So if I don't mark birthdays why am I here talking about my recent 50th. Its half way, OK perhaps slightly over half way, but I'm a half full glass person, not half empty, and I see that I have many, many years ahead and since early 2011 when I took charge of my life and allowed the real me to experience life not a person that society and others via domineering words, pressure and influence expected me to be to suit their beliefs. See my website www.theskirtedman.eu for more on this point if you have not been their already.
Since my early 20's, leaving home and trying to cope with the world, its labels etc, I had been to Edinburgh in Scotland 3 times. I stayed away from the mountainous west highlands as for 10 years, ending in 1980, I was taken their on family summer holidays, every August, and every August it did nothing but rain, low cloud, campers being washed out. In the 1980's we changed to the Lake District, same time of year, yes it rained but we also had just as many dry days and in the Lakes it is not to far to travel to source fairer weather on those wet days. So, memories of Scotland were not good but over the years I have collected many books on the Scottish mountains, and its west and northern coastlines. My wife as a child had far more success with family Scottish holidays but we could get our fix of mountains in Cumbria and hills in northern England. Whilst at work, working on your own home to enable you to move up the property ladder and others aspects of life meant Scotland had to be pre-planned, a certain time of year, therefore the risk of me booking a holiday in advance and paying out good money was too much for it to RAIN. We were quite happy to wait until retirement/work allowed flexibility. My wife, 8 years older than me secured retirement in 2012 and my self employment work over the last 15 years means flexibility for 2013 was possible. Getting the house/barn annex to first fix for our impending move to France occupied the early part of 2013 and then a very busy garden season with a very good UK summer of warm, dry sunny days with periods of rain, kept our lives busy on top of other events previously mentioned on these blogs.
During the year, especially in August/September we claimed one off days to walk in the Yorkshire Dales and Lake District, more so the Lake District, a walking haven neither of us get bored with but the pull of the flexibility and 2013 being my 50th was a good cause to break a 33 year absence of the west highlands of Scotland and a 40 year one for my wife. We watched the forecast, as in September that area was getting periods of rain. By the end of September my fortnightly garden cycle was closing for the 2013 season and one off jobs completed. From October, there was no gardening for me until mid October when I would start the big cutting back jobs in many client gardens, and that week the weather on the west coast of Scotland had been good, in fact very dry, sunny with temperatures higher than average, so 1 pm on the Thursday we decided the offer of a reduced last minute 4 night stay in a hotel in Fort William was the the calling. We booked it, managed to get both dogs in our usual kennels, we had appointments middle of the following week, and the BMW one series car was pre-booked for a warranty job at the garage on the next day we decided to book, but 4 nights fitted very nicely.
We collected the car at 5 pm and were en-route to Scotland by 5.20 pm, having used the boot of the courtesy car for the suitcases. We arrived quite late in the evening but the M6 was trouble free, and north of Glasgow on the A82 alongside Loch Lomond we hardly saw a car so nothing delayed us. This meant a good nights sleep laid ahead and 4 full days was at our disposal. All 4 days were blue skies and sunshine, and if you hadn't realised or even thought, yes I was skirted except for one day. I was even skirted at the BMW garage both dropping off and collecting, and just in case you are wondering the staff are not bothered. If they have a private thoughts then I don't know, but they hare happy to engage with me and not just the bare essential business contact only. This was the same at the hotel as well, when all the staff we encountered were quite happy to engage in conversation regardless of what was going on and not just sticking to the bare essential business requirements if they did feel uncomfortable with me being a man in a skirt, clothing as depicted on my web site. Not all guests engaged in chit chat, but then that's not unusual, even in the days when I stuck to the expected "grey man in two drainpipes", but quite a few guests did. In fact over the whole 5 day period probably about 20 people gave a negative look/body language, the rest either got on with life and many engaged in spontaneous conversation and never about me. By the way, of those few that did make a negative look/body language, the vast majority were women, and yes the typical modern women in non-traditional female wear that they obviously expected me to be in traditional male wear. The few men were the typical "male he-men" but nothing at all, or at anytime was said verbally at me. There are two photos of me in Scotland now on my site, under my picture gallery - skirted in public - one at Loch Carron and one at Loch Shiel.
Neither of us had been to Skye, my wife last time at Applecross was about 50 years ago, and I hadn't been their either. My wife wanted to take me on the Jacobite Steam train from Fort William to Mallaig and I wanted to do Ben Nevis, which my wife hadn't done, and I had done it once in the early 1980's as part of a group which did the three peaks of the UK in 24 hours, which we did succeed in doing. Our 4 day trip was already planned out.
One day we did the road to the Isles, caught the ferry to Skye and spent quite a few hours going to the SW side of the Cuillins having crossed via the north of them, then going up the west coast of Skye, before cutting straight across its middle to Portree. We returned to Fort William via the Skye Bridge. The day we climbed Ben Nevis we were starting our ascent at 9 am at a height of approximately 300 ft above sea level we aimed to climb the highest peak in the UK at some 4300 ft above sea level, and a distance of approximately 3 miles in each direction. Many people were doing it (by the way I was in walking trousers) and asking to pass as we settled into our usual walking rhythm, on one occasion a group of three girls who were quite happy to find out those who hadn't been there before and to pass advice were keen to tell us that we needed to pace ourselves. I ignored them thinking, who are you to advise when you have not the slightest idea of our walking experience. Fell walking and long distances of up to 20 miles is not unusual for us, 12 to 15 miles even in the Lake District. My wife and I got to the top in 2 hrs 45 mins, grantedly not a record, but we didn't set out to do a record, but we both felt quite pleased. I took just over 100 photos whilst going up and down as well as the top. We stopped to take in the views. We spent 45 minutes on the top and drank two small bottles of wine that we had carried up and my wife pulled out chocolate buns that she had made with "50" on them, but the wind chill got to us. It took us 2 hrs 30 mins to come down, 6 hours in total, and that was a whole hour less than it took me in the early 1980's but by then I had within the 24 hour period climbed Snowden, Scafell Pike, just completed Ben Nevis and driven to Snowden and Ben Nevis earlier. I didn't drive back from Fort William, tiredness took over the adrenaline.
Getting down by 3 pm and it still being a glorious day it gave us time to go to Neptune's Staircase in Fort William to get good views of the west side of the Nevis Range and subsequently take a drive down Glen Nevis, the southern flanks of the Nevis Range until the road stopped.
A further day we drove via Loch Lochy, Glen Shiel and Eilean Donan Castle over to Loch Carron and subsequently the Applecross pass, Scotland's and the UK's third highest road and 2054 feet. The views were spectacular as the good weather continued. We returned by driving up the west side of the Applecross peninsular and around its northern headland. The views were so good we could see the Outer Hebrides to the North.
The Jacobite steam train ride from Fort William to Mallaig was on another day. Returning at 4 pm to Fort William the sun still shining.
Loch Shiel and the monument to Bonnie Prince Charles, as two the bottom edge of Loch Ness and the side road to its south.
Within the hour of setting off home we hit rain as we approached Glen Coe but that stopped so we had sandwiches and drink parked on Rannoch Moor looking west into Glen Coe, departing around 6.30 pm for our drive back to North Yorkshire. A journey that added 1152 miles to the car and 750 photos, reduced to 474 and 240 for the digital photo frame.
Attending appointments on middle of the following week like dentists, opticians etc in Harrogate, yes I was skirted all the time even at these events, we had another weekend ahead when we helped a friend celebrate his birthday.
Now it's back to the usual routine. I've done my invoices for my September work, planning which gardens to start later in October, and the most efficient order to do them in as well as getting my head around fitting electrics, plasterboard, plumbing, door frames into our barn annex which I will start in the first week of November 2013. The only outside help I will need is a professional plasterer and I already have one lined up. My target date is April 2014 with the help of my wife. We also intend upgrading the main bathroom and Kitchen, then we will re-list on the market as a fully completed house for our impending re-location to France for our next chapter in our lives. From next April we may, not yet decided, run the barn annex as a B&B, but if we do, it is as the skirted couple. It's ideal as a B&B as except for the kitchen, it is independent of the house so you are not literally sharing your home with others.