Friend of FINDRA Penny Zannikos talks about the outdoors and a recent trip from her home in York to the Highlands of Scotland to bag some Munros and traverse the legendary Aonach Eagach ridge in Glencoe.
Hi Penny, for any FINDRA followers who’ve not heard from you before, can you tell where you live and what you do?
Currently I’m based in York and while there not much in the way of remote locations on the doorstep, you can be in some great places in just over an hour and to some of my favourite spots within 3-5 hours.
We’re all currently in strange times and this has seen a change in employment for me where I took the decision to focus on my Yoga Teacher Training qualification and our relocation plans – only 10 years later from when I first decided it was something I wanted to do, all whilst running our Airbnb. I also have a big birthday coming up, so I knew this was the year for change.
How long has the great outdoors been a part of your life?
I guess I rediscovered my love for the outdoors just over 4 years ago when my eldest daughter was moving to New Zealand and my youngest daughter was moving to London for University. I knew it was going to be a struggle so I had to find something to help me get through this life transition. My daughter looked into local clubs and said ‘this is the one for you’. It was York Mountaineering Club. My only question was ‘why did I wait so long?!’
What has been your favourite trip or adventure?
As it’s so fresh in my mind and my heart is still so full of the excitement, views and colours, I have to tell you about my recent trip in October to the West Highlands. It was supposed to be France, but for obvious reasons we changed plans and booked an Airbnb near Loch Earn in St Fillans. We were spoiled with our cottage; a river view to the front and mountain views to the rear, it was idyllic.
Blessed with decent, albeit slightly damp and windy autumnal weather, we decided to stretch our legs and warm up for bigger days by hitting the local Munro’s, Ben Vorlich and Stuc a’Chroin on the first day. This made us realise how much fitness we had lost and with our wee West Highland Terrier, Alfie in tow, we felt like amateurs.
However, an easier second day was had by following a huge track which led almost to the top of Ben Chonzie but as we neared the top the weather came in – sleet, hail, strong winds and poor visibility making the walk along the grassy shoulder far more interesting than its reputation as ‘the dullest Munro’. A rest day followed and we discovered a great deli in Comrie and what has to be the best sweet shop ever in Crief! We then prepared our kit ready for the next day with plans to traverse the Aonach Eagach Ridge in Glencoe.
Up before the sun, we arrived in Glencoe and parked up near The Clachaig Inn where we planned to finish the route, then took a short bike ride up the glen to the start of the route. I had been excited the night before but uncharacteristically quiet (and nervous) this morning. A steep but really enjoyable rocky path takes you to the top of the first Munro, Meall Dearg and the start of the ridge.
It really is a route that keeps on giving. There was a light breeze and low cloud which revealed and concealed the route, but the exposure increases as you progress by scrambling and down climbing. The best part of the route was saved until the end of the ridge as you manoeuvre through the rocky pinnacles. It was outstanding and you really feel you’ve earned your day out at the end with a steep walk to Stob Coire and a walk to the final Munro, Sgorr nam Fiannaidh. We celebrated in the Clachaig with Haggis and Whiskey while pipes played in the background – a poetic end to an incredible day.
A couple more rest days followed, then we were back to Glencoe to climb Curved Ridge and the two Munro’s of Buachaille Etive Mor (Stob Dearg and Stob na Broige) and my first time on The Buckle. I’ll remember it always for all the right reasons and an added bonus was the stunning decent and the walk along Glen Etive, full of wild swimming spots that we made a note to return to in future.
On our final day we climbed Schiehallion and once again blessed by weather that provided stunning views in all their glory from the summit. This was an incredible and memorable trip where I found my love of Scotland just grew endlessly: 8 Munro’s, 2 scrambles/climbs and over 60 miles on foot.
How do you make find a balance between being active and life’s other responsibilities i.e. work and family?
It’s much easier now that family has grown. Being active is an integral part of my life so making time for my love and passion is never a chore and it’s never hard to find time to be outdoors, no matter what the weather is doing.
Sometimes things in life have to take priority though, so during the week I treat it as my training time and focus on my daily yoga practice, running and walking Alfie – with the occasional climb thrown in to mix it up. At weekends it’s all planned around the weather so we decide when nearer the time whether we try to get away in the van or at least have one day in the hills, whether that’s hiking, trail running, climbing or mountaineering.
Is there anyone who inspired your love of the outdoors?
We are surrounded by so many inspiring and incredible people, I never cease to be in awe of. There are so many strong and courageous women showing us the way and encouraging us that we can do anything we want to do.
My true inspiration is my partner who has grown up with the outdoors. He encourages me to see and do more, always positive and reminding me of all I’ve achieved and what I’m capable of. He keeps the fire going in my belly and my curiosity for the outdoors alive and growing as we plan our next adventure.
Do you find that being outside has a positive impact on your wellbeing and mental health?
100%. I know I’d be a different person without the outdoors being a part of my life. My dissertation at University was based on the positive effects physical activity has on your mental health, and the results were conclusive. I am a strong believer in making time each day for ‘green space’ and vitamin D, even if this is just for 10 minutes during your lunch break. It can truly make a difference to your mind set.
What is it about Mountaineering specifically that you love?
Whether it’s hiking, Munro Bagging or Trail Running I just love covering distance on my own two feet, being self-supported by the truly amazing body with which we are all gifted and should use to each of our best abilities. I just love feeling my heart and lungs work and then being rewarded by nature and the views.
When did you discover FINDRA?
It was Kendal Mountain Festival in 2017 and I’ve never looked back! That festival was a crucial part of my love of the outdoors and at the heart of that is FINDRA. I went to the event ‘Women in Adventure’ sponsored by FINDRA and was totally inspired by Jenny Tough, Lee Craigie and Rickie Cotter, Megan Hine and Emily Chappell. So much so at the end I rushed to the FINDRA store at basecamp and bought my first Marin top, Betty Beanie and Merino Neck Warmer. I still have them today along with many other pieces which I absolutely love.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Finish what you start because no one else will finish it for you! This is a quote from the book ‘Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell: Adventurer, Linguist, Orientalist’ the quote was said to Bruce (who was our neighbour) by his friend Sandy Morton. It works hand-in-hand with advice I hear all the time – ‘the only way to become ‘hill fit’ is to get out in the hills and the only way to become good at something is to practice it’.
This is probably the best advice I’ve had which encourages me to just get out there and do it, you don’t have to be the best, it’s all about just being a part of nature and being outdoors.
In this post, 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?
I’ve discovered over the years that the only thing that stops me from getting out and doing things is me and I think many other people are like this too.
It’s ok to have a conversation with yourself about having fear, nerves or even imposter syndrome – this is normal – but don’t ever let it stop you from trying! It’s ok to not make it or not be the best, if you’ve tried for something and learnt along the way this is the biggest part of getting outdoors and having that great feeling.
As we’ve all heard many times, it’s the journey and all the amazing experiences along the way that really matter and make us grow and feel passionate – just take the plunge and go for it!
Thanks Penny, it’s been great chatting with you!
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Tales from the life of Bruce Wannell by Bruce Wannell
I have to say a book that was published this summer, written by a collection of friends and colleagues of our wonderful neighbour and beloved friend Bruce Wannell who we lost to cancer at the end of January. He has left a huge void which no one else can fill and the street is not the same without him.
The book is all about his life. He was one of the greatest Orientalist travellers of his generation, an adventurer, linguist, gifted musician, translator and teacher. He converted to Islam and lived through the Iranian Revolution, worked for a decade in the North West Frontier during the wars in Afghanistan. He could transcribe the most complex Arabic calligraphy by sight and spoke Persian with a dazzling poetic fluency as well as Arabic and Pashto. He spoke so many languages I can’t name them all.
This book is written with so much love. Anyone that met Bruce, whether it was just once or as a lifelong friend, was impacted by him in a such a way that could not be replicated. He has inspired me endlessly and still I always consider what Bruce would have thought or done in any given situation. He lives on through his friends. I cannot say how strongly I feel everyone should read this book! He lived his life his way, a true non-conformist and generous to the end.
If you’d like to check out his writing, the easiest way to find a copy is from Eland Books.
POEM OF THE WEEK
The Road not Taken by Robert Frost
It’s maybe a bit cliched and may seem a cop out, but I have loved this poem since I was at school and always felt it depicts me to the core. It is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I don’t think it needs an introduction as I’m sure we all know it and many of us love it.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
MUSIC OF THE WEEK
Take It by The Siege
I wouldn’t say this is my favourite as I have so many from all different genres but if we are talking about inspirational pieces or motivational songs that drive me it has to be this one. And, coincidentally it is the theme from the campaign video for Kendal Mountain Festival 2017 when FINDRA first became a part of my life – Take It by The Siege.
I have played this many times while driving for a big day in the hills or about to try a climb or ridge route. It gives me confidence and makes me want to just go for it, and it must be played loud!
The Siege – Take It