Anybody who is familiar with my website and blog will know that I have a special place in my heart for Knoydart. Described by many as “the last true wilderness of Scotland” Knoydart got into my system like nowhere else and is now somewhere I try to visit every year. Its just something I need. Now, not only is it my favourite place to be, it represents the beginnings of a unique friendship.
Before I had even set foot on Knoydart, I had heard of Alastair Bruce but didn’t know much more. I knew he worked for Sky Television as a Royal Commentator but that was about all. He came to my attention however when a friend, knowing we had already booked a house on Knoydart said “Do you know of Alastair Bruce, he has a home there.” I didn’t know anything at that time and did’t think much about it. Our friend wasn’t sure which house belonged to Alastair but she did mention that he always raised a flag when he was in residence.
I’ll never forget travelling to Knoydart for the very first time. When you leave Mallaig as a foot passenger, it is as if you leave everything behind you and carry with you only what you really need. The Wilderness awaits you as you sail up Loch Nevis and the white washed cottages Inverie come closer into view. The easiest way to reach Knoydart is by boat, the nearest road is nine and a half miles away.
We were met off the boat the most lovely people, Tim and Hannah, who looked after the house we were staying in. Before long we had settled in and were having coffee in the garden and I noticed we were sitting beneath a very tall flag pole. It was then I realised that we were staying in the very house that belonged to Alastair Bruce. The house was called Tigh Na Feidh, an old whitewashed crofters cottage. I was really intrigued by the coincidence, some people say there is no such thing, so I launched Twitter and searched for Alastair Bruce. There was a stone carving with the name of the cottage set in the wall of Tigh Na Feidh. I took a photograph of the stone, tweeted it to Alastair and said I was staying in his cottage. Alastair was delighted and that was the start of our conversation.
Over the next few months, I learned a little more about Alastair and his life. I love getting to know people and their story no matter where there are in life. For me, life is about people, each other, and our common lives together. We all carry history on our shoulders but Alastair’s is particularly interesting being a direct descendant of King Robert the Bruce. I just had this desire to get to know Alastair better and I hoped that one day we might meet.
I returned to stay in Tigh Na Feidh again the following summer. I continued to drop messages via Twitter to Alastair which he very politely replied to. I say politely, because I suspect that Alastair hoped that I would quietly disappear. He was, quite rightly, rather reticent to get involved with or have more contact with me. I was a writer and blogger after all, I could have been trying to make contact for disingenuous reasons. My desire was just to have contact and learn more about his life and history and get to know him better. So, I didn’t disappear, I persisted and kept up my idle chatter via Twitter
In April 2019 Alastair, or Major-General Alastair Bruce of Crionaich to give him his official title, was sworn in as Her Majesty’s Governor of Edinburgh Castle. That’s great I thought, we were both living in the same city so that must make us neighbours. Everybody knows the only way to welcome a new neighbour is to drop by for tea, so that’s what happened. Alastair, perhaps feeling exasperated by this time that I hadn’t quietly gone away, invited me up to Edinburgh Castle to meet him. My legs felt like jelly on my way up the castle. What would he think of me for having pursued him all this time and finally meeting me face to face?
However, I had nothing to worry about because he made me feel so at ease. We had a lovely chat and it was a real pleasure to meet him. We spoke about Knoydart of course as well as many other things. It reinforced my desire to be out in the world meeting people and making friends everywhere I can. It felt like a real privilege too, to be at the castle after closing time and have the place to ourselves without the crowds. Performers were rehearsing for the Tattoo and we were talking to them as we walked round.
A week later I joined Alastair and a group of distinguished guests for dinner at the castle after which we watched the Tattoo. It was a really astonishing evening and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone in the party. Among the guests was Lieutenant General Ivan Jones who took the Salute at the Tattoo that evening. There were representatives from different countries around the world as well as people at the top of their fields here in Scotland. After the performance, which was just spectacular, we were treated to a champagne reception in the Royal Gallery. I felt extremely welcome. It was a real privilege to meet so many lovely people and be part of the wonderful occasion.
I am extremely honoured to have had the opportunity take part in such a lovely event. I am, of course, particularly grateful to Alastair for taking the time to meet me. I am delighted we kept up our Twitter conversation over such long time and I think, or hope anyway, that Alastair is too! Social Media often receives negative press but since I started promoting my blog on social media platforms, some great things have happened in my life. Not only have I met many new people but I have managed to garner support for my work. This is a good example of the power of Social Media to bring together two people in unlikely circumstances. Through my website I try to Motivate and Inspire others to achieve whatever they can in their lives. Patience and persistence is key.
I’m extremely grateful indeed for the ongoing support of Vango. The Force Ten MTN 2 tent is a fantastic mountain tent I am really delighted to review for Vango. For a disabled person like myself it is really important to have suitable equipment and this tend is ideal. The size and, in particular, the height of the tent inside make it ideal for someone like myself to use on a camping expedition.
Click the video below and see what I made of the tent. Thanks
Motivation and inspiration doesn’t get much higher than on a snowy Scottish mountain below a clear blue sky. On a picture postcard day myself and a friend set out to climb two mountains in Glenshee and what a day it turned out to be. The two Munros, Cairn an Turic and Cairn of Claise can easily be reached for from the Glenshee road. A convenient car park, just north of the ski station was the start of the walk.
The path passed over a footbridge and gently undulated along the floor of the valley. After a kilometre or so, the path started to rise. Walking through the heather and grasses was relatively easy as we gradually gained hight.
The walk between the two tops self fantastic. Walking was fairly easy as the snow wasn’t deep and the wide open spaces provided amazing views. We were soon at the top of Cairn of Claise.
We had quite a long walk back down from there and I was beginning to feel pain in my joints. I popped a couple of pain killers which helped a little. The walk back was magical though, a long wide shoulder and the sun beginning to fade provided some wonderful views.
We got back to the car just before dark and the afternoon sun was just catching the tops of the hills. I was in a fair amount of pain by this time but it wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits on a truly fantastic mountain day.
The Beauty of Winter
My motivation and inspiration to be in the Scottish mountains has gone through the roof recently. Winter had seemingly arrived when driving up the A9 recently there was a covering of snow right down the roadside. How beautiful it looked and this just reinforced my determination to climb up into the mountains. Walking in Winter however, has its own set of difficulties and points to be aware of when planning a trip.
Walking the mountains for me, at any time of the year, can be challenging. Meeting the physical demands required to enjoy the glorious views from the summits I can find particularly tough. Winter can be very unpredictable indeed and the conditions bring an extra level of preparation. However, they are not enough to diminish my motivation and desire to venture onto the hills. The Scottish Mountains in winter are stunningly beautiful. Anyone who has experienced this will understand, but for those who haven’t, I don’t think it is easy to explain. ‘
Below are some of the things that can make a Winter outing more challenging:
For me, in order to enjoy the mountain in Winter there are a few things I do to keep myself safe.
Enjoy! The Scottish Mountains in Winter are just spectacular and this preparation and planning makes it all worthwhile. I am feeling so excited about venturing out very soon.
The Great Glen Hostel just south of Invergary provided the location of the Walk Highland Autumn meet. I, along with around 30 others, attended for a two night stay. Taking over the hostel for the weekend, a fun time was had by all. Walk Highland, as many people know, is a fantastic website and a source of information for walks throughout Scotland. Many people use it for information on all sorts of walks from the Grahams to the Munros. People arrange to meet through the site and they have four organised meets each year.
I went along to my first Walk Highland meet in the Spring and really enjoyed it. I met lots of great people and had lots of fun, so thought I would go again and experience another Walk Highland meet. I was looking forward to the weekend and catching up with some friends again.
Weather was mixed with a little snow on top on the hills but it could have been much worse. I arranged to climb a Corbett with a few others. The day was quite challenging due to the lack of day light and as a result people tended to go quite fast in order to get back before dark. This I found really difficult because I simply can’t go as quickly as the others.
The weekend brought to my mind again some of the difficulties faced by disabled people in accessing the outdoors. The Scottish mountains are a challenging place for anybody and this is even more so in winter conditions. For disabled people like myself it is a particularly difficult thing to climb mountains in the snow.
I am inevitably slower than the average person which is not ideal when the daylight is so short. For disabled people it can be really difficult to get people to agree to go into the mountains with them in winter. People’s leisure time is limited and who wouldn’t want to make the most of it. I feel very lucky however to have found some great friends through the Walk Highland group who will make the time and allow me to go along with them. I had a really great day walking and a good weekend.
Having access to the outdoors is sometimes taken for gtranted. However for disabled people finding oppotunities to spend time in the wilderness can be more difficult. I was lucky enought to writte this article for Mountaineering Sotland Magazine and share a bit of my expereince.
The outdoors have always been a part of my life. Growing up in rural East Lothian, I spent much of my childhood walking hills and beaches with my family. Having Cerebral Palsy of course could make things more challenging for me. My stamina and ability was not as good as it is now. However, I never saw this as something that might stop me but rather just made me more determined.
As I moved through my teenage years and into adulthood, my passion for the outdoors continued to grow. In my early twenties I discovered the Munros and during my time at University with the Hillwalking Society I managed to head out and begin Munro bagging. I would go out at weekends either with the club or with friends made through the club. It became clear quite early on that, much as I loved walking, I didn’t have the same energy and stamina as most of my contemporaries. When we climbed the mountains I would invariably have to descend earlier and walks would take me much longer than the average person. I didn’t seem to matter to the University society and I made friends with understanding, compassionate people who would accompany me hill walking.
My walking ability was never really a problem until well after I left university and settled again in Edinburgh. It was at that time I would approach mainstream clubs and try to find people to go walking with. It was then that I ran into difficulties and one that would continue throughout my adult life. Finding people and opportunities to go walking has been difficult and, so much so, I gave up mountaineering for many years. I got so frustrated at people’s lack of patience and lack of support from clubs that I really didn’t think I could put myself in that position any longer. I had resigned myself to the fact that the Mountains were not going to be part of my life. Before I knew it 20 years had drifted by but, unbeknown to me, I still had a spark inside me for the mountains.
I have rediscovered my passion for the mountains in recent times and I’m still hopeful of finding more open minded people to walk with. I was aware though that I could well come up against a similar range of problems that I had experienced all those years ago. Many of us live in quite pressurised times and individual leisure time is very precious. People want, and quite rightly so, to get the most out of the spare time that they do have, so spending a day walking at a slower pace is not very appealing. Disabled participation in outdoor sports is still relatively low, and that might be for reasons such as,
I think there is another aspect of people walking with disabled people just once, as if they have ‘done their bit’ but they would not make a regular commitment. There are still a lot of attitudinal barriers that prevent disabled people taking part in outdoor sport. For example
There can be no doubt that sporting opportunities for disabled people are improving and this is, in part, due to the success of the Paralympic movement and London 2012. There is, however, still a long way to go in terms of outdoor sport and mountaineering. It is here that clubs have an important role to play. Thankfully many clubs now have an equality or inclusion policy which covers all minority groups and not just disability. These policies try to insure that nobody is treated differently on the grounds of gender, race, disability or sexual orientation. In the case of disability however, and if there is some kind of physical impairment involved, such as in the case of disability, it is more complicated than just a change in attitude.
To include a disabled person in a mountaineering or walking club, its takes more organisation and planning. On club activity weekends for example, there could be volunteers who agree to walk at a slower pace to support those with disability. Club members could take turns at this so everybody shares responsibility. At committee level in a club there ought to be an equalities office bearer whose role is to ensure that everybody who wants to be, is included in the life of the club.
These are just a few ideas although with any social or leisure club, it is not good to impose rules of what people must do. However a balance has to be struck between this and club responsibilities. I hope to rekindle my walking career again. There are many more activities I’d like to achieve. I would like to climb more Munros and would like to experience staying out in a bothy in our beautiful wild places. I hope to find people to do that with who will share that experience with me.
Cairngorm Mountain is home to Scotland’s only Funicular Railway. Opened in 2001 the line takes thousands of visitors up and down Cairngorm Mountain to the highest cafe in the UK, the Ptarmigan Restaurant, which sits at over 3,500ft about sea level. Cairngorm is a hive of activity at all times of year with thousands of skiers in the winter time, and many visitors over the summer months experiencing the wonders of the mountain.
The funicular railway was, from its very inception, shrouded in controversy and to this day still somewhat divides opinion. From the moment it was first proposed it was vehemently opposed by sections of the environmental lobby on the grounds of its lasting impact on a very special and already very fragile site of scientific interest. First proposed as far back as the 1950’s, and then spoken of again in the 60s, only in 2001 did this project reach its completion because of all the challenges. When the railway finally opened in December 2001, many thought of it as the greatest Christmas present the Highlands had ever seen. Jobs on the mountain, and the increase in visitor numbers would bring long needed prosperity and investment for the tourist industry in the surrounding area. Others however mourned for what they saw as an environmental disaster.
Cairngorm itself is one of the biggest mountains in the UK. At over 4000 feet it is the sixth highest mountain in the United Kingdom and gives its name to the whole range of mountains. The name Cairngorm translates as ‘Blue Mountain’ and from a distance it is easy to appreciate why it got this name. Ironically however, anyone walking on the mountain will notice the geology of a very red type of stone so historically Cairngorm was know as the ‘Red Mountain’. Red or Blue, this mountain is very special for many different reasons and hundreds of thousands of people flock to experience its riches every year.
Being one of the highest peaks, and giving its name to the range, it is on many walkers ‘to do’ list. Mountaineers scale it at all times of the year either walking or climbing. I had wanted to experience the summit of Cairngorm for a long time so I took the opportunity and made use of the funicular railway to reach the top. One of my motivations was to see and experience the spectacular Cairngorm Plateau. I wanted to see for myself this great expanse of mountain which joins several peaks including Cairngorm and Ben Macdui. Infamous for its exposure, it attracts thousands of mountaineers each year in all weathers. Sadly, many have lost their lives there as a result of the changing weather and exposure to the elements.
We booked onto a guided walk which is the only way to the summit of Cairngorm while using the funicular railway. In order to satisfy the environmentalists, one of the conditions of building the railway was to minimise the impact of visitors. One of the ways this is achieved is by containing people and not letting them wander onto the mountain unless with a guide. Of course, if you walk up the mountain from ground level you are free to wander but, using the funicular railway you must book onto a tour. This makes sense to me, given how many people venture into the mountains without the necessary equipment or experience. Many lives could be put at risk by allowing ill clad, tourists in sand shoes to wander out onto the mountain. I was delighted to reach the Ptarmigan stop and have the opportunity to reach the top with the Ranger.
It’s a relatively short walk up to the summit from the Ptarmigan restaurant with only about 500 metres of ascent. The well constructed paths are sectioned off, again to contain people and minimise environmental damage. We were very lucky to be joined by our guide Gerry, who gave us a real insight into the geology and history of the mountain.
I was hoping to see, or at least hear a Ptarmigan. Very shy but very beautiful birds they spend most of the time on the ground and only fly if they have to. A grey brown colour in the summer they, like the mountain hare, change their coat in the winter and go all white. This gives them protection from predators from above. We did however see some beautiful reindeer. Although theses are wild animals, they were very tame indeed and allowed us to get very close to them. They live up there all year round and are a native species to Norway.
As we approached the summit, views were just spectacular as weather conditions were near perfect. Looking over Cairngorm Plateau was just amazing. This vast wilderness is inspiring. We could see many mountains in all directions and it was good to name many of them. It was a fantastic experience and it has left me with an enthusiasm for more.
I got the feeling that the funicular railway, far from being an environmental disaster, is a wonderful resource for many different reasons. As well as the enormous economic prosperity it brings to the area, it enables people of all abilities to experience the mountains. I don’t think mountains should be sacred places reserved only for the fit and able. The experience of being up a mountain is so motivating and inspiring I don’t think its fair to deny the experience to anyone who seeks it. Being able to use the funicular like this so that anybody can experience the pleasure of being up a mountain is a truly great thing. I felt very much at peace with the impact on the environment. It is very contained and only really impacts on one side of a mountain in a vast area. The ski area was there long before the train. Ski areas in the summer time never look pretty. The mountain organisation ‘Natural Retreats ‘do a fantastic job managing and containing its impact as well as keeping people safe.
I hope to return to Cairngorm and use the railway again in the near future. I would like to go further afield and even camp out on the Cairngorm Plateau. This would be a truly wonderful experience and one that I would treasure. I feel really hungry to experience the mountains. Unfortunately my walking ability has not enabled me to venture far recently without substantial amounts of pain, or indeed more than I’m prepared to tolerate. I will be looking into ways of making this dream possible soon and hope that I can report back on what a wonderful experience it is.