SOAP Exped to Arran

Last week was the last part of the SOAP mountaineering skills program … and it was destination Arran. The program has run over this this year for eight S5 and S6 pupils across East Lothian’s schools, and the Arran Exped was the finale. While the Arran mountains are not high they have some of the best (and most exciting) ridge walking and scrambling in Britain.

After gearing up in Musselburgh, it’s a short drive over to Ardrossan for the afternoon ferry to Arran. We were staying the first three nights at the very fine Seal Bay Camping down near Kildonan.

After setting up camp the plan had been to visit a local single-pitch crag. It was a fine evening, bright and warm. Unfortunately as the wind dropped, the midges came out for the evening. Standing around belaying at a crag would have been murder… so Plan B was a walk along a midge free beach and a helpfully smokey driftwood bonfire.

It dawned wet, and didn’t really stop raining for the next 48 hours. Still undaunted the group set off for a mountain day. We drove up to Brodick Castle and did a fine walk up over Goatfell, North Goatfell and back down Glen Rosa

The ridge along to North Goatfell gave some easy scrambling to add interest, but it was a pretty wet day, with no sign of the fine views which we were sure were out there.

Woke to rain and decided to try and stay low. So we set off north of Blackwaterfoot and walked up the coast, sheltering in the Kings Caves before visiting the fine standing stones of Machrie.

Luckily the forecast was spot-on … after a night of very heavy rain sun came out as we packed up camp at Seal Bay. Even better there was breeze. Just enough to blow away the midges.

Making the best of the weather we set off again for an great day of high ridges, and high visibility on the horse-shoe of Ben Tarsium from Glen Rosa. Lots of excellent dry granite, and views extending south to Ireland, out to Jura and north to Ben Nevis.

A pretty tired group arrived back at the mini-bus at 7:00pm … and then had to walk in for the last night to our ‘surprise destination’ … Cloud Base.

Despite being a bit midgy the it was luxury to not be under canvas for the last night.

Another fine sunny day, and once out of the tree in the breeze midge-free.

An easy walk down past the might Falls of Glashendale and back to the bus and off to the ferry.

Despite some wet weather at the start a really good trip, the group were always in good spirits, achieved lots and came back with some great memories. Over the past year all of the SOAP participants have gained new skills and confidence that should help them be better, bolder, and safer, mountaineers in whatever adventures they want to embark upon after their school days.

For a full-screen slideshow click here, or click here for a movie. (You may not be able to see these from inside ELC Corporate Network, sorry)

Knox Academy Highers

Well not really highers but certainly today, Knox High School pupils as part of a 4 day programme during activity week conquered 4 high summits in the Pentland Hills.
Monday involved some rock-climbing and scrambling at North Berwick Law. The group  will be off coasteering and canoeing over the next 2 days. All fantastic Outdoor Learning opportunities and a chance to gain some new skills (even though this required some chocolate digestive bribery).

Good luck with the rest of the programme team.

Summer mountain skills – in the snow!

Click here for a full screen slide-show

This last weekend was the Summer Skills Weekend for the Outdoor Learning Service’s SOAP Mountaineering Program. Accommodation was at the very excellent Comrie Croft where we stayed in three of their Katas – big canvas tents, with a wood floor and internal wood stoves. Very cosy.

Saturday was planned to be a Summer mountain skills day … and it started that way, but also managed to included winter skills. As you can see from the photos winter has come early this year to the top of Schiehallion.

Sunday was a day at the crag at the aptly named Benny Beag , just south of Crieff. Here the group got to grips with the rounded and sometimes damp climbing on one of Scotland few sport-crags. But on the fine sunny afternoon the rock did dry off in the afternoon.

So two very different days, neither of them what you’d expect to be achieve on typically dreich Scottish November weekend, and both all the more enjoyable for that.

Next in the program of activities for this group will be Night Navigation then indoor climbing before their next residential trip – the Winter Skills in the Cairngorms.

A Burning Ring of Steal … and other stories

Click here or on the map to view or download pictures.

Endorsements by participants are always illuminating; and I’ll take the following in the positive spirit that was intended …

‘Thanks again for great weekend of terror and pain’ – Anon, Employment Support Worker, ELVOS

The weekend was a two day Staff Development course, based in Glencoe; the weekend was billed as Rambler to Scrambler. Scrambling, where you are often un-roped on terrain that requires hands and feet, is actually about the riskiest think you can do in the mountains. It accounts for far greater number of serious mountain mishaps than rock-climbing. The weekend’s aim was therefore not to take the group scrambling but to progress participant’s hill walking skills to become more confident on steeper terrain, off the beaten track, and to negotiate some trickier ground.

Saturday’s objective was the Ring of Steal, a circular ridge walk in the mountains to the south of Glen Nevis. The day’s weather was wet and wind-less allowing the midges to feast on us whenever we stopped. A welcome reminder of why it’s great to work on the east coast! We parked at the upper car-park and walked up through the gorge. The day’s first bit of excitement was the wire bridge over the river Nevis. All made it across dry, with maybe just a few nervous wobbles and one almost early bath.

Next challenge was the river crossing below the Steal waterfall required to gain access to the main path to the tops. The recent rain had swollen this and made it impassable. We tried alternative messy scrabbles up a faint path up through step ground in the woods – but soon this ran out at some decidedly unpleasant ground and again we had to retreat. In the end we salvaged the day by walking back to the bus on the other side of the river, picking our way down through Polldubh crags. While we didn’t make the tops there was lots of opportunity to practice in route finding over some rough terrain.

On Sunday we drove south to the sunnier and much drier climes of Ben Lawers. Our target was the Tarmachan Ridge, a classic walk on the west side of the Lawers group. By contrast to the previous day the views and weather was excellent; bright with only the odd light smir. The airy-ness of the ridge main ridge was easily negotiated, although the ‘bad step’ at the end permitted an opportunity for a quick rope deployment to help the descent.

The group said they enjoyed the weekend and have all gained experiences that they can call on when next in the hills with a group.

High Hopes for Cockenzie Primary

Tuesday and Wednesday saw Mrs Munro and Miss Drummond’s P5s enjoying some fine spring weather at the Hopes reservoir and surrounding Lammermuir Hills .

Click here for full-screen slide-show.

This was the first two of five days of hill-walking being provided to Cockenzie Primary. As well as basking in the first warm days of Spring both groups got to enjoy messing about in the last of the melting patches of snow.

All of the pupils were responsible for leading different legs of their journey around the reservoir and back over the hill-tops. They all learned how to read an Ordnance Survey map, how to to calculate how far they have walked by using the map’s scale – and why it ‘hurts more‘ when your route crosses lots of those brown lines on the map. (Going up-hill over lots of contours!). However one group did have fun on the descents – click here for the video.

For more photos also see the posts at the Cockenzie edubuzz blog.