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March 21, 2007

Xtreme Everest and the media

It's less than a month since my birthday, but already I am scheming to spend my next one having more fun. Somehow, scrambling over steep, slippery rock in Snowdonia in persistent rain wasn't quite what I had in mind when I enrolled in the Xtreme Everest expedition. I am one of 200+ volunteers undergoing medical tests at various altitudes from sea level to Everest Base Camp (5300m/17,400 ft) to assist research into the effects of low oxygen (hypoxia) on brain, blood and breathing. The mystery is why some folk tolerate lack of oxygen so much better than others.

Our group of 17 leaves for Nepal on 7 April. At least the Snowdonia weekend let some of us meet and we do some team-building stuff – more fun than getting soaked and drained. Sea level testing had taken a full day in London in January, and included cycling on an exercise bike until you drop from exhaustion - in my case at a heart rate of 185 beats per minute. I am not looking forward to repeating this at altitude! It has also emerged that the innocuous-sounding daily "diary" requires a series of measurements before and after a step test that I found tiring even at sea-level. It seems that we have to do this daily, first thing, without so much as a cup of tea first!

The weird thing is that the press thinks this is a story. After seven years of beavering away as a publisher of Rucksack Readers, suddenly there's one feature after another. This week alone there's a story in The Bookseller, a feature in Country Walking magazine and a centrefold imminent in the Stirling Observer. People trek to Everest Base Camp all the time, but it seems that the combination of grandmother, EBC and medical research pushes all the buttons. I am bemused by visits and phone calls from reporters, and a photo-shoot takes longer than I could have imagined. Mustn't be ungrateful though, it will probably be at least another seven years before anybody notices us again – if ever!

March 23, 2007

Dumyat, Rennie McOwan and Stirling Literary Society

Yesterday the air was gin-clear, visibility superb, so I abandoned the office email mountain in favour of taking Bramble up a local hill, Dumyat, which has a Pictish fort, dog-friendly access and a view of the entire carse (the flood plain of the Forth). The views yesterday were captivating: to the north and west the snow-capped mountains, to the south Stirling Castle, the Wallace Monument and the sites of seven battlefields in the foreground, with the Pentlands and Moorfoots behind.

To appreciate Dumyat fully, read Rennie McOwan's chapter in our anthology Call of the Wild, which we published for the Outdoor Writers Guild. Rennie grew up in Dumyat's shadow, it was his playground, and he immortalised it in his wonderful novel for children Light on Dumyat. A well-known author and broadcaster, now semi-retired, he still sometimes speaks in local schools. Years ago, my daughter Helen came home from school full of the excitement of hearing him talk. And there's nothing like hearing the author in person to breathe life into literature.

I was reminded of this on Monday, when crime writer Christopher Brookmyre spoke to Stirling Literary Society - a group that, like Friends of the Ochils, was founded by Rennie McOwan. He read a wonderful extract from A tale etched in blood and hard black pencil which is about to come out in paperback - lots of us bought signed advance copies on the night - quite a coup for SLS! Not merely a gripping and amusing crime novel, it's essential reading for anybody interested in children and schooling. It's a vivid, authentic evocation of the casual cruelty of the playground, and the licensed abuse by some teachers, in the west of Scotland in the 1970s. It rings true, but it's also very, very funny. Brookmyre's website is lively, but oddly it shows the wrong colour on the jacket image: etched in blood should be red, not blue, obviously. Not many people have this book yet!

March 28, 2007

Kintyre and its Way

I spent the last two days in Kintyre, visiting Campbeltown for an event to support and develop tourism surrounding the Kintyre Way. This new long-distance walk opened in August 2006, and we are publishing a guidebook for it in October. Co-author Sandra Bardwell and I will do the research trip in May, but this was a golden opportunity to meet some of the people we want to work with, and also to get my first taste of the peninsula. The drive from Dunblane via Loch Lomond and Loch Fyne was wonderful, with stunning scenery on both coastlines, Atlantic and Firth of Clyde.

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Campbeltown has a fantastic natural harbour sheltered by Davaar Island, seen above at sunrise just before the event. It was held in the Aqualibrium, a glaring white concrete cylinder housing a leisure centre and "family room" with appalling acoustics where our sessions were held – seriously headache-inducing for group work. What on earth must it be like when full of noisy children? Colin Hossack of the Forestry Commission gave us an inspiring presentation on the assets of Kintyre for the walker, and Steve Duncan provided the Visitscotland perspective.

Before the start, I had a look at the wonderful Lorne and the Lowland, known locally as the Longrow Church. Its tall tower dominates the skyline from Campbeltown Loch. An early work by John Burnet (1869), its wonderful sweeping curves create the warmest, most welcoming interior of any church I've visited. It's encouragingly well looked after, and obviously plays an active role at the heart of the community. I was lucky enough to find workmen repairing the roof, so I was able to get inside with my camera:

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The only downside of my trip was over 40 midge-bites from my lochside evening walk. If that's what they're like in March, what must it be like in high summer? (Postscript 3.4.07: still itching badly, over a week later!)

April 26, 2007

Namche Bazaar revisited

Yesterday we descended to Namche from Tengboche (3860m/12,700ft). My day began at its monastery, which sits on a spectacular ridge surrounded by snowclad mountains. My three previous attempts to make sound recordings of the monks chanting had failed, so I went along to the service at 6.30am with my sound kit: fourth time lucky. The early service was also more atmospheric than the 3pm one, where thoughtless tourists ignore the clear and understandable prohibition on flash photography. Anyway, the recording was captured, breakfast quickly swallowed and we set off by 8am.

During a net descent of 420m (1400ft) over 4.5 hours, down a path that undulates a fair bit, we felt a rush of well-being as the vegetation grew lusher and the air richer in oxygen. And not far above Namche, we were thrilled to see 7 eagles wheeling and soaring over the valley, really close to the path. You never get that close to a golden eagle in Scotland!

Had a busy afternoon in Namche, rejoicing to find moving around much less effort than last time: what a difference a fortnight makes! Revisited my favourite internet cafe and not only found a raft of emails (thanks, guys) but also played around with our website: it was obvious that, thousands of miles away, my PA had just released a new book (our Speyside Way) so it seemed like a good idea to feature it on our front page. Making this change gave me a curious sense of satisfaction: can't have lost all my brain cells!

The Namche lodge was unexpectedly busy with two other Xtreme Everest groups, Group F having been delayed 24 hours by fog at Lukla airport. Club Namche's chilly basement was transformed for our benefit into a party venue, by sparkly lighting, funky music and plenty of booze. All this followed immediately after dinner, which meant I was still in my hiking boots. (An oddity of trekking is that you often wear heavy boots all day and evening, and you don't always take off any clothes before retiring.) What I didn't know is that the Ceroc session wasn't just a demonstration, but also a lesson and all of us were to take part. So I learned the beginnings of a new type of dance (it's a cross between jive and salsa) in hiking boots, at 3450m/11,300ft!

May 5, 2007

Retirement, celebration and departure

My husband, Keir Bloomer, retired yesterday from his job as Chief Executive for Clackmannanshire. The Council held a lovely presentation for him in the afternoon: it was terrific to hear how many other people think he's a great bloke too. Then we went on to dinner to celebrate, or at least those who hadn't been up all night with the General Election count did. Foregoing the pleasures of being Returning Officer, as at previous General Elections, on Thursday turned out to be one of his better decisions!

Tomorrow I set off for the Kintyre Way, having collected my co-author Sandra Bardwell from Perth today. The plan is to leave at 6 a.m. to drive to Tarbert, drop Sandy there, drive myself to Claonaig so that she walks Day 1 while I do Day 2, then taxi back to collect car and Sandy and write up our notes on the laptop. Working this way, we expect to cover the entire 89-mile route plus spurs and including a day-trip to Gigha by the end of Thursday. This should let us collect all the material and photos that we need for our forthcoming Rucksack Readers book The Kintyre Way.

It may sound ambitious, but at least it's an answer to all those prophets of doom who say that Keir's retirement will create a problem for me in having him around all day ... It looks like he too will be busy with freelance work, and it'll be at least a fortnight before we will coincide at Landrick on a weekday.

July 25, 2007

The West Highland Way revisited (south)

The West Highland Way was my very first long walk, in May 1998, and it was a revelation: I and three friends had a wonderful week. Indirectly (and via Kilimanjaro) it led to the creation of Rucksack Readers, the guidebook business that now more-or-less earns my keep. Naturally, the WHW was one of the first books that we produced (in 2000), and I updated it for a 2nd edition back in 2003. With stocks are running low, I thought I'd re-walk the entire Way for the next edition. The southern portion is accessible from Dunblane, so I'm doing it in stages: last week was Milngavie to Balmaha (20 miles), then Balmaha to Inversnaid ("only" 14 miles, but more tiring because of the terrain).

Yesterday, with a good forecast, was Inversnaid to Crianlarich, so husband Keir kindly gave me a lift to Inveruglas (having dropped off my car at Crianlarich en route). That let me reach Inversnaid by ferry across Loch Lomond, which was a glorious start. A robin made my day by posing on a waymarker; I'm holding my breath while reaching for the camera. Then it was splendid walking along Loch Lomondside, noticeably easier than last time (in May 1999 I rewalked the whole way, with rain morning noon and night, but when you're charity-sponsored, giving up is not an option). It wasn't just better weather or that I'm more experienced, the Way actually has become easier, with bridges over burns and boardwalks over awkward bits. Some mixed feelings about the wildness tamed. Also, now that I'm using my poles properly, powering along using upper body strength, it's like having an extra gear.

From time to time I walked with three lovely guys from down south, who were doing it for the first time. Bees seemed very fit, and I think Brad and Marc were wondering why they had let Bees decide the important things like how many days to take (six is ambitious for first-timers with heavy packs)! I enjoyed the chat, and it's amazing how quickly the miles sped by. If they remember to email it, I'll add the photo I took of them. I was surprised (and indignant) that having read on the official website that a map is essential, they had assumed that they had to buy all ten OS Explorers (at £7.99 each)! I showed them my handy little Footprint map which costs £4.95, shows the whole route, is waterproof and fits your trouser pocket. Since they hadn't yet got their Explorers out of the rucksack, guess which is more useful? Tempted as I was to linger over lunch with them at Beinglas Farm, I knew I had to bash on to Crianlarich, from where I'll resume soon to complete the northern half.

August 9, 2007

The West Highland Way revisited (north)

On Sunday, I resumed my West Highland Way hike, starting from Crianlarich with the goal of hiking the 48+ miles to Fort William by Tuesday afternoon, taking the train back to the car back to Dunblane. Logistically, it all worked perfectly, with overnights at the Inveroran Hotel and in Kinlochleven. The weather, however, was something else. Remember that great forecast for August? Well, it didn't apply to those three days, at least not in the Western Highlands. Apart from the fact that trudging through soaking ground in horizontal rain isn't much fun, it certainly thwarted my hopes of getting photographs for the new edition of my book. Of course I could and did check the validity of the directions, but I suspect I'll end up having to go back in better weather. It's really frustrating, having climbed the Devil's Staircase, knowing that you are looking north over the splendid scenery of the Mamores, to see nothing but cloud, rain and mist!

On Monday morning I had walked from Inveroran to the King's House, where a nice thing happened over my lunchtime bowl of soup. Being in the business, I always look to see which guidebooks and maps people are using, and had been talking to some Danes with a really old Footprint map that they had used 9 years ago and were still finding good this time around. A guy from Paisley then told me about this neat guidebook he had, with drop-down map and signpost graphics and all waterproof. I waited until he got it out before producing mine and saying "snap", revealing myself as author and publisher. Even better, he too was using it second time around, it having rained both times, and although it wasn't pristine, it certainly didn't owe him anything. He thought this was an amazing coincidence. It certainly made my day.

On arrival in Kinlochleven, I fell into conversation with a fellow guest who clearly knew the Way rather well. I asked how often he had done it, but he couldn't remember "about 15 or 16 times" he thought. This underlines the fact that this walk has something special.

After my last hike, I took up the issue of how the official website recommends maps, by the way, and I am delighted to report that as a direct result it no longer lists the 10 OS Explorer maps. So if my friends Bees, Brad and Marc are reading, they can see that I listened, learned and acted - even though they had bought the wrong guidebook!

November 21, 2007

Recycling, resurrection and rejoicing

Last Friday, my Apple laser printer stopped working. No reproaches, I've only hammered it daily since 1989, but since my best friend and computer guru Bob Tennent was due next day, I waited to get his confirmation of its death. On Monday I ordered an Epson (6200N) on next-day delivery and spent Tuesday chasing up why it never reached us: we live in the wilds and I was desperate, with our next Rucksack Reader at a printout-demanding stage. On Wednesday it arrived, and thanks to the simplicity of Mac, it was unpacked, installed and working inside 10 minutes ... and then I became uneasy about the landfill angle.

Having recently installed a new, full cartridge in the old Apple printer, I thought I'd offer it back to the lovely people at Supercharge who have been providing my refills all these years. Bill McCormack sounded kindly, but amused. Seems I'm the last customer they have left using this antiquated printer. Oh well, it was worth asking. Before saying goodbye, however, I mentioned that felt from the fixing roller cleaner had wrapped itself around the roller, could that have caused a problem? Like Bob, he thought that impossible, but said it should work without one. So I tried removing it anyway, reconnected everything and was stunned when it sprang into life again: does this presage another 18 years??

So I phoned Bill again, whom I've never met, but who now seems more like a friend than a supplier. He has promised to send free replacement cleaners, and actually seemed happy about the renaissance. Perhaps he thinks we may go for the Guinness Book of Records. So obviously I'll go on buying cartridge refills from him. And after a slight struggle with temptation, I am keeping the elderly Apple printer and letting my husband have the superlative new Epson. OK, the Apple hasn't got anything like the resolution, but for long-service it surely deserves some loyalty. How many Windows users can be using the same printer as 18 years ago?

So my printer is not dead, but resurrected, and recycling has paid off with a knowledge of its innards that I woudn't otherwise have gained. And as for saving the printer after experts thought it was fit only for landfill, I am astounded, but I rejoice.

February 24, 2008

On becoming a pensioner

Today I am 60 years old, and proud of it. It's a pleasingly round number, I'm lucky enough still to have my own teeth, robust good health and at least most of my faculties. And my whole family and four of my closest friends are joining me for a celebration lunch at the Sheriffmuir Inn, my favourite watering-hole near the site of the battle. It's a pub I've been walking to with dogs for over ten years, and we'll walk both ways today.

I don't, however, feel a day older and am getting fed up with the way officialdom has started to talk to me as if all pensioners are doddering, pathetic or faintly imbecile. TransportScotland tells you its bus pass is for "older and disabled people": older than whom? And don't they mean "or" and not "and"? Various letters have been arriving from schemes into which I paid trivial sums many decades ago (having turned self-employed when I was 30) demanding obscure choices to be made, screeching "you are retiring in X days": wrong, I'm not. Actually I've no intention of retiring now, nor in 5 years' time, nor perhaps at all unless my health breaks down. My father finalised his last book when he was 95 years old, and I'm enormously proud of that.

I really love my job, and as long as people go on using our guidebooks I intend to continue publishing them. I suppose I ought to apply for the bus pass and I shall definitely spend any "pension" windfalls (probably on diving kit or a new digital camera). But please, no more talk of retirement as if it's axiomatic. I'm off to Ireland tomorrow to check out changes to the Wicklow Way, one of several new titles we'll be announcing this year: much more fun than retiring. Rant over!

April 16, 2008

London Book Fair 13-16 April

I just got back from London Book Fair and I'm working through my list of follow-up, wondering how to evaluate whether the effort and expense really justifies it. One thing that emerged is that printed prices on books is becoming a thing of the past. Given the strong Euro and weak dollar, the book's dollar price tends to devalue its sterling and Euro price. We're actually reprinting our Rucksack Readers leaflet without its US dollar prices at the request of our European distributor for just this reason.

Worse still, we've just realised that booksellers are buying direct from Amazon.com so as to undercut prices further. One of the bizarre by-products of globalisation (combined with the number of book trade middlemen working for narrow margins) is that many of our books are now crossing the Atlantic twice before being sold at a discount via Marketplace on Amazon.co.uk. Added to the 6000 miles they travel to reach us from our printer in Hong Kong, they are doing high mileages before they start. The customer who buys on UK Marketplace has no idea of this: the booksellers themselves claim "dispatched from the UK" – which is true only after they've completed their 12,000 miles! And in case you're wondering why books appear on Marketplace at daft prices like £0.01, it's because the seller still gets £2.75 p&p and the seller minimises what they pay to Amazon in fees. So if you can find what you're looking for on Marketplace, as a consumer you may win (but remember to add on the £2.75 before deciding if it's really a bargain).

The dollar price conversation didn't really happen at Book Fair because I discovered something even more interesting from our US distributors, Interlink Publishing: its President, Michel and his partner Hildi are interested in climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. My own book Explore Mount Kilimanjaro is in its third edition, but I had been half-thinking of returning to check out a fourth approach route from the west (Lemosho) for a new version. The idea seemed both tempting (the chance to refresh photographs, update the other routes and experience Lemosho for myself) and scary (what if I'm already past it? how will I remain credible? do I really need to go through all that again?). However, fired by Michel's enthusiasm I'm in the process of booking up through Harry Kikstra's www.7summits.com website. We'll probably go in June.

June 17, 2008

Touching base, between trips

Just back from Edinburgh airport after a wonderfully long weekend in Tuscany. Based in the lovely Casa del Sole, Camaiore, this was a chance to see Italy afresh through the eyes of two-year-old grand-daughter Amy and daughter Helen. Keir and I (Il nono and La nona) enjoyed a different perspective. Yes we went to the Piazza dei Miracoli, Pisa, but we also visited the Pinocchio Park (and the superb gardens of the Villa Ganzoni also in Collodi), the zoo at Pistoia, the play park in Camaiore and cycled around the walls of Lucca pulling Amy in her chariot. Considering that Keir was about the only person I knew at Cambridge who couldn't manage a bicycle, I thought it was remarkable that we all survived the Lucca walls without injury, and although the puddles spattered poor Amy she didn’t seem to mind at all. We all climbed to the very top of La Rocca in San Miniato for a great view over the town.

The only downside of all this is that I have to leave home tomorrow morning at 0415 for my return trip to Kili. Were it not for the necessity of swapping Italian holiday clothes for high-altitude trek gear, it's barely worth returning to Landrick from Edinburgh airport. The trouble is that all that pasta and vino rosso has added to the task, and there was really no chance to do any training … I’ve always believed (hoped?) that the most important organ for trekking at altitude is your brain (rather than heart, lungs or legs) but I hadn’t expected to have to put this theory to such a severe test! The Lemosho route I’m trying this time at least has a long approach, but it joins the strenuous, scrambling Machame route. Although I’ve done Machame before, at the time I was an important 8 years younger, several kilos lighter in weight and much fitter. Still, if this ill-prepared pensioner can summit once more, it will prove that anybody can.

So I have no small misgivings, despite the usual pleasant sense of anticipation of any long-haul adventure. I love Tanzania, I am still fascinated by the world’s highest free-standing mountain, and I’m hoping to bring back many and much better photos. I’m taking my new Leica-lensed digital camera and hoping that I’m far enough up its learning curve to dodge many of the mistakes I’ve made before. I look back with embarrassment to my 1999 attempts, taken with a borrowed APS camera(!) This pre-dated the formation of Rucksack Readers and was chosen purely because it was very light, at a time when I was most uncertain if I could carry weight at altitude!

July 26, 2008

From HyperCard to SuperCard, with a little help from my friends

Contrary to what many folk think I'm not actually interested in computers, only in what they empower you to do. (I programmed my first mainframe computer over 45 years ago.) I seldom upgrade unless forced to, and I am still devoted to my eerily silent Apple Cube despite its great age (virtually "last century"). Above all, I am still running not only my business but also all domestic, personal, family and other contacts using a wonderful HyperCard stack that my guru Bob Tennent and I developed in 1989! HyperCard was fast, friendly, flexible and (perhaps fatally) free. It was easy to adapt to developing needs and I simply can't imagine life without it.

Sadly, although Apple has kept faith with its legacy users who can run HyperCard in a window under the obsolete OS9, successive upgrades have been less and less compatible with keeping my wonder stack updated, and no new Mac can run it at all. My Cube is groaning under its workload and has slowed to a point where I notice delays. I saw this coming, and actually bought HyperCard's modern descendant SuperCard a few years ago. And then I postponed and procrastinated ... SuperCard is fundamentally different, a more powerful piece of software, slightly scary. Despite being about 95% compatible with HyperCard, I was worried about the other 5%. Normally 95% of a programmer's effort goes into fixing the last 5%. No longer a spring chicken, I funked the idea of having my life and my business paralysed by inability to debug unfamiliar code. It was, after all, nearly 20 years since I had been competent at HyperTalk coding ... and my LaserWriter which also dates from that era is still going strong!

Fortunately, SuperCard has three enormous assets, beyond the fact that it works with modern Macs. First is a HyperCard conversion utility which (to my enormous relief) took my stack (now with nearly 9000 records) and converted it into a 95% usable SuperCard project. Second, there's a wonderful user group where my "seeking help" message (concerned with the other 5%) has already provided 47 response messages from SuperCard developers who are really generous with their time and expertise. Third is John Johnston, user group member and teacher at Sandaig Primary School in Easterhouse, Glasgow. He has already helped me loads by email, and I haven't even met him yet. Look at the pupils' blogs, podcasts and projects on his school's amazing website. The result is that despite a hair-raising week since I converted, some scary "Bad Star" messages and a lot of messing with code (SuperTalk, AppleScript et al), I now have a working project which is very nearly as useful as the previous stack and not all that much slower.

Whilst I appreciate Danny Goodman's altruism in insisting that HyperCard be free of charge, had it been sold even at a sensible price, I bet it would still be alive and well and available on modern Macs, thereby saving all of us who loved it the pain of switching to SuperCard. Just a thought about market forces.

August 1, 2008

A Cowal interlude

I returned yesterday from a magical few days in Cowal, the peninsula that reaches down like a crab claw around the Island of Bute in the Firth of Clyde. Having published books on long-distance walks in both Kintyre to its south-west and the Arran to its south, I'd been thinking it would be logical to publish a Rucksack Reader to the Cowal Way, a long walk devised by Jim McLuckie of the Colintraive and Glendaruel Community Council. I was encouraged in this idea when one of its Committee members approached me in Campbeltown over a year ago, saying that stocks of their own guidebook had run out. Published in 2001 with Lottery funding, that book was written by John Fisher, and always seemed readily available in Cowal but almost unobtainable outside. That isn't my view of how to bring in visting walkers, with their sterling, dollars and euros, to an area rich in scenery and wildlife.

The 2-hour drive to Ormidale (where we met in Jim McLuckie's lovely house) was extremely scenic, passing three large lochs (Lomond, Long and Fyne). The meeting was most enjoyable: longer, and with more laughter, than I could have hoped for: thanks, Jim, Michael and Annie. It would be lovely to think it might lead to a guidebook.

Anyway it made a good excuse to stay with my dear friends Bob and Di Tennent in Blairmore, from Ormidale only half an hour's drive easterly. And despite a fairly dire forecast on Wednesday, we had an amazing sail in a Freedom 21 around the Holy Loch and down the Clyde to Kip next day. The breeze was at least Force 4/5 and although the photo below is of the right boat, it's one that Bob took earlier this year. I should explain that we weren't actually flying the spinnaker for the good reason that there was too much wind: we were surfing at up to 7.3 knots even with the mainsail reefed! It's a long time since I've felt such sheer exhilaration and it was deeply refreshing.

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On Thursday I headed for Glasgow, mainly to meet John Johnston for lunch at the Ubiquitous Chip. John has become my SuperCard guru and was kind enough to fix a few problems on my laptop after lunch. It's wonderful watching a skilled programmer at work, even better when he is solving problems for you, and SuperCard's trace facility is very slick. John teaches at Sandaig Primary when he isn't writing creative SuperCard software such as Rommy Robot (see his blog) and rescuing folk like me who are out of their depths. After our email exchanges in July, it was great to meet this amazing former zoo keeper and enjoy a civilised lunch. Endearingly, it turns out he's a little absent-minded, to the extent that he told me if you withdraw cash from an ATM machine but walk away instead of collecting your cash, the machine takes it back and credits your account! (This presupposes that somebody else doesn't lift it meantime, so is not recommended.) This was just one of many things I learned today:)

And, returning to Dunblane yesterday afternoon, I couldn't believe I'd been away for only two nights. It always seems as if you've been away for longer when a ferry is involved.

August 6, 2008

The design genius of Apple

My 26 July post was about my recent efforts to achieve HyperCard/SuperCard migration. The payoff was being ready to order a new Mac. My trusty Cube had been grinding slowly, overtaken by "progress", and my online publishing business needs five applications open just to process an order, up to ten if I'm editing, choosing images or reviewing page design. Since it's nearly seven years since my last upgrade, I jumped without hesitation to the best current iMac: gorgeous 24-inch screen with blistering fast (over 3GHz) dual processors and plenty of memory. Best of all, it took under five minutes to unpack, plug in its single power lead and get it surfing the web fast and gracefully. I enjoyed small details such as well-designed packaging, and the way the remote control works straight away and intuitively, just like an iPod. Here's hoping this will suffice for the next seven years!

And, had my Cube been unmodified, I expect that Apple's brilliant Migration Assistant "software that lets you transfer your data, preferences and settings from one Mac to another" would have made the next bit painless. Sadly, all attempts to get the Cube to start up in "target" mode failed, so Migration never began. Best friend and guru Bob Tennent managed to troubleshoot this: it's a side-effect of the Cube's retro-fitted non-Apple optical drive. We tried using Airport (wireless network) instead of Firewire, but that failed: you can't even instal Leopard (System 10.5) on a Cube so as to use its two-way Migration Assistant. Deep sigh, but there's no gain without pain, especially where computers are involved. I spent the next few hours reinstalling software, importing bookmarks and retrieving passwords, product keys and settings. Without my wonderful SuperCard project (which contains everything I needed, and much more) I couldn't have done it nearly so fast, and maybe I would have lost my reason ... so converting from HyperCard first was deffo the way to go!

All the data files from the external hard drive came across fine. I rejected Time Machine's kind invitation to back up automatically, fearing that this might have replaced all my precious ex-Cube data with the iMac's minimal data. Remembering the bad old days of MS-DOS (which expected you to know syntax in order to back files up in the intended direction) I'd rather make such decisions manually.

Right now, less than 24 hours after the box was delivered, nearly all applications have been reinstalled and nearly all peripherals are working fine. Downsides (so far) are that AppleWorks 6 won't run any more, and my 19-year old LaserWriter is unable to print: maybe the iMac thinks it's too last-century and won't talk to it? Or maybe guru Bob will talk me through the solution tonight. It was after midnight when I finally sorted the Entourage database and frankly, some Dutch courage had been taken in the meantime: sleep beckoned, so I left it overnight, downloading its updates.

Best of all, all orders have been handled and no customer (unless they happen to read this blog) will be aware of any disruption. And husband Keir, who was in Oban overnight (just as well, for all the attention I'd have paid him:), will return to find my 22-inch screen attached to his Cube, where it will give his PowerPoints more room to breathe.

September 20, 2008

Fresh Light on Dumyat

Yesterday, we launched Light on Dumyat, the wonderful adventure novel for children, as part of Stirling Literary Festival, at the Stirling Smith. Elspeth King, its curator who has so successfully captured the Leonardo drawings for this, its only Scottish venue, was chairman for the evening. Moira Lawson, Chairman of the Friends of the Smith, spoke about the book’s origin and appeal. Clearly an ex-teacher, she had excellent rapport with the audience of over 100.

False modesty will not, however, prevent me from expressing my belief that husband Keir was on top form in his speech which set the “political incorrectness” of Rennie’s fine novel in the context of modern educational thinking about childhood and children’s needs for autonomy and real experiences. Willie Thom, an old friend of Rennie’s and former policeman and advocate, told me that this last speaker was so good that somebody should make a transcript available. Since he didn't know of my connection with the event, I gave this some weight. Keir speaks only from a few notes, but this morning I sat him down and simply took dictation. You can read the result here.

All credit to the McOwan family who hosted a fine launch and to Moira who also created the superb refreshments. Rennie is well known to this audience, not only as founder of Stirling Literary Society and Friends of the Ochils, but also as a celebrated and popular Stirling citizen. He was kept busy, signing about 90 books, and chatting to so many guests who obviously warmly welcomed the book's rebirth.

November 15, 2008

Finalising our Everest book

Yesterday was a landmark in the life of our Rucksack Pocket Summits series, in that I finished my work on Harry Kikstra's Everest guidebook, and it's now off to repro for publication in March 2009. Getting this far hasn't been easy. After climbing his seven summits, guiding clients up Everest and making TV documentaries, author Harry is now cycling from Alaska to Cape Horn with his fiancée Ivana. So getting answers to queries has depended on whether and when he stops somewhere with good internet access. And sometimes getting high-resolution images has depended on what's on the hard drive in his pannier! The result is that my editorial role has been more demanding than usual, and I've been drawing heavily on my Xtreme Everest experience of April 2007 to make sense of the routes, the priorities and to fill a few photographic gaps.

I'm very proud of this series. Dozens of people have published accounts of their personal journeys to the seven summits, but nobody has ever published guidebooks that actually tell you how to. Harry gives an honest account of what is involved, and this must help would-be Everest climbers to decide whether it's really for them. So far, all those who have proof-read have said how much the book has put them off the whole idea. Maybe there will be a market among friends and family of aspirant climbers who want to put their loved ones off the whole thing? Anyway, looking at the book's gallery it's hard not to respond to the sheer beauty of the place.

It has also brought me into contact with two more amazing people (I'm used to Harry doing amazing things). For photographs high on the Nepal side, we are indebted to Alan Arnette of Colorado, whose website is a brilliant resource on Everest and many other mountains. He has superb photographs, videos and route narrative. His climbing drive is closely connected with his determination to raise funds to Cure Alzheimer's - the heart-rending disease that leads to bereavement by inches.

On the other side of the world, in New South Wales, is Lincoln Hall, Harry's team-mate who in May 2006 was left for dead high on Everest with no tent, sleeping-bag or oxygen. Because he had no pulse and wasn't breathing, his rucksack was understandably removed by the sherpas. He went on to defy physics and medical science by surviving overnight in extreme cold at 8600m. Dan Mazur and other climbers found him next morning, sitting cross-legged on a ridge near Mushroom Rock, and abandoned their climbs to save his life. They must have had the fright of their lives when Lincoln greeted them "I imagine you're surprised to see me here?". This masterpiece of under-statement gives you some idea what to expect from Lincoln's wonderful book Dead Lucky. Lincoln has just kindly agreed to endorse Harry's book. My correspondence with Alan Arnette and Lincoln Hall has certainly enlivened my daily emails recently.

November 20, 2008

Software upgrades, ethics and online purchase

Back in August, I thought that the only casualty of my upgrade to the iMac was AppleWorks. Little did I realise that my occasional use of Acrobat Pro would also become an issue. Mostly I use Acrobat Reader, which is free to download, but occasionally I need a few Pro features – for example to be able to chop a book into sections for our "Look inside" feature on the Rucksack Readers website, so people can "try before they buy". Sadly, when I tried to instal an old version of Acrobat Pro from my CD yesterday, I was thwarted: it's an upgrade to an earlier version (also a legal CD) which runs under Classic. The iMac doesn't do Classic, so it had a hissy fit and spat out that CD.

So I looked around the web intending to buy an update, and was horrified to find that Acrobat Pro costs £413 on Amazon, and nearly as much from US sources with all the extra delay, carriage and duty. Since I seldom need Pro, it seemed an outrageous price, and Adobe don't even do a 30-day trial edition for Mac (as they do for Windows). So I tried a Google search including the word discount, and was surprised to find dozens of sites offering OEM download-only versions for $60 US. Surprised, intrigued, curious, ... indeed I was almost tempted, since I certainly don't need the manuals, CD or packaging.

But having had a lot of my own intellectual property ripped off over a long lifetime, I am very old-fashioned about software piracy and had read with scepticism the reasons stated why the software was so cheap (bankrupt stock, auctions, no delivery costs etc). I then noticed that although the sites in question had very different company names, URLs and general appearances, the FAQ wording was suspiciously identical (with the same tiny mistakes in spelling or grammar), they all offered the same vast range of popular software, and, most dubious of all, they all had the same "call centre" number, a UK number 0203 286 4046 that claims a link with 25 Vartry Road, London, N15 6PT. Phone it and you'll get an answering machine. Check the address online and you'll find it consists of flats. So with no intention of buying anything from this dodgy-seeming source, I clicked the Checkout button.

These sites are littered with plausible-looking bits and pieces, moneyback assurances, privacy and anti-spam policies. The shopping cart page has a security logo and the site claims to be designed by

© VK Software. Approved by Google Inc.
This information is provided by the customer and is entered into our certified secure network. Any information provided by our customers is never shared, sold, or released to any third party outside our network.

But the bogus padlock graphic is merely artwork, not in the browser, and the URL lacks the vital s in https:// ... The unwary might not notice these small details and may enter their card details into this totally insecure environment with disastrous results.

The conclusion seems inescapable that the very low software prices are purely an inducement to divulge your card details. Whether you then get a working and/or pirated download is not the point. Once your card has been compromised, it will be very clear that this was a poor bargain. But if Adobe's pricing weren't so high, there wouldn't be such a strong incentive for such websites to flourish, proliferate and doubtless take lots of money from unsuspecting customers. Is Adobe's greed fuelling this particular market?

Deep sigh! I run an online business and I want people to be able to trust this form of commerce. It's disappointing to find so much human ingenuity going into deceiving others, and the whole thing has been hugely time-wasting. It's similar to a Trojan horse: "Timeo Danaos et[iam] dona ferentes" ("Beware of Greeks even if they bring presents" – a caution that the citizens of Troy should have heeded).

February 6, 2009

Hiking the Cowal Way

I confess to being more "hands-on" than most publishers, or even editors. Our forthcoming Cowal Way guidebook was finally nearing readiness for repro when I was struck by the fact that the authors had never written a book before, let alone detailed walking directions. So I decided to test their manuscript by trying to walk the 57-mile route from their directions alone. To avoid delaying the book (due out in May), this had to be done by the end of January. I knew the short hours of daylight would be challenging, but I hadn't reckoned on the deep snow. From Cowal's coastal roads, it's hard to believe how wintry conditions can be on the high ground.

My trip began early on Sunday 25th with a hair-raising drive from Blairmore to Portavadie along the thickly snow-carpeted single-track B836. It was passable by my car (front-wheel drive) only by sticking to the tracks of the previous vehicle as if to tramlines. Any oncoming traffic would have ended the attempt before it began: it took all the momentum I could muster to crest the hills.

On Tuesday, I left Strachur very early, apprehensive of the uphill hike to Curra Lochain, the watershed above Loch Goil. Its outflow burn was in spate with melt-water, and it seemed impossible to find a safe crossing for this raging torrent. The "stepping stone" (promised by the directions) was submerged, slippery and sloping. Alone, unsupported and with no desire to get frostbitten feet, let alone swept away, I hesitated, backtracked and finally overcame my loss of nerve by tossing my rucksack across. It contained my prized Lumix G1 camera, so then I had no choice but to follow.

After an untidy, strenuous leap and scramble, I sat down to recover my breath and happened to look up. And there it was, less than 100 feet above my head, soaring and wheeling: a golden eagle. I had never seen a wild one before (other than as a speck in the distance), though buzzards are commonplace at Landrick. Once you see an eagle close up, there can be no confusion: its silhouette is more like a plank of wood than a bird's! The moment was too magical to spoil by reaching for the camera, but this photo (taken elsewhere by friend Sandy Morrison) evokes it well:

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The descent past Sruth Ban falls to Lochgoilhead was easy enough and I reached Drimsynie House just after lunchtime. Wednesday's plan was to go over the top and try to meet friends Rob and Di Tennent somewhere on Loch Long-side. The cloud level wasn't too low when I left Lochgoilhead, but by the time I had climbed up Coilessan glen, I found myself approaching a featureless white plateau in total white-out, looking (according to the directions) for white marker posts! Not surprisingly, I didn't see any, but headed easterly, found the cairn and descended to pick up (with some relief) the line of a fence which, after some time turned out to be roughly the right route after all. Our rendezvous worked just fine and, even better, Rob and Di (with dogs) had kindly hiked and photographed the Ardgartan/Arrochar section for me. So they kindly ran me back to Strachur to retrieve my car and we celebrated the success of my four-day hike with a decent meal and a stiff drink.

But still I had this nagging feeling. I couldn't pass the proofs without checking out the white marker posts, so I went back today to look for them. The snow was still lying, but this time the visibility was superb, albeit the wind chill factor breathtaking. And, happily, neighbour Malcolm decided to join me as I hiked up from Ardgartan to the cairn. That meant that two of us tramped all over that plateau for an hour, but neither of us saw a single marker post! It turns out they were removed some years ago, so I just deleted them also from the route description. And although it demanded an extra expedition just to be sure, I'm not sorry I returned to the cairn. Here's looking west toward Beinn Bheula, across the frozen lochan:

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April 21, 2009

London Book Fair 2009

Yesterday was Day One of Book Fair, so I arrived keen to see if the books we sent months ago are actually on the stand, and to discover if the shelf is buried in obscurity or near to eye level. Once again, the Independent Publishers Guild stand was prominent and effective. I even forgot to take a photo of our shelf of Rucksack Readers. Next year we'll be 10 years old, which seems amazing.

One of the joys of Book Fair is being able to sit and talk to our partners from all over the world: Derek and Wayne of Hong Kong Graphics and Printing who make all our books these days, Craenen of Belgium who distribute in Europe and Interlink Publishing, Massachusetts, who distribute for us in North America. In fact it was this time last year that the idea of going back up Kilimanjaro by the Lemosho route was conceived at Book Fair in a conversation with Michel (who set up Interlink in 1987). Last June we all summited, and he and his partner Hildi have even created a gift book drawing entirely on this trip. I'd be truly delighted about that if it weren't for the fact that their book is likely to be out before my own, overdue guidebook, which keeps getting sidelined!

Today's main joy was listening to great novellists. I began with Umberto Eco, who is one of my favourites. A new novel from Eco is a rare event, about once in 8 years, and hearing about his full career as an academic historian, philosopher and teacher of semiotics and essayist, no wonder. Unlike most authors, he wasn't here to promote a new book, but to present an award to his editor. He spoke freely about the passionate battles between his editor and translators, sometimes days and weeks debating a single mot juste. Happily he scotched the rumour (spread in Wikipedia) that he would never write another novel, though he conceded he might be slowing down a little. Now in his late 70s, he seemed much younger, more energetic and full of humour as well as wisdom and patience.

Later I caught up with William Boyd talking about an unusual source of ideas for his novels. He lives beside the Thames, and had been struck by the little-known fact that over 50 bodies a week are recovered from its waters. How many of us could turn that into a best-seller? Sadly my business meetings that clashed with Vikram Seth, speaking this afternoon, whose novels "A Suitable Boy" and "An Equal Music" are some of my favourites.

April 23, 2009

Boris Johnson at the London Book Fair

I arrived at Book Fair yesterday unsure what to expect of the Mayor's keynote speech. So often, TV "personalities" are disappointing in the flesh. And Boris Johnson is strongly identified with the London Transport that let me down so badly on my journey to hear him: Victoria Line cancellation (strike action) discovered from notices at Brixton tube where I arrived with heavy luggage. After walking to the rail station, more stairs with luggage because of Penalty Fare notices demanding a new rail ticket. (My pre-pay Oyster card beats paying £4 for single journeys, but why can't it be valid on ALL forms of transport within the London area, especially after strike action closes the bit you need?) And the non-Victoria tube lines were even more crowded than usual because of the overspill, so it was an unpleasant journey.

But I needn't have worried about being late, as Boris was even later. Perhaps there was extra traffic on his bike journey from Islington. Once he started to talk, however, we forgave him everything. He was articulate, interesting and witty, a self-confessed "fogey" on the subject of Playstations and his sons, and although he had prepared his "keynote" he never read from a script and I suspect departed from his brief. The chairman wisely didn't attempt to summarise an address that ranged ecelectically over London's literary advantages. These included having twice as many bookshops as New York, being rich in libraries (363 of them), being custodians of the English language with its 500,000 words and (bizarrely, because of the weak pound) having the world's cheapest Big Mac (cheaper than the Ukraine and Brazil).

Boris's talk was well-informed, intelligent and good fun. As an author, he spoke to this LBF audience in its own language, starting with a witty aside about his agent getting the title of his novel wrong (by alluding to "42 virgins" - in place of 72 - the agent was reflecting deep discounting in the book trade.) He made much of birthdays – today is allegedly the day for both Shakespeare and St George – but it was his handling of questions that impressed me most. The first was a left-fielder from a Danish chap who wanted to know how Boris would combine proper celebrations of the Charles Dickens' bicentennial with the Olympics. Boris was understandably taken aback, but barely hesitated before confirming Dickens' dates as 1812-70, and spinning a brilliant fantasy of the Olympic opening ceremony as a Dickensian pageant. The audience loved it, the Dane was baffled.

Stripped of the glamour of TV, despite his heavily Eton/Balliol accent and persona, he came across as a genuine and approachable bloke. If I lived in London, I can even imagine voting for him. Although I've never yet voted Conservative, there are some politicians who seem to rise above party prejudices and to leave the baggage behind. Besides, the man has charisma. If Boris were a dog, he'd be a yellow labrador.

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Photo © www.contactmusic.com, with thanks

May 17, 2009

The Cowal Way guidebook is launched

Glendaruel Village Hall was the centre of an amazing range of activities yesterday: guided walks, primary children's displays, walking theatre, home baking and a very generous launch for our Cowal Way guidebook by government Minister Mike Russell.

He congratulated the authors and the whole community on the completion of this project, and it is remarkable how strong is the sense of community in Cowal, where he also lives. He spoke of the power of a long-distance route to funnel people into the peninsula, to provide a shop window on Cowal's scenery and wildlife, and to form a building block in the development of local tourism. I was pleased at how enthusiastic he seemed about the route, including its role as the missing link that joins the Kintyre Way to the West Highland Way.

The event was well supported by local residents, who not only attended but also bought books. Some of us went on the Walking Theatre event, in which actors appeared in costume and involved the walkers in various activities. It almost worked, I felt, but our "willing suspension of disbelief" was pole-axed at the start by standing around while one of those daft Health and Safety ticklists had to be completed. However, I was delighted and amazed to find that a fellow-walker was someone I hadn't seen since schooldays in London (over 40 years ago) where I knew her as Julia Martin. Since she lives in Western Australia and was in Cowal only temporarily, it seemed quite a coincidence.

Yesterday was the culmination of months of work at Rucksack Readers, but that's nothing compared with co-author Jim McLuckie's decade of work in developing and waymarking the route. My own contribution had gone somewhat beyond the normal role of publisher: see my blog entry for 6 February. However, that trip proved that even I could hike the Cowal Way in deep snow, over sodden ground, inside 4-5 days in January. So I'm fairly confident that it's feasible for normal walkers over that schedule year-round.

June 15, 2009

A welcome arrival

We had various arrivals at Landrick on Saturday: one was the HD box that will enable Keir to watch tennis in high definition. This was set up just in time for us to see Andy Murray beat James Blake in two convincing sets at Queen's yesterday. The hi-res picture makes it noticeably easier to follow the ball, even when Andy serves at 135+ mph! This should be a great asset for Wimbledon viewing.

But the box which really made my Saturday was the arrival from York Camera Mart of the long-awaited wide-angle zoom lens for my Lumix G1. Unless you are into cameras, you may find it hard to share my excitement, but if you glance at the images below, you may get the gist. This lens picks up from where most "wide-angles" run out of steam. In the old film-based camera world, "wide-angle" might mean a focal length of 35 or 28mm – if you are very lucky, perhaps 24 or even 20mm. But this new lens has focal lengths ranging from the equivalent of 14 to 28mm. I can't wait to try it out on landscapes, where it should raise the standard of photography in our guidebooks.

Since there was no time to get up a hill today, instead I took it with me to a lunchtime meeting with Rucksack Readers' wonderful web designer Dan Champion in the dignified context of Inglewood House, Alloa. Here is its splendid exterior:

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Now compare these two snaps of its entrance hall, taken from both extremes of the wide-angle zoom range:

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June 20, 2009

A week is a long time in publishing

This has been an interesting week with many journeys, both short and long. After Monday's trips to Aberfoyle and to Alloa (the latter to discuss how to bring our existing website fully into the 21st century), I visited Edinburgh on Tuesday. Mainly this was to meet the team at Seol, the repping cousin of Edinburgh publisher Birlinn. Since February, Seol has been repping our list in Scotland and it was great to meet them at last, and get some feedback from the retailing viewpoint. I managed a quick visit to the National Galleries before it was time to walk down to son Sandy's new flat in East London Street. This is a lovely modern development, with light, spacious rooms and it's great to see him settled there. Even better, he cooked a lovely seared tuna salad for us which we ate at an elegant glass table – in his previous flat, it was more a question of balancing a plate on your knees on the sofa-bed.

Wednesday's visit to Aberfeldy was to meet Richard Struthers of Safe Journeys, who has been leading trips to Nepal for 16 years and with whom I have booked an Everest Base Camp trek in September. I'm hoping to get a fair crack at Kala Pattar this time, and also to return via the Cho La pass (5450m/18,000ft) to Gokyo Lakes, and climb Gokyo Ri. Richard thinks that heavy snowfall is the main hazard that might prevent this, but at present, I suspect that it's my own lack of preparation that would create the challenge.

Thursday was my trip to London, on two publishing visits connected with my IPG membership. The first was a session with Susie Dunlop of Allison & Busby, who is kindly acting as my mentor, and she is proving incredibly helpful. Being a somewhat maverick publisher, based out on a limb in Dunblane, it's all too easy for me to sail on blithely unaware of things we should be doing, or doing differently. Supportive advice from an experienced publisher is a fantastic resource, and I intend to make the most of it.

Then it was time to hasten to the IPG's Meet the Buyers event at which publishers meet buyers from key wholesalers and retailers, both online and bricks-and-mortar, and discover how to try to make them aware of our offer. The answer turns out to be different in almost every case, so it's lots of work but definitely worth knowing how to go about it better. It was held in the recently refurbished Royal Institution in Albemarle Street, a superb blend of modern and traditional. The briefing was held in the Library:

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After arriving late at my sister's house in Dulwich, I had a lovely lazy start next day in the wonderful garden that brother-in-law Nick and sister Lindsay are just completing. Here are some photos of its swimming pond with beach hut: no chemicals, with water kept clean by ecological means. It's a beautiful feature, and this time was an island of tranquillity before an intense session of follow-up by wi-fi on the busy train home to Dunblane:

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July 7, 2009

Rotarians walk the West Highland Way

Last Sunday was the day of our Rotary Club's sponsored walk of the West Highland Way. President Alan Skilling had organised it to raise funds for the Craighalbert Centre in Cumbernauld which does conductive education with children with profound conditions such as cerebral palsy. It looks like we'll have raised over £2000, but I'll update this with the final figure once we know. The date was fixed long ago, independently of men's finals day at Wimbledon. However, by leaving Landrick very early, our team completed the driving/car-dropping, hiking 12 miles from Tyndrum to Inverarnan and retrieving the car from Tyndrum, and still got home in time to watch most of that wonderful match. My heart really warmed to Andy Roddick in his protracted and gutsy challenge to Federer. His post-match comments were a model of generosity and restraint, and I do hope his turn comes soon.

Anyway, our team comprised three people and two dogs: neighbours Malcolm and Calum Johnson with their dog Laochan, plus me and Bramble. Here they are, in the woods west of Crianlarich, with Bramble waiting for me to catch up:

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Here's the view from our early lunch stop, with Ben More, Stob Binnein and Cruach Ardrain in the distance:

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And once Laochan discovered the River Falloch, even Bramble (a non-swimming labrador) was tempted to join in:

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Walking from north to south, against the flow, means you meet more people. One group of hikers included a woman from Ontario who recognised me from the long profile in Scots magazine that by chance she'd read the night before. Her companion promptly asked me to autograph her copy of my guidebook. I was thrilled to see it was open at the page, and slightly dog-eared from heavy use. They seemed pleased with this chance encounter, but it was their reaction that made my day!

July 26, 2009

A difficult choice: photogenic cliffs

Last Sunday I saw that Monday had a good weather forecast for the north of England, so I headed south to try again to capture the cliffs near Robin Hood's Bay. My previous visit was blighted by sea fog so thick that I couldn't even see the water, so I never got the camera out.

I knew I'd need an early start to hike there, carrying Lumix G1 camera, several lenses and tripod. I woke about 4.15, just before the alarm went off, and crept out quietly from my B&B. Fortunately the weather held, but I had to work fast, with the tide ebbing and the light waxing less magical by the minute.

Obviously I tried various locations and angles, and I've just been reviewing them all for possible use as a book cover. I think my best two efforts, taken within a few minutes and yards of each other, were among the very first. But which will make a better front cover? The first perhaps shows the cliffs better, the second has a strong concave feature (a cove or "hole"). Please comment on which one you'd be more likely to pick up in a bookshop or click if seen online. It would really help me to hear from you. The choice was made vastly more difficult by the first two people I asked each decisively jumping a different way. So I'm hoping that if anybody out there is reading this, they'll say which they prefer and why.

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If you want to see why I needed to get up so early, compare these with one taken under 90 minutes later. The combined effects of the falling tide and the very ordinary lighting to me undermine its impact:

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October 5, 2009

How a tractor cured my online displacement activity

I returned from Nepal last Monday afternoon to the usual mountain of email, post and messages. Being somewhat sleep-starved and travel-weary, dealing with it would probably have occupied most of my week. But on Tuesday morning, an overladen tractor on our hill took out the phone wires, which mean no phone, no email and no web-surfing all week.

BT sent engineers out daily, to communicate, to survey the damage and to plan the repair. By Friday afternoon they had replaced two telegraph poles and a long section of cable, which seemed rather efficient, and we were back online. Meantime I had realised that my most important task was to write up the Everest trekking route description while it was fresh in my mind. Have broken the back of that task without online distraction, I now think the tractor did me a favour, although it didn't feel that way at the time.

It's so tempting to let the small, easy tasks (like replying to email) squeeze out the large important ones (like writing a book). Next time I am tempted by displacement activity, I shall try to remember the tractor – albeit unplugging my ethernet cable is an easier step to undo.

January 17, 2010

Snow, chains and publishing

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This photo evokes a period of four weeks in which Landrick has been effectively cut off by snow. In 17 years of living here, we'd never thought of chains before, having coped by leaving a car at the foot of the hill and hiking the last bit. After over two weeks, this was beginning to pall and we opted for Klack & Go which are self-tensioning and supposed to be easy to fit. This isn't as simple as the girl in the video makes it look! We even wondered if they would be too late to be useful. Not a bit: in the last fortnight, they have repaid their cost by letting us give lifts to people and boxes of books. As a publisher, we still have to get orders out to customers, which means meeting delivery drivers at the foot of the hill.

A compensation of the snow has been the view from the office window: snow becomes Landrick well, and our pond is a natural skating rink:

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Wednesday brought a phone call from The Bookseller to ask if Rucksack Readers had been affected by the weather at all? So I told them about the snow chains and the view from the office window and was astonished to find myself quoted on page 3 of Friday's issue.

Yesterday the thaw arrived in earnest, and we removed the chains (much easier than fitting them). Our colour-starved eyes are feasting on greens and browns, the postie has resumed delivering our mail and life may be returning to normal. Perhaps washing and putting away the chains will become a feature of Januaries to come, like taking down the Christmas tree and packing up the lights.

May 2, 2010

Mark Beaumont: the man who cycled the world

About 750 people crowded into the Albert Halls on Friday evening for Mark Beaumont's talk. Stirling was the first of the Scottish venues for his UK tour and he certainly got a terrific reception. The recent BBC TV series The man who cycled the Americas combined with his strong online presence, blogging, tweets and facebook, meant that it was completely sold out, with long queues for the book signings.

He is, of course, the guy who knocked 81 days off the official Guinness World Record for circumnavigation by bike in 2008. And in telling the story of his trip through the Americas, he not only covered the length of the Rockies and Andes, but also climbed McKinley/Denali and Aconcagua, the summits of North and South America. In addition, he carried all his own kit, including video cameras and sound kit, and self-filmed. He spoke about both trips, illustrated with stills and video clips, for 3 hours, with enthusiasm, energy and honesty. Most impressive of all, he spoke afresh, not from notes or a script.

Here he is signing books and engaging with his public: the queue after his talk ended at 10.30 would have taken another hour to clear, but he still made time to talk to some youngsters about his bike before he even started the signings:

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We may live in an era of the cult of celebrity, but at 27 this young man has a wise head on young shoulders, and seemed unfazed by all the attention. I'm guessing that the reason he seems so grounded has to do with his mother Una, to whom he pays charming tribute (in his book as well as in his talks). She was clearly not only key to his support team, but she also home-educated Mark with his two sisters Heather and Hannah, until he went to Dundee High School. On his first trip, she also wrote his blog and parts of his book, which I've just started to read. I've alway thought that early years play an enormous role in building self-belief.

I met Una before the talk, when I went to buy Mark's book and also to donate two of our guidebooks. I knew that Mark had met our author Harry Kikstra. Harry has not only climbed Aconcagua, Denali and Everest (!), he has also written guidebooks for us, and he too is cycling the Americas from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. Unlike Mark, who cycled alone and under pressure, Harry is taking his time along with his lovely partner Ivana, in a sort of protracted pre-wedding "honeymoon". In this photo from Harry's website, taken in Guatemala, Harry's the guy in the middle:

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Now it was at Nido de Condores (about 18,000ft on Aconcagua) back in 2003 that I had mentally redesigned the format of our guidebooks to suit high altitude, and later commissioned Harry to write three of our Rucksack Pocket Summits. So I took both Aconcagua and Denali along as a small tribute to give to Mark. I was delighted to find that the resourceful Una had long since researched what would be the best guidebook to help Mark on his Aconcagua climb, and sent him Harry's book to take along!

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September 18, 2010

Sea stack mystery

On Tuesday, the Press & Journal published a piece about our forthcoming Moray Coast Trail guidebook, including a photo from the book. (On Monday late afternoon, while up a ladder painting my daughter's flat I got a phone call saying they wanted a photo, but needed it inside half an hour for the next day's paper, so having raced home to email it, I was pleased to see printed.) It shows Covesea Bay, including a sea stack at lower right:

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I had identified this sea stack as Gows' Castle (gulls' castle) in a caption that I thought was beyond doubt, because I had seen it thus named on the Moray Coast Trail website map as well as on its official leaflet and also by other sources including another newspaper. It seems I was completely wrong.

Happily the P&J not only included my caption, but also when Iain Campbell, a sharp-eyed resident of Hopeman of over 60 years' standing, saw the piece and wrote in to tell them that the sea stack was wrongly named, they forwarded his letter, which arrived today. The story is extraordinary: it seems that in 1941 when the Home Guard were practising firing mortars in thick mist, they blew up the real Gows' Castle by mistake. Must have been mortified!

Here is an archive photo of the former Gows' Castle, which stood about half a mile further west, and which Mr Campbell tells me is known locally as Groff Haughs (Legs):

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For comparison, here is today's sea stack as it appears in our guidebook's geology section:

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As you can see, the two are totally different shapes. It all underlines how easily a mistake, once made, is propagated. Indeed, for all I know there may be people who will contest Mr Campbell's assertion, although I am persuaded by his total clarity on the point and the attention to detail in his letter. Anyway, had the information come just 24 hours later, the mistake would have been perpetuated in my book, so I feel indebted to both Mr Campbell and the P&J.

November 4, 2010

To Tarbert, with enthusiasm

Back in 2007 we published a guidebook for the Kintyre Way, then at an early stage of development. Over the last three years it has acquired a Ranger, the energetic Owen Paisley, and both its route and its waymarking have been much improved as a result. It just ran a photographic competition, and the winning entry shows Dunaverty Bay, the view that greets the walker at journey's end. I congratulate David Joule of Ulverston Cumbria on his image:

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Yesterday the Kintyre Way group had invited me and two other speakers to its Annual conference in Tarbert. David Adams McGilp, a local man who’d come back to the area as Regional Director for VisitScotland, kicked off. His challenging title was "VisitScotland: who needs us?" and his style refreshingly direct – a pleasant contrast to the corporate marketing speak that we have come to expect.

He stressed the importance of the visitor economy, estimated at £11 billion this year – Scotland's major earner and the key to its recovery. Apparently, 22% of the VisitScotland Growth Fund was spent in Argyll and allegedly 22,000 businesses are now supported by the agency.

People have to come to Scotland and to stay in Scotland in order to come to Kintyre ... It's expensive to get here. It’s expensive to stay here. It’s wet when you get here. How are you going to make coming here worth the bother and the cost?

In relation to online marketing, he pointed out ‘The Internet is now the major platform for marketing. Visitors book their travel online, their transfers online, why would they not want to book their B&Bs and baggage transfer online?’

Then we heard from Ian McCaig who is MD of The Edge, an online marketing company based in Ayr. He galloped through his slides showing a wide range of options at lightning speed, and caused some consternation in the audience by insisting that they have to do all of these. A B&B provider tried to query which is the most important, the blog, tweet or the Facebook page, given that you can't do them all, there are only 24 hours in the day and cooking the breakfast and cleaning the bathrooms aren't optional. However, Ian seemed to insist that all were essential.

Afterwards, I tried to zoom in on what a small business can do, here and now, by way of online marketing that doesn't cost a fortune, doesn't demand new IT skills and doesn't require any lead time. My message was to start by making the most of existing channels. My first two suggestions are quick, easy and completely free. One is to make sure that your business is listed and located correctly on Google maps. In case you've never done this, it's as simple as visit Google maps and follow the instructions to put your business on Google Maps.

My second idea was that they could make more use of our own Kintyre Way forum. With the honourable exception of Owen Paisley and Alison Clements, hardly any Kintyre residents ever post there. Yet it provides a free opportunity to promote their businesses by making relevant posts that includes links to their own websites.

A third was to query why all the Kintyre Way packages are currently offered by companies based in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh, not one in Kintyre? Yet if B&B operators, taxi companies and others were to band together, a Kintyre offering could have many advantages, including lesser environmental impact and more investment in local facilities.

November 28, 2010

Dundee Mountain Film Festival 26-7.11.10

I just got back from the 28th Dundee Mountain Film Festival. It makes a pleasant change from my routine electronic contact with the world to get out and meet some real customers and yes, even to sell some books direct from our stand. It's also food for thought that so many people come up and tell us they've never seen anything like our books before! We need to spend more on marketing ... And if you are one of the lovely people who came to tell us how well our book had performed on your hike, please remember your promise to put it in an email. Here is our display in the Bonar Hall:

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The highlight of Friday's event was Cathy O'Dowd, with her tales of success and failure: the success was on Lhotse's south-west face, the failure on Everest (attempt at a new route on its Kangshung Face). She has already summited Everest twice, which perhaps made her more relaxed than many mountaineers in reflecting on the lessons of failure. Her collaboration with composer Anni Hogan provided "Mountain" – a magical live multimedia performance with Himalayan images, piano and voice.

Saturday featured an amazing 28-minute film on Mustang by Will Parrinello, narrated by Richard Gere, about this tiny Himalayan kingdom. In an era of Chinese persecution of Buddhism, Mustang is the last refuge of authentic Tibetan Buddhist culture. The project got art experts to collaborate with local farmers in the delicate restoration of these wonderful 15th-century monasteries which were literally falling down, their rich paintings crumbling into ruins. The result has been a renaissance of art and energy in the whole community.

After the evening session, it was time to head down the A9 for home. The weather had turned so cold that I couldn't get the X-type home last night, so I finished my journey with a cold uphill hike.

March 19, 2011

Hadrian's Wall Path rocks

I've just got back from 7 days walking Hadrian's Wall path: six walking days (including the journeys from and to Landrick) plus Thursday which was spent visiting forts, museums and being driven by Keir from the eastern end at Wallsend back to the western extreme at Bowness-on-Solway. The goal was to collect and improve material for our forthcoming book on Hadrian's Wall Path.

This was a great trip: I had barely any doubts about navigation, mainly because of the great job coauthor Gordon Simm had already done on the route description on which I was doing the final check. The logistics were made simple by a bit of support driving: I went to Carlisle by train last Saturday, walked east for the next five days staying on route in B&Bs, and was met by Keir at Wallsend on Thursday. I'd even already had a quick look around Segedunum (which closes at 3pm in March) after my 15-mile hike from Heddon-on-the-Wall. Keir had driven down via Cragside, the extraordinary estate of William Armstrong, whose Tyneside territory I'd just been walking through, and picked up a brilliant biography of him by Henrietta Heald. And yesterday he dropped me at Bowness-on-Solway, collected me from Carlisle after I'd completed the missing 15 miles, and drove me home.

Best of all, on the day I walked from Cawfields to Limestone Corner I had brilliant weather and made the most of it. Although Gordon is a far better photographer than I'll ever be, the result is that I'll get a few of my own photos into the book, which will make it feel a more equal collaboration. Here I'm looking back over my ascent from Cawfield Quarry at 8 am on a cold March morning:

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I was excited enough by the scenery at the summit of the route, that I had to text Gordon "Hadrian's Wall Path rocks". Here is the view west toward Crag Lough from Winshield Crags (345m) at about 10 am:

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The Milecastles are fascinating: the Romans built one every Roman mile, with two turrets in between, but few are as photogenic as this one (Milecastle 39 or "Castle Nick")"

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And finally, west over Crag Lough from Hotbank Crags, approaching noon. All of these images are exactly as they came out of the camera (a Lumix G1), not even cropped let alone tweaked. What amazing luck to be in such countryside in such weather!

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May 20, 2011

The Rob Roy Way and Rotary Club of Stirling

Last Sunday, I organised a sponsored walk on the Rob Roy Way which was well supported by members and supporters of the Rotary Club of Stirling. We covered the 79-mile route in sections, and all completed their sections in good time and in good spirits.

We can't compete with the massive fund-raising achieved by the imminent Rob Roy Challenge, but we have raised a total of over £2350 for our two charities: End Polio Now and Riding for the Disabled. Considering we are a small club of fairly high average age, I think that is a creditable effort. What's more, we had a great day out, not much rain and a friendly meal at Stirling Golf Club that evening:

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October 31, 2011

A really good teacher: Dave Willis

I'm proud to be a member of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild and have just spent the weekend with my colleagues at our AGM at Plas y Brenin. I wasn't well organised, and it was only when my friend Sheila (who has a nearby cottage in Capel Garmon) asked me in the car on Friday what I was doing the next day that I remembered I had opted for a workshop on hill-walking photography. And had managed to leave my G1 camera behind ...

This was friend-in-need time, and once I realised that her recently-acquired G3 was in the car, she appeared to accept that my need was greater than hers. Her printed manual wasn't to hand but the interface wasn't too far removed from the G1 and I got through the next day managing (just about) to complete the range of tasks set, from slow shutter speed to fast, shallow depth of field to large, with panning, differential focus and creative placement of a figure in a landscape.

Dave Willis led our workshop, and he is not only a talented photographer but also a really good teacher. To most people, a grey, drizzling end-October Saturday morning would seem unrpromising photographically, but Dave took a dozen of us out walking, mixed-ability landscape photographer wannabes, put us in pairs and put our camera skills through our paces. He also gave us the great benefit of his handouts, and since they seem to be publicly available I see no reason not to share them: see part 1 and part 2

Thanks, Dave, for sharing. And thanks, Sheila, for sharing your camera, although it turned out to have been a more expensive weekend than I realised, because I've just bought a G3 which (apart from its battery life) is better in several ways than the G1.

November 6, 2011

Another family weekend

I spent Friday at the Scottish Countryside Access Network event in Perth, a triennial event that happened to be timely for our looking at waymarking options for the Rob Roy Way long-distance walk. We also agreed to set up a management group for the route and it will have its inaugural meeting later this month, just after we return from Mexico via New York, so I've been hastily compiling agendas. And because of our impending trip it was great to enjoy some family company before we leave on Wednesday.

Sandy and Anna joined us that evening for dinner by arrangement, as did Amy (unexpectedly, her poor mother Helen having fallen ill). So we all had a lively and relaxed evening and I for one retired early to share a dreamless sleep with Amy.

Since the next day was that glorious cold crisp weather that can make November such a delight, I suggested we all walk to the Sheriffmuir Inn for lunch. It's a lovely walk with fine views and some very rough bits which suggest that not many people know the direct route from Landrick any more. I was off-duty camera-wise but delighted that Anna took a few. Here she captured us on the oak-lined path up from Dykedale. The red things in Keir's pockets are his slippers, essential lunch equipment:

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And here's one I took on the borrowed iPhone of the lovely couple (soon to be three), relaxed in the autumn sunshine:

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Not long after they returned to Edinburgh, we had a visit from Laochan, the handsome black labrador from our neighbours at the farmhouse, who were going out while firework noise was expected. Laochan apparently needed our company (or maybe our neighbours think that we need his?). Anyway, he seems quite correctly to regard Landrick as his second home. We were thrilled to have both Amy and Helen (by then somewhat recovered) here on Sunday, but maybe not as thrilled as Amy was to find Laochan. She really loves him:

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November 27, 2011

Forgotten and unsung heroes: DMFF 25-6.11.11

We (Rucksack Readers) supported the Dundee Mountain Film Festival again this year. It's the UK's longest-running such event and next year (23-4.11.2012) will be its 30th. I enjoy being out of the office, meeting people and selling direct to real customers in the intervals, but I also greatly enjoy the lectures and movies that make up the main programme. The big names for 2011 were Mark Beaumont and Peter Habeler, neatly addressing both younger and older generations.

In contrast to the global fame of those two, a theme of forgotten and unsung heroes emerged. The 2002 Irish film which came second in the People's Choice vote was about Tom Crean (1877-1938) – the unfailingly cheerful hero of so many Antarctic expeditions with Scott and Shackleton. He retired to run a pub, the famous South Pole Inn of Anascaul, which I visited while working on our Dingle Way book. I bought Michael Smith's brilliant biography at his pub and reread it after seeing the author in this movie on Friday night.

I'd never heard of Alexander Kellas until his biographer, Ian R Mitchell, gave a lively lecture about him the next day, based on Prelude to Everest. In 1921 Kellas was the first to die, tragically young, on an Everest expedition. Born in Aberdeen and weather-hardened on Ben Nevis and the Cairngorms, he was the first ascender of several Himalayan peaks over 20,000 ft. In addition to his mountaineering records, he was a pioneer of high-altitude physiology. He had predicted that exceptionally acclimatised, fit humans would be able to climb Everest without supplementary oxygen. He even predicted correctly how much slower the final ascent rate would be than the climbing rate at sea level.

This was a perfect cue for my question to Peter Habeler, who gave a superbly illustrated lecture about his climbing life on Saturday evenin. "In 1978, when he and Messner became the first men to summit Everest without oxygen, did they actually know whether it was possible? Medical opinion at the time was divided, but did they know about Kellas's work?" His answer was emphatic: he had never heard of Kellas until Mitchell's lecture that very afternoon and he had been fascinated by this prescient prediction from 60 years ago. So kudos to DMFF for assembling such an interesting programme and finding contributions from which the great Peter Habeler learned something new!

January 1, 2012

A grand start to 2012: the Mary Queen of Scots Way

I set off from Landrick early this morning, and parked my car at Dollar at first light, to set off up Dollar Glen and through the Ochils:

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From Castle Campbell, a climb took me up and alongside Glenquey Reservoir before dropping down to Glendevon. A further climb took me up the Cadgers' Way to Cadgers' Yett (gate), the watershed at 435 m (1425 ft), spoiled only by the ugly intrusion of Green Knowes wind turbines: the scattered white dots (sheep) convey the scale.

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After a pathless section, and a bold leap across the Coul Burn which was in spate, I climbed again briefly towards the glorious wilderness of Corb Glen:

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After the descent to the B934 near Corb Bridge, Keir kindly collected me and ran me back to Dollar. What a wonderful way to start this new year: I now feel a modest sense of achievement, and energised from the novelty of the route.

For this itinerary, I am indebted to Paul Prescott, of Callander Ramblers, whose book on the Mary Queen of Scots Way we will be publishing later this year. His route is unwaymarked, and has some adventurous bits, but in the course of the last four years he has managed to connect Arrochar on Loch Long with St Andrews on the North Sea, thus crossing Scotland from west to east in a 107-mile route that is almost entirely offroad.

April 28, 2012

Outdoor Pursuits with my grand-daughters

Last weekend, hard on the heels of London Book Fair, I attended a very different kind of event: Outdoor Pursuits was held at Ingliston. Unlike London, where the IPG sets up the communal stand for its publisher, this time I had to do my own hard work and arrived to unload and set up at 8 am on Saturday, ready to man the Rucksack Readers stand all weekend:

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Saturday's fair had a slow start, although a lot of folk seemed interested in our new Mary Queen of Scots Way guidebook and a few even bought a copy. Anyway, I was truly delighted when Sandy, Anna and Charlotte stopped by to see us. This baby's smiles and laughter were a huge boost to morale:

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Back at Landrick on Saturday evening, I persuaded Helen to bring Amy through the next morning to try some outdoor pursuits for herself. She had a shot at the skiing, bouncy castle, sailing simulator and, best of all, on the climbing wall. Look how high she went:

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November 5, 2012

A breathtaking experience in Jersey

At the end of October, the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild held its annual AGM over a weekend in Jersey. I hadn't paid enough attention to the choice of activities and unthinkingly had volunteered for abseiling, something I'd never tried before. The only other beginner at this session was, by pure coincidence, the author of our forthcoming Settle to Carlisle Way book, Vivienne Crow.

What neither of us was prepared for was suddenly being expected to lean backwards off the 90-foot drop of the Somerset Tower of Mont Orgeuil Castle - in a high wind! To be fair, instructor John did demonstrate the friction mechanism first and told us we could control our speed by the position of our right hand. The theory seemed fine, but it didn't prevent a sharp intake of breath when I stupidly looked down before lurching backwards over the parapet.  The wall is a sheer drop, designed to daunt would-be invaders, and successfully daunting novice abseilers. Thanks to Karen Frenkel for capturing my descent:

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And thanks also to Ian Battersby for capturing the start of Viv's windswept descent. Sharing this somewhat breathtaking experience with an author was a unique first.

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Finally, here is how this impressive castle looked across Gorey harbour at sunset. From this safer distance, I looked at the sheer walls of the Somerset Tower slightly proprietorially. And I've discovered that abseiling is great fun, once you're past the parapet!

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January 8, 2013

Gordon Simm

Looking back on 2012 overall, by far the saddest event was the loss of a good friend, coauthor and talented photographer, Gordon Simm. We had worked together closely on two guidebooks, Hadrian's Wall Path and the Cleveland Way. The BBC showed a programme yesterday about his disappearance while hiking in southern Spain last July. This gives a moving account of his widow's return to Nerja in September to seek traces of his last hike, and of the legal difficulties facing the family of anybody who is missing, presumed dead. The lack of closure must place an intolerable strain which the financial and bureaucratic difficulties can only exacerbate. This link to the programme should work, at least for another six days.

Here, and it should be permanent, is the appreciation Gordon Simm.pdf that I wrote for Outdoor Focus, the magazine of the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild to which Gordon belonged. They published it along with this photograph, one of the triumphalist self-portraits that I used to tease him about. I'd give anything to be able to tease him still.

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July 23, 2013

Gordon Simm and the joy of living

Last Saturday was the anniversary of Gordon Simm's disappearance in the mountains of southern Spain, marked by a celebration of his life in words, images and music. About a hundred friends, family and neighbours gathered at the Methodist Church in his home town of Kirkbymoorside, Yorkshire. Although no trace of Gordon has ever been found, the occasion testified to how much he is missed.

His brother Colin told of a Lancashire boyhood in which Gordon had been amazingly tolerant of a boy five years younger, including Colin in all his adventurous and unorthodox expeditions. He also described Gordon's determined pursuit of his own goals, a self-taught concertina-player as well as a fine folk singer and a brilliant photographer. His concise "he ploughed his own furrow" could make a good epitaph.

Daughter Debbie spoke movingly about the father she had lost, and the wonderful grandfather he had been. She referred to the pride he had taken in his two guidebooks, Hadrian's Wall Path and Cleveland Way. They are full of his superb photographs, his deep local knowledge and his many nights spent bivvying solo on the moors.

His widow Wendy somehow found the strength to speak too, and she recalled the time at Whitby Folk Festival when Gordon, who had a great baritone voice, had given the performance of his life. The song was Ewan MacColl's Joy of Living and it is so evocative of Gordon and our shared interests that I've downloaded its lyrics. And later, amazingly, Debbie found the courage and control to sing it herself, unaccompanied and impromptu, in Gordon's memory. It made an even better epitaph than Colin's.

Earlier, folk singer and guitarist Martyn Wyndham-Read had sung Tony Bayliss' song AW, a tribute to Alfred Wainwright and very appropriate to Gordon's interests. Martyn was a friend of the late Ewan MacColl and had been the first to hear MacColl sing his newly finished Joy of Living. Martyn remembered that night in Whitby a decade ago when Gordon had "sung it as well as MacColl himself". Coming from as fine a professional singer as Martyn, that is a massive testimonial. Sadly we have no record of Gordon's singing, but here is a recording of Ewan MacColl.

There was a great display of photographs, some taken by Gordon, some of his childhood and early life. This self-portrait, taken in a waterfall in Spain, shows him just as I want to remember him: drinking in deeply the joy of living. 

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April 18, 2014

John Muir Way: building up to the launch

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I spent much of 2013 hiking and cycling the John Muir Way for three reasons: we are publishing the official map for Scottish Natural Heritage, we are publishing the guidebook as a Rucksack Reader and, third, I love long-distance routes. I needed to get away from the domestic pressures of downsizing, domestic tasks linked with selling our house and (finally, in November) the actual move. In short, the John Muir Way kept me sane.

It was a much bigger task than the simplified map above suggests: the route is for cyclists as much as for walkers, and has many alternative options to suit different users. The coast-to-coast distance is generally quoted as 134 miles, but I did at least 200 miles, mainly on foot, in the course of researching and photographing the route, completing every option and returning to some form of transport. For the full detail, zoomable to the utmost, look instead at our route map. My coauthor Sandra Bardwell was a pillar of strength in the tasks of writing and editing, but for logistic reasons researching the route fell to me.

So I'm hugely looking forward to spending Monday in Dunbar where the route is being launched by the First Minister. It's great that Muir and his legacy are finally being recognised. It isn't often that a long-distance route gets on the BBC website and last night there was a full 2.5 minutes of prime time TV on Reporting Scotland (item begins after 14 minutes). I was pleased that Keith Geddes stressed the fact that 3 million Scots live close to the route and can enjoy the wilderness on their doorstep.

I was also delighted that Linlithgow featured so strongly in the BBC's video footage (as it does in the CSGN promotional video). In our guidebook we recommend the original route through royal Linlithgow, past its magnificent palace and lovely loch. Sadly, as a result of a last-minute daft change, the route now officially bypasses the town centre! Most people are hoping this poor decision will soon be reversed. However, it's too late for the waymarkers, which already are on the ground.

This controversy was aired recently in the Linlithgow Gazette. In general, there has been loads of positive coverage, with USA Today picking up on the John Muir Festival (April 17-26), and today's Independent mentioning the launch. There's also been plenty of activity on the John Muir Way Facebook page. Monday should be a memorable day, especially If today's glorious sunshine persists.

December 31, 2014

The Cowal Way stars on the Adventure Show

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I was glued to BBC2 last night for the Adventure Show episode where Cameron McNeish walked part of the Cowal Way with Jim McLuckie, its architect and main man. Cowal's scenery in bright sunshine was star of the show, but Jim was pretty impressive, too. He is also a Rucksack Reader author that I count as a personal friend so I was really delighted at how well it all came across. For the next four weeks you can catch it on iPlayer: the Cowal Way material runs from about minute 15 to about minute 28, with Jim's section at about minutes 19-24. And Jim's guidebook to the Cowal Way is here.

There is wonderful footage of the entertaining section of rocky scrambling leading to Ormidale Lodge, with Jim solicitously leading Cameron into the various tricky bits: great fun! Below Jim is reminiscing to Cameron about his childhood cliff adventures in the Pentlands, and finally Jim and Cameron walking beside the Kyles of Bute.

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June 25, 2015

Dunfermline Press praises Fife Coastal Path

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"A captivating new guidebook on the Fife Coastal Path"

In a feature on our new guidebook, that is how the Dunfermline Press described it today. We have provided three copies for them to give away, and their closing date is next Thursday, 2 July.

For the chance to win a free guidebook, answer their easy question: simply download the column here and scroll to its foot.

For more about the book, including a gallery, zoomable route map and more, visit Rucksack Readers' website.

About Rucksack Readers

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Jacquetta in the Rucksack Readers category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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