This post starts with a tale of woe. But, you see, perhaps if the Bad Thing hadn’t happened then I wouldn’t have given myself the opportunity to allow lots of Good Things to happen, thus my mantra that everything happens for a reason has been proved true. And, as I’ll explain, the Bad Thing is, admittedly, a prime example of a First World Problem which thankfully doesn’t really impact on anyone other than myself.
So, in a nutshell, my laptop was murdered by my hot water bottle. I won’t bother you with the details, but after two days of praying to the technology gods and hoping that my dear computer would resurrect itself, it would seem that after six years of hard service, it has finally fallen in battle. Sooooo frustrating but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s far from the worst thing that could happen, and, since Jay has got a laptop, at least we are not totally sans computers. Clever computery-minded friends seem to think all my work on the hard drive can be still be saved so I’m keeping a small flame of hope alive.
Anyway, because of the mild frustration this incident caused, coupled with my need for some exercise and vitamin D, I decided to take myself off on an adventure into the hills to take my mind off my dead laptop and the general state of the world and so that I could walk in snow and breathe in some winter air. As anyone who has ever been on a hill walk will tell you, it is utterly impossible to worry or feel sad when you are on a hill top. So, due to a perfect weather forecast, I set myself the goal of reaching the Andy Goldsworthy Striding Arch sculpture on Colt Hill for sunrise which lies just over 14 miles from my front door. I calculated that since sunrise was happening at 08.39, if I set off at 2 am then I could possibly achieve my goal.
As it was, I didn’t leave the house until 2.45 am, which meant that it wasn’t until 3 am when I was at the bottom of the forestry road when my adventure would begin. This gave me less than 6 hours, but since it is a route I know so well, I still felt I could possibly manage it. But of course, I didn’t take into account the fact that snow slows everything down – not so much on the lower hills where I was walking on the track, but by the time I got past the bothy, everything took nearly twice as long as it does in non-snowy weather. So, although I didn’t quite reach my target, it was still a truly incredible walk which I am so glad I did.
The first first few pitch black hours of the walk contrasted greatly with the incredible winter sunshine of the second half, but it was equally as magical. Despite the -2 degree temperature and the snow which lightly fell until 4 am, I wasn’t at all cold – in fact I had to strip off 2 of my 5 layers less than a mile in. By the time I had ascended to the side of Mynwhirr Hill when the snow stopped, all at once the clouds cleared to reveal a bright crescent moon and a gazillion twinkling stars. An hour later, just before the track ascended again up to the wind turbines, I lay down on my camping mat and within a couple of minutes I saw one of the brightest shooting stars I have ever seen and so I took the liberty of making a massive wish. I thought I saw more but I think they were just satellites so I didn’t make any further wishes because Billy Bragg has always told me it’s wrong to wish on space hardware.
It was still pretty dark by the time I reached the Polskeoch/Chalk Memorial bothy at 7.30 am and I think by this point I had sort of accepted that I wasn’t going to quite make it to the arch for sunrise – I knew that in dry, summer conditions, from the bothy it takes me exactly an hour just to reach the finger post which points up to Colt Hill, and then at least another half an hour to get to the actual arch, and the snow was going to make things a little trickier. But I thought, since it would be sunny all day I’d still do it anyway because it didn’t actually matter whether I saw the sunrise from the arch; I knew it would still be beautiful not matter what time I reached it.
After 45 minutes of relaxing and re-fueling in the bothy (the erect tent which someone has left there did scare the fuck out of me at first until I plucked up the courage to confirm it was in fact empty), I continued on up the track and reached the point where the Southern Upland Way posts direct you right, off the track and deep into the forest before leading you up towards the arches on Colt and Benbrack Hill. Incidentally, the SUW doesn’t actually take you to Colt Hill but it is a nice little detour to do after seeing the one on Benbrack (if you’re not too tired by that point!). The snow became deeper and deeper the further I went until every step was a huge ordeal as the powdery whiteness spilled over the tops of my boots, half way up my calves.
It was when I finally reached the finger post for the arches just after 9.30 am when I accepted that I wasn’t even going to attempt the final ascent up Colt Hill – I had told myself that I would return home no later than 5 pm and I knew that if I forced myself up to the arch then there would be little chance I would be home in time to put the kids to bed. Also, I would be utterly exhausted.
Frustratingly, from the signpost I could quite clearly see the arch and it did feel a bit crazy to go all that way but not actually all the way. But, no, actually it was a very sensible grown-up decision to abandon my plan and I think it proves I am learning – a year or two ago I would have definitely forced myself to do it and then put myself out of action for a couple of days. The first time I visited the Benbrack arch was in arctic conditions a thousand times worse than yesterday, and was probably the most ridiculous adventure I have ever done and I didn’t really want a repeat of that experience. Read about that adventure here: https://thescottishdream.com/2019/04/04/a-36-mile-arctic-adventure-in-south-west-scotland/
So instead of battling up knee-high snow, I found a beautiful sun spot in the forest, lay down my camping mat and spent half an hour sun bathing. I had no idea of the temperature at this point, but I wasn’t cold – I even considered having a wee nap at this point but I resisted the urge. The most incredible thing was when I realised that I could hear no sound whatsoever; no wind, no turbine noise, not even any animal sounds – just complete and utter silence. This silence, along with the heavenly scent of the winter pine forest and the snow which sparkled like a sea of diamonds all around me, was insanely intoxicating. I would pour water over a thousand laptops just to experience that feeling again. I did allow myself another 15 minute sunbathe in the quarry on the way back down to the bothy which was probably my favourite part of the whole day – it was exactly midday so I guess the sun was at its warmest point which made it just perfect. I should admit that I do spend a lot of my life trying to find opportunities to sunbathe, even in Scotland in January.
Amazingly I reached the bottom of the forestry road at exactly 5 pm – a descent made beautiful by watching the sky turn back to the same pinky-lilac haze I had at sunrise. I had managed to cover nearly 28 miles in 14 hours (with many, many lovely stops) but by this point I was walking very much like Tik-Tok from Return to Oz and I was very grateful to return home to a warm shower, macaroni cheese and bed.
I was fast asleep by 6pm.