It has been a week since I launched Walk Glencoe and it feels like now is the right time to write my first blog to tell you a little bit about how Walk Glencoe came into being.
Whilst this is just the very beginning of what will hopefully be a long and fulfilling career in the mountains, somehow, it also feels like the end.
Not unlike the feeling of reaching the final summit of the day following a long tough climb, it feels like the end of a hard struggle, through life’s many challenges and hurdles to get to this point, and my goodness, how satisfying it feels. Only a few days earlier I took my first booking for 2021 which makes the sense of accomplishment feel that much more rewarding.
Before moving to Scotland I lived with my wife in the sea-side town of Southend-on-Sea in Essex. Over-populated and congested with traffic, it was a busy place and the pace of life was frenetic. I was self-employed and days off came infrequently.
Where finances and work commitments would allow, we travelled to Scotland, predominantly the Highlands, as much as possible and often 3-4 times a year. We had our favourite parts where we would return frequently. Glencoe, Aviemore, Fort Augustus, Glen Moriston to name a few, but more than anything, we loved discovering and exploring new places.
Even before meeting Claire I travelled to Scotland frequently with friends and spent as much time as possible walking in the hills and mountains. It was here, surrounded by the mountains and water, by the wildlife and open spaces, that I felt I could finally rest. I felt contented, happy. I found I was able to switch off. Only here could I find that I was able to silence my mind totally; it was blissful.
I can’t remember when exactly Claire and I first spoke about moving to Scotland. Often it was said as a casual, off the cuff remark or light-hearted retort made during dinner, and often, following a long day or a particularly stressful week;
“When we move to Scotland,….”
In the space of only a few months these casual remarks developed into long term aspirations, which soon became our 5-10 year plan. This timescale grew shorter and shorter until one day, without any conscious decision I phoned the estate agent and listed the house for sale.
The selling and relocating process was not without its battles and stresses but I guess this was to be expected.
As if we needed any excuse, over the next 12-18 months trips to Scotland became more frequent. House hunting and Munro bagging were the only items on our itinerary.
On one occasion, at the drop of a hat, we travelled to Scotland, 12 hours by road, to view a single property late that same afternoon. That night we slept in the back of the van on the banks of Loch Morlich. With the snow-capped granite giants of the Cairngorms reflecting in the still water and fringed by the remnants of the ancient Caledonian Glenmore Forest, the setting was idyllic.
Driving away the next morning, I was resolute that when we returned again it would be to stay forever.
We persevered, and in September 2019 we moved into our small stone cottage in Kentallen, just north of Glencoe and neighbouring the larger settlement of Ballachulish in Lochaber.
A cliché it may be, but since that day I have literally lived and breathed the mountains. In the first 12 months since moving up I climbed over 200 Munros. Beinn a Bheithir, which sits behind the house and can be climbed, rather awkwardly it must be said, straight from the back garden, I had been up more than a dozen times.
Having secured a part-time job at the hospital in Oban, any extra money helped to buy new kit and pay for my Mountain Leader Training at Glenmore lodge in Aviemore and subsequent Assessment with Pete Hill WMCI.
As any mountain leader or guide will tell you, the training and qualification is only the beginning of a life time of continuous learning and personal development.
We are fortunate that here in the UK we have Mountain Training (MT). The training provider and awarding body for all recognised mountain training activities and qualifications; not only do they host a plethora of skills courses, refresher courses and assessments, they also provide a wealth of literature and online learning materials available to members of the Mountain Training Association (MTA). Topics such as weather systems, glaciation, avalanche awareness, lichens and mosses are all catered for. During the first and second lockdown when roaming and exploration was limited to those hills that could be accessed on foot from the house, I was grateful for this wealth of readily available material to keep me mentally stimulated and challenged and to keep up the learning which had become such a big part of my life.
During the current lockdown my free time has been spent researching, planning and establishing Walk Glencoe as a Business.
Hours spent on the laptop, straining my eyes whilst struggling to get to grips with domain names, privacy policies, cookie consent banners and meta-tags, I was beginning to feel like the walking and navigating was the easy bit!
But this was my dream, my passion, and it dawned on me at that time that almost everything I had done in my life up until this point was purely the result of consequence or chance, or done out of necessity. But this, for the first time felt like I was close to fulfilling a dream, doing something that I love, that I am passionate about and, more than anything, doing something that I want to share with others.
To achieve something that I had set out to do so long ago, when, to so many the idea seemed far-fetched, felt euphoric.
Whilst we are all still held in the grip of the pandemic and for so long now it’s felt like we have had our wings clipped, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel.
A comment recently posted beneath one of my Facebook advertisements announcing the launch of Walk Glencoe read;
“Tough time to be starting out”
Reflecting on this, I am a strong believer that optimism is essential to achievement.
The hills are still there and whilst there is still such a strong desire by so many to escape, explore and discover these beautiful and wild places, I have every confidence that Walk Glencoe will be a success.
This is not the end, but very much, the beginning.