Since the middle of March, I have only driven once to a hill at all, Meikle Bin, which is local to me, and just past my old house on the Touch Hills. Despite crawling the walls with repeated walks around North Third and Lewis Hill crags, apart from a little cycling, I have not ventured any more than walking distance from my house, as per the restrictions. Whether or not I agree with them, and/or how they have been implemented, especially with Scotland enduring it longer, is academic, as I feel it is important to comply with the government.
So they have been lifted a little, and we can do a little more in the outdoors, like fishing, bowls etc. Yet the hills still seem 'off-limits', and guidance on how far you can travel in order to exercise or recreate is still mixed - 'A reasonable distance', 'a distance that takes less time than the activity', 'not needing to use a toilet' and finally, 'preferably 5 miles'.
How many folks have more than parkland within 5 miles of their house? How busy does this therefore get, on the likes of canal towpaths, country walks through pasture etc. How much harder to distance on the narrow paths involved than up in the hills?
Anyway, with all that said and done, I decided a 15 minute drive to hills visible from my window was both preferable and justifiable, and judging by the amount of folks out, so did a good few others. Yet it was still simple to avoid each other etc.
I walked to the summit of Ben Cleugh, the highest hill in the Ochil hills which stand above Clackmannashire and the hillfoot villages of Mentrie, Alva, Tillicoultry and Dollar. I chose the traversing path that takes you to the high bealach between King's Seat hill and Andrew Gannel hill, and making sharp progress, I passed maybe half a dozen folk as I sweated upwards. There was one chap a couple of hundred metres ahead, yet try as I might, I could not catch him, despite his relaxed gait. I think his long legs gave him the edge, (let alone his youth)! ;)
When I did finally catch up with him as he rested on Andrew Gannel hill 670m, we chatted a little. Jean-Marc was a young Frenchman, working a contract at one of the Grangemouth petro-chemical companies, and he was ruing the fact he was locked down with all this lovely weather and his chance to see Scotland. I suggested some routes once we do get to travel further afield as we walked together, (but distanced!) to the summit of Ben Cleugh, 721m. The weather was wonderfully warm, but with a cooling Easterly breeze. The views were unfortunately hazy, but you could just make out Ben More and Stob Binnien still carrying a little snow, as well as the Lawers range to the North.
We parted there, and I descended quickly over Ben Ever and down towards Wood hill and the path around the top of Mill Glen, resplendent yellow with the broom fully in bloom. I always enjoy the contrast of the wild moorland up high, then the abrupt change to gardens, the golf course and lowland pasture as you drop down the glen. The stabilisation work on the paths is welcome, but evidence of the industrial history is still apparent if you look around, when the power of water and gravity drove the machinery of the mills along the hillfoots, and led to the establishment of the villages.
I passed the time of day with some very pleasant ladies who were resting on one of the bridges, the exertion being rather a lot for them in the warmth, and in their extra winter coat as it were ;) Lower down, another nice couple were from Bulgaria and Hungary respectively, and I was able to surprise them that I have climbed to the highest points in both of their countries, neither being particularly well known of course.
I have mentioned on Facebook that one of the few benefits of this lockdown has been really getting intimate with my local paths and walks, and really, this is a walk I do regularly. Today however, it seemed extra enjoyable for it being just that bit higher, just that bit wilder, just that bit more special. Not Torridon I grant you, not Glencoe or Lochaber, not Skye or Fisherfield, and certainly not Corsica or the Alps, but as a small consolation, it was very welcome.