02 April 2020 by Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace
Lucy enjoying Kirkton Glen
What better way to kick off my appointment as Ramblers Scotland’s president than with a group walk?
While it already feels like a long time ago, I was delighted to be invited to join Glasgow Young Walkers in early March for a walk in Kirkton Glen near Balquhidder in Loch Lomond & The Trossach.
I had a brilliant day out. It really highlighted how the Ramblers brings people together, and the value of enjoying time outdoors together on foot.
In recent days, I’ve been thinking a lot about the joy of that walk, and what we can all do to stay connected, both to our landscapes and each other during this strange time of lockdown.
The group above the snow line near Balquhidder
But first, a bit about…
Glasgow Young Walkers
Based in Glasgow, the group is aimed at people in their 20s and 30s (but thankfully not exclusively, as I’m well outside that age bracket…) who wish to meet up and enjoy regular, sociable walks.
So there I was, rocking up for my first Ramblers walk, a little over-age and a teensy bit nervous.
Sam Knight, who delivers the Out There Award, (more on that shortly) was there to introduce me to the group, including our volunteer walk leader Scott.
Even in those early days of Covid-19 outbreak, there were no handshakes, but lots of cheery waves and a few awkward elbow bumps.
At this point I must give kudos to Scott. He had originally planned a hike to a nearby Corbett, Benvane, but with a mixed forecast and a lot of snow in the hills, he’d devised an excellent plan B in Kirkton Glen that would ensure exactly the right amount of fun and adventure.
Rob Roy's Putting Stone
We began at Balquhidder Church, where the graveyard famously houses the grave of outlawed hero Rob Roy Macgregor.
From here the forest road climbs steeply through dense conifers. Eventually, as the main drag bends rightwards, a small muddy path leads up to the head of the glen. Before long we were popping out of the trees and found ourselves blinking in sunshine and kicking in to soft, spring snow.
Heading off piste, we made for Lochan an Eireannaich, discovering to our absolute delight that it was frozen and covered in a beautiful blanket of snow. On the way we checked out the awe-inspiring boulder known as Rob Roy’s Putting Stone.
The size of a three-story house, with a small forest sprouting out of the top, it’s an impressive sight, and gave us timely shelter from a passing shower.
Moving up through the trees
As a newbie president, I have a lot to learn. As we hiked, I wasted no time interrogating the members.
I was keen to hear why they had joined the group, and was really excited to learn that some have benefitted from Ramblers Scotland’s Out There Award; a new free, three-day scheme that is really opening doors for young people who are subsequently joining groups such as the Glasgow Young Walkers.
The group is thriving. They have doubled their membership in the last year, and the committee and walk leaders are clearly superstars.
Everyone I spoke to said how important the social aspect of the group was.
I know the outdoors is fantastic, but it was good to hear how being in a walking group helps people to make new friends and access the outdoors more easily.
Getting ready to return to the cars
Heading for home
Eventually, what goes up must come down, and we reluctantly left the shores of the loch to slip-slide our way down through the soft snow and back to the easy forest trails. A few snowballs may have been thrown on the way!
Scott led us back via a slightly different route, past the viewpoint of Creag an Tuirc, where we could reflect and relax in the sunshine for just a little bit longer.
The final cherry on top of a magnificent day was a wedge of carrot cake and a brew at the Strathyre Tearooms.
The day out left me feeling rejuvenated and excited about using my time as president to do whatever I can to promote the tonic of walking and being outdoors.
I was full of ideas for ways to help Ramblers Scotland encourage people to join groups walks, and to get out there and enjoy fresh air and the sense of freedom that walking brings.
Fading light on Lochan an Eireannaich
But what now?
Soon after my day out in Kirkton Glen, officials announced the lockdown measures designed to protect NHS Scotland and save lives during the coronavirus pandemic.
It left me wondering, what now? I know walking might sound unimportant given the scale of the issues we face, but as a wildlife guide, outdoor instructor and nature lover, I thrive on being outside, whatever the weather.
When I’m walking, I leave the cares of the world behind, if only for a few hours, and I particularly enjoy hiking with company.
Is there anything better than a happy combination of endorphins and mellow chat?
As world events press harder into our daily lives, I believe that the healing power of the outdoors is more important than ever. Being able to appreciate the wind, rain and sunshine on our skin has perhaps never felt more important and precious.
I’m delighted that the Ramblers has launched the #RoamSweetHome campaign to encourage everyone to roam for leisure, health and happiness at home, gardens and local neighbourhoods during our daily exercise session.
With social distancing guidelines in place and all Ramblers group walks and volunteer activities suspended, we may not be able to walk together, shake hands or hug our friends as we did only a few weeks ago.
But we can still enjoy short mini-adventures from our homes – and lift each other’s spirits by sharing those experiences with each other online.
I hope you can take some comfort, as I do, in seeing what others are up to, and knowing that wherever we are walking, we are in this together.
Get involved at ramblers.org.uk/roamsweethome