Walking on Orkney Part 1

Pentland ferries
Cows.  That's my lasting memory of Orkney.  I was told there are more cattle on the islands than people and I believe it.

Every field is either full of graving bovine or grass being grown to feed them through the long, dark winter.

It's just as well the grass grows twenty-four hours a day during the long, light summer days.

Before describing the first of two walks I'll mention a couple of things which might be useful.

The locally owned Pentland Ferries are cheaper and have a shorter crossing than Northlink Ferries.

Walking on the Orkney and Shetland Islands is a pretty good book, but don't try walk 12 unless you want an angry dog chasing you.

Wild campsites for campervans are easy to find and there are showers at the travel centre, Stromness and Kirkwall sports centre.
Ring of Brodgar

The Italian Chapel is worth a visit.

The ranger-led walks around the Ring of Brodgar are excellent and I appreciated the stones much more this time than on my two previous visits.

You have to book to be shown around Maeshowe  Go for a latest 'twilight' tour and you might have the place to yourselves as we did.

Our second walk is on Hoy but this first one starts on the beach in front of the other big tourist attraction Skara Brae.

Every tourist who visits Orkney goes to Skara Brae, or so it seems.

The neolithic settlement is definitely worth a visit but don't expect to get it to yourself.

Skara Brae
Orkney is a top destination for cruise ships and this place is number one on the 'must-do' list for their passengers.

A few miles from here along the coastal path lies the Broch of Borwich, which is far less spectacular but you'll probably be the only folk here.

The thickness of the walls in this ancient building will set you wondering about the people who lived there for a thousand years until 500AD.

You can see the coastal walk in the map at the end and it's pretty hard to get lost.  Just keep the sea on your right.

Stacks and Geos
The high cliffs, scarred with Geos and Stacks, gradually give way to the heather hill of Black Craig where a remote camera monitors the offshore wavefarm, part of the marine energy test centre here on Orkney.  

You can continue around the coast, but we headed inland to Fletts (one of the most common names on Orkney), regaining the coast at Warebeth beach.

A little further along you'll find some of the best preserved ruins from the second world war, the defensive positions for searchlights and guns which guarded the entrance the vast enclosed natural harbour of Scapa Floe

Many Arctic Convoys sailed from here and it was a prime target for U-boat attacks.  The walk ends in the lovely town of Stromness, far more interesting a place visually than Kirkwall.

The walk is twelve miles long and just over 1300ft of ascent.  A taxi from Stromness back to Skara Brae costs about £15.  Our second walk coming Monday.


Wiggins v Froome: Sky selection meeting for Tour of Spain

I know there are loads of these Downfall parodies, most of which are poor, but this one made me laugh.

UK's 10 Highest Peaks Run in 13 hrs 10 mins

Driving to Nevis Range… eating!
Huge congratulations to Andrew Murray and Donnie Campbell for completing the first circuit of the ten highest summits in the UK in a staggeringly short time.  

Their stated goal, as I explained earlier today, was to complete the round in one day - 24 hours.  They've done it in just over half that time - utterly amazing! 

The Adventure Show, which is made Triple Echo Productions for BBC-2 Scotland, followed the runners.  You'll be able to see the whole thing in a future programme - we don't yet know when.  Follow on Facebook for details.  

I tripped over Andrew, who was sleeping on the floor, at 3:20 this morning when we started.  We saw them leave Ben Lawers car park at 4:20 in the dark.  We drove with them to the Nevis Range where, high in the mountains, one of our cameramen had bivouacked overnight.  Keith filmed the pair as they ran Aonach Mohr.  Then they tackled Aonach Beag, Carn Mhor Dearg and Ben Nevis - Marco Consani ran alongside with a GoPro.
5 down. 5 to go.

I was waiting in Glen Nevis to join them for the drive across to the Cairngorms where the photo alongside was taken.  

Five down, five to go.

Cairngorm and Ben MacDui came next, shot by Ross Lawrie who had already run to the first summit to be ready.  

A steep drop then tough climb to Braeriach, then a ridge circuit to Angels Peak and finally Cairn Toul completed their 'Big Ten'.

Another of our camera teams had hiked four hours to reach their final summit to capture their success.

It is a truly amazing time. The pair have earned a place in the record books (again!) and have established a record in a time which will take some beating.

As I write they're not yet down and back to their vehicles but they will be soon.  Aviemore should see some celebration tonight!

Record Attempt NOW - Scotland's 10 Highest Mountains in 24hrs

Scottish International distance runners Donnie Campbell and Andrew Murray are, right now, trying to run Scotland's ten highest mountains in 24 hours. If I can - I'll tweet their progress alongside this page.

It's an audacious and challenging feat which, we believe, no one has even attempted it before.  From their press release:

press release image
Andrew ran 78 consecutive ultra-marathons from Scotland to the Sahara, as well as a staggering 7 ultra-marathons, on 7 continents in under a week.  He has also won races at the North Pole, in outer Mongolia, Antarctica, the Sahara desert, and the Indonesian Jungle and run up Mt Kilimanjaro in 7 hours.  

Donnie is one of the UK’s foremost distance runners having completed a non-stop 184 mile run from Glasgow to Skye, as well as winning the Scottish 100km championships, and the Scottish Ultra on 2 occasions. 

The Adventure Show has camera operators high in the mountains, one camped overnight, to capture the attempt.  I'm one of the team, filming the pair as they drive between the mountain ranges with their support crew.  

They started at 4:00am and the order in which they are tackling the mountains is as follows: Ben Lawers, Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, Carn Mhor Dearg, Ben Nevis, Cairngorm, Ben MacDui, Braeriach, Angels Peak, CairnToul.

If they succeed it might be too late for the morning newspapers.  So check back - particularly the twitter feed on the right - and I'll try to let you know how they get on.

£2500 Road Bike Wheels - Worth It?

Enve Rear
I won't attempt to explain the weird science surrounding the weight of road cycling wheels.  This is a comparison between two sets of carbon wheels I am lucky enough to own.

Nor will I genuinely attempt to answer the "is it worth it" question because that's so subjective. Particularly in a time of austerity when spending that amount of money on wheels will seem, to some people, obscene.

Yet there is a genuine difference between riding two different carbon wheel ets and that's what I'll try to explain. 

I confess at the outset I did not pay full price for either. One of the perks of being a journalist is we build connections with lots of people and companies.

In other words, we can blag swag.

By a startling, circuitous route I happen to own an astonishingly lovely set of second-hand but barely ridden Enve wheels. They are the SES 3.4 clincher 45mm wheels with Chris King hubs. Having checked online, it seems that full retail price on this pair is a staggering £2500.

Sit down. Breath. That's right. Two and a half thousand pounds for a pair of wheels. 

Fitted with a top of the line SRAM Red XG 1090 cassette (RRP £240) 11-32T 10-speed, Schwalbe One tyres and lightweight inner tubes they ought to delight the weight weenies, and when I put the rear wheel on the scales, it did. 1259g.

Even though you could find them cheaper online these are, by any standards, very expensive wheels.  So rather than knock seven shades of sh*t out of them  on training rides around home, I decided to keep them for 'best'. I want to use the Enve for events, for special rides and for overseas holidays.  For everyday use, I switched to a different set of carbon wheels.

Hope Carbon 30
Long before the Enve wheels came my way I bought the best carbon wheels I could afford. Advised by my excellent local bike shop Nevis Cycles I chose a set of Hope Carbon 30 Road Wheels (British built for British roads) and paid a more sensible, but still expensive, £800.  

Fitted with a slightly heavier but much cheaper SRAM PG 1070 cassette (£67) and normal Specialized Roubaix tyres, these must surely carry a huge weight penalty on the Enve wheels?  

Well, the Hope set are heavier by 288g on the rear wheel and 183g on the front wheel.

At this point some of you will be open mouthed at the amount of money some cyclists spend on kit because people really do buy this stuff at full price. 

Others will be amazed that £1,800 buys you just 471g of weight saving, that's only the weight of a small water bottle. Yes I know rolling mass counts for more that static weight, but hey, £1,800 buys you a whole frickin bike. A damn good bike.

So to the big question, are they worth it?

Obviously I can't answer this for you because it depends on the depth of your wallet and/or the discount deal you can do - buy online and the difference drops to nearer £1000.

After reading stuff like this forum thread from the US I wondered whether I would feel any difference between the two wheelsets.

My answer is an emphatic yes.  Forgive me if I go all Clarksonesque for a moment.

Let's imagine bike wheels are coffee.  The off-the-peg set which came with my Roubaix are the instant variety - close to the real thing... but not quite.  My Mavic Open Pro aluminium wheels would be a nice cup of good filter Arabica, possibly cafetiere.

They care comfortable, secure, guided me through my Raid Pyrenean and La Marmotte Sportive last year.  You couldn't call them "exciting", but you don't want that from these wheels.  If I do ride LeJog when my leg improves, it'll be on these wheels.

Carbon wheels may look similar but the flavour is entirely different category, like coffee made under pressure in a good espresso machine.

So the Hope hoops are an Americano made the way I like it, with the hot water and hot milk on the side.  It's still called coffee but tastes totally different to what's gone before.

And the Enve wheels?  You know exactly where I'm going with this. They are Doppio.  Doppio with the finest crema.

OK - that was all deliberately overwrought, I know.  Here's a more practical simile.

Regular aluminium wheels feel like regular production cars and the more you pay, the better they go. The stiffer carbon wheels feel like sports cars.  The Hope wheels are like comfortable roadsters, while the Enve wheels feel like a track car - a stripped out, feel-every-bump, fast as hell Lotus.

I'm not convinced the Enve wheels are much faster for riders like me, but boy do they feel fast.  They urge you on, insist you push harder on the pedals. Yes, they are hideously expensive. But they're gloriously wonderful.

Please don't rant about the amount of money people choose to spend on their hobby - I'll just delete the comment.

Video - World Cup MTB, Orienteering & Cairngorms

The Adventure Show on Wednesday (16th July) at 7pm was a cracker.  You can watch it for 7 days on the iPlayer.  World Cup mountain biking from Fort William, an orienteering challenge ahead of next year's world championships in Inverness, and a Cairngorm hike near Braemar with Cameron McNeish.

I directed, part shoot and part-edited the orienteering feature, with which I'm particularly pleased.  Purists won't like seeing the GoPro cameras in shot but hey, that's the reality of modern adventure TV.  I also shot and part-edited Cameron's Cairngorm walk.  I had nothing to do with the mountain biking even though it was near us in Fort William, but it looks exceptionally good this year.

Walking Glen Gour to Strontian

An invitation?
I have always been inspired by the green signs of the Scottish Rights of Way Society.  

They seem to point the way to an adventure, a route by which to leave the normal world and head into the hills in the footsteps of long gone people.

Perhaps surprisingly I prefer through-routes to summits.  

Show me an horizon, an overlapping series of ridge lines or a valley stretching into the distance and I yearn to discover what lies behind those hills, just out of sight.  

So these green signs, usually located beside a road, are much more than a regular sign post.  They're an invitation.  Over the years I have accepted quite a few.

A glorious one lies a few hundred yards from where I live on Scotland's west coast.  It points to the old valley route by which people from the Strontian lead mines, very active during the Napoleonic wars,  would travel to the Corran narrows.  

Looking back town Glen Gour
I prefer to walk it in reverse, dropping a car on the minor road at the head of Glen Gour and walking home.  This cuts the road walking and makes the distance 12 miles with 1300ft of ascent.

See the route below.

It's best to tackle this walk after a dry spell or when the ground is frozen, otherwise you might be picking your way through bog.

There's a good clear track for the first 4 miles but, once you cross the river, the route becomes rather sketchy.  

There is a path, of sorts, but you really have to hunt for it.  That said, it's very difficult to get lost.  

Once you've crossed the river, just keep it on your left for the rest of the walk.  The map shows a small lochan between 6 and 7 miles but it was completely dry earlier this week.  

Coffee break with Maggie
You pass between Sgurr na Laire and Sgurr nan Cnamh, then down the north side of the Strontian River to the ruined cottages at Ceann a' Chreagain.  

The last few miles are through the lovely Ariundle National Nature Reserve, our regular dog walking route with Maggie.

Back in the early 1980s I wrote to the Scottish Rights of Way Society and they sent me some roughly-drawn line maps detailing their main routes.  

I never did manage to find a copy of the accompanying book Hill Tracks in Scotland  by Walter Smith, from 1924.  

Yet those rough maps, combined with Ralph Storer's excellent Exploring Scottish Hill Tracks, were the means by which I'd discover new through-routes and crucially, learn the stories behind them.

Strontian River leading to village
In 1995 the Society published the third edition of its own Scottish Hill Tracks and I was delighted.  I still have my original copy.

It's not really a guidebook, it's more like a list in book form, but to me it was yet another invitation.  

This book lists the walk I'm describing here in the direction I prefer and gives it the number 225.

Back in 2006 when I was doing a lot of hill-running, this was my favourite long training route.  

With very little height gain you find yourself completely immersed in wild land.

And best of all, as you walk you find more valleys, more ancient routes just waiting to be explored.  This is a wonderful area to just wander.

Classic Cycling Documentary - Full Video

Way back in the mists of time, when working for BBC Newcastle, I met a TV producer called Richard Else.  Richard is the man behind so many great mountain films, from Wainwright to The Edge and, more recently, the BAFTA winning Great Climb Live from Harris to the prgramme I frequently work for The Adventure Show. Richard has also been a judge at the Banff Mountain Film Festival and is actually Professor Richard Else. Some chap.

Back in 1986 he made a documentary film about the bike building Taylor brothers. Richard reminded me about this during a meeting a couple  of weeks age when we were dicussing another cycling documentary we'll be shooting in a few weeks time.  More about that in another post.

I searched for The Bike Brothers and sure enough, the whole twenty-five minute film is on YouTube.  I heartily recommend it to you.  Oh and I had already worked for the BBC as a reporter for three years when this went out.  So, so old…