Saturday, 18 April 2015

Bright and beautiful Arran hills

The weather is simply wonderful.  Today I was working in the hills with clients Constança and her cousin Marianna. We enjoyed stunning views and lots of good conversation as we went.  Constança is a marine biologist who is leading a European citizen science project to help monitor litter in our seas and on our beaches, so there was  plenty of interesting stuff us to talk about!  Her team have developed an app for recording marine litter that will help lobby policy makers and big business to get them to clean up their act. Android users can download the app here:

Our route took us up Glen Rosa and over Cir Mhor and Caisteal Abhail.  We lingered late and enjoyed the evening sunlight.  

Glen Rosa and Cir Mhor

Enjoying views out west to Ireland and Jura

Cir Mhor and Goatfell

On the summit of Caisteal Abhail

Friday, 17 April 2015

#1 and #3 plus some climbing.

Last week we headed south on a mission to catch up with friends, do some cycling, and for Wally to do his Cytech Level 2 Bike mechanic's assessment (he passed- well done Wally!).
We stopped off at Stanage for some climbing on our way to Cambridge to see my best mate from school.

Wally on Castle Crack HS 4B, Stanage Edge
Taffeta was my partner in crime when we were growing up, and I hadn't seen her in years.  She is also one half of the wonderful Scrimshaw's Guerilla Kitchen so I was fed very well during my stay.  Seeing both Taff and my other close pal Aileen (from my uni days) was number three on my list of 41 things for this year. Although years have passed, our friendships have endured, with some humungous gaps between visits, but once together, with either of these two lovely women, its as if time hasn't passed at all.  I won't leave it so long next time.

Myrtle the Turtle, where incredible asian street food is prepared.
 A couple of days later, Wally returned, beaming and happy,  from his Cytech assessment. We loaded our bikes and took the train to Kings Lynn. From here we rode off on a three day tour that took us through varied landscapes of fen, dune and woodland, giving the lie to the assumption that East Anglia is flat and boring. Following Sustrans routes, we wiggled our way across country, up hill (yes, hills) and down dale, and even found ourselves riding off road at times. The final day was brutal- with a strong headwind on the nose for most of the day.  We were relieved when we finally arrived back in Cambridge to a warm welcome and dinner with Taffeta and her lovely family.

Country lanes

Sunset at Wells next the Sea

Roughing it

Roadside nap

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Some winter left on Goatfell

Wally and I headed up in to Coire Lan today to have a look at Stacach Gully. We didn't like the look of it unfortunately- we broke trail on the approach slopes through a layer of windslab over graupel, which poured down the mountainside as we released it from under the firm layer above.  A quick dig about, and we established that the endless hailstorms that have hammered Lamlash this week, have unsurprisingly dumped plenty in the hill too.

Stacach Gully is the dogleg gully in the middle of the picture

Plan B was a good option, we headed on to the NE slopes of Goatfell, where ice covered slabs sit in shade. We spent a happy time fossicking our way up through ribs and gullies, and eventually gained the ridge. It was strange to be wearing crampons and to see folk enjoying a sunny Easter day in shorts.  The short wearers are definitely a bit premature, although we didn't need the crampons on the ridge today.  The rock is bone dry and the snow mostly softening where exposed to the sun, but winter is still hanging on up high.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Jantastic: Update

I went for my final Jantastic ride today.  True to form, it was in horrible weather that I would never have considered going out in if it weren't for some silly semi competative internet fitness thing.

This is the secret of Jantastic's success for me- I'm obviously pretty active normally- but by setting personal fitness goals that are there for all to see, with points awarded for effort, I've given myself a metaphorical carrot and stick that has pushed me out of the door when normally I'd be on the sofa. It's helped me to structure my exercise towards specific cycling goals. I've cycled hundreds of kilmoetres, set QOMs, and hurtled around singletrack. I've done a minimum of two rides a week (with one joker used), and smashed my time and distance targets.  I've deliberately sought out Arran's most brutal hill climbs.  I've toiled up glens on my mountain bike to hike remote hills. Three months ago cycling over 100km was a distant dream, but on Friday I made it a reality. Today I celebrated by taking my tired legs for a spin on Lamlash sea front testing some new SPD shoes and pedals. So there we have it, I'm no longer a sporadic fair weather cyclist. I have funny shoes and egg whisk pedals.  I even like hills.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

#10: Figure of 8

Oooh me legs!

Yesterday Wally and I cycled the Arran Figure of 8.  There are various permutations, but the classic route involves cycling the String Road twice. It's 111km and nearly 1700m of ascent. We did the Southend first, which condemmed us to a lot of headwinds on the flat,  but gave us a tailwind on the String which I think was probably a good thing. Also, there's no way my legs would have been happy if we'd left the hilly southend till last.  I'd probably still be somewhere in Kilmory sleeping under a hedge.

There was no time deadline to yesterday's ride, so we grazed our way around the island.

Monday, 23 March 2015

#13: Ledge Route

We all self-identify as something... have an idea of ourselves that is partly based on ego, and partly on the tribe in which we feel most comfortable.  I like to think of myself as someone who does a spot of winter climbing, (we even honeymooned in Rjukan) but this has in recent years been a proper fib.  For various reasons- ranging from recovery from an op, to lack of opportunity, to a bit of feartieness, I've not been out on a real route for what seems like ages. This winter is looking like it is going the same way, but I did manage to snatch a near perfect day on Ben Nevis last week, and in doing so met the criteria for number 13- to go winter climbing... sort of...!

With reports of stunning conditions in the classic gullies, Wally was keen to jump on to some steep ground, but I was very reticent, with no idea as to how it would feel to be that far out on a limb again, so he agreed to take a look at Ledge Route, a friendly and satisfyingly long II and the easiest of the Great Ridges. We were partly inspired by Rob Johnson's gorgeous drone footage taken the week before.  If you haven't seen it, it's a must-watch. 

I've only done Ledge Route once before- it was my first at that grade, and I recall we roped up and moved together on it, nervously, in driech weather, and popped out of an inversion to a heavenly world above. I remember it clearly because an RAF Tornado flew by,  and dipped it's wings has it passed. This time, the rope stayed in the bag, but we did gear up in case we encountered anything untoward.  No need- the snow was perfect, soft enough to kick in, but firm and reliable for axe placements. It felt easy, if exposed, more grade 1.5 than 2, and I'm reluctant to count it as a winter climb... these things are all relative I guess, and winter has many faces. No matter, it was a magic route, I was happy to be reminded of its quality- which is superb for the grade, and there were smiles all round at the top.

Friday, 13 March 2015

#8 Ride around Arran (sub 5 hours)

Today I smashed 40 minutes off my previous time to cycle around Arran, and 10 minutes off my #41 Things target time of 5 hours. That's in the saddle time, because if you can't stop for cake in the numerous delightful teashops on Arran then whats the point?

It wasn't easy, and took large quantities of what should probably be a controlled substance: caffeine, as well as copious amounts of sugar. The darkest point of the ride was probably on the final pull up the final hill out of Brodick, when I realised that after all that pushing hard up the Boguille Pass, all the chasing of average speeds in to a headwind, and all that frenzied double latte gulping, my time margin was slipping away from me and I started to doubt I could do it. But the brow of the hill came just in time, and I set a PR on the descent in to Lamlash.

It's not a particularly spectacular time- but its a big deal for me. I put off my first ride around Arran for years, despite it being a popular circuit with visiting roadies, because as a local I know all about the dreaded hilly Southend, the pot holes, the bad drivers and the headwinds. It's a lot harder than the 90 km circuit looks on paper. Since I set that first time of five and half hours, I've been wondering if I could do it any faster, and this year, have been putting in a bit of training, with double Boguille and Ross road climbing sessions, and taking my mountainbike out in the woods. Today was only the second time I've ridden around the island in full.

The received wisdom is to take on the Southend first. It's a lot worse than it looks on the map, with endless rolling hills, and it's good to get it out of the way with fresh legs.  Nevertheless I nearly cried when I saw Sliddery Hill rearing up towards me today- I'd forgotten about that one and it is vicious.  The descent in to Blackwaterfoot is glorious however, especially with a stretch of new tarmac to enjoy. From there, its a happy amble to the Machrie Bay Tea Room, where sticky cakes await.

My old school bike,  AKA: The Bumblebee

My plan was to grind out a bit of speed between Machrie and Lochranza, but the "gentle northerly" turned out to be pretty brisk, and slowed things down quite a bit.  There is a short sharp shock of a hill at Imachar, but it is over pretty quickly, and lovely coastline to enjoy around the north west of the island. After Lochranza, the Boguille Pass terrifies everyone, but I quite like it.  The summit is a wild and beautiful place, where you can watch golden eagles, buzzards and hen harriers, whilst admiring the rocky peaks of the Sleeping Warrior.

Staring down the barrel of the Boguille.

Brodick Bay basking in the spring sunshine

I was happy to find the breeze on my tail as I negotiated the straights of Sannox and Corrie, putting in some unexpected PRs.  By the start of Brodick Hill I was buzzing.  But that hill is never fun, and from the Brodick side, the steep climb up from the ferry terminal always saps my strength. It's a steady grind after that, and with tired legs it is hard to get out of bottom gear, so I watched my time on the clock ebb away. The legendary Jens Voigt had "shut up legs" written on his top tube to motivate him on climbs.  My legs are pretty chatty, saying things like "Wheee" and "Grrr!" and occasionally "Ow".  Its when they go quiet that I worry. On Brodick Hill they started to feel like silent lumps of clay.  I was relieved to get to the top at last, and then whizz down in to Lamlash and the finish line.