Conquering fear!

A fear I have had since I was a child is a fear of the dark. And I often wonder how did this fear manifest itself. As children, back in the 60’s we were not exposed to horror movies or ghost stories, yet I can remember turning the light off before going to bed and trying to run and do a long jump onto the bed, for the fear of the bogeyman lying in wait in the darkness beneath the bed. Is this fear inbred, a sub-conscious feeling of the unknown that you cannot see?

And as I have grown up it is more the fear of things the go bump in the night, the possibility of an intruder rather than the unknown or the supernatural or the bogeyman.

Now living in Scotland where the mystery abounds, lying in my dark room I have no fear and logically can explain outside noises to the deer grazing, to sheep ambling passed my doorway.

But ……. my morning runs have turned into an exercise of pure will and determination. With the days getting shorter and shorter, I now start and end in the pitch dark and when I say pitch dark I mean pitch pitch dark!!! The short little road out the village is fine as it has a few street lights, but then the turn either left or right at the top of the road is like stepping into an abyss. It is like peering into a black hole especially on a starless night.

I have my little head light and luminous light up arm bands to ensure my visibility for the one in a million vehicle that might come around a corner. I have learnt to identify deer eyes that light up off to the side of the road, but got the fright of my life when I saw yellow orbs – about 20 of them seemingly hovering directly in front of me – unmoving. It was a flock of sheep just standing in the middle of the road. Not sure who got more of a fright, them or me. Here I curse my over active imagination of vikings and celtic ancestors watching me and in my mind I am talking to all by loved ones who might be out there also watching over me. A soft sound to the right which I catch above the sound of my own breath, finds me sprinting down the road.

Last week I think I might have broken my own speed record, I must have been about 1km into my run, my logic trying to dampen my gut feeling when all I can see is a small 1 m hallow of light in each direction I might look, with total darkness everywhere else, when I here the sound of a human singing. It is 6am, nearly winter and there is nothing but wild highlands around me. I stop in my tracks and then the voice starts to howl. I stop dead in my tracks. Turn my light off to see if I can see any other light – nothing – and the howl comes again, coming from the black wooded area below me. Then he starts to sing again – it echo’s around, it is eerie, it is terrifying. I turn tail, put my light back on and ran like I haven’t for many a year.

Serving guests at breakfast a few hours later, my heart rate is now back to normal, when we get an unusual walk in guest, single dreadlocked young man, with no luggage. just a small backpack, asking for breakfast for one. On seating him, I enquire “Good morning, would you like tea or coffee with your breakfast, and you weren’t by any chance in the local woods singing this morning?” His reply – “Yes he was!” So there is a logical explanation to everything.

So I am still going out in the dark (when the weather allows) but still with a lot of trepidation and my loved ones must be getting tired of my mental conversations with them, asking to keep any possible presence that may be out there intent on mischief, at bay.

The fear is still very real!

It’s just a frog in my throat….!

The curtain tweakers of the world are having a field day, but saying that I am equally guilty.  If I hear someone coughing I immediately turn to look where it is coming from.

Since the hotel reopened in July, the response had been unprecedented with a record amount of people coming through the doors, all in search of some relief from this mind numbing uncertainty.  The first wave of guests were people just so grateful to experience some semblance of normality, albeit service in muffled tones with the mandatory ruling of mask wearing, no background music to ensure no one needs to talk louder than necessary as “they” say this will spread the invisible enemy.  Visitors are now getting a little more demanding, or maybe it is just that we are all getting exhausted by the seemingly never ending flow of customers, the never ending cleaning, the never ending hand sanitising  – but a good problem to have after 5 months of closure in the bigger scheme of things.

It is becoming a dog eat dog world out there. The media, politicians and “they” are putting the fear of eternal damnation on us.   Yesterday I was the brunt of a rolling of the eyes and attitude (from a South African nogal !) when trying to explain to some guests that even though they might all be travelling together in a large group, they would have to be seated on separate tables as the guidelines here in Scotland are no groups bigger than 6 and then only from 2 households. There are the nay-sayers and anti-maskers out there, and who knows maybe they have a point – is it just the flu?  But with the real threat of this new second wave threatening the hospitality industry once again – if you listen to the news, I personally would rather err on the side of caution.  I would rather be rushed off my feet and falling dead into bed each night, than be put back into a lockdown. And if that means wearing a claustrophobic mask (you can get some really funky ones) then so be it.

The thanks and appreciation being given by 99% of our patrons is heart-warming and it feels good to be able to give people a little hope that it is not all doom and gloom out there, though the fear out there is very real, but it is just a frog in my throat, I am not carrying the plague.


Where does it go? And why is it that we only realise how precious it is when there is less of it?

After having been under lockdown now for a full 3 months and getting the information that I am to be taken off furlough tomorrow and start work again, I question myself, why didn’t I do more, make more of this precious time. I still have so much I want to do /should have done.  It feels like only yesterday that it was announced that the world was to stop and at the same time it feels like a life time ago.  The weeks have dragged but at the same time have flown.  One day has melded into the next, with no structure, no urgency.  All the good intentions in my mind of “Ah I now have time to do the things I long to do.”  These things that I had always put off with the excuse of not having enough time.

I have drawn (and sold some of my works), blogged, run, read, climbed mountains, with no pressure of time, of having to hurry to get it done. And got bored with the hours of precious time stretching out in front of me. So why do I feel guilty, maybe a bit disappointed in myself. Reading about all the wonderful things others have done with their time. Was it the time wasted aimlessly watching series repeats, and making the excuses in my mind not to run, read, walk, draw. To procrastinate. But was it wasted? It was what I wanted to do at the time. With the event of social media, the natural human response is to compare ourselves to others achievements, we put ourselves under undue pressure to perform to perceived expectations. But, we are all individuals.

I believe I live life to the fullest, and if I feel I am wasting time, I will embrace it. It’s a cliché I know, but this lockdown has brought it even more to the fore, “Time is precious, spend it wisely.” And without guilt!

Don’t sweat the small stuff …..

…. or the smallest of things – and by things I mean living, alive and kicking things.

And to narrow this down I am referring to the minute ticks and irritating midges that abound in the Scottish Highlands during these summer months.

To explain a midge to fellow South Africans, imagine a “miggie” crossed with a “mozzie” on steroids, but are 1/10 in size. They thrive on warm humid conditions with little or no wind, so much so that you pray for wind everyday. And apparently according to those in the know, I have only experienced the better days. They swarm in clouds and make a bee line for any emission of carbon dioxide. You do not feel the initial bite/sting – described perfectly via wikipedia as follows “When a midge bites, it uses its pinking-shear-like mouth parts to cut a hole in its victim’s skin and injects an anticoagulant to stop the blood from clotting so that it can feast on the resulting pool.” This results in swelling and itching on the site of the bite, which remains for days – the itch of which is incessant, which you then absentmindedly scratch till it looks like you have a bad case of chicken pox.

Then you get the ticks.  Some as small as a pin head. And when you go walking in the highlands there is no escaping them, regardless of what you wear. Fortunately they are not as deadly as their African brothers, but are equally as determined. And….. according to google …… they can survive 476 days without a host. So even if you have not been out walking for days, these feisty little critters can be found traversing your skin and attaching themselves at any time of the day, the removal of which requires a pair of tweezers and plenty of curse words. They also leave behind an itch that is incessant.

But as irritating as they can be, the itch does eventually pass if you do not aggravate the bite site, which got me thinking how this can be compared to the daily life irritants we are exposed to. Don’t scratch at them, try and let them be as they too will pass. I.e – don’t sweat the small stuff.


The exquisite Highlands which million of ticks and midges call home 


Week # 10 – try and live in harmony

Listening to the news on BBC which has at every turn regurgitated the story about one political advisor who appeared to have flaunted the lock down rules. Yes, he seemingly behaved like an idiot, but the vindictiveness and ugliness coming to the fore is ludicrous – how unfair it is, one rule for one and another for others and I sigh and think just get over yourselves.  He is one man. Maybe he should have thought a bit more before travelling. None of us are perfect. None of us know of the exact circumstances in any scenario in another persons life, which makes them make a decision that we personally may not have taken. Let the person who has never made a bad decision, cast the first stone.

And now the narrative that if he can get away with it, then why shouldn’t we? Why should I listen to advice when he didn’t.  Reminds me of the old saying.  If your friend jumps in the fire, are you going to as well! Stop being dicks!

What is it about the human psyche that wants revenge and one-upmanship? And this is when I would like to tell mankind to live like animals.  And this is not meant to be taken literally, but in their attitude and behaviour. It is survival of the fittest, but there is no revenge, no hatred, no vindictiveness.

Sitting here, writing this overlooking the wind swept loch waters, watching a couple of seals, Hubert and Joyce, frolic playfully. Up the road is Betty, the sheep who had twins, Lotty and Dotty on our doorstep. On stepping out my room in the early hours, there was the young stag, Darryl, together with is other brother Darryl eating the lush green grass, whilst keeping a wary eye out for humans. Down the road are Billy, Tilly and Hilly, three large speckled pigs that rush up the fence on seeing you for a scratch under their ears. They are all so totally different, but there is a harmony to their lives that we can learn from. Just be nice people, stop being so angry and thinking life is unfair.


Lotty and Dotty 

Stop worrying about how life may seem to be fairer to others.  Banish hatred from your heart and live in harmony.

Word for week 9 is Bleh!

This is my first experience of the start of summer up here in the ever jaw dropping highlands. And it is turning out to be an experience I never would have dreamt of. As we enter week 9 of the lock down with the graphs showing ever decreasing number of cases of this evil virus and the powers that be erring on the side of caution with regards to the opening up of the remote areas of Scotland, the uncertainty is quite debilitating, soul crushing and at times can make it hard to breathe.

At the start of this enforced hibernation period, the crisis brought out the best in people, where groups expounding positive messages abounded, then came the anger and now it is the tweaking of curtains and paranoia.

I read and listen what is happening back in South Africa and my heart breaks. My family are living in what can only be called insanity with regards to the restrictions that have been enforced, and I feel almost guilty for being in what has to be the best location to be in the world right now.

And with this also comes the uncertainty of what you can expect summer in the Scottish highlands to throw at you. Just last week I was able to hike the beautiful moors and catch a bit of sun, then the next week, it is back to heaters, jackets, snow on the ground and minus temperatures.

Mother nature however is rejoicing.  On my excursions outdoors, the bird song is never ending, the newly born lambs (by their hundreds) and their ever patient mothers have taken ownership of roads, which usually by now would be teaming with summer tourists and their campervans.  The deer are definitely not as skittish and I find them venturing further and further into the village. Which got me worrying for them for next season when, (note I say when, not if) normal life has returned, that the babies will not have had any exposure to the dangers of traffic so will not be street wise and we may well see more roadkill than normal.


And the questions still remain ….  Will we open this year? Won’t we open this year? Will it be sunny tomorrow? Will it snow tomorrow? Or maybe it will rain!!!!

On re-reading this post, it alarmed me.  I was typing as I felt.  I always thought that I had a positive mindset and can see the glass half full and the light at the end of the tunnel, but obviously as the words flow my angst is coming to the forefront. I was thinking of discarding this post and starting again with a more positive ring, but then thought no – this is my coping mechanism. This is my therapy and a way of getting my concerns off my chest. Maybe we can look at the animals, despite facing bitter climates and deadly predators, they have survived generations.  The glass is half full and there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just hoping its not the train heading in our direction.

Same, same, but different!

I have to say that I do not envy any politician in this crazy world right now, as whatever decision they make – they are damned either way. They are making decisions with guidance from others in circumstances never experienced before and are feeling their way.  They have no precedence to follow.

Here in the UK as we roll into week 8, an announcement was made last night about the relaxing of the lockdown restrictions and it was with bated breath that I opened my media apps this morning. Nothing really earth shattering, as they say in South East Asia, “same, same, but different”.  The new “lighter” restrictions I read, are for England only.  Scotland and Wales want to do their own thing, with hospitality remaining closed into the unforeseeable future.  And the anger and the criticism never stops. How dare they! Why haven’t they! My neighbour is …..! If they aren’t why should I! People turning on each other and the media are feeding off the paranoia and conspiracy theories. It’s the uncertainty that’s the killer.

Watching from the relatively unscathed safety of the remote highlands, where apart from not being able to work and the required social distancing, life carries on pretty much as normal, it is almost like watching a bad movie unfold.

I try not to listen to Trump as it makes my skin crawl and his fanatical following are like something out of a Mad Max movie. In South Africa, the president who was revered for his initial stand on combating the spread is now being ridiculed. Here I realise his advisors have really advised him badly, where you can now go to a shop to buy school books, but not novels? Corbyn slating Johnson on his handling of the lockdown, how would he have done it differently? (I am a supporter of neither). I am tired of opposition parties using this unsettled time to try and score brownie points with the detractors. We are all in this together, so why not work together.

So stop being angry armchair critics. If you can come up with a constructive measure that would be embraced by all going forward then by all means voice your opinion. We all want this to end – sooner rather than later, including the politicians.

Falling asleep last night I fantasized what it would be like not to have corona as the main topic on everyone’s mind when I woke up in the morning.  I can dream!


Swimming into week 7 – what lies beneath!

Something brushed up against my foot. My heart skipped a beat and the adrenalin coursed through my veins. I stopped hoping to see what it could have been, and realised that I had swum into a bed of long clingy seaweed.  This was my second solo swim in the icy waters of Loch Glendhu.  The waters of which are crystal clear and almost cry out to be swum in, belying the freezing temperature of the salty Antarctic tide that flows in and out every 6 hours.

The waters had been sending out invitations to me daily and I had vision of myself slicing through the still waters and revisiting my joy of swimming freely in nature – you cannot get much wilder than swimming in remote lochs in Scotland.   But my mind and reality proved to be poles apart.

After being warned about strong currents and the possible dangers of swimming solo, I had decided to time my swims with the tide, in or out from one jetty to the other. The tide was going out, so headed off up the road, wet suit attired, wet shoes, swimming cap and goggles, (must have looked a really odd sight), only to find that the water at the fishing jetty, where 2 fishing boats rocked gently against the quay and the water was slightly more sheltered, was teaming with jelly fish. Time to get really wild and make my way through prickly gorse and rocks and slimy seaweed to get to the waters edge a little further away.

The extreme temperature took my breath away. I needed to get moving to warm up my body. By now I could not feel my feet or my hands and after a few strokes of freestyle with my face submerged, I realised that a smooth stroked swim was not on the cards. My head pounded and my face froze.  Instant ice-cream headache. So, it was backstroke most of the way. Looking up at fluffy clouds and the occasional seagull, I am in my element. An inquisitive seal pops his head up a few meters away, watching this ungainly creature making steady headway to next boat jetty.  The sense of accomplishment was immense. It was years since I had last swum in open water and these open waters are extreme. And it was this that brought me back the next day, this time with my face slathered in Vaseline to try and keep some of the freezing effects at bay.  It worked (to a degree). Think I might harbour a bit of masochism and thrive on pushing my limits, I am hooked.

Swimming in these unknown waters got me thinking about my initial fear, how deep, how cold, what lies beneath, the unknown. On looking down into the dark depth of the loch, there was a prickle of fear. It is of the unknown.  And right now in every day life we are all living with the unknown. How much longer, what is going to happen, what lies beneath. But as I swam toward shore and started to see the shimmering bottom of the loch and welcome sight of the concrete slipway, so too there is a shimmering at the end of this dark tunnel.  We are wired to survive. Life will return as we knew it and we will look back in years to come and be able to say, remember when….! So keep swimming and when something brushes against your foot, know that it is only your own fear which you can control and head for that shore.


Watch your thoughts….

We are now in week six in the UK (and if you believe the news,  Scotland could be in this limbo state longer) – not sure where the fifth week went but have found I need to catch myself and watch my thoughts.

There is not much on anybody’s minds at the moment but this cursed virus.  Open any media platform and that is all that is being reported.  Reading and watching the news can become quite an obsession. Conspiracy theories abound, those for and those against either opening up or remaining in lock down.  Anger spilling over at the supposed unfairness of it all.  How dare the governments prescribe to its citizens how to live their lives.  People dying daily, that wouldn’t have, if it wasn’t for this hidden enemy. People living daily and making the most of what is being thrown at us.

I binged watch the series “The Sopranos” and one phrase has stuck with me when Tony, the boss, was in a coma asked the question “Who am I and where am I going?”  This hit home as the questions running through my mind recently are “Why?” “What is the purpose of all this?” and my belief in the Buddhist teachings of what is meant to be will be.  “Is this meant to be?”

Out on a solo walk through the beautiful, peaceful, meditative Scottish highlands with “Who am I and where am I going” playing on a loop though my mind, demanding answers.  The most obvious one, I am Cathy and I am hiking up a mountain. “Why?” – because I can and I want to.  I think that is a good enough reason. But to delve deeper, that is when you have to watch your thoughts.

I stray from the well worn path – physically – almost daring myself to get lost, find a hidden loch and stop to take a breath, my mind wandering on its own path less travelled. Who am I really?  I don’t think any of us see ourselves as others do.  And we never will as we cannot see inside the minds of others. I am a daughter, a mother, a grand-mother, a friend and possibly, though I don’t like to think so, an enemy.  But that doesn’t define a person. I consider myself a good person. Trying to give back to others more than I take. To what purpose? Where am I going? I have always believed that where we are is where we are meant to be at that particular time.  And this makes me stop once again in my tracks and watch my thoughts which have become almost tangible .  I am meant to be here, off the beaten track , alone in this expanse of beauty surrounding me, making me question our very existence. Knowing that it is quite okay to ask these questions.  Knowing that all it will take is to retrace my steps to find my way back again.

And I realise, I am me, I am unique in my own way as each one of us are, I am human and I am not concerning myself as to where I am going, I am living.IMG_7492

Just slow down and breathe Cath … just slow down and breathe – heading into week 4

The cold of the hard wooden bench is seeping through the thin fabric of my jeans, but it doesn’t matter. My feet are slightly damp from wearing not the most practical shoes when walking through the Scottish undergrowth after a rain shower, but it doesn’t matter. My eyes are closed and I am interacting with all five senses. This is the sense of touch. There is also a slight breeze, with still the frost of winter on its wings, which ruffles my hair and brings a chill to my exposed face, but it doesn’t matter. I am feeling.

I open my eyes to experience sight – the one sense I would hate to ever lose. The bright yellow daffodils at my feet sway in the icy breeze, their faces all turned away from me facing the still setting watery sun. The vast expanse of the loch before me shimmers and ripples almost welcoming the movement of the air.  Gulls head for home on the distance shores.  Directly below are a couple of gulls and oyster catchers with their vibrant red bills, pecking at the mussels that have been exposed by the low tide.  They are feasting and not heeding the night time homeward call.

I close my eyes once again to focus and to listen and soak in the approaching night. Far off geese cry their distinctive cry which disturbs the harmony of distant cascading waterfalls. Then it is quiet, silent – eerily so.  No voices, no cars, no machines humming – silence, which is then broken by the gulls squabbling over a tasty morsel found in the crystal clear waters gently lapping.  But it doesn’t matter – I am listening.

I breathe deeply in – the soft smell of wood smoke which is so pleasing and brings back fond childhood memories of holidays at farm hotels. The slight salty whiff of the tide gently pushing in on the rocks below and a lovely earthy smell of damp rich soil.

In my mouth I can still taste the remains of my dinner, a spanish omelette. The herbs and spices used as well as the long lasting onions.  It was a delicious meal served up by one of the hotel chefs.

It is this meal that got me to this spot on the hard wooden bench, the idea to go for a walk and settle my meal before heading off to my room for the night. Absorbing the world I find myself in.  I had been jotting down thoughts and ideas the whole week for my blog and they all revolved about why, depression, lack of motivation, the need for routine, stress, worry, loneliness, isolation, time, what is going to happen, what is normal  and guilt (we put ourselves under so much unnecessary pressure) …………?? I don’t have the answers and neither I think does anyone else unless they have a crystal ball.

So everyday I am going to remember this moment, when I slowed down and breathed. Because in the end, all the questions, worries and concerns don’t matter.  We are alive and we can breathe.