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Up and Down Days, Part Eight: Commitment

This is another compelling read from David Russell. Strangely reassuring that even the most experienced walkers and climbers suffer doubts at times!

The Caledonia Collective

“…one never quite knows the mountain, nor oneself in relation to it.”

“One walks among elementals, and elementals are not governable. There are awakened also in oneself by the contact elementals that are as unpredictable as wind or snow.”

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain


The excitement I had felt at the prospect of our climb had abandoned me step by step as Kirsty and I walked the length of the glen. By the time we stood underneath the route – acres of immaculate granite slab rising above – a cold sensation gripped me that stood in pointed contrast to the sweat I had worked up.

I looked at her and said:

‘I can’t do this.’


I stood at the lip of the plunge pool, looking down into the foaming roar of the river. Beside me the boiling rapid became suddenly smooth as it extended a black tongue over…

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Woods, Wood and Woodwork.

The Caledonia Collective

If I source, cut, split and stack wood myself, I feel I’ve earned the right to be warm in winter.  It would be easier to have central heating, and not have to fiddle around with matches and kindling first thing in the morning, but the act of lighting a fire makes me feel connected to the world around me and always conscious of where our warmth and energy comes from.  

Back in March, I got hold of 25 tonnes of fresh beech to process into firewood. I’m hoping that it will warm our house and water for the next three years. It came from a forest just north of here, where it had been removed to encourage the native trees to flourish. Beech has a beautiful texture and splits like a dream. In all honesty that wood stack has kept me sane during lockdown. Every day for months, over our…

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Up and Down Days, Part Seven: The Bad Day

A gripping read from David Russell for Caledonia Collective, in the 7th episode of his series ‘Up and Down Days’

The Caledonia Collective

I think that when people talk about having ‘adventures’ we generally mean doing something active, bold, possibly a little risky, but with a beneficial impact on ourselves. There’s an implication in how we use the word that the adventure will surely have a good outcome. It will be something fun and fulfilling, without doubt. But there is a commonly used definition for the word ‘adventure’ that runs like this:

An undertaking in which there is uncertainty of outcome.

The fact is that if you’re doing something that is genuinely adventurous, then there is always a possibility that it could turn to misadventure.

I’ve reached the part of my story that begins to be difficult to tell. It’s difficult to look back at some things. Difficult to accept your own folly, or the consequences. But I don’t want to play things down, or leave things out that are important. As…

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Up and Down Days, Part Six: Cold Forged

Another gripping blog from David Russell, for Caledonia Collective.

The Caledonia Collective

The day I enjoyed on An Teallach with Doug, Jack and the others was one of the best hill days I’d ever had. More than that; it was, in retrospect, the beginning of one of best years of my life. A year during which I grew more in confidence and ability than any other. Not just as far as climbing and mountaineering were concerned either; it was a time when I began to feel I knew exactly who I wanted to become as a person.

Doing adventurous things outdoors was core to the identity I was shaping. The friendships I had made among the hills drew me out of my shell. The strength and fitness I had built through regular climbing gave me a faith in the abilities of my own body I had never imagined as an asthmatic and anxious teen. I enjoyed being noticed among people, and felt…

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Up and Down Days, Part Five: The Smiddy and The Forge

Another great read from David Russell on Caledonia Collective. I’m really drawn in by all his stories that explore his Up and Down relationship with Scotland’s hills and mountains.

The Caledonia Collective

Part Five: The Smiddy and The Forge

In the morning gloom of another tiny hut somewhere in the Highlands, I blearily pulled on my clothes, then fumbled my way to the door. I pulled back the heavy cast-iron bolt, and the door swung wide. Its bright blue paint, surmounted by a huge white saltire cross, shone brilliantly in the buttery morning air that flooded in.

Someone cried out: ‘Natural light! Get it off me!’

Once again we had arrived by night, so until this moment all I knew of the place was the warm stony interior of the hut, lit by the soft glow of firelight which also warmed the snoozing sausages of people in their sleeping bags.

I ducked beneath the lintel and stood in the light of the sun, breathing in cold and crisp Highland air, taking in my first sights of a place named Dundonnell.

Immediately outside…

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Up and Down Days, Part Four: Cold Mountain

A gripping and humourous piece about early adventures in ice climbing from David Russell for Caledonia Collective.

The Caledonia Collective

Cold Mountain’s full of strange sights

Men who go there end by being scared.

Water glints and gleams in the moon,

Grasses sigh and sing in the wind.

The bare plum blooms again with snow,

Naked branches have clouds for leaves.

When it rains, the mountain shines –

In bad weather you’ll not make this climb.

- Han Shan, Cold Mountain

Part Four: Cold Mountain

The mountains were covered in a wet snow that sagged into the hollows between boulders, and clogged our boots with huge soggy blocks of ice. We trudged. The path was buried under the deep, wet blanket, so we followed the pockmarked trail of footsteps that led up into the northern coires of Cairngorm. Trudged really is the only word for such movement. Slow, heavy, snow-clinging at-your-feet-just-get-on-with-it wearying steps. It was early morning and we did not feel much humour in us yet – feeling the…

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Up and Down Days Part Three: Zero to Hero

Wow! Stunningly beautiful images and insightful and inspirational writing.

The Caledonia Collective

The annual Burns Night trip to Skye was usually the highlight of the mountaineering club calendar. The third weekend in January would find a few dozen of us piling into an assortment of clapped out hatchbacks, the suspension groaning under the weight of students and their piles of kit and food for 3 nights. We hit the road in convoy, driving north through the darkness for 5 or 6 hours, radio blasting out Guns N Roses.

As we pressed on the roads grew quieter and gradually more dimly lit as the street lights of towns were left behind. Snow poles passed by in streaks of light along the A9, then we turned off onto narrower and more winding lanes. I stared through the glass window into the absolute blankness of the night, looking past my own reflection and wondering what sights and places we were passing by. Gaelic started to…

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Up and Down Days, Part One: The Bay of Water

The Caledonia Collective

For many years I’ve liked to tell people that I have an ‘up and down’ relationship with Scotland’s hills. Partly I say this because I love a good pun, but behind that also lies the fact that people can take that saying and interpret it how they like. It’s a way for me to say something without having to say too much – a way of offering the other person the opportunity to take it as nothing more than a lighthearted play on words, and avoid going too deep.

But the people who know me best can see beyond that. The people with whom I have shared hill days, to whom I’ve told the stories, who have seen me change and been the agents of change in me; they know I mean more. Because no-one spends a life in love with hills and mountains and comes away without being changed…

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The Oaks of Sunart

An uplifting post about the restorative powers of nature from one of my favourite parts of the world, wild and beautiful Ardnamurchan.

The Caledonia Collective

As soon as the man on the phone stopped shouting at me and hung up, I made up my mind about going away. A few minutes later I had a self catering cottage booked in the village of Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. I reasoned that besides being a place I’d wanted to spend time for ages, it was also the furthest I could possibly get away. A place no-one could find me, where I could just get my head down for a few days and indulge in silence, rest, and avoid crossing paths with another human.

A whirlpool of fatigue, insomnia and negative thinking had held me fast for months. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep it up. Months of autopilot, of not really being there, putting on a face, taking things day by day. Time was slipping away and I was never reaching that…

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Today Was a Gift

A glorious blog that will transport you to beautiful places.

The Caledonia Collective

A few days ago the first snows of winter arrived on the mountains. There was a hard edged clarity of light in the forest that I only know from winter – white edges and black shadows running along every branch. The remains of autumn colours clung to the tips of wind stripped birch trees, like the final tiny glow of a candle flame before it dies.

The day was beautiful, but it seemed to signal a premature end to an autumn that never really got going – at least, not if landscape photography was what you had in mind. Autumn is the season of riotous colour and surreal mists. Interplays of shadow, light and land. But this year many days were wet, the temperatures too high for those sublime mornings of sunlit frost on golden boughs. So I was not too sorry to see winter’s promise in the air. A…

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