then and now

Last week I was in a bookshop in Glasgow, perusing the outdoor bookshelves, and became absorbed in a tome about the West Highland Way.

“Is this you getting ready, then?” asked a friendly assistant, assuming I was preparing myself for a 96 mile walk.
“No,” I replied, “I actually walked the West Highland Way back in 2005. And now I live right on it.”
“Ah,” said the assistant, “you liked the walk so much you moved there?”
“Pretty much” I said.

I’ve been thinking about the West Highland Way a lot of late because it forms the focus of my new collection and book. Tom and I knew very little of this part of Scotland when we first set out, in September 2005, to walk from Milngavie to Fort William.

This morning I dug out the photographs from our walk (taken with one of those old disposable film cameras)

It is curious looking at these grainy snaps from 12 years ago, because this is a part of the world I now know so very well that I can pinpoint the exact location of every photograph.

But I can also vividly remember the thrill of first discovering this landscape twelve years ago.

Walking all the way from the Highland fault boundary in the south to Scotland’s highest mountain in the north is definitely a great way to get acquainted with the area!

Looking at these pictures it is hard not to reflect on our relative youth (we were in our early 30s)

And in my case — as these images were taken five years before my stroke — on the strength and stamina of my able-bodied self.

It seems completely extraordinary that I once had a body that could walk 96 miles in 5 days!

These days, the effects of my stroke impose a 5 mile limit on me before my leg and foot give up the ghost. But though the thought of completing the West Highland Way in a single continuous stretch is impossible, I can walk – just very differently.

Now I walk much more slowly and much more lopsidedly. I walk with a careful pace, with much attention, and often with some pain – but I know what my limits are. I also know a lot more about this landscape than I did back then.

As someone who once couldn’t walk at all, I am continually bowled over by the truly remarkable capacities of my post-stroke wonky body. I appreciate just getting out in this landscape in a way the able-bodied me could never have understood. And, from being a West Highland Way tourist twelve years ago, I now have the good fortune to call this place home.

Looking at our old pictures from 2005, I’m thinking that, as well producing a collection about the West Highland Way I should try to walk it again – in a different way, as a different kind of walker.

A project for next year, perhaps.