Mountain Memories

I have a badly bruised bahookie. I was leaving the doctor’s last week, it was a dreich, drizzly day and I slipped and fell on the stone steps….aye-ya, or rather AYE-YA. As I had a hen island adventure weekend to attend (more of which later), I struggled on and largely drank my way through the pain for several days. On sobering up this week, I realised that I had a real pain in the ass and bruises that outdo Cheryl Cole’s tat.

This morning I hirpled back to the Doc’s and dropped my drawers to let him see the damage. After gasping and Goodness Me-ing a bit, he told me I’ve a large haematoma and that it will take a while to heal. So, no walking for me this week and to fill the time, I’ve been looking through some past pictures.

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Aonach Eagach Ridge

My, what an amount of mountains I climbed, how fit I must have been…..and man, have I gone downhill since! The featured image is me on the Ficaill a Choire Chais ridge on Cairngorm in 2000. The same year, I scaled the Aonach Eagach ridge (above), the thought of which now makes me quite pale and nauseous.

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The Route to Mustang, Nepal

The following year, I travelled to Nepal and trekked for three weeks through the Himalaya to the ancient Kingdom of Mustang. Shrouded in mystery, Mustang was closed for many years to foreigners. It finally opened its doors in 1988, although access is restricted and trekkers require a permit. Mustang lies in the rain shadow of the Himalaya and geographically is part of the highlands of Tibet. It is a vast high arid valley, characterised by eroded canyons, colourful stratified rock formations and has a barren, desert-like appearance. It was an amazing experience.

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A lovely young monk
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Nepalese children

A Plea to the Ferrymen

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.

A Marina, Militia…….and Miners

Yesterday’s walk was an enjoyable and varied one, a circular route taking in two Roman hill forts on the Antonine Wall, as well as the Forth and Clyde Canal. The start – and finish – point was the Auchinstarry Marina on the canal, which has good facilities including a pub hotel, The Boathouse – Scotland’s first eco pub – and a scents and sensitivities garden.

From the marina I set off to the wonderfully-named village of Twechar which was built as a mining village in 1860. The original miners’ rows have gone but the ‘spirit’ of the bygone industry remains in the shape of the Twechar Miners’ Welfare and Social Club, of which I happen to be a member. Oh, yes. One Sunday afternoon some years ago, I was walking the canal when I found myself in need of a comfort break. I did a detour into Twechar in search of conveniences and spotting the Tennents red ‘T’ sign, I headed for the hall (pictured).

IMG_0555An old boy on the door informed me that to get inside, I would have to join the club. After some rudimentary paperwork, I was duly signed in and after using the facilities, I felt it would be rude not to partake of a small libation, especially as the place was in full swing. I got chatting to some of my fellow club members and before I left was invited to join the annual ‘booze cruise’ – a barge trip down the canal to Kirkintilloch. ‘But don’t tell any of the wives.’ I was warned by one erstwhile miner, ‘They’re not invited’.

From there, I followed a track uphill to the site of Bar Hill Roman Fort. Just south of the Antonine Wall, it was built around 142 AD and was once home to a garrison of 480 men from all parts of the Roman Empire. I then continued on to the top of Castle Hill, the site of an even earlier iron-age fort.

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Before returning to the canal path, I crossed Croy Hill on a grassy path that follows the line of the Antonine Wall. I’m not going to mention the weather as I could descend into full-scale rant, I just had to be content with rather gloomy views across the Campsies and beyond.

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The West Highland Way – A Very Scottish Challenge

We’ve done it!

Over the weekend we completed the West Highland Way Challenge for Breast Cancer Now*. It encompassed all those elements of Scotland that we love – breathtaking scenery, weather aplenty, chat and camaraderie, hearty food and a fair few swallies. It was a fantastic experience and we – me, Grace and Blonde Eleanor – are feeling rather gallus about our achievements.

We set off on Saturday to walk 14 miles from the King’s House Hotel at the entrance to Glencoe, over Rannoch Moor, through to Glen Orchy, with our small team arriving first at Bridge of Orchy. It will come us no surprise to anyone, that I ordered the first post-walk drinks at the bar.

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On Sunday, we departed from Bridge of Orchy to walk down to Tyndrum where we lunched outside The Green Welly, before walking to Crianlarich. It was a very pleasant walk with stunning views.

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Now, just so we’re clear, I’m not saying it was a piece of cake (although there was plenty of that, thanks to Eleanor’s fundraising bake-off). It was quite a trachle at times. It rained all day Saturday, there were pesky midges aplenty and there were many steep bits – leaving us with many stiff bits.  

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Blame It On The Boogie

Yesterday’s walk was – of necessity – a gentle one. My walking companion for the afternoon, Blonde Eleanor, had mysteriously twisted her knee and was not up for any roughty-toughty hiking. She doesn’t know how she did it but as both wine and disco dancing were involved the previous evening, go figure.

We headed up to Aberfoyle, a pretty village in a glorious setting, to walk the Lochan Spling circuit. It was a leisurely 4-mile walk around this attractive forest loch. As usual, there was a lot to chat about, including the imminent West Highland Way Challenge for Breakthrough Breast Cancer which we embark on in two weeks’ time. We fretted a bit about our fitness levels and my ability to carry my ‘stuff’ as I’m still healing and not able to wear a rucksack. Eleanor is a rather reluctant walker and so we needed to dwell on the benefits of the Challenge – good cause, health benefits, social aspect and the opportunity to enjoy our fabulous Scottish Outdoors.

Yesterday’s walk was just what the doctor ordered – gentle, peaceful with lovely views.

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We were joined along the way by some stunning sculptures of a dragonfly and an osprey. These were crafted by internationally-renowned Scottish sculptor and environmental artist, Rob Mulholland. According to my research, there is also a sculpture of a pike on the loch, but we didn’t see it. Must have been the one that got away.

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If you would like to donate please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/

For more information on The Challenge visit http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/support-us/find-event/west-highland-way-challenge

For The Love of Art

I’m completely overwhelmed by the generosity of two Scottish artists who have donated stunning paintings to my fundraising efforts for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. My friend Louise Burns, who owns the fabulous Christo’s Gallery on Glasgow’s Great Western Road, approached artist Angela Hynd to ask whether she would like to get involved with my cause. Angela generously offered to contribute and painted the beautiful ‘Silver Birch’ in oils. She says that the painting represents growth because in early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification. Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out the spirits of the old year, and gardeners still use the birch besom, or broom, to ‘purify’ their gardens.

Angela’s partner Scott Prentice, whose mother is a breast cancer survivor, also wished to contribute and created the gorgeous ‘Sunflowers’ in acrylics. It’s a rich, heart-warming painting.

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The paintings will be auctioned off in Christo’s with the proceeds going to Breakthrough Breast Cancer, an organisation which funds a quarter of all breast cancer research in the UK. I decided to get involved in fundraising following my breast cancer diagnosis last September. I’ve signed up for the charity’s West Highland Way Challenge next month and I’m currently in training. These paintings will help my fundraising efforts enormously and the kindness of Angela, Scott and Louise has given me a very welcome impetus and motivation to complete the challenge.

So a huge THANK YOU to the artists….and a bit about them:-

Born in 1971, Angela Hynd found her first creative outlet in the family silversmith workshop where she served her apprenticeship making hand crafted traditional Celtic jewellery. Deciding to follow her own artistic path she then took up studies in illustration and had been working in this field since graduating in 1999. During the last ten years Angela has been concentrating on oils, her favourite medium and due to the appreciation of her work, is spending more and more time in the studio. Her work now features in collections all over the world with RBS being one of her patrons.

Scott Pentice is a Glasgow born artist who studied Illustration at GSA but through the years he has honed his skill by using all sorts of mediums to display his message, usually of beauty but often leaning to the darker side of life. He says: “I work both traditionally using a variety of mediums such as watercolour, gouache, acrylic, pastel or pen & ink but I also enjoy using more modern techniques in computer image generation and image manipulation, using our G3 power Mac. My partner and I are currently writing and illustrating our own children’s books and also have a keen interest in photography and animation.”

Christo’s Gallery has collections from mainly Scottish-based artists and designers. Owner Louise Burns takes time to source each piece and displays a wide range of art, with something to appeal to most tastes. She says: “Sourcing, displaying and selling beautiful art gives me a great amount of personal pleasure. Being able to share my interest with others is invigorating and satisfying.”

To get in touch with Louise at Christo’s, call 0141 579 0004.

Muicking Around

Yesterday I set off for one of my favourite Scottish walks – an 8-mile circuit of Lock Muick, near Ballater in Aberdeenshire. This grand loch is part of the Balmoral Estate and is located at the foot of Lochnagar, one of Scotland’s finest mountains and the inspiration for Prince Charles’s children’s book ‘The Old Man of Lochnagar’. I’ve scaled this mountain a few times and it is quite spectacular, popular with both hikers and rock climbers.

My trek around the loch involved both business and pleasure as I finally got round to the serious task of breaking in my gorgeous new purple boots.  Since I purchased them a few weeks ago, I have gazed on them admiringly, as more glamorous women would on their Jimmy Choos.  They have been fondled and photographed but, until yesterday, their action had been confined to my shag pile. However, my old boots are now losing the will to walk – bits are falling off and the soles are worn down – so the new ones had to be put to the test before I tackle the West Highland Way Challenge for Breakthrough Breast Cancer next month. So it was with some intrepidation that I laced up for the walk – partly because breaking in new boots can lead to that dreaded affliction, sair feet, but also because I feared they might get dirty.

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The Loch Muick circuit takes in some fine views and a variety of wildlife can be found there, including red squirrels, red deer, eagles, bats, oyster catchers, salmon and trout. As I bent down to adjust my laces, I saw some tadpoles.

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So how did my new boots shape up? Result! They are as comfy as they are colourful and, as luck would have it, the ‘bog factor’ was low so they remain fairly pristine….for now.

If you would like to donate please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/

For more information on The Challenge visit http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/support-us/find-event/west-highland-way-challenge

Feet Up and Fizz

These boots were made for walking……….but just not today. In the last week, I’ve clocked up 33 miles of hiking, am stiff, have sair feet and am badly in need of a chiropody appointment. So I’m hanging up my boots for the next 24 hours, cracking open the Prosecco and tuning into BBC Radio Scotland. My pal Fiona Stalker’s new show ‘Out For The Weekend’ – a programme featuring the multitude of activities on offer in Scotland’s great outdoors  – begins this afternoon and we’re VERY excited (OK, maybe not so much about the gardening feature as we don’t even have a window box). I’ll be on air during the show, talking about how I’m walking my way back to health and happiness following my breast cancer diagnosis eight months ago and resultant surgery.

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I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there’s been quite a transformation. When I began walking 10 weeks ago, I was physically and mentally wounded and was desperate to regain my strength and well being. Since then I’ve trudged, tramped and trekked more than 200 miles north, south, east and west in our beautiful country and I’m feeling so much better.

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While I’ve still got some way to go – and am slightly nervous about the West Highland Way Challenge I’ve signed up to in four weeks’ time – I know I’m on the right track and plan to continue walking regularly until I regain full fitness and beyond.

But tomorrow’s another day. For now, it’s feet up and fizz!

If you would like to donate please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/

For more information on The Challenge visit http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/support-us/find-event/west-highland-way-challenge

Off The Trails

On Sunday, Lindsay, Phoebe the Spaniel and I went out for a ramble around Mugdock Park and beyond. We got lost. And muddy. How exactly two fairly intelligent businesswomen failed to plan something as simple as a walk is something we wouldn’t particularly want our peer group to know about. So, if you read this and tell anyone, tell them not to tell anyone.

When we started off, the bogginess factor was about 5/10. If we’d known what was to happen later in the walk, we wouldn’t have bothered so much about skirting round muddy puddles, trying not to get our lady boots dirty. Much worse was to come.  Mugdock and the tracks around  are well-signposted, but we blithely eschewed the waymarkers, trailblazing across open land, with a vague notion that we were doing a loop and would end up back at the car.

How wrong we were…..and hour into the walk we ended up on the wrong size of a padlocked fence, talking through the rails to a fellow dog walker who assured us there was no escape from our incarceration and sent us back the way we came. She patiently gave us directions – pass the two benches, go through a gate, ford a stream, climb up onto the moor, pass a big boulder and go straight on back to Mugdock. We eventually found ourselves on the moor and looking for a sign – but it seems the signmaker forgot to put his working jacket on the day he was meant to complete it. We drew a blank.

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We then spotted a gate which we landmarked as a short-cut to our destination…..which was our next mistake as it was bordered by a bog as deep as Loch Ness. On the lead, Phoebe was keen to get over the gate. Just as Lindsay was balancing perilously on a bank working out her next move, the spaniel lunged forward dragging her into the malodorous midden. There was a mud-curling squelch when she extricated her boots. We trudged muckily back to the car, vowing never again to go ‘off the trails’.

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Stepping It Up

With only five weeks to go before the West Highland Way Challenge for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, I’m going to have shift my butt. Although I’ve been busy with preparations – new gear: check; fundraising: check; chiropody appointment: check – I’ve fallen behind in my target of walking 25 miles a week. To be fair – which it definitely hasn’t – the weather doesn’t help. In the last couple of weeks, balmy has turned to Baltic and it’s felt distinctly wintry.  We’ve had driving rain, hailstones the size of golf balls and temperatures plummeting to single digits again. This wasn’t in my plan.

The Challenge involves walking over 12 miles each day and there’s lots of steep bits, which we’re not very keen on. In fact, we’ll be climbing the equivalent of a Munro (Scottish mountain of 3,000+ ft). I haven’t done anything like that in recent years. So, yesterday I decided that miles and ascent needed to be clocked up. Being up north visiting friends and family, I started with a five-mile walk along The Deeside Way, a 41-mile trail from Aberdeen to Ballater that follows the route of the former Deeside Railway. Built in the mid 19th Century, it was used by the Royal Family to travel to their Balmoral retreat. The railway closed in 1966 but the route has been developed and maintained and is now popular with cyclists, walkers and runners.

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In the afternoon, after a bowl of her lovely home-made leek and potato soup, my dear friend Shelagh, Tara the Irish Setter and I did a 4-mile circuit of Elrick Hill, which involved 400 ft of ascent. Shelagh and Tara fairly sprinted up the hill, while I peched and panted (and maybe cursed a bit) behind them. Clearly, when it comes to regaining fitness, I’m ‘work in progress’.

If you would like to donate please visit https://www.justgiving.com/Wendy-Smith2015/

For more information on The Challenge visit http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/support-us/find-event/west-highland-way-challenge