Off The Trails

On Sunday, Lindsay, Phoebe the Spaniel and I went out for a ramble around Mugdock Park and beyond. We got lost. And muddy. How exactly two fairly intelligent businesswomen failed to plan something as simple as a walk is something we wouldn’t particularly want our peer group to know about. So, if you read this and tell anyone, tell them not to tell anyone.

When we started off, the bogginess factor was about 5/10. If we’d known what was to happen later in the walk, we wouldn’t have bothered so much about skirting round muddy puddles, trying not to get our lady boots dirty. Much worse was to come.  Mugdock and the tracks around  are well-signposted, but we blithely eschewed the waymarkers, trailblazing across open land, with a vague notion that we were doing a loop and would end up back at the car.

How wrong we were…..and hour into the walk we ended up on the wrong size of a padlocked fence, talking through the rails to a fellow dog walker who assured us there was no escape from our incarceration and sent us back the way we came. She patiently gave us directions – pass the two benches, go through a gate, ford a stream, climb up onto the moor, pass a big boulder and go straight on back to Mugdock. We eventually found ourselves on the moor and looking for a sign – but it seems the signmaker forgot to put his working jacket on the day he was meant to complete it. We drew a blank.

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We then spotted a gate which we landmarked as a short-cut to our destination…..which was our next mistake as it was bordered by a bog as deep as Loch Ness. On the lead, Phoebe was keen to get over the gate. Just as Lindsay was balancing perilously on a bank working out her next move, the spaniel lunged forward dragging her into the malodorous midden. There was a mud-curling squelch when she extricated her boots. We trudged muckily back to the car, vowing never again to go ‘off the trails’.

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Radio and Royalty

Yesterday took me north to one of favourite places on earth – Royal Deeside – to join my adorable pal, Fiona. We met up at Glen Tanar estate just south of the River Dee to do some recording for her new Friday afternoon show on Radio Scotland. Starting in May, ‘Out for The Weekend’ will feature the multitude of activities on offer in Scotland’s Great Outdoors. I was there to talk to her about my road to recovery from breast cancer through walking my way back to health and happiness.

We had planned – by our standards – fairly meticulously, having brought snacks (quorn cocktail sausages, mango pieces, bananas) and a 25 year-old OS map, which I had stuck together rather optimistically with much sellotape. We then decided that the map was perhaps a bit superfluous as the several routes are all way-marked. The one we chose – Fairy Lochan – was symbolised by a dragonfly. It’s a lovely short circuit, passing the 19th century Chapel of St Lesmo, the picturesque small loch and looping back along the Water of Tanar. Simple.

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After some highly technical sound testing of the recording equipment involving a creaky gate, we set off apace in glorious weather, walking and talking…..and then things went a bit Radio Gaga. We got so engrossed in our conversation, that we’d completely forgotten the dragonflies and were not sure which path we were on. We retraced our steps…..only to find we were on the right path after all. After that, the map came out and after much squinting and holding it upside down, we figured out where we were going.

Situated in the heart of Royal Deeside and within the spectacular Cairngorms National Park, Glen Tanar Estate is just east of Balmoral Castle, which was built for Queen Victoria in the mid 1800’s as her wee but ‘n’ ben. The surrounding area is hugely popular with sightseers, anglers, walkers, climbers, cyclists and two distinct types of photographer – the wildlife expert and the selfie amateur.

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Whisky Galore!

It has always been a huge disappointment to me that, when it comes to whisky and the consumption thereof, I suffer from two terrible afflictions – hangovers and heartburn. It was a travesty keenly felt when I visited the north east for a couple of days’ walking along the Speyside Way. I met up with my old mucker Morag and Brodie the dog at the recently refurbished Craigellachie Hotel in the heart of the region’s whisky trail. Surrounded by malts, distilleries and whisky heritage the temptation to throw caution to the wind and ‘drink in’ the atmosphere was stronger than a Glenfarclas 105 which, yes, I have imbibed and suffered the effects. We had to be sternly resolute on arrival at the hotel when we were invited to join in a select whisky tasting event in the drawing room. We declined and instead gazed on the 700+ malts on offer over G+Ts in the hotel’s sumptuous Quaich bar.

The Speyside Way is a long distant route which captures the spirit of Scotland running 84 miles from Buckie on the north east coast, through the heart of malt whisky country to Aviemore, the outdoor centre on the foothills of the Cairngorms. Mostly you walk in the valley of the fast-flowing River Spey, Scotland’s second-longest river and arguably its most attractive.  IMG_0283IMG_0284

The area is home to almost half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries and both Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are directly on the Way. In need of a comfort break, we popped into the former, which hosts an excellent tour and also has a grand fireplace in the ladies loo. Posh or what?

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Parklife

‘Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife’. The first line of British band Blur’s popular track ‘Parklife’ came to mind on my walk yesterday and now I can’t get the lyrics out of my head. It was released in 1994 – CRIKEY – and remains popular today. That set me off thinking about what I was doing then. I lived in Aberdeen in the early 90’s and – as was a rite of passage in those days – worked for a large regional newspaper group. It was the aftermath of a bitter industrial dispute at the company which saw the sacking of 120 workers. For nearly a year after, journalists mounted picket lines outside the newspaper offices. The dispute was one of the longest and costliest in Scottish media and nearly bankrupted the NUJ. Those were trying times, which some might attribute to bonkers bosses (or bonking bosses, as the Scottish Sun reported) but I made very dear, lifelong friends there.

In 1995, when the bosses and I had a bit of a contretemps, I moved  to Glasgow, which in Gaelic means ‘dear, green place’. The city has many lovely parks and gardens and I’m lucky to have two on my doorstep. Blonde Eleanor and I set off for a circuit of two of the city’s favourite parks – the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park. The Botanic’s iconic Kibble Palace (pictured below) is one of the most prestigious remaining Victorian iron and glass structures. Built in 1973, it houses tropical plants from around the world and is a peaceful place for repose. The Botanics is also home to some stunning orchids.

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Our five-mile circuit took us down to the River Kelvin walkway and into Kelvingrove Park, past the imposing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and up to Park Circus, built above the city in Victorian times by the wealthy burghers seeking to escape the pollution and disease of the industrialised city.

It’s a very pleasant walk….. And then I’m happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to parklife.

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