Children's author Linda Erskine has been out and about across Scotland, discovering the joy of walking in new places with her dog.
I’ve been walking since I learned to put one foot in front of the other. Over the years, I’ve gone through countless pairs of shoes, some fashionable, some utilitarian. I embraced the trends in my teens – I had Peter Pan Puddle Jumpers, desert boots, ones that pinched my toes, and others that were so comfortable that I wore them until the holes had holes, the insoles were torn, and people threatened to remove them from my feet by force.
These shoes are one of those pairs. I bought them on a whim, but it’s these Blundstones that have served me the most, especially since coming here to Scotland. Here, you can walk for miles through fields of heather, up bens and across burns, through forested areas and historical centres – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Inverness, Culloden Field, and even here in West Lothian.
Last February, these boots climbed the steep stairs of Linlinthgow Palace, through St. George’s Square in Glasgow, up the Royal Mile and back, to Edinburgh Castle. They’ve seen it all. Or so I thought.
As part of my quest to embrace my health, both mentally and physically, I pulled on my boots, put my gentlemanly boxer on his lead and took to the pathways around my new home in Whitburn, Scotland. I ventured to the play park first, doing laps around the perimeter while my dog did circles around me. I figured it was a good walk, though not too interesting, with play structures, trampolines and a zipline for the kids. It was not a place to stretch my legs, or my imagination. It was time for a bit more of a venture.
Steps away from this play park were the woods, and I was afraid I would get lost in their depths. I knew not where this adventure would lead. I was nervous. I was unhealthy at the time, and I thought that this jaunt through the trees would be the death of me. Oh, how wrong I was!
A pathway saw me cross under the Main Road in Whitburn, and into another world of leafy trees, naturalised plants that I could identify, and some I couldn’t. My dog, off lead now, was galloping ahead, sounding more horse than canine, as he zigzagged between trees, stopping to sniff every 5 metres.
The walk takes several twists and turns, all built on a circular path – many, circular paths, really – that guarantee you could not get lost, or at least you would end up on a path that would take you back to the beginning. There are streams and rivers, man-made bridges, railway ties, fairy villages, carved pumpkins, and mushrooms. You’re still in the town, but you might as well have been in the other-world of enchanted forests. There’s even a pet cemetery atop of a hill that offers a panoramic view of neighbouring towns.
It’s also a testament to the love we have for our four-legged friends, and it seemed fitting that my Boxer Beast and I were there, enjoying a rare sun-filled day, breathing in the views and the air. It was magical, and exhilarating.
My sturdy boots were mud-caked, but they looked happy, if you can attach an emotion to a pair of boots. Me, I was honoured to have found this lovely route, this area, and especially the humans and dogs I encountered along the trail. It was a chance in these Covid times for a socially distanced “Hiya” and a quick sniff hello for the doggos.
My boots have seen many trails – through city streets and laneways, and along the gangplank up to the plane that took me from my home in Canada, to my adopted home here in Scotland. They’ve seen many miles, but none were as cathartic as these. And, miles we did that day, and in the months since. What I have discovered since coming here is that this is a walking country. You can walk through Edinburgh, up to the Castle and down the Royal Mile, to Linlithgow Palace and to Beecraigs and Polkemmet country parks. But, in speaking to others I’ve met (many dog owners), this is the norm and not the exception. Walking, hiking, trail biking are national pastimes in this country. You can hike up Arthur’s Seat, you can do a walking tour through Edinburgh’s network of closes, or you can head to any city, town or village and stretch your legs, your mind and your perspective.
I’ve walked miles in these shoes, and I’ll walk many more. The most important lesson I learned was to take the time, take the initiative, and your mind will expand. I know my imagination has done just that. Coming to Scotland has opened a new world for me. I’m now the author of a series of children’s books that teaches life lessons, like bullying and overcoming obstacles through the eyes and actions of our four-legged companions.
I am also now a healthier version of myself, and not just physically. I’ve got a spring in my step, wind in my hair and a glow about my face. I’m also excited about discovering all the walking areas Scotland has to offer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even tackle Ben Nevis one of these days, though I may have to exchange the Blundstones for a heartier pair of proper hiking boots. I know exactly how I’ll wear them in.
Linda Erskine is the author of the best-selling children’s book, George and Mildred: The Attack of the Meanie Girls, published by Oxygen Publishing, an independent imprint. Available internationally on Amazon, this first in a series is a dog-centric tale of how two unlikely friends stood up for themselves amidst fear, bites and barks, and learned to believe in themselves and each other. Visit www.lindaerskine.com to find out more.