September – my favourite month of the year. I was born in September 53 years ago (I know, you’re saying how can that possibly be?). I love everything about September – the air, the colours, the letting go of a lucklastre summer and no longer feeling pressurised into wearing hypothermia-inducing skimpy clothes. September feels right to me, it’s where I belong.
This month I’ve travelled a bit, met up with friends, had a few highs and a few lows and have a feeling that my life is now moving on from the ‘big C’.
This time last year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had no conception of how it would pan out and I was very scared. My birthday in 2014 was a blur. I can’t remember anything but just wishing for the time that the surgery would be over and I would feel better. It took a while – the healing process was slow – but now I look back on the many, many good times I’ve had in the last 12 months and I feel blessed.
Yes, time heals. But it’s the wonderful people in my life who helped mend me that count. You’ve been FANTASTIC. Yesterday was my birthday and I was overwhelmed by everyone’s good wishes, (and a special thank you to those who participated in the marathon session in a west end hostelry which has resulted in my rather delicate disposition today.)
Thank you. Wxx
Sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me and nothing else will do but to satisfy it. So it was this week with the island of Great Cumbrae (I’ve yet to be convinced of it’s ‘great’ness) which I’ve been meaning to visit for some time. My pal Lorna and I set off at a fairly early hour – for us – to catch the ferry from Largs to the Cumbrae slip where we met a bus which conveyed us to Millport, a faded seaside town on a large bay edged with impressive Victorian villas and boasting two bicycle hire shops (cycling round the island being one of Cumbrae’s few discernible attractions).
Our walk took us cross-country to Fintry Bay, returning along the coastline. It was a blustery, grey day which threatened rain and I soon became chilled to the bone and was glad of a bowl of soup at the bay’s lovely cafe. Lorna had brought a packed lunch which we ate al fresco and my, how fresco it was. We returned to Millport and, as often happens in our screwed-up Scottish summer, the sun came out so we went in search of a beer garden. We found only one – a barren, concrete yard, complete with rat traps and wheelie bins, and not even a hanging basket to cheer the spirit. However, we are Glasgow girls and a beer in the fleeting sunshine was enough for us to agree we’d had a great day out.
That said, my curiosity is satisfied and I don’t feel the need to return to Great Cumbrae for a while.
After a couple of weeks out of the loop, I’m now back on track and determined to walk 30 miles by the end of the week. Yesterday’s circular route in Argyll links Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Hill House in the douce seaside town of Helensburgh with Rhu Marina. The high path passes through a woodland nature reserve with glimpses across the water to Greenock, Gouroch and the Rosneath peninsula. I was lucky to get a good day for it – sunny and 23C – a rare phenomenon this summer. It was a lovely, peaceful walk.
After the walk, I went for a bit of a drive up the Gare Loch coming to a site where ‘Peace’ is an extremely hot topic in Scotland. First I passed the 33-year-old Peace Camp and then HMNB Clyde, better known as the Faslane Naval Base. I was shocked (it’s almost 20 years since I drove this way) both by the menacing scale of the place and by how much the sight of it unsettled me. Faslane is the home of Britain’s nuclear weapons in the shape of nuclear submarines armed with Trident missiles.
Due to its strategic position – secluded but navigable – Faslane was first constructed and used as a base in World War II. At the height of the Cold War, it became the base for the Polaris missile system, which was progressively replaced by Trident missiles from the mid 1990’s onwards. Last year, the UK Government pressed ahead with its £3 billion expansion of the base amid political opposition from the SNP.
No matter what your beliefs on Trident and the nuclear deterrent, it’s hard to deny that Faslane is a blot on our beautiful landscape.
We Scots have had our seasonal expectations thwarted so far this summer. Instead of balmy, sunny days, we’ve had grey skies and rain. Day after chilly day. Summer dresses, shorts and sandals languish in the nation’s wardrobes in favour of warmer clothes. ‘Taps’ have stayed ‘Oan’, robbing our countrymen of their chance to display tats and torsos . (We must be thankful for small mercies.) While we love a moan about the climate this is going beyond the pale (ha! we’re all peely-wally) and if social media is anything to go by, Scots are now as depressed as the weather.
So, in an effort to revive flagging serotonin levels, the Old Man and I headed west this weekend in search of sunshine. Seems like we weren’t the only ones – the roads were busy and we wended our way slowly up to Oban and North Lorn, eventually stopping at Port Appin to walk a short circuit around the coast.
Thankfully the weather gods rewarded us with a few hours of sunshine and fabulous views over the sea to Lismore. We pottered about the rock pools, sat in the sun, had a beer al fresco and watched the sunset from the bar in the delightful Oyster Inn at Connel. And I thought: Ah yes, this is what summer feels like.
Yesterday, in search of sunshine, I headed north-west to the Crinan Canal in the heart of Argyll, which now ranks in my top ten Scots Spots. I persuaded the old man to come with me (he’s not that bothered about sunshine and is a fairly reluctant walker) luring him with the promise of a pint of Nigerian Lager on our return. It never fails. I was delighted to have him along, not least because he could carry my rucksack, full off the stuff I love such as food, drinks and maps. Man, I’ve missed having stuff.
We had neither the time nor the necessary logistics (because there are no linking buses on a Sunday) to walk the nine-mile length of the canal, so we walked from Crinan to Cairnbann and back – a distance of eight miles. We saw a variety of boats – from rusty tubs to majestic yachts and passed through some stunning countryside. The surrounding area is known as ‘Dalriada’ – an ancient coastal kingdom which is the habitat of a huge range of wildlife.
According to Scottish Canals, 2,000 boats make the journey along “Britain’s most beautiful shortcut”. Once an important commercial connection with the Western Isles, most of the traffic is now pleasure craft. The canal links Loch Fyne at Ardrishaig with the Sound of Jura, creating a vital waterway through the Kintyre Peninsula. Building work started 222 years ago and by 1854, 33,000 passengers, 27,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle were transported along it.
We found some sunshine and it felt quite warm for a while – perfect weather for working up a thirst.
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After weeks of training for last month’s West Highland Way Challenge for Breast Cancer Now, I was concerned that I might feel deflated once it was all over. Luckily, it’s been an eventful time which has taken me to many and varied parts of Scotland, starting with a hen party island adventure.
Our celebration of Lindsay’s final weeks of singledom looked destined to be a flop when Calmac – the ferry company which links the Scottish mainland to its many Hebridean islands – went on strike for a day…..the very day we were due to sail.
DRAT! HOW VERY DARE THEY. I posted a ditty on Calmac’s Facebook page:-
A plea to Calmac Ferrymen, please don’t spoil Oor Lindsay’s hen!
Arran is our port of call, where we’d planned to have a ball.
The girls arrive from far and wide, Auchrannie’s where we’re meant to bide.
Now we hear a strike’s been planned, how the feck are we going to land?
We’ve planned the gig for many a day and upfront we have had to pay.
We’ve tried to sort Plan B and C, but to be honest we’re all at sea!
So, please Guys, get us to the Isle, and help send Lindsay doon the aisle.
But to no avail. With a few days to go, the strike was going ahead and our weekend looked scuppered. However, thanks to Laura, our uber organiser, we found ourselves at Ardrossan jetty bound for Brodick on a RiB. (That stands for Rigid Inflatable Boat. It is NOT a dinghy.)
After a bouncy, breezy crossing we arrived at the splendid Auchrannie resort for a fabulous weekend of fizz, fun and pink paraphernalia, courtesy of henpartysuperstore.co.uk.
After the excesses of the hen weekend, it was time to walk my way back to sobriety. Dodging rainstorms and midges, I’ve clocked up many more miles in diverse parts of our glorious country, taking in beaches, canal towpaths and waterfalls.
It may rain a lot (OK, an awful lot) in Scotland, but for me, it’s never dull.
It seems fitting that on the day that Andy Murray got through to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, that I travelled to his birthplace as a way of demonstrating my support. Dunblane is not a town I was previously familiar with and I found it a bonny place with an imposing cathedral and a golden postbox.
I set off on National Cycle Route 765 to walk five miles and back to Doune. Now, I’m a wee bit apprehensive of cycle routes, having been very nearly mowed down a few times on the Kelvinside Walkway by ardent cyclists. (And no, I’m not of the intolerant ‘lycra-clad Nazi’ persuasion, a la Jeremy Clarkson. I just don’t fancy tyre treads tattooed on my face). But Cycle Routes pass through some of the best of Scotland’s countryside and they’re all way marked, so there is very little possibility of a person getting lost, even someone as relentlessly distracted as myself.
Leaving the Cathedral and following a brief walk along the river, I found myself walking through pebble-dashed Utopia, where the lawns are manicured, the cars are polished and everything is as it should be. These suburbs are quietly patriotic, with street names such as Bruce Avenue, Wallace Road and Scott Drive.
Soon I was out in the countryside with views out to the mountains beyond – which I have at one time climbed, but cannae for the life of me remember any of their names. It’s an age thing.
I walked all the way to Doune without passing a single cyclist. I suspect that they may have been put off by the amount and size of the puddles, which were impossible to circumnavigate and, it being farmland, very dubby and not at all lycra-friendly. On arrival at the small town, I was pleased to note that the bunting was out for me.