Culter Fell, cloudy as hell

Culter Fell

Ever since I moved further out into South Lanarkshire I’ve been looking at walking Culter Fell (pronounced Cooter). I kept going to the circular route that’s on the walkhighlands website and also another walker that blogs, James Boulter (@bpackingbongos) posted a walk that he had done recently on Culter Fell. That really made me want to get out and do it. For the list tickers, Culter Fell sits on 3 list. It’s a Marilyn, Graham and a Donald. It’s the highest point it South Lanarkshire at 748 metres or 2244 of good Scot’s feet so that should make for a good view. It is also part of the Southern Uplands. What’s not to like.

An opportunity presented itself so with the blessing of my wife I was off early Saturday morning. I set the alarm for 0630 ZULU. Up and out the door before the house wakes up. My bag was at the door ready and packed. The only thing I didn’t have was a map of the area. I had a thought to stop at the motorway services at Abington and pop into the WH Smiths and pick one up. Off I went chucking everything in the car and joined the M74 at the ‘gow. I doesn’t take long to get to the Abington junction from Blackwood. I was at the services before I really had time to think. Parking up I wasn’t very impressed with sky, clouds hanging low and heavy but it was breezy and the clouds were moving fast. I was hopeful for clear skies and good vistas.

The service station was busy even at this early hour and with half the concessions were closed at that. I made my way through to the WH Smiths and their books/map section. After scanning the shelf a few times it was becoming pretty clear that they didn’t have the map I was after, the Ordnance Survey Explorer 336, Biggar & Broughton, Culter Fell & Dollar Law or even the Landranger 72, Upper Clyde Valley would have done. I think I could have had any map for the rest of Scotland and the Lake District that morning. A little put off but unperturbed. I’ve got OS maps for all of southern Scotland on my iPhone. It’s just nice to have a back up. Since I was at the services I grabbed myself a roll and sausage. It would have been not to. Extra Fuel for the engine. After stuffing my face and costing myself a small fortune in the process. I jumped back in the motor and headed along the road towards Biggar. A map is cheaper than a meal at a service station.

The village of Coulter is only a few short miles along the A702, parts of which apparently follow the route of a Roman road. I drove into Coulter and turned right where the 702 turns left at about 90 degrees and heads for Biggar. There’s a small junction on the corner. This road takes you past the new primary school and out towards the reservoir. The road is marked as a dead-end but it’s a few miles before you need worry about that. I followed the single track always mindful of other cars driving towards me especially around some of those twisty bends. However it wasn’t cars I needed to be worried about but sheep. A few yowes had squeezed under a fence or through a hole hugging the banks next to the road and getting skittish as I approached. Always makes for fun driving trying not to play dodgems with the yowes. Don’t think the fermer would be happy.

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I continued along the single track road until it forked at Birthwood and Culter Allers Farm just before the public road ends. I swung the car around as the road was wide enough. I was now facing back the way I came. Just in case I need to make a quick getaway. Getting out the car I looked up towards Culter Fell, only not to see it as it was covered in cloud. I was there so there was nothing left to do but get on with it, in the hope the cloud would clear. I grabbed my new hand made wooden walking stick. My dad makes walking sticks of all styles, types of wood, horn and antler handles. I opted for a plain stick that felt good in my hand and light with a vee notch at the top. I swung the rucksack on and headed off along the road. As I went I set up ViewRanger on the phone to record my track so I could upload it later. Airplane mode and locking the SIM to save the battery and only use the GPS. I stuck the phone in my pocket.

I crossed a cattle grid and the road started to climb slightly. I was on the look out for a small burn that the road crosses as after that the path I was to take started on the left. As I wandered along the road looking for the path taking in the glen, I heard the cattle grid rumble and rattle with what sounded like a quad bike coming my way. I waited until the noise of the diesel engine got closer and stepped off the road and turned to see a JCB Workmax with the fermer and his sheepdug in the passenger seat rather than the quad bike I had suspected. We exchanged a couple of nods and a wave has he drove away.

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There was no need to worry about spotting the path as it’s pretty obvious where it starts. It starts off nice and gentle before it picks up a mean gradient. It’s a very clear track to follow up Fell Shin and you soon pick up some great height and the views down the glen back towards Coulter are great. From here though the reservoir is hidden. Views above 600m still weren’t looking good with all the cloud but the wind was still brisk and the clouds were moving fast. I still had some hope of clear tops. I was fascinated by some really old ancient looking stone structures almost kist like in their construction minus the coping stone. Such wonders these are as the followed the path up the hill. Amazing, what was their significances? Who built them? Bronze age, Iron Age? It was also amazing that in some places due to the lee of the land or the way the wind was blowing all of a sudden I would walk into a small pocket of calm. Maybe only for a couple of steps but it was like walking through a door into another room. All of sudden silence and then you would pick up the sound of birds singing and the grouse calling. No wind whistling. I found myself stopping and listening every time I stepped into one of theses areas.

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I turned back to look down the line of the fank like things and noticed some crazies. Hill runners, crazies to me. Why would you want to waste a perfectly good hill walk by running. Not me. It didn’t take long from the to catch me. I was taking my time and enjoying the walk. As they got closer, I moved out their road on the track to let them pass. We said our mornings. I asked is this a regular thing for them, the answer was yes. Crazies. The one at the back walked with me for a bit, talking. I think he was trying to get his second wind. I asked what route they were taking and what I had hoped to do. Weather permitting. The 3 of them run these hills most weekends. See crazies. The route is a good one and the views great on a clear day. Here’s hoping I said, with that he picked up his pace and went to catch the other 2 crazies, I mean his 2 buddies. It wasn’t long before the 3 of them were out of sight and over the top of Fell Shin. Once gone I got back to my structures. Was it coincidence that pockets where the wind dropped was round most of these stones I wondered. It wasn’t till I got home that I found out there was nothing magical about them. Just some old unloved grouse butts. Obvious now looking back. Jeezoh, I got carried away with myself.

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The wind had gone from breezy to a severe buffeting. Nothing drastic, 3 pints of the stellar tortoise on an empty stomach as I crested Fell Shin and up on to Culter Fell properly. There’s a single solitary wooden post here just off to the left of the path. It’s purpose is definitely a mystery to me. One for Scooby Doo and his mystery bus. I took a walk over to check it out and to my surprise a pair of glasses were hanging from it and for a while by the nick they were in Well weathered. Some poor soul had lost their reading glasses and some good soul had stuck them on the post to be found. From there I headed over to a small marker cairn. Here the clouds were drifting across the front of me and up ahead the track was disappearing into some heavy clouds and no views. If I turned my back on the clouds I had good views over to Tinto and the hills otherside the glen, Dod Hill and Hillshaw Head above the reservoir. Luckily the clouds were hiding the majority of the large turbines over there. The closer ones keeked in and out of the drifts. There was some pluses to all the cloud.

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I turned around and head off in the direction of the cloud and the top of Culter Fell or so I hoped. I decided that it would be a good idea to get the phone out hand have a check. I’m really glad I did. The battery was hovering on 21% and I hadn’t even been out for more than a couple of hours. I can only assume that ViewRanger and iOS7 don’t get on very well or it’s how I have my settings in ViewRanger pinging away. This wasn’t going to end well. No paper map and phone not long from flat and me somewhere I had never walked before. Decisions were going to have to be made. Go on or go home. I knew I wasn’t too far from the summit. I could see that from the screen on the iPhone. As the 20% battery warning popped up. I took out my compass and took a bearing. You can’t beat the Silva 1-2-3 style of navigation. Get me doing a bit of proper navigating. Kind of. Compass in hand a followed the path towards the cloud and hoped for the best and the path would hold true. Worse case I would just turn round and head back the way I came. No blood, no foul.

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In the cloud I had the feeling of the distance expanding but my view contracting, almost like time was standing still. Gone were the birds and grouse. Just myself and me with the wind ringing in my lugs. As the steepness levels out here to a gentle incline towards the summit of Culter Fell, the ground is no longer hard but wet and boggy mire. Lots of standing water and a faint track that was flitting in and out. Check the compass, check the path or check the compass and hold to the reading and hope to pick the track up. This really slowed down the last few hundred metres. Felt like I had walked an extra mile, the time it had taken. Eventually the trig point and the summit top of Culter Fell started to solidify out of the cloud. My compass reading had been good and the path had stayed true most of the way. Had I missed the pillar I would have walked into a fence.

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I hung about for a bit had a bar of chocolate and big long slug of water. I tried my hand a taking a few selfies with dSLR; set the timer, run for the count of ten, hope for the best. I really need more practice at this. Some just looked terribly out of focus. There is no shelter to speak of, that or it was hiding in the cloud and the wind was at it’s buffeting best and the view non-existent. My phone was flat so I wasn’t going to attempt to find the path for the circular route I had planned. A the best laid plans o’ mice and men. A bit of a downer. It was what it was. Time to reverse my bearing and head back the way I had come. Culter Fell wasn’t going anywhere. I can come back. I picked up my walking stick that was resting against the trig pillar and started singing to myself;

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the streets
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the lassies say hello
Donald, where’s your troosers

morphed into….

Let the wind blow high
Let the wind blow low
Through the hills
In my kilt, I’ll go
All the grouse say chut, chut, chutttttt
Tookie, where’s your troosers?

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I wasn’t even wearing a kilt. Plenty of grouse shouting on the lower slopes though. I’m a bit daft in the heid at times. Chanting away to myself it was long before I was back down below the cloud and the world opened back up to me no longer enveloped in cotton wool, enjoying the pockets of quiet on the way down as I had on the way up. After sauntering around for a bit I was back on the road and in the car heading for home.

The full set of photgraphs can be seen over on my flickr set, here

Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe

Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe Collar

I’ll start like I start all of my reviews; with a disclaimer. That way you can decide if you want to read on or not. This Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe was sent to me by Hannah at Snow+Rock to review. Hannah contacted me. I was given the choice of a few bits of kit that I could have to review. Snow+Rock were kind enough to send me Icebreaker Anatomica and I get to keep it. I have no vested interest in Snow+Rock or Icebreaker who make the merino top itself other than to share my views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise.

Out the box, yes it came in a nifty wee box, so once I got it out the box the Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe felt light and soft. I have a couple of merino tops as I’m a fan of them, they are around the 200/260 weight. This was 150 weighted merino fabric and I could feel the difference. The top is made from 96% merino and 4% elstane which I assume is to help with keeping it’s shape. I stuck it on the scales and it came in at 155 grams for the size medium. Definitely lightweight. Icebreaker are marketing this more as underwear than a base layer. Not sure what the difference there is unless they are going for the, you can wear it everyday not just on the hills, other outdoor activities? I got the monsoon (grey)/heat(orange) colourway which measns some colourful contrasting stitching for the seams in a bright orange. All these seems are forward facing which really helps to stop the chaffing. Nothing fancy going on just practical well made top. I like long sleeves as you can pull them up and down depending on how I feel, the weather, midges These ones are raglan sleeves for extra freedom of movement, it also means no seams on the top of your shoulder for rucksack straps to sit on.

Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe BaaCode

What I did really like about what Icebreaker do with clothes and not just the Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe and I thought was a bit different, was the baacode. You see what they did there baacode. Made me chuckle. You can trace where the wool and sheep originated from back to the source through the supply chain. They’re trying to be different, trying to show that they have nothing to hide. It’s a laudable concept and maybe one that more manufacturers could follow. My baacode took me to 3 stations out of a possible 120. All on the south island of New Zealand, Middlehurst Station, Te Akatawara Station and Walter Peak Station. The site gave me the names of the farmers, size of the farm. All sorts of stuff and some videos as well. It also made have a look at the nifty box that the top came in to see what it’s green credentials were. If your care that much for the animal and it’s well being then you should what your packaging is doing. I’m please to say that this born out with the package using sustainable inks and cardboard. Good show.

Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe Icebreaker

Next step was to try it on. The Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe has a slim athletic fit which is tight but not in a restrictive way, it’s comfortable. It just means that if you’re built like me and not an model/athlete/body builder then there’s no hiding the big beer kite or those moobs. It also means there’s no embarrassing photos of me wearing it. Wouldn’t want to put you off your tea and I sure as hell don’t want to see myself. I put it through the Tookie Indoor Gear Test™. Which basically means I crawl about the house in it, relax on the couch, do the dishes and my daughter and I play with the Barbies in the toy room. I’m Ken obviously. You’ll be glad to know that it passed. No itching, scratching, chafing, riding up or any other general annoyance. Nice and light to wear. Never too warm or too cold. On this top the sleeves are long for me and stretch over my hand. It means they end up bunching at my wrists. Both cuffs have different stitching. Not sure if that’s deliberate or because it’s a sample that I have. Anyway I like it makes it easier to tell me left from my right. It’s also long length-wise for me which is great means it can tuck it in properly and keeps my lower back cosy and protected. Remember I’m 5′ 7″ on a good day with a reach of 30 odd inches.

Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe Cuff Details

I’ve been pulling this on all the time when I’ve been going out and not just up the hills or walking through the woods. It’s even been on when I’ve been out tidying the garden but like all merino tops the Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe has a tendency to get soggy especially around your pack where there’s less ventilation and restricted airflow but I found this one to be better than the others that I own. I’m no expert but it may just be down to the weight and fineness of the fabric that it dries out really quickly. It never really felt wet. I was never cold with this top on and most of the time I wore it under a wind shirt. It’s comfortable on the move, none of the itch I’ve had with other merino tops. I know for various reasons that merino is not everyone’s favourite material for a base layer but I’m a fan. You almost don’t know you have it on at times. If I could change something it would be to add monkey thumbs. Tops with monkey thumbs are great. It’s not a deal breaker the Icebreaker Anatomica Long Sleeve Crewe is still a good base-layer a very good one. It’s a winner for me.

You can see more photographs of the top on flickr here.

North and South Kyle Forests

Map of Kyle

There’s not been too much happening recently concerning walks or any that I felt were worth sharing. However something really interesting; for me at any rate but also something that maybe you could help with. I got a very interesting email recently which led to quiet a few emails going back and forth and then a meeting in Hamilton. What was it about you ask and how can you help? Well…

…the Forestry Commision are looking to open up the north and south Kyle forests. To you and me, that is all their land roughly between Dalmellington and Cumnock in Ayrshire. It’s at an early stage but they are looking for folks to have and input. They have the idea of using the area a bit like the Galloway forest park; walking, cycling, community orchards, conservation, social enterprises. Open to all. They want to know what your doing, what paths your walking, tracks you are cycling, what viewpoints keep drawing you back, what wildlife do you go to watch but it’s not just that. They are keen on the history of the area, stories and anything you think is special. Hopefully they can get a picture of the routes and interesting places. Maybe even join them up and make a place people stop off and visit.

I spent a great afternoon with the Forestry Commission talking about the area and the places I have walked and the views that I thought were special. It was excellent and it really brought it home, especially when you see it printed out on a large scale map just how much there is in the area that could be done. It’s all at a very early stage and there’s no guarentees that it will happen but I left the meeting wishing it could happen. Here’s to hoping.

Personally I think it would be a great for the area so if you can help or just want some more information then use the contact form here or drop me an email at davidtookiebunten(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll pass your details on to them and hopefully we can make this happen and help get it off the ground.

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket Logo

I’ll start like I start all of my reviews; with a disclaimer, that this Berghaus Polarplus Fleece Jacket was sent to me by Gareth to review. Gareth works for a company that represents Berghaus and he contacted me. He a few things that I could choose but only this fleece in a size medium. He was kind enough to send it to me and I get to keep it. I have no vested interest in Berghaus, the company that Gareth works for or the Fleece itself other than to share my views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise.

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket Collar and zip

This arrived pretty late in the year, just as the weather had turned for the better after the long cold winter and round about the time that I was gearing up (no pun intended) to move in to a new house, not that it matters greatly. I came home to a parcel waiting for me. There’s something about that, that gets me excited like a child. I opened the parcel and was immediately struck be the weight of the folded up fleece. It was heavy. I had a quick read at the tags. Polertec 300. That’s a proper fleece and a lot heavier that anything I’ve had before and made from recycled yarn according to the bumpf. Most, if not all fleeces I have had and use are Polertec 100. I was struck by how different this 300 material was. For a start it’s a double sided fleece fabric. It’s in a whole other level. Thick, soft and really luxurious feeling. Really a jacket in it’s own right. Next move was to stick on the digital scales. It came in at 768 grams. Heavy but not necessarilly a bad thing.

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket Hem Drawcord and Toggle

Next thing was to try it on. It looked big for a medium when I took it out the wrapping. Trying it on confirmed this, it’s cut on the generous side of medium. This re-enforces the feeling of this standing up on it’s own as a jacket and not just a mid-layer. A classic fleece set up. Nice big collar, two large hand warmer pockets and drawstring elasticated hem to keep out the drafts. The collar is quite stiff and stands up which I like, right up under your chin keeping the wind out. The cuffs on the sleeves are not elasticated but theres no problem with them riding up because of the generous cut. The sleeves are on the longish side for me. They also have the attachment points for use with Berghaus InterActive system that some of their outer shells use along with the zip. Giving you that classic 3 in 1 layering system. The two pockets have zipped closures and are deep enough for a mobile phone and most compact point and shoot cameras in my opinion. They are also proper thick lined hand warmer pockets, more of that soft luxuirous comfort. The hem has the standard elasticated cord and toggle set up that can be tightened or loosened with one hand if need be. Quality was the word that came to mind after this first wearing.

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket Zip and Storm flap

After that I put it through the Tookie indoors gear test, which was pretty short. It was like being wrapped in a furnace, a soft sumptuous deluxe furnace. I’ve said before I run warm and in this fleece even sitting around on the couch doing nothing I was roasting. The jacket is very comfortable to wear. It just envelopes you. There was no chasing the little Bunten round, that part is going to have to wait till it’s colder. Like a lot with this it’s just going to have to wait till the Autumn for an update. It’s not the weather for it.

Berghaus PolarPlus Fleece Jacket Sleeve and Cuff

All in all a well made fleece but I’m sure that comes as no surprise from a company with the pedigree and history of Berghaus. It might not be the most fashionable, trendy or cutting edge of fleeces to look at but I’ll look forward to the weather getting harder and giving this jacket a proper testing in the elements.

More photographs can be found in my flickr set here.

Rab Orbit Pull-on

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece logo

I’ll start like I start all of my reviews; with a disclaimer, that this Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece was sent to me by Sam at GO Outdoors to review. Sam contacted me. I was given the choice of few bits of kit that I could review. GO Outdoors were kind enough to send it to me and I get to keep it. I have no vested interest in GO Outdoors, Rab who make the fleece itself other than to share my views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise.

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece Zip pull

First impressions out the bag, this was as fancy free as it could be. No bells and whistles on this top. No nonsense functionality. I do a job and I do it well. A mid-layer or a base layer whichever you choose it was ready to do the business. Lightweight Polartec 100 is the fabric that Rab have gone with for this microfleece. They say it has a micro stripe pattern which I assume is on the outer face of the fabric and feels a bit harder. Whereas the inside face is soft and almost silky in contrast. Making it very nice to wear next to the skin as a base layer should you want to. Rab have made a good comfortable top. On closer inspection and handling it’s well made, no dodgy stitching or loose threads. Some really nice finishing touches, like on the inside the seams round the collar and zip have been overlaid with a comfort strip.

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece Chin guard closed

Once I put it on, within a few minutes I was unaware of it. Which is ideal as personally when I’m out walking or whatever I don’t want to be always footering with my garments. It passed the Tookie indoors gear test with flying colours. If something isn’t comfortable or functional about the house, lounging, playing games with the family, down the pub, at the shops then it’s going to be 10 times worse when you’re out on the hill or far from home. It’s also a very light top coming in at 267 grams on my scales.

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece Collar detail

There’s not much in the way of features on this fleece but personally as midlayer I don’t want much. It has a deep chest zip to help with venting and a chin guard on the collar to stop the zip chaffing when you have it pulled all the way up. It also has a storm flap behind the zip to help stop drafts getting through. The zip pull is very small and probably a bit difficult to get a hold of, if you’re wearing gloves or have big muckle hon’s but it does tuck away nice and neat into the chin guard. The cuffs are not elasticated but the fleece fabric is stretchy enough should you want pull them up to your elbows. I has a scooped tail at the back to help keep your back covered when bending over or stretching up. The fit for me on this size medium is almost perfect so I would say that it would be a standard fit on the medium scale not slim or generous. It also has flat locked seams which help especially if you are layering up or carrying a rucksack no bulk to catch or sit uncomfortably.

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece Cuff and sleeve detail

I’ve had this for a while now and it’s either been on under a shell or as top layer with a base or I’ve just been carrying it around just in case. I found it to be an ideal partner for my close fitting windshirt as it not bulky so it fits great under it. Great to just pull it on when I stopped to keep that breeze from chilling me. It’s in my rucksack for when I need that extra warmth without hassle. It’s good; it works, what more could I want really?

Rab Orbit Pull-on Fleece Polartec label

More photographs can be found in my flickr set here.

Terra Nova Laser 35 Rucksack

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I’ll start like I start almost all of the reviews; with a disclaimer, that this rucksack was sent to me by idealo to review. Christoph from idealo contacted me. I was asked what I would like to review, I was asked to pick something through their site. This was a bit different as idealo is a price comparison site. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I ended up sending a list to Christoph saying I would be happy to review any of those items. They were nice enough to send it to me the Terra Nova Laser 35 litre rucksack. I have no vested interest in idealo, Terra Nova or the rucksack itself other than to share my views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise.

Not long after sending the list in the postman delivered a large but light parcel which got ripped open almost immediately to reveal the rucksack. This was a bit different for me as the last few items have been clothing so on I my first look I usually don them and wear them about the house. Trying to get an idea of how comfortable they are. Not really practical with the rucksack, doesn’t really work rolling about the floor with my young daughter playing games or sitting on the couch consuming content on the iPad or watching telly. No Tookie indoors gear test. I would just have to make do with a really good once over in my hands before taking it out to play.

On first inspection it’s a well manufactured pack. Nice and tidy. The website has it at two different weights, 476 grams and 467 including the 8mm foam back pad. I’m pretty sure it’s a typo. My scales had it come in at 478 grams with the back pad in, the website has that at 50 grams but the one I have is very tight fit in the sleeve. It was not shaped, more or less a square cut and is a few grams heavier at 54. Nothing really; it is still a very light pack for it’s size, 424 grams without the foam insert. It is certainly the lightest pack that I have handled. It is also, as far as I’m aware the largest rucksack that Terra Nova have in their range at 35 litres.

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It is made from what feels like siliconised ripstop nylon in a rather bright; if not fetching, luminous yellow and a heavier black fabric in the key rub areas like the seat and the harness. There was no specifics named on any of the tags other than to say “Robust fabric in key areas to give maximum strength for minimum weight”. Not much to go on, not even anything in a quick google search with the iPhone. The back panel is made up of some padded mesh at the shoulders and the base of the spine and a plain middle section to give some ventilation and save some weight I assume.

On the waist belt it has a couple of pockets. Useful for small items which I’m a big fan of, storing sweets, nuts and other things that you want to have at hand instead of overloading your trouser pockets. They aren’t the biggest pockets and you would be struggling to get a point and shoot camera or even some of the latest smart phones in them. However a pocket knife or a compass would be fine. Both are accessed through a water resistant zip.

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Talking about zips, the main body is accessed through a full length water resistant one. I’ll be really honest and say I was sceptical about this. I thought it was a bit of a gimmick. You are so used to snap-to-buckles, drawstrings, lids, flaps and accessing your gear from the top down that anything else just seems wrong. After using it though it’s a bit of a revelation, easy access to all your gear. It’s all laid out in front of you. No lucky dip rummaging around, poking this one, squeezing that one trying to find the correct stuff sack. My only worry was about overloading the rucksack pulling the zip apart especially with the side compression pulled tight. I tried reconfiguring the bungee cord using the gear loops; while it helped ease my worries, taking away the pressure on the zip. All it really did was hamper my access to the contents by getting in the way as it criss-crossed over the zip. I ended up removing the cord and threading it back into it’s original configuration as it was just too annoying and so far so good, no pulling apart.

Inside the one and only main compartment there is an elasticated sleeve for a hydration pouch (also holds the foam pad in place) and entry/exit hole for the tube. The minimalist and boxy rectangular shape make for a good bit of usable space when it comes to packing gear in with the help of the full length zip. Like I said it does let you access all areas. Round the body of the rucksack there are plenty of attachment points, a couple with reflective tape, should you feel the need to hang things off the ‘sack or you can’t get everything inside the generous 35 litres. Most likely a helmet, ropes for the climbers or ice axes for the winter walkers. That is one thing it doesn’t have, loops for axes.

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You also have a couple of deepish pockets either side for water bottles or in conjunction with the side compression bungies you can secure walking poles or a camera tripod. There is loads of bungee cord on those side compression pulls. I ended up trimming it down a bit as I felt there was more than enough especially if you are securing gear in a half filled pack. You end up with cord whipping all over the place. Not much worse than the wind catching it an’ skelpping you in the dish with it. On the top of the right hand side there is also a zippered pocket that has a secure clip for your keys, its slightly bigger than the waist strap pockets. The harness has the same comfortable padded mesh as the the back panel and the sternum strap has the standard built in whistle on the buckle. The strap also has some leeway to move it up and down the torso.

I like the ‘sack but I haven’t used it on any overnight trips only day walks at the moment so it’s never really been full or packed hard. It copes great, it does what it does. I have no problems with it. If you’re tall or long in the back then it might ride a bit high but other than that the only niggle I have is with the zip. I’m still a bit worried about it being pulled apart if it gets overloaded and you pull in the side compression cord tight to lock down the load but in other ways it genius, giving you all that access. It is very light and comfortable for a rucksack of it’s size. Well made and for the moment it replaces my Alpkit Gourdon as my daysack. What it really needs now is to get away for a couple of days……

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Thro’ Pathways Rough and Muddy

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I keep finding myself drawn back to this place. The place I’ve walked countless times. I think it’s because I feel I have to document these walks for myself. Now that I write and take photographs so that I will have some record of them. Something to look back on.

No Greggs sausage rolls this time as it was shut not open until 0730 however the EK Deli next door was so I pulled in and got myself a big baguette stuffed full of cheese, ham and tomato, a bottle of water and a bottle of IRN BRU. I already had a few chocolate bars left over from another walk. No need to buy extra treats. It was the usual road East Kilbride to Strathaven to Muirkirk then finally Kames.

As always even all though it was early, a couple of cars could be found in the Walkers’ car park. Generally it’s dog walkers out to stretch their dogs legs but sometimes you never know someone is here to climb the hills. It was cold but not overly with a bit of a wind so I chucked my insulating jacket in my bag and opted for just my wind shirt over my shirt.

I was a little excited but also a little apprehensive. I had only just had corrective surgery on my eyes. No more glasses, for awhile at least. I hope. Excited that this would the first walk and I would get to see how good these lasered peeps would be. Not that I had any doubts. I’d spent the previous couple of weeks wondering why it had taken me so long to get it done. Apprehensive in that what if I got something dust, muck, other matter blown into them.

I fired up ViewRanger on my iPhone to record my path. No live maps on Social Hiking for me. The battery doesn’t like that. Record and upload later. That done I head towards the old road and MacAdams old tar works. I wouldn’t be climbing a hill, I was going to walk the road. All the way to either Sanquhar or Kirkconnel and get the bust back. Roughly 16 good Scots’ miles. I think folks get the impression that the old road was built by MacAdam but it wasn’t, it had been a cart road that had been there for along time. An old drove road that branches off in few directions. He just tarred and made it better or so the story goes. The road is probably even older than a drove road probably and ancient track.

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Following the familiar way I set off round the back of the old institute and onto the old road. Today for a change I had on the 35mm lens instead of my usual 18-55mm kit lens for my Nikon. I was thinking different lens different view on the landscape. No zooming in and out. I would have to zoom with me feet where possible. I would have to, hopefully, think about my shots rather than just snapping away. That was the theory. The 35mm is cracking wee lens, it has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 which is great for creating depth of field. I don’t think it really works for landscape shots more of portrait, street photography lens in my head but hopefully I could get something decent with some landscape features, so the idea goes.

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Randomly snapping shots as I always do I found myself at the junction of the Sanquhar bridge over the Garpel Burn. Stay on this side and you start to climb the Cairn Table, cross the bridge and you’re heading south to across Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway or Lanarkshire if you want. Plenty of old tracks to choose from, plenty of walks. More than I can manage at the moment. Some have been on the ‘list’ for years and some have been done a few times.

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After the bridge the path winds and climbs up the shoulder of Wardlaw Hill. Every now and then I catch a fresh footprint or paw print in the path in front of me. Unusual to be on the road with others here, it’s not a circular route. As a round another corner, I find the makers of those marks. Two guys and a large dalmatian. All happed up like a pish hoose spicket. It’s not that cold and it’s dry but each to their own and it has been wet the previous few days. Hedging their bets. I stop and clap the big friendly dalmation as he bounds up to me and I speak to the guys. The usual stuff, weather and the like. Then they tell me they were trying to climb the Cairn Table. Easy done if you don’t know the walk or have a map. Usually they just up the front of the Cairn Table and back down the same path but the decided to try the other route. I tell them they would have been fine if they hadn’t crossed the bridge and continued on. All would be fine.

Marker Cairn

I left them to head back down to the bridge where they had made the wrong turn and continued on my way. The old road turns from hard packed to waterlogged peaty grass. For time, I find myself skipping, jumping, dodging and generally doing my best to avoid the worst of the stinking stale puddles. Foot suckers. Not that I’m afraid of getting dirty just don’t want to get too dirty. The shoulder of Wardlaw is saturated and soft. At time the road is unrecognisable and at others it has been chewed to bits by quad bikes or scramblers. Looking at all that water and standing on the shoulder of Wardlaw hill; I think that it’s weird but it probably isn’t, that all the water here flows to the River Ayr. The Garpel on one side runs straight into the Ayr but the other side all runs into the Glenmuir then into the Lugar then into the River Ayr away over in the west between Ochiltree and Mauchline just shy of Barskimming. Two different routes to the same place and ultimately the firth of Clyde and the sea.

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It’s such a great view of the Glenmuir and not one I see very often. Most of memories are from down in the glen; fishing, camping, swimming and wondering at the ruined castle at Kyle and why would anyone build a one there. Been a long time since I’ve been down there and I was sorely tempted to change my plans and head down that way and walk back to Muirkirk round the other side of Wardlaw Hill. However it I was out solo and had left my plans with my wife she knew where I was going and when to expect me back, not a good idea to change things on the hoof just in case they go bad. I turned slowly away from the glen and my memories and continued on the road.

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Past the worst of the peaty path, I was on the slopes of Pepper Hill as the road contoured round it. On the lands of the old High Shaw farm. Farm is being kind it would have been no bigger than a croft. Probably an old Scottish longhouse at one point. Now no more than a big sheep pen and rarely used at that. Much like Glenmuirshaw further down in the glen. Walking towards a large semi-ruined sheep pen. I noticed a small set of antlers and I hadn’t spooked them.

At last I somehow managed to get close to a deer. The wind blowing into my face had kept my smell away from it. The deer hadn’t a clue. I crept as silently as a ninja. In my head I was a ninja. All stealth and silence. Closer. Closer. I got as close to the old rusty fence in front of the collapsed stone wall as I dared. Holding my breath while cursing myself for not having my 18-55 kit lens. At least with it’s small zoom I would have got closer. Fortune favours the brave so the say. I moved closer to the rusty barbed wire. Inch by inch as close as I could, hedging my bets as I hadn’t been noticed. I slowly lifted the Nikon to my face. I focused on the deer and press down on the shutter. It sounded like a crash of thunder on that hillside.

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That was all it need, out it launched. Fast and hard along with two other deer I hadn’t even seen lying in the long grass. The alien noise of the shutter was all they had needed. Always alert. They run this way and that trying to figure out where I was going eventually the deer realised I wasn’t running after them. They just stood a top of one of the many knowes and watched me from a safe distance.

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Leaving the deer to gallop across the moor I continued along the grassy green road. Nearing the forest, the sounds changed and I could hear men at work. Heavy duty chainsaws whining, chewing, stripping and spitting out the pine trees. It was hard to tell from which direction it was coming from. Was I going to walk into it or was it at the other side of the plantation. Time would tell. On the edge of the plantation I crossed a small bridge over the March Burn, a boundary maker. Not sure if it’s between old farms or a couple of old baronies. Further down the Glenmuir is Kyle Castle and this could mark it’s eastern edge of it’s barony. Another possibility going the other way deep in the forest is Three Shire Hill. Where Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and Galloway boundaries meet.

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The old road here was just as bad here as over the pass into Glenmuir if not worse. Almost a large river of oozing mud. The fact it was saturated and chewed up by the forestry vehicles didn’t help. Hopefully I would pick up one of their hard packed roads. I knew the old road became road again at the other side but the tracks through here change from time to time with the planting and work going on. I was hoping the sludging would come to an end.

Soon enough I hit hard packed gravel of the forestry road, the noise of industry getting louder and closer all the time. A single tree blocked the road. I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go under it, I couldn’t go around it. Oh well, I just had to go through it. I managed to wedge through the branches and stepped over the trunk and out the otherside. Not that it was too difficult. Once on the other side that’s where I saw where all the noise was going on. The trees were being harvested here. There was a Land Rover Discovery facing away from and a few bits of machinery. All the work was getting done off to my right.

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The guy in the Disco visibly jumped as a walked passed the passenger side door waving. Obviously wasn’t expecting anyone else there today. I waved and carried on, smiling. I was then assaulted, my nasal passages were battered by an overpowering smell of pine. Almost as strong as the cheap pine bleach in a public toilet. Not that I hang around public toilets. Ever. Needs must and all that. The fresh cut trees were scenting the air. The further along I walked the less pungent the scent got, these ones not so freshly hewn. It was actually becoming pleasant and made for a nice end to the forest section. Not long after the perfume drifted away I was back on the high muirs and the road was an actual road again.

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From this section I had a view past Mount Stuart right through to the Lowthers and the giant golf ball on the horizon that is the radar station. Which I think is for air traffic control. I could be wrong. It’s definitely a radar at all costs. I had a view of it as the crow flies. I could here a few grouse squawking away in the long tussocks hiding out the way. I walked on. The weather was starting to cloud over after a fine bright morning and the wind was still constantly blowing. Blowing enough that I knew I was going to have a nice wind burned face. Good old skelpt erse.

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Walking along listening to the birds sing. Minding my own business. Enjoying being there. When, woooosh! Out pops a Black Grouse from the roadside, not a foot from my face. I could feel the air rush past me as it exploded from the long grass. It was my turn to jump out my skin. Heart in the mouth. It’s a bird just a fecking bird. I think the bastards do that on purpose its not the first time a grouse or a ptarmigan has done that to me. You think they are sqwauking, that’s them laughing at you. Shouting at his buddy, “Haha look at that dick; nearly pished himself, gave him a squeaky bum”. After getting my heart rate back under control and a quick swig of the orange stuff. I started walking again. It now seemed that every few feet I was flushing out the grouse. They were all at it but that fright thing only works once. After the first one I’m expecting it. I was probably in the gamekeepers sights at that point, all those birds getting flushed into the sky.

Blackgannoch Coventicles

Deep in covenanter country here; not far from another conventicle site, Blackgannoch. It’s still a wild land here and must have been wilder back then, I would think. A great place to hide. I was now heading for the for the old junction at Fingland. From there you can head to the conventicle site or Spago Bridge and onto Wanlockhead high in the Lowthers where the old gold and lead mines are. It’s part of an old drove road through the Southern Uplands. I wasn’t going that way. It’s a path I haven’t walked yet and one that’s on the list. I was heading for the Sanquhar/Kirkconnel turn. On reaching Fingland I was greeted by the barking of a dog but saw no-one. There is only a couple of in habitable houses. The others abandoned for whatever reason, left derelict. Not wanting to disturb the dog further I didn’t tarry long and head off down the Sanquhar road. The road climbs steadily or so it feels, along the bottom of the High Knypes.

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It was decision time. I was at a fork in the road. I could continue on the road and head for Sanquhar or take the turn and the old path up and over in to Kirkconnel. I had been pounding the hard stuff for a while and decide to head off road again and take the trail. Back up into the hills. There was a short section after leaving the road where all of a sudden the old track completely disappears. It just vanishes into long tussocky grass. I slowed myself down and looked about carefully. Not that I was lost. Just wanted to ensure I kept to the path. I managed to pick out it’s faint trail and followed where it led. I was crossing the high pasture, summer grazing among some jittery sheep. They didn’t like me being there. There was one big tup that keep his eye on me while the others ran and gained some height and distance but this big boy just stood defiantly on the edge of knowe watching me. Almost daring me to challenge him. Either that or he was justing making sure I definitely didn’t have a bucket or two of feed. I ignored him, hopefully much to his annoyance and carried on.

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It’s a cracking view from the shoulder of Kirkland Hill,looking down the Nith valley over St Conal’s Kirk, Kirkconnel itself. Up and down the river. Over to Blackcraig and up towards New Cumnock. You don’t realise that you have gained a good bit of height. Nearly 1500 ft on the shoulder of Kirkland Hill. One of those views that you can sit and just drink in. There is the odd bit of man made interference that you have to ignore, a couple of wind farms on the opposite side of the valley. The tops of their spinning blades catching the sun. Also back to the north a rather large surface mine. A big bloody scar of an opencast mine. Barring that, great view.

It been awhile since I had seen a soul. I had the world to myself but here I did notice a single solitary being walking up from the Vennel, the farm at the bottom of the hill. Farmer. Possibly. Lots of yowes in the lower fields with lambs. Maybe out checking the beasts. I climbed down off Kirkland Hill and met guy at the bottom, standing in front of an information board. Not the farmer, shock horror but another walker. I had bumped into a grand total of 5 people and one dog in nearly 16 miles and 5 hours of walking. A busy day that was. He asked where I had come from and I had said over from Muirkirk. It must have sounded incredulous as he had that look about his face. He was looking for a somewhat shorter walk. He had a couple of options, up to the trig point on Kirkland hill or follow the old path but to the junction and turn for Sanquhar, from there back to Kirkconnel. A nice circular route if a bit road weary. I left him to mull over his choices and headed for the kirkyard.

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I climbed the stile over the wall and into St Conal’s Kirk. Apparently a church stood here for a thousand years, not the same original one but one of a few, growing expanding. Wood replaced by stone that sort of thing. Then along came the restoration in 1660, Charles II, the King tried to enforce episcopalian ways in the governance of the kirk. The minister here; one of many, refused and was tossed out. It was to be the start of the Killing Times, turning the South and West into a hotbed of religious turmoil. The kirk was closed and fell into disrepair and ruin. It wasn’t until 1710 that Kirkconnel had a minister again and a new church built in the village. Now here at this spot there is even less left. It’s a quiet spot. A perfect place for lunch after a long walk.

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I noticed a cage in the corner of the church yard but I pay it no attention as I walked round the yard clockwise. Looking at the old headstones and burial slabs. Some are legible and others are completely weather worn with no recognisable marks on them. I walked round to the information boards and the open sheds that are holding the archaeological finds, all carved stone from different periods. Some of it beautifully cut others weathered and only hinting at their previous designs. After reading the boards I have a look in the cage, a trap crow. Not seen anything like that in years. The crow was not amused at my presence, fluttering around it’s cage and a very agitated manner so I retreated out of view back to the stacks of stone and the plinth the sheds were on for a seat and something to eat.

Enjoying lunch as I was going to be late for the early bus and too early for the late bus. You know how it goes. I had the ancient churchyard to myself, well except for the auld corbie fluttering in his cage. He had settled back down once he realised I wasn’t going to try and eat him. I leisurely walk around the ruins; reading the excellent information boards, standing within the old walls, looking at the work stone and carved masonry. I’m not one for the church, a coo in the field without a name but the place did have an ambience. Tranquil, peaceful. Haloed? Not sure but it did have an aura. It feels ancient. Maybe that’s it, its old, really old and I feel that age. It has seen everything and the stones and grass have soaked it up.

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Out the corner of my eye I saw some movement. The walker I meet earlier had returned. He wandered over and sat at the far end of the platform. I asked where did go. Just to the top of Kirkland Hill. Fair enough. He asks about the crow. Was someone training it to stay put or had it been injured and was getting ready to be realised. Obviously not a country boy. In the back of my mind I was thinking of an altogether other purpose for the corbie. It was lambing time and crows are carrion. Known for pecking on weak newborn lambs or the stillborn ones. I was thinking it was being used to attract other crows so they could be shot. It is a cruel world.

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Finishing up my lunch I decided to head on over the last couple of miles into town. How needs guard dugs when you’ve got geese. Honking nipping bastards. Nearly chased from the Vennel by a gaggle. They were positively angry and aggressive compared to the tup, he was all menace and trying to be intimidating. The geese were for my ankles. One for the pot would have sorted that out but I’m pretty sure the fermer’s gudwife would be none too happy. I hastily made me retreat beyond the gate and onto the road again.

Misjudging my times had left me in Kirkconnel with nothing open and a long wait for a bus. The pub was open but I was a bit filthy and I didn’t fancy nursing a half and half shandy for nigh on two hours. Not too far from Cumnock I thought I would give Auld Tookie Nae Knees a bell see if he fancied a wee rin oot. Trying the parents house phone and it ringing out; I tried his mobile, thinking if he was already out even better chance of getting picked up. After a couple of rings he picked up, “Where are you? oot?”. “Aye, where are you”. I explained my predicament; his reply, “In Ayr, out for dinner, tough, you’re stuck till the bus comes”. My response “Enjoy your dinner”. I parked my rear back on the wall to wait.

In hindsight it might have been better to head for Sanquhar at least there was a chance that something would have been opened. Them’s the breaks, just have to roll with it. It took nothing away for the walk and saved more tramping up a road.

Craghoppers Kiwi Long Sleeve Shirt

Merrick 007

photograph courtesy of Steve Horner

I’ll start like I start my most of reviews; with a disclaimer, that this shirt was sent to me by Ski + Trek to review. Ski + Trek and contacted me. I was asked what I would like to review and I asked for this shirt. They were nice enough to send it to me. I have no vested interest in Ski + Trek, Craghoppers or the shirt itself other than to share my views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise.

Ski + Trek have a range of gear for walking, skiing and snowboarding. From their site I selected the Craghoppers Kiwi Long Sleeve Shirt in a size medium and in indigo.

Craghoppers solardry

As I always do I gave the shirt a once over, running my hands through and giving it a good going over. I then stuck in on my scales. It came out weighing 296 grams for my size medium. It states a weight of 300 grams on their website but doesn’t say for what size. The shirt is made from Craghoppers’s own fabric, SolarDry. This is basically a polyester cotton mix that gives a reading of 40 on the UPF(Ultraviolet Protection Factor) index. The fabric also meets the British Standard for sun protection (BSEN 13758-2). It does this through the combination of 3 factors. The colour of the fabric, the density of the fabric construction and the type of yarns used. In my hand it felt nice and soft like a standard medium weight cotton shirt.

Craghoppers pocket

It is a pretty standard cut like most button down shirts. It has two button closure pockets on the front and one of those holds a zipped security pocket. I felt that the pockets were a little small considering they state that the secure one’s passport sized. I’m not sure which country has one that size but my British passport isn’t that small but then again I’m not one for stuffing my pockets full of things.

Craghoppers rolled up sleeve

The long sleeves are great giving you a lot of versatility, roll them up or down if you’re too warm or too cold. Keep the blazing sun off or look a bit smarter if you nip into the pub for a pint after being on the hill. The fact that you can button down the sleeves when you roll them up is great. No need to keep fiddling with them and rolling them back up because they can’t start to fall down.

Craghoppers drying loop

The shirt also has a couple of interesting little features. The first one is a couple of drying loops allowing you hang the shirt up after washing it without the need for pegs. Ideal for travelling. The other is a double collar. Tucked under the standard collar is another small flap which gives up more shade when you stand it up to protect yourself from the sun or cold draft blowing. Really smart thinking. One that I liked as I have milk white Scottish skin that sun only needs to wink at to turn me pink and the place that always gets it the back of my neck.

Craghoppers double collar

The only thing to let the shirt down was the untidy ends to some of the stitching. Nothing loose or not stitched correct just that finishing, tying off was unruly other than that it looked and felt a well made shirt. One I was happy to wear.

Craghoppers untidy stitches

After the initial inspection the shirt went through the usual lounging about the house testing. Rolling on the floor playing games with the little one, watching sports and drinking beer. A run round the colour cycle of the washing machine. The hard stuff. I always find wearing gear, if possible, casually is a great way to find out if it’s going to be any good when you do eventually take it outside. You’ll find out very quickly if its going to rub or pinch, ride up, are the tags going to scratch and itch. Thankfully none of that happened with this shirt. The polyester cotton is nice and comfortable with no hard tags to itch. No real worries or concerns. It passed the first phase of testing.

Its first trip out was nowhere near the wilds or hills something much more mundane and tranquil, the weekly trip to pick up some groceries from the local supermarket. Again the shirt was comfortable. I had no problems with and it didn’t look out of place in the urban environment, the man about town looked fine.

Craghoppers Logo

When out in the wilds when I was working hard I found the shirt to be cool and also to dry quite quickly for what feels like a medium weight fabric. It was always comfortable and it didn’t find any rubbing under rucksack straps or any chaffing. I have worn it on its own, under a windshirt. I have even slept in it like a dirty stop out. The shirt has taken a lot of abuse, washed and dried well. There a few marks where my sweat and the suncream has caused a slight discoloration of the fabric on the sleeves where I had rolled them up. Other than that the shirt is great and it doesn’t affect the wearing. A tough well made shirt. It seems to fill a lot of uses and occasions. I like it.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of new friends

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This is old, the dust has settled and more than likely the snow has melted so what better time to look back at a cracking weekend in the Arrochar Alps? It’s taken me awhile to sort out my notes and photographs with family life and work taking priority as always, however it’s done. I’m now setting it free from languishing in draft edit hell. I’m sure Dante would have a invented a new circle specifically for trip reports, probably after Limbo. Hopefully I can add something to the excellent posts that have already hit the interwebs. I’m probably the last to post about this and remember this is how I remembered it.

Petesy put a shout out for those that were interested in a meet up. I checked if I could get a pass. It was granted. I replied and was accepted. Then what followed can only be described was a hailstorm flurry of emails. Questions, requests, sizes, dates, all sorts flying around. Out of all the emails another thread appeared, that it might be a good idea to have a pre meet meet in Glasgow for those that could manage it. Any excuse to skip out of work for a bit is always good.

Friday trotted along and I nipped out to Tiso on Couper Street not too far from my work. I arrived at the appointed time and had a quick shifty round the gear. Well you can’t go and not have a look. Gear freaks can’t, there are plenty office types that stop off for something to eat in the excellent cafe. After that I headed up the stairs to the cafe. Reaching the top. I sent a message to Steve and Phil to let them know I was there. Looking up I saw Phil, not that Phil but another Phil, wave at me. I headed over to the table and the rest of the guys that had turned up. At the table was Michael, Phil, Petesy and John. After that other folks started to turn up and I’m not sure of the order but my friend Steve was definitely next, after that Del, Tom, Davy and Phil, that Phil not the other Phil, he was already there. Remember? Lots of names and lots new faces. I’m sure there were more but I’m not sure. So much to talk about and so many conversations going on. It was a really good hour and I was sad to have to leave. I hadn’t seen Steve since the Cairngorms and it was the same with Phil, so much had passed and too little time to catch up.

The day arrived. I was up and out early-ish. Left the family sleeping. Not that the little one would be sleeping long, she’s not one for the long lies yet. First stop was the petrol station. I always enjoy the drive up to Loch Lomond and beyond. It is always a drive full of anticipation and some fear, especially taking the road to Arrochar. It’s not for the faint hearted. The drive was great and pleasant. I arrived in plenty of time thinking that I would be the first there. How wrong was I. Turning into that car park I instantly recognised Sandy’s infamous/famous big green Land Rover Defender. Parked waiting. I drove up and introduced myself. John was also there, he rolled up first. After the handshakes I drove off to find a parking space.

Once I had parked Michael drove in and parked next to me. As he got out I was checking through my stuff and realised I didn’t have a shell! Never assume it makes an ass out of you and me but mostly me. I had only been boasting in the Tiso car park at how I would be fine. Everything was in the car. No packing for me. Yeah except my waterproof shell that I had used to go from the car to the house the previous couple of days. Not good with the weather that was forecast. Too late now to worry. Hopefully someone would have a spare jacket. Michael reckoned so and if not there maybe one to test. Fingers crossed. The car park was starting to fill up. Mostly with people who were here for the meet , it would seem. Michael and I made our way back to John and Sandy.

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As we ambled over John had started to ask sizes and had opened up his Aladdin’s cave, also known as the boot of his car. It was now a proper gear fest. Everyone was having a good feel and look at what he had brought for us all to test. Loads of gear. Montura, Leki, Hillsound, X-Bionic to name a few. Then Ollie and Katja arrived with more. They brought along Big Agnes and Granite Gear. Folks must have been wondering what was going on. Filling your boots out the back of two cars. I went away with 2 Montura jackets, a shell and an insulating one, a onesie base layer from X-bionic as well as a share in a tent a sleeping bag and insulating mat all from Big Agnes. She’s a wee darling.

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By now everyone had turned up, we had a fools compliment; Kelvin, Richard, Del, Davy, Michael, John, Tom, Arthur, Heather, Ollie, Katja, Phil, Petesy and of course myself. Petesy turned up last. Apparently this is not unusual. Everyone was now packing, packing and repacking. I went through two rucksacks trying to find one that I liked and fitted well enough. Finally settling on a test version of the Karrimor X-Lite from Petesy. A 45l + 10 in nice bright turquoise blue. Just what I need to go with my bright green test jacket. I’m generally happy with more subtle colours but what the hell. It was all turning out to be too much fun. I also managed to get a loner of an ice axe from Heather, she had spare. I don’t own one. Come on, I’m an Ayrshire boy, if I’m seen with an axe I’m liable to be lifted by the polis! Plus our hills are not high enough for snow. Supposedly.

I was packed and ready, eventually. It was time to head out, 15 of us in total, 15 on day release from the Ailsa or the weirdest looking D of E group. We were getting funny looks. Honestly it was that bad, it may have been all the bright clothing. Kelvin was particularly guilty. John was giving tips on walking with poles. Me I didn’t take a set. For some reason my brain can’t coordinate two pole walking. Just doesn’t happen. I look like I’m trying to ski. I’m better off with just one but even then I walk like a fermer with a shepherd’s crook. All in all only a slightly better look. We set off across the road and up the path through the woods. The hills were calling. It was my kind of walking. That was to say it was stop start and lots of talking. Everyone asking questions, getting to know each other. The banter was brilliant. All good fun.

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The weather was being typically Scottish, that’s to say it was throwing everything at us. Kitchen sink and set of wardrobes to boot. At times the wind was like taking a booting. Sun, rain, hail, snow, bright skies, clouds but almost constantly the wind. Howling, blowing, buffeting and battering. It couldn’t do nothing though to dampen the atmosphere. I think it could have done its worst and we would all have still been happy. We all continued on higher out past the trees and onto the hills above.

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The decision came down that it was plan B for the camp spot. Shelter in amongst the Narnain boulders as best we can out of the biting wind. We had already paired for those that were sharing tents and Davy was going to be my oppo. Ollie was making his way round everyone helping with the pitching of the tents. He being the expert with Big Agnes. He’d been out with her lots. Dirty stop out. The tent had some very interesting short poles and stuff and by all intents and purposes was made as a lightweight two man trail tent for the American market. I do believe at the time Davy and I were a little skeptical about this and the current Scottish weather. It was not California but more on that later.

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Things did not get off to a good start. Looking in you have though that none of us had pitched a tent before, a honless trio in the blustering gales. To top it off Ollie managed to catch the base of the tent on Davy’s ice axe. To be fair the wind caught it but still. Rrrrrriiiiipppp. You know that noise. That dreaded noise, like bending over in a too tight pair of dress trousers. Luckily all the tents came with a field repair kit so once we had the tent up and lashed down tight we applied a big patch over the hole.

Our problems at that time were far from over though. The wind was picking up something terrible and the tent bowing heavily in it. Then when it sprang back against the gust it was popping the stake. This was not boding well till Davy had a spark of genius. We staked that corner with the ice axe. Like to see it pop that. We did have visions if the wind kept up that tent would blow back down to Arrochar and all that was left was the axe and some torn fabric flapping in the wind. Please, no, but it seemed to shore everything up and gave us a bit more confidence. Hopefully it would last the night.

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It was almost, I say almost like an Everest basecamp. Tents dotted all over the place; all different shapes and sizes, all taking a severe buffering from the wind. Really severe. Concave instead of convex. It was cool view. Others were still trying to get their tents pitched so Davy and I made our way round the others to help out. Another set of hands is also good especially at that time. That’s when I found Heather trying to boil water for her dinner while holding on to a corner of her tent that was doing the same as what Davy and I had. I applied our tried and tested fix from earlier. The ice axe stake. Not really sure that it would pass muster on a HSE risk assessment but it was doing the job again. My good deed for that day done and Heather now being able to cook with both hands I left her in peace to eat.

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Walking back through the snow, I starting to think that dinner was a good shout. Get something warm inside and start to heat my core back up. Davy was obviously of the same mind as he was preparing his cooking gear. He said we was going to use his stove in the porch of the tent. Leaving Davy to set fire to the tent. I traipsed off looking for a sheltered place out the wind to fire up my stove and get the water boiling. The cold was really starting to bite now and I had stupidly taken an age to put my gloves on. I have hons like a fermer, rough as a badgers erse at the best of times. However they had started to go waxy and split at the creases not good. Nippy wee bastarding splits. I had not noticed them going cold and had let it go a bit too far. I eventually found a spot down next to Kelvin and Richard. I got the stove fired up and the water on for the dehydrated meal. Using this time to get some heat back in my hands and have a good chat with Kelvin and Richard. Everyone it seemed was packing on the calories. Double meals and we were no different hunkered down behind one of the big boulders.

As the light began to fade we finished up and made our way back into the wind to join the others. Happy to see no black fireballs in the distance. I trudged back through the snow to the tent. Somewhere along that 30 or so metre walk I managed to drop my spork. Raging. I didn’t notice it till I was back at the tent putting my cooking gear away. I tried to retrace my steps but to no avail, some lucky person was going to find a nice titanium spork when the snows melted. Bastard. If you find it, it’s mine.

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After all the four seasons of earlier the night sky was really clear and the stars were out in force. There was still the big massive orange light spill in the distance from Glasgow but luckily we were so far away it wasn’t interfering with our view above our heads. It’s something that I wish I was better at; in fact it’s something I was I could do, take long exposures at night. It’s not like my dSLR is not capable. It’s just that I haven’t got it down yet. It was a great time, everyone was mingling and chatting,standing around marvelling at the skies. We were like some cult waiting on aliens landing faces turned skyward looking for the flying saucers. Not quite invaders from Mars.

During the star gazing we noticed a couple of torches coming up the burn on the opposite side of the path. Beams flashing left and right as if they were looking for something. The never really got close enough or came across to see us. Not likely to miss us in the dark. Fifteen or so head torches can be pretty bright. We all got to wondering, someone lost their keys, MRT out on exercise, MRT checking us out? Who knows?

The wind was still strong and with what sun there was gone the temperature really started to drop quickly. People were starting to feel the cold and started to drift off to their tents and sleeping bags. I wasn’t the first but I heard Davy shout on me and he said he was heading off to bed. Not wanting to clambering over him later as I had the inside spot I decided it was as good a time as any to turn in. I got myself settled and into my little bit of camp life luxury. I stuck on my hand knitted woollen MountainGoat gear beanie hat. Lovely, soft and warm. Ideal for sleeping. It might not like getting wet but it is sure ideal for the inside of the tent.

I was in square cut down bag and mat from Big Agnes which took a bit of time to get warmed up. Eventually I had to stuff insulated jacket and gilet down the bottom which cut the air space down. I’m not the biggest wee guy on the planet and I’ve found that trick works every time. With less air to heat up it was long before I was toasty and out for the count. Never been one to have a hard time sleeping even with the wind doing its best impression of a gale. There was a fair old bit of movement in the trail tent but what the hey, I’d worry about that if I had to. Sleep came quickly.

At some point in the night the wind had stopped when I’m not sure. I stirred around first light to all peace and quiet in this part of the world. Not sure if Davy had been awake long or most of the night but he was up. He had had a cold night and bit restless but when he had slept he was fine. It was cold out. Really cold. That way you didn’t want to get out the sleeping bag. I’m pretty sure there were a few brass monkeys running around looking for their baws. However we were greeted with a clear beautiful sky. Sun just rising. Rosy fingered dawn was about show her hand. They’re special mornings, I think lying in your sleeping bag watching the sun pop above the peaks. I was a great view.

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However, it ends all too soon and you have to make a move. Nature calls or some sort of personal admin has to be looked after. Luckily having stuck my insulating layers in the sleeping bag I wasn’t having to put on cold clothes. Saving my body the jolt of camp cold. I have no idea of how cold it was in degrees but I do know the water from inside the tent was freezing to a couple of inches as soon as it hit the pan for heating up. I’m sure someone would know how cold it would have to be for that to happen. Obviously below zero. The camp was starting to come alive. Some were already up and eating breakfast, others just stirring. Everyone was looking forward to the day ahead.

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I remember while eating breakfast watching Del go for morning run up the hill. He was keen I thought. Chasing deer. Michael was also up and out early. He was up high talking photographs. Davy and I were amazed that such a light tent had made it through the night. The Copper Spur UL2 was a surprising beast, don’t judge a book by its cover. Talked turned from how the gear had performed last night to where to go today. Personally I was happy to go with the majority. I had been many years since I had been on the Cobbler. I remember it being a good climb with great views. The general consensus was for the Cobbler with I think only Sandy looking to climb up Ben Narnain but in true peer pressure, group bullying style he soon had his arm twisted and under threat of a nipple twister relented and decided to join the rest of us.

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Again we headed out en masse. The loonies had left the asylum for awhile at any rate. We headed further up the path towards The Cobbler. It amazes me in the summer how many people attempt hills in unsuitable gear in winter it just looks plain crazy. We were looking less like the loonies after passing some nutters. No gear to speak of, seriously. It’s a wonder the MRT guys are not busier. Really really crazy people taking some awful risks out there. One a couple of occasions I was slack jawed in surprise. It was crampon and axe work not up the gym in trainers stuff. Ice, inches thick and light non compacted fluffy snow in places. There’s no telling the fools.

Other than the crazies it was a great walk up. The views down the Ayrshire coast and the Firth of Clyde. All the down to the Ailsa Craig and if you can see the Ailsa you can see the old grey man, well the Merrick anyway and some of the Southern Uplands. The vista was fantastic. The Ochill Hills, Argyll and Cowal, the Hunterston power station, not so great but you can’t miss it. Arran, Cumbrae, the list goes on just like the horizon. Usually I’m down there looking up towards these hills so it was great to see it from this side. It had been a long time since I had been on The Cobbler. I couldn’t stop taking photographs. I was tailend charlie as usual, John was keeping me company along with Heather. I don’t think they were buying the short legged excuse. I’m not sure anybody does anymore.

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Eventually on top between the two peaks it was a different beast. All the way up we had been sheltered by the bulk of the hill. On there with no protection the biting wind was back and it was cold. We all huddled together in a big group. Sometimes being smaller has its advantages I could hide behind the bigger guys and get a break from the wind. The talk was of left peak or right peak. Many moons ago and almost in another life I’ve done both so I wasn’t really bothered. I was enjoying the view. Heather and John had already said they were just going to head back down. Not wanting to break up the group as I had really enjoyed their company on the way up I opted to go with them and left the others to their decisions. After a quick refuelling bite to eat we headed off back down.

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If I thought the way up was impressive for idiots on the slopes coming down was just as good. More nutters trying to get up without the correct gear. I subtle hints on conditions went unheeded. Words like slippery, icy, etc went over their heads. I was really glad to have the HillSound crampons. They were very good once I gotten used to wearing them. I was instilled with a bit of confidence especially when on the ice. How the people in just boots were managing not to break ankles and necks I will never know.

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I don’t think the others tarried long as some of the mountain goats started to catch us up before the bottom. By the time I was back on the path everyone had caught up with me. Once we were off the hill it was time to pack up and head back to the cars. I think everyone was like me and very reluctant to go. It was a slow walk back enjoying everyone’s company. It had been a great couple of days. Everyone was on great form. It was brilliant to meet others in person rather than online and for everyone to get on. There was a lot to take away from the experience. One I must remember to take more photographs of the gear next time. Two, to make friends with shared interests and have future plans to look forward to. Oh and three not forgetting the gear, it was good to get access to stuff you would never normally but most of all the people. Happy days.

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Montura Skisky Insulated Jacket

Photograph courtesy of Michael Thomson

Promises made and promises broken. I said I was going to post more often and I haven’t but less of my moaning, lets have a quick look at more gear. Like the other post, that you can see here Montura Magic G Active Shell, I have to qualify this review as more of a first look as I only had the jacket for a couple of days as part of a meet Petesy organised. These are my initial views and thoughts. Remember what works for me and what I like might not be for you or be to your liking.

There was a lot on offer to test and next up was the insulated gear. Down as well as synthetic jackets. I went for for the Skisky by Montura. For those that haven’t at a look at my last post about Montura Magic G Active shell, Montura are an Italian outdoor apparel manufacturer. Their website is under construction at the moment and can be found here at http://www.montura.it/

The jacket was red and black a more of a colour combination that I would go for, personally. The outer shell is made from TS165, a PU (polyurethane) coated polyester taslan that is very water resistant. It was mainly red with the black being on usual wear points, the shoulders, back and elbows. The hood was also black. The filling is about 40g of PrimaLoft. I’m not sure of the overall weight of the jacket but it didn’t feel excessively heavy.

Again my first impressions like that of those for Magic G were good. Another really well put together jacket. Even for a sample this was very good. No loose threads. The jacket had some very nice features which made you think that they had really thought about the little details that make a difference during the design process. The ones that really caught my eye were the lined hand warming pockets, two large long, Sigg bottle shaped internal pockets and my favorite, the long thick ribbed elasticated cuffs with monkey thumbs. Essentially turned the bottom of the sleeves into fingerless gloves. I really do like thumb holes on sleeves. It also meant that wearing your gloves over the cuffs meant that you are effectively sealing out the drafts and the cold. The hood was interesting as it wasn’t really adjustable in the true sense but was made from an elastic fabric which kept it tight to your head. The recommended retail price for the jacket is £195 should someone in the UK decide to stock it.

Once on the fit of the jacket was again accommodating, like the hard shell I had. This meant there would be no problem getting a fleece below for some extra insulation if needed. There was plenty of freedom of movement. I wasn’t restricted in anyway and the hem didn’t ride up as can sometimes happen when stretching. After that quick initial wear in the car park the jacket got packed away in the rucksack until later. It compressed down reasonably well into one of my small dry bags. As soon as we got to our camp spot it was the first thing out the bag. It was getting really cold, with the snow and wind blowing. You all probably know that when you stop moving, you start losing heat really fast. No problems with this jacket. I was snug while pitching the tent.

The next day I decided to give the jacket another go, this time in a more active scenario. We had all decided to climb The Cobbler and with it being cold and the stop start nature of my climbing, due to my fitness and wanting to take loads of photographs. I thought it would be ideal for this jacket. The jacket was good at no time on the entire climb was I too warm or felt wet on the inside and I never got cold when I stop for extended periods, either to talk to the others, take photographs or mostly just to catch my breath

I couldn’t pick fault with this jacket, I really liked and wished I didn’t have to give it back. I thought it was a very good insulated jacket. I would love to have it in pack for winter. I really liked the fit and the comfort and the warmth. Just a shame no-one in the UK seems to be stocking them.