open country

Unusually it was me persuading Dad that we should go out hillwalking. Despite the fall of snow I believed the conditions on the hill would be favourable and not too difficult. The rangers’ route is too long for a winter day, so I designed another route requiring two cars. I could not bear the shorter route straight up and straight down.

We started by crossing the Cuddy Bridge in Innerleithen. From here we headed up to Pirn Fort which sits on the south-west spur of Pirn Craig. Lee Pen, in its white garb, looked especially magnificent against the cold blue sky.

Heading north, we left that bright open space around the crags and for the next few miles we walked between the tall dark conifers; then into the pines where the sun never shines.

Then there was a stretch where the branches were low with the weight of snow; dustings of snow fell on our shoulders and occasionally our faces. The ice particles were cooling on skin that had warmed with the exertion of walking uphill.

I watched my father, in silhouette, walk out from the woodland edge on to the saddle between Kirnie Law and the long southern spur of Priesthope Hill. Here it was smooth and bright, the snow glistened all around us. As we climbed, our surroundings widened in all directions.

From this point there are two kilometres of gentle climb before reaching the summit of Priesthope. You are now looking east over to the Seathope hills that wrap round the deep-set valley where Gatehopeknowe Burn runs down to the River Tweed.

The descent north is remarkably steep down to Priesthope Sware – you lose over 100m of height in less than 500m. Tall, straight pines with thick blobs of snow stood erect against the white waves of hills in the distance. I stopped here.

My father was a small figure heading up the Corby Craigs and my friend Annie was gingerly coming down to where I was, protecting her sore knees with walking poles.

The scene was a magical snowscape. We could have been in Scandinavia, Alaska, but there we were in a small snapshot of a winter in the Southern Uplands; beauty heightened by snow, a cool blue reflection.

The next hill to be reached was Glede Knowe. At this wind-battered top, the bluish light had gone and everything was so white – mesmerising, transcending reality, but so bitterly cold, wind torn icy snow was clinging to the gate and dry stane walls.

Glede in Old English may mean a live coal or an ember – unlikely, I thought. Alternatively it may refer to a bird of prey – much more likely with high moors to soar over. Ahead of us were three kilometres of deep snow – I wished I was a bird of prey.

With only a climb of 70m to reach Windlestraw Law’s summit, this would be a long walk. My boots covered in white powder and my wee legs growing weary. I was sure I was sinking and suddenly I fell into a drift up to my thighs. I laughed.

There were people approaching the summit from the north as we neared. They were doing the same route in the opposite direction. We chatted briefly, but they were not stopping.

We had had the lion’s share of the walk and only had a short descent to make.

Windlestraw Law gets its name from the covering of dry and brittle grasses. Windle means basket in Old English and comes from the verb windan, to wind. Of course, the grasses were blanketed.

The descent was quick but miserable. Taking a line north-west from the summit takes you past grouse butts on Glentress Rig.

However, the track has been heavily used by estate vehicles and the way is dogged by large muddy potholes disguised by snow and ice – yes, I did end up knee deep in water.

My feet were sodden, but I was happy and cold. Despite the hour the sun was already dying a delicate gold behind wintry clouds as I looked down the Leithen Water.

That would be the last hill day of 2011.