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Arthur’s Seat

Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters

Charles Dickens (1812–70) reading to his daughters

By John Knox

We are now entering the year of the dragon, the rainforest, the co-op, the Olympics, the Jubilee, the year of culture and what-the-Dickens-else – yes him, too.

The Chinese New Year begins on 23 January, the start of the new lunar calendar. As part of the 12-year cycle of animals, it is the dragon’s turn. Which means, apparently, that it is going to be either a quiet year or a year of catastrophe – a flood or earthquake or great political change.

Certainly, the era of “Who and When” is about to change. President Hu Jintao and prime minister Wen Jiabao are due to hand over to the next generation of Chinese dictators. Vice-president Xi Jinping is the favoured son at the moment, but it seems that ultimate power in China is passing from a small cabal of leaders to a wider constituency of around 400 top Communist Party apparatchiks. We live in interesting times.

And so to the rainforest. This is a campaign run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. It seems, though, that the society is a little late, not just to save the rainforest but to catch up with the United Nations’ year of the forest, which was last year. Curiously, the RSPB is concentrating on East Africa and Indonesia and is rather ignoring the problems of deforestation in Pakistan and the Amazon basin, not to mention Scotland. We cut down our native forest years ago and even now we are struggling to increase our tree cover from 17 per cent to the target of 25 per cent.

But saving the tropical rainforest would certainly be a good thing. Around a billion people depend on it for their livelihood, as well as 70 per cent of the world’s species of land plants and animals.

The UN itself has moved on to the year of the co-operative. My Co-op store down the road will certainly be glad to hear this. So will my bank, which is in the process of taking over the good bits of Lloyds. The UN tells us there are over 800 million members of co-operatives in 100 countries, mostly in farming and retail. In the USA, the land of free enterprise, there are 29,000 co-operative businesses. In the UK, there are 5,450. And this month a new law comes into effect which eases the restrictions on membership and shareholdings. In these hard times, when capitalism is stumbling, the co-operative movement may be the job-creator we are all looking for.

The Olympics will certainly be a job-creator. There are 7,000 people currently working on the various construction sites and up to 100,000 temporary jobs are expected to be created in staging the games. And it is hoped the redevelopment of the Olympic areas of London will lead to 10,000 permanent jobs.

Goodness knows how many jobs will be created by the Queen’s diamond jubilee as pageants are staged, cities spruce themselves up for royal visits and new forests are planned. It is hoped that six million trees will be planted, in diamond jubilee woods, each at least 60 acres in size. One of them, in Leicestershire, is to be 460 acres.

Here in Scotland, the government has announced that 2012 will be a year of “culture”. The highlights begin with Celtic Connections, which will see over 2,000 singers swarm into Glasgow later this month. There is then to be a Festival of Visual Art, also in Glasgow, in April. On midsummer’s night, the Simón Bolivar Symphony Orchestra from Venezuela will perform in the open air at Stirling Castle.

Then, as the nights darken in August, Edinburgh will stage a “Speed of Light” show in which hundreds of runners, with lights attached, will sprint around Arthur’s Seat. It will be Scotland’s answer to the Olympic Games, reminding people that the next big event will be the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014. August will also see the 65th Edinburgh Festival, the greatest show on earth.

All this, of course, takes place against a black economic curtain. It is a most suitable year to be remembering the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. We are living in hard times, our great expectations have been dashed. Money has corrupted us, uncaring capitalism has brought us to this bleak house. We must now all live most ’umbly. Only love and the simple life remain. We must all live like the blacksmith Joe or Barnaby’s dear old mother and hope that 2012 will be the year of Something-Turning-Up.

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Fleshmarket Close, a sair pech <em>Picture: Richard Webb</em>

Fleshmarket Close, a sair pech Picture: Richard Webb

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Most Fringe fans come to Edinburgh relatively well-equipped for the experience. They have reserved their accommodation and they have either booked and received their tickets in advance, or have been blessed with enough enthusiasm, patience and goodwill to stand in a queue at the booking office.

Many of them have remembered to pack appropriate weather-wear, having been forewarned – either by watching weather reports or listening to the bush telegraph – of our uncertain climate.

But, as one woman said to me the other day, nobody warns visitors about the hills. Here she was talking not about the Pentlands, Arthur’s Seat or the road up to the castle, but about the hilly roads that must be scaled in order to reach many of the Fringe venues. She was, in fact, referring on this occasion to the Mound.

She could have a point. Certainly it is true that a trip to some of the venues will leave the less fit among us red of face and peching. Dedicated couch potatoes may be close to collapse.

To pech in Scots means to breathe heavily, usually after taking exercise. The English equivalent is pant, but this is not nearly so descriptive. The breathy sound of pech more eloquently describes the person left almost gasping for breath. Indeed, the word pech probably came into being because the sound of it so aptly echoes the meaning.

The ch in pech is pronounced like the ch of loch, not the ch of much. For those of you not familiar with the correct pronunciation of loch, try the ch in the composer Bach.

The verb pech can also refer to the process of walking, getting about, working, etc, when this involves more exertion than the body cares for or is up to. Thus, you may find some occasional Sunday afternoon ramblers peching up a hill when the more experienced and fleet of foot trip effortlessly past them.

Pech can also mean to cough in a wheezy way, as though you were asthmatic. It can also refer to letting the breath out slowly and loudly, as when sighing with satisfaction or relief or when groaning. Apparently it can be used figuratively to mean to have an ardent desire for, although to pech for the embrace of a loved one sounds far from romantic.

Pech can also act as a noun. If you are struggling to get your breath back after physical exertion you can be said to be oot (out) o pech, or short o pech. Pech can also be a wheezy, asthmatic cough or a sigh of weariness, satisfaction or relief.

The noun pech can also denote great effort, exertion or struggle. To get over something wi a pech is to get something done only by means of a tremendous effort. If something is a sair (sore) pech it requires prolonged and exhausting effort. This can refer to climbing a particularly steep hill – but, for many, life itself can be a sair pech. What a cheery thought for the day!

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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Calton Hill, best not mentioned <em>Picture: Andrewyuill</em>

Calton Hill, best not mentioned Picture: Andrewyuill

By Diane Maclean

As Edinburgh once more puts on its glad rags and prepares for the deluge, it would be inhospitable of us here at The Caledonian Mercury not to pre-warn visitors of a few hidden dangers lurking between the cobbles and the disintegrating tram-tracks. (That’s two dangers for starters and they don’t even make the list.)

As you pack your suncream and thermals, Alka-Seltzers and The Dictionary of Pretentious Quotes, factor these potential pitfalls into your preparation. As we say here: fail to prepare and prepare to… fall victim to the dreaded Edinburgh Festival madness. You have been warned.

Altitude sickness
The Athens of the North it may be, but if you’re seeking a European capital comparison you’d be better thinking of Rome. No, not because we’re suave, drive around on egg-blue scooters and have a pathological dread of efficiency – but because, like Rome, Edinburgh is built on seven hills.

Being of a Presbyterian nature, we don’t go in for namby-pamby names like Aventine and Palatine. Here it’s simply “the big hill that goes down to the Cowgate”, “the killer hill that goes down Broughton Street”, another few bigger and smaller hills – and Arthur’s Seat, the remains of a spewed-up piece of supervolcano where you get great views and can do fantastic roly-polies.

There’s also Calton Hill, but the less said about that the better.

Sex
You may think that here in the cold, dark north there’s a somewhat prurient attitude to sex – and in many ways you’d be right. John Knox’s “monstrous regimen of women” may well still believe that “sex is something you use to carry the coal in”. But not for nothing are Morningside’s elite referred to as dressed in “fur coats, nae knickers”.

The steely gaze of Protestant forefathers would discourage even the most ardent admirer, yet wander off Lothian Road and you find yourself in the midst of the “pubic triangle”, where sex shops and strip bars abound. So many contradictions, so much potential for a slap in the face. If in doubt, don’t risk it. Other than that, there’s not a Scottish lass or lad around who wouldn’t fall for this classic chat-up line: “If you were a burger at McDonalds I’d call you McBeautiful”. (The Caly Merc advises readers to use this gambit at their own risk.)

Time
The locals would suggest that during the Festival, time is illusory, with normal 15-minute journeys taking up to a fortnight. Time can be confusing for visitors, too. You could try turning to the locals to help, but they’ll just growl at you.

Daybreak is in the middle of the night and night-time doesn’t begin until after midnight. Your body clock is probably kaput, what with all the battered food, strong drink and getting repeatedly lost in the pubic triangle. Luckily, there is always the One O’clock Gun to keep you right – if, that is, the fright doesn’t kill you. Oh, and remember the clock at the Balmoral Hotel is kept deliberately fast in order to encourage tardy train-travellers to get a move on.

Wildlife
There’s the usual variety of animal life in Scotland’s capital. Beware the urban foxes (Stockbridge ladies of a certain vintage). Scarier, though, are the biggest and most brutal seagulls imaginable. Not only are these winged behemoths everywhere, but – even when not visible – their maniacal dawn cackling is enough to waken even the most comatose drunk. Brollies, when not needed for the rain, are to be encouraged to ward off both aerial attacks and seagull bombs.

If that wasn’t enough to worry about, there’s always the potential of jailbreaks from Edinburgh Zoo. Although it’s probable that the story of escaped wolves is a myth, the zoo has had problems in the past with its animals. As recently as July, a baboon made a partially successful bid for freedom.

Edinburgh is a city where if you think you’re seeing pink elephants, you might just be seeing pink elephants.

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Cromarty <em>Picture: Dorcas Sinclair</em>

Cromarty Picture: Dorcas Sinclair

by Elizabeth McQuillan

Kids are fickle little blighters, and will be looking to the impending school holidays in anticipation of being able to both free-range with their friends and be entertained and amused by mum, dad and grandparents.

Parents failing in this task can look forward to long (and possibly wet) weeks of whining sprogs, accompanied by a house brimming with adoptive feral youngsters from the neighbourhood.

It’s a strange fact – if you’re at home and choose not to “do stuff” with your offspring, expect to find all the local waifs, strays and latchkey kids parked in front of your TV with muddy trainers, eating crisps and spilling juice.

Good ideas can prove elusive when faced with petulant and bored weans, so here are suggestions for seven days’ worth of healthy activities and day trips to get you started:

1 – High-wire act
A few hours spent at one of the Go Ape! Tree Top Adventure sites will definitely shut them up. Aside from the odd shriek, expect the kids to be very much focused on their own survival.

Thrill-seeking kids over 10 years old (with the requisite accompanying adult) can enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled high on Britain’s biggest zip wires, stretching over 400 metres long and almost 50 metres above the ground.

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After a 30-minute safety briefing/training session, the family gets kitted out with harnesses, pulleys and karabiners before being let loose into the forest canopy. A three-hour adventure across walkways, bridges, cargo nets and tunnels, high in the trees, will leave your kids suitably impressed at your bravery (as an old person) and completely knackered. Perfect really, as they will sleep like babes when you get home, and you can open that bottle of red.

Go Ape! has courses near Aberfoyle, at Beecraigs in West Lothian and at Crathes in Aberdeenshire. Cost? £20–£30 per person.

2 – Get your skates on
Try to keep pace with the blighters and avoid being an embarrassing parent where possible. With the popularity of Dancing on Ice, there are bound to be some keen members of the family who would love to give it a try. Murrayfield Ice Rink in Edinburgh is a good venue, and remains just as you remember it from your childhood.

For the best family skating, they suggest Saturday morning, or Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For absolute beginners, Sunday afternoons has dedicated group tuition from resident coaches, with time to then go and play on the ice and practice the new skills.

For the older kids (who hate you and wish you would just go away), drop them off at the skating disco on Friday/Saturday evenings, 7:30–10:30pm, and let them skate, pout, pose and flirt to their hearts’ content. You could even go out for a nice dinner. Cost? Between £5 and £8, including hire of skates.

3 – Suck in some sea air
Kids just love the beach, in all weathers, and adults will always benefit from a blustery coastal walk followed by tea and scones in some local café. Try Yellowcraigs beach at Dirleton, the Secret Beach near Achmelvich, the Sands of Morar near Mallaig, or Killantringan Bay near Portpatrick, to name but a few cracking spots.

For clifftop adventures (on a non-windy days unless you really do want to lose a child), try heading to the quaint fishing village of St Abbs where the walk extends from Eyemouth in one direction to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the other. Teeter along the sandstone cliffs, which reach a precipitous 150 metres in places, and enjoy the vertigo.

For those wanting something less challenging, how about pottering around a historic Scottish seaport such as Cromarty? Young kids will love the harbour and the “pirate graveyard” – lots of skulls and crossbones on the gravestones.

For big kids, there are some worthy 18th-century buildings – including the oldest Protestant church in Scotland – and the history surrounding many Highlanders having started their journey to faraway lands from here during the Clearances. The narrow lanes and vennels of Fishertown offer a leisurely stroll.

4 – The Cairngorms and Rothiemurchus
It’s hard to beat the Cairngorms for a visit – it’s a beautiful area bursting with outdoor activities and pursuits for adults and kids.

Rothiemurchus estate, near Aviemore, caters brilliantly for visiting families, with super picnic spots and wonderfully maintained tracks. Wander around scenic Loch an Eilein and see the haunting castle in the middle of the loch. If you shout, there is a triple echo as the sound-waves bounce from the castle walls to the surrounding hillsides.

The remnants of the native Caledonian pine forest are home to red squirrels and pine martins, with ospreys frequently spotted fishing the loch.

For grumpy teens who bore easily, there is potentially an activity to fill each day and keep them quiet (and out of your hair): clay pigeon shooting, pony trekking, jeep safaris, river kayaking, gorge walking, whitewater rafting and wildlife photography.

Parents will appreciate the homemade and locally sourced nosh at the Ord Ban Restaurant Café. Obstreperous offspring can sit outside and sulk with an ice-cream from the farm shop.

5 – On yer bike
There is certainly no shortage of tracks and cycle routes in Scotland to take the kids biking – but for something a little more interesting, why not head to Glentress forest in the Scottish Borders?

Trailquest is a type of orienteering by bike using checkpoints to keep you on the right trail. It’s popular with families and is a really fun way to learn more about the forest and surrounding area. Glentress has a number of different Trailquest routes, ranging from about one-and-a-half miles to four miles.

Described as “tough, steep, technical, long but loads of fun”, there is also a 19-mile graded black trail that offers excitement and a challenge for competent older teenagers – but this is not for the faint-hearted.

Red and green graded trails do bridge the gap in abilities, but some basic technical ability on a bike is recommended to avoid tears, snotters and grazed knees.

6 – Climb every mountain
It was a normal holiday activity during my childhood to be marched across the Pentlands, from Bonaly to Flotterstone. Which, in the absence of “technical gear”, meant wearing wellies, corduroy trousers (that soaked up the rain) and a mackintosh which channelled the drips of rain on to said cords. Good character-building stuff. Sadly, now most kids can barely walk the length of themselves without getting out of puff.

Take the opportunity to find some local hills, and go for a bit of a hike and a picnic. Obviously, don’t take small children up Ben Nevis in a pac-a-mac, but go for something smaller and achievable. Arthur’s Seat, the Whangie, Dumgoyne, the Pentlands and the Ochils have routes suitable for all the family.

If the weather is bad, take it indoors and challenge the litter to a clamber up a climbing wall or attempt an aerial assault course. Parents have to do it too. The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena can oblige, and is well worth a visit.

7 – Combine good grub with adventure
This one is for the parents, and basically means incorporating fun stuff for the kids with some adult favourites. It might be a great eatery, tearoom or pub. The aim then is to plan a day trip around the chosen adult pit-stops.

Here is an example in the Stirlingshire area: come off the M9 at junction 10 and head to historic Doune, where there is a fabulous and partially ruined 14th-century castle, with grounds, where the kids can run riot. Nearby, the Scottish Antique and Arts Centre is a barn of a place filled with such bizarre gear that both you and the kids will love it. Look at German war helmets, top hats, weaponry, books and house contents from the late 1800s. An interesting collection of precious junk and antiquities.

Head on to Callander for a peek at the shops, including the year-round Christmas shop, then try Mhor Fish, where you can get the best fish’n'chips, with bread-and-butter and tea, or something fancier if you want.

Next, take a cruise on the steamship Sir Walter Scott along the length of Loch Katrine. The lochside Katrine Café can provide a platter of homemade scones and traybakes to avoid blood-sugar dips.

After that, a short drive to the David Marshall Lodge in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park above Aberfoyle, where the family can walk part of the Highland Fault Line which divides the Highlands from the Lowlands. Markers with explanations and diagrams educate the kids on the subject.

Onwards to Drymen, Killearn and Buchlyvie to peruse the art galleries, pottery shops and gift shops.

Picturesque Kippen also offers a top-notch deli, a great pub and a fabulous restaurant and bar with an admirable selection of fine wines and spirits which, by now, you might be more than ready for. The Inn at Kippen is kid-friendly and has a pizza oven.

And if you imbibe a little too much, there are a few rooms too…

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Ben LediThere is only so much snow-shovelling, path-scraping and frozen-radiator battling that anyone can take. Winter is meant to be fun, and there comes a point where you need to stop feeling fed up and start finding a bit of space and a means to enjoy yourself.

It’s been good to see so many people out sledging these past few days (and by sledging I mean skimming down slopes on plastic trays, rather than the verbal variety indulged in by increasingly fraught Australian cricketers). It’s also been ideal weather if you’re a skier, as suddenly everywhere has been an option – streets, parks, fields.

Less easy for hillwalkers and climbers, however, as – at risk of stating the obvious – it’s not really been the weather for travelling far. Anyone with some free time and a few hills on their doorstep – based in, say, Ballachulish or Braemar – is well placed in such conditions. Forget about the state of the roads and get out there. But if, as with most people, you’re slightly further from high ground, things can become demoralisingly and prohibitively complicated.

Statistics for such things don’t exist, but there could well have been fewer Scottish hills climbed last week than in any week in recent memory. Although it’s hard to prove a negative, there is at least a little evidence for this, in that the trip-report sections of walking websites such as Outdoors Magic, Scottish Hills, and Walk Highlands have been on the sparse side ever since the big snows came.

The trip report – or TR – has quietly become a significant feature of modern hillwalking, useful if rather formulaic. Someone goes for a walk, takes lots of digital pictures – sometimes so many that you wonder if they ever got into a stride – then posts them on a site along with short pieces of descriptive text.

The rest of the site members then chip in with emoticon-enhanced enthusiasm, regardless of the quality or otherwise of the report. “Great TR, trigboy”, they say or: “Fantastic pix. Deffo must do those hill’s sometime.”

There’s not been much of that this week, however, because it’s been so damn difficult to get anywhere. The TR world tends to be largely the domain of the linear bagger – chiefly interested in picking off new hills an ever-increasing distance away – and such people can become easily grounded, recreation-wise, at this time of year.

So it’s better to put the bagging agenda to one side, for a while at least, and to stay fairly local and revisit familiar territory – but even that can be tricky.

If the key elements of winter hillwalking are fitness, equipment, awareness, opportunism and adaptability, then my own efforts the first Saturday in December – at least in relation to the last three of these – felt typical of the thought processes that govern where one does and doesn’t end up.

The original half-arranged plan to meet a friend for Beinn Ime from the Rest and Be Thankful never really appealed. Driving 60 miles each way from a Stirling base camp is one thing in summer or in a mild winter, but there’s an old saying that it’s the drive, not the walk or climb, that is the most dangerous part of a hill day in winter, and a 120-mile round trip felt too far.

Not that the hills were to be treated lightly. The earlier snowfall – the one before the one that got everyone talking – was accompanied by steady north-easterly winds, and it didn’t take a meteorological genius or a mountain guide to work out that any big west-facing slope was asking-for-trouble territory.

The Scottish Avalanche Information Service might only be reporting from two of its five locations, Lochaber and the Northern Cairngorms (the other three come onstream for the season on 16 December), but the trend was countrywide, with avalanches reported on south-western aspects of smaller hill ranges such as the Campsies and the Ochils.

Formal warnings had also been issued for Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands. There are no laws about these things, but there was a very definite hint, and it needed to be taken.

Beinn Ime was shelved, as was one of the standard fallbacks, Stuc a’Chroin from either Glen Ample or Loch Lubnaig. Stuc is an excellent winter hill, but again it involved west-facing slopes, and again I found myself thinking: “Mmm, maybe not.”

So it became, not for the first time, a Ben Ledi day. Even less of a drive, a reasonably trampled trail through the soft-snow drifts, and with none of the dodgy south-western stuff coming into play, given that both the main route and the Stank Glen are on the eastern side of the hill.

And it was fine – once I got there. The morning A84 felt dodgy – bright skies above, but low-lying mist and skiddy-looking in places. Somewhere near Doune, the car had a distinct and unnerving wobble on a straight stretch shaded by trees, so the speed – already no greater than 45mph – never went above 40 thereafter.

But the really alarming moment came when a blue hatchback doing around 60 zipped by a queue of four or five of us and only just ducked back in as a truck loomed out of the mist. Crazy stuff. It was a relief to pull into the layby on the Anie straight (the Corrieachrombie car park was too chossy with churned-up snow) and to put the boots on.

It proved to be a good half-day out – as was an effortsome-but-enjoyable slog up Ben Cleuch four days later, after the top-up of snow that put the skids under the ministerial career of Stewart Stevenson.

Since then, permafrost may have given way to mega-thaw, but northern winds and daytime minuses are again forecast – and the earliest sunset isn’t until the middle of this coming week, so we’re not even at the halfway mark.

This looks like being a proper winter, which makes it all the more important to snatch the occasional day or half-day, rather than being ground down by months of chaos and cancellations. The hill days are there to be had, given a bit of thought and flexibility.

Ben LediThere is only so much snow-shovelling, path-scraping and frozen-radiator battling that anyone can take. Winter is meant to be fun, and there comes a point where you need to stop feeling fed up and start finding a bit of space and a means to enjoy yourself.

It’s been good to see so many people out sledging these past few days (and by sledging I mean skimming down slopes on plastic trays, rather than the verbal variety indulged in by increasingly fraught Australian cricketers). It’s also been ideal weather if you’re a skier, as suddenly everywhere has been an option – streets, parks, fields.

Less easy for hillwalkers and climbers, however, as – at risk of stating the obvious – it’s not really been the weather for travelling far. Anyone with some free time and a few hills on their doorstep – based in, say, Ballachulish or Braemar – is well placed in such conditions. Forget about the state of the roads and get out there. But if, as with most people, you’re slightly further from high ground, things can become demoralisingly and prohibitively complicated.

Statistics for such things don’t exist, but there could well have been fewer Scottish hills climbed last week than in any week in recent memory. Although it’s hard to prove a negative, there is at least a little evidence for this, in that the trip-report sections of walking websites such as Outdoors Magic, Scottish Hills, and Walk Highlands have been on the sparse side ever since the big snows came.

The trip report – or TR – has quietly become a significant feature of modern hillwalking, useful if rather formulaic. Someone goes for a walk, takes lots of digital pictures – sometimes so many that you wonder if they ever got into a stride – then posts them on a site along with short pieces of descriptive text.

The rest of the site members then chip in with emoticon-enhanced enthusiasm, regardless of the quality or otherwise of the report. “Great TR, trigboy”, they say or: “Fantastic pix. Deffo must do those hill’s sometime.”

There’s not been much of that this week, however, because it’s been so damn difficult to get anywhere. The TR world tends to be largely the domain of the linear bagger – chiefly interested in picking off new hills an ever-increasing distance away – and such people can become easily grounded, recreation-wise, at this time of year.

So it’s better to put the bagging agenda to one side, for a while at least, and to stay fairly local and revisit familiar territory – but even that can be tricky.

If the key elements of winter hillwalking are fitness, equipment, awareness, opportunism and adaptability, then my own efforts the first Saturday in December – at least in relation to the last three of these – felt typical of the thought processes that govern where one does and doesn’t end up.

The original half-arranged plan to meet a friend for Beinn Ime from the Rest and Be Thankful never really appealed. Driving 60 miles each way from a Stirling base camp is one thing in summer or in a mild winter, but there’s an old saying that it’s the drive, not the walk or climb, that is the most dangerous part of a hill day in winter, and a 120-mile round trip felt too far.

Not that the hills were to be treated lightly. The earlier snowfall – the one before the one that got everyone talking – was accompanied by steady north-easterly winds, and it didn’t take a meteorological genius or a mountain guide to work out that any big west-facing slope was asking-for-trouble territory.

The Scottish Avalanche Information Service might only be reporting from two of its five locations, Lochaber and the Northern Cairngorms (the other three come onstream for the season on 16 December), but the trend was countrywide, with avalanches reported on south-western aspects of smaller hill ranges such as the Campsies and the Ochils.

Formal warnings had also been issued for Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands. There are no laws about these things, but there was a very definite hint, and it needed to be taken.

Beinn Ime was shelved, as was one of the standard fallbacks, Stuc a’Chroin from either Glen Ample or Loch Lubnaig. Stuc is an excellent winter hill, but again it involved west-facing slopes, and again I found myself thinking: “Mmm, maybe not.”

So it became, not for the first time, a Ben Ledi day. Even less of a drive, a reasonably trampled trail through the soft-snow drifts, and with none of the dodgy south-western stuff coming into play, given that both the main route and the Stank Glen are on the eastern side of the hill.

And it was fine – once I got there. The morning A84 felt dodgy – bright skies above, but low-lying mist and skiddy-looking in places. Somewhere near Doune, the car had a distinct and unnerving wobble on a straight stretch shaded by trees, so the speed – already no greater than 45mph – never went above 40 thereafter.

But the really alarming moment came when a blue hatchback doing around 60 zipped by a queue of four or five of us and only just ducked back in as a truck loomed out of the mist. Crazy stuff. It was a relief to pull into the layby on the Anie straight (the Corrieachrombie car park was too chossy with churned-up snow) and to put the boots on.

It proved to be a good half-day out – as was an effortsome-but-enjoyable slog up Ben Cleuch four days later, after the top-up of snow that put the skids under the ministerial career of Stewart Stevenson.

Since then, permafrost may have given way to mega-thaw, but northern winds and daytime minuses are again forecast – and the earliest sunset isn’t until the middle of this coming week, so we’re not even at the halfway mark.

This looks like being a proper winter, which makes it all the more important to snatch the occasional day or half-day, rather than being ground down by months of chaos and cancellations. The hill days are there to be had, given a bit of thought and flexibility.

We’ve collected pictures from across Scotland – and even up in space – to show how the big freeze is transforming the country.

Heavy going on Oui Oui

Climbing Oui Oui

David “Heavy” Whalley of Burghead took this picture of Dan Carroll – ex-RAF Kinloss mountain rescue team leader and Everest summiteer – climbing Oui Oui, a frozen waterfall at Creag Dhubh near Newtonmore last Monday. “You have to be aware of a huge chandelier of hanging icicles which could make your day!”, says Whalley. “As it is a waterfall it was fairly wet, but an amazing situation. The views were breathtaking and the sunset was wonderful on the way home.”

All in Vane

Vane Farm snow
Chris Tyler is working at the Vane Farm bird reserve near Kinross and took this picture of just one night’s dump of snow last Tuesday.

Snow on the Voe

Lower Voe
“I took this photo whilst driving through the snow to work on Wednesday morning,” says Peter Peterson, a communications manager with Shetland Council. “Trees are few and far between in Shetland, so this scene with the snow hanging on the branches of the Lower Voe trees was almost too good to miss!”

Arthur’s Seat: The Hard Way

Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh
“Not Glen Coe, but Edinburgh,” says Richard Webb, a teacher from Cockenzie. “The summit of Arthur’s Seat is always exciting. On Thursday it was in full winter condition – no different to Highland hillwalking, save for the proximity of the nearest coffee shop.”

Frozen Forth

Ice on the Forth
“Ice was floating in the Forth at Stirling on Friday,” says freelance researcher and lecturer Tessa Carroll, “just as there was at the end of last year.”

Howzat!

Drumpellier cricket ground
Retired mathematics lecturer Ken Stewart photographed a ground mist hanging over the snow-covered Drumpellier cricket ground at Coatbridge on Saturday morning.

Nowhere fast

Edinburgh car
Going nowhere fast: an urban street scene snapped on Saturday by freelance IT consultant Oron Joffe in the Craigmount area of Edinburgh.

Bonnie Corbett

Ben Ledi
The trick on Saturday was to get away to the hills if you could. Your correspondent was on the summit of Ben Ledi at lunchtime…

Monumental journey

Wallace Monument
…but it wouldn’t be so easy to get there now – this was one of the roads out of Stirling as skies started to clear after Monday morning’s heavy snowfall.

White out

Dundee University satellite photo
This satellite image from Dundee University shows the whole of Scotland wrapped in the white stuff.