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On the road – or footpath – to recovery

By Ben MacGregor

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OUT AND ABOUT WITH RALPH: Gentle walks and getting back on the bike are all a step in the right direction after operation

Autumn colours at Sibster.
Autumn colours at Sibster.

It’s been a case of gradually doing more in the last few weeks. Recovering from an operation is a great reversal of the normal slow decline with age, every day you can do a bit more.

There’s that wonderful experience of actually walking out of the hospital you entered a few days earlier by the door forbiddingly marked ‘in-patients’. The first walk along the road outside the house. The first walk of a mile, just a week after the op, even if slow and sore afterwards.

Now I could manage it along the road to the wood, but it was another week or so before I dared to walk right round, which meant taking it very slowly and carefully over rough ground. After another week, I could manage four miles on foot.

This is when I really appreciate the gentle, easy walks. Even if you have little fitness or ability there is still much you can enjoy of the outdoors.

Just to wander along the Victoria walk or up the mall in Thurso, walks which have been lifesavers to many during the pandemic. Not quite the spectacular scenery of the wilder clifftops or the autumn colours of the Highland woods, but still wonderful to be able to get out and do.

And of course there is always Dunnet Beach and the easy sheltered paths in Dunnet Forest to take as slowly as you like.

Just south of Thurso are the woodland walks at Geise, lovingly created by the Millers – it’s less than two miles to walk round all of them. The path down to the river beside the Geiss Burn is the best. There’s a new owner now and a small charge for admission which unfortunately will put off many people from visiting.

In the wood.
In the wood.

It’s a difficult one, though, as I’m sure the money is needed to pay for upkeep and without maintenance the paths would soon be lost.

Then you have a couple of miles of well-made paths through the Sibster woods. I never believed that these trees would grow, they were planted about 10 years ago on former farm fields but are now big enough to provide some shelter and even some good autumn colours.

What is lacking is a small footbridge and short stretch of path linking the Sibster walks to Halkirk, people (and dogs) could then walk out from the village without needing to get into a car and drive to the Georgemas car-park.

Such a path would also provide a foot/cycle-way from Halkirk to the railway station. Come on, Halkirk village and community council, you have plenty of money available from the wind-farm funds!

It was four weeks before I attempted cycling, the main danger is of falling off. My first ride was just along the road and back on the mountain bike, I’ve yet to try the road bike with toe-clips!

A few days later came a successful round ride of about seven miles, then the first trip into Thurso for the shopping, including the 500 feet of climbing needed to get back home. Then a ride of 20 miles. Not quite the North Coast 500, but progress nevertheless.

I have thousands of trees to plant in the wood. Still lacking in energy and needing to take care on rough ground, I managed the first four in an afternoon, brushwood cleared, invasive salmonberry removed, stakes cut and carried, plastic tree-guards fastened – now the number is up to about 25. You know what they say about that journey of 1000 miles.

Planting trees.
Planting trees.

Another milestone was cutting half an acre of grass, I just needed to walk behind the mower for about three miles in total but it was quite enough for a day! Next to try is the strimmer, but the chainsaw will have to wait a few weeks yet.

Before getting back in the kayak I’ll try a boat out in the swimming pool. Anyone can turn up at seven on a Thursday evening at the Thurso pool if they wish to have a go at kayaking.

Just a week before my operation I was in a group rounding Dunnet Head and then paddling across Dunnet Bay at night – hopefully by New Year I’ll be back on the lochs and the sea again.

Almost anybody who doesn’t have anything seriously wrong with them can experience a steady improvement. Just push yourself to do a bit more each day, be adventurous, and make the most of this world while you’re in it.

What’s stopping you?

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