I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our series of Autumn walks with the young people from SiMY Community Development, but with winter conditions beginning to dominate on the higher ground, I’m starting to get a little more conservative with our objectives. With the first snows of the season lying on Ben Lomond, I thought it would be fun to take the group somewhere they could see how much has changed on the hill since we travelled to the top a few weeks ago; Conic Hill is the perfect objective for an easy day, with great views from the top, and plenty of scope for adjusting plans if the youngsters found the cold a bit much.
As a bit of an aside, it’s worth pointing out that winter conditions in the mountains have a bigger impact on children than adults; at their stage of development, they have less in reserve physically and mentally to withstand the effects of cold and increased workrate on their bodies, so if you are heading out on the hills with your kids in winter, the gap between what they and you will cope with is significantly wider than it would be in summer. Plan to keep within their happy zone, not yours!
After a mildly embarrassing episode at Balmaha, where I attempted to pay for parking at the electric car recharging station (parking is free by the way), we set off up Conic Hill on a dry but chilly morning. There’s an excellent path which runs along the north side of the hill, although several of the younger members of the group were at pains to point out that the step height on some of the steeper sections wasn’t chosen with 11 year old legs in mind! I was suitably impressed at one point to hear a conversation taking place about “geological fault lines”; someone had clearly done their research about our objective for the day.
As we climbed higher, we were treated to a great view north to Ben Lomond, looking very majestic with a coating of snow; several of the group were surprised to see how dramatically conditions had changed on the mountain, and I suspect a few people reappraised the significance of their achievement in getting to the top, even without the snow. I’d be lying if I denied being happy to hear The Cobbler, which was looking particularly ‘kick ass’ in winter plumage, being discussed in positive terms as a future objective.
The summit of the hill was catching a very slight breeze, which was nevertheless enough to instantly start chilling people down, even with Louise and I doling out every available spare layer we had with us. We stayed just long enough to grab a quick snack, before heading down, but it was enough to make the point about just how cold it can get up a hill in winter, far more effectively than I could back in the centrally heated kit store in Glasgow!
I’d given people the option of extending the trip with a visit to the Cashel Forest project a little further up Loch Lomond; there were mixed feelings about heading out into the cold again, so we went with the compromise option of a relaxed wander round the shortest loop, chatting about some of the trees, mosses and other plants that we encountered along the way.
On our way back, it seemed appropriate to stop off in Balmaha to pay a visit to the Tom Weir memorial statue by the shores of the loch. It occurred to me, as the kids arranged themselves for a group photo with Tom in the midst, that I have no idea whether he liked young people or not, whether he’d be incredibly cheery about being surrounded by teenagers excited about being outdoors, or horrified by their noisy exuberance. I suspect even Tom would struggle to get a word in sideways with this lot at times, but I’d like to think that he’d see in them an echo of another daft 16 year old from north Glasgow who finished one trip to the hills inspired with plans for a hundred other journeys in the future – or maybe he’d just like the ‘toories’