Welcome to my latest blog post about finding comfort in the familiar backdrops to my life, from the stars above to the Forth Bridges.
Last night my husband and I donned our winter coats and stepped outside the back door to observe the night sky. We gazed across the Cromarty Firth with the stars twinkling overhead like Chinese lanterns; the silence broken only by the intermittent barking of a fox in a nearby field, and our own voices.
Jokingly, Mark asked how I would feel if one of the stars disappeared from the Plough (Ursa Major, also known as the Big Dipper); one of the most prominent constellations in the northern hemisphere. I smiled at the absurdity of such a thought but realised that I would certainly feel a sense of loss.
The stars feel consistent. They are always there, day in, day out, even when obscured by cloud or the light of day. I remember stargazing from the garden of the house I grew up in. I can also recall looking through my tears at the Plough from the back seat of my parents’ car, travelling home from my granny’s funeral in September 2000. What a comfort it must be to believe in life after death. Stargazing certainly makes you think.
During the decade I spent living in Edinburgh, the stars were blotted out by streetlights. Nowadays, the constellations are waiting to greet me when I step outside my Highland home under the cover of darkness.
Rising stress levels
Standing in my driveway late last night, I reflected on the fact that September was drawing to a close. Suddenly we’re three quarters of the way through another year. I’ve been writing my blog on and off since 2014. There have been times when I’ve posted on a weekly basis. Other times, like this year, months have gone by without the urge to write. If I plotted my stress levels and blogging frequency on a graph, the relationship would be clear to see.
2017 has been a very tough year. I’m relieved that it’s October and I’m putting some distance between myself and the nightmare that unfolded earlier this year. My dad has fought an inspirational battle with cancer and is now in remission, adjusting to a new way of life.
My sudden redundancy from my day job is still painful. However, as time goes by, I dare to think of it as a blessing rather than a curse. I’m currently taking on more wedding photography bookings and commercial work, and planning the way forward for my business. I’ve also come to terms with the misfortune of my wedding having taken place at the most tumultuous time in my life. I’m starting to feel human again.
I’ve felt my stress levels drop this last month. Like the olden days, I was struck by inspiration late at night. I just had to start tapping away on my laptop! In the past, my ideas for my blog usually came to me as I was winding down for the night in Edinburgh’s Queen Street Travelodge or on the train between Inverness and the capital city; a return journey I undertook every few weeks with work. My life has undergone a seismic shift this year. I guess the way in which I write my blog is just another thing that I will have to adapt to.
Backdrop to my life
Like familiar constellations in the night sky, the Forth Bridges have also formed a backdrop to my life. I grew up in Perth and spent many childhood weekends and holidays in Edinburgh visiting my grandparents. Every trip involved a return journey over the Forth Road Bridge which was, at the time of its opening in 1964, the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world. It replaced the centuries-old ferry service over the Firth of Forth and revolutionised road travel in Scotland’s Central Belt.
In time, I found myself living on the south side of the Forth, in Edinburgh, firstly as a student then as a young professional. In the same way that my mum and dad had made a regular pilgrimage to Edinburgh to see their parents, I returned to Perth as often as I could, always travelling via the Forth Road Bridge.
I kept my day job as a project manager following my move to the Black Isle in 2013. Part of the deal was to frequently visit the Edinburgh office, where I’d worked for four and a half years. These trips were often enjoyable and nostalgic. I liked being reunited with my colleagues, eating out, and travelling by train (latterly in first class!).
Over the years, I crossed the magnificent Forth Bridge dozens of times. The seaside railway journey between Kirkcaldy and Inverkeithing even inspired me to walk the Fife Coastal Path in 2014. On the railway, I traveled in the footsteps of my grandfather. He spent his career as an engine driver driving trains from his base in Edinburgh south to Newcastle, and north, up the east coast of Scotland. Travelling to Dundee and beyond, he’d always cross this spectacular monument to Victorian engineering. During his long career, my grandad was once given the opportunity to take the lift to the top of the rail bridge; an unforgettable experience for him.
Given my special relationship with these bridges, it is little wonder that they each occupied a spot on my Bucket List.
The top of the Forth Bridge
I couldn’t believe it when BBC Countryfile contacted me five weeks after my redundancy. They wanted to feature me on their prime time television show with an estimated audience of seven million. The Countryfile Director had read my Fife Coastal Path blog. Together, we hatched a plan to shoot from the top of the rail bridge. The weather gods were against me but it was a truly incredible experience, and more than a little surreal to be ticking off this Bucket List item with a film crew in tow!
Reaching the top of the rail bridge brought back memories from three years previously. In 2014, as part of the Forth Road Bridge 50th anniversary celebrations, I negotiated a claustrophobic rickety old lift and a 14-foot high vertical ladder to reach the top of the north tower, typically on the most dismal day of a beautiful summer. The weather was dire but the rain and mist didn’t dampen my spirits!
A third Forth bridge
Since leaving Edinburgh, a third bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, has been built adjacent to the existing bridges. The Forth Road Bridge was never designed to carry the volume of traffic that uses the M90 motorway nowadays. Over the last decade, it has shown signs of wear and tear. There’s been corrosion in the massive suspension cables, as well as a sizable crack below the road deck, which closed the bridge to all traffic for over a fortnight in December 2015.
The sleek and slender Queensferry Crossing opened to traffic on 30th August 2017. At 1.7 miles in length, it is the longest three-tower cable-stayed bridge in the world. Its neighbour, the Forth Road Bridge, has fallen silent. However, it will re-open to public transport and it remains the only option for pedestrians and cyclists wanting to cross the estuary.
I used the new bridge for the first time in early September, bound for Edinburgh for a charity board meeting and a reunion with my former colleagues. It was with mixed feelings that I crossed the Firth of Forth without passing over the Forth Road Bridge or Rail Bridge. On the one hand, it was exhilarating to drive over this beautiful structure which I’ve observed rising out of the water inch by inch over the past six years. On the other, as I allowed myself the occasional glance over my left shoulder to the familiar sights of the grey suspension and red cantilever bridges, I felt a certain sense of loss.
I’m a creature of habit and I have no doubt that this character trait hasn’t helped with the challenges I’ve faced this year. However, the dust is gradually settling. In time, I may come to accept all the changes that have taken place as the ‘new norm’. Saying goodbye to a disposable income, comfortable lifestyle and predictable routine has been a wrench. Facing the mortality of my loved ones has been deeply upsetting. As I watch my dad adjust to the legacy left by his tumour and strive to re-gain his stamina and independence, I see that I too have the capacity to adapt to whatever life throws at me.
Building a bridge
The comforting backdrops to life shouldn’t be taken for granted, whether it’s the good health of loved ones, the stability of a career and a regular income, or the landscape around us. Thankfully though, despite the unpredictability of life, I can always find peace as I gaze up at the stars in the night sky and find comfort in knowing that I will always find a way to bridge the gap between old and new ways of life.
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This post is lovely in every way possible. Courageous, inspirational, authentic–all link together as perfectly as the stars do in Orion’s belt. When my father died in 1995, I wondered, how would I go on with any enthusiasm at all? I remember stepping out my front door in early August (he died in late July) and looking up to the dark sky. My eyes were directed to the rigid three stars in the belt. There he was! The left star on the belt.
Four years ago my mentor and weekly lunch partner, Joe, died suddenly on his front porch waiting for an ambulance. He was 80. Again, I wondered…who will call me on my landline to see how I am doing? With whom will I discuss great world literature and philosophy? I found Joe one lonely night as the star in the center of the belt.
Three years ago, on October 8, a day before my birthday, the one person in my life who represented all things brave and hopeful–my mother, died of a stroke at the age of 84. She now is the right star.
As the years pass and I consider my own mortality, I am comforted by the order of the heavens, the sway of the redwood trees in a furious wind, the deep brown eyes of my dog, and the words of a talented little person just like you!
Thank you Cheri. What beautiful words! Thoughts of our own mortality and that of our loved ones certainly puts other things into perspective and encourages an appreciation of the simple things in life. Our loved ones never truly leave us after they have passed away.
Glad you are finding peace and comfort after some difficult times. Guess what! We were on the Forth Bridge viewing platform last weekend as part of a Barnardo’s fundraiser. It’ll be on my blog tomorrow.
Hi Anabel. That’s amazing that you were on the Forth Bridge viewing platform too! I hope you had better weather than me. I will be sure to check out your post! I’ve been struggling to find time for blogging lately but am trying to get into good habits again!
Life is a journey and sometimes the path gets rough, but it sounds like you have turned a corner. Your photos are beautiful and well done for catching the eye of the Countryfile director!
Thank you! November and December were rough but thankfully I’ve turned another corner and am feeling more like I was when I wrote this. Filming with Countryfile was an unforgettable experience and was one of the major highlights of my 2017. 🙂
A profound reflection that inspires us to continue building life-affirming connections.
Thank you so much (and apologies for the very slow reply…!).
Thank you, Karen!!
Oh, it’s good to see you again. I’m in awe of the steadiness and beauty of those two bridge videos, and touched by your reflective writing. As a child I always felt overwhelmed by the night sky, but now I relish being reduced to a minute particle of stardust. Such good news about your father, and your new life after the savageness of out-of-the-blue redundancy.
Thank you Meg. It’s good to be back! It’s bizarre how a life-changing event can have unexpected consequences. There’s been a barrier between me and my blog for too long and I’m trying to get into good habits again. I’ve driven over the Queensferry Crossing, the new bridge, quite a few times now but it still feels strange! The Forth Road Bridge is re-opening to public transport, cyclists and pedestrians tomorrow, so I’ll be able to set foot on it again at some point!
A magnificent post. Tears in my eyes. Deeply moved. Thank you!
Thank you so much Michael! That means a lot to me. 🙂
Beautifully written Karen. It brought a tear to my eye. Love Mum xx
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Thanks Mum. Lots of love <3 xx
Omg that *was* you! I just caught a bit of that spot and thought it was familiar! Congrats on the huge accomplishment. I’m glad your dad is doing okay and everything is working out too.
Sorry for the slow reply; I’ve had a bit of catching up to do! Yes, that was me!! Thank you! I’m glad you caught the feature on Countryfile. It was an amazing experience and definitely one of the highlights of last year. My dad has been through a lot of ups and downs these past months but thankfully things are improving a bit at the moment. 🙂