Love is in the air

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Why do you love hiking or love the outdoors?

And when did you develop this relationship / this need / this obsession?

I’m going to be contrary and answer the second question first! I’ve always loved the outdoors – the ‘countryside’ – for as long as I can remember. I was lucky enough to grow up on a small mixed farm and was expected to help with the work on the farm. We all had our jobs to do around the farm: feeding the hens and gathering the eggs; looking after our own pigs; helping bottle-feed orphaned lambs; and working all day long during hay-time. But when I was finished my jobs, I spent my early childhood exploring the fields around the village (with other children or alone). We’d build dens from any scrap wood we could find; we’d pack picnics and disappear off for the whole day, only returning for the evening meal; we’d go to our favourite swimming hole in the local river; and we cycled along quiet hedge-lined roads and through neighbouring villages to the beach. All the time we were ‘in touch’ with the natural world.

Heart lochan

As a family we never went walking just for the sake of it, but mum would often take us on long walks along lanes to collect blackberries and rosehips to use for preserves. She taught us the names of the birds we saw and of the different wild flowers we passed and sometimes picked. We’d collect field mushrooms with my dad in our own fields. I remember gathering these in the early morning while bringing the cows in for the first morning milking and taking them home and mum adding them to the fried breakfast.

The family left the farm and moved to another small village in another part of the country, but I continued to explore the local countryside on foot or by bike. I’d sometimes go with a friend, but I’d often go off on my bike by myself, covering miles of single-track roads on my old 3-speed bike, with a picnic and map in the saddlebag.

My chance to experience hiking/hillwalking and organised outdoors activity came in my final year at secondary school when a friend invited me to go along with her on a week-long trip to a Christian Outdoor Centre. This centre was on Tanera Beag, the larger of the Summer Isles and I LOVED it there. I loved the island and I loved the activities we did. We learnt to kayak, canoe and sail in the sea around the island, and we came across to the mainland to rock climb and abseil and a day-long ascent of Stac Pollaidh. Oh my, I really struggled with the effort involved on the climb up Stac Pollaidh, but once we got to the ridge with the interesting wee scrambly bits, I was in my element. We returned to the Outdoor Centre the following year, but by this time they had left Tanera and were running the centre in Glencoe. We did more of the same activities, but this time we walked up the hidden valley and climbed Stob Coire nan Lochan. This climb was so tough I thought I was going to die and if it wasn’t for the fact that my friend had to stop to use her inhaler a few times, I think I would have passed out at some stage!

I returned from that week of activity totally bitten by the hillwalking bug and started planning short hill walking trips on my own. I attended a couple of weekend navigation courses at Glenmore Lodge, then felt more confident and looked to the bigger hills. I recall walking the Aonach Eagach ridge on my own in June 1977 on a day off work for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. A superb day it was too! 🙂

At about this time I got my first tent – a single skin nylon unbranded thing bought second-hand from a friend for a few pounds. This did me for a few trips (carried in a bright orange external-framed rucksack), when I travelled with a friend using public transport and a little walking, and a mixture of wild camping and campsite camping. This friend recently shared one of her photos of these trips and you lucky readers can see me when I was a mere slip of a lass age about 17!

Whi IS this young hiking chick?

When a group of work colleagues started a hillwalking club I joined and I’d go out fairly regularly tackling hills around the Highlands. Through that club I met one particular rather cute fellow hillwalking guy who became my favourite walking partner 😉 and he still is 30+ years later! But that is a different type of love story – and best kept for another post!

Back to my love of the outdoors. Why do I go hiking?

I enjoy the total sensory experience of being out in the elements. Curiosity makes me want to see what is around the next corner or up the next hill. It doesn’t matter how many times I do the same hike, every time it is different. I’ll hear birds, see animals tracks, spot a tree in bud, or seeds on a flower that I didn’t see before. I admit I like to name all these things and will pull out a field guide to help identify unknown organisms or photograph them to ID later, but I also appreciate them simply for their beauty too.

I hillwalk for the views. Views that sometimes take your breath away; such as eating lunch on the side of the mountain, looking at distant ranges of hills or islands up to 50 miles away as the crow flies. I’ve often sat there tucking into a simple lunch of chunks of bread and cheese, and thought “this dining room is better than any that can be experienced in any of the poshest restaurants around”. Views can often be literally awe-inspiring and breath-takingly spectacular.

I also enjoy the feeling of mental and physical well being that comes from walking. Maybe not the uphill struggle, but the huge sense of achievement once I reach the summit, or that night’s camping spot. The more remote the better; the stronger the feeling of ‘Yay, I got here, miles from anywhere, entirely under my own steam!’

I love outdoors adventures of all sorts, whether it be day hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, white water rafting, kayaking, bird watching, cross-country skiing. Although I’ve mentioned often going out on my own, I also enjoy sharing the outdoors activities with others – family and friends. I loved sharing all of this with our children when they were young and they’ve all kept up one or other activity.

Why do I love hiking? For all of the above and more.

What about you?

I leave you with a few words from Norman McCaig’s poem, A Man in Assynt

Who owns this landscape?
has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. —
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or a loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.

By Sheila Posted in Chat

13 comments on “Love is in the air

  1. I loved learning more about you and how you got started. I have admired your outdoor skills and love of it for years and always look forward to your posts and pictures.

    I guess I like hiking and walking in nature, because I need it. Living in the city, I can almost feel my lungs expand and detox after a few deep breaths on a trail or in the wetlands. In my younger years, I definitely enjoyed more physical pursuits and the sense of accomplishment a long hike brought. But now, I like walking on a mostly flat trail in the desert, a mountain foothill or along the beach. I go for miles trying to identify whatever is around me.

  2. Fabulous – I bet this makes everyone reflect on their own ‘first steps’, in fact, if I ever catch-up sufficiently I feel inclined to follow suit with a bit of a history lesson of my own!

    • Thanks Mark, glad you liked my wee reflective post. I look forward to hearing about your early walking days sometime in the future when you have time to write. (I realise you are busy with your ‘wee un’).

  3. Super post Sheila – it’s fascinating to learn about other peoples backgrounds and insights onto a passion we all share

    Really took me back to own formative years. Like Mark I have a hankering for a post about that myself and my own “early years” and possibly scan in some very old and very embarrasing photos. I had hair then. And I was slightly less, well, chubby!

    In short words, I love hiking and the outdoors for the simple pleasures, views, good company, space, peace and a chance to reflect and put life’s problems into real perspective.

    As a kid I always loved exploring footpaths, a finger-post sign was always an exciting sight. My first proper walk was Mynydd Troed in the Black Mountains on an awful day when I was 10 and I loved it. It was at University where I really got hooked. I joined the Hiking Club almost on a whim and I’ve been walking pretty much every weekend ever since. The friends I made through that club nearly 30 years ago are still my best friends today – including my wife, Jane. Now we share our love for the outdoors with our kids. I have a collection of memories from the outdoors that range from the awe-inspring to the comic to total misery. You can’t buy that

    • I look forward to reading more about your early days, Andy. Brilliant that you are still friends with the fellow walkers you met in the Hiking Club. I smiled at you meeting your wife in the hiking club, Neil and I met in the Highland Hillwalking Club and later this year will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary – and he’s still my best friend and favourite walking partner. Over the years we’ve shared some fantastic times hiking, and like you, some pretty miserable times too!

  4. Thanks for the read Sheila 🙂
    If I`m ever incapacitated for some reason I`ll do a similar post of my own.I struggle with this blogging malarkey though.Have a backlog of 6 trips so far this year that probably won`t see the light of day.!

  5. Wonderful! I was hanging on every word. I totally identify with the childhood memories because I grew up on a market garden, and whilst my “adventures” were perhaps a tad less exciting, I got back the feeling of “then” when reading your recollections. Sadly my choice of partner took me away from that sort of life for years, but I’m back on track now, as you know – making up for lost time!

  6. I’m one of Sheila’s “real-life friends” although I live in the US. I’m also almost enough older than she to be her mother. 😦 But I digress. When I was a child in the southern US, my brother and I played in the woods across the street from our house, and loved every minute of it–swinging from vines so we could jump into the small wet-weather creek that ran along the bottom between “our” hill and the hill “belonging” to the kids from the next block over. (And ne’er the twain shall meet–without warfare!)

    Somehow, though, I became a “young lady” and was discouraged from that sort of activity. Instead I would meet my friends at the local swimming pool in the summer and “Lay Out” as we called it then. (It’s a wonder we haven’t all succumbed to skin cancer!) And of course, I spent hours reading, at first lying in the croft made by three limbs of our pear tree, then as I “grew up,” slouching in an arm chair in the living room.

    It became a thing of “use it or lose it” and unfortunately, I lost my love of playing outdoors. I need to spend more time with you, Sheila, to regain that lost love.


    • Great to read your reply, Harriet! You said:

      “!It became a thing of “use it or lose it” and unfortunately, I lost my love of playing outdoors. I need to spend more time with you, Sheila, to regain that lost love.”

      You know, when you come to visit me in august, we’re going to do just that!We don’t have to do long walks or climb big hills to ‘play’ in the outdoors. We’ll try to rekindle that magic of long-lost summers (please, bring some decent weather with you!) where days are long and spent outside, strolling through the woods, sitting or lying under trees reading or having a picnic, splashing in the water (I mean it about bringing hot weather with you!) and generally exploring our surroundings.

  7. Pingback: Love is in the air (part two) | Rambling on…

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