Off the Beaten Path

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Sitting at his table illuminated by a small bedside lamp, Robert Francis poured over a map jotting down notes each time his eyes fell onto some point of interest. It was 10:30PM and he reckoned that, if he set off at six in the morning, he would be able to avoid the early traffic and catch the first train to Milngavie before cycling from there, making it to Aberfoyle village in a couple of hours.

His itinerary was set and he was filled with excitement at the thought of finally being on holiday. It had been eleven months since he had so much as taken one day off from his work, so the thought of spending eight whole days cycling through the Scottish wilderness with only his backpack and tent for company, was frankly exhilarating.

He owned a number of bikes, but for this adventure, he would take his favourite and most trusted one. With a custom paint-job reading 'ROB' in large white letters across a frame of black, this was a bike which had never failed him; no bumps, no bruises, not so much as a punctured tyre.

In the morning Robert woke filled with excitement, starting the day with purpose. Negotiating the little traffic there was in the city with glee, before he knew it he was hopping off of the train in Milngavie and making his way along quiet country roads towards Aberfoyle.

Scottish summers are notoriously unpredictable and it was colder than Robert had expected; but he did not care. As he made his way through the open countryside, passing the occasional car or rural household, a smile crept across his face; cycling was his passion and Robert was in his element.

A couple of hours passed as the sparse yet rolling green hills soon gave way to a more imposing and altogether impressive setting. Slight hills soon became domineering mountains, pockets of woodland soon gave way to thick and visually impenetrable forests, and wide open roads soon made way for their narrower, and less trodden counterparts.

It was not long before the welcome sight of the village of Aberfoyle came into view, flanked on one side by a steep incline dotted with picturesque cottages, and on the other a wide open plain stretching out towards a mountain range in the distance. A childish excitement grew in the pit of Robert's stomach. Aberfoyle was the last evidence of humanity which he wished to see for the next eight days, and on leaving it behind he would truly be alone, able to relax in the serene beauty of the Scottish countryside.

It was now on to Queen Elisabeth park, one of Scotland's largest nature reserves, and into the true wilderness which it contained.

After stretching his legs on the unusually deserted Aberfoyle Main Street, Robert embarked on the last leg of his journey for the day. Within minutes he was out of that small innocuous town and into the unknown. For the past three months he had been in a quandary about where to go on his adventure, but when he passed over an old stone bridge, with a babbling stream underneath like a thousand voices whispering for attention, and found himself face to face with a forest which covered the hills, mountains, and valleys like a blanket, for as far as the eye could see; he knew he had made the right decision.

A dirt road cut through the labyrinth of trees and it occurred to Robert that as he cycled further into the reserve, the sun seemed to diminish with each mile, blocked by the huge pine trees on either side as if light itself was an unwelcome visitor.

By six o'clock the sun was dipping towards a line of craggy mountains on the horizon. It was time for Robert to find a suitable place to camp for the night. He continued onwards, struggling over uneven hills and patches of wet mud, scanning his surroundings for a suitable location to camp in. Finally, he spotted a small clearing in the forest not far from the road.

Clambering through some thick underfoot and entangled bushes, Robert managed to haul his bike through the tree line and then into the clearing. It was a small pocket of grass, and several fallen trees were spread across the area; trees which Robert assumed had created the clearing in the first place.

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