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

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

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.