On finding somewhere I really enjoy walking, my tendency is to return there time after time rather than heading off in search of pastures new. There’s so much wonderful countryside in Britain that it might seem a bit perverse to be endlessly ploughing the same perambulatory furrow; perhaps it’s laziness, but I love the sense of intimacy that comes with familiarity.
My passport ran out over a year ago and personally I can see no good reason to get a new one at the moment as there’s so much to detain me closer to home. I’ve lived in Scotland for over four years and have still only seen a tiny fraction of the country because of my yo-yo-ing back and forth to the Southern Hebrides.
Well, a new chapter will open in writesofway’s Caledonian peregrinations this weekend when I head to the isle of Rum, accompanied by the lovely Fiona. Rum, together with the other Small Isles – Eigg, Muck and Canna – and their near neighbours, Coll and Tiree, will be on the receiving end of several visits this year. We’ll be spending five days on Rum this time, our first backpacking excursion for several months. I can’t wait. Dougal will be staying at home in the care of Malcolm, in case you were worried. It will be a while before he’s big enough to accompany us on Very Big Walkies.
After weeks stuck at home, it was great to have the opportunity to stay down in Dumfriesshire for the weekend with our friends Colin and Jane. I was itching to revisit the lovely hills above Durisdeer and fortunately Saturday dawned cloudless and crisp. Dougal and I were up before first light and out the door for our early-morning wee. Still, it was late-morning before we left the house as Colin and Jane have not long been together so had to be prised apart and levered out of their bedroom before we could be on our way.
We decided that Dougal could manage his first hill – the top south of Wether Hill – before Fiona would head home with him and myself C and J would continue over Black Hill and Well Hill before returning back along the glen.
The frost ensured that the often boggy ground was good and firm and we were soon launching ourselves up the steep flank of Wether Hill. Dougal was undaunted by the climb, perhaps all the up and down the stairs to the back garden at home had made for good training.
So, Dougal’s first hill conquered. The first of many to be inflicted on the poor, defenceless wee dug.He and Fiona scampered off back down the hill while I dragged C and J, kicking and screaming over the whale-backed hills to our appointment with sarnies and ginger snaps on the summit of Well Hill.
Returning down the glen via the Roman fortlet guarding the pass, we were soon back in Durisdeer. We had a look at the ever-fascinating kirkyard with it’s collection of scary funerary art; a real thanatologist’s dream.
Apparently, Durisdeer is the setting for part of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, according to Ronald Turnbull’s excellent guide book to the Lowther Hills. The tiny hamlet is exceptionally beautiful and to my eye it has one of the finest settings of any settlement I’ve ever visited in the British Isles.
When you’ve not been for a good walk in a long while, it really brings home what a wonderful thing it is to get out and get some fresh air and exercise. My mood was improved no end by our few hours in the hills, so much so that I insited that we stop off to admire some sculptural land art on the way home.
This cone, which is found just outside the village of Penpont is one of a number of Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture’s scattered around the area. He lives nearby and makes many ephemeral art works as well as the more monumental forms such as the Striding Arches arrayed on hilltops around nearby Cairnhead.
The following afternoon – once we’d thrown a bucket of cold water over Cand J, we headed up Glencairn to visit The Byre striding arch, which is the most accesible of the arches. It’s possible to walk around all of the arches in one day, but this would be too much of an undertaking for young Dougal, even if we had managed to evict C and J from their love shack early enough.
This was Dougal’s first encounter with a monumental conceptual sculptural art form and he seemed to take it in his stride (sorry).