Walking for Mental Health - Living the Dream on Skye

Physical activity is known to boost mental wellbeing, and in that regard it seems simply going for a walk is one of the best things you can do. On the long road to recovery Adrian Trendall found solace - and love - on the rocks of Skye's Cuillin. This is his story.


Through the mud and blood to the green fields beyond.

I can't pretend to have had any traumatic experience, to have experienced the horrors of war, but this phrase strikes a chord with me. Apparently it's the motto of the Royal Tank Regiment whose colours reflect the horrors of trench warfare in World War One. I can remember my father explaining this to me and talking about his National Service days in Germany attached to a tank regiment.

There can be only one... Adrian on The Cioch  © Adrian Trendall
There can be only one... Adrian on The Cioch
© Adrian Trendall

Mental illness might not have the graphic reality of war but I'm guessing many sufferers, like me, feel they have endured a lot of suffering, often in silence. Mental illness has a certain taboo, it's just not the done thing to confess to being a victim. This is probably getting better now as more people talk or write about it, but there are still many sectors of society where macho rules rule. This is probably especially true in the rufty tufty world of the milita,y but to a certain extent it pervades the outdoor world too.

Long, hard hill days, nose to the grindstone, intense physical effort kept the black dog at bay.

Certainly, many find it easier to hide away, to bury the hurt and despair, to put on a brave face. I know how easy it can be to appear "normal", to seem to be the life and soul of the party, to be enjoying life when inside you are enveloped in a world of pain and desperation.

I know it sounds corny, but it's good to talk and I had some good help and owe a big thanks to the NHS. Talk is good and medicine can definitely help. Absolutely on the edge of an abyss and ready to end things, I was admitted to hospital. The medication did help but I worried about becoming addicted. My memory almost instantly suffered and I was keen to get off it ASAP.

My lowest point was probably a time in hospital in Bangor, but medication and some excellent counselling kept things under control to a degree. It was the outdoors that proved the real practical medicine.

Long, hard hill days, nose to the grindstone, intense physical effort kept the black dog at bay. Having been made redundant, I was time rich but money poor. Fortunately I had savings and to a certain extent the world was my oyster.

"The Cuillin became an obsession" - Above Coir' a' Ghrunnda
© Adrian Trendall

The medication almost certainly saved my life so any adverse effects were a small price to pay. Once off the tablets, the outdoors was my refuge, my adventure playground, my medication all rolled into one. Long trips to Skye enabled me to get a rudimentary knowledge of the Cuillin, to take photos, to charge my mental batteries for when I couldn't be there.

The Cuillin became, and probably still is, an obsession - but it certainly beats daily tablets hands down. It can be a hard mistress, there are knocks and scrapes, ups and downs both physical and mental. Money was never easy since I'd been made redundant and was living off savings and redundancy money. So I lived a dirtbag lifestyle; long periods camping in Glen Brittle, extended stays in the old bothy at Camasunary. When the weather was good, life was great. When the weather was poor, things weren't so good. I can remember days spent sitting in my car reading books as the rain lashed down and the wind whistled past, the windows gradually steaming up and condensation making everything damp.

It was all too easy to let things get on top of me but bad weather can only last so long then I'd be out for a dose of "free phys", the more physical the better. Big loads, many miles underfoot and thousands of feet of ascent blotted out reality, the harsh world receded behind a wall of physical suffering.

The Cuillin became an obsession - but it beats daily tablets hands down

Days doing the whole of the Cuillin Ridge, long routes in remote places, hours spent waiting for the light to come good for a particular photo I'd envisaged. Things were on the up, things were improving, even if it did mean I had to survive in a weird off-grid, nomadic lifestyle.

The old Camasunary bothy was my haven, shelter from the weather, the world and everything. I was quite content there especially if the weather was bad, huge waves rolling into the bay, winds swirling past the windows thundering like an approaching train. There were two fireplaces and I enjoyed roaming the beach for driftwood, hauling it back then using the blunt bow saw to cut it into fire sized chunks.

Life in the bothy was elemental. Water, earth, fire, wind. In 2015 it closed to be replaced by a newly built bothy best described as utilitarian rather than characterful.

Just as the bothy changed, things were about to get a whole lot better as I emerged from the imaginary blood and mud, and the green field suddenly seemed a whole lot closer. Maybe not within grasping distance but at least in sight.

"The Cuillin figures pretty large, but above all Bridgette has been my saviour"
© Adrian Trendall

10.10.16 is the day everything about my life took a quantum leap for the better. Bridgette had put a post on UKC looking for people to walk and climb with. 10.10.16 was the day we met in the car park outside the Sligachan Hotel. To say we got on like a house on fire would be an understatement. Two and a bit weeks flew past in a flash.

It wasn't a "date" but our first day out couldn't have been better. Wall to wall sunshine and a walk up into Coir a Ghrunnda then a climb on the mega rough peridotite saw us on the summit of Caisteal a Garbh-choire.

Perfect October weather and we ticked The Spur on Sgurr an Fheadain followed by a traverse of Bidein, took photos of the boat graveyard at Carbost, went to Talisker Bay, climbed the In pinn. A night out on the slabs of Coire Lagan became known as the infinity bivi, the rock dropping away alarmingly below us. 60 plus MPH winds made for an interesting night but B wasn't phased and the next day we did Collies Route onto the Cioch. How apt the words from Highlander, "There can be only one", when she picked up the in situ plastic sword.

All too soon Bridgette's holiday was over and she was speeding south, but not before a glorious last day spent traversing Clach Glas under the October sun. Suddenly life was empty, silent, the laughter and fun departed. Possibly like all blokes, perhaps like everyone, I didn't realise B felt the same about me. Ironically we were getting physically further apart as she headed to Bristol.

Amazingly, text messages, emails and phone calls spiralled out of control and we gradually realised we both felt the same thing for each other. It must have been love because I baked Bridgette a huge cake and followed her south as winter closed in. We had enjoyed Hummingbird cake in the Slig and I thought it would be easy to recreate this culinary perfection.

To cut a long story short, the ingredients were sourced (not easy in Elgol), the cake baked and I headed south where we were reunited. Soon we were both living in Clevedon but planning the great escape. Again luck came into play. B put an advert on Gumtree saying we wanted to move to Skye and outlining our skills. There was only a single response from Skye but it was the one we wanted; a family wanted someone to run The Boat House in Sconser as a B&B. Result.

We drove north in a van and a car, and anything that didn't fit was ruthlessly culled. We had the car boot sale to end all car boot sales and even sold B's car there. With few possessions but each other and lots of positive vibes we headed into the unknown. Adventure followed adventure.

"We're living the dream...!"
© Adrian Trendall

I'd never been a Facebook user but B suggested setting up a group and so All Things Cuillin (ATC) was born. It now has almost 5,600 members. Our photography improved by leaps and bounds; forget expensive gear just get out and shoot more and shoot things you love so the passion shines through (or come on one of our photo workshops!). Luckily photography and guiding never feels like work so we really are on cloud nine, living the dream. To us there is little differentiation between work and play. The Boat House era is drawing to an end as we have put in an offer to buy our own house.

We have had a superb two years on Skye. Awesome adventures, Cuillin climbs, bivis up high, stunning sunsets. Highlights have to be the great people we have met, many through ATC. Two winter traverses in two weeks feature high on favourites for me. But also traverses with friends and clients, clients who have become great friends.

We came to Skye with little - few possessions, not much money - but with big hopes, hopes that have been more than fulfilled. Life is for living and I urge people to get on and live it to the max. Forget possessions, forget money, forego materialism and do something you love rather than toiling for years doing something less just for the money, the kudos, the image.

In a way my life has been a bit like a tale of two bothies, a tale of the old and the new at Camasunary. One is merely history, for sure wonderful history with great tales to tell but now it's a physical wreck reverting to nature. The other is new, well looked after and used a lot. It might lack character but it is utilitarian and marches on into a bright future.

It's all too easy to have regrets, to say "what if", to wish things had been different, that I hadn't had problems. But then without the problems I wouldn't be who I am today or living the life I am living. Regrets don't help. I haven't any magic solution to offer anyone else save to say that no matter how bad things are, they can always get better. There can be light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel analogy works well for me since I spent more years than I can remember feeling that I was perched above a huge, dark, bottomless pit and only just clinging on by my finger tips. The abyss always beckoned and I often wished it would just swallow me up.

I can't say how glad I am that I survived, that I managed to hold on for grim death, that Bridgette came along. I owe a lot to medicine, to doctors and counsellors, a huge debt to my family, the Cuillin figures pretty large, but above all Bridgette has been my saviour.

If I can ever help anyone else then don't hesitate to get in touch. I've been on the brink and back and can sympathise and am only too happy to listen or talk, go for a walk, climb the Cuillin or take some photos. It's easy to think you are alone, there is no way out, that nobody understands what you are suffering but there are others going through similar things.

I'd better mention our wedding, or I'm in big trouble! Both Bridgette and I have wedding rings engraved with 10.10.16, the day we met. Just over two years later we were married. We had spent almost all of the intervening time on Skye, and really are living the dream.


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