A few weekends ago I was getting cabin fever; for various reasons I hadn’t managed to get out and about, so I determined that I would go out on the Sunday and it was going to be fun! I went to one of my regular places – Loch Leven.
The route along Loch Leven is managed by different organisations, and part of it includes an RSPB reserve. The reserve has a number of trails, which due to the nature of the site are mostly uphill. I had tried the woodland trail before, but not quite managed to reach the top – I was just too tired! I decided today was the day for a challenge – I was going to complete that trail and get to the top of the hill, no matter what.
I set off on my walk at my usual pace. This was a mistake, and one I often make when it comes to hills. I can walk for hours and hours at this pace on flat ground, but as soon as there’s an incline I find walks much more difficult (I’m sure I’m not alone!). The path to the top was very steep and I told myself to slow down, or I’d never make it. It was not busy, no one was going to get held up if I kept stopping in the middle of the path. So that’s what I did – I kept stopping. In some parts of the path, which are essentially sections of steep steps, I would take a couple of steps and stop for 5 minutes, before going on to the next few steps and so on.
Aside from giving me chance to recover, these rest breaks allowed me to see more of the World around me. As I was on my way through the woods I heard a robin singing. I managed to trace the sound to the little bird itself, and watched him/her as it sang away. I heard the cawing of crows which were (because it was a hill) level with my eyeline as they flew from the branches of the trees. I watched smaller birds, like blue tits, flit between the trees and I gazed outward at the ever expanding view. All of this helped me appreciate the beauty of the day, and motivated me to keep going!
As I neared the top, I reached the point where last time I had given up. It had always bothered me, as I am not someone who gives up on a mission. But this section tricks you into thinking you are nearly at the top – then when you reach that point, you see more steps! Last time, this got the better of me, but not today! I took a look around me, and a deep breath, and marched (slowly) on. As I took my little stops, I listened to the skylarks and watched them as they descended into the slope all around me. Then I could see it – the real top of the hill. I sped up, ploughing on up the last section of the path. I could see the ground level off, and a pile of stones to mark the top – I had made it.
The elation I felt at having reached the top of this hill, which had previously defeated me, is almost indescribable. For a few minutes I was the only person there, and as I looked around at the beautiful view of Loch Leven, with singing skylarks in the foreground and snow topped mountains in the back, all bathed in sunshine, there was an indescribable feeling of happiness which I could not manufacture or recreate, no matter how much I wanted to. I had almost not gone out that weekend. I had decided on this destination at the last moment – and here I was, feeling on top of the World.
I stayed at the top of the hill for about half an hour, before heading back down (going down a big hill is tougher than you think!). I then enjoyed the usual walk around the Loch, which I usually make – although this time there were quite a lot of midges.
A week or so later, I had the chance to climb another big hill – Knockan Crag, near Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland. Usually I would have had no confidence at all in managing this, and might have given up half way up. But as I had recently climbed the hill at Loch Leven, I felt I could do it. It was in incredible walk, and I just had to be honest and say when I needed to stop and have rests. I asked the others to carry on and I would catch up. After lots of happy talking, walking, and resting, we all made it to the very top of Knockan Crag. As with Loch Leven, we were rewarded with the most spectacular of views. Once again I felt a buzz of happiness, that I can’t compare to any other feeling.
These two walks have helped me cross a mental barrier – I don’t have to avoid hills! I might need to prepare more, plan the route, think about time, make sure I take breaks, snacks and a drink – but I don’t need to avoid them. All I need to do is take my time, and I will get there. I also understand the reasoning behind it more; it’s not just about wanting to quickly get to the top, it’s about the whole walk and the feeling once you’ve got there – what matters, is the climb.