two cars and a van going over The Lecht I became aware of that nasty burning clutch or brake smell. (Apparently there is a difference, one smells of rotten eggs. They both smell of burning to me!) I was praying very hard that the smell was not emanating from my car. I had to wait a while after the two cars passed the van before I could but I was pleased to find I left the smell behind me. Phew.

I collected Laura and we set off to leave the car at the beginning of our chosen walk, after having first persuaded each other that 10 miles was perhaps a little ambitious given the time constraints, so we headed for Thistledae. It was a clear day with a little high haze, but very warm and slight breeze. Things were looking up.


Near the start

We had a job to do on this walk. Laura had received a request for a photograph with a certain theme, so we duly complied with this request.


Happy Tree Hugger


We found a baby one too

By this time we were on a path that Laura was not entirely happy with. It wasn’t following the map, but the wayposts were most definitely sending us this way. We continued up hill through the trees, expecting something interesting to happen with regards the direction of the path.


Admiring the purple heather, there was a lot of it


There were views


And views


And more views

After a while, another waypost hove into view, this time directing us off the lovely track we were on through long grass and thistles to another post. Off we went, there was no path that we found, but plenty of tussocks and holes and I “Ooopsed” and giggled and squealed my way across the meadow. At the next post, we located the next against the boundary wall. At this point either the grass got longer or we were sinking deeper into the decidedly damp, tussocky, holey ground. I hoped we weren’t going to get out of our depth.


Looking awfully relaxed


Shorter grass, but the ground was still damp

We eventually made it to the remains of some buildings, something to do with corn and men designating a male only building in which to chat and drink whisky. I expect us wimmin had fun at that time too….

We followed the waymarkers and joined the track Laura had expected us to be on in the first place, it was obvious we’d been on a detour to visit the ruins that had not been adopted by most folk who probably did the short out and back from the track we were now on. I know, in my heart of hearts, that if Laura and I had ignored the waymarkers and stuck to the track as marked on the map, we would not have done that out and back (I’m too lazy) and would have missed that little bit of history. And all that fun…


A bit later, after we escaped the long damp, grass, at some different ruins


“The field of two goats” was obviously wholly inappropriate today


There were still views


We had our lunch seated at a handy picnic table near this beautiful building

As we lunched, there was some entertainment provided by the local birdlife, a very noisy buzzard and what looked and behaved suspiciously like a peregrine falcon, but I need to do some more research on that.


And the views continued on the way back

Once back at the car, we discovered we had time to find a local tea shop and partake of a little traditional afternoon refreshment. (I think that sounds all wrong) Anyway, in Ballater, we browsed the outdoor shop before retiring to the Bothy for tea and cake. Or scone. I had cake, chocolate cake as it happens. This finished the day off rather beautifully.

Roughly 5.68 miles with a total of 963 ft ascent in a bit of time.

Loved it, what a wonderful day, thanks Laura, Ls Belles’ Tea Shop Tours of Scotland!