Time Heals, People Mend

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.

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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’.

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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.

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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

Desperately Seeking Sunshine

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.

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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.

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A Beautiful Shortcut

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.

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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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Summer Escapades

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.)

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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.

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It may rain a lot (OK, an awful lot) in Scotland, but for me, it’s never dull.

Patriotism and Puddles

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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