Chasing rainbows on Schiehallion

A fierce wind blows down the ridge. Hail comes in and I burrow deeper into my hood. The frozen flecks sear the skin. My feet wade through snow and slide over frozen rocks. Each breath is snatched from the elements. The mountain forecast on Sunday promised ‘arduous’ walking conditions. Gale force winds, 40% chance of … Continue reading Chasing rainbows on Schiehallion

Elie Chain Walk

February is one of those months. A month where I long for spring and daylight. Snowdrops and crocuses appear – the sky lightens into the evening – hope stirs. Then wind, rain, sleet and snow return. I diligently layer up in thermals and waterproofs. As a climber, the winter months are hard. I long to … Continue reading Elie Chain Walk

Braeriach

How does one know a mountain? Of all the mountains in the Cairngorms, there is something about Braeriach. It is not the tallest one here – across the Lairig Ghru, Ben Macdui stands a little higher. Bynack Mor and Ben Mheadhoin have more interesting summits, studded with weathered granite tors that delight hand and eye. … Continue reading Braeriach

Iceland impressions

Well. I’m just back from the trip of a lifetime. For ten days, I walked, camped and explored Iceland. We were there for the longest day: the sun dipped below the horizon for less than three hours per day. Snipe drummed and curlews called through the night. The sky was always light. We saw icebergs, … Continue reading Iceland impressions

Let’s go bouldering

Sunshine blazes in through my bedroom window. A lazy Saturday morning suddenly transforms into a rush of action as we dress, dig out the bouldering mat, assemble a lunch and get on the road. I am stepping out of my comfort zone. I prefer traditional climbing: I like the security of a rope and the … Continue reading Let’s go bouldering

An Easter Eigg

Happy Easter readers! Earlier in April I travelled up to Eigg for a few days on the island. Eigg is a small island owned by the community. Eigg Heritage Trust successful bought the island in 1997, after a huge public campaign. The previous landlord was Keith Schellenberg, a businessman, who kept the island in terrible … Continue reading An Easter Eigg

Forest dreams

This article was originally published on Caught by the River (24 February 2019) I turn my head-torch off and am blinded by darkness. There are no stars, no moon: it must be cloudy. The woods are impossibly dark. I suddenly feel vulnerable. I resist the urge to switch the light back on: nothing external has … Continue reading Forest dreams

Dances with hares

This essay was first published on Caught by the River (26 December 2018) Fresh snow lies thick on the ground. Heather, grass and rocks have disappeared under a smooth Christmas cake icing. A freeze-thaw cycle has yet to happen, condensing the crystals into a crusty snowpack, and so with each step, my foot plunges into … Continue reading Dances with hares

Cairngorms clouded

New year in the Cairngorms: there is very little snow. Last winter was generally cold and white, snow often fell right down to valley level and the mountains became shining beacons. Walking could be hard work, wading through knee deep drifts, cornices formed over hedge banks. This winter is mild. The Cairngorms have not yet … Continue reading Cairngorms clouded

Into the Mountain: A Meet

Over 2018-9 an exciting project is taking place in the Cairngorms, inspired by Nan Shepherd, celebrating women’s experiences in the mountains. ‘Into the Mountain’ is a performative journey by Simone Kenyon, a mountaineer, artist and choreographer. The project includes public talks, education workshops for children, training for teachers, and live performances in the Cairngorms in … Continue reading Into the Mountain: A Meet

Women in Wellies

“Don’t be constrained by what other people think you should be doing,” said Joyce Campbell, a farmer from Sutherland in northern Scotland. Joyce was speaking at Women in Wellies, an event I organised in my role as Education and Inclusion Officer for Cairngorms National Park Authority. The aim of this event was to promote rural … Continue reading Women in Wellies

The Far North

On the first weekend of September, I ventured up to Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. The area was named by Vikings when northern Scotland was the southern point of their territories. Empires and boundaries changed, the name stuck, and today the most northerly part of the UK is still called southern. I love … Continue reading The Far North

A moorland croft

Today I have another short story for you, delving a little deeper into the crofting way of life. There are abandoned crofts around the Cairngorms and across the Highlands. In some places you find the remains of a community that forty years ago had enough people to support a school - now there might be … Continue reading A moorland croft

The Return

A couple of weeks ago I walked up Glen Banchor, near Newtonmore in the Monadh Liath (grey mountain range). The glen is beautiful: a wide u-shaped valley with river meadows filled with wild flowers and waving grasses. A rough track takes you past the remains of many houses. Some are now just lumps of stone, … Continue reading The Return

Why climb?

Last week, a colleague asked a rather odd question: “Is climbing all about the adrenaline?” For me, climbing has little to do with adrenaline. If I get an adrenaline rush on the rock, that probably means that something has gone wrong. Adrenaline makes you shaky and clumsy. Climbing is intense concentration and precise movement. When … Continue reading Why climb?

A Lofoten snapshot

I was in Lofoten for the midnight sun. For ten days at the start of June, I travelled around the archipelago of Norwegian islands with three mountaineering friends. The islands are in the Arctic circle, and from the end of May to mid July, the sun never sets. I imagined this might be disorienting: how … Continue reading A Lofoten snapshot

Spring rains

Spring has finally arrived in the Highlands. The subdued palette of winter – yellow grass, brown heather, grey bark – is disappearing under a flourish of green. Like wild fire, new shoots are appearing, leaping from grass to flower to tree to plant; creeping more slowly into the uplands. The beech hedge has rattled off … Continue reading Spring rains

Windblow in Abriachan

Tramping along the boardwalk through dense spruce and lodgepole pines, I emerge from the gloom into a clearing. The clearing is not a meadow, filled with grasses, heather and wild flowers. Nor does it have new trees growing. Here, full grown trees lie slumped, one atop another. Like great busy dominoes, they have been toppled … Continue reading Windblow in Abriachan

Performing Mountains

In March I attended Performing Mountains, a symposium at the University of Leeds organised by Jonathon Pitches and David Shearing. The symposium explored the role of live arts in mountain culture, including dance, drama, art, poetry, and literature. I was not quite sure what to expect: the event took place in the unfamiliar world of … Continue reading Performing Mountains

Mountain hare

Hares are beautiful, mystical, magical and strange. In the Cairngorms, I frequently encounter these beasts, loping or sprinting across fields and hillsides. There are two types in the UK. The brown or common hare (lepus Europaeus) is widespread, and lives on hills and farmland across the UK. The mountain hare (lepus timidus) is found almost … Continue reading Mountain hare

Highland River

The Cairngorms are home to many great rivers whose distinctive ecologies have shaped life for millenia. The Dee and Spey are known as two of the ‘big four’ Scottish salmon rivers. Fishermen travel here to fish for salmon that have travelled thousands of miles across the Atlantic, returning from distant feeding grounds to spawn in … Continue reading Highland River

How to write a mountain: four classic approaches

The mountains. A land apart, above, beyond. An elemental realm of water, ice and rock. A place for adventure, escape, exploration, revelation. Our increased leisure time, coupled with a desire for wholesome experiences and anxiety about our disconnection from nature, is leading more people into the mountains. But how does one translate the experience into … Continue reading How to write a mountain: four classic approaches

November half-light

September and October brought an incredible flush of colour to the Cairngorms. Silver birches burned golden, aspen shone yellow, and the heather coated the hills in rusty orange. As November progressed, that colour faded away into the muted colours of winter. In these short days, the sun makes a low arc of the sky, and … Continue reading November half-light

Into the Woods

The Cairngorms are well known for the high mountain plateau: a remote place of thin soils and exposed rock, scoured by winds and encased in snow and ice in the winter. Yet other important habitats also exist within the Park. The glens and foothills ­below the mountains are home to rich, diverse forests and woodland. … Continue reading Into the Woods

Cairngorm Colours

Exploring the Cairngorms, I am often struck by the changing shades, tones, and hues of the area. Light on the plateau can change by the minute. In the fog, the brightness dramatically alters: as though someone switches on a light, all is suddenly illuminated and the mist gleams white. Then, just as quickly, the light … Continue reading Cairngorm Colours

Beasts of the hill

Last week, while I was working my way uphill in the fog, a distinctive shape appeared through the mist. Low cloud in the mountains alters your sense of space. When the grand prospects of hill and valley are obscured, you do not feel that you are in a vast landscape. Instead, surrounded by grey-white fog, … Continue reading Beasts of the hill

Life on Spey

In August I shifted my possessions and my life several hundred miles north, up to the Scottish Highlands to work for the Cairngorms National Park Authority. I now live in Grantown-on-Spey, a small town (population 2,500) in Strathspey. In Gaelic, it is known as Am Baile Ùr, the new town, because it was built in … Continue reading Life on Spey