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  1. Mud-Loving Mountain Bikers & Hill Walkers Holidays

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    For those who prefer their holidays to include lung-bursting outdoor pursuits and plenty of perspiration, there is no shortage of challenging sporting events around Loch Ness and Inverness during the summer and early autumn months this year.

    Along the Great Glen in May, the annual Whole Way Walk is the longest ranger guided walk in the country.  This 79 mile journey takes walkers to the heart of the Highlands by combining six days of guided hiking with other events showcasing the area’s history and heritage. From  6 -11 May, participants will trek the width of the country from Fort William on the west coast to Inverness on the east offering a unique opportunity to experience this environment up close and personal.

    Alternatively, adrenaline seeking visitors might like to take part in the Drambuie Pursuit, which runs from 11-13 May.  The nine-stage event takes in the Loch Ness area, with events at Invergarry, Fort Augustus and the River Ness and combines a wide range of outdoor activities including archery, buggy racing, white water rafting, rock climbing, abseiling, hill running and mountain biking. Not for the faint hearted, this high-energy Highland challenge offers an exciting and inspirational introduction to the area.

    Heading into June, outdoors enthusiasts have the opportunity to join a range of events at the ‘Outta Affric’ Glen Affric Walking Festival. This four-day festival (1- 4 June) offers graded and guided walks taking in a selection of Munros and Corbetts alongside a packed programme of entertaining, interesting and informative extras.

    For those who like to inject a little variety into their travels, June also brings a selection of exciting challenges taking in the Loch Ness area. The first is the Scotland Coast to Coast event. This two day challenge (15-16 June) allows entrants to select their own level, taking one or two days to tackle the route from the east coast at Nairn to the west coast at Ballachulish by running or walking, kayaking and cycling through its tough terrain either alone or as part of a two-person team.

    June 16 will also see walkers gathering at Gairlochy on Scotland’s west coast for the 24 hour Caledonian Challenge, where participants attempt to complete a 54 mile route through some of the Highland’s most spectacular scenery in just one day all in aid of the Scottish Community Foundation. And just a week later the area will play host to the Highland Cross duathlon event (invitation only) The Highland Cross takes place on 23rd June with participants attempting to complete a 20 mile walk and 30 mile bike ride through the rugged terrain of Glen Affric and Strathglass to finish in the beautiful village of Beauly.

    August sees the arrival of the Monster Swim at Loch Ness. This open water aquatic event offers the opportunity to tackle either the one mile Big Yin or the half mile Wee Nessie course – both of which offer the opportunity for participants to truly immerse themselves in the surroundings and see spectacular scenery from an entirely new angle. The season of exertion and exhilaration is rounded off on 30 September with the Baxters Loch Ness Marathon which offers a rare opportunity to race on the roads round this iconic loch location. This must-run route takes in 26 miles of spectacular surroundings, with the finishing line in the Highland capital of Inverness.

    Further information on the area, accommodation and what’s on around Loch Ness and Inverness at www.visitlochness.com

  2. Top Tips For Walking The Hills In Winter Safely

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    Winter skills are an integral part of venturing onto the hills from November to March and mean much more than carrying an ice axe and crampons – you need to be able to use them competently. Analysis of mountain rescue statistics reveals that the majority of accidents are the result of a simple slip. Skills and preparation are key to enjoying the British hills safely. An essential part of the preparation is being able to navigate accurately in all conditions not just bright sunshine. It’s well worth considering an instructional course to gain the foundation on which to build experience.

    For walkers, an ice axe with a straight shaft of between 50-70cms is not just about aiding balance in snow so walking poles are not a substitute. Technique can be learned that conserves energy and extends safety parameters through the knowledge of how to cut steps and use as an emergency brake. The latter self-arrest skill needs to be practiced until you can do it without thinking; short slopes with no chance of sliding into rocks are ideal and it can be a lot of fun. Tucking the adze end under your shoulder and  the shaft under your body diagonally, the pick can be used to slow and stop a slide on snow and ice. That’s when experience gained safely allows you to judge the pressure required when it’s needed in earnest.

    Boots for winter use need to have a fairly stiff sole that allow the edges to kick steps and can take a crampon. With your axe held on your uphill side, pick pointing backwards, you can make a tripod of three points of contact with the snow. When moving, keep two points of contact and try to move steadily to avoid becoming unduly tired. Crampons should be worn when you anticipate conditions that need them rather than trying to fit them on dodgy ground. Practice moving on easy snow slopes to get a feel for potential; problems of tripping, tightening straps and making sure the crampon points bite into the surface.

    Competence in using map and compass in the hills means being confident in your skills in poor weather and visibility. Again, learning the skills properly and practicing them is a pre-requisite for heading off trouble. As is picking a route appropriate to experience and fitness as well as planning how to adapt the route if needs be through bad weather or tiredness. Before picking a route, check for any physical hazards, the weather forecast (wind, temperature, rain and snow), avalanche risk and estimate the time needed being realistic to ensure you can be back before dark.

    Finally, don’t head off alone but go with others of similar fitness, make the plan together, don’t split up and leave info on your plans with a responsible person. It’s everybody’s responsibility in a party to keep track of progress and to be able to navigate safely. If you need to summon assistance, call 999 and ask for the police.

    Kit and clothing – a simple checklist:

    • Boots and warm socks
    • Ice axe and crampons
    • Map and case
    • Compass
    • Waterproof jacket (with hood)
    • Waterproof overtrousers
    • Gaiters
    • Warm hat
    • Gloves or mitts plus spares
    • Thermal base layer – body and legs
    • Fleece jacket
    • Extra body insulation
    • Warm trousers
    • Head torch (plus spare bulb if needed and spare batteries)
    • Food and drink for the day plus a little extra
    • Survival bag, whistle, watch and first aid kit
    • Rucksack to hold it all easily with a liner to keep it all dry.

  3. Scotlands White Tailed Eagles Soar To New Heights

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    2011 has proved another record-breaking year for breeding pairs of Scotland’s largest bird of prey as the numbers of white-tailed eagles, sometimes referred to as ‘sea eagles’ soared to new heights despite heavy storms throughout the 2011 breeding season. An adult bird has an impressive eight-foot wing span and striking white tail, making the white-tailed eagle a spectacular sight that can round off a great day’s hillwalking or climbing.

    Conservationists, and many sea eagle enthusiasts, had been concerned that the high winds felt across Scotland in May could have had a detrimental impact on breeding white-tailed eagles at the vulnerable part of the season when most nests contain small chicks. Indeed, some nests failed including that of BBC Springwatch star, nicknamed ‘Itchy’, who experts fear lost his chicks in the storm. However, the bad weather failed to blow the species off course. Recent survey figures for the 2011 breeding season reveal that there were 57 territorial pairs in Scotland, an increase of 10% on the previous year. A total of 43 young fledged successfully from these nests.

    White-tailed eagles finally became extinct in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century, due to human persecution and collecting of eggs and skins. After an absence of over half a century, a re-introduction programme began in 1975 on the Isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides, aimed at returning these majestic raptors to the Scottish skies. Since then, the species’ population has been steadily recovering, and conservationists believe there are now as many ‘flying barn doors’, as they are affectionately known, in the UK as there were over 150 years ago.

    The successful breeding season on the west coast comes as a further 16 white-tailed eagle chicks, gifted by the people of Norway, were released from a secret location in Fife in August. The chicks are part of a six-year project, now entering its final year, to increase and expand the range of this iconic species into its former haunts in the east of Scotland.

    Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland, said, “The white-tailed eagle is part of Scotland’s rich natural heritage and it is fantastic to see them back where they belong and gradually increasing in numbers and range on the west coast. They are improving biodiversity in this country and bringing in important economic benefits to the communities they soar above. Now with the east coast reintroduction entering its final year, we are anticipating the first steps towards the establishment of a breeding population of sea eagles on the other side of Scotland. There is plenty of suitable habitat and natural wild prey to support a healthy population.”

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