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What Capercaillie Mean to Me

A really interesting piece about Capercaillie. I’ve yet to see one on my highland trips and this has inspired me to quietly keep looking!

The Caledonia Collective

What I can’t face is the thought of walking through Highland forests, knowing that these majestic birds are not silently watching from the canopy. This is why I cannot let these birds go. As, more than anything else, they belong here, and they deserve to be saved.

Molly Doubleday

Its pitch black in the forest. At 4am in April, sunrise is still far off. It’s also chilly. I huddle deeper into my sleeping bag. Careful not to make a sound. My head is down. My eyes are heavy with exhaustion. Yet my ears are alert. Straining to listen in the silence. This morning, I am rewarded. Finally, I hear the quiet, yet unmistakable popping, breaking through the forest. This call is as ancient as the forest itself. It has begun. I release a silent breath of relief, square my shoulders, and start to concentrate. Keeping everything crossed for a good…

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Fishing Rods and Paintbrushes

The Caledonia Collective

My elder son is now old enough that I can take him out on a boat and share one of my favourite pastimes: fishing. He’s fascinated by the idea of fish below the water even though his attempts at casting a line are still developing.

We’ve managed a few of these days this year and I’m delighted to see his enthusiasm and it reminds me of my own childhood, being outdoors and fishing with my own father and younger brother. We would fish on lots of different lochs in the area, especially Lochindorb, and it was a great way to explore and get to know our surroundings better. The trips were always an adventure and the excitement and anticipation that we might catch a fish kept us interested and made us want to go back for more.

One of my fondest memories is the first time we fished with one…

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Swimming High in the Cairngorms

A brilliantly refreshing blog about wild swimming

The Caledonia Collective

The Cairngorms National Park is a wild swimmer’s paradise. Famous for having some of the cleanest rivers in Europe, as well as many stunning lochs and lochans, I am certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to swimming opportunities on my doorstep.

Embracing the snow and ice of a Cairngorms winter, I swim all year round, enjoying luscious long swims in the summer and short bracing dips in the colder months. I find that I have learned to love the cold. I crave the cold. I even seek the cold.

When the low-levels lochs start to warm up, crowds inevitably begin to flock to popular loch-side hot-spots to enjoy water-sports and stunning mountain views. At this time, I feel a magnetic pull, drawing me higher up into the mountains, in search of escape, adventure and cold, quiet water to swim in.

Birthday on Braeriach

Descending from the summit of Braeriach…

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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


1.

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.’


2.

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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