WHEN I read in The Herald about plans to double the size of the Pentland Hills Regional Park, my first instinct was to say:
yay! I know little of the politics of parks. All I know is I love the hills as I find them now (that is to say, a recent rediscovery), and if the park has helped to protect them, then let it take over the world.
Its world at the moment is around 24,000 acres of hills, moors and farmland starting at Edinburgh's south-west boundary and extending south to Carlops on the Midlothian-Borders boundary and west to Harperrig Reservoir and sore-sounding Cauldstane Slap in West Lothian.
Campaigners, led by South of Scotland MSP Christine Grahame, want to extend the park into Lanarkshire, believing this is in the long-term interests of the hills.
Christine, one of the few MSPs with whom I would trust my life, or at least my walking boots, is planning a Private Member's Bill to extend the park, which may include creating a new body independent of the cash-strapped local councils which currently run it.
I wonder how that would sit with Jim Crumley. Jim is a great writer, in whom I would happily entrust the countryside, which he describes lyrically and perceptively. But Jim has never been a fan of the park which he described, in his book The Pentland Hills, as "inappropriate, committee-minded, ineffective, expensive, wasteful and utterly useless".
Certainly, the original plan for a park generated controversy back in the early 1980s, when opponents feared it would urbanise the hills, filling them with smooth paths, directional paraphernalia and unmanly mollycoddling.
As a man partial to a bit of mollycoddling, I don't mind the occasional little symbol on a gate or post helping me to get my bearings. It's the same in the Yorkshire Dales, and useful to the directionally-challenged like me. Besides, if the occasional runic waymarker was good enough for Gandalf and the Elves, then it should be acceptable to us. Sorry, I must stop relying so much on The Lord of the Rings for wisdom.
But, certainly, I think Jim wise in his detestation of the language of "leisure resources", and I share his unease at stepping on the concrete bridge connecting bureaucracy to the hills.
Still, as he says, the deeper you go into the hills the more you get away from such stuffy guff. In my youth, I used to visit the Pentlands but, one time, having been away from the city for years, I set off on my usual route from the southern suburbs, past the reputedly haunted Hunters' Tryst Inn, and found … a bypass barring my way.
Between that and the Ministry of Defence's red flags declaring no-go areas, and the fact that, without a car, you spent as much time walking to the foothills as stravaiging up the little peaks, I gave up on them.
Recently, with the help of a car to get me to various starting points, I rediscovered them. My first trips were rhapsodic. I couldn't believe how beautiful and quiet it all was.
Accompanied by my fellow hiker Elaine, who brings scones, I spent every weekend of the summer following the walks in a wise guide written by another pal — Albert Morris, the former Scotsman luminary — and his esteemed collaborator James Bowman.
We started fairly close, on the Capelaw and Allermuir hills, gazing back at the city. Robert Louis Stevenson had done similarly, when he felt "like Jupiter upon Olympus", looking down from afar upon men's lives.
The world, he recorded, had "fallen into a dead silence". That was before the bypass. The silence is south now, down towards Scald Law, East Kip, West Kip, Cap Law and Green Law.
Within the park's parameters, others who waddled before us include the Covenanters, Cromwell and Bonnie Prince Charlie. History does not record if they brought scones.
Friends mock me for having travelled to far-flung Scottish places in my obsessive quest for bucolic peace and quiet, when all the time it was on my doorstep.
It's on the doorstep of similar searchers in Lanarkshire, too, I'm sure. Whether they need it encompassed in a park I cannot say.
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