The Smoky Smirr O Rain – My Scottish Highland Adventure
If you know your Scottish poetry, then you will be familiar with this poem by George Campbell Hay (written between 1946 and 1958).
‘A misty mornin’ doon the shore wi a hushed an’ caller air, an’ ne’er a breath frae East or West tie sway the rashes there, a sweet, sweet scent frae Laggan’s birks gaed breathin’ on its ane, their branches hingin beaded in the smoky smirr o rain.’
The word ‘Smirr’ in Scottish means a mist-like precipitation – you know what I mean – the rain that is so light that it’s an insult to call it rain, but boy, oh boy, it coats very evenly and you get wet – very wet and very quickly – and soon you are drenched!
This has happened so many times to me, and I guess to many other folk too. There have been many occasions when I’ve been out walking and it begins to ‘smirr’. So light is the rain that I haven’t bothered to put my waterproofs on.
“It’ll pass over!” I announce – looking at the sky that is gradually turning from blue to black, “It’ll be fine in a few minutes.”And a few minutes pass by and I’m wetter than an otter’s pocket.
Soaked to the skin.
If you’d have asked me in my previous life as a keen hillwalker (you know, before I took to wheeling everywhere) about what suitable outdoor clothes to wear on the fells, I would have said that I had a pretty good knowledge about choosing the right gear.
I knew about wicking tops and walking socks and getting the right boot fitted and layering up clothing. I must admit my final choice of clothing usually finished up being made by my preference for colour and style over anything that was practical or suitable. For long distance walks, when I was to carry all my gear, it came down to weight!
But despite, albeit, limited knowledge, I was often wet and cold and it was not a good feeling. Having water drip off the front of my hood and down my nose was miserable. Having waterproofs that leaked wasn’t funny.
Standing in a puddle with water going over the top of my boot wasn’t a joke either. I tend to lose my sense of humour when I’m wet and cold… In fact, I get ‘angold’ (angry and cold).
However, as a walker I did have a good chance of keeping warm by the body heat that I generated by keeping moving.
Unfortunately, as a wheelchair user, I have found this is not the case. Once you are cold and wet, it is very difficult to get warm again. In fact, I’d say, it’s impossible.
When I was planning to wheel the Coast to Coast back in 2015, I was worried about getting cold. A friend, who is a keen skier, told me to get some salopettes.
In The Spirit of Wainwright – Debbie North
“They are warm to wear and are designed to sit high up on your back … they will be perfect for you.” she said. So off I went to by some of these ski trousers, and of course, being me – I bought the cheapest pair that I could find. White ski pants with braces. Perfect!
Not the best move I have ever made:
Day 1 of the C2C – St Bees to Ennerdale Bridge – 14 miles
The day started with a ‘smirr’ but by the time we were leaving St Bees it was coming down in stair rods. When we reached Egremont, only four miles into my journey, I was sat in a puddle that had collected on the seat of my wheelchair. My salopettes had absorbed so much water that they had expanded. I was officially the size, shape and colour of the Michelin Man.
It was not good.
I was wet – very wet.
And cold – very cold.
In fact, I was very ‘angold’.
I had to stay like this until I reached Ennerdale.
I still had another ten miles to trek.
The salopettes have since found a new home in the charity shop in Keswick.
Having experienced the cold and wet all too often on my wheelchair walks in the hills around the Yorkshire Dales and The Lake District, I decided that enough was enough. I perhaps didn’t know enough about how to keep warm and dry out on the fells and that perhaps my outdoor clothing had seen better days.
It was time for something new.
We were planning a Highland adventure and for this it was decided that I would get some expert advice on what to wear. Off I went to the Cotswold Outdoor store in Covent Garden, London to get my expert advice.
It was here I met up with Szabi, who was going to kit me out with suitable clothing that would keep me warm and dry whilst I wheeled about in the mountains of the Cairngorms.
The first thing that impressed me with Szabi was his enthusiasm for his job. He was a mountaineer himself and knew only too well how important it was to get the correct clothing for an outdoor adventure – be it climbing up Kangchenjunga at 8,586m above sea level or taking on one of the Scottish Munros – which was my plan for my Highland expedition.
It mattered not to Szabi that I was in a wheelchair. He didn’t think me ‘mad’ or ‘bonkers’ when I told him my plans. He simply said, “Well let’s have a look and see what we can do for you.”
I must have been with Szabi for the best part of an hour.
He explained the different types of base layer that are available and the importance of layering my clothing. He showed me different jackets and waterproof coats and explained what ‘waterproof’ and ‘water resistant’ meant.
He showed me different types of hats and socks and fleeces but, most importantly for me, he advised me on the best ways of keeping my hands warm, for it is my hands that get cold the quickest – to the point that they hurt.
I can see why Szabi is called an expert – as he certainly knows his stuff.
Following Szabi’s advice, I bought some new base layers, some gloves, a coat, some socks and a hat.
I was already for my Scottish adventure.
Two week later I was in the Cairngorms National Park.
And what an adventure I had.
I am absolutely thrilled to say that I bagged two Munros.
Carn Na Caim at 941m and Cairn Gorm at 1245m
And I stayed warm and dry
Despite the Scottish ‘Smirr’.
Thank you, Cotswold Outdoor
And thank you, Szabi.