I’m as confused as everyone else by the different Covid directives on outdoor activities from different governments, so for the moment I’m still staying pretty local with any adventures. That can be a bit limiting, or you can take it as challenge …
On the other side of the road from my house is Jenny’s Burn, which flows down off the Campsies from a few different sources including Jenny’s Lum, currently just a wet streak on the rock but filmed during the last big storms as a proper smoking lum, with the wind blasting the water upwards in a cloud of spray. Went a bit viral, I think.
Anyway, I’ve been down into the burn bed to pinch a few stones for the garden, and looked down into it from the bridge on the Pipe Track on the hill above here, and wondered for a while what a small expedition, from source to sea (or at least the Blane Water, which it joins at the bottom of the road) would be like.
On a hot day I pack: a short rope, a sling, a harness, a helmet (all useless in the end), a head-torch (quite handy for the last bit) and head off up the Pipe Track. Turning right through a gate after the last house takes me up onto the high apron of ground in front of the steep crags of the Strathblane Campsies.
From high up this track, I head across around 600 metres of the cattle-poached ground for a large solitary ash in one of the upper gullies of the burn.
As soon as I drop down into the dip I feel I’ve found something a bit magical. A ewe and her two lambs are asleep in the shadow of the tree, so I skirt well round them and begin to follow the trickle.
There is shade from the odd tree and bush, tiny flowers, the slight sound of the burn, and a feeling that I am in a hidden landscape, richer, quieter, and more complex than the swathe of moorland above.
At first there’s no need to get my feet wet, then I lower myself down a couple of short steps in an effort to stay in the stream-bed proper. At the point where another trickle flows in from the right, it’s clear neither of these is a trickle in winter: a 5m cliff of rubble stands above the junction, source no doubt of some of the rocks across the road from home.
A bit more water in the bed now, the igneous rock changing to sedimentary, splashing through pools and across slippery slabs, and then the burn and I head into the woods. I worry I might end up visible at the bottom of someone’s expensive garden, but I only glimpse one big property in the distance on those upper sections.
There are trees and branches across the watercourse, all needing hopping, a few small water slides, but it never gets so steep I can’t walk down it with care. It’s a sunny day but there are deep pools of shade here and sometimes it’s a struggle to adjust my eyes to the changes in light.
Quite soon I’m below the Pipe Track bridge. Water gushes out of an outlet pipe, I think from the water-works, more than doubling the volume in the burn, and below here I get a fair bit wetter, with water on occasion up to my shorts.
I come to the first properties that sit right on the burn, and think someone has spotted me. Nothing happens but I scuttle quickly down a bit further, stinging my hand on something that afterwards makes me feels like I’m getting a small electric shock to the skin.
Next it’s down, around a bend and into the first tunnel – under the main A81– and through a tangle of vegetation to the channel opposite our house. Below here everything is a lot more disciplined, with a built bed and a couple more short tunnels. The deep channel runs right in front of some houses, past a mass of ivy, then I get to the last bit, where the burn disappears under the road for about 60 metres, before it emerges into the Blane.
I told myself before I started that I wouldn’t do this: the locals might think I was mad or dangerous, maybe it is mad or dangerous …
But then I think: it’s source-to-outlet, not source to 60m from the outlet. At least I can have a look…
I get the bag off, and I’m getting my head-torch out when a couple of small children trot over from the garden next to me and look down curiously. The smaller says: “Man in stream. Oooh.”
Fortunately their mum, drawn to see what they’re looking at, is a tolerant lady: she just asks kindly if I am all right, and smiles the smile normally reserved for your children’s harmless, innocent idiocy when I admit I am going through the tunnel. I dump the rucksack on the side to retrieve on my way back, and set off.
The first bit, under the entrance to Blane Crescent, is pretty cramped, requiring a crab-crawl style, but then it falls away a bit, before the next bit of tunnel, older brickwork, again cramped at first but then easier.
Then out I pop out into the Blane, allow myself a smile of satisfaction and scramble up the gabions opposite onto the bank. Expedition complete, and a success, I think.
Walking back the few yards to the road I affect the air of a man just out for a saunter for the benefit of some passing locals, forgetting I am muddy and dirty and wet, and am wearing a lit head-torch on a brilliant sunny afternoon. They probably assume I’m a crazed dentist who’s got badly got lost.
Then it’s back up the road, grab my bag and home.
It’s hard to explain the satisfaction from something as small and daft as this: it’s a tiny adventure with no huge challenges, but it’s right there, and I wonder who else has ever done this? OK, who would want to!? But … it was as much fun as I have had outdoors in a while.