I’m sure that we’re not taking the right road. There are no trail signs and a gate bars us entrance from what I know is Locherwood and Ladymuir Woodland because there’s a sign attached to the top metal bar of the gate that’s telling me so. I contemplate my options. I know I’m right there, but I have to go through the gate and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to. But there’s also no sign telling me not to. I can smell the pine trees and the thick, heavy scent of wet moss in deep forests. The air is so clean that the dusty, gravel road behind me can be easily ignored. I feel adventure kick in; this light, tingling excitement in the roots of my stomach, I grow a few inches, my head clears and everything around me becomes a few shades lighter. We go through the gate and I feel silly for thinking it over for so long because it’s not like anyone’s around to yell at me.
Spontaneity has become a keyword over the last few months. It’s how I stayed a couple of extra days in London. How we ended up in Scarborough and saw more in that short a period of time than I would have in any other place during our travels. It’s how we ended up in Scotland in the first place, how we met Sam and our host was equally as spontaneous in planning day trips that took us to all sorts of places. It’s Saturday morning, the sun is out and I’m in a spontaneous mood – with Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park right outside the door, we’re going hiking.
Soon enough, the road takes us up and endless rows of ‘baby’ pine trees pass me on both sides. It appears we’re crossing straight through a tree farm, but the cement road doesn’t necessarily tell me ‘private road’, so we keep going and I’m not worried. Quite the opposite – I’m excited and energised. The rows turn into a forest as they grow taller the further out we go. I’m hoping for a view now that we’re getting higher, but since the tips of Christmas trees are blocking my view, I’m out of luck. Looking ahead, I see how the road continues going up, the trees on the right disappear and then it’s only a forest on the left. The road almost looks like to erupt from the earth with the way the slopes go downhill steeply and I’m hoping I haven’t run out of luck just yet.
Sure enough, with the sun burning at the back of my neck and stones grinding underneath my boots, we soon emerge from the tree-farm-forest to stand taller than the trees. I can overlook acres of trees, the lines drawing your eyes down and down into the valley before the hills start again and then, in the faraway, bigger hills.
The rows of trees intensify, amplify and grow thicker and thicker. From far-stretched views to tree-lines where the lines have disappeared underneath cut trees stacked up far above my head, we’ve taken the turn at the end of the park and it gets darker with each step we take. We’ve left gravel roads behind us now, just like the echoes and sound of stones grinding underneath my boots. Our steps are absorbed by the damp earth or the soft moss – there is only so little left of the skies now that the trees reach tall and though thin, they cast long shadows. The air is thick as well, heavy with quietude. I can’t even hear the birds. All I hear is the silence that hangs here, almost like a final resting place. For several miles, we wade through the long shades of the forest, allowing it to wrap me in a cocoon. The quietness is like a blanket. There is a comforting lullaby sung here and the atmosphere goes beyond peaceful. We are alone. Completely, totally and utterly alone.
After the thick, fairy-tale forest come wide open plains with tall grass that sweep along with the soft, summer breeze. We allow the sound of quietly rushing, cobbling water to guide us until we hit the stream and then follow it, crossing a narrow bridge where some of the wooden planks are missing. We’ve arrived at ‘the orchard’ (on my map call simply ‘ward’) and we climb the steep hill that takes us away from the brook and as it disappears behind us, so does the sound of water. There is suddenly a silence that is different from the heavy silence in the woods – it’s lighter, easier and sweeter, like summer. The footpath quickly turns into snaking, man-made roads of trampled grass and earth that are barely visible enough to pass as footpaths, but the trail signs are telling me this is the right direction. A group of birds allow for the typical summer chirp and the feeling of it being just another day. The further we go, closing in on the end of the trail, the less trees we see and the more open the fields become. We’re suddenly making our way through the stringy grass that is rich in colour due to the rainfall over the last few months and white flower heads pop out like freckles on a sea of green.
The quietness that came wears down. It’s not that it becomes louder, though we’re starting to hear the cars passing by, it’s just that the comforting solitude of the previously experience silence vaporises like smoke. It thins as the air becomes filled with – perhaps the best word – reality. Before I take the turn that will block my view of the trees in the distance, I stop to look back. It almost feels like we crossed into another realm and I chuckle at my own thoughts, shaking my head.
We’ve just been to an enchanted forest, I thought and considered myself a fool. Then we make the turn, almost literally run into a group of German hikers, cars race down on the B786, two children running around the car park are screaming and I consider myself much less a fool.