Monthly Archives: June 2012

When ye cannae tak the high road…

When ye cannae tak the high road…

27th June

Huh! Low-lying cloud-cum-fog reduced visibility to 100 yards or so as I drove to my friend Debbie’s house in Livingston but we were living in hope that the weather would be different further north, so off we set for Callander with the intention of climbing Ben Aan.

However, as we passed Loch Venachar (on the route to Loch Achray for Ben Aan), we had to accept that with the cloud base still stupidly low, we were on a hiding to nothing – there really was no point attempting to get up high. So, when ye cannae tak the high road, ye tak the low yun instead!

I had a few printouts of walks in my rucsac, including low level ones,  so we turned back to Callander to find the route listed as “Loch Venachar and the hidden lochan”.  (Yes, I know I said we were at the loch already but that wasn’t where the walking route started . )

We’d started getting eaten alive by midges in the few minutes we were in the layby so our next stop was in Callander to get insect repellent.  Tesco was sold out, but I bought a pack of Mars Bars so the visit wasn’t wasted, and we had a wee walk further into town to the chemists. They were almost sold out too but we snapped up a Jungle Formula roll on and spray and applied it liberally.

We then followed the instructions to find the start of the walk – another huh! in fact triple huh cos we (well I – seeing as it was me driving)  went the wrong way twice (to the amusement of a walker we passed) then when we were finally on the right one we met a humungous lorry coming toward us on a no-passing-places single track road!  (No probs actually – he backed up for me cos I had no room to let him pass.)

Forty-five minutes  after starting to look for the route (!) we eventually located the elusive car park and set off along the forest track.

We were half way up it before I remembered my stick so, by the time I had gone back to the car and caught up again, it was 1pm before we set off in earnest.  Time for a Mars Bar each.

There was a slight wetness in the air – not rain (yet)- more like walking through the edge of low-lying cloud (hmm!), but despite this we both removed our waterproof jackets because the temperature was still quite high and we were uncomfortably warm in them. Near the top of the path we met a young woman from Texas who lives in London and was walking the Rob Roy Way from Aberfoyle .  (Our route followed the unmarked Rob Roy Way for the first section but, as it is unmarked, we wouldn’t have known if it hadn’t been in the said printout). We enjoy talking to other walkers – ships that pass in the night and all that.

From here, according to the description of the 7km walk, there would be “excellent views across the loch to the unfamiliar southern slopes of Ben Ledi”


We didn’t mind really – no honest, we really didn’t – the most important thing was to be out in the countryside getting some exercise and just having some “me time” or in our case “her time and me time” .  No two walks are ever the same and we revel in the different weather conditions and terrain.  The path was steepish for a few hundred yards  but soon levelled out through a forest of sitka spruce and led eventually to Lochan Alt a Chip Dhuidh, described as “a secretive sheet of water so well hidden by trees”.  I can’t find a direct translation for it but  based on what little I know of Gaelic, “Allt” means “water”, “Chip” is yet another word for “hill” and “Dhuibh” is “black”.  It certainly did look black  today.   At this point  our “low lying cloud” metamorphosed into actual rain, so on went the jackets. As it happens it had got slightly cooler so we didn’t mind.

The walk through the forest is not challenging but it does have its own beauty with little waterfalls appearing amongst the trees, water-boatmen on the puddles and ducks on the loch.

 The path leads down eventually to “a grand view over Loch Venachar ahead” and joins the tarred path of the National Cycle Network 7 which extends from Carlisle to Inverness.

Now then, Debbie had the route printout at first and confidently told me there was to be a cafe along the return route.  Accordingly we held off stopping for lunch until we got to the alleged cafe.

Another Huh!  My tummy started growling like a lion with a thorn and Debbie’s energy was waning, so I checked the text and discovered it was “views across the loch………new Harbour Cafe on the far shore” . The other side of the loch!!  What on earth possessed the writer to tell us about a cafe we could only look at ?  Talk about cruel and unusual treatment!

So we had another Mars Bar each to give us an energy boost for the final quarter of an hour .  We arrived back at the car at 3pm.  I can’t tell you how chuffed I was to have done the walk in the time quoted in the printout – proving I cannae be that unfit.  And what’s more, every now and then my voice went really low – back to normal in fact.  It reverted to being high but it still proved that the normal voice is there – all it needs is for me to relax.  Once again walking provided food for the soul and worked its magic.

And finally, another view across the loch to  Ben Ledi – – – allegedly. 

We are going to ensure we always have a low level option for each of our planned hillwalks so that, like today, we can still have a great day out in the open in spite of whatever the Scottish weather throws at us.  If ye cannae tak the high road…..

Onwards And Upwards

Onwards and Upwards

On 13th June time was once more very constrained so Debbie and I were canny and didn’t attempt to go far or high. We went instead to Beecraigs Park and Loch near Linlithgow with the intention of going up a teeny wee hill, Cockleroy.  It was a very pleasant walk, not particularly ‘challenging’ but still very enjoyable with lovely clear views including over to the Forth Bridges.

I say “not challenging” but a few of the paths around Beecraigs had warning notices about fallen trees and we had ‘fun’ clambering over massive trunks stricken across the paths.  Now, when it comes to leaping over ditches or stepping stones in rivers, Debbie’s long legs come in ever so handy and she often has to help ‘short-ass’ me across,  but when it came to clambering over tree trucks with other low hanging branches my titchy height proved best cos Debbie got trapped by her rucsac.    Once I had come to the rescue (I’m really milking this now! ), we discovered to our great dischuffment that the path to Cockeroy was closed for forestry work! So – snookered by the closed path but undaunted, we made our way into Linlithgow itself and had lunch there, followed by a visit to the museum and maze at Annet House.  I used to live in Linlithgow, which is a lovely town full of character and historical going-on,  but the wee museum wasn’t there then.  It was very interesting and well worth another visit.

On 20th June our adventure was to Tinto Hill in South Lanarkshire.

 This was Debbie’s highest hill being just over 2,300ft.  It is  well known as an perfect introduction to serious hillwalking but is not quite a Corbett (Corbetts being hills between 2,500 feet and 3,000 feet which have ascent of 500 feet on all sides.)

It has the largest summit cairn of any mountain in Scotland and is the highest hill in the Central belt.

It has Bronze Age connections and I had read that there was an Iron Age fortification not far from the bottom of the hill, but I confess we didn’t actually spot  it .  Apparently the name means Hill Of Fire possibly because of the red rock often revealed in the grassy sides. 

We kinda played ‘Tortoise and Hare’ with Debbie going ahead at the pace best for her while I  puffed and panted at my slower pace and got there just the same. It was wonderful not to feel any time constraints or other stresses – just to be able to wallow in the moment.   I tend to assume it’s ‘just me’ when I struggle with ascents so I was most surprised to note just how steep the path was when I came to go down again.

  Despite this pretty steep ascent and descent over about 6 miles my legs were fine – no twinges or aches, so I have acknowledged that I cannae be that unfit after all. All my breathing difficulties must be connected to repressed emotional tension – and this will be conquered as I continue to feed my soul on the hills.  Fingers crossed for the weather being kind next week.

Healing The Soul

Healing The Soul

Some folk find solace and gain freedom through listening to music, through looking at paintings or any number of activities, but for me it’s the simple joys of walking in the countryside.  Being in the great outdoors, and especially on the hills or mountains, makes me realise how we are all just an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny part of the whole scheme of things. Just one tiny element in a vast universe. The beauty of the world is overwhelming .

Now, some folk don’t do Mondays and I don’t do weeping, especially since my husband’s death.   Throughout my life I have restrained my emotions and tried to keep “in control” (perhaps in response to the horrendous lack of control involved at other times thanks to the grand mal seizures that plagued me from childood until my forties). I have had a number of traumatic events to cope with over the years too, so eventually my body had kinda had enough and rebelled.  My voice has always been a weak spot insofar as losing it would be the first symptom of a cold, and after my pneumonia in September 2010, my left vocal cord became paralysed, resulting in the loss of my voice.  I had no more than a tiny whisper for about three months then improved to a squeak for another ten. This is not condusive to contentment for an actress!! Gradually I have regained some voice, albeit higher than my previous one,  thanks to the support and advice of Vocal Performance Coaching and have come to learn that much now depends on my coming to terms with my emotions.

In addition to gaining supreme pleasure just from observing the beauty of the world, on the hill my mind just switched off from the problems, troubles and pending decisions.  All the stresses & strains of childhood fears, bereavements, estrangements, medical conditions, To Do lists, timetables and all the rest of the emotionally restrictive and oppressive ‘stuff’ that had affected me to the extent of robbing me both of my breath and my voice, either paled into insignificance or were put into perspective. 

On our walk from Dreghorn to Hillend emotion suddenly overcame me and poured out to my surprise, initial discomfort then immense relief.  Going back hillwalking  I have rediscovered the therapy that being in the hills can be for me and my soul has started healing.   So, onwards and upwards……

If At First…….

If At First……

On 18th April, despite a poor weather forecast, Debbie and I decided to go from Dreghorn to Hillend – or to Balerno or to Glencorse – we didn’t really mind.  However,  after a long slog up the horrible steep path from Dreghorn (which is more like a trial than a trail – ugh!), the weather “came in” as they say, and in every direction we were met with thick cloud at ground level.

We had lunch at what I think of as ‘the junction’ where the various routes meet and decided we would have to abandon the walk. Another walker felt the same – it was simply not worth the risk when we couldn’t properly see where we were going.

But, believe it or not, we were still having a great time and my breathing seemed to have improved a teeny bit despite the challenging conditions.

The following week we were far more pressed for time as Debbie had to be back in Livingston for another appointment early afternoon, so I suggested we go to Threipmuir from Balerno for a lower level walk. Huh! The lesson of this one was to prove to be ‘never believe what other walkers and/or cyclists tell you if you don’t already know the route and/or you can’t see it marked on the map!!’ After we had been walking for about an hour we were ‘reliably’ informed by a mountain biker then an elderly hiker that if we went on a bit further there was an unmarked path which would lead us back to where I had parked the car – but this path never appeared! It was a bit chilly but generally fine and once again we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves having our adventure.  We had a lovely time soaking in the beauty of the surroundings and slowly the weather cheered but – but sadly not in time for us to change our plans.

Sadly time really was pressing and we eventually found ourselves two hours away from the car with the shortest way back turning out to be the way we had come! Anyway, to cut what can be a very long story a bit shorter, at Loganlea we came across a fishermen’s hut, complete with fishermen, one of whom was just about to go home in his car. Never being backwards in coming forwards I explained our predicament and by a fortuitous coincidence his home route was on the A70 which leads to Balerno where my car was parked.  This kind gentleman took pity on we damsels in distress and gave us a lift all the way back to my car. Thanks to this good Samaritan I managed to get Debbie back to Livingston just in time and we pledged then not to do any more ‘by the skin of our teeth’ trips (if we can help it ).

Our next day out was three weeks later after we both had holidays abroad. We started again from Dreghorn, (a short walk from my flat) and afterwards declared with a passion that we are never using that route for a way-in again. It is a good path as far as the surface is concerned but it has been dug out far below the hillside and is unremittingly steep, so much so it is not enjoyable at all.  Rant over!   To ameliorate the drudgery of the path  the weather was fabulous – we were soon soaked again but this time with perspiration not precipitation. Once off that dreadful path we continued to Hillend across the lovely hills of Allermuir and Caerketton with our spirits buoyed by the heavenly views over Edinburgh and the rest of the Pentlands on such a beautifully clear, sunny day. We were two very happy bunnies. I felt it was not fair on Debbie for her to keep having to stop with me so I persuaded her to go ahead at the pace comfortable for her. I then found by just going at a much slower pace I was able to keep going for far longer without losing breath. Result!

In fact it proved to be a most cathartic day for me.……………emotions came to the fore and Debbie encouraged me to let it out……..the healing of my soul had started.


From little acorns and all that.

From little acorns and all that.

On 7th April Debbie came through to meet me, ostensibly for a walk in the Pentlands, but as it happens the cloud base was very low that day  so I suggested we go to Arthur’s Seat instead .  By gum! The pair of us were ‘peching’ as soon as we started on the Radical Road but, whereas she soon got in the zone, I was utterly useless. I could not breathe properly at all. I kept taking nice big breaths but letting it all out again before I could use it! It was crazy and meant I had to stop every few steps during the walk up. (I had pneumonia is September 2010, which didn’t exactly help with my lung capacity, but I suspect my problem was more in my head than my chest.)  Once we got on more level ground I was fine and we had a lovely time, so we decided to try again the following week.

For our first proper hillwalking session we drove out to Nine Mile Burn to go up West Kip via Monks Law. Huh! It started off ok  but very soon the rain came in – then the hail – and the wind – then more rain and more hail.  Nevertheless, we are made of sterner stuff and were determined to do what we set out to do and had a great time giggling and braving what Scotland could throw at us.

My attempt to convince Debbie that the top of a fence post could double as a lunch table made her suspect she had come walking with a severely delusional woman, but she humoured me and we ate soggy butties with relish –  hahemm.

I still struggled to breathe effectively but it wasn’t quite as bad as the previous time and I started to acknowledge that if I relaxed it became a lot easier. It was tricky underfoot because of being so wet and it was not easy for me to see through heavily rain splattered glasses, so Debbie scrambled up the last few feet on her own and I took the ‘proof’ photos.

At this point I started getting some of my old feelings back and realised just how sorely I had missed being out in the hills. I had to get back in the habit.   We agreed to make it a regular one.   If at first……..

Why “Feeding The Soul”?

Why “Food For The Soul” ?

This wonderful country of Scotland provides what I term “food for my soul”. Visiting places like Glen Coe, Glen Etive, The Cuillins on Skye, Torridon and Sutherland – mountains, cloud formations, waves, patterns made by ripples, all provide wonderment galore. So much beauty surrounds us in a myriad of weather conditions, and the simple wonders of the world provide intense pleasure …………… . .

but for me walking in the hills is a ‘soul fix’ in a different league. (Picture of Buachaille Etive Mhor – by Walter Hampson, used by permission)

To explain a wee bit… My late husband (Bob) and I used to walk the Scottish mountains at every spare moment, plus tackling some simple rock climbing, abseiling and cycling. No doubt about it, it was an excruciatingly traumatic trial for me, with much distress mixed with success, but gradually I learned how to cope – how to trust myself – and my soul was lifted.

I am totally convinced that these activities were my saviours because, as a result of the intense physical and emotional challenges faced over a period of approximately ten years, I conquered the debilitating grand mal epilepsy that had plagued me since being seven years old.   I had my last seizure in October 1990 and after five years fit-free I decided to wean myself off all the drugs that I had taken since I was ten (albeit with changes over the years). This I did with my GP’s agreement during the following three years, so that by September 1998 I was medication free.  Bob died in October 1998.

Anyway, since Bob’s death in 1998 I had not hillwalked, apart from taking his ashes to the summit of Sgurr Nan Gillean on Skye and a couple of times up the Pentlands near to where I live. In fact, I thought that part of my life was finished and I had forgotten how much I needed this natural therapy.  A chance remark by my friend Debbie, that she needed to get away from it all for a wee while, prompted me to suggest she came through to Edinburgh for a wee wander in the Pentlands.  From little acorns and all that …..  .

Feeding the Soul – Hello world!

 Hello world,

My name is Susan Wales and I am a recycled teenager with a wide range of interests  including wildlife / bird watching, hillwalking, travel, photography and amateur drama.  This blog will cover my adventures, feelings and thoughts on the hills I walk.

Most of my hill walking will be in Scotland. I am fortunate to live near the Pentland Hills in the central belt (Edinburgh and environs).

Livng in Edinburgh I am ideally placed to travel to the hills and mountains of Scotland and I hope to regale you with tales of my adventues.