No. 18 Stay Up Late

Strange things happen when you’ve gone too far,

been up too long,

worked too hard,

and you’re separated

from the rest of the world.

BRUCE MAU

Almost four years ago, in the first week of my new life in Glasgow, one of the course leaders presented us with Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto For Growth. It’s a 43 point list that basically makes you think hard.

I like lists, and I like thinking hard and questioning things, so I love this one in particular.

I think back to many of the points regularly, but no. 18 is a favourite as I often push myself beyond the point of what might generally conceived to be sensible (I guess that depends on the company you keep).

Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, when I’m doing something new, or something risky, or something difficult.

Sometimes it’s an unconscious realisation that I have been trying to pack too much in, in desperate fear of not making the most of every second of my life. I know it’s a total cliché, but life really is such a gift, and the death and serious illness of loved ones has made me determined not to waste it.

As I get older, and as I spread my wings north of the border, I love life more and more. Sometimes this can bite me quite hard as I continue to attempt to pack more in. I’d love to be able to balance things better.

But beyond watching my beloved greyhounds sleep, with their paws in the air and their whip-like tails flicking as they dream, I just don’t know what calm looks like. Every time it looks like I’m approaching any sense of pause for an extended period, something happens to shake things up.

I’m over a great big hurdle. I completed the monumental training weekend that had been looming in the diary for weeks. The sun was unbelievably strong, the terrain difficult in places but I managed pretty well considering, and I was amazed by the results. I ran 60 miles over two days, and apart from a couple of annoying blisters and epic levels of hunger, there are no lasting after effects.


As expected, I’m really, really tired. The last few weeks have been pretty tough going, balancing the increase in training and two demanding jobs, but it has all been leading up to this point. I’ve felt my emotions start to unfurl a bit, and a lot has come to the surface. Partly as a result of the abusive relationship storyline on the Archers, partly due to managing a long term injury without compromising on what I want my body to do in less than four weeks’ time, and partly due to my friends completing their final degree recitals at the RCS while I just listen rather than performing my own.

And yet, despite this exhausted, emotionally and physically ragged phase, the creative part of my brain almost feels like it’s on fire. This seems to come from long runs. While I’m running, my body is totally engaged in keeping itself going and my mind is away, free to explore and think and process and digest. Add to this the surroundings I am able to run in, beautiful, empty, truly wild in some places, and it’s no surprise that often when my run is over, I have often found a solution to a problem, written a song or a tune, shaped a musical phrase differently or figured out some tricky pedalling despite being miles away from my harp.

There are projects and ideas popping up left right and centre. This can lead to a different kind of exhaustion and so needs managing in a different way, but I love this extra unexpected dimension that running has given me as I’ve continued to push my distances up. I desperately want to write, to compose and I desperately want and need to sit down with the harp and get my fingers and arms good and strong again so I can really, really play again.

But the next few weeks will see some enforced attempts to calm things down and rest up ahead of the next big challenge. I find it easier to rest properly when I’m not at home. I adore where I live but there’s always something that needs doing and I find it hard to ignore it.

I’m taking a trip to sunny Suffolk to see my parents for a weekend, where I will have to sit for a while in an airport departure lounge, then sit on a plane. With nothing to do but read and wait.

When I arrive at their house I will be jumped on by four whippets. I will sit with at least one of said whippets on my lap, drink tea, catch up with my mum and dad, eat, drink wine and sleep. I will tease my dad about the latest acquisitions in the garage and maybe pass a few spanners as we swap news and exploits. We will probably relive the Ventoux adventure yet again, and nod sagely as we agree (again) that life hasn’t been the same since.

After that, I’m off down to visit my gran for a weekend. I will drive for three and a half hours, watching the weather over the Lake District, feeling the compression effect as the M6 traffic begins to build south of Lancaster, and I’ll listen to the radio. I gave up music in the car years ago, as a result of a fortnight spent almost solidly on the motorways and A roads between Colchester, Leeds and Manchester just after my granddad died. I’d exhausted all the CDs I had in the car and just wanted to hear people talking.

When I arrive at my gran’s house, we will have an endless bear hug. In fact we’ll have about three as this is the time it takes for me to calm down all the emotions I feel when I see her. I know how lonely she is without my granddad, and I am desperately sad I can’t spend more time with her.

I’ll drink tea and eat more cake than I should. Food at my gran’s is a guerrilla-like battle where it’s not a question of “are you hungry/do you want to eat”, it’s how much food she can get down you before you realise how much you’ve eaten or you go home. I prepare in advance now, accepting that it’s just her enjoying having someone to fuss over after years of dealing with four children and my high maintenance granddad, and then the emptiness of that ending.

I always warn her when my dogs are stood behind her in the kitchen, as I worry she will trip. She will kindly but firmly remind me that she managed four kids and numerous Alsatians and so she still has eyes in the back of her head thank you very much.

In between feeding me up, we’ll watch several repeats of Midsomer Murders/Morse/Cadfael/whichever one is on, and at least one of us will fall asleep in the chair. At night I’ll bunk into the single bed in the spare room and attempt to keep the dogs from sharing it with me. There’s not much space on a single bed even when you’re five foot tall, but factor in two great big skinny dogs who want to rest their weary old bones on something soft and … well.

After that, there’ll be a last few short runs, some packing and assembling of kit and food, and then off to the race.

After the race, there will be a holiday and a long awaited chance to rest, recover, reset and consider the next move.

pale blinds drawn all day

It felt like ages since I’d seen the sun.

It was hammering with rain on this morning’s dog walk, and again when I walked from the bus station into work.

I had a couple of bits I needed to do over lunch, but the weather wasn’t looking particularly accommodating for a wander round the city centre.

And then at some point, the clouds cleared.

I headed out to get some fresh air.

I carved my way through the office workers on lunch breaks, past all the concrete and glass . The height of the buildings around me made things rather gloomy, although the sky was clear and the sun was shining somewhere.

As I turned onto Buchanan Street and headed down towards Frasers, I was blinded by the full on low winter sun emerging through the buildings down by the river. I struggled to walk in a straight line down the street, dodging people glued to phones coming in the opposite direction, my eyes screwed up and feeling as though I was just emerging from a long sleep. The street was crowded, there were buskers, everywhere noise and crush and busyness.

The light was stunning against the damp pavements, and I wanted to grab a picture. But I couldn’t see at all.

I took my phone out of my bag, picked a spot in the middle of the street, stood for the briefest moment and pressed the button. I hoped for the best and loved the results.

The disc shaped sun in my picture reminded me very slightly of The Weather Project at the Tate Modern, which I was lucky enough to see. I can’t quite believe it was so long ago. I’ll never forget that first glimpse of the Turbine Hall, and the enormous sun beating down silently on the people so far beneath it.

Tonight when I left work, it was still light. Just a little, but it was a real turning point.

It’s coming.

I heard the news today, oh boy

Somehow it’s the middle of January already.

I’m sat on the sofa, disentangling one greyhound from a phone charging cable while maintaining a respectful distance from the other, who will startle and bolt for her bed if I move too quickly.

The new year has brought good things, bad things and sad things already. A poorly friend, hard going at the day job, and then of course the news of David Bowie’s passing came through yesterday morning.

I finished Marcothon on Hogmanay. It was my biggest ever mileage in a calendar month. Then I took a couple of days off running. I should have run the Hardmoors 30 on New Year’s Day, but I decided against it in the end. I felt a little sad about it, but I missed it for the right reasons and it will be there another year.

There are new things in the calendar this year. 3 days in the Lake District at the end of April. 70-odd miles inside 24 hours along the Great Glen Way between Fort William and Inverness in July. Hopefully third time lucky at the 75 miles between South Woodham Ferrers and Salcott cum Virley (with an overnight stop).

I’m so excited about everything that’s coming my way. A little extra food consumed over New Year wasn’t quite run off thanks to those few days off, but I know the extra warmth around the middle will soon disappear once the miles climb up again. I love the security of building my training up – the feeling that progress is being gradually made, and that the preparation I put in now will be felt in every mile I run later this year.

There is a mountain on the German/Austrian border with my name on, and I hope to climb it this year. There’s talk of a trip back to Mont Ventoux, a big (motor)bike ride around the north coast of Scotland, and of hills and mountains to be walked up, run up, cycled up. A couple of long distance trails to be explored. There’s a tent and assorted camping kit to be researched and chosen, and navigation to be practised in whatever weather Scotland cares to throw at me.

Right now, most of all, I can’t wait for the days to draw out a bit so I can get up in the hills behind my house after work.

And for now, I’ll be listening to a lot of music. David Bowie was a huge part of my teenage years after I borrowed the Singles Collection on tape from Stratford-upon-Avon library when I was about 14. It was a great introduction to his music over the years. My dad was a big fan too, and listening to the music that he loved helped me learn a bit more and gave us something else to share.

Dad’s favourite song is Let’s Dance. I have two, and I couldn’t choose between them. I adore Sound and Vision, and I also love Everyone Says Hi from the Heathen album.

I’d had the album for a good few years, but for some reason, I had it in the car the weekend I made the final trip north from Essex to start my new life up in Glasgow. I listened to that song on repeat for much of the journey.

It includes the wonderful lyrics, which are among some of my favourites ever:

Don’t stay in a bad place,

where they don’t care how you are

That’s not to say no one cared because that’s just not true, but I needed to move and start again, and the song felt like a letter from the past wishing me well in the future and reminding me I could come back if it didn’t work out.

Mr Bowie, thank you for everything you did and everything you left behind. I was angry enough about cancer, now even more so.

Someone posted something somewhere yesterday, I can’t remember it exactly, but they were saying how the earth was however many billion years old, and how lucky we’d been to be on the same planet at the same time as David Bowie.

I agree.

Daydreaming

The last few weeks have been rather more jam-packed than even I’m used to, and not with good things. Each night I’ve been arriving home utterly drained, with a to-do list longer than I can possibly keep up with.

The way forward has been a bit clouded so I’ve had my head down trying my best to get through it.

Daydreaming has been a really good way of keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Warm evenings in Alpine villages with cold beer and live music

A beautiful 1980s Mercedes SL

Deserted west coast of Scotland beaches

Flights on a teeny plane

Summit cake shared with friends

Sofa days with wet noses, tails like whips and skinny ribs

The moment on a run when the rasp from my lungs disappears

Racing the sunset home through the lavender fields of Provence

The secret whisky drinking club

Warm tarmac and tipping into Paddock Hill followed by the bounce at the bottom

Pizza, pizza, pizza

Freezing my bum off in a football stand sipping hot chocolate with my Dad

A wee restaurant that takes an epic journey to get to

An open house in the hills with huge windows and a long drive lined with Lombardy poplars, and filled with friends, food, drink, music, pets

Cycling up short sharp climbs round the Applecross peninsula while remaining completely relaxed

Freshly smoked fish eaten on the shore of a turquoise Bavarian lake

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Bites, tape, yet another scar, still smiling

It feels like the midges have been particularly vicious this year. I certainly hadn’t expected to still be scratching the odd bite into November, but as I’ve learned, every Scottish ‘summer’ (haha) is very different, and the midgie level is just one indicator, and perhaps a more meaningful one than the level of rainfall or hours of sunshine. I think I was a bit spoiled my first year, as the number of bites has increased exponentially year on year since then.

As the bites fade, and the scar on the side of my leg heals, maybe it’s time to reflect on the running year I’ve had.

So far (touch wood big time), it’s early November and I’ve not had a cold yet.  I’ve not had to resort to steroid treatment for my asthma, my peak flow has remained strong, my iron levels are healthy and I haven’t bonked out of any races this year. Straight away that puts me in a considerably better position than this time last year.

I’ve run more miles, but in less races.

I had some tremendously inspirational help with my running at the start of the year, which set me up brilliantly despite me being unable to see it through. There was just too much else happening at the time, and I hope to pick up where I left off at some point.

I ran both my longest ever and shortest ever race this year. I pulled out of a race for the first time (as in didn’t even start, let alone finish). I put late entries in twice on a waiting list and managed to get in to both races. I ran an ultra for my birthday. I had a long overdue trip to A&E, this time in another country which was a first.

I did my first hill race (to say I ran it would be a bit of a fib). It was awful but I survived, met some great people, didn’t get lost and didn’t fall over. Someone on Twitter asked me to be in their relay team, I said yes and it was fab. There have been a lot of positives, and a whole lot of negatives/learning points too. However, I’ve only been out cycling once, and that is definitely not so good.

After last year, I’d got myself into a bit of a pattern of never feeling good enough just being me, and trying to fix that by always trying to do something bigger and better than last time.

Looking back at this time last winter, I wasn’t completely sure I wanted to do the Fling, but having to make a decision/sign up six months ahead meant I wanted to have my options covered. It would be a big challenge, but I was fairly sure I could do it if I had a reasonable winter. I wanted to do Loch Katrine again having loved it the year before, and I knew it would be a good long run before the Fling. Beyond that, I didn’t really know.

I helped out by crewing for a friend who was running the West Highland Way race for the first time. This was a long, tough weekend but a really brilliant thing to have done.

I thought I might go to France to do some cycling again with my Dad, but I’d learnt from the year before that switching to bike training was not compatible with ultra training and so I was wary of signing up to anything later in the year. A wedding booking meant I couldn’t do the Devil, and Glenmore didn’t appeal. I had wanted to do Tiree, but was down to be supporting at Glenmore that weekend.

A change in circumstances meant I was suddenly free to do whatever I wanted for my birthday/Glenmore weekend, so I put my name on the waiting list for Tiree, booked flights and hoped. A few days later, I had an entry.

A few weeks before Tiree, I went to the Austrian Alps for a week to stay with a friend. It should have been a few days spent recovering from a break up and exploring everything the mountains had to offer, but that all ended rather abruptly when I found myself sliding down the side of a hill and coming to a halt with a bit of tree branch stuck in my leg. I was a fair distance from my friend’s house, and took the shorter but steeper route back, covered in blood and rather worried as to the state of my leg. That was a very hard earned summit and while it was beautiful briefly at the top, the effort to get there wasn’t particularly enjoyable and proved to be another hard learned lesson. (Gory photos available on request – I had hoped for a small neat bat-shaped scar but it was not to be)

What it did do was to stop me in my tracks, and I spent the rest of the week very sore from the stitches, reading, chatting to a parrot, drinking beer, eating ice cream, eating freshly caught freshly smoked fish, being pointed it at and talked about by some German tourists and generally enjoying some of the staggering Bavarian scenery. I promised myself I would return.

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sun going down on the Konigssee in the Berchtesgaden Alps. Slightly creepy being in the shadow of the Eagle’s Nest, but truly a beautiful place and a lot of thinking was done on the shores of this lake.

Six stitches, an infected wound from a bit of tree left in my leg and an enforced break from running rather threatened the Tiree trip, but in the end all came good.

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a bit raggedy round the edges, I couldn’t even begin to tell you which beach this was on other than it’s somewhere on Tiree and it must have been windy because I have an extra layer on.

I celebrated my 37th birthday recovering by trying out Stand-Up Paddleboarding (SUP) for the first time the day after the race. I can strongly recommend it – gentle but focused, meditative, flowing, rhythmic and stretching every single muscle in the body. I also had my first trip on a really tiny plane.

I decided to defer my Saltmarsh 75 place. I hadn’t done enough big back-to-back miles, and after last year’s disaster on day 2 (which I still haven’t blogged about), I really wanted to do a good job when I went back. Once it became clear this wasn’t going to happen, I moved my place into next year instead.

I wanted to do something that weekend though, and there was a hill race on, a hill I hadn’t done but one that was on my list and in one of my favourite areas of Scotland where I have had some great times with some great people.

only one way to go... straight up
only one way to go… straight up

Ben Venue proved to be some of the toughest few hours I’ve ever had, there were lots of choked back tears on the way off the hill, and I came very close to a serious asthma attack. It was something that should have been well within my capabilities, but all the bad things that happened this summer suddenly hit at once and everything was completely out of control.

There was a photographer waiting as I crossed the line so I had to at least try to smile. I felt worse after these 9 miles than I’d felt after the Fling, but some really nice people made me feel better after I finished the race. They brought me cake, and made me tea, and generally scraped me up off the floor and helped me feel better. I’d always been a bit wary of road runners, having only encountered the really serious/miserable variety, but here was the exact opposite.

The after effects lasted longer than those from the Fling, and are largely responsible for the tape covering my right lower leg. I literally bashed up against the limits of my already very badly damaged right ankle for the first time in many years, and it really, really hurt to the extent that I thought I had done some serious damage.

And then a few days after, I received a message on Twitter.

Would I like to fill in for a relay team?

Hmmm…Would I be too slow?

No of course not. Just come and join us.

As a result, I had a wonderful day enjoying all the autumn colours around Jedburgh.

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I found myself in a part of Scotland I’d never been to and would never otherwise have come to, I met some new people, caught up with old friends and generally made my peace with the dubious joys of social media.

I also acquired possibly the brightest piece of clothing in my wardrobe in the form of a bright DynoRod orange race t-shirt, which will be extremely useful while clocking up the miles through the long dark Scottish winter.

I’ve just put my race entries in for next year.

Many times this year, I contemplated giving up completely. Speyside last year was a real turning point, and the Fling this year was another.

Now, when I enter a race, it is truly because it’s something I want to do for myself, rather than because I don’t feel like I’m good enough in other areas of my life and I think finishing a big hard race will make up for that.

That’s not to say I only want to do easy things, far far from it.

I’ll finish with another quote, this time from Jake Humphrey:

Never sit in the comfy chair

Thanks to Fiona Keating for this picture. I had been on my feet for 14 hours 40 minutes and had just finished running the 2015 Highland Fling, still smiling though!
Thanks to Fiona Keating for this picture. I had been on my feet for 14 hours 40 minutes and had just finished running the 2015 Highland Fling, still smiling though!

Inspiration

People. People you’ve met. People you haven’t met. People who’ve done amazing things. People who have done nothing but sit and moan, and who make you determined not to be like them. People who have been ill. People who are still ill. People who have died. People who never lived.

Places. Places you’ve been. Places you haven’t been. Places you never knew existed and that you heard of while you were somewhere else. Places you always wanted to go. Places you went to accidentally on the way to somewhere else, and you never knew you wanted to go. Places you promise to visit again. Places you never ever want to go back to. Physical places. Psychological places.

Events. Races, challenges, celebrations. Big races. Small races. High. Cold. Fast. Things you want to do. Things you have done and want to do again. Things you never want or need to do again. Times you survived unexpectedly. Times things went right. Times things went wrong. Times when you were alone. Times when you met someone new, or old, or different.

Things. Actual physical things you can touch. Things you can’t touch but know to be real. Big, big things. Tiny things.

Visual art, music, theatre, dance, film, poetry, literature. Words. Quotes.

Concepts, ideas, ideologies, religion, lack of religion. Maybe even love.

What inspires us, what pushes us forward?

For me, inspiration is inextricably tangled with dreams, desires, hopes, aspirations, ambitions, motivation, commitment, drive, action.

I take inspiration from friends. A friend who has moved away to another country to fulfil a dream. A friend who has retired from the corporate world to fulfil a dream. A friend who lives her life in uncompromising pursuit of what she believes is important to her and that makes her happy. Friends who have survived the toughest times, addiction, serious injury. Friends who hear of something unlikely going on somewhere in the world and think I might want to have a go. Often they are right.

I take inspiration from acquaintances. Someone who ran across some ridiculously difficult terrain from one corner of Scotland to another. Someone else who stepped away from the corporate world to fulfil another dream. Someone who ran a race in a time I can only dream of. Someone who built a home they’d always dreamed of in a really difficult location to access.

I take inspiration from family. An aunt whose time was called way before it should have been. An uncle who recovered from a brutal form of cancer and continues to live with the significant and cruel after effects. An aunt who is on watch and wait with a different but related cancer.

I take inspiration from places I have been, and things I have done, that lead me to want to go to new places, bigger, higher, further, faster. I take inspiration from places others have been, or have suggested I might enjoy. Places where I have felt happy, or with a buzz about them that suggests a promise of good times ahead.

I take inspiration from music. Those who play the harp in a way I could only manage if I committed myself completely to that and nothing else. Those who sing, write, play their own music as well as that of others. Those who are brave enough to risk making a living from their talent in a world that wants music for nothing.

I take inspiration from words. Spoken, written, sung by those who have been before or have yet to go.

I take inspiration from people I’ve never met, possibly never likely to meet. The fastest. The best. The bravest. Those who have made a journey, those who have documented it, shared it so that I might find it and use it.

Most of all I take inspiration from time, and the knowledge that there is only so much of it. Sometimes this is all I need to keep me moving forwards. On some occasions it makes me stop, re-evaluate and change course.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

On reading

I am what could be politely described as a voracious reader. I have loved books from a very young age, thanks to my gran and my mum both being primary school teachers. The most treasured possessions I kept when my granny died were some of the rare children’s books and embroidery books that she had collected over her lifetime.

Hours can pass by, until the only thing that stops me reading is a sore neck or a dead leg.

There are several books in various stages of completion next to my bed, as I love having real books around me. (Looking at them, I’m also reminded some of them are not mine and I need to get on and read them then give them back!)

I made the transition to a Kindle last year, or rather the Kindle app on an ipad mini. I had a 50 minute bus commute twice a day, got hopelessly travel sick when reading an actual physical book, but seemed to manage OK on the screen. The bus was meant to save me money on transport, but before long my monthly book expenditure was swallowing all the savings I was supposed to be making.

It has really changed how I read. I can have several books on the go at once, never losing my page. Best of all, my holiday suitcase is now much lighter. One holiday I took Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, which is a huge book, and several others. I read three, but had been stricken by indecision when packing so I took everything I fancied.

As well as books, these days I love reading blogs. I have many favourites, but one I return to regularly is that of Alastair Humphreys, an adventurer, writer and speaker known for many things including his #microadventure concept.

His site is truly inspirational, with several main themes – finding adventure in small ways, not spending a lot of money, documenting the journey, making the most of life, and calling out excuses. His 20 questions post is probably the one I read the most.

A couple of days ago, he tweeted a link to a piece he had written on Medium:

I read the link, I loved what he had written and it resonated very deeply. I was also on the hunt for a new book after finishing one recently, so I decided to buy his book There Are No Rivers.

Yesterday morning, I happened to read a chapter titled Flabbiness, which he has also published on his blog as part of the serialisation of the book.

It’s about going from being a bit lazy to finding your life has slipped away before your eyes. It was a particularly powerful piece for me, and it reassured  me that a painful decision made recently was ultimately the right one. There have been a couple of big adventures since, there are more to come and I can’t wait to see how they pan out.

(this post is part of the DIY Creative Club September challenge, which I’m a bit behind on (!) but am using to get my writing unstuck and out of my head)

On Learning

September 1st, back to school, another new start. Or so it seems, certainly if you are south of the border. Scotland has been back for a couple of weeks already.

Despite my protestations that it had to still be summer because it’s not my birthday yet, the Scottish weather outdid even my determination and threw some really heavy rain at me on my run this evening. There are fallen leaves under the tree in my front garden and there was a real nip to the air this morning when I took my dogs out for their morning walk.

I met a friend for lunch today, someone I hadn’t seen in a couple of years but who had been a huge part of my life for a couple of months back in 2013 when we were working on Carousel at the RCS.

We talked about all things musical, and part of the conversation involved some reflection on what I’d learned while I was at music college. I had to leave before the end of my course sadly, but I had made my peace a while before and am now happy I made the right decision, and even better, I felt I had taken away everything I needed from my time studying.

I desperately miss the freedom to structure my day to suit my own productive times, and to enjoy the best of the weather when it comes, and the creative inspiration that comes from being surrounded by other musicians and artists, but I am finding ways to make the best of things all the time.

Another thing I’ve taken is an understanding of what I need to look after myself and keep myself happy. It boils down to just a handful of things (and surprise surprise, they’re not actual material Things!).

Over the last few weeks, there was a time of enforced rest and healing, as I was physically prevented from dashing about by the stitches in my leg and the pain from the initial injury. This gave me a bit of time to slow right down and get myself back on an even keel. It helped that I was in the beautiful surroundings (and equally beautiful weather!) of the Austrian/German Alps and being looked after by a good friend.

I’ve learned that it is time to get on and enjoy having some really big dreams about the future.

This was partly inspired by seeing a car I’ve wanted for years while I was away in Austria, and partly because my finances are slowly improving meaning I can start to tentatively make a few bigger plans.

The latter means that perhaps indulging in the former might, just might, be a possibility in a few years.

Quick Release

Last week was one of the most stressful weeks I’ve had in a very long time. All thoughts of trying to stay calm went out of the window, and it ended up being a race to get to the end of the week in one piece. Nothing Really Bad happened, just what felt like a battering of events, deadlines and a couple of really late nights which when combined with the early mornings really knocked the stuffing out of me.

My week finished at about 3.15 on Saturday afternoon. The wedding I’d played for had gone really well, and a ruined kirk on the north east coast of Scotland was filled with love and happiness as two people got married surrounded by their friends and family.

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My harp and all the associated clutter was all safely loaded into the car, I said my goodbyes and got back on the road for the long journey back south.

Shortly after I pulled out of the village, I saw a sign.

Scotstown beach, ½ mile.

Time was tight if I was to be home for greyhound tea time, but I figured they would forgive me for being a few minutes late.

I turned off the main road, tried not to bounce too hard around (and sometimes inevitably through) the numerous pot holes and parked up at the bottom of the dunes. I had no idea what the beach would be like, but I couldn’t resist exploring just a little.

I got out of the car, rolled my jeans up and took my shoes off. The sand was wonderfully warm beneath my feet.

I ran up the dune, through the gap between the grass and down onto a gorgeous golden sandy beach. It was completely empty.

The sun shone, and the only sound was the waves breaking gently. I skipped along the sand, and then wandered into the sea. It was cold, but it takes rather more than that to stop me getting my feet wet.

I think I was there for about ten minutes. It wasn’t long enough, and yet it was.

Everything lifted in those few minutes, and I didn’t have to try very hard to put on a big smile.

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I realised how much I relax when I am by the sea, and promised myself I would find a way to come more often. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about where I might like to live on a longer term basis, and as I stood with the waves tickling my toes, I wondered if perhaps I could, or even should, factor in a nearby beach somehow.

The previous Saturday I had my feet in the waves at Brodick Bay on the island of Arran off the south west coast of Scotland. This week it was the north east coast.

Next Saturday, I’ll be in the mountains in Austria. No beaches there, but maybe I can find somewhere quiet in the hills to have a bit of a paddle, perhaps even a swim.

In a month’s time I’ll be on the island of Tiree celebrating my birthday by running round the island one day then hitting the waves the next.

It’s no coincidence that all the travelling is related to a break-up. Rather than waiting on someone else’s plans, I’ve jumped straight in and made my own and I feel all the better for it.

This is more travelling than I’ve done for a long while, and I’d forgotten how much I love getting away seeing new places. The best thing about living where I do is that I don’t always have to go very far from home to find an adventure to have.



 

20 Questions

This is one of my favourite posts on the internet, ever. I come back to it frequently, particularly when things are feeling a bit muddy or needing a bit of an overhaul.

Alastair Humphreys’ 20 questions worth answering honestly are seemingly simple questions, but as you get into them, they will start to make you really think about what you want and where you’re going.

He published his answers, and invited others to be brave enough to do the same. I’m not sure I’m quite ready to, I’m on about my fourth revisit since I first discovered the post and each time something holds me back from sharing my answers.

If you’re feeling a bit stuck, or just curious, I recommend giving them a go.

PS Huge thanks to Graeme Hewitson for the fab photo of me running down Conic Hill in last year’s Highland Fling relay!