At the end of October, with leave to use up, my flight reflex was kicking in. The one where I want to be far away, and probably alone. And well Orkney at the end of October seems like a place you’d find a bit of space.

Day One

On the ferry from Gills Bay to St. Margaret’s Hope I saw a Puffin. I mean that’s a life’s ambition right there. Puffins are cool!

Back on the Surly for the first time in a while, and loaded up. Its pretty heavy, but low gears keep you rolling. South to the Tomb of the Eagles.

Tomb of the Eagles

Tomb of the Eagles

During sightseeing the wind picked up. By the time I remounted I was set for one hell of a tailwind. North across the Churchill barriers, Kirkwall bound.

The Italian chapel is a bit of a mind fuck; slavery, religion, stewardship, and tourism. Reconcile that if you will.

The Italian Chaple

The Italian Chapel

By now the light was fading, and it was dark by the time I made Kirkwall. I found the SYHA closed for the winter (meh!), but also found the lovely peedie hotel, very open.

Day 2

The weather was wild so I decided to hole up in Kirkwall and read (Soil and Soul as highly recommended by Laura). I ventured out to explore Kirkwall. Which feels very much like the middle of somewhere. I liked it. Also bought another book; George Mackay- Brown -what else?

Day 3

A day of wet roads and tailwinds. Coast road north, finding  and following signs; first stop Rennibster earth house.  It’s in the middle of a working farmyard, and you have to climb down a ladder to get in.  There is a nice feeling from knowing that you are trusted to cycle up the road to the farm, and climb down the ladder to look around by yourself.

A typical ‘nowhere is open’ lunch:  A sausage roll, a slice of tiffin, and some good banter from the wee shop at Evie, eaten in the rain sat on the bench outside.

As I arrived at Skara Brea the sun began to poke through. After re-fueling in the cafe, (it’s hard to appreciate things on an empty stomach) I took a wander around. It’s hard not to be captivated by the sense of community the hamlet brings.  I spent a few hours picking stones and shells off the beach and enjoying the place.  There’s something about that wee place that will stay long after the shells have broken; you can see why you would live there.

Then on towards  Stomness, but just time to stop for a walk around the Ring of Brodgar before it got dark .

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

Day 4

Stomness is pretty easy to love. That town has heart, and soul. It also has a great map.

I spent the morning in the Stromness Museum, loving the Canadian exploration stuff, some of the native american beadwork was amazing.  I also fell totally in love with the oil painting “Linklater and Greig Entering Yesnaby Noust” by Stanley Cursiter.  The cliffs and waves reminded me of a summer’s climbing on sea cliffs.  I also stopped of at the Northlight Gallery, which wasn’t strictly speaking open, but I was allowed in to look at the tapestry exhibition.- I really want to go on one of the courses here.

In the afternoon I headed off on the bike again, to visit Meas Howe.  The tour guide was great – I liked her a lot – and after our tour she pointed me in the direction of a few other nearby sights, and gave me a wee map they had put together. So i stopped of at Barnshowe and the Stones of Steness (and the village of) on the way back.

I made it back to Stromess as the sun was setting – so I cycled out past the campsite and along the coastal path to watch the sun set over Hoy.


Sunset over Hoy

Sunset over Hoy

Day 5

The only ferries from Stromess are early, so my hopes of seeing the old man of hoy were dashed in pre-dawn darkness.  Once the ferry had docked in Scrabster I had a calm cycle 18miles along the coast to collect my car.

A First Race: MFCC Munlochy Womens Race

Since moving to Inverness I’ve been riding with the MFCC development ride on Monday nights. After a particularly fun session, endorphins at a peak, I was convinced I should enter a women’s road race that the club was organising. Entering a road race! Really exciting, really scary. Really just 5 weeks away.

I think the first thing I did was come home and draw up a training plan. A mix of riding more and doing efforts and the club APR. Luckily for most of this period the climbing wall was closed for refurbishment, so no conflict of interest on Thursday nights. Thursday night APRs were tough. Pretty much they way they went was getting dropped every time. Fun though, and yeah I could feel the benefit.

As the race approached there was lots of nerves, broken sleep, crisis of confidence and general stress. I was pretty grumpy I reckon. Then the day before my pmt broke, my hormones shifted direction and all that was left was the excitement.

Even just the support infrastructure was exciting – pinning numbers on, lead cars, motor cycle out riders, a flock of yellow jacketed marshals; like those proper races you see on the telly.

Just one lap to go right?

MFcc Women’s Road Race 2013,  originally uploaded by road cycling.

A bit of a truce was called for the first lap, a nod to the number of first timers in the race. Then once the racing started proper I got dropped on the hill. It didn’t take to long for me to find someone to work with and we stuck together for the rest of the race. Luckily for me I had the slight edge on the hills, and the finish was on a hill.

Meanwhile at the front of the race, local hero Lee Craigie crossed the line first.

I don’t think I stopped smiling the whole 50 miles. It was such fun (still riding that wave). MFCC took the organising pretty seriously and did a great job. Corners swept, pot holes filled, marshals at every juncture. Thanks so much guys.

Backpacking the South Glensheil Ridge

Yes I know you can walk the ridge in a day, and I totally could walk it in a day too – but that’s kind of missing the point.  I like camping out at the top of mountains – day into night and back again is when they are at the most magic. And I love all the stuff that goes with camping, the eating outside, the sitting on the ground, the watching the sunset, tea with instant milk, poor sleep, being too hot, being too cold, waking up and sticking your head out the door.  No really, I love it all.

Why camping on the hills is good - waking up to this view

waking up and sticking your head out the door – this

We walked in in the evening – ate our tea at the bottom of the hill then walked up and over to camp at the first bealach.  great views across the glen, and to Ben Nevis, and along the ridge.  We mined clean snow from a remaining patch, and left it to the air do the work of melting it for our morning cuppa.  It’ s hard to turn in and away from the views, but even though we’re up – it’s still a long along to go.

Woke up in the middle of the night for a pea, still light and the cloud had closed right in.  Turned to look back and couldn’t see the tents at all;  just white glowing cloud all around.  A little freaked I made a hasty retreat back behind the tent door.

Morning. Mountains. A ridge to be walked.  walking,  stopping at the sound of running water to refill bottles, shouldering packs and walking more. Eating on summits; a hill walking ritual. Not all of the summits; but most.

Views into Knoydart

Views into Knoydart, photo by Fiona

And then we’re there, then end of the ridge.  We pitch our tents and brew up as the hill clears of the day trippers. Some of them glad to be going down – but some of them get why we’re staying up here.

The next day is to be short, fiona’s got to be on a train south in the evening.  We tackle a corbett.  It undulates and seems to put up more of a fight than the well trodden ridge.  an endearing feature.  Then we pack up and head down into the glen.

And yeah we could have done it in a day – but why would you want to?


Skye tomorrow. Will pick you up at 7.30am.

7.30am are you mental? that's a YES by the way!

If you’re going to get up early on your day off, then drive 3 hrs to Skye it could a least be dry? no?  err no.

But if you’re going to drive 3 hours to get to a crag you’re not going to turn round and go home again.  Neist Point. End of the world. Also full of sheep and sight seers.  Rain stopping.  Sun never quite getting out. Rock dry.

I’ve been ill, not life and death, but i wouldn’t give in to it and it kept hanging on – and i was working too much and then it took me – 4 weeks of being low.  4 weeks of wading through sand.  I went climbing – i was shit.  Confidence sinking as low as my health.  Better now though, thank fuck.

Sonamara – the buttress and the climb.  Pete’s lead; nice. Then my go – Baywatch.  Shown as HS 4b in the photo topos and VS 4c in the text. I was hoping it would be more like the easier – obviously I’ll claim the latter.  It was nice.  Then Pete – a quick look at a HVS next to Sonamara – just a quick look, but no. So instead a VS called Jambalaya which was a bit unsatisfactory – but with a nice bit in the middle.

To finish, appropriately – Curtains, for me.  HS – but felt harder than anything else all day.  Fighting for it all the way up.  I so didn’t love that route, but now I can’t stop thinking about it.  Read into that what you will.


Spring in the North

Did I mention I moved to Inverness?  A good choice.  Springs being slow to reach these northern parts and there’s still solid water falling from the sky.  But we have trekked up the Caithness coast and gotten out to Latheronwheel and Sarclet.  And yes there was encounters with solid water both times, but also sun on warm rock .  You can make your own luck. (don’t be fooled there was also cold rock and cold hands)


Latheronwheel, of course, took me a few thoughtful cups of coffee to become less wary of – but then i really warmed to it. Would/will go back for sure to climb more stuff.

Still not sure how i feel about Sarclet; the rock nearly landing on me, the scale, the being ill. Yeah i was a little intimidated. That probably means i’ll be back there too. that’s the stuff that gets under your skin.