We're often really dumb walkers, largely due to a compelling need to go off-piste, which is an American flaw. Brits tend to stick to the paths. Americans bypass the detour, jump the road closed tape, get stuck, and send up flares.
It's a lovely day in Edinburgh. We've had a glorious walk. Cosmic blue skies, warm air; fall is here and the hills are alive with walkers, rappelers, and students who actually think adults have no idea what a bong smells like.
Climbing up from Duddingston past the ponies and the meadow and the village and the pub; we head across the field and steep grassy path, up the eastern terraced slopes of jackdaw- rich Crow Hill. Aptly named, we're dive-bombed by two of them, either of which would leave little room for the other 22 blackbirds in any virtual pie. Up meadowy Nether Hill and not up Arthur's Seat directly across the way (too many people), we lean over the edge and look down. A trail which drops somewhat precipitously and exits where we want to be, looks enticingly brief, saving us the long walk down the crowded Radical road. Our OS map tells us it's Guttit Haddie, which means gutted haddock and that's exactly what it looks like; a jigsaw serrated hollow down the back of a steep, but manageable trail. What we can't see from our happy glimpse from Nether Hill is the part 30 yards on, where the path has suffered from what the Brits ominously call Retreating Cliff.
Both of us are complicit in the decision to leave the beaten path, so there is no your fault discussion when we find ourselves stranded half way down the badly eroded verboten slope. I sit, Tom sits, and we look down, down, down and consider the very real possibility that if we persevere in our foolish descent we will crash and burn. But how out? This is suddenly not just impulsive and dumb, it's dangerous. No way up, no way down. We Are Stuck. I, for one, am not in favor of tumbling down 100 feet of volcanic arroyo, and if my read of Tom's perch on his rock is right, he is as glued to it as I am on my rock. What to do, what to do.
Gazing over the horizon,I'm day dreaming a little about the sea and the city. Tom looks up and sees the Japanese students before I do. I've missed the drama of the students standing where we'd stood at the top of the hill, looking down at our scramble and excitedly deciding to follow. Tom does his best to wave them back but it's wave and wave and here they are hand to handing down the rocky drop; fellow international outlaws.
I watch with a mild sense of horror. As far as I can see, there is no way out and the students (six of them) are steering their way towards my rock. Girls with handbags, boys with city shoes, they demonstrate the impressive capability of twenty year olds, to go because someone in the group said to. This being stuck on the side of a mountain feels hazily akin to a similarly stupid situation I may have been involved in on Mount Tamalpais back when I too, was twenty. Time stands still!
The six smile, wave, talk non stop, and find a route below us which involves a few energetic leaps and bounds and we watch as they bounce off the last rocks and land on --land. There is a Japanese argument over what now, until they melt below our horizon and we unfreeze, look each other in the eye, take a deep breath, slide straight down rock face, and follow. Our leaps and bounds are not quite as dexterous, but we rapidly find ourselves down and alive. ,
Wearing what prove to be nearly indelible imprints of our volcanic slide on our backsides, we try to brush each other off, examine arms and legs for pebble shrapnel and generally appreciate our return to terra firma. Looking back up towards whence we've come, we see a few hopeful faces foolishly peering down at us from way, way up there. Turning our bad- example backs, both feet on good Scottish turf, we gingerly take the low road to Duddingston. By the time we've found the pub and the sun has gone, we've lost that sudden brush -with- disaster feeling which is, of course, how we humans carry on; don't you know.