Published 15th April 2021, 18:40

    IT sits, waiting, biding its time. I know it's hoping I'll crack, that I will eventually feel obliged to step up and switch it on.

    It only happened twice during the past year of lockdown restrictions, but each time I came away feeling slightly ashamed. I'm determined it won't happen again.

    The last lapse was nine months ago. I feel I am winning this war of attrition with the running machine. Now I can walk past it without a second glance. I even managed to wave a fish supper at it in passing without feeling guilty. It seemed a good option when choices for walking were limited, but my dislike of indoor exercise equipment could never be overcome. I know many people swear by them. I just swear at them. 

    I also don't wish to disturb the spiders that have made their home on the handlebar. Not to mention that it doesn't seem wise to annoy a spider that has had use of a running machine.

    While it has been important to keep up fitness levels, being out in the open air, albeit restricted, seems more important.

    A well-known mountaineer and good friend once told me that the preferred way to get hill fit is to get out and climb hills. Another, who ran a gym, believed people are fit for the sport they do. I can go for 12 hours at the same pace in the mountains, but I would baulk at running a marathon or even playing five-a-side football. Likewise, there's many times I have seen those supremely fit in their chosen sport struggle on a mountain.

    Fitness is as much psychological as physical; if you are happy and confident in what you do then that should be enough of a starting point. That's worth keeping in mind as we gear up for the freedom to travel again. It's tempting to rush out and tackle those big walks we have missed, but better to be sensible and ease back in.

    There's been a big jump in people taking to the outdoors and overall that's a good thing. There has also been a rise in those returning to the hills after many years, often accompanied with the realisation that it takes time to regain fitness. One friend, slowly recovering after months with a back injury, remains positive that at least he hasn't missed much because of lockdown.

    The frustration felt by so many is understandable. The stay local advice worked better for some than others. There had to be a line drawn somewhere, but that wasn't much consolation if you were stuck in an urban area staring longingly at hills just out of reach. I've been fortunate enough to have a decent choice of local walking and have spent the last couple of months gradually stepping up to make sure I got my mountain legs back for the bigger days ahead.

    The one crumb of comfort during these strange, restrictive days has been a more forensic investigation of the Angus glens, finding quiet routes and features that remain hidden from those sticking to the honeypot Munro trails. The last two walks in particular have involved long, mainly pathless, treks over some tough terrain. I never met another soul on either after the first ten minutes of walking despite the number of vehicles in both car parks.

    From Glen Doll, I left the crowds and headed steeply up the Capel Mounth path to its highest point then struck off right to Ferrowie, a seldom visited summit at the edge of a rolling tableland of glittering ice and shadow.

    I retraced my steps and went west, twisting a trail through peat bog and deep heather patches to the summit of Dog Hillock, the first of a series of high points on the crags above the South Esk. The walk to the next top, Broom Hill, revealed one of those hidden gems, The Gourock, a deep gully containing a small, ice-fringed oasis of blue, invisible from below.

    Two days later, from the head of Glen Esk, I cut away from the Mount Keen throng just past Queen's Well, following the brilliant blue line of the Water of Mark by a series of cascades between rugged hillsides to find Balnamoon's Cave. This was the hideaway of rebel laird James Carnegy, a wanted man after the Battle of Culloden, and it is well concealed among the rock and heather confusion of the landscape.

    The stiff push up to Wolf Craig was in similar terrain, this time with the added hazard of veins of ice coursing down the hillside. The summit area is curiously adorned by five well-built cairns and it's hard to believe this bare and windswept place was once covered in trees, a perfect habitat for wolves.

    Lochnagar stood out on the horizon, its sharp and precise winter lines in complete contrast to the bare brown of Mount Keen, while the pure white blanket over the Cairngorms behind made it look as if they were in a different country altogether.

    If there were no wolves, at least there was an adder, a pale specimen draped like tinsel over sprigs of heather, stopped mid-escape by my sudden presence. There were hares too at every level, their degree of whiteness in direct proportion to the lines of altitude.

    It felt a long way back over mostly pathless ground, but there was the solace of a view down to the concealed waters of Carlochy. The drop to Loch Lee off the end of Monawee was surprisingly craggy and a bit of dodging around was required to find the safest line.

    Two hard days, but they had provided the workouts I felt I needed. Good luck in the days and weeks ahead, and don't push too hard, too soon.