Category Archives: Highlands

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.

“ 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. ”
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.

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.

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…..