Conic Hill revisited – this time with a very novice Scottish hill walker
I’ve known Em for decades. (It’s scary but true as we met at uni.) But just because we are great friends, doesn’t mean that we share many of the same outdoors interests. We just happen to get on very well. So when she said she was coming to Scotland with her new (yet old… I’ll explain in due course!) partner, David, and she wanted to show him some of the fab Scottish countryside around here during a walk, I knew that my usual hiking jaunts would not be for her. I needed to find something a little lower and easier than a Munro, or two or three. So I decided that Conic Hill, near Balmaha, and with stunning views across Loch Lomond, would be a good bet.
Although he’s over 40 and lived in the UK for a good chunk of his life, David had never been to Scotland. He’s travelled all over the world, and lived in the US for more than a decade, but he’d never made it to Scotland before last week. But here he was, visiting Scotland and looking for a little bit of scenery. Em has been to Scotland before and knew she wanted to see more of the Scottish landscape.
You see, Em and David were teenage sweethearts. Ahh! They both went to school in southern England. They parted company aged around 17 and hadn’t seen or heard much about each other for for another 20 or so years. Then they found each other again (through some on-line trail of pals and family and via Facebook). Em went to New Orleans to visit David, where he was working in the hospitality industry. They fell in love again and now David is living with Em in Scarborough. All very sweet and romantic. “And all very far north,” said David of Scarborough, but who hails from Exmouth and has lived in “nice and flat” New Orleans for ages.
So I can just about see why he yelped in an alarming way as we drove towards Balmaha and had his first sight of Conic Hill. While we’re very familiar with hills and mountains, David seemed a little taken aback by Conic’s summit. “What? We’re going up that huge mountain?” he asked, with a slight squeak in his voice. “You mean we’re going to be out there in the wilderness for hours?”
I presumed he was kind of joking since Em and David profess to doing “quite a bit of walking in Scarborough”. And while David does come from down south, he lived for many years in an area in southern England where there a definitely some hills.
I realised David wasn’t kind of joking as we set off up the first stretch of Conic Hill, heading along a trail surrounded by woodland. He was walking pretty slowly and seemed scarily out of breath.
By the time we reached the kissing gate that marks the start of Conic Hill proper he was sweating and he’d stopped talking (always a sign of someone out of their comfort zone!). By now I was wondering if we might need to turn back but since Em was doing fine and Little Miss Outdoors and Wispa the Wonder Whippet were charging on ahead I thought we’d slow the pace a little and just plod on.
And David did manage to keep going. He whinged quite a lot and made some alarming heavy breathing noises before whinging again but he did keep plodding onwards and upwards. He even made a short (and flat) detour half way up the hill to gain a better view of the stunning Loch Lomond scenery.
We met only a couple of Scottish folk on the hill. We heard Canadian accents, French, possibly Swedish and possibly German, We also met a few men carrying huge backpacks who were most likely walking the West Highland Way. The long-distance walking route from Milngavie to Fort William takes in Conic Hill.
The final ascent to the summit of Conic hill is quite steep and the path is worn in places but Em and David bravely hiked upwards. And then, at the top, I could see their delight at having reached the goal. Although it wasn’t the sunniest day the skies were clear enough to take in the wonderful panorama. “The only thing that would make this better is a bar,” quipped David. “They’d definitely have one in New Orleans!”
Coming back downhill didn’t seem to be so bad for either Em and David (once I’d helped Em and Little Miss down the “really scary trail at the top!”) David even managed a few energetic skips from big rocks to grass. Perhaps he was dreaming of that malt whisky or ciggie that he’d planned to reward himself with back at “ground level”.
As we drove away from the hill and looked backwards David was seriously impressed by what he’d achieved. “If you’d told me I’d make it to the top of that mountain earlier today I’d never have believed you but now that I have it feels really good. Amazing, in fact!”
Maybe next time we’ll head for Ben Lomond. (I’ll probably need to arrange for a whisky bar at the top to encourage David keep on walking but it’ll be worth it to se his face when he reaches the summit!)