An Old Ne’er Day Review of 2018 and looking forward to 2019

The year has turned, by whichever of a selection of old European calendars you want to use, and the light begins to come back to the higher latitudes. In Scotland, today is the first day of the New Year. However, still those long winter nights for poor visibility navigation. 2019 is also the UN Year of Indigenous Languages and Hills of Hame will be supporting this by diversions into bits of Scots language and culture at various points on the blog, in the same way I do on the hills.

The biggest change for me in 2018 was the large amount of Duke of Edinburgh expedition training, supervision and assessment I took on for a number of licensed organizations and approved activity providers across Scotland. Thanks to Christine and Jenna, Wilf and Alligin for letting me out into the hills. Shadow the dog sometimes makes it out with me, as do the kids.


Shadow on the trails

On the personal side of my adventurous activities, I got into indoor bouldering, which I have been amazed at how quickly I became hooked. All three of my kids also come along in various combinations. I’d particularly like to thank Eden Rock, Edinburgh, for doing my induction into the world of bouldering. I’ve had a chance to visit several other venues in the past few months and return to a little bit of climbing on real rock in Blackford Quarry too.


Fossil holds at Eden Rock!

Highlights of 2018

While there have been lots of fantastic outdoor experiences this year, and a few personal achievements such as completing my Ochil Donalds after finally getting up the elusive Innerdownie on 2/1/19, there are three experiences that stand out for me as I look over what I’ve been up to in the open air in the past twelvemonth.


My kids making good use of the bothy bag just below summit of Innerdownie

April: Skye and Raasay

Raasay is where I began my field geological training in earnest and I was delighted to get the chance to return to assess an open Gold expedition for Aspen Outdoors. Before meeting up with Alastair and the participants at the Sconser ferry, I was able to spend an enjoyable couple of days with my friend and partner on many a river survey, John, camped at Sligachan. The main Cullin Ridge was holding too much snow, so we opted for a fine circuit over Beinn Dearg Mhor.


On Raasay, we were able to explore the north of the island, including crossings at low tide to Fladda (Eilean Fladday) and Eilean Tigh (Eilean Taighe). We also spent time in the southern part of the island and were able to visit the new Isle of Raasay distillery. Raasay House is now a community asset and has been restored and refurbished and is now thriving, offering food, drink, accommodation and a range of indoor and outdoor activities. The house has changed from 1991 when we stayed there as field trip accommodation for the second-year geology students of the University of Glasgow. The trip also marked the first time I had seen a sea eagle and golden eagle on the same day in Scotland.

September 2018: Offering Edinburgh walks with Airbnb experiences

Since setting up 2014 I’ve offered walks of various sorts through a range of platforms, and met some other walking guides with specialist insider knowledge of Edinburgh, but have not really had much success selling to visitors to the city. Things have changed since I began offering two walks through the Airbnb experiences platform. One is a version of the Pavement Palaeontology walk, although with a modified route compared to the version here on the website with bonus archaeology, some wooden water pipes found by AOC Archaeology in George Square and now on display beside Middle Meadow Walk.


Wooden water pipes on display in The Meadows, Edinburgh


The other is a more straightforward hike across Blackford Hill and the Braids, which offers an introduction to some of the other quieter hills away from Holyrood Park and Calton Hill. Like their famous neighbour, Arthur’s Seat, these are volcanic hills and form part of the ring of seven hills that are crossed in the annual race.


Viewfinder and geological interpretation on the summit of Buckstone Snab

I’ve had a real mixture of clients, including visitors to the city and locals. While one always has the advantage as a local to wow first-time visitors, it has been particularly gratifying to be able to show people who are past or present Embra residents aspects of the city that are new to them. Or have K from Reading tell me at the end of the walk that he expected it to be some time before he be able to walk past natural stone without checking it for fossils. I’ve got a lot of walks scheduled over the next eight weeks and am always keen to consider other tours or activities. Please get in touch.

Getting involved with the revival of the Central Scotland MTA/AMI regional group

Toward the end of the year, Andy Cloquet, was in touch to let us know there was a plan afoot to try to get the Central Scotland regional group for the Mountain Training Association and Association of Mountaineering Instructors going again. He has been helped in this by Al and Sean. Some start-up meetings were run, two at indoor climbing venues and the third at the Ochils MRT base at Fishcross.


Wolf’s Hole Quarry. A popular climbing venue with a hidden geological story

Having run a few events for fellow outdoor instructors on geology and geomorphology, which is how I met Andy, I was pleased to be able to offer a couple of events to try and keep the momentum going. The classic geology in Holyrood Park afternoon was repeated, along with a new trip looking at Wolf’s Hole Quarry in Bridge of Allan and the Ochil Volcanics on the way up to Dumyat.


Books and maps for upland environment CPD for outdoor leaders

Plans for 2019

National Navigation Award Scheme (NNAS) courses in south Edinburgh

Home base for me is the south side of Edinburgh, which is blessed with topographic relief, good places to practice a variety of navigational skills and a number of permanent (fixed) orienteering courses thanks to ESOC and Interlopers. This offers the chance to run NNAS Bronze and Silver courses in my local area. The first dates will be announced soon but please get in touch if you might be interested.

Expanding the Airbnb offers

As outlined above, I’ve placed a couple of walks on the Airbnb platform but am considering adding a day-long Seven Hills of Edinburgh experience that follows the tops crossed on the race event but with more time to discuss geology, landscape, wildlife and history. Pricing and availability to be decided but if you can’t wait, this is a walk I can offer via Hills of Hame.

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Al at the foot of the Scotsman Steps on the Pavement Palaeontology tour






I am a palaeobiologist in my early 40's carrying out research work. I am based in Scotland.

Posted in Geological Walks, Mountain Training, Navigation, Scotland, Trips

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Al is a Summer Mountain Leader
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