Adventures in the Scottish Highlands

Well, just back from a week’s training in Strathspey, in the Scottish Highlands. The weather was superb – unbroken sunshine for four days, sunbathing and swimming in lochs in the Highlands in March?!

See here for the pics, and follow the link below to see the full write up on what was a quality week.

Here’s a blow-by-blow account of the week, held up in beautiful Strathspey in the Highlands of Scotland, with virtually unbroken sunshine in the days, an very very cold nights! On every day, we used international-standard forests – nothing but the very best.

Saturday – The long journey up from Oxford was made more interesting by the “back” route over the Cheviots and the Lammermuirs, passing scenic Jedburgh Abbey. The stone outside the driveway to my house still bears the signs of the interesting manoevure into my driveway, where we stopped for the night. I retired to my new warm bed while the others made do with the cathedral-like dining room.

Sunday – Early runs on a physical Moncreiffe Hill. We didn’t notice it at the time, but the area was a lot less technical than the rest of the week. Then, continuing up to Strathspey for a couple of control flow exercises in Inshriach North. I don’t think we saw the legendary area at its best, due to capercaillies restricting the sections we were allowed to use, and our late arrival meant haggis and chips was the evening meal in Aviemore, followed by checking in to spacious Cairngorm Lodge Youth Hostel. The bar at Glenmore Lodge was suprisingly busy, although worryingly they didn’t know about any maps they were to be loaning us…

Monday – A long but scenic drive over the Moray moors, to Roseisle Forest, initially shrouded in haar (sea mist.) I think everyone however enjoyed finding the controls on the tricky line exercise – the lack of vegetation was a real treat, and after a short demo on how to use the electronic ‘EMIT’ course system, and an early lunch, now in sunshine, we moved to the more varied northern area for a race, which was highly technical but extremely pleasant. Roseisle was so beautiful that no one wanted to leave and so we did a final exercise – a fast and intense ‘clock style’ relay race, on the map’s fastest area. Much confusion in what objects were supposed to be carried around ‘the clock’ resulted in some teams taking twice as long as others.

Tuesday – A short, easy day was billed, and after a nice lie in we made our way the area, Anagach Woods, near Grantown-on-Spey in the heart of Strathspey. Matt was elated to read his mention in the Daily Mirror, then we got going with one of the hardest exercises – in which under timed conditions people had to draw their own map, with enough detail to avoid getting lost on the following course. I was terrified people would get horribly lost but in the event it was only me that did. Some maps turned out to be more artistic than others. Matt’s strategy of directions instead, however, got him a very good time. After that there was a longer, control picking exercise which made the very best of the beautiful and varied woods Following a pleasant lunch and a spot of sunbathing we hurried back to Glenmore, for an afternoon break, some went biking and others visited beautiful Loch an Eilean – the Cambridge contingent even swam across to the ‘Eilean’ (island.) After the event meal, entz culminated in a dramatic battle of Risk – having given up on trying to get TV reception in the Cairngorms!

Wednesday – Today was billed as very physical, and it was an early start to make the long journey through the Highlands, via Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, to Plodda and West Guisachan, near Glen Affric. A map memory exercise proved to be a lot trickier than planned due to a recently felled area adding confusion, and slow going on the the heathery terrain. The views of the dramatic Plodda Falls were much more impressive than expected and hopefully made it the freezing wet-shod ford of the river. After an early lunch, a tricky walk over to Plodda proper was followed by an arduous and uphill relocation exercise. Being able to relocate in areas like Plodda is a vitally important skill to learn. I learnt how heavy EMIT stakes were while setting up for the finishing race It was rather an ‘uphill’ downhill race, and apologies to those affected by an incorrect control siting. It was extremely physical, and very remote near the top, exactly the sort of area I wanted to test everyone’s skills to the limit. We then had a suitably massive 3-hour evening meal at the local Aviemore curry house (no-one finished their meal I think!) complete with award ceremony, and barely made it back to the YH before getting locked out!

Thursday – After checking out of the YH, which had proven to be very quiet the last few days despite the unbroken lovely weather, we headed to the final area, Uath Lochans. This was the only day clouds were in the sky (and even the odd spot of rain!) but it soon became lovely again. We started in the commercially forested area, with a new type of exercise designed to help people ‘contour,’ proving quite tricky on the shallow, even slopes. We then moved over to the lochans themselves, for perhaps the most technical race of all. Duncan had planned a ‘boulderdash’ classic race and it was innovative course, including several switch backs – everyone (I think) made mistakes, although mine were among the worst! The view from the viewpoint was nothing short of stunning – a fitting end to the week.

And so, the long journey back south was made, stopping via a clearer Edinburgh and a night in Matt’s place at Huddersfield.

Thanks to: (apologies if I got any of the below wrong!) Pippa for planning Exercises 1, 2, and driving us, Becky for planning Exercise 5, Mark for planning Exercises 7 and 8, Matt for planning Exercise 11, and organising food each night. Duncan for planning Exercises 6, 10 and 13 and doing loads of hanging for many of the other exercises, and driving! And all who made the journey for making it a most successful week.

The exercises were:
1: Control Flow
2: Ultra Short Race
3: Follow the Line
4: EMIT Demo
5: Catching Features Race
6: Clock Relay
7: Draw Your Own Map
8: Control Picking
9: Map Memory
10: Relocation
11: Downhill Race
12: Contour Following
13: Classic Race

The areas (all 1:10000 scale) were:
1. Moncreiffe Hill (Public event)
2. Inshriach North
3. Roseisle North
4. Anagach Wood
5. Plodda and West Guisachan
6. Uath Lochans North

(And finally, a bit of technology talk – no entry is complete without it! The lack of communication in the last week was due to my Bluetooth/GSM connection failing miserably, partially due to the poor reception up there. But it was nice to get away from technology for a whole week. I had 160 emails waiting when I got back. Less than 10 I actually wanted to receive. No real suprise there!)