Tuesday, 23 November 2010


I went to see Ray Mears speak at Eden Court in Inverness at the end of October, expecting to find a backroom full of men with camouflage trousers and facial hair. I was pleasantly surprised however to find that Ray had sold out the sizable main auditorium to a broad cross-section of society. His fan base extends from children to pensioners, like the audience at a Status Quo concert, but with much less in the way of embarrassing mullets.

Of the many anecdotes that Ray trotted out over the course of the evening one has stuck in my head. He mentioned that the reason that he appeared a bit on the beefy side in his earlier programmes was because his mobility had been restricted by painful arthritis in his back.  It turned out that this arthritis was a symptom of an undiagnosed case of Lyme disease. He only discovered this some years later after developing the other symptoms of the disease - when he obtained treatment his back pain vanished immediately and has remained at bay ever since. Ray may have a slightly more svelte figure nowadays but he does not appear to be in any immediate danger of wasting away.

Ever since that night I have harboured an over-riding urge to make a campfire. Shivering behind a conservatively placed safety barrier at the Inverness fireworks display the next weekend (photo above) did nothing to slake my thirst for fire-raising. The bonfire was extremely impressive, but the accompanying firework display gave the impression of having had its budget slashed by 90 % at the last minute, which it probably had.

Thankfully the weather was sufficiently kind during a weekend cycling trip to Culbin Forest that I was able to whip up a nice fire to warm our picnic and boil up some billy tea.

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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Bothy trip to Glenbeg

Bothying is the strangest - and perhaps my favourite - of all outdoor sports .  It is true that it is not for everyone. Some people just don't get it. Maybe they're not doing it properly - in order to to ensure that your outing is a satisfying one it is wise to observe a few simple rules.

Friday night's less than luxurious accommodation

Firstly, pick a suitably remote bothy, at least ten miles from the road and preferably more. Secondly, wait until it is completely dark before setting out.  Lastly and most importantly, carry an incredibly heavy sack. Coal and beer are great for increasing the weight of your sack. Sacks could be lightened considerably by taking whisky instead. This would be far more efficient, but it would hardly be sporting.

All threee golden rules were observed during the weekend's trip to the Glenbeg bothy. I've been keen to get into this one for years, ever since I opened up OS Map 20 'Beinn Dearg and Loch Broom' and caught sight of the vast area of  hill country to the north of the A835 Ullapool road - practically the only road on this empty sheet. The southern approach up Strath Vaich from just before the Glascarnoch Dam was the one that had caught my attention but we decided on the eastern  approach from Alladale instead.

The bothies at Glenbeg. The stone building to the right is the original, the silver building has been maintained by the MBA since 2000. We chose the modern one for its stove and bright interior. 

It was well after ten by the time we set off on our bikes, cycling alongside Lister's electrified enclosure. A powerful spotlight dancing on the hillside above was the first sign we saw of an approaching landrover. The keepers clearly found our behaviour a little odd, however they were completely comfortable with the equally eccentric pastime of driving round late on a wet friday night lamping for foxes.

It is possible to cycle to within 2 km of Glenbeg  but the final rough stretch and the sizable burn  immediately beside the bothy had been weighing on my mind. It was clearly very wet and still raining heavily so the burn could very well be  impassible. That would leave us in a bit of a pickle. The prospect of a dismal uphill slog in the dark with about 8 kg of coal and  the same of Deuchar's weighing down on my shoulders in order to locate a  suitable crossing point was not apealling.

A rainbow complements the autumn colours on the slopes to the north of Gleann Beag

We broke the wet cycle with a rest in the generator hut near Deanich Lodge, stuffed with enough lead-acid batteries to power a U-boat and decorated with wartime graffiti. Shortly after leaving we met the keepers again. They advised us that the rivers were indeed very high and cautioned us that we could easily be misled if we inspected the levels below the tunnel that abstracts most of the water from the Abhainn a' Ghlinne Bhig to the Glascarnoch hydro scheme. They informed us the location of a small unlocked hut where we might leave our bikes.

It was about 0100 by the time we reached the hut and we decided to doss down there and save the river crossing for the morning. It was a surprisingly cold night - not quite cold enough to make me shiver, but enough to ensure a less than completely restful night. Perhaps it is time to give my sleeping bag a clean, I have been using it for 8 years without washing it.

We didn't spot this hidden - and unmarked - gem on the way in 

The chilly night left us preoccupied  with the bothy and the prospect of fire and warmth. By 1130 on Saturday morning we were happily ensconsed by the stove in Glenbeg bothy, beer in hand. It's true that we could  have spent the Friday night in our respective beds and still have made it to the bothy by lunchtime, without even having endured a particularly early rise, but there's nothing like a gruelling approach to sharpen one's appreciation of a warm bothy and a cheery fire.

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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A rant about GMT

Every year at this time I briefly become agitated about the changing of the clocks at the end of British Summer Time. Usually I content myself with a brief rant to family members and work colleagues, however this year I am going to indulge myself in my first Official Blog Rant.

I don't object in any way to the changing of the seasons or the shortening of the days. What I do object to is having the natural flow of the seasons interrupted by the entirely senseless transition between British Summer Time (BST) and Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Every year a small minority propose that we should in fact stay in BST all year, perhaps with the option of advancing a further hour in the spring to GMT+2. Each and every year these visionaries are shouted down by dogma-peddling dimwits and dullards who trot out the same Tired Old Reasons as to why our evenings from now until the end of March should be plunged unnecessarily and prematurely into darkness.

Tired Old Reason Number 1: We change clocks for the benefit of the farmers, it is dangerous for farmers to start work in the dark. This is utter  nonsense. I know because I grew up and worked on a farm. Farmers work long hours and it is therefore inevitable that they will start and finish their work in the dark for many months of the year, no matter how we fiddle with the clocks. This reason is doubly spurious because farmers, not being bound by 9 to 5 convention, can start work at any hour of their choosing.

Tired Old Reason Number 2: In some places in Scotland it wouldn't be light until 1000 hrs. Is having darkness until 1000 for a couple of weeks really that much worse than having it until the already pretty late hour of 0900? It is simply very dark in midwinter and any morning-related gains made under the current  arrangement would be comfortably offset by the increased quantity of evening daylight gained under year-round BST

Tired Old Reason Number 3: We change clocks for the benefit of the children. Children would be mown down in droves every morning if they had to walk to school in the dark. This is absolute nonsense.   The popularity of this Tired Old Reason illustrates the wrong-headedness of the pro-GMT lobby perfectly. Not only is it demonstrably false - a trial of year-round BST between 1968 and 1971 resulted in less, not more, road casualties -  children would actually benefit  from the additional opportunity to play outside in daylight after school.

All of us would benefit enormously from additional evening daylight during the winter months, from the ability to go for a walk, a run or a bicycle ride and feel the evening sun on our faces. So support the campaign:  join the Facebook group;  rant to your colleagues and family members. It would be great if common sense prevailed eventually. One year -maybe even next year - I might be spared the pain  of listening to some unthinking automaton reciting the three  Tired Old Reasons above.

There is always hope. As I type the Californians are voting on Proposition 19, a proposal to legalise the cultivation and sale of marijuana. A Yes vote would be a nail in the coffin of the War On Drugs, a clear statement  that the rest of the US - and the world - would find very difficult to ignore. Who knows, it may even eventually  lead to this country adopting a rational, evidence-based drug policy.



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