The Blue Faces of January

I started 2015 with a walk. Or, rather, I started the second week of 2015 with a walk.

Alighting at Haymarket where the weather was markedly better than where I had started the day, I was picked up and driven to the Flotterstone Visitor Centre, just off the A702 (and a short distance passed a road sign pointing helpfully to Path), where Paul, Nat and I aimed to hike to the top of Carnethy Hill, if not Scald Law itself.

It was the first time we’d all been outside together since walking the West Highland Way the previous April, and though we’d occasionally paired off for the odd day trip or weekend away it was the first time in months any of us had done any real walking at all. No sooner had we fallen into our usual pattern — Nat in front, myself in the middle, and Paul at the back — than we were forced to stop. Pentlands 2 Contrary to the little sunny icon displayed over the Edinburgh area on the morning’s weather forecast, the Pentland Hills were coated in a deep, dark grey cloud and — at least at our current altitude — were channeling near gale-force winds.Prematurely self-proclaimed mountain men, we were quickly and compunctiously forced into the foothills as the decision was made to halt our ascent and skirt the hill hoping that the bad weather might go away.

I had hoped to get a blog out of the trip, and feared that we might have been rained off before anything interesting had actually happened. We’d seen a robin (which, naturally, flew off before I could photograph it) and Paul had fallen on his side (right into the mud), but even together that was barely a Tweet’s worth of incidence. At the rate we were going we’d surely be back at the Flotterstone Inn for breakfast? We hadn’t even made it to the top of the first incline — just to some trees.

Following a semi-solid farmer’s track, we circumvented the first…landform, deciding to continue on our current route until it was possible to cross the reservoir and make our way back to the Inn. The wind aside, it wasn’t too hard going at first, even if we didn’t have a (filled) water-bottle between us, and we soon regained enough confidence to leave the track behind. It was slippery underfoot, but a thick heather helped to provide some extra purchase whenever the mud became too much. And then it started to hail.

Pentlands 3 It was already a pretty cold day (Paul’s car had started beeping when the temperature hit 4’C, interrupting the Frozen soundtrack we were all singing along to), the windchill factor having formed part of our decision to change direction, but the hail was absolutely freezing. Stowing my camera away with numb fingers, soaking my gloves in the process, I dug my hands into my pockets and pushed on.

Since Russia I had been preoccupied with the perils of frostbite, and I had no intention of surviving Syktyvkar only to lose digits to the Scottish lowlands. We were slowly descending towards the reservoir, and as we did the terrain became increasingly difficult — nay treacherous. Essentially one big bog, the banks of the Loganlee Reservoir were a few thickets away from being underwater. Nat, dressed for any weather, waded in unperturbed, but Paul and I were wearing “walking shoes” that protected us from little more than pavement. Within minutes my feet were swimming in my socks, and my toes were as numb as my fingers. It was miserable.

Although more than a little worried for the future of my feet, I also found myself relaxing for the first time all morning. Ever since I decided that walking might actually be an agreeable activity in and of itself, I had secretly longed to get my feet wet. Properly wet. Where, if you turned your shoe upside down, a stream of water and several small fish would come pouring out. So far I had done just about everything possible to keep my feet dry — even in waterproofs — but this time my usual pussy-footing around anything remotely viscous was completely pointless. It was time to splash. Pentlands 4 A good thing really, because we were no closer to finding a way to the other side of the reservoir. At Logan Burn we reached an impasse, and Nat’s decision to jump the stream left Paul and I ankle-deep in more than just water. I had flirted with the idea of using a piece of fencing to cross further downstream but it was too slippery, wobbly and structurally unsound for purpose. Eventually I returned to the Nat-proclaimed narrowest point and jumped.

And thankfully landed, like my phone, iPod touch, camera and myriad other electrical device’s depended on it. Paul made it across too, sideways, and together we squelched off to the Flotterstone Inn. It was further than we expected, but still preferable to going back the way we had come. Eager to dry our feet in time for Annie, which we were seeing back in the city that afternoon, we sought refuge in the restaurant and, away from prying eyes, took our shoes off to stow them next to the fire. Unfortunately, even two courses later, they were nevertheless as wet as ever.

It was to be a hard-knock day.

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