Tag: Adventure

5 of the Best Mountain Challenges in the UK

Best mountain challenges in UK

The Cuillin Ridge – one of the UK’s toughest mountain challenges

If the grey days and dark nights are draining your motivation for getting outside, then you need a challenge! While we may not have the towering snow-capped peaks of the Alps, the UK has a surprising range of mountain challenges for everyone from casual weekend walkers to skilled mountaineers and fleet-of-foot fell runners.

This isn’t a comprehensive list but if you’re after for some inspiration or itching for a new challenge, why not book in one of the UK’s best mountain challenges for 2018…

Yorkshire Three Peaks

The route linking the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks‘ of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough is an ideal first mountain challenge for fit walkers. The route starts and ends in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and is 24 miles with 1,585m of ascent. To complete the ‘challenge’ you need to walk it in under 12 hours.

The Yorkshire Three Peaks is very popular with charity groups and can get busy in the summer, so a good-weather day out of season is your best bet for avoiding the crowds in the car parks as well as on the hills. There are no technical difficulties, but it’s a long day and if the weather’s bad, you’ll need to be confident navigating in low visibility.

The Welsh 3000s

If you want to step up from the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Welsh 3000s, also known as the “14 Peaks” will challenge the fittest hill walker. The official challenge requires an ascent of the 15 (yes, 15 not 14…) Welsh peaks over 3,000ft in 24 hours, without using any form of transport.

The traditional route starts on the summit of Snowdon (sometimes with a bivvy) and finishes on Foel-fras. It’s around 24 miles long but the approach walk and final descent take the total up to 30 miles. There aren’t many technical challenges, but you’ll need to be comfortable with the scrambling on Crib Goch and Tryfan and a very long day in the hills.

The Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham is to fell runners what the Cuillin Ridge is to mountaineers. The 66-mile circuit of 42 of the highest peaks in the Lake District includes 8,200m of ascent and, to officially complete the Bob Graham Round, the circuit has to be done in 24 hours.

For many fell runners, completing the Bob Graham is a lifetime achievement requiring years of preparation. Only around 1 in 3 attempts are successful and most take place in the summer, to make best use of daylight. I’ve spent long days in the Lakes hiking just a handful of the 42 peaks and I actually struggle to comprehend HOW people can be fit enough to complete the challenge within the 24-hour time limit.

For those who’ve completed the Bob Graham Round, more challenges lie ahead in the Welsh and Scottish equivalents: the Paddy Buckley Round and the Ramsay Round.

The Cuillin Ridge

The Cuillin Ridge is the most prized of all British ridge climbs and arguably one of the best mountaineering challenges in Europe. It requires stamina, excellent navigation skills and the ability to move quickly and safely on complex terrain.

The ridge itself is 12km, but including the walk in and walk out you’re looking at a 25km route with 4,000m of ascent and descent. Although none of the climbing is harder than ‘Very Difficult’, there are large sections of exposed scrambling and easier climbing and to have any chance of success at the traverse, you’ll need to be comfortable soloing most of the ridge.

If you’re super fit then it’s possible to do the Cuillin Ridge in a day but many parties take two days and bivvy overnight, either at the start of the ridge or part-way along. On many British ridge climbs, route-finding is fairly straightforward — you just keep to the crest of the ridge. On my one excursion into the Cuillin (to date) I was surprised at the level of technical route finding required. For this reason, if you’re looking to attempt the ridge it’s worth reccying different sections of the route in advance.

The Munros

This one may take you more than a year! The record for completing all 282 Scottish mountains over 3,000ft is an impressive 39 days and 9 hours (set by Stephen Pike in 2010) and the women’s record of 77 days was set in 2017 by Lisa and Libby from Beauties and the Bog. For most people, bagging all the Munros is a lifetime achievement, but if you have a lot of time on your hands or easy access to the Scottish Highlands, it’s possible to tick them all in a year.

While most Munros aren’t technical climbs (only one — the Inaccessible Pinnacle — involves a graded rock climb), many involve long days in the remotest parts of the UK and mountain skills are a must. Find out more about the Munros in our guide to Scotland’s ultimate ticklist.

How to Pack for an Active Holiday in a Carry-on Bag

Man with rucksack on train station platform

One bag to rule them all?

If you’re travelling on a budget, you can still get your hands on low-cost flights. That is, until you look at the extras. If you’re wanting to check-in a suitcase for your holiday you could end up doubling the cost of your flight. Travelling with just a carry-on bag means you have extra cash for a nice meal out, expensive museum tickets or many, many ice creams. But can you really pack everything you need for an active holiday into your hand luggage?

In most cases, the answer is yes. If you’re planning a hiking, cycling, running or multi-sport holiday, a lot of the time you’ll be able to fit everything you need into a small carry-on bag. The main exception is rock climbing holidays. As you can’t hire climbing gear (most climbers wouldn’t want to even if you could) and there’s no way you can fit ropes, hardware, harnesses and shoes into a carry-on bag, you’re going to need to check-in at least one bag. But similar principles apply. My husband and I usually pack all of our climbing gear into one duffle bag that we check-in and take everything else in our hand luggage.

If you’re wanting to avoid being ripped-off by airline baggage fees, then check out these top tips for packing for an active holiday in a carry-on bag.

Plan What You’re Going to Do on Holiday

You don’t have to plan every day of your holiday in detail (though for some people this is part of the fun!) but knowing what activities you’re going to be doing will help you decide what to pack and what to leave behind.

If you’re going on a cycling holiday, or a hiking trip then this is pretty straightforward. But if you like to do a bit of everything then it’s worth considering what you’ll actually have time to do so you don’t end up packing a load of stuff you don’t need.

For example, I’m just about to come home from a trip to Genoa. We hadn’t planned exactly what we were going to do before heading out, but we were hoping to have a few days running along the coast, possibly a day hiking in the hills, some sightseeing time and a few trips to the beach. Add into the mix visiting various family and friends in the area and possibly a nice dinner out and that’s a lot of clothing combinations! I decided to take one pair of trail running shoes that could double as hiking shoes, so I could leave my walking boots at home. I chose layers that could be worn together if the weather was cooler and lots of vest tops (as they don’t take up much space and I was hoping it would be warm!).

Wear Your Bulkiest Clothes (and Shoes)

If you’re trying to make the most of your carry-on bag, then you may have to sacrifice style on the plane. It makes sense to wear your bulkiest shoes and clothes to fly in. So, if you’re going on a hiking trip, wear your walking boots on the plane. My bulkiest clothes are typically jeans and jumpers, so I usually wear or carry these on the flight over.

The exception to this is if you’re going on a cycling holiday. No one is going to advocate hobbling through the airport in a pair of SPDs…

Check the Weather Before You Travel

Let’s face it. Packing for travelling to southern Europe in summer is pretty easy. You can be sure that the weather will be hot and sunny and, as summer clothes take less space than winter clothes, you can fit more into your hand luggage. But if you’re travelling during the winter or to a country with a changeable climate (hello, Britain) then packing can be a bit trickier.

Weather forecasts are rarely a hundred percent accurate, but they will give you an indication of what to expect so you can pack accordingly. For example, if it’s looking cool and there’s a lot of rain forecast you may decide to take a rugged waterproof coat, whereas if the weather is likely to be mostly dry you can get away with a light packable jacket.

If you could be faced with all types of weather on your trip then opt for lightweight, warm clothing and layers that can be worn together or separately depending on the temperature.

Merino wool t-shirts are great as many are smart enough to wear around town or even for going out for dinner. Buffs are a packable option if you want something to keep your neck or head warm without packing a woolly hat. A light scarf can have many uses, from keeping you warm in cooler weather to covering your head and shoulders in summer (particularly if you’re visiting religious sites or are in a Muslim country).

Check What’s Available at Your Accommodation

Towels are necessary but bulky. If you get them included with your accommodation, this is ideal. If you don’t then trek towels pack up reasonably small and are definitely a better option than filling half your carry-on bag with a beach towel.

Depending on where you’re staying, you may also have toiletries provided and hair dryers, umbrellas and other useful, but bulky, items. If you’re not sure, it’s always worth asking in advance.

Cut Down on Liquids

One of the challenges of travelling with just hand luggage is fitting all your liquids into that tiny one-litre plastic bag. A set of reusable travel bottles means you can take your favourite toiletries with you without having to buy the expensive travel-sized versions.

If you’re travelling for longer than a few days, it’s often worth buying bulky items such as shower gel, shampoo and toothpaste from the supermarket when you land. If you’re travelling with friends or family, club together to buy large bottles you can share which you will either use up or can leave behind when you go home.

Carrying makeup can be a nightmare when you’re trying to fit everything into your little plastic bag. I know a lot of outdoorsy people would scoff at the idea of carrying makeup on an active holiday, but I’m not one to judge. Whilst I personally wouldn’t take makeup on a six-week hiking expedition, I’ve suffered from bad skin for years and typically take some makeup on a mixed, multi-activity holiday.

My main tips for this would be to try and rationalise what makeup you take, and to travel with men! Often male companions will have a bit extra space in their plastic bags and may agree (if you ask nicely) to carry your deodorant or shampoo so you have a bit more space. Look for products that take up less space; for example, a stick foundation is much more packable than a glass bottle of liquid foundation. There’s a great guide to travel makeup here.

Coconut oil is a super useful multi-purpose product. You can use it as a makeup remover (pack a small face cloth), moisturiser, a replacement for shaving cream and a hair conditioner.

Choose the Right Carry-On Bag

Your choice of carry-on bag will depend on what you’re planning to do on holiday. If you’re on a hiking trip, then you’re likely to take your hiking pack as your hand luggage (make sure it meets airline requirements!). If you’re a keen photographer, then you may opt for a plastic suitcase to protect your camera gear in transit.

My husband and I both have Osprey Quasar packs, which we love! They have a padded laptop sleeve (useful for me as I take my laptop everywhere), lots of pockets for organising gear, a fair bit of space and are comfortable to carry. Hubby usually carries a rolled-up 15-litre running pack in his bag which we use for day runs or hikes.

There’s a great article from Outsider Online which discussed the pros and cons of different types of carry-on bag. Always check to make sure your bag meets the airline’s size requirements – an expensive mistake if you get it wrong.

10 Tips For Your First Mountain Marathon

Mountain marathon

I had originally planned for this week’s post to be my lessons learned from trying to plan a sustainable wedding. And that will be coming up, but it’s going to be a big post and I’ve been struggling with RSI in my wrists and forearms this week, so it was really a no-go.

As the rain lashed across my window this morning it struck me that we’re really into autumn now. And I always associate autumn and winter with mountain marathon season. That’s not to say all mountain marathons take place in the winter – there are many summer events, which I would definitely recommend to mountain marathon newbies. But I seem to be a glutton for punishment, so have always chosen events which, based on the time of year, are almost guaranteed to bring you the worst of British weather.

The ‘big one’ is the OMM. Now in its 50th year, it’s always held the weekend the clocks go back, ostensibly because it gives you an extra hour of daylight on the Sunday, but really because it always rains. Always. (At least, every time I did it.) If this year’s OMM is your first foray into mountain marathons, congratulations! You’ve jumped in with both feet to the waist-deep bog. But to make your experience a little more pleasant, here are a few tips from the wise…

Tip 1: Prepare for the worst

This is both a general comment and a weather-specific one. Lightweight is all and good but the number one priority is survival. If this is your first mountain marathon and you haven’t yet tested your comfort vs safety limits when it comes to warmth, then don’t strip your pack right back. Besides, you want to enjoy this right? And there’s nothing like a dry change of clothes and a hot chocolate at the overnight camp to instantly make you feel a hundred times better.

Tip 2: Bubble wrap does not a good night’s sleep make

You may hear it said that you can skip carrying a heavy blow-up mat by shoving a square of bubble wrap into your pack and sleeping on that. After all, nowhere on the mandatory OMM kit list does it say ‘sleeping mat’. Now you could do this, and you would probably survive the night (presuming you have a decent sleeping bag), but you’re not going to get any sleep.

Do yourself and your tent mate a favour. If you can’t afford a super-light blow-up mat then at least get a length of lightweight roll mat or a balloon bed. Of course, these come with their own set of problems …

Tip 3: Don’t leave your balloon bed pump behind

“What’s a balloon bed?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s very simple. It’s a bed made from balloons. Not the big round ones you blow up for your kid’s birthday party, but the strong, long, thin ones magicians use to make giraffes and dogs. The ‘bed’ is a thin piece of fabric with sewn ‘tubes’ down which you stuff your blow-up balloons to make an airbed.

If you think this all sounds like a big faff, then you would be right. But do you really have anything better to do with your sixteen-odd hours at the overnight camp? And packed down, the balloon bed is about the size of your fist and weighs 100g. Perfect for mountain marathons.

There is one potential downside. You have to be one of those people who can tie balloon ends. I have never mastered this feat, but fortunately, my past tent mates have all been experts. You may be tempted to save five grams and leave behind the little pump that comes with the balloon bed. Many people have been stupid cunning enough to do this in the past and only realised too late that the balloons are impossible bloomin’ tough to blow up without it. Oh, and take a couple of spares in case of popping (and to make giraffes).

Tip 4: Take plastic bags to put your feet in

You can spot the mountain marathon newbies at the overnight camp as they’re the only ones walking around without plastic bags sticking out of the top of their shoes. This tip is tried and tested.

However much you try and bog-hop, by the time you get to the overnight camp your feet will be sopping wet. And it’s not great for your feet to sit stewing all night in wet socks. So, once you’ve got your tent up, get changed into your spare layers and put on your nice dry socks (you have got dry socks, haven’t you?).

Presuming you’re rehydrating like a pro, at some point you’re going to need to visit the portaloos. (Guys, just opening the tent flap and pissing out is really not on.) That’s where you have the wet shoe dilemma. And where the plastic bags come in. One for each foot. Just don’t bring cheap supermarket ones with holes in, as they’re kind of pointless.

Tip 5: You don’t need a toothbrush

Really. It’s ONE night. Your teeth will survive. Acceptable alternatives are a piece of chewing gum (mmmm, minty) or those little chewable toothbrush things you get in capsules in service stations (which do no good but may make you feel better).

Tip 6:… Or a hairbrush

All you people out there with no hair, SHUT IT. Have you ever tried to get a brush through a tangled head of long hair? No? My point exactly. It’s hell. Worse than tangled climbing ropes. Anyway, despite all this, there is still no need to take a hairbrush on your mountain marathons. If you have long hair, plaits/braids are the way forward. And buy a Tangle Teezer – you’ll never look back.

Tip 7: Tie your compass to your wrist

Loose compasses are another newbie error. You do not want to lose your compass. Particularly if you have ten-metre visibility on a mountain plateau surrounded by big cliffs. A simple piece of string and a wrist loop mean you never have to worry about losing your compass to a man-eating bog or forgetting to pick it up when you stop to tie your shoelace.

Incidentally the same goes for your dibber. Especially when it comes to man-eating bogs. (I nearly lost my husband to one, but that’s another story. He survived. The dibber didn’t.)

Tip 8: Look at the map before you set off

This is perhaps more pertinent to those competing in the score classes than the linear classes. When it comes to score events, tactics are key and spending five minutes planning your route is time well spent.

And make sure you look very carefully at the final section up to the finish. That way you won’t miss the four miles of dead running between the last control and the finish. And you won’t forget to take that into account in your timing assessment. Which means you’ll get in on time and won’t lose out on a prize as a result of misinterpreting a load of red squiggles. (I’m still bitter, alright?!)

Tip 9: Look after your partner

There are solo mountain marathon events, but for most classes, you’ll be in a team. Which means you need to look after you buddy as much as yourself, particularly if it’s their first time and they’re starting to wonder exactly what you talked them into after five pints in the pub that night.

Use each other’s strengths. If your partner ends up doing most of the navigating, why not offer to take the lion’s share of the tent? Or blow up their balloon bed. But remember this, there are times to be kind and sympathetic and times when you have to be tough. And you will each have your ups and downs.

The last OMM I did, I ran with my sister. On the first day, she was striding out ahead of me and I struggled to keep up. But nearing the end of day two, just after we’d spotted those soddin’ red squiggles mentioned above, she was starting to feel it. At one point she tripped over a tussock and refused to get up. Fortunately, by that point, the quickest way back was to follow the rest of the (over-long) trudge to the finish. So I gave her a hug and told her that she’d forget the pain in a couple of years. Tough love is sometimes necessary.

Tip 10: If it’s windy, stash one of the maps

What’s worse than losing a map? Losing BOTH your maps. Without them, you’re screwed (unless you have exceptional map memory skills). It can get pretty windy in the hills, and it’s surprisingly easy for a map to be whisked out of your hand and blown over a cliff. When the winds pick up, have one person stash their map safely in a jacket pocket or rucksack and navigate using the other one.

If the wind takes both of them? Well, that’s just careless …

And, there you go! I have many more tips whizzing around my head, so perhaps they’ll be a follow-up, ‘Part 2’ post. Feel free to share your best mountain marathon tips in the comments below! And best of luck to everyone competing in the OMM or other mountain marathons this winter. May the (navigational) force be with you.

Exploring the Best of New Zealand’s South Island

I’ve been sorting out the photos on my laptop recently and came across some snaps from my trip to New Zealand. It’s easy to lose track of time reminiscing about holiday memories and dreaming of beautiful places! The New Zealand landscape is one of the most varied and beautiful I’ve come across, so here’s a little photo inspiration to brighten your day.

Marlborough Sounds

Forested hills rise out of the drowned valleys in the Marlborough Sounds

Kaiteriteri Bay

Hire a canoe to explore the waters of Abel Tasman National Park at Kaiteriteri Bay

Bark Bay

Beautiful Bark Bay, viewed from the Abel Tasman Coast Track

Takaka Hill

The Tolkienesque landscape of Takaka Hill

The path to Wharaiki Beach

The path to Wharaiki Beach

Wharariki Beach

Wharakiki Beach: spectacular, beautiful and remote

Pancake rocks

Natural rock sculptures at Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks)

West Coast New Zealand

The beautiful west coast of the South Island, New Zealand

Morning light on the west coast

Morning light on New Zealand’s west coast

Kea flying over Fox glacier

A Kea is caught in the morning light over Fox Glacier

And, because I can’t fit all of the beauties of the South Island into one blog post, I think this will be the first of several!

All photographs are copyright © Alison Ingleby and Windswept Writing, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Alison Ingleby and Windswept Writing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Exploring The Best of Gairloch and Poolewe

Photo of Charlestown harbour with mountains behind

North-west Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I haven’t explored nearly enough of it yet, but one place I keep returning to is the area around Gairloch and Poolewe. Nestled between Torridon and Ullapool, it’s a family-friendly haven of beaches, mountains and lochs.

While some parts of the Highlands are arguably becoming overwhelmed by tourists during peak season (hello Skye!), so far Gairloch and Poolewe seem to have escaped this fate. Its remoteness probably helps this, along with the dreaded Scottish midge, but those who do make the journey will be rewarded with some of the most stunning scenery Scotland has to offer.

Gairloch and Poolewe: The Lowdown

Where is it?: Gairloch is part of Wester Ross on the northwest coast of Scotland, around 70 miles west of Inverness.
How to get there: Gairloch is about four and a half hours drive north of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Wester Ross isn’t the most convenient area to navigate by public transport. The nearest train station to Gairloch is Achnasheen (connecting trains from Inverness) and there’s one bus a day to and from Inverness.
Where to stay: There’s plenty of accommodation in the area, including camping and caravan sites, B&Bs and self-catering cottages. Many campsites back onto beaches, including Gruinard Bay Caravan Park and Sands Caravan and Camping Park. There are also more basic (but beautiful) sites at Mellon Udrigle and Firemore Cove. We travelled in our campervan and spent most of the time wild camping (which is legal in Scotland). There are hundreds of beautiful spots to park up for the night – just make sure you follow proper wild camping etiquette.
When to go: Thanks to the nearby Gulf Stream, Gairloch and Poolewe typically have a milder climate than their northerly latitude would suggest. That said, this is Scotland, so if you go in the winter, don’t expect to be sunbathing. Being Scotland, it can also rain a lot. May–September are the best months to visit, but it’s pot luck as to whether you hit a sunny spell or a rainy week.
What to bring: A waterproof, sun cream and lots of midge repellent. Oh, and a camera, to capture the beautiful views.

Gairloch and Poolewe Highlights

You can find the ‘official’ highlights of what to do in Gairloch and Poolewe here. This is my unofficial guide, focused on the outdoor stuff you people love!

Badachro and Red Point Beach

Red Point Beach

Red Point Beach lies nine miles down a dead-end road off the A832. There are actually two beaches – one on either side of the headland – from which you can look across to the Isle of Skye. It’s a great beach for swimming (if you dare brave it!) and seal-spotting.

Badachro Bay

Back down the road, stop in at the Badachro Inn, a great pub located right on the harbour. Good food, good beer and great views.

Fairy Lochs

Fairy lochs

Fairy Lochs are a small group of freshwater lochans that lie in marshy ground in the hills behind the Shieldaig Lodge Hotel. They’re also the site of a wartime plane crash. An American Liberator bomber, flying back to the United States via Iceland crashed with the loss of all 15 crew and passengers. The strewn wreckage remains on the crash site as a memorial to those who lost their lives.

A pleasant 6 km circular loop takes you up to the lochans and back via Loch Braigh Horrisdale. Be warned – it’s boggy!

Wild Camping on the Beach

Wild camping

If you can brave the midges, the area around Gairloch and Poolewe has some of the most beautiful wild camping spots in the world. A campfire, hot dinner and the sound of lapping waves make for a perfect evening. If you’re new to wild camping, here are some tips.

Gruinard Bay

Gruinard Bay

There are many, many beaches to explore in this area. But Gruinard Bay is one of the most spectacular. It’s actually a series of bays, with a huge tidal reach that can catch out unsuspecting sunbathers. You can scramble back to the car park above the high tide line, but I wouldn’t recommend it. (Voice of experience…)

An Teallach

An Teallach

Of all the Munros and other hills in this part of Scotland, An Teallach is the most intimidating. The full ridge is a Grade 3 scramble and a great day out. We started at Corrie Hallie and dropped down into Glas Tholl Corrie to give a circular route without too much road walking. It’s a popular day out and if the sun is shining, you’ll need to get there early to grab a car parking spot.