Festive Greetings!

I hope you’ve all had a lovely Christmas, however you chose to spend it. Due to restrictions around social gatherings and travel, we had a Merry Christmas for two. Not quite the same, but we made the most of it, cooking turkey and all the trimmings. I made my special tiramisu trifle (for me as Bruce isn’t a fan of Amaretto) and we enjoyed some smoked salmon, this year in the form of brunch with scrambled eggs after a chilly morning walk.

I think my parents made more of a Christmas effort than we did! Well done Mum and Dad; I wonder if that was due to the novelty of cooking their own Christmas dinner for the first time in many years?

Christmas dinner (Round 2) was delivered to the in-laws – meals on wheels style – then home to relax for the evening.

Today saw a thaw in the icy conditions from yesterday, much to our delight. This permitted summer greens on the golf course (for him) and a good day on the trails for me. Only a few short icy sections, easily avoided, I was very happy to get outside. So happy that I even ran Kingshill, first time in a while.

Cobwebs blown away, Boxing Day dinner beckons. The Prosecco is open – just for me. Merry Christmas one and all!

The Covid Angel

Yesterday I felt really down! I’d been looking forward to the Christmas break after a long term. Although we’ve been well supported locally, it’s felt harder than normal and certainly more tiring. Doing everything online and not having the same social contact takes it’s toll.

Today, however, was the last day of term and it was a good feeling heading for work, secure in the knowledge that there are now two weeks of rest and recuperation, putting aside the frustration around being back in Tier 3 and thus restricted on many fronts.

Leaving work tonight I went running. I swithered about a headtorch run in the woods but opted to head out the old road towards Kingswells. Just entering the village, I met a lady taking her bin in. She stopped me and said, ‘I know you’re running, but I’d like to gift you this.’

What a lovely gesture of Christmas kindness! Our very own Covid angel who is now home and decorating the Christmas tree. Thank you! Merry Christmas to you all. Celebrate it in whichever way you can.

Bruce’s Journey to Compleation

In awe of his achievement (I just go along for the walk and fresh air occasionally), I formulated a list of questions for Bruce and last night got him to humour me and share his journey.

When and how did your Munro journey begin?

August 2009. Clare and I used to do a lot of mountain biking and regularly went to Fort William. On hearing we were going to Fort William on holiday, we were often asked if we were going up Ben Nevis, so on one trip we decided to. We got views, didn’t injure ourselves falling off anything, unlike on the bikes, and enjoyed the experience. (Clare: although not so much the following day when we couldn’t get down the stairs without walking backwards)

Although it took a further 3 years to do the second munro, we decided that climbing munros would be a very good way for us to see Scotland. 

What have been the highlights over the years?

There are too many to mention, but becoming an awful lot more knowledgeable of my home country and making a lot of new friends along the way.

Do you have a favourite Munro?

No, I think the munros very much depend on the conditions that you climb them. Some days are better than others and your favourites tend to be on the days with the best conditions.

However, doing the Aonach Eagach Ridge (this is the U.K. mainland’s narrowest ridge, linking the munros of Meall Dearg and Sgorr nam Fiannaidh) was one of my favourite days and a turning point as I realised rather than being scared of scrambling and exposure I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. (Clare: There’s no way you’d get me near the Aonach Eagach; I feel sick looking at these pictures!)

This was to prove invaluable experience when tackling the Black Cuillin on Skye. 

Are there any other highlights? 

Bidean nam Bian in Glencoe on a beautiful May Day holiday when you could see for miles:

Slioch beside Kinlochewe after a night of heavy snow:

Lochnagar on New Year’s Day with the supermoon rising as we walked back along the edge of Loch Muick meaning we didn’t need to use the head torches:

Ben More on Mull where we climbed through the cloud and got a 360 degree cloud inversion:

Geal Charn, beside Loch Laggan, when the American Thunderbirds (US red arrows) flew right over our heads:

Beinn Alligin, my first trip to Torridon, such a spectacular area:

I’ve been really lucky to have so many highlights.

Have there been any low points?

Thankfully not many. There have been a few days where the weather started badly and got worse, with days turning into a wet boggy trudge, but we generally used these days with poor visibility as a test of navigation.

Probably the low point was when I witnessed a companion slipping and falling around 60 feet down cliffs on the Black Cuillin on Skye. I had no idea of the extent of his injuries and spent a highly emotional few hours walking back to my car as our guide waited with him for Mountain Rescue to make a helicopter recovery. Thankfully I discovered later that evening that his injuries, albeit serious, were not life-threatening and he’s since made a full recovery.

What was your longest day in the hills?

Fourteen hours, when I did the Fisherfield round covering 5 munros in one day. We walked out, wild camped, then climbed the 5 munros before having to make 2 river crossings, the first of which I fell into, to make the return to our camp. We waded across the second in the dark, so I was rather wet by the time I got back to my tent.

There have also been two 12 hour days – one covering the Ben Alder 6 with a cycle out and back in high summer (Clare: When it was first suggested that we might consider the 6 munros rather than the planned 4 there were various thoughts in my head, none of them polite! However, it turned into one of the best hill days I’ve experienced):

Another was when I did all 9 of the Fannichs in a day, the most munros I’ve covered in one go. It poured all day and we got no views at all! That day certainly tested map and compass skills.

What advice would you give to anyone interested in taking up hill walking?

  1. Learn the basics – how to use a map and compass.
  2. Spend the most money you can on boots as you could be wearing them for a long day.
  3. Never be afraid to turn back. The hills will always be there another day. 

On that note, have you ever had to turn back on a day out?

Thankfully not too many times but I turned back on Beinn Bhuide during a complete white-out, despite the fact that it was a very long walk in before we even started ascending. We turned back at just over 700 metres, probably less than an hour from the top. I went back a few weeks later and had one of the best winter walks I’ve ever had with blue skies and great visibility which I’d have missed out on had we continued that first day.

What’s been your best purchase – clothing and kit?

On clothing, possibly my Berghaus Light Hike waterproof trousers. They pack down really small and are so light you hardly notice you’re wearing them. They’re a perfect fit for me and despite several holes and a repaired 6 inch split after an ice axe arrest practise went wrong (Clare: duct tape is your friend!), they’re still totally waterproof and going strong. They don’t make them anymore, so when I saw a company on Amazon selling them off last year I had to buy another pair for when my current ones finally get binned. 

On the equipment side, I bought a basic Garmin GPS (eTrex 10) many years ago as a back-up to using a map and compass. It’s clarified positions and routes we want to travel many times and is worth it’s weight in gold.

What’s in your rucksack that you wouldn’t be without?

Everything! I regularly go through my rucksack to make sure everything is being used. Other than First Aid stuff, if there’s anything I’ve not used in the last 2 or 3 walks it gets taken out.

Do you have any favourite walking websites?

WalkHighlands is a fantastic source of information on all things hill walking: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk

MWIS is my go to for what weather to expect, along with the Met Office that now has forecasts for individual munro tops: https://www.mwis.org.uk https://www.metoffice.gov.uk

SAIS (Scottish Avalanche Information Service) is an essential site to check before going into the hills in winter: https://www.sais.gov.uk

Hill Lists is a fantastic App for tracking which hills you’ve climbed.

I’m sure there are others, but they’re my go-tos. 

What’s next on the agenda?

Next on the agenda is to re-climb some of the munros that I didn’t get any views from, along with revisiting some of my favourites. A few non hill walking friends have expressed a desire to climb a munro so I’ll be making a point of joining them on some of their initial ventures out into the hills.

For anyone reading this who’s inspired to try a munro, what’s a good hill to start with or what should they avoid? 

Know your limits. Consider your experience and fitness levels. Initially go out with someone with experience. Start with something small and easy and work up from there. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a munro as a lot of these are long days. Make sure you enjoy it before committing to a long and strenuous day. 

Finally, which munro are you most looking forward to climbing again?

The next one!

Escape to Knoydart

Having left Mull on the first ferry on Monday morning, we later caught a boat from Mallaig to Inverie. As forecast, the rain was tipping down from the moment we awoke and I had a sense of deja vu. On this occasion it was Bruce’s goal at stake – his quest to complete the remaining few munros, three of which are in Knoydart – where previously it had been my trip to Aviemore for the virtual marathon.

The rain didn’t let up at all and we were somewhat dismayed to find that there was no need to ‘check in’ for the boat as we’d been advised, instead having to find a doorway in which to shelter before departure. Setting sail, we were on a smaller boat (Larven) rather than the scheduled Western Isles ferry; for reasons that escape me not many people were travelling!

Having settled into our accommodation, we found ourselves with an evening with little to do. No WiFi, no working television, an evening with some chat and a good book was enjoyed before an early night. Just what was needed after a 5:30 am start.

Waking a couple of times during the night the rain continued plopping against the Velux windows. In one sense that was good – it confirmed the forecast was right; in another sense it was bad – it confirmed the forecast was right. Glass half full or half empty?

Meall Bhuide and Luinne Bheinn

It was with a sense of foreboding that we got up and organised following the 6:00 am alarm clock. While we felt we should go, both of us were feeling a little trepidation at what lay ahead: potentially an 11 hour day, the possibility of rain until lunchtime (or worse) and the prospect of very water-logged ground following the substantial rainfall. However, we got ourselves in gear (finally) and headed out into the rain at first light, head torches stashed for the way home in anticipation of running out of daylight.

One positive was starting the day from the front door. A long walk in gave the opportunity to get the legs warmed up before beginning the ascent and although it was raining it really wasn’t that heavy. It appears that glass was half full after all.

The initial walk took us along a good track with a couple of gentle undulations. We passed some highland cows, very interested in what we were doing but happy to give way and move off the track to ‘protect’ their calf. Past the memorial, we turned and crossed the river via a good bridge. The route guide suggested that most streams had bridges and seeing this river in spate we sincerely hoped that was the case. The thought of getting stuck on the way home and having to retrace our steps did not appeal!

The rain, that had been light on starting out, petered out and although it was still cloudy the sun looked like it was trying to break through at times, the cloud was high on surrounding peaks.

It was a fair bit in before we reached the initial dreaded ascent. The plan was to cut up onto the ridge after passing the crags of Druim Righeanaich. This is reportedly a real challenge in summer due to the bracken that hides any semblance of path. We were in luck today. Autumn had killed the bracken off substantially, withered and brown, and this made the going far easier. The rain being off by this point, we were much relieved. There was even a faint path to follow which definitely made for easier walking. The pull up was tough all the same and height gained was not quite as much as I’d hoped when Bruce gave the Garmin reading.

However, it wasn’t too challenging once the initial pull of the day had been completed and we easily found our way onto the first summit, Meall Buidhe. This made me happy, but I was also a little concerned about what lay ahead.

The descent from Meall Buidhe was very steep but there was a clear path that led us between the crags; one of those descents where you look back and think, ‘Wow, did I just come down there?’

That sealed it. No going back! The ridge was wide and grassy with rocky outcrops. The only concern was wet stone, so careful foot placement was require. My seasoned hill walking companion (Bruce) advised me to use my heel to anchor myself on descent, providing additional security.

We wound our way round to Bealach Ile Coire, stopping for some lunch in a sheltered area, admiring the intermittent views. The cloud was blowing finely, coming and going, giving tantalising glimpses of the lochs below and neighbouring hills. More ground was covered, up and down, round rocky areas, through slightly boggy parts, before skirting around Druim Leac a’Shith. By this time Luinne Bheinn was very much looming large and I wondered how on earth we were getting up and where the dreaded scramble would be!

The path continued, leading us round towards an easier slope approaching the eastern top of Luinne Bheinn. A little further up we encountered the scramble. The route guide described it as simple and it was – about the right level for me! Nothing too exposed, a wee bit of a challenge (for me) but again my guide came up trumps, coaching me up and giving tips on hand holds, maintaining points of contact etc. Dare I say it, I think I maybe enjoyed it.

On the first summit, the clouds drifted in and out offering great views including Beinn Sgritheall, one of Bruce’s more recent munros. I was happy to see that the west summit was in easy reach and there was nothing challenging between the two. Again, we paused to appreciate the beautiful views.

Leaving the tops behind, we had another steep descent, assisted by a path zig-zagging downwards. Again, care was needed to avoid slippery stones, but there was nothing too challenging to contend with. The ultimate aim was to reach the Mam Barrisdale pass and with the descent path becoming increasingly boggy we were very happy indeed to finally get there. We did conclude that in light o the recent rainfall we were getting off lightly as far as boggy paths go.

The pass was monotonous as we were beginning to tire and really just wanted to be back on a flat track. On the upside, the streams coming down were crossed by bridges and there was nothing tricky, only the weary knees complaining a little.

Reaching the Loch an Dubh-Lochain was a relief as the path then improved quite a bit. What was a greater relief was seeing the monument again and knowing from here we only had about 40 minutes of walking left. Even better still was reaching the road towards Inverie. By this point the rain was back on but we were beyond caring; the hard work was done.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable day out in the end; we were both so glad we dragged ourselves out in the rain first thing. Finished up just shy of 18 miles with 10 hrs 15 mins including breaks. Not too shoddy!

A Day of Rest

After a long day with a dodgy forecast, we opted for a day of rest. There’s not a lot to do in Inverie on a rainy day, so we had a walk down to the pier in the hope that we’d find someone to quiz about options for eating as the shop was closed and the pizza we’d hoped to partake of suggested pre-order, a bit of a challenge with no mobile reception or internet access.

As luck would have it, we met a lovely Swiss chap, the owner of a B & B along the road, and he gave us lots of useful information. Having recced the initial route for Ladhar Bheinn, we headed back to the village and as luck would have it, bumped into Kira, the lady that runs the Knoydart pizza oven, currently only operational on Wednesday evening. Pizza ordered for evening – result!

Our wanders took us up to The Lookout (at The Gathering) where we were warmly welcomed for lunch despite them being officially closed for the day. Options were limited as a result, but we had delicious toasties, homemade millionaires shortbread and coffee. Oh, I’ve missed my coffee!

The rest of the afternoon was spent reading, such a simple pleasure. It really has been good to disconnect from the world this week.

Evening took us down to collect our pizzas – such a tasty treat! Just a shame the shop was closed – no beer on offer.

Ladhar Bheinn

Hoping for a dry day, we set out with the jackets safely stowed in our packs. Boggy path ahead, the waterproof trousers were on. With temperatures mild, it wasn’t long before that delightful ‘boil in the bag’ feeling engulfed us.

That aside, the going was good with a very clear track to follow. This took us out for the first few miles of our journey, opting for an out and back from Inverie rather than the traditional loop. All the way out to a bridge crossing, the track was well-made and presented no challenge other than the odd big puddle.

To this point, we’d gained very little height, staying around the 100 metre contour. Thereafter, we began to ascend up some very boggy ground. There was a path, but this was water logged. It was a real plowter and we took care of our footing to avoid slipping on the larger stones, greasy with the recent rainfall. As we progressed up Coire Garbh, the path became steeper and it was tough going, not particularly enjoyable. I battled with myself, part tempted just to head back, especially as the cloud lowered requiring us to stop and put jackets on as the mist engulfed us in a fine drizzle. Slow and steady, we plodded on. One thing I like about going second – I don’t like leading even though I’m slower – is that I can focus on Bruce’s heels in front of me, not requiring to look up too much; occasionally this brings a pleasant surprise on realising how far I’ve actually gone. Today though, there was the dread that the hardest part was yet to come!

As we reached the bealach the going eased and for a short time it was pleasant, flat walking, a welcome relief for the legs. I commented that my legs were feeling good in comparison with Sunday following Ben More when my quads were tight and sore; since then they’ve been brand new.

We expected the next section, the ridge leading up to Ladhar Bheinn, to be tough, but were pleasantly surprised! Rather than the rough path we’d experienced it was a grassy slope, the gradient feeling far easier than the lower slope. The only thing left to be wary of was the steep slope dropping off into the mist. We’d lost the path further down so I made sure to stay well away from the steep stuff at the edge.

In what felt like no time at all we could see the first summit. Marked with a broken trig point, this is not the true summit.

I found this rather disappointing as there was an obvious ridge leading along (with a steep drop on one side in particular; if you’ve read previous blogs you’ll know how much I ‘love’ exposure). However, Bruce coached me through a minor wobble where I suggested I might just not bother adding it to my list of summits. I was glad I made the effort as there really wasn’t anything tricky about it and the path remained good.

The second summit was marked by a cairn and having read the route guide, we felt pretty sure this was the true top. Bruce being on his penultimate munro wanted to be super safe so we continued along to the third top, and much to my delight I got to stop at various points along the ridge to take his photograph.

Retracing our steps, we were both in agreement that we should get out of the wet stuff (drizzle from the cloud, rather than rain) and down to a warmer level before eating. Bruce wanted to get dry and warmed up while my primary concern was getting back to the sanctuary of the first summit and off any semblance of ridge.

We found the path easily – no idea how we lost it on route up – and this led us back to the bealach. By this point it was apparent that the cloud had dropped significantly from our ascent as any limited views we’d had were gone. Descending back down the boggy path, it was some time before my eyes finally recognised the dark patch ahead as being the forestry plantation near the bridge. Happy days!

Once back over the bridge going was great and we hot footed it back to Inverie. The rain came on properly just as we were starting to dry out. Thankfully it remained fairly light, and it was literally as we took or boots off on the doorstep that it started dinging down! Result!

A shorter day in the grand scheme of things – only 7 hours and just over 13 miles. Ready for another early night as more adventure beckons.

Loch Lee: Who needs an air bridge when this is on your ‘doorstep’?

Freedom is Restored

So, this week the restrictions on travel were lifted for the majority of Scotland, allowing us once again to access the hills. It’s been a long wait, but today made it totally worth it!

Deliberation

The weather forecast, typically, was mixed. Stronger winds, the possibility of heavy rain (showers if lucky), you get the picture. After months indoors surely it’s not asking too much to have a clear, dry day?

We weighed up the pros and cons of the more local munros – too much wind? – and in the end, settled on Loch Lee. What a great decision that was!

Loch Lee

Turning up at the car park we were in luck with one space left for us. We’ve been here a few times but have never seen so many cars. Having spent the last few months trying to avoid people it was a little like rocking up to Asda on a busy weekend!

We figured most folks would be up Mount Keen so expected a quiet walk. The chap a couple of cars along was headed for Mount Keen and asked about directions (he did have a map but this was the lazy option). Advised that the turn off was signposted, we wished him well, and were then somewhat surprised to see him a mile along the good track as he headed back having missed the aforementioned large track to Mount Keen. Given the very clear path I’m trusting he got there in the end. On the upside, he got to see Invermark Castle, a sight missed if heading for the munro.

Invermark Castle

Reaching the loch, the excellent track continued all the way alongside.

Loch Lee

At the end of the loch we forked off to reach a bridge. This took us onto a smaller path, leaving the clear track behind.

Footbridge after Loch Lee

Falls of Unich

The path gently meandered along, not proving taxing, but pleasurable in that we were off the main track and into the wild a little bit more.

Gentle climb up to Falls of Damff

The heather in full bloom was stunning, lighting up the landscape with highlights of purple. True natural beauty!

Beautiful Scottish heather

After last night’s heavy rain, the Falls of Unich were in full flow, the torrents of water visible from some way back. With the steady wind, the fine spray of the water could also be felt from some way back. Up close it was hard to differentiate between the spray from the Falls and the spots of rain that were now coming from overhead. Thankfully the rain was short-lived.

Falls of Unich

Falls of Damff

The path then began to slowly climb, nothing too taxing but just enough to challenge the legs a little when having been confined largely to the city streets and local trails. We stopped and enjoyed a break, sheltered by the hillside.

The rocks here were beautifully shiny, looking polished on one side. As we progressed up we moved slightly away from the Falls of Damff. This was pleasing as there’s quite a drop from the path!

First Slip of the Day

The path got a wee bit muddy in places, and I found myself having my first slip of the day on a wet rock. No harm done aside from muddy trousers.

Heading up past the Falla of Damff

Cairn Lick

The boggy section of the path began after crossing another bridge. This led alongside a stream, at times unclear as to whether it was path or a tiny, minor tributary, becoming drier as we progressed. At some point along here I got a shock as my foot went right into a hole, thankfully although in to my knee the water wasn’t quite so deep!

Muddy boots!

We checked our navigation here as we reached a small cairn and it was unclear where we headed next. Compass confirming the route, more boggy path ensued, the upside being that the boot cleaned off very nicely.

Why Do We Walk?

This became obvious as we looked down onto Loch Lee once more. The views lowdown are lovely, but the views from above truly are exceptional, especially on a clear day with just the right amount of cloud in the sky!

Cairn Lick, views to Loch Lee

We stopped and started on the way down, drinking in the views, marvelling about how wonderful if was to return to the great outdoors, and double checking on the big black rain cloud behind. Spoiler alert: it didn’t get too close!

A wonderful way to get back out in the hills. This walk has everything you could want in Scotland – a Loch, views of the munros (Mount Keen), hills, heather, stunning views.

Thanks to Bruce as always, for his planning and inspiration, and of course for sharing his wonderful photos! Hopefully lots more to come over the summer months!

Final view of Loch Lee

Family

This weekend I finally got to see my parents again after 19 weeks! Living a wee bit apart I don’t see them as regularly as I would if they were just down the road. A busy life (and work) get in the way, so it’s not uncommon to go a month without seeing them. We met up last on a family birthday, a lovely gathering where I also saw my sister and her wee family. The next scheduled get together was on Mother’s Day weekend; sadly it never happened, the COVID situation rapidly evolving, my sister and I decided to postpone our meeting, only to then find out we’d have been left with no option as the country very suddenly went into lockdown. The next few paragraphs aremy account, written at the time, but unpublished as emotions were too raw all around.

19th March: Lockdown is Imminent

My journey began at roughly 4 am today. I spoke with my parents last night, both now in their seventies and, touch wood, healthy with no significant underlying conditions. They were suitably pragmatic about everything, already having realised that the chances are our planned meeting on Saturday would not go ahead. However, technology was frustrating; we didn’t manage to FaceTime as I’d hoped and I later sent an e-mail to Dad hoping he’ll maybe download the WhatsApp app to enable future face-to-face communication. I felt positive after speaking to them so I’m not sure why, at 4 am, I crashed.

Waking up, I went to the loo, went back to bed and then the tears came. Proper gut wrenching sobs and an underlying worry about Mum and Dad. With them not being immediately nearby, who will support them if they become ill? Who will do their shopping if they can’t get out? What if something awful happens and I never see them again?

22nd March: Happy Mother’s Day

Today, I’ve woken feeling more positive and perhaps am starting to find my new ‘normal’ (a phrase we’ve now grown to detest). Phoned Mum to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day and was pleased to find both of my parents upbeat, if a little hacked off in Dad’s case about being recommended to ‘self-isolate’ as he’s 70 something. He’s questioning why he should be told what to do when as a 70 something who’s taken care of himself he probably stands as much chance of fighting the virus as someone 20 years younger who hasn’t bothered. Fair point I suspect.

Keeping in Touch

We adjusted to life in lockdown, not really having a choice. I’m aware of people visiting family and waving through windows but the distance (and emotions) involved ruled out this option. Instead, the phone became a more regular companion and finally, thanks to my sister’s remote technical support, Dad got his iPad sorted out and we were able to FaceTime again. Seeing people on screen is such a blessing. I do wonder how we’d have coped without technology during this time.

31st May: Phase 1

The introduction of Phase 1 meant little for me. Still being too far from my parents to visit – too far to go without using the toilet – the waiting game continued. The one blessing was that my sister, being closer, was able to come for a socially distanced visit with my niece. Sitting in the garden blethering to them was wonderful!

Both my sister and brother-in-law celebrated birthdays during lockdown. There was no shared cake or celebrations outwith the immediate household; the best I could do was make fudge and sing a socially distanced birthday song from the street! I still owe you both a present!

18th June: Phase 2 Begins

We all waited with baited breath to find out what the announcements would be on Thursday as Phase 2 began. While others were holding out for a refreshing beverage with friends in a pub garden, my priority was seeing my family. The hope that not only would we be able to travel, but we could also meet indoors and go to the toilet was too much to bear!

Sadly we were all disappointed, the announcement being a bit of a damp squib when compared with the phasing plans shared online. I appreciate there are many variables but still …

It made me question whether it was worth travelling a long way to sit outside for a cup of tea. This period of time has taken quite a toll on mental health, as has our new way of working. I’m tired and in need of a break, probably just as I am most summers, and this led me to think that maybe I should just hang fire on visiting. It’s been so many weeks, what’s another two?

However, Friday evening came and although I hadn’t managed to get on top of all the work that needs done I did feel differently about life (more upbeat) and recognised that I both needed a break and wanted to see my family.

20th June: Together Again

Yesterday the sun shone. I headed up the road in my car, my sister and niece in theirs, and we all congregated in the garden with Mum and Dad. It was a joy to see them both in the flesh, to chat together as a family, and to catch up properly after so much time apart. We even went out (in our respective cars) to enjoy a picnic by the local beach. Sitting in a socially distanced circle the laughter and chat flowed and it was a very special few hours.

Driving home I reflected that having had the luxury of technology to maintain contact, it’s only when I see people that I realise how much I’ve missed them. I must remember this as it’s easy to get caught up in the bustle of life, sending a catch up text here and there and feeling like that’s maintaining contact, while in reality there’s no substitute for real human interaction. It definitely won’t be so long until our next catch up!

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day Dad! I hope you enjoy the Jam Shed – anytime after 4 pm is an acceptable time to crack it open. Your card will arrive sometime next week, I’m sure! Love you (& you too, Mum) x

Be Grateful of the Small Things

Biking

Today was a stunning day. We’ve been truly blessed with the weather thus far during our ‘confinement’, and it was a joy to be out on the trails again today.

Riding out from home, it’s not long before we reach Hazlehead. I love being able to ride across to Countesswells, a favourite running route ordinarily. I’ve managed to the old ‘stables’ but the full route is a step or two (several miles) too far.

On our social Sunday runs we have regular stops to allow everyone the opportunity to regroup. One such stop is our ‘selfie spot’, so in keeping with tradition Bruce and I have taken pictures there on the couple of occasions we’ve been out.

The solitude of the trails is remarkable with so few people out. The car park closed, people are welcome only if they can get there under their own steam.

Reflections

Home and showered I reflected upon the day thus far and decided to look back on previous years to see what I’d been doing then. Way back in December 2014 I decided to start keeping a journal of things I’m grateful for, noting three positives each day. These are often small, relatively insignificant things but the reflection provides some clear light at the end of each day, all the more so during life’s tough times.

Here they are with some annotations along the way:

15th April 2015

1. Relaxed morning in Keswick (Easter holidays – I wonder if it was raining; ‘relaxed mornings’ don’t usually figure in our hols!)

2. Lovely walk with Bruce & Rob (Rob is one of Bruce’s friends and I recall he’d driven some way to join us for a walk)

3. Post walk beers and chat

15th April 2016

1. Last 3 Wainwrights: Ling Fell, Sale Fell, then on to Binsey! (I should clarify that these were the last 3 Wainwrights of OUR holiday; still a long way to go overall!)

2. Home – although I enjoy being away I’m always happy to be home again.

3. Chat with Mum & Dad

15th April 2017

1. parkrun fun as Run Director

2. Nuart walk around Aberdeen with Bruce followed by a visit to CASC

3. Dinner catch up at Dizzy’s with Elaine, Heidi & Jacq – we need to get together when this is all over, although with one in USA and Dizzy’s sadly no longer standing we’ll need a new venue.

15th April 2018

1. Social run (Quite possibly around the trails we did today)

2. Coffee at Cognito – a post run tradition and a place I’m missing very much right now!

3. Trip to Stonehaven for ice cream – probably Aunty Betty’s; I’ve since discovered E Giulianotti (up the hill from the Square) that does equally good ice cream and has less of a queue!)

15th April 2019

1. Happy boys after the holidays – Easter holidays are a moveable feast. One of the joys of working as a teacher is that the kids are generally happy to return; you can’t fail to be swept up in their enthusiasm.

2. More fudge sold – this was part of my fundraising efforts for the London Marathon last year.

3. Sarah – home to a clean house. I work full-time and am a part-time ‘athlete’. What more can I say?

Have you found any small pleasures during the ‘lockdown’? What are you grateful for?

Social Distancing and Staying Home

Save Lives, Stay At Home

The message from Government has been very clear this week – stay at home. Even work now involves being at home and that’s surprisingly been okay. One upstairs and one downstairs, meeting for coffee or lunch; the day runs pretty much as normal.

Where I’ve struggled a little is with the one form of exercise per day (outside the garden). I’m torn … I’d love to run, but I also feel that for the sake of us both I need to walk with my husband, enjoying some semblance of normality amidst the turmoil of life outside our own little bubble.

Exercise Once A Day

Running has taken a back seat. I envy those that have been able to unearth their seldom used treadmill, previously only used to hang washing or fill the garage. However, I’m being quite pragmatic about this situation. I’ve come through the very brief phases of being upset and angry and have accepted that this is how life is. For the greater good of everyone we’re all making small sacrifices, grateful to those that are making the most impact in society right now – the NHS and everyone else on the frontline be it in our supermarkets and local shops or on the streets supporting with day to day maintenance in essential services such as the often forgotten posties, delivery drivers and refuse collectors. We appreciate you! Stay healthy and safe.

Today I opted to run on a rather beautiful day. Looking ahead we appear to be blessed by a spell of dry weather here in Aberdeen. This makes me happy!

Social Distancing

I contemplated the Deeside Line but decided to assess numbers before going along. There were a few folks walking so I opted for the streets instead.

Daffodils by the Deeside Line

Heading down towards the riverside I ran through the back of the RGU campus, not a soul there, and discovered a wee path along the River Dee that I didn’t know existed. Again, I met a couple of people, stayed well away, and decided to go back onto the pavements, the path too narrow to pass comfortably.

I found myself in Duthie Park having taken the south side path along the river. I was amazed how quiet the park was; it’s very apparent that people are following the ‘rules’.

The park is beautiful right now with flowers in bloom. I enjoyed taking photos as I went, taking pleasure in the small things, something we all need to do right now.

River Dee

Leaving the park I again opted for the south side of the river to make my way home, avoiding the handful of Sunday strollers on the riverside itself.

Stay Positive!

No idea what the week ahead holds, but I’m happy with the way things have gone thus far. There’s so much outwith our control at present that all we can do is focus on the little things. I’ve seen lots of kindness when out today: people smiling, waving from across the road or sharing a friendly word. That’s what is important in life: cherish it.

Solo Sunday: Finding the New ‘Normal’

It’s been a challenging week for everyone. Sunday has always been the social run, Saturday is for parkrun. Neither have happened this week. Yesterday was tough – it was upsetting not being able to go and meet with my running friends; today, however, I’ve got a more positive take on things.

The day started with a phone chat for Mother’s Day. Again, it’s sad not to be able to see my mum and give her a hug. Hopefully that’ll come later in the year. For now Mum, consider yourself virtually hugged!

Out on my run, I opted to take my camera in order to share some of the beauty that unfolded on route. The day was stunning with clear, blue skies, and it was a pleasure to be out in the fresh air. This is the new normal for me: taking even more pleasure in the little things in life and appreciating them fully.

The first joy was the flowers in the garden, beautiful miniature daffodils that have just popped up over the last week.

Mini daffodils

Continuing up the road, there are a few colourful pots outside the local church. I thought of Mum while taking these pictures – virtual flowers to go with the virtual hug!

Up the road I passed by Walker Dam, stopping to say hello to the ducks and seagulls! They were definitely more up for social interaction than any humans I passed today.

Walker Dam, Aberdeen

Passing the Hazlehead parkrun container I smiled – it’s so lovely and bright! A reminder of happy times past and in the future.

Hazlehead parkrun

The trails were quieter than yesterday. Small family groups, some couples, and a few solo runners or walkers only. I love these trails and while sad to not be in the company of friends, I’m grateful to be out; I’m fit, healthy and able to enjoy them.

Turning left where usually we go right: Hazlehead trails

Along to the turning point of parkrun …

I was rather excited to see a little robin bobbing around, pausing to watch it for a while, hoping it would come closer for a photo shoot. Sadly when it did it was more intent on giving a rear view!

Spot the robin!

Out of the woods and across Countesswells Road, I stopped to say hello to the horses.

Further round I cut off on Craigton Road taking a shortcut down the trail to Cults. This used to be a short but fun singletrack section on a biking route we occasionally enjoyed; unfortunately someone decided to build houses and change the track, so unless you fancy playing ‘chicken’ on the bike it’s not quite the same.

Onwards, there’s a wee path along the burn that meanders round the back of the Cults Hotel. Then across North Deeside Road and it’s onto the old Deeside railway line. I was quite delighted to be back onto my old stomping ground. With the dark nights over winter it’s been a while!

Finally, with the need to add on a few more miles I popped up to Johnston Gardens, a beautiful garden and a small haven of peace in the midst of the houses.

An enjoyable run, relaxed pace and taking in the scenery.

Where did you run or walk today? What pleasures have you found this weekend?

First Hill of 2020: Pressendye

The original plan for the first hill of the year was to head out on New Year’s Day. However, best laid plans and all that …

The reality of NYD was that we stayed out later than planned on Hogmanay, and when the 8 am alarm clock sounded I felt way too tired to get up. The resulting effect? Waking at 10:55 am, thus missing both the best part of a beautiful hill walking day and the opportunity to do parkrun. A walk along the golf course it was then.

Having not been out for a hill ‘fix’ since Christmas, one of us needed to get out today – it wasn’t me, although I’m glad that we did. The days are all merging into one at present and before I know it we’ll be back to the daily grind.

Due to a very blustery forecast with fog on the high tops we opted for Pressendye, a Graham that’s accessed from Tarland. We’ve done this before and I’ve blogged about it before so I’ll not go into too much detail.

Starting the walk in the main square, it’s a brisk walk along the road for the first wee while before the slog of the day begins, slowly ascending up through the fields and trees.

Pressendye: the first of the gates

Through a few gates – these were sent to try us, and were likened to a Krypton Factor Challenge – we reached the very broad ridge. This was where the wind really picked up and we were glad to be going in the ‘right’ direction, the wind at our backs. Reaching the large windshelter cairn at the summit was a welcome relief and gave a great spot to stop and have some lunch, very much protected from the wind that was howling around us.

Down we then went, dropping out of the wind pretty quickly, following good tracks along the way.

Very randomly, we bumped into a friend of the husband – small world!! After a chat with them we continued, finally descending through the lovely avenue of tall trees.

Tree lined ‘avenue’, Pressendye, Tarland

Coming out just as you approach Tarland from the Aberdeen side there were some very impressive bails, a bail ‘castle’, and a huge white plastic wrapped thing that looked like an enormous slug! Google’s a great thing: I’ve now learned that this is silage wrapped in a Budissa Bag. There are even YouTube videos showing the process, so if you’re bored (or a geek like me) have a watch! I’m well impressed- easy pleased!

Back in Tarland we stopped at Angie’s Cafe for a bacon butty and tea. A perfect end to the first day in the hills. Here’s to many more!

Looking back up to Pressendye