Jennifer, Me and Keara Makes Three

Speyside WayMessage received…”Falling like flies. Elle called off, just me and thee”. I looked out the window and thought, strange, it’s trying blue sky here. I reported back the weather forecast and agreed on a start time.

Over my bowl of porridge, I continued to wonder what weather might resemble flies falling? And indeed I wondered what might happen to so many flies for them to resemble rain? Or snow?

And then the penny dropped. “Falling like flies”. Ahh. As in people dropping like flies. I get it now (am a numpty sometimes – I blame it on the ‘fifties’). We had begun with potentially five of us walking today. Our plan – 10 miles of the Speyside Way between Aberlour and the old Ballindalloch Station at Cragganmore. Now we were down to two…and a wee one.

The weather was set to be a cold one – with rain and potentially full-on snow due through around 1pm we would need our thermals for this one. Well, it is November and it is Scotland. Undeterred we hit the track.

The way follows the old railway line most of the way. With occasional glimpses of the beautiful Spey through stunning autumn leaves. Summer is taking her final bow a little later this year it seems – and we are getting the full benefit of her stage. I am no fan of autumn, I love summer warmth, flowers, scents. But today I can really appreciate the scenery. The smell of wet leaves beneath our boots as we swish along. The occasional icy patch underfoot as we walk “duck foot” over the many bridges along the way. And that disconcerting moment when the suspension bridge begins to undulate and sway, and then gains momentum. I always feel as if I lose all sense of connection with the earth. As if the bridge protests to our disturbing its peaceful Sunday and threatens to tip us into the water below.

We? Sorry I forgot to introduce you. Jennifer you know already. She and I have walked and talked much in the past year or so! Today we had an honorary trekker – my black lab Keara. A very gentle companion who demands nothing. Happy to walk beside any boot – she is my calm. And Jennifer’s too I sense.

Colours of Speyside WayI have driven between Aberlour and Ballindalloch many many many times. I always look across to the Spey valley every time I do. It changes with the seasons. Sometimes deepest green, today shades of rust, amber, burnt orange, yellowy greens. Sometimes plumes of steam emits from the distilleries which nestle down among the pines, the firs, the birch trees. I imagine someone, up above, looking down – would they see a big green factory of whisky producing vats, every building a component of a much bigger industry. The waft of scent which we have now come to recognise and associate with those “stills” adding a third dimension to this beautiful place. Later we would drive back own the A95, in reverse and I would imagine myself, down there, a tiny dot marked only by her lime green rucksack, alongside Jen in her new bobble hat!

Hold that thought….

I often talk about the things we talk about (are you with me so far?). Today I am really glossing over all that. Because I haven’t enough hours in my life to write about all the topics which skip off our blethering tongues. No really – I haven’t. It’s 4+ hours of natter. Mental health almost always creeps in – for me this week was another stark reminder as I heard a painful story of someone I knew long ago. But today was about much more than that. It was about moving forward. Look we are not going to get to Ballindalloch by standing still ;). Moving forward. I have decisions I need to make. I didn’t make them today, but “wise words” Jennifer helped me make some sense of my inner thoughts. And THEN we talked about our next trek. I learnt a little more about the women who will be joining we three tartan trekkers. I learnt about the scenery, the people, the logistics in the place we are now beginning to think of as our trek!

Speyside wayAnd in no time at all we were crossing one more bridge – a rather magnificent lattice-girder bridge. A fine piece of engineering built by G McFarlane of Dundee in 1863. You can take the girl out of civil engineering but you can’t take the engineer out of the girl. Made to take trains in its day –  there was no “duck footing” today or swing and sway from this bridge. Indeed he seemed to welcome us with his iron open arms and gave us a wee hug. Solid as a rock, I swear he saluted as we looked back, having reached our final destination – just a little bit smug :D.

And that was 21.593 steps done – over 10 miles. I haven’t walked for weeks. I mean really not walked. At all. And still with a dickie ligament in my foot – yes that old chestnut :D. So I am claiming that as a small personal victory today. And what’s more, the waterproof trousers never came out nor did the hat (thankfully you were spared that photo).

Mr Smith met us at the end and drove us back to Aberlour for Jen’s car. A contented quiet descended on the car as we contemplated shower, warm fire, Sunday dinner, glass of wine. In our own respective versions. “It’s quite a long way isn’t it” Jennifer said as we approached Aberlour.

There is something about getting in a car and (almost) retracing your steps on wheels. Because while you get there quicker in a car, I have always found it reinforces the distance – somehow. And so I smile quietly and imagine myself down there, that wee dot, with my bright green rucksack. And Jennifer in her brand new bobble hat.

This week I learned about someone else I know who is dealing with mental health issues. And it is breaking my heart to think these are people I know who are not able to get the support they need, when they most need it. I lost a good friend last year to suicide. Can we make a difference? Just a little might help with a campaign which works with the young (for example) and where so many illnesses can begin to embed. SAMH is a great charity to support.

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