Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | July 28, 2010

Ben Nevis, highest peak in Scotland (1344m)

I took the overnight sleeper train to Fort William on Friday and was at the start of the “tourist path” at 11.30 Saturday morning. They call it the tourist path because it is well-defined the whole way up and no specialist climbing equipment is required. But it is absolutely not for your average tourist! It’s a tough climb – big rocky steps on many sections that work your legs hard. The path zig zags up steep stony slopes and, as you approach the top, several false summits appear – it seems like you’re about to reach the peak but as you continue you see a still higher summit ahead.

It was an exhilarating climb, though, and the views were absolutely fantastic until I reached the top third of the mountain, when mist obscured everything beyond 20 metres or so.

There were a fair number of climbers raising money for charities – I was wearing my green NSPCC Team Go T-shirt and passed a woman wearing the same and we high-fived each other! I also saw a fundraiser with a plastic kangaroo on his back (see picture below) and an extreme ironer.

Ben Nevis, or the ‘The Ben’ as locals call it, seems to be the mountain of choice for dogs; I saw tens of them lead their owners up and down – several with dog boots on to help them cope with the terrain.

I didn’t have a music player with me, so I sang every song I could think of with the word “mountain” in it (getting pretty carried away with the song Wild Mountain Thyme). I noticed once again the “mountain effect”: my thoughts were very positive and I felt free of worries and hang ups.

It was a shame that there was quite a bit of rain and that the mist obscured the view towards the top. But I didn’t mind much and still felt elated at the summit – for a short while I was the highest person in Britain!

Coming down was tough. The ground was slippery in the rain and my by now tired legs struggled with the steep steps. I saw one man fall over the edge of a path, which was upsetting. He slid rather than rolled and so he was able to stop and climb back up, which was such a relief. My legs have been stiff and only now feeling back to normal – I obviously need to get fitter and stronger if I’m to climb higher mountains. It’s coming down after a big climb, I find, that tests your stamina more than the going up!

“Why does a man climb mountains?” asked Wainwright. Different reasons for different people, no doubt, but surely for everyone the sense of succeeding in a challenge is always rewarding and uplifting. And, combined with amazing views, the contrast to everyday tasks and surroundings, the interaction with friendly people and the natural high that comes from exercising, it is a very life affirming experience.  If you’ve never tried it and are able to, I recommend you do!

Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | June 24, 2010

Snowdon, highest peak in Wales (1085m)

I had just one day to do this so this is how I did it:

6.00 Drove from home to Milton Keynes train station

7.41 Caught train from Milton Keynes to Bangor via Chester

10.55 Took a taxi to Llanberis (having just missed the bus due to train being late and next one not for another hour)

11.15 Reached Llanberis and started walking

14.45 Arrived at summit of Snowdon

15.45 Had a jolly ride back down mountain having bagged a lift on the Snowdon Mountain railway in conductor’s compartment

16.40 Noseyed around Electric mountain visitor centre in Llanberis

17.40 Caught bus back to Bangor

19.00 Got on train from Bangor to Milton Keynes via Crewe

23.00 Drove from Milton Keynes to home

24.20 Arrived home

As I was driving to Milton Keynes, early in the morning, I was distracted by a demented bee  inside the car. I thought how I’ve been like that bee – feeling trapped and crazy, held back by a force that no matter how hard I threw myself at it would just bounce me back and leave me more dazed and confused! But I’ve found a crack in the window now, a way out to freedom.

And that’s what I felt most of all on this walk – free.  Freedom from everyday challenges and free, or at least far from, bad times and bad habits.

I took the Llanberis path up Snowdon because of it’s accessibility, clearer path and more gradual (but longer) ascent. It had a few very steep sections but was generally quite manageable, with fantastic views!

I had my mp3 player and when my legs got tired and heavy I got in step to a bouncy tune and made it to my next rest point!

The Llanberis path is quite a busy route and I met and talked to some really friendly walkers. It was a very hot day and quite a few people without much walking experience were trying it. Along the way I saw several stop and start back down the mountain.

I devised a point system to help me going upwards – as follows:

You overtake someone: +10

Someone overtakes you: -10

Someone much older than you overtakes you: -15

A sheep crosses the path: +5

You hear Welsh conversation ahead: +5

You overtake the Welsh speaking group: +15

(I arrived at the summit with a score of 70.)

Just before I reached the summit I was grimacing in pain (yet loving it!) when I found myself gently crying too.  I stopped for a minute, looked at the breathtaking views and worked out where the tears were coming from . . . I struggle a lot (which I’m very good at hiding from people) and, though I’m grateful for what I have and very capable too, I would often choose not to be here, if the impossible could be arranged and my suddenly not being here didn’t have any impact on others. It was incredible to have a moment when I felt really glad to be alive. Why it came while I was sweating and slogging up a mountain I don’t really know!

I’ve decided to raise money for the NSPCC while climbing mountains. Here’s the site if you’d like to make a donation:

Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | June 11, 2010

Worcestershire Beacon (425m)

I had planned to make Scafell Pike (the highest peak in England) my next climb. But I actually went for Worcestershire Beacon, which is half the height, and half the distance from home.  Scafell felt like too big an undertaking at the moment. For just over two months my home has been undergoing  fairly major renovation. I feel grateful that we could afford to have the work done but much more grateful that it’s over now. I am completely drained. The intrusion, noise and mess has been hard to cope with. There’s still a lot of painting and decorating needed, but I can do that in peace and blissful solitude.

Driving to the Malvern Hills, a song came on the radio that I am curvy yellow fruit about – Paint it Black. I’ve loved the song ever since seeing the Christopher Bruce choreography for it. There was a clear stretch of road ahead. . . .I put the music up and my right foot down by force of habit, until I thought about how with me almost every form of release has involved not being good to my body in some way. I’ve stopped willfully harming myself but here I was going over 90 mph and getting a rush from it. I need to achieve highs that don’t come with a significant risk or low afterwards. So I slowed down, turned the music down and calmed down.

I found the climb pretty easy – the best thing about walking alone is that you can push yourself and then rest whenever you want to. And if I want to stop for a minute here and there to take a photograph it doesn’t upset anyone else’s rhythm.

I reached the top just after midday and enjoyed the wonderful panoramic views, though they were not at their best as it was overcast and misty. And I was close to all the highs I’ve experienced by pushing my body to its limits in many wild ways. Now I’ve really found a way to be exhilarated and free with no risk or negative aftermath. I even get wobbly legs on the way down that make me giggle.

At the summit I found a toposcope and as I read the legend on its side I realized that the ground on which I was standing was not the highest point – the toposcope was! So I climbed on top of it (pic of my boot on it below) And from there, after waiting a few minutes for three anoraks and a flock of crows to clear the area, I shouted towards Malvern town far below: “Right, I’m coming down for lunch now!”

I thought I better warn them as I was coming down with the appetite of a lifetime.

Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | May 28, 2010

Aldbury to Ivinghoe Beacon (233m)

Yesterday I woke up feeling very motivated to have a good day despite, or possibly because of, having had a truly awful time the day before. I set off as soon as I could, driving to Aldbury for a morning’s walk up to Ivinghoe Beacon, one of the highest viewpoints in the Chilterns.

Right near the start I passed underneath some cawing crows, sitting on some telegraph wires. The sound they were making reminded me of the 2 people laughing at me for heading to the hills rather than to the pub in search of relaxation. At the same time I heard skylarks to my left, flying higher and higher, and as they sang I felt elated and made a mild Italian hand gesture at the crows.

The route had many photographic points of interest (hard not to stop for more than 5 shots at a subject but time couldn’t allow) and I met many more butterflies than people which was fantastic.

If you’ve seen the film A Room with a View you may remember that the young Mr Emerson calls ecstatically from a tree: “…Truth! . . .Beauty!. . .” His father describes it as “calling on the eternal yes”. I was inspired by this and for years I have called whatever comes into my head from tops of hills. Only when I’m alone, though! From the top of Pitstone Hill (pictured top left) I yelled towards the Vale of Aylesbury “This is me!”

Why those particular words? Probably because as I was walking up the hill I thought how great it would be to discard things – layers of clothes and pretences –  one by one, and to reach the top with only underwear and walking boots on! For as long as I remember I’ve so often hidden behind outward layers of confidence, calm and cheeriness while inside feeling tense and weary. It was such a relief to be somewhere where I felt truly happy and relaxed; no facade.

I didn’t strip off but, had anyone been there, they would have seen me start running around in every direction, suddenly crouching,  then crawling on all fours and creeping up to bushes. Strange goings on atop the hill. . . it was me trying to get a photograph of one of the many blue butterflies there (my best shown below).

In the whole morning the only fly in the ointment was that my water bottle leaked every last drop over everything in my backpack, including the wildflower book that I’ve made many notes in over the years. I spent ages saving it later in the day by putting a layer of tissue paper in-between each of the pages.

The best thing was that I didn’t get lost. Not even a little bit.


I’m having a really difficult week and haven’t felt like writing up my walk on Sunday. But I want to keep some momentum going so I think I should make a post. 

It was a 7 mile walk that I did, mainly to practice map reading. I still got lost but not as much and I feel I’m definately getting better at navigating. And where there was a hill there was a red head charging up it! I pushed myself and loved it. You will see from the pictures that I have some new walking shoes too – I tried on proper boots but couldn’t find any I liked – these will do for now.

Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | May 21, 2010

Ibstone to Turville – as the confounded crow flies

At the start of this project,  this is what I’ve got:

Wild enthusiasm
Legs that have been places


And, on the the other hand:

No walking boots (trainers and high heels only)
An out of date passport
An out of fitness body
The navigational skills of a Bumble Ball


Yesterday I worked on the last two shortcomings and went for a walk in the Chiltern hills near my home. It was a walk of ups and downs in both senses.

I’d chosen one of the more challenging walks from a Pathfinder Guide. I’ve used these books before as they give detailed route descriptions as well as a map of each walk. Instructions like: “50 metres after the Three Cocks pub, just by the cherry tree, take the path on the right that leads downhill through Ramsbottom Wood. You’ll pass bluebells on the left,  a discarded apple core on the right and, where the path forks, 2 badgers who will helpfully point you along the correct path to Buttock Point.”

Determined to get to grips with map-reading, this time I tried to find my way mostly without the instructions.  It was a frustrating and mildly upsetting experience. Again and again I realized I was going in the wrong direction.

However, every time I was on the verge of giving up, something uplifting always caught my eye: a Speckled Wood butterfly landing nearby, a wildflower I hadn’t seen before – Bugle I think (see pic below), or at a point of particular disorientation the aptly named Hell Corner Cottage (also pictured). All of these things raised my spirits and helped me keep going.

My wrong turns (and occasional stops for photos) made the 8 mile walk longer than the 3 to 4 hours it should have taken but I think I got a bit better with map reading.

I couldn’t get worse.

Posted by: suzannetakesyouup | May 17, 2010

Enough of the metaphorical mountains already

If I can liken the inside of my head to Dartmoor, and I think I can, there is many a DANGER AREA to be avoided and lowlands of bad memories and bad habits that I’ve been climbing hard mountains away from. What I want to do now is to hike up to real heights.

Among the inspirations for moving on to material mountains is an accomplished adventurer and friend, Paul Kaye, who has the ambition to climb the highest peaks in Europe and recently reached his 8th (in no particular order), Sněžka, in the Czech Republic (1602m). His idea appeals to my enthusiasm to taste more of Europe and to regain fitness. And each part of the challenge, every mountain, can be done in weekends which, not having the freedom of Sandy Denny’s Jan the gypsy, suits me well.

I am also influenced by the film Julie and Julia. It’s based on the true story of a woman who writes a blog about making all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year. I quite enjoyed the film but what I really loved was the idea of having a very specific list of challenges and sharing them online. I haven’t yet decided on any time scale for what I want to do.

Mostly though I am inspired by the need to focus more energy on things which keep me away from the bogs and mires that could threaten my ascent. I feel that organizing, going on and sharing adventures will help.

My first mountain climbs will be close to home and big enough to strengthen my Chiltern hill grade legs but not too big to make a mess of them-  Scafell Pike in England (978m), Ben Nevis in Scotland (1344m) and Carrauntoohil in Ireland (1038 metres). Before those though, I’ll do some hill walks even closer to home.