John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Strathblane to Balloch

John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Kilsyth to Strathblane

The penultimate leg of the walk - for fellow rebels going east to west - is the longest at eighteen miles which, given the lack of peaks, is no problem.

(This is the first time I have ever seen a pub with such a sign. Usually they say the opposite. Shout out to the Kirkhouse Inn, Strathblane whose loos were lovely! I would have stayed for a pint but this was the starting point and I can't help feeling drinking at 10am might not bode well for the hike.)

Ten of the eighteen miles are shared with the West Highland Way which runs from Milngavie (non-Scots might like to know that's pronounced 'Mul-guy' as a shibboleth) to the foot of Ben Nevis at Fort William. We passed a couple of inns/shops catering almost exclusively to hikers it seemed, which was a novelty. 

We walked on a Saturday again in order to have the husband drive us to the start, park at the end and then walk back to meet us halfwayish. The West Highland Way was notably busier than previous rural trails and we saw lots of through-hikers with big packs and tents. This made our day hike feel more like a stroll to get an ice-cream from Loch Lomond.

 Eventually, the John Muir peels away again and follows country roads for most of the rest of the route. 
A deer ran across our path and there was cuckoo-ing everywhere.

There's an unofficial option across farmland but we didn't take it as my son wasn't wearing boots and it was described as boggy even before the previous fortnight of rain.

We met the husband  and stopped for lunch by the river.

I am a big fan of Tupperware but I wish the makers of portable food containers would understand the difference between porting something in your car and in your rucksack. I have never found one that is actually watertight. And I like a lot of dressing on my salad.

The sides of the road were absolutely beautiful with spring flowers and uncurling ferns.

And there were horses everywhere.

Our progress was definitely slowed by the need to snuzzle them all.

Eventually we came to Balloch Castle Country Park and Loch Lomond and drove home again, only to return on the Bank Holiday Monday for the final leg.

COMING SOON: John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Balloch to Helensburgh

Most Loved Pigeon Chick

I walked in the door last week to find my son's girlfriend, who had been home alone, aghast and cradling a scrunch of kitchen roll. Atticus my half-tabby-half-tiger had turned up - as he usually does either during children's parties or when I am away and someone squeamish is looking after the house - with a mouthful (nestful) of tiny wood pigeon chicks. He relinquished them, no doubt awaiting much praise and admiration but receiving only horrified shrieks and curses, and she swept up their poor little bodies. It was only in the dustpan that she noticed one was still alive and desperately tried to save it.

When I unwrapped the kitchen roll there was a motionless chick that could only have been a day old, even newly hatched, and was very cold and with a small wound on one side but still breathing. I set up the brooder and made him a little nest from a quail feeding bowl lined with fleece. I didn't expect him to last more than a few minutes but at least he could be warm.

Half an hour later he was not only still alive but wiggling around madly so I put some gentian violet on the wound, and started giving him Life Aid from a little paintbrush.

When he was still alive an hour later I called Hessilhead Wildlife Hospital and arranged to bring him down the next day when we would have access to a car. They have big brooders with whole nests of every species of baby bird and, if he survived the night, he could be hand-reared with other pigeons and re-released, understanding himself to be a bird and not a person - something we couldn't offer. Unlike many baby birds who hatch wide-eyed and gaping-beaked - squawking for food - pigeon squabs have their eyes closed and very few feathers and are fed by their parents regurgitating a slop called 'crop milk'. For this reason, it's much harder to hand rear them, though they can be fed on Kaytee parrot formula through a crop tube. I have both but no experience of using them and you should never feed wildlife at all until it is properly warm and rehydrated so we decided to wait for Hessilhead the next day.

I didn't really expect him to make it through the night anyway. Cats jaws are pretty unsavoury places, plus he had been dropped on the floor and got really cold.

But we took turns giving him Life Aid through the night and he made it. I was just sorting out a hot water bottle to keep him warm for the two hour drive to Hessilhead when my son called through that he'd stopped breathing.

Trying to save an injured, day old, pigeon chick must seem a pointless endeavour to most people - even those who love birds. But there is something about the strength of life force in a young, wild creature that compels me to collaborate in its survival. Something newly born, whose head was the size of my fingernail, lived twenty-four hours with nothing but a heat lamp and rehydration solution.

My son's girlfriend asked if we should put him on the compost heap with the other dead birds and I said, no. Because compost heaps are for animals that come to us dead; those that come to us alive, that come in the house, that are cared for all night - get names and graves. So she gave him both.

Companion Eating

This is the biggest vegetable I've ever grown: second year nine star broccoli (looks like cauliflower), self-seeded (and one of ten  transplanted rhubarb crowns behind).

Now broccoli cheese and rhubarb crumble.


We went to Rome because it's Rome and you don't need a reason to go there. (If you did, one of the reasons might be that it's twenty degrees warmer than your northern European city in May.)

It's always gratifying to see so many of the obscure vegetables I grow in my garden are sold in Italian markets. Salsify, courgette (zucchini) flowers and bitter greens are almost never on sale in Scotland and artichokes are rare.

We had chicory or broccoletti with dinner every night

and rocket (arugula) with every lunch, as well as asparagus, ahead of the British season.

Artichokes were eaten three ways: Roman style, deep-fried

and creamed.

My courgette seeds have just germinated and I'm hoping to grow them on in the sun-room-cum-greenhouse (along with tomatoes and basil), just for the delicious, stuffed, deep-fried flowers, though in a lighter batter than this.

I came home to a lot of rain and dandelions but inspired, at least.

John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Kilsyth to Strathblane

The previous seven legs of the walk were all accessible either by train or on foot from our front door but Strathblane was a long way from a railway line and even looking at a country bus timetable makes me travel sick and twitchy. After the only two taxi firms I could find listed turned out to be people in their kitchens telling me they were no longer operating, I chartered a driver (/husband) to drop us at the bottom of Croy Hill, park at Strathblane, and then walk back towards us, carrying lunch.

The first part of the walk is lovely with open views of the little fluffy sheep and little fluffy clouds making shadows on the Camspies,

followed by an quite swearily steep section at Bar Hill Fort on the Roman Antonine Wall

and Castle Hill, which was full of woodpeckers pecking at the woods. Views of  nearby Glasgow from the top.

Then back to the canal or, as my son and I lovingly refer to it, 'the sodding canal'. At least spring had brought a lot of bee, butterfly and bird activity to its beer can strewn banks. There was also slightly more interest than normal on a dead flat, dead straight path next to a dead flat, dead straight stretch of water due to the necessity of having to walk on a weekend for the first time - husband having proper grown up 9-5 job - and the path thus being transformed into a cyclist M1. They were all extremely well-mannered though and, even if they weren't, the fact that my best friend and firstborn son are militant, fanatical, bike obsessives means it would be more than my life's worth to mention it.

Kirkintilloch though, is a Walkers are Welcome* Town. I'm not sure what this actually means. The route cuts through Kirkintilloch from the canal path down to the old Strathkelvin Railway Path but at no point did anyone offer me a back rub or a free cheese and pickle sandwich.

Luckily it was on the railway path (confusingly, part of the Thomas Muir way - no relation) that we met with the husband, bearing lunch. I am doing Whole30 at the moment (no cheese, no pickle, no sandwich) so I won't even bother showing you. Let's just say it tasted a lot better than it looked.

The last few miles are through lovely, open farmland which was full of lambs and calves.

The rocky outcrop of Dunglass is just outside Strathblane, from where we had the luxury of being chauffeured to our door instead of having to find a station, wait for a train, get home from town etc. That said, the journey by car took three times as long and my husband made me listen to Radio 1. 

Only two legs left now: 108 miles walked and 26 to go.

*UPDATE: Walkers are Welcome Towns information...

John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Strathblane to Balloch

John Muir Way Coast to Coast: Falkirk to Kilsyth


That said, our last leg was in summer and it is spring equinox tomorrow - that is actual sunlight reflecting off JM there; we slaughtered a sheep for it - so, alors, on y va. With eighty miles already in the backpack and only just over fifty to go, we felt properly IN THE WEST now.

This section passes the Falkirk Wheel where the Union Canal from Edinburgh drops 24m to the Forth and Clyde Canal to Glasgow. It is probably accurate to say that I am deeply underwhelmed by industrial engineering, useful though it doubtless is in my daily life

Also, you are presumably not reading a blog called 'Flora Fauna Dinner' for anything other than injured magpies and sachertorte so let us concentrate on the pressing matter of What I Ate. My husband was at work so couldn't make me Technical issues meant I couldn't make the bitter chocolate trail mix that has proved so popular with ABSOLUTELY NO-ONE BUT ME, so instead I opted for a small piece of my preferred, insanely expensive, Rabot 1745 100% cacao bar and DIPPED IT IN PEANUT BUTTER while my son ate a Magnum Double Caramel from the Falkirk Wheel cafe. Look away now, artisan cacao producers:

Anyway, let's stride briskly on with the walk. Thankfully, because canals paths are so boring as to be A DANGER (another one for my collection),

the route does divert from them to a couple of lovely Roman hill forts on the Antonine Wall. I can raise slightly more interest in Roman industrial engineering but mainly because it has Returned to Nature.

Rough Castle is really pretty

So is the canal itself, it's just a bit...flat...and samey...after the first 5km of tarmac.

Luckily though, for anyone walking east to west  - SPOILERZ - after twelve miles and your legs having become incapable of any motion other than a monotonous plod on concrete (tarmac, concrete, I have no idea what it is, I DON'T CARE - didn't we cover this earlier?), there's a - SURPRISE! - hill.

This is Croy Hill, another Roman fort on the Antonine Wall and it's quite lovely.

It even has a view. Those are the Kilsyth Hills. I made friends with a Pharaoh hound, an English bull terrier and a very muddy golden retriever, except on the packed commuter train home I realised the 'mud', now coating my clothes and hands, was actually manure that said dog had clearly been rolling in enthusiastically*. I can't say the good people of the central belt were necessarily as into it.

* NB This could be a gross slur upon the canine. Perhaps a cow simply took 'a dislike' [Fig. 1] to it and held it down while another cow shat on it?

Fig. 1

Bitter Chocolate Trail Mix

So now the pendulum of nutritional hysteria has swung from fat to sugar, I feel vindicated in my passion for 100% cacao chocolate (particularly Hotel Chocolat's Peruvian Pichanaki, even if it's not the one whose tasting notes describe it as a 'charming dominatrix'...) and slightly less embarrassed about its astronomical price. But a cheaper option, if you're not going to suck it piece by tiny piece, is Wille Harcourt-Cooze's blocks of black. This is what I bought to make trail mix.

I love nuts but not unadulterated unless they are wet from the tree (particularly Kentish cobs). Dry ones are best wrapped in chocolate, see: Nutella, Just Brazils and Walnut Whips. I wanted to make an homage to the aforementioned, sugarlessly, as a trail snack. After consulting contradictory accounts on the internet, my long-suffering husband commenced melting Willie's Cuban Black, with a bit of butter to ease the transition, then poured it over brazils, hazels and walnuts.

The point of trail snacks is to be small, high calorie and able to quickly boost your blood sugar if you've broken your leg in several places and need to pull yourself out of a crevasse and crawl for five days down the Andes in sub-zero temperatures. (Oh ok, usually they're for if you're a bit peckish half a mile from the nearest cake shop.) I tested Willie's nuts out on a hike up the adorably-named Sniezka (Bless you!) in the Karkonosze mountains in Poland, where I stayed at Samotnia with one of my oldest and bestest friends.

It was only when I was looking back at the pictures at the hostel later that I realised I had basically made and photographed food that looks identical to animal droppings. Perhaps this is why nobody but me would eat them?

Disclaimer: I can't stand dried fruit (one day I'll probably be found in the Highlands having starved to death with an unopened box of raisins discarded in disgust next to my Goretex-shrouded skeleton...) but if you take the dried fruit and the sugar out of trail mix then you're only left with nuts and cacao which possibly require more energy to digest than is desirable so DON'T BLAME ME IF YOU DIE. I don't want to be haunted by the spectres of other vain and hungry hikers for all eternity.