After the success of my first microadventure I packed my bag and was ready to go next time the weather looked decent. This time I was headed to The Slacks, a craggy ridge on the southern edge of the Kilpatrick Hills around ten miles west of Glasgow. I’d done a little mountain biking up there before and the views are incredible, so it made sense to go back on foot.
Striking out from Kilpatrick railway station in bright sunshine I headed north towards the Loch Humphrey track. It’s always busy, but with warm spring sunshine it was a little like going shopping in the city. There were the usual trail runners and mountain bikers but also families and even crowds of teens heading home after a swim in one of the reservoirs in the hills.
Thankfully the crowd petered out as I got higher and I got some peace and quiet to admire the views down the Clyde. The main track up the hill is relentlessly steep and has ruined me on a couple of mountain bike trips. It does mean however that for very little ground covered you get panoramic views up and down the Clyde, over Renfrewshire as far as Whitelee Windfarm. There was a bit of a haze in the air, so the distant mountains of Cowal and Arrochar were a bit fuzzy but it was a joy to behold all the same.
As you round the bend past the old quarry it’s almost as if you’re transported into another world. There’s rolling moor and heathland before you, with dense forests across the glen, and your view of the city and river disappears in an instant. Purely by chance, this is the last time I’d see anyone else for quite a while!
My first destination was Loch Humphrey. I’d planned to get a sunset there but realising how hilly and potentially boggy the ground was between there and my planned bivvy spot I decided just to stop for dinner and keep moving. This decision was made slightly easier with the arrival of two Canada Geese, a gaggle of which cause more than a little lost sleep on my first microadventure. After a brief chat with a couple of forestry workers I headed up onto the western end of The Slacks and was immediately greeted by the most spectacular views yet in every direction. The Campsie Fells best appreciated from the north or west, with their wild crags on display, and this was a great vantage point. Duncolm, the highest hill in the Kilpatricks range, is a dome shaped hill that rises abruptly out of the moor and sits starkly agains the backdrop of the Campsies in the light of the setting sun.
As I headed east along the ridge more views opened up and I could pick out a variety of landmarks that I’d never seen from this angle. The Titan Crane in Clydebank, Tinto Hill, Red Road, even the converted thread mill I work in was visible. The weirdest thing was that I knew there were dozens of people on the path around 25o feet below me but I couldn’t see or hear any of them. It really was turning into an adventure. I was surrounded by sklylarks and meadow pipits, there were at least three cuckoos and a pair of buzzards were gliding on the thermals high above. All this less than a mile from the edge of Scotland’s largest urban area.
I stopped for another dose of hummous (Moroccan spiced this time) and had a chat with a mountain biker while watching a small plane coming in to land at nearby Glasgow Airport. The plane was at eye level, which isn’t something you see every day! The mountain biker was kind enough to advise me of the driest route to the trig point so that I could avoid a repeat of last time’s unpleasant wet feet experience.
With some light cloud starting to form on the horizon it started to get dark quicker than I’d hoped and I was starting to worry (a tiny bit) about setting up in the dark. I reached the trig point just as the sun dropped behind the clouds and started looking for a suitable place to lie down. It had looked much clearer on Bing Maps (satellite views are often more modern and in higher resolution than the Google equivalent, especially in south and central Scotland) but the area surrounding the trig point was all either tussock or heather.
Thankfully I found the perfect spot, too small for a tent but more than enough for a bivvy bag, just below on the summit on a small rise with spectacular views east over the city. It turned out perfectly. I finished unpacking just as the sun came through a break in the clouds and set over the hill, leaving a pinky-orange glow on the city below. This was what I’d come for.
With the temperature dropping rapidly I put on a couple of extra layers of clothing and climbed into my cosy bag and reached for my Kindle. I’ve been trying to finish Dark Star Safari for weeks and it seemed like the perfect setting to make some progress on a book about travel and adventure. Sitting in the twilight reading about Paul Theroux’s trip through Zimbabwe I almost had a heart attack when a Red Grouse appeared out of nowhere by my side and made it’s startling noise. They are loud creatures. That startled me so much I struggled to focus on the story so started taking photos as streetlights came on across central Scotland.
I’ve been asked by friends if I would get any sleep out on a hillside with very little between me and the elements. The answer was a resounding yes. I was actually so warm that I left the hood of my Hunka totally open and the ground was much softer than it had been on my previous microadventure so I ended up sleeping more there than I have at home recently! The serenity was rudely interrupted by the dawn chorus, which started at 3:30am, and the skylarks were in fine singing voice.
There had been a hint of mist on the horizon as I went to sleep but when the birds woke me up there was a thick fog enveloping the hilltop, to the point where I couldn’t tell which direction I was facing. I had to make a decision on whether to leave then and try and get down the hill slowly, in case the fog didn’t lift, or to go back to sleep and deal with it later. I’m pretty glad I chose the latter. My alarm went at 6am and the fog had lifted substantially, the early morning sun burning it down to a fine mist. The views were largely gone, but it was much cooler then when I’d come up the hill the night before.
I’d read of a “balcony path” that took a direct route off The Slacks towards Old Kilpatrick, heading south from the summit and winding it’s way through the crags while offering panoramic views all the way. It seems to have been maintained for/by mountain bikers as well as walkers and it has most definitely been added to my to-do list. Being mostly grass I ended up with slightly damp feet but it was worth it for the views and the challenge – it’s steep ground and my legs were shaking by the bottom.
Passing back into civilisation I noticed a sign next to the Erskine Bridge for the Antonine Wall, a roman construction built 100 miles north of the more famous fortification built by Hadrian. I’ve come by this way numerous times and never noticed the sign before because of the rows of cars squeezed onto any available area of verge. On this morning it was absolutely deserted and it gave me a little shiver to think that I’d just crossed the frontier from Caledonia and into the Roman Empire.
In what may become a regular occurrence I sat on my rucksack at the railway station eating breakfast while getting some shifty looks from suited and booted city commuters. They probably wondered why I had a big smile on my face as I replied to the dozens of messages I’d received overnight from friends. It’s great to see so many people interested in doing something so completely out of the ordinary and I really hope some of them can be tempted to join me!
All my photos from the trip are now on Flickr.