Published 13th December 2019, 20:43

    MY preparations were thorough as on any given mountain outing; each and every item taken out of the rucksack, checked, then packed away again.

    No point leaving anything to chance. After all, it's not every day you have to face a grilling from a class of excited and inquisitive primary school pupils.

    There would be no hiding place. While most adult audiences will politely allow some leeway, that's not the case with children, and there was little likelihood Class 5A at Burnside School in Carnoustie would be any different. They are working on a project about Scotland's landscape, and I had been invited along to talk to them about our mountains. 

    For most nine-year-olds, timescale is largely irrelevant, a mystery not yet properly explored, and anyone older than school age can be bracketed anywhere in the 30 to 300 range.

    With that in mind, I was prepared to be asked if I had ever seen a dinosaur or if I had been around during the Napoleonic Wars. I did my young audience a dis-service though. They were smart and savvy. Top marks for their teacher. They had good knowledge of the mountain environment and the people and animals that lived and worked there. 

    They listened intently to what was being said, asked relevant questions, and, as a group, managed to correctly identify all but one of the animals in the picture quiz (that was the pine marten, although a few of the guesses were not a million miles away).

    We covered winter conditions in the hills, bothies and Brocken Spectres. We finished with a show and tell, when they were able to see for themselves what was in the rucksack.

    The winter goggles and head torches were a big hit, the crampons treated with a kind of awe. Just as well I never tried to bring the ice axe into the classroom. But the highlight was the mass excitement at being allowed to try out the pop-up survival shelter. It was less chaotic than I had feared.

    When normality resumed, I concluded the session by highlighting the litter menace and showing them one of Mountaineering Scotland's #takithame campaign bags. They were way ahead of me on this one.

    The hands shot up, all with tales of why dropping litter was bad, from the effects it could have on wildlife to the plastic waste we are consuming. It seems the message is getting through, and I left with the feeling that our future may be in better hands if these youngsters were anything to go by.

    The school visit was the culmination of a busy and diverse long weekend. On the Friday and Saturday, I had my usual stand at the Dundee Mountain Film Festival, where the Moonwalker calendars and generously donated second-hand books helped raise a tidy sum for Scottish mountain rescue.

    The inevitable result of being indoors for the best part of two days watching other people enjoying the great outdoors is the urge to be out there again as soon as possible.

    We set off before sunrise on the Sunday morning, the temperature still sitting well below zero, for the cautious drive up into Glen Doll. As the sun began its lazy climb, it painted the distant wall a fiery copper, a beautiful, blazing contrast to the frosted fields below.

    The packs were heavy with all the winter necessities, but although sections of the path up Corrie Fee were frozen solid, there was always a way round, no need to take out the crampons or engage the axes.

    The summit of Mayar came as a shock to the system, a fierce, icy wind baring its teeth, its bite cutting through our layers. The brilliant winter sun lighting on the sparkling white quilt was a bit of an imposter. A few gloveless minutes taking photographs and all the feeling in the fingers had gone.

    On the march across the plateau to Driesh we met a few other groups coming the opposite way, but most had their heads down, the only way to progress against the wind.

    I'm happy to report the litter pick on the whole circuit was nil. Maybe the winter months bring advantages other than a lesser footfall and an unequivocal beauty.

    This, coupled with the raw enthusiasm and potential of those school children, was a real tonic. Let's hope they realise what a privilege it is to have this precious landscape so close to home.