Faye MacLeod, the Managing Partner at Campbell Stewart MacLennan & Co, Chartered Accountants, writes about the recent charity challenge she and her colleagues undertook, having been inspired to do so by a co-worker’s cancer diagnosis…
I have just had the most incredible week of my life. It was tough at times, but hugely rewarding both personally and as a team, and we’ve also raised some funds for the charities we’ve been supporting as well along the way.
The motivation came in June 2020, when my younger colleague and good friend was diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was a real shock for her, but also for myself and our whole staff team. What could we do to help? Not a lot it seemed, and when your occupation is in service delivery and you are used to problem-solving, we collectively felt useless in these circumstances.
Having a relatively young colleague diagnosed with cancer really brought the ‘C’ word very close to home and made us all realise that it really can happen to anyone.
Nevertheless, we wanted to do something. We put our heads together and decided we would set ourselves a fundraising challenge to raise some money for some charities that could make a difference.
There are so many worthy charities to choose from, but in the end, we decided to raise funds for MacMillan Cancer Support and Counselling Care Skye and Lochalsh. Cancer and depression both affect so many of us either directly or indirectly at some time in our lives.
We had a few tame suggestions for fundraising at first before someone suggested climbing some Munros. One a month for six months? Possibly one a week for six weeks? Yes, that sounded like a challenge and one that we could manage, especially for those of us in our mid-40s who had spent most of our working lives sitting at a desk.
We decided to seek out the advice of the runner Hugh Campbell who didn’t actually think our challenge was challenging enough. ‘Six Munros in six days,’ he said. ‘Now that’s a challenge’. Without really thinking through the consequences, we agreed!
PLANNING AND PREPARATION
Hugh gave us lots of great advice on fitness, training, and nutrition and decided to aim for Spring 2021 which would give us about nine months to get ready. Our colleague Sharon took on the hefty responsibility of coordinating our preparation and the challenge itself.
We got going in September 2020 with a walk along Loch Sligachan from the Braes road end to Sligachan and back. We were completely useless! Most of us got home and fell asleep.
How were we going to complete six Munros with our level of poor fitness? Regardless we kept going with regular walks, Ben Tianavaig, Scorrybreac, Fingal’s Seat, even going out on winter evenings with head torches.
Our colleague Karen, who has always been a keen walker, would not let us stop and made sure we had the right kit and got into good habits.
Covid-19 was both positive and negative for us and our challenge. It was positive in the sense that our normal lives were on hold, so time that would normally be filled with social activities and travel ceased, freeing up time to walk at weekends and evenings.
However, we had the challenge of navigating the ever-changing coronavirus rules on social distancing. In some instances, we had to entirely cancel our planned walks, or at other times we were walking in pre-organised pairs. These restrictions and related uncertainly meant that our original plan to walk in Spring 2021 would not be possible so we delayed our challenge to late summer 2021.
We went on the hunt for a walking guide to lead us and were lucky enough to find Nate Jones of Skye Guided Walks who was willing to take on our motley crew.
From Spring, we stepped up a gear on our practice walks and started pushing ourselves harder, further, and higher. We have been rewarded with the most incredible views from the top of Beinn Edra, Marsco, and Glamaig for example as well as some wonderful coastal walks to the MacLeod’s Maidens, Waternish Point, and Rubha Hunish.
We really do live on a stunning island, and we have been so much more appreciative of this privilege throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Who needs travel or adventures further afield when it’s all on our own doorstep?
We’ve had a lot of help throughout the last year from several individuals such as Hugh Campbell who helped us not only with fitness tips but also with our social media using his business marketing skills.
Kirsty MacDonald, who is a physiotherapist, came and advised us on stretching and looking after our physical health. Donnie Montgomery has supplied us with Donnie’s Tablet Shed’s finest tablet to keep our energy levels up on our walks as well as raising an incredible £500 with a raffle prize of 2 kilograms worth of tablet.
Of course, Skye Guided Walks in the form of Nate and Lizzy Jones and Scotland’s hardiest dog ever, Olaf, have helped us immensely. Their enthusiasm for walking and climbing is truly infectious!
On Monday 9th August we gathered by the Glenbrittle Hostel where we embarked on our Challenge by climbing Sgùrr na Bannachdaich.
The conditions were good although we had some mist at the top which limited our visibility, and we had a couple of heavy rain showers on the way down. We made good time and were pleased that some of our practice walks had readied us well for the Munro challenge and that day one had gone well.
A few of our hardier walkers decided to submerge themselves in the river at the bottom to cool off. The main walking team was Sharon Munro, Holly Cullen, Sian Falconer, Kathleen Duguid, Kerry Lyall, and Faye MacLeod with a guest walker on Monday joining us – Tom Stewart.
On Tuesday 10th August, we headed towards Elgol to climb Blà Bheinn. We had a great day despite being accompanied by some midgies at the start and finish of the walk. It was a warm day with some challenging climbing and poor visibility at the summit.
On the way down we experienced some rockfall which echoed round the glen and luckily slowed down on its descent and stopped before reaching our spot halfway back down. Again, two of our adventurous walkers, Holly and Sian, enjoyed the pools at the bottom of Blà Bheinn.
Wednesday 11th August saw us move to the mainland where we congregated at Achnashellach, Strathcarron to climb Sgòrr Ruadh. It was damp and the air thick with midgies. The summit was misty, and we had no visibility.
The river had filled considerably due to the rainfall and on our descent, we had no option other than trudging through the river to knee height in the water. We were already wet, so a bit more water was going to make little difference to us. Reaching the roadside where our vehicles were parked with the promise of a dry change of clothing was an absolute treat.
Thursday 12th August – After a frantic evening of attempting to dry our kit, we made the early morning drive to Kintail, and we were glad of the dry conditions. At this point, the weather forecast was looking poor for the afternoon putting at risk the second summit planned for later in the day, and Friday’s forecast threatening lightening suggested that our Friday Munro could also be cancelled.
We were worried that our Six Munro challenge was in serious jeopardy as we made our way along the old road that runs from Cluanie to Tomdoun. We made quick progress to the point where we cut up towards Creag a’ Mhaim. The ascent was steep and made even more difficult by the strong gusts of up to 50mph – at times our faces felt like they were being pushed back towards our ears!
Nate warned us that if the wind conditions remained as strong at the summit that we would have no choice but to return the route of our ascent. We were glad that the wind calmed down when we reached the summit though and our second summit of Druim Shionnach was back on the agenda which was a relief as it would ensure that we would complete Six Munros by Saturday – even if Friday had to be cancelled.
Our descent saw us back at the Cluanie Inn before 3 pm when the heavens opened.
Friday 13th August – A wet start to Friday in Kintail, but with the threat of lightning removed, we decided to go with the original plan of tackling Ciste Dubh. An early start saw us back out in the rain, but we were determined to get up and back down as quickly as possible. We had some windy gusts on the summit, but good visibility gave us some fantastic views.
Our week’s walking must have been paying dividends though as we made it up and back down in five hours 20 minutes. We peeled off our wet gear by the roadside and were glad of the lunchtime finish to give us time to dry off and get some rest before our last day’s walking, although at this point, we had now actually managed to complete six Munros! That meant that Saturday was just for fun!
Saturday 14th August saw us back on home turf and we gathered at Sligachan for a slightly later start with the aim of hopefully getting some summit views for our last climb of Bruach na Frith. Our legs were starting to feel weary from the week’s walking so the main walking team was delighted to be joined by our colleagues Emma Stewart, Karen Waddell, and Sarah MacLeod as well as friend Ben Aris and our top social media follower, Tim Gedye.
We had a great day, and despite the threat of rain showers, we seemed to miss those by climbing up Bruach na Frìthe, and Nate’s timing of our walk was perfect as the views and visibility opened up just as we finished lunch and were about to climb to the summit.
After a few celebratory photos, we made our way back down the scree any way we could and made the long walk back to Sligachan. We were welcomed back to Sligachan by family and friends and enjoyed a very welcome drink at the Sligachan Hotel.
In six days, we walked seven Munros, clocked up over 50 miles, and ascended the equivalent of climbing Kilimanjaro!
We also raised more than our £10,000 fundraising target for two excellent charities, and I hope that we have also to some extent raised the profile of two health issues that affect many – cancer and depression.
The messages of support and donations from everyone supporting us have been a huge motivation to get us to the finish line.
We are physically fitter as a group and can honestly say that walking has been of great benefit to our own mental health. As an employer, I am delighted with the unintended benefits that the challenge has generated for us as a team.
Our whole team – and families – have participated in walks, bake sales, a teddy bear walk, organising the logistics of the challenge, and holding the fort back at our Wentworth Street office, while the walkers were off on the challenge, and we are all the stronger for it.
The benefits of walking and team building cannot be underestimated, and I would encourage other employers to support the mental wellbeing of their staff teams as the business benefits are very much worth the effort.
My colleagues and I will be proudly pointing out the Munros we have climbed for many years to come as we drive around Skye, Strathcarron, and Kintail, but I suspect our family and friends will bore quickly of our adventurous tales – you have all been warned!