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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 3: Mountains

Everyone remembers their first visit to the Lake District, and especially so for Wasdale. The journey up the valley alongside Wastwater with Great Gable dominating, the screes, Yewbarrow and Scafell. The tiny road, threading its way between huge boulders polished to a shine thousands of years ago by giant glaciers. Shut your eyes and your skull cinema snaps into life and you relive the experience.

But it’s not just about the mountains; Its the weather ~ dark scudding clouds trapping you in the belly of the place, it’s about how man has domesticated the valley bottom, and it’s about the birds & insects that thrive hereabouts. And it is all set in the fabulous frame of incomparable mountain architecture.

Here are a few pictures of Wasdale’s architectural framework. You can click on them to make them bigger.

TOWARDS STY HEAD

TOWARDS STY HEAD

 

MOSEDALE

MOSEDALE

 

WASDALE HEAD & KIRK FELL

WASDALE HEAD & KIRK FELL

 

SHAPELY SCA FELL

SHAPELY SCA FELL

 

BOWDERDALE & NETHER BECK

BOWDERDALE & NETHER BECK

 

LINGMELL & GREAT GABLE

LINGMELL & GREAT GABLE

Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 2: Architecture

Mention Wasdale to a wrinkly hill walker and there’s a pause, and then a smile as warm memories come flooding back. What is it about this place that is so special?

It is a magical mixture of raw nature and the hand of man. There’s no denying the fabulous mountain architecture; Wasdale is dominated by massive rock hulks that tower above the lake and valley head. But complementing this colossal mountain landscape is the hand of man. Through the centuries farmers have woven an intricate web of dry stone walls and constructed low stone buildings in the lush valley bottom. This post deals with man’s architectural contribution.

Note: There may be a gratuitous picture of Trailstars, as they are an architectural tour de force, unlike any other shelter.

You can click on each of the pictures to view them at a larger size in a new window.

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

 

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

ST OLAF'S CHURCH, WASDALE

 

P1010409

 

BURNTHWAITE

BURNTHWAITE

 

RUINS ABOVE WASDALE HEAD

RUINS ABOVE WASDALE HEAD

 

MIDDLE ROW

MIDDLE ROW

 

TRAILSTARS ABOVE WASDALE

TRAILSTARS ABOVE WASDALE

 

MYSTERY STRUCTURE

MYSTERY STRUCTURE & OPTICAL ILLUSION

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Wasdale slackpack: Part 1: Beasties

My friend Darren teaches and the TGO Challenge is in May. This means that he watches in pain as hundreds head off for two weeks backpacking in Scotland. We usually try to get away for a few nights in his summer holidays to ease the man’s agony. Over the years we’ve done chunks of the Ridgeway, the South Downs, the Peddars Way and the Black Mountain together.

I’m all heart.

This summer it was Wasdale for a slackpack ~ slack because of my hurty knee (yes, thank you for asking, it’s still hurting) and because we just didn’t fancy a strenuous list-ticky grunty time in the heat of summer.

DARREN

DARREN

There follows some pictures of the beasties we encountered over our time spent around Wasdale in the last few days. If you wish, you can click on each picture to make them larger.

P1010420

 

P1010424

 

P1010436

 

P1010448

 

P1010469

I’m pretty hopeless with naming our little feathery friends. Can anyone can tell me what the little chap is who’s sitting on the rusty fence outside the Wasdale Inn? And yes; we spent most of the first day in the pub.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Talladh-a-Bheithe Power Station

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM – CLICK TO ENLARGE

A company has been set up specifically to build an upland power station/wind farm in the very heart of the Scottish Highlands. Sadly, this in itself sadly probably wont raise too many eyebrows amongst disheartened hill goers, who are seeing more and more of Scotland’s wild places trashed forever under millions of tons of concrete bases, haul roads, steel towers and huge turbine blades.

But this industrial development is different: Very different indeed.

Last month the Scottish Government launched a map of wild areas – areas that they say will be afforded extra protection from development. Talladh-a-Bheithe is slap bang in the middle of one such area of Wild Land – Area 14.

Let’s see where this wind farm is located: Click on the following maps to make them much larger.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE LOCATION MAP IN RELATION TO OTHER WIND FARMS

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE LOCATION MAP IN RELATION TO OTHER WIND FARMS – CLICK TO ENLARGE

This wind farm is squeezed in between Loch Rannoch to the South and Loch Ericht to the north. Rannoch Moor is immediately to the west.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE TURBINE & HAUL ROAD LAYOUT

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE TURBINE & HAUL ROAD LAYOUT – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The above layout seems just like any other large wind farm map. But what it doesn’t show is all the designations of land afforded to this area. The area is packed full of of nationally sensitive wild land. Take a look:

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE: POLICY & DESIGNATION, AND CORE AREAS OF WILDLAND

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE: POLICY & DESIGNATION, AND CORE AREAS OF WILD LAND – CLICK TO ENLARGE

You should be able to blow this map up to a large size, in a new window. Just take a look at what this developer is proposing:

  • The orange hatched area is Area 14 of the Scottish Wild Land Map, and yes, the wind farm lies right over it.
  • The orange hatched area six miles to the south of the wind farm is Bredalbane-Schiehallion Area of Wild Land.
  • The pale green area RIGHT NEXT to the turbines (and covering the route of the Access tracks) is Loch Rannoch & Glen Lyon National Scenic Area.
  • The red area RIGHT NEXT to the north of the wind farm is the Ben Alder Wild Land Search Area (2002)
  • Six miles to the north east is the Cairngorm National Park
  • Six miles to the west is the Ben Nevis and Glen Coe National Scenic Area.

This map alone shows that this developer does not give a monkey’s stuff about wild land. He is prepared to actually build on an area designated just a few days before as Wild Land, with extra protection from development such as this.

How does this wind farm impact visually on the surrounding area? The next map is the ZTV for the wind farm – the “Zone of Theoretical Visibility” map. It shows you where this wind farm will be visible from. Brace yourself: Again, this map can be blown up to a larger size by clicking on it.

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE ZTV MAP

TALLADH-A-BHEITHE ZTV MAP – CLICK TO ENLARGE

What do all the colours mean? At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking that the impact of the wind farm will be most severe in the area of the darker colours – the two purples and pink.

NOT SO!

These wind farm developers are cunning blighters; this is exactly what they always do. In fact, the places where ALL the turbines will be seen are the areas coloured pale yellow. Yes, that’s a massive area. This is quite normal practice - weasel-tactics -  for wind farm developers. Vast areas of land surrounding this proposed development will have an unimpeded view of the industrial wind power station. These areas are beautiful wild land.

Why does this map matter?

In this area of Scotland, tourism is a major employer. People come to visit and stay in the area in holiday cottages, hotels, and B&Bs. These visitors spend their money in local shops, local garages, local restaurants and spend money fishing, on wild life safaris, bird watching holidays, tramping over the hills with a guide. All this money stays in the local economy and each business relies on the other. People come and spend their money here because they love the wild character of the area. They don’t come here to look at an industrial complex with miles of haul road up to sixty feet wide snaking over the hillsides. They will simply not come any more.

Once the tourists go, the local economy will be shot-through. Local general stores, craft shops, B&B’s, hotels and outdoor pursuits businesses will all fold. It will be an economic firestorm. And what will the locals get in return from the wind farm developer? Community hand-outs to be spent on play equipment, village halls and the like, worth about a few million spread over the twenty five year life of the wind farm. The local community won’t need a few million; they’ll need a few million every year. The value of their homes will plummet as the local economy tanks. They won’t have jobs anymore in tourism. They’ll be out of work.

***

So far, the John Muir Trust, the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the Ramblers Association and the North East Mountain Trust have all objected to this wind farm. (Click on each link to see their objections) But numbers of objections count, especially from  folk who are not resident in Scotland, tourists who will no longer be visiting if this wind farm is built – Tourists who will not be spending their money supporting the local economy. The local population are organised and are objecting strongly – you can find their excellent website by clicking on this link: Keep Rannoch Wild

James Boulter has written eloquently about this wind farm and what it means to him. You can find his excellent article by clicking HERE

Professor Ian Sommerville has written a fine piece, which you can find HERE

Please, please, if you haven’t already written to object to this dreadful wind farm, will you promise me you will do so now. The last date to object is almost upon us – the 5th August. We have just one more week in which to voice our objections You can email your objection to this address: representations@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

 

My own letter of objection is below:

 

Karen Gallacher                                                                                                   Friday 18th July 2014

Energy Consents & Deployment Unit

The Scottish Government

4th Floor - 5 Atlantic Quay

150 Broomielaw

Glasgow

G2 8LU

 

Dear Karen

Objection to Talladh-a-Bheithe Wind Farm Application

I write to object to the above application by Eventus Duurzaam BV for consent under Section 36 of the Electricity Act 1989 to construct a windfarm on a site at Talladh-a-Bheithe, Rannoch.

In June 2014 SNH published the wild land map of Scotland. This proposal for a wind farm lays slap-bang in Area 14 of the map – an area that the Scottish Government’s own planning policy says needs strong protection. It also lies immediately adjacent to Glen Lyon National Scenic Area. No amount of “mitigation” to the design of this wind farm will reduce the impact on the qualities of wild land as viewed from any of the adjacent hills, due to the topography of the site. Wild land cannot be ‘created’ elsewhere: it is either protected or it is lost - forever.

The wind farm would be entirely counter to Scottish Planning Policy 2, National Planning Framework 3 and is contrary to Perth and Kinross Council’s spatial guidance.

This developers’ own ZTV map shows the damage to views of the landscape from adjacent view points.

I have been taking my annual holidays walking in Scotland every year for the last twenty years. If this wind farm is built I will not be back. On top of the decision of Stronelairg this is a wind farm too far. I am sure I am not alone in making this judgement as recent polling shows that more and more hillwalkers feel the same. This will have a dreadful effect on local tourism businesses - B&Bs, hotels, shops etc – all of who, rely on tourism to help them survive.

Yours sincerely

Alan Sloman

(Address supplied)

You can easily cobble together an objection using James’ letter, Ian’s letter and mine. It will take you no more than twenty minutes. Do it, please, now. There’s a poppet!

 

Remember – this is what we will lose:

SITE OF TALLADH-A-BHEITHE WIND FARM

The picture is taken from Beinn Pharlagain. The site extends from behind the plantation in the centre up the slopes to the right – Schiehallion in distance.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ecco Biom Hikes: A review after a long walk

I last wrote about these boots on 6th May, shortly before heading off for the TGO Challenge ~ a two week backpacking event across the Highlands of Scotland. These boots arrived less than a week before I set off for Scotland and I asked myself if I had gone mad taking a pair of boots that were brand new. Well, I am pleased to say it all went rather well!

I am always surprised when reading reviews of waking boots and shoes that we never hear about the testers’ feet. How can we possibly tell if the shoes that reviewers are writing about will suit us if we know nothing about the reviewers’ feet? So, before I let you know how I got on with these boots I’ll let you know about my feet.

If you are squeamish about feet, look away now.

These are my feet:

MY LEFT FOOT

MY LEFT FOOT

 

MY RIGHT FOOT

MY RIGHT FOOT

Have you ever seen such raw beauty?

I have slim girly ankles, an averagely wide forefoot, a decent arch but quite a shallow foot. They are “low volume” feet. These feet are great if you want to buy proper running shoes (runners tend to be slim, low volume types), but are quite difficult if you are buying walking boots or trainers. It seems that even big fat bastards have taken up jogging and hill walking and so the average volume of feet for these activities is getting bigger these days. Us slim elegant types are finding it tricky to get boots that fit.

To help make boots and trainers fit a little better, for almost twenty years I’ve been using custom-fit Superfeet. I use them in my Scarpa Nepals (which I have worn for the last eight years) and I use off the shelf Superfeet for trainers. These insoles hold your ankle centrally in the heel cup and prevent your foot slipping forward on steep descents. I have nothing but praise for them.

After a couple of walks to town and back I settled on the combination of my off the shelf Superfeet combined with the lightweight leather/synthetic insoles that the boots are supplied with, that have no structure to speak of, but are useful volume adjusters. I used liner socks and medium weight Smartwool socks. I use a fresh pair of liners each day, and my Smartwools generally last three to four days before a change is required.

So, that’s my feet/sock combo and fitting adjustment dealt with. I’m sure everyone has their own methods of finding the best fit, but now you understand what a chap with feet like mine will have to do to get the best fit from Ecco Biom Hikes.

***

Now we can talk about the boots themselves:

Straight off, these are medium to high volume boots – hence the adjustments for fit I explained earlier. A pair of size 45 boots, with the supplied footbeds comes in at 1570g. They are not lightweight, but nor are they heavyweight either. They are quite a bit lighter than my Scarpa Nepals.

In the following pictures of the boots, the pictures with the pale cream backgrounds were taken when the boots were virtually brand new, and those with dark grey backgrounds were taken today, after the boots had done over 200 hard miles in Scotland. This way, you can see how the boots have fared over time.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The uppers are made from Yak leather. No nasty Gore-Tex is involved, which can only be a good thing, as I have never understood the need for a water proof membrane combined with what is inherently a waterproof leather upper. This dual combination can only result in an over-hot foot and the inevitable failure of the membrane which will result in soggy feet that are slowly boiled inside your boots. Yak leather is a dense, robust and very waterproof leather, which means that thinner leathers can be used than is normal for the same leather of ‘water-proofness.’ I would estimate the Yak leather to be between 2.5mm and 3mm thick. The great thing about the Yak leather is that although it wets out quite quickly the boots remain waterproof. They also dry out very quickly – much more quickly than my Scarpas, which is a big plus-point on a long multi-day walk..

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The lining is made from a cream leather, which is padded around the ankle. This padding, happily, is not bulky and the leather lining covering it is mostly aerated, presumably to absorb sweat. The heel cup itself is sensibly nice and smooth. You do not want the heel of your boot to grip your sock at the back of your heel, as that’s a sure recipe for blisters. The padding has conformed nicely to the shape of my ankle, so the fit is secure.

The lace fastenings are made from a rust-proof alloy, with a locking hook over the instep, which means that you can have different tensions over your forefoot and around your ankle. There is a fairly hefty rubber rand around, and partially over, the toe box. The external heel stabiliser is made from a firmer rubber and is in a nice vibrant orange, that I quite like.

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES

NEW ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

 

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES

WORN-IN ECCO BIOM HIKES – CLICK TO ENLARGE

The sole unit seems to be made by Ecco themselves. I really like this sole unit; It grips smooth wet rock really well, it does not clog up with mud, it has a deep tread and so is good in mud. It is really quite “squidgy”, which makes walking along roads and hard-track a very comfortable experience. You will have noticed when comparing the two pictures of the sole that there has been absolutely no discernable wear over two hundred miles. I am light on my feet compared to most walkers – I get two thousand miles from a pair of Scarpa Nepals with a Vibram sole – but I would suggest that these will be almost as hard wearing. Time will tell.

Your forefeet feel quite low to the ground, which feels good on rough ground as you feel in contact with it rather than teetering over it. It’s good for balance.

I was amazed at how comfortable these boots were straight from the box. They are very flexible and the sole unit gives you a soft ride on hard surfaces.

One thing I have noticed about these boots is the way that there is a lot of grip and rubber under the forefoot. Take a look at quite a few hiking boots, and you will notice that recently there‘s less and less rubber under the forefoot – the place that gets most wear. The same applies to the rear of the heel – these boots are solid rubber here, where a lot of the competition have far less rubber – it’s almost as if other boot manufacturers are building in a shorter life-time to your boots on purpose.

So - Absolutely full marks so far for these boots.

Is there anything I would like to see changed?

The laces. Let’s be honest, these laces might look gorgeous, with ‘biom’ emblazoned along the lace and lovely brass lace-ends, but these laces stretch. They stretch by a good 10-15% when under tension. This makes getting the tension right a real problem. The extra stretch, coupled with my slim feet means I have yards of lacing left over, so I have lace back down the boot before tying off. A bit of a pain, really. Ecco need to sort this out. I know Robin Evans has mentioned this in the past, and I agree whole-heartedly with him.

The fit. I would love it if Ecco could make these boots with a lower volume, as I had to faff around a bit to get them to fit, but I know that it costs a huge amount to do this – there would be a massive cost to doubling the number of lasts and it would add to stocking costs as well.

As it is, the boots ended up with slightly bulbous toes as I pulled the boot to fit around my slim feet. – not a deal breaker, but it did look a bit clumsy.

***

To conclude:

  • Even with a slim low volume foot I found a way to make these boots fit me. This is highly unusual. I think it is because the Yak leather upper is very supple and conformed to my feet with careful lacing and volume adjustment under my Superfeet footbeds. These boots went through a week of incredible bogginess and rain on the first week of the TGO Challenge and never let a drop of water through to my socks. I am totally sold on Yak leather. It is a wonder material! Yak leather does not need a “waterproof membrane.” Well done Ecco!
  • The leather lining and ankle padding could not be better.
  • The sole unit is quite simply the best I have ever walked in – and I have walked in a huge variety of boots and shoes! The sole unit is built to last.
  • The boots are supple and very flexible which means they are comfortable from the box. I have only ever experienced this from trail shoes – never from boots.
  • The lacing system is superb.
  • The laces are NOT good. Replace them as soon as you get them!

Would I buy them with my own money? – A big fat “yes!”