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  • Writer's pictureJane Smith

Scotland Day 8 - West Linton to East Calder

Not such an early start to the walk today, as we had to clear out of the AirBnB that we've had a good three days in. It's great having a period where I'm not unpacking and repacking every night, and having my support vehicle with me has been invaluable. Back in January when I felt that it was possible to replan the Scottish trip we decided that David would spend the first week or so with me in Scotland, just in case things didn't work well with my leg. It's meant that these first few walks have been of manageable mileages, as he's been able to pick me up from roadsides as opposed to me making the full journey to the next town or village. It's also meant that I've not been carrying the full weight of the pack, as my clothes and some other stuff has stayed out of the rucksack. And I've not been stuck wearing the same T shirt for a week, as I've had things to change into after walking. And of course most importantly it's meant that I've had company and reassurance. All of these things have been lovely, and it is all going to change tomorrow.

West Linton looked brighter in the sunshine as I returned to do the second half of the Cross Borders Drove Road. The gradient for today's walk was essentially one large ascent till about half way, and then a descent till the finish. The ascent was not particularly demanding, although still testing my heart rate. I was very taken with an art and poetry display in a field on the side of the track, possibly created by or for primary school children. And also noted two bird boxes for which species I wasn't sure. The big one was maybe for an owl? But who would live in the basket?

As I pulled away from the village, the track shared its space with a Roman road too. I went all poetic, thinking of the (historically inaccurate) centurions and wool clad drovers walking this route together. And then the wind flowed through the crops opposite me, turning them to water. It was a lovely moment.

The skies were looking less than friendly, with patches of blue being threatened by big banks of dark grey. It was very dramatic and beautiful, shame that it was implying how wet I was going to become. But I persisted, resisting the waterproofs as I climbed past the Baddinsgill reservoir, and enjoying the first proper heather that I've seen in Scotland.

I could see from the map that the little copse ahead of me would be the last shelter before I got out on to the Pentland Hills proper. And just before I exited the rain properly started, so on with the waterproofs again, and out onto the fell.

The path was now named Thieves Road. When the drovers were moving their Kyloe cattle and their sheep down towards England in their thousands, they would have been very obvious to ne'erdowells and rustlers who would grab the animals if they could. The thieves would be able to see the drovers from miles away. This is remarkably remote feeling country given how near it is to fairly large conurbations. And for the whole day I didn't see anyone else. It reminded me very much of my walk across Exmoor last summer, when I felt I had the whole moor to myself.

It was great, and it would have been even greater if it hadn't been raining. So music on again. I enjoyed Jude's suggestion of Cover me in Sunshine by Pink. Not only was it appropriate, it also has happy memories attached to it. It's interesting though what the experience of listening to music on headphones can add - when the overproduced drums tracked across my ears it sounded like gunfire, and I ducked thinking that there was grouse shooting out on the moor. I then really enjoyed the suggestions that Tasha made, two of which were really thought provoking, leading me down proud avenues about my brilliant daughters and how strong and independent they are. And then there was one about penguins that she had helped bring into being last year that made me laugh so much it would have startled the grouse out to the guns if there were any. If you only listen to one song from this blog, make it 'Being Different with Penguins' and admire the vocal cazoo work.

Because of the rain (have I mentioned the rain yet?) the moorland was boggy and periodically large pools blocked the route. At least one made it over the top of my boots, and at one point I had to make a measured risk assessment about the respective issues of the large puddle against the collapsing wooden walkway that was the alternative.

But even with the less than perfect conditions, this wide open, empty space was completely entrancing. What I wanted was to sit and be in it, but the complete lack of shelter rather prevented that. But then, just off the track, there was a small collection of large rocks that formed a partial cave. I'm not sure if it was man made or natural, but whatever, it was exactly what I was after. I could push myself back towards it, and although it was too low to get right inside, it gave me some shelter and I could really be in the landscape. And as I sat there, the rain stopped, and I could hear the silence. There were a couple of incongruous oyster catchers that flew over me, and after that nothing. Almost no other birds, and no sounds except the rustle of my waterproofs and the wind. I could have been the only person in the world.

Moving on, the path then started to descend, and as I came off the hills I went through Cauldstane Slap, which is a pass that marks the border between West Lothian and the Borders. There was an excellent 19th century sign that showed for just how long this path has been used recreationally. The view out towards Edinburgh was broad and unexpected, and made me gasp.

I started the descent to the plain, thinking how much I was reminded of the similar walk down from Tan Hill in the Pennines. And I was also remembering how the weather changed on that day last year, and how freezing and windy it suddenly became. And as if by magic, I was rewarded with a more concrete reminder. The rain hit my face like tiny icy needles, and it took all my concentration to stay upright with the gusts of wind.

Reaching the plain, I was relieved to feel the weather recede, and so had my head up more to enjoy the sight of some cows and calves a way ahead of me, walking down the path. I was amused, seeing myself as a twenty first century drover. But then it suddenly stopped being funny. A couple of the cows became very agitated, lowing loudly, and starting to run. The calves were following them, running pell mell too. They weren't running at me, more sideways to where I was, but they were being so unpredictable that I felt at any point they might. I looked around for my normal type of escape routes from cows I don't like the look of, and there was nothing, just unfenced moorland. If they'd changed tack I would have had nowhere to go. And I could see that the path was taking me right through where the rest of the herd were watching the renegades. People have said to me that they think I'm brave doing this sort of thing on my own. I'm absolutely not, I was properly scared at that moment. But fortunately, the breakaway pair decided to run back to the herd, and their agitation took the others with them, and they rushed off up the field, allowing me to skirt gingerly on the wrong side of a farm fence until I was thoroughly past them. I've never been so relieved to see a gate, so that I could separate myself from their lowing lunacy.

A group of sheep were ahead of me instead. You know where you are with sheep. I pretended I was their drover instead, until I could catch my breath with a sandwich and a view of where I'd come from.

The next section was supposed to be on another footpath on the other side of the main road, but there were cows in there too, and I had run out of courage temporarily. So I happily walked down the road, slightly thrown by the sign ahead making me wonder whether my nemeses were lurking round a corner.

I planned to rejoin the path a little later, but found it determinedly barred with barbed wire, with waist high undergrowth. I decided that discretion was again the better part of valour and committed to a few miles of road walking. I broke out my trainers to celebrate, putting my boots in the enclosed part of my rucksack for the next hour or so. When I later liberated them, the smell after even that short time of being confined was memorable.

We're staying in a glamorous Travelodge in Livingston tonight, on the outskirts of an enormous shopping centre. Venturing in to such a busy place for dinner felt weird, having been so solitary and so wild today. Didn't stop me enjoying a Wagamamas though.


Distance travelled: 13.25 miles

Total ascent: 1270 feet

Calories burned: 1719

Local tipple: Ginger No-jito from Wagamamas

Dinner at Wagamamas, Livingston - great

Salted edamame beans

Vegetable gyoza with chilli sauce

Chicken teriyaki donburi on brown rice with extra kimchee and pickles

Sponsors songs, thanks to Jude and Tasha:

Cover me in Sunshine - Pink

Labour - Paris Paloma

God is a Freak - Peach PRC

Being Different with Penguins - The Baby Einstein Music Box Orchestra

Video of the walk

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4 commentaires

Membre inconnu
15 juil. 2023

Very glad you overcame the cows! And Wagamamas is the perfect comfort food!


04 juil. 2023

Not enjoying the close encounters of the mooing kind!

That view down to Edinburgh is wonderful!

Off to Youtube to listen to Tasha's Penguin performance - there are no words.....



Membre inconnu
04 juil. 2023

Countryside looks beautiful and fascinating histories.

Well done for getting past the cows - sounds properly scary.

And a well deserved Wagamamas!


03 juil. 2023

Crikey - cows are absolutely terrifying. I’ve never encountered any frisky or protective ones on in fences land…. You are such a superhero to deal with that! Did you get any views out to Edinburgh? Love the pic of the wind on the barley, and the one of you in the cave. xxxx

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