home      mandolin     sport     research     photography

Soon after arriving in Edinburgh in 1969 I was extremely fortunate to discover that Edinburgh University owned an Outdoor Pursuits Centre at Firbush Point on the shores of Loch Tay. This has a fantastic location being ideally situated on the back road between Killin and Kenmore with perfect access for sailing, hillwalking, canoeing, plus skiing at Glencoe. Moreover, it also ran a superb two-year Sports Award course which I duly enrolled into. This enabled me to gain experience in all four sports, thereby cementing my love of the Great Scottish Outdoors. I was even able to give pony trekking a go. A further benefit was that The Ardeonaig Hotel was situated a short distance down the loch, and provided outstanding evening entertainment fuelled almost exclusively by malt whisky. In those days it was run by Bob and Joyce Cook, and clients ranged from local farmers, staff, students and the British Antartic Survey team, through to fishermen and bemused tourists. Its popularity was such that people even flew in, landing either on the loch itself or in a nearby field. Fond memories!

My three main sports were, and still are, golf, skiing and hill walking. I joined Mortonhall Golf Club in 1970, and although I managed to get my handicap down to 8 at one point, the change of job from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1991, and the resulting much longer commute, meant that it began a slow inexorable rise. In olden times the Ancient Scottish Universities operated highly successful golf societies, and the Edinburgh one was appropriately entitled SAUSAGES - Scottish Ancient Universities Staff Association of Golfers Edinburgh Section. Later on, I also became a member of Boat of Garten Golf Club and have been a member of the Bruntsfield Allied Golfing Society for many years. This is an eclectic gathering of around 50 golf enthusiasts, formed at the end of the Crimean War, and is one of the oldest non-course-owning clubs around. A fascinating historical account has been privately published (editor Philip Knowles), and readers interested in an index of similar clubs should examine the British Golf Collectors Society.

My introduction to skiing, courtesy of the Award course, began on the slopes of Ben Lawers; no ski lifts, so we walked up and attempted to ski down through the snowy heather on ancient skis with screw-in edges and wearing soft leather boots with the consistency of carpet slippers. Not surprisingly the ability to turn wasn't easily mastered. This was a considerable disadvantage on graduating to the slopes of Glencoe; for we quickly learned that the term 'Scottish powder' was code for sheet ice and rocks! My wife, Anne, and I joined the Scottish Ski Club (SSC) over 40 years ago, and our winter social lives revolved around the many friends we made there, both at Glencoe and, from the mid-1970's onwards, at Cairngorm. Indeed, I proposed to Anne halfway up a chairlift in the French Alps, and over the past 40 years we have enjoyed many ski holidays together both in Europe and North America.

Unknown to me at the time, my initial experience on Lawers harked back to grass roots, since the first SSC hut was built at the foot of Coire Odhar in 1932, and provided excellent conditions on the smooth, south-facing grassy slopes of Beinn Ghlas (see Highland Instinct). Then in 1945, with many enthusiastic skiers returning home from WWII, the club expanded quickly. By this time ski lifts were sprouting in the Alps, and it was decided that a Weasel (a vehicle with wide tracks) could answer this need. In practice, however, the vehicle didn't always even get as far as the club hut. So in the early 1950s, the Scottish Ski Club erected a portable rope tow (weighing, according to Donnaie Mackenzie who helped carry it up, half a ton) on the Beinn Ghlas col. People either walked up to this, or came up via the Weasel. The hut was unfortunately blown down in a storm in March 1999, and realising that it shouldn't attempt to repair the hut or construct a replacement in the area, an SSC party burnt the hut in September. The resulting bonfire was quite dramatic! Readers interested in skiing history should note Myrtle Simpson's classic book: Skisters: The Story of Scottish Skiing.

One of the great advantages of skiing in the frozen north is that if you can ski in Scotland you can ski anywhere! With conditions ranging from heavy sludge to rocks covered in sheet ice, and pistes being at times one ski width wide, the ability to turn precisely is a necessary survival attribute. That said, at its best the skiing is totally brilliant. In addition to Cairngorm and Glencoe, there are well established resorts at Glenshee, Nevis Range and The Lecht, whilst in good years ski touring is possible across much of the Highlands. All sites show web cams, but other locations can be viewed at the Steve Fallon and Scotland Landscapes sites. Winter Highland provides an excellent overview of visual and personal descriptions at all five resorts; whilst for current outdoor weather conditions see MWIS, and SAIS for the latest avalanche forecasts. For information about gullies, faces, corrie headwalls and other prominent lines that are worth the effort to get to for the descent check out Steep Scotland. Whilst should you be skiing at Cairngorm, or taking part in outdoor sports challenges in Scotland, keep a keen eye out for sports photographer Peter Diender who may well have taken some great action shots of you.

It might come as surprise to some, but England also has an interesting ski scene. Yad Moss has been operating as a ski area for nigh on 40 years now, and its development by members of the Carlisle Ski Club bears a striking similarity to the enthusiasm displayed on Ben Lawers in the 1930's. Whilst the Lake District Ski Club at Raise shows even an even stronger historical similarity, being founded in 1936 and involving a one hour walkin preferably with crampons! A key figure in its development is the legendary skier Bernie Warriner, who by some fluke I have had the good fortune to meet three times in different continents. He is 80 in January 2013 and still manages to ski 70 times a year.

During the last 40 years hillwalking has been an on-off affair, centred around climbing Munros - these are hills classified as being 'distinct' and at least 3000' in height above mean sea level. Until recently making accurate surveys of wilderness areas has been nontrivial exercise, and even with current high-tech GPS equipment it takes a high level of commitment to achieve good results. Moreover, deciding what constitutes a distinct summit is highly subjective. So following Sir Hugh Munro's first published tables in 1891 the accepted number has changed through the years. The 1974 revised edition, lists 279, and as this continually changes it is up to the invidual to decide what his or her particular target is. The current tally is 282, with regular updates being provided by the Scottish Mountaining Club (for a comprehensive general classication see this database). My own meagre tally is currently 227, and the chance of completion clearly diminishes as the years go by. Walkhighlands is a useful site for checking potential routes. Walking abroad, though, has provided considerable pleasure, with highlights including The Tour of Mont Blanc, and treks in Austria and Switzerland, Picos de Europa and Pakistani Kashmir; the latter involving the ascent of Gondogoro Peak at 5835m.