Friday, January 13, 2017

Boulder Scotland - 3rd edition now published

The new third edition of Boulder Scotland has now been released! It's 320 pages of full colour adventure! If you want to get hold of a copy, it retails at £19.99 and can be ordered through the following suppliers:

Amazon >>> 

Cordee >>>

The making of this guidebook took a lot longer than expected, rightly interrupted by dozens of new venues, plus the interim issue of the new edition to Essential Fontainebleau!  For this edition, published a criminal nine years after the second edition, it was greatly aided by some local experts and I'd like to thank the advisory editors, your gratis copies will be on their way shortly.

This guidebook simply wouldn’t exist without the community spirit of all the boulderers who have added their contribution to this third edition of a Scottish bouldering gazetteer (the first was in 2005). This vastly expanded but still immature bouldering landscape is one of the world’s finest collection of geologies and will not run dry any day soon. We hope a strong ethic of exploration without impact continues with the new generations raised on indoor walls and training boards – the opportunities available to them are huge and open territory for their talents. Scotland is a land of freedom and adventurous access…

As general editor, the intention of this guide is to provide a balanced overview of Scottish bouldering, in terms of place, grade and general variety of experience, and especially to give the new visitor a gazetteer to get the best out of a visit to Scotland wherever they end up. We hope it is a tribute to this beautiful country and the practice (some say art) of bouldering in the wild.

There are many people to thank, not least the advisory editors who helped build and proof this guide, in particular: Colin Lambton, Nigel Holmes, Dan Varian, Pierre Fuentes, Kevin Howett, Gaz Marshall, Tom Kirkpatrick, Hamish Fraser, Richie Betts, Ian Taylor, Robbie Gardiner, Stewart Cable and Andrew Hunter. The publisher is grateful for their advice and tolerance to the general editor’s errors and in some cases excesses of enthusiasm.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Lifescapes #2 - Sound and Landscape

Sound mirrors at Denge, Dungeness

I have perched on icy ledges in a winter storm, listening to the main-sail buffeting of a wind against a large rock buttress. It creates deep booming sounds on impact and surreal whistles and songs as it howls through fingered gaps in the shattered rock rims of corries. There is a high lonely corrie to the east of the summit of Ben Dorainn called Coire Chrutein ('Hollow of the Harps') with a rocky wall called Feadan Garbh ('rough chanter') which perfectly captures the suggested soundscape of a mountain in a storm, and this aural presence to a place often needs extreme weather for us to be conscious of it, yet it is always a present and often subtle informant of place and feeling. Of course, we are all familiar with more gentle sounds of summer such as rills and burns tinkling over rock-steps, or larks improvising their jazzy song in deep blue skies, but it belies the rules that when 'looking' at landscape we take for granted the rich soundscapes that colour our impressions and memory.

Sound and stone are rarely twinned but in prehistoric times this was more common and the many examples of 'musical stones' around the world, such as at Mudgal in India (below), show that landscape is enhanced by sound especially if it is seen as 'hidden' or or special, so you can see why it became ritualised or revered as something otherworldly or in the spiritual realm, rather than the everyday.

Currently, a project at Huddersfield University, run by Rupert Till, is studying the sound architecture of ancient monuments such as Stonehenge, suggesting they had an aural ritual purpose, with harmonics and repetitive echoing rhythms an integral part of their design. The sound clips recorded here are indeed impressive. Could this interpretation be extended to the Stones of Stenness on Orkney, or even the Callanish complex in Lewis?

This is a growing area of enquiry known as 'soundscape ecology' and the natural geological sounds I refer to above can be classed rather musically as 'geophony'. For more read here.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Lifescapes #1

As counterpoint to a new series of books coming from Stone Country Press, I thought I'd introduce a few more elements of landscape theory and philosophy on this blog. The new series - Lifescapes - will reflect the mix of outdoor activity and philosophy as a means of expressing contemporary thoughts on various ways of 'being' in the outdoors. 

After the mechanisation of farming, the technological monoculture of living off the land has left very few of us living close to the natural world. We mostly hunker in urban centres briefly catching the play of light and nature through city windows. I write this at a tenement window, where occasionally a sparrowhawk throws panic amongst the local finches and pigeons, but it's all very fleeting. Still, the urge to be part of a bigger natural world, even within the city, exists in many pursuits and interests. 

From my own perspective, this found active representation (or non-representation, as it might now be perceived), in climbing, mountaineering and bouldering. But any modern outdoor activity shows some connection to the natural world, despite the obvious alienation that can come with obsession with technology and the formality of how we structure the social and competitive elements of our interests.

Climbing/walking/running/cycling/kayaking/fishing - name your sport - are still all methods for being in your landscape, of moving through it with purpose for a while, or for just getting your hands dirty. Sports, in essence, are the modern way of growing our identities of place. Leisure activities have progressed and become so much more sophisticated, in terms of technology and rules of engagement, since the Victorians kicked off their empire of leisure pursuits, to the point where a sport such as mountaineering can include so many sub-sports, or offshoots, such as dry-tooling, bouldering, sports climbing, and 'traditional' climbing ... a long evolution from the Alpenstock ice-axe!

They all root to the same core desire, to be outside, finding our place, temporarily marking our spots with codified athleticism, or scribbling our names on the wall of time in a kind of temporal invisible ink. I like to think of a blog or social media as invisible ink, drying briefly to focus a message, before it dissolves again before your eyes.

Here ends thought #1 on Lifescapes...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ben Lomond - a Gaelic palette

Loch Lomond, Wednesday 28th December 2016

Mist, water and silvery light: a very Gaelic palette in midwinter between the storms, which these days all have names - we've been through Barbara's tantrums and Conor's backlash, but today was one of those steamed-up car sort of days. Warmish air from the southwest is rolling about Loch Lomond and gathering a chill as it picks up speed towards the snow-patched summit, so I take the clockwise 'wind with my back' option, steeply up the Ptarmigan ridge from Rowardennan, hearing a chuckle in the mist which is either a red grouse or the eponymous bird. Each landmark on the map is a clue to the Gaelic landscape - Tom Fhithich I think may be the raven's beak-nosed boulder or crag half up towards the knoll of Ptarmigan, which just breaks the mist, and assumes the role of target summit for the meantime as the main peak is in cloud. The small hidden tarns are full of slushy grey ice and the 'yellow bealach' is all bleached grass, sphagnum and dying moss, flattened by wind and snow at various defiles bearing the Gaelic 'gaoithe' (windy), which begins to dominate the adjectival topography above 600m.

The scramble up between the darkened wet schist of the north-west ridge leads to various false summits above the northern steepness of the Leac na Caillich (the old woman's stones/slabs), so I pick out target landmarks on the path as the mist closes in and swathes everything in oblivion. At the sudden summit trig point, a fine beacon point ('Lomainn') in summer, a few parties munch on cold turkey sandwiches, hunkering against the wind. A raven flaps and bounces about like a torn black bin-bag, tipping its wingtips and honking for leftovers.

Below us lies the snowy confines of Coire a Bhathaich, which is a shelter of a 'byre' in Gaelic (at least from prevailing south-westerlies). The long Sron Aonach (nosed ridge) descent trail leads past another north-eastern corrie, where few wish to linger, hence the name - Coire Fuar (the cold corrie). As the path and altitude descends, the colours return to the palette - Coire Odhar (the brown/orange corrie) and Breac Leac (the speckled slabs). The quartz whites, exfoliated schist greys and orange grasses all gain a little more sharper focus as the path drops down past the sounding of water bubbling in growing burns and birdsong in forestry, as though someone had turned up the volume after the tinnitus of mist and wind...