Scotland, Midges and Lessons From The Road

Welcome to the long awaited first blog post, in what is an entirely unserious endeavour (and we promise we are not taking ourselves seriously) but rather what hopes to be a light-hearted way to keep friends and family up to date whilst we go adventuring in our van (Remy) and delete social media for a while. Since we both graduated University at the start of July, Sam has been busy converting our van into a home on wheels (cliché number one). I, on the other hand, have been lazing about at home, making the occasional interior décor choice over video chat, and sometimes going to the climbing wall. However, I did finally book the ferry across to France – meaning that our “plan” was at least somewhat in place, and we had a date to look forward to.

After all of Sam’s hard work, we were ready for our first official trip in the van (discounting sneaking off to North Wales with a mattress on the floor and a camping stove); we wanted to iron out any kinks before hitting the road proper. It may become apparent as we blog these adventures that we operate on fairly loose “plans”, so we set off at 6am on the 26th July with a destination (Scotland) and not much else. The 6am start was important so that I could drive Remy for the first time in minimal traffic (going from my car to a van is a big a jump in the automobile world as any). Without disaster, we took a quick pitstop in the Lake District to see our friend Elizabeth. We walked up Barrow without issue, but potential disaster struck on the descent as my knee gave in!

We thought climbing objectives that involve a long approach would be off the cards – pretty much everything in Scotland, since roadside crags are rare up North. By mid-afternoon we had met up with James and Sophie at a roadside crag (Creag na h-Eighe) just off the A9 (a useful crag to know if you want a pitstop on the way to bigger and more exciting things). We enjoyed the afternoon cragging and I discovered the most my-style HVS ever (Just a Pech). This also happens to be Sam’s antistyle; somehow we are only just realising that we have complete opposite climbing styles. All in all, a pretty perfect first day in the van.

The following day, James used his fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of Scottish climbs and crags to suggest Binnein Shuas as a good bet for my dodgy knee to hold up as the approach/descent is fairly tame in gradient. We choose the classic rock, 4* outing of Ardverikie wall (HS 4b, 185m, 6 pitches) to shake off the mountain cobwebs. I must admit my knowledge of climbing in Scotland is rather limited, but I like to imagine that this crag embodies the essence of Scottish climbing: decent walk in *tick*, loch *tick*, heathery slopes and bogs *tick*, praying for a breeze to keep the midges at bay *tick*, hard route by Dave Mac *tick*. If you haven’t seen this last one, watch this. Also, Dave soloing the route we did.

James and Sophie getting midged.

Sam took pitch 1 + 2 (Latterites will suggest p1), 4 and 6, whilst I got pitch 3 and 5. Having just led pitch 5 and reaching the penultimate belay, the wind died, and the slightly damp, grassy ledge provided the perfect conditions to remind us that we are mere mortals, made largely from midge-food. I pulled my Arcteryx over my face, built a belay and shouted for Sam to climb as fast as he possibly could. From 25m below, he viewed this as a rather cheeky thing to shout, but upon reaching the belay was soon made aware of the swarming situation. After a hasty lead from Sam I shoved the slings from my belay in my pocket, didn’t bother to put on my climbing shoes and ran up the slabby pitch barefooted. Here I learned that Sam’s belay was heavily “alpine” in nature. We quickly embarked on the descent without admiring the view. It was a small shame to end a superb climb on such a manner but being swarmed by midges must be a Scottish climber’s rite of passage. They do incite climbing efficiency in even the slowest of parties. James claims to have had the worst midging ever that day, which I suspect is no mean feat. A route well worth putting on your wishlist all the same.

This day also marked an important van lesson – check that you’ve not left anything on the floor outside the van before driving away. We should have learnt this in North Wales having managed to leave the CUMC half ropes outside a campsite and them being stolen by the time we realised and returned. Oh, and it appears that walking poles really help my knee (only time will tell if this is a placebo or not, I guess).

We fretted over plans for the following day but ultimately decided on an active rest day and headed up to the Cairngorm’s National Park (and a Tesco meal deal at Aviemore). Here, I made the discovery of “Sam Time” – that is, if Sam suggests an hour walk, that is actually 60 minutes in Sam Time, and one should roughly expect a journey of at least double that. Indeed, our short rest day 90-minute walk soon became a 5 hour walk and my first Munroe tick. Not that I am complaining, it was delightful, but I am glad to now be aware of this unit of time. Sam attempted to shrug-off this discovery with some made up words about relativity and natural units.

“90 min walk”

From the Cairngorms, we headed further into the Highlands and climbed the superb Salamander (3*, HVS 5b variant) at Creag Ghlas. Once again Scotland exceeded our expectations and this was a superb climb, in a remote valley which we had to ourselves all day (bar James and Sophie). Every pitch was enjoyable and exciting climbing and at the top of my list of favourite climbs.

Top of Salamander in Xmas socks to keep the ticks away (just in case it was misconstrued as a fashion choice)!

From here, we headed back down south to meet up with Jacquie and Ed in Edinburgh (here, Sam had battered chicken with his Thai?), followed by a couple of days climbing in Northumberland. It was a bit difficult for me to crowbar Sam away from the Scottish mountains to go cragging in Northumberland (indeed, nobody can argue that the climbing is more inspired). I think he was pleasantly surprised to find himself enjoying it and lead his first E2 5c. We had a jolly good time at Bowden and Kyloe Out; I definitely have many more routes on my wish list to come back for (both in Northumberland and Scotland). Finally, we gave in and had a proper rest day on the shores of Holy Island and then headed back to the Wirral for a couple of days before we embark to the Alps (with a couple of lessons learnt and a tiny bit wiser).


Sam & Bethan

Finally, some crossword clues we could not get. Please comment your suggestions:

  • Unvarying (7) E_U_B_E
  • Indistinctness (9)
  • Tumbling roll (10)
  • Splendid clothes (7) R_____A
  • Tarried (8)
  • Wine flask (6)

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