It was my birthday just a few days ago and as a special treat, together with my good friend Andrew, I ventured off into the Scottish Highlands to walk the Wildcat Trail, which starts from the small Highland village of Newtonmore.
It was a very early start, but the train journey there is all part of the fun. Old memories returned as we settled in to tea and shortbread and Andrew drew me in to a cryptic crossword. We chatted along the way of past adventures in Scotland with our friend Pauline. We gazed out of the window as the railway meandered through some great countryside, now starting to show the first signs of Spring.
By 9.30am we had arrived at Newtonmore and set off. The Wildcat Trail is a very easy walk of under 8 miles and only rises 100m overall, but the variety and changes in landscape round almost every corner are what makes this one of the most enjoyable walks in this area.
Along the way are sites of historic interest, some dating back 3,000 years. Early settlements that grew their own food and milled their own flour. At one I stood and marvelled at the fact that I was looking at the very same view of the mountains that these early Scots had done three millennia ago.
As I soaked it in I was abruptly aware of a shrill shriek coming from the moor in front of me.
All of a sudden a very acrobatic bird shot into the air, twisting and turning at great speed. Then another, and another, all with jet black wings and bright white undersides. At one point they landed and we came quite close to them and could make out the distinctive swooped back spike on their heads. Lapwings. Defending their ground nests because of our presence. A great treat to watch.
Lunch was at a small waterfall, a point where I had stopped on a previous trip to this trail with my friend Pauline, who is at this point somewhere outside Istanbul still pedalling away. It is thanks to Pauline that I even knew this great trail was here and I have fond memories of that time.
As we neared journeys end I spotted something that I had seen near the start of the walk in someone's garden. To digress a moment, some of you may have seen the touring exhibition of brightly coloured cows that popped up around the world in major cities. Whilst in Fargo, North dakota last year, I noticed someone had done a similar thing with buffalo.
Well, clearly someone in the little village of Newtonmore had taken inspiration from this and had produced a series of wildcats with similar, whacky, colourful designs, and dotted them all around. The actual wildcat is a very elusive and rare creature and you are very unlikely to ever see one, so I thought it was a great addition to the walk.
By 2pm we were on the train again with our tea and shortbread and a further attempt to solve the crossword.
We never did finish it.