Published 23rd February 2017, 11:27

    I HAD high hopes for February. But just like the winter so far, this month has turned into a constant stop-start affair.

    My January tally for mountain days was the highest ever, and I was looking forward to keeping the momentum. It just hasn’t happened. Sometimes life just gets in the way.

    There was a sad farewell to an old friend, a commitment to helping out a mountain club and then confusion and a late call-off to a social event which wiped a whole weekend.

    I watched with envious eyes pictures flowing in on social media from friends catching the best snow days out west while I remained close to home.

    Even the monthly mountain club outing was compromised; last year I had been an extra in a short film, Natalie, which was shooting locally, and the premiere was scheduled for the same day as my hill mates were out in the snow at Crianlarich. It’s hard to turn your back on Hollywood.

    With this fixture clash in mind, I decided to make a run to the Mamores the day before. I drove through varying snow showers for three hours and then decided to take a break in Glen Coe at the Three Sisters car park. Then the phone rang.

    It was a call from home, a family emergency, serious enough to necessitate an immediate return. The timing was fortuitous: I had stopped at one of the few places en route that allowed a signal. Had I not stopped, or had the call come slightly earlier or later, I would have probably been blissfully unaware of the emergency until later in the day.

    I did think about making another attempt at a foray into the west a few days later, but it was half-hearted and I retreated back to bed, the reality having sunk in that it was a long way to go just to fail again.

    There is also that feeling of guilt, the thought you should be close at hand even though there’s nothing that can be done. But you have to keep the mind and body active - sitting around moping never does anyone any good.

    It was also on my mind that the rest of the month is crowded out; book talks, a trip to London, the usual granddad duties, and always there is the shadow of more painful times to come. Spare days will have to be spent wisely.

    The solution was to lower my ambitions and stay local. The bigger mountain days will just have to wait. There’s a country park just ten minutes from home which provides a good training circuit. There are walks along the coast, east or west depending on which direction the wind is blowing. And then there are the Angus Glens, lands I know so well but which still offer so much more to explore.

    I was aware of this yesterday as I drove into Glen Esk, the mist falling behind the further in I went. I parked at Tarfside, venue of many childhood memories, and wandered west under blue skies and sunshine on grassy tracks without any particular purpose until, somewhat inevitably, I reached the top of the Hill of Rowan and the massive Maule Monument.

    Built by the first Baron Panmure in 1866 to commemorate seven members of his family, this conical structure has a quartzite cap, and a narrow entrance into a beehive chamber. It can be seen for miles around, and, as with so many local landmarks, it is often overlooked simply by a supposed familiarity.

    A couple of hours in the sunshine and I felt reborn. It was just good to feel the warmth of the sun on the skin, the light touch of the wind, to feel the silence and serenity.

    On the drive out, pheasants were everywhere, the colourful males strutting their stuff, the females running around in disarray like excited schoolgirls in the presence of a pop idol.

    It was wonderful to watch and proof yet again that even a couple of hours in the great outdoors is the perfect tonic when life is getting in the way.