We’re all a product of the time and place we come from. Looking back, I think I was lucky to have the freedom to get out and about exploring wild places around Scotland from a comparatively young age. At the time though I think it was something that I just took very much for granted.
What started off as small trips such as hiking or orienteering around local hills and forests of Loch Lomand and the Trossachs area soon led to bigger adventures and to places further afield. My Dad was also a member of a local rambling club and used to take us hillwalking, although we probably moaned about it a lot at the time.
However I’m sure it was some of these early trips that gave me confidence to tackle more ambitious things later on. I was also lucky enough to have quite a few adventurous school friends who joined me on various jaunts around the Highlands, whether that involved hiking, camping, youth hostelling or scrambling up the “Arrochar Alps”, the Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe or the Cuillins of Skye.
In the Scottish hills there was limitless potential for challenging wee adventures that weren’t too far from home – by contrast to get to “proper” mountains today, from where I live, is a full day’s drive. Many of these excursions weren’t always plain sailing either. I remember a few bad experiences too, like suffering from hypothermia trying to walk to Knoydart from Glen Shiel in the pissing rain one Easter, or wondering just why the hell I was trying to climb the Pinnacle Ridge of Sgurr nan Gillean on Skye and why some people might have found it fun to do so. However, “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”, as the old mantra goes.
We also explored Scotland a lot by bike, taking some longer trips around places like Skye, the Outer Hebrides, the North West Highlands, the Cairngorms and the Borders. In addition to the obvious natural hazards, such as man eating hoards of midges, sometimes these were more “human” challenges involving interesting encounters with colourful local characters.
One time, for example, we met a drunken crofter on the Isle of Harris who wanted us to pick his daisies which he claimed we’d squashed by cycling onto his grass, despite the fact we hadn’t been anywhere near. He then proceeded to rant on to his aged Granny in Gaelic about fighting in the Falklands (the Granny told us he hadn’t) and then performed some rather questionable Adolf Hitler impersonations for the benefit of an Austrian guy who had joined us for a supposedly relaxing day trip.
On another occasion an aspiring, affluent “Glasgae” hooligan (with a face like a melted welly) in a Jaguar , ran a pal of mine off the road, before then stopping the car, getting out and physically hauling the poor, bemused wee soul off his bike – the vague pretext being that my pal had apparently “gae’d him the fu*kn’ fungers”. To the obvious amusement of his equally Neanderthal family, watching from the luxurious comfort of their parked Jag, the irate gentleman in question determined to make amends for the alleged slur of epic proportions. Anyway, again, as the old mantra goes; “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”… we lived to fight another day.
So what with the vagaries of the Scottish climate, terrain and some colourful local personalities, exploring Scotland at that time was really a character building experience indeed. Young people today in their digital world simply don’t know what they’re missing. Don’t get me started now…