|19/11/2011||Filled under Carradale, mountains, Scotland|
It takes no more than a dry day with maybe the promise of some sunshine to get us pulling on the walking shoes, making up some sandwiches and planning some sort of a walk. We must remember though that it is winter now and the shorter days mean we need to take things more seriously – spare clothing, a torch, hats and gloves travel with us now.
Rhonadale had in fact been winking at us for some time; we were just waiting for the right weather. Sufficiently close to seem easy, sufficiently far away to be a challenge, this roundabout tour of the Carradale glen would take us on a hillside traverse broadly following the border between the forest and the lush farmland that has brought people to this place for so many centuries. But first, a small lesson in terminology. We live in Carradale, one of a number of ‘dales’ in this area of Scotland, a place where one might expect the word ‘glen’ to be more normally used. We have the Norsemen who once lived here to thank for this since the King of Norway once ruled the Scottish Western Isles and left more than his DNA to the generations that followed. Locals today tend to ignore the tautology and refer to the broad green valley through which the twisting tongue of Carradale Water flows as ‘Carradale Glen’, as if the Norsemen had never set foot here at all, but we who walk here for the first time try to visualise the place as it might have once been, wild and largely untamed.
The Forestry roads allow us to complete a circuit of the valley without excessive height gain or loss but at the cost of some considerable mileage as these roads follow every contour of the land. Much of the timber here shows the results of recent gales which have battered the area, fallen timber lying untouched and showing clearly the direction the wind followed. Above the treetops though, the cleared land is providing a habitat for the Peregrine Falcon, several of which we could see soaring above us, scanning the land for small birds which are their main prey. We are fascinated to watch their tail feathers which in soaring flight are held tight together then they are suddenly fanned out to act as a brake when they need to slow down or change direction. This is the speed-freak of the animal kingdom whose 200 mph dives give their prey little chance. By contrast another raptor, the buzzard, has a hunting strategy which is quite sedate, even lazy. I photographed this one squatting on a bare tree at the back of our house, just sitting there waiting for lunch to amble beneath him.
After some miles our forest road comes to an end without warning leaving us no option but to trek across recently felled woodland, a difficult and dangerous undertaking, to reach the farm below us from where we can cross Carradale Water over one of its few bridges. ‘Off-piste’ walking is not easy anywhere around where we live and progress slows as we stumble through the mesh of fallen branches and stumps, slipping and sliding, until finally we are alongside the barbed-wire fence which protects the forest from incursion by sheep. Clambering over (there is no other option) we are now on rough moorland and can descend rather more easily to Brackley Farm in the valley bottom. It slowly dawns on us though that we have only now arrived at our furthest point from home and our legs are already complaining, quiet murmurings of discontent which become louder with each step.
The sun at last emerges from cloud cover but lies low above the hills, casting long shadows though still warming our faces as we march homeward. We realise, as we contemplate the distance we still have to go, that with this walk we might have bitten off a little more than we realised, more than we were prepared for. Our legs shout more and more loudly with each step. Aches and pains brought on initially by the netball and badminton we have recently each begun playing in the Village Hall reappear now and resolve themselves into thigh-stabbing twinges as we progress homewards. Perhaps it was too much to expect that we would simply be able to pick up the sport where we left off so many years ago and not suffer the consequences.
But all the aches are forgotten when Kate spots these gorgeous specimens on the roadside verge, a tiny white cap, barely half an inch (two centimetres) tall, peeping through a bed of moss.
Then another fungus, blue and spiky edged, almost hidden amongst the leaf debris and grass and growing out of something decaying beneath.
Somehow we find the energy to open our front door and run a hot bath to drop our legs into to ease the aches and pains. Not for the first time we reflect on the pleasure we get from pushing our bodies around the mountains of our land. Many years ago when I used to come north to Scotland with friends to romp over the mountains around Glencoe we used to have a saying, ‘Pain is pleasure’, a strange way of expressing the joy we all felt after a good day on the hills.