Category Archives: Hill Walking

The “Fun” Begins

Well, this is “fun”  ……    Some side effects have kicked in, and I use that phrase advisedly.
I had great energy on Friday and Saturday with no sign at all of having had toxins pumped into me during my first chemotherapy session on Thursday, but on a wee walk on Sunday things began to change.
I am a good walker, so, even though I knew my fitness would have been compromised by the four operations in the past few weeks, I was a bit surprised at feeling depleted after about a mile and half over flat ground, but didn’t assume it meant much.

Linlithgow Loch has a circular, and flat, walk of 2.3 miles.

Linlithgow Loch has a circular, and flat, walk of 2.3 miles.

My partner, our fellow ‘Intrepid’ and I were having a good day out with plenty of laughter as per usual, and I felt confident that all was right with my world, feeding my soul on the simple beauty of the Loch . The peace of mind that comes with being outdoors and having fun with great friends is the best therapy for any malaise in my opinion.
Later in the evening I started getting weird crampy feelings in my feet which developed into lots of achy but sharp twinges in my legs as well. My first reaction to the cramping was to describe it as being like neuralgia but at the same time it still felt muscular. Perhaps ‘weird’ is the closest description – almost as though I could feel something travelling inside them.
It was making me twitch as the twinge aches got stronger, which became very disconcerting and I had a bad night sweat.
All day yesterday it was the same with occasional, additional  feelings of weakness in my legs, then in the late evening the sensations were also in my hand and occasionally my abdomen .
We read the Cancer Treatment Guidelines from the start, which have a traffic light system to advise patients.  We were carefully monitoring my temperature, ticking (or not) the descriptions of the various symptoms, and I still seemed in the ‘green column’ but, as the symptoms increased, (I started feeling shivery yet being hot to the touch despite my temperature being normal), we realised it had changed to amber, so I rang the cancer helpline as instructed.

The upshot was I was referred to St Johns Hospital, arriving just after 1am.  The assistant advised me to take things for an overnight stay, just in case – ooh, this was getting seriously ‘fun’ now.
The doctor took all the obs and gave me a thorough check-over then, when my blood test results came back okay, I was allowed home at 3am with the proviso that if there was any further concern I contact them again immediately.  Actually, to my great relief, the symptoms had died down quite a lot during that period, so it was fine by me not to be staying overnight.
The annoying sharp twinges have not returned but, when resting, my legs and feet are still aching as though I have walked 20 miles, and when I do walk there’s a really weird sensation inside them.

I loved the premise of the cartoon film ‘Inside Out’ with all the wee characters being involved with one’s emotions and memories, and  can imagine demented little Pacman type thingies running round my veins chasing white cells to destroy.  By gum, they are clumsy little buggars .   I can only hope this “fun” is temporary.

Memories are made of …….. paper

Sorting through some filing as part of my current house move, I came across these notes for an article to be written for the Epilepsy Assocation’s newsletter around 1993, which I had forgotten about.  There was a much edited version sent as well, but I have no recollection or record of whether either was ever printed. I was delighted to read the longer notes again mainly because I lost so many memories as a result of the grand mal seizures, that I need my souvenirs to prompt me.  It is good to see the beginnings of my ‘glass half full’ attitudes – I was a long time getting there.

TRANSCRIBED FROM HANDWRITTEN NOTES
“ Hello, my name is Susan, I’m 46 years old and I have epilepsy. Like many of you I’m sure, I spent most of my life being dictated to by that fact. As a result of parents and teachers ‘protecting’ me, until a few years ago all physical activity was a no-go area for me, despite most of my fits being nocturnal.
A few years ago I started hill-walking with Bob, my husband, and gradually this increased my physical confidence. Mind you, there was a great deal of ‘one step forward – three steps back’ but I persevered and saw such wonderful places. There are many hurdles in life for everybody to overcome but I’m sure you’ll agree that when something like epilepsy is involved the highest one is the fear of even trying.
We walked many munros (mountains over 3000 feet) and Bob planned to learn how to handle a rope, rock climb ad abseil to enable him to do the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye (the only munro requiring such skills). Me? No Chance! However, I saw some kids abseiling at a small crag in Glen Etive and thought it looked great fun, so when Bob went to the climbing wall at Meadowbank to prepare for the In Pin, I went along. I thought there’d be some stairs to go up to have a shot at abseiling down the wall and I was tempted to have just one shot.  Not so, you want to abseil down? You climb up!  Me climb? Out of the question! Why, what if …….. ? I’m sure the rest of that sentence will be familiar to you.
However, after watching one week, the second lesson I was tempted. Rab Anderson is the instructor at Meadowbank and what infinite patience he has! I took aaaages but I wasn’t caring, everyone was so supportive and although it was scary, the joy when I eventually reached the top was so all-consuming that I was hooked!
Then came real rock-climbing and abseiling totally under my own control. What a brilliant abseiler I am! Others may climb quicker and better but no-one can hold a candle to my abseiling. Well, OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but that’s how I feel inside, it is so good. The Inaccessible Pinnacle? Of course I did it! And the epilepsy? I haven’t had a fit for two years now and, although I wouldn’t be so rash as to ignore the change in my drug regime, I really do believe that facing my demons and learning to climb has had a tremendous effect in my staying fit free.
Here’s where you come in. Bob, Rab Anderson, Ted Agar (a film maker) and I are looking for people like you to take part in a film about climbing despite a disability. How about you? Do you fancy a shot at the wall with Rab? Isn’t it time for you to put your epilepsy in your back pocket instead of wearing it around your neck? If you have the teeniest amount of interest contact the Guthrie Street office and they will let us know. Come on, OK so you have epilepsy, but does it have to have you? Go for it, you’ll never look back. ”
2015 UPDATE
After being free of fits for five years (last fit 24 Oct 1990), in 1996 I started reducing my anti-convulsant drugs very, very gradually. My GP was reluctant at first but eventually was persuaded (aka nagged), and co-operated by prescribing lower dosage tablets to help me. I eventually stopped them totally in May 1998. My husband Bob, died in Oct 1998 so he was aware that I had achieved my goal.  He was my climbing partner so I never rock-climbed or abseiled again, but eventually did start hill-walking again with a friend two a few years ago.

Me on the summit of Scald Law in the Pentlands, Aug 2014

Me on the summit of Scald Law in the Pentlands, Aug 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have no recollection, or record, of any response to my appeal for folk to take part in the film referred to in the piece, but we did take members of the Epilepsy Association on hill-walks and taught some of them to climb and abseil at Blackford Crags. We also organised two abseils from the Bonnington Bond Building in Leith to fundraise for the EA – see 3 pic frame. Bob abseiled half way, locked off then took shots of me starting, mid-way and near the bottom.

The first abseil from the Bonnington Bind building.

The first abseil from the Bonnington Bind building.

 

Me climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye. I do have a framed photo of the abseil but it's currently in storage.

Me climbing the Inaccessible Pinnacle on Skye. I do have a framed photo of the abseil but it’s currently in storage. It was the most glorious abseil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a free climb on Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor. This climb is often roped but I managed without and was awfae chuffed.

A free climb on Curved Ridge on Buchaille Etive Mor. This climb is often roped but I managed without and was awfae chuffed.

I love travelling and although I am perhaps past the physical scaling of heights, the emotional scaling is ongoing whenever I am feeding my soul from the simple wonders of the world. Hopefully I will keep these memories.

My beautiful Buachaille, my very bestest, favouritest mountain. I have been up it a few different routes, roped once on North Buttress, and unroped on the others.

Buachaille Etive Mor , my very bestest, favouritest mountain. I have been up it a few different routes, but now am gloriously happy just visiting and viewing from the glen. This was Sept 2015.

Don’t Stop Believing

The last ‘Feeding The Soul’ blog I wrote was two years ago.   I didn’t do any ‘real walking’ in 2013 but earlier this year my friend Debbie and I starting walking together again and the main reason for my re-starting the blog  is because one walk in particular made me start believing in myself again.  Prior to that, I had started having my doubts about my fitness, especially after the year’s break.

Anyway, in January we went along the Union Canal from Linlithgow to Philpstoun and back. Neither of us had taken sustenance as we fondly believed there was a café just under half way along.  We saw the café after about four miles but were full of vim and vigour so decided just to call on the way back.  Huh!  Like a silly so-and-so I was wearing jeans (which no sensible walker does if rain is threatened), and on that return journey the heavens opened.  This resulted in my being the wettest I had experienced for a very, very, very long time, with utterly sodden legs trailing water behind me.  We were still in good spirits though because we always make the best of whatever the weather throws at us, but we were sooo desperately needing a hot drink – only to discover the aforementioned café was closed for refurbishment!  It certainly taught us never to rely on buying food and drink on a walk ever again!   Left pic: view from the canal before the rain.    Right pic: a sight no drowned walker wants to see.

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In February  we tested the newly opened John Muir Way from Bo’ness to South Queensferry, starting with the weather a bit driech but cheering up nicely .  It is a lovely walk along the coast with varied terrain and the finish at the bridges made a perfect ending as we sojourned in The Hawes Inn waiting for Debbie’s husband, Martyn, to collect us. Left pic: Debbie at Bo’ness at the start of the walk.  Right pic: Debbie at South Queensferry at the end of the walk.

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April saw us tackling Kilsyth to Falkirk, a longer section of the John Muir Way.  Debbie’s husband drove us to the start and my partner, Walter and our friend, Sid, met us at the Falkirk Wheel to drive us home.  Again we had a very enjoyable walk, meeting friendly folk along the way, with a lovely ending at the Falkirk Wheel.  Mind you,  the start was a bit fraught when Martyn couldn’t find Kilsyth, and his SatNag took him off the motorway to spend 3/4 hour traversing back roads to rejoin the motorway 10 miles on – but, hey ho, it all adds to the great tapestry of life – or so I’m told.  Pic above: The start of the walk at Kilsyth marina.  Pic below: The finish of our walk at the Falkirk Wheel.

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We had a few adventures/silly incidents on all our walks, which we giggled our way through.  Laughter is a great energy booster.

Now, walking along the canal was ‘safe’ for me insofar as long as I was on the flat I was fine, never having any problems with my legs, even after 15 miles.  However, I was very cautious about coping with much of an ascent because I had problems breathing deeply enough to power my body uphill – or at least that’s what it felt like to me.  However, although the low-level walks fed the soul to a certain extent, there was something missing when we were not actually in the hills, so we both knew that we had to go up again.

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Anyway, in May we went up Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. I was really struggling with my breathing – half a dozen steps…stop – half a dozen steps….stop – until we met up with Walter and Sid , who had approached from another direction.  Before meeting the boys on the plateau, Debbie and I had already been to the summit and back (albeit with me panting away and scarlet-faced), but I was so thrilled that Walter had managed to climb the hill, that there was nae problem at all going back to the summit with him and, lo and behold, all signs of difficulty breathing had vanished.  Pic: The four of us at the summit of Arthur’s Seat.

I began to accept then that my so-called breathing problems were ‘in my head’ and the crunch came when in August, Debbie and I decided to go up Scald Law, the highest hill in the Pentlands.    I parked at Flotterstone and we began by walking alongside the reservoirs – a gentle way to get the body working.  2014augPENT-1  We had a couple of false starts which added to the overall distance and amount of ascent but also greatly increased the fun. First we missed the turnoff for Scald Law and went around another mile or so before meeting another walker who told us where we had gone wrong.  We retraced our steps and set off at long last for yer ackshual ‘ills.  Left pic: Glencorse reservoir. Right pic: the correct place to turn up to Scald Law.2014augPENT-5 When we got to a bealach we went left, but half way that hill up Debbie noticed that the one on the other side of said bealach was higher – hence that had to be Scald Law.   2014augPENT-hangONSo, off we went down again – climbed up to that higher summit then back down and up the first one again, (that being Carnethy).  I can go at a fair walking speed on the flat but an experienced hillwalking friend had advised me to take it a lot steadier on any ascents – slowly, slowly catchee monkey – and it worked,  I was able to pace myself much better, albeit at half Debbie’s pace.  It was a lovely day and we eventually did all three – Scald Law, Carnethy and Turnhouse – loving every minute.  Right pic: “whoops, we should be on that one”.  First below left: Me on the summit of Scald Law.  Second below left: Me on Carnethy. Right below: Debbie with ‘walker hair’ .  Next two right pics: view across the hills and view across the town from Turnhouse.

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Well, “loving every minute” until we came “the other way down” (being straight down a steep tussocky hillside, wading through a Burn and crawling under a fence – none of which is to be recommended). This meant that I used every ounce of energy my little legs possessed, which resulted in their refusing to work properly for a few days afterwards, but hey! the breathing was ok.  I was not sure exactly where we were when we finally reached the minor road leading to the reservoirs so I stood, arms akimbo, in front of an approaching car. ( I tell you – for a few seconds Debbie and I both thought he wasn’t going to brake. ) The desperado action was to make the driver stop just so I could ask directions, but the kind chap offered us a lift to the car park which we gratefully accepted.   I had to bite my tongue when he started going on about women not being any good with maps, but then his car the last place for me to deliver a lecture on feminism considering that a) we had just come down a hill the most ridiculous way  and b) I had stopped him to ask directions.  Let’s face it, I didn’t have had a leg to stand on metaphorically, morally or even literally at that moment!   After a well earned rest at Flotterstone Inn  I managed to drive Debbie home to Linlithgow, but on my own way back to Livingston, my legs finally gave up the ghost and cramped badly, meaning driving became a little scary – luckily I was on quiet back roads.  I was totally spent but happy.  2014augPENT-susSLEEPRight pic: Me the following day , my system going into ‘auto-recovery mode’  at every opportunity – this one at Knockhill car-racing course.
That walk in the Pentlands was my cathartic moment referred to at the beginning of this blog.  The distance we had walked, and the overall ascent covered on the three (and a half) hills in the Pentlands, was a “Munro’s worth” , so that made me start believing in myself again – hence the title.  Therefore, a couple of days later when Debbie asked me about taking part in doing a Munro for the Skye Whisky Challenge to raise funds for Mountain Rescue, I immediately agreed.

We chose to climb Schiehallion on 22nd September.  I completely underestimated how difficult that mountain would be.  Although I knew there was a boulder field leading to the summit, I did not realise it covered so much of the mountain.  There are umpteen false summits too.Schiehallion-002-2    There is a good stony path up the ridgeback  but it vanishes at the boulder field.  I had forgotten to take my stick out of the car and was really missing it as I walked up.  I happened to comment about this as a few people went past me going down, then to my absolute astonishment a lovely thing happened. The lady of a couple who were both using sticks said she too would be lost without hers,  then moments later she called me back and insisted I take one of theirs!  Naturally I declined because there was no way I would get back down in time to return it to them, but the man came up to me and made me take it, saying that they had more in the car and that I really would need it later.  How kind was that!   I didn’t ask their names so I will never be able to thank them.   As I said, the path is fine for a good length of the way and afterwards it is not that difficult to work out a route, but I found the later terrain to be ultra challenging.  It’s not too bad for those with long legs and good balance because they can use the big boulders like stepping stones, albeit with occasionally loose ones, but for folk like me with short legs and a dodgy sense of balance it was a laborious job of picking a way around and over the boulders.    I was so grateful for that stick!  I honestly don’t think I would have managed without it, especially on the ‘everlasting’ boulder field.

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Anyway, three hours after we had started (!) and a few hundred yards from the final summit, I knew that I had to stop in order to have enough strength in my legs not only to get down the mountain but to drive the two and a half hour journey home as well.  Debbie continued by herself to bag her first Munro and photograph the Skye Whisky Challenge flag and a Yes flag at the summit cairn.   I never took any photos on the way up or down this mountain – I was too busy concentrating  hard on where to put my feet.  However, I did get a few snaps with my mobile phone while I was waiting for Debbie   – unfortunately they are not that clear but believe me the pic on the left of the summit really does have Debbie waving from the top!  The other has Debbie waving her flags on her way back to where I was waiting.

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We  were both more than chuffed with our achievements – Debbie for bagging her first Munro and me for getting back out there again.  pic above: we celebrated with a selfie.  Despite six hours of really hard terrain and my legs beginning to shake on the descent, I was absolutely fine afterwards – no stiffness or aching.  My breathing was a bit tight at first but perfectly ok most of the time, though admittedly I was probably moving at a quarter of the pace needed for effective hill-walking.  We are planning more Munros now I have started believing in myself again – possibly Ben Ledi or Ben Venue at the end of October .  All that remains is for me to get back the voice I lost in 2010 – but that’s another story.

Soul-Feeding At A Lower Level

Walking in Scotland is wonderful ‘Food For The Soul’ but we don’t have to go up high to be ‘fed’.   For various reasons my walking chum, Debbie, and I have had to confine ourselves to lower level and local walks for a few weeks (and anticipate doing so more during winter weather)  all of which were equally rewarding even though not physically challenging.

Linlithgow Loch, Palace and St Michael’s Kirk.  approx 3 miles

The first walk in this blog was just 3 miles around Linlithgow Loch which is extremely picturesque.  The weather ‘came in’ as they say, but that didn’t spoil anything for us.

We also went in St Michael’s Kirk, the church nestling alongside the Palace.  The volunteer guide showed us around the interior of the kirk and related the
history and notable events.  It never ceases to amaze me how knowledgable are volunteers  in all types of historic buildings I visit and how they communicate the history and the events with such infectious enthusiasm.  My trouble is I tend to forget what I’ve been told quite soon thereafter(!)  Thank goodness for T’interweb!  More info here:

Mary, the future Queen of Scots, was born at Linlithgow Palace  on the 8th December 1542. The infant Queen was baptised at St. Michael’s.  However, according to the link above,  “..in 1559, the Protestant Lords in their zeal to to obliterate all traces of Roman Catholic practises from the church destroyed not only the statues and alters but also the baptism font.  To this day occasional fragments of this orgy of destruction are still found around the church”.  The photo  is of the current font which I think dates from the 1800s.

As well as the historical artifacts the church has had more modern additions such as this stained glass window erected in 1992.  In 1964 a replacement, and at the time controversial, spire in aluminium in a modern style by the prominent Scots architect Sir Basil  Spence, representing Christ’s crown of thorns, was added. I lived in Linlthgow during the late 70s/early 80s and well remember neighbours discussing this in not too favourable terms – I have always liked it though.

As a result of my recent attempts to get back on my bike I was most interested to see this memorial plaque.  I can’t recall seeing mention of a cyclist battalion before.  See here for info about this rare battalion.

On our way home we called at a tiny church at the other end of town, St Ninians.  See here for more info.

We couldn’t go inside and I didn’t take a photo because there was scaffolding around it for work to be done on the roof.  However we did chat to the roof repairer – as you do – and found to our delight he was a font of knowledge about old churches in Scotland.  (no pun intended)  He strongly recommended us to visit Abercorn church – the oldest in Scotland – which we did a couple of weeks later. (Later in blog)

Prior to that visit though, we had walk on part of the Linlithgow Heritage Trail and River Avon Heritage Trail which includes the Union Canal.

Linlithgow, Linlithgow Bridge and back –  Union Canal_ – approx 5 miles

It was a beautiful day and again, although not particularly physically challenging, was a truly lovely wee walk. As it happens, I forgot to transfer my wee point and shoot from my handbag to my rucsac so I had to make do with my 2mpx mobile phone. But, as I say ad nauseum “the best camera is the one you actually have to hand” .   Our walk actually started in Kettlestoun, Linlithgow Bridge at an information point all about the battle of Linlithgow Bridge but really the route began in earnest underneath this viaduct.

Then along a river leading to the canal.

 

 

 

 

 

Going across the aquaduct….


This view is from the canal as we neared Linlithgow and is  looking across to the viaduct where we had started at Linlithgow Bridge. Along this stretch we saw a bird of prey in the far distance which, when I double checked about the shape of it’s tail at home, I am fairly sure was a White-tailed Eagle.

Canoeists getting their own Food For The Soul on the canal …..  

Being low level did not detract from the beauty that surrounded us and the sheer joy of being part of nature.

Abercorn Church to Blackness Castle and back  – approx 5 miles

The next trip was from Abercorn Church to Blackness Castle.  The church is a little gem with a history dating back over a thousand years.  For more info click here.

After visiting the church and the teeny museum we went through the woods then down onto the shore to Blackness Castle.

Our hearts sank as we got closer to the castle though – it looked as though we were snookered by a wee river – but luckily we eventually discovered a tiny bridge.   (Debbie could have leapt from bank to bank but I wouldn’t have stood a chance with my wee legs.) We had our lunch at the castle them made our way back – this time by the wooded path all the way back to Abercorn.

The final low level walk taken in the past few weeks was further afield and is part of the West Highland Way.

Tyndrum, Allt Kinglass and back  – approx 10 miles.

When I checked the weather forecast early in the week it looked good for Wednesday so we made plans accordingly.  We planned to go from Tyndrum to Bridge Of Orchy and to get either a train or bus back.  Then on Tuesday night the forecast changed drastically to our great dischuffment so we were going for a ‘plan B’ instead.   Luckily I checked again on Weds morning and it was back to being hopeful, so we reverted to ‘plan A’.  I am SOOOO glad we did.  The weather was absolutely beautiful all day – amazingly bright, quite mild, no wind (changing to lovely wee breeze later) and was downright gobsmackingly gorgeous.  However, we learned a good lesson….check the bus times FIRST!   We were a bit late starting off and had a couple of stops to take photos on the way, so we were not exactly giving ourselves the best chance.  If we’d known the times we might have made adjustments or simply got a move-on.   This is a stitch of Loch Lubhair taken on the way up.

 The words ” Dull would they be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty”  sprang to mind. (I know Wordsworth was referring to London but how well it fits. )

When we finally started on the section it was 1.30pm.  We consulted the computer in the Green Welly Stop to find to our dismay that the bus times from Bridge Of Orchy were 3.04pm  and 8.14pm!!   There was no way we’d cover seven miles in 90 minutes!   We also considered getting the bus TO Orchy and walking back, but that had long since gone too so we had no choice but to attempt the walk both ways.   Quite frankly I was happy just to be there in such wonderful conditions – it didn’t matter about actually reaching Bridge Of Orchy.   Oh what a day it was!  Just see the weather conditions at  the start of the walk just behind the Green Welly Shop.


Ben Dorain was lording it over the route.   I’ve driven past this mountain “millions” of times and been across the area on the West Highland Rail Line twice.  I’ve always wanted to walk it ….. so chuffed to have done so at last.

We had noticed two other walkers in the distance who appeared to be struggling a bit with heavy packs and by the time we stopped for lunch we had caught up with them. While we were stopped we had a chat with a walker who had just come off Ben Dorain and said chappie reckoned the others were two German ladies planning to walk to Glencoe that day.  They’d been on the same bus as him that morning and he had been up the mountain and back in the time it had taken them to reach that point.  There was no chance of their reaching Glencoe, over Rannoch Moor, by the time the sun went down!
The route is clearly signed to go under the West Highland Rail Line via a wee tunnel .  The German ladies didn’t appear to have a map, or be observant, because they set off to continue across the hillside and had to be called back to go via the correct route under the tunnel.

On the other side of the tunnel…
We never saw the German ladies again so we suspect they turned left after the tunnel to take  the other part of this path which eventually met up with the main road after about a mile and led back into Tyndrum.  I do despair of folk going to the hills or on walks over roughish terrain without being properly prepared and equipped.

We turned back ourselves at Allt Kinglass.  It was only about a mile and a half from Bridge Of Orchy but to make it feasible for getting back to the car in daylight, and taking into account a two hour drive home after that, we decided it made sense to go no further.  Unfortunately my wee point and shoot’s batteries had failed soon after taking the photo of the coos and my replacement batteries were dead (duh!) so once again my mobile phone came to the rescue for the ‘golden light’ on the way back.

We were quite warm, so much so that Debbie stripped down to a sleeveless top, but then she noticed someone coming towards us who appeared to be smoking and realised that it was in fact their breath visible in the cold air – not smoke at all – it was actually rather chilly my dear!   We hadn’t noticed that the route went downhill on our way out but we sure did notice it was uphill coming back!   Our wee hearts were racing at full pace but in a good healthy, exercise way – not stressful at all.

Even a puddle can be beautifully photogenic……

Then of course the sun went down behind the hills and the golden light vanished, but by then we had arrived back at the car.    A nice hot coffee from the wee shop and we set off back home, both souls well fed.

I am getting more and more confident of my fitness – not a trace of aches or tiredness on any of these walks – despite this last one being around 10 miles and having some steepish parts.  When the soul’s appetite is satiated the body benefits as well.

Wheelly, wheelly scary stuff

See that phrase “It’s like riding a bike – you never forget” ?? Huh! That is SO not true!   I never rode a bike as a child (yet another totally unnecessary  restriction imposed on me because of having epilepsy) and don’t  recall any particular trauma learning for the first time in my early 30s, but I do know my bike didn’t have gears and I never went far.

I didn’t cycle again for another decade and getting used to it that time round was horrendously traumatic.  Eventually I coped and my late husband and I went on cycle tracks all over Scotland and a couple in England.  I managed the gears OK though was never too keen on anything very steep, and could even signal (!) but very rarely went in traffic .   I loved the Sustrans tracks where there was a scupture every mile – it made the rides so enjoyable.  I have such fond memories of those journeys.  Here are some scanned images from those days – Cycle Route 75 .  I had forgotten where the foot soldiers and centurion could be found but a friend told me they are between Bridge of Weir and Kilmacolm .  The other one was taken the same day but I’m not sure exactly where.

We did a lot of the long distance tracks in all seasons.  I used to go shopping occasionally with panniers on the bike and have toured along English waterways, again with panniers and with a rucksack on my back – so I did get fairly competent.  We highered my saddle over the months until I could cope with just toes on the ground which made pedalling more physically economical.  By gum, I need my full feet firmly on the ground now and cannae even push off, I have to scoot to get going!  That is what hurt me so much when I found myself back to square one when it came to riding this last time.  Thank goodness for two albums of photos proving that I had been on these trips – otherwise it would seem like I was completely havering.  I suppose that was my biggest problem – it hit me really hard when I realised I had lost so much confidence that it belied the belief in my own history and memories.

You see I had a very nasty fall from my bike early 1999 on the Bathgate to Airdrie cycle track – out in the middle of nowhere.   Although I had to get back on my bike to cycle back to my car thence drive myself to hospital – I  hadn’t ridden since. I did not realise how severely I’d been affected by the accident until a few months ago when my partner decided to get a bike.  I knew I would need to get back in the saddle if I was to join him but when  I accompanied him to the bike shop I felt physically sick and had palpatations – just in the shop – how pathetic is that!   I tried to brazen it out and get back in control by getting my bike serviced but inside I was terrified.  Anyway, another friend told us about cycling training sessions being run for older folk by Ageing Well at Meadowbank so we registered for them and went along. (It puts a whole new perspective on ‘recycled teenagers’ ) .
The tutors understand how hard it is to get back to cycling after decades away from it and take things from absolute basics. I borrowed one of their small bikes and spent ages just scooting with it before being able to pedal but, once I did, I was proper chuffed and thoroughly enjoyed myself.  At home I enthusiastically got my bike out of the shed but I couldn’t even mount – I was completely inhibited by it.  So….I decided to buy a folding bike like my partner’s, so it’d be convenient to carry in the car and more importantly, easier for me to ride by having a smaller frame.

At Meadowbank the following week  I reverted to feeling very stressed by the effort of cycling with my new bike but I kept control of myself……just.  Walter’s bike got a puncture so he took the chance to get some snaps – here I am attempting to steer round a slalom. (that’s me on RH side in a blue top)

However, gradually my voice was becoming higher pitched again – a sure sign of stress.  I didn’t go back to squeaking but it was noticeably higher.  Then, this last week the tension built up to boiling point and I had to let go.  It might seem embarassing for a 65 year old to be in tears about riding a bike but I wasn’t fazed by that happening per se because I know now that repressing it is what does the damage. Walter was so supportive and the others all understood because they had fears of their own to tackle.  After I had ‘let go’ I did my own thing  rather than join in with the exercises.  The previous week I had so much tension in my arms and hands that it caused quite a lot of discomfort/muscle pain so I practised riding with relaxed hands and very soon I felt a whole lot better.  And low and behold my voice went lower too!

I am fairly sure that next Monday I will be able to ride far more confidently.  In any case I won’t give up – I am determined to conquer this.  It may be wheelly, wheelly scary but there’s only one way round it and that’s to push on through the fear barrier.

Trusting the book

Weds 8 August 2012  –   I had to be back in Edinburgh by 4.30pm because I was performing in a show on the Fringe, so Debbie suggested we just do a little low-level walking instead of heading for a mountain. She had come across a booklet by John Davidson giving detailed descriptions of various walks around the Linlithgow area and proposed number 23, a 5 mile route starting from and returning to the Korean Monument near Torphichen .  She was highly skeptical that the walk  could actually be ‘strenuous’ as he classed it, (well both of us were doubtful I admit),  after all, the hills were really just pimples with only a tiny amount of ascent.

I left Edinburgh earlier than initially planned thanks to an unexpected telephone call which got me out of bed, so we were able to set off from Linlithgow pretty sharpish. The route was to be Korean monument / Witches Craig / Cairnpapple / The Knock / then back to Witches Craig and the Korean monument via Wairdlaw. We decided we would trust the book and follow his route conscientiously rather than devising any shortcuts.

According to http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst10318.html the “small wooden pagoda is surrounded by 110 Korean pine trees (one for every ten Britons who died in the conflict), 1090 Birch trees (one for each of the fallen) and picnic tables along a pathway named United Nations Avenue. This avenue is surrounded by 21 trees, representing the twenty-one nations involved in the UN force in Korea. The traditional Korean pagoda contains lists of those who died in the conflict, the vast majority of whom were young National Servicemen. Maintained by the Scottish Korean War Memorial Trust, the site opened on 27th June 2000, marking the 50th anniversary of the start of the war. “

Further up the hill we came across the Witches Craig wall which is made up of rocks from all over Scotland.  Some of the rocks are lettered and details about them given on an information board.  Said board listed rocks lettered A to Q but we saw an R on the ground level.  We couldn’t see any further info though. There were three seats set into the wall but, apart from both taking a photo opportunity, we didn’t have much use for them – tough walkers like us didn’t need to sit down – hmmm!

Set into a wall nearby was the Refuge Stone  –  According to http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/24270/refuge_stones_of_west_lothian.html .  “ ‘Sanctuary Stones’ were at one time common in Scotland, mainly around large religious sites. Once a miscreant had entered within the bounds marked by these stones, he was considered ‘safe’ and could not be touched by civil law. It was then up to the religious experts to decide if he should be cast out! These stones were often of megalithic origin, re-used and ‘christianised’ by the incision of religious symbols. ”

From there we followed instructions which took us across a field and through a wood but then we just had to retrace our steps to Witches Cairn.  We were supposed to see something of interest but I confess I forget now what it was to have been and anyway we didn’t find it!  Duh!

We followed the crest then down through fields and woods along quite well defined paths to be stopped at the end of this section by a wire fence .

Debbie could clamber over with a large stride across it but I stood no chance with my  titchy legs .  I tried climbing it (leg over with foot lodged in mesh)  but it was too flexible to hold my weight steady while I lifted over my other leg.  Luckily Debbie spotted that further down it changed to a barbed-wire fence which had room underneath it so I was able to squeeze through there.

Across two minor roads then up a long winding road to Cairnpapple, the 4000 year old  burial mound.  There are steps cut into the side of Cairnpapple Hill to make ascent a doddle.

At the gate to the site I managed to drop the map into a cow pat – as you do.  Luckily it was only a tiny splash so it wiped off fairly easily (I just had to make certain I didn’t use that particular tissue for my nose!).

Sadly it was not open so we couldn’t visit the burial mound itself but we made full use of a bench there for eating our lunch. The site is run by Historic Scotland – http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresultsold/propertyabout.htm?PropID=PL_050&PropName=Cairnpapple Hill.

From there we rejoined the road and trundelled along to The Knock.  This road was definitely my least favourite section.

I found this wee video on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lT40RUcqDvI –  which shows the views available.   I often make wee films myself but this time just took photos for stitching into panoramas.

I couldn’t find much information about it but according to another blogger – http://www.kimharding.net/blog/?p=330 – “Local rumour has it that this was the site of a coven of witches up until the 17th century. A little to the north you look down on a ring of stones in field which looks like an ancient henge, however it only dates back to 1998 as a birthday present to the farmer from his son.  “

It took us all of four minutes to get up the wee hump but we spent over 15 minutes at the top taking pictures and generally enjoying the views.  Three minutes to get down then off again retracing steps back to Cairnpapple then onwards to the edge of Beecraigs Country Park to Wairdlaw Path.

We saw a lovely well maintained path going in the correct direction so assumed that was it, but a gentleman farmer we met half way along assured us we were erroneously on the way to his farm.

I hadn’t registered that the instructions referred to crossing a stile at that point – double duh!    The track was a matter of inches from the farm path but not exactly that clear to see.    Following  said track we doubled sharply back on ourselves across more fields.  (That was one slightly unfortunate aspect of this route – there was quite a lot of retracing steps and doubling back rather than it being a genuinely circular route.)

We passed the old silver mines on this stretch but there wasn’t time to detour to them . Every now and then during the day Debbie enquired if I thought the route really was “strenuous” but by the time we had reached this point she had stopped asking – the answer being only too apparent!   I received a phone call so she grabbed at the chance to have ‘a wee sit doon’.   We were both  tiring by then to be honest because we had already been walking for 4 hours and were not finished by any means!  (The booklet estimates 3 hours but that is without the stops we took for photos and generally gazing aboot. )

The way was fairly level for a wee while but just as we settled into the level rhythm it changed to 45degrees (the kind of angle where you feel your feet just are not designed to bend up like that) and cruelly it took us up a short but steep stretch back up Witches Craig .   Down to the Korean Memorial and the car – phew!    Was it strenuous?  By gum –  – yes!  One doesn’t have to be scaling the heights for wee treks like this to be challenging.  Most importantly though, there are enormous rewards for making the effort.

And BTW, I did manage to get home for half four in good time to shower and get ready for my show without stressing.  Despite driving for an hour and a quarter and walking for four and a half hours I was fine – adreneline having kicked in by then.

Me as ‘Mrs Gamp’ in a short extract from ‘Martin Chuzzlewit’ in ‘All About Dickens’ with The Mercators.

Not so much a Corbett as a Caw!

Debbie and I had initially planned to go to Ben Ledi near Callander for our next Feeding The Soul trip on Wednesday 25th July and our good friend Sid reckoned he would like to join us.  It had been a long gap of two decades since Sid had done any serious walking and his interest had been aroused by hearing about our recent hill-walking adventures.  (See my other blogs).  However, Debbie was in the middle of moving house so we had to postpone Ben Ledi yet again.  Instead we decided to do a local walk but Sid was still keen to join us.  Upon learning we only going to a wee hill, another friend, Ionwen, also decided to come along with us as a wee test of her fitness while recovering from an illness.

Debbie and I  had planned to go to Cockleroy Hill near Linlithgow a few weeks ago, but as it turned out high winds had caused major tree damage at Beecraigs and many of the  paths were closed.  (See Onwards and Upwards)   We knew it was a popular local beauty spot but knew very little else about it.   This time, as we were aware of the path closures, we opted to start from Balvormie car park at the foot of the hill itself instead of walking through Beecraigs first.

Now then….as all experienced mountaineers and hillwalkers know, it is essential to prepare properly.  I made sure I had all the safety stuff such as compass, first-aid kit and the relevant maps; packed myself a lunch box, bought juices and chocolate bars, ensured I had waterproofs, boots, walking stick, towel, plastic cover, anti-midge spray – all the usual checks for safety in the hills and to cope with the vagaries of Scottish weather.   The anticipation started to rise as the packing took place – yipee,  soul-feeding awaited.

I collected Sid from Edinburgh, then Debbie from Livingston and made my way to Linlithgow.  At the car park we met Ionwen and decanted from car seats to rucsacs .

Gobsmackingly, the weather was fine for a change so I decided to leave my waterproof in the car – adventurous soul that I am!  Debbie and I opted to brave the elements and rely on after-sun if needed, but Sid and Ionwen both lathered on a good layer of sun lotion.  Mind you, he still kept on his fleece (Sid feels the cold).

The way was clearly marked from the carpark.

The path was flooded at the start and was rather muddy for a few yards but undeterred we soldiered on. 

Once out of the wee wood we started up the hill……..

I’d hardly got going again after taking the above start-off shot when I realised my companions were already half way up…….

No sooner had I caught them up than I found we were at the – ahemm – summit!   On the mountains, the Munros or Corbetts, there are often false summits …one thinks one sees the top only to find there’s yet more to climb.    This time it was the opposite – we all looked around frantically to see where the hill continued but no, this was it – this was the top, the heights, the summit, the end of the route.  Aw naw!  Not so much a Corbett as a Caw!

A fellow walker asked me to take a photo of him and his toddler girls who had come running up behind us (NB: ‘toddlers’ !) so after I had obliged, he took one of us.

There are in fact lovely views from the  – ahemm – summit of Cockleroy so I took shots of

The Forth Bridges  

The Pentlands

The iconic viaduct in West Lothian

Grangemouth

A wee ruin close by (don’t know what it is)

The views are certainly rewarding and, after admiring them, I glanced at my watch  to see that  a mere 20 minutes had elapsed since we started so we must have been ‘up’ in ten!!!!  Ten  minutes to the top!!

I stared at the others with embarassed disbelief thinking “But, but, but – I thought I was going to feed my soul……, Oh blimey,  I’ve invited the others for an adventure…….,  Oh bother, I’ve made a packed lunch ……….oh heck – we can’t go back now!” .    I knew we didn’t really have the time to drive further afield to try another ‘proper’ hill, and in any case that wouldn’t have been feasible for Ionwen, but we had to do something else.

I went to the other end of the wee ridge – ( I use ‘ridge’ for want of a better word) – to see if there was another option for us, but was informed by the chappie with the babies that the only other route down was one which annoyed a farmer, so we had no option but to retrace our steps.  Undaunted and determined to get something out of the day, I suggested we have a walk around Beecraigs and the others agreed.

The way to Beecraigs Loch was through a large play park which was packed with kids having a fabulous time on the various equipment.

To digress…. wouldn’t it be a good idea if there were play areas for adults as well?  I think it’d be great if there was equipment for us to swing on or climb up or bounce on – it’d be much better than just hingin’ aboot watching the kids having all the fun and exercise.  Recycled teenagers rock just now but we could be the oldest swingers and sliders as well.

Anyway – on with the story, such as it is – we stopped at the Beecraigs visitors centre to have our lunch – see the photo below of our joyous group revelling in the sheer excitement of the adventure!

( Seriously, this was just an odd  moment – they weren’t like that the rest of the time.   Honest!   )

I never go anywhere without a camera of some sort so at least I got some  snaps  ……….

Fishermen on Beecraigs Loch

Lovely wee flowers near the causeway crossing the loch…

Just an arty-farty shot of the overflow water rushing past……

Greylag goose from a flock feeding alongside the loch

Reflections of Beecraigs Loch…

There has been a lot of damage done to the trees and many have fallen or been chopped down….but there are many new ones being planted.

The walk around the loch is very pleasant and wee Cockleroy Hill presents a gentle introduction to the rewards of making a little effort. My problem with it was just not realising it was so very tiny.  However, when the loch circuit was included,  we had walked about 4 miles, which was a wee challenge for Ionwen and a nice wee break for Debbie, Sid and me, if not exactly demanding.  The weather was perfect for walking – bright but not hot and with a slight breeze – so I admit I was somewhat disappointed not to have gone further and higher, but we always make the best of what we have at the time.  It may not have been quite what I had hoped for but it still did feed the soul, this time with the pleasure of the company of friends.