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There has still been space for adventure in the Highlands, despite another uncertain new year


By John Davidson

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Balraj makes his way down the Lairig Ghru path into the forest.
Balraj makes his way down the Lairig Ghru path into the forest.

We’re heading into 2022 in a not dissimilar way to how we began 2021 – the lockdown of old may be replaced by ‘tighter restrictions’ but that feeling of uncertainty and frustration remains.

However, things are not the same as they were then. In 2021 we have not seen the mountains 'closed' and social contact curtailed to the same extent.

I’ve seen family members who I hadn’t seen for years and caught up with friends and made new acquaintances along the way.

There has been space – if not enough time – for adventures, and looking back at some of our Active Outdoors trips over the past 12 months it’s clear we’ve still managed to squeeze some fun out of life!

Approaching Athnamulloch and the end of the loch.
Approaching Athnamulloch and the end of the loch.

I headed back to the hills in early spring determined to get some mountain fitness back. I climbed the 711m Beinn Bhuidhe in the Mondhliath, which proved a great little warm up for bigger walks later in the year.

An ascent of Sgor Gaoithe in the Cairngorms – on the day of the delayed Euro 2020 final – was a good way to clear the head, while an early start to climb a trio of Munros in the Ardverikie Forest made a special summer’s day.

I’d been to the same location on my mountain bike earlier in the year and vowed to return to ‘bag’ the summits at a later date. The day I chose was stunning, breaking through the cloud to enjoy an early-morning inversion that covered much of the west of Scotland.

Another special trip was with a great bunch of people who got together to cycle the Moray Way circuit, which takes in part of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coast Trail and the Dava Way.

Eoghain passing the window of an old building beside the former railway line.
Eoghain passing the window of an old building beside the former railway line.

Organised by Jim Sutherland, our group started from Grantown and enjoyed two days of riding at a relaxed pace, with a wonderful night at Lossiemouth where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset from our tents.

I’ve also been back on the water, kayaking out of Cromarty with my daughter Clara as we explored the coast with Donald Macpherson of Explore Highland. That was a memorable trip and one Clara still talks about, laughing at the moment a wave washed over the boat and soaked her as we launched after lunch!

We’ve had a great family day out in Glen Affric, and I took the children to Torridon with their cousins and auntie and uncle to walk the popular Loch Coulin and Loch Clair circuit.

Towards the end of the year, Peter Evans and I made it up Beinn Fhada at Kintail – Peter’s first Munro since suffering a heart attack in summer 2020. It was just like old times as we enjoyed an exciting scramble on our 'alternative' descent route.

Peter makes his way over some of the easy scrambling on the return route.
Peter makes his way over some of the easy scrambling on the return route.

More recently, I’ve also enjoyed a couple of decent runs, around Carrbridge and along the new extension to the Speyside Way, while earlier in the year I was out with Ian Stewart of Trail Running Scotland. A group of us were taking part in his Cairngorms Explorer weekend, and I joined a great run up through the Chalamain Gap and down through the forest at Rothiemurchus.

I’m hoping that, fresh restrictions notwithstanding, there will be more opportunity to build on this running next year, and I’ve already got entries for far too many events – some deferred from back in 2020.

The Loch Ness 360 Challenge is something I’ve been building up to for a long time, and with luck it will finally go ahead in May. There are three options – an ultramarathon around the 80-mile circuit, three marathons in three days and a mountain bike loop.

The corrie rim leads round to the summit of Beinn a' Chlachair.
The corrie rim leads round to the summit of Beinn a' Chlachair.

When the event was originally planned for 2020, I signed up for the three marathons – so I will need to up the training during the rest of winter and spring ahead of this unique challenge.

The Highland Cross should hopefully be back on the calendar in June as well, while I’ll also be taking part in the Inverness Half Marathon, Etape Loch Ness and maybe, just maybe, the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon – subject to staying healthy and injury free, of course.

But whatever happens in the coming 12 months, a look back at the last year shows that there is still hope that we can make the most of the wonderful outdoor spaces close to where we live, work and play.

It’s been shown just how important that can be for our mental health and wellbeing, and Active Outdoors will continue to bring you inspiration – and possibly a bit of perspiration – as we enjoy our own adventures throughout 2022.

On the track on the west side of Loch Coulin.
On the track on the west side of Loch Coulin.
The rocky cliffs at the top of Sgor Gaoith, with the Braeriach plateau across the glen.
The rocky cliffs at the top of Sgor Gaoith, with the Braeriach plateau across the glen.
Beinn Mheadhoin has a substantial cairn just north of its summit, which is marked on the OS map.
Beinn Mheadhoin has a substantial cairn just north of its summit, which is marked on the OS map.
John and Clara working together with the North Sutor in the background.
John and Clara working together with the North Sutor in the background.
Sign to Sluggan Bridge at Dalrachney Beag.
Sign to Sluggan Bridge at Dalrachney Beag.

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