Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Hills on fire

I've been working away from home for the past two weeks. It was a big job and every day I was exhausted. Towards the end I was in need of a treat.

On a windy and wet late Friday afternoon, I packed up and headed north from Broughty Ferry, just outside Dundee. The roads were busy and the rain was coming down in sheets. I had just one hour ahead of me to my destination of Dunkeld, but the sun had already set and by the time I arrived it was pitch dark.

After feasting on local tasty fish and chips, I made my way with my camping gear to a nearby campsite.  I couldn't find my torch at first and fumbled about in the dark trying to pitch the tent. Tired, but happy to be away in my tent, I went to bed with the wind picking up outside and more rain coming in. The nearby river was in spate, crashing over boulders, as I drifted off.

The next morning I awoke to the first light and the dawn chorus. The rain had gone off and the early morning sun was spilling onto my tent. I opened the door and spontaneously exclaimed, wow! All around me, and the low hills beyond, the hills were ablaze with colour.

I had chosen this area on purpose, as some weeks before I had made a pact to myself to come here at the height of the Fall. Autumn is my favourite time of year, though spring comes a close second, but the colours of Autumn take the prize. The range of colours, through bright yellows, to oranges and fiery reds, are something to behold and lift the heart. Nearby a Robin hopped down onto the ridge of my tent, puffing out its red breast. It was a perfect day.

Just an hour later and a train rattled past on a nearby hill. I checked my watch, and sure enough 20 minutes later my outdoor buddy and best friend Pauline trundled round the corner with her outdoor kit slung over her shoulder.

Packed up we headed back to where I had left my van and pulled out our mountain bikes from the back. Loaded up, we set off into the hills, heading toward nearby Deuchary Hill. The first half of our route was along hard packed track and through tunnels of vibrant Autumn colours. All around was an overall colour of amber, above our heads, off to each side, and the surface of the track. It was truly amazing.

Eventually the track, being less travelled, started to narrow, and in places became deeply rutted and full of water and mud. Halfway to our destination for the night, the side of a small lochan north of Deuchary Hill, we were out of the trees. The track became almost impassable at times and we were regularly off the saddle and pushing. But it's all part of the challenge and I love it, the thoughts of pitching my tent and brewing a coffee soon, keeping me going.

The track improved slightly after passing over a small summit, allowing us to pedal once again.

By mid afternoon we were pitched for the night in a delightful little spot that pauline had seen previously on a walking day. The wind picked up and dropped the temperature, but we were all tucked up in our little shelters, a cosy home from home.

I awoke the following morning face to face with a little visitor, a tiny little caterpillar that had sheltered for the night in my tent door, looking for all the world like a small piece of lichen, such was its expert camouflage. The wind had eased, and though the skies threatened more rain we were lucky as it stayed dry. The first part of our track out required some more pushing but very soon we were speeding down the hillside tracks and back into the amber forests. I faced a new challenge toward the end as both of the hydraulics for my disc brakes started to fail!

Just another, slightly worrying, challenge, but the joy of the hills of fire all around me could not be extinguished.

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