It was supposed to be an early start followed by a 5 hour hike up The Ptarmigan approach to Ben Lomond and back. By noon I had finished my second breakfast and was (none too seriously) contemplating some sort of movement. After cereal, porridge, toast and marmalade and a pot of Java, waddling was the specific movement coming to mind. Needless to say my original plan had been abandoned with a more leisurely day now in the offing. FD and I would be tackling a 3 hour hike of far less strenuous proportions. We were driving some 20 miles west to see The Whangie, a narrow cleft through the rock at the northern boundary of the Kilpatrick Hills north of Glasgow.
There were about 20 cars in the car park when we arrived with a corresponding volume of bodies littering the path winding its way around the east face of Auchineden Hill.
The car park wall proved to be a bit of an obstacle for The Fatdog. Eschewing the small stone steps she lurched uncertainly onto the top of the wall…then stopped, balanced on the cope like a trainee feline, backed arched and claws dug in. She wobbled, scrabbled, then sort of…fell…off the other end.
A patch of uninviting bog provided a soft landing for The Fatdog’s inelegant dismount. She launched herself into the reeds with gusto totally ignoring the decaying railway sleeper path. This was a shrewd decision by FD as I found my legs windmilling on the treacherous timber, made lethal by a deadly mixture of frost and slime. I jumped off into the oozing sludge following The Fatdog, trampling a reed path as I went.
It was decidedly chilly. This was my first “winter” walk and although the temperatures were not yet particularly low the breeze had a nasty nip to it. I began to speed up using the slight gradient to build up some heat, shooting past the ornate welly brigade.
The next half hour was boring. Although there was a nice view north to the snow capped mountains of Arrochar and the Trossachs, it was too distant for a decent shot and we were trudging along a soggy path in the shadow of a scarp-like slope with no sun and a chill breeze.
The Whangie was instantly intriguing. An upward path led towards a rock outcrop then disappeared into a narrow defile, a split in the native rock, taking the Fatdog and I along a winding high walled corridor. Half way along, a “window” gave the classic view up Loch Lomond before the walking surface plunged downward as the crevasse tightened.
As the gap between the vertical walls narrowed to “tight squeeze” a solid wall of rock blocked the path. That was the point when The Fatdog vanished.
Seconds later I reached the spot where she had disappeared…and where the passageway took a right angled turn into its narrowest gap. Light streamed in from the Whangie’s west opening and as I emerged I found The Fatdog was waiting for me in the sunshine.
Having mastered the “Swamp of Evil Intent” and the “Narrow Defile of Doom” it was time to seek out the “Buried Treasure of Tupperware” so out came the GPS and the closest geocache was brought up onto the screen. This proved to be a fairly quick discovery, the clue making it pretty obvious where the…eh…”treasure chest” would be hidden. It also provided an ideal place for lunch. GCG5CZ
Reprise: The Taking of Tea Scones and Strawberry Jam.
The Fatdog was trying to stare me out. I glared back, my fruit scone with strawberry jam wedged firmly in my gob.
“Houw, Houw, Ho-uuwww!” moaned The Fatdog, eyes firmly fixed on the remains of Asda’s finest home baking crumbling in my hand.
“Shooshhk!!!” I spluttered at FD, fragments of semi-chewed scone spraying into the chill afternoon air.
“Houw, Houw, Ho-uuwww!” insisted The Fatdog completely ignoring my unintelligible command.
Yep, you could relive this part of the “Tail” a thousand times over and the wording would stay roughly the same…although sometimes with a more determined “B****r Off!” on my part.
The Battle of the Lunchbox over for another day it was time for the very short dash to the summit of Auchineden Hill. This took us all of 10 minutes (if that) from The Whangie. The view to the south took in, what I assume to be Glasgow with tall white tower blocks reflecting the low winter sun. I much preferred the view north looking straight up Loch Lomond and the surrounding mountains.
It was time to take a walk…and find some more buried treasure. I didn’t need to haul the GPS out of the pack for the next geocache…all we had to do was head west along the ridge until we stumbled across a track. In any event I was able to more or less pinpoint the location visually from just under a kilometre away. There aren’t too many objects in the countryside you can attach a magnetic micro cache to!
A short while later the path appeared to have vanished but FD was marching steadily onward with absolutely no sign of hesitation.
I called a halt. The Fatdog stopped and turned around.
“Are you sure this is the path?”
The Fatdog eyed me disdainfully and promptly turned on her heel and continued downward chasing the invisible trail.
I shrugged and followed. She couldn’t make a bigger mess of finding the path than I would.
I was right…then again I was wrong. Ignoring the possibility of keeping on the higher, drier, ground The Fatdog headed straight into the soggiest territory imaginable at the foot of the hill. Served by at least 3 streams this appeared a fairly serious bit of bog. She didn’t ease up her unrelenting pace for a second and marched directly into the reeds…onto an already formed man made trail. FD strutted through…totally vindicated. Once we reached the track I was allowed to take charge and she settled back onto my heel. Don’t you just hate a smug dog.
Our second cache of the day was a magnetic micro, a small rectangular plastic holder with a magnetic strip, only big enough to hold a strip of paper on which to “sign in”. Given the general scarcity of metal objects in moorland/forest areas I reckoned that this wouldn’t be too difficult to find. And so it proved. I was nearly a kilometre away from the cache when I spotted its likely location. Away to the west end of the ridge from Auchineden Hill I could see the line of an access track to nearby reservoirs. I could also see a gated access to commercial forestry. Given the absence of any other potential locations I reckoned that it would be our next destination. GC20T3D
It didn’t take long to find the micro so very soon we were heading back towards the Whangie, this time on a dry sweeping section of ridge…I was in charge of the navigation this time! The trail ended in bog just before the Whangie giving The Fatdog a chance to gloat, but mostly it had been a dry return trip.
The sun was losing height and was beginning to drop towards Duncolm (hill) behind Burncrooks Reservoir. When it popped out temporarily from behind the clouds it bathed the hills with a golden glow, lighting up the distant snow covered mountain tops…and the hair ends of The Fatdogs fur.
As we dropped off the east side of the hill back onto the access path we met a woman…who was looking for a man. Not me I hasten to add, but a member of a walking party who had shot off on his own. Given the tone of her voice I took it this was a common occurrence and that finding a substitute man (plus bonus dog) would not entirely be a bad thing. The others had decided to head back due to lack of time before dark. She didn’t seem over-concerned and opted to walk back with myself and The Fatdog. Very soon we met with another lady from the party and some 10 minutes later the disappearing man caught up.
The path was treacherous in places with a thin layer of ice coating some of the rounded stones. I nearly went down a couple of times but both ladies, I would say in their 60’s, were on the whole doing a damn sight better than I was using their poles to steady their descent. We had a good chat as we eased our way back to the car.
There was only the bog left to cross and we would be back at the car park. I started off in front carefully shuffling my feet along the lethal timbers. As I stepped down from one pair of sleepers to the next I felt my feet skid out from under me.
It was close but as I had anticipated the problem I quickly righted myself and lurched off the timbers into the bog. I held out my hand to the first of the ladies, who declined, taking the unusual step off throwing both legs in the air and crashing down solidly on her back narrowly missing splitting her skull on the edge of the timber step. I slowly opened my eyes expecting that my next move would be to dial 999 for an ambulance. I was greeted with a big smile and the beginnings of a deep chuckle. Then the laughter began. A tough cookie this one! Their male companion gave me a hand to get her back on her feet…totally unscathed.
I recalled one of my companions commenting, in an incredibly polite west Glasgow accent that her boots were “bogging”. Please note the g at the end…this is not normally included in the expression which is more commonly pronounced boggin’, with considerable emphasis on a nasal o sound. They’re soooo “street” in Milngavie.
Sadly I recalled this as she too attempted the “Step of Doom” with not dissimilar results to her friend. In fact her fall was made the more dramatic, thus scoring an additional 3 points for artistic merit, as her feet made it to the same level as her head as she shot off the slippery sleepers, coming down bum first into a puddle of oozing black bog-sludge. Truly “bogging” this time I fear.
Much hilarity ensued and both took their misfortune without any complaint whatsoever. Both very politely refused to give it another go giving me mock disapproving looks. Somewhat sheepishly I returned the camera, and score cards, to my pocket.
Well that was our day almost over. The Fatdog made a better fist of the stone stile than on our outward journey and did not embarrass me overmuch with her pathetic efforts, and our companions squelched their soggy way back to the car talking of driving home in a somewhat disrobed state or as one put it “I don’t mind if you drive home in your knickers!”.
My brain declined to even contemplate forming an image of that unhappy circumstance, for which I will be eternally grateful.