Last week I was in a bookshop in Glasgow, perusing the outdoor bookshelves, and became absorbed in a tome about the West Highland Way.

“Is this you getting ready, then?” asked a friendly assistant, assuming I was preparing myself for a 96 mile walk.
“No,” I replied, “I actually walked the West Highland Way back in 2005. And now I live right on it.”
“Ah,” said the assistant, “you liked the walk so much you moved there?”
“Pretty much” I said.

I’ve been thinking about the West Highland Way a lot of late because it forms the focus of my new collection and book. Tom and I knew very little of this part of Scotland when we first set out, in September 2005, to walk from Milngavie to Fort William.

This morning I dug out the photographs from our walk (taken with one of those old disposable film cameras)

It is curious looking at these grainy snaps from 12 years ago, because this is a part of the world I now know so very well that I can pinpoint the exact location of every photograph.

But I can also vividly remember the thrill of first discovering this landscape twelve years ago.

Walking all the way from the Highland fault boundary in the south to Scotland’s highest mountain in the north is definitely a great way to get acquainted with the area!

Looking at these pictures it is hard not to reflect on our relative youth (we were in our early 30s)

And in my case — as these images were taken five years before my stroke — on the strength and stamina of my able-bodied self.

It seems completely extraordinary that I once had a body that could walk 96 miles in 5 days!

These days, the effects of my stroke impose a 5 mile limit on me before my leg and foot give up the ghost. But though the thought of completing the West Highland Way in a single continuous stretch is impossible, I can walk – just very differently.

Now I walk much more slowly and much more lopsidedly. I walk with a careful pace, with much attention, and often with some pain – but I know what my limits are. I also know a lot more about this landscape than I did back then.

As someone who once couldn’t walk at all, I am continually bowled over by the truly remarkable capacities of my post-stroke wonky body. I appreciate just getting out in this landscape in a way the able-bodied me could never have understood. And, from being a West Highland Way tourist twelve years ago, I now have the good fortune to call this place home.

Looking at our old pictures from 2005, I’m thinking that, as well producing a collection about the West Highland Way I should try to walk it again – in a different way, as a different kind of walker.

A project for next year, perhaps.

54 thoughts on “then and now

  1. Thank you Kate. I am new to this blog and just starting to read. Very grateful for your generous sharing. I miss walking and hiking so so much. Still practicing and learning in recovery. The trust comment resonated with me today, thank you❣️

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  2. This post makes me want to leap…leap for joy, leap into a different world, leap into endless possibilities. I walked many places in the Highlands last summer…a few stretches of the WHW but opted to forgo walking the entire stretch. Too many people for me but your post has me thinking otherwise. Perhaps earlier or later in the summer would be better. Oddly, I feel at home in the Highlands although I’ve spent collectively about 2 weeks of my life there…but there’s something about this magical, mystical land that speaks to me. Oh the possibilities. Thank you for sharing this part of the world with the rest of us.

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  3. Thanks for this post rich of memories and emotion.
    My husband and I did the WHW in September and – believe it not not – on the first morning I was always looking, if the 3 of you would appear around the corner. But of course you didn’t. ;-)
    We enjoyed our walk very much and I am crossing my fingers that you can in some future be able to walk larger parts of the way again. The landscape is so wonderful! As my blogposts are in German, they might not be of much interest for you, but you will find some pictures of this year.

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  4. Kate, I’ve followed you for years and now am moved to reply to your post. It is as beautiful and true as the landscape you live in and the designs you create. You’ve a strong soul, you’re inspiring. Thank you.

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  5. How did you overcome your fear? Two miles, maybe, is the most I can do now. My husband found a flatish trail in the state park we visit. I was so grateful. He went on to climb the bluffs and I mase it to and fro with my walking sticks. Sometimes though, I just hide indoors. Even when the day is glorious. Because I don’t know when my ankle is going to give out.

    How lucky I am to have even that much.

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    1. Stopping thinking of myself as determinedly independent and becoming comfortable with interdependence allowed me to lose my fear. Adaptive technologies (like your sticks) walking with the companionship of a dog or human and – most crucially – a basic level of trust in other people – are what help me most.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this. Having gone through a much less drastic loss of function in one leg, and subsequent regaining of ability, I really recognize that feeling of awe and joy in what I can now do – even though it’s not the same things I could do then. And, as always, I love the photographs! (And now you’re making me want to come hike the Highland Way…)

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  7. Hey Kate, I really hope you do walk it again next year. It’s incredible to see someone with such strength. Very inspiring! And I love the pictures, really brings out the beauty of the scottish countryside.

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  8. Hi Kate, I just discovered your blog and how lucky I was to read this post first! You come across as so inspirational and genuine. I enjoyed reading your words very much. ☺️

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  9. I’ve not walked the West Highland Way but I certainly know the end of it and the Glen Coe area. Seven years ago, almost to the day, I went on a hiking holiday in the area, absolutely fell in love with Scotland, and met my partner, which resulted in my moving to the UK and while I don’t live in Scotland, I’m very lucky to be able to holiday there every year. The West Highland Way is on the list as are so many other stunning parts to explore. My partner always likes going up really high; for me, I’m just as happy being down in the landscape as looking down on it from a mountain top. Walking, for me, is just about being out in the fresh air, feeling and appreciating your body, no matter what it can do, and enjoying the silence and beauty of nature. I have absolutely no doubt you’ll walk the full West Highland Way again – at your own pace – and will enjoy and savour it every bit as much as you did the first time.

    Lovely post and I can’t wait for your new pattern collection.

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  10. I walked the WHW alone a few summers ago, and found it as lovely as you say. Funny to think I was probably walking right by your front door at some point (I spent a good portion of the bus trip back from Ft. William working on one of your patterns!). There are a few trips in my life that I would never repeat–not because I didn’t enjoy them, but because I prefer to leave them perfect in my memory. I do think the WHW would be a wonderful route to do in stages, revisiting. Slow and steady wins the race!

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  11. This past year I went from walking 5 or 6 miles a day on the beach [which I thought was a lot!] to walking zero, due to autoimmune inflammatory hip arthritis. I have slowly come back, yes with limitations such as you describe. I can now walk slowly, maybe 2 miles, most on pavement, sandy beach walking is much harder. But that is better than not walking at all.
    Your home is beautiful, so inspiring.

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  12. Kate, all of your posts inspire me… I write to say I think it’s AMAZING that you can do 5 miles with your wobbly and wonky walk. I am not sure that i can do 5 miles, even though I have not had a stroke. Truly, you both knit and walk circles around me.

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  13. Based on these photos, and other recent ones, my impression is that the current you, while lacking the “strength and stamina” of the you of 12 years ago, is nevertheless a more contented, healthier person. I do hope you have another go at the walk.

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  14. Absolutely you can walk the Highland Way again, differently. Going slower, you’ll see even more of it. If we all do what we can do, we’re ahead of the game. Good luck!

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  15. I consider myself a superwoman for walking 5 miles a day. Many of my 69 year old friends are much more sedate these days. Thank you for all the positive energy you give. It helped me a lot when I had a bad fracture. I am glad you live in such a beautiful spot.

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  16. Thank you for transporting me there and sharing these moving reflections of how life changes us and our appreciation for the simple things often grows with those changes. This is surely a trek to add to my ever-growing bucket list of travel musts, but 96 miles in 5 days is quite a feat at any age!

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  17. Thank you, yet again, for bringing back wonderful memories of times spent with my late husband in a very special part of the world. We never walked The Way, but explored so many places from Glasgow, Loch Lomond (just that amazing view out across the Loch brings it all back), Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe, Fort William………with off shoots to Glen Etive and Oban, and north to Mallaig and Sunart…….

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  18. Kate:
    Thank you for the beautiful post, reflection, and pictures. It was also good to see Bruce! Your comment about “strength and stamina” struck me, because while you were mournful about your old strength and stamina (in a physical sense) I am continually struck by your strength and stamina in a more human way. You have addressed what has come at you with emotional strength and stamina and offered a glorious perspective for all of us; it was hard fought, but equally remarkable.

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  19. <3 You, Kate. You are my Hero. [Ps. lovelovelove my snood: feels like YOU giving ME a hug *BLISS*] Thank you for being so awesome.

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  20. What a wonderful post – I started following your blog to read about knitting, but I love reading your posts about Scotland. You make me want to come and walk all day with my dogs and a sandwich in my backpack!

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  21. lovely post. You are fortunate to have these photos to prompt you to compare and contrast where you were 12 years ago. Most of us have seen changes in capacity and knowledge over the years, but not as clearly demarcated as yours. I suspect you could, indeed, walk the length of the way again. Who is to say if your old way or your new way is preferable? I expect that you will appreciate the accomplishment more today than young Kate did then. And you will notice more because of the slower pace. And yes, it will take longer and be harder. So many things do and are.

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  22. Thank you, Kate. I can’t thank you enough for this post. It was a lovely start to a rainy day as I sat here with my morning coffee. My husband And I were able to see some of this incredible landscape when we visited Scotland this last March. We fell in love with the area as you did and look forward to returning very soon. I hope and pray you walk the West Highland Walk again soon in your own way. I look forward to your blog posts.
    Love, Janice

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  23. Thank you for sharing the stunning images of this walk- very tempting…future project?

    Your reflections on your ‘post-stroke’ body have me thinking that you probably enjoy the walk more fully than you did then: your regained mobility with its ‘wonkiness’ forces you to appreciate every fleeting moment of the walk & landscape in a way your former self couldn’t, probably focused on the goal rather than the moment you are living now.
    I’m speaking for myself as although I did not suffer a stroke, but rather a torn achilles tendon, I enjoy the ‘act’ of walking while minding my own (very minor, believe me) physical limitations more than in the past where a ‘jog’ was a 5km: my on & off runs provide much more pleasure since I know the feeling of not being able to get around without crutches.

    Thank you again for sharing your insights, the beauty of Scotland and for provoking this personal reflection on enjoying the daily beauty of life.

    Nathalie

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  24. As ever Kate your post is both joyful and inspiring. I have only walked sections of the West Highland Way but being a native Glaswegian, exiled in Yorkshire for the last 30 years, I am a frequent visitor and love the countryside and views you describe, and Tom photographs, so well. Many people having suffered a stroke as you did, and so young, would have believed their walking days were over but I’m sure you cherish your short walks as much as you did your great hikes and your readers benefit too. I just want to know how you get this weather. I swear that the clouds watch for us passing Gretna and the rain appears, without fail, just as we pass Bothwell. Apart a rail trip we did 4 years ago in October by rail all the way up from Doncaster via the Settle Carlisle line to Fort William, then next day on the Jacobite steam train to Mallaig and the next on the West Highland Line over Rannoch Moor. Utterly stunning and blue skies all the way. Magical.

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  25. I am sure you will continue to meet your goals Kate, just in a different way. Your achievements over the past 12 years, your recovery from your stroke and your amazing ability to keep your ideas flowing, both for your business and personal goals is truly inspiring. With all my best wishes, Sue

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  26. Hi Kate thank you for such a lovely post. I was thinking, you remind me of Nan Shepherd and I wonder if the difference in how well you can cover ground has led to a shift similar to her thinking. In her writing she says that in her youth she used to just try for the peaks but by the time of her writing she is experiencing the mountain in minute detail, just wandering and seeing. I feel like that sometimes when I’m walking and when I do stop and sit in the heather I just see more and more and more around me.

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  27. Your love of Scotland is what inspired my husband and I to travel Scotland for our honeymoon in 2012. Our main destination was the Shetlands, but we ended up traveling throughout Scotland, including Fort William. I still regret that you were unable to meet while we were there. We hope to return one day and share it with our sons Iain and Aiden.

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  28. great stuff, I d love to hear more about your walking recovery. I had a serious stroke almost two years ago and lost the use of much of my left side and couldn’t walk at all. I now walk slowly but in a very laboured wY. my stroke happened shortly after my son and I had completed the Cleveland Way 11 0 miles in north Yorkshire across the hills and down the coast. I miss it terribly and haven’t been able able to get to the hills again but it remains a goal. I am fortunate though to live opposite woodland in South London so can get out among the trees. thanks for your post s, yo do give me hope. and your pictures have roused my desire to get out there again. I hope you can get out on the West Highland way again look forward to hearing about it. all power to you.
    Tony

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  29. We don’t appreciate what we have until we lose it. And, with the loss, new insight can come, as it has with you. I cry at the loss of our habitat and wildlife, of all the natural resources that are being ravaged by corporate interests here in the US. It seems like Scotland is more sensible and Europe, in general, appreciates nature more than our current leaders here. So, walk, wobbly and crooked if you must, and enjoy every minute of it! Be relieved that you do not have to witness the destruction that is happening here, both by Nature and by Man.

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  30. Found your post very moving. I have a similar affection for the Cotswold Way here in Gloucestershire. Thankfully, not a stroke but RA, has restricted my walking range, but you’ve given me a ‘push’ to attempt the few unfinished bits of the route. I’ll take my knitting for regular rests!

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  31. Hello Kate, i am a french woman 66 years old now. I walked alone all along the West Higland Way in 2006. A wonderfull souvenir.
    I love Scotland so much. 5 years i’ve not been there. I missed it so much.
    Walking everywhere, sleepind in Youth Hostels, meeting Scottish… I must return.
    Perhaps, i’ll meet you on this incredible way with needles in your hands.
    I also knit.
    Excuse me for my bad english!!!
    Chantal

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