Ben Vorlich

Late on New Year’s Eve as Jen and I were pondering the day and year to come, we checked the weather forecast for New Year’s Day and decided to plan ourselves another hike. As I was determined to go to parkrun at 9.30, we knew we’d be a little short of time but we figured that if we found something easy (relatively speaking) and local (ditto) we’d have the chance of a good hike even if we couldn’t make it to the summit. After browsing the WalkHighlands website we decided on Ben Vorlich, a Munro in Perthshire which was just shy of an hour and a half’s drive from home.

New Year’s Day dawned earlier than I would have liked, having tossed and turned until 3am despite our restful evening. To add to the excitement, the drain from the sink had blocked the night before, so before heading up to the park I spent half an hour fiddling with the plumbing in the hope of relieving the blockage, sadly to no avail.

Having been absent for well over a year and a half I finished my 30th parkrun on the 4th anniversary of my 1st, in a rather slower time but in good company of friends. Jen arrived a few minutes later, armed with hot tea and we set off to the hills. Within a few minutes of driving the weather deteriorated and heavy rain quickly turned into sleet. Not very promising at all, but we kept hoping that it would improve. An hour later things were still grim and rather than wait until parking the car and getting into our waterproofs in the rain, we decided to make a short stop in Comrie for a cup of coffee and gear up whilst we were there. Jen had the excellent idea of ordering some toast and jam, just what I needed having only eaten some grapefruit and already having run 5K.

When we left Comrie the weather started to dry out a bit, further justifying our decision for a short stop even if it left us with less time until nightfall. At 1pm we parked the car by Loch Earn and set off along the track up to Ben Vorlich. Although the cloud cover was heavy we had some good views of snow covered mountains on the north side of the loch and it looked to be clearing a little. At any rate, it was now dry, which was a huge bonus.

The track took us past some farm cottages and a small wooded area before starting to climb into the hills. There was noticeably more snow on the track than we’d seen on Schiehallion last week, and the stiles proved challenging in their slipperiness.  After crossing a couple of fords the track petered out and we followed a smaller path up to Ben Vorlich who was beginning to show himself through the cloud.

Despite the snow, the path was clear in the snow thanks to the hikers that had preceded us. Although there were a few occasions where footing was difficult, it was a lot easier under foot than the ice we encountered on the path up Schiehallion last week.

The path initially took us along the side of the ridge that leads to Ben Vorlich, but as the first false summit approached it was time to climb up onto the ridge itself. At this point the snow got a lot deeper and we were sinking in up to our knees. We made it up onto the ridge where we met another hiker coming down. As we suspected, we still had quite a way to go until the summit and the going wasn’t easy as the snow was only getting deeper. With sunset approaching fast and the wind blowing snow in our faces we decided that this was as far as we were going to get, and after enjoying the views began the return to the car.

We retreated off the ridge and nestled out of the wind to set up the stove and enjoy the hot chocolate we had prepared.

The sun finally began to clear the clouds giving some beautiful light over the snowy hills behind us.

Having enjoyed our drink it was time to get ourselves back to the car. I, for one, had pretty damp feet and ankles by this time as the snow had crept in under my waterproof breeks and I was looking forward to getting into the car and getting my boots off.

We had one final treat on the way back to the car, watching the super moon rising up from behind a distant ridge and finally breaking free of the clouds. Unfortunately with only a wide angle lens on my camera there was no hope of capturing it in all its glory.

Route: Walk Highlands

Schiehallion’s Redemption

There was just time to get one more hike out of 2017 and as luck would have it, one day of good weather forecast during Jen’s stay with me between Christmas and New Year. Now we just needed to decide where to go, a decision complicated by the recent snow and our lack of both crampons and ice axes and the know how for using them. Fortunately there’d been a bit of a thaw and as we stared at the mountains on the horizon from Kinpurney Hill on Wednesday afternoon it became clear that whilst the Cairngorms were still heavily blanketed in snow, Schiehallion was looking fairly dark in the distance and therefore hopefully more accessible. We decided to go for it, in the knowledge that in the worst case we would just have to turn back if it became impassible.

We’ve actually made a previous visit to Schiehallion back in September, in which we only made it about 2/3rds of the way up, having started mid afternoon on a very dreich day. I have to admit that my heart wasn’t in it that day and every step felt like a huge effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to turn around and head back downhill and if I hadn’t been with Jen I doubt I’d have managed to coax myself out of the car at all. I was therefore looking forward to having another shot at Schiehallion, but also feeling quite some trepidation as my previous memories of it were so dire.

With the days being so short and with the overwhelming desire to schedule in a visit to the Watermill Bookshop and Cafe in Aberfeldy on our way home we did some careful planning and hoped that our timing wouldn’t be too far off. We arrived at the car park just before 10am, a little later than planned, which is pretty much typical for most of our jaunts! According to the mountain forecast it would be -5C at the summit with a windchill of -15C. Even at the car park it was clear that we were going to need all our layers, not to mention our new winter gloves. Without any consultation we’d each gifted the other a pair for Christmas.

Heading on to the path we could see quite a few walkers ahead of us and Schiehallion’s bulk looming in the distance.

The sun was only just beginning to peek over the neighbouring hills as we set off and the light was fantastic. Already this was shaping up to be a far better day than our previous visit.

It didn’t take long before we were seeing the first signs of snow on the side of the path and once we started to climb we had to be very careful of icy patches along the way. There were a few Bambi like moments with legs skidding in all directions but no falls! This was where it began to feel like a real slog and I was having a hard time ignoring the little voice that was reminding me how miserable my previous visit was. Fortunately the bright skies and the views were sufficient distraction and even if I had to stop frequently to rest my legs I was beginning to remember how much I love being in the mountains.

About a third of the way up the snow was becoming more evident, although the path was nice and clear. Now that we were getting higher the views were really opening out and I had to make plenty of stops for photographs.

The wind was getting stronger and we were really beginning to feel the cold, so when we saw a big rock to huddle behind we decided it was the perfect moment to get the camping stove out and heat up the hot chocolate that we’d brought with us. I dug out the stove, the gas canister, dropped half the matches on the ground, found the cocoa and then stopped in bewilderment. I was missing something, what was it? Oh. The pan. Rats. Fingers getting numb we packed everything back up again and mourned not only the lack of hot cocoa but the fact that we wouldn’t be able to heat up the thai curry we’d brought either. Having forgotten the CF card for my camera, this wasn’t shaping up to be the most organised of hikes!

Finally we reached the end of the main path and the point at which we’d turned around on our previous visit. The rest of the route was across a boulder field, with the challenge of picking our way along increased by the snow.  Although this part of the walk was technically more difficult, the gradient was slightly less and I found it more comfortable. By this point all memories of our previous visit were receding and I was just grateful that we hadn’t slogged on up to the top on that occasion as it was so much more beautiful in the snow.

As with any self-respecting mountain there were a few false summits to tackle but the top was nearly in sight. We were beginning to see people coming back down off the top, all looking rather frozen and windswept.

Finally we were on the last climb, battered by the wind, but the views were incredible. We were treated to some small cloud inversions and the most exciting of spectacles – a Brocken spectre!

A bit of scrambling and were we up on the summit. We didn’t manage to last there too long as it was just too cold.

We made pretty good time heading back down again, I don’t think we’ve ever done a walk where we’ve stopped so little.

The icy patches seemed to have doubled whilst we were on the summit and it was quite a relief to finally make it back on to the lower path where it was both warmer and less skiddy underfoot. We eventually arrived back at the car at 3 o’clock, right on our prediction, which has to be a first! We even had time to take a small detour along the road (with a bonus red squirrel sighting) before heading back towards Aberfeldy and enjoying a very well earned hot chocolate and a piece of cake.

Route: WalkHighlands
Distance: 10.4km
Ascent: 715m
Hills climbed: Schiehallion (Munro)

Ben Lomond

On checking the mountain weather forecast for the weekend, there was a pretty similar pattern across Scotland – gale force winds on Saturday, calm and sunny on Sunday. That made my decision about which day to go hiking pretty straightforward, and given that I had to be in Glasgow on Sunday evening, meant that instead of heading up my closest stomping ground, the Cairngorms, the most logical choice was to head down to Loch Lomond so that I could get the most out of the day.

The clock change worked in my favour and made it easy to get a good start on Sunday and by 9.45am I was at the car park at Rowardennan and grumbling slightly to myself about the number of cars already parked there. After looking at a number of hikes in the area on WalkHighlands I’d decided to climb Ben Lomond, the most southerly of all the Munros, which is renowned for being busy due to its proximity to Glasgow. As I watched a bus disgorge a large number of passengers I worried that my choice meant that I’d be tripping over people all day and wondered if I’d made a mistake in my choice.  The presence of two families parked next to me with a collection of children and dogs, all chattering/barking incessantly made me glad that I’d spent quite some time reading the reviews of the hike on WalkHighlands and that I’d already decided to hike their route in reverse – climbing up by the lesser known Ptarmigan Ridge and returning back via the more populated tourist route. This turned out to be an excellent decision as I exited the car park in the opposite direction to everyone else and very quickly left the clamour behind.

I headed out along the shore of Loch Lomond, soon passing a memorial which I stopped to photograph, particularly enjoying the reflection of the trees on the sculpture.

The weather was showing every sign of living up to the forecast’s promise, and although it was cold enough that I started out with my fleece and hat, I was soon overheating and packing them back into my bag.

Reaching the Rowardennen Lodge Youth Hostel, I was a little unclear where the path went and felt a bit embarrassed wandering around looking for it whilst people were sat outside chatting. Fortunately this must happen often as I soon found a sign pointing me back towards the car park where I found another sign, complete with a very relaxed robin on top, which let me get close enough to get a few photos with my wide angle lens.

Following the sign I quickly found myself on a track heading into the woods. I knew that there should be one more turn off, which I found just after passing by a little stand selling bottles of water. The sign blended into the trees, so you had to be on the lookout for it.

Now that I was officially on the Ptarmigan ridge route it was very quickly time to leave the woods and start climbing. There was a clear path through the grass and bracken which took me past what looks like the ruins of an old dwelling.

As I climbed I stopped numerous times to photograph the view behind me down to Loch Lomond, breaking one of the cardinal rules of photography that you should never take a photograph into the light. Tough luck, that’s generally where the views were! With each little bit higher the perspective changed and yet another photo was warranted.

As I climbed higher, Loch Lomond receded further into the distance and the view ahead began to open up to the mountains on west side of the loch, including good views of The Cobbler, which is particularly distinctive. Another hill yet to be climbed!

Earlier I had a spotted a group of four along with a dog slowly catching up to me each time I stopped for a photograph. As we approached the climb up to the ridge I stopped to let them pass, worrying that I find it stressful having them on my heels when we got to the toughest part of the hike. One of my biggest uncertainties when setting out on the hike was how I was going to cope with the actual ridge, not having anything like a good head for heights. As it happens the ridge was still a little further ahead than I originally realised, but the worrying was beginning to niggle at me. The path started zig-zagging in earnest now and the loch looked ever more remote as I turned around for yet another photograph.

Finally, the view of what was to come opened out in front of me. I stopped and gulped a little when I realised that where I needed to be was a summit over to the right of me, and yet at the moment I was still climbing the summit in front of me. Clearly what lay between was the ridge, but I didn’t yet have a good view of what it was going to involve so I did my best to just focus on the climb ahead and worrying about the ridge when I got a bit further.

The views to the mountains to the north west were really opening up now.

By this point I was beginning to meet quite a few people coming down from Ptarmigan, including a few kids. I did think to myself ‘well, if they can do it, surely I can’, but then logic never does have much place when it comes to phobias! Having been sheltered most of the way up, it was now getting quite windy and with a temperature near freezing at the top, time to get the woollies out again.

I could now get a view of the ridge but couldn’t see where the path was. I was getting quite nervous at this point, but kept plodding upwards and reassuring myself that I could handle whatever it had to throw at me.

A little lochan provided a bit more photographic distraction along the way as I turned my back to Loch Lomond and headed inexorably towards the ridge.

Over the first wee summit and the ridge opened up to me finally. Hmm, well it’s not too bad, I thought. Not so much of a ridge with steep drops to either side as something rather steep to get myself up. ‘I can do this’, muttering to myself reassuringly.

One last photograph behind me and it was time to put my camera away so that I had free hands for the scramble and nothing flapping around to get in my way. It was beginning to look like a long way down.

No photos, therefore, of the actual scramble. Some of it was fairly decent, albeit steeply zig-zagging path. My heart was beating pretty fast by this point, a combination of fear and exertion. When I saw people coming down towards me I waited to let them get out of the way. I was terrified of finding myself in a position I was uncomfortable with and having to wait for them to pass. Then, I could see the top, one last scramble and I should be there.

No, a false summit. I had to stop a little and let my breathing settle before tackling what I really hoped was the final climb. Some of the gaps between the rocks were quite large and hard to manage with my short, wobbly legs and I had to fight back the panic, when I couldn’t quite figure out where the path was leading, but I carried on. One thing was for certain, going back wasn’t an option!

One last haul and I found myself on the summit, trig point in front of me, and a surprising number of people hauled out eating their lunch. I’d done it, and I was pretty pleased with myself for facing up to my fear.

I didn’t hang around for long, just enough to take a few photos and eat my lunch. The busload of people I’d seen in the car park turned out to be fundraising for Alzheimer’s Scotland and were filling the summit. I wanted to start heading down before I got stuck in the crowds, and the gorgeous views weren’t enough to compensate for the large number of people.

The path down leads worrying towards another ridge and I did think to myself ‘you’ve got to be kidding me’. Fortunately it wasn’t too intimidating and we quickly left the ridge to start dropping back down to the loch.


Although there were quite a few photo stops on my downhill journey the views weren’t as good as on the way up and I’d certainly recommend taking the Ptarmigan route rather than using the tourist path both ways. The late afternoon light, though, was fantastic.


The way back down was rockier than the Ptarmigan route and I didn’t find it very comfortable for my knees or my right ankle, which has been misbehaving the last few weeks. Not only was there a fairly constant stream of people coming past me downhill, but also a fair number of people still heading uphill and a few cows on the path for added entertainment. It certainly wasn’t as peaceful as my morning had been.


I returned to the car park almost exactly 6 hours after setting off – a bit longer than the WalkHighlands suggested time of 4.5-5.5 hours, which was not surprising given all the photos stops and my slower pace coming back down again.

Throwing my gingerbread biscuits on to the front seat, it was time to head into Glasgow to finish the day off by singing choral evensong. A perfect way to spend a Sunday and something I hope to do more often.

Route: WalkHighlands (in reverse)
Distance: 12.2km
Ascent: 953m
Hills climbed: Ben Lomond (Munro)

Loch Brandy

Sometimes things just align up perfectly. In this case, getting home from the hospital at lunchtime, the sun shining and Jen visiting. We both had the same idea – to get up into the hills. Loch Brandy, at Glen Clova, is a perfect destination for a short afternoon walk being just an hour’s drive from Dundee. Jen and I had visited here before almost exactly two years ago, so it was certainly about time we paid it a return visit.

By the time we reached Glen Glova the clouds were coming in and our destination wasn’t looking quite as sunny as we’d hoped. Never mind, at least it was drier and less windy than on our previous visit. The initial climb is a bit of a steep slog, but photographing the atmospheric clouds over the neighbouring hills gave us plenty of excuses to stop for breathers.

Eventually the path levels off and things get a bit easier.

Just a little way further and a few steps to climb and the loch is in sight, every bit as attractive as I remember (although the best way to see it is surely from the air, which is how I first found out about it).

Within minutes, we were surrounded by mist and could only see a few metres ahead of us. Not a problem, though, the path is very clear so there was no danger of losing our way on the walk down!

Route: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/angus/loch-brandy.shtml
Distance: 5.5km
Ascent: 410m

Delft – Maassluis – Delft

Today’s walk was the longest yet until the Vierdaagse itself – 39.1km.  The route took me through the Vlietlanden to Schipluiden, Vlaardingen and Maassluis, mostly walking along the waterside.  A good route, and the early part to Vlaardingen and back would make a nice Sunday walk, with a bit of bird spotting thrown in.

I ended up taking an unexpected break about 20km into the walk, when I came across a man collapsed on the side of the path.  He was being assisted by another woman, who had called an ambulance, so I stayed to keep an eye on him whilst she tried to bring in the paramedics, who were stuck on the wrong side of a hump backed bridge.  In the meantime, a police man arrived on a motor cycle.  After some questioning, and the aid of the Breathalyzer, it appeared that the man was not seriously ill, but seriously drunk. 

Zandvoort aan Zee to Katwijk

This weekend’s walk was in the opposite direction from last week’s, south along the coast from Zandvoort aan Zee to Katwijk, with a small detour through the Nordwijkerhout along the way.  Unfortunately, having taken the Garmin along with me and recorded the route, I managed to wipe it out in my relief at reaching Katwijk at the end.  Fortunately not before I knew how far I’d walked – 25km.  As you can see, it was a typical grey, rainy day.

Scheveningen to Noordwijk

After a few weeks hiatus, I resumed my training for the Nijmegen Vierdaagse today with a walk through the dunes from Scheveningen to Noordwijk, about 20.5km.
The weather wasn’t ideal – muggy and overcast, and about halfway into the walk, very rainy.  For the sake of experimentation (and because I hadn’t charged up my GPS watch) I only used the iPhone (with the MapMyRun app) to record the route… very effective, but it also drained the battery very fast, so I stopped recording at Katwijk.  By the time I arrived in Noordwijk and wanted to look up the bus information, the battery was completely dead.  Not the smartest idea, thus.


Venlo Bloesemtocht

Second training walk today, this time in the town of Venlo, in the province of Limburg and on the German border.  I had a hard time finding the starting point of the walk (the price you pay for writing down the wrong street name, and not simply printing out the map), which ended up adding almost 5km to the total walking distance.  Getting directions wasn’t helped by the fact that I sometimes had a hard time following the Limburgs accent.

It wasn’t a great day to be outside, and as a result I got drenched in a couple of heavy rain showers.  Despite that, it was a pleasant walk, which had the novelty of crossing the border and taking me into Germany (meaning that suddenly everyone I came across greeted me with ‘Guten Tag’ instead of ‘Goede Dag’).

As with last week’s walk, everyone I spoke to along the way was very impressed that I’d traveled from Delft to come to their corner of The Netherlands.  The organizers were so pleased to have someone travel from so far, that they gave me a special memento of the day, and also very kindly gave me a lift back to the train station at the end of the day.

This week’s walk certainly felt easier than last week’s, helped in part, I imagine, by the fact that it was less hot.  At the end my feet were less sore, and I was pleased to find that I’d also kept up a faster pace.  Still a long way to go before I’m walking 40km, but things are going in the right direction.

Waterland Wandelmarathon Volendam – 23K

Amongst all the emails that I received whilst I was away, was one from the organizers of the Nijmegen Vierdaagse, telling me that I have managed to get a place in this year’s event. For those not in the know, this means that come July, I need to be ready to walk 40km, 4 days in a row. Time then to start training more seriously.
In order to spice up the training, particularly on the longer runs, I’ve decided to take part in some organized walking events, of which there are quite a number each weekend, scattered around the country.

Today took me up to the town of Volendam for the first one, the Waterland Wandelmarathon. Volendam is in the province of North Holland, on the shore of the IJsselmeer (former Zuiderzee), which meant that I took the train up through the bulb growing area this morning whilst they are at their best.

The walk started out with a long trek through the polders, taking in a couple small villages, before following the dyke alongside the IJsselmeer for 6km to Edam and then back to Volendam.  As I started at about 10.30, I think most of the walkers on my route had already left.  In any case, whilst there were always one or two other walkers in sight, the route was never crowded.  Only once we reached the final kilometres and the harbour in Volendam did it get incredibly crowded, due to the huge numbers of tourists visiting the town.  By that time my feet were pretty sore, and I wasn’t too impressed at all the people who kept coming between me and the finish!

All in all a good walk, though one that’s left me slightly terrified of the final 40km distance!