I’m cosy in bed. It’s a Saturday after a full week at work, worse, it’s the first full week of work since the Christmas and New Year holidays. Ordinarily I’d want to lie in but I’m awake. The curse of being older and my body clock not adjusting. I roll over to check my phone, 7am. I check the weather above social media, -2c dry and some fog. My mind starts to think toward exercise, running to be exact. I check the forecast up the hills (Pentlands) and it’s the same, if a little cooler. In that instant I’d made up my mind to go running. At this point my routine kicks in, I wander down stairs to make a brew and bring it back to bed to further ponder the running.
I do this most mornings, especially when I don’t have a plan. I leave it t how I feel not necessarily what I should be doing. This way I keep interested and apply no pressure to having to do something. I’m not sure it will last as I need to get myself sorted for SwimRun in July.
Finishing the coffee, I had no forethoughts about what the Pentlands would be like except maybe cold and icy. I didn’t even have a route in mind, except maybe to take it easy as this would be the first run in the hills since doing the back in.
I chose my Mudclaws as no matter what, I was sure it would be muddy and slippy. Im de-icing the car, excited to get out and run. There’s a mist in the air, and the road is slippy. A thought crossed my mind that the road to the hills would be equally if not worse and maybe I shouldn’t go and risk it. That didn’t last long. The draw to run was too strong.
The higher I got the more icy it was and then the snow started. Not falling but there’s in inches on the ground. The road had been gritted and was in good condition to get there.
I’d brought layers. A long sleeve top over a base layer designed for summer and a hoodie to wear after. I kept the hoody on and pulled a buff over my head. A cool southerly wind was in my face. I kept the buff over my chin and ears and changed into the mudclaws. I’d decided on my route, I thought I would take it relatively easy but also keep it interesting.
I headed for Dens cleugh, a little known route, there isn’t even a path marked on the OS maps. It’s probably more of an animal track as it’s narrow in places, hugging the side of Black Hill contouring around.
The track I took from Harlaw to threipmuir was fun, large puddles left over from the horrendous rain were frozen solid, snow was built up around them, lining the edge of the track was a mound of mud and grass. The snow was an inch deep dampening the sound of my footsteps so much that the couple walking their dog got a fright as I ran past. ‘Morning!’ I bellowed with a overly happy tone for 8:30am.
The track ended as I entered a young wood. The path cuts through making a tunnel, light brown patches of mud show where the canopy has prevented the snow from reaching the ground. It was a pleasure to run through. The sound underfoot crackled as my feet broke through the frozen crust of mud into the sloppy under layer. It was a satisfying feeling.
As I created a slight hill the path descends rapidly into the valley below. Only about 100m but enough to slow me down, taking it easy on the back. I noted the mud had been moved a lot, more evidence of saturation and the deluge of rain.
The style gate slammed shut, a rustle of snow and ice fell on the floor from the gate and fence posts. I stopped to take in the surroundings. I’m in a small valley, I’m at the edge of the reservoir, a small section that is dammed from the larger Threipmuir reservoir. Black Hill is on the other side named as such as black heather covers it’s sides. It’s a steep mound of a hill. Now white with snow. The reservoir is frozen in places, only one other person has been here since the snow fell though I can’t tell how recent. I’m still standing there, there’s not a sound and everything seems dampened and close. Mist had cleared to expose the hillsides to the left. A duck quacks in the distance, something had disturbed it.
I chose to stop for longer, running for me isn’t about, start run all the way to stop and finish. It’s about seeing stuff, experiencing the adventure and places that I find myself in. In danger of cooling too much and getting excited about Dens Cleugh I move on.
I’m careful on the style, it’s wood had a layer of pure ice covering it. I head up the hill, slow short steps but constant effort. Careful not to lean too much toward the hill so as not to add too much adverse pressure on my lower back. I could feel it tightening up.
I was making fresh tracks, no man or woman had ventured this way since the snow. I felt lucky, alone, slightly vulnerable (as much as you can when you have a mobile phone with 4G signal). But then, as I kept running I began to ‘follow’ tracks. Not human, probably deer. I felt like I was chasing Bambi through the heather. The path was clear as it was bounded on either side by heather. It then rounds the hill sticking to the contour no wider than two feet widths with a steep slope on either side. It feels like you’re flying being so high up. The tracks disappeared, I stopped to look but there was no sign of Bambi.
The path crossed a burn, the mud was chewed up but still a layer of ice and snow covered up the stickier parts. My foot would occasionally drop more than expecting into a deep mud bath that on exit would make a plunging noise or something that resembled a very wet fart.
I slowed as I started to ascend the western side of Bells Hill. A clear path could be seen making its way up. At a junction I noticed the presence of foot steps going the opposite way. My feeling of being the only one here disappeared and I joked to myself that the hill was cheating, I wasn’t the only one, it was seeing someone else. Bastard hill. Undeterred I slowed to a walk, the gradient is steep and I’m finding step holes to place the feet in. I took a moment to turn around, ease off the back and calves and take the view again. I could see the mist was low in the distance, hugging the Forth. The White would become green clearly marking out the gradient of the valley.
The sweat was dripping and cooling rapidly. I made my buff into a bandana, not so rocky but enough to stop the cool salty liquid entering my eyes. I started running again. Rounding the cairn and descending into Maidens Cleugh. I love maidens cleugh or rather the descent into Harlaw. It’s a wide path, constantly descending, twisting and turning. The average pace increases without any extra effort. It’s a breeze to run down.