WALKING in thick mist is an occupational hazard in Scotland, but a thick fog is more unusual.
The thought of being on the hills in a real pea-souper intrigued me, so I set off into the unknown with a real sense of adventure.
I tend to fall back on the old favourites at this time of year. The thought of driving hundreds of miles only to be greeted by tsunami-style conditions doesn’t appeal.
Not that the likes of Mayar and Driesh are inferior hills. They just happen to be my locals, around an hour’s drive from home.
Having done the Corrie Fee circuit just a few months ago, I decided I would try something different and make a southern approach from Glen Prosen.
A few days earlier, I had walked the Pentland Hills in clear, cold conditions, wearing full winter gear, but the temperature had since risen dramatically and the snow cover had now vanished. The result was a lot of wet ground and rivers and streams in full flow.
The drive up in limited visibility seemed to reveal a surprise round every corner; a pheasant sitting preening itself on a fence post, rabbits chasing each other round in fields, cows and sheep reduced to vague, spectral shapes in the distance.
I took the track up to the ruined bothy at Kilbo, which has been undergoing a facelift. It looked almost complete, new roof, windows and repointed brickwork, a blue tarpaulin flapping round a chimney indicating the last of the repairs to be done. What a pity it is going to be for the exclusive use of shooting and stalking parties.
I had intended taking the famous Kilbo Path up on to the ridge between Mayar and Driesh. A signpost used to point the way, through the trees and then following the Shank of Drumwhallo. Unfortunately I found only devastation.
The forest had been cleared and a bulldozed track now ran along its line. The sign was nowhere to be seen. Maybe I just couldn't locate it iamidst the mess. The landscape looked like it had suffered a natural disaster of enormous proportions.
My route had changed from a heritage path into an option between a battle through tree stumps and debris in a swamp or a depressing scar cut along the hillside with all the moved earth simply pushed to the sides.
Further up I was swallowed by the fog but the lack of views was preferable to seeing the scenes of mayhem that been carried out. Will the ground be restored after the work is finished? Don’t hold your breath.
My route over Little Driesh and then its higher sibling was sightless, as was the march up Hill of Strone. There were flashes of life, hares resplendent in their winter outfits darting here and there and, at one point, a snow-white ptarmigan catapulting out of nowhere to shoot across my eyeline.
It’s difficult to think of another part of the world which would have such a variety of names, an evocative line-up that would have had Tolkien licking his lips.
There are summits called Lick, Bawhelps, Bassies, Benty Roads and Craigie Thieves. There are the two Shanks, Drumwhallo and Drumfollow, which link Glen Doll and Glen Prosen.
Even the waters have their own touch of drama, from the Burn of Louie to the intriguingly named Dead Water. Ironically, it proved to be exactly the opposite, a boiling rage of froth that I decided not to try to cross.
And then there’s Kilbo. It’s good to see the building being brought back to life. I just hope it’s not too long before the landscape behind it is given similar consideration.