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Essay: Up a bonnie, bonnie hill by Loch Lomond

It was a day calculated to turn anyone into a hiker.

By Christopher Andreae / April 1, 2008

I didn't think it would happen – although the Electricity Man and I had talked about doing it for, oh, three or four years.

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We'd bump into each other as we were exercising our dogs on our semiurban streets. His house is 10 minutes from ours. When we'd meet, I'd turn around to go his way or he mine for chat. But one part of our chat almost became a refrain.

"So, when are we going to do our hill walk?" he'd say. Then add: "We'd better wait until the weather improves, though."

I would invariably agree ... and then, somehow, even if the weather did improve, we went on thinking about it but never settled on a day.

In the end, I decided that we would probably never get around to it.

I should admit that I am not what you'd call a frequent hill walker. Living in rural Yorkshire, England, in the 1970s, guests once or twice inveigled me up the nearest hill, Ingleborough by name. You could see its flatly rounded silhouette from my studio, across the valley. I liked it. It wasn't formidable, and going up it was a sort of pleasantness between lunch and tea.

My next hill walk took place in the 1980s. By then I was (and still am) living in Scotland, a part of the world with a hill or two to its name.

But the friend who agreed to show me the delights of walking up and down a Scottish hill kindly took me to one of this country's lesser geological humps. So it wasn't too demanding a day. Nevertheless, for that occasion, I made a gesture toward the possibility of doing this sort of energetic thing more than once or twice a decade: I bought a modest pair of hiking boots.

I have never used them since.

Then quite suddenly, the Electricity Man's wife was to be away from home for a few days.

The forecast was good. Wednesday was more or less free for both of us. Determination was in the air.

The morning started out a touch frosty and quite foggy. By 10, however, the low winter sun had come through. By 11, it was actually warm, a bonus not to be taken for granted in Scotland so early in the year.

We call him the "Electricity Man" (behind his back) because the little we know about him includes the fact that he was very high in the managerial echelons of Scottish Power (the supplier of our lighting and such) until he opted for home life a decade or so ago.

I know that, like me, he'd been to Cambridge, though rather earlier and on the engineering side of things, while I studied English and then fine arts. And I know he comes originally from Lancashire. But I suppose that's not his fault.

As we pulled into the parking space in the village of Balmaha on the "bonnie, bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond," he pointed up to the vast rounded hummock we were to climb.