Finally Hiking Again

After returning from Scotland, our hikes dwindled to almost nothing. Even my solo walks on the Multi-Use Trail ceased; partly because I had extra hours at work which meant I had to keep an eye on the time but mostly due to the weather. For this northern area of the country, the weather has been beastly (although a few people may disagree). Normal summers in Maine meant temperatures in the mid to upper 70s, 60s at night and low humidity. Unfortunately, the state experienced high temperatures Memorial Day weekend, multiple 80 degree days in June, and more heat waves in the 90s both the week of July 4th and during August. In addition the humidity was high, meaning that even when the temperatures did get into the 70s it still felt hot and oppressive. It felt like I was back in New York where this weather was normal!

These conditions were not conducive to getting out and exerting myself on an uphill climb, so I waited. And waited until finally there was a day just past the middle of August when I decided to hit the Multi-Use Trail very early in the morning. I was at the trailhead by 7 and discovered that I was the first of the usual morning walkers to arrive.

It felt great to be out in the woods once more and the solitude allowed me to slow my pace so that I could really take in and enjoy my surroundings. The last time I had walked this trail with my husband, I had pointed out an unusual leaf pattern of a ground covering plant, 6 whorled leaves at various intervals along the stem. This time I was ready with my camera so I could identify it at a later time. It took a while since many plants were done flowering by late summer, but I did discover that it was some type of Bedstraw.

I also managed to identify the remains of some Valerian. The flowers were gone but from a distance the stem-like remains gave the plant an interesting feathery appearance. It was the time of year when the asters were coming into their own. I found a patch of some type of aster that were quite tall (almost 6 feet). I was amused when I found the flower in my identification resources and discovered that sometimes the name actually matches the description. This aster was called a “Tall White Aster”.

I felt more peaceful as I spent more time walking through the woods and immersing myself in nature. I paused many times to admire many simple things that are often overlooked; the woodpecker holes in a tree, the large orangey-yellow mushrooms and the white mushrooms tucked in the fold of a tree.

When I reached the trailhead for Bald Rock Mountain, I decided to end my exploration there. The many things I had observed in that hour outdoors had been enough to remove some of the stress that had been building over the summer.

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Miltonrigg Wood

When our host mentioned that they had arranged another hike that was a bit more strenuous, I decided that after panting through the last three hikes I was pretty much done on uphill climbs for the time being. A few other family members must have been worn out as well, for when I declined my husband and one of my daughters threw in the towel as well. I guess they were all waiting for the weakest link to bail out so that they could save face. So while our host took half the party on a hike, our hostess arranged a gentle walk at a local woodland trust property known as Miltonrigg Woods.

After a few days of being exposed to some pretty intense sunshine, it was quite pleasant to walk through a shaded wood. We strolled along a well-groomed dirt path, studying the local ferns and various flowers along the way. In addition to several groups of lavender colored snapdragons, there seemed to be an abundance of wildflowers from the carrot family. Our friend claimed they were hemlock. Between that and recent stories of burns from giant hogweed flowers and wild parsnips, I felt it best to leave these plants alone.

Our journey took a detour down a small side path that led to a pond. Our friend was dismayed at the low water level, more evidence of the drought conditions in the area. We leaned against the fence for a time taking in the peaceful scene of trees reflected in the water. Flitting along the water, we observed numerous blue damsel flies.

We continued along the loop, pausing briefly to study the symmetry of an old tree, a stone and the meadow beyond. Finishing up our walk, I spent the afternoon reflecting on the hikes completed during the week and my difficulties during each. I know as I mentioned two or three times about not understanding why I was having trouble here climbing the same elevation as back home. I know at least one member of our party was annoyed that I mentioned it (I really hope I wasn’t whining too much). Some of you may wonder why I continue to take part in such adventures if it bothers me so. My answer to that is that if I did not push myself during these journeys I would never have witnessed the sunrise from the top of a mountain or enjoyed the magnificent views from a summit. I will continue to push myself to discover and observe the gifts nature has to offer, even if it means slowing my pace. And if my stories encourage one person to overcome their difficulties and strive towards a goal then my stories will not have been in vain.

Hadrian’s Wall

Following our stay in Edinburgh, we headed south to spend the weekend with friends who lived in northern England. It was amazing that after 17 years we were able to pick up our relationship as if we had just seen them the day before. After a relaxing evening of catching up, we got up the next morning refreshed and ready to tackle a portion of Hadrian’s Wall.

As we walked along the Wall, we discussed the purpose of such a wall that divided the island into two pieces. Did it keep invaders out or citizens in? Was it for trading purposes? I have seen this questions discussed in a number of books but I am not sure if anyone has ever come up with a definitive answer. In any case it was impressive. We did comment that we expected this structure to be a bit higher if it was supposed to keep people out or in, but our friend explained that over time the stones had been “quarried” for other walls and nearby stone buildings.

Once again, this was not a flat walk, offering some significant uphill and downhill moments. As we meandered along the wall, we noticed that the area was not as green as we had imagined. Our friends indicated that the country had not had any significant rain in weeks, leaving the countryside looking rather brown. On this particular day, it was quite sunny to the extent that I may be the only person who ever got a sunburn in England! Who knew?

After an hour or so of walking, we looked around for a decent spot to have lunch. Finding an area with less evidence of sheep than others, we enjoyed the scenery and the conversation before resuming our stroll.

Our journey led us towards another stone wall where a ladder had been constructed to allow visitors to continue along the path.  Here, the trail took a steady uphill direction which gave me some difficulty, but I peresrvered. I was relieved when after a downhill portion and a climb over another section of wall we entered a wooded section. At last, we had some protection from the sun.

As we meandered through the woods, I noticed more of the purplish-pink flowers that I had seen during our visit to Balloch Castle Country Park. This time our friend was able to identify them as Fireweed. Our journey through the woods ended at a gate where we took the obligatory family photos before retracing our steps towards home.

Arthur’s Seat

After leaving Loch Lomond and the Glasgow area, our next stop was Edinburgh. We spent the afternoon and evening familiarizing ourselves with the area and doing some touristy things like a Literary Pub Tour. Before retiring for the night, we decided that we would visit Holyrood Park and attempt to hike Arthur’s Seat the next morning.

We started our outing at the Holyrood Palace entrance, near the Royal Mile. The park itself consisted of four hills formed many years ago by volcanic activity. The highest one of these was Arthur’s Seat. Still down about my failure to summit Conic Hill, I was a bit uneasy about the many reviews that described this climb as hard, difficult and steep. But that didn’t stop me from struggling my way to the top. After all, at 800 feet it certainly was not as high as Conic Hill!

Our walk began on a wide dirt path of coarse dirt and stones. As the road curved around the hill we spotted the remains of some stone structure in the distance. Naturally, we took a detour to investigate it. A nearby sign informed us that this was the remains of St. Anthony’s chapel. Historians were not sure when it was built but they do know that it was repaired around 1426.

Returning to the main road, we continued on our journey towards Arthur’s Seat. At this point, we were walking on a path that was situated between our destination and Whinny Hill. As we climbed higher, we could see that there were trails going off in various directions all over the park.

Half way to our destination, we had not found anything that was seriously challenging. There was no scrambling or tough climbing spots but I was already stopping numerous times to catch my breath. Did I mention that I had a hard time during our hikes in the United Kingdom? Of course, I had to listen to my husband once again about how an inhaler might just get me over the edge and would make hiking easier, but I guess you could say I have been a bit stubborn on this point. Especially, since a doctor informed me that I was just “deconditioned” (sort of a discounting of my complaint). In any case, I did have to hear this sermon a few times during our trip. Despite all this, I continued on our upwards climb to the summit.

It wasn’t until the last bit that we really had a bit of a challenge. The gravelly make-up of the dirt and the decisions as to where to place your foot to step up to the next rock was a bit tough. After watching a man assist a blind man on the way down this slope, I was certainly not going to give up now. Finally, with a helping hand or two, I was able to stand at the spot marking the summit. Success, at last!

The city of Edinburg stretched out below us. Across from the summit, I observed visitors climbing one of the nearby Crow and Nether Hills. A fog drifted across these hills, giving an eerie appearance to the hikers on these summits. After a time, we made our way towards the top of one of these before heading back towards town.

Conic Hill

Once we had fortified ourselves with lunch we were ready to tackle Conic Hill. While the rest of our party was attacking the over 3000 footer Ben Lomond, we had decided that the almost 1200 foot Conic Hill was more do-able. After all, it was no taller than most of the mountains we had successfully summited back home.

Our hike started with a pleasant stroll through the woods. This allowed us some time to enjoy the various ferns and flowers of the area as we meandered towards the junction that would take us up the hill. Shortly after turning on to the path towards Conic Hill, we found our first set of stairs. These quickly led to another series of steps which ended at what is known as a kissing gate. The gate allowed only one person to pass through at a time since there is a V-shaped stop that prevents the gate from opening fully. Essentially you opened the gate, squeezed yourself towards the V-shaped stop so you could swing the gate back in order to pass through to the other side. Now we were out of the forest and could easily view our destination. And that was when I discovered that there were even more steps! I must have climbed hundreds of these during our adventure.

After numerous steps and working my way up some steeper sections, I was beginning to experience some difficulty with the climb. The views were certainly hazy, so maybe the humidity was a factor, or perhaps the gradient was steeper than back home. It did seem that every time we got past a level area, we found yet more steps. At least, when we paused on the level areas the views of the lake below us and the mountains beyond were spectacular.  There was lots of cloud cover on the mountains and we later discovered that the other half of our party did have to hike a bit in the rain.

When we finally completed our last set of stairs and rounded a curve I could see our final destination. Rather than level out, the trail still headed steadily in an upward direction. That part didn’t bother me. It was the sight of the bump rising above the trail that caused my dismay. I stared at this mound for a minute and wondered how I was going to summit this “do-able” mountain. My lungs and my legs had already been complaining for some time so I really wasn’t sure that I would be able to reach my goal.

We continued on but my rest stops were much more frequent now.  And then we reached the turn-off to continue to the summit. It looked just as steep as when I was further down the hill. At that point I knew I was done. I could not go any further. Disappointed, I sat on a rock while the other 2 in my party continued on to the summit. I consoled myself with the views and looked down the trail we had just ascended with views of the lakes and islands just were the path curved. In 20 minutes the rest of our party reached the summit. On their return they did indicate that I would not have made the last few yards since it got very steep and was a bit of a scramble. I suppose that was supposed to make me feel better but I was still disappointed that I had not been able to summit our first mountain in Scotland.