Breaking Sad

There are certain times in a girl’s life when the only therapy worth investing in is of the retail variety. Yesterday was one of those times. It was a bleak, cold day, punctuated by sharp rain and hail showers. It reminded me of the long, long winter I have just endured post-surgery when I was more than a bit miserable. During those dark months, I was sore, afraid, anaemic, susceptible to infection, healing oh-so slowly and watching a raft of box sets. Perhaps watching Breaking Bad – a show about a struggling chemistry teacher, diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer who turns to a life of crime, producing and selling crystalized meth – was not my smartest move. The series had some very macabre scenes and wasn’t exactly cheery.

The show’s title is based on a southern colloquialism meaning, among other things, ‘going wild’ and kinda describes my shopping expedition yesterday. It was expensive but boy, did it brighten my day. I bought a bright pink ‘Sawtooth Hoodie’ (actually the colour is ‘Lupin’ which I love), purple lightweight hiking boots, mauve socks and sunglasses with interior green stripes. The hues of my purchases are important. I’ve spent months skulking around in baggy dark clothes, colours which suited my mood. For months, my only purchases were two post-surgery bras which are the most unflattering garments known to womenkind and were a fusty shade of ‘Scotch Mist‘ when I eventually ditched them. So, it was with a mission to Go Bright that I embarked on my spending spree. The outdoor centre where I made most of my purchases has both a cafe and a climbing wall. I stoked up on calories in the former to stave off any potential shopping fatigue – which was wise as it was a heavy shift.

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Beach Roaming

As I stepped out of the car and into a blast of exceedingly fresh air on Ayrshire’s glorious coastline, I experienced a patriotic ‘Scotland The Brave’ moment . The thermometer had barely reached double figures but there were my valiant countrymen proud and resplendently ‘Taps Aff’. While I struggled in the stiff breeze to layer-up effectively, they manfully strutted in shorts and tats. Summer had apparently arrived, albeit a tad prematurely.

Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer six months ago, I’ve longed for a stroll along the beach, but knew I’d have to get stronger before facing our bracing sea air. So with temperatures soaring this week, I decided the time was right to hit the coast and packed the car with a range of outdoor clothing with which to combat the gamut of Scottish elements. I set off southwards along Ayr’s splendid beach feeling slightly overdressed among the sartorial skimpiness of the spirited sunworshippers (OK, enough alliteration. Ed)

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The Ayrshire Coastal Path stretches 91 miles from Skelmorie in the north of the county to Glenapp in the south with Ayr at its midpoint. The route sticks close to the coastline and for much of its length it runs along sandy beaches.  Once I’d passed the town’s fleshpots, the beaches were virtually deserted. There was driftwood, oil tankers loomed spookily on the hazy horizons and a ruined castle……..but nary a tattoo in sight.

For more information on the Ayrshire Coastal Path, visit http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/glasgow/ayrshire-coastal-path.shtml

Radio and Royalty

Yesterday took me north to one of favourite places on earth – Royal Deeside – to join my adorable pal, Fiona. We met up at Glen Tanar estate just south of the River Dee to do some recording for her new Friday afternoon show on Radio Scotland. Starting in May, ‘Out for The Weekend’ will feature the multitude of activities on offer in Scotland’s Great Outdoors. I was there to talk to her about my road to recovery from breast cancer through walking my way back to health and happiness.

We had planned – by our standards – fairly meticulously, having brought snacks (quorn cocktail sausages, mango pieces, bananas) and a 25 year-old OS map, which I had stuck together rather optimistically with much sellotape. We then decided that the map was perhaps a bit superfluous as the several routes are all way-marked. The one we chose – Fairy Lochan – was symbolised by a dragonfly. It’s a lovely short circuit, passing the 19th century Chapel of St Lesmo, the picturesque small loch and looping back along the Water of Tanar. Simple.

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After some highly technical sound testing of the recording equipment involving a creaky gate, we set off apace in glorious weather, walking and talking…..and then things went a bit Radio Gaga. We got so engrossed in our conversation, that we’d completely forgotten the dragonflies and were not sure which path we were on. We retraced our steps…..only to find we were on the right path after all. After that, the map came out and after much squinting and holding it upside down, we figured out where we were going.

Situated in the heart of Royal Deeside and within the spectacular Cairngorms National Park, Glen Tanar Estate is just east of Balmoral Castle, which was built for Queen Victoria in the mid 1800’s as her wee but ‘n’ ben. The surrounding area is hugely popular with sightseers, anglers, walkers, climbers, cyclists and two distinct types of photographer – the wildlife expert and the selfie amateur.

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Whisky Galore!

It has always been a huge disappointment to me that, when it comes to whisky and the consumption thereof, I suffer from two terrible afflictions – hangovers and heartburn. It was a travesty keenly felt when I visited the north east for a couple of days’ walking along the Speyside Way. I met up with my old mucker Morag and Brodie the dog at the recently refurbished Craigellachie Hotel in the heart of the region’s whisky trail. Surrounded by malts, distilleries and whisky heritage the temptation to throw caution to the wind and ‘drink in’ the atmosphere was stronger than a Glenfarclas 105 which, yes, I have imbibed and suffered the effects. We had to be sternly resolute on arrival at the hotel when we were invited to join in a select whisky tasting event in the drawing room. We declined and instead gazed on the 700+ malts on offer over G+Ts in the hotel’s sumptuous Quaich bar.

The Speyside Way is a long distant route which captures the spirit of Scotland running 84 miles from Buckie on the north east coast, through the heart of malt whisky country to Aviemore, the outdoor centre on the foothills of the Cairngorms. Mostly you walk in the valley of the fast-flowing River Spey, Scotland’s second-longest river and arguably its most attractive.  IMG_0283IMG_0284

The area is home to almost half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries and both Glenfiddich and Glenlivet are directly on the Way. In need of a comfort break, we popped into the former, which hosts an excellent tour and also has a grand fireplace in the ladies loo. Posh or what?

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Parklife

‘Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as parklife’. The first line of British band Blur’s popular track ‘Parklife’ came to mind on my walk yesterday and now I can’t get the lyrics out of my head. It was released in 1994 – CRIKEY – and remains popular today. That set me off thinking about what I was doing then. I lived in Aberdeen in the early 90’s and – as was a rite of passage in those days – worked for a large regional newspaper group. It was the aftermath of a bitter industrial dispute at the company which saw the sacking of 120 workers. For nearly a year after, journalists mounted picket lines outside the newspaper offices. The dispute was one of the longest and costliest in Scottish media and nearly bankrupted the NUJ. Those were trying times, which some might attribute to bonkers bosses (or bonking bosses, as the Scottish Sun reported) but I made very dear, lifelong friends there.

In 1995, when the bosses and I had a bit of a contretemps, I moved  to Glasgow, which in Gaelic means ‘dear, green place’. The city has many lovely parks and gardens and I’m lucky to have two on my doorstep. Blonde Eleanor and I set off for a circuit of two of the city’s favourite parks – the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park. The Botanic’s iconic Kibble Palace (pictured below) is one of the most prestigious remaining Victorian iron and glass structures. Built in 1973, it houses tropical plants from around the world and is a peaceful place for repose. The Botanics is also home to some stunning orchids.

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Our five-mile circuit took us down to the River Kelvin walkway and into Kelvingrove Park, past the imposing Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and up to Park Circus, built above the city in Victorian times by the wealthy burghers seeking to escape the pollution and disease of the industrialised city.

It’s a very pleasant walk….. And then I’m happy for the rest of the day safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to parklife.

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Walking Among Wind Turbines

Blimey, they’re big! 110 metres tall with blades 45 metres long, there are 215 turbines at Whitelee Windfarm, the UK’s largest onshore windfarm.  As part of our training for the West Highland Way Challenge, my fellow breast cancer survivor Grace and I set off yesterday for what should have been a 20-minute journey by car to the Whitelee visitor’s centre for the start of the walk. However, as I haven’t yet got the hang of my sat nav, which I had unknowingly set for return to my house, we did a few unscheduled ‘U-ies’ and took almost an hour to get there. (Give me a map any day).

It’s quite a sight, looking out at the hundreds of white three-pronged giants which dominate the seemingly barren moorland. However, Whitelee’s habitat management estate covers an area equivalent to 2,358 football pitches and is home to deer, shrews, stoats, frogs, lizards, snakes and a variety of bird species including merlin and curlew. Yesterday, there were two additional ‘burds’ circling Loch Goin and getting a bit lost in the 130km of trails that surround the wind turbines.

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So we ended up walking for longer than we’d planned and had time for LOTS of chat (that’ll come as no surprise to our friends!). Much of our conversation was about breast cancer and the fallout from the disease. Grace was one of the first people I discussed my breast cancer diagnosis with last year. She’d been there five years ago, got the T-shirt.  She is an ambassador for Breakthrough Breast Cancer and is very knowledgeable.The day after I was out of hospital, she came round with the tastiest superfoods salad to help build up my iron (I’d lost a lot of blood and was anaemic) and has offered a lot of valuable advice. We have since shared many experiences ……….and many glasses of wine!

If you would like to donate to my West Highland Way Challenge 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

Warriors and Quarriers

An encounter with a Roman legion was not what I expected when I set out at Easter for a RELAXING walk…but that’s Scotland for you. Always expect the unexpected….especially when it comes to weather (see last post, ‘Cutting Aboot’).  On Good Friday, I set off in rain and murky cloud along a stretch of the Paisley to Gourock Cycle path from Bridge of Weir to Kilmacolm.

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In the face of rain, us Scots remain staunchly optimistic. ‘There’s not much rain between the showers’ and ‘The Sun will soon be out’ are our mantras. And uncannily so it comes to pass, as can been seen in the glimpses of blue sky above Kilmacolm’s Old Kirk (above).

On the way back, I took a detour to Quarriers Village, once the Orphan Homes of Scotland. Each large Victorian house in the village was built to look after up to 30 orphaned children. The cottages, as they were called, were built from 1878 onwards by William Quarrier, a deeply religious man who was determined to find homes for the unwanted children of Scotland.  Quarriers is now a Scottish charity providing care and support for children, adults and families.

The village feels peaceful and welcoming and I like to think they knew I was coming……the bunting was out!

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Cutting Aboot

My hiking book billed it as a RELAXING 7-mile walk over moorland and along the Greenock Cut aqueduct. It started so well yesterday, in sunshine, with fantastic views over the Clyde to the hills beyond. Then this happened…….

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Weather with more front than Blackpool swept in from the west and nearly knocked me off my stott. Gale force winds of up to 100mph – along with showers of flinty hailstones – battered into me. Relaxing, became invigorating, then a bit scary. The Cut is quite exposed and I was feeling the almost overpowering effects of a particularly enthusiastic jet stream from the Atlantic.

The small huddled flocks of sheep had all eyes on me, I could see them thinking: If she’s not here to round us up and bring us to shelter, then what the hell is she doing here? But being more ‘fool’ than ‘hardy’, I kept going and resolved to complete the circuit. An hour and a half into the walk and I was quite exhausted. The force of the hailstorm meant it was difficult to look into the distance. Added to that, there was no signal so the walking App didn’t record my miles. I had no idea how far I still had to go. I was never so glad as when I rounded a small slope and there was my car.

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The Greenock Cut was constructed between the 1820’s and 1840’s to take water to and from Loch Thom to Greenock. It’s now a Designated Ancient Monument, has a visitors’ centre and, in the right weather, is a pleasant outing. I’d avoid it in hailstorms though…….unless you want to save on those dermabrasion sessions.

Saints and Sair Feet

I’ve had to take a couple of days rest as I’m suffering from an ailment which afflicts many a Scottish walker – sair feet. I’ve also got aching shins and wonky hips and by the end of last week was feeling fair trammeled. On Friday, I had an appointment at Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary and I decided to walk. All the way. On tarmac. I know, it’s my own fault that I’ve got gammy legs as I clocked up a total of over 30 miles last week, which was perhaps a bit ambitious at this stage of my recovery. I was a bit downbeat at being so knackered, but rallied when I remembered that four months ago I could barely make it in a taxi to the hospital. It’s progress.

The walk from my home in the west end to The Royal in the east of the city, is as interesting as it is diverse. It starts at the Botanic Gardens, down to the River Kelvin, through Kelvingrove Park, down to The Clyde, walking along the city’s iconic river to the scene of the terrible Clutha helicopter tragedy, past the Tron and up the High Street, ending near Cathedral Square and the imposing and rather spooky Necropolis.

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I had a bit of time to pop into Glasgow’s Cathedral, a medieval place of worship which is also known as St Mungo’s Cathedral, after the 6th Century missionary who became Glasgow’s Saint and whose tomb lies in the crypts. He was a cult figure in the Scottish Church who, according to enthusiastic biographers, performed four miracles in his lifetime which are featured in Glasgow’s coat of arms. These included reincarnation of a bird and saving Queen Languoreth from execution by her jealous husband by finding her ring inside a fish. Some guy, that Mungo.

Reservoir Logs

I’ve started logging my walks with the MapMyWalk App with a goal of walking at least 25 miles a week on the run up to The West Highland Way Challenge for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. Yesterday’s jaunt was to the Milngavie Water Treatment Works on the outskirts of Glasgow. (Trust me, it’s more appealing that it sounds.) I walked a total of 8.25 Km (5 miles in old money) – twice around the Mugdock Reservoir and once round Craigmaddie – which took me 1 hour 30mins. Unfortunately no calories were burned (I hadn’t set up the App properly) so no hearty pub lunch for me this time.

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The footpaths around these reservoirs are popular with walkers, runners and doggie people (no, it’s not that kind of place). As I walked and took pics, I got to thinking about the history of the place and it’s quite fascinating. No, really, it is. Stay with me.

It dates back to the mid 1800’s when Glasgow was desperately in need of a good, clean, safe water supply as disease was rife. The city fathers instigated a search for the best source and found that Loch Katrine was capable of supplying the 50 million gallons of water that was needed every day and, being upland water, it was very clean. The only problem was how to get the water from the loch to Glasgow, 35 miles away.

The answer was something that is in infinite supply and doesn’t cost a penny – gravity. In the 1850’s three thousand workmen built a pipe 26 miles from Loch Katrine to Milngavie, where they built two reservoirs. In order for the water to travel they had make sure that the pipe dropped ten inches for every mile of its length.

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As part of the Loch Katrine Water Project, the reservoirs were opened in 1859 by Queen Victoria. More recently, the project was upgraded at the beginning of the millenium and reopened in 2007, serving 700,00 customers in Greater Glasgow.

Sources: Scottish Water

If you would like to donate to my West Highland Way Challenge 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