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.
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.)
‘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!
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