Dark Moon Walking night walk – in conversation with myself

Normally I walk alone but on Sunday evening, I led group of eight people on a night walk around the unlit borderlands of Stirchley, Lifford and Bournville in south Birmingham.

It was more than a walk. It felt more like a short expedition or an adventure or an exploration into the unknown, because who knew how things would change after dark?

I had many questions. Having ventured into the darkness, I now have some answers.

1. Who or what lurks in the shadows?

No one. Us. In the park, a dog with an LED collar and its owner. On the towpath, a cyclist.

2. Did you need a torch?

For the first few minutes, yes. The city does not get fully dark even during a new moon although night vision kicks in quite quickly. From the street everything looked black but the dark was elusive once we stepped into it.

3. Did you feel differently at the start and end of the walk?

I was a bit apprehensive about what we might find going into a park or along a canal after dark. At the same time, walking in a group was nowhere near as tense as the time I ventured alone into a park. Having someone to talk to is very calming.

I think we all felt emboldened as time went on. By the end of the walk, I felt quite calm and perhaps even weirdly disappointed that there weren't any thrills beyond exploring the world after dark. It was surprising how unthreatening the whole event was.

4. Why a night walk?

Because walking at night is otherworldly and comes with a sense of the forbidden. Green spaces, such as parks, canals and cut-throughs, feel off-limits and taboo at night. The absence of people in them makes you feel safer at night but it is simultaneously strange to see these popular spaces deserted.

Becoming invisible was also a big draw – invisibility is a fun power –and the instruction was for participants to wear black or dark clothing to facilitate our becoming creatures of the night. I also suggested we move quietly, with cat-like stealth, and to talk quietly so as not to be heard or seen.

Lastly there is a power and pleasure in becoming the weirdos who are lurking in the dark. It flips the dynamic away from being a potential target or victim, and allows us – particularly women, I would say – to reclaim the night.

5. What did you learn?

That the park after dark can be a serene, peaceful place.

That coming back onto the streets is an assault on senses that have become attuned to nuances of light and shade. That sunglasses or a pirate's eye patch might be desirable… I learned from my fellow walker (and husband) Pete that pirate eye patches were used to deal with the sudden change of light going above and below deck – just flip it over as needed.

I also learnt that my ever-whitening hair glows at night. So my ideal night walk outfit is a witch's hat, a pirate's eye patch and a black invisbility cloak. Probably.

6. What did you gain?

The knowledge of what is out there.

This also raised more questions – what was that culvert river in Cotteridge Park? Where does it appear and where does it flow? There is nothing on the internet maps. Should we follow it and find out?

7. Were you scared at any point?

Briefly – by a solitary figure standing at the edge of the woods in Cotteridge Park. It turned out to be a small conifer. This is where night vision can be deceiving and amplify your fears. The reflections in the pond also warped my depth perception of where the water line was.

8. Was there any colour vision?

None – apart from the orangey glow of distant lights. No blues, reds or greens to be seen.

9. What kind of people go on a night walk?

People who want new experiences. Most were from an extended network of friends. It was mainly women who registered for the event although the mix was more balanced after six cancellations on the day.

What I liked was that everyone actively wanted to make the most of the dark and turn off the torches. Most went to the pub afterwards too and I was reminded of how the social element of walking is an important one. It was a shared experience.

10. Will there be another one?

Well, full moon is in two weeks…

'Dark Moon Walking' was the third in an ongoing series of Stirchley walks called Perambulate With Me. It was timed to coincide with the new moon, the annual Terminalia festival of psychogeography and the launch of Walkspace, a collective of walking artists in the West Midlands.

Photos from Dark Moon Walking with a walk review by Pete Ashton are on Walkspace.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

The hill I couldn't climb


Every January 2nd, we go away somewhere with big skies for a few days – to have a think and read books and walk and look at sunsets and reconnect and make plans for the year ahead. It's a great way to start the year and offers a crisp restart after Christmas has gone stale, and the long weeks of winter still stretch ahead.

Mid-Wales is my first choice for this, Snowdonia being one of the few UK places where mountains meet the sea – and on the west coast, you can get a perfect sunset if the weather goes your way.

Another place I recommend is a National Trust property sitting on the northern slopes of Cadair Idris, Wales' second highest mountain. At 800ft above sea level, Cregennan Lakes offers a double whammy of great views – the Cadair Idris ridge and over the Mawddach Estuary to Barmouth.

On the northern side of these two fishing lakes is an abrupt hill called Pared y Cefn Hir, a child summit of Cadair Idris with a peak at 1257ft. It's the pointy peak on the left in the photo above.

From across the lake, on still days, it creates a neat triangular reflection in the lake.

But looks are deceiving – walk 90 degrees to the side, and suddenly it presents quite a different lumpier, bumpier, longer three-headed profile that can't be seen as you ascend.

It's just a hill though, and a couple of family groups seemed to be trotting up and down it. There was also a well marked path, an invitation.

I headed up as Pete headed down and around. It was aerobic. And there were slide-marked mud patches all along the wide path. Still, my boots were sturdy and it felt good to have the heart pumping on all four cylinders.

At the top of the first bluff, I looked down and took a photo of Pete, a tiny waving speck down in the spent heather and golden grasses. Zoom in and see if you can spot him.

He also took one of me, a waving silhouette far above.


Behind me there was a deep near-vertical gully, which a couple were attempting to climb by wedging themselves in the gap. A dog walker in the car park told me to avoid this, and walk around and up: "It's a bit of a scramble but not too bad."

The wind starting blowing as I rounded the bluff and came out of its lee. That was also the point where the soil ran out and the path disappeared into the rocks. I stepped onto each stone carefully, well aware of the drop of a couple of hundred feet just a slip away.

Of course, once you start thinking like that, the confidence you need to goat-hop up the rocks disappears and the inner no voice goes into overdrive:

"You're on your own, what if you fall here, or even just twist your ankle? Is there any phone reception to call for help or does the mountain block the signal? Is the path just over that rock or have you lost the way and getting deeper into the shit with every step?"

I clung to the slope with both hands trying to reach for some inner mountain mojo and looking for a way forward.

The inner voice starts to get the upper hand.

"Most accidents happen on the way down, you know. And to older people like you. You'll be tired. You'll stumble or slip on loose gravel. Your knees will give way, the way they do, and over you'll go. You won't be able to see the path from above and you'll have to take a more dangerous route."

Reassuring now.

"Just turn around and go back to safety. The view at the top is the same only higher. Do it another day when there is someone with you. There's no shame in turning back. It's not a failure because it's not a competition. Better not to push a bad situation."

And so I turn around and retrace my steps back to the first of the three headers. I feel both relieved and disappointed in myself. My Welsh hillbagging challenge is over, curtailed either by wise decision-making over my abilities or by a lack of gumption to forge ahead anyway, it's hard to tell. Age is possibly a factor either way – although these limits are also a function of living in the city and a comfort zone.

The photo now feels slightly tainted. I captioned it 'The hill I couldn't climb'.

To anyone else, it shows a solo hill-climber on an adventure. To me, it is the moment just before defeat. Where I know I have reached my end point and can't continue on. It transports me vividly back to ancient forgotten defeats in the way that funerals resurface past griefs.

But what else is there to do after funerals and walking failures except carry on? There are other hills to climb. And if not, Snowdon has a train.

Oh and I made a kick-ass plan for 2020.

It's always good to end on a positive note.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

Splits challenge FAIL

Spoiler alert: I didn't pull off doing the splits after 12 months of trying. It was no big surprise as I didn't make the required effort to get any more flexible. Plus I was pretty much starting from cold each time – I probably should have filmed it after a stretchy yoga or tone class, not a tai chi one.

Ah well. Another goal bites the dust.

I did learn some things though.

One is that technique is everything. For the first few months you can see my hips are twisted to one side. For the August attempt, a yoga teacher suggested I keep my hips in line to avoid injury, and suddenly it looked a lot more stable. Then she said to add the blocks to stop slipping – and that gave me time to wriggle a bit further towards the floor.

Possibly the biggest discovery, though, has come from watching the video compilation. I wonder if you can spot it?







For 10 out of 12 times I led with my left leg. Then in September, and on the finale, suddenly I led with the right – and it looks to be a bit lower. Maybe the muscle tension is different somehow that way around. Weird!

So, yeah, my 2019 goal was a fail overall but it looks as if I may have done it with my worst leg forward. That's my excuse anyway.

Next challenge? Maybe a full press-up, which I've never managed, and/or a Brummie gambol (forward roll), which I used to find quite easy – or at least I did 40 years ago.

The random, chaotic list of middle-age, what-you-do-when-you-don't-have-kids microadventure/challenges continues.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

A walk underneath Spaghetti Junction

Birmingham's famous 1972 concrete megastructure – which criscrosses the M6 and various other slip roads and expressways – makes as much sense from below as it does from above. Probably less so once you add in the Tame River, a fishing lake, three canals, a train track and those swooping forests of pillars.

The underbelly of the  Gravelly Hill Interchange is a daunting place to visit alone. There is the grave-like monument to PC Michael Swindells, who was stabbed and killed in 2004 on the Tame Valley Canal while in pursuit of a knife-wielding paranoid schizophrenic. On today's visit there were three or four semi-threatening dirtbikers using it as their playground. Sadly there was litter everywhere – next time, I'll bring a bag.

But it is also desolately beautiful in its own way, with birdlife, an ongoing Bill Drummond artwork, stark lines and angles and reflections, the monolithic grandeur of the concrete supports, and the relentless chunking of the stitched highways carrying 'flying cars' overhead like a preview of a future that never came to be.

This is my fourth or fifth time visiting. The low winter sun brought me out this time but Spag Junction is impressive on every visit – and differently moody .

These 25 photos are from today's winter walk with Photo School. Pete leads walks there every winter, spring, summer and autumn so you get the effect of the changing seasons. The spring walk is on 26 April 2020.  Details here… 

Click photos to view larger.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

Sleeping to an escalating world of weird ASMR podcasts

I wanted to try doing a daily meditation. Everyone seemed to be recommending it. It's good for mental health, racing minds, anxiety, stress, a better night's sleep, so that's how I got suckered in. It wasn't for the entertainment. At first.

From meditation apps to sleep triggers

I started by installing a few freemium app options – Headspace, Calm, Breethe.  Usually I switched them on when I went to bed as that was the only regular time to grab some peace and quiet. And they worked pretty well. Lots of body scans and soporific voices and storytelling or guided meditation with gently babbling brooks or wave-washed beaches. I chilled and got a surprisingly good night's sleep.

But soft voices directing me to various body parts were just the gateway. After exhausting the free options, I needed more variety to calm my busy monkey mind. So I turned to free relaxation and sleep podcasts on Spotify (also on YouTube).

That was when the recommendation engine then started throwing up 'binaural ASMR sleep triggers' – you what now? – and my carriage to the land of nod started to get really weird.

ASMR stands for 'autonomous sensory meridian response'. It is often recorded binaurally with two microphones to give the feeling of being in the room with the audio when you put headphones in.

What is ASMR?

To borrow a better explanation than I can give, the Sleep Doctor site says:

Some of the most common ASMR stimuli involve watching and listening to people performing very simple, ordinary tasks and routines. Folding laundry, turning pages of a book or magazine, brushing hair, and eating are some of the most popular ASMR triggers. Sounds involving water running also can be powerful ASMR triggers. So-called “crisp” sounds, such as the scratching of nails along a hard surface, and the crinkling of plastic are also popular ASMR stimuli. But it’s whispering that is the single most common and popular ASMR stimulus.

Close whispering in particular can trigger tingling across the scalp or other pleasurable sensory phenomena. I tried it but got immediately anxious, feeling like the disembodied whispers were a little too close to the inner voices in my head, or maybe it was reprogramming my brain through some crazy Clockwork Orange nightmare.

Sleeping to thunderstorms

Running water though, that worked. And I soon discovered the joys of going to sleep to international thunderstorms recorded in Hawaii, Tokyo, Copenhagen and other exotic locations. They pretty much all sounded the same, just different intensities: gentle rain, hard rain, rumbling thunder, crashing thunder… I went to sleep to all strengths of storm.

In fact, I learnt to sleep to noise so much so that when I didn't put on a noise meditation, I couldn't drop off. The silence was too deafening. Give me a drone, a hum, a rainstorm, white noise from white goods… all these things crowded out my thoughts. More usefully, they stopped the plague of music earworms that often keeps me awake.

Within 10-20 minutes, I was gone, every time.

The weird world of ASMR

The ASMR addiction escalated. What weird thing could I sleep to next? Dehumidifiers, air conditioners, sloshing washing machines and dishwashers? No problem.

Horses at pasture? Atmosphere of the past (old village)? An escalator? Don't mind if I do.

Bubble wrap popping, creaking wooden ship, stamping office documents, relaxing womb noise with slow heartbeat, Tibetan temple, snow crunching? Why the hell not.

My favourite in the end was Spaceship Ambience. It delivered just the right level of white noise and clean, white, minimalist images in my head.

My ASMR experiments came to an end when we bought a dehumidifier to reduce condensation. I also decided to switch from sleep meditations to general pockets of stillness in the day. Which basically involves me staring off into the sky, sunset, flowers, etc, whenever I let the rabbits out for their daily garden run.

I haven't done an ASMR podcast for months. But writing this up, I'm tempted to put one on tonight, for old time's sake. What to choose, what to choose?

ASMR collection

Or do I just turn the bathroom fan on?

But seriously I enjoyed my ASMR experiments. And I love the fact that there are listener requests where you can request the sound you want to hear and ASMR podcasters will record it for you. And the romantic in me wonders if, somewhere out there, ASMR nerd boys are making mix tapes/playlists of this stuff for their ASMR nerd girls? I sincerely hope so.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

Learning 24-form Tai Chi

It's taken a whole year but I have finally learned all 24 postures of the tai chi 24-form. This feels like a major achievement, after several false starts. Theoretically, I can now also practise at home. Theroretically.

The class

The weekly class lasts an hour and there are about 30 minutes of getting in the right frame of mind before we start practising 'The Form'.  The structure of teacher Yang's class is as follows:

  • self-massage, patting and stretching
  • basic stances and balances
  • qi gong exercises with breathing
  • make a new friend in the class and practise a qi gong movement together
  • practise The Form
  • break down a single movement and repeat over and over
  • do the form again with new knowledge
  • final stretches
  • floor relaxation and deep breathing.

The devil is in the detail

Attending every session is key to learning the precise nature of each posture: where the weight sits, are the feet turned in or out, are the hips in line, do you follow your movement with your eyes or look straight ahead, is the fist flat or turned upright, is the foot flat or raised, what is the height of the hand in relation to the body, is the step at an angle or directly ahead/behind…

Missing a class would be like skipping a book chapter. You can pick it up but there is a LOT of minutiae to take on board. Tai chi is a very mental practice as well as a physical one. And this is why I see people (often young students) start and not continue. It is slow and it is slow to learn. You need patience but the reward is that you can take this whole-body exercise with you throughout your life.

Calm mind paradox

If nothing else, tai chi calms the mind. For an hour, stress and anxiety dips or disappears.

The trouble is, a calm mind is needed to practise tai chi well and also to slow the movements right down.

Since I'm a fast person this is a big challenge (I have issues with yoga, too). I think and talk quickly, and can be easily distracted. So, while I'm very happy to have come full circle on my year of learning, I'm still not quite ready to leave the dojo.

I know this because whenever I try tai chi at home my monkey mind is just too busy and involved. I may have finally learnt The Form and can run through it in five minutes, but I still have to think about what move comes next and where my weight should be for balance and how many 'repulse monkeys' there are in the sequence and… well, you get the picture. It's not meditative – yet.

Other barriers

For the 24-form of tai chi (and maybe others – there are other longer forms), you need enough space to practice, such as a garden or park. Unless you have a massive house, of course. The movements involve a fair amount of travelling – I'd guess around 10 metres forwards and back – especially when you start to stretch lower in the postures.

Other barriers are more personal. I think: 'what if the neighbours are looking'? To be fair, I don't care too much what they think, but being watched inhibits how relaxed I am.

Oh and sometimes the rabbits get in the way.

But outdoors tai chi is the best!

How I got started

I started learning tai chi on a free activity session in Cotteridge park (still running) three years ago. I had started a part-sabbatical partly because there was nothing more the physio could do for my chronic neck/shoulder issues so I knew I had to change my work-life balance and help myself.

It was quite peaceful and grounding to be moving outside, as if in sync with nature, swaying like a tree in the breeze or breathing deeply while watching birds circle far overhead.

But it has taken dedicated memorising and attendance to get to the end of a 24-move short form practice.

Initially I went to a local class, which was more of a hilarious social club for retired people. But I really started learning properly at the University of Birmingham's Sport and Fitness centre with a very good teacher who goes over each new posture repeatedly, including the correct breathing, and how it fits into tai chi as a martial art.

Yang really is an excellent teacher and elegant practitioner. As well as learning some of the Chinese names of each move (white crane spreads wings, repulse monkey, grasp the tiger's tail), Yang instilled precise hand positions by adding suggestions that we make a fist as if holding an ice cream, or offering a cake with palm facing up, or sticking a thumb in the pie for a downward thumb position. Food is a popular aide-memoire.

If you want to get an idea of what tai chi 24 form looks like, this 'lady of the pink pyjamas' (as she is known in our class) is a recommended watch.

Tai chi might seem an easy or even elderly option to those who do super-bendy yoga or athletic body pump, but it's one of the hardest things I've done and one of the few exercise regimes that is mental, emotional, whole-body physical and spiritual. The only other one I can think of is bodyboarding/surfing, and living in Birmingham UK tends to put that one out of regular reach.

So, tai chi it is.

Digitising an old diary

diary cover

I have around 70 diaries and these are an ongoing project for exploration – see The Diary for more info.

Digitising them creates the opportunity for some creative hacks, such as running the text through a data extraction algorithm to create new outputs – some of which are quite poetic. Using code has also allowed me to extract all the swear words from 10,000 words of travel emails. That was fun!

I'm also fascinated by diaries generally and visited The Great Diary Project in London to read some of the submitted diaries from the 1980s. I've bequeathed my own diaries to this project – better than family and friends reading them! The problem is, most people's handwriting is pretty awful and it makes reading and deciphering hard work.

There is also some part of me that thinks there might be a memoir in my own travel diaries somewhere, although I'm not sure I have the emotional distance, the staying power or the skill to write them up as such. Anonymous edits and extractions are far more likely.

For all these reasons, I put digitising a travel diary into my list of goals for this year.

I'm happy to say that the first one is done – 26,000 words all about criss-crossing India, west to east and south to north, for four months in 1996/7. I've already started extracting and playing with the text.

In all there are around three years' worth of travel diaries, so it's an epic challenge, of which this is just the first microchallenge.

For anyone out there thinking of doing anything that involves digital transcription, I highly recommend using speech recognition software or just the dictation facilities on your  phone or computer. It's been a lifesaver and given me a few laughs with misheard typos. I'll stick them in another post (and here it is!).

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com

Splits challenge

I should do something big this year, I said. What would be unachievable and a bit ridiculous but maybe fun? I asked. I wrote a list of goals for 2019. And the splits challenge was born.

I've never been able to do the splits. I got to BAGA Award 4 (remember them?) in gymnastics at school. Doing the splits was in Award 1. How hard can it be though?

Very! Especially when you're 50ish.

This is a challenge in progress, so I have until December to get there, but the reality is I haven't done a scrap of effort towards achieving this goal so it's unlikely. You never know though.  I'm pretty happy that I can do this much.

[Video of the ridiculousness to come in January 2020. Update: AND HERE IT IS – a full video compliation of 12 months of splits attempts!]

splits challenge

Independent toes

Independent toes goalI discovered the importance of having independent toes (the ability to flex individual toes on command) after reading Dynamic Ageing by Katy Bowman. Katy is a biomechanist and movement teacher and her book is co-written with four women over the age of 75 – although really it's aimed at anyone sedentary.

Mobilising the feet improves both balance and basic movement. After all, no one wants to end up with the old person shuffle and yet it happens to the best of us: that hunched over, stare at your feet, short step, pavement scuffing walk.

It is the fear of falling that often leads to older people to adopt this type of restricted, unnatural movement. Ironically, it also makes it more likely they will lose balance, says Katy. Regaining command over one's toes is a real confidence builder because it improves strength, mobility and biomechanics.

But … have you ever tried to flex individual toes on command? It is no easy feat (sorry).

Follow the instructions and the dream of independent toes could be yours, promised Katy. The exercises included rolling your feet over a cylinder (I used an empty pepper pot) to wake up the nerve endings so that your brain and toes can actually start talking again. Another involved a 'handshake' with your toes, interlocking fingers between each one to encourage their future separation. It's amazing that something so small could change your whole life one day.

I did the exercises for a few weeks as part of my 2019 goals list. Having been prescribed orthotics several years ago, I'm basically interested in anything that will keep me walking and mobile. For years I worked in a sedentary screen-based job for 40 hours a week so I've got a lot of reversing to do.

It was both amusing and disturbing to stand upright, look at my toes and try to raise each one off the floor – the big toes understood and lifted up. Certain other naughty toes totally refused to move a millimetre let along an inch.

In the end I got the second  and fifth toes also lifting slightly. The third toe moved but never without the second one. And the fourth one now twitches slightly so at least it is a stubborn mule that is listening.

It's now September and I've pretty much given up I have to admit. But I haven't lost the movement I gained and I have done a lot of walking this year so it's all good.

Update: Independent toes pt 2 – the video!

And I still like shaking hands/feet with my fingers/toes. Try it! It is strangely pleasant. Just me?

toe handshake
How do you do?

Inadvertently climbing a mountain – photo essay

patting the wrong mountain peak.
Also inadvertently patting the wrong mountain peak.

I'm a walker not a climber but high on Gwen Moffat's autobiography Space Below My Feet, the mountains of Snowdonia beckoned and at Easter we headed for Birmingham-on-Sea: Barmouth.

You know that moment at the start of a walk? When you aren't really planning on anything more than just going just a bit of the way? Perhaps just up to the viewpoint and then turn back because you haven't got any sandwiches or a coat, because the peaks belong to the Berghausers and the sheep?

Lambing season on Cader Idris.
Lambing season on Cader Idris.

That. That was the plan when we pulled into Dôl Idris Car Park, starting point of the Minffordd Path for the Cader Idris climb/walk, the steepest route up Wales' second highest peak. There was no way we were fit enough or prepared for a proper hike.

While Pete took photos of lichen and waterfalls, however, I carried on up the stone steps of the wooded gorge.

Exploring the gorge.
Exploring the gorge and waterfall, and pondering life.

I had rediscovered walking quite recently on my sabbatical break in 2016, around the houses and streets and canals of Brum. And this reminded me of a pilgrimage trek up Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka, 20 years ago, when it was one long staircase to the summit and the smell of embrocation cream filled the air at junctions as Buddhist pilgrims stopped to massage cramped calves.

Rising slowly above the treeline on the Minffordd Path.
Rising slowly above the treeline on the Minffordd Path.

I'll just get above the tree line, I thought; see if I can get into a good position to see a low-flying jet along the Mach Loop. (That morning we'd climbed up a gusty mountainside at Mach Bwlch but to no avail. Spotting them is pure luck as there is no timetable.)

Mach Bwlch
Looking for jets at Mach Bwlch.

I was alone. But a family of Russians was walking just ahead – parents, teens and children. They carried on, so I did too.

The ground levelled out above the tree line and contoured round the grassy hill into a large open valley surrounded by a horsehoe of steep slopes. It was hard to tell which was Cader Idris's peak of 2930ft.

At this point I asked a returning walker how far it was to Llyn Cau, the lake below the summit and he said about an hour. With barely a bar of signal, I texted Pete to say I was going for it.

the terrain evened out eventually
After steep woodland gorge steps, the terrain evened out.

The hour rolled round but there was no sign of the lake. The legs started to go as the path rose ever upwards. I was so hot with exertion, all I wanted to do was jump in that damn lake. I literally inched my way onwards, getting tireder with each step but knowing I must be close. Around every turn and over every bluff I expected to see it but there was just more path.

And then there it was – suddenly a huge, dark, sparkling lake. A turning point. Most walkers carried on to the ridge so I had it to myself, barring a couple who collapsed immediately at the edge so it was no bother to walk a few minutes further on to my own triumphant flop by the water's edge.

Llyn Cau lake at last.
Llyn Cau lake at last. Spot the tourist, sorry, I mean pioneering solo female adventurer.

I should have gone for a wild swim; I was hot enough even in the cold mountain air. But, worried that Pete was getting worried – I'd been gone two hours – I stripped off my walking boots to enjoy a paddle and some recovery time.

Selfie - In front of Cader Idris summit, or not. Hard to tell.
In front of Cader Idris summit, or not. Hard to tell.

Of course, there were some posed 'adventure style' selfies with the peak of Wales' second highest mountain behind me. (Actually I got totally the wrong peak lined up – the photos are of a high ridge with the summit further along. Perspective from below a near vertical wall can be pretty screwy.)

Peaceful moment of reflection. Happiness that I could still walk that far and high. Astonishment at the fearsome landscape. Looking around, and across Snowdonia's misty gradations, there was no doubt I'd climbed above the Faraway Tree into a magnificent other-world where the mountain is in charge of your destiny.

The danger signs at the seemingly tame start seemed perfectly reasonable now, warning of the risk of getting disoriented in bad weather and walking off the edge into oblivion.

Stoney toe-trippers.
Stoney toe-trippers on the descent.

Most accidents tend to happen on the way down, however – tiredness, lack of concentration, adrenaline drop maybe. Several times I nearly twisted my ankle as I skipped down the mountain for an hour's fast descent. Running downhill is easier on the knees and muscles than walking slowly and carefully but probably not recommended.

Back at the car, I knocked on the window – Pete was just waking up from a long nap, not mad with worry about 'the wife'. Which, frankly, was a relief. Wish I'd swum now.

Red face, back at base.
Hot! Red face, back at base.

Under cover of the woodland a jet plane rumbled in the distance and we glimpsed the outline of a transport plane as it flew directly over the canopy. I felt elated. This was my reward for inadvertently climbing a mountain.

That and, as is the British way, a pot of tea and a scone in nearby Tal-y-llyn, looking back up in wonder at the mountains of Southern Snowdonia and thinking: 'Yes! I've been up there.'

Afternoon tea.
Afternoon tea? Don't mind if I do.

Hire/commission me: fiona [at] fionacullinan.com