Sunday, 3 June 2007

The Evil that is the Pentland Hills.

Yesterday was the first training walk for myself, Janus, Koios, Silver Arrow and Phid, with an eye on our holiday in Skye this September. I'd foolishly told myself that if I can run 5k, walking double that distance should be noooo problem. The next time I open my mouth and state something so utterly bloody stupid, someone should be on hand to kick me firmly in the sow's purse.*

All started extremely badly. I was beset with PT from the word go, which came in vicious waves throughout the journey down with Silver Arrow. Whenever I thought I was overcoming it, it would return with a vengeance, curdling my stomach and making me wish I was back home in bed. I was supposed to eat breakfast with Arrow and Janus at the Olive Branch on Broughton Street, but instead left them to it and went to Phid's in order to give myself some time. Koios arrived, and I asked Phid to take Baffie and Bridie, and pick the other two up from the Olive Branch while I just sat in the cool of her sitting room and concentrated on not feeling terrible. Unfortunately, I obviously failed to communicate this to Arrow and Janus, who turned up at Phid's after they'd left. Luckily, by then I'd managed to settle myself to the point of being prepared to face the day, and Arrow, Janus and I all set off together.

Phid had prepared the route, which seemed reasonable to me - and to everyone else - but only turned out to prove how much we'd underestimated the difficulty of the terrain and our fitness levels. We were supposed to take in 5 of the highest Pentland Hills: Turnhouse, Carnethy, Scald Law, and East and West Kip. This would have been about 18k - just over 11 miles (although I personally think that's a conservative measurement) - and grades it at 'difficult' and calls it 'not for the faint hearted.' I think I spot a flaw in allowing the fittest person of the group to choose the route. However, seeing as she was the only one who got off her arse and made any kind of decision, I think I can get off her case. Except to say that I bet she consulted her equally infuriatingly active boyfriend, and that if Wheeler also thinks an 18k hike up 5 hills with a total height climb of roughly 1800m is suitable for beginner walkers, I must remind myself to put him in traction next time I see him.

Aaanyhoo - off we set, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Janus has invested in a pair of walking sticks, which I was most disppointed to discover didn't flick out to their full length in the manner of an elongated flick knife. Had they done so, I'm sure we would have spent most of the day pretending to be Holmes and Moriarty, sword fighting up and down the braes whenever one of us cried "Hah! Have at you, dastard!" and snapped the stick out to its full length.

Thinking about it, it's probably a very good thing Janus's sticks were the boring twisty kind.

I'd like to say that, from the very beginning, this walk took no prisoners. The climb up to Turnhouse Hill is steep, and quite took the wind from my sails. Arrow was by no means the only one to be somewhat bug-eyed in shock at the top, and we needed several minutes breathing space before we could continue on our way. The merry sight of Carnethy peering down at us did nothing for our morale. There's nothing like being knackered and realising what you've just achieved is but the tiptoptastic part of the iceberg. It also does nothing for friendly relations when certain members of the party refuse even to break a sweat. (Ok, that was just one of us, but the desire to force her to carry all our packs and possibly hobble her in some way was extreme).

We toiled up Carnethy, huffing and puffing, with strategic breaks and were quickly overtaken by - hey! - everyone! Including a couple of crazy joggers, who bounced their way to the peaks with nary a care in the world. Is that fair? I do not think so.

At the top of Carnethy, what did we see but the glowering peak of Scald Law ahead of us? And did we quit? We did not. Hurrah for us all, I say. Having said there is nothing more disheartening than seeing a higher peak to tackle when you're already knackered, I amend that to: there is nothing more disheartening than seeing a higher peak when you're already knackered, and then walking downhill for several hundred metres with the knowledge you have to climb the same distance and then some.

We took our time up Scald Law, stopping for a wee snackette when a couple of hundred paces from the top. It was while huffing up this last slope that my legs really started to feel it. I was also a little concerned that everyone seemed to think that the rest of the walk would be naught but a happy jaunt. It may have been flat, but I was pretty sure we'd find those last 3 or 4 miles hard going, with our legs aching and the road hard beneath our poor little footsies. I told Koios not to underestimate the last bit, but she seemed unmoved, and I unwilling to burst her bubble.

With the triumph of Scald Law under our belts, the decision was made to ignore East and West Kips, and head back down to the circular route. I think I would have agreed to do the last hills had the others been up for it, as I did feel I could carry on (albeit with creaking joints and much complaint) but I must say, I'm bloody glad we didn't. The walk down the brae (very hard on the ol' knees, so Phid must have felt it quite badly) and along the reservoir proved exactly as painful as I feared. When Koios made complaint, I was too good-natured to say "I told you so" ...

Oh, no, wait. I wasn't.

Anyway, after a couple of miles it was pretty evident even Baffie was done in. She walked obediently at my heel for a while, and looked glazed. Bridie was still bright eyed and bushy tailed, joyously chasing some ducklings swimming in the burn and plunging into every pond and puddle with gusto. They were both hot, so when we reached Glencorse Reservoir Janus and I took the opportunity to give them a swim. Koios, Arrow and Phid all sat and waited for us, which gave them a bit of a breather, then on we plodded. The dogs were much revitalised - which is more than could be said for the rest of us!

The sight of The Flotterstone Inn car park was a scene of great joy for me, as for the last 5k I'd been desperate for the loo! Janus, too, was of bladder large, so the first thing we did was dive into the 'facilities' at the car park. Considering the pub was but 100 yards away, it's a measure of how bursting we were that we chose the skanky toilets rather than wait. Janus was actually feeling pretty ropy by this time, but it was surely a combination of low blood sugar and loo desperation, because she perked up a little once she'd got an oatcake and a dextrose tablet in her, and it didn't stop her eating at the Inn.

We had a pleasant meal at the Inn. Nothing special. In fact, the Flotterstone Inn is all too aware of its unique situation and makes very little effort with its food. Arrow and Koios both had sausage and mash, which was only passable. The sausages were of poor quality and the gravy the school-grey colour that's very obviously from a packet. The mash was lumpy, and had we not all been extremely hungry I'm sure it would have been a bit of a disappointment. I had the 'Frenchman's Lunch' out of respect for PT - which was basically paté and Tesco's Tiger Bread. It was fine. The home made paté was very simple, but tasted good enough. Phid had a tuna baked potato, which looked ok, but I doubt very much was actually baked. The best of the bunch had to have been Janus's burger, although I didn't taste it, so I can't be sure.

There I am back on food again. Well, hell, it's a good record of all the restaurants we've tried. I can honestly say that, unless desperately hungry, I would avoid giving Flotterstone Inn your custom and find somewhere else after a Pentland walk. It's fine, but it knows it will always have customers because of its situation, and I find places that make no effort, because they need not do so, extremely unappealing. Shun Flotterstone! Embrace ... somewhere else.

After we'd eaten, Arrow and I bade the others a fond farewell, united in pain, and began the drive back home. Joy of joys, the warnings for the Forth Road Bridge promised 80 minute delays, so we took a detour via Kincardine. God, it seemed a long drive! My exhausted state meant Arrow had to be very alert to turn-offs and signposts, because if it had been up to me I would have just pointed the car north and kept going until a) I fell asleep and we died in a fiery fireball, or b) we ran out of land, ploughed into the sea off John O'Groats, and died in a drenching of seawater. Basically, Arrow saved us from death.

Back at home, greeted by Fisher and Lubentina who'd spent an entertaining afternoon walking the dogs and geocaching, I waited only long enough to say hello before diving into a much needed shower. What did I discover, as I began shedding my clothes, but that I was extraordinarily sunburnt! I'd quite forgotten to apply sun lotion, so I was glowing a truly horrendous shade of scarlet, all over my shoulders, neck and back. I'm so ashamed of myself! Underestimating the sun is such a stupidly British thing to do! I simply didn't feel the sun burning me. Still, it's one of the more important lessons I've learnt from this practice walk. No matter how grey and gross the weather is on Skye, I'll be wearing a good layer of factor 40. I'll also be taking Fisher's Camelback full of water. I always forget how much I drink, and after the first hill I could have drained my small waterbottle dry. Luckily, Phid had brought her large Camelback and was able to provide for all the rookies, in the manner of a patient nanny.

Feeling like a small child being humoured by the big 'uns must stop.

Oh yes - geocaching. Arrow explained it to me, when Fisher sent me a text telling me what she and Lubentina were up to. Aparantly, this is when someone hides a box on a hillside somewhere and provides people with the GPS co-ordinates for where it is. You then go and find it, open it, take whatever's in there, and replace it with something of your own. The things inside are generally of the Christmas cracker variety - little notebooks, tiny packs of playing cards, random shite. Fisher and Lubentina got themselves a travel bug, which according to geocaching,com is: "... a trackable item that moves from place to place, picking up stories along the way." I think theirs is supposed to go to the North and South Poles. Gooood luck with that, then. (Also, seeing as Fisher's life is about as interesting as mine, I can't imagine her travel bug will keep many camp fire circles agog throughout the night).

So anyway, that was the Pentland Hills walk.

Today I awoke feeling quite pleased I wasn't entirely crippled, and felt only a little ache in my legs. Arrow was obviously not too badly affected either, as he sent me a text saying he'd be up for a 9 hole round at Anstruther Links. Hoorah, said I. I'm one of the world's shittest golfers - although, to be fair, I've only ever played non-crazy (sane?) golf a handful of times in all my puff) but I was game for a bash.

The first challenge came in actually finding the sodding course. Arrow told me in was on Shore Road in Anstruther, but after getting Shore Road confused with Shore Street, and cursing the fact that the welcome sign to Anstruther boasts "harbours, museums, golf course" and then fails to point you in any direction whatsoever, I was pretty fed up. I ended up calling Fisher, who gave me rough directions, and I managed to be only 15 minues late. Bloody stupid place.

The weather was typically dreich, and just as Arrow and I set out for the first hole a fleet of eager 12 year old boys appeared before us and started ominously warming up. We thought it best to let them go ahead, but as they took their sweet arsed time about driving from the first tee we considered it may have been a mistake.

How quickly that thought was banished. Our terribleness knew no bounds. I believe my swing could be equated with the manic flailings of Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the best score I managed all afternoon was a double bogie. I lost 2 balls, and my temper at least three times. By hole 5 we were the last people on the course, as everyone played through, and the weather grew steadily worse. On a couple of occasions I wondered if Arrow was about to throw every golf club in the viscinity over the cliff edge and urinate on their broken remains, and when he refrained I was tempted to do it myself. However, we both completed the 9 holes without tantrums (weeelll ... without serious tantrums. I nearly lost it on the eighth hole) and after totting up my total I was almost able to giggle. I believe I finished on 55. Par was 31. Don't look for me on the Old Course just yet.

After the round, Arrow and I had a swift beer at the bar, played a game of pool, and agreed to meet at St Michael's Inn for supper at 7, Fisher and Lubentina being agreeable. They were, so that's what we did. Unfortunately, the Inn was full, so off we went to Drumoig ... where a wedding party had taken over the restaurant. So off we went to the Sandford. Which has closed down.

By this point, Fisher was at the point of chewing her own arm off. Our last port of call was the Kittiwake in Broughty Ferry. Thank God, all was well there and we easily found a table and ordered.

In the end it's been a very pleasant evening. We went back to Arrow's and Lubentina's for a final coffee from Arrow's fancy new machine (mmmm ... goood ...) and I'm now sitting here, slowly digesting and contemplating with some horror the fact I have to play a tennis match tomorrow. Ah well. That's tomorrow. Right now, I'm off for a bath.

*No, I don't know what that is either.