I’ve recently re-membered part of me that I’ve kept buried away for far too long.
In this blog I share how I’ve re-kindled my love affair with the outdoors. Expect 2500 words, about 10 minutes of reading time. Our starting point is the origins of my love of the outdoors and why I forgot. Along the way we pass the way markers of
- my re-union with the out door life through a solo Island cycling adventure
- my fear of wild camping on my own and over coming this
- calling myself out on my excuses, my fear and rather following my inner voice
Maybe my story can help re kindle an ember that is quietly struggling to stay aglow in you right now? You might have forgotten it’s there – but, like me, you get the occasional niggling reminder of its presence? For a long time, I told myself stories about my circumstances that limited me from living my dreams.
The beginning of my love for the outdoors
I’d have traded places with my townie friends in a heart-beat.
I didn’t appreciate being brought up on our family’s hill farm in Invernesshire.
They didn’t have warm milk with ‘bits’ in it.
They didn’t have to get up while it was still dark on a Sunday morning to muck out the cows before two hours of long church services.
Yes, I had restrictions placed upon me. But I had a freedom and a gift that many of my townie friends lacked.
I spent hours of my day out-doors.
- From games of ‘attack’ with my siblings on the hill, to…
- 4 mile round trips on back roads to buy sweeties at the local shop, to…
- helping on the farm – lambing, moving sheep, mucking out the cows in the winter, tattie picking….
But my favourite and strongest memories are of wandering around the hills on my own. For no reason, just because I wanted to.
Sounds idyllic right? And in many ways it was.
And then adolescence hit.
Going into the hill behind my house gave me a rare sense of peace and a refuge from all my confusion and head chatter.
Being in nature helped me keep things in perspective. I felt more connected to myself, to nature and for that period each day my inner critic stopped.
Aged 17 I was desperate to leave home. The problem wasn’t ‘me’ – the problem was this place and my circumstances, right? Well maybe not but it took me 20 years to work this out.
So I packed my bags and left this place -and in so doing, left this way of being behind.
I forgot the hills and the out-doors
– I forgot the thing I thought I could never forget.
Yes, I still spent time out-doors, but it was never an intentional focus and never to the extent that my younger self had done.
I didn’t notice it’s absence.
And yet maybe in the same way as I don’t miss being in love until I’m in love again –
now that I’ve re-kindled my relationship with the outdoors I can see and feel it’s absence for all those years.
Life got busy, other priorities took over.
When I moved back to the Highlands of Scotland three years ago spending time out-doors was high on my ‘to do list’ but somehow it never really happened. (Because I never made it happen).
I’d always thought I’d wait and have adventures when I met someone who had the same interests and – to be really honest – someone who would deal with the logistical side of things.
I didn’t just want to meet an amazing partner to share life with – I wanted to meet an amazing partner who:
– would plan adventures for us across land and sea,
– knew which bike rack would best fit our campervan,
– could put up our 4 season tent in a gale!
But Bear Gryll’s didn’t return my calls and turning 40 became a wake up call to my spirit!
I realised that ‘waiting for someone’ was holding me back from living the life I dreamed of.
So I called myself out on my BS, gathered my courage and planned the logistics for a self supported bike trip through the Outer Hebrides (you can read more about that adventure here).
I noticed, whilst on my cycling trip, as I eased in to day long bike rides, I slowly felt my joy increase.
Most of my days were spent out doors in the elements.
As the days passed I became more relaxed, more present, freer, less occupied with self-image (I stopped wearing makeup), less distracted.
‘I’ somehow became less and the land became more.
I’d cycle on this beautiful landscape with a big smile on my face – a smile that I felt was bursting from inside me.
In many ways I felt like a young girl again. But a happy free young girl.
As my time on the Islands drew to a close I became scared of losing this feeling of freedom.
Can I keep this freedom?
Since making that first scary tentative step out of my comfort zone I’ve felt an irresistible pull to be out-doors in the wild. It’s felt like several serendipitous encounters have confirmed the ‘rightness’ of this pull.
Towards the end of my Outer Hebrides cycling trip, whilst in a pub in Barra I got chatting with an artist. As I shared my desire to keep the the freedom that the trip had given me his eyes lit up. He urged me to read “Living Mountain” – a book which has since given me a desire – nae a compulsion – to walk and camp alone in the Cairngorm Mountains.
Its author, Nan Sheperd, meditates on the wonder of the mountains and how we can be changed by the wild world if we allow ourselves to be. She articulates ideas and feelings that were growing in me but for which I didn’t yet have language to describe.
Two weeks later, early on a Saturday morning, I stood outside the Ranger’s Station in the Cairngorms armed with a borrowed tent, OS map, compass, a sushi dinner, protein bars and, as I was to find out later, completely inadequate clothing! All set for my first solo wild camping adventure.
What if I get stabbed in my tent? Am I capable of wild camping?
A few months prior I’d stumbled across an excellent article written by a woman who wild camped on her own. In the piece she shared her experience and also why it wasn’t a risky thing to do. I remember reading it thinking ‘wow, she’s amazing – I could NEVER do that’.
What changed in those months that now mean I can?
The only thing that really changed is my mind-set.
Having not died nor had any major disasters on my solo cycling adventure I realise I’m reasonably capable of doing stuff on my own!
The pull of being out-doors, experiencing the beauty and the peace that they bring me, far out weighs my fears and excuses.
My first solo wild camping trip
It isn’t easy for me– I haven’t changed overnight from ‘fearful excuse making Shona’ – to ‘courageous and capable Shona’ – I’m not her yet.
It’s all been very last minute.
Since reading Nan Shepard I’ve known I have to try wild camping. And that I have to do it now before I lose my courage and talk myself out of it.
I’m following a clear path heading towards Ben Macdui.
There are several walkers on the hill.
An older man with two younger lads, all clad in red.
They greet me and we share our route plans.
Before they overtake me, the older one paternally offers to look back and check I’m following the right path if the weather comes in.
Its turned wet and windy and, like clockwork, everyone has stopped,
they are putting on waterproofs.
My Rab down jacket, cycling waterproof jacket and running trousers aren’t up to the task.
My clothes are heavy with rain.
Now at the top of Macdui.
No visibility. It’s blowing a hoolie.
Too cold to eat,
just want to get warm and find shelter.
Descending and the weathers changing.
A stage curtain is lifting, revealing the dramatic rock faces of the Northern Corries.
The land stretches as far as I can see.
There’s a lochan to my right.
The sun warming my face.
No longer cold.
Smiling inside and out.
Now climbing up the scree to the top of Cairngorm.
Moving to a section of big rocks.
Jumping from one to the next – my body rather than mind decides where to put each foot – like a puzzle to be solved.
Cold. Very, very windy at the top.
Nothing for it – I’m sipping coffee and clasping the warmth of the mug.
Back for seconds –warming hot chocolate feels like a heartfelt hug.
I’m in the ski centre café near at the top of Cairngorm.
I know it’s not a hard core mountaineering thing to do but in this moment I couldn’t care less. Being warm and dry is all that matters.
Indulgence over, I’m en-route to find a place of solitude to camp.
Walking towards Loch Avon, navigating by a tributary.
Joy is bursting from me.
Below the sight of glorious Loch Avon.
Nothing else matters.
All I want is to be alone by that Loch, sheltered by the mighty mountains –
Cairngorm, Ben Macdui and Ben Mheadhoin.
I’m scrambling down a river side.
Jumping onto stones, crossing the river.
The challenge of getting here makes it even more special.
Cliffs, craggs and the clear, clear water of the loch.
People pay hundreds for lesser views.
But, my heart sinks, I’m not alone.
Angels in disguise
There’s a small group of tents sheltered on a grassy patch on my right and two tents on the beach far across from me.
Disappointment and relief.
The wind is picking up. Other campers mean that help could be on handed if needed.
Approaching the loch side I’m greeted by Simon, a lithe energetic man, late 50s.
We’d met that morning in the Ranger’s Station and he’d told me he’s a mountain guide taking two walkers out on a hiking and wild camping trip.
I’d felt intimidated by his knowledge and confidence but he’d seemed genuinely interested in my trip. I now take his kindly advice about where to set up camp.
Thirty minutes later, my spirits are descending again.
My tent is up but the ground is boggy.
What if it seeps though the bottom of the tent?
The tent is so small I can’t sit up in it to read.
My Sushi sticks in my throat as my mind races.
What if my tent falls down in the night?
I can’t get warm.
It’s 8pm – it’s going to be a long night. Why did this ever seem like a good idea?
F*** it! I’ve nothing to prove. Ask for help.
Leaving my tent, I walk around the loch side and find Simon cooking for his 2 guests.
He kindly agrees to have a look at my pitch, makes a few adjustments to the guy runners and peg angles and invites me back to their camp for a hot drink.
Warmed by the hot drink, great banter and kindness of Simon and the lovely couple he’s guiding I return to my tent, joy restored.
I read my Kindle. I sleep.
It’s cold but bearable.
It’s the middle of the night and I’m bursting for a pee.
Moon lit view as I pee. Now bursting with happiness.
The next steps
I learnt a lot from that first solo wild camping experience – I’ve got better kit, I’ve learned more about planning and navigation – but I’m so glad I did it then rather than wait until I was ‘ready’ or until the ‘time was right’.
Taking action has always proved to be my best teacher. I’d waited over 20 years to re kindle my love of nature. The time for action had come.
I’ve since gone on a 4-day hike and 3 night wild camp with Simon and few others (Cairngorm Treks). He’s someone I trust and consider a new friend. I’ve also joined the Inverness Mountaineering Club and go away for weekends in the hills with them every month.
There’s so much more I could share with you but I’ve taken a lot of your time already.
So there you have it.
My love story with the outdoors.
I called myself out on my excuses and fear – and I followed my inner voice.
I find when I follow my inner voice and take action things happen and people help.
Momentum is everything.
I’m now always looking for chances to get back out on the hills and wild camping, out on the bike or just generally out in the quiet of nature. I find it hard to articulate the sense of well being and connection that I feel.
I believe our current way of living disconnects us from our bodies, from the land and the elements – and that this is to our detriment.
Do you feel this?
Do you have a way of getting away from your every day brain chatter, distractions and stresses?
If so then I urge you to make time to do it more.
If not, is there something that you used to love to do that you’ve nearly forgotten about, that you’ve so buried deep that you need to re-member it again?
If so notice the stories that you are telling yourself that are stopping you from living that love again.
Life is short and precious. Seize it!
“What will you do with one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver).
If something I’ve shared here has resonated and you want a blether, please message me!
If you’d like to experience the wild out-doors or wild camping with some support, Simon and I are running women only 3-day trekking and camping weekends next summer. You can read more here.