“Two of Life’s Defining Moments” by Dorothy


“Two of Life’s Defining Moments”, by Dorothy

Foreword by Gillian’s Walks: Dorothy joined me on a coastal walk one winter’s day in 2017. We had never met before, having arranged this rendezvous through social media. As if through some sort of unspoken law that exists amongst hikers, we instantly trusted each other and set off together on the 7 mile walk. Dorothy will confess that she enjoys a blether 🙂 so we shared many stories about our walking experiences and I was blown away by her determination in life to do what she loves. I asked her to write this piece to inspire other women, and indeed men, who might be in similar situations to what Dorothy was in the beginning, to get out there and enjoy the world. Don’t let anything hold you back! 

“I used to wonder what made a girl – born and bred in the city and now living in a town by the seaside – want to climb mountains. I think it all started one bright, sunny day in 1984 when a friend’s brother led a group of us up Ben Lomond. I had never been near a mountain in my life and didn’t know what to expect. It was really hard work and quite a struggle at times but I persevered thinking that this would be a one-off and I would never have to put myself through it again. However when we eventually got to the top something unexpected happened: it’s hard to describe the feeling I had . My tiredness and pain were gone and forgotten as I made a dash for the trig point and ran around soaking in the views. It was just tremendous. 

Incidentally, I still get that feeling when I see a trig point. I soon forgot how hard the climb was and came to a decision right then that I wanted to do this again. Alas, none of my friends were interested. I had 3 children, no transport and the internet was not around so had to put this dream on hold for a while.

After a couple of years, when the kids were a bit more independent and I had the use of a car, I bought myself a pair of boots from the Army & Navy Stores, borrowed my son’s waterproof jacket and joined the local Ramblers Club. This was great, I was able to get out walking every weekend and I met some lovely people who shared their knowledge of the countryside with me as we walked. I was loving this and could talk of nothing else. My enthusiasm must have been catching as my husband and a couple of friends said they would like to come walking too, so I left the Ramblers and the four of us covered walks all over Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway. We even managed to climb another four Munros including Ben Nevis – believe it or not, in a blizzard, in the middle of June.

Photo1 - Ben Nevis
Ben Nevis summit – excuse quality as pre-digital.

This had really given me the bug!  I knew that I wanted to focus on bigger hills but my husband wasn’t keen at all. So I took myself along to a meeting of a local mountaineering club and asked if I could join. I felt like a fish out of water as they talked about the hundreds of Munros they had done. I braced myself for the inevitable question. When it came I sheepishly answered that I had done just 5 Munros. That didn’t bother them at all and they welcomed me to the club and invited me to walk with them.

They were really great with me and with their help I was soon racking up the Munros. As they were all really experienced walkers, I would just tag along without making any contribution to either the choice of hill or the route, but I was loving it. I was happy just to be there.

Then one day we were on a hill in Drumochter: Carn na Caim.  It had started off as a really bright, sunny but very cold day. As we neared the top the weather started to take a turn for the worse and almost in an instant we found ourselves in blizzard conditions. Visibility was almost nil; a total white out.  We were on the broad plateau not far from the summit when the wind blew me off my feet on the ice. I wasn’t injured but I was winded and it took me a few minutes to get up. The others, who had been ahead of me, hadn’t noticed and had continued walking. They were out of sight and I had no idea which way they had gone. I was suddenly alone. I was panicking and shouted as loud as I could.  Luckily someone eventually heard me and I was able to follow the voices. Thank goodness because although I had a map, a compass and a GPS with me, I had no idea how to use them. I didn’t even know what hill I was on.

Photo 2 - Carn a Caim.jpg
View from Carn na Caim, before the poor weather set in

I made the decision right then that I wouldn’t go back out on the hills until I knew how to navigate.

Back at the hostel where we were staying, a couple of the men spent some time showing me how to read the map and how to take a bearing. I had been too embarrassed to tell them that I couldn’t do this and they had just assumed that I did know. 

I followed this up with a two day navigation course at Eglinton Park. From then even when I was going out with more experienced walkers, I would practice at home with my map and set a route. I was now even able to put in my tuppence worth and question others if I felt they were wrong.

I had learned some valuable lessons: having the right equipment is no use if you don’t know how to use it, and getting to the top is not as important as knowing when to turn back.

Since then I have joined other groups and walked with scores of people who share my love of the hills. I have learned so much from them and hope that I have passed things on to others too.

Best of all, I have the courage to walk alone in the hills and even though I love chatting to people on my walks, there is something very relaxing and rewarding about solo walking.  One of the first large hills I did on my own was The Brack at Arrochar, see photo below.

Photo 4 - The Brack
One one of my first solo hillwalks: The Brack, Arrochar

The internet has made hillwalking so much more accessible for everyone. It’s so easy to go to relevant websites and read up on other people’s experiences before venturing out there. Downloading maps and routes has become simple too. 

I keep a written record of every walk I go on and when I’m feeling down or miserable, I love to just sit and read them and look at the photos of some amazing days I have had. 

Looking onward in life, I hope to continue walking, meeting new people and seeing as many parts of Scotland as I can.”


Photo 3 - Cairn Bannoch
Reaching the summit of my 100th Munro – Cairn Bannoch

Looking for a walking group or club in Ayrshire? Check out this comprehensive list of over 70 active groups!

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