Last year I visited the beautiful Isle of Skye. It was somewhere I had longed to go for a while, not just because I was desperate to dine in The Three Chimneys, but also simply to quench my endless thirst for a Scottish adventure. Once there I made sure I saw all the main highlights including Neist Point, The Quiraing, The Old Man of Storr & The Fairy Pools. But when I say saw, I pretty much just mean saw. Because as much as I love a Scotland based escape and a coffee & spotify fuelled road trip - I'm not exactly outdoorsy.
Apart from drinking in beer gardens or picking up dinner essentials at the local Farmer's Market. But apparently those don't count. So when visiting these amazing landmarks I mostly stayed in the car. I would obviously jump out and brace the harsh wind chill factor in order to get my Instagram shot (because if you don't Instagram it did it really happen?), but when it came to climbing up to actually meet that old guy of storr or ascending a few rocky feet to get to the best viewpoint at Neist, I was quite happy just to wait in the car. Because these shoes were definitely not made for walking thank you very much.
However somehow I managed to get talked into making the trek to the Fairy Pools. On what could only be described as a wet, muddy and miserable day. I'm genuinely convinced that if it wasn't for the large glass of lunchtime Sauv Blanc I had consumed pre-amble, I never would have got through it. It took about an hour & a half, I managed to get an entire boot (right up to the ankle), ensconced in a muddy bog and I pretty much moaned and complained the entire way there. However (between you & I), I secretly didn't mind it. Maybe enjoyed is too strong a word. But I definitely didn't hate it as much as my super girly, you'll never catch me camping persona would have had you believe.
Then I got back and the thought of climbing a hill, negotiating a wind beaten track or trekking through muddy bogs never occurred to me again. Particularly not when my usual nights away consisted of a comfy bed, a two course meal & a roaring fire. Then I became unwell. And I scared the life out of myself. And my daughter. And the people around me who cared deeply for my wellbeing. I spent a large part of 2016 medicated. I spent a large part of 2016 scared. I spent a large part of 2016 with a darkness inside me that intoxicated me to the point I felt it was often difficult to breathe. Or to move. Or to do simple basic functions like feeding or bathing my own child.
Around October I began to feel better. I began to recover. The enormity of how unwell I had actually been hit me. The desperate worry of the terrifying impact this might have had on my daughter hit me. And the enormity of how well I had managed to hide it from my work and my friends hit me too.
I decided that I had to do something positive. 2016 had become one of the worst years of my entire life. I had to see it out with a bang. I decided to do something different. Something that wasn't me. Something that took me right out of my comfort zone. Something good, positive and healthy that could be borne from all the mess. I'm aware that hill walking is probably a bit of an anti-climax. But anyone who knows me well can vouch that there was more chance of getting Trump at a women's rally than there was of getting me up a hill. I instructed my sister (who scoffed and said they'd never make it out the box), to buy me walking boots for my birthday. I hit up TK Maxx and bought the appropriate jacket, the hat and the gloves. I even bought a hip flask. This shit was about to get real.
I booked a night in Arrochar with a good friend who understood the real significance of that trip to me. And I made Ben Arthur my first foray into the world of hillwalking. And I did not regret it. I didn't regret one minute of the cold, relentless wind. I didn't regret a second of the lashing rain or the slippery scramble that saw us dangerously lose our footing on more than one occasion. I loved it. All four miserable hours of it. And I couldn't wait to do it again.
I decided to do Ben Arthur as a fuck you to 2016. Nothing more. However what actually happened was I developed a new obsession. A new love. A hobby that was a bit more constructive than just starting a gin collection. I have a few very good friends now who I climb with. And they are my go to people when I have a lot on my mind. Because there's very little else to do on those often ruthless climbs, than talk. I've lost count of the amount of problems I've went up those hills with. Only to return miles lighter. And it works both ways. There's many a pal problem I've helped thrash out on a steep ascent. And if you ask me, it's a sure fire way to get to know a person a little bit better. One steep hill is the equivalent of about 3 months of friendship in my book.
In fact I'm heading up to Ballachulish with one of them this very weekend. Where I can't wait to explore The Hidden Valley, where the MacDonalds of Glencoe apparently hid their rustled cattle. Then this summer I'm heading back up to Skye with another.
And this time, the walking boots are most definitely coming with me.