Up we go


Where is the next red hold? Oh, there it is: around the corner. In order to reach it with my left hand, I have to secure my right foot, let go my left foot hold and swing my body over. Caught it. My hands are sweating: I’m getting tired. I glance down at my climbing partner. She smiles at me some 10 meters below. I’m not even halfway up the wall. It is not the time to get tired. I turn my head forwards and focus on the red dots above me. Up they go forming a nice vertical path. I take a breath and start following them.

“I wish I could like climbing”, my friend said when I took him climbing with me over the summer, “but I just don’t feel good on the wall”. It is normal to feel uncomfortable above the ground. The studies show that the human beings have naturally a slight fear of heights. However, a little bit of nervousness and adrenaline is fun. The feeling when you have not been climbing for a long time and take that first fall with an auto belay is wonderful. Is it really going to secure my fall or am I going to drop down like a rock?

Even though acrophobia, the fear of heights, is claimed to be one of the most common phobias (I could not find credible sources to verify this statement circulated on the internet) there are plenty of people in the world who enjoy heights. Enough so that it is profitable to build an indoor climbing centres. The world’s largest indoor climbing arena is located near Edinburgh. Of all the places they build the largest one in Scotland! That actually makes sense, since the outdoor climbing season in Scotland is short and dispersed because of the rain and cold.

Edinburgh International Climbing Arena, just call it Ratho, has hundreds of climbing routes for sports climbing and bouldering. There are routes ranging in difficulty from 2 to 8b (French grading) something for everyone from a first timer to a competent climber.  Over there a father gives instructions for a little kid who dangles on the wall. On the wall next to them a teenage girl spurts up making her friend grin as she tries to keep up with belaying her. Two walls to the left an experienced climber warms up with a 7a route.

The highest routes in the arena reach 28 meters, promising a good exercise for any sports climber. People on the walls move upwards like little ants following a set route. When they reach the top they mimic spiders and lower themselves down with the rope. Every now and then sudden chinking fills the air when someone falls from the wall and the rope catches the bolts and tightens in the hands of the belayer. There is no shouting or aggressive behaviour. Just focused faces, tense muscles and wide smiles. Well, there is some shivering as well. Being an old quarry, the climbing arena is rather chilly. Big hall does not store heat well and the only way to keep yourself warm is to move. To climb.

Even though I’m already too tired to climb, I tie myself to a rope. I am wearing a wool sweater and leg warmers: not a very sporty outfit. I’ll climb this easy route up and then belay my partner. Maybe the rest of our group is ready to go after that. If not, I’ll just choose another super easy wall to keep myself warm, or maybe I should retreat to the cafe and buy a steaming hot cup of tea…

Sunny Woods


img_5581“The sun is shining!” Do you know what that means in Scotland? it means that people in the room turn to gaze through the window and say: “Ay! It is beautiful, isn’t it”.

On a sunny day Scotland is charming. That is the time to go outside and take a wee walk. Right next to Stirling there is a small town called Bridge of Allan. It is an old spa town but there are no spas to be seen. However, the town has a space perfect for relaxation – the relaxation of the mind. The soft hills behind the town are covered with parks and forests. They provide a calm green space and offer a break from the traffic, noise and stress. You don’t have to go far, you don’t have to stay long, and you don’t have to pay a penny for it.

The woody area has several sections: Mine Woods, Mid Woods and Low Woods. Maybe there are more to be found if you explore the area very carefully. The Mine Woods is a popular area for locals to take their dogs for a walk or trainers for a run. In the midst of the woods there is an old disused Wolf’s Hole Quarry where local climbers go bouldering. These high rocky walls offer a great place for a fun vertical exercise.

The easiest way to get up to the woods is from the far end of the Bridge of Allan. Nearby the train station, before crossing the bridge, there is a stone fence on your right hand side. In that fence, there is a gap that takes you to a path. The path starts climbing the hill through the woods. Soon there is a sign welcoming you to the Mid Woods. Then it is up to you, where you want to go. You can follow the main path and end up to the park. Cross the park to the Wolf’s Quarry and head to the Mid Woods and check out the golf course which is on the other side of the woods. When you decide to leave the  woods you’ll get to walk on the streets of a little wealthier neighbourhood. Large Victorian houses and their high stone walls with iron fences are almost as interesting as the woods itself. Those houses live on the hills above the town, enjoying the peaceful atmosphere.

Definitely a good way to get some fresh air and enjoy the Scottish nature. Mind me, it is a thing to do on a sunny day, and autumn in Scotland is no autumn in Hawaii. If you say “the sun is shining” in Hawaii, the people will look at you: “I know. It always is”.