The best laid of schemes of mice an’ women gang aft agly is a fair summary of the weekend. First of all, Andy Murray got knocked out of Wimbledon in the semi-final, which was disappointing, although I did enjoy the atmosphere of watching it in the pub – a rare treat. And there was sweet revenge seeing Federer lose to Djokovic in the final yesterday. Both are amazing tennis players; I doubt that Murray could have taken his crown if he had got through, but we would all have had fun finding out.
Then the weather, which was as gloomy as I suspected. On Friday I googled the weather forecasts for various different hills around Glencoe and the verdict was the same for them all: wet, cold and misty. I do love a good walk but the thought of a lonely trudge up two Munros with nary a view to be seen and eating my sarnies in the pissing rain, was not appealing. On Saturday morning, the weather was actually okay in Glasgow. But I wasn’t.
Do you ever get those mornings where you wake up and just feel crap? That’s how I felt on Saturday: undecided about my plans, annoyed with myself for being too wussy to do the walk on my own and convinced I was not fit for the purpose of talking to strangers in pubs and enjoying myself. To add to this, I was missing my wee boy (who was away for the weekend) and had a heavy dose of PMS. Nothing like adding self-flagellation to the blues to get you feeling like staying in bed. For a while I actually considered not going. I had paid for my bed in the youth hostel upfront, which was £25. That would be a loss, but only a small one compared to the relief of shutting myself in for the day and wallowing in my own misery.
Normal people don’t worry about that sort of thing I know. They just say ‘oh well, what will I do instead?’ and don’t spend an hour thinking they’re a failure for not being tough enough. Yeah, I know I’ve got issues…but they’re not insurmountable. Back in the day, when I needed a dose of ass kicking female power, I used to ask myself the question: ‘what would Madonna do?’ Nowadays, I just ask the question, ‘what would Queen Leda do?’ The answer of course, is that she wouldn’t beat herself up for doing something that she perceived to be less challenging than a hill walk. No matter how rubbish you feel, there is always a choice. Instead, QL would get her backside out of bed, stop feeling sorry for herself and go and do something else.
So that’s exactly what I did. The last time I went up to Glencoe, my plan B in case of bad weather was a visit to the Ice Factory in Kinlochleven. This is an indoor climbing centre, where you can practice ice climbing and other pursuits. I booked myself in for a go at their aerial obstacle course thinking that would be good Spartan training, and booked a one-to-one rock climbing lesson. Aside from that, my plan was listen to good tunes in the car and just enjoy the drive up north.
As I drove through Glencoe valley on the way there, my plan was vindicated. All of the mountains were shrouded in a dank mist. Even the Toblerone summit of the Buchaille Etive Mor was not to be seen, which is one of the highlights of driving along that road. There were hardcore walkers going up and down the hills despite the weather; there always are. Once in a while I saw a flash of red or blue cagoules bobbing against the grey mountainside. Good for them, but as far as I am concerned, hillwalking is an activity that needs either decent weather or camaraderie and I had neither.
I was lucky that the early part of the afternoon was dry, at least at ground level. The aerial circuit was ten metres high, which didn’t sound too bad on the website. I didn’t think I was especially afraid of heights until I got there and looked up at the different ladders and poles, swaying gently in the breeze. The first thing you had to do was climb up on a big ladder, which is exactly the kind of thing I will need to do on Sunday. So far, so good. At the top there is a wide platform where Serena, my lovely instructor, got me strapped in to my harness. Thankfully, there is a large curtain pole type arrangement all the way round, so you don’t need to unhitch at any point. If there hadn’t been, I don’t think I would have made it.
The first step over to the circuit was hard enough, but the first obstacle wasn’t too bad as there was a steel rope for your feet and a rope above for your hands, so you could shimmy along. Between each one there was a small platform to rest. I got to the end of the first one and realised that afterwards, you had nothing for your hands and you had to hold on to your harness for balance and comfort. At this point, I completely freaked out. I stood there, 33 feet above the ground, holding onto the wooden frame for dear life. I was shouting back to Serena that I couldn’t go any further and must have stood there for about five minutes, dreading going back or forwards. In my head, I was thinking it was only £15 for the hour, it doesn’t matter if I can’t do it.
However, there was another, smaller voice, thinking you CAN do this. Serena got me to come back and offered to go round ahead of me, showing me what to do for each section. I still wasn’t convinced. Her next step was the best. While on the big platform, I had to just sit back and put all of my weight into the harness. It was like a flashback to aerial yoga: trust the harness, it will take your weight. After that, I knew that even if I fell off, I wouldn’t fall to the ground.
It wouldn’t be true to say that after that, I flew round. Each section was still terrifying, as everything under foot wobbled like jelly. Including me. There were little screams and moments of panic, but whenever I let the fear go and just put my best foot forward, I made it. The last one involved actually stepping off the platform to grab a trapeze swing that was just out of reach, before I had to abseil down the side of the frame. All things I had never done before, and I am in complete awe of this 101 year old woman who managed 98 frickin’ metres.
There were two best bits: firstly, the fact that I had actually got round the thing, given that I was so convinced that I couldn’t. My instructor was endlessly patient and encouraging. Secondly, the swing at the end, which was also scarier than I thought, but totally brilliant. I was grinning like a maniac for the entire half hour break I had before my climbing lesson. Coffee, cake and adrenaline.
The rock climbing was hard work and sweaty but I really enjoyed it. By that stage I had total faith in the harness, so even when I fell off the wall a couple of times, I was okay. The instructor had me on a belay and this time I abseiled down 25 metres, each time I came back down. The whole afternoon was exhilarating. What a difference a few hours can make, if you just say ‘fuck you’ to your negative thinking. I am still fairly alarmed about the race on Sunday but I am working my way towards a Queenly state of mind.
I finished the afternoon with a brisk walk at the Glencoe Lochan, where despite the drizzle, I allowed the midges to feast on my legs. When I got to the Youth Hostel, I realised I was crammed in with five others, I had forgotten my ear plugs and I had to take the last bunk which was an upstairs one. Not ideal for middle of the night peeing.
More plans awry: when I got to the Clachaig that evening, I discovered my Kindle was out of power, the wifi was shite and there was no mobile phone signal, so it was do or die. I would have to sit there and look at the walls like a sad bastard, or immediately talk to people. I took my chances with a group that looked like they were having the most fun. Six middle aged men, who (bless them) let me crash in on their blokes weekend away. Three of them were brothers who had been in the pub all afternoon and the others had got lost on Buchaille Etive Mor and survived to tell the tale. They were hilarious and it was a great night, like having six, cheeky big brothers. I’ll never see them again, so I’m feeling free to post our end of the night picture:
Even my rain soaked march back to the hostel, alone in the dark with my phone torch, didn’t dampen my spirits. When I got back to my room, everyone was asleep and no-one was snoring. What did I learn that day? If you think you are fucked, then you are. Or, you can go out and grab life by the balls and just get on with it, see what happens. Never say die.
Until next time,