The daily exercise

Sat, Mar 28, 2020

The Red Hills and the Black Cuillin, Isle of Skye

Deserted roads. Deserted skies. Deserted hills. With the country in lockdown for potentially the next three weeks, the rules allow one form of daily exercise. From the front door. No driving to anywhere. Only one form of exercise, either walking, running or cycling.

Walking up the single track road, the wind was howling down from the north west. Eyes streaming, staggering into the gusts on the empty road. At the top of the bend, off up the hillside to the bench on the ridge where it was difficult to stand in the wind. I reckoned it was about 40mph steady, gusting 45mph. Not quite enough to blow you around but getting there. Enough for a lean and a stagger, with a wild bite of cold from the north cats-clawing across the lochans. Six hinds danced up the far slope of deep heather, rising from the bouncy sphagnum to the wee cairn. A small refuge from the wind.

The Atlantic dazzled, mirror-silvered in the sun while Rum was a dark shadow on the bright horizon. Across on Scotland, the empty lands of Knoydart cragged and knolled endlessly under the blue skies. No contrails.

I looked in the opposite direction, to Blaven and the Black Cuillin. Old friends, out of reach. Forbidden from driving the 20mins to the car park to summit in the solitude. With the news that cayotes were stalking the streets of San Francisco I ached to walk in the empty wilds. To see the hills with the knowledge they were truly empty apart from the wildlife. With the prospect of being forbidden until October, will the eroded paths green over? Will the wildlife come out and be less timid? There’s a new world appearing up there. A natural world that was always there, just hidden by the press of people.

No-one wants to put anyone at risk in these hard times. I’ve been mountaineering for forty years this year but the simple slip can appear any time, to anyone, no matter how long they’ve known these wilds in solitary wanderings. If we are indeed through this by October, my fortieth year expedition will have to wait until the lockdown is eased.