Birks of Aberfeldy and Rob Roy Way
Discover the beautiful gorge at the Birks of Aberfeldy immortalised in the poem by Burns
John is registered blind. Along with his sight guide Lauren, they are on a mission show the world that blind or disabled people can do great stuff outside too.
We’re John and Lauren. Two best friends who go on little adventures together (in our matching T-shirts!). Getting outside for us is always fun. We particularly like climbing together and enjoy long days on the hill (which is just as well, because our progress is usually on the slow side!) John is registered blind and has around 3% vision. We’re on a mission show the world that blind or disabled people can do stuff outside.
We first bumped into each other at a couple of years ago at a social climbing evening. Lauren had no real experience of guiding blind people before then, but it didn’t really matter.
2 years on and she’s just about got the hang of not walking off without John and letting him know about low branches. We are now regular climbing partners, adventure buddies and best friends!
John is a member of the GB Paraclimbing team, and while we both enjoy climbing indoors and appreciate its importance, particularly for John who competes, it’s absolutely nothing like a day outside on real rock.
The great outdoors isn’t where we go to push our grades (although many do). For us, it’s about a day spent outside enjoying the scenery, in the fresh air, with friends and a flask of coffee.
Compared to climbing, walking can be a much tougher challenge for us. Most of the footpaths we use outdoors are only wide enough for one, and even on the rare occasion where there is room enough for two, the differences in terrain can make using the width difficult. This means that for the most part, John has to hold on to a backpack while Lauren leads the way describing features or tricky sections along the way.
We’ve come up with some interesting names for common features when out and about. Some are fairly obvious like ‘step up’ or ‘slippy rock’ but our favourite is ‘crevasse!’ which is usually just a small gap that needs stepping over. Mentally it can be draining, for John, using the vision he has to locate where to put his feet and for Lauren, constantly having to describe terrain and be aware of the extra person.
We look at maps to get an idea of what the terrain is likely to be like. Rough ground slows us down, so we might choose a route we think might be relatively smooth over one through a boulder field. Or equally, a steady scramble can be just as good as flat path.
Either way, we get going, fully knowing that whatever we want to do will take us extra time and concentration, but we rarely regret giving things a go.
We recently tried caving for the first time, and that was the closest we’ve ever come to regret! Several hours of being, cold, wet, and for John, slightly claustrophobic can do that to you!
While we do enjoy big hills, harder climbs and trying new things, for us, above all else, it’s just about getting outside and into the fresh air. A dodgy phone signal is a real bonus that allows us to shut off from the digital world, if even just for an hour or two.
We’d love to see more people outside and enjoying the outdoors because there are so many benefits both mentally and physically, so our advice is...
... just go for it, get out there, start small if you need to, but just do it!
There are some matching services for blind people and sighted guides if you felt like you wanted to help people get outside including those run by Guide Dogs and Deafblind UK. There are also many other local charities offering similar schemes.
You might also make any disabled people feel welcome within any groups you are part of or involved in. Sometimes, that might be all it takes.