open country

When you go out walking in the area in which you live, it can take away from the excitement of entering an unknown landscape. Instead of fearing weather conditions and difficult terrain you tend to throw a few things in your rucksack and set off.

However, when there are friends and family coming with you, this can up the tempo of the mood. My father phoned to say he was coming down and would I join him and what hill should he do. He also wanted to share his most irritating discovery – in the new hymn book they have changed a line in How Great Thou Art.

They forgot to consult one of their keenest hill-walking Christians: my father. As they have changed some prepositions to read, “When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur” to “When I look up from lofty mountain grandeur”, the emphasis has shifted from the beauty of the mountain to the expanse of sky.

You could think that they have arranged the prepositions wrongly because you either look up to the hills or look down from them.

Whatever the reasons the change can allow different people to interpret the words to suit their own experiences.

Despite the rising number of people taking to the hills, many will never look down from their summits either because they physically cannot walk up to the high places or they have no desire to.

Not that my father needs a guide, but I miss walking with him, so in the last couple of weeks I went out twice with him and some of his walking companions. Granted I was covering old ground but accompanied by new eyes and with some changes to starts and finishes.

Father had brought Stewart, a gentle and wise retired minister, and Pip, a retired doctor whom I had not met before. I watched them looking around at the boarded-up Potburn farm house and the bothy of Over Phawhope sitting lonely and small beneath the hills of Ettrick Head, cowering beneath a swathe of low cloud.

Following the Southern Upland Way from Potburn, at the head of the Ettrick Valley, we walked the woodland track below Middle Hill. Coming out of the trees, the pass between Wind Fell and Cape Fell looked dreich and brown at this time of year. The ascent of Wind Fell was a miserable affair.

I thought about a parable of honesty that Stewart told.

A Chinese emperor was faced with a group of ladies hoping to become his wife. So he set them a task. He had some seeds and asked them each to take one and return in a month to show him what had grown from them.

When they returned, all of the plant pots contained beautiful blooms in pinks, purples, oranges and yellows – flowers verging on the ostentatious. One lady kept her head bowed in shame because nothing had grown from her seed. The emperor chose this lady as her bride because all the seeds he handed out were dead.

As I was still picturing the costumes and colours of this Far Eastern story, the sun broke the gloom as we walked on the broad ridge between Hopetoun Craig and Ettrick Pen. The landscape opened up around us in a tantalising manner. The south-western ridge of the pen was golden and the sun was warm on our backs.

Now my father and his companions can look up to the full ridge around Ettrick Head. They are in awe of the vast hillscape rolled out around them – new eyes. They are used to the great expanse of the Highlands, I am pleased to show them the gentler forms of the Southern Uplands.

The walk down the pen’s western shoulder is quick and Over Phawhope cottage and the sheepfold are seen in miniature from the large mound of Ettrick Pen. Their smallness diminishes at a great rate as we get nearer. A visit to the eccentricity that is Over Phawhope Bothy ends our day on the high ridges of the Ettrick Valley when we looked down from lofty mountain grandeur.