I’ve had little time on the hills this year. The 1st of January saw me on a snowy hillside above Loch Tay looking at the floodwater menacing the village of Killin. A few days later and I was hobbling off Tinto after the first club walk of the year. Within days I could barely walk a hundred yards without being in pain, and a course of pills, potions and physiotherapy followed. A slight recovery was made and against the odds I had my one and only real winter walk on The Fara. June found me against all odds leading a Glasgow HF Outdoor Club weekend on Ben Alder and Lancet Edge. A few painful weeks followed. I attended another club walk and managed (just) Sgorr nam Fiannaidh and the Pap of Glencoe. A few days of pain were but an entree to the main course of lower back and knee pain that were to come. Co-codamol, ibuprofen, TENs, heat pads; you name it I tried it.
So here I am once more, my back easing up and the pain in my knee lurking in the shadows, waiting to pounce. The light nights have gone and the leaves are falling from the trees. I feel that I have lost a year. Where the hell did it go?
Being unable to do any high level walking I set off with a short-ish walk on the road to recovery. Or Hartwood as the day would have it. This was a stravaig, a bimble, a meander. As the song says, I had ‘No particular place to go’, and so headed up towards Annieshill from Plains, passing Stepends Farm and it’s free range egg generators. As I approached Annieshill I caught sight of the over ripe fruit on a solitary apple tree, and realised just how much time I had missed outside this year. I picked my way around the plantation at Annieshill, and cut across the bog towards Wester Bracco, setting off a hare as I climbed uphill. Aware of a minor throb in my knee I stuck with the road as far as Blackhill, before striking off to the trig point. A familiar friend, I sat with it for a while, taking in the view, hot chocolate and sandwiches. A voice in my head niggled away…’go somewhere different’, so I struck Forrestburn and Blackridge off the list. Salsburgh was an option, I could return by bus from there, but it wasn’t far. It felt like it would be ‘half a walk’. Taking it slower I could manage more. Shotts or Hartwood have train stations, and the route to Hartwood looked reasonable. Hartwood it was.
Katies Well is dedicated to St Catherine of Sienna and sits beneath Shotts Kirk. I helped myself to a drink before climbing up to the Kirk itself. There’s a signpost here detailing a few local features which can make for interesting walks.
I headed off south, cross country, up hill to a line of trees, sending sheep running in all directions. I circled the old workings to pick up a little known right of way whoch took me to the Jersey Road. Squeezing through a gap in the hawthorn hedge I set off across an open field where the navigation, so easy until now, became more challenging. To put the tin lid on it, my knee was killing me. Maps are an artists representation of the land as seen from above and are out of date the moment they are published. Here the trees seem to have crept beyond the marked boundary, and this involved a slight detour. I caught sight of Shotts Prison to the east and the odd glimpse of the Shotts Kirk transmitter, allowing me to confirm I was certainly where I thought I was, and it wasn’t long before I was on the Newmill and Canthill Road and the welcome descent towards Hartwood. By now I was hobbling painfully and arrived at the station to be met by the sight of engineering work marker boards on the track. An enquiry with the helpline revealed the next train was due the following Monday…
Had it not been for my knee I’d have turned and walked back but due to the pain that wasn’t an option. Instead I was rewarded for all my efforts with a magical mystery tour on a replacement bus service, through every village from Hartwood to Kirknewton, and that is a tale in itself.
For me it appears my walking season is ended, at least for now. Short, low level rambles are to be the order of the day. The big hills are now off the menu.