A Cuillin Mountain Rescue operation

We were attempting a full traverse of the Cuillin Ridge. Accompanied by expert Skye guide Tony Hanly, my brother and I had set off from Glen Brittle with high expectations. But mountains care little for expectations, and the jagged peaks of the Cuillin are more mountainous than most.

On the summit of Sgurr nan Eag, our first Cuillin Munro, a group of six people sat enjoying tea from a thermos and laughing about their day so far while a collie scampered among them. We wished them good morning and carried on; there was little time for socialising, not if a full attempt was on the cards.

For a while we were shadowed along the ridge by a group of two or three people who were taking the same route as us. But as the day progressed and we chose different scrambling lines and slight variations in the directions we took, we saw them less and less frequently. Our last sighting of any of them was as we stopped by a hidden source of water on the upper part of Sgurr Dubh an Da Bheinn: a single figure disappearing into the gathering clag in the direction of Sgurr Alasdair.

We pressed on, but unfortunately by now the Highland weather had decided not to play ball. As dusk fell visibility was down to almost nothing and we were nowhere near our bivvy site. We had no choice but to make an unplanned descent via the An Stac screes back to safety.

Hours later, as we approached the dim lights of Glen Brittle, another headtorch rose to greet us. "John?" enquired a male voice behind the light. "No John here," Tony replied. "Everything all right?" The man explained. He'd been part of the group we'd seen up on Sgurr nan Eag. Three of them, including himself, had come down from there. Three had continued on along the ridge; the three we'd seen. Those three had not made it back.

Tony, part of the Skye Mountain Rescue Team himself, took control. "I'll take you to the MR Hut," he told the man, before turning to Tom and me. "You boys head back to the car. I'll see you here tomorrow morning." As my brother and I were about to leave Tony and the worried walker, they were approached by another headtorch. This light belonged to a lady who had also been part of the group that had descended from Sgurr nan Eag. We listened as, with a nervous tone, she updated Tony and her friend on the situation. Two of the absent three had returned. One was still missing. Her husband, John.

By the following morning the missing walker had still not been found. The previous night's search had been abandoned due to bad weather, but now as we scrambled up the south-west ridge of Sgurr Dearg the mountains reverberated with the rumble of rotor blades. Rescue teams had been brought in from all over Skye and the neighbouring mainland, and the coastguard helicopter ferried groups of them from the Mountain Rescue HQ hut below up onto the tops. A giant beast of a machine when seen on the helipad, the whirring chopper was dwarfed by the towering faces of the Cuillin.

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Although keen to fulfil his guiding obligations to us, Tony wanted to remain involved with the search and to be able to offer help and assistance if required. He carried his Mountain Rescue radio with him and, at one point, after we'd spotted a lone walker making slow progress over the lower slopes below us, he called in to get it checked out. The individual was unrelated to the search.

With the HQ positioned almost at sea-level to the west, the Cuillin Mountains themselves block radio waves and prevent direct communication with rescue teams on the eastern slopes. Normally a relay tower allows rescuers on either side of the ridge to communicate, but it was not functioning. Therefore a single member of the team was positioned on the crest, to pass messages from the HQ in Glen Brittle to search parties on the Loch Coruisk side of the mountains.

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Throughout our day the radio in Tony's pack regularly crackled into life as various members of the teams on the ridge and back at base broadcast updates and asked questions. As the description of the missing walker was repeated it became clear that he was the man we'd seen by the hidden spring. More questions were asked to help the teams in their search for John. What colour gear was he wearing? Did he have food with him? Would he have been carrying a shelter?

A lone walking pole had been found and then, later in the day, an emergency bivvy bag. On each occasion the details of the articles were given to the radio operators back at base who then checked with the missing walker's friends and family to see if the descriptions matched his gear before reporting back to the searchers on the hill.

Even given the relatively confined area in which the missing walker was believed to be, there was still a vast amount of mountain to be searched. The teams worked in separate groups, checking off the various portions of the peaks and known danger spots when they had been thoroughly searched.

As we left the hills that afternoon we dropped in to the Mountain Rescue hut so Tony could offer his assistance. Some of the team who had been out on the hills all day were taking a break before heading out again. They had been joined by a police officer who was acting as a liaison between the MRT and John's wife and friends. As they asked Tony about where and when John had last been seen it became apparent that my brother and I had been the last people to see him.

Tom and I were escorted to the back of the police car to give a statement. I'd waymarked the site of the spring on my GPS and was able to give the PC and exact location of where we'd last seen him. After providing as much information as we could recall, we wished the policeman good luck and headed back to our car. Despite having just come down from a long day in the hills, Tony had jumped into the waiting helicopter and was heading back onto the ridge for a final search before the light failed.

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Much later that evening we met Tony in the bar of the Sligachan Hotel. "Any luck?" we asked. Tony shook his head and took a sip of his beer. "I'll be back out tomorrow with the dogs," he said matter-of-factly." "Do you think they'll find him?" Tony said nothing. John had been missing for over 24 hours now.

The following day, as we made the long drive from Skye back to East Anglia, I checked my mobile phone for updates. Tony called at one point to say he would let us know the outcome. Then, at about 5 o'clock that afternoon, I read the news we'd been dreading. A body had been found.

The man's name was John Hamer. John was a keen, fit and highly experienced walker, having completed the Munros and walked extensively in the UK and abroad. But the mountains don't care about CVs. They are cold and unfeeling: neither malevolent in their intentions nor benign in their behaviour. They just are what they are.

I left Skye with a mix of emotions. The island is, quite simply, magnificent. I am in love with it and there's no doubt I'll be heading back soon. This had also been my first exposure to a proper mountain rescue operation and, to be perfectly honest, there were elements of it that fascinated me. But, the overriding feeling in my belly was one of sadness. I'm lucky enough to have never lost friends or family to the mountains. Previously, casualties and their kin were just names in a news report; incidents that were undoubtedly tragic, but removed from my world. Yet here on Skye I'd shared a mountain with John, spoken to his companions, and been immersed in the rescue operation taking place around me. It all felt a little too close.

My sympathy goes out to John's family and friends, along with my respect for the Mountain Rescue teams. Sadly on this occasion, despite their herculean efforts, the outcome was not the one anybody was hoping for. It proves that no matter who you are and what you know, mountains can still be dangerous places, and all of us who spend time in them should be eternally grateful to the rescue teams that are prepared to put themselves in harm's way to help get us out of it.

You can donate to Mountain Rescue using the links below:

Mountain Rescue England and Wales: www.justgiving.com/mountainrescue

Scottish Mountain Rescue: www.justgiving.com/mountainrescue-scotland/donate

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April 1st outdoor-story round-up

April 1st is always a fun day in the world of outdoor industry press releases.

Here are some of our favourite "news stories" from this year's most foolish of days:

 

Mountain Training Pub Crawl Leader award

 

Arc'Teryx to rebrand

 

New loGo technology from AlpKit

 

Snowdon railway built on wrong mountain

 

Scotland introduces whisky flavoured milk

 

New Greater London National Park

 

George Fisher opens roof-top hot-tub

             

Top 10 Reasons to Visit Bavaria

With '"big city" flair and idyllic countryside, the fascination of the Middle Ages and the beauty of the Alps, Bavaria offers a range of attractions that makes it Germany's most popular vacation destination. www.bavaria.us

1. Neuschwanstein Castle

It's kitsch, it's over the top, it's absolutely stunning and a must-see. Walking up the steep hill to "Schloss Neuschwanstein" can take your breath away, but the view of this fairytale castle looking down on the village of Füssen will leave you at a loss for words for more than one reason. King Ludwig II asked his architects to build an idealized version of a medieval knight's castle.  The result is "castle romanticism" at its best. Originally intended as his own private retreat, Ludwig II's castle was opened to the public only a few weeks after the king's death in 1886. Each year approximately one million people are drawn to this distinctive, mesmerizing palace.

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Neuschwanstein Castle in Füssen

2. On Top of the World: The Zugspitze

The Zugspitze is Germany's highest mountain at 9,717 ft. Hiking it is possible, but there are also mountain railways and cable cars for an easier ascent.  From the summit, one can see more than 400 Alpine. At the nearby Alpspitze with its awe-inspiring AlpspiX viewing platform, visitors have spectacular views over the southern Bavarian Alps.

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Germany's highest mountain - the Zugspitze

3. Munich: Bavaria's exciting capital

For those whose love shopping, Munich offers many choices, with its Kaufinger Strasse, world-famous Glockenspiel (Clock) at Marienplatz, or the "Viktualienmarkt", a colorful market of fruit, vegetables, and fish stalls. Cultural highlights are the large state-run art galleries and museums. The Neue and Alte Pinakothek, the Pinakothek der Moderne, the Museum Brandhorst, the Lenbachhaus Gallery, which reopened in May 2013 after extensive renovations, and the newly opened State Museum of Egyptian Art, are all considered some of the most important museums in the world. Also notable is the very popular BMW Welt (World) next to the BMW museum and car factory.

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Munich - The Bavarian capital

4. Music is in the Air:  Festivals in Bavaria

Many events and festivals take place in Bavaria throughout the year, catering to all tastes. Rock music lovers will enjoy Rock im Park in Nuremberg or the Taubertal Open-Air Festival in Rothenburg. Other important festivals include International Jazz Week in Burghausen and the International festival for new music theater in Munich. Annual classical events are the Mozart Festival in Augsburg and the famous Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth.

5. The Seven World Heritage Wonders of Bavaria

Seven World Heritage sites can be admired in the state of Bavaria. In 2012, the Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth was added to the list of sites most worthy of protection. This magnificent edifice in the center of Bayreuth is one of the last and most beautiful Baroque theaters in the world that is still in its original form. Equally beautiful are the Würzburg Residential Palace (a prestigious Baroque palace) and the pilgrimage Church of Wies in Pfaffenwinkel (a rococo gem with a gorgeous interior). The Old Towns of Regensburg and Bamberg with their medieval architecture, as well as the prehistoric pile-dwelling in the Alps and the Upper Germanic Raetian Limes, the second longest man-made structure in the world, are also part of the state's World Heritage wonders.   

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UNESCO world heritage: Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth

6. Delicious Bavarian Beer, Wine and Sausages

Bavarian cuisine is famous around the world: pretzels with Obatzda cheese, aromatic dishes with Knödel dumplings, numerous kinds of fish and meat dishes and, of course, regional sausages. Try white sausage in Munich, Rostbratwurst in Nuremberg, and Knacker in Regensburg. A national pastime, Bavarian people enjoy good food with their family and friends in local taverns or under the shadows of linden trees in the beer gardens. Wines from Franconia, traditionally served in Bocksbeutel bottles, or any of 4000 different beers from the more than 600 breweries in Bavaria are served as well.

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Enjoy a Bavarian beer in a beergarden

7. Bavarian originals: Customs and traditions

People in Bavaria are loathe to pass up an opportunity to celebrate and make music. Be it summer or winter, traditional festivals abound such as the dance into May around the Maypoles, Viehscheid transhumance or the Leonhardiritt horse procession.  These celebrations -- with food, beer, wine, traditional clothes, music and dances -- are an important part of Bavarian culture and help to create the gregarious and joyous attitude that prevails in the Free State of Bavaria.

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Preparing for the celebration around the maypole

8. Visit a Bavarian Christmas Market

In Bavaria, Christmas markets are a key part of pre-Christmas preparations. At the traditional markets, visitors can admire handicrafts, listen to festive music and enjoy regional delicacies in a cozy atmosphere. The oldest and most famous Christmas Market is the Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt. In the wooden huts of the "town made of wood and cloth" you can find traditional, handcrafted Christmas jewelery, along with sweet and hearty treats such as the famous Nuremberg Lebkuchen biscuits or Rostbratwurst sausages. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, together with the churches and museums of Nuremberg, invite visitors to attend festive concerts, tours and exhibitions in the pre-Christmas period.

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Christmas market

9. Travel along the Romantic Road

One of Germany's most beautiful tourist routes, the Romantic Road, a 410km (255 mile) route which runs through scenic rural Bavaria, is dotted with pretty towns, many with half-timbered houses, and some with their medieval walls still surrounding them. Enjoy sites such as the famous residential palace in Würzburg and the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Füssen (located on the edge of the Alps, close to Neuschwanstein Castle) along this former trade route, established during the Middle Ages. The Romantic Road can be travelled by car, bicycle or train, or via 'Romantic Road' busses which link most towns and cities.

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Rothenburg is one stop of the famous Romantic Road

10. Value

Bavaria is not only a paradise for outdoor activities, nature experiences and skiing, but also a competitive vacation choice with excellent value for the dollar. Several Bavarian destinations such as Ruhpolding and Oberstaufen, Nuremberg and Augsburg, also feature special visitor attraction cards offering the chance to enjoy spectacular mountain scenery and a range of add-on attractions and services at no extra charge. Low-cost airlines, affordable public transportation, and well-priced accommodations, food and beverage, make Bavaria a wonderful destination to visit.

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Five great walking weekends for spring!

The new issue of Country Walking Magazine (click HERE to find out more about that) features 10 fantastic walking weekend ideas for spring and a few for summer too! 

To whet your appetite, here are five examples � more details on these and all the rest in the new issue�

 

Tales and Trails in Grasmere

Lakeland�s biggest honeypot can be a bit of a squeeze on a bank holiday, but there�s a haven of tranquillity in Grasmere where great walks and great stories collide. The Storyteller�s Garden is the home of professional tale-teller Taffy Thomas (www.taffythomas.co.uk), and his recent collection, Tales and Trails, features five walks which start at the garden, where he�ll be telling tales over the May Bank Holiday. Several of his walks head high into the surrounding fells including Loughrigg and Helm Crag. If they�re a bit short for you, use our two route cards � they�ll pass by all his star locations. Just make sure you visit the garden afterwards to hear him weave his magic around the walk you did!

Stay here: Beck Allans Guest House has doubles from �90. 015394 35563, www.beckallans.com

Walk 1: Download �Helm Crag� at www.lfto.com/cwroutes

Walk 2: Download �Loughrigg Terrace� at www.lfto.com/cwroutes

 

Woodland, waterways and a fairytale castle

With its canal, steam railway, mighty cliffs and Tolkienesque Castell Dinas Bran, Llangollen is spectacular. The Llangollen Walking Festival takes place on May 3-4, hosted by Mike Smart (www.treksmart.net), with fantastic walks from the town. And for good measure there�s the Women�s Festival of Music and Arts on the same weekend (www.tiny.cc/womensfest - men are very welcome too, we�re told).

Stay here: Gales of Llangollen is a superb pub with rooms, with an emphasis on great wines. Doubles from �80. 01978 860089, www.galesofllangollen.co.uk

Walk 1: Head out on the Offa�s Dyke Path to the Eglwyseg cliffs (festival walk). www.tiny.cc/llangollen1

Walk 2: Meander along the Dee Valley past lush pastures dotted with spring lambs, returning via steam train. www.tiny.cc/llangollen2

  

May madness in the kingdom of Offa

The Clun Green Man Festival in Shropshire is incredible: a parade by the Green Man and his Queen, culminating in his defeat of the wintry Ice Queen on the town bridge. It all happens on May 3-4 this year, and with trails aplenty to enjoy in the area (many of which use the humps and bumps of the Offa�s Dyke Path), it makes for a perfect walking weekend.

 

Stay here: The Sun Inn has doubles from �60. 01588 640559, www.thesuninnclun.co.uk

Walk 1: Download �Clun� at www.lfto.com/cwroutes

Walk 2: Download �Bucknell� at www.lfto.com/cwroutes

 

A nip in the air at Cromer.

Located at the eastern terminus of the Norfolk Coast Path, Cromer is the crab capital of England. An elegant, but slightly faded Victorian resort huddled on the surprisingly steep and lofty sea cliffs, it�s blessed with miles of coastal and inland walks. Its most famous export is celebrated in the resort�s Crab & Lobster Festival on the weekend of May 16-18. Follow the seafood trail round town and watch fishing boats landing their catches on the beach. Details at: www.crabandlobsterfestival.co.uk

Stay here: Red Lion, Cromer. 01263 514964, www.redlioncromer.co.uk

Walk 1: Follow the Coast Path east from Sheringham to Cromer and explode the myth that Norfolk is flat. www.lfto.com/cwroutes

Walk 2: Explore the stunning gardens of Felbrigg Hall and the neighbouring Great Wood.

 

Watch the bonny banks of Loch Lomond come alive this spring.

Sitting on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, the two villages of Drymen and Balmaha offer the perfect blend of vibrant events and wild walks. Visit over the weekend of May 31 for the traditional Trossachs pageantry of the Drymen Agricultural Show, coupling it with two fantastic hikes, one an exhilarating high-level traverse using the West Highland Way, the other an island paradise just off the shore where an extraordinary carpet of bluebells flourishes each May.

Stay here: Oak Tree Inn, Balmaha (its slogan is �Muddy Boots Welcome�). Doubles from �85. 01360 870357, www.oak-tree-inn.co.uk

Walk 1: Walk from Drymen to Balmaha (or vice versa) using the West Highland Way. Download �Conic Hill� at www.lfto.com/cwroutes

Walk 2: Catch the little ferry to Inchcailloch island and spend a day exploring probably the best display of bluebells in the nation.

 

Find more like this in the April issue of Country Walking � on sale now! Click HERE for a preview�


Trail Poll: What's in your emergency pack?

Certain things will always be in your rucksack: waterproofs, water, food - the essentials. But have you given consideration to the sort of equipment you might need if things on the mountain don't go according to plan?

Like the majority of sensible walkers, your answer to that question is probably 'yes' and you'll always find some items of kit in your back pack that are there just in case something goes awry.

But how far do you take it? Is it just a matter of carrying a couple of extra things that's get you out of the most common holes, or do you feel the need to ensure you're carrying all the gear you'd need to survive Armageddon on the hill?

We've compiled a list of the most common emergency/back-up equipment and we'd like to know which of the below you carry in your pack. And if we've forgotten something, you can add your own suggestion too. We never claim to think of everything...

 

             

Defender of the Realm

From next month, avid walker Dame Fiona Reynolds joins Stuart Maconie as a regular columnist in Country Walking.

A former Director General of the National Trust and director for the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, Dame Fiona has been at the forefront of battle to protect England�s natural heritage for more than 30 years. She is currently Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge and has recently returned from a trek to Everest base camp.

Who or what first got you into walking?
My parents. All our holidays as children (I�m one of five girls) were spent in Snowdonia (a cottage at Llandanwg near Harlech) or the Lake District (camping in Littletown) and walking was What We Do. We were only allowed time on the beach when we�d done enough walking, and we always made the Best of the Day (one of my father�s favourite sayings). We climbed most peaks � our special favourites were Cnicht and the Rhinogs, Yewbarrow and Cat Bells as well as the big ones. We also became familiar with almost every waterfall in both National Parks as that was our family�s wet-weather alternative to the hills! 

What kind of walking do you normally do? 
Nowadays most of my walking is around one or other of the two lovely places in which I�m lucky enough to live � a village just outside Cirencester in the Cotswolds and Cambridge. I have favourite walks in both places, mostly 4 � 5 miles, but given the chance I love nothing better than a day-long stomp across big hills.

�And who with? 
Quite often I walk alone, or with Lucy our spaniel/collie cross. But I love it when my husband Bob or my daughters (I have three) join me. Bob and I also walk every month with a group of close friends in Cirencester and it�s a really important part of my life � great company and good walks chosen by my friend and route-planner (I�m the navigator, being most obsessed with maps) Anne.

What, to you, is the single biggest benefit of going for a walk?
I can�t imagine life without walking now; it�s become so central to my life.  Unless I start the day with a good walk I feel itchy and frustrated. Going for a walk wakes me up, clears my head and makes me feel good.

Could you briefly outline your career path to date? 
Immediately after leaving Cambridge (where I read Geography then Land Economy then did a Masters in Land Economy) in 1980 I got an amazing job, as Secretary to the Council for National Parks. This (now the Campaign for National Parks) was a tiny charity with just me and a part time assistant, though it grew fast. 

My President was Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine who as John Hunt had led the successful 1953 Everest expedition, and it was a hugely important time for National Parks which were facing a variety of threats. I was lobbying Parliament one day, the EU the next, and campaigning against quarries, new conifer forests, ugly housing developments and road expansion. 

In 1987 I moved as Assistant Director (Policy) to CPRE, wanting to stretch my wings to protect the wider countryside and found myself doing exactly that. I became Director in 1992 and stayed until 1998, working on all aspects of countryside policy (eg farming, planning, energy, water, forestry) and also getting involved in �greening� both UK and European policies generally. 

In 1998 I went into the civil service (Cabinet Office) as Director of the Women�s Unit.  Most people thought I was mad, but I wanted to see how Government worked from the inside, and the women�s agenda had many things in common with the environmental agenda � it needed to work across different policy areas and people had to be persuaded it mattered.  It was tough, and not as much fun as my other jobs, but I learned a lot including how to work within a big bureaucracy.

And then the job of my dreams came up � Director-General of the National Trust. I�d been a volunteer at the Trust since 1984 (a member of a regional committee and the Council) so I knew it well, but I had never been on the staff.  I didn�t expect to get the job, being so much younger (and a woman!) than previous DGs, but to my delight I was appointed in 2000.

I quickly embarked on major change in the organisation: some were very controversial like moving the central office out of London to Swindon, overhauling the staff structures and finances. My goal, though, was cultural change:  helping the Trust to love people as much as places. It was fascinating, exhausting, difficult and rewarding all at once � and we achieved some amazing things, including reaching 4m members and winning some important campaigning victories. I loved it very much, but I knew that after 12 years it was time to hand it on.

So in 2013 I moved to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where I have the privilege to work with amazing academics and students. And I do one or two other things, including being the Senior Independent Director on the Board of the BBC, a non executive director of Wessex Water and pursuing my passion for landscape protection by writing and giving occasional lectures.

Was there a walk, view or place which made you think, �looking after places like this is what I really want to do�?
From my childhood I realised that places weren�t beautiful by accident:  our landscape is man-made and is beautiful because people care about it. I grew up in the Midlands in the 1960s where rapid change was taking place � huge numbers of new houses were built and the M6 was constructed nearby.  So there wasn�t one thing, but being exposed to much beauty and an awareness of threat that made me realize that I cared passionately about landscape conservation.

When you joined the National Trust, you fought hard to make the Trust and its properties more welcoming and inclusive. Was that a hard process? 
Yes! Everyone was (and remains!) passionate about conservation, so even though it was recognised that members and visitors were important, people in large numbers were felt to cause problems. All the pressures � parking cars, feet on sensitive carpets, fingers touching things � had been worked and worked on, to try and minimise the problems they created. 

So however inadvertently, the �shush�, �don�t sit there�, �don�t touch that� atmosphere prevailed, and the Trust felt too bossy and formal.  But people can change, and when the conservators took the lead in working out where people could sit, and what they could touch, all the positive reasons for welcoming people with open arms started to be obvious.  Welcoming families, showing them behind the scenes and involving them in conservation were all huge steps forward and now the Trust is known for the warmth of its welcome and its genuine love of people.

Why is it important that people should engage with Britain�s landscapes and heritage?
Because they are important and vulnerable. Our landscape is the product of many thousands of years� evolution � a man-made landscape, as W G Hoskins showed us in my Desert Island Discs book choice The Making of the English Landscape. It is a rich cultural record - a palimpsest where the story of many generations of people�s occupancy and management of the land can, astonishingly, still be read. 

It is also home to a rich wildlife heritage.   Landscapes feed the soul and the body, providing inspiration and relaxation. 

Yet within a generation, since the Second World War, we have wiped out much of this record through the intensification of farming, building in inappropriate locations, and the homogenisation caused by road signs, clone towns and the standardization of much of modern life. We are ironing out the wrinkles and crinkles that make places special and if we are not careful everywhere will look the same.  We can do something about this, but only if we care enough to do so. David Attenborough once said:  you cannot protect what you do not first love.   That�s why it�s so important to me that we all have the chance to enjoy and love landscape.

You�re especially keen to attract families, and particularly children, into the countryside. What can it offer them that a TV or computer game can�t? 
So much!  Playing outside encourages children to be adventurous, to test themselves and get muddy, to experience nature rather than having it served up for them on television.  The sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch of the outdoors stimulate every aspect of a child�s experience, whereas the TV or the on-screen games are narrow and introspective.  

The statistics are alarming: fewer than 1 in 10 children play regularly in wild places now, compared to almost half a generation ago; fewer than a quarter use their local patch of nature compared to half a generation ago; the area across which children range unaccompanied has declined 90% since the 1970s; and a child is three times more likely to be admitted to hospital for falling out of bed than falling out of a tree. We must promote the value of free-range children

Who is your walking hero and why? 
At CNP I worked with John Hunt and he was inspirational. Not so much for his leadership of the Everest ascent, though that was awesome, but because he loved walking and would find every opportunity to do so. I will never forget visits to National Parks with John when I was in my early 20s at CNP: he would ask to climb a mountain rather than meeting in an office, and would stride up the hills leaving the National Park officials puffing in his wake. He taught me that walking was therapeutic, and a good way to do business.

Is there a walk you�ve never done but are dying to do? 
Loads! I adore long distance walks but I�ve been so busy I have barely scratched the surface of them (Offa�s Dyke is my top walk so far). Hadrian�s Wall and the Pennine Way are top of my to-do list but I�d also adore to do the whole of the South West and Pembrokeshire Coast Paths. Oh, and the Coast to Coast too � and I have ALWAYS longed to walk across Morecambe Bay�

Do you have a favourite British walk? 
That is SO hard.  There are lots! The island of Lundy has got to be up there, and some of our local walks in Gloucestershire. But maybe, just maybe, my favourite is the long ridge from Elidir Fawr over Y Garn and up onto the Glyderau. The slog up Elidir Fawr and the descent (perhaps over Tryfan if there�s time and the conditions are good) frame one of the most glorious walks I know, with spectacular views in all directions.  I�ve done it more times than I can count including, many years ago, as part of an attempt on the three-thousanders. It never palls.

And a favourite overseas walk? 
Last year I achieved one of my life�s ambitions in a trip to Everest North Basecamp � the one in Tibet, from where Mallory made his summit attempts.  It is an extraordinary place � bare, quiet, cold and lonely � utterly unlike what I�ve heard of the bustle of the approach from Nepal. It was a magical, if surreal experience:  at 5,500m everything feels just slightly distant; and the mountain� literally � provokes awe.

You only walk a couple of miles, but even that is an effort at that height and with (in our case) little over a week to acclimatise. What surprised me was not the majesty of the mountain, but my complete lack of desire to go one step beyond basecamp. It is a force not to be reckoned with.

Closer to home, in recent years we have discovered the Apuan Alps in north west Tuscany and they provide glorious walking � well more like scrambling.   A great walk we�ve done twice is from Fornovolasco, a tiny village a few miles west of Barga, up to Monte Forato, whose summit is a approached via a spectacular natural arch, then a high level ridge walk round to Foci di Valli under the towering Pania della Croce. These jagged limestone peaks (close to the marble quarries at Carrara) make wonderful walking and the scenery is exquisite. 

On Desert Island Discs, your luxury item was a set of Ordnance Survey Explorer maps. Can you sum up your passion for them?
The point about maps is that they tell a story. Look at them closely and the history of the landscape unfolds � here is the river, there the main transport routes, here a Roman Camp and there a deserted mediaeval village. Why are there clustered settlements in this part of the country and long, strung out ones over there? Why is this church in the middle of a field? Why, for that matter are there dense, tiny fields here and no field boundaries at all somewhere else? Why does that footpath follow that route � where was it going? The questions are endless, and fascinating. The geology and history of our country is so diverse that every map is different. I could never tire of studying them. Oh, and they are useful for getting you from A to B, too.

Apart from maps, what one essential item would you never walk without?
My pedometer � I am going to confess I never leave it behind.  I like knowing how far I�ve walked and lots of steps add to my sense of satisfaction at the end of a long day.

 

An abridged version of this interview appears in the April issue of Country Walking, on sale March 27th. Dame Fiona�s new column starts in Country Walking May 2014, on sale April 24th.

 


LFTO Poll: The ultimate UK outdoor challenge

The UK's outdoor places can present challenging environments, but there are certain challenges that are tougher than most.

We've discussed, argued, talked, and then argued some more, but we can't come to an agreement over which is THE toughest challenge the UK has to offer outdoor lovers.

So, we're doing what we always do when we can't reach a concencus - we're passing the buck over to you.

Which of the challenges listed below do you think is the toughest? No doubt there are some we've missed, like completing the national three peaks on a space-hopper or some such thing, but for now we're just interested in the challenges we've listed below.

Vote now and tell us your opinion!

 

*find out more about the Trail 100 HERE.

             

Trail Poll: The best way down

Reaching the mountain's summit is a great. That sense of achievement, the feeling of being up high and, hopefully, magnificent views. Of course, getting to the top is only half the journey. Now you need to get down...

We'd guess that even the most hardened hillwalker has reached the summit of their goal and wished there was a quick way to get back to the pub. If that thought has never occurred, well done - you're better people than we are. But if on the trudge back down the hill your mind has wandered into contemplation of a more enjoyable descent, what method of travel has appealed to you the most?

That's what we want to know, so that's what we're asking: limiting factors like logistics, money and, potentially, legality aside, what would be your preferred way off the mountain?

Vote below - you can choose up to three options!

 

             

What you need to know about night vision

What is night vision?
First things first, we�re talking about biological night vision, not the hi-tech equipment you see wildlife film makers using to watch animals frolicking in the dark.

Oh. Not special-ops binoculars then? Ok, so what�s biological night vision?
It's how the human eye sees in the dark. It�s a complex and clever device, the human eye, and the way it functions in the dark is different from how it functions in light. It�s all to do with rods and cones.

What have fishing and traffic management got to do with it?
Rods and cones are the two types of light detecting cells in the retina at the back of the eye that send signals to the brain and enable us to see. Cones require lots of light in order to be triggered, but are sensitive to both light and colour. It�s the eye�s six to seven million cone cells, concentrated toward the centre of the retina, we use mostly during the day. There are even more rod cells � approximately 125 million. These are far more light sensitive, requiring just a single photon to trigger them. They are almost entirely responsible for our night vision but they do not register colour.

Is that why we don�t see colour in the dark?
Exactly. You may also notice that it�s difficult to determine the colour of an object that�s right at the edge of your vision. That�s because, due to their denser concentration towards the outer edges of the retina, rods are also the primary enablers of our peripheral vision.  As a result, in low light it�s often easier to spot something if you�re not looking directly at it, but catch it out of the corner of your eye.

With you. Tell me more, but keep it simple.
We�ll try. Rods are full of a chemical called Rhodopsin. When light hits the Rhodopsin it�s broken down in a reaction that sends a message to the brain. The problem is that it takes time for the body to replace the Rhodopsin. In very bright light, all of the Rhodopsin in the rod cells is destroyed and it can take around 30 minutes for it to completely replenish. This is the time it takes for your night vision to reach maximum strength.

I�m not sure I understand...
Picture this: you�re in a bright room. The strong light means that all the Rhodopsin has been broken down and you�re just using your cone cells to see. You then step into a dark cupboard and shut the door. It�s too dark for the cones to work. You are, more or less, completely blind. However, gradually your night vision improves as the Rhodopsin in the cones is replaced until, after half an hour or so, you�re able to spot the extension lead you thought you�d lost sitting in the corner. But if the rods are exposed to light again, the Rhodopsin is depleted and the recovery process starts over.

Like if somebody shines a torch in your face?
Annoying, isn�t it? But it can be avoided. Many torches have a red-light function. The Rhodopsin in rod cells is not sensitive to, and therefore not broken down by, wavelengths in the red spectrum. As such it�s possible to use a dim red light (and it should be a dim red light) to read a map, or tie a bootlace without wrecking your night-vision.

What about the blue and green lights some torches have?
Great for discos, great for illuminating the dark (although white light is better), but also great for spoiling your night vision. Avoid.

And will eating carrots help?
The whole carrots being good for night vision thing was just Second World War propaganda. The UK didn�t want the Germans to know about a new technology they�d developed called �radar�, so put out the story that the increased number of German bombers being shot down was due to pilots� eyesight being improved by eating carrots. The fib caught on � the British public took to eating carrots to help them see during blackouts. Although carrots contain beta-carotene which the body converts to Vitamin A which aids eye health, a balanced diet gets enough Vitamin A from other sources � carrots aren�t essential.

So my mother lied to me?
We couldn�t possibly comment.

 

             

Outside Opinion: Could you be an outdoor professional?

I�ve been reading Trail since 2006. Not an issue�s gone by in those eight years where from my desk/shop counter/town centre living room where I haven�t perused yet another collection of amazing adventures and thought �Bloody hell � I WANT YOUR JOB!�

I can�t imagine many readers disagreeing either; �better a bad day on the hill than a good day in the office�, after all! The problem is, working in the outdoors can seem pure fantasy for some of us reluctant to leave the security of our office jobs. Many would have it that �you can do anything if you want it enough�; the reality, to quote another clich�, is that some things are easier said than done.

So, I�m not saying that anybody can just up sticks and start again, but I wanted to try and highlight that with the willingness to think a little more creatively and make a few smaller sacrifices, there are more outdoor opportunities out there than you might think.

Eight years since that first issue of Trail and thinking �YES: this is what I wanna do�, I�m finally setting up my own guiding business due to launch in Spring, and I can�t deny it�s been a long journey to get to this point.

I�ve had limited financial resources over quite a long period so I�ve never been able to simply pay for the qualifications required of many instructors or trek leaders. I�ve also never done any countryside management qualifications or GIS (map database software) training generally required for ranger jobs or access officer jobs � again, these things cost money and my previous expertise lay elsewhere.

So how have I got here? By constantly looking for opportunities in the spare time I had available. I did eventually save up and put myself through Walking Group Leader training for some credibility on my CV. This award is the hill and moorland version of the Mountain Leader award, and while it won�t get you as many jobs, it�s around half the price and covered terrain I had easy access to. I walked locally at every opportunity, working on navigation skills (even in the local park!) and experiencing as many conditions as possible.

I organised a walking group within my office and led local monthly walks as well as organising affordable trips further afield and leading the group up easier mountains on an informal basis. I contacted my local National Trust property, Brimham Rocks, and have voluntarily led walks for them.

In fact, a major factor in gaining experience was joining the LFTO readers� forum in 2007. Through liftsharing and meeting more experienced walkers on the readers� meet-ups, my hillwalking world was opened up massively in terms of cost and more difficult terrain. Those experiences and people continue to be a huge influence.

Ultimately, with no assessed qualifications but a good logbook under my belt, I started looking for walk leading jobs. There aren�t many paid jobs out there other than qualified MLs taking challenge walks, or multi-activity outdoor centre instructors. There are, however, many volunteering opportunities. My experience is with HF Holidays, who conduct their own internal assessment, require a minimum commitment of just 2 weeks a year, and look after you very well indeed, with many leaders bringing partners or families along and making it a holiday. You�ll also gain crucial insights into how a guided walking company operates. I was in a position to take on their yearly �apprenticeship� last year and through it received a lot of support in terms of finally gaining that WGL qualification and ML training. Just search UK guided walking on the internet and see what you can find.

There are other ways of getting financial reward for being in the outdoors. I�ve come across a good number of outdoor bloggers happily walking in their spare time, writing it up and enjoying a very good reputation within the walking community. So much so that some are even now making money from advertisers on their websites.

For some, showing your worth in outdoor internet circles can actually lead to a career. There are one or two well-known names in today�s outdoor media and film making that I remember from the old LFTO forum days. Those people are now building great reputations for themselves, and it all seems to me to have stemmed from proving their worth on well-known forums and social media pages and interacting with magazines like Trail. If you�ve got good knowledge, photos or writing skills, share them!

I also mentioned my lack of countryside management skills. Yes, many outdoor jobs require a degree, particularly for big organisations like National Parks. However, your local council might consider somebody who has experience and excellent local area knowledge. Whether town or country, get yourself down to some volunteering days with your council�s parks and recreation service, nature reserve, or local National Trust, National Park or AONB,  if applicable. You�ll gain valuable countryside skills and importantly, contacts and references from reputable organisations.

Sometimes scrapping everything for a new start pays off: I left a good job with a fantastic company to volunteer for a whole summer and gain qualifications. It doesn�t have to be that way though. There are small things you can do with a little bit of time here and there, the willingness to persevere, and being prepared to compromise. I don�t expect to make a living from walk leading,  but if I can get a few days here and there, it makes a part time �proper� job alongside all the more palatable. I�m happy to be where I am, I�m excited for my outdoors future, and you can be too! Go for it!

     

Read more of Ang's blogs at www.hurricaneharker.wordpress.com and check out her guiding site at www.feetintheclouds.co.uk

 

             


Movie Preview: Beyond the Edge 3D

Mountaineering dramas don�t come bigger than Everest 53...

� so it was with extreme pleasure that LFTO headed down to London for a recent screening of the new movie: Beyond the Edge 3D.

We�re currently under an air-tight press embargo regarding the film � so we can�t publish a full review � but trust us when we say this: this is one cinematic experience you don�t want to miss.

Re-telling the story of Mt Everest�s first ascent, the film mingles colour archive footage with seamless recreations � all shot in glorious 3D � to give you the most vivid impression ever recorded of an ascent of the world�s tallest peak. The focus lies strongly on the characters behind the climb, giving a full, frank and (if we may say so) stirringly heroic depiction of everyone from expedition leader John Hunt to climbers Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans and, of course, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

In Director Leanne Pooley�s words: �The best documentaries are exactly like the best fiction features; good stories, well told, with a strong narrative and great characters. Beyond the Edge is neither a documentary nor drama but a piece of work that authentically weaves the two into one.�

Shot on location on Everest itself, additional footage was captured in the southern Alps of New Zealand. It was on the peaks of the spectacular South Island* that Edmund Hillary became a self-made alpinist � making them a perfect choice for a film that celebrates his greatest achievement.

With contributions and voice-overs from Everest veterans, relatives and even members of the original team, it�s hard to imagine a more comprehensive look at mountaineering�s greatest tale, or a better tribute to the heroes that made it all possible.

In case you haven�t guessed � LFTO simply can�t wait to see it again.

Beyond the Edge 3D premiered at Toronto and has been screened in New Zealand � where it became the country�s most successful ever documentary. The UK release is currently scheduled for April/May, but we expect an exact date soon.  

Find out more at www.beyondtheedgefilm.com

 

* (for those keen for extra detail, the specific locations were Mt Hopkins at the head of the Dobson Valley, the Tasman Glacier ice-falls, Mt Hochstetter ice fall and various sites on The Minarets).  

 




Side-stepping floods and avoiding mud�

...the walker's guide to escaping the winter storms.


As another huge Atlantic storm lines the British Isles up in its sights and prepares to deposit several billion more litres of water on an already saturated country,we look at how walkers can make the best of a bad job...

 

Go where lots of water is a good thing

All that precipitation means rivers are in spate, and there's no better place to see rainfall tumble over rock than the Waterfall Country of Pontneddfechan in the Brecon Beacons� (in the right conditions, you might even be able to walk behind one of them, namely Sgwd yr Eira�)

Walk here - Pontneddfechan Waterfalls, Powys!

 

Chalk it up

The free-draining chalk of the South Downs ridgeline rarely gets boggy, so it's a good bet for walkers wanting to keep their feet dry(ish). Head up from Fulking to the top of Devil's Dyke for a skylining walk above the Sussex Weald.

Walk here - The Devil's Dyke, West Sussex!

 

Hit the limestone

Limestone is also permeable, allowing water to drain off limestone landscapes like the Yorkshire Dales more quickly leaving it drier under foot than areas with non-permeable rock under the soil. Watch out for exposed limestone, of course - it gets exceedingly slippery when wet - but stick to places where the limestone is doing its job underground, as it does on our walk from Hawes in Wensleydale.

Walk here - Hawes, Yorkshire Dales!

 

Get High!

Lowland valleys are obviously going to be the first to flood when the weather turns heavy and wet. Add to that any open and gently sloping moorland, in which you're likely to sink to your knees (or worse) at irregular intervals. So, best to avoid the flattish landscapes (ie anything in England south of the Lakes) and head up to the high ground from which the water runs off first. High on Helvellyn or Ben Macdui or Snowdon or the Glyders you're likely to find much colder weather too, compacting the ground and creating a landscape ripe with adventure.

 

Tackle a ridgeline

Rocky terrain simply doesn't hold any soil, which means it can't get soggy and turn to mud. So if you've got the skills and the desire, head onto scrambling ground to avoid the watery apocalypse brewing on the plains below.

 

Follow an ex-railway line

Thanks to the naughty Dr Beeching and several other penny-pinchers over the years, Britain has dozens of former railway lines, many of which have been converted into pleasantly-solid and mostly mud-free walking trails.

Our favourites are the Monsal Trail in the Peak District, the Camel Trail in Cornwall, the Keswick Railway Footpath in the Lakes (a lovely short trail jinking through the wooded ravines beneath Latrigg and Blencathra) and the Mawddach Trail, running from Barmouth to Dolgellau along the Mawddach Estuary. You'll be sharing the track with runners and cyclists, but at least the quality of the surface means you'll keep your boots (mostly) clean. 

 

Use the train (or the bus)

Wandering on the high, dry paths of the Cotswolds, Chilterns or Malverns is wonderful � but as with any upland surrounded by lowland, it can be hard to create a circular walk without returning through endless churned-up field paths. So don't! Instead think linear: each of those ranges has decent transport links, so plan a linear walk which does away with the trudgy return, and rides back in style. The same is true of our coastal paths, too � especially the South West Coast Path and Norfolk Coast Path. Try Boscastle to Tintagel on the former, or Sheringham to Cley-next-the-Sea on the latter!  

 

 

Head for the city

It's not everyone's cup of tea - especially if you work in one - but why not explore another city on foot? Get hold of a city guide to outline the contexts and plot a circular route to take in all the highlights using the maps therein.

London has hundreds of acres of green space to explore while Edinburgh has fantastic viewpoints like Arthur's Seat and there's a much more varied selection of pubs to dive into for lunch!

 

Catch a mountain movie

The legendary Banff Mountain Film Festival is back on the road for the fifth time, visiting over 40 different countries and inspiring over 300,000 people. The festival � which is currently in the middle of its UK leg � screens the latest movies from the mountain sports community, showcasing epic adventures from all around the globe. Check out the festival trailer here � tinyurl.com/banff14 � and see the list below for February's UK locations.

5 Feb Shrewsbury
6-7 Feb Keswick
8 Feb Llandudno
12-13 Feb  Leeds
14 Feb Glasgow
15-16 Feb Stockport
19 Feb Dorking
20 Feb Bath
21 Feb Birmingham
22 Feb Derby
26 Feb Abingdon
27 Feb Stafford
28 Feb Malvern

 

Deal with it

If you want to tackle muddy landscapes regardless of the weather, pick up a sturdy pair of knee-length gaiters, some hardy walking boots with a waterproof lining and a decent pair of waterproof trousers. You're not guaranteed to stay dry, but then hillwalking isn't about comfort � it's about getting out there and enjoying yourself, whatever the conditions.

 


Outside Opinion: Walking Home (with apologies to Simon Armitage)

Regular Country Walking readers will know I�m a fan of linear walks. When time is limited you can see more scenery and traverse a greater variety of terrain in a 10-mile route from A to B than a circular walk that starts and finishes in the same place.

There�s also a greater sense of purpose and adventure on a linear journey and with barely nine hours of daylight to play with at the moment, every second counts.

I�ve exhausted pretty much all the circular routes within comfortable walking distance of my house and while I never tire of watching the changes in the landscape as the seasons unfold, stomping across the same footpaths and bridleways while the countryside hibernates under winter�s chilly cloak can pall.

Then, one bright wintery morning, I stumbled over a solution. Instead of setting out from home, I turned the whole process on its head. Grabbing the Explorer map of the largely rural terrain within a 10-mile radius of our humble abode, I persuaded a slightly baffled Mrs S to drop me off in the middle of nowhere.

I�m familiar with the broader lie of the land from travelling across the same terrain by car and bike, but I don�t have the intimate knowledge of the paths and tracks as those closer to home. So mapwork is involved, but the objective is simple: find a way home cross-country with the bare minimum of road walking.

There�s just enough of a challenge to make it feel like a mini adventure and it�s fascinating to get a totally different perspective on places you thought you knew quite well.

Adopting this novel approach has really shaken up my winter walking routine and I�m enjoying exploring new routes. Some new favourites are beginning to emerge and I�m already making mental connections between familiar and less familiar paths to create longer circuits for the summer months.

There�s a glorious simplicity in pursuing just one navigational objective and a quiet sense of satisfaction as you arrive back at your front door, because as everybody knows, the best journey in the world is the one that takes you home.

 

Do you agree with Mark? Share your walking-home stories and comments below.

 

Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Something you need to get off your chest? A rant you simply can't keep in any more? Send an email to ben.weeks@lfto.com and your thoughts could be blogged here.

 

             

Hauling ass around Wales

Travel writer Hannah Engelkamp and Chico the donkey recently arrived back from walking the 1000-mile circumference of Wales. They�re now working on the book and film, and eating hay in a shed, respectively. We had to ask� why?

Come on then, why a donkey?
Horses are too horsey, dogs are too bitey, solitude is too lonely, my backpack is too heavy. Llamas are a bit showy, pack goats take more training, but everyone loves a donkey�

But aren�t they known to be stubborn?
Well, so they say. Donkey owners defend them by claiming they just have a strong sense of self-preservation � they�ll only do what they think is right for them. In my opinion that�s a pretty good definition of �stubborn�.

So, did you get on?
Oh yes! By the 500-mile mark we were almost friends. Except for the time he pushed me into the nettles. And when he ran away from me, round and round the field, while a whole pub of people were watching. Reluctant friends, really � like two creatures stuck together by circumstance, 24 hours a day, for ages.

Which is just what it was�
Yes. I rather underestimated the whole undertaking. I thought it would take three months and it took nearly six � May to November, 2013. But what better than camping out for a whole summer though? And autumn�

So you made it? 1000 miles, all the way around Wales?
Yes, we made it. Very slowly, through all weathers. There was driving rain that rotted my shoelaces, and the fantastic July heatwave when we were bitten by everything going � horseflies, mosquitoes, midges, ants, donkey lice, and the donkey himself, of course.

He bit you?!
Yes. They say it�s a sign of affection, but I�m not sure they�re right. Chico had been getting on well with my filmmaker feller, Rhys; striding masterfully up the hills together. I was sweating along behind, carrying more than my share because I refused to jettison the 6kg electric fence battery. When I caught them up on a mountain top with panoramic vistas, Rhys put his arm around Chico and I for a triumphant family selfie. Chico leaned in and chomped me, really hard, on the belly. Affection? I suspect he was warning me off his new bromance. I was so tired and daunted I had a little cry. That was in week one�

Any other scraps?
Well, he kicked me once too, but I don�t blame him for that�

How come?
I was getting a little overly personal. Not by choice, exactly. We were in blisteringly hot Snowdonia � very incongruous for those misty, purple mountains. The tarmac was bubbling, everything was hazy, the grass had all been scorched a brittle blonde, and the horseflies were enjoying their bumper crop of exposed adventurer flesh. One had bitten Chico somewhere really tender, and all the ordinary flies were crowding round the raw sore like creatures jostling at a watering hole. It was my duty to daub it with nappy rash cream, several times a day. On this particular occasion he was very irritated with the flies and took it out on me � the only one of so many creatures clustering around his privates that he couldn�t actually miss. Ouch.

Ow. Was it hard to find places to stay with the donkey?
Not at all; he turned out to be my meal ticket. We were like a travelling circus, and kind people invited us to stay all the time. We camped in heaps of people�s gardens and paddocks, and farmers� fields. We stayed in a terraced house in Cardiff, and Chico walked bravely through the house to the tiny back garden, across their beige carpet. We stayed in hay barns and yurts and a lighthouse. We stayed in two places with famous ghosts, but didn�t see them.

How far did you go per day?
Some days we barely managed five miles, other days fifteen. The terrain made all the difference � if we stuck to back roads we could make great progress, but other days it�d be all obstacles � stiles and kissing gates, fields of excitable bullocks, flooded fords, locked gates, dual carriageways� There were a few terrible weeks around the halfway mark when Chico decided he didn�t want to go up hills, and we were in the Black Mountains. Wretched beast. In the Clun valley we fought all day long before giving up and making camp less than a mile from where we�d left, five hours before. We were both so angry but couldn�t leave each other � I cried and drank my emergency brandy, he brayed and rolled in a very fresh cowpat.

Tell us something good about it, quick!
I do love him really, and he�s fond of me, although he wouldn�t want to let on. I�d never owned an animal before, and so it was a big deal getting to know Chico so well. I still miss hearing him munching grass outside the tent at crack of dawn every day. I also loved getting to know Wales � my home country � so well. Every time I leave Wales for ever more, I�ll be crossing the line I walked � that�s a triumph. I feel I kind of own the country now, and it owns me too. That�s the real thrill of home adventures.

 

Help Hannah make a film of her trip!

Hannah is writing the book and Rhys (Chico�s favourite) is making the film. They�re funding it through a Kickstarter campaign, and as well as getting the book and film you can also get photos of the trip printed on donkey poo paper, and go for walks and picnics with Chico himself. They are running out of time, so do support the audacious project here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/hannahme/seaside-donkey-1000-miles-around-wales-with-a-donk

 

The adventure website is here: www.seasidedonkey.co.uk. And follow them here: www.facebook.com/seasidedonkey and at www.twitter.com/hannahengelkamp

 

             


Outside Opinion: An acceptable risk?

Earlier this month photographer Dan Arkle took a bit of a bashing from the outdoor community and the wider public in general for a stunt branded �stupid and irresponsible�.

In case you�ve been living underground and missed this story first time round, Dan set up a series of photographs of himself walking stark-naked across a snow-covered Crib Goch. If you really want to see them, and they�re actually pretty impressive, Google is your friend.

Now, the criticism revolved around several things �the lack of protective equipment, the conditions on the ridge and the threat of frostbite (particularly nasty given his exposed �extremities�) � but most of them came back to the same thing: the danger posed to any would-be rescuers.

It�s a charge often levelled at risk-takers. Free climber Alex Honnold must surely have had that accusation put to him on a regular basis? And every time the �French Spiderman� Alain Robert scales a new building, you can be sure there are as many onlookers tut-tutting about his sky-scraper clambering as there are those wishing him well.

But maybe, just maybe, we�re all being a little bit hypocritical. Let�s go back to Dan Arkle for a moment. He is an experienced climber and mountain-goer. To shoot his series of naked photos he had climbed onto the ridge wearing the usual winter hill gear before setting up his camera, stripping off, and walking a hundred yards or so back and forth along the ar�te. I can only guess at what was going through his mind at the time, but I�d imagine it wasn�t his imminent demise.

It�s probably fair to say that Dan was taking a calculated risk. Now, to you or me, tight-roping along a frozen Crib Goch wearing nothing but the skin we were born in might be considered far riskier than is sensible � certainly nothing we would do. But that way of thinking is, if you�ll excuse the pun, a slippery slope.

To us, somebody free-climbing a crag with no ropes or assistance might be considered reckless beyond imagination, because it�s not something we would do. But then, to a non-walker who would never set foot in the mountains, walking hours away from civilisation into a harsh and potentially lethal environment might also be seen as an unnecessary risk, and that is something that we most definitely would do.

Surely risk is all about perception, and what may appear to be needlessly courting disaster to one mind is simply a great weekend to another? At when you start to think like that, does the argument of putting others at risk hold water? Yes, Dan Arkle could have fallen or injured himself, and might have required the services of mountain rescue, and maybe those team-members would have been at more risk due to the weather than at other times. But where do we draw the line?

Every hour of every day holds the potential for something to go wrong. Should we blame a cyclist, knocked off his bike and requiring the assistance of an ambulance crew, for not having taken the bus? Should we blame the pedestrian who twists their ankle stepping off a curb for having dared to leave their house in the morning? It could of course be argued that these are daily risks that we have to expose ourselves to in order to simply live, and we reserve the right to judge those who take risks beyond what is absolutely essential, but that�s a big can of worms we�re opening right there. If someone is injured while running for recreation, or falls into the sea while on a weekend sailing lesson, or crashes their car while on the way to see a play at the theatre � should we be angry with them for requiring help?

And so back to us hillwalkers. We are, depending on your point of view, either a bunch of gentle, peace loving people who take to the hills to enjoy the tranquillity of the high ground and the life-affirming scenery, or a collection of death-dicing nutjobs who could potentially require the help of Mountain Rescue every time we set foot in the peaks. To our minds, we carry the right kit, have learned the right skills and are always acting within our abilities. We don�t see the risk. But maybe that�s exactly the same way Dan Arkle, Alex Honnold or Alain Robert feel, it�s just that their abilities and their experience sets different boundaries for them.

So, next time we see something we don�t necessarily think is sensible and are tempted to say something regarding unnecessary risk, just bear in mind that somebody looking at how we choose to spend our free time could be saying exactly the same about us. After all, it might just be a long fall from the high-horse on which we�re sitting.

 

Do you agree or disagree? Add your comment below.

 

Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Something you need to get off your chest? A rant you simply can't keep in any more? Send an email ben.weeks@lfto.com and your thoughts could be blogged here.

 

             

UK�s greatest mountain Revealed!

It isn�t even the highest mountain in its own country, never mind the entire UK; but according to you lot Tryfan is head and shoulders above the rest.

Ben Nevis didn�t make the top five, Snowdon only just squeaked onto the podium and Scafell Pike hardly got a look-in � conclusive proof that biggest doesn�t necessarily mean best when picking your favourite mountain.

Ever since we started our search for the UK�s greatest mountain by launching a huge online poll in November 2013, there was only ever going to be one winner. The Lake District's Helvellyn quickly emerged as England�s most popular peak with a flurry of early votes and An Teallach soon left the rest of Scotland trailing in its wake, but right from the start there was a runaway favourite.

You might have expected Scottish icons such as Buachaille Etive Mor or Suilven to dominate the voting, while the enduring popularity of Wales� highest peak meant Snowdon was always likely pull in plenty of votes, but it was a modest mountain from the Ogwen Valley that captured your imagination like no other.  Despite languishing 15th in Snowdonia�s height chart and only sneaking into the illustrious list of Wales� 3,000ft mountains by a measly 10 feet, Tryfan is a peak with unrivalled magnetism and charisma. Located right in the mountainous heart of Snowdonia, this 917m blade of serrated rock is boxed in from every angle by neighbouring giants such as Y Garn, Glyder Fach and Pen yr Ole Wen, but it still manages to dominate the surrounding landscape.

Viewed from the valley bottom, Tryfan rises sharply from the ground with its instantly recognisable shark�s fin outline absolutely demanding your attention. There are many thrilling routes to the summit, such as the iconic north ridge and Heather Terrace, all of which involve getting your hands on rock. Once you�re up there, you can�t truly claim to have reached the true top until you�ve made the nerve-jangling jump between the two stone pillars � Adam and Eve � that protrude menacingly from its apex.

All of Tryfan�s fascinating features (and we�ve only listed a fraction of them here), plus easy access from the popular A5 road below, make it pretty much the complete package. It�s the kind of peak you could climb ten times and never cover the same route twice, because you can tackle it via a seemingly never-ending number of challenging scrambles, or by launching yourself into a full-on rock-climb in one of its many shadowy gullies.

But next time you reach the top, no matter what route you take, remember this: you�ve just officially climbed the UK�s greatest mountain!

For a four page guide on Tryfan, the UK's Greatest Mountain - pick up a copy of the March issue of Trail magazine, on sale Thursday 23rd January (click HERE for a preview). 

 


The Trail 'just for fun' online quiz - March 2014 issue

Welcome to the Trail 'just for fun' online quiz!

There's no glory, no admiration and no prizes to be won. It is, as the name suggests, just for fun.

But that doesn't mean you can cheat! No no no no no - you'll only be cheating yourself.

Anyway, try your best and enjoy.

Your time...starts...now.


The Big Gear Survey

Trail wants to hear from you! We're asking readers to take part in our Big Gear Survey so we can find out a little bit more about you.

To be honest, the name's a bit of a misnomer. It's not that big (21 questions) and not all the questions are about gear. But, we're hoping for a big number of responses, so it'd be great if you could take the time to tick a few boxes in the survey below.

And just in case you need a little more incentive than simply helping us do our jobs, we'll be giving a way a load of gear from the Trail Kit Cupboard to one lucky participant - just be sure to enter your name and email address in the final field.

Thank you!

Having trouble seeing the survey above? Click HERE to complete it at PollDaddy.com.


How many times have you climbed Snowdon?

In the February 2014 issue, Trail made a rather bold claim.

You see, we've done some research, some more research, followed by some number crunching and come up with what might be a rather surprising statistic.

We reckon that Snowdon might just be the most climbed mountain on Earth.

Now, we appreciate that that's quite a bold claim, but if you're interested to see how we arrived at that conclusion, you'll need to pick up a copy of the February issue (out Friday 27th December 2013).

However, this raised another question: just how many times have you climbed Snowdon? Of course there's only one way to find out, and that's to ask!

So, if you'd be so kind, please let us know by clicking below.

Thank you!