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. 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. 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. So, 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. Right 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. 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.
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.