What could be more romantic than getting away from it all by escaping to a historic stone shepherd’s cottage perfectly situated by a meandering stream deep in the forest of Southern Scotland? Forget fluffy pillows, a hot bath and rose petals scattered over the four poster bed though. This cottage is without piped water, central heating, beds, electricity, a toilet or privacy; as well as having our 6 year old in tow, we could be joined by anyone else. OK, so I appreciate a night in a bothy wouldn’t be everybody’s idea of a romantic retreat, but thankfully both my husband and prefer to celebrate Valentines in a less conventional and commercial manner. We weren’t the only ones. A couple were already ensconced in the bothy by the time we arrived in the late afternoon. They had actually come for a romantic night though, having left their two young children at home (in the care of other family I hasten to add). At least they managed to get a full three hours of relative peace to themselves before we turned up and shattered the amorous atmosphere. They retreated to a smaller wood panelled room in the bothy (who could blame them) while we shared the larger room with a semi-retired gentleman who had arrived just before us.
This was Finn’s first winter bothy trip but we had carefully chosen a bothy equipped with a stove and plenty of dead wood in the surrounding forest plantation to keep us warm during the evening. In fact wood collection was the highlight of the trip for Finn. We gathered firewood from a felled plantation on the afternoon we arrived and gave Finn the job of Chief Wheelbarrow Driver, which he held with great pride until the impending darkness and a rain shower hurried us inside. Even better than the position of Chief Wheelbarrow Driver was hitching a ride in the back of the couples’ Land Rover the following morning, accompanied by their wee dog, Jack, to help fell a couple of dead trees up valley and bring them back to the bothy for the use of future occupants.
At this time of the year it still gets dark fairly early so after a sociable evening of conversation and cards and Finn wearing out our companion with his imaginary games we retired to our cosy sleeping bags squeezed together on a sleeping platform made for two. We woke to a mild, dry morning and our companion swinging a larger than usual mouse in front of us that he had caught in a trap overnight. After a candlelit breakfast (see, we didn’t forgo romance altogether) and helping out with some bothy maintenance we dragged Finn away from his play at the stream, where he had devised a game that only the imagination of a six year old can conjure up, and headed for home. I guess if we can spend a night like that together and actually enjoy it, it must be love 😉
Last Sunday afternoon I escaped alone to the Lowther Hills. I’ve not explored this overlooked but extensive area of hill country in the Southern Uplands of Scotland nearly as much as I’d like. On the occasional days when I don’t have the wee one in tow, I don’t have the car either so I’m restricted to walks more easily accessible by the limited public transport. So despite the grey, overcast afternoon, the usual Scottish damp chill in the air and the cold from which I was recovering, I was excited to be heading for the hills.
To reach my starting point I took a road I’d never been down before, a narrow single track that at one point went under a railway bridge so narrow there was a turning circle before reaching it and a sign urging vehicles to turn back. I braved it in our small hatchback (only after stopping and checking the map, and watching another car turn around) but if I’d been in a modern SUV I probably would have scraped the sides! I parked up at the side of No Through road servicing a reservoir and passed through an extensive farm dwelling that was eerily quiet. As I tramped through saturated fields I was led by a heron, then a hare that I followed away from the fields and up a valley to the moorland edge. The summit of the hill I was aiming for was shrouded in mist as I followed a circuitous route on the track of an ancient Roman road.
I love walking in the Lowther Hills. Most people will never have even heard of them. They are generally low and rounded but offer extensive views across Southern Scotland. The approach to them them feels like entering another world and there is a feeling of remoteness that is difficult to find elsewhere. They have a bleak wildness and beauty that I find alluring but they are overlooked by tourists and hill walkers who drive right through up the M74 en route to the ‘real’ mountains further north. Even on a beautiful summer weekend I’ve had these hills to myself and yet again, on this occasion I didn’t see a soul. The fact that mine were the only (human) tracks in the snow meant that I was the only person to have walked that way since the snow fell the night before, probably a lot longer. It wouldn’t always have been so. This is an area rich in Roman history, and there is evidence of their efforts to seize Scotland in the form of remains of Roman forts and fortlets, ditches and ramparts and Roman roads through the many passes.
As I followed in the Romans’ footsteps and passed over the snowline it became a little slippery underfoot but the presence of tracks in the snow revealed the normally hidden world and lives of myriad animals. Close to the summit the mist cleared, giant wind turbines loomed out of the mist and the Lowthers rewarded me with 360 degree views, distant features highlighted in the late afternoon winter light. I retraced my steps (easy to do in the snowy landscape and as mine were the only footprints!) and drove the half hour home feeling like I was returning from a venture into a secret world.