One of the main factors in my decision to study in Scotland was the opportunity to get out into the countryside more often. So when I had to finally commit myself to joining some sports clubs, I steered clear of those which involved the sports centre, and chose the Sailing and Rucksack (hiking and climbing) clubs. I’ve yet to get out sailing, but I spent this last weekend busy with activities organised by Rucksack.
The first, on Saturday, was a navigation course organised at a local outdoor centre. After an hour or so at the centre going through the basics of working with maps and a compass we headed off to the Sidlaw Hills, just behind Dundee, to put our new skills into practice. We spent the rest of the day tramping through the heather (a challenge sometimes when you only have short legs) and trying to avoid the numerous cowpats, taking compass bearings and following contour lines, trying to navigate to random spots of hillside.
After a lunch in a small hollow, we spent most of the afternoon following a leader over the hills and trying to identify the spot we ended up on the map – more challenging than it seems when you have few landmarks to work from and are relying on the time you’ve been moving and the slope of the hillside to identify your position. Since all my previous hiking has been on well marked paths this was something quite new to me and definitely worth attempting for the first time in a group. As well as being a useful learning activity I really enjoyed getting out into the hills for the first time and discovering the local flora and fauna, mostly on the small scale in the form of lichens, mosses and caterpillars.
Sunday saw my first Rucksack meet – a trip over to the West of Scotland, some 2 and a half hours drive away, to hike Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain. The one downside to rucksack meets is surely the early start required – having to be on campus for 7am meant leaving home at 6.15. Fortunately, the long bus ride to Fort William meant that I was able to catch up on some sleep, although I was a bit disappointed that I slept through most of the scenery on my first trip out of Dundee! Once we arrived at the trailhead we split off into a number of groups – the majority, like me, were taking the Mountain Track (or tourist route) up, but a few more adventurous souls took the CMD path which involved more scrambling and summiting a second Munro on the way, and another group went climbing. Generally the meets are very open and you can pick your own activity, so long as you’re not on your own.
The advantage of having done the navigation course the day before was that there were a few familiar faces on Sunday morning, and I joined up with one of them, a Dutch girl, for the day. Not only did we have very similar paces, but it was nice to be able to chat with someone about The Netherlands and to throw in a few Dutch words as we went along our way. Despite the ominous forecasts of rain and strong wind earlier in the week, we ended up being very lucky with the weather and until we hit the cloud line it stayed dry and we were able to enjoy some fantastic views. Photography has been a hobby of mine for a long time, but one I’ve rather neglected the last few years, so it was great to have an opportunity to take my camera out and capture some landscapes as we went (I’ve uploaded some more photos on Flickr).
I enjoyed the walk, but I did struggle on the path – not so much because of the steepness which had been my original concern, but because much of the path was built up into steps with large stones which I found hard going. As a result, once we broke through the cloud line and started on the final ‘zigzag’ section we made an executive decision to turn around rather than continue on to the summit, since we didn’t want to be stuck trying to get back down once it got dark. A couple at the same point as us decided to continue upwards and we met them again when they finally reached the bottom at 8.30pm having walked for the last couple of hours in the dark, so we definitely made the right decision, although it was disappointing not to reach the summit. As a bonus though we were able to have a very leisurely walk back down with a ‘tea break’ just to sit and enjoy the scenery.
Having returned early, we ended up with quite a long wait before the whole group was reassembled and we could head back to Dundee. I finally arrived home just after midnight, very thankful that thanks to a scheduling accident I didn’t have a 9 o’clock lecture on Monday morning and could have a lie in!