I'M sure I'm not the only one staring longingly at pictures of snow-covered mountains, frustrated that they remain out of reach.
While there may be a tinge of envy towards those lucky enough to be able to access the hills at the moment, I am happy to keep looking. I don't want censorship – I want to feel that someone, somewhere, is still enjoying parts of our wonderful landscape.
The current restrictions, while not as severe as the first lockdown last year, are also a bit more ambiguous this time. The realisation at government level that being outdoors is vital for well-being has obviously been taken on board.
There are always anomalies when imaginary lines are drawn and there will always be winners and losers. The size of local authority areas vary massively, from the vast spread of the Highlands to the much smaller, more densely populated parts of the Central Belt. But I get the feeling that because the emphasis has been placed slightly more on moral, rather than legal, authority, it's proving more successful. There certainly seems to be less shouting and pointing the finger at individuals.
The rules can be interpreted in different ways but the message is clear: stay as close to home as possible for exercise. Living in Angus I could, in theory, travel for an hour to walk in the hills, but I have chosen to stay as local as possible. I could also try to justify longer journeys on the basis of work, but again decided it didn't sit comfortably with the spirit of the message.
It was interesting to hear that a couple of high-profile writers had received a few complaints about posting mountain routes and photos on the basis that they were 'encouraging' people to head for the hills. It was heartening to see the overwhelming majority disagreed. These archive walks are ideas for better days. In no way was it suggested we should all rush out and tackle them in the current climate.
The frustrations are understandable, but these gripes smack more of shooting the messenger, similar to blaming films and television for society's ills. Just because I've watched some action hero leaping on to a moving train doesn't mean I'm heading out tomorrow to catch the 9.15 to Aberdeen in that fashion.
While it may be prudent for those lucky enough to live in the likes of Aviemore or Fort William or Skye to refrain from posting too many tempting images, I would still rather be able to spend my time looking at wonderful pictures and planning for the good times. These walk ideas and pictures stir up good memories for those whose mountain days are long past and prove invaluable entertainment to many others, home and abroad, while we remain grounded.
One crumb of comfort I have derived during these difficult times is that staying local has led me to explore so many inspiring walks I had been unaware of or had snubbed so often in favour of distant hills.
The conundrum of whether to write about walking routes during this time also cropped up when I was considering taking on a weekly newspaper column. I had serious doubts when I was first approached early last year, especially as we had just gone into full Covid lockdown. But when I was contacted again in late September, the timing was better. The paper was being revamped, the current columnist was leaving, and travel restrictions had been eased.
It was an opportunity to focus on my home territory, but I felt it was also an opening to encourage more people to get out walking and, after a summer of litter problems and anti-social behaviour, a chance to continually emphasise best practice in the outdoors.
Although restrictions started to tighten again, the tier system meant I still had the freedom to travel in the bulk of the readership area – Angus, Perthshire, Fife and Aberdeenshire.
Staying in this comfort zone unearthed so many surprises, modest hills with big views like Craig Fonvuick near Pitlochry, or Creag Choinnich at Braemar with its Lion's Face crag. Old favourites have served up new perspective, twists and turns off the well-worn routes.
Less travel has also produced unintended consequences. Although public transport has been off limits, the upside is that my mileage has drastically reduced – it's six weeks since I last had to fill up the car – and I haven't felt the need to splash out on new gear as much as in recent years. On the other hand, that store of food with expiring dates has to be eaten.
The circle might have shrunk again for the moment, but that shouldn't stop us finding inspiration and comfort in the words and photos of better days.