Time Away From The Desk Is Vital #writing #nature #mentalhealth #health #exercise

Picture shows bluebell woodland path with beautiful sunrise through the trees and shafts of light

Word of the Month: Exercise

Now I’m no athlete, that’s for sure, but maintaining a degree of physical fitness is important to me. I’m fortunate and grateful to be in good health and of course I’d like to keep it that way. So taking time out of my working day at the writing desk for some daily exercise seems to me to be a no-brainer.

And my go-to form of exercise is definitely walking. I get out for a walk most days and usually walk for an hour or so. I’m lucky enough to live in a lovely Scottish village with woodland, riverside, hill and country track walks on my doorstep. So it’s no hardship to get out walking and I really don’t have to force myself to do it. In fact I miss it if other stuff gets in the way and I can’t get those vital steps done.

However, the walking thing isn’t only about getting my heart pumping and keeping those muscles and bones strong. It’s about my mental health and my creativity levels too.

For me, nothing beats a brisk walk for working off all those pesky stress hormones. Walking in the outdoors, hearing the birds sing, seeing the sky, the trees, and feeling the sun, wind, or even the rain (I’m in Scotland remember), all help to clear the head and lift the spirits.

But as well as the physical and mental benefits, I’ve found there’s a third benefit to be had. I’ve discovered that the creative part of my brain likes a walk too. I’ve lost count of the number of times when, while out for a walk, I’ve solved that pesky problem I’ve been having with the plot of the novel I’m working on at the time. Or I might have a light bulb moment about a character or a tricky piece of dialogue. And, I have to say, I’m rarely actively thinking about my writing when these breakthroughs and ideas pop into my head. It just happens.

So, yes, here’s to exercise and its multiple benefits.


And speaking of writing, I’m busy doing the final quarter of the current work-in-progress – and I’m loving how the story is unfolding. The working title is Happiness Cottage. It’s a contemporary romance – of course – and it’s set in a fictional village the Scottish Borders. I’m intending for it to be the first in a series of books all set in the same place with a different main couple in each. So although the books to come will all be able to be read as standalones, there will be a chance for series followers to catch up with characters they’ve met in previous books.

I’m enjoying the sparks that go off whenever grumpy farmer Aidan is with Australian visitor Lori and can’t wait to right the romantic ending.

However, setting up a series and inventing a whole community including a village and its neighbouring town is quite a challenge. But more about both these aspects in future posts.


Another great form of exercise in terms of our brains is, of course, reading. Along with the walking, and the writing it’s another thing I couldn’t do without and I always like to share the best of the books I’ve been reading here on the blog. And this month it’s a shout out for An Italian Island Summer by Sue Moorcroft, a favourite author of mine. Safe to say I loved it. I loved the Sicilian island setting, the two troubled main characters and the oh so romantic story. I can highly recommend this book as the perfect summer read.

From the back cover:

Will one summer in Sicily change her life for ever?

After her marriage falls apart, Ursula Quinn is offered the chance to spend the summer working at a hotel on a beautiful island off the coast of Sicily, Italy. Excited by a new adventure, she sets off at once.

At Residenza dei Tringali, Ursula receives a warm welcome from everyone except Alfio, son of the Tringali family. He gave up his life in Barcelona to help his mother Agata with the ailing business, and is frustrated with Ursula’s interference – and she in turn is less than impressed with his attitude. As they spend more time together, though, they begin to see each other in a different light.

But what with Ursula’s ex-husband on her tail, family secrets surfacing and an unexpected offer that makes Alfio question his whole life, there’s plenty to distract them from one another. Can she face her past and he his future, and together make the most of their Sicilian summer?

It’s available in paperback and ebook in bookshops and online.


So, yes, for me as writer and as a human being exercise in all its forms – whether it be for the body, mind or the imagination are all vital.

As always feel free to comment below with your thoughts on exercise or anything else you’d like to respond to from this post. And thank you for reading!


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My latest novel is contemporary romance Baby Steps.

It’s available as an ebook and as a paperback and you can buy it HERE

If you’ve read it already please do consider leaving a review at the buy link above. Reviews no matter how brief are so helpful and I appreciate every one.

To find out more about all of my books just go to the BOOKS page HERE on the website.

Anne’s Good Reads – The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane


‘…it is about a road which begins many miles before I could come on its traces and ends miles beyond where I had to stop.’ Edward Thomas

I only became aware of author, Robert MacFarlane, this time last year when I read a review of The Old Ways by Roger Cox in the Scotsman newspaper. He’s certainly a writer I wish I’d heard of sooner.

Macfarlane is an award-winning travel writer and is a Fellow of Emmanuel College Cambridge. His writing is most definitely not of the guidebook variety. Rather it’s about where the human heart and soul meet the heart and soul of landscape. The author himself describes this book as the third in a ‘trilogy about landscape and the human heart’. (The other two being ‘The Wild Places’ and ‘Mountains of the Mind’). Travel for Macfarlane is as much a philosophical, inner journey as it is a physical and outward one. His writing reminds me of the work of Richard Mabey and Kathleen Jamie. His relationship with topography, and the natural environment in general, is reminiscent of John Muir.

My favourite form of exercise is walking. As well as the physical benefit there is also a mental/emotional one too. I know I do my best unforced, free thinking when I’m out walking. Just the act of striding out is usually enough to put problems in perspective, to offload stress and to unblock creativity.

And anyone who walks for recreation, who walks to clear their head, who walks to reconnect will relate to this book.

It is the story of walking a thousand miles. It’s divided into four sections – Tracking which consists of walks in England, Following where the walks are all in Scotland, Roaming in which the walks take place abroad and Homing which is back in England again.

The Old Ways of the title are the trails, tracks, holloways, drove roads, paths and causeways that humans have marked out throughout their existence on the planet. Some of these ways are still visible – others not (except to the trained eye).

His description of ‘footplinths’  – the result of the melting of loose snow around footprints which leaves a raised impression of a walkers earlier footfall through snow – is but one example of Macfarlane’s exceptional take on how we humans make our mark. Coming across his own ascending footprints whilst descending a mountain is, he says, ‘an encounter with altered traces of an earlier self’ and these ghostly marks are also like signs of ‘an inverted spectral presence striding through the solid earth like we stride through solid air’.

I loved the fact that in the index of places walked in Tel Aviv sits between Tarbert and Tomintoul. I also loved that one of the walks is in Palestine and that Macfarlane’s walking companion was Raja Shehadeh, whose book Occupation Diaries I reviewed here last week.

Other locations for Macfarlane’s  walks include the Cairngorms, the Western Isles, the Ridgeway in the south of England, Spain and Tibet. Along the way he refers to the writing of Nan Shepherd, the Scottish climber and writer and Edward Thomas, English poet, essayist and natural historian. He is accompanied on some of the walks by a variety of people whom he describes as pilgrims – artists, sailors, a geologist and mountaineers.

What links it all is Macfarlane’s sublime prose and his way of seeing the landscape. He describes a deep vertical connection that is experienced when walking – a connection through time and space from the earth’s core to the stratosphere and beyond – from ancient times to the present and into the future, from earliest humanity to our own modern lives. At times, reading this book you will move briskly – at others you will pause – backtrack -reflect and then move on – much like the walking of the way itself. It’s certainly a journey worth making.

‘The Old Ways’ is published by Hamish Hamilton and is available in bookshops and on Amazon.

Travels in Time and Space

View of North Uist from Skye

Last Saturday, after almost three weeks of mist and showers, the thick layer of grey cloud that had been pressing grimly down on the Hebrides, cleared away and the sun shone on the north of Skye.

We – that is me, the husband and our house guests for the past week, the daughter and her boyfriend – grabbed boots, waterproofs, walking poles and backpacks and headed out on a hike. Waternish Point was our destination. Having parked the car opposite the ruined church at Trumpan, we set off.

It’s an eight mile, circular route to the lighthouse and the deserted settlement  of Unish on the northern tip of Skye’s Waternish peninsula. We’ve done the walk several times before and it’s always delightful. This time was no exception.

As we set off along the rough cart track, I already felt better. I think I’d begun to suffer from an out-of-season bout of S.A.D. during our mostly dismal July. I guess the full spectrum light went straight to my sun-starved pineal gland. The sky was an almost cloudless blue and the sea air was invigorating.

The walk goes over heather moorland and peat bog. Because of all the recent rain, the going was very wet in places but our walking boots and waterproof trousers did their jobs. There was a fair bit of scrambling and jumping to be done to avoid the deeper puddles and the squelchier areas of muddy bog. But that all adds to the fun.

Ferry heading for Lochmaddy, North Uist

The view westwards to the Outer Hebrides, as always, made us stop and stare. Over a glinting, sparkling sea crouched the island of North Uist. As we watched, a small, white-sailed boat made good progress in the strong breeze. The Cal-Mac ferry also appeared round the headland on its regular and frequent route from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy on Uist.  And looking north there was Harris – its purple mountains and white sandy beaches seemed very close on this bright, clear day. I thought again how we really must make the effort and go and visit the Western Isles. We can see them from our living-room window but have never ventured over.

Crossing the burn

We continued on our way. We crossed a shoogly, makeshift bridge over the fast- flowing burn – its water peaty brown.

and the burn flows on...

The moor was covered in purple heather, and thistles bordered the path. Yes – living Scottish clichés.

Aye, the bonny Scottish emblem 🙂 (YES- I know, nobody talks like that!)


And the bonny, bloomin' heather. Okay I'll stop now.

There were plenty other, less emblematic, wildflowers on show as well. Red clover, purple knapweed, wispy white cotton grass, buttercups, daisies, rosebay willowherb, white meadowsweet and angelica – all bloomed in colonies, clumps, singly and in swathes – depending on their preferences.

clover, meadowsweet and angelica

I heard curlews calling, probably from their nests out on the moor, but didn’t actually spot any of these shy birds. I did see a little wheatear sitting on a rock beside the path – it flew off as soon as I approached – and shag circled and called overhead all along the walk.

We passed below two cairns –monuments to John and Roderick Macleod, a father and son, who both died in a clan battle with the Macdonalds in 1530. We also pass the ruins of two hilltop Iron Age (about 200BC) brochs – or ‘duns’ to use the Gaelic name – Dun Borrafiach and Dun Gearymore. Duns were stubby, cone-shaped, circular buildings. They were fortified dwellings, built using the dry stone technique – a technique still in widespread use. They would have had staircases leading to different levels and would have provided shelter to both animals and humans.  The clear and open view from both duns would have meant it would have been very difficult to take the residents by surprise.

Remains of Dun Borrafiach - Iron Age hilltop dwelling

I paused, as I always do below the these ancient homes, trying to imagine the lives of the Picts – these pre-Scots – who’d have lived, loved, raised children and died here. The physical landscape would be the same, apart from the cart track. They’d have grown root vegetables and raised cattle, sheep and pigs much like modern Highland crofters. Yes, life was probably more’ nasty, brutish and short’ than now, but I guess their daily pre-occupations were similar to our own. Standing by the remains of their homes never fails to inspire images of the ancestors who gathered and piled the stones and worked the land. Pictish genes are probably present in many present-day Scots and standing on the same land, looking at the same sea and mountains, hearing the same birdsongs has the effect of telescoping the intervening time between us and them. And last Saturday, as I stood where they’d have stood, differences of pace and technology fell away and it was the similarities that remained.

After the duns, the track bends slightly eastwards and we got our first glimpse of the lighthouse. Sighting the lighthouse spurred us on just as we were all flagging. We picked up the pace and strode on. We passed a rabbit warren on the left of the track and paused to watch several of the residents scampering about.


 Soon we turned left and headed west once more, following the sheep track down towards the former crofting township of Unish. Only one house remains – roofless, granite-grey and stark against the landscape. The other houses and byres are reduced to a single layer of stone marking out their boundaries. The former residents were burned out and driven off their land during that most infamous period in Scottish history, the Highland Clearances. From the 1840s to the 1870s, landlords oversaw these enforced removals in order to replace poor, low yield, peasant farmers with much more profitable sheep. Their former tenants were forced to emigrate. Even on the brightest day, the atmosphere around Unish is eerie and haunting. I got a completely different feeling standing in this rubble from what I’d experienced further back at the duns. This time there was no connection – just a sense of sadness and dislocation.

Last house standing - Unish

We climbed up a small hill above Unish and sat in sight of Waternish’s rather short and stubby lighthouse. We had a welcome snack – kitkats and water, took photos of each other as trophies of our hiking achievement and then just sat for a while, a part of this ancient and timeless landscape.

Trumpan church

We returned, simultaneously footsore and exhilarated to the car park at the church where our walk had begun. I spent some moments in the ruined church before getting into the car. The story goes that Trumpan church was burned down by members of the clan Macdonald, in 1580, while their enemies the Macleods worshipped inside. So this is another place of ghosts. I sat on the old lichened wooden bench and reflected for a bit on how hundreds of years later we still allow carnage to take place, justified by our tribal concerns, jealousies, beliefs and mutual mistrust – only the size of the stage has changed. I think reconnecting with the landscape makes a person see how pointless a lot of the conflict was and is.

Lichen encrusted bench

Doing the walk again and sitting in the churchyard was a bit weird for me at times, as the two main characters in my new novel – the work in progress – take this same walk and talk about displacement and dislocation, two of the novel’s main themes. I half expected to meet the pair of them. Writing fiction can mess with your head!

Graveyard at Trumpan church

And then we were home. Boots kicked off by hot, grateful feet, chilled beers and slices of cake (baked earlier by the daughter) swiftly downed.

Daughter and I cooked dinner together – something we both enjoy doing whenever she’s home. We made a creamy, beef stroganoff. Daughter’s boyfriend had not yet experienced this culinary family favourite, and this would be a further initiation into Stormont customs for him. He quickly cleared his plate – approval enough – relief all round.  This was an end-of-holiday meal for the two young people. Their week with us passed too quickly. Heck the daughter’s whole childhood passed too quickly. They’d be returning to their lives in the city the next morning. I was missing them already – and that breath of fresh air our children bring to us.

Saturday was a lovely day and one when I was aware of the landscape – internal and external – and more than usually aware of the passage of time.

The long view...