This Sunday’s blog is by small-business owner and avid wild-swimmer, Mary Shields. We hear from Mary about the seeds of her love for the outdoors and her favourite outdoor adventure on the West Highland Way.
Hey Mary, can you tell everybody where are you based and what you do!
I feel really lucky to live in the Tweed Valley. My home is in Stobo and I work at Traquair where I run the cafe and catering for Traquair House. As commutes go it’s hard to beat and when I occasionally get my act together, cycling to work is a very satisfying start to the day. My partner, Fin, is a fishing guide so our lives are very much tied in with the valley.
How long has the outdoors been a part of your life?
We moved from the suburbs of Manchester to rural Ayrshire when I was about eight. It could have been quite a shock to the system I suppose but I absolutely loved it. Our house was pretty remote so when I wasn’t at school it was me and my dog scrubbing about in the outdoors, rain or shine. After Uni. I worked for twenty years in Edinburgh but always hoped to be able to move back to the countryside and finally did in 2004.
What’s been your favourite trip or adventure?
I’ve done a few amazing walks abroad but I think walking the West Highland Way on my own after a particularly full on summer remains a really special one. I used to work in events and after a hectic Edinburgh Fringe, eight days of tramping along a beautiful path without having to talk to a soul or think about admin was heaven. The shift in landscape from the beginning to the end of the route is just stunning and as it was early autumn when I did it, the light and colours were amazing. I’d love to do it again, with my tireless young looper of a dog, Fig.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
The work I do is very seasonal - April to October is particularly full on, and physically taxing, so it can be hard to pursue healthy activities during these months. But I make time for swimming as much as possible, either at the pool or - ideally - in the Tweed which is close by at home and work. Like many people, I can struggle to make the effort but it’s always, always worth it. There’s been so much talk over recent years about the benefits of cold water and I would definitely vouch for that. (Although I draw the line at cold showers or ice baths).
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
My maternal grandparents. Summer holidays were spent at their home on Deeside. It was a bit Five Go Mad in the Highlands…shorts, plimsolls and scratchy jumpers, tartan blankets and flasks of tea. I suppose I fell in love with one of Scotland’s iconic rivers at an early age so it’s not surprising to feel so at home now by the Tweed. I also learnt respect for the water as there is a very poignant wee monument at the Lynn of Dee marking where a young woman drowned along with her fiancee who was trying to save her. It terrified me as a child and I have always been cautious around rivers as a result.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
In every way. Exercise always improves my mindset enormously but any time in the fresh air, even if it’s a cup of tea in the garden, has a positive impact. The Ruff Dugger recently took place at Traquair and there was such an extraordinarily happy atmosphere as people ran with their dogs. Definitely going to try to work up to that for next year.
What is it about swimming specifically that you love?
Swimming has always been my go to. I do swim in a pool regularly, but the best treat is a trip to the coast for a blast of freezing salty water and wave jumping, it’s just ridiculously exhilarating and levelling.
When did you discover FINDRA?
When I started working at Traquair in 2018. I hadn’t really spent much time in Innerleithen before that, but spotted the shopfront and immediately thought, that’s so cool, what’s going on in there? My first purchase wasn’t long after. There have been so many new businesses popping up, but Findra and No 1 Coffee Shop have really upped the game.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
If you want to be happy you have to be careful. (I think, as advice goes, it grows on you).
On writing this blog, what do you feel is the key motivational or inspirational message you would like to highlight to our followers that would inspire them to get outdoors more.
That it’s never time wasted and doesn’t have to be about driving yourself too hard. Just breathing in fresh air and enjoying the view can be as good as it gets.
There's maybe no space to share the actual recipe here but I was introduced to Queens Cake when I visited Telemark in Norway a few years ago. It's our biggest seller at the cafe and I've never seen it anywhere else. I've had many fabulous, outdoorsy holidays in Norway - where again swimming featured a lot-and this cake conjures happy memories.
Available to sample at the Garden Cafe at Traquair House and special featuring in my upcoming cook book...