Saturday, 28 January 2017

Gear Review - Mountain Warehouse Wanderer 20l Rucsack

Times are hard and money is tight. This is on account of me buying my first ever flat (I know, at my age!).  What this means is that when I needed a new daysack, I had to forego the array of  expensive options at Tiso in the £70-£100 range and instead check out the cheaper options at Mountain Warehouse, of all places!

I chose their £25 20l Wanderer rucsack and have to say, so far anyway, I'm pretty happy with it. The main body of the rucsack has two compartments as you'd normally find on bigger rucsacks. They can be zipped apart to make one bigger space but I've found the small easy access, bottom compartment really handy for waterproofs and dirty gaiters (bearing in my mind that my clothes are quite small). There's a handy front pocket with an internal organiser for keys, mobile phone or maps. The back system is an air mesh design and though I've not used the rucsack yet in warm conditions, I could certainly feel the wind blowing through the space between the rucsack and my back so I'm guessing it'll be effective in the hotter months in avoiding a sweaty back. The colour options were black or the more girly grey and purple I'm wearing in the photo.

Other welcome features that again you expect on much more expensive packs are good-sized hipbelt pockets, hydration sleeve and outlet, elasticated side pockets, side compression straps, trekking pole stash loops, chest strap and an integrated rain cover that packs away into a zipped compartment on the bottom. In use, I've found it to be really comfy to wear. 

The only negative is the quality of the materials and stitching which is obviously much less than top brand packs but I'm not sure in practice how much of a difference this will make. The only feature that's really disappointing is the quality of the zips which don't run really well and do feel on the cheap side. But overall, for the price, I think this is a great summer hillwalking pack or low-level winter rambling rucsack.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Fife - Mini walk on the sleeping giant

Anyone who has travelled south on the M90 towards Edinburgh will have admired the shapely outline of the long, low-lying hill that forms the south shore of Loch Leven. Its correct name is Benarty Hill but locals believe that its outline resembles a great warrior lying asleep on his back with his feet pointing east towards the Lomond Hills and his headdress stretching westwards. And so the hill is more commonly known as the Sleeping Giant. For such a wee hill in a populated landscape of fields and farms, it's got a surprising mix of pleasant approach walk, craggy ruggedness and gorgeous big views. I find myself drawn back again and again.

I climbed the hill most recently during the festive break on a crisp, breezy day in late December. My walk started in the former mining town of Ballingry whose claim to fame is to be the home town of Richard Jobson of the Skids. If you remember them then you are as old or even older than me. 

A dirt track leaves the back of town and heads out through open woodland with Benarty Hill rising steeply to the right and the pleasant waters and parklands of Lochore Meadows down to the left. From here a good path then zig-zags up through forestry. Don't be put off by the forestry. This morning shafts of low winter sun burst through the trees and in the open glades the view stretched as far as the Firth of Forth. It was lovely.

At the top of the forestry the gradient relents and a pleasant wee path makes a beeline across heathery moorland for the summit trig point. Today that same low sun picked out the contours of the hill and illuminated the shapely lines of the Bishop Hill on the other side of Loch Leven. 

From up here you can see the vastness of the loch. When you are standing down on the shore, it seems so big that you think of it more as an inland sea than a loch. Its waters were dotted with green amoeba-shaped islands and the tiny white pinpricks of swans, hundreds of swans. To the west the Ochil hills had a light dusting of snow, adding a cold, wintry edge to the view. None of these are big hills but I love the way they sit in the landscape and accentuate the open space and big skies all around.

A small path keeps close company with an old drystone dyke all the way along the top of the ridge and it's a lovely walk. I headed east along the ridge and eventually dropped off its far end to pick up a new path down to the RSPB centre at Vane Farm. It's a great place to get the loch-level view and watch over flocks of teal and widgeon in the wetland pools. In the late afternoon I trekked back over to Ballingry on the path which contours round the bottom of the great warrior's feet. The temperature was dropping and the sun was sinking way out west beyond the battle headdress of the sleeping giant above.

Fact File
Photos on Flickr.
Start/finish: Ballingry. Local buses travel every 10 minutes between the train station at Lochgelly (on the Fife circle line with direct trains from Edinburgh) and Ballingry. 
Route: Get off at the last bus stop in Ballingry at the turning circle with recycling skips. Just before here a dirt track heads west behind the last of the houses. Follow it until it meets a road. Go straight across and you'll find the obvious path up Benarty Hill. The first time I went there was a sign but there wasn't the second time. Follow this path to the trig point. The top of the cliffs is a few metres further and affords a great view across the loch and hills. Turn east on the ridge top path and eventually where the gradient of the north face of the hill eases, you'll spot a new quarry dust path below and a faint path down the grassy slope which you can use to get onto it. This excellent new path will either take you down to RSPB Vane Farm if you turn left or back to Ballingry if you turn right.  An alternative to returning to Ballingry is to pick up the wonderful Loch Leven Heritage Trail at Vane Farm and follow it to Kinross to pick up buses to Inverkeithing/Edinburgh. 

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Glen Tilt - Light on winter wood

I love the rich colours and textures that the mid-winter sun creates on the landscape, especially the leafless bare trees which I find just as beautiful at this time of year as in summer. In mid-winter I always try to make a trip to Glen Tilt to enjoy its varied woods in the light of the December sun, which may or may not make a brief appearance. Glen Tilt is too busy for me at other times of year but just before Christmas everybody else is at the shops (one wonders why) and I can have the glen and the woods to myself. I made my annual pilgrimage there a couple of weeks ago. I walked the high path out via Fenderbridge for big views over the woods and hills. Carn a'Chlamain was framed by winter birch, adding that beautiful purplish hue to the scene. I wandered up a side glen and said hello to the familiar, arched bridge up there. I asked it out loud how long we had known each other. It replied 21 years. Or it might have been me that said that. I ambled through the dense woodland on the main track, timing my walk to finish after dark so that I could be guided into Blair Atholl by the colourful lights of the village Christmas tree.