The Down Side of Up

Feb 2015

There is nothing worse on a train journey than finding yourself sitting next to the drunk; even the amiable, hopelessly grinning, variety. The disappointment on finding yourself in such a position after what has been a most pleasant evening in the city is nigh on overwhelming. One quick glance down the aisle is all it takes to pick up on the looks of smug pity from your fellow passengers who are by now near ecstatic at having been passed over by their decidedly unsteady fellow traveller. Your happiness quotient plummets alarmingly at the realisation that your glorious day is now petering out to a dismal end. But what can you do about it?

I was a bit puzzled when the woman I had sat down beside suddenly shot up out of her window seat and leapt off down the train like a scalded cat and dived into another some 5m away. Odd, I thought. It had been a most enjoyable “Stag-do” and I had managed to stay relatively sober (imho) – a relative state achieved by leaving a good few hours before the others. I felt as the groom’s father I should uphold as much dignity as possible under such testing circumstances. Ah yes…father of the groom. At long last my erstwhile hillwalking companion, “Cap’n Jack” of the “Fatdog” days was to marry Fiona, his partner of some 12(?) years.

As I snuggled into the now handily vacant window seat I burped happily and, as I stared out into the dark passing night, my mind drifted back to the previous October – the last time Cap’n Jack and I were to take on one of Scotland’s iconic mountains…Ben Lomond.

October 2014

To say the proposed October ascent of Ben Lomond was a foolhardy and ill-prepared operation would probably come under the umbrella of gross understatement. I had not been on a hill since the spring of the year and we both struggled to recall when Cap’n Jack had last done so. This was to have consequences both foreseen and otherwise. I would not go as far as to say that this was, for me, the last throw of the hill walking dice but I was very aware that my sciatic niggles had increased to the point where my participation in this type of walk was probably nearing its end. I was however determined that I would take “the pups” (at this point 2 years old) up at least one Munro before I quit. Ben Lomond was the obvious target – it had been mine and The Fatdog’s first Munro and if today I was to end my Munro journey well, it would seem the most appropriate hill on which to finish.

The walk began with the pups rampaging down a small beach at the Rowardennan car park into the chilly water of Loch Lomond, a quick cool down before the 6km and 900m ascent. Cap’n Jack and I opted to stay on shore. This may have been the only wise decision of the day…a bad decision being, e.g., continuing with the walk.


The ascent went fairly well all things considered. On the initial section of the climb Mabel and Lottie were, as anticipated, horrendous on the long leads but eventually settled to a steadier pace once past the tree line. I was pleasantly surprised that, as the ascent went on, my legs were prepared to cooperate. Sadly, the same could not be said for Cap’n Jack although his problem was more apparel orientated. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the Cap’n has…eh…changed shape a wee bit since our escapades of a few years ago resulting in the unforeseen consequence referred to earlier. His (what had been) comfortably fitting walking trousers had now more in common with skin-tight denims. There was also a waist button crisis to contend with. I, on the other hand, was some 6kg lighter than the hillwalking days and, as a result, some 6kg smugger. My comeuppance was to be a mere two hours away.

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Once the “pups” settled progress went remarkably well. Ben Lomond is an easy hill walk with a fairly steady gradient for most of the journey. In fact so well did the walk go I was busy pondering over our next potential target as we ambled along the summit ridge to the hilltop high point.

Then came the descent; the longest I have made in the six years I have walked the Scottish mountains.
Sciatica is a funny thing the way it affects the various muscle groups. I had hardly felt a thing on the way up but the whole gamut of possible effects reared their heads on the way down. Lower back legs/feet/knees – it appeared that every muscle group present was being “twanged” by offended nerves. It took between 3-4 hours to reach the car. Cap’n Jack had to take both dogs as I needed both walking poles for balance as I gingerly stepped down the trail from the top all the way to the bottom.

Half way down we stopped for a short break. In the distance we could see the Arrochar Alps where Cap’n Jack had claimed Ben Ime as his first Munro. There was a definite feeling that our big mountain days had finally come to an end.

Feb 2015

As the slow train from Glasgow to Larbert plodded its way past Lenzie and Croy the carriage gradually emptied so I felt I could burp a little bit louder than before. Don’t think I’ll take up serious drinking as a hobby… although it would appear that it improves your chances of a window seat. While I sat and pondered over the fact that the great hill days were probably behind me I consoled myself in the knowledge that I had another activity to occupy my time these days, one that was unexpected to say the least. After 60 years of showing zero talent for the subject I found myself having paintings in an exhibition.

Yes, I have become…an artist!


12 thoughts on “The Down Side of Up

  1. Welcome back! Good to see you writing again. Whether about walking or any other topic I always enjoy reading your posts. Hope the sciatica doesn’t kill your walking exploits for good. Cheers. Andy

    • Hi Andy…good to hear from you once again. Hope the family are all well.

      Your comment sneaked in under the radar in that I didn’t get an email advising me of such – mainly ’cause I’d forgotten to tick the box (sigh). It’s been a year since my last post – maybe they will now appear like buses 🙂

      There have been a couple of minor walks recently but I don’t forsee me being able to do what I did in the past. I’m hoping to extend my efforts onto some tracks and trails that allow me to shuffle along…as long as I don’t have to step down. 😆

  2. Good to see you posting again. An honest account. Good to hear the painting is taking off!

    I hadn’t realised quite how rocky the top of Ben Lomond was – given we did it in pea soup fog 😞

    • An honest account…hmm…that might be a first 🙂 .

      I missed the summit view first time up. This trip was marginally better in that we managed glimpses through the passing clouds, although the view down Loch Lomond was once again posted missing. I do feel sorry for you and your view to hill ratio…I still remember all the cloud soaked attempts you posted on shills 😦 .

  3. I was so pleased to see your post come up in the reader….you’ve been missed.

    I find going downhill distinctly uncomfortable these days so you have all my sympathy.

    And now…you are an exhibited artist!

    By the way, we have just taken on two new pups….American Staffordshires in need of a home. Amiable thugs….best wishes to your two.

    • Thanks Helen…I’ve tried to write a few times over the past year but have struggled. Now that the dogs are a bit older things are settling down and I’m able to do a bit more. I was sorry to read about the passing of two of your dogs…never easy. I’m sure the replacements settling in will be an interesting experience! Yes…an exhibited artist – just. 😆 More to come on that as you have no doubt guessed.

      • More to come? Where? Sorry to read about your “final fling”. Sounds as if Realsquiz’s arthritic knee has nothing on your sciatica.

        • Hi Squiz….my goodness I’d almost forgotten about the blog lol. Great to hear from you!

          I had hoped to continue writing on the subject of my foray into the world of the accidental artist but I have to admit I have found it difficult to write the past few years. By way of coincidence I’ll be exhibiting again in a couple of weeks time along with the rest of the members of the art groups at Delta Studios in Larbert.

          The sciatica has been around for a while. To be honest it is not painful on a day to day basis but can be restrictive in terms of what I can do without it becoming a bit on the sore side – if you get what I mean. It also means I can’t put a lot of power through the legs and carrying a pack can also be a bit niggly. I have also discovered that young labradors and sciatica are not a good mix.

          I’ve had a few attempts since this wee walk to see if I can make it work but alas it would appear that, short of a massive improvement, the hillwalking is at an end. I did 3 short “hilly” walks about a month ago and it looked like I might be able to do at least a few minor bumps but on the 4th walk the back rebelled (on the flat) because of pack weight and I had to turn back after about 5km.

          But all is not lost! The dogs are now 3 years old and while at present they are still not “fit for purpose” as a team we are improving and I am hopeful that we will take to the trails that I bypassed on my way to the mountains with Maisie. Will I write about those “Tails”? I’m not sure…but I would like to think I might get around to it.

  4. Hi Ken, I’ve loved reading your posts and the sniggers they’ve triggered – particularly the one on Geocachers lol! I was sad to read about Maisie and how this has made writing difficult for you (I’m never without a pup either). Anyway you nspired me to start tackling some small hills, however the old crepitis in my knees has put paid to that for now so I stick to trails. Please please please give us more of your stories on walking and your exhibits!
    Btw the slow train from gla-lar is brutal; you’re quicker walking 😊. Best Gill.

    • Hi Gill – thank you very much indeed for your kind words…greatly appreciated! Sorry I did not reply sooner but I haven’t been near the blog in some time and I’ve only just noticed your comment.

      Glad to hear that the “Tails” inspired you to take to the hills and trails 😀 It never ceases to amaze me how many people have said that over the years – not something I really expected when I started writing. Sorry to hear about the knees…the bane of the hillwalker.

      I would love to say that there will be more stories on the way but that’s something I’m loathe to promise. I don’t think I’ll be back on the big hills or “off piste” in the wilds – a combination of “enthusiastic” dogs and mild (but awkward) sciatica makes that unlikely. On the other hand you can never tell. 😀

      I have been tempted to write a few posts on subjects other than the hillwalking but have just never quite managed to find that bit of magic that makes the writing work. But again…you never know…maybe when the time is right, fingers crossed.

      Once again many thanks for taking the trouble to comment…and take it easy on those knees!

  5. Pingback: Update – Where The Fatdog Walkz

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