Where I’ve been and what I’ve done
At the end of March I packed up my stuff to move house again, after a winter in Aberdeen, to relocate to Ballater, in the heart of the area I cover as part of my job as a seasonal ranger for the Cairngorms National Park. I’m glad to be back on Deeside, and have some fantastic locations to visit available right from my doorstep.
The weather early in spring was stunning; bright warm afternoons following crisp mornings where the temperatured dropped below freezing overnight. Perfect conditions to get out on some of the walks around Ballater, like the Seven Bridges route along the side of the River Dee.
After bemoaning the lack of opportunity to get out in the snow through the winter, this spring has more than made sure I didn’t miss out. Winter returned with full force towards the end of April, depositing a large dump of snow on the high plateau of the Cairngorms, and making it challenging to get to work on a couple of days where I had to cross the Lecht to go on patrol in Strathspey.
The weather hasn’t been too great recently, and with getting all my things sorted out in my new place, I haven’t really been exploring much of the area. But I’ve had the chance to get out to visit some different places, like Nethy Bridge, Grantown-on-Spey, and Loch Garten.
My Spring Love List
This is where I share some of the things I’ve really enjoyed over the past season, including recommendations for books and films to fill your free time, and any equipment or clothing that has proved especially useful. After you’ve had a read of my list, I’d love to hear about the things that you’ve loved too. Tell me everything in the comments below.
Book: The book that’s really stuck with me over the last few weeks has been All That Remains: A Life in Death by Professor Sue Black. Partly a memoir of her time as a forensic anthropologist and professor of anatomy, investigating criminal violence and murder, and mass fatalities as a result of war and disaster, and partly an examination of how death is viewed in society, it might seem like a dark read. But despite the subject matter, the book is uplifting and life affirming, and encourages you to consider death in a new light.
I’ve also made a deep dive into mountian ecology and conservation to improve my knowledge and understanding with Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land by Andrew Painting and Hostile Habitats: Scotland’s Mountain Habitat, edited by Mark Wrightam and Nick Kempe.
I’ve collected together some of the blog posts, magazine stories, and journal articles I’ve read this season here.
Film: I really loved Nomadland. A beautiful slow journey through the vast landscapes of the United States as it tenderly traces the path of a life meaningfully lived. The film is melancholic at times, and thought provoking as it tackles raw grief, uncertainties from working the gig economy, and being deeply moved by the connections made while being on the move.
Food: Tony’s Chocolonely bars, especially the dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt, although my Dad would like to insist that the milk chocolate with salted caramel is by far the superior flavour. As well as being some of the nicest chocolate I’ve had in a while, they also aim to address the massive inequalities in the international cocoa trade that keep farmers producing cocoa trapped in cycles of poverty.
Clothing: Despite a couple of weeks of gloriously clear days filled with sunshine (although with sharp overnight frosts) in early April, winter returned with a vengeance later in the month, with heavy snow at the beginning of May right down to street level in Ballater. So I was extremely glad of my Smartwool Intraknit 200 merino thermal baselayer long-sleeved top to wear under my work uniform. The merino warmth is combined with wicking and breathability to make it comfortable to wear in the cold, including on the snow days we’ve been experiencing, while being quite physically active on a ranger patrol.
Equipment: Getting back into the habit of walking anything between 10km and 15km a day has taken an effort, building up to longer distances after a winter in lockdown not going very far at all. It’s also helped recovery between back-to-back days of walking to make sure that I stretch properly, and using a foam roller to work out my leg muscles after a day of activity.
I discovered paw paw ointment a few years ago while working on a tall ship over in Australia, and found it was a real life saver in Antarctica for soothing sun and wind burned dry skin and chapped lips. This Papaya Gold paw paw and manuka honey balm has been so useful this winter.
Treat: Tulips are some of my favourite flowers, and sticking a bunch of sunshiny-yellow flowers in a vase really brightens up the place, especially when the weather outside has been so grim recently.
Exciting news, and a benefit of now being officially old, is that I have my first dose of Covid vaccination booked. This hopefully is the first step in getting back to where travelling and having adventures further afield are becoming possible.
Unusually, I have little bit of a holiday coming up in early May. I have a few things to pick up from friends down in the south of England, and Northumberland made a perfect stopping point to break the journey down and back up again, so I’ve scheduled in a few days to explore. I know the coast pretty well, so this time I’d like to seem more of the inland areas, including Northumberland National Park.
And I’ve booked to do a Summer Mountain Leader training course at Glenmore Lodge in June. I’m going to try squeeze in a couple of hill days beforehand, so keeping my fingers crossed for the genuine arrival of spring conditions in the next few weeks.
What have you been up to over the last season? Has spring finally arrived where you are?
Remember I’m always here if you need a friendly ear to listen; I’d really love to hear from you.
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