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Angela Mudge in the Everest marathon

Angela Mudge in the Everest marathon

By Matthew Shelley

The London, New York and Berlin marathons are incomparable for scale, speed and exhilaration. But how about the Brazil Jungle Marathon? It’s 138 miles of humidity and swamps in the Amazon rainforest – competitors get compulsory survival training. Or there is the Cape Wrath Challenge – five runs of varying lengths and types amid the stunning scenery of Scotland’s remote north-west. They feature in the World’s Ultimate Running Races, a new book put together by respected Scottish athletes Angela Mudge and Jethro Lennox.

The 500 listed events cover just about every terrain, environment, temperature and distance that someone has had the inspiration, courage or sheer audacity to imagine it would be possible to run. Among them are runs up famous mountains from Ben Nevis and Snowdon to Kilimanjaro and Fuji. Alternatively, there is Egypt’s Sahara Race, 155 miles of sand, river beds and dirt roads. Or you can try the North Pole Marathon, “the world’s coolest marathon” – ten laps round the top of the planet (wearing snow shoes), with buckling ice and frequent fissures, and sometimes featuring near-blizzard conditions.

It’s enough to make you yearn for the sweet simplicity of the Edinburgh to North Berwick 20-miler, a point-to-point race dating back to 1958, which just demands shoes, shorts and a reasonable level of fitness.

Lennox, who works in Glasgow for publishers Collins, devised the book project and commissioned Mudge to do the research. She was the ideal choice thanks to her exceptional experience as a world champion runner and excellent international contacts. A quick count shows that the 41-year-old is current women’s record holder for eight of the races in the book – including the Cross du Mont-Blanc in France, the Trophée de Combins in Switzerland and the Isle of Jura fell race.

In 2007, Mudge set the record (since broken) for the 26.2 mile Everest marathon, largely downhill over rocks and glacier moraine, starting over 5,000 metres above sea level at Gorak Shep. Speaking to The Caledonian Mercury, she said: “I’d always wanted to see Nepal and the scenery was just fabulous. What I discovered about the race though, was that the challenge was as much about reaching the starting line in good shape as the run itself. There was a 15-day trek just to get there, it was sometimes intensely cold and it was at incredibly high altitude.”

Mudge regards racing as an adventure activity, providing an exhilarating opportunity to see some of the most remarkable places in the world, from great cities to vast expanses of wilderness. “We are going through a second running boom at the moment. Back in the eighties there was the huge growth in road races, but nowadays people are using races to explore new places, it’s very much an excuse to travel. And that’s what I hope the book will inspire them to do.”

Born on Dartmoor, living in Gartmore and with a sports massage business in Stirling, she is a keen advocate of Scottish and UK running. Indeed, it was going out in the Ochils while studying at Stirling University that persuaded her of the joys of getting off the roads and onto the trackless hills and mountains. And even though Britain lacks deserts or jungles, it offers a wide variety of terrains. It also benefits from a fantastic network of clubs which take huge pride in setting up their own events, frequently ones that are highly inclusive with races to suit all ages and ambitions.

“It’s a great sport, there’s such camaraderie,” Mudge says. “Like the Carnethy 5, which loops round the Pentlands – it’s one of the first events of the season so it’s a big social occasion with everyone meeting up again. Or there’s the Isle of Jura fell race, which is my favourite, because there’s nothing like the Paps anywhere else. It’s challenging, it’s beautiful, and the whole of the local community comes out to support the race, so the atmosphere is fantastic.”

While Mudge has taken part in at least two-dozen of the races in the book, many are recommended by other top runners. “Doing the research really opened my eyes to what’s out there, and there are several I really want to try for myself now I’ve found out about them.”

Lennox, 34, is recently back from achieving second place in the 200-mile, eight-day Transalpine-Run, which boasts a total ascent of 15,000 metres. He sees the book as testimony to the astonishing human appetite to create challenges, whether it’s a park run in Strathclyde or the popular, if bizarre, stair runs. One of these, in the German town of Radebeul, involves competitors hurling themselves up and down a staircase of 397 steps until they have done the equivalent of climbing and descending Everest.

runbook“On one level the book is just a fascinating read,” Lennox says. “But for enthusiasts it’s a way to get involved with some of the amazing variety of races that are emerging round the world. And one of the good things is that Scotland and the rest of Britain are so well represented, because there is so much choice here and so many runners looking for interesting challenges.”

World’s Ultimate Running Races is published tomorrow by Collins, price £20. ISBN 978 0 00 743190 8.

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<em>Picture: Tessa Carroll</em>

Picture: Tessa Carroll

After the Cairngorms raid and a day of rest … another day of gardening and general pottering. Hamish Brown dropped by for a chat, and to pass on a copy of John G Wallace’s privately published History in the Hills – Walks in the Corbetts and Donalds.

Good to see Hamish – he tends to pop in a couple of times a year, often en route to elsewhere (this time to the Lagangarbh hut at the entrance to Glen Coe for a Scottish Mountaineering Club meet).

A couple of years ago a chronic hip problem saw him hirpling even on the walk up our garden path, and I feared for him. But an operation in the spring of last year appears to have gone near-perfectly, to the extent that Lagangarbh was to be used as a base camp for some of the awkward Ardgour Grahams. He only has 48 of the 224 Scottish 2,000–2,499ft hills still to climb, and hopes to get the job done over the next few years. This was something that looked inconceivable 18 months ago.

He will turn 77 in August, and is less in the limelight than was once the case. The new generation of eager Munrobaggers owes him a considerable debt, but often seems to have only a vague awareness of his achievements. For 15 years or more, however, Hamish’s name was the one that most readily came to mind in any Munro-related context – the first person to do a continuous round (when he set the mark – not that he was racing – for modern-day speedsters such as Charlie Campbell and Stephen Pyke), and the first to complete seven rounds.

He was also heavily involved in the controversial 1981 revision of Munro’s Tables – the one that saw various Feshie bumps chopped and the second summits of An Teallach and Liathach added – and he wrote what is still, for my money, the best and most evocative British hill book of the past 40 years. Hamish’s Mountain Walk is happily once again in print, courtesy of Sandstone Press, who have also reissued his Groats End book with Climbing the Corbetts to follow next year.

Before he heads for Lagangarbh, Hamish gives a good illustration of how there is rarely anything new in terms of hills and the climbing of them. Conversation turns to lightweight footwear, and I mention that for several years I have worn Walshes – rubber-studded hillrunning shoes – for walking on not just my local Ochils but for all summer hill outings. Hamish nods in agreement with the idea that such things are ideal for steep, sheep-cropped grass. “When I was at school at Dollar,” he says, “we soon realised that the most suitable footwear for the Ochils was our spiked cricket shoes.”

Friday
To Ben Lomond with my pal Mike Adam for a leg-stretch round the standard paths: up the Ptarmigan ridge, down the tourist path. There were a few people on the hill – including a group of Germans on the summit – but not many, mainly because thunder and lightning was drifting around. We heard a couple of rumbles, but didn’t see any flashes – although a couple met at the foot of the final ascent told of having seen some over Cowal way.

The storms never felt close enough to cause us to stop or divert, but we kept eyes and ears open and consciously sat just below the crest for the summit snack (the Germans, standing beside the trig, would surely draw any fire).

The biggest rumble came close by the Trossachs side of the summit just as we reached the mid-height moor on descent, so we pushed on across the exposed stretch and only properly relaxed when skies brightened as we neared the trees. We were certainly on the right side of the country: it wasn’t a day to be at the Scottish Open golf in Inverness, or in certain parts of Edinburgh.

Just inside the new forestry gate – a fancy high wooden affair – Mike, who is an aficionado of such things, found the best blaeberry bush he had seen in years. Cue a ten-minute pause for purple-fingered snacking.

Even with this interruption, we reached Rowardennan in under an hour-and-a-half from the summit, a respectable rate of progress. Humbling, then, to recall that the record time in the annual Ben Lomond race – up and down the main path – is under 66 minutes, and that the 2010 race, a particularly speedy affair, saw 61 of the 195 finishers break 90 minutes.

Saturday
Speaking of flashes – well, flashers…

My across-the-street neighbour Jimmy tells of having been on Dumyat, in warm weather just a few days ago, when “coming the other way I could see a man with no shirt on and wearing shorts that appeared to match his tan. It was only when he came down and up a dip and walked by that I realised he didn’t have any shorts on at all – just boots, a hat and a rucksack. I just said hello and we each carried on our way.”

It doesn’t appear to have been the Naked Rambler – he’s still in jail – but it was someone bold enough to walk around on a very popular Central Belt hill without a central belt of his own. Blimey.

Sunday
This was always going to feel a curious day, given that it was when I turned 50. No point getting angsty or hung up about it, though – these things come and these things go. The main feeling is of contentedness at having got this far – various good friends haven’t been so lucky – and enthusiasm for the years to come.

To carve myself a bit of space – there are days when one needs to stare at the sky a little – and to avoid getting under my better half’s feet as she hoovered the entire house and garden ahead of the evening barbecue, I took myself off to the aforementioned Ochils, in the aforementioned Walshes. A wander round one of the basic loops did the job nicely: the Law, Ben Cleuch, Andrew Gannel Hill and King’s Seat Hill. It was a fine day at lower levels, but raining up top for two of the three hours. Can’t have everything, I guess.

While out, a calculation started gnawing at the part of my head that insists on retaining esoteric numerical stuff. Earlier in the week I had worked out that Ben Lomond would be the 602nd and last Munro of my 40s – Sgor Gaoith on Tuesday, mentioned in the earlier piece, having been no.600, not that I knew this at the time.

Now I realised that the total of Ben Cleuch ascents during that same now-ended decade must have been very similar, given that I treat it as an uphill constitutional and had climbed it at a rate of slightly more than once a week throughout the decade with no significant injury or going-away interruptions. By the time I trotted back down to Tillicoultry, I was confident that the total was within five either way of the Munros figure – were I a betting man rather than a good Methodist boy, I would have put money on it.

So it proved – once back home, a few minutes of rummaging through what a friend refers to as my “battered old ledger” produced the figure of 605 Ben Cleuchs in my 40s. Not sure quite what to make of this in conjunction with the Munros tally. Perhaps I’m mad – but, if so, I’m happy with it.

And so to the evening bash, when the sun shines, the barbecue sizzles, drink is drunk and an eclectic bunch of friends shows up with a embarrassingly generous array of presents. Reading material is the predominant theme, and even though I’d have been content with just this year’s Wisden, the 1961 SMC Journal or the copy of The Victor which I must have first read on my tenth birthday (“Look out lads – Japs!”), the most to-be-treasured gift is a 1938 first edition of W Heaton Cooper’s The Hills of Lakeland. This is a thing of considerable beauty, courtesy of friends with pretty damn good taste.

A fine end to a fine decade. Now to get tore into the new one…

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Mill Glen closure notice

Mill Glen closure notice

It is perhaps inevitable that discussion of the effects of the cuts and general economic restrictions tends to focus on urban projects, given that the population density is so much greater in such areas – but there are rural consequences, too.

One example, from the world of recreational land use, can currently be found in the southern approaches to the Ochils – the handy, half-day-sized range of hills on the northern edge of the central belt. Here, one of the main access routes both for hillwalkers and low-ground strollers – the Mill Glen at Tillicoultry – is closed, awaiting repair, with no immediate sign of it being reopened.

The majority of ascents of Ben Cleuch, the highest hill in the range, are made from the Hillfoot villages of Alva and Tillicoultry, or from the woodland park picnic site just off the A91 between the two Clackmannanshire communities. The most popular way of all is to start in Tillicoultry, walk along the gorge of the Mill Glen to the bridge at the foot of the Law (the best part of a kilometre in distance and requiring a deceptive 130 metres or so of ascent along paths and stone steps built in the early 20th century), before a steady 450-metre uphill grind brings the plateau, from where easy-gradient ground brings the 721-metre high point with its fine 360-degree views.

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Except that, since February this year, the lower part of this direct way up has been out of bounds, with Clackmannanshire Council having closed the glen due to risk of rockfall. There are plenty of other ways up, from Tillicoultry and elsewhere, so it’s not as if the hill itself is in any way out of bounds. But the Mill Glen (or Tillicoultry Glen as it is sometimes known) provides the most direct approach, and has steadily increased in popularity since a footbridge was constructed across the Gannel Burn at the north end of the walkway in the late 1980s.

There are three main Hillfoot glens, each with a different management situation. Dollar Glen comes under the governance of the National Trust for Scotland, while Alva Glen is mainly under traditional local authority control but with the Alva Glen Heritage Trust also taking an interest. The middle one of the three, the Mill Glen, is essentially a council-only job – or at least that’s what appeared to be the case until the complexities of modern-day repair funding kicked in.

All three glens have maintenance issues, mainly involving bridge and walkway repairs or concern over rockfall and landslips, and the Mill Glen is particularly vulnerable at a couple of points. Roughly halfway along on the eastern side, wet weather or freeze-thaw conditions can see rubble or even the occasional tree fall across the path and into the burn – there was a significant landslip of this kind two winters ago following a multi-day deluge.

And near the southern end of the glen, on the western side just along from where a massive area has been quarried away over many decades, some very shoogly rock pillars could cause considerable damage were they to ever topple just as someone was passing underneath. It is this stretch – of only a few strides, but increasingly loose-looking – that initially prompted the closure.

“Consultants were appointed in late 2009 to assess the risks from man-made structures, natural features and vegetation in Alva and Tillicoultry Glens,” said Martin Dean, the access and countryside projects officer for Clackmannanshire Council, when asked in April 2011 for some background to the situation.

“Their report, in March 2010, identified that there was a high risk of major rockfall on to the path in Tillicoultry Glen, at a point just north of the quarry. The path is a core path and is the principal route to Ben Cleuch. They identified that the risk should be addressed in the medium term, ie within 12 months. A working group was established to look at how the council should address the matter and met for the first time on 30 September 2010.

“It was agreed (after consultation with the Health and Safety Executive and consideration of relevant legislation, guidance and good practice) that signage which warns users of the risk of rockfall should be posted at the top and bottom of the glen, and that a safe alternative route on the east side of the glen should be highlighted for those not wanting to expose themselves to the risk. Relevant persons and groups were advised of our actions and the signage inspected at regular intervals.”

This duly happened – the signs went up in early October 2010, but were at that stage merely advisory. They warned of the risk from rockfall on the short stretch past the old quarry, while stopping short of formally forbidding walkers from going that way. That was to change, however.

“The risk from rockfall in Tillicoultry Glen was discussed by the Access Forum at a meeting in January 2011,” said Dean. “Reservations were voiced by some members over the actions taken by the council, with some suggesting that a precautionary approach should be adopted. Inspections by the Ranger Service during the winter identified a number of minor rockfalls in Tillicoultry Glen and raised the possibility that the rock identified at risk of rockfall might be less secure than it had previously been.”

The council’s legal services department reviewed their position and in February the path was closed under Section 15 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Closure signs were put in place at both ends of the glen – a little way along from the southern end where it meets the road in Upper Mill Street, Tillicoultry, and also at the point where the “safe alternative route” – the slightly longer “outside path” or “middle path” which contours the hillside to the east of the glen – drops to meet the walkway just before the bridge at the start of the main hill-climb.

Four months on, this remains the situation, with some work having taken place but not enough to allow a reopening – there is still said to be a “medium to high risk” of rockfall alongside the quarry. In the course of the initial work, however, a further problem came to light, concerning one of the half-dozen metal bridges that allow the walkway to worm its way into the hills. “[The contractors] also advised that the condition of the rock supporting the uppermost bridge gives cause for concern,” Dean said, “that failure of the abutments is most likely to happen when the bridge is occupied, and that [carrying out] repairs to the bridge is the higher priority.”

As to the cost, both sets of repairs – to the quarry-side rocks and to the problematic bridge – are expensive: Dean quotes figures of £33,500 and £23,500 respectively. Clearly this money has to be raised before the glen can reopen, but from where?

“Revenue budgets have reduced across all council services in Clackmannanshire as a result of reduced government funding,” Dean said at the end of May. “This has implications for countryside maintenance, including path repairs. Repairs of the scale of those in Tillicoultry Glen are outwith the scope of our revenue/maintenance budget and there are many competing priorities for capital monies.

“The government funding settlement for 2011–12 was for one year only, so we have to be prudent in planning further ahead than that and assume that centralised funding allocations could fall further. With that in mind, the council’s priorities will remain providing services for the most vulnerable. We’re working as efficiently as possible in order to maximise the resources available for all our services.”

This is where the modern, complicated style of land-ownership and management comes into play, as maintenance of the path in the glen relates to a funding submission made by the Ochils Landscape Partnership. (The OLP website is offline at the time of writing, having been hacked; a new one is in the process of being developed at Stirling University.)

The OLP has a total budget of £2.2 million, which comprises £631,500 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £670,000 from Wind Prospect (the company which last year installed the controversial windfarm on the northern side of the Ochils and which is now looking to expand the site), £50,000 from the Clackmannanshire and Stirling Environment Trust and £5,000 from the Clackmannanshire Heritage Trust. “The balance [£843,500] is currently being sourced from other organisations,” Dean said.

The situation, if not quite stalled, looks like it could persist for some time. “The glen is still closed,” Dean said in late May (and this was still the case on 20 June, when the accompanying photograph was taken), “and will remain so until we find the funding to repair the path so that it is safe to use.”

Initial hopes from walkers that the glen might be closed for only a few weeks have already proved to be over-optimistic. It isn’t a massive problem (indeed, this is perhaps part of why it’s taking time to resolve – something of higher priority would have been fixed by now), but it is a nuisance both for visiting hillwalkers and those in the village who like to take a regular stroll along the glen for a bit of peace, quiet and exercise.

There is also the risk that the longer things stay like this, the more people will just say Sod it! and walk along the glen anyway – it isn’t blocked off by a metal fence, merely by a chain with a notice on it. Some anti-authority walkers will walk straight past such things, on the red rag / bull principle, and for them it’s a case of taking their chances. More worrying is that someone – perhaps a frustrated local who has genuinely lost patience – could walk along at just the moment that either the rock pillar or the bridge collapses.

There is also the problem of someone entering the Mill Glen from the side having started from elsewhere – feasible given that a popular alternative route off Ben Cleuch does just that, meeting the glen two-thirds of the way along.

A third potential problem comes from people erring too much on the side of caution. This was much in evidence a decade ago at the end of the foot and mouth crisis, when quite a few walkers decided to “wait until 2002” before venturing out anywhere, even though councils and other authorities were strenuously sounding the all-clear in most places throughout the latter half of 2001. The equivalent, in the current local situation at Tillicoultry, was shown by a woman met halfway up the Law who was sheepish about being seen there, having wrongly interpreted the glen-closure notice to mean that the entire route up to Ben Cleuch was out of bounds.

For now – with the initial 12-month hope from March 2010 already a thing of the past – it seems to be a case of waiting for the money to somehow come together, the engineering assessments to then be made and the work to be done. “We regret the inconvenience to users,” Martin Dean says, “but I’m sure you understand that safety is our first priority.”

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Cromarty <em>Picture: Dorcas Sinclair</em>

Cromarty Picture: Dorcas Sinclair

by Elizabeth McQuillan

Kids are fickle little blighters, and will be looking to the impending school holidays in anticipation of being able to both free-range with their friends and be entertained and amused by mum, dad and grandparents.

Parents failing in this task can look forward to long (and possibly wet) weeks of whining sprogs, accompanied by a house brimming with adoptive feral youngsters from the neighbourhood.

It’s a strange fact – if you’re at home and choose not to “do stuff” with your offspring, expect to find all the local waifs, strays and latchkey kids parked in front of your TV with muddy trainers, eating crisps and spilling juice.

Good ideas can prove elusive when faced with petulant and bored weans, so here are suggestions for seven days’ worth of healthy activities and day trips to get you started:

1 – High-wire act
A few hours spent at one of the Go Ape! Tree Top Adventure sites will definitely shut them up. Aside from the odd shriek, expect the kids to be very much focused on their own survival.

Thrill-seeking kids over 10 years old (with the requisite accompanying adult) can enjoy an adrenaline-fuelled high on Britain’s biggest zip wires, stretching over 400 metres long and almost 50 metres above the ground.

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After a 30-minute safety briefing/training session, the family gets kitted out with harnesses, pulleys and karabiners before being let loose into the forest canopy. A three-hour adventure across walkways, bridges, cargo nets and tunnels, high in the trees, will leave your kids suitably impressed at your bravery (as an old person) and completely knackered. Perfect really, as they will sleep like babes when you get home, and you can open that bottle of red.

Go Ape! has courses near Aberfoyle, at Beecraigs in West Lothian and at Crathes in Aberdeenshire. Cost? £20–£30 per person.

2 – Get your skates on
Try to keep pace with the blighters and avoid being an embarrassing parent where possible. With the popularity of Dancing on Ice, there are bound to be some keen members of the family who would love to give it a try. Murrayfield Ice Rink in Edinburgh is a good venue, and remains just as you remember it from your childhood.

For the best family skating, they suggest Saturday morning, or Tuesday and Thursday evenings. For absolute beginners, Sunday afternoons has dedicated group tuition from resident coaches, with time to then go and play on the ice and practice the new skills.

For the older kids (who hate you and wish you would just go away), drop them off at the skating disco on Friday/Saturday evenings, 7:30–10:30pm, and let them skate, pout, pose and flirt to their hearts’ content. You could even go out for a nice dinner. Cost? Between £5 and £8, including hire of skates.

3 – Suck in some sea air
Kids just love the beach, in all weathers, and adults will always benefit from a blustery coastal walk followed by tea and scones in some local café. Try Yellowcraigs beach at Dirleton, the Secret Beach near Achmelvich, the Sands of Morar near Mallaig, or Killantringan Bay near Portpatrick, to name but a few cracking spots.

For clifftop adventures (on a non-windy days unless you really do want to lose a child), try heading to the quaint fishing village of St Abbs where the walk extends from Eyemouth in one direction to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the other. Teeter along the sandstone cliffs, which reach a precipitous 150 metres in places, and enjoy the vertigo.

For those wanting something less challenging, how about pottering around a historic Scottish seaport such as Cromarty? Young kids will love the harbour and the “pirate graveyard” – lots of skulls and crossbones on the gravestones.

For big kids, there are some worthy 18th-century buildings – including the oldest Protestant church in Scotland – and the history surrounding many Highlanders having started their journey to faraway lands from here during the Clearances. The narrow lanes and vennels of Fishertown offer a leisurely stroll.

4 – The Cairngorms and Rothiemurchus
It’s hard to beat the Cairngorms for a visit – it’s a beautiful area bursting with outdoor activities and pursuits for adults and kids.

Rothiemurchus estate, near Aviemore, caters brilliantly for visiting families, with super picnic spots and wonderfully maintained tracks. Wander around scenic Loch an Eilein and see the haunting castle in the middle of the loch. If you shout, there is a triple echo as the sound-waves bounce from the castle walls to the surrounding hillsides.

The remnants of the native Caledonian pine forest are home to red squirrels and pine martins, with ospreys frequently spotted fishing the loch.

For grumpy teens who bore easily, there is potentially an activity to fill each day and keep them quiet (and out of your hair): clay pigeon shooting, pony trekking, jeep safaris, river kayaking, gorge walking, whitewater rafting and wildlife photography.

Parents will appreciate the homemade and locally sourced nosh at the Ord Ban Restaurant Café. Obstreperous offspring can sit outside and sulk with an ice-cream from the farm shop.

5 – On yer bike
There is certainly no shortage of tracks and cycle routes in Scotland to take the kids biking – but for something a little more interesting, why not head to Glentress forest in the Scottish Borders?

Trailquest is a type of orienteering by bike using checkpoints to keep you on the right trail. It’s popular with families and is a really fun way to learn more about the forest and surrounding area. Glentress has a number of different Trailquest routes, ranging from about one-and-a-half miles to four miles.

Described as “tough, steep, technical, long but loads of fun”, there is also a 19-mile graded black trail that offers excitement and a challenge for competent older teenagers – but this is not for the faint-hearted.

Red and green graded trails do bridge the gap in abilities, but some basic technical ability on a bike is recommended to avoid tears, snotters and grazed knees.

6 – Climb every mountain
It was a normal holiday activity during my childhood to be marched across the Pentlands, from Bonaly to Flotterstone. Which, in the absence of “technical gear”, meant wearing wellies, corduroy trousers (that soaked up the rain) and a mackintosh which channelled the drips of rain on to said cords. Good character-building stuff. Sadly, now most kids can barely walk the length of themselves without getting out of puff.

Take the opportunity to find some local hills, and go for a bit of a hike and a picnic. Obviously, don’t take small children up Ben Nevis in a pac-a-mac, but go for something smaller and achievable. Arthur’s Seat, the Whangie, Dumgoyne, the Pentlands and the Ochils have routes suitable for all the family.

If the weather is bad, take it indoors and challenge the litter to a clamber up a climbing wall or attempt an aerial assault course. Parents have to do it too. The Edinburgh International Climbing Arena can oblige, and is well worth a visit.

7 – Combine good grub with adventure
This one is for the parents, and basically means incorporating fun stuff for the kids with some adult favourites. It might be a great eatery, tearoom or pub. The aim then is to plan a day trip around the chosen adult pit-stops.

Here is an example in the Stirlingshire area: come off the M9 at junction 10 and head to historic Doune, where there is a fabulous and partially ruined 14th-century castle, with grounds, where the kids can run riot. Nearby, the Scottish Antique and Arts Centre is a barn of a place filled with such bizarre gear that both you and the kids will love it. Look at German war helmets, top hats, weaponry, books and house contents from the late 1800s. An interesting collection of precious junk and antiquities.

Head on to Callander for a peek at the shops, including the year-round Christmas shop, then try Mhor Fish, where you can get the best fish’n’chips, with bread-and-butter and tea, or something fancier if you want.

Next, take a cruise on the steamship Sir Walter Scott along the length of Loch Katrine. The lochside Katrine Café can provide a platter of homemade scones and traybakes to avoid blood-sugar dips.

After that, a short drive to the David Marshall Lodge in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park above Aberfoyle, where the family can walk part of the Highland Fault Line which divides the Highlands from the Lowlands. Markers with explanations and diagrams educate the kids on the subject.

Onwards to Drymen, Killearn and Buchlyvie to peruse the art galleries, pottery shops and gift shops.

Picturesque Kippen also offers a top-notch deli, a great pub and a fabulous restaurant and bar with an admirable selection of fine wines and spirits which, by now, you might be more than ready for. The Inn at Kippen is kid-friendly and has a pizza oven.

And if you imbibe a little too much, there are a few rooms too…

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Crocuses in Stirling <em>Picture: Tessa Carroll</em>

Crocuses in Stirling Picture: Tessa Carroll

Well, it suddenly seems to be spring in central Scotland, without a doubt. Actually, if there is a doubt, it’s that yesterday – in these parts at least – gave a passable imitation of early summer.

Along with three friends, I took a wander up Ben Chonzie from the Turret dam. Skies were hazy – although just sharp enough to be able to make out the broad white shape of the Cairngorms behind Beinn a’Ghlo – and it was pleasantly warm out of the breeze. Heather was being burnt on the slopes above the Loch Turret approach track, and the track itself had dozens of frogs and toads hopping and lumbering across it – we had to tread carefully not to squash them.

The hill was still carrying a fair amount of snow, but only in strips and patches. These were soft enough to take a nice kick and only at all problematic round the edges where there was solid ice. Although the crampons were left in the car, we carted axes round the five-and-a-half-hour loop – but never took them off the sacks.

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It was one of those days when you’re not sure until you actually reach the higher, steeper, tucked-away corners whether any ironmongery might be needed, so taking axes felt the right choice even in retrospect. Various people met at the summit, who had come up from the western side, didn’t have them and didn’t need them.

It was pleasant to amble back along the high ground in decidedly more amenable conditions than those provided by much of the past 15 months. Although both recent winter clampdowns have been spectacularly impressive and have served up some stunning days, it’s time for something a bit easier, for now at least.

It’s such a conflated, fast-change time of year, this. Only last Thursday, I popped out for a late-afternoon scoot up Blairdenon, western outpost of the Ochils – and found myself parking in snow at a mere 300 metres up on the Sheriffmuir road. The whole moorland approach-yomp – and then the main climb itself – was in soft snow that varied between ankle- and calf-deep. It felt decidedly late-winter-ish – except that there was enough daylight to set off just before 5pm, have five minutes on top and still be down before nightfall.

Then on Saturday I was on the Ochils again, a traverse along the main spine from Whitewisp to the Nebit with hard hillman Rob Woodall. Again it was arduous: after an hour of trailblazing through calf-deep snow on the Maddy Moss stretch, Woodall paused for a moment, looked across at the unbroken snowfields still to come, gave something approaching a quiet groan and said: “The novelty has worn off now.” It was good, though, in a final-fling-of-winter kind of way – and three days later there were only dregs of snow to be seen on the Ochils.

As for the lower, more lived-in levels, it’s certainly not now winter any more. It feels slightly too early for the swallows – but yesterday one was spotted at Fintry and two on Islay. A yellowhammer in a tree near here was giving it laldy this morning, the larks are similarly doing their stuff high above the farmland, while the cheeping of sparrow-chicks is rumoured to have been heard from the pyracantha on the back wall of the house.

The once-ubiquitous sparrow is said to be in serious decline in parts of the UK. That’s because something like 90 per cent of the national population has flitted to the east side of Stirling – we have dozens if not hundreds of them, and the local finches and tits can sometimes be seen looking rather beleaguered as they’re mobbed away from the feeders whenever they try and sneak a snack.

This is wader country, but the oystercatchers were late coming upriver compared with some years. A colony of 20 or so can currently be seen – and, more to the point, heard – on a riverbank near here most mornings. (Oddly, they tend not to be there later in the day – I’m not sure why.) A few curlews and lapwings have been seen in the local fields, but again it feels slow compared with some years.

Most notable river-related sighting of late, however, came a couple of days ago. A group of students armed with camera-phones could be see leaning over the parapet of the Cambuskenneth footbridge that crosses the Forth and leads into central Stirling. “We’ve just seen a seal”, one of the students said, sounding like she wasn’t at all sure she hadn’t been suffering pinniped hallucinations.

It had vanished by now, but from previous occasional sightings – I’ve seen three or four in a decade or so of living here – there was little doubt that it had indeed been a seal. It’s a good indication of the improving health of the river, presumably, as the seals wouldn’t come this far upstream unless there were fish to eat.

The flora, as with the waders, feels behindhand courtesy of the harsh first half of winter. The long-lasting snowdrops have finally wilted, while the much shorter span of the crocuses is also almost over. The daffodils have only just started flowering, however – it’s exactly a week since I saw the first of the season in Stirling (in our own garden, tucked into a sheltered, south-facing spot), but now there are plenty out – although lots more haven’t quite yet emerged.

At this rate, the daffodils will be out at the same time as various of the delicate early summer flowers – the fritillaries and the scilla – if the next couple of weeks stay mild and the annual April whoosh arrives on schedule.

Butterflies and various other bugs have been seen – the first butterflies emerged during yesterday’s summer preview. I had originally written that no bees have been seen as yet – but one buzzed past during a garden stroll halfway through writing this piece, and a few minutes later another very large one had to be rescued after it came in through the window of the downstairs loo.

As for the grass, it doesn’t seem to have started doing much if anything in the way of growing – but that didn’t stop the council mowermen giving it a first cut earlier this week. So much for sensibly targeted public sector cuts, eh?

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Ben LediThere is only so much snow-shovelling, path-scraping and frozen-radiator battling that anyone can take. Winter is meant to be fun, and there comes a point where you need to stop feeling fed up and start finding a bit of space and a means to enjoy yourself.

It’s been good to see so many people out sledging these past few days (and by sledging I mean skimming down slopes on plastic trays, rather than the verbal variety indulged in by increasingly fraught Australian cricketers). It’s also been ideal weather if you’re a skier, as suddenly everywhere has been an option – streets, parks, fields.

Less easy for hillwalkers and climbers, however, as – at risk of stating the obvious – it’s not really been the weather for travelling far. Anyone with some free time and a few hills on their doorstep – based in, say, Ballachulish or Braemar – is well placed in such conditions. Forget about the state of the roads and get out there. But if, as with most people, you’re slightly further from high ground, things can become demoralisingly and prohibitively complicated.

Statistics for such things don’t exist, but there could well have been fewer Scottish hills climbed last week than in any week in recent memory. Although it’s hard to prove a negative, there is at least a little evidence for this, in that the trip-report sections of walking websites such as Outdoors Magic, Scottish Hills, and Walk Highlands have been on the sparse side ever since the big snows came.

The trip report – or TR – has quietly become a significant feature of modern hillwalking, useful if rather formulaic. Someone goes for a walk, takes lots of digital pictures – sometimes so many that you wonder if they ever got into a stride – then posts them on a site along with short pieces of descriptive text.

The rest of the site members then chip in with emoticon-enhanced enthusiasm, regardless of the quality or otherwise of the report. “Great TR, trigboy”, they say or: “Fantastic pix. Deffo must do those hill’s sometime.”

There’s not been much of that this week, however, because it’s been so damn difficult to get anywhere. The TR world tends to be largely the domain of the linear bagger – chiefly interested in picking off new hills an ever-increasing distance away – and such people can become easily grounded, recreation-wise, at this time of year.

So it’s better to put the bagging agenda to one side, for a while at least, and to stay fairly local and revisit familiar territory – but even that can be tricky.

If the key elements of winter hillwalking are fitness, equipment, awareness, opportunism and adaptability, then my own efforts the first Saturday in December – at least in relation to the last three of these – felt typical of the thought processes that govern where one does and doesn’t end up.

The original half-arranged plan to meet a friend for Beinn Ime from the Rest and Be Thankful never really appealed. Driving 60 miles each way from a Stirling base camp is one thing in summer or in a mild winter, but there’s an old saying that it’s the drive, not the walk or climb, that is the most dangerous part of a hill day in winter, and a 120-mile round trip felt too far.

Not that the hills were to be treated lightly. The earlier snowfall – the one before the one that got everyone talking – was accompanied by steady north-easterly winds, and it didn’t take a meteorological genius or a mountain guide to work out that any big west-facing slope was asking-for-trouble territory.

The Scottish Avalanche Information Service might only be reporting from two of its five locations, Lochaber and the Northern Cairngorms (the other three come onstream for the season on 16 December), but the trend was countrywide, with avalanches reported on south-western aspects of smaller hill ranges such as the Campsies and the Ochils.

Formal warnings had also been issued for Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands. There are no laws about these things, but there was a very definite hint, and it needed to be taken.

Beinn Ime was shelved, as was one of the standard fallbacks, Stuc a’Chroin from either Glen Ample or Loch Lubnaig. Stuc is an excellent winter hill, but again it involved west-facing slopes, and again I found myself thinking: “Mmm, maybe not.”

So it became, not for the first time, a Ben Ledi day. Even less of a drive, a reasonably trampled trail through the soft-snow drifts, and with none of the dodgy south-western stuff coming into play, given that both the main route and the Stank Glen are on the eastern side of the hill.

And it was fine – once I got there. The morning A84 felt dodgy – bright skies above, but low-lying mist and skiddy-looking in places. Somewhere near Doune, the car had a distinct and unnerving wobble on a straight stretch shaded by trees, so the speed – already no greater than 45mph – never went above 40 thereafter.

But the really alarming moment came when a blue hatchback doing around 60 zipped by a queue of four or five of us and only just ducked back in as a truck loomed out of the mist. Crazy stuff. It was a relief to pull into the layby on the Anie straight (the Corrieachrombie car park was too chossy with churned-up snow) and to put the boots on.

It proved to be a good half-day out – as was an effortsome-but-enjoyable slog up Ben Cleuch four days later, after the top-up of snow that put the skids under the ministerial career of Stewart Stevenson.

Since then, permafrost may have given way to mega-thaw, but northern winds and daytime minuses are again forecast – and the earliest sunset isn’t until the middle of this coming week, so we’re not even at the halfway mark.

This looks like being a proper winter, which makes it all the more important to snatch the occasional day or half-day, rather than being ground down by months of chaos and cancellations. The hill days are there to be had, given a bit of thought and flexibility.

Ben LediThere is only so much snow-shovelling, path-scraping and frozen-radiator battling that anyone can take. Winter is meant to be fun, and there comes a point where you need to stop feeling fed up and start finding a bit of space and a means to enjoy yourself.

It’s been good to see so many people out sledging these past few days (and by sledging I mean skimming down slopes on plastic trays, rather than the verbal variety indulged in by increasingly fraught Australian cricketers). It’s also been ideal weather if you’re a skier, as suddenly everywhere has been an option – streets, parks, fields.

Less easy for hillwalkers and climbers, however, as – at risk of stating the obvious – it’s not really been the weather for travelling far. Anyone with some free time and a few hills on their doorstep – based in, say, Ballachulish or Braemar – is well placed in such conditions. Forget about the state of the roads and get out there. But if, as with most people, you’re slightly further from high ground, things can become demoralisingly and prohibitively complicated.

Statistics for such things don’t exist, but there could well have been fewer Scottish hills climbed last week than in any week in recent memory. Although it’s hard to prove a negative, there is at least a little evidence for this, in that the trip-report sections of walking websites such as Outdoors Magic, Scottish Hills, and Walk Highlands have been on the sparse side ever since the big snows came.

The trip report – or TR – has quietly become a significant feature of modern hillwalking, useful if rather formulaic. Someone goes for a walk, takes lots of digital pictures – sometimes so many that you wonder if they ever got into a stride – then posts them on a site along with short pieces of descriptive text.

The rest of the site members then chip in with emoticon-enhanced enthusiasm, regardless of the quality or otherwise of the report. “Great TR, trigboy”, they say or: “Fantastic pix. Deffo must do those hill’s sometime.”

There’s not been much of that this week, however, because it’s been so damn difficult to get anywhere. The TR world tends to be largely the domain of the linear bagger – chiefly interested in picking off new hills an ever-increasing distance away – and such people can become easily grounded, recreation-wise, at this time of year.

So it’s better to put the bagging agenda to one side, for a while at least, and to stay fairly local and revisit familiar territory – but even that can be tricky.

If the key elements of winter hillwalking are fitness, equipment, awareness, opportunism and adaptability, then my own efforts the first Saturday in December – at least in relation to the last three of these – felt typical of the thought processes that govern where one does and doesn’t end up.

The original half-arranged plan to meet a friend for Beinn Ime from the Rest and Be Thankful never really appealed. Driving 60 miles each way from a Stirling base camp is one thing in summer or in a mild winter, but there’s an old saying that it’s the drive, not the walk or climb, that is the most dangerous part of a hill day in winter, and a 120-mile round trip felt too far.

Not that the hills were to be treated lightly. The earlier snowfall – the one before the one that got everyone talking – was accompanied by steady north-easterly winds, and it didn’t take a meteorological genius or a mountain guide to work out that any big west-facing slope was asking-for-trouble territory.

The Scottish Avalanche Information Service might only be reporting from two of its five locations, Lochaber and the Northern Cairngorms (the other three come onstream for the season on 16 December), but the trend was countrywide, with avalanches reported on south-western aspects of smaller hill ranges such as the Campsies and the Ochils.

Formal warnings had also been issued for Arthur’s Seat and the Pentlands. There are no laws about these things, but there was a very definite hint, and it needed to be taken.

Beinn Ime was shelved, as was one of the standard fallbacks, Stuc a’Chroin from either Glen Ample or Loch Lubnaig. Stuc is an excellent winter hill, but again it involved west-facing slopes, and again I found myself thinking: “Mmm, maybe not.”

So it became, not for the first time, a Ben Ledi day. Even less of a drive, a reasonably trampled trail through the soft-snow drifts, and with none of the dodgy south-western stuff coming into play, given that both the main route and the Stank Glen are on the eastern side of the hill.

And it was fine – once I got there. The morning A84 felt dodgy – bright skies above, but low-lying mist and skiddy-looking in places. Somewhere near Doune, the car had a distinct and unnerving wobble on a straight stretch shaded by trees, so the speed – already no greater than 45mph – never went above 40 thereafter.

But the really alarming moment came when a blue hatchback doing around 60 zipped by a queue of four or five of us and only just ducked back in as a truck loomed out of the mist. Crazy stuff. It was a relief to pull into the layby on the Anie straight (the Corrieachrombie car park was too chossy with churned-up snow) and to put the boots on.

It proved to be a good half-day out – as was an effortsome-but-enjoyable slog up Ben Cleuch four days later, after the top-up of snow that put the skids under the ministerial career of Stewart Stevenson.

Since then, permafrost may have given way to mega-thaw, but northern winds and daytime minuses are again forecast – and the earliest sunset isn’t until the middle of this coming week, so we’re not even at the halfway mark.

This looks like being a proper winter, which makes it all the more important to snatch the occasional day or half-day, rather than being ground down by months of chaos and cancellations. The hill days are there to be had, given a bit of thought and flexibility.

Burnfoot windmills on the Ochils. <em>Picture: Dave Hewitt</em>

Burnfoot windmills on the Ochils. Picture: Dave Hewitt

The accompanying photograph is possibly the first to be published of Scotland’s latest upland landmark. It was taken today and shows the first four – of an eventual 13 – turbines at the Burnfoot windfarm site in the heart of the Ochils. The complete cluster will become familiar skyline objects from many points on the southern-Highland fringe.

Needless to say, the windfarm will dominate the northern view from the main Ochils ridge itself. On clear days the two-megawatt turbines (102 metres in height and standing at around 550 metres above sea level) will be visible from the majority of hilltops in the area. Of the ten highest Ochil summits, only Ben Ever and the Law have any chance of remaining out of eye-shot.

Burnfoot gained planning approval in the summer of 2007, following an application by Wind Prospect. A monitoring mast had been onsite for a several years, and a major development was widely regarded as almost inevitable. The earth-movers arrived this April, and the first rotor-towers were raised last week.

The construction process is complex, with the main site traffic – hydraulic diggers and trucks carrying the turbine sections – coming in from the Gleneagles/Glendevon A823 via the Frandy reservoir road system. But the eventual electricity will depart directly southward – a pipeline is being laid across the edge of Alva Moss and along the Silver Glen farm track (which has been widened), then across the A91 to connect with the grid.

The main site is, understandably, an exclusion zone during the construction process: signs at standard start-off points announce a localised suspension of access laws. On the section down the southern glen, however, access has been maintained. The workers there, in my experience at least (and these hills are my local stomping ground), have been both considerate and courteous.

A few weeks ago one digger driver stopped well before he really needed to in order to let a friend and me walk down a section of track. He was apologetic about what was being done to the track, and assured us that the surface would be restored, and the edges reseeded, once work ends in late October.

A fortnight ago, however, a heavy tracked vehicle was driven to the 680-metre summit of Ben Buck, well above the agreed pipeline route. It’s unclear whether this was for surveying purposes, or whether the driver had watched too many editions of Top Gear and fancied a bit of offroading. Whatever the reason, the churned ground will take some time to recover, even assuming the vehicle doesn’t make a return visit.

In terms of the overall picture, the Ochils have been unusually vulnerable to this form of development, due to a lack of legislative protection. The area isn’t in a national park; neither is it a regional park in the way that applies to Edinburgh’s equivalent “set of lungs”, the Pentlands.

In administrative terms, the Ochils are a mishmash. The range straddles four council areas: Stirling, Clackmannanshire (the main host authority for the Burnfoot development), Perth and Kinross, and – on the lower eastern hills – Fife. Given the lack of an overarching agency, it was always likely that the range would be seen as disposable and subject to a carve-up.

Stirling council has higher land masses under its control, as does Perth and Kinross, while Clackmannanshire – along with every local authority – has been placed under severe central-government pressure (from both Holyrood and Westminster) to do its share in terms of renewable energy sources.

Several years ago, when the race for wind energy was gathering pace, eight different windfarm applications were pending for the Ochils. There appeared to be no joined-up thinking: the proposals stood as distinct, discrete planning applications, and those who objected to some or all had to start from the ground up each time.

In the end (or at this stage, at least), two of the eight made it through the planning process: Burnfoot, and the 18-turbine Green Knowes site on the north-east side of Glen Devon, which came onstream in summer 2008.

Do hill ranges such as the Ochils count as “wilderness”? No they don’t, and anyone who thinks they do is kidding themselves. The Ochils have been worked, in terms of mineral mining, quarrying, sheep farming, water storage and commercial afforestation, for decades or even centuries. Hence there is an element of nothing-new with regard to the windfarms. But have they ever been industrialised on such a substantial and mood-changing scale as this?

The situation is complex. Windfarm companies should not be seen as ill-intentioned, just as objectors should not be seen as Luddites or Nimbys. My own position is indicative of this ambivalence.

I must declare an interest, in that until a couple of years ago I was an active member – indeed for a while the chairman – of Friends of the Ochils, a group devoted to protecting these hills from excessive intrusion. Two subjects, windfarm development and the Beauly–Denny powerline (which is scheduled to cross the western shoulder of the Ochils), came to dominate every meeting.

I was probably the least anti-windfarm person on the committee – but that’s not to say I was pro. I could see the need for an increase in renewable energy sources. And I wasn’t opposed to all windfarms – those built on land already trashed by forestry or mining seem fine, for instance. I have even – and this can be a dangerous thing to say to a turbinophobe – come to rather like the aesthetics of the Green Knowes towers and their turning blades. I’d rather they weren’t there, but they can be pleasing in their own peculiar way.

But there have to be limits, and the in-your-face Burnfoot development is surely pushing the boundaries of appropriateness, given how much it will change the feel of a much-loved walking area – and that’s without trying to calculate the effect on the tourist trade around the fringes, on Crieff B&Bs and the like.

Perhaps we really do need these turbines – and more. But perhaps the cost – in all its forms – is too great, and they ought to be superseded by other forms of power-generation, be it the harnessing of tides or (again, speak it not in certain circles) a major reinvestment in nuclear power.

Installations such as Burnfoot are relatively quick fixes, however, given the off-the-shelf nature of the hardware. This, allied to political expediency, or plain political panic, means they are here to stay – for now at least.

The Wallace Monument. <em>Picture: Beltzner</em>

The Wallace Monument. Picture: Beltzner

By John Knox

Campaigners in Stirling have accused the Scottish Government of ignoring new evidence on “undergrounding” power lines. They say countries across Europe are now burying electricity cables in scenic areas and where they pass close to people’s homes.

Ian Paterson, chair of Stirling Before Pylons, says the government’s promise to mitigate the worst effects of the upgrading of the Beauly to Denny electricity line appears to be a “sham”.

“It seems remarkable, given how contentious the line has been, that the energy minister has chosen to ignore recent developments on undergrounding 400 kv lines elsewhere in Europe,” said Mr Paterson.

The enterprise minister Jim Mather approved the upgrading of the line in January, after a public inquiry and says that no new evidence has been presented to him since then. But the campaigners say their evidence from Europe is new and was not taken into account by the technical adviser to the inquiry.

They say that in Germany a new law has come into effect which requires power lines to be buried underground if they come within 200 metres of a community or 400 metres of any building. And at three sites in Germany cables are currently being buried in 16 metre wide trenches – albeit at seven times the cost of overhead lines.

In Holland, they claim, 20 km of cable has been undergrounded between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In Austria, two sections of line, 8km long, are being buried around two small towns.

And in England, the National Grid has accepted that sections of line will have to be buried around Avonmouth and through the Mendip Hills.

The Stirling Before Pylons campaigners want ScottishPower to bury sections of the line across Sherrifmuir battlefield, the Ochil Hills escarpment at Witches Craig near the Wallace Monument and around the old mining villages on the south side of the River Forth.

ScottishPower says it’s still consulting on its detailed plan for the line and its mitigation measures will have to be approved by the minister. But a spokesman pointed out that “permission was granted for an overhead line.”

The Beauly to Denny line currently has a capacity for just 132kv. The upgrade would enable it to carry 400kv and the government says it’s essential if Scotland’s target of producing half its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 is to be fulfilled. It says there are 50 potential renewable energy projects in the north of Scotland which need to be connected to the national grid via the new line.

The technical adviser dismissed the alternative idea of a sub-sea cable running down the East Coast. He also pointed out that undergrounding “had the potential to cause greater damage to the ecology and nature conservation interests” than the overhead line.

There will be fewer pylons than at present but they will be 53 metres tall, rather than 33 metres. The total cost of the up-grade has been put at £330m but campaigners say the electricity regulator Ofgen would bear the extra cost if undergrounding was required.

So far the mitigation measures being considered by ScottishPower and the government are mainly concerned with the construction phase of the project – minimising disruption to local residents, not working during the bird nesting season etc. But the campaigners say that is not enough and they want the issue of undergrounding to be re-opened.

“The failure to underground the line around Stirling and the iconic Wallace Monument is a major lost opportunity and will be a visual legacy of this government,” said Mr Paterson.

The final mitigation measures are due to be approved by the minister in the next few months. Construction of the new line is expected to begin by the end of the year and will take six years to complete.

<em>Runners approach the summit of the Law</em>

Runners approach the summit of the Law

In contrast to the Dumyat hill race – which enjoyed the most balmy May-evening weather imaginable – its near-neighbour the Maddy Moss race was held on Wednesday in conditions that were somewhat less than clement.

It wasn’t cold, but there was a hefty east wind, the rain lashed sideways, cloud was clamped down and the ground was skiddy on the various steep descents. A real test of hill-running willpower and ability, in other words.

The Maddy Moss is traditionally held on a Wednesday evening in mid-July. It’s one of those summer-fulcrum events, like the Open and the British Grand Prix, after which the season is reckoned to be on the wane. It also has a late start-time – 7:30pm these days (it used to be 7pm), which on gloomy evenings cuts the available-daylight options a little tight for the backmarkers, and gives the race an extra edge.

This year’s version saw 94 runners complete the course (10 kilometres distance, 710 metres of ascent), with the last finisher clocking 104 minutes 31 seconds. In 2009 there were 121 runners, but the reduction of 20-odd per cent in the field could be seen as a net improvement, given the prevailing foulness. With rain having fallen for much of the day, the entry list could have been shorter still.

One oddity about the Maddy Moss race is that it doesn’t visit the bit of land from which it takes its name. Maddy Moss proper stretches from where the old Tillicoultry–Blackford right-of-way crosses the Ochils at the col between Andrew Gannel Hill and Skythorn Hill, to the next rise above the 610m/2000ft contour on Tarmangie Hill, two kilometres further east. Even as recently as a couple of decades ago it was a mildly arduous interruption to the easy walk along the spine of the range. A path evolved, however, and planting by the Woodland Trust has now led to a variety of grassy ATV tracks hereabouts.

The runners avoid all that, swinging sharply south-west to follow the narrow trod of the Gannel path before the final down-surge above Tillicoultry. It is this plunge – and, more particularly, the near-relentless 450m slog up the Law soon after the start – that gives the race its distinctive steep-slope character.

On Wednesday evening, the 638-metre summit of the Law brought a mixed blessing: the end of the really brutal slope, where runners were finally able to transform themselves from hunched, hands-on-knees walkers, but also the arrival of the plateau section, where wind and rain really started to play a part.

Needless to say, no course records were set. The fastest-ever times are 47 minutes 39 seconds for men (Billy Rodgers, 1996), 53 minutes 10 seconds for women (Angela Mudge, 1999).The evening saw Jamie Stevenson of the Ochil Hill Runners club cross the Law between 30 and 40 seconds clear, and he duly won in a time of 52:17. But he was steadily reeled in by 2005 winner, Alasdair Anthony (also of the Ochil club), who was only four seconds behind at the end. Next (and first veteran) came Kenny Richmond of Bellahouston Harriers in 54:08, while first woman was Emma O’Shea of Deeside Runners in 64:41.

It wasn’t the weather for beating personal bests, and most runners will have been happy to get round unscathed. Matt Richardson of the Lothian Running Club finished 69th in 76:40 – exactly the same placing, but over ten minutes slower than his previous effort here in 2008. He described conditions as “pretty awful”, and was troubled with cramps for much of the race: “I felt twinges on the ascent of the Law and then more so when attempting to jump the muddy bits on the slopes up to Ben Cleuch. It cleared up though, and I was going well down until I slipped on some wet rock and the pull on my left calf brought it on, so I had to stop and stretch it off.”

Hill running isn’t Richardson’s preferred version of the sport. “It’s a lot more interesting than the roads,” he said, “although I must confess that my first love is cross-country, as the distances and relatively flat terrain suit me better. I’ve never been much good on the descents after breaking my arm coming down a hill a few years back and always lose a few places.”

Another who failed to stay on his feet was Steven Fallon – he of the 14 Munro rounds. Fallon has become an accomplished performer for the Carnethy club, but came unstuck at the short-but-tricky descent to the main glen early on. He slipped on the wooden bridge, and “badly slashed a finger on the wire mesh, hence the blood all over my white top. It was a bit of a mess, got Steri-strips on it, possibly should have had it stitched!”

Fallon still managed a good time, finishing tenth in 58:09 – one place better but seven seconds slower than last year. “I was hoping for around 55 minutes,” he said, “but with the horrible conditions you just can’t belt down that wet rock into the glen or on the return.”

Overall, the race was a good example of the low-key, just-get-on-with-it ethic that defines the hill-running world. The stars and the stragglers are in it together, and despite fierce competitiveness there is also a good-to-see egalitarian side to proceedings.

This extends to the organisers and race marshals, the unsung heroes of such events. Marshalling in particular can be a miserable duty, and the man who opted to stand on the Law in Wednesday’s deluge had seen more high-profile races in his time. Gareth Bryan-Jones ran the steeplechase for Great Britain at the 1968 Olympics, – but was also happy to spend 45 minutes or so in a downpour, saying “Well done, follow the fence, then the flags” to everyone who passed.

Mexico City sunshine, Maddy Moss rain – it all comes under the same athletics umbrella.