With me it’s a problem of scale. Three years of regular days out trekking have led to my developing a siege mentality. Preparation is everything, so as soon as I rolled out of bed the cameras were put on charge, the computer was switched on to download a series of geocaches into the GPS and appropriate maps were printed off. One must be prepared.
Today it was to be a relatively low level walk, so I hauled out my Kata backpack from the heap of gear piled up on the floor in what passes for my study. The Kata is a photographer’s pack, superb for short days where I don’t have to carry all the mountain paraphernalia. It’s a challenge attempting to cram waterproofs into its less than spacious compartments but it does have a lot of camera sized pockets which can hold a lot of gear. Where it obviously scores over a normal backpack is that I can haul out the big camera with a minimum of hassle.
I started my usual routine of packing the cameras, food for the dog, food for me, map etc. but decided to leave the waterproofs behind as the forecast was reasonable. Just before finally reaching the door I began to fluster. “Did I have my spare glasses?” “Did I have enough food?” “Where did I put my phone for emergencies?”
I was taking the dog for a 2 hour walk less than 10km from the house – Doh!
It may have been only 10km from the house…but I still managed to miss my junction on the narrow forest lined roads to the west of Bannockburn. No formal passing places and a road surface to make most hill tracks feel good about themselves made for a less than enjoyable driving experience. The “Tank” was earning its keep. Within a couple of miles of Stirling, this out of the way corner of the ‘Shire had long since ceased to be a roads maintenance priority. I expect the surfacing squads had given up trying to find a way in. For the umpteenth time, the “Tank” hiccupped as we descended into yet another yawning chasm in the road.
The Fatdog was happy. Straight from the off she was into the woods and charging through the recent leaf fall. In fact there seemed to be centuries of thick brown mould beneath the massive deciduous trees. The area was a peculiar mix of ancient deciduous and younger coniferous planting. I suspect the old trees were originals from the estate based around Sauchieburn House but that is pure speculation on my part. From the old wood there was the occasional tantalising glimpse of North Third Reservoir. Hopefully we would have a much better view of that in half an hour’s time.
Today we would take on the substantially less than arduous ascent of Lewis Hill (266m). As we parked the car at about the 160m contour I accept that this might be considered less than challenging, given our 1130m ascent of Binnein Mor in the Mamores last weekend. On the other hand it had only taken us some 20 minutes to get here (including the unfortunate detour) as opposed to the 2 hour haul last Sunday. On the very positive side it looked as if the sun was going to make an appearance so I wasn’t even thinking of complaining.
In fact it would have been incredibly churlish to have complained because this tiny hill allegedly packs an incredible view. I say hill, but that’s a bit of a misnomer. I’m sure it’s called Lewis Hill to give the trig point at its “summit” an air of credibility. This long flattish lump of rock is also called Sauchie Crag.
Our first clear sight of North Third Reservoir from the west end of the crag certainly had the “WOW!” factor considering there was only 100m of a height difference between our perch and the reservoir below. The sun had kindly agreed to give the landscape a bit of a boost in the colour department so the late autumn shades of brown and gold were given a final fling before the onset of winter gloom. The Fatdog was under strict instructions…no standing on the edge!
We strolled along the cliff aiming for the high point where a brilliant white painted trig point gleamed on the skyline. On our way it seemed that we stopped to admire the view every 20m or so as the rock formations forming the crags continually changed. There was even a pinnacle!
The map indicated that there was an old (iron age?) fort but the small mound at the east end of Sauchie Crag was covered in three foot deep decaying bracken so making out any detail whatsoever was nigh impossible.
Suddenly there was a dramatic change in the scenery as we plummeted downward into Windy Yet Glen, one of the major geological faults cutting through the crags, losing all of our 100m in one fell swoop. Slowly up the side of the second crag we trudged…this was becoming just like one of our normal hill days!
Unlike on Sauchie Crag, where the path was set back from the big drop, the path on this smaller crag hovered on the brink of oblivion. As we climbed the final section out of Windy Yet Glen squat pine, oak and larch battered by years of south westerly winds clung on, sometimes leaving only a short gap for the path to squeeze between them and 100m of free fall. Thank God there wasn’t a howling gale blowing. The Fatdog was by now on a short lead.
At the east end of the second crag we stopped. It was geocaching time. The normally flustered GPS appeared to have taken its medication today and steadily pointed its digital finger towards a collapsed tree trunk. It took less than a minute to find the box and so another “remote” cache was chocked up. (For geocachers the ref is GC13PQA)
After its early afternoon exertions the sun was feeling a wee bit tired and had decided to have a rest behind the clouds. The camera disappeared into the pack for the last time. Ahead of us the path plummeted once more into another fault so I decided not to continue the walk onto the next crag. It was time to trundle our way back to the car
The Fatdog stopped for lunch on the way back. It wasn’t her lunch, but FD is no respecter of ownership, especially that of food. A seated party of four had made the mistake of commenting “Oh what a cute doggie!” “Look at her pretty pink collar!” On cue The Fatdog surrounded them, pillaging their plastic tubs of goodies seemingly at will. Astounded by the ferocity of the raid the poor victims were powerless to intervene. It was over in seconds. Wagging her tail happily The Fatdog then marched off down the trail, leaving empty boxes and hungry walkers staring after her in disbelief.
As we once more passed the “summit” trig point the quiet of the afternoon was punctuated by the honking of geese overhead and the incessant screaming of weans whose distraught mother had failed to encourage them to play on the cliff edge. I quickly distanced myself from the group before the poor woman resorted to pushing. In any case I would have refused to testify against her.
And so the remainder of the journey back to the “Tank” was punctuated by the repeated honking of geese and, more regrettably, the continuing screaming of weans as all efforts to persuade them to do the decent thing met with abject failure. We lost them in the darkening woods. I hadn’t seen a gingerbread cottage but, with a bit of luck…