Walking Solo: The Pentlands


Posted by in December's Magazine

Carolyn McKerracher

They keep promising snow.

Snow by the weekend. Snow for Christmas. Worst snow ever. 

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Now, I’m not praying for another Beast from the East, a three hour walk home from work, or vulnerable people stranded in their own homes – and nobody wants a thick layer all the way from the Shore to the Abominable Roundabout at Picardy Place – but I do like a bit of snow.  Every time there’s a flutter of white in the air, I promise myself I will stop whatever I am doing, take a day off, cancel all other engagements and head out for a snowy walk. 

Look out for rare soft rime attached to winter branches

What’s not to like? The cold crunchiness of compact snowflakes beneath your feet, sharp spikey shards of freezing air numbing your face, your hands turning a bluer shade of white? OK, there are downsides, but a walk in the snow, or simply getting outside on an icy day, must be good for your mental health. A bit like wild swimming, but in this case, you can keep your thermals on.

The hills are great in the snow – but always take care, check the weather forecast, know how to use a compass and don’t venture out alone unless you are an expert. Sadly, I am not.

One Hogmanay, a few years ago, a friend and I decided to end the year with a snowy walk in the Pentlands.  To keep things safe and simple, we settled for a low- level linear walk from Castlelaw car park, off the A702, to Dreghorn car park and back. We drove to Castlelaw, but the website www.pentlandhills.org has a great leaflet on how to get to the Pentland Hills by bus and it also has information on short walks around the area. 

Anyway, the forecast was great – sunshine and light flurries of snow. The car park was full of families setting off with sledges, snowboards and even a few prams. What could possibly go wrong?

A giant snowy hero (pause to bury my feminist independence deeper than my boots) pointed us in the right direction

For a start, the snow was much deeper than we had anticipated and the path was almost impossible to make out. However, we knew where we were going and we could see as far as forever. Or so we thought. 

The pace was slow, as we plunged our soon-tired legs in and out of knee-deep soft snow, which meant we hadn’t actually gone very far when there was a sudden and total whiteout. I’m talking blizzard. Suddenly, heavy, mesmerising snowflakes bombarded us from every direction, so much so that we became totally disorientated and unable to set the map and compass. As time went on, we tried in vain to follow the sound of the traffic on the A702, but soon we became stuck in thigh-high drifts – or waist-high in the case of my five-foot friend.

To cut a long story short (and one that involved tears, recriminations and frantic digging), just as we were losing hope and contemplating a call to mountain rescue (seriously), a lone figure emerged from the snowstorm. With barely a break in his stride, this giant snowy hero (pause to bury all my feminist independence deeper than my boots) checked his compass and map and pointed us in the right direction. As the blizzard closed in again, the shadowy figure vanished once more. 

After an hour of slow trudging back through the snow, we finally emerged from the blizzard, only to be greeted by a sunny car park, still full of families, children on sledges, snowboards and even a few prams. Every single one of them, completely oblivious to our near death experience.

So let that be a lesson to you. It certainly was for me. The weather on the Pentlands can change in an instant, even at low level and in spite of a good forecast. And although you may only be a few hundred yards from the car park, there’s a good chance that Nobody Will Hear You Scream.

Today I ventured out for an icy walk in the Borders. Leaves coated in soft white fur, frozen puddles, crunchy grasses and low sun casting an orange glow through the trees. I don’t always make room for a walk in the snow when it comes, but I’m going to try, because that icy white duvet can revive the soul – and won’t stay for long. 

Stay safe. Stay warm. But don’t stay indoors!

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