Sarah Jane Douglas on Making the Most of Your Lockdown Walks
For somebody as active as Sarah Jane Douglas, the privations of the current lockdown situation are difficult to cope with. But the author of Waterstones' Scottish Book of the Month, Just Another Mountain, is fortunate enough to have some stunning scenery on her doorstep. In this exclusive essay, she describes her daily walk and offers advice on how to make the most of your surroundings wherever you live.
These days are far from usual as Coronavirus impacts on every aspect of life. And as time moves slowly forward in lockdown many people are struggling to cope without being able to enjoy their usual leisure activities. As someone who has come to rely on walking in the mountains – as an escape from life’s pressures, and to keep fit in body as well as mind – not being able to head out is tough on my hillwalking soul. I also miss my bestie Mel; bumping our gums and putting the world to rights, the sound of our boots scuffing on mountain paths, us panting our way up to rocky ridges and spectacular peaks. I miss the reward of taking in panoramic views over a landscape in muted ambers and slate, and munching on lunch that tastes better on a mountain than it does anywhere else. And I miss that euphoric dopamine buzz from the hard effort of the climb. Mel and I call it 'hill hysteria' – and honestly, anyone witnessing us in this state could be forgiven for thinking they’d just encountered a pair of roaring drunks. But, as much as I miss all of this, just for now, not going to the mountains is the right thing to do.
Last April, on Ruadh-stac Beag, Torridon
In the meantime I make the most of walks I can do from my doorstep. Admittedly I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in the highlands on the edge of a small coastal village that has a long, curving shingle beach and plenty of surrounding countryside to roam. Social distancing isn’t much of an issue here (to be honest, I’ve basically been socially distancing since 1972), but it’s still nice to get up early, when no-one’s about, to catch the first rays of sun stretching across the sky chasing the last of night away. There’s a frost. Rabbits scamper off into the long grass and a couple of startled roe deer dart to the safety of bushes and trees in the Common. I walk down the shingle onto the shore, pebbles grind and crunch as they’re displaced by my feet. The tide is out and I squelch over ridges of sand that are like unending rows of mini mountain ranges. Right out to the water’s edge I go, squishing squiggly worm casts on my way. I smile as I remember doing this very same thing in this very same place when I was small, but with bare feet. I’m glad I came back to live in the village.
Early morning beach walk
Sunset is just as magical. There’s a slight dampness in the air. Earth mingling with the coconuty scent of gorse. Warm colours wrap around the horizon as dusky pinks merge into tangerine and soft yellows, and I watch for the first star of the evening to appear. From the top of sandy hill rooftops become silhouetted. And in the thickets below birds chatter unseen. Only a pair of gulls glide silently by in the stillness, heading towards Fort George in their togetherness. I think about my mother and the times we’d come up here. Just me and her and the world at our feet.
Sunset over the village from the top of sandy hill
Beyond the beach and Fort George, Ben Wyvis still holding snow
My gaze fixes on a still snowy Ben Wyvis. I reflect on how beautiful April’s weather has been. My senses are flooded. I feel fully present. And think to myself how walking and connecting with nature is like a form of mindfulness.
Shouldering my way down the hill, trying to avoid being stabbed by prickly gorse and ducking under tree branches, but loving every second, I wonder how I would manage lockdown if I lived in the city. I decide I’d probably do as I do here. Whatever time I’d head out – whether for sunrise, sunset or some time in between – I’d pay attention to my surroundings. I’d look at the play of light on buildings, note landmarks and interesting architecture, I’d walk to green spaces and take pleasure from the little things. I’d probably turn my walk into some kind of game. And this makes me think about Captain Tom Moore who has been in the news lately. He walked a hundred lengths of his back garden before his hundredth birthday, to raise money for the NHS. Funds so far exceed £27million. Amazing. And it just goes to show that, although lockdown is challenging, no matter where you live, or how old you are, it is possible to make the most of our daily time outside – whether you are finding hope and inspiration in nature or giving hope and inspiration to others.
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