A MAN has just skied past the window, but I ought not be surprised. The snow began yesterday afternoon and it has been softly falling ever since. In the early hours I looked out and the village green was bathed in a cold pure light, the whiteness smothering sound as well as cars. This morning the village snow brigade were out with their shovels, Alan forgoing his first cup of tea to help. But no sooner have they cleared a path than it begins to refill. It seems likely to get a good deal deeper.

A few days ago, after the first snows had gone but the ice was still solid, he went out for a walk. He was carrying a mobile phone and a hazelwood stick, topped with a young deer’s antlers. That was my idea of a Christmas present.

It was bought from a shop in the Highlands which also offered six-feet wading sticks for those intent on crossing the deeps, who need to probe the riverbed. Better to take an inflatable dinghy, I’d say, but the kind who go stalking and angling keep to the old ways. Presumably they prefer to reach the other bank in a matter of minutes rather than be swept miles downstream and shot out eventually into the Moray Firth.

As he was descending the highest of the Eildons, he encountered a couple of teenage boys on their way up, wearing trainers and flimsy jackets declaring their support for Celtic. They looked frozen.

A former stalwart of the Boys’ Brigade, he launched into a lesson on footwear and sensible gear for winter outings in the hills. Some time later he came across them again, this time looking lost, and was able to point them homewards.

On his return he showed me photos he had taken from the frozen tarn, and from the top of the former Roman fort. The reeds were crystalised in the frosted air while the hazy pink hilltop vista over the Cheviots, as the sun set, was heart-lifting. Overnight he had turned into Ansel Adams.

If you’ve walked these hills in summer you might think trainers would be fine, but it’s hard to picture how quickly the slopes are transformed after a wintry blast.

One February, years ago, I stupidly left the car for a walk near the Devil’s Beef Tub, wearing jeans. Within half an hour a blizzard had descended and I couldn’t see more than three feet ahead. The only way to navigate back to the road was by keeping close to a fence. Soon the dragging weight of sopping jeans confirmed that they are the worst possible cladding for these conditions.

Like many who were saddened to hear of the death in November of Hamish MacInnes, the famous mountaineer from Glencoe, I watched Final Ascent, the BBC documentary, filmed when he was in his late eighties. Aged 14, on his first-ever rock climb, on the Cobbler, MacInnes wore plimsolls. These, he said, were good for finding a grip so long as it was dry.

Footage of his death-defying ascents in the Himalayas, Alps, Amazon and Cairngorms were enough to cause vertigo from the comfort of the sofa. As he was filmed inching up the ice-clad slopes, it became clear that only obsession or bone-deep compulsion could lead anybody to attempt such feats.

MacInnes’s role in devising ingenious climbing and rescue equipment will endure for so long as people answer the call of the mountains. There’s not much need for ice-picks or ropes in the Border hills, even in winters such as this, but his memory continues in the work of the mountain rescue, which he did so much to transform.

Many owe their lives to his invention of collapsible lightweight stretchers, designed to bear the injured down from cliff faces and precipitous slopes, or have them winched into a helicopter. In Scotland, you imagine such rescues taking place mainly on Skye or in the Highlands.

Yet shortly before Christmas a man from the village broke his ankle when hillwalking nearby. He was brought down by the Borders mountain rescue team, for whom no season passes quietly.

For MacInnes in Glencoe, the mountains were part of his everyday life, whether for his own ventures or when called out, often in appalling weather, to search for those who had run into trouble. This was the outdoors at its most challenging, an environment that, from the perspective of Hoolet, looks hair-raising.

The village might be home to countless Munro baggers but the difference between someone who enjoys scaling the peaks in decent weather, and those who can look at the Cuillin Ridge walk coated in snow, and rub their hands in anticipation, is deeper than a Himalayan crevasse.

Most mountaineers wouldn’t get out of bed for the pimples that comprise the Border hills, but it has been noticeable how many visitors have strayed our way since the pandemic began. The number of younger walkers enticed out is good to see, along with those determined to make more of what lies on their doorstep.

One Hooleter says he has met so many medics out there, it is like a staff outing from Borders General Hospital. Cyclists are a frequent sight too, though less welcome when they carve ruts in footpaths. One bike seller informed us that it was possible to ride an electric bike to the top of the Eildons. Alan’s expression left him in no doubt where he stood on that.

If Covid has been good for anything, it has been to make people crave the outdoors as rarely before. Watching the actor Iain Robertson’s easy-going ramble along the West Highland Way was a reminder that you don’t need to turn yourself into a human Swiss Army knife to enjoy the hills and glens. This gentle travelogue shows that with decent boots, Elastoplast and a sense of direction, anybody can take advantage of the countryside.

When MacInnes and his friend attempted parts of the Himalayas on little more than a chocolate bar, they were young, reckless, skilful and strong. I like to think that one day the boys Alan scolded for their inadequate shoes might be seen clambering up the Old Man of Hoy or scaling the Matterhorn, wearing the full climber’s rig-out.