A blog about a hike across Scotland (and possibly other things)

Off trail again

By now you’re tired of hearing me talk about walking, and frankly I’m not only tired of talking about walking, I’m tired of walking. But who cares about that? We have to continue to the end—until feet in the sea—so let’s neither of us complain.

Here is a little about the walking in recent days.

One morning we left from a sheep pasture, next to a burn, near a corner of the Balmoral Estate, which is owned by the British royal family. As usual, it was an upward course.

By this time we’d gotten to know Ole Hollesen better. Better than what? Better than when he’d sat down next to us with his swollen ankle.

The previous night we’d heard a 20-minute synopsis of his working life. We’d gotten the synopsis of his two marriages and the death of his parents at a young age a few days before that. This is the wonderful thing about time with strangers, especially when discomfort and a foreign language loosens the lines and allows the sails to luff. It’s one of the reasons for doing this event.

Ole is a smart, skilled and principled man. He told us how he’d been approached two decades ago—he had an investment company—by a large Russian man with dyed hair who wanted to partner with him in seeking good businesses to invest in in Europe. In addition to him there was a money-crunching sidekick and a beautiful Russian siren who’d be in charge of marketing (and possibly other opportunities). Ole became suspicous, and then a bit afraid. He fended them off, and they disappeared, looking for other honest people through whom to launder dirty post-Soviet money.

Ole by this time was recovered enough from his ankle sprain to go on alone. But he stayed with us.

We headed off for a place called the Shielin of Mark. “Schielings” is the word (presumably Gaelic) for summer houses for shepherds in the high glens. ”Shielin” is a variant.

But first there were rivers to cross and trackless stretches of boggy ground to cover, across eroded banks of peat.

Underfoot is an entire ecosystem built on water. To the naked eye, it’s a vegetable world, except for the occasional ochre frog, black beetle, black slug, and salamander too quick to get a good read on coloration.

It is also beautiful and abstract. Closeups resemble Jackson Pollock paintings a little.

You’ve heard of Pollock’s ”Blue Poles”? This is my take on it.

We passed by a stream called the Burn of Mohamed. I have no idea how it got its name. But unlike the mountain, it appears to have always been here.

We got to the bothy at the Shielin of Mark. It was small but nice, and contrary to reports, had dedicated sleeping places.

From there it was across another burn and up a field of heather and sphagnum moss toward a track more than a mile away. It’s difficult to describe the effort required to carry a 35-pound pack up such terrain, all the while searching for the step that won’t finally result in full-foot immersion.

It requires navigation, by line-of-sight and GPS. And rests.

The gravel track you finally gain is a mixed blessing—rock-hard, and in places ridiculously steep.

But everything that goes down eventually flattens out. For us, on this day, it was at the Stables of Lee, which actually are still stables.

I didn’t see any horses, however.

We stopped for lunch, which involves not only taking off the packs but also the boots and socks. It’s important to find a place out of the wind, on a slope where one can lie back on a pack and sleep for 15 minutes after eating. Lunch is invariably gorp, cheese, dry sausage, and water.

This is Ole and Mark.

This is the last thing I saw before my 15-minutes kicked in.


  1. Robert

    A fine book’s worth of imagery, all in one post: Circumstance that allow the sails of conversations to luff. A money-crunching sidekick. A salamander too quick to get a read on coloration. Jackson Pollock in ground colors. And, a day later, from Christo to Rorschach tests.


  2. Kathy

    Second what Robert wrote. And I love the Pollocks!

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