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Mountain Therapy

A couple of weeks ago my sister got married on the banks of Loch Leven in Glencoe. My Mum made the wedding cake, it’s got playmobil on the top! I was a bridesmaid and it was a lovely day.

  

After the wedding I spent time with my family in Fort William and I went to visit a friend on The Isle of Skye. I’ve got a new phone, the Samsung Galaxy Note. It’s a cross between a phone and a tablet. “Is that your phone?, It’s a beast” Is a common response but I love it and it takes great pictures.

So here’s my highland holiday from the Galaxy note (and me).

Ben Nevis

I took these at the bottom of the mountain, can you spot snow on the hills and a yellow dog?:

We took a cable car up Ben Nevis, here’s the view from the top:

Neptune’s Staircase

We visited Neptune’s staircase – eight locks in a row on the Caledonian Canal:

Fort William to Skye

I took the train from Fort William to Mallaig – it’s a famous rail journey and it’s very beautiful but I think the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh journey is even better! I’ve been to Skye a few times but this is the first time I’ve traveled by ferry (speed bonny boat!):

Kinloch Forest Trail

I went a wee walk in a place I discovered when I last visited Skye, the Kinloch Forest Trail.

 

The trail takes you to one of my favourite views on Skye:

After that I hitched to Broadford and caught up with my friend Reuben. We cooked a feast for his friends Laurence and Bridget. We all stayed in a caravan with a wood burning stove and later we enjoyed oatcakes, a cheese selection and a wee dram. It was brilliant.

Knoydart

The next day we went for a drive to see the view over to Knoydart, the closest point to the mainland,:

Sligachan

Then we drove to Sligachan for some magical mountain views.

 

After that we went to the Fairy pools, my friend Tom recently wrote about them here.

The Fairy Pools

This is Bridget and Laurence at the fairy pools:

Bridget makes Firebread Pizza in London and Laurence is an artist in Edinburgh, they were both great.

There was snow on the mountains above. That didn’t stop this group climbing down to get to the pools to do something extraordinary:

I’ve blogged about the joys of wild swimming but there was no way I was taking off multiple layers of thermals and fleeces to enter the icy cold water. I love the carved curves and shapes in the pools. Here’s the icy water pummeling the rocks and splashing up into the air, you can see how it starts to shape the rocks:

Saved By Cheese

After that I went for a walk by myself over the hills. It was a three-mile track from the Fairy Pools car park to Sligachan but it took hours and I had a very strange experience. I’d been steadily climbing uphill for a while and the wind was blowing hard, it was freezing. Suddenly the wind dropped and I felt totally calm. It seemed like a really good idea to lie down so I did.

I didn’t feel cold at all and I decided to have a little sleep. At the same time there seemed to be a voice in my head saying “Don’t sleep, whatever you do don’t sleep!” but I felt so comfy and tired I just ignored it. As I closed my eyes the voice said “Don’t sleep, get up and eat cheese instead!”. At that point I opened my eyes, it seemed like a good alternative. So I got up and ate two slices of cheese I’d saved from my packed lunch as I walked on. Five minutes later I was quite appalled to think I was about to have a sleep on the freezing cold hillside! It started raining and I started singing into the wind just to make sure I stayed wide awake.

Finally the path came near to its end and I recognised the Sligachan mountains. It was very beautiful but I was mighty glad to getting off the freezing hillside and onto the road at last.

Hitching

I hitched back to Broadford with an interesting lady, Dunia. She was a Cullin Fools circus performer, an artist and many other things (as is customary on Skye). She used to live in the city and was a social butterfly – she explained how she would often double book herself. Then she moved to Skye and everything changed. She now enjoys time alone and has been living around Skye for 13 years. She’s just brought a croft with her husband and they’re learning to do everything on the croft from scratch. I chatted to her and by the time we got to Broadford she had decided to start a blog to share her experiences. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Leaving

The next day I got the ferry home, as I walked up the ramp I felt a sinking weight of sadness. Thankfully the ferry ticket man was so cheery he stopped me crying with his smile. I was going to miss Skye. I had a few hours in Mallaig before I got my train to Fort William so I asked a couple of guys where the best place to get a bacon roll and a cup of tea was. They sent me to the Fisherman’s Mission.

The Fisherman’s Mission

The mission was brilliant and really cheap, I spent a few hours there and was surprised to be asked to sign a leaving card. They explained I was one of the last customers at the Mission. It was closing that day due to declining fishing industry. It seemed such a shame. Just near closing time skipper Ewen Nicholson (above) came in for his last supper. He had worn his best suit for the occasion and he asked staff to take a photo. He’d been coming to the mission for 30 years. No one had a camera so in the end I offered. I ended up taking lots of photos of Ewen and having a good chat about his life, fishing and his pet seal. I wrote about him on the Leith Library blog here.

Mallaig to Fort William

I got my train and took more photos from the window, I was quite pleased with this one of the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (from the Harry Potter Films):

The Slug Allotments

Back in Fort William I walked up the hill in Fort William with my Mum and found some lovely allotments:

 

The Train Home

The next day I got a very early train home to Edinburgh across a misty Rannoch Moor. Deer kept running along beside the train. It was very beautiful. I experimented taking photos of the vegetation passing the lochs and mountains to make streaks.

 

Back in Edinburgh

I’ve found it hard to readjust to a busy life back in the city. I’ve been back just one week but it’s been full on. I had the Reader in Residence induction day and a poetry gig. I filmed and blogged interviews at the launch of book week Scotland and had to rearrange a speaker for this Thursday’s NENgage social media training. I’ve also had three meetings to set up three new freelance projects and I’ve been working at the library.

Don’t get me wrong, all the things I’ve been doing this week have been great but I loved being anonymous in the mountains. I wanted to stay a little longer there.

But life goes on. I’ve vowed to get out on my mountain bike a little more and go walking in the hills at weekends. That way I can maybe get a little mountain therapy all year round.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2012 in Environment, nature

 

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Wild Swimming in Scotland

This is me last weekend, walking through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg.

Yes I know it looks like a tropical rainforest but it was Scotland – it was freezing. I had to concentrate so hard on not slipping on the rocks while being pummelled from above that there was no room for hesitation. Yes I screamed and yes it was brilliant.

There’s something wonderfully freeing about braving the cold and being part of the landscape from the inside. You could perhaps achieve a similar effect if you buried yourself in the earth but without the freedom of movement. And you’d get dirty. Water is definitely the way to go, even if you don’t feel like it.

On the waterfall day, I’d made up my mind not to go swimming. I didn’t want to get changed. The sun had gone in. My tummy hurt. I don’t like swimming costumes. I’d swam in the sea the day before and a lock the day before that – I’d done enough. Then I heard it, whoops and screams as others disappeared behind the rocks.

And I realised: Here’s your chance to walk through a waterfall on the Isle of Eigg. Why are you sitting on a rock making excuses, only you are missing out on life.

So I went in. My friend Tania guided me through it. I’m so glad I did. If you need a little more convincing here are my top five wild swimming in Scotland experiences. They are by no means the best places to swim, just my favourites.

5) The Singing Sands, Eigg August 2012

The are no weeds in the water and an amazing view to Rum. The beach was deserted. The sand sings, well – more like squeaks. The grain size is so small that it makes high-pitched noises when you scuff it with your foot. As we left the beach we saw a golden eagle soaring above, freedom!

4) Gullane, East Lothian July 2012

The picture captures it so well (thanks Ben). I swam though the sunshine as it set. No one came with me. No one made me do it. I swam in shorts and a pyjama top, it seemed a good idea at the time since I needed to wash the top anyway. A dog ran along the beach and stopped confused, looking out at me. “It’s okay” said the owner. “She doesn’t need rescuing”. I loved Gullane because it reminded me we can do something scary alone and then really enjoy it. Plus by the time I got out and changed the food my friends were cooking on the barbecue was ready – perfect timing.

3) The Pier, Tanera Mor August 2011

Jumping off and plunging in to the freezing cold water was just like jumping into the deep end of the swimming pool when we were kids – loads of fun!  Read more about my visit to Tanera Mor here.

2) Loch Nam Bam Mora (The Loch of the Big Women) Eigg August 2012


This was my first swim in a loch. Legend has it an army of warrior women drowned here in the first century AD. I couldn’t help thinking a bony hand might grab my ankle as I squelched through the mud into the loch. The warriors were led into the lock by little lights that hovered over St Donnan’s grave and then moved all the way across the heather into the loch. A few days before the drowning, the women had murdered St Donnan and his monks by beheading them one by one. They have found several headless corpses buried on the island so at least half this story is true. At one point I’m sure I felt a whole head of human hair brush my foot. But I figured I was on the Monks side so I had nothing to fear. And the water felt soft, and we were surrounded by mountains and heather. After leaving the loch the midges flocked in. I was trying to get changed discreetly behind a sarong but this was rather difficult while being bitten alive. But that bit in the middle of the lock, swimming through the soft water, that bit was wonderful.

1) Waterfall, Singing Sands Eigg 2012

This has to be my number 1 because it reminded me to stop making excuses and start living.

-1) Loony Dook, South Queensferry 2011

Not all wild swimming in Scotland is brilliant so I’ve added a minus 1. I jumped in the sea on new years day to try to get people to take up green new years resolutions. Don’t listen to the video, I was clearly delirious and in shock. I had a headache for 3 days. I’ll never do that swim again and don’t recommend you do either.

Find out more about wild swimming in Scotland on the Outdoor Swimming Society website. It was founded by Kate Rew, here she is swimming in the fairy pools on the Isle of Skye.

I was visiting Eigg as part of a Speygrain Creative Connections Course. These courses brings together artists, writers, scientists and educators to share ideas, food, music and outdoor learning. More photos on the Speygrian Facebook page and find out more on the Speygrian website.

Image credit: 5,3a, 3b & 1 (the waterfall) Tania Noble. 4 Ben Barber. 2a Emily Dodd 2b Leeoni.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Events, nature

 

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Bernard MacLaverty gives you permission to write badly

The Scottish Book Trust and BBC Scotland are collecting stories about our favourite Scottish places. They’re looking for diary entries, stories, poems, letters, song lyrics or a short scene from a play.

This national campaign to get us writing includes free writing workshops with internationally renowned authors, what a rare and wonderful thing?! I booked onto the first free workshop at North Edinburgh Arts with Bernard MacLaverty.

I enjoyed the workshop. Bernard spent time getting to know us and reading examples from his novels. He also had some great advice…

Bernard’s Top Tips:

Start by saying “today I give myself permission to write badly”. If you try to write a masterpiece it’s hard to write anything at all. If you give yourself permission to write badly it’s easy to write and you never know, a masterpiece might come somewhere along the way.

Write to show and not tell. You could write ‘Mary was in love with the boy next door’, that’s telling. But to show would be to say ‘Mary waited by the curtains looking at the red door as it opened…’ and so on.

When I work with teenagers they all want to write something that astounds you, something to change the world but actually I just want them to tell me about their Granny or a place or something someone said.

Our Task

Bernard had planned to get us to write a postcard from a favourite place.  Beginners are encouraged to go to these workshops but since but we were all professional writers he set us a different task. We had to describe a room from childhood using the five senses and in the third person. A show and not tell exercise.

We had just ten minutes to write it and I gave myself permission to write badly. Here’s what I wrote:

She swept the smooth wooden floor of the caravan with her socks, sliding and sweeping. More fun than a broom, not conventional sweeping. This was dangerous. One slide too far and you’re on the floor. She perfected the motion, sweeping the dust of last night’s fire, of today’s food. Up and down and around and back. Up and down and around and back. Sweeping it into a small, fluffy pile. She took a dust pan and swept it up. There wasn’t a bin so she found a bag and tipped it all in.

We read our paragraphs to Bernard and the rest of the group for feedback. Here’s what people said about my paragraph:

  • It pinged a memory and is likely to do so with others (Bernard talked about how he used to polish the floor with his socks as a child)
  • I think someone is about to come to the caravan or something is about to happen, there’s suspense building, it’s exciting…
  • It seems to be a short story already, keep going and make it into one
  • It reminds me of a description from Hemingway about a fish (but it wasn’t really about a fish) is this really about sweeping?
  • What was she avioding? What was coming next? What was she really thinnking?
  • The repeated phrase worked because it showed the repetative nature of the task

I’d strayed a little from the brief, earlier in the workshop I’d been thinking about Skye as a favourite place. It’s unbelievably beautiful and was somewhere I stayed earlier this year. Here’s a picture I took on a bike ride with my mobile:

When asked to describe a room from childhood I didn’t really want to leave the beautiful island in my imagination and so I described where I stayed on Skye instead. The rest of the group didn’t know that when I read my paragraph.

The best thing about the workshop was it made me want to write. I had loads of ideas and was poised with my pen raring to go while the task was being discussed. I think that’s what these workshops are all about, meeting great people, being inspired and putting pen to paper.

Do you have a favourite place? Book onto a my favourite place writing workshop here. Read about other peoples favourite places here. The closing date to submit your writing is 31st August, submit it here.

The Scottish Book Trust loved this blog post so they reposted it on their blog here.

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Events, Writing

 

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