A number of years ago I injured my spine and had a very successful, though risky, operation to fix the problem. Occasionally it flares up and hurts like hell, and at the end of last week this is exactly what happened. From previous experience I knew that walking, especially on uneven ground, can help.
It was poor timing because I had been planning to get away into the highlands with my tent for a few days because of the settled beautiful autumn weather. However, all was not lost because just 10 miles from my house is a range of hills called the Pentlands, and so, late morning, I found myself setting off into the regional park.
It was a quick and relatively easy walk to the top of the first hill, Allermuir. It has a trig point at the top and used to have a brass viewpoint indicator, pointing out landmarks near and far, but it has been removed recently for repair by the National Trust for Scotland.
The route up the hill starts at the bottom of Europe's largest artificial ski slope. I hadn't been in this area for over two years and as I walked past the centre was surprised to see it had grown and they have expanded the area. There's a lot of ground damage from the construction but over time I'm sure this will repair. The route then follows what they have named the Capital View Walk. This path had also been upgraded and to me was suitable now for 4-wheel-drive vehicles. The upgrade was unnecessary in my view and has created a scar on the landscape. The path winds it's way round the base of Allermuir and turns south through to the next glen. I turned off the path earlier and took a more direct route up.
Soon at the top it was time for my favourite pastime: lunch. I shared the top with a number of people out for the day in the hills together with the token cute dog called May.
The views were spectacular on this cloudless day. Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth lay below me to the north, with the view stretching almost 100 miles to the edge of the highlands and the 2883foot high mountain Ben Ledi. To the south west the hills opened up creating a natural glen that contains two of Edinburgh's reservoirs.
Lunch over I set off over the neighbouring hills, and though there was a lot of people out enjoying the day there was enough space to feel I had it all to myself. I turned south down toward Glencorse reservoir then sat for a while, listening to the bird song and watching the world go by. There wasn't a breath of wind and despite it approaching mid October there was enough heat in the sun to sit without a jacket.
Completing a circular route I finished my 4 hour trek in the hills feeling inspired and satisfied. My back pain seemed no better but time would tell.
Two days later things had started to change and my back was feeling a good bit better. I set off on my bicycle to ride a 30mile round trip to my childhood town of Penicuik (penny-cook). I had lived there from age 11 to 15 and the route is fantastic for bicycles as it keeps you off roads for much of the way.
There wasn't a breath of wind as I picked my way along what would be called "rails to trails" in America, passing the remains of old railway stations across old iron bridges and through several tunnels. The sunlight was broken up through the trees on either side, creating dancing patterns on the trail, and the leaves of the trees already fallen scrunched under my tyres.
Just an hour and a half later, I arrived in Penicuik. I took a little tour of the main high street and up to my old high school. Memories of my high school days are not good unfortunately, but I'm happy that I've probably achieved way more than the bullies from those times. I was saddened by the closed down look of the high street, now a pedestrian precinct, and as I sat there in the warm autumn sunshine eating my lunch I could picture myself 35 years ago wandering the street during school lunch break. Just yards away, now gone sadly, was where a bicycle shop used to be where I bought my first bicycle at age 14. Little did I know then that one day I would cycle across the USA.
With the sun at my back I turned for home. It had been a great run and all the more special as it marked the day one year ago that Pauline and I finally finished our great adventure in America.
Another two days later and my back has all but cured itself thanks to the outdoor therapy.