In March, six months after completing the Fife Coastal Path, I took a day off work so that I could climb up to the Fyrish Monument at the crack of dawn and watch a 96% solar eclipse over the Black Isle. I parked up behind Evanton and began the hour long ascent at 7:30am. Every step was worth the effort for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The memories will be etched in my mind for years to come: getting blasted with icy cold, tripod-toppling winds; standing in the shade while the surrounding sunlit summits enjoyed views of the spectacle; an eerie darkness descending over Ross and Cromarty; then finally the clouds parting to reveal the partial eclipse. Long after the twenty strong crowd had dispersed from the hill summit, I sat on a peat hag with my solar glasses, watching the Moon inching off the face of the Sun. When I descended Cnoc Fyrish in late morning bright sunshine, I overtook a couple who hadn’t made it to the top of the hill, despite looking capable. The woman commented, “This is my first and last walk ever. This is mental!” Just like the eclipse, this remark will stay in my mind.
I can barely get through a day without going for a walk. When I get into bed each night, I feel a slight sense of failure if I haven’t achieved my target number of steps for the day. I got a Fitbit Charge HR for my birthday last week to help motivate me to achieve my daily goals. I like to keep an eye on my fitness levels and it’s always a good feeling to stretch my legs and get some fresh air in my lungs, whatever the weather. But every time I go for a walk, it’s my mind that’s stimulated the most. The best days of my life are invariably the days when my pedometer readings go through the roof, I engage with my surroundings in the outdoors and my brain buzzes with thoughts and ideas as a result.
Walking the Fife Coastal Path was hard going at times – trekking solo with only myself to spur me on when the going got tough, and initially feeling like I’d bitten off more than I could chew under the added pressure of raising money for charity (at the time of writing, I have raised £517 for Cancer Research UK). I so enjoyed my long distance walk although I was relieved when it was all over and I could put my feet up. Looking back, it was one of the most memorable experiences of the last few years. This adventure has given me a real sense of achievement and a connection with Fife which no-one can ever take away from me.
Walking 117 miles (101 miles solo) over the course of eleven days gave me a lot of time to think. How do you measure personal success in life? Procreation? Wealth? Climbing the career ladder? My views might change as I get older but, for now, for me, it’s about being happy, making the most of every day and fulfilling my ambitions, most of which are inspired by the great outdoors. When I sit down each Hogmanay and have a moment of quiet reflection before ‘the bells’, I want to feel like I got the most out of the year. As the years slip by, I want to look back and feel like I got the most out of my life. I can hardly believe a whole year has already gone by since my Fife Coastal Path adventure.
I want to live to be a ripe old age, so long as I’m healthy and happy. Time has already run out for three of my four beloved grandparents. I lost both my grandfathers to cancer, hence why Cancer Research UK became my chosen charity for my fundraising trek around the Fife coast. My grandpa died of cancer of the gullet in December 2006, and my grandad died in January this year following cancer spreading from a tumour on his face. This disease is brutal. My grandpa loved his food yet he wasted away on nutrient shakes in the last months of his life. My grandad always took a pride in his appearance and the cancer destroyed one side of his face.
I don’t want this hellish disease and I don’t want to watch any more of my loved ones suffer from it, yet the odds are against us. The Cancer Research UK website informs me that half of all people born in the UK after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. However, the experts estimate that more than four out of every ten cancer cases could be prevented by lifestyle changes. We can’t do anything about our genes – we’re stuck with those – but we do have some control over how we live our lives. The Cancer Research UK website provides advice on cancer prevention under the following headings: not smoking; keeping a healthy body weight; cutting back on alcohol; eating a healthy, balanced diet; keeping active; avoiding infections; enjoying the sun safely; and avoiding cancer risks in the workplace. You never know what life’s going to throw at you but you can certainly stack the odds in your favour. Many of these thoughts were bouncing around my head when I took up the Fife Coastal Path challenge and are still on my mind a year later. Since the start of 2015, I’ve dropped down two dress sizes, I’ve been thinking more carefully about the food that I eat and I’m now beginning to admit to being more or less teetotal… but life is still fun!
Moving on to a lighter note…
I wrote eleven blog posts (one for each day of my Fife Coastal Path adventure), posted 117 photographs (one for each mile of the path) and asked you to vote for your favourite pictures. You’ll find the winning images by scrolling down! I’m a committed landscape photographer (you can check out my website at http://karenthorburn.com/) but ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’ was about having an adventure with a lightweight backpack and compact camera, and leaving my SLR, tripod and other paraphernalia in the boot of my car. Inevitably I wasn’t going to capture 117 stunning images. I expect I won’t win any awards with these photographs but they’re not bad snapshots and they certainly bring back memories for me and will hopefully inspire you to get out and explore the Fife Coastal Path or the great outdoors wherever you live.
Thank you for following ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Have you walked the Fife Coastal Path or another of Scotland’s Great Trails? Has ‘117 Miles, 117 Photos’ inspired you to get out and explore? Please leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you! Also, it’s not too late to make a donation to Cancer Research UK via my JustGiving page.
To keep track of my future adventures around Scotland with my camera, enter your email address under ‘follow this blog’ at the top of the column to the right of this text (you may need to scroll and select ‘visit full site’ if using a mobile device).
I look forward to you joining me on my next adventure in Scotland’s great outdoors!