Walking in Circles?

On Ben Mor CoigachI took the decision back in 1990, when my sight first started to deteriorate, to carry on hill walking come what may.  Initially I bought myself a traditional walking stick in the hope that it would give me support as well as tell me a little of what the ground in front of me was doing.  My partner Anita took on the job of guide.   Well we found we could still walk on the hill like this albeit very slowly, but I really wasn’t sure about the sense of what I was doing and really wasn’t very confident.

In 2001 after moving to Scotland, I heard about a new course being run at Glenmore Lodge (Scotland’s national outdoor centre).  It was a mountain skills course for visually impaired folk …..wow!   I signed up and in September that year I did the course and without being over dramatic …it changed my life.

Summit plateau, A' Mharconaich

It was a fantastic course, but the biggest thing I got from it was the fact that I met six other visually impaired idiots like myself  …. all still wanting to climb mountains despite their lack of sight!  It was great, I wasn’t the only one.  After that, nothing could stop us and we started venturing out into the Scottish Highlands on a very regular basis, tackling many of the bigger hills. 

With the help of close friend Guy Hansford and members of our local mountaineering club Air na Creagan, I’ve clambered, felt and sworn my way over many hills and up many rocky scrambles.  Indeed, back in February 2008 Anita and I climbed our 100th Munro … A’Mharconaich, an icy plateau high up in the Drumochter hills. 

From Cul Mor, Assynt

With such limited sight I never really thought I’d be able to climb big hills again, let alone a hundred of them.  I decided therefore that I ought to write to Glenmore Lodge to tell them and thank them for running the course that gave me the confidence to do this.  To my surprise they invited me back on that years VI course …this time to do a talk about the walks and climbs I’d done.

And strangely, the paintings I do, this website and the fact that I’m writing this blog are all down to the course at Glenmore Lodge back in 2001.  If I hadn’t done it, I’d almost certainly not have had the confidence to get out so much.  It was this very intense period of hill walking and the stunning scenery that made me turn my paintings to the Scottish landscape.  I might still be drawing building sites if not for Glenmore Lodge!

In a round about way, I’m trying to explain why I’ve spent two days this week sat at my computer rather than painting in my studio.  A month ago I got an email from the Mountaineering Council of Scotland inviting me to write a short article about my walking and painting ….for their quarterly magazine ‘Scottish Mountaineer’.  The MC of S is the organisation who originally set up the ‘Mountain skills courses for the visually impaired’.  Full circle I think.

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