Thursday, 25 February 2010

How to make walking child-friendly

Apparently as responsible parents we should be encouraging our kids to do more walking. A recent report by an English university found that Britain's youth are getting away with being too idle and making themselves way too comfy on the sofa or in front of computer screens.

Added to this the headlines are forever screaming about a generation of lazy, unfit and overweight youngsters, who are seemingly driven everywhere by mum and dad instead of jolly well getting out on their own two feet.

But perhaps this alleged lack of enthusiasm for self-propulsion among the "children of today" is that it's a bit dull. Certainly walking the same old to school, or a club, or the train station doesn't feature high on a scale of attractive outlooks.

In comparison a walk in the country would surely score nine or 10 out of 10 for great views, as well as a host of other attractions such as wildlife and tourist sites.

Hmmm, well, you would think so but any parent who has tried to cajole their child to walk a hill, along a river bank or on a muddy trail could easily disagree. All too often it seems as though children do not like walking - period. Whether it's in town or out of town.

But it doesn't have to be this way. With a some forward-planning – and a little bribery – we reckon it is possible to encourage out little darlings out into Scotland's beautiful countryside and enjoying a wide range of walks.

It's just a matter of how you go about it. Here we bring you a few tips on How to Go For a Happy Family Walk

Buy the right kit: Children love new clothes and these days kids' walking kit comes in some great styles and amazing colours. As a minimum make sure they have comfy, well-fitting and waterproof walking boots, a waterproof jacket and hat and gloves for cold weather. A rucksack adds to the look - and means they can carry their own snacks (see "bribe them").

* Bribe them: Just a little, obviously, as there's no point in eating more calories in sweets and fizzy drinks than they eventually walk off. Aim for healthier, but fun, snacks. Why not tell them you'll have a picnic when they reach the top of a hill? Or suggest they can have a small piece of chocolate for every animal, bird or flower spotted on a list you compiled yourself. Or find a pub or tea room for a treat at the end of your walk.

* Go in circles: Walking an out and back route is boring for kids, so try to choose a route that follows a circular trail. Or take a bus and jump off and then walk back.

* Get geeky: Gadgets are a great way to keep the kids interested in a walk. Try a basic GPS, a pedometre and even an old fashioned map and compass. Anything that keeps your child's mind off the walking and on the doing other things.

* Make it an adventure: Kids love treasure trails or tick lists or just stories. Ensure you've planned out you route and can come up with interesting points to stop at along the way. Guided walk companies can assist with these kind of outings as they know the local area well.

* Camping is fun: Why not include an overnight wild camp as part of a two-day walk for older children? Or set up camp near to a variety of walking routes and head out each day to find a new adventure.

As easy as A, B, C?! We want to hear about your tips for successful family walking and the great family walks you've done.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Scotland for Winter 2010

Glenshee from Glas Maol

Winter skills practice (with a sunbathing twist)

For those of us fortunate enough to have been outdoors in Scotland this weekend, it was a memorable experience. I was with a group from Angus College 'Winter Upward Bound' course and setting off on Saturday morning could hardly believe our good luck. Destination was Glas Maol, Glenshee. Sunglasses were dusted off and firmly in position....not missing this chance to be out for an airing.
Strangely, this was my third trip to the same munro in as many weeks, each time with a different winter skills group. However thanks to the massive mood swings and vagaries of Scottish weather, each weekend has felt like an entirely different venue so no chance of boredom creeping in...
This weekend in comparison to the previous two was like a great celebration of Scottish winter mountain at its best, I'm sure there was fanfare to be heard echoing round the glen as we crunched up the hill. We stopped often, to admire the views and grin at each other like idiots.. Oh the joy of getting great weather when you don't expect it!
On the munro top the experience just got better (note Ian in his T- shirt) There was none of the usual shivering and battling elements, no-one wanted to leave. The view was incredible and mountain leader Mike spent ages pointing out and naming munros for miles around in all directions. We were on top o' the world. Eventually we packed up and began our descent, skipping as much as our crampons would allow, bonded by our enjoyment of a perfect day on a Scottish mountain.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Angus Glens is a great place to bag Munros

There are some 14 Munros in the Angus Glens area – and this region has an even closer affinity with Sir Hugh Munro (the chap who first tabulated the lst of the now 283 Scottish mountains with a summit of more than 3000t) as his family estate is situated just outside the Angus town of Kirriemuir.

Of these 14 Munros in the Angus Glens, several, including the wonderfully easy-going mountain Mayar, are widely acclaimed as the most straightforward and leisurely of the lot. But this is not to say they are anything less than gorgeous. Walking Munros – and Corbetts – in this region offers fantastically scenic eye-candy as well as a chance to see some of Scotland's most amazing wildlife.

Hiking Mayar, for example, you will head from the stunning Glen Clova and through the Scottish Natural heritage site of Corrie Fee, a place renowned for its rare and beautiful plantlife. The reserve forms a botanical paradise and attracts nature-lovers keen to see the many arctic-alpine plants that grow on the cliffs and wetlands in the corrie.

Britain’s only population of purple coltsfoot and the rare yellow oxytropis have been found here, as well as more common sightings mountain plants such as purple saxifrage, roseroot and globeflower and lowland species including red campion and wild angelica.

So, the Angus Glens does offer the ideal place for a spot of Munro bagging, especially if you're just starting out and planning to bag a full "round" of the 283. Now, too, you can keep a record of your Munro "bags" thanks to the shiny new website Bagging Scotland Just about to launch, the innovative site provides a platform for baggers to write about their, well, "bags". As well as bagging Munros, you might want to think about bagging Scottish islands, castles, and whisky distilleries. That's the website's suggestions so far but no doubt there will be more categories listed in future. It's kind of like a diary or travel-logue of Munros bagged, islands bagged, distilleries bagged and castles bagged, Of course, the Angus Glens boasts a fair few castles and distilleries, as well as our wonderful Munros.

And if you're looking for some guidance on the Munros, or perhaps walking/mountain biking between castles and distilleries then Glentrek can help

Go on, you know you're "gagging tae go bagging"!

Friday, 12 February 2010

Get kitted out for winter walking

It's one of the best years we've seen for winter walking in Scotland and the snow is unlikely to disappear in the near future. If you're new to this exhilarating activity then the first step is a winter skills course. See previous post.

After that you will want to invest in some new winter walking kit. Mostly the right gear is about staying safe and warm on the hills – but as we all know there is also something mentally uplifting about setting out to try your shiny new gear. (Or is this just a girl thing?!)

Mike McLaggan, a winter mountain leader who runs Highway 2 in the Angus Glens, gives us his essential winter kit guide:

* Good quality winter (four season) walking boots

* A 55 to 60cm ice axe (not too lightweight)

* 10 or 12 point crampons with front points that must fit your boots (take the boots to the shop)

* Really good quality gloves

* High quality shell waterproofs, including jacket and pants, and preferably brightly coloured

* Plenty of decent insulation layers

* Good quality walking socks.

"Good quality" is a bit of a theme here but Mike is insistent that paying more for good quality winter walking kit means you'll stay warm on the hills and therefore you're much more likely to enjoy yourself and want to go out again and again. So your initial investment will be worth it in the long-term.

Another essential clothing tip is how to avoid ripping your waterproof trousers! I kid you not! Many winter walkers find that while using crampons they end up tearing the bottom of their waterproof trousers because the crampon points can catch on clothing. This can be costly and also rather annoying.

Mike says – and he instructs on this very issue on his Highway 2 winter skills courses – "When walking in crampons you need to learn how to keep your feet wider apart and also how to turn. Crossing your legs is a no-no, and instead you must learn how to make your body turn in a circle so as to avoid the crampon points taking chunks out of your trouser legs."

If this sounds like news to you then before going out to walk alone you need to take a winter skills course. Visit Glentrek to find out more about how to book these courses

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Winter Skills Day for Girls

It was a chilly day in Glenshee last Saturday when 6 girls and a brave husband set off on our winter hill walking skills day. There was much fiddling of equipment to start with, fingers numbed by the cold but eventually we were off!

Our rucksacks were weighed down with helmets, ice axes and crampons and we couldn't see more than a few feet in front of us. This was making some of us rather apprehensive and there were mutters and giggles with a few comments of "whose idea was this anyway?"

However we were in the safe hands of Mountain Leader Mike (known by many names but Mr Health and Safety is definitely one of them) so soon everyone relaxed and plodded up into the white mist. After about 20 minutes, it was already apparent who the comedienne in the group was and she was angling for a coffee break.

ML Mike gritted his teeth and led us on just a bit further, determined not to be swayed quite so easily from his mission of getting us up on to the slopes .... we stopped fairly soon however for an early lunch and everyone was happy.

We didn't hang about long because of the cold so then it was onwards and upwards practicing using our ice axes and boots correctly as we walked up to a safe slope for some sliding play. The snow was so incredibly deep up there that MLM dug out a nice ledge for us and then proceeded to demonstrate how to slide down the slope in various positions and how to stop using the ice axe - easier said than done I can assure you. We all went careering down the soft snow in miserably failed attempts at "ice axe arrests" but it was hilarious fun. We all ended up head first into the snow on numerous occasions.

True to form, on her final attempt, Jess the comedienne took off like a bullet down the slope and managed to whizz past the usual stopping point at incredible speed. She blamed her expensive but enviable Paramo jacket and trousers, thereby proving the point that for every silver lining there's always a cloud. We all laughed so hard about this that we had to give up and have another food break.

After lunch no 2 it was crampon time because we were now on so steep a slope that it wasn't safe to only have boots on. Everyone practised with crampons and then we walked up to a top at 3000 ft which was like being on the moon, couldn't see much and howling gales made it difficult to hear a thing.

Welcome to the excitement of winter hill walking! I've talked about it before but there really is nothing like it... One of the girls, Stella, was so thrilled with the whole experience she just can't wait to get up there again. It was great to introduce someone to a winter walk and know that they loved it too... Not everyone would dash back to repeat the experience next week however (although some actually are) it was really Baltic weather and spending a day in ice/snow isn't everyone's cup of tea. However our group did have a great time, were all VERY glad they tried it and we took lots of pics to show our kids and future grandchildren that we were there and we really were SCOTTISH WINTER MOUNTAINEERS (for the day) Hurrah!
By Janey

Monday, 1 February 2010

Learn the skills for winter walking

So the hills are still covered in snow and ice - but your feet are itching to get back into their walking boots. While many walkers will wait for the fairer weather of spring before tying their boot laces again a growing number are discovering the delights of getting out in the hills in winter.

Word has it that this year in particular there has been a huge demand for winter mountain skills courses. Indeed, places on this Saturday's Glentrek Winter Skills Course were filled so quickly that we're thinking of running more.

The Winter Skills Day is being instructed by Highway 2 , a local adventure and outdoors instruction company.

And even the list of supplied kit – including ice axe and crampons – has us excited and keen to get out on the hills in the snow.

Obviously, walking in winter is a potentially more dangerous activity than heading out in the spring or summer so there are a range of skills to be addressed on the Winter Skills Day. Highway 2 will be showing Glentrek participants (all women except one brave husband!) how to:
* Move on winter ground using the boot as a tool
* How to use an ice axe
* How to cut steps in ice and snow
* The skills of ice axe arrest
* Crampon techniques without an axe
* Crampon techniques with an axe, including front pointing
* Navigation
* Avalanche awareness.

While the skills day will be hugely informative it will also be tons of fun. And it offers an ideal opportunity to get out in the hills and see some of the fantastic scenery that our Scottish winter has to offer. Find out next week how the day went.