We’re all looking for a little bit of escape when we venture out of doors. Whether the cold of a winter high-altitude wild camp freezes fretfulness, you leave your to-do list behind as you trudge up 3000m, or you simply stop and smell the ramsons on a ramble through woodland, what escape actually looks like is different for all of us.
At present, 84% of the UK population lives in urban areas. This issue is, at least partially, dedicated to those readers who sometimes feel the mountains are very far away. In the lead feature City Breaks, our contributors share their favourite big walks on which you can escape the noise within just a few hours of our major metropolises. Also, Sarah Irving (The Urban Wanderer) shares her thoughts on finding contentment outdoors wherever you lay your hat rather than wishing you were somewhere else. Meanwhile, Right to Roam campaigner Jon Moses examines the government’s promise to provide green or blue space within a 15-minute walk of any home here in the UK – and finds it lacking – in a delightfully tongue-in-cheek opinion piece. We also offer 10 epic mapped walking routes, a glimpse into the best winter kit for an overnight in the Cairngorms, a photographic history of the mountains beloved by Lakeland climbers and much more.
But for those days when only the indoors will do, we hope you’ll continue to find escape in these pages.
Main image: Overlooking Thirlmere from Raven Crag. Credit: Shutterstock
Other highlights of this issue:
- David Lintern gets all mixed up on a 10-Munro 3-day epic across the Mounth
- Napes Needle, a Lake District icon of mountaineering, as you haven’t seen it before
- Alice Morrison is your guide to adventure in AlUla – ‘Wadi Rum on speed’
- Chris Townsend guides you through his winter kit for a Cairngorms backpack
- Avoid hikers’ fatigue with expert advice from Alex Roddie
- 10 of the best ridge walks, horseshoes and rounds – mapped by our experts
- We announce your esteemed nominees in 2024’s TGO Reader Awards
PLUS: Jim Perrin paints a portrait of The Stiperstones; we test the tent everyone is talking about plus 6 of the best down jackets; Jon Moses explains why the search for a new national park is a diversionary waste of time; we review a new outdoor book in homage to Nan Shepherd and the Cairngorms; and learn to love where you live – even if it’s not close to mountains – with The Urban Wanderer, Sarah Irving.
Read on to escape into the hills
City Breaks: Over 56 million people in Britain live in urban areas, so the mountains might feel far away at times. But if you’re one of them, fear not; here, seven of our contributors share some memorable hill days that are readily accessible from seven of our major cities
“I’ve never climbed The Cobbler – or Ben Arthur, to use its Sunday name – before, and it has a reputation as a beast. The Arrochar Alps are strikingly steep and intricate with imposing skylines, but The Cobbler takes things to another level. It’s a weirdly shaped mountain topped by a vertigo-inducing turret of exposed mica schist rock. After bagging Narnain and Ime in dreamy blue-sky conditions, I finally gaze upon The Cobbler’s rocky plinth. It’s a Grade 3 scramble to the top, including squeezing through a narrow gap known as ‘Argyll’s Eyeglass’. I wimp out and settle for just standing next to the craggy tower. But it’s far from a disappointing alternative. The views across Loch Lomond are so mesmerising, you’d never believe Glasgow is just an hour away…”
Better Living Through Backpacking: David Lintern gets all mixed up on a 3-day, 10-Munro backpack of the south-eastern Cairngorms
“Hiking and backpacking are not sports. Not in the least. They are compound activities. We endeavour to become expert generalists, not thoroughbreds, not specialists. Hillwalking requires and helps develop a massive range of skills and interests. What we do is about fitness and exercise, how to look after ourselves and each other in all kinds of weather and over all kinds of terrain, about knowing where we are and where we want to get to, and equally… about plants and animals and the history, culture and politics of different places and how all these things fit together (or don’t). It can also include the arts, mental health and group dynamics. Check us out! That’s a lot of ground we cover. And if it isn’t an oxymoron to say so, that is one of the many things I love about it – that it isn’t just one thing. Our jam is the spice of life. We are renaissance creatures. My visit to The Mounth was just such an experience…”
On the Shoulders of Giants: Tom McNally and Nadir Khan explain how Victorian ‘influencers’ the Abraham brothers helped set the scene for modern outdoor photography
“Two pairs of feet quickly clapped across sunlit slate flagstones and swerved through a whitewashed gate, accompanied by the sound of teenage boys chattering about the great adventure on which they were about to embark. Coiled over the shoulder of one was a washing line ‘borrowed’ from the yard, unbeknownst to their mother. It wasn’t the first time this dubiously thin cord had been pressed into service as a makeshift climbing rope, a lifeline securing them together as they scrambled around on rock outcrops close to their Keswick home. Emboldened with success, they now set out for the precipitous mountain crags of Pillar Rock, home to some of the longest and steepest climbs in England…”
Shifting Sands: Saudi Arabia Preconceptions about Saudi Arabia? Alice Morrison discovers a country undergoing a quiet cultural revolution and ready to welcome visitors seeking desert adventure
“The walk in started in a large, flat sand bed flanked by towering cliff faces, which gave out onto a vibrant blue sky. Acacia trees and small, thorny shrubs were scattered through the valley, and the ground underfoot was alternately stony and sandy. There was lots of birdsong and butterflies. We put our helmets on – a necessity in this area where the rock is friable and could be easily dislodged by someone climbing above you – then ducked round a large boulder and found ourselves in the beginning of a maze of tunnel. I say tunnel because that is what they feel like, but in fact it is a series of ever-narrower gorges. The mountains feel almost alive, like they are moving closer and closer to you as you clamber through the gorge system. Now, there was only sand underfoot and the birdsong was muffled by the sheer weight of the rock around us…”
How to avoid fatigue when hillwalking: Fatigue doesn’t have to spoil your hill day, says Alex Roddie – there is a huge amount you can do to stave it off and feel fresh for as long as possible
“It’s been a long day. You started well, making good progress on the steep ascent, but you’re three peaks down and tiredness is dogging your heels. Everything is less fun than it was a few hours ago – less fun, you have a sneaking suspicion, than it should be. Controlling fatigue means more enjoyment right now and a quicker recovery when you get back home. But it isn’t just about comfort and enjoyment. Fatigue can be a serious safety issue, potentially snowballing into exhaustion. So, what actually causes fatigue?”
A Winter Inversion: Equipment Editor Chris Townsend enjoys a brief winter overnighter close to his Cairngorms home
“Having left fairly late, the western sky was darkening and turning orange as I reached the summit of Cairn Gorm, the sun a searing red ball about to set over the frozen mountains. With the light fading and the cold increasing, I dropped down to a shallow corrie south of the summit and found a flat spot for camp. The snow here was quite thin and I was able to shovel most of it away and pitch on almost clear ground. I left the tent door wide open so I could lie and gaze at the stars and the moon. I woke to see a band of orange on the eastern horizon above a sea of cloud filling the flatlands beyond the mountains. The temperature was -5.5°. As the sun appeared and the light strengthened, I wandered along the edge of the deep Loch Avon basin gazing down at the dark water, edged and patched with ice, and across to snowy hills. To the east the cloud was rising and slowly winding up Glen Avon. The sun was high by the time I returned to camp for more coffee and a slow packing up. It was not a day to hurry…”
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