Solstices, donkeys and the wrong path yet again

Friday was of course the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

This has a new significance for me since I moved so far north. As I look at the map, Glasgow is level with cities such as Copenhagen and Moscow.

The drawing in of the nights approaching the winter solstice had proved to be a real shock. The same can be said for letting the dogs out at 11pm for their last visit to the garden, and still seeing blue sky these last few weeks.

I decided to go for a run, and make another attempt up the pesky hill that has been evading me so far. Meikle Bin is, at 570m, one of the highest hills in the area. Only Earl’s Seat, at 578m, is higher as far as I can tell from the map.

I knew that running all the way up would be optimistic, but as per my last hilly effort, I was happy enough to run when I could and walk the rest.

I saw just one person out for a walk with a lovely 2 year old collie called Louis. My running rules are such that if I see a dog I am allowed to stop to say hello. Louis was a little nervous of strangers but calmed down enough for a fuss, and then showed his displeasure at my leaving by giving me a little mouth (bite without teeth) on the thigh. His owner was mortified but I didn’t mind at all, I’d clearly spooked him by making to move off a bit too quickly for him. No blood or bruise was left, which was more than can be said for the chihuahua incident in December… but that’s a story for another day.

The route I was following said the last stage was to take a newly created gravel path off the main path. It should have said, but not that one, as there were 2. I took the first, and quickly found myself on some very uneven terrain strewn with boulders and dead branches. As I started to descend quite rapidly I realised this was the wrong path, so turned back on myself. I couldn’t believe this was happening again!

I returned to the main path, continued and finally saw a very new looking zig zagging path that would take me up through the last of the trees. I started up this instead.

I had to keep turning round because the world was opening up more and more as I went higher. I could see over to Ben Lomond and further afield. I don’t know the names of all the peaks I saw, so will be looking these up.

The last bit to the summit – quite steep as you can see on the profile below – was a real stagger for me and I was incredibly tired by now. I’ve only just started running regularly again and have been out quite a lot over the last couple of weeks.

I have another running rule that if I’m feeling really bad, I keep going for 5 minutes, and if I don’t feel better after that, I turn back.

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As often happens when climbing, walking or mountaineering, what you think is the top is far from the top. I knew the summit would be marked with a trig point and I must have gone over three deceptively steep bumps before I finally caught sight of it.

Fortunately, I didn’t check my watch again after deciding to give myself those 5 minutes, and soon after this at just before 8pm, I was really glad to reach the top. I was grateful for the extra layer I’d brought with me, suspecting it would be quite windy when I got there. I had a few minutes pondering and snapping a couple of pictures before I started to head back down.

It wasn’t a particularly clear night, and in fact it felt as though it was getting darker much more quickly than in the previous few days, so the pictures look rather grey.

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From the top, I could see all the way over to the Forth (just visible on the horizon towards the centre of the picture below).

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Just off the summit, there is some wreckage left over from a plane that crashed here in 1950. I didn’t see this, but then I wasn’t really looking for it and I think it’s over the other side from where I came up. I’m looking forward to taking my dad up here later in the summer, so we can explore a bit more then.

Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination, but tonight was about seeing the bigger picture (getting to the top!) and not worrying about the detail (getting on the wrong path).

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I’ve not been that high up since I went up Scafell some years ago with my ex husband and some friends. Prior to that, it was a trip up Whernside, and before that it was Tryfan – the mountain that started it all in December 1997. I’d been on a few climbing trips but these were focussed on getting to a particular crag or route to climb, rather than enjoying being out in the hills for the day.

I’d never climbed a such a big hill on my own. It’s easy to get hung up on what might happen, all the scary things that can go wrong even when you are the most prepared and most experienced person on the planet. It’s even easier to let these thoughts stop you doing anything exciting.

I’m looking forward to exploring more.

But I do really, really need to learn to use a map and compass together to feel more safe when I’m on my own. Up here, I was always on an obvious path (even if it was the wrong one) and I was out in clear, dry, warm conditions with a phone, map, extra clothing and plenty to drink. My level of experience means I’m not safe to do much more than this at the moment. Plenty of people do, but not everyone gets away with it and I know the MRTs are busy enough without coming out to collect wee Essex birds from the hills.

So what about the donkey? Well, he/she lives in a field just before you get to the car park by the reservoir. I’d never seen a donkey in a field before, just on the beach or in the farm section of a zoo. I had my finger bitten by one as a child, while filming an episode of The Clothes Show at Woburn Safari Park. Jeff Banks kissed it better. Admiring a donkey in a field from inside a car is plenty close enough thanks.
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