Nearly a month has passed since I last wrote anything on my blog. Time is flying by which seems very strange given all the restrictions at present  which mean that many things just can’t happen and in theory we should have more time on our hands.

This Christmas will be like no other in the past. We’ve never experienced a Christmas where we didn’t have family or friends in the house. It will seem quite odd but we look forward to the time when we can have a delayed celebration without masks and more than virtual hugs!

We can at least get out and walk and enjoy the natural world even on wet days. The countryside is a source of inspiration and consolation in these troubled times.

We’ve certainly had more rain than usual during the last few months and many of the field around here are waterlogged so there are a number of lochans (small lochs) becoming regular features in the landscape. These of course are an attraction for the birds.

Thinking of birds, we’ve had a woodpecker visiting the garden on a regular basis along with flocks of goldfinches, blue tits and great tits plus blackbirds and robins which expect a daily breakfast and lunch of mealworms on the patio. One female blackbird is getting too domineering and possessive though. She spends far too much time chasing others away so she can eat more. One day however the male got here first and ate over a dozen before flying away.

This time last year we climbed Cairnsmore on a beautiful day. The sun was shining and there was just a light covering of snow on the top – making it a perfect picture for our online Christmas card.


The Joy of Living

Lockdown continues and on a rainy day there is less time spent in the garden and more time to think, reflect and write.


The snow and the wind and the rain of hills and mountains
Days in the sun and the tempered wind and the air like wine
And you drink and you drink till you’re drunk on the joy of living*

Summer in lockdown and a heatwave;

we walk each day – average three miles.

Stay local we’re told, so the hills remain

tantalising, too far away for now.


Each morning we look out on Larg,

Lamachan, Curleywee, Cairnsmore.

Can we stay fit to stand again on the tops,

to gaze down on our home in the Machars?


The months slip by, the sun beats down.

I think back to that cold November day

we climbed Cairnsmore, reached the

snow-capped summit in sunshine.


Resting backs against a drystane dyke

we sheltered, drank the wine of the air,

feasted eyes on feathered cirrus and frosted grasses

while our thoughts drifted hundreds of miles


south, to where you lay, immobile. Once,

you would have shared this walk with us,

quoted Ewan MacColl. That November day

we toasted your friendship, and the joy of living.


We knew you didn’t have long; that fact made

our own lives seem more precious. You were

one who lived mindfully, who lived for the now.

On Cairnsmore, we followed the map of your life.


*The Joy of Living – written and sung by Ewan MacColl

not long before his death.

Life in the Mountains


This was literally the high point of 2019 for me, but it meant more than just achieving a climb. Sitting on the top of Cairnsmore I could identify with Nan Shepherd and her love of mountains.  Reading her book The Living Mountain* recently, I wished that she was alive today and we could meet.

In The Living Mountain she concludes with the following passage –

I believe that I now understand in some small measure why the Buddhist goes on pilgrimage to a mountain. The journey is itself part of the technique by which the god is sought. It is a journey into Being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountain’s life, I penetrate also into my own. For an hour I am beyond desire. It is not ecstasy, that leap out of the self that makes man like a god. I am not out of myself, but in myself. I am. To know being, this is the final grace accorded from the mountain.’

Nan Shepherd was born in 1893 and died in 1981. Although she wrote a number of novels and travelled much further away from her home in West Cults, Deeside, her lifelong love of the Cairngorms is what she is perhaps mostly remembered for. Her writing has inspired Robert Macfarlane and many others who also have an affinity with wild mountainous places.

Her name has become more widely recognised since 2016 when a portrait of Nan Shepherd was added to the Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note.

*Composed during the Second World War, it wasn’t published until thirty years later.

I felt that an acknowledgement to Nan Shepherd was an appropriate way for me to end 2019. It was on a mountain in November this year that I felt an overwhelming ‘good to be alive’ feeling. – an appreciation of life and all that we have to be thankful for. In this book, she has put into words how through being out in the wild places and feeling a part of the natural world, we can begin to better understand ourselves.

Book Launch!

Launch flyer

This coming week will see the launch of ‘From the Mountains to the Sea’ which contains some of my poetry illustrated by Les Dunford’s photographs. Both the poems and photographs have been inspired by the landscape in this beautiful corner of Scotland . About half the poems have been published in poetry magazines and online on Poetry Scotland’s Open Mouse and the StAnza map of Scotland, but the rest are ‘out there’ for the first time.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, profits from this collection will go to Versus Arthritis  (formerly known as Arthritis Research UK). This body is conducting research into fibromyalgia which my husband Les has been living with for around twenty five years. I hope that the publication of the book will help to raise the profile of this condition.

We know of many who have had to cope with chronic pain, chronic fatigue and yet because there are no outward signs of this condition seem to be very fit and healthy. There is no give away limp or pale face to indicate a health problem. In fact, because pressure for longer than a short time on any part of the body causes pain, walking is far more comfortable than sitting still or lying down. Being out in the fresh air each day and walking can give the impression of being fighting fit!

Mind over matter, thinking positively about what is possible, not dwelling on what can’t be done is the best way of coping. There are times when depression inevitably sets in and it’s a struggle to even continue doing minor everyday chores, but keeping busy, not giving in has more effect than saying goodbye cruel  world.

Celebrating the Joy of Living

Last Sunday was not at all the kind of day that gives November a bad name as recalled in the poem by Thomas Hood

No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day –
No sky – no earthly view –
No distance looking blue  …


It was a glorious sunny, bright morning and we decided to climb Cairnsmore. This isn’t the highest of the mountains near us but at 2,323 feet, it presented quite a challenge. We started from just a few feet above sea-level and as the car park has moved from the original spot, the walk in to the start of the climb had added an extra mile to the previous route we had taken many years ago.

The whole walk was around eight miles. We left the car at 9.15 and got back to it at 3.30.


As we sat on the summit eating lunch the temperature was minus one but with the wind chill it felt like minus ten. From there we could see northwest to Ailsa Craig and beyond to Kintyre. To the south were the hills of the Lake District. Looking down the Machars peninsula, we could identify the various parts of the coast that we so often walk round.


This walk felt rather special – for many reasons. There had been times this year when there was doubt about how much longer we could count on being able to share long walks over easy terrain, let alone in the hills. So, as we sat warming ourselves with coffee and trying not to drop sandwiches from numb fingers, we felt more alive than ever before.  Grateful for the fact that we could still achieve such a climb and that we could do it together. We celebrated the joy of living and toasted the future which now seemed more certain. I remembered Ewan MacColl’s song ‘The Joy of Living’, but he was writing that when he knew that he didn’t have much longer to live. For us, for now, we can hopefully look forward to more years of walking in the hills.

As we made our way back down through the forest, leaving the snow behind, I captured the last of the afternoon sunlight.