When I asked Pip to join me on an adventure to Nepal, I’d neglected to mention that I can’t read a map. I am one of those people who need to turn the physical paper map around until it resembles the landscape in front of me. This renders Google Maps completely useless to me because it insists on moving when I adjust my phone in my desperate attempts to make sense of the street I’m on.
You can often observe me wandering aimlessly outside tube stations in Central London going round in circles on the spot as I try to work out whether I ought to be turning left or right. I’ve resorted to using Pret A Manger stores as my triangulation points.
I live in Scotland with Ever Patient Husband, three children (two had left at the time of the first walk) and a small, badly behaved cross breed dog (in the 1970’s we called them mongrels, but you’re probably not allowed to say that anymore). Eddie is his name and he’s an adorable mix of Tibetan Terrier and Havanese. Ever Patient Husband insists he is not a proper dog. I felt that Scotland would be a fantastic place to embark upon our first walk. Pip must venture north.
Having spent a small fortune of my Ever Patient Husband’s hard earned cash on boots, I was not prepared to spend a penny more on this walking lark so I refused to buy a map. How hard can it be to find an appropriate walk for our first expedition? There must be websites dedicated to these types of activities, you can, after all find videos of people who appear to live in the jungle making small mud and bamboo houses for stray puppies (if you haven’t seen these, they’re well worth a watch as you find yourself being drawn into the mesmerising scene and three hours later you can’t explain what you’re been doing with your time, but you feel quite nice inside).
As it happened, I was sitting in the uninspiring waiting area of an NHS hospital. My thyroid had finally been blasted with a radioactive iodine pill which came in its own lead case and had to be handled by the nurse with strong tweezers from a safe distance. Apparently, it was necessary to take this pill because with the onset of menopausal symptoms, leaving my dodgy thyroid to its own devices was potentially going to lead to all kinds of horrendous death-inducing things, so I opted for the pill and spending three days in glorious isolation to avoid radiating anyone. Eddie, my dog was allowed to stay with me because, and I quote ‘dogs don’t live long enough for the radioactivity to give them cancer.’ Splendid.
As I sat waiting for yet another blood sample to be taken, a walking magazine caught my eye. The universe, slash unicorns were at it again. I browsed through it, unobserved and noticed several highly appropriate walks that weren’t too far from my house. Taking one last look around the waiting room and checking for CCTV, I felt it was all clear and stuffed the magazine into my bag.
I still feel a little bit guilty and will make sure I return it when we’re finished with it.
I texted Pip.
”I’ve got a magazine with walks in it.”
The rest of the text messaging consisted of our usual shite, none of which is worth writing about.
My patient, and yet disbelieving husband, took the piss out of us mercilessly the night before our walk. He has experienced my lack of spatial awareness on many occasions and quite frankly didn’t believe we could make it there and back without mountain rescue being involved.
I am the type of person who will do something just to prove people wrong, so the gauntlet had been thrown and we were definitely not going to get lost.
Healthy snacks, water and wet weather gear were all carefully packed into a neat rucksack and with the confidence of a new born zebra in the middle of a pride of lions, we set off.
Our first mistake was to believe Google maps about where the car park was located, having noticed the angry sign at the end of a farm track, we did a u-turn and eventually found the car park. I have an entire story about Google maps which involves two teenagers, a different best mate, a ten year old and two dogs in a camper van with no fuel and the windiest, steepest, hairpin bendiest road in Scotland (it goes to The Lecht - a ski resort) and a six hour journey that should have taken two hours. This road was so bad that a convoy of German Porches repeatedly flashed their lights at us as we merrily turned right towards The Lecht, laughing about how funny it would be if the road went over a mountain. I digress.
The car park was empty, which is just as well because Pip and I spent the next ten minutes trying to work out where our walk actually began. We aren’t a naturally quiet pair so much of this aimless wandering was accompanied by loud swearing along the lines of “it can’t be that fucking difficult to find the start of a sodding walk.” Etc.
We took an early wrong turn and went in a big circle round a ruined castle. We made a pact not to tell my annoyingly correct husband. Once we got into our stride, it was great. Eddie was with us, running along like a proper dog, sniffing, peeing and pooing. The sun even came out and we had to take our coats off as we climbed a lot of steps, breathing a bit too heavily for comfort. A slight hot flush ensued and as any woman of a certain age knows, a strong dose of Mitchum deodorant just about prevents you from waterfall-like armpits.
Embracing the wild felt good, we were on a proper walk, observing nature and feeling free. We even peed by the river at a respectful distance from each other so as not to be too free or natural. The sign we came across warning us of a path closure ahead was duly ignored because it looked like it had been there forever and surely, this would not apply to us. We had proper walking boots on after all.
The large fallen tree that lay stubbornly across the path really had closed it. ”It’s ok,” I said, optimistically, “someone has helpfully attached a piece of rope to a large rusty nail and fixed it to the tree.”
”Oh good.” Said Pip. “You go first.”
Eddie decided he was going first and launched himself toward the slippery wet trunk. I gave him a hand as he’s quite small and he stood there atop of the log, proud with his minor triumph, waiting for us to meet him on the other side.
”Right then.” This comment was more for myself than Pip. It is a form of encouragement that I use on myself when I am about to do something that I don’t really want to do. Several moments passed as I tried to work out which leg to get over first. Neither of them seemed to be appropriate. I held onto the sodden rope and made my first attempt to heave my body over this massive obstacle (it was a big tree on a large slope, so getting over also involved getting up about six feet simultaneously).
”Are you alright?” Enquired the not so patient Pip. She literally has no patience whatsoever.
”I don’t know which leg to use.” Came my rather pathetic reply.
She immediately took control.
”Right. Lift your right leg up, and I’ll shove you from behind.” She reminded me of a boarding school matron, not that I’ve ever been to boarding school. I warned her not to fondle my bottom under any circumstances.
”Ok, are you ready?”
I’d like to say the movement was swift and graceful as I leapt athletically up and over the log, landing smoothly with a big smile and a slight gymnastic flourish. However, I resembled what I imagine Pip to have looked like when she took off her “I’m definitely NOT fifty” knickers in the car park of the Miller and Carter restaurant. My dignity was not in tact. At the very moment I landed in an ungainly mess, Eddie, the errant mongrel took it upon himself to leap down off the precipice and found himself next to Pip with a startled look on his face.
Pip successfully mounted the log with only a tiny bit of help from me and we both stood there looking at my stupid dog, wondering how the hell we were going to get him back up over the tree. As we pondered upon this intractable problem, he ran off down the steep bank towards the river and popped up behind us with his tail wagging. Not that stupid then.
A brown bread roll, wholesome soup and a quick wander round Roslyn Chapel and our first walk was complete. Our sense of smugness in relation to our ability to walk a long way was fairly short lived. We’d managed a whole six miles.
This is Eddie sitting on his ‘throne’
Pip’s version of events.
It took me several weeks to recover from the horrific experience that was purchasing said walking boots. The nearest previous experience was buying a pair of Salomans to climb Snowden, and yes I mean climb, not wander up or get the train. I was fitter back in the day. Sighs, wistfully.....
Anyway, despite Bec and I being fairly active, dog walking etc, and not forgetting my once being forced to partake in a Callanetics class by purported best friend, we do need to get hiking fit.
Whilst I’m thinking of it - Callanetics class - Edinburgh is odd at the best of times, certainly for someone who lives in the Midlands, and this ‘evening out’ was a complete startler.
Hosted by a lady of indiscriminate age, rocking a curly perm and a leotard, I was, even before I changed into my leggings and podge enveloping t-shirt, out of my depth. She coerced, shouted and ‘encouraged’ us to bend our poor aged bodies into shapes that they don’t go into naturally.
”I’ve slipped into a Victoria Wood skit.” I thought to myself, whilst next to me, Bec was throwing her knees behind her ears and holding gut wrenching positions for what seemed like hours.
I could barely walk when we exited three weeks later....
We decided that we would take turns to host the walking weekends, I can’t really remember how we came to the decision, but like many of our finest, it may have been wine fuelled. Howe’r it was we came to the decision, I found myself in Scotland for the inaugural walk in September ish last year (Bec is a detail person....for exactness, refer to her).
After an epic trip for work that took me on a four day tour of the bloody UK and involved an extremely late night drinking with an old work colleague the night before (Mark, you are epic, but I haven’t forgiven you for the brutal hangover) I arrive, crumpled and exhausted, yet forcing ‘perky’ as Bec stubbornly refused to acknowledge that I am hungover.
Bec has told me that she has a book on walks in the area, so I’m completely relaxed about arrangements, if still slightly hungover and looking forward to a stroll the following day.
Bec, her Ever Patient Husband and smallest child are very welcoming people. Her dog Eddie is a nutcase. Eddie will crop up later....
When I arrive, we partake of cups of tea (a thing that I only do with Bec, I would ordinarily scoff at tea at that time of night with anyone else) and discuss the following day. I realise, with a sinking feeling that the ‘book’ she has is actually a five year old magazine supplement purloined from a Doctor’s waiting room. Suppressing my mild feeling of panic, we investigate the walks.
”Ooooh, that’s that church from that film.” I exclaim with excitement.
”Yes, it’s Roslyn Chapel Pip.” Bec replied patiently. She has slightly more patience than I do.
Ever Patient Husband pipes up in his best concerned tone of voice, “That walks looks tough, will you be ok?”
Cue both Bec and I being determined to complete said walk even if it kills us.
”Of course! We will be fine, it will be fun”, we both tinkle in unison.
Then came the wine and later, I believe a discussion about what a soul weighs....enough said.
The walk was from a car park (hidden and not, I repeat NOT in the farmer’s yard that had the big sign post in it that read ‘fuck off, this isn’t the car park for Roslyn Chapel’) down a valley across a bridge round the church and back, about six miles I think.
No problem. Bec was in charge of navigation.
Off we set full of enthusiasm and hope, following the instructions that she had thoughtfully (being the detailed one) stored on her phone.
The first instruction is to head due East out of the car park. After a minor moment of anxiety when we realised we needed to be able to do things like point in the right direction, neither of us having been successful Brownies (I was in the Brownies, but they asked me to leave). We eventually downloaded a compass app and duly headed off, discussing how soon we would need a wee, we are after all women of a certain age. A frisson of delight occurring when we found ’the sturdy metal bridge’ and could confirm that it was indeed both sturdy and metal.
Bec’s next navigation instruction was that we should keep the castle on our right, head under an arch and so that’s what we did. It was a beautiful peaceful day, autumnal blue sky, blah, blah, blah - head to a proper travel blog if you want wistfully wordy descriptions of scenery.
Fifteen minutes later, the castle was still on our right, as we wandered on enjoying the views.
”Bec, I think we are walking in a circle.” I helpfully suggested.
”Are we? What makes you say that?” She replied breezily.
”Well, the castle is still on our right.” I replied factually.
Just then the sturdy metal bridge reappeared. We made a pact not to tell the Ever Patient Husband or indeed TBT.
Setting off again, we hit the correct trail and five minutes in we were stopped in our tracks by an epic sign with peeling paint, ivy and brambles festooning as though it was making a guest appearance in a gothic novel. It read:
”Riverside walk impassable due to landslide.”
We could have given up and gone home, got day drunk on gin and talking bollocks, but both being feisty and optimistic (and possibly a bit stupid and maybe hungover) we decided it was an old sign (note gothic novel cameo appearence) and nothing lightweight, we plunged into the undergrowth feeling like intrepid explorers.
Eddie was delighted with this unexpected adventure. I am very fond of Eddie, he is a pocket full of insane, I feel we meet on certain levels.
Eddie leading the way, fuelling my well hidden anxiety by disappearing into bushes, only to emerge with bits of tree stuck to him, we followed the rather vague directions.
Climbing up hills and scrambling through undergrowth following the increasingly odd directions, taking in a couple of diversions where we veered off down a random path, oh and stopping for a wee, we were eventually stopped in our tracks by the landslide.
Now, in our defence it had obviously been there a very long time, so long in fact that someone had thoughtfully provided a small length of rope and a couple of foot holds to help you scramble across the biggest fallen tree I have ever seen.
Measuring up said tree trunk and wondering how the hell my stumpy little legs were going to help me over its gargantuan girth, I explored to see if there was an alternative route. There wasn’t.
”Shite.” We said in unison.
In our guise as people who go trekking regularly we decided that it couldn’t be that hard and after some bickering, a couple of games of scissors, paper, stone etc, Bec was nominated to go first. Truthfully, I had a vision of Bec leaping elegantly over the huge tree trunk and then guffawing with laughter as I was marooned halfway up....however, that’s not exactly the way it happened.
Bec wedged her Tweeny-booted feet on the bits of wood and by dint of hauling on the length of rope and with my head wedged up her arse crack and my hands on her butt cheeks, she scrambled over. She lost all dignity in that moment. Eddie went next. Eddie is very small (size wise only, he rocks the personality of a huge thing). He flew through the air from my hands into Bec arms.
”Good, right, here goes.” I thought as I carefully placed my diminutive feet into the cunningly placed foot holes, reached up and grabbed the rope, just balancing myself to leap over like some sort of insane aerial display. Bec heaves at my arm and I go flying through the air narrowly missing Eddie who was whizzing passed me in the opposite direction. I overshot somewhat and landed on my backside with a muffled thump, in the mud and with my dignity in tatters too. We both had a little break to laugh whilst crossing our legs (in case of seepage, it does happen these days) then realised that Eddie was ten foot down howling like a banshee. After much panic amongst both humans (mainly me) and dogs (all Eddie) we managed to persuade him to hurl himself down a very steep bank towards the river and scramble back up, appearing behind us with a smug grin on his face. Phew.
Some while later (after another wee stop) we reached the bit we were dreading. Remember, we are in a valley and of course, we have to climb out. Rather than a nice gentle ascent we were being instructed to traverse a Himalayan sized flight of steep steps, so long you could probably see them from outer space.
”Can you see what I can see?” I asked, trying to keep the terror out of my voice.
”Do you mean.....those?” Bec pointed at the sixty billion steps.
”Yup.” I confirmed.
And there, right slap bang at the bottom of the steps was an apparently naked man.
Slightly reluctantly, we kept going, keeping a close eye on apparently naked bloke.
Eddie sensing in him, some kind of kindred spirit or possibly just biscuits, raced over to him and dived his head first into his rucksack. Much to my very great respect Bec managed to keep her cool and shouted over,
”Have you got food in your rucksack?” Bec made it sound like an accusation.
”No.” Apparently naked man responds, slightly surprised.
”Then he’ll get bored and leave you alone shortly.” was the shouted response, as with calm indifference to the fact that this skinny pallid weirdo is sitting in just his underpants (what a relief there were underpants!) in the middle of a valley, accompanied by only a pair of binoculars, we sailed passed ready to take on the mountain of steps.
After a couple of pauses and some considerable panting we achieved the summit when by chance we receive a flurry of texts etc from our respective children, the Ever Patient Husband and TBT.
Special Precious Boy needs money for petrol, through the wonders of modern technology, I am able to share even more of my hard earned money with my youngest. What a joy.
Bec shares a tender moment with the Ever Patient Husband who is texting to find out if we’re ok and how to use the tumble dryer.
I get a text from TBT that reads
TBT and I sometimes pretend that we are my dog when speaking with each other. Don’t judge us, everyone is strange.
I texted my response, “is that a fucking trick question?” (Clearly not in canine character for that response).
TBT realises he has in some way annoyed me and very wisely leaves any further conversation until later.
After meeting some horses and doing some more panting, we finally achieve Roslyn and the beautiful chapel. You just can’t walk past a place like that, so we tether Eddie to a plant pot thing outside and head into have some soup and a wander. Eddie takes HUGE exception to this and a crescendo of howling, barking and general upset noises emanate from his tiny little body. Bec and I are huddled at the back of the cafe with a very nice bowl of spicy bean soup like a couple of Judas’ denying all knowledge of the hound.
I win the coin toss to go into look at the chapel first, it really is quite spectacular all carved and shit. Having taken my fill, I wander back out to be greeted by Eddie bouncing on the spot, Bec wanders off and in turn, Eddie is slightly miffed and begins to cry. I pick him up and give him a cuddle, just as a very sweet old lady comes over.
”He’s a gorgeous little chap isn’t he?” She trills.
”He is cute.” I agree.
”Wasn’t hot on you leaving him though, was he?” She replied helpfully.
”No.” I agree. “he’s a bit demanding.” We have a little laugh together in a very British way.
”Well, he’s a very lucky doggy to have two such wonderful mummies.” She responds politely.
As I wonder what to say to that, the most gorgeous young man strides over, all muscles and tattoos, with a big beard and wearing a kilt. Little old lady introduces me to her grandson - “He takes grandma out for the day, how sweeeeeet.“ I fantasise to myself and then the old lady repeats the bit about the dog having two mummies to him.
”Fabulous!” I say to myself, “now this very handsome young man thinks that Bec and I are lovers, if he hadn’t been twenty five years too young for me that would have ruined my chances forever.” My train of thought continues further, “Although, to be honest I wouldn’t have known what to do with him, far too muscly - a bit too intimidating just thinking about it.”
Bec reappears, shattering my day dream of kilted men with tattoos and large muscles. Eddie is delighted and we head back to the car, discussing whether the walking boots make us look like we are both the dog’s mummy or is it the mud splattered walking gear and whether menopausal pelvic floor muscles preclude activity of the type we were discussing.
(Note: TBT’s spider senses start to tingle at this point and I get a spate of messages about walking boots and motorbikes.)
Once back in the car, we head home to Bec’s house, muddy, slightly tired but with a burgeoning feeling of accomplishment bouying us up! We had just conquered a six mile walk after all. Nepal, pshaw! Easy peasy........