Loch Lee: Who needs an air bridge when this is on your ‘doorstep’?

Freedom is Restored

So, this week the restrictions on travel were lifted for the majority of Scotland, allowing us once again to access the hills. It’s been a long wait, but today made it totally worth it!

Deliberation

The weather forecast, typically, was mixed. Stronger winds, the possibility of heavy rain (showers if lucky), you get the picture. After months indoors surely it’s not asking too much to have a clear, dry day?

We weighed up the pros and cons of the more local munros – too much wind? – and in the end, settled on Loch Lee. What a great decision that was!

Loch Lee

Turning up at the car park we were in luck with one space left for us. We’ve been here a few times but have never seen so many cars. Having spent the last few months trying to avoid people it was a little like rocking up to Asda on a busy weekend!

We figured most folks would be up Mount Keen so expected a quiet walk. The chap a couple of cars along was headed for Mount Keen and asked about directions (he did have a map but this was the lazy option). Advised that the turn off was signposted, we wished him well, and were then somewhat surprised to see him a mile along the good track as he headed back having missed the aforementioned large track to Mount Keen. Given the very clear path I’m trusting he got there in the end. On the upside, he got to see Invermark Castle, a sight missed if heading for the munro.

Invermark Castle

Reaching the loch, the excellent track continued all the way alongside.

Loch Lee

At the end of the loch we forked off to reach a bridge. This took us onto a smaller path, leaving the clear track behind.

Footbridge after Loch Lee
Falls of Unich

The path gently meandered along, not proving taxing, but pleasurable in that we were off the main track and into the wild a little bit more.

Gentle climb up to Falls of Damff

The heather in full bloom was stunning, lighting up the landscape with highlights of purple. True natural beauty!

Beautiful Scottish heather

After last night’s heavy rain, the Falls of Unich were in full flow, the torrents of water visible from some way back. With the steady wind, the fine spray of the water could also be felt from some way back. Up close it was hard to differentiate between the spray from the Falls and the spots of rain that were now coming from overhead. Thankfully the rain was short-lived.

Falls of Unich
Falls of Damff

The path then began to slowly climb, nothing too taxing but just enough to challenge the legs a little when having been confined largely to the city streets and local trails. We stopped and enjoyed a break, sheltered by the hillside.

The rocks here were beautifully shiny, looking polished on one side. As we progressed up we moved slightly away from the Falls of Damff. This was pleasing as there’s quite a drop from the path!

First Slip of the Day

The path got a wee bit muddy in places, and I found myself having my first slip of the day on a wet rock. No harm done aside from muddy trousers.

Heading up past the Falla of Damff
Cairn Lick

The boggy section of the path began after crossing another bridge. This led alongside a stream, at times unclear as to whether it was path or a tiny, minor tributary, becoming drier as we progressed. At some point along here I got a shock as my foot went right into a hole, thankfully although in to my knee the water wasn’t quite so deep!

Muddy boots!

We checked our navigation here as we reached a small cairn and it was unclear where we headed next. Compass confirming the route, more boggy path ensued, the upside being that the boot cleaned off very nicely.

Why Do We Walk?

This became obvious as we looked down onto Loch Lee once more. The views lowdown are lovely, but the views from above truly are exceptional, especially on a clear day with just the right amount of cloud in the sky!

Cairn Lick, views to Loch Lee

We stopped and started on the way down, drinking in the views, marvelling about how wonderful if was to return to the great outdoors, and double checking on the big black rain cloud behind. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get too close!

A wonderful way to get back out in the hills. This walk has everything you could want in Scotland – a Loch, views of the munros (Mount Keen), hills, heather, stunning views.

Thanks to Bruce as always, for his planning and inspiration, and of course for sharing his wonderful photos! Hopefully lots more to come over the summer months!

Final view of Loch Lee

Family

This weekend I finally got to see my parents again after 19 weeks! Living a wee bit apart I don’t see them as regularly as I would if they were just down the road. A busy life (and work) get in the way, so it’s not uncommon to go a month without seeing them. We met up last on a family birthday, a lovely gathering where I also saw my sister and her wee family. The next scheduled get together was on Mother’s Day weekend; sadly it never happened, the COVID situation rapidly evolving, my sister and I decided to postpone our meeting, only to then find out we’d have been left with no option as the country very suddenly went into lockdown. The next few paragraphs aremy account, written at the time, but unpublished as emotions were too raw all around.

19th March: Lockdown is Imminent

My journey began at roughly 4 am today. I spoke with my parents last night, both now in their seventies and, touch wood, healthy with no significant underlying conditions. They were suitably pragmatic about everything, already having realised that the chances are our planned meeting on Saturday would not go ahead. However, technology was frustrating; we didn’t manage to FaceTime as I’d hoped and I later sent an e-mail to Dad hoping he’ll maybe download the WhatsApp app to enable future face-to-face communication. I felt positive after speaking to them so I’m not sure why, at 4 am, I crashed.

Waking up, I went to the loo, went back to bed and then the tears came. Proper gut wrenching sobs and an underlying worry about Mum and Dad. With them not being immediately nearby, who will support them if they become ill? Who will do their shopping if they can’t get out? What if something awful happens and I never see them again?

22nd March: Happy Mother’s Day

Today, I’ve woken feeling more positive and perhaps am starting to find my new ‘normal’ (a phrase we’ve now grown to detest). Phoned Mum to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and was pleased to find both of my parents upbeat, if a little hacked off in Dad’s case about being recommended to ‘self-isolate’ as he’s 70 something. He’s questioning why he should be told what to do when as a 70 something who’s taken care of himself he probably stands as much chance of fighting the virus as someone 20 years younger who hasn’t bothered. Fair point I suspect.

Keeping in Touch

We adjusted to life in lockdown, not really having a choice. I’m aware of people visiting family and waving through windows but the distance (and emotions) involved ruled out this option. Instead, the phone became a more regular companion and finally, thanks to my sister’s remote technical support, Dad got his iPad sorted out and we were able to FaceTime again. Seeing people on screen is such a blessing. I do wonder how we’d have coped without technology during this time.

31st May: Phase 1

The introduction of Phase 1 meant little for me. Still being too far from my parents to visit – too far to go without using the toilet – the waiting game continued. The one blessing was that my sister, being closer, was able to come for a socially distanced visit with my niece. Sitting in the garden blethering to them was wonderful!

Both my sister and brother-in-law celebrated birthdays during lockdown. There was no shared cake or celebrations outwith the immediate household; the best I could do was make fudge and sing a socially distanced birthday song from the street! I still owe you both a present!

18th June: Phase 2 Begins

We all waited with baited breath to find out what the announcements would be on Thursday as Phase 2 began. While others were holding out for a refreshing beverage with friends in a pub garden, my priority was seeing my family. The hope that not only would we be able to travel, but we could also meet indoors and go to the toilet was too much to bear!

Sadly we were all disappointed, the announcement being a bit of a damp squib when compared with the phasing plans shared online. I appreciate there are many variables but still …

It made me question whether it was worth travelling a long way to sit outside for a cup of tea. This period of time has taken quite a toll on mental health, as has our new way of working. I’m tired and in need of a break, probably just as I am most summers, and this led me to think that maybe I should just hang fire on visiting. It’s been so many weeks, what’s another two?

However, Friday evening came and although I hadn’t managed to get on top of all the work that needs done I did feel differently about life (more upbeat) and recognised that I both needed a break and wanted to see my family.

20th June: Together Again

Yesterday the sun shone. I headed up the road in my car, my sister and niece in theirs, and we all congregated in the garden with Mum and Dad. It was a joy to see them both in the flesh, to chat together as a family, and to catch up properly after so much time apart. We even went out (in our respective cars) to enjoy a picnic by the local beach. Sitting in a socially distanced circle the laughter and chat flowed and it was a very special few hours.

Driving home I reflected that having had the luxury of technology to maintain contact, it’s only when I see people that I realise how much I’ve missed them. I must remember this as it’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of life, sending a catch up text here and there and feeling like that’s maintaining contact, while in reality there’s no substitute for real human interaction. It definitely won’t be so long until our next catch up!

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day Dad! I hope you enjoy the Jam Shed – anytime after 4 pm is an acceptable time to crack it open. Your card will arrive sometime next week, I’m sure! Love you (& you too, Mum) x

Finding New Ways

In my last blog I mentioned feeling a bit bored of the lockdown and the same old routines. I know I’m not alone in that. I’m also beginning to notice more traffic on the roads, more cars in the car parks at the local parks and trails, more people out and about and a greater ignorance around social distancing. This last one is the thing that’s pushing my buttons right now. I have no objection to running on the road to accommodate pedestrians on the pavement, but do get irritated if they don’t acknowledge it in any way. It’s just plain rudeness to ignore someone and does nothing towards teaching good manners to youngsters when families hog the pavement en masse, looking at you as if you have three heads rather than smiling or saying hello. Thankfully not everyone is like this; there’s definitely a great number of people being friendly, exchanging pleasantries or even giving way to others. To those, thank you!

New Trails

I’ve been trying to find new routes to run, becoming a little jaded with what’s now becoming very familiar. During the week I found another single-track trail alongside the River Dee. It was a bit lumpy and bumpy with plenty of roots and boulders. Not ideal for running at any pace, but ultimately I’ve no need to go anywhere fast right now so I enjoyed it for what it was.

Biking

Yesterday, we hit the trails again on our mountain bikes which was fun. I’m really enjoying being out on the bike again and when we’re finally permitted to return to the hills any ride ins will certainly feel easier than they previously would have done!

Trail Finding

While biking, we wondered where some of the wee trails along the route went but lacked the inclination to investigate. In the past, when we were keen bikers, we’d sometimes explore on foot to get a handle on how routes link up and how good they’d be for riding. Not being close enough to Countesswells to do this without the car or the will to be out walking for many hours, I volunteered to run them instead.

Cheating a little, my run began midway up Anderson Drive having bummed a lift from Bruce who was headed for his Mum’s with the essential shopping. Thrown out at the bus stop, I ran a new trail that took me parallel to Kingsgate. In the morning sunshine it was extremely pretty!

Running alongside the burn, popping out to cross a couple of roads, it ended near Hazlehead with the option to continue to the Den of Maidencraig. That’s for another day. Today’s goal was Countesswells via the shortest route.

Hazlehead was relatively quiet. I’ve noticed more people taking to the fairways as this gives a much more open space on which to walk. I’m sure the footfall is no higher than normal, but I do wonder about the impact of kids on their bikes. For the sake of the golfers, I hope everyone’s staying off the greens!

Over to Countesswells, it was a relief to run downhill, my legs feeling a little like running through treacle today. This is largely due to the work I’ve been doing through @Jcru05’s programme, #unlacethebrace. I know that in the longer term this will ease and the benefits will pay off so I just need to embrace the discomfort and fatigue for now. If anyone is interested in learning more, there’s also an E-book available: https://payhip.com/Physiorun, well worth a look!

I opted to run straight down the fire road; the most direct route to the area I wanted to explore. There’s a lovely swooping section through the trees when you come off Kingshill, but further along there’s a section that gets slower due to a good descent with a subsequent ninety degree turn to go uphill. I ran the reverse of my usual route, surprised by the initial incline. I always thought it was virtually flat coming off this section and back towards the fire road; it transpires it’s not.

Back down the fire road, I followed another single-track path up from our usual trail. Again, this was not quite so much fun and I found it particularly hard going with my heavy legs. While it would be rideable, it was a wee bit more technical and definitely more of an effort, leading back to the other path I’d been on. It allowed me to link up to the usual route again, providing another piece in the puzzle. Those that know me (and my distinct lack of directional sense) will be suitably impressed, I’m sure!

Homeward Bound

Leaving Countesswells, I took the opportunity to try another route we’ve seen folks coming down. This took me along a wee road in the first instance, then up a single-track path through a field. Definitely another one that would be fun on the descent. I’m pretty certain that on the return leg I’ll stick to the gradual ascent and follow the gate to gate section.

Having been advised by a biker I got chatting to that Hazlehead was now horrendously busy, I stayed off the beaten track for as long as possible, following the horsey trails instead. Down to Den Wood, I then cut along the trail to Walker Dam where I was delighted to see some ducklings!

Just over 11 miles in the legs by the time I reached home. My waterproof jacket stayed in my rucksack and I found some fun new routes. I’d call that a win!

 

Life in Lockdown

The Daily Grind

If I’m honest, at times I’m starting to get a bit fed up of the ‘lockdown’. Being back at work after the ‘holidays’ where I enjoyed having lots of free time, I’m now working 3 days from home / 2 days in school. While some semblance of normality is good, it’s frustrating not being able to see family and friends and having no concept of when this may be feasible. The daily routine is now all too familiar and there are limited possibilities to do something different.

On the other hand, I do consider myself fortunate to have a beautiful garden to enjoy and the good health required to escape the confines of home to enjoy the outdoor spaces close by. I appreciate that not everyone is as fortunate.

Biking Adventures

Yesterday we took our old singlespeed bikes out for a change. We followed the usual route around Hazlehead and Countesswells, not certain at the outset whether Kingshill would feature. In the event we were pleasantly surprised by our burgeoning bike fitness and decided to give the aforementioned hill a bash. Riding clipless pedals, once you’ve committed you keep going – or fall off. My heart was thundering by the time I reached the top with every ounce of weight required for the final couple of pedal turns. Bruce advised that next time I should try zig-zagging towards the top as it makes the effort easier; either that or falling off less hazardous!

Anti-Social Sunday

Sunday is usually Social Sunday – a large group of friends meeting up to run the trails. Sadly, for now this can’t happen, so today was anti-social Sunday instead. I love the Countesswells trails and have enjoyed riding them, so today decided to change my route, find a couple of shortcuts to Hazlehead and hopefully make it over to Countesswells.

I was well prepared with my running pack – gloves, leggings and a base layer plus water and a snack – very conscious that I need to be self sufficient at all times. The lack of people on the trails today surprised me; certainly at the start of the Hazlehead parkrun course there appeared to be far more people walking on the golf course than anywhere else! It was a pleasant surprise to bump into a familiar face along the way and good to enjoy a socially distanced chat.

Continuing on, I reached Countesswells, my favourite local forest. Knowing that we’re all missing our Sunday runs I enjoyed a leisurely pace and frequent stops to take photos to share.

We have a few points along the route where we’d normally regroup. The selfie spot is where we always have a shared photo! Nobody else in sight today!

I decided against Kingshill as the loop adds a couple of miles and my legs aren’t quite up to that distance at the moment. I clocked up 12 miles overall and that was quite sufficient being my longest run since lockdown.

Running back along the usual route, I enjoyed the swooping trails, reminiscing fondly of previous runs in company. Heading back to the car park I took in a couple of new paths to avoid the main trail, somewhat lumpy and rutted, the result of forestry works prior to lockdown.

The final climb of the day led back up towards Hazlehead. Here I met a familiar Metro man, flying down the track; the opposite of me as I plodded my way back up on increasingly weary legs!

Although there were a couple of rain showers, I was fortunate in being sheltered. The lack of rain saw the trails as dry as I’ve seen.

Round the corner towards the golf course the sun broke through again. Definitely a couple of seasons in one day.

From here, it was pretty much all downhill to home. Mixing things up, I headed along to the halfway point of the Hazlehead parkrun course before turning down towards the park. Staying off road for as long as I could, only in the final mile or so was I back on pavements.

Looking to the Future

A beautiful run and a reminder that friends are never far away! Roll on the day that we can be social on Sunday once again.

Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Social Distancing and Staying Home

Save Lives, Stay At Home

The message from Government has been very clear this week – stay at home. Even work now involves being at home and that’s surprisingly been okay. One upstairs and one downstairs, meeting for coffee or lunch; the day runs pretty much as normal.

Where I’ve struggled a little is with the one form of exercise per day (outside the garden). I’m torn … I’d love to run, but I also feel that for the sake of us both I need to walk with my husband, enjoying some semblance of normality amidst the turmoil of life outside our own little bubble.

Exercise Once A Day

Running has taken a back seat. I envy those that have been able to unearth their seldom used treadmill, previously only used to hang washing or fill the garage. However, I’m being quite pragmatic about this situation. I’ve come through the very brief phases of being upset and angry and have accepted that this is how life is. For the greater good of everyone we’re all making small sacrifices, grateful to those that are making the most impact in society right now – the NHS and everyone else on the frontline be it in our supermarkets and local shops or on the streets supporting with day to day maintenance in essential services such as the often forgotten posties, delivery drivers and refuse collectors. We appreciate you! Stay healthy and safe.

Today I opted to run on a rather beautiful day. Looking ahead we appear to be blessed by a spell of dry weather here in Aberdeen. This makes me happy!

Social Distancing

I contemplated the Deeside Line but decided to assess numbers before going along. There were a few folks walking so I opted for the streets instead.

Daffodils by the Deeside Line

Heading down towards the riverside I ran through the back of the RGU campus, not a soul there, and discovered a wee path along the River Dee that I didn’t know existed. Again, I met a couple of people, stayed well away, and decided to go back onto the pavements, the path too narrow to pass comfortably.

I found myself in Duthie Park having taken the south side path along the river. I was amazed how quiet the park was; it’s very apparent that people are following the ‘rules’.

The park is beautiful right now with flowers in bloom. I enjoyed taking photos as I went, taking pleasure in the small things, something we all need to do right now.

River Dee

Leaving the park I again opted for the south side of the river to make my way home, avoiding the handful of Sunday strollers on the riverside itself.

Stay Positive!

No idea what the week ahead holds, but I’m happy with the way things have gone thus far. There’s so much outwith our control at present that all we can do is focus on the little things. I’ve seen lots of kindness when out today: people smiling, waving from across the road or sharing a friendly word. That’s what is important in life: cherish it.

Solo Sunday: Finding the New ‘Normal’

It’s been a challenging week for everyone. Sunday has always been the social run, Saturday is for parkrun. Neither have happened this week. Yesterday was tough – it was upsetting not being able to go and meet with my running friends; today, however, I’ve got a more positive take on things.

The day started with a phone chat for Mother’s Day. Again, it’s sad not to be able to see my mum and give her a hug. Hopefully that’ll come later in the year. For now Mum, consider yourself virtually hugged!

Out on my run, I opted to take my camera in order to share some of the beauty that unfolded on route. The day was stunning with clear, blue skies, and it was a pleasure to be out in the fresh air. This is the new normal for me: taking even more pleasure in the little things in life and appreciating them fully.

The first joy was the flowers in the garden, beautiful miniature daffodils that have just popped up over the last week.

Mini daffodils

Continuing up the road, there are a few colourful pots outside the local church. I thought of Mum while taking these pictures – virtual flowers to go with the virtual hug!

Up the road I passed by Walker Dam, stopping to say hello to the ducks and seagulls! They were definitely more up for social interaction than any humans I passed today.

Walker Dam, Aberdeen

Passing the Hazlehead parkrun container I smiled – it’s so lovely and bright! A reminder of happy times past and in the future.

Hazlehead parkrun

The trails were quieter than yesterday. Small family groups, some couples, and a few solo runners or walkers only. I love these trails and while sad to not be in the company of friends, I’m grateful to be out; I’m fit, healthy and able to enjoy them.

Turning left where usually we go right: Hazlehead trails

Along to the turning point of parkrun …

I was rather excited to see a little robin bobbing around, pausing to watch it for a while, hoping it would come closer for a photo shoot. Sadly when it did it was more intent on giving a rear view!

Spot the robin!

Out of the woods and across Countesswells Road, I stopped to say hello to the horses.

Further round I cut off on Craigton Road taking a shortcut down the trail to Cults. This used to be a short but fun singletrack section on a biking route we occasionally enjoyed; unfortunately someone decided to build houses and change the track, so unless you fancy playing ‘chicken’ on the bike it’s not quite the same.

Onwards, there’s a wee path along the burn that meanders round the back of the Cults Hotel. Then across North Deeside Road and it’s onto the old Deeside railway line. I was quite delighted to be back onto my old stomping ground. With the dark nights over winter it’s been a while!

Finally, with the need to add on a few more miles I popped up to Johnston Gardens, a beautiful garden and a small haven of peace in the midst of the houses.

An enjoyable run, relaxed pace and taking in the scenery.

Where did you run or walk today? What pleasures have you found this weekend?

Ballater Weekend featuring Hillgoers Winter Skills Training

Lazy Saturday in Ballater

The ideal Christmas gift, a Winter Skills Day with Hillgoers, led us to Ballater at the weekend. Not being ones for doing nothing, we enjoyed a gentle stroll around the Seven Bridges, my favourite being Polhollick.

Polhollick Suspension Bridge, Ballater

Aside from this the walk was gentle and easy, a fine stroll where we marvelled at nature and the water levels that had been seen in the horrendous flooding of 2015.

The Bothy once again drew us in for coffee and cake, delicious as always, mainly due our feeling that mid-afternoon was not an acceptable time to go to the pub!

Later, having checked into our B & B we did just that; a busy night in the Balmoral Bar in Ballater! A decent meal saw us ready for an early night, looking forward to the skills day ahead.

Hillgoers Winter Skills

Meeting at The Bothy, this time in Braemar rather than Ballater, my fears were confounded when the other four participants in the group (husband included) were all male. Instructor Bill, however, very quickly allayed said concerns without even trying, introducing himself, getting the teas and coffees in, and settling us into a relaxed chat about the day ahead. Key to this was that the focus was on learning and support for one another.

After our initial chat, covering the planning and preparation stages of our walks including need to check the weather and avalanche forecasts for a few days prior, we headed out. Originally planned for Glenshee and postponed due to ridiculously strong winds last weekend – you’d have struggled to be upright, let alone hear anyone – again, the weather forecast was mixed and due to get windier, albeit not on the same scale, so we headed out to Glen Callater instead.

Loch Callater Bothy

The walk out to Loch Callater Bothy takes around an hour. It’s pretty much flat, along a good landrover track, and today had a decent covering of snow. This had fallen overnight and was reportedly better than the slushy conditions encountered by yesterday’s Hillgoers group.

Despite this, the snow made it a wee bit of a slog so it was a relief to come upon the bothy. As we approached, the snow began to fall lightly. This was especially welcome as Braemar was likely encountering rain if the aforementioned forecast was correct.

Into the bothy it was time for a snack, some hot chocolate, and the opportunity for Bill to check that we all knew how to put our crampons on and ensure they fitted our boots properly.

Loch Callater Bothy tucked into the slope

As is often the case, the world proved to be extremely small. Bill, having recognised me from running circles, transpired not to be the only runner. Others in the group also had links to friends through work and running interests, and it was entertaining establishing how we were all connected through mutual friends and interests throughout the course of the day.

The Fun Begins: Onto the hill

Refreshed, we headed out onto the hill. As we went up, Bill took the lead and did the hard work allowing the rest of us to follow behind, demonstrating energy saving techniques used when volunteering with Braemar Mountain Rescue Team. Second in line then also did some work, treading on the backs of Bill’s footsteps and creating a bit more of a channel, and so on. Being second last (or back of the pack)I enjoyed a stroll up the hill with minimal effort. I did feel somewhat guilty about this, but not guilty enough to move forward, the others seeming quite content and the distance to be covered relatively short.

I did appreciate Bill’s honesty and humour; when stopping for a mini lecture on conditions or technique, he admitted this was more due to the need for a rest after the exertions than urgency to impart information at this particular moment.

Boots as Tools

The first thing we practised was using our boots as tools, winter boots having harder soles with less flexibility making them better for kicking. We practised using the edges of our boots to gain stability while traversing across the hill, developing confidence in our movements. Quick movement downhill was also demonstrated and practised, including a technique for scree. I’m still not convinced I particularly wish to use this, but I may try it one day – I do ‘love’ a scree slope! Perhaps I should practise a bit more on snow first.

During this time the weather began to change, snow falling and, as the afternoon progressed, wind picking up. Having swithered this morning about my thermal leggings I was quite delighted to have put them on, at no point during the day feeling cold, and glad that I’d put up with overheating a little on the walk out.

The Real Fun: Ice Axes

Initially we practised the self belay, the idea being that this becomes instinctive and can effectively prevent a slip turning bad. Although the snow was pretty soft, this was an ‘easy’ technique to get my head around in the grand scheme of the day.

My initial attempts at self belay

The Inner Child

It doesn’t take much for me to find my inner 5 year old, so I was in my glory when it was suggested that we should all have some fun rolling down the hill in order to flatten the snow, creating an icy slide. One roly poly made me realise that my brain doesn’t work in quite the same way as it apparently used to; it was amazing how disoriented I felt, not sure which way was up and struggling to walk in a straight line! I found sliding down on my belly, head first, to be equally (if not more) satisfying!

Slide made, Bill then clearly demonstrated the techniques required to use our ice axes to arrest should we slip when walking. Previously for Bruce and I, these arrests had been taught through falling onto our fronts with legs pointing downhill.

Bruce in the act of arrest

Today was a whole new experience! Not many falls are graceful and easy; we therefore had to learn techniques for falling backwards and forwards, with both involving a headfirst slide.

The supportive environment and the group dynamic allowed us to have a lot of fun with this. Coordination is key – I’m not blessed on this front – but I do have an awareness of teaching physical skills and was quite comfortable practising the movements while upright and waiting my turn, aware that it will take lots of practise before this is in any way ‘unconscious’. Ultimately, the key skill was to master the initial control, getting the axe into position and the pick into the ground, thus allowing momentum to turn the body to the right direction before then stopping properly. It’s amazing how easy it can look when done by some accomplished! That wasn’t me!

I have a feeling I’ll be rolling around on the living room rug a bit over the coming week – here’s hoping I don’t impale my axe on the sofa!

Cutting Steps and Crampons

Lastly, our learning involved how to use our crampons effectively, the hope being that if we master this art we won’t need to do an ice axe arrest for real. Although using the ice axes was great fun in practise, all the other techniques should be the priority for safety on the hills.

I liked Bill’s analogy for using crampons: walk like a puppet, essentially trying to make contact with as much of the ground as possible, using all points on the crampon to increase grip and stability.

We learned to cut steps, using the ice axe as a pendulum, flattening a small step before moving onto it, thus theoretically allowing others to follow up or down in our footsteps. This is a useful technique if the weather conditions have changed the ground cover.

Back to the Bothy

Heading back down to the bothy, we kept the crampons on. Chat was very easy among the group by this point and it was a pleasurable short descent.

Safely ensconced in the bothy once again, it was time for more hot chocolate (still hot, courtesy of the Stanley flask) and another bite to eat. We were joined by a couple of students who had biked out – good effort – and a couple of lads who’d been out walking.

Finally, the walk back to the car. This passed quickly as we blethered, snow turning more slushy as we approached the car park again.

All in all, a great day out! I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to join Hillgoers on this excellent day, and sincerely thank Bill for his time and efforts. Here’s hoping if I see him again it’ll be a random bumping into at a race, or in the Bothy at Braemar, rather than on a dark hillside when he’s with the Braemar MRT! Thanks to everyone that joined us today – a pleasure sharing your company. Happy walking!

@Hillgoers Winter Skills Training Group

What A Difference A Day Makes: Aberdeen parkrun and Scolty Trails

Injury Update

I’m delighted to report that I’m still pain free! My previously mentioned Christmas miracle in the form of a (very expensive) cortisone injection has paid off. I’ve slowly been building the miles up and have now ran around 20 miles a week for a couple of weeks, with no heel pain. Any signs of plantar fasciitis and swelling have gone. A tweak to my orthotic insole (Version 2) courtesy of Shand Podiatry will hopefully ensure that my heel spur is comfortably accommodated and does not cause further issues.

What I have experienced though, with the heel relief, is forefoot pain. Having struggled with pain post-run for a couple of weeks I decided to see to this sooner rather than later. Back to see Scott at Shand Practice,  and a small inexpensive tweak sees orthotic Version 3. I’m very happy to report that’s early indications aware good. I have no forefoot pain after two runs in them, my only gripe being a near blister after 9 miles today. Why did I think it was a good idea to do 9 miles on modified insoles without even a whiff of BodyGlide to ease things along?!

BAB9761A-3FF3-4ADC-8EA3-952A662032CC

Aberdeen parkrun

Yesterday should have seen us on a winter skills course. However, there’s been too much weather of late, and thankfully the decision was made to postpone due to 70 mph winds not providing an optimal learning environment.

Instead, I decided to head for Aberdeen parkrun. Driving down I did admittedly have second thoughts as the temperature dropped and the rain became very sleety. However, on reaching the prom the rain was almost off and a group of running friends happened to come along – perfect timing! The wind paled into the background as the chat took over. Turning onto the lower prom it was, as is often the case, an entirely different experience. The wind was gentler and the sky was blue, sun shining down and warning me up nicely. I even contemplated ditching my jacket and gloves, with the knowledge that this was an ‘easy’ parkun, no speed required – I do like a plan.

Waiting for the briefing I saw my sister and niece, offering my niece some of my clothing as she was feeling the cold whole waiting. Hindsight is a great thing: I bet she’d have taken it if she’d known what was ahead. The darkening sky (think black rather than blue) looming across the bridge made me slightly apprehensive so the clothing stayed on.

The Run Director shouted, ‘Go’, and it wasn’t just the parkrunners that started. Very quickly we were being battered by very cold sleet / snowy stuff and a side wind that compounded the biting cold and wind and low temperatures. Most unpleasant!

Having opted to run / walk with my sister, I think we ran more than intended just to keep warm and get it done. We got completely soaked down one side, turned and had the joy of the other side being soaked too. Had my car been anywhere other than the finish I’d have gladly forgone my run credit and bailed.

Then as swiftly as it started, the precipitation ceased and the sky turned back to a beautiful, clear blue once again. Another few miles might have seen us dry, but instead it was shoes off and clean socks on at the door of the Brig O’Don before the post run breakfast and chat.

Scolty: Trail Running with the Metro Ladies

In complete contrast with yesterday’s run, today was glorious for joining some of the Metro ladies for a social run at Scolty. For once in my life I was early, so I opted to run a couple of miles to warm my legs up, bumping into Kirsty (Chief Organiser and Queen of the Trails) midway.

Scolty Trails, Banchory

Back at the car park, we met the other ladies, a small select band with 7 of us in total, and were briefed on our route. Setting off, I was very happy to bimble along at the back. Speed is not my strength at present and the chat was good. As we settled into our paces the gap never grew too big, everyone mindful of the instruction to stop and wait at key junctions.

Metro Aberdeen Running Club: Ladies Trail Run, Scolty Hill

It was a beautiful route, mainly on fire roads, initially heading down and then following the River Dee, before ascending gradually up through the trees to encounter lovely views.

Views from Scolty trails overlooking River Dee

Scolty trails, Banchory
Continuing up, we reached our highest point on the route before a lovely, well earned, descent.

Finally, there was a short ascent to finish and Kirsty guided us up through a narrower path with more underfoot interest, thus taking the mind off any effort involved.

F81CB10C-BFB3-4D54-9229-03B32A9E825F

A fantastic run, thoroughly enjoyable, and great company to boot, ended perfectly on Ride Coffee House in Banchory with carrot cake to die for!

Delicious gluten free carrot cake at Ride Coffee House, Banchory

Roll on the next one! Never mind the route, let’s just make sure the coffee meets the standard set today!

 

 

 

Sgor Mor: Blowin’ A Hoolie

Taking advantage of a decent forecast we decided to head for the hills. Driving out to Braemar the skies looked clearer than expected. Despite being winter there also appeared to be very little snow on the horizon.

After a quick pitstop in Braemar conditions did change as we drove out to Linn of Dee, the road having a light covering of snow and a few icy puddles, just enough for the driver to rein it in as you’re never quite sure of the skid risk.

Arriving at the car park we were greeted by a very friendly robin! He’d just been in the boot of the car next to us and hopped onto my rucksack, perching there proudly. Sadly we didn’t have a camera to hand to capture this lovely moment. He continued to dot around for some time before realising we didn’t have any food for him, leaving to visit the next arrival in the car park.

Setting off, we headed back along the road towards the bridge before following the track alongside the river for a short distance. It wasn’t long before we branched off, beginning our climb (heather bash) up the hillside. This was easy enough in terms of ascent, but a little bit of a slog for the legs due to the lift required with every footstep.

Reaching the deer fence, we headed for the gate, then traversing the hillside a little to reach the flatter ridge. Again, this took time and was hard work. On reaching the flatter ground the heather bashing lessened, the ground becoming more grassy, the grassy tussocks now providing the challenge as they squished underfoot, sinking a little with each step.

As we went up, the wind picked up, the windchill causing the temperature to drop. Having begun with two pairs of thinner gloves, it wasn’t long before the Tuff Bags went on, warming me up nicely and taking the wind away. My freebie Gore neckwarmer (courtesy of a Gore rep at one of the Tiso open evenings) also came up trumps. Pulled up over my mouth, sunglasses on to protect my eyes, hood up for extra warmth, and what was exposed still felt the cold, a wee flurry of snow adding to the wintry feel.

We sheltered near the top of the first minor peak for a snack stop. It was a different world, just dropping a few feet down and totally losing the wind. Refreshed, we battled on into the wind. It really was tough going! The wind was definitely trying to sweep away my walking poles, at times also knocking me off my stride. Bruce later shared that after the second top he’d wondered about just cutting down. I had very similar thoughts, having decided if we’d had any more height to gain I’d have bailed.

As it was we were close to the summit and after a short time we were there. Again, we dropped out of the wind, sheltering to enjoy our lunch before soaking up the views of the neighbouring munros. These had a little more sign of winter but snow cover is still pretty light for the time of year.

Retracing our steps, wind at our backs, we were blown back down towards the stream where we cut down, initially following the stream and then heading for White Bridge. This provided a more gradual descent although it was a tiny bit boggy due to the flatter terrain. The high point of the descent came in the form of a large herd of deer. Impressive in number, we got close enough to see some large antlers before they took flight.

Reaching the path, there was a really wet section. I only realised this as I sank into it, soaking my waterproofs to just below the knee! A slight detour took us back towards the Chest of Dee, some very fast water pouring down; you’d never guess seeing the River Dee meandering along gently further down the path that this was just upstream.

A good track saw us yomp back along to Linn of Dee, making decent time. It was a relief to have some easy terrain after a fairly taxing day. As always, no day out in Braemar is complete without a trip to The Bothy for coffee, and so things were rounded off perfectly.