Category Archives: Pentlands

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.

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.










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.









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.


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.


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.





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.




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.

Created with Nokia Smart Cam

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.

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.


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.