Monday, 12 June 2017

Any excuse for a camp out

We've been back home for a week. Pepper, Abi and Dave's daft, but lovable flat coat retriever is staying. She's just a year old and full of life.

We've an invitation from James and Corrina to join them for the weekend, but Dave and Abi are due home from Italy on Saturday to collect their precious pup, so we have to decline.

We're also invited to join a small gang of online friends who are having a camp at Monsal Head. Shame. But we do manage to drive over and enjoy a drink with them in the evening, in the Stables Bar of the Monsal Head Hotel. It's only half an hour from home. The beer's good and we manage to supplement our rushed dinner of porridge, with chips stolen from Dale. He and Rich are old friends and we bumped into Matthew at the end of the TGO Challenge, but we've not met Cath or Tim before. It's entertaining putting names to faces and the drink and chat flows freely.

Matthew and Cath are contemplating a wild camp somewhere on Kinder on Sunday night. As the guilty parties with local knowledge Chrissie and I suggest a couple of our favourite, secret locations. Parking outside Crowther Towers is offered and we bid one another farewell before returning home to the pampered pooches.

The following afternoon we get a text from Matthew to say he's on his way but, sadly, Cath's set off home with a bad back. Hope it improves quickly Cath.

As he walks through the door I ask Matthew if he fancies some company. Without giving him much opportunity to refuse, me an' Choccy Paws set to packing bags for the night. After tea and biccies we're away. Not too far. To a quiet, out of the way place, away from prying eyes below Kinder. The forecast is good and we're walking only a short distance. I choose to wear my new, lightweight, fabric Salomon Tibai Mid boots. I bought these for taking the dogs on easy walks. I've never backpacked in anything like this before, but the pack's light and, in the spirit of being openminded, I'll give 'em a go.

While I set up camp, Islay enjoys playtime.

Islay has, allegedly, been a little rude to Matthew on Twitter of late. Her attempts at apologies backfire when Matthew looks up from his phone unexpectedly to find a labrador muzzle some 2cm from his face. Shock doesn't begin to describe it. Oh well.

It's calm and dry. Dinner is served and devoured. I've one o' these for tonight. A gift from a Challenger as thanks for dinner in the van along his way. Cheers Mark. It's delicious. Recommended.

I've brought beer, which is sipped while we put the world to rights and Matthew has a bottle of Jura Single Malt.'d be rude not to...

Turning in, I leave the outer door of the Southern Cross open. A tip I've picked up, somewhere along the line, from Chris Townsend. When the weather's fine and it's not too cold it gives a feeling of openness, a connection with the surroundings and helps keep condensation at bay. I'm trying out Chrissie's Rab Neutrino 600 bag. It's about 300g lighter than my own Ascent 700 (a slightly wider, though still mummy-shaped bag). Another opportunity to lighten my load slightly, perhaps.

I finally wake at around 5:20 in the morning, just as it begins to rain. I quickly close the outer door. That wasn't forecast. But the sleeping bag's proved fine. Plenty wide enough. Maybe some cash may be spent in the not too distant future. Be good to have a lighter load for our upcoming Arctic Sweden trip.

Islay and I snooze contentedly and then breakfast in bed.

We emerge to find Matthew reading and pack our kit. Islay's panniers were unbalanced yesterday cos we'd left out her waterproof coat and pjs. I'd put her food, which I normally carry, in instead. But this is now in Islay's tummy. I split the tent and put the dry inner into one of her bags. This balances perfectly with her NobleCamper bed. Problem solved.

In no time, we're packed and off, seeking a different route along quiet footpaths, back home.

The fabric Salomons have been good too. Comfy. Mud and water shedding. I might well continue the experiment on a longer overnighter planned in a couple of week's time.

An excellent, impromptu trip out. Often the best kind. Good company, both canine and human. Beer, single malt. Really, what more could one ask for?

Thanks Matt. Welcome anytime.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

The perils of an online presence, continued.

Today I write with great care. Of late I've found myself researching the concept and definition of libel, hence my caution. I have sought legal advice before publishing this. I'll stick to facts and try not to let my emotions get the better of me. Those close to us will know much of what follows but I feel the need to share it with you all.

Stephanie Hakin seems to prefer to be known, for some reason, as Rucksack Rose. I don't like referring to folk by pseudonyms. I'll stick with what I assume to be her real name.

Chrissie and I met Stephanie back in 2014. She had publicly asked for help, on her blog, with wild camping. Chrissie is the very epitome of kindness where requests like this are concerned, so she volunteered her help. I'll not retell the whole tale again here. Many know it already. You can find it on Stephanie's Rucksack Rose blog, under "Camps", following the link to "Wideopen Hill", told in Stephanie's words. Though please be aware, by the time you go to read it, it may well have been edited or deleted (see para.5 below).

Stephanie maintains Chrissie abandoned her on a wild camp, when they were in a field, on the lower slopes of Wideopen Hill on St.Cuthbert's Way. In fact, Chrissie did refuse Stephanie's request to call for mountain rescue. Chrissie was convinced, with significant mountain rescue casualty-care experience (being trained to paramedic standard) Stephanie was suffering from a panic attack. She was worrying about her father being on his own, worrying she had no mobile signal, worrying she may develop a migraine in the night and even, at one stage, admitting to the fact that she was panicking. Stephanie later changed this to a self-diagnosis of "sunstroke" (cured by a cup of tea and a bed, in a pub) in her retelling of the story.

Stephanie, from that day to this, seems to have held Chrissie and me responsible for many ills which have subsequently befallen her. This has led to many unpleasant comments being published, not only on her Rucksack Rose blog and Twitter account but also on another blog and Twitter account using her proper name. For reasons best known to herself, Stephanie frequently deletes things on Twitter and regularly "edits" blog posts having reconsidered her retelling of events.

To my great surprise Stephanie applied for the TGO Challenge in October last year and was accepted. For reasons I am not fully privy to she subsequently withdrew. Between applying and withdrawing I admit, along with others, to publicly stating my surprise at her actions in applying for the event. Thus it was that Chrissie and I were vilified by Stephanie for preventing her from entering the Challenge, (her interpretation, not mine).

We are both sensitive souls, but Chrissie especially so. Since that unfortunate night in 2014, Chrissie has searched her soul for reasons why it went wrong. Could she have handled Stephanie's fears better? Was she at fault? She has tortured herself with questions like these every time Stephanie sticks her head above the parapet. At best, this has led to sleepless nights and self-torment. At worst it's seen the two of us arguing. It threw a cloud over Chrissie's recent TGOC crossing, but her indomitable spirit saw her through. Chrissie really doesn't deserve this as a reward for responding to a plea for help, but there it is.

Through her blog, Stephanie portrays herself as a hillwalker (a status I remain unsure of) and would-be backpacker. She offers advice to readers of her blog on various subjects around hillwalking and backpacking. Being a newcomer, a learner, is fine, but as such, in my opinion, offering advice and claiming eligibility for the TGO Challenge is strange.

In recent weeks Stephanie admitted she recently called mountain rescue when she had a minor navigational problem on the Speyside Way. She found herself on the receiving end of many comments questioning and criticising her actions. She justified herself by claiming to be honest in admitting to this.

We and others are accused of being "trolls"...of abuse and unfounded negativity. It seems to me the words "troll" and "abuse" are much overused on the internet nowadays. And it's fair to say that Chrissie, I and others could equally claim to have been trolled and abused by Stephanie. Stephanie appears to secretly watch the Twitter accounts of Chrissie and I and the ever-expanding cohort of people she has now "blocked", reacting quickly on her own account to anything posted about her. We also watch her accounts, following legal advice to do so, lest she strays over the boundary into libel. Over the past months she often asked for advice online. All too often, she dislikes the advice and refuses offers of help. She threatens and accuses those who would help, then often blocks them.

Why am I raking this up? You may well ask. I and Chrissie would like nothing more than to never have any contact with Stephanie again. A number of friends have suggested we should refrain from reacting to her online. We've tried but it's difficult. Chrissie responds, rarely, out of frustration at being so badly misrepresented. I respond out of anger at my beloved's level of upset and hurt at the hands of this individual.

An evening early this week was lively on Twitter. A couple of folk expressed sympathy for Stephanie who, in the opinion of us and many others, seems a troubled soul. They are right to be sympathetic...but, revisiting Chrissie's reactions to all this over a long time, I find it hard to empathise. But I must, for the sake of mine and Chrissie's health and sanity, hence my writing this piece.

I write for two reasons. First, I needed to get some things off my chest. Clear the dust. Second, I have a plea. I now see the sense in not responding anymore. To quote a good friend, "...if there's a void of unresponsiveness to the bile, it leaves the bile pointless". So, I'm gonna let go and I'm making a sincere request for you to do the same. Many out there in Twitter land have been exceptionally kind in your support of us around this subject and we thank you for that. Often folk alert us to Stephanie's latest outburst. That, I'm sure, has been done in a spirit of support for us too and, again, we thank you. But, enough is enough and we desperately wish to be done with this now. So, hard though it may be, we're gonna follow his (and other friends') advice and ask you to consider doing the same.

I have no desire to defame Stephanie's character and wish her no further ill. I seek only to draw a line under this sorry affair.

Give it some thought please. It's not for me or Chrissie to tell, or even ask, you how to respond to any future comments, but do consider my friend's words. He's a wise man. I think he's right.

Bless all those of you we think of as friends and thanks for taking the time to read this.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Springing in the Highlands 2017, part 2

We hit Glen Shiel again for another night at the Morvich Caravan & Motorhome Club site. Chrissie faffs and fiddles with stuff, worries and has a trial erection (yes, really) of the Enan, as if she'd never done it before.

Finally, she stops worrying...and goes to sleep.

Next day, we amble about with the dogs before leaving the site. Chrissie ceremoniously paddles in the sea.

Later in the afternoon, meeting them from the bus, we shuttle Mike and his son James over to Glenelg before returning for a night on some spare ground opposite the Kintail Lodge, the better for Chrissie to stroll across the road to sign in, in the morn. Mike's on form...I admire his sporran.

We join other Challengers in the bar for beer and chatter.

In the morning, Chrissie shoulders her rucsac and sets off. Me and the pups don't linger. We're away north again for our own adventures. First though, I dart into Kyle of Lochalsh and the chemist, to replace the hayfever eye drops which Pebbles devoured while we were talking outside the van this morning!

I've resolved not to try anything too strenuous in the hills with both dogs. Pebbles can't really be trusted off the lead and I don't want my, or their, safety compromised. So big mountain walks are out while Chrissie's away.

We head off to retrace earlier tracks and stay the night at a free campsite in Shieldaig. We take a similar walk to when we were here last. The sky's moody.

We thread our way up to Glen Torridon for a walk I've fancied for a while. Last time we were here it was lousy weather, with no views. Today is better. We head up to Coire Mhic Fhearchair, said to be one of Scotland's most spectacular mountain corries, it doesn't disappoint.

On a longish walk, the dogs are pretty good. I can let Islay off the lead and, after minor, initial frustration, Pebbles soon settles to walking with me, by my side. We lunch in the splendour of the coire.

Our timing is perfect. Shortly after returning to the van, the rain hits, for the first time in around two weeks.

But we're cosy inside our travelling apartment. We pass a quiet evening and night in the car park in the Glen then we're off down into Kinlochewe and a stroll up to the Heights of Kinlochewe to "admire" the HEP works all the way up the valley. It's a good stretch of legs though before we head off towards one of my favourite campsites in Poolewe.

We turn up at the Camping & Caravanning Club's site in Poolewe, only to find it full. It's mid-week in May. I've never had this before but it's clear what the problem is. Some few years back the concept of the North Coast 500 was announced; a 500 mile route starting from Inverness and taking in a circuit via Ullapool of the whole of the north coast of the Highlands. Now that's all well and good but, those familiar with the roads hereabouts will understand when I say they're not best suited to an influx of large numbers of cars, caravans, motorhomes and motorcycles. As a motorcyclist, who's done this journey many times over the years it does become tiring waiting as groups of up to 15 bikes pass through while you're waiting patiently at a passing place on a single track road. I only ever travelled alone or with one fellow biker. And then there's the folk who think it appropriate to travel in a convoy of three motorhomes together, making it almost impossible to fit them in one passing place. In my very humble opinion, the North Coast 500 is a "very bad idea". But it's too late. The genie's out of the bottle now. I've no doubt it's good for businesses up here but I used to come for solitude, not traffic. My contribution will be, henceforth, to avoid as much as possible this silly circuit.

Anyoldhow, backtracking to Gairloch finds me an' the pups on a pleasant commercial site, which is also very cheap. Result! We take a walk up the valley to some wateryfalls. Later I cook up an all-day-breakfast feast while the dogs snooze and some weather rolls in.

The following day a walk around Loch Kernsary from Poolewe offers a view of the crannog...

...and a drive up the road finds a perfect spot for the night, on the coast...where I spend the afternoon watching seals on the rocks below. An utter delight. And totally unexpected.

The next day sees us on a stand-out walk of this section of the trip as we climb up Gleann Chaorachain and over to Shanavall bothy near Loch na Sealga.

Fab. Leaves me with ideas for a future backpacking trip.

From here we begin to edge our way towards Inverness then south to the Cairngorms for a rendezvous with Adventure Girl. We shop, refuel and manage good walks along the way.

I receive a text from daughter, Abi.
"Phone me when you and Chrissie are together again."

After a walk through the forest from Carrbridge we arrive at the Glenmore campsite and settle in.

It's Saturday morning and the forecast's for rain, rain and more rain. I think about Chrissie. We embark on a walk through Rothiemurchus, up to the lodge and then climbing to Eag a' Chait. It's wet, but the forest and moor are full of green life. We pass by Utsi's hut, named after the guy who reintroduced reindeer to the Cairngorms. We even hear a reindeer barking not too far away. As I look towards the noise I see it running off into the trees.

Late in the afternoon Adventure Girl arrives...wet.

She's tired, has sore feet and needs some TLC. But I still admire her determination.

I phone Abi, with the phone on speaker so Chrissie can hear.
"You're going to be grandparents..."
A shock...but a very pleasant one. We laugh, smile, wish Abi and Dave congratulations and swear not to let my Dad, soon to be a Great Grandfather, know...yet.

We hang the tent to dry under the van's awning. Chrissie repacks her rucsac with food she'd left in the van and does her best to relax and, in the morning, she's away...again.

Me and the pups pack up, refill the van with water and set off on our road trip again.

We continue, but it feels different. I'm preoccupied with Chrissie's progress. I watch, nervously, her movements on the Social Hiking site, her Spot device plotting her position every 10 minutes. I make sure the dogs and I get a decent walk every day, but I need to keep moving to ensure I'm at the coast when Chrissie arrives. She used up her spare day tending to blisters early on in the trip so will need a lift to Montrose from wherever as soon as she finishes.

My mind on other things I take fewer photos.

I'm deliberately not going into too much detail about Chrissie's TGOC crossing, not wanting to steal any of her, richly deserved, thunder but you'll read all about it here and also here. As I write, she's up to part two but I'm sure the rest will be along soon.

But, finally, she hit the sea again in Aberdeen...on a warm sunny afternoon.

In case it's not absolutely bleedin' obvious, I'm very proud of my special Adventure Girl for completing her first attempt at TGOC solo. She's brave, determined and resilient, probably more so than me. I love her.

In Montrose we meet other Challengers at the Park Hotel and enjoy the evening, celebration dinner. It's very pleasant chatting with folk we know as well as those we've never met before today. The evening ends with us sharing stories...and beer...and Scotch with Rich in the van.

And we are soon shooting back down the A1 towards home.

As we approach Edinburgh Chrissie sees a message on Twitter from our friend Andy. Did he see us, around five minutes ago, on the A90 approaching the Forth Road Bridge? Andy had been driving his Royal Mail truck northwards. A coincidence indeed!

We need to be back home in time to dog sit for my daughter and son-in-law's pooch whilst they're away in Italy. Leaving us to deep clean our home-on-wheels and turn our thoughts to backpacking in Sarek, Arctic Sweden in August, the likelihood of September in France and the small matter of our first grandchild whose arrival is eagerly anticipated in November. We've been away for six weeks but it's always good to be home. It's been a wonderful trip filled with memories, encounters with friends, old and new, and excitement.

Meanwhile...Chrissie recovers from another dose of Lyme disease...

May the fun continue.