In praise Search and Rescue Dogs (SARDA) and what they did at Lockerbie.

One of the most understated group of folk I have met. SARDA ( Search and Rescue Dogs)

For many years they worked alone men and women and dog on the mountains searching for lost souls.

As a member of Mountain Rescue I met them all over the UK on some of the huge searches from the 70’s . I was amazed that many driving for hours to support Mountain Rescue Teams. Most slept in their vans arriving in the wee small hours. Grabbing an hour or two of sleep and then out searching! I made many pals over the years and there are some great characters.

When I became a Team Leader I tried to ensure they were looked after and many stayed with us in village halls and we tried to ensure all were safe off the hills after a search. We made sure when we could that you had food and drinks and at least the halls to stay with us if you needed it. Through this we got to know each other so much better.

At Lockerbie in 1988 SARDA came from all over UK to assist the Police and Mountain Rescue teams and many searched for weeks after the tragedy.

They were incredible folk and many still live with what they did during that period! Many of the dogs were effected by the fuel and smoke that they endured over the search.

I made many friends we learned much after that incident and things are a lot better for dogs and handlers. Nowadays they rarely work on their own and had a great system that supports them.

They are a unique body of men an women who have a great safety record and how many owe their lives to their work over the years.

Thank you all for what you do, few know the real stories or the bond you have with your amazing animals.

There are few people that I admire more than you all and follow how your organisations has moved on from Hamish and others ideas over the early days.

Few know how hard the training is to train a search dog and handler.

Few know you outside SAR and you are like all in Mountain Rescue unpaid volunteers.

Few know what you all do for others in trouble not just in the mountains and wild places but other lost souls in a troubled world. This is now a huge part of your work looking for vulnerable people.

I have always admired you all and made so many great friends in all the organisations over the years.

Yet it was your work at Lockerbie and in some of the wildest call – outs in my 40 years in Mountain Rescue that give me a great love for your organisation. I was always glad when you were all safely off the hills. I would arrive with the RAF Teams often after a 3 – 4 hour drive and find your folk

already there or on the hill. These were the days of poor communications and it was hard to keep in touch with hill parties.

Thank you for all you do and I hope I can spread what you have done on my “Cycle to Syracuse in the USA” in late October.

Sorry if I have missed any of the SARDA organisations out? But you know who you all are.

It was great that one of the handlers was at the Castle with me on Saturday after my cycle to Edinburgh in wild weather.

None of us do this for personal gain or praise but I was so proud to have been there with SARDA member.

On the mountains and in bad times you meet folk that you make a huge impression on you.

Few know what you do you most of you shun publicity and train so hard. Your Dogs are a huge part of you a unique force for good.

We all owe you so much.

Thank you .

Stay safe this winter and thanks for all you did for me and my family when my sisters nephews were missing last winter. It was comforting to know that SARDA and the Mountain Rescue were out looking for them and in the end brought them home to the family.

Thank you

Heavy Whalley Ex RAF Deputy Team Leader RAF Valley North Wales MRT Team Leader RAF Leuchars and Kinloss Scotland.

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Family, Friends, Lockerbie, Mountain rescue, People, SAR, Views Mountaineering, Views Political? | Leave a comment

Looking forward to Winter.

Winter hills.

Getting ready for winter?

I have been away cycling for my big trip and looking forward to a day on the hills with some pals whilst in Arran. I had a look at my hill bag and have updated it a bit for the colder shorter days before winter arrives.

It is that time of year again; winter is on its way the nights are “fair drawing in”. The fire is on we have lights on the bike and notice the headlights in the car need a new bulb!

If you’re out on the hill and have a long day you may now be coming of in the dark and despite a good “carrot intake” in the dark without a torch this is what you may see!

It is well worth checking it every time you go out or carrying a spare?  It is also the time to winterise  the hill bag, warmer gloves and hat and look at what I am carrying in case of an emergency?

Heather Morning  Mountain Safety Advisor says:

“But when autumn/early winter arrives it’s important to ‘upgrade’ and check the state of my head torch and batteries before making sure it’s in the rucksack for the autumn and winter season. Likewise, I replace my thin emergency duvet with something more substantial and upgrade the hat and gloves to warmer options.”

Kevin Mitchell,

Scottish Mountain Rescue, added: “This is a good time to check your head torch is in the rucksack, renew the batteries, put a fresh spare set in the top pocket and set off earlier to allow for earlier sunsets.

All good advice, have you checked your gear?

So I am packing as yet will see what the weather brings and be flexible. I love this time of year the shorter days make you plan a bit better but the sunsets and crisp mornings and that winter feel on the hills make it another adventure and every winter we learn again!

Its well worth looking at the weather forecast before and on the day you go and please, leave a note with someone where you are going and have a system in place to get help if its ever  needed. Please do this simple action to ensure your family are aware of where you are and if help is need the Mountain Rescue Teams will be able to find you.

But it gets dark early so be aware, early starts are the answer as is ensuring  you have good breakfast and your phone is charged and spare battery carried and lead! Simple things to let you enjoy the winter mountains. !

“It is in winter that the Scottish Mountains Excel

No one who has seen the skyward thrust of a snow peak, girdled by its early morning cloud and flushed with the low sun, will dispute with me.

Follow a long ridge of encrusted snow to its sunset tower and tread the summit at moonrise.

This is Scottish winter climbing! W.H.Murray

“Nothing but a memory of the wide silent snowfields crimsoned by the rioting sky and of the frozen hills under the slow moon”. W.H.Murray.

This is why we love the winter mountains please go and have fum and winter is a specail time, go with someone experienced and even a low level wander in winter is inspirational, Please watch the weather, get away early and enjoy your day in a new world, I cannot wait to get out.

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Back to Lockerbie some unplanned time on my own. Special thanks to all for the support and kindness! Huge weekend for me and those who were involved!

My minders!

Thank you all for all the support on the cycle to Edinburgh it was in wild weather and rain all day we were soaked but 72 miles under the belt.

It was a long wet day but I had great support from Mark And Scouse two of my team from 1988. They were so supportive and kind words.

It was then back to the Hotel book in and some tea and an early night! I was tired and not very sociable.

The memorial in Lockerbie !

I had to go back to Lockerbie by train and then get my van that was unfortunately locked in the school car park along with others!

At the Memorial on the Cycke !

Most of the Cycle to Syracuse team were still in Edinburgh but Brian the Headmaster sorted it and Paul the fireman looked after me. Great folk so sorry to bother you.

◦ I spent some time in Lockerbie on my own , as I made the frantic phone calls for help. It was cold earlier on and I was hoping to get home I had a long 4 hours driving ahead. I went for a walk in town no crowds this time and-visited all the memorials. It was strange and I got a chill in the body at times and was bit sore from yesterday’s adventures.

That was hard hour but I met a couple of local folk and we chatted ! They saw my “Cycle to Syracuse top” I thanked them for all the support and kindness yesterday but also for what they did for all those who arrived in the tragedy 30 years ago!

The local folk fed us ,cared for us and looked after us despite losing 11 of their own. Many gave the hundreds who came to help so much love and care I will never forget.

I am the “outsider” in the team for our Cycle but represent so many who are never spoken about. What an honour that is and it will give me huge strength for the Cycle that starts next Tuesday when we fly out.

It will be some trip but to get to Syracuse University where sadly 35 Students never came home will be hugely powerful and poignant for us all.

My friend who was a Dog handler on the tragedy was there at the Castle reception . She was at Lockerbie for many other for months! She like so many are the ones we will never hear about as are those in the Army and so many others who did there bit.

They are the heroes they are the ones that never speak along with the many kind people of Lockerbie who have rebuilt there lives!I have lots of letters emails from so many after the tragedy. This has been going on for many years in my life.

Paul one of the team looked after me at Lockerbie! Thanks

There are some great things coming out of this event! I met many from Syracuse University already who were there at the Castle. They like the young ones who cycled with us are the future!

I spoke to so many over the last few months and what kindness and positivity I have met. This event changed my life as it did many others and I have huge thoughts on what I could have done better for them. As a leader you hold huge responsibility for your folk. This is not just a Cycle but a journey that will hurt me physically and mentally but hopefully it will mean so much to so

many from all over the World.

I was surrounded by great folk from my Boss to the other team leaders Service and civilian and team members. To me these are the ones I think about often and still get calls from some of them around the Anniversary.

The future is what matters as does the past but we can do so much to improve the world if we all work together.

The Cycle is trying to raise money for “Soul Soup “a local charity in the area that deals with young folk and their mental health. Having suffered from PTSD I know how important mental health is. They have a wonderful video that made me cry again! If anyone wants to see it look on the Cycle to Syracuse Facebook page ! I would love a copy?

If you would like to donate try this link! Let’s help all those young folk!

I drove back into a stunning world of sunlight and warmth. Just what I needed.

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A very wet cycle ride from Edinburgh to Lockerbie. 70 miles of heavy rain but with such incredible people. Thank you all the support crews and the riders.

Yesterday it was an early rise up at 0500 and away from Edinburgh to Lockerbie for the 0730 Cycle event . I was with my pal Mark Hartree who was with me in the RAF Mountain Rescue Team involved in the Tragedy 30 years ago.

The weather was for 100 % rain all day and it was right. The drive over was in the dark and we followed the route we would take. The high point the Beedtub a big pull on the bike was covered in mist and driving rain but it was not too cold this would be a taxing cycle. Luckily when we stopped the mist was down and with the darkness This is a wild place. Thankfully there was little wind hence no windchill but nothing would stop that rain!

Another pal Scouse Atkins who was also with me in the Mountain Rescue Team would meet us in Lockerbie he was coming by by train from the South.

We arrived and booked in at the Lockerbie Academy over 100 riders were there and it was pouring. My pal

Scouse would be late as the rain had delayed trains this was some weather.

This event included a coordinated loop of Lockerbie Town by the cyclists to the two memorial locations (Park Place and Sherwood Crescent) and the laying of wreaths prior to commencement of our Group ride to Edinburgh Castle. This was a emotional start to the day and we were piped through the town and split into two groups to pay our respects to the 11 locals who died in the tragedy. Myself Mark and Scouse waited at the memorial in Park Place it was so different from 30 years ago. I was so pleased they were there with me their support was superb. I would need it.

Leaving Lockerbie to lay the wreaths.

We were then in 4 groups in staggered starts it was a massive organisation with the Incredible supporters who fed us and looked after our safety all day a huge thank you!

The local Cycle Club the Feechan Flyers we’re heavily involved and looked after so well.

The roads to MOFFAT were so wet and there were some huge puddles and potholed but the “Blood bikes” were out and advising us of any dangers! You still had to be so careful in those conditions. It was so wet even with the best of gear. The support was immense and hot drinks food and soup were available at various stations.

Mark (2ba) and Scouse thanks!

The Beeftub is a long pull up hill and in the rain it was hard going limited views but with great support I made it. Troops being troops said as I struggled “I did not know this was a “slow cycle race ” thank you Mark! It was cold on the way down the hill so we stopped only for a few minutes some food and then it was on. Mark has some photos that may show my pain!

By now you are half way and it’s still hard going to Edinburgh. The last 10 miles was through the town were scary but we made it after 5 hours cycling to the Haymarket Station. We were soaked but happy . Mark and Scouse had to leave as poor Scouse train was delayed and Mark was taking Fiona out for her birthday. I changed into a dry top for the procession to the Castle. Many shivered a lesson there and the old hill knowledge kicks in.

My two pals who helped me so much thanks.

After terminating at Waverley Rail Station for a regroup and refresh all cyclists will be escorted to Edinburgh Castle at 17:15hrs to meet with non-cyclist invited guests and dignitories for a celebratory gathering and refreshments within the Castle’s great hall between 18:00hrs and 20:00hrs.

We were piped up to the Castle there were so many tourists it was a great end and humbling! The event in the Great Hall was inspiring as Syracuse University was there in force. The speeches were moving and the Great Hall was magnificent.

My sister and brother in law , Kallie a friend and Jan one of the Dog handlers who was with me at Lockerbie all these years ago. It was a great end to the day.

We were delighted to have the support of the UK Government, who have facilitated this unique opportunity for the cyclist and non-cyclist guests to gain access to the Edinburgh Castle post-cycle hospitality.

With some of the Syracuse folk.

It was then stay the night in Edinburgh my bike went back with the boys to Lockerbie . I had a meal a dram and an early night!

What a day!

Huge effort massively emotional huge support from everyone and special thanks to Colin Dorrance who had the vision for this incredible event.

Posted in Articles, Charity, Cycle to Syracuse Training, Cycling, Equipment, Family, Friends, Gear, Weather | Tagged | 2 Comments

Cycle to Syracuse – The Cairns to the Castle Ride from Lockerbie to Edinburgh Castle. A few poignant thoughts before we go.

Today I travel down to Lockerbie on Saturday to join the Ride to Edinburgh Castle from Lockerbie with over 100 cyclists. The weather with some heavy rain forecast after the big storm Callum . I am part of the Cycle to Syracuse Team the other 4 are all from Lockerbie and have allbeen so busy. It will be a full on day it’s 70 miles to Edinburgh with a incredible band of people. There are over 100 planning to cycle.

In the group will be two members of the RAF Mountain Rescue Team who were with me at Lockerbie as part of the team that was at the Lockerbie tragedy from the first few hours. Steven Atkins and Mark Hartree we’re young team members 30 years ago and I was their Team Leader.

They and all involved in the next few days did me proud as did all the Rescue Teams Search Dogs and so many others who were at the there. In these days I was in my prime a young 36 year old who was in charge of one of the finest teams in Scotland.

Mark, Steven and all the others did such an incredible job and it a great privilege to be with them. The roles are reversed now as I am older and they will now look after me through the day. What a day it will be and thanks to Colin Dorrance for his vision on this journey.

It will be some ceremony at the Memorial Cairns in Lockerbie I am sure I will shed a tear as will many others but I am in great company. On those sad days 30 years ago I was part of a unique group of people. Few understand what they did and how it effected many of them all throughout their lives and that of their families.

It was be some day and hopefully heal a lot of wounds.

As the Teamleader I learned so much but made so many mistakes mainly through ignorance of what we were involved in. As the team leader I tried to look after them all and these were hardy folk. It was an impossible job and I ended up a mess mentally . Over the years I have learned so much and this is a great chance to move on and who better to be with tomorrow.

These are great friends who I shared so much over the years and this will become so poignant for us all.

Thank you all for your support and kindness

Some more information here:

The Cairn to the Castle Ride (from the Lockerbie Air Disaster Memorial Cairn in Lockerbie Cemetery to Edinburgh Castle) represents the Scottish road riding stage of the Cycle to Syracuse memorial and fundraising campaign.

Our core memorial cycle team (and event founders) comprises of five individuals, who represent the Emergency Services, Armed Services, RAF Mountain Rescue and Lockerbie Academy (Colin Dorrance, Retired Police Scotland Sergeant, David Walpole, Teamleader Paramedic, Scottish Ambulance Service,Paul Rae, Fire Officer,Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, David Whalley, Retired Royal Airforce and Mountain Rescue Expert, Brian Asher, Lockerbie Academy Rector.

This leisure ride is stage 2 of our memorial efforts, sitting between the stage 1 “Pupil Power” cycling events at various local schools in the Lockerbie area and our stage 3 Cycle to Syracuse Cycle Team’s planned cycle of nearly 600 miles from the Lockerbie Disaster Memorial based in Arlington Cemetery, Washington DC to Syracuse University, North New York State, USA. Our sequence of cycling oriented events pays respectful memorial to the tragic events of the Lockerbie Air Disaster, December 1988. We remember the lives of 259 air passengers and flight crew, 11 residents lost in Lockerbie, and pay tribute to the Lockerbie community spirit and the extraordinary efforts of residents, emergency and community services during such a traumatic event and aftermath.

In this 30th memorial year we also embrace and celebrate the very positive trans-atlantic relationships that developed after the air disaster. We focus our event on the strong bond between the town of Lockerbie and Syracuse University, New York State USA  (the University lost 35 Students, returning to the USA for Christmas from Europe-based study placements).

We aim to raise funds for Soul Soup, a local mental health charity that provides valuable counselling services to young people between the ages of 12-25.

This event will include a coordinated loop of Lockerbie Town by the cyclists to the two memorial locations (Park Place and Sherwood Crescent) and the laying of wreaths prior to commencement of our Group ride to Edinburgh Castle.

After terminating at Waverley Rail Station for a regroup and refresh all cyclists will be escorted to Edinburgh Castle at 17:15hrs to meet with non-cyclist invited guests and dignitories for a celebratory gathering and refreshments within the Castle’s great hall between 18:00hrs and 20:00hrs.

We are delighted to have the support of the UK Government, who have facilitated this unique opportunity for our cyclist and non-cyclist guests to gain access to the Edinburgh Castle post-cycle hospitality.m

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Edinburgh Castle interesting weather forecast for tomorrow.


From the Cycle to Syracuse Facebook page.

A yellow warning for rain is in place for Saturday 13th October, for the duration of the Cycle to Syracuse event over the southern end of the route.

The current high winds experienced throughout Friday 12th October are forecast to calm this evening, leaving a moderate southerly breeze overnight and into tomorrow for the entire day.

As things stand, the event remains unchanged, subject to a risk assessment at 0600hrs on Saturday 13th.

Contingency plans have been discussed should the rain persist to a point where visibility and road surface conditions became unsafe on the open road – which would allow both the Lockerbie procession and Edinburgh processions to continue. Buses and vans will be used in this scenario to transport cyclists and equipment should the need arise.

For now, all cyclists should be prepared for suitable wet weather clothing and ensure that front are rear lights are fitted and fully charged, for additional visibility if necessary. The vast majority of participating cyclists are highly experienced on the road in many conditions, and a pool of several motorbikes, vans and marked cars will all contribute to the safety arrangements – however safety will remain under constant review before and during the event.

Look back and act forward seems like very pertinent advice at this stage.

I am now in Edinburgh after a wild drive down for home the weather was extremely windy and the rivers are in flood! I am staying with Mark Hartree and Fiona in Edinburgh and up early for the drive to Lockerbie . Mark was with us at Lockerbie with me in the Mountain Rescue in 1988 we are meeting up with Scouse Atkins another troop from the RAF. Mountain Rescue Team who was also at Lockerbie in 1988. They were young men then and will be looking after me on the cycle! I am in good hands and cannot thank them enough for their help! There will be lots of memories tomorrow.

It will be an emotional day !

Posted in Aircraft incidents, Articles, Charity, Cycle to Syracuse Training, Cycling, Enviroment, Family, Friends, Lockerbie, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, People, Weather | Leave a comment

Getting ready for winter? Maps and route planning?

Route planning in winter ?

Maps, Gps and changes over the years.

The old Inch to the mile map!

I used to love getting out the maps and planning my hill days now it’s so easy with so many great Guide books and advice on the net via blogs and websites.

When I was doing my Munros in the 70,s I planned most of my weekends hills. It was easy with the RAF Mountain Rescue Teams as we had maps of every area in Scotland. This was for aircraft crashes and mountain incidents! We had 10 maps of every area all-carried in the big wagons. That was some amount of maps. Only the Party leader had a map in these days (crazy) borrowed bought your own and circled the hills and Base camps off.

Every weekend was a different area new maps and a trip into the unknown. There was a huge interest in area knowledge and you would be asked what hills you did at the Monday briefing. If it was a big day it was not easy remembering but so good to learn the areas and hills. The SMC had district Guides that are still full of information for each area. How many remember the magnetic variation on the compass bearings ?

When we planned the walks across Scotland we used to put them out on our briefing room floor at Kinloss . It was magic marking out the routes and it was all new as we were coming of the hills from different aspects.

The Munros tables were just a guide of tops with a grid reference no routes or limited information and no Gps then ! Tops and hills were jealously ticked off at the end of every weekend or time in the hills! it was the first thing many did.

Looking at the maps so often you were gaining so much information. Yet in these early days they were a scale of inch to the mile and at times extremely basic. Remote hills like Knoydart and the Great Glens Affric, Fannichs and Strathfarrar were interesting to put in mildly as were the Fisherfield hills! The maps were nothing like they are nowadays!

I loved the adventure of planning a route looking at the tricky areas cliffs, plateaus and rivers. They would be in the mind for the day ahead and helped so much. These were such interesting times and you picked up so much knowledge of the mountains. We would talk about the planned route once the parties were made up for the hills and you had an idea what hills you were up for.

Nowadays there are even routes with Gps points yet folk still get caught out! The new metric maps 1:50000 they have improved the journey so much the detail and accuracy is excellent as are the other maps available.I wonder how many plan their journey by looking in detail at their map!

Maps are now on my phone is a great addition for me but I still carry a paper one and a compass. Sadly it’s so easy to loose these skills especially as you get older. They call it skull fade!

In winter I feel planning is essential the many guides /blogs will tell you the approximate times for a summer adventure . In winter there are so many variants, many plans have to be hugely flexible. I was asked why winter timings are rarely available ? This is why route planning and the actual effect of the party you are with can change timings rapidly!

In winter Weather can make such a difference and a strong wind will slow you down so much. Always use the weather forecast and avalanche advice it’s there and free. Watch the weather on the days before you go out ! Build up that picture of what is happening especially the snow building up in various areas. Fitness in winter is essential always have something in the tank in case of a problem !

Daylight hours / watch the media just now for folk caught out from now on “ no torches” run out of time ? Why ?

Look at your day remember in November/ December that your plans for a 12 hour day and lots of Munros will be in darkness at times ! How many hours will you have before the light goes? In December it can be as little as 6 hours good daylight. Early starts are the key I would rather walk in in the dark than when tired late in the day!

Sometimes the snow is so deep that snowshoes and skies are necessary!

Navigation has to be good in winter there are so many things to take into the equation!

The 4/5 k walking speed in summer. Sometimes is not possible and hour in deep snow navigating is amazing how little ground you can cover ! If it’s getting hard cut your day for the weather conditions.

The light weight hill bag of the summer will have a bit more gear in it and the winter boots take even in these days a bit of getting used to. Carry enough to survive a bothy bag could save you and your mates life! There cheap and efficient.

I love the winter I enjoy the first snow the faffing with kit even after 50 years on the hills! I try to be well off the high tops a hour before darkness and on a path at least. If the weather is that bad then I change my plans for the weather.

Winter is not hillwalking it’s Mountaineering and you will as I do love it but please respect the winter hills.They can be hard on the unwary!

If travelling alone tell someone where your going and have a system in place if you need help. Always think of those who sit and wait at home.

Winter is special tome a summit in a wild winter day and the view of snow encrusted peaks is perfection!

As I get older the better it gets, I still enjoy the fight for a hill on a wild day and the enjoyment of a Scottish winter climb that cleanses the soul!

I cannot wait to get back from my trip to the USA and get back on these peaks.

If your wary get out there go with someone experienced and get the feeling of the wind and snow in these wonderful mountains you will never be disappointed whatever you do!

Posted in Articles, Avalanche info, Corbetts, Corbetts and other hills, Enviroment, Equipment, Family, Friends, Gear, Mountain rescue, mountain safety, Munros, Other hills Grahams & Donalds, People, Scottish winter climbing., SMC/SMT, Views Mountaineering, Weather | Leave a comment