The doors are closed and locked on adventures far from home once more as coronavirus takes hold again. So close to home is the default option when scouring maps for places to explore. I’d seen the Castle Law hill fort from afar loads of times, often from the Dunning to Bridge of Earn road in the van, sometimes from the park in Forgandenny with Young Johnston.
It was so cold last night, the frost on the van was thick, snow-like and solid. -5 on the temperature gauge. But the sun was rising and the clouds were in hiding.
I passed the snow line and was slightly disappointed at what lay on the ground, you can’t craft snowballs out of powder. The views improved with every step looking west toward Ben Chonzie and back toward Bridge of Earn.
I passed what used to be Glenearnhill, an old farm, finding a bonus geocache in the old fireplace, and carried on up the last few metres to the top of Castle Law.
I reached the summit. In some ancient forts you struggle to spot the ditches or wall foundations. Today, even in the snow, the lines and curves here were clear.
The summit cairn included painted stones, a reminder of the virus. But my mind was lost in the hills and the snow and the sunshine. The views were stunning, with the shapes of Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’ Chroin obvious in their winter coats.
The snow was so deep in places. But it was so powdery that getting a solid foothold was pretty tricky. I slid most of the way back to the old farm.
After lingering in the cold at the summit and marvelling at the fort and sliding most of the way down, my hands were like ice blocks. So I built a wee fire, created a cheese and tomato masterpiece and checked out the geocaching app again to find another treasure nearby. Turns out there are a few around the Law.
And after my second treasure find I started for home.
Lockdown has curtailed our outdoor adventures again but their is so much to see on our doorsteps that it’s a great opportunity for Microadventures. And with this walk today I achieved my 50 mile target for Doddie Weir’s DoddieGump challenge, raising money to help fund research into MND. Might have to try for 101 miles now. There’s lots more to see on my doorstep.
The coronavirus lockdown of the last 10 weeks has finally started to ease a little. On Thursday, 67 long days after it started, Nicola Sturgeon signalled the start of phase one of the lockdown relaxation. I can go to a garden centre (not unheard of, they usually do awesome cakes), play croquet (unlikely but if desperate, you never know) and mingle with one family a day, as long as we remain socially distanced and take our own cutlery. I loved how the First Minister specifically mentioned this at the briefing, as if she had already fully planned her own first barbecue in a post lockdown world. A lovely example of a politician in touch with what her constituents might be asking about.
Hill walking is now back on the agenda, as long as you don’t drive, remain within five miles of home and stay within your own personal limits.
We moved house on November and one of the advantages of daily exercise since March has been the chance to get to know my new local area in a way I probably couldn’t have done in a non-covid age. The lovely Spring weather has been perfect for this. Despite the hardship of the last few months, a rain-sodden spring could have made it even tougher.
As well as exploring my new ‘hood, this year I had made a full year plan of microadventures which didn’t quite get moving. I’m also keen to refresh my navigation skills and I’ve been thinking about a way to tie all this up in a nice, neat package. And so I give you….. grid square journeys. In my head, if it’s done correctly, it would look like this:
The premise is simple. Walk around a grid square on an OS map. Or any other map. A friend of mine on Instagram was looking at maps of The Shire last night. A grid square journey around Hobbiton or Rohan or The Lonely Mountain would be pretty mind blowing.
Anyway, you can choose the square. Those squares are built up from the blue lines that go from left to right and up and down on a map and cross each other regularly creating the grid effect. One square is 1km long in each direction so making a total perimeter of 4km (plus don’t forget to add the distance to get to your chosen square).
The simplicity appeals and this is a much shorter distance than I’d usually go for, but I wanted to see the 360o view of a square, seeing all that it has to offer from every angle. Every rabbit hole, every cave, every pimple hill or mountain.
But the real clincher is navigation, using only a map and compass. No GPS, no phone (other than turning your tracker app on at the start and end to log your route and see how you got on) or any other help. It was a challenge, how close could I get to a perfect square?
There are so many squares to choose from. Some easy, some hard, some so remote you’d need to cover the distance of three OS maps to get too. I started close by (within the 5 mile limit imposed by the Scottish Government) and on a lovely, sunny and warm day. So here goes.
I was going to journey round square NO 1114, which was actually a bit challenging, with hill ground (West Dron Hill), plantation and a loch to consider on my route, the healing waters of Pitkeathly Loch no less. I might have needed those waters as it had been so long since I laced up my boots. But it’s a hill I wanted to explore, and shouldn’t a challenge be fun and pique your interest as well? So up I went, along the back road to the start of the Wallace Road and up over the hill.
By the time I reached the top, I was feeling the heat but it was a gorgeous day and I decided on a start point for my grid square saunter. I wasn’t going to just start on the grid square, I needed to navigate to it too. So on the map further east of my square you’ll see an old ruin marked West Dron Hill Farm. That would be where I started.
And I set to work. I worked out my direction (pretty easy on a grid square I know…), how long it would take (in distance and duration), any dangers to look out for and how I’d know I’d reached my destination. I’ll include all the info for each stage at the end for those who might be interested.
How did I get on? Let’s see. Here’s my information. The first few lines are what I use for measuring 100m and the rough time I take. Then each block is a section of the walk. Each section has my start and end point. Under that it has my bearing, my distance, the grade of terrain, the number of double steps, the time I estimated and in brackets is the actual time it took.
As I said the only time I touched or looked at my phone was at the very start to turn it on, and at the very end to turn it off. And I was so hopeful to see how I’d done.
I suppose it could have been worse. The first two sections were pretty ok. The plantation section was awful and the trees and undergrowth made staying a straight line pretty difficult. The gorse hampered my progress on a number of occasions. And it’s triangle!!!!! Not a square! I can’t really explain why that happened. My phone could have lost the signal? There is a wind farm in the area, I walked right under some of the turbines, could that have affected it? Where it stopped is also where I had my lunch, so maybe stopping for a wee while caused an issue with the app.
Whatever happened, it’s a start. I had a fab day in the hills, never far from home, I practised my navigation (and realised I’m in need of lots more practise…..) and I found a new way to explore the hills. And next time, my square will be squarer.