After a temporary cessation in hostilities from the weather gods, we decided to head out for a proper walk. We’ve been doing most of our walking on the roads here which isn’t too bad because the traffic’s light but it’s not real walking, and we’ve been longing to get up into the hills around us. But in Scotland, unlike the rest of the UK, there are no marked rights of way – instead, there’s a generalised right to roam as long as it’s exercised responsibly. Our Ordnance Survey map directed us to a helpful website where, once you’ve got past the annoying flash preview (why, in the name of God, why?) you can download a 136-page PDF written entirely in nu-speak outlining the responsiblities of farmers, sorry Land Managers and walkers, sorry Countryside Users, and Recreation Managers (no idea what those are in real life. Who knew anyone managed things by way of recreation?), but life’s too short so we’ve loosely interpreted it as meaning we can go anywhere that isn’t someone’s actual garden or house as long as we cause no damage, leave gates as we found them, and the Land Manager hasn’t put a lone bull in the field. But really, we’d like a nice path.
Because being able to go anywhere we please is great in theory but in practice there are a few problems, at least around here. The first is that what footpaths and tracks there are aren’t really waymarked and aren’t that well maintained. Most of the time our attempts to go for walks across country end in some head scratching as we compare the perfectly clear dotted line on the map with the total absence of any line, dotted or otherwise, on the ground. And if you exercise your right to roam and set off in roughly the right direction, cautiously eying the nearby cows for any dangling appendages, you soon discover that people walk on paths for a reason. Because the alternative is either ankle-breaking tussocky heather, or bog. Or, if you’re really lucky, both.
On this occasion, the map showed a nice dotted line heading up the side of a hill in a particularly scenic spot near the reservoir. On the ground, this turned out to also be the symbol for a broken down wall. After some energetic scrambling, tussock-hopping and swamp-wallowing, we followed it upwards to a local maximum, admired the view, consulted the map, and decided we were lost. Nothing daunted we continued, following a combination of sheep paths and quad bike trails. We reached another local maximum, admired the further view, saw the weather was closing in, and decided to head back to the car. It turned out at this point that sheep tracks, while easy enough to walk on, only really go from one tasty bit of grass to another. And as for quad bike trails, well, it seems that when Land Managers aren’t whinging about subsidies or ploughing, or doing other land-managy type things, what they really like to do is take their quad bikes up into the hills and drive around in circles to confuse the townies*. So it was back to the tussock-hopping and swamp-wallowing all the way down the hill.
Still, the lack of trails and markers and little signposted walks does at least mean we had the hillside entirely to ourselves – not bad on an August weekend. Obviously the real tourists are even worse at mapreading than we are…
*Either that or they were going from one tasty sheep to another, but this wasn’t Wales.