The Park

I read this collection of tales of authors’ favourite places and thought I’d try to write my own.

Redlees Park is between Cambuslang and Blantyre. Its entrance is underwhelming, an easily missed turn from a back road. It’s barely accessible by foot, the roads that lead to it having no pavements. So it’s quiet there; in my early morning runs I generally have the place to myself, sometimes sharing it with the occasional dog walker.

As the name suggests, Redlees Park is a park. A variety of gravel trails twist and intertwine around a pond, through woods and a ruined AA-gun battery. Although my attendance had decreased lately (as the temperature has), I used to run at Redlees every Saturday and Sunday morning. For months my weekend mornings started on those trails. I’ve been going there long enough that a full map of it exists in my mind, I can mentally draw the place.

I know, for instance, to start running soon as I leave the car park so that my blood is pumping by the time I hit the first hill, making the climb less strenuous. At the peak the path takes a twist right, then back left. For some reason I always feel the need to cut across the grass, something I don’t do anywhere else. From there I have a choice—four possible routes. But to me, the creature of habit, only one path can be taken: the Forest Walk to the right.

For all the people I’ve seen at Redlees, I’ve never seen anyone on Forest Walk. Here, with no real exits except at the car park, routes don’t really matter; no one’s going to anywhere, we’re all just going around. So perhaps the other paths just look more attractive.

Forest Walk is the only route here where the trees on either side of the path arch and touch, so sunlight can fall differently here than elsewhere in the park. It’s also the place where the lack of sound becomes most noticeable. It’s quiet enough here to catch shouts at football being played half a mile away. A train track runs close by, but, at this time, trains are so rare that their existence can mostly be forgotten. Most of the time it’s just me and the scraping of my trainers as I drop down and gently crest the small hills of Forest Walk, before I loop around and return to the crossroads again. This time I choose the steps and climb to the park’s highest point.

Even writing this I can feel the soft ground give way under my feet. Soon my thighs start to burn and I take a slight turn sideways, letting my legs’ adductor muscles assume some of the burden of getting us to the top.

And then a glorious downhill. My legs return to life. I arrive at the old AA-battery.

About a dozen buildings stand here in various stages of ruination. Just two have retained their roofs. One that does has become a hang-out for Blantyre neds. Colourful graffitti contrasting against grey concrete walls. Inside, inked on the walls are invitations for sex. I initially believed these to be jokes, or neds setting up gay men to be attacked. But the writing reads conversationally, with parties mentioning how they missed each other on one particular date, but will be back at a specific point in the future. These messages go back years. While reading these I noticed huge cobwebs in the doorways and assumed no one but me had been there for a long time. But a week later the webs were all gone.

But time spent reading messages gives my body the rest it doesn’t deserve. So again, off I run. Two concrete cylinders lie on their side here. What their purpose used to be, I have no idea, but now they serve me as obstacles to be climbed, to work brief moments of anaerobic exercise into an otherwise aerobic hour. I clamber over the first, keeping my bodyweight forward to avoid a slip and a teeth-stone connection. Then I run up a short muddy hill and over the next cylinder. I’m breathing heavily, but now I have an easy downhill before I attempt the second cylinder one more time. Then I downhill once more and reverse the route: back through the battery, up the hill, then down to that first climb.

The great thing about running up the first hill is running down it again. 20 minutes ago this was a slow shuffle, but this time gravity is on my side. My speed picks up, I’m going fast enough to have to chop my feet to avoid falling, I hit the steps, they’re so close together that I feel more like I’m jumping from one to the next. I rush down and over a bridge that I passed so slowly earlier. And the momentum dies. The ground levels off and the fatigue that chased me down the hill catches up. And that’s me, halfway done. Now all that remains is to turn around and repeat the process again, up that same hill, through that same Forest Walk, down to the battery, and back to here. I take a few shots of water, breathe deeply, than aim for that hill one last time.

Until next week.

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