THE FIRST AND LAST (True Story for Halloween)

Thursday 31 October 2019

On 25 January 2013 I travelled from home in the Scottish Highlands to Horsley, London to pick up my ‘new’ car. My boyfriend Paul came with me so we could share the drive back up north.

I paid for the car and we left Horsley not long after we’d arrived.

Driving further north the worse the weather conditions became. Snow was falling thick and fast. It got so bad you couldn’t distinguish the different lanes on the motorway. It was getting darker too. I was freaking out and bottled out of the driving well before we were anywhere near Newcastle. Paul took over. The satnav was taking us home by the ‘fastest’ route and Paul pulled off the motorway onto the A68. This was a big mistake. Huge.

Drifting snow from open fields had piled onto the road and the blizzard caught in the car’s headlights made it seem like we were in the opening credits of a Star Wars movie. Paul drove well but my hands were sweating and my pits prickled as I felt the back end of the car slide about on the white surface. ‘I mean, thank fuck there’s no other traffic!’ I squeaked at Paul.

‘Yeah, all the smart people have stayed home,’ he said.

‘I’d kinda like to see another car or even light from a house. It’s spooking me out. I don’t like this. At all.’

It really was so very, very dark and very, very quiet – apart from the noise of the car’s engine. I became afraid we were going to get stuck in the snow, miles from anything and anyone. Plus it was late now, approaching 11pm. Paul checked the Satnav. The miles were too far and too treacherous. After what seemed for ever, out of nowhere, a building appeared on our right. It was an Inn, but it was in darkness other than lights shining on its sign The First and Last. We drove on. ‘This is stupid,’ I said.

‘Shall we go back and see if there’s anyone about at that place we just saw?’ Paul suggested. I was all for it, so he, very carefully, stopped the car, turned, and drove back. We knew it would be a long-shot but we were desperate . . .

We looked into the window of the Inn. Definitely all locked up. We walked round the back, through a kind of courtyard, and knocked on the door of the house. The night was so still. A dog barked, but nobody came. We turned and walked away completely dismayed, our breath making cauliflower clouds in the cold air and feet crunching over the snow. Suddenly a marvellous sound – a handle turning. ‘Can I help you?’ A woman asked, standing in a lit doorway.

Paul explained our situation and that very kind woman took pity on us. ‘We don’t have any other guests so we closed the Inn, but I can’t turn you away in this weather. Come with me,’ the woman said. We followed her back across the courtyard, to the locked up Inn. ‘Where have you travelled from?’ She asked. We told her we’d driven up from Horsley in London. ‘That’s funny,’ she said, ‘this place is called Horsley too.’

The woman gave us a Jack n Coke from the wee bar before showing us up to our room.

‘Why’s it called The First and Last?’ I asked.

‘Because it’s the first Inn over the border from Scotland and the last Inn leaving England,’ the woman smiled, and I smiled back.

I can tell you, I’d never felt so happy and relieved as I flumped onto our double bed for the night. Paul immediately switched on the TV (rolling eyeballs and rolling off the edge of the bed I go to the window and push it up and open). I scoop up a giant amount of snow from the ledge and pack it into a beautiful sphere. I weigh up the consequences of the action I know I’m about to take. Fleetingly. Then, as swift as the blow from an executioner’s blade, I spin, I aim, I fire.

Paul is raging.

I’m laughing hysterically. What joy! I climb into bed. Before long I ask P to put the TV off.

It’s pitch black. I close my eyes and wait for sleep. In the darkness I hear the faint sound of music. It’s almost like ceilidh music or something. ‘Do you hear that?’ I ask Paul, my eyes now wide open, waiting impatiently for them to adjust to the blackness.

‘The music?’ he says.

‘Yeah!’

‘Yeah, I hear it.’ A few moments pass.

‘Where’s it coming from?’

‘Dunno. Maybe the woman’s house?’ Paul suggests. He’s probably right. I settle and soon am drifting towards sleep.

Suddenly I’m yanked into wakefulness again. Paul is leaning up on his elbow in the bed. ‘Did you hear that?’ he asks, ‘I thought the woman said there were no other guests and we were alone here?’

‘Yeah,’ I mumble, ‘she did. What is it?’

‘I heard someone out in the hall.’ Paul said.

‘Have you locked our door? You better get up and lock it!’ I tell him. Paul does.

The next morning we go down for breakfast. The woman smiles and asks, ‘How was your night?’ I decide to be truthful.

‘Well,’ I start, ‘Were you playing music?’

‘No,’ replied the woman. ‘I went to bed after you came because I had to get up to do your breakfast. You heard music, what sort of music?’

‘Kind of like dancing music, like ceilidh or something,’ I answered. ‘And did someone else arrive last night because Paul heard someone in the hallway.’

‘No. There was no-one else here,’ the woman confirmed, then added, ‘I’ll go check all the radio clocks in the rooms.’

‘This is super weird, isn’t it?’ I say to Paul. ‘I mean, sound travels, but there’s nowhere else around here for miles. Where the fuck did the music come from? She said she went to bed!’

Several minutes later the woman reappeared. ‘The clocks are all switched off. It’s strange,’ she said, thoughtfully. ‘When I first took this place over my uncle visited. He stayed the night in the room you were in. He swore blind he saw a little girl dancing in the corner of the room. I just thought he’d had a few whiskies too many. But that’s really, really weird that you say you heard dancing music and noises in the corridor.’ Paul and I ate our breakfast and got out of there.

As we drove away from The First and Last Paul said, ‘Well. That place is aptly named. First and last time I’ll ever stay there again! Not because of the service, that woman saved our lives last night, but that place is definitely haunted.’

 

Happy Halloween everyone! Please friend me on facebook here, so I never have to leave my house to socialise again – unless that’s up a mountain. Lol.

Check out another true story. MY  BOOK Just Another Mountainhere.

 

 

31. The Best Things in Life are Free (hill climbed: Sgurr na Stri)

This is the 31st post (and I think my last) of a series which begins here.

Thursday 17 – Saturday 19 October 2019

Life is a journey of peaks and troughs – peaks are easy, it’s the troughs that are hard to navigate. Though I can sink to unfathomable depths of doom, being a mother pulls me back from the edge – my sons are instrumental in bringing out the happiness from within me. I remember their unbridled joy as they chased each other butt-naked round and round the giant sofa in our old living room, their carefree laughter so infectious I’d find myself laughing too; then small bodies launching themselves at me, knocking me over to give me cuddles or lick my cheek, weirdos! These boys give me purpose in life. But hillwalking sees me through too.

Serendipity. The weather is half decent. I’ve been itching to summit camp on Sgurr na Stri for ages, I decide the time is now . . . it’s exactly twenty-two years since Mum died, and two years since I finished my own cancer treatments (recent checks were all clear).

I love the drive to Skye. Offshore is playing through my speaker and I admire the presence of autumn as leaves swirl down from trees that line each side of the road. I suddenly feel an injection of joy – and I’ve not even started walking yet!

At 1.30pm I heave on my pack and leave the parked car. It’s not long before noise and civilisation is behind me on the walk deeper into the glen. All I now hear is my feet connecting with the stony trail and the creak and groan of my pack. Inside it is my down mat, exped sleeping bag and silk liner, a spare top, winter down jacket, food (M&S Harissa chicken and couscous salad, two Avanti bars, a banana, an Aero and a packet of crisps), 2,750mls of water and 500mls of milky hot chocolate, my head-torch and spare batteries, she-pee, wet-wipes, map, compass, gloves, ipod, ear-pops, a pen I’m not going to use, my good Nikon camera and my two-man, four-season tent – aka a veritable shittonne of weight. My arse will feel this in the morning.

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I liked how the rock kind of mirrors the mountain Sgurr Hain. Decided I’d lighten my load here by leaving dead batteries, to collect on way back. (Yeah. Coz those batteries are so heavy. Donut.) 

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After several kilometres I reach the end of the watershed. On my left, Blaven’s Western face looks impregnable. To my right the Cuillin Ridge, Sgurr nan Gillean’s spires and Am Bastier’s tooth looking all Tolkienesque. 

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Ahead. I contemplate the path winding uphill and think, aww maaan . . . and then I laugh, because, actually, I’m in my bloody element.

The route is straightforward and it’s awesome to be on a good path. Although I haven’t caught sight of another human I’m spotting pretty fresh looking footprints in boggier stretches. ‘I really hope I’m not sharing the summit with some fucker,’ I say to myself. In fact, I say this out loud every time I spot a print and make up stories about whose they could be. I stop for an Avanti bar before starting the up. It gives me an extra boost to reach the Druim Hain ridge – the view from here down to Loch Coruisk is finger-licking good and another surge of joy courses through me. What excitement. I yap away to myself.

‘Noooooo doubt about it. Fresh air and exercise help alleviate depression, stress and anxiety. Like, the slog up is hard, but once I get the ridge and reach the peak – man those endorphins, what reward! A natural high!’ I say. It’s absolutely true. All trace of internal conflict is erased. Up on the hills I don’t seek out acceptance or feel the need to be understood. I’m just happy being here.

The path leads up to the col below Sgurr na Stri’s western summit. It’s 5pm and I’m delighted. The mountain is mine alone! I relieve my back of its load and spring about the top looking for a suitable place to pitch.

I’m completely distracted by the beauty of my surroundings. The entire Cuillin ridge circles Loch Coruisk.

There’s a small stone wall beneath the summit – perfect for a bivvy, but not big enough for my tent. However, I throw my tent up close by. Pegs drive into the ground securely which makes me feel happy that I won’t blow over the cliff if the wind picks up. Organised. I take my dinner and sit on the edge of nothing in the stillness. Darkness isn’t far away.

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Looking out over the water I see stark outlines of Eigg, Rum and Mull. I see the flash of a lighthouse (I think?) and I feel totally separated from life below. From the summit the last of the setting sun’s rays cast their warm glow on the tip of Blaven and outlying hills. Loch Coruisk and the Cuillins appear other worldly in deep shades of indigo and blue.

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 The tent is my shelter but this whole place feels like my own personal sanctuary. It’s as close to heaven as you can get.  I take my flask to the summit and raise a hot chocolate toast to my mum. Aero bubbles dissolve in my mouth and warmth rushes into my core. I’m immersed in the beauty of the natural world around me, feeling grateful to be fit enough and healthy enough to appreciate all this wonder.   

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I’m fucking about on my phone in the tent when I hear a plaintive cry somewhere out there in the dark, dark night. A noise that sounds like a wolf-bird or something. It would have creeped me out if I’d been anywhere else – well, anywhere near humans.

Wind outside makes the tent fabric flap loudly. I listen to tunes on my ipod. Lies. I listen to Lost Without You on repeat and think about Mum. The lyrics resonate and memories flash. Wrapped in my sleeping bag I shuffle to the tent door and unzip just enough for my head to stick through. I stare onto the mountain shadow shapes and I look up into the inky night. The hills are my safe haven now, and my memories keep me company.

I feel a drop of rain on my face and then another. I suck my head back inside and lie down. Sleep comes but I wake at midnight. I poke my head out the tent again. Too cloudy for stars but I breathe in the night air and enjoy being here . . . I feel incredibly present on the mountain. This place has captured my heart.

At 6am I see Orion and the Plough, then a shooting star and a satellite. Perfecto.

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Light doesn’t begin to creep in from the east till well after 7.30am. 

I tear myself away at 9.30am, descending the ridge carefully. Aware of my heavy pack. Aware I didn’t sleep much. Aware I’m distracted by the Cuillins and loch. Aware I could stumble more easily. Black rock is wet and I skid anyway. Jaysus! I don’t want to end up like Captain Maryon, I think. I take a small detour to check out the memorial built by his friend. I read that the Captain’s dead body lay here, on this spot, undiscovered for nearly two years. Still, if you’re gonna die, what a place to go. I wonder about the Captain, and then I leave.

Trekking back along the glen I pass a lone male walker, then two. In total I count sixteen day trippers. I feel lucky and privileged to have had the mountain all to myself for as long as I did. Laden cloud smothers Sgurr nan Gillean’s spires. I see the rain coming and feel luckier still – I’m going to get a bit wet, but nothing near the utter soaking the poor sods I passed are in for. Haw haw. ‘But feeling uncomfortable is a good thing,’ I say out loud, ‘because then you appreciate it even more when you are comfortable.’ 

Life is about balance. Without the rough there can be no smooth. When problems begin to weigh mountain walking and the views they offer remind me that the world is a beautiful place. Nature gives me hope. Nature reminds me what is really important in this world. And I think the best things in life truly are free: exercise in the fresh air, family love and laughter, good health, memories, seeing the sun as it rises and sets – and tonight a good night’s sleep!

Other tunes listened to on road home: Sunflower and Circles both Post Malone, Ride it by Regard, Desire by Sub Focus and Dimension.

Thanks for reading. You can find me on Facebook here or follow me on Twitter here.

Just Another Mountain MY BOOK Find it here. It’s got some super lovely reviews.

30. Surfacing from Edges of Depression and TV Debut on Lorraine (hill climbed: Meall a’Bhuachaille)

This is the 30th post of a series which is introduced here

Thursday 20 June 2019

It’s almost midday and I’m waiting to meet Jenny and Angie off the train at Aviemore. I lean against a pillar and stare out along the railway lines to their vanishing point, but I’m not really looking outwards – I’m looking in. Despite still waiting for biopsy results on my womb – and now with a date for my two-year breast check – I notice how much more relaxed I feel after the difficulties of recent weeks. I contemplate the incomprehensibility of the low I’d succumbed to then; how layers of different pressures had caused thoughts to become monsters and my mind to feel diseased. The power and depth of that blackness had taken me to a very bad place, but one which now seems a different world away. I recall how I’d cried uncontrollably in a crowded Italian restaurant the night before my first book festival talk . . . but how much lighter I’d felt when the talk, in actual fact, went well. My youngest son disappeared to Ibiza for a week giving us both some space and, at the same time, restoring equilibrium between me and Paul. And, the day before flying to London for my TV debut on Lorraine, just when I really needed it, I received a massive confidence boost by way of a review of my book. I’m not out of the woods, but edges of depression are lifting. Bit by bit I’m getting back on track. Suddenly the alarming sound of air horns pull me back to the present. A train’s coming . . .

I look anxiously amongst faces of disembarking passengers. At last I see Jenny (my agent) and Angie and feel relief. I smile and wave. Us three have never walked together before, and in fact this is the first time I’ve met Angie (she is buyer for all the Scottish Waterstones). But here we are. Brought together because today the book I wrote is finally in shops, and to celebrate this we are going up Meall a’Bhuachaille – fitting since it’s the first hill I write about in Just Another Mountain. I drive to Glenmore to the start of our walk. And from the off we all chat away openly and easily.

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Signing books at Waterstones in Aviemore.

The route we take goes up by the reindeer centre and right at a fork onto a wide track, passing stands of Scots Pines. I always admire these impressive trees with their great red trunks full of knots and knurls; twisting branches and bluey-green needles hiding bug and bird life. Patchy cloud fills the sky and the wind makes it feel chilly, but the moment the sun breaks through, it’s pleasant and warm. Cairngorm dominates the view on my right. I was up there at the start of this month, when my inside self felt asleep. Thank God I’m on the up, I think, and feel the happiness and safety of being outdoors surrounded by nature again.

‘So, how does it feel to be a published author?’ Jenny asks.

‘To be honest it’s kind of like having a birthday – another year older but I don’t feel the leap. There’s been so much going on I can’t say I feel any different really. But it is super cool to have my story in print and I’m well chuffed with that as a personal achievement.’ What Jenny asked gets me thinking about the fact that people will now be reading my story. The thought fills me with dread. What in the name actual fuck have I gone and done?

‘How was the trip to London yesterday?’ asks Angie, breaking up the conversation taking place inside my head. I tell her and Jenny about the trip.

‘It was a tight schedule!’ But great to meet the team from Elliott and Thompson (my publishers) and be treated to a lush dinner.

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From left: Emma, Jennie, Pippa, Moi (keeping my blurt in check), Marianne. (When I’d left home I’d had a feeling I’d forgotten something. Only as I boarded the plane it hit me. Bloody knickers! I hadn’t packed any! Decided I’d have to wear the clothes I was travelling in to dinner but, after a crowded train journey to Victoria, two stifling tube changes into central London and a sticky walk to the Strand Palace I was a hot, sweaty mess. I’d no choice but to change into the tiny yellow dress and hope there were no Sharon Stone moments.)

‘I was up early to go to the ITV studios, didn’t even get breakfast,’ I said, ‘but Lorraine Kelly was lovely. She came to see me in the Green Room before the show aired. We even had a giggle when I told her that her aunty had taught me Home Economics at school and had given me a telling for cooking the wooden spoon.’

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Having a laugh with Lorraine. (I’d been fannying about with my jacket when two of the production team appear and Lorraine walks past and starts up some stairs. ‘Jacket on or off?’ I’d asked. As I swing the blazer round the price tag dangles from its collar, the women see it. ‘It’s going back to the shop tomorrow,’ I joke. They chuckle and one of them admits she does that too. Lol.)

Jenny, Angie and I continue along the trail which grows narrower as it tapers toward the wide path that runs up the valley. Lochan Uaine remains hidden by trees for now, but I know it’s there at the foot of Creag nan Gall’s steep scree slope. It’s all so familiar and safe: not like live TV. Sheesh! That was a baptism of fire! I think, as I play over the intense moments before my TV debut. Paul Merton and his wife Suki had walked by. She’d smiled, he had not. Piers Morgan’s voice had seemed to boom from the big screen fixed onto the wall behind me. Then Lorraine came on – and I was called to the studio floor. Havoc wreaking adrenaline heightened and panic seized my mind. I must’ve had the old startled rabbit in headlights look because members of the production team were doing their level best to give me reassurances, but too late, my brain was already being a total fucker and fully freaking out. Don’t swear don’t swear don’t swear it’ll be fine you’ll be fine just don’t fucking swear!

Click link above to watch the interview.

Rain begins to fall and the wind blows colder. We are on the main path, sploshing through puddles. Ryvoan bothy is in sight. Rain drives down harder. It’s time for waterproofs so we dive into the stone shelter. Musty, woody scents intermingle. Angie thinks it smells like peaty whisky. Jenny is more focused on getting out of the rain, but we both notice how much tidier the place is. There’s even new sleeping mats and foils neatly laid out and a tidy stack of firewood piled up. We scoff cakes Jenny treated us to before returning outdoors. It’s so dark in the bothy and as we leave I accidentally bounce my head off a low beam – be warned Ryvoan goers.

Views over Abernethy forest and Bynack More open up as we gain height, and I love how I can see the weather coming in up the valley. At the summit I see the whole sky is a patchwork of light rain and sunshine; to the north Ben Wyvis is partially obscured but behind me the Cairngorm range is free of cloud, and in the valley passing showers have rained themselves out. I breathe deeply and let my lungs fill with mountain joy. Looking out over the Speyside landscape I think about the man I met on my flight home from London yesterday – he’s down there somewhere and I like knowing that. Release of all the adrenaline in me had caused me to sleep in the plane til we were over Glasgow and the plane began its descent to Inverness. It rattled about in some turbulence. ‘I don’t like this.’ I’d said out loud. The man smiled and asked if I flew often. I explained it had only been a flying visit to London – and of course told him I’d been on the telly that morning. Turned out he was on a flying trip north – visiting Cairngorms to film for Netflix series The Crown. He’s only the director! And he tells me he’s interested in, and done, a lot of real life stories. At this point I’m convinced we were destined to meet and ask if he wants the copy of my book I have in my bag. He says he does so I tell him it’ll cost him fourteen pounds and ninety-nine pennies. Lol.

I’m in the middle of fantasising about the film of my book (a girl can dream) when a squeal of delight makes me turn round to see Jenny producing a bottle of prosecco from her bag. I get first swig. Bubbles expand and explode in my mouth. I swallow, and we all laugh.

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From left: Jenny, moi and Angie. Summit of Meall a’Bhuachaille. Up and up.

I’m happy as I walk down the mountain and I hope the high will last longer than it did after being on Ben Macdui and Cairngorm with Mel. I’m well attuned to how my feelings can simmer, ready to resurface any time, and I know I need to be careful. But things are cool. I’m walking and I’m writing which are good outlets, and I’m seeing a counsellor next week – talking will also help. We all have struggles and these are ways I deal with mine.

 

Thanks for reading. If you want to follow my journey please click the link at the top of the page or give my Facebook page a like. Tune in next time to see what happens next.

If you are interested here is the review I was emailed the day before I went to London.

https://read-warbler.blogspot.com/2019/06/just-another-mountain.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

29. Edges of Depression (hills climbed: Ben Macdui and Cairngorm)

This is the 29th post in a series which begins here.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Mel and I are journeying to the Cairngorms. I avoid answering her question about what it is that’s triggered this latest episode of feeling on the edge of depression. I don’t want to talk at all, but know Mel will have none of it so instead I make the conversation about her. The little laugh noise she makes is her way of letting me know she knows exactly what I’m doing – the girl knows this girl all too well, and before the day is out we both know I’ll have spilled my guts. She understands I’m just not quite ready to do so yet.

The engine thrums, the wheels on my car go round and round and miles of grey road pass beneath. Though it’s barely audible, the radio is on. Mel chats away.  She tells me how she is having a hideously busy time at work and how full her head is – I know how that feels.

I notice my headache again – it has come and gone in greater and lesser degrees for the last five days. Heaviness continues to weigh on my chest, my stomach has a knot in it and I could cry readily. I think about Mel’s question: these terrible feelings of doom I’m experiencing have been caused by layers of different pressures; waiting for results of a biopsy on my womb, keeping on top of work, fear and excitement of having to speak publicly at my first book festival and a forthcoming appearance on live TV are causing constant adrenaline making me feel like I’m perpetually hungover, and on top of all that there’s been another almighty clash between me and my youngest son which in turn is causing problems with me and Paul. It’s all too much. But I’m en route to the mountains. And I know that by immersing myself in the great Cairngorm wilderness, of its whaleback hills and shattered cliffs, some perspective will be restored and I hope I will find the better version  of  ‘me’ again and grab her back. I don’t like this tetchy, troubled, uncommunicative Sarah.

Mel and I walk out on a gravelly path, away from the busy carpark and ski centre – away from everyday life. We gain height and views open up into Coire an Lochain. I admire the intricate architecture of vertical, dark, rocky walls under a cloudy sky and remember the last time I passed this way – the roar of an avalanche, its plumes of white powder billowing upwards like giant cauliflower florets. All lively. A different scene now. Quiet. Subdued. I draw a comparison between it and myself.

I think over the last ten days or so; how asleep my inside self has felt, how my mind has been dallying with dark, unhelpful thoughts. Thoughts aren’t fact, but in these states of deep doom I can’t rationalise this. Instead, my thoughts become monsters; scaring me into believing my cancer is probably back, telling me I’m a shit-useless parent/girlfriend, taunting that I’m an epic fail and undeserving. What I see as my short-comings play on an incessant loop in my head and I become my own worst critic. At my lowest ebb the blackness had such a hold over me I couldn’t even get out of bed – it was like some supernatural force was pulling me down and there was nothing I could do to help myself. ‘It’ controls ‘me’.  Cancer was, in ways, so much easier to understand than the fringes of depression I get. But I do have some knowledge, and I’m not completely powerless; I’ve been here before and know the grimness will eventually pass, and as hard as it is I make myself carry on, robotically pushing through.

Mel and I push upwards on a gentle gradient as we contour the mountainside. And then revealing itself, a familiar sight, the Lairig Ghru – a great trench that cuts through some of the wildest area in the country, and which stretches from Speyside all the way to Deeside. Turning around I take in the view north in steely grey, blue and rusty hues. I can see the highest point of the low lying distant hills.

‘That’ll be Clava, don’t you think?’ I say to Mel, pointing.

‘Yeah. Reckon so.’ Mel nods.

I picture myself standing at the summit on Clava looking south at the Lairig Ghru. In my mind’s eye I now see the views north from Clava. I know every inch of that landscape, and the connection I feel to it makes a warmth grow inside me. Mel and I are walking on when I spontaneously give her a hug. It takes me by surprise as much as it does her.

‘I feel the surge of mountain joy in me!’ I announce, as a big genuine smile virtually cracks my face for the first time in what seems to have been ages.

Deteriorating weather changes the mood and character of the mountain, but I embrace it too. The wind is bracing and I enjoy the cold sensation on my exposed skin; it’s like it’s cleaning up the guddle I feel inside and carrying it away. Low cloud now blows across the tops of Braeriach and Cairn Toul, it fills into the plunging depths of the Lairig Ghru and is obscuring the top of Ben Macdui. Visibility reduces further as we trek over what is often described as a ‘stony Tundra’. To me the landscape is lunar, it’s rocky, vast and featureless. Its emptiness is simple and pure, evocative and inspiring: and I think this is how I want to be – emptied of worries and insecurities, to feel pureness and clarity of thought, and to feel inspired by all the good things I do have going on.

Through dense mists we finally see Ben Macdui’s summit cairn and, like it’s a magnet, we are drawn to its rocky top before taking shelter in one of the many cairns dotted about up here. I notice my hunger and want to eat. I also want to throw on all my extra layers – it’s baltic, and it feels good to be driven by these basic needs.

Mel and I retrace our steps. I answer her questions now. ‘It’s no wonder you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed!’ she says. ‘You’ve a lot on your plate. I suppose there’s not much you can do except wait for your biopsy results, but hopefully they’re gonna come back clear.’ We discuss the home issues that are preying heavily on my mind. ‘But maybe you’ll have more clarity on these things once you’ve got your book talk and TV thing out of the way?’ Mel suggests.

‘I bloody hope so,’ I say. ‘You know, I should be well looking forward to going on Lorraine, it’s an amazing opportunity,  but I can’t help feeling I’m just not worthy enough to have been invited onto her show.’ A sense of gloom builds inside. Mel clocks it, and while I feel I deserve her exasperation what she gives is support and encouragement.

‘You need to remember you are no less worthy than anyone else that appears on TV. Some of them may have done something you consider more worthy of recognition. Some of them have definitely not. It doesn’t matter. They’re all just people with their own story to tell. You have written a book. The fact you wrote it for you and your boys to begin with is irrelevant. You are going to be a published author and that is a great achievement.’

‘Yeah, and that’s another thing! I’m terrified of what people will make of my story.’

Mel continues to be the voice of reason and as she talks I spy, nestled between rocks on the ground, this . . .

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It says, ‘Inv rocks post pic FB keep and rehide’ 

Then turn it over and see this . . .

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‘You are Amazing’

‘Look,’ I say, showing Mel the painted stone. ‘It’s like I was meant to find it.’

‘It is,’ she says, ‘now you just have to believe it!’

After a day on the hills with my friend I returned home feeling stress levels had lowered, and it must’ve shown because when my boyfriend Paul came in, and after studying me for a moment, he said,’It’s good to see you looking happy again.’ I smiled back.

So What’s the Point of this Blog?

Mountain walking is free therapy and, as far as I’m concerned, the best therapy. I don’t have to wait weeks for an appointment with a counsellor, or pop a pill. I just yank on my boots and put one foot in front of the other. It’s not to say I’m fixed in one trip, but it’s a step in the right direction and every hill makes me that little bit more mentally strong. I would recommend to anyone who is struggling with mental health issues to give hillwalking a go. If you’re freaking out about fitness, don’t. There are loads of straightforward walks (check out walkhighlands, brilliant website with detailed walk descriptions. There’s also munro magic and others, just Google!), start small build it up and you will see the possibilities for yourself are limitless.

 

Find out if I managed to pull my shit together or if I made a tit of myself when I went on Lorraine in my next blog.

Thanks for reading. Find me on Facebook and give my page a like – all support is appreciated. I got Twitter now too – no clue what the hell it’s all about, but if you can find me do follow me. Haven’t worked out how to add the link to that yet. ha ha ha. duh!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

28. Just Another Mountain – Book Cover Sneak Peek (hill climbed: Fuar Tholl)

This is the 28th post of a series introduced here.

Wednesday 27 February 2019

Even though I’d been tossing and turning since half one, getting up at six was easy. The anticipation of hillwalking in one of my favourite areas, and on a great weather day, stirs excitement and full wakefulness into me.

Mel and I head off to Achnashellach, northwest Scotland, to climb Fuar Tholl. It’s an impressive Corbett which rises a respectable 907m, only just missing out on Munro status.

We start walking at half eight.

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Looking at the prow of Fuar Tholl. Sun casts long shadows, but it’s bloody freezing.

The river Lair rushes along next to the trail we follow, which leads us through a mixture of gorse and broom, birch and single pine trees. We’ve been this way before, separately, to climb the higher peaks, Beinn Liath Mhor and Sgorr Ruadh.

‘I don’t remember this at all,’ Mel says.

‘I do,’ I reply, with a simultaneous giggle and groan, and recount the time I came here with my eldest son Marcus, then 14 years old, and his pal Marc. ‘It was a stinking hot day and Marc didn’t apply suncream. He was so burnt he could barely bend his knee joints.’

‘And have you put sunscreen on today?’ Mel enquires with an all-knowing look. My face says it all, and she rolls her eyeballs.

 

 

From top left: Dumb and dumber with Beinn Liath Mhor behind. Small river crossing. Looking back. Lochans at the bealach and embracing the views towards Maol Chean-dearg. Sgorr Ruadh lies hazily behind me as I squint in the sun. 

We continue upwards. The good path is a treat, and at the bealach two small cairns either side of it mark where to strike off – south to Fuar Tholl or north to Sgorr Ruadh. We trot over bumpy ground passing between lochans before reaching the foot of the steep, stony slope of Creag Mainnrichean. ‘What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found while out walking?’ I ask Mel. ‘It could be an object, a place, a moment, the best cafe in the world…anything.’

Mel thinks. ‘What about the time those guys left us a trail of sweeties and wrote messages for us in the track, that was great! Or remember that weird, tiny whirlwind on Tom a’Choinich?’ We laugh about it.

I tell her about a poem I thought up on a walk, when I found out my mum’s cancer had come back. ‘That was a ‘moment’ but perhaps it’s a bit too maudlin,’ I say. ‘Or what about the time we saw those guys skinny dipping in the river at Glen Affric – that was a moment!’ We laugh again.

‘Why are you asking?’ Mel questions. So I tell her I’ve to write seven hundred words for a popular walking magazine plus an eighty word ‘extra’ called ‘Found on Foot’. ‘Ahhh, I seeeee,’ Mel says. ‘So how did you end up being asked to do that?’ I explain as we continue towards the top of  Mainreachan Buttress: it’s all to do with promoting the book I’ve written. And so my friend helps me come to a decision on what to write about for the piece.

The sense of contentment I feel increases.

 

 

 From Left: Mel enjoying the view into Coire Lair. The Mainreachan Buttress.

We walk and chat about my book, Just Another Mountain.

It’s been a lengthy process, but now the copy edit is done and the whole shebang typeset. The front cover has been designed, and I have to say it’s all looking really cool. After doing a proofread, and spotting a few things that have now been corrected, I’m pleased and feel confident that my story is the best it can be. It’s ready for the proof run: that will go out to booksellers and the media for reviews. In the meantime I have a publicist, Emma Finnigan, who is handling all the PR for the book. She’s worked with Scottish tennis ace Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, amongst others, so I’m in good hands. In fact, she has already started pitching me for festivals.

Between you and me I’m shitting my pants at the prospect of public speaking, and not without good reason. It’s been two years since my cancer diagnosis but side effects of chemotherapy continue to impact on my day to day life: concentrating for long periods of time tires me and I lose the ability to articulate myself well – even in the least stressful of situations. I stumble over words and struggle to pull the right vocabulary from my brain, and sometimes my mind blanks completely. I guess I’ll just have to try to keep Chris Bonington’s advice in mind: ‘It’s all a  matter of practice, Sarah – be relaxed and open.’

‘You wanna see the final version of the book cover?’ I say to Mel.

‘Yeah! Course!’ she replies. My phone is in my backpack and as Mel yanks the zip open something suddenly flies past, tossing and flipping as it’s carried off by the wind. ‘What was that?!’ Mel squeals. And I realise it was a tenner I’d shoved into my bag last minute. (Good old Mel races after it and retrieves it before it’s lost for ever. Lol.)

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Sneak peek of book cover. I hope you like it. I do.

 

‘So do you know when the book’s coming out?’ Mel asks.

‘Yeah. Publication date is 20 June,’ I say.

‘It’s all very exciting,’ Mel says. ‘And you’ll be fine talking about your book once you get the first couple of festivals under your belt.’ I appreciate her words of support, as always. ‘So any word about a book launch?’ she asks.

‘Yeah. My agent, Jenny, has arranged for the launch to happen at the Xpo North Creative Industries festival, in Inverness, either on 3 or 4 July.’

‘Is it invite only?’

‘Fuck knows. . . either way you’ll be there!’ I say.

We approach the summit of Fuar Tholl following the stony track. Scree slopes fall away sharply on our left. To our right the ridge broadens out. Rocks stick up here and there, interspersed by patches of moss and yellowy, stubby grass, all recovering from winter. The wind blows hard and cold. At the peak we duck behind the large shelter cairn to escape the strong gusts. Down jackets on. Hoods up. It’s an early lunch at 11.30am, but boy are we hungry.

What views we enjoy as we shovel down our munch. Opposite us the vertical quartzite scree slopes that scar Beinn Liath Mhor glisten white like snow. To the west dark, rugged peaks are criss-crossed with deep geometrical lines, weathered and worn. And it’s possible to make out the terraced sandstone cliffs of the Torridon Munros, those masterpieces of rock architecture now lightly veiled by the haze. South and southeast the mountains take on a much softer appearance. Ridges flow in serpentine lines. The rough crags and cliffs of these giant bulks are smoothed by the milky atmospheric conditions, and recede in delicate hues of indigo-blue till it’s impossible to determine what is mountain and what is cloud. To me there is no place more perfect to be. I’m on top of the world.

 

 

Happy faces at the summit of Fuar Tholl.

I reflect on life. Right now, it’s good. With my book coming out soon there’s much to look forward too. My hair is longer, it’s back to being dark again and I’m beginning to recognise my old self when I look in the mirror. Although I have ongoing issues with my health I know I’m getting stronger all the time – and to my mind there’s no doubt it’s down to the restorative powers of the mountains.

Life is full of hardships and struggle, and that’s the inescapable truth. But it’s how we deal with that truth that matters. By walking I learnt to accept my troubled past, found the strength to overcome grief and, ultimately, to carry on in the face of my own cancer diagnosis. My book, Just Another Mountain is a story of hope and redemption, of a mother and her daughter, and of how we can learn to both live and to love. Sometimes, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other. . . and just keep walking.

OH> MY> GOD> literally just discovered my book is available to pre order on Amazon! Follow link below if ya want it!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-Another-Mountain-Sarah-Douglas/dp/1783964197/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1551648900&sr=8-1&keywords=Just+Another+Mountain+by+Sarah+Jane+Douglas

Thank you for reading. If you would like to follow my journey please click the link below and give my Facebook page a ‘like’. Your support is massively appreciated.

www.facebook.com/sarahjanedouglaswriter

 

27. Life is a Catwalk: ‘The Show’

This is the 26th post of a series which is introduced here.

Thursday 25 October 2018

A 7am start to the day. Me and my roomie, fellow model, Eve, go down to be seated for breakfast at the Hilton Hotel, Glasgow.

‘Breast Cancer?’ The young male attendant enquires.

‘Er no! We’ve already had that thanks very much, but some yoghurt and fruit might be quite nice.’ I answer. The guy is suitably embarrassed, apologises for his lack of tact and takes us to our table. I’m not a pig, but I eat a variety of the delicious options available at the buffet (it’s still all about the protein, man). Eve doesn’t have much of an appetite and only picks at things.

Unlike me the Hilton is well fucking posh. I’d already been impressed by the grand reception area with its shiny marble floor, high ceiling and modern chandelier lighting – not to mention the larger than life-size canvas images of three of our lovely models suspended from the balcony above. Excitement stirs. The day of ‘The Show’ has finally arrived.

I stash three little pots of marmalade and jams into my pocket and leave the restaurant. I’m off to the lift on my own feeling slightly apprehensive but reasonably confident I know how to use it now, after yesterday’s fiasco when Eve and I had spent a good ten minutes yo-yo’ing up and down between reception and the third floor – eventually (after my arms had practically fallen off ’cause of the weight of holding my boot boxes, and after I’d pleaded with two women not to get in with us as the elevator doors opened at reception for the umpteenth time) a kindly Chinese man, who had bore witness to our pitiful plight, explained that we needed to use our room key to make the lift work.

So while Eve has already gone to get her hair and make-up done, I make my way back up to our room for a sneaky extra lie down before rehearsals at 10am – after all, it’s going to be a long day, and rest is nice.

I accidentally fall asleep.

Last down I’m horrified to see everyone lined up in their first outfit ready to begin, waiting for me. I’m on the receiving end of a deserved but small row from our Stylist. Oops.

Between the first dress rehearsal and the afternoon performance it’s my turn to get my face looking acceptable by Sara Hill and her team from the Academy of Make-up, and my hair sorted by the Sassoon Stylists. I get to choose my look so say, ‘Let’s go Amy Winehouse.’

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Hair ‘n’ make up. For me it’s black flicks and metallic red eye-shadow to match the barnet.

Before I know it me and the twenty-two other ‘models’ are lining up ready to take to the catwalk for real. I’m second on and am shitting myself. I keep peeking out behind the backstage curtains to survey the audience, it helps calm my nerves to see tables of women all smiling and enjoying themselves. It’s going to be fine! I tell myself. I’ve just had one of the hardest years of my life: if I can get through all those cancer treatments I can walk down a bloody catwalk!

Outwardly I think I must have looked confident, bold and strong, but inside I was trembling like an aspen leaf as I stepped onto the catwalk to ‘Feels Like I’m in Love’ – my knees really were shaking and my heart was definitely beating like a drum.

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Layering up is in. I get to wear my own footwear which makes me feel a bit more me.

It was over in a flash, but we are then ushered off to have a group photograph taken and give quotes to the reporter whose job it is to do a write-up for the Sunday Mail, who sponsor The Show.

In addition to the Sunday Mail photographer there was also another geezer, David Brown, knocking about taking piccers – all day and to the very end of the night.

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Forget about the man with the golden gun, he is the man with a camera and a golden heart. David Brown ‘n’ me.

Afternoon guests leave and we are called back down to rehearse for the evening show – because for the final scene we have escorts; football players from Partick Thistle and Glasgow High Kelvinside rugby players, wit-woos.  I watch the boys escort the other models. Footballer Aaron seems most at ease so I collar him and tell him to make sure he’s second in line for the later performance.

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Afternoon Show hosted by STV news presenter Halla Mohieddeen . . . Emotional talk by fellow model Liz McAinsh and Tricia McAneny . . . Evening Show hosted by former River City actress Libby McArthur.

I listen to Liz talk about her experience of finding her breast lump and then the discovery her cancer had spread to her spine. I hear her talk about her son, and think of my own boys. Tricia tells the audience how she was diagnosed with breast cancer only weeks after losing her mum to the disease. I think of my own Mum. I miss her. I feel a tickle as the first tear trickles down my cheek, but think, fuck don’t cry, your make-up will get ruined! I cry anyway.

I miss my kids and I miss my boyfriend.

Before the evening show I take advantage of a foot and a head massage offered by one of the Breast Cancer Care charity volunteers. Wonderful! And since I barely ate at lunch I make sure I get enough dinner in my belly. After squeezing a spot that appeared on the end of my nose I get the make-up artist to fix a shining red beacon that would give Rudolf a run for his money. The Sassoon stylist is in good form as she starts fixing my hair up again…she offers me a glass of fizz and is enjoying a sing-song as she works, I’m thinking she’s a bit pished, but if you can’t beat ’em join ’em so I swig down the wine she shoves in front of me and belt out ‘Laid’ by James.

It’s time to do it all over again.

The boyfriend, and friends Lorna and John, are here tonight to support me. What a difference it makes to my happiness to see them at a table close to the catwalk. I see Paul from my spot backstage and actively will him to look my way, he doesn’t. I cannot wait for him to see me.

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The boyfriend with Lorna . . . the boyfriend with John . . . the four of us after The Show.

I walk out and do not contain myself when Paul and my friend Lorna spot me. Lorna stands up and waves – and I wave madly back like a kid on stage at their first school nativity when they spot their mummy and daddy. It’s a different vibe in the room tonight and the atmosphere is incredible as I strut down the catwalk to cheers, whoops and claps from the crowd.

Suddenly I discover a new confidence and I’m itching for my turn on the catwalk again. A quick but careful change into the next outfit and I line up. I have come into my own and unlike the afternoon’s show in which I felt like a bag of nerves and rushed through, I now want time to slow down so I can savour every second.

Moves Like Minnie. How will you wear your polka dots?

https://youtu.be/WFrmapGCuhs

Winehouse hair. Lots of volume and height. Rockin’ the Wild at Heart theme in leopard print top, gold skinnies and an FCUK faux fur.

It’s the final scene. I prime my footballer before he walks onto the stage ahead of me. I go on and take his arm. ‘Walk slowly,’ I say. We pose back to back at the end of the catwalk. People are up on their feet – what a thrill it feels.

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Shoot to thrill. Lol.

My footballer deposits me at the top of the stage where I remain and watch the rest of the models as they come out one by one. I am full of joy and pride, and feel both humbled and privileged to be here sharing such a unique and uplifting experience with these inspirational women. They are all amazing. I look out at the audience and I hope that our happy stint on the catwalk has encouraged our female audience to love their bodies for what they are. But more especially, by sharing our own stories of our breast cancer journey I hope we have succeeded in highlighting the importance of cancer awareness and the necessity for people to get to know and check their bodies.

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All my wonderful fellow models.

More than 4,800 people in Scotland alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. Getting this diagnosis can mean so many different things and can impact life in so many unimaginable ways. By taking part in The Show we wanted to prove that it is possible to look and feel fabulous after going through treatments and, for some of us,  having to continue to live with the disease that can be treated but not cured. Events like The Show – which raised in excess of £155,000 – mean that Breast Cancer Care can support more people through one of the most difficult challenges they will ever face.

 

An insight to why Life is a Catwalk? – Like my afternoon performance I wanted the last twenty odd years  of my life to hurry up and be over as I searched for answers. But since coming to terms with troubles of the past, the loss of my mother and my own cancer diagnosis I now want life to slow down so that I can savour every precious moment – just like I felt doing the evening performance of The Show. (Soz if that’s not clear, I’ve had a couple brandy n cokes, lol.)

Thanks for reading.

All support is appreciated. Please give my Facers page a ‘like’ if you would like to follow my journey. Any questions, just ask. I’m right here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

26. Book Deal Boost, Sir Chris Bonington’s approval and Mel’s Last Munro (hill climbed: Beinn Sgulaird)

This is the 26th post of a series introduced here.

Saturday 29 September

Thinking that my cancer might be back my friend Mel and I planned to do her final Munro. In spite of both of us being anxious to get it done quickly opportunity did not present itself – work, cruddy weather and appointments got in the way so it was relief in more ways than one when I received news from hospital that biopsy test results were clear. It felt like I’d been given my life back – again, and with the rest of summer sprawling ahead of us the need to get the last Munro done seemed slightly less pressing.

I don’t just have my life to be thankful for. Jenny Brown – Edinburgh based literary agent who had taken an interest in the memoir I’d written – had been in touch to say a publishing deal had been offered for my book. I’m monstrously chuffed that these literary experts think my story is interesting enough and written well enough to be put into print. I recall a memory of my grandad, ‘Sarah, you’ll never win the Nobel Prize for Literature but your letters home come like a breath of fresh air.’ I wish he was here now so that he could be proud of me and know I’ve done something good – at last.

Me and Jenny
Me and Jenny at her Edinburgh Book Festival party August 25th.

August comes and goes.

‘How long did it take when you climbed Beinn Sgulaird?’ Mel asks in a WhatsApp message. I go upstairs and am sitting cross-legged on the drafty wooden floor in the bedroom. I slide my walking diary out of its space in the bookcase and leaf through its pages. I find the entry. There is no note of timings other than ‘set out at 10am from Druimavuic’.  It’s a short write up so I read on and refresh my memory of the hill. There is no mention of precipitous drops, narrow ridges or battles with the elements – it had been an outing that was straightforward and uneventful, but nonetheless the date and day are poignant. I pause for reflection.

I eventually reply to Mel’s WhatsApp telling her I have no clue how long the walk had taken. A LOT of messages are exchanged but we come to an agreement to get the hill done before September’s end, ‘whatever the weather’. At this juncture we’re still hopeful we’ll make our summit camp on Beinn Sgulaird (translated from Gaelic it means hat-shaped hill, but it’s better known to the local shepherds as ‘the bastard’ – and man was it going to live up to its nickname).

The Munro lies solitary and steeply above upper Loch Creran in Glen Etive; the mountain is indifferent to the increasing impatience Mel and I feel over our desire to traverse its rocky ridge and three summits.

September draws to a close.

Although our diaries have been cleared of all other engagements it’s sod’s law the West Highlands forecast continues to be pish on days we have off work, and the sense of urgency to get the bastard hill done resurfaces. We have no choice but to put our money where our mouth is. The summit camp is abandoned but, by choice, we meet up to do the walk in the worst weather that has been forecast for the last three days of the month.

Mel’s bright orange jacket is in cheerful contrast to the moisture laden sky over Druimvuich. She is standing poised with phone in hand. My boyfriend Paul opens the car’s window. ‘You can put the phone away Mel. We’re here. No need to text. It’s only two minutes after half eight!’

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It’s straight into uphill walking along an ATV track which we soon leave. A small cairn marks the start of a good path that ascends the mountain’s grassy ridge. I’m slower than the others and soon lag behind. Mel stops to wait. Ahead of us the men are enthusiastically engaged in conversation about electric bikes…Mel and I are pleased because it means we can talk by ourselves about whatever shit we like. I tell her about the texts I get from my eldest son when Paul and I were on our road trip.

Marcus: What do I do with this ‘vaginal applicator’ thing in the bathroom sink? Lol x

Me: Lol. Um. Give it a good wash and rinse in warm water 😀 x

Marcus: Uh-huh, and put it where?

Me: Lol lol lol. Get a tub from downstairs and pop it in there. Not the good tupperware tho. An unusual treat for you today. Lol. Eat carrot cake if you are traumatised x

Marcus: Hmm yes. A real treat! x

Mel chuckles and I laugh so hard I clutch my belly (I’m still in horror-awe – that my boy should have seen the bit of plastic kit used to help the old sexy time along, and that he was mature enough to deal with it without fuss). ‘He’ll make someone a great husband one day,’ Mel says.

We’re over the first small top and are ascending straightforward slopes toward the first of the three summits when I finally find my sea legs and pick up the pace. Inwardly I’m relieved and have to remind myself again that my body is still in recovery from the cancer treatments that only finished at this time last year. It’s easy to dwell on the bad things so instead I think about the progress I’ve made; I’ve lost weight through better diet and exercise, I’m not bald and can in fact tie my hair into a tinsy-winsy ponytail and, though it doesn’t happen often, even sex isn’t painful anymore. I’m in my own little world as I plod on out in front but then I notice I’ve lost the thread of the path. Oops.

Progress on the hill halts. We realise we should be on the ridge, heading for the first of the three summits, not traversing the slope underneath, but it’s no biggie. We take a bearing and contour round to the col between it and Meall Garbh. The wind now blows fiercely and visibility is limited, but I catch a glimpse of two walkers ahead who quickly disappear from view. ‘Yay! Other humans!’ Mel shouts at me over the wind. When we catch up with the boys and round some crags they point out our people – two dopey looking sheep that scarper off again into the enveloping mists.

The wind finds its way through the fabric of my outerwear; I’m wet and cold but now we’re back on the path we move faster. Up and down the undulating ridge we go. Paul isn’t happy and shouts at me not to go too far ahead. I wait. ‘My legs are totally heavy like I’ve no power to push up on them,’ he says. I think welcome to my world, but say that I understand. Descent to the next col is steep and rocky.

‘This is a very confusing hill,’ Andy states. Mel and I laugh.

‘How far is it to the top?’ Paul asks.

‘Another 1.04km,’ I answer.  We lean into the wind to push forward, hoods up heads down. Horizontal precipitation drives into exposed skin like needles.

‘Christ. This is like extreme exfoliation!’ Mel exclaims.

‘About two thirds of a mile,’ I hear Paul call. ‘One thousand and seven yards,’ he adds. (He was nearly right.)

‘Paul’s back,’ I yell at Mel, laughing and totally bemused.

We go higher and conditions become more severe. It’s a skill to stay upright and I’m buffeted and blown on the scramble up and up. A mega gust knocks me sideways off my feet and I land hard onto a rock.

‘This is fucking nuts. It’s not fun,’ Paul shouts to me above the wind.

It is wild, but personally I’m enjoying myself. I think Mel catches my thoughts because she stops to say, ‘See, it’s because of times like this that most people think we’re fucking maniacs.’ I grin agreement and wonder if there could be anything more life-affirming than pitching yourself against nature and coming out on top.

 

Summit reached at 12.05pm…The boys are left out in the cold – literally and metaphorically – while Mel and I enjoy shelter, champagne and cake in the bothy bag…I, Queen in the North, on this most auspicious occasion of Mel finishing a full round of all 282 of Scotland’s highest mountains, bestow upon her my official Munro Compleater’s Badge and welcome her to the club…The frozen boys still manage a smile for a group selfie at the top (Mel and I are a bit pissed). 

Retracing our steps we leave the summit. Andy is in front and drops down out of sight. Mel and I play in the wind. Its strength is extraordinary and supports our weight as we lean into it. I almost forget I need to keep walking.

Unexpectedly we cross paths with other walkers – two grim-faced blokes who exchange absolutely no pleasantries and a young woman who flashes a smile. We keep moving. I’m in the middle of thinking how glad I am that we’re battling our way down and not up when all three of us – me, Paul and Mel – are simultaneously knocked down like skittles by a ferocious gust. The wind momentarily pins me to the rock I’ve fallen onto and threatens to bowl me along like tumbleweed. ‘Thank fuck we aren’t on a narrow ridge being blown to our doom,‘ I think…and then my mind conjures images of proper mountaineers who have contended with way more serious conditions. I think about the hundred mile an hour winds that blast Everest. I think about my mum’s fiance (once a lion amongst Himalayan climbers) and I think about Chris Bonington who vaguely knew him. I think about the book I’ve written and the email Chris sent me only days ago to say he is reading it ‘with pleasure,’ that I ‘write well’ and that he will be ‘delighted to write a foreword’ for me. I feel good.

Dropping east down the leeward side of the mountain I feel even better – we are out of the wind and soon on the ATV track. My friend is feeling the good vibes too.

‘I’m so happy to have the bastard thing done at last,’ she chirps.

‘You know it’s almost exactly four years to the day since I did this walk,’ I say. ‘It’s funny how this was my penultimate Munro and it’s ended up being your last.’

‘I didn’t realise that,’ Mel replies, ‘I wonder why I didn’t do it with you?’

‘Dunno, but I do know that was the first day I didn’t feel ‘right’ and when I started using the expression ‘super tired.’ We walk back through the tree plantation and reach the cars by 4pm.

 

After a few post-hill drams and dinner in the gloom of the Clachaig’s dark but cosy interior, we retire to the mother ship where we melt against the walls in the instant heat that belches from the wood burning stove. Mel pops the cork on another bottle of champagne and we raise a plastic cup once more to celebrate her achievement, to friendship, to good health, to staying alive to see how Season 8 Game of Thrones ends and to all round epicness.

It can take an entire lifetime for some people to climb all 282 of Scotland’s highest mountains, but most people who set out to ‘bag’ the Munros, on average, take between 8 – 10 years to do a full round – although another article I read claims the average to be 23 years (12 Munros per year). Apparently climbing all the Munros is the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest from sea-level 19 times – that’s 550,869 feet and a total distance of approximately 1,690 miles. Mel and I have climbed more than half these mountains together. I wasn’t able to join her for the bigger hill days last year because of my bastard cancer, so to have been able to join her for her last is nothing short of fantastico (only actual death would have stopped me from doing it). She did say, ‘Now, what next?’ But that’s easy – the Corbetts!

FANX for reading! Any relevant questions then please get in touch. I’m right here. If you’ve enjoyed please do give the old Facebook page a like by clicking the link below. Your support is appreciated 🙂

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