Scotland's Friendliest Mountain Bares its Teeth

Isle of Arran
Isle of Arran
Think of me, as you sit comfortably, I would imagine, with a nice cup of tea and a healthy toasted bagel smothered with avocado and beetroot, as I unwrap an energy bar with unmittened hands, while wedged between large igneous boulders.  I’m clad in unmatched goretex above and below the waist and seeking shelter from the maelstrom that’s been whipping around us for the last 45 minutes.
We were nearing the top of Goat Fell, the highest peak on the Isle of Arran and the last day of our short stay on the island.

“You’re nearly there,” said a couple of hikers as they passed us on their descent.

 Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
With a travelling time of less than 2 hours from Glasgow, including the 1 hour Caledonian Macbrayne ferry crossing, our Arran adventure began as soon as we left Ardrossan Harbour.  I only mention the CalMac ferry crossing because I love the food on board.  They do a scrummy Scottish breakfast in the morning and fantastic fish and chips in the evening. I don’t know if this is typical of all CalMac crossings but every time I’ve gone to Arran, I’ve looked forward to a meal on board.

Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
It wasn’t just me that was hunting out good food; outside, dozens of gannets had gathered to gorge on a shoal of fish.  We watched as they soared 30m above the water before plunging vertically like a lethal weapon to spear and confuse unsuspecting fish, a move they repeated again and again until they were almost too full to float.  The words ‘eating like a gannet’ went through my mind.  An auk flew by at speed, low and close to the water and groups of guillemots bobbed on the surface like miniature fishing boats before diving like a synchronised swimming team as our ferry drew closer.   The cloudless peak of Goat Fell topped the landscape painting in front of us and I knew that it wouldn’t be like that they day we chose to climb.

Goat Fell and the Arran Mountains on a Sunny Day

There are only 2 main roads on Arran.  One goes across the middle, known as The String Road and the other round the coast.  I mention this as a possible reason for all the potholes or massive craters, if you happen to be on a bike, as it must be very difficult to repair a narrow road when it’s the only one.  Potholes aside, although most of the time they weren’t, the road from Brodick followed a stunning coastline most of the way to Lochranza where we were camping.   A cormorant stood by the shore, studying a tanker in its bay, while seals basked on their favourite rocks.

Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay
Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay

Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks
Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks

 But when we stopped to take some photos we were greeted by the grumpiest robin who was waiting in the bushes by the parking bays to make it very clear that we were not welcome on his territory.

Grumpy Territorial Robin
Grumpy Territorial Robin

Our campsite was next to a golf course which had become a gathering place for the stags’ annual rut and some boisterous teenagers were putting in a bit of practice before the main event.  Others, with more sense, chose to stay up on the hills and watch from a distance.

Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza
Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza

During the night an animal came sniffing around our tent.  I didn’t get up to have a look.  It was raining and I thought it was probably a fox.  I just listened as it nuzzled and chomped at something nearby but in the morning, I noticed the droppings left by the night time rummage and realised how lucky we were not to have been trampled by it.  All the stags had seen greener pastures in the campsite and had stepped over the fence and were still wandering around.  Our little tent barely came up to their knees.

The rain paused long enough for us to prepare breakfast and put the tent away before heading off to Goat Fell. A well marked path from the back of The Wineport at Cladach through a moss covered wood decorated with colourful mushrooms formed the gentle start of the walk up Goat Fell.  It was still dry and quite warm when we started our walk but unlike the previous day, the mountains were shrouded in Scotch mist.

Mist over Goat Fell
Mist over Goat Fell

For those that don’t know, and it would seem that was quite a few judging by the number of walkers with their waterproofs tied round their waist (and those were the ones that had bothered to bring a waterproof at all), mist is a cloud of tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere – It makes you wet!

And at only 40m shy of a Munro, the summit is as treacherous as any Scottish mountain on a wet and windy day.

Walkers without Waterproofs
Walkers without Waterproofs

This wasn’t the first time I had climbed Goat Fell and I admit, on a few occasions, the weather has been very kind and a light fleece is all that would be required but more often, the weather at the top is drastically different from that at the bottom.

The smooth gravel path became boulder strewn with thigh high boulders making each step a big effort.   Visibility had reduced to around 20m or so and the wind demanded attention and with it, came the rain. 

The wind was relentless at the top and the boulders provided little shelter.  The usual views of the paps of Jura and even the famous saddle in the Sannox valley below us had been completely whitewashed from the picture, so we didn’t hang around and quickly descended to calmer weather.

Proof that it can be lovely at the top of Goat Fell
It was time to leave the island behind and head back to the city but not before we stopped off at James – Arran Chocolate for a well deserved, at least we thought it was well deserved, chocolate fix.

Relaxing on the ferry, watching the gannets spear another shoal of fish, the mist started to lift off the mountain and although I love the sound of the rain and wind on the tent and the smell of morning when I poke my head out the tent, I was glad to be going back to a warm, soft bed after the soggy night and weather beaten day we’d had.

  Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde
Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde

The Royal Rut at Richmond

The red deer rut must be one of the highlights at this time of year in the wildlife calendar. So last weekend, I headed off to the royal hunting ground of Richmond Park in South London with the camera club to catch some early shots of the deer.

Red Deer Rrelaxed at Richmond Park
Red Deer Relaxed @ Richmond Park

Staying in a Monastery - The Positives and Negatives

Having always thought that you needed to be ultra religious to stay in a monastery, I now realise that isn't the case although a tolerance and respect of others' beliefs is understandably expected.

st francis of assisi statue at hilfield
Image courtesy of

Having recently returned from a stay at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, I am now going to let you into a few more secrets, just in case you were thinking about visiting a religious order. Granted, friary life isn't for everyone but here are the positives and negatives.

A boat trip to Lundy Island

Ever thought about taking a trip to Lundy Island?  - A little island of adventure with a resident population of sika deer, wild goats and 28 people.

MS Oldenburg @ Lundy
MS Oldenburg @ Lundy

Dawn Chorus Walk 2017

There are few people for whom I would gladly get up at 4am, but I would make an exception for Ian Boyd, Director of Arc Consulting, a non-profit company that promotes the re-utilization of public spaces and buildings for the benefit of the community, both humans and wildlife.

ian boyd, artecology, arc consulting, ecology, wildlife expert, entomologist
The Infectious Enthusiasm of Ian Boyd

Top Tips for May

Australia's Natural Wonders 

I was a bit of a weird child.  Like many of my peers, my grandmother looked after me during school holidays while my parents went out to work.  But unlike my friends who were content to play with dolls  and prams and have imaginary tea parties, I fantasised about far off countries. Places where adventures took place with mountains and wild animals and lots of caves to explore.  Of course, I hadn't even been out of the UK by then and it would be many years later before foreign travel was not the norm.  But I'd heard about Australia, a relative had moved out there.  I knew of its vast red deserts and its incredibly warm climate, the kangaroos and koala bears and I was enthralled by the book Walkabout, which we all read in school.

tasmania, australia, wild seas, waves, nature
Wild Seas - Tasmania

Reptile Centre - Reptilarium & Terrapin Sanctuary at Fort Victoria

The opening day of the Isle of Wight's newest reptile attraction at Fort Victoria, The Reptilarium and Terrapin Sanctuary, saw the staff nervously excited and the visitors curious and interested as to what lay ahead of them in the old fort's tunnels.

Through an unassuming entrance lies 4 rooms of biodiversity: Desert, Jungle, a Terrapin Pool and a Nocturnal Room with reptiles as rare and diverse as Moroccan Uromastyx to Painted Wood Turtles.

Entrance to Reptilarium and Terrapin Sanctuary
Entrance to Reptilarium and Terrapin Sanctuary

A New Willow Wetland Walk in Sandown

Where there’s a willow there’s a way.  

Determination will overcome any obstacle says the saying and that’s certainly what Arc Consulting have done when they enlisted the help of the Community Payback Service to create the Willow Walk, Sandown Bay’s newest wetland walk.

Willow wetland walk winding woodchip path
Winding Woodland Walk

Wyatt & Jack Upcycled Bouncy Castle Tote Bag

When Wyatt and Jack asked me to road test their bouncy castle tote bag, I literally jumped at the chance.

The white PVC tote (also available in 13 other colours including tangerine, cherry and purple) arrived in a strong brown paper envelope with no extra packaging to throw away, no plastic bags or bubble wrap around it  - a feature, I was to discover,  in keeping with the reusing and recycling message promoted by the company.

coloured PVC tote
Other colours of Totes are available

Yestival – A Festival for Adventurers & Adventurous Thinking 20th - 22nd October 2017

Have you ever fancied going on an adventure but don’t know where to begin?  Do you dream of living an adventurous life but are too scared to take that first step?

Yestival could have all your answers.  Yestival started in 2015, the brainchild of adventurer, TED Ex speaker and author, Dave Cornthwaite, following a summer of SayYesMore campouts where total strangers met at an agreed location, chatted around a campfire, spent the night out in the wild and left as friends the following day.

The first year of Yestival saw over 30 experienced adventurers share their secrets and tales and dish out help with the same amount of enthusiasm as they put into the adventures themselves.

Yestival Promo Pic 23rd to 25th October

Facing my Fears & Climbing out my Comfort Zone at Sandown Rocks

An unexpected invitation to tea took me to a new high when I agreed to meet my friend Matt at Sandown Rocks 45ft climbing wall the other day.

“Right, what I thought we’d do is climb to the top, tie ourselves in and have tea.  What do you think?”  Suggested Matt.

“Of course we will,” I said dubiously.  “Who wouldn’t drink tea at the top of a climbing wall? It’s not like Mary Poppins has exclusivity on lofty tea parties.” I joked nervously.

Sandown Rocks Climbing Wall

Rock Pools and Seaweed

As I went for a walk at sunrise this morning, my eye caught the sunlight shining on the seaweed that hung from the groin at low tide.  Fucus serratus or more commonly known as The Toothed Wrack, it is usually harvested for cosmetics or seaweed baths but can also be used to make tea or Japanese noodle soup. 

Another thing I discovered recently was the joy of rock pooling.  It was something I hadn't done since I was a child when we would visit the seaside for a day trip or our annual summer holiday.  I could spend hours staring ignorantly at the creatures and seaweed in the pools but with no book or expert to identify them for me, I remained totally ignorant until I found myself on a guided walk last weekend to Horse Ledge near Luccombe on the Isle of Wight, one of the best places on the island for rock pools.

Fucus serratus The Toothed Wrack Seaweed

5 Fascinating Facts about Iceland's Animals

Iceland is a wonderland of extremes and as such, Iceland's animals have to be very adaptable to survive. It is a country that must be experienced from the boiling hot mud pools to the frozen massive glaciers, from deafening waterfalls to silent and eerie lava fields.  I found the whole country fascinating including these fascinating facts about some of Iceland's animals.


Whenever I visit a new place, I like to get out and explore it on foot, to orientate myself and meet the local people.  Reykjavik was no exception except many of the locals I initially met were geese.  They seemed to be just wandering around on grass verges at the side of busy roads, so I commented on this to one of the locals, who wasn’t a goose, who said that they were quite common at this time of year, late August, because the shooting season has started and there is a law banning anyone shooting the geese within the city boundary.

Geese in Reykjavik Photo by Roman Gerasymenko

Useful Tips for Washing and Drying Clothes while Backpacking

How do I wash my clothes when I'm travelling for a year?

We're so used to throwing our gear in a washing machine then the tumble dryer that the thought of washing by hand while travelling is something that maybe hasn't crossed your mind.  But if you plan to travel for longer than a week then it is something that will need to cross your mind.  If you have read my other blog about what clothes to take, you will probably realise that I only take enough for a week regardless of how long I am travelling and I wash and rewear my gear until it's no longer usable.

Washing by Hand

Here are some handy tips for washing on the road some of which I learnt from my grandmother.....

Review of Zendure A5 Power Bank 16750mAh

I’ve been using my Zendure A5 Powerbank since October 2015 and I’m delighted to say that it’s still as powerful and reliable as the day I bought it.  I like buying things that last.

Zendure A5 Power Bank

Great Wall of China Juyongguan

"There's snow on the Great Wall of China!"  I shouted, as the coach pulled up to the Juyong pass; the excitement almost overwhelming as I saw the great wall climb up the mountains and disappear into the clouds.  It looked just like every picture I'd ever seen of it snaking over mountains into the distance.
Juyongguan Pass Great Wall of China

What makes good travel clothes and how much do I need?

The answer to that question is.... a lot less than you think.

Clothing: (I'm really talking to the girls here.  You guys aren't too bad in my experience although you may pick up a few ideas.)

You really don't need as much as you think you do.  I found that it didn't matter how long I was going for, even for a year, I didn't need any more clothes than I needed for a week.  The exception to that would be if your climate changes from say the heat of southern Spain to snow capped mountains of Canada.  If that is what you are doing, then I would take what I needed for the place I was going first or longest and head straight to the charity shops, if they have any, or local markets when I needed clothes for change in climate.

Don't make the same mistakes I made.

We had way too much luggage

Isle of Wight Walking Festival Dawn Chorus Walk

What do you do 6 days after International Dawn Chorus Day?

Well it seems you set your alarm for before dawn and head to a designated meeting point at 4.30am where a dozen or so other shadowy figures were loitering.  The purpose of this meet – A Dawn Chorus Walk led by Ian Boyd, bird song expert and part of the Bay Coastal Community Team,

As we started our walk, dawn was still asleep, but it wasn't long before the first birds started to sing.  Well before it became light, blackbirds, robins, thrushes and wrens began their melodies like a well rehearsed concerto which crescendoed as the light increased.

Five Fascinating Facts about Brading Roman Villa

5 things you didn't know about Brading Roman Villa on the Isle of Wight

  • The lovely cedar museum with wild living roof was originally going to be an ugly metal box structure until the mayor of Brading stepped in and stopped it. Mike Rainey was tasked with job of designing a building that would both protect the mosaics and yet enable them to be viewed by visitors.  He had a job keeping everyone happy from the archaeologists to the planning department.   

Brading Roman Villa Picture supplied by Brading Roman Villa