MarySmith’sPlace ~ Cancer Diary #13

Monday, November 30: It’s now ten days since my last chemo and the side effects this time have lingered. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. If I knew I was facing another two cycles I’d be in despair. At one point this time I said, “If this is as bad as it gets – and it lifts, then I can cope. If this is as good as it gets – and it doesn’t lift, then it’s enough.”

Yes, I know some people go through many more cycles of chemo. I’m in awe of them. I don’t know how they do it. I really don’t think I could. I know some people have far worse side effects than I’ve had – but that doesn’t make me feel any better about the days I spend feeling like death warmed up. I can’t find a better way of describing what it feels like. It is certainly not living.

It’s not like after the chemo and the anti-nausea pills and steroids, I can just let the drugs do their thing and gradually leave my system. Oh, no, there’s the joy of five days of Filgrastim injections. These are to decrease the chance of infection in people having chemotherapy that decreases the number of neutrophils required to fight infection. They also help increase the number of white blood cells. They cause terrible back pain, right across my lower back. The first time I had the pain, I put it down to bad posture and lack of exercise – but when it disappeared only to return when taking the next course of the injections I’m pretty sure it’s the Filgrastim causing it.

Then, just before the course of injections is finished, it’s on to a fortnight of prophylactic antibiotics called Ciprofloxacin. Having looked up the side effects I’m a bit alarmed to see they shouldn’t be taken with blood thinners, which I’ve been on since those blood clots were found dancing about in my lungs. I take them based on the fact the doctor who prescribes them also prescribes the blood thinners. The antibiotics cause diarrhoea, which makes a change from constipation, but I do wonder if the oral medication is actually in my system long enough to be absorbed.

I’m sort of feeling OK today. I’m not as tired. The sore mouth has gone and there’s seems to be saliva enough. Out walking yesterday, the DH commented on how well I was doing. I didn’t slap him. But, I was not ‘doing well’. I had to pause to catch my breath on a walk which normally would be thought of as a wee stroll. Is this really as good as it gets?

Brambles in November – not that you could eat them as the Devil spits on them after September.
Castle Point, near Rockcliffe
The beach below Castle Point

I have my scan booked on Wednesday, December 02. The cancer specialist nurse rang on Thursday to say I’ll see the oncologist on Monday, December 07 though she didn’t know what time I’ve to meet the doctor. And, an appointment has been made in in Edinburgh the following day for the radiotherapy ‘planning meeting.’ No idea what time that appointment is either. It’s a two hour drive from here so it would be handy to know when we have to be there as if it’s an early morning appointment we’ll need to go up the night before. We are very fortunate that we can do this – what happens if it’s someone without a partner to drive them? Cancer patients have broken down immune systems so public transport isn’t an option. What about those who can’t afford overnight accommodation?

Of course, I suppose if the scan results aren’t what the oncologist is hoping for (a shrinking tumour), the appointment in Edinburgh won’t be necessary. Instead, there will be a whole different discussion on Monday. I’m getting my list of questions ready.

To end on something exciting – I’ve changed my car. My poor Toyota Corolla has done sterling service for 18 years but would never get through its next MOT. I’ve been dithering for ages about getting another car – how could I justify the expense when I don’t know for how long I will be around to drive it? Then, I decided, that was irrelevant. I’m still here and I need a trustworthy car so I’m now the proud owner of a new-to-me Clio.

Isn’t she lovely?

The day I’d to pick up the Clio and take the Corolla to the garage, it refused to start. That car never refused to start! I’m convinced its heart was broken.

MarySmith’sPlace – Cancer Diary #05

Sunday, October 04

The countdown to the second chemo cycle has begun. On Wednesday they’ll check my bloods, on Thursday I’ll start on steroids again, on Friday I’ll have toxic drugs dripped into me and on Saturday I’ll take anti-nausea pills and, as they are what caused the constipation last time, I’ll have my liquorice at the ready. I promise I won’t eat too much of it!

I’m hoping it won’t be very much worse than the first dose but those in the know say the side effects become progressively more severe so I’m kind of expecting next weekend not to be great. But who knows?

I certainly didn’t expect to feel as well as I have this last week. The weather has, mostly, been pretty good, which always helps my mood. Yesterday it rained all day and I wasn’t out at all but on other days I’ve been out walking with my son, gradually increasing the length of the walks so I can manage two and a half to three miles comfortably on the flat. At the end of June when I had blood clots dancing in my lungs I could hardly walk a hundred yards without being out of puff. Today, I even walked round Doach Woods, which involves what feels to me at the moment, quite a steep incline.

Walking in Dalbeattie Forest

In between walks I’ve been busy in the garden: cutting back, tidying up, a bit of digging and planting bulbs (though I’ve forgotten what I put where, so if I’m still here in spring there may be surprises). I’m well aware this state of affairs will probably not last and I am truly grateful for this week, in which it has been easy to forget I have cancer.

A golden hedgehog in Dalbeattie Forest

This clearly surprises some people. When they ask how I am and I say, ‘Fine, thanks’ they say, ‘Oh, but how are you really feeling?’ The unspoken meaning behind the question is, ‘you have cancer, are on chemo and must surely be feeling dreadful and exhausted, not to mention be emotionally distraught and weepy and afraid.’

I’ve only had one dose of chemo, and, although I felt pretty tired and out of sorts for a few days, it was easier than expected (apart from the constipation!). And, yes, in the beginning when I first learned about the tumour, my emotions were all over the place, mainly at the thought of the DH, my son and the cat, oh, the poor cat, having to manage without me. When I first knew I had cancer I went from zero to 100 mph in seconds – telling my son we should put stickers on any of the paintings and art work he would like in case if his father remarried and his new wife turned out to be a grasping so-and-so and wouldn’t let my son have what was rightfully his. Fortunately, it’s not possible to live in such a state of heightened emotion for any length of time. That would be really exhausting and emotionally draining.

Would anyone remember to feed the cat?

I had a weep when my friend Sue received her, not good, biopsy result and I had another teary episode today when my son left to return to Glasgow. He’s only been gone a few hours and I’m missing him already but that’s all right, it’s normal – what’s not all right is not knowing when we can see each other again because of bloody Covid-19 restrictions and my need to be extra-vigilant about infection – any infection.

Let’s hope I won’t be feeling too yucky when I write up next week’s diary entry.

MarySmith’sPlace – Walking in sunshine #HoddomCastle

When my friend Rachel and I go walking it often rains, as it did when we did this walk. I’m pleased to report that this time we walked in sunshine all the way round the Hoddom Castle and Repentance Tower walk. And a very nice walk it is, too, partly alongside the River Annan, through farm and woodland with great views from Repentance Tower – not forgetting an excellent lunch at the Hoddom Castle Caravan Park.

We started the walk from the car park just south of Hoddom Bridge and the entrance to Hoddom Castle Caravan Park. The path took us along the riverside.

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River Annan

We must have missed a detour to the Hound’s Monument but I’m not really sorry about that. Apparently it’s a monument erected in 1898 in memory of an otter hound called Royal, who is said to have perished having spent too long in the water pursuing an otter.

The riverside path skirts the edge of a golf course until we went through a gate and over a footbridge across the river. Here we found the Salmon Pole – one of four installations illustrating the life cycle of the salmon.

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We also met some cute lambs.

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After Hoddom Mill, deserted and a decidedly creepy the path brought us to the banks of the Water of Milk, a tributary of the Annan. Here a stone wall with orange floats represents the salmon eggs in the gravel riverbed.

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The path meets the River Annan and continues downstream to a wooden carving of a salmon and its predators, an otter and eagle. Further on is a sculpture of a salmon fly before the path brought us back to the footbridge we’d crossed earlier.

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Rachel smiling in the sunshine

From there, we carried on through the wood to Hoddom Castle Caravan Park and lunch at the café.

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Hoddom Castle – would love to explore inside!

Hoddom Castle was built in the 1560s by Sir John Maxwell of Terregles, probably as a barracks and defensive structure against English invaders. It was invaded several times, blown up by the English, repaired and expanded in the 17th century and in the 19th century was given a Scots Baronial makeover. The army used it during the second world war after which it was in a state of disrepair and some of the Victorian additions were demolished. The old uninhabited tower can still be seen but it is all fenced off. Still, it makes an impressive backdrop to the caravan park.

After lunch we headed uphill to Repentance Tower, which was built as a watchtower on top of Trailtrow Hill at the same time as the castle. It had a clear view across the Solway Firth and had a bell and a beacon platform to warn of approaching enemies.

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One story for how it came by its unusual name is that Sir John Maxwell was trying to atone for some act of treachery. He had pledged allegiance to Henry VIII of England during the 1540s and, when he dramatically changed sides at the Battle of Durisdeer, hostages, mostly members of his family, held as assurance of his loyalty were executed.

Around the tower is a small graveyard containing family graves of the Murray family who bought Hoddom Castle in the 17th century.

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One story which I found most fascinating was that Sir John Murray went to America and brought back a slave called Moses. They were close friends and Moses became a free man, taking the Murray name and is buried next to the family. Now, I have to find out more about this Moses Murray.

We headed back down the hill, and were soon back at the car park – and the sun was still shining.

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Looking down on Hoddom Castle – the caravan park completely hidden by the trees.


MarySmith’sPlace – The Scottish Riviera

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I thought I’d take you on one of my favourite circular walks. Even on a grey day it’s a great walk which takes in coastline and woodland and an ancient hill fort. It’s a short walk (3.25 miles/5.25 km) although, if the tide is out you can add a bit extra by walking to Rough Island over the causeway which is exposed at low tide.

The walk starts at either Kippford or Rockcliffe, two villages on the East Stewartry Coast, a National Scenic Area in Dumfries & Galloway. The area is known for its turbulent history, smugglers, wonderful scenery, wildlife, birdlife and wild flowers. In fact, the Victorians, who discovered its delights as a holiday resort, named it The Scottish Riviera.

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Marina at Kippford

Starting at Kippford there’s car parking by the village hall and from there you walk past the marina (dreaming of the yacht a lottery win would buy) and through the village, past the lifeboat station and The Ark shop and tearoom (cakes to die for when you return) and along a private road (choosing which of the very desirable houses that lottery win would buy) along the shoreline.

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Rough Island at low tide with the causeway on the right.

Rough Island is soon in view. It’s owned by National Trust for Scotland and is a bird sanctuary. Visitors are discouraged in May and June to avoid disturbing nesting oystercatchers and ringed plovers. It’s small but nice to visit and you can take a stone from the beach to place on the cairn on top of the hill.

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Loved the ferns growing out of this moss-covered tree

A track leads up from the shoreline into the woodland. Follow the path for Rockcliffe. You come out of the woodland, cross a meadow, through a kissing gate, past the entrance to a house and through a second gate.

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The track takes you out onto Rockcliffe bay with its lovely mixture of rocks, sand and rock pools. There are public loos and often a Mr Whippy van parked nearby, an information board tells visitors about the area – and more lovely houses overlooking the sea.

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To return to Kippford, follow the signs for the Jubilee Path (to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee) and head back up, past the Baron’s Craig Hotel, into the woods. At a crossroads, signposts direct you to the Mote of Mark, the hilltop fort which overlooks the Urr estuary.

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Mote of Mark

It was the court of a Dark Age chieftain, possibly one of the princes of Rheged, and was occupied from the 5th to 7th centuries. The main defences consisted of stone and timber walls with a timber gate at the main entrance. It may have been destroyed by fire in the 7th century as the outer wall shows evidence that heat caused stones to fuse together. This could have been due to the Angles attacking and burning the place (Angle runic inscriptions were found at the site) though it’s possible the walls were deliberately vitrified to strengthen them.

Excavations in 1913 and 1973 unearthed a large, circular timber hut and evidence of metalworking. Iron was brought from the Lake District and jet from York. Pottery imported from Bordeaux and glass from the Rhineland, were also found.

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Rough Island from the Mote of Mark with Hestan Island in the background

Back at the crossroads another detour can be made to Mark Hill – okay so these detours add a bit more to the length of the walk but that coffee and cake at the end will be worth the extra effort. The path, through managed woodland, climbs up and round the hill and offers spectacular views of the Solway from the view point.

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This stone is on the path up to the top of the hill fort. I don’t know if the pattern is the result of weathering or man-made. Any ideas?

Head down the hill, re-join the path and carry on back to Kippford – and coffee and cake. I had a banana and chocolate brownie. I’d eaten before I thought to take a photo of it!

MarySmith’sPlace – Walking (a bit of) Ayrshire’s Coastal Path

Maidens to Dunure

My friend and I met at Dunure, a small village in Ayrshire, where she left her car and I drove us to Maidens, another small village in Ayrshire, from where we would walk along the coastal path to Dunure.

It was raining. The first stage of the walk was across the beach, deserted apart from a woman walking her dog. The rain became a bit heavier. The last time we did a stretch of the Ayrshire Coastal Path we walked from Ayr to Dunure and it rained non-stop then, too.

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A dreich scene

We headed up from the beach into the grounds of Culzean Castle and Country Park. The huge cliff-top castle is cared for by the National Trust for Scotland.

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Culzean Castle

In 1569, the 4th Earl of Cassilis, who lived at Dunure Castle, gave Culzean Castle to his brother Sir Thomas Kennedy who expanded the tower house. It was not until his descendent, David Kennedy, inherited Culzean in 1775 that major transformation was begun. He commissioned architect Robert Adam but both men died before the work was completed. David Kennedy died with debts of £60,000 (£4m today), mostly from the costs of rebuilding Culzean. However, he ensured the castle (and his title) passed to a distant cousin, Captain Archibald Kennedy, a wealthy naval captain from New York who had the means to finish the work.

It was his grandson, the 3rd Marquess of Ailsa, who completed the final development of Culzean Castle, providing modern accommodation for his family by building the three storey west wing. In 1945 the widow of the 4th Marquess handed the castle and grounds over to the National Trust for Scotland, keeping the right to use the west wing for the remainder of her life. She also insisted the top floor of the castle was converted into a flat for General Eisenhower as a gesture of gratitude from Scotland, for his part in securing victory during World War II. Apparently, you can hire the flat for your wedding.

We tramped along in the rain, passing the Swan Pond and a line-up of small cannons pointing out to sea, round the back of the castle and down a path to the Gas House. As the name suggests, it provided gas (coal gas) to the castle from the mid- 19th century.

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The gas house. And raindrops on my lens.

Back on the beach we looked back up at the castle on its clifftop. The views from there must be stunning but both Ailsa Craig and Arran were well hidden from us. DSC01293 (Custom)

At least we had the wind at our backs and not driving the rain into our faces.  walked on, sometimes over firm sand, sometimes rocky outcrops, sometimes over seaweed slimy rocks until we reached Croyburnfoot Holiday Park. A burn ran across our path and the bridge was gone. We wandered through the caravan park hoping we’d find a route back down on the other side of the burn. Finally, we climbed over a barbed wire fence and back down onto the shore.

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Rachel on the rocks – and more raindrops on my lens!

Then we had a nasty bit over a rocky outcrop which was lethally slippery. I decided to climb up and over through bracken and brambles; only realised the next day how much the brambles ripped my jacket.

The next bit was uphill off the shore. The walk guide I read (but left in the car) said we passed a Protected Ancient Monument called Katie Gray’s Rocks. If we did, we missed it as we ploughed on through the rain over farmland, though some woodland and finally onto a path leading to Dunure Castle. The rain began to ease and we were granted glimpses of Arran beginning to show through the clouds.

Dunure Castle was once the main fortress of the Kennedy family although it has been a ruin for at least three hundred years. One member of the family married  a daughter of King Robert III and another went on to become Bishop of St Andrews. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here for three days in August 1563 as the guest of Gilbert Kennedy, the 4th Earl of Cassilis.

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Dunure Castle has a long, often brutal, history.

On reaching Dunure village we discovered the pub where we had intended eating had shut down. Luckily, the café was open. The macaroni cheese was excellent.

I am determined to do this walk one day when the sun is shining. It must happen. I’ve seen photos.

MarySmith’sPlace – Sunset poetry walk update

Yesterday afternoon/evening, Keith Kirk and I led a dozen participants (the event was limited to 12 people so it was actually a sell-out) on the sunset poetry walk organised as part of CatStrand’s Inspiring Writers project, Ken Words.

CatStrand is a multi-arts centre in the heart of Dumfries & Galloway, which offers an amazing programme of music, theatre, cinema, dance and visual arts as well as being a venue for all manner of classes and workshops. They draw a wonderful and eclectic list of performers: Judie Tzuke who headlines Glastonbury, The Unthanks and pop icon Kiki Dee – all this in a village with a population of less than 350.

Inspiring Words brings all CatStrand’s literature-focused events and activities under one umbrella. Events include writers Margaret Elphinstone and James Robertson in conversation about their historical fiction; film and poetry workshops, and events such as the sunset poetry walk.

Our sunset poetry walk took place on the Threave Estate and it was fabulous. It was cold – very cold – but crucially, it was a clear evening, didn’t rain and we did get to see the sun setting.

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You can tell this is my photo and not one of Keith’s. Sigh.

We also saw starlings gathering before they flew off to join the great murmuration which takes place just outside the town. Keith has uploaded some fantastic photos and videos  on Facebook of the starlings. Keith pointed out a badger sett. We saw roe deer, heard – some of us – geese, listened to the River Dee.

We stood opposite the great bulk of Threave Castle while I gave a very brief potted history – a full account of the castle’s history, and more importantly, the stories of the Black Douglas dynasty would take up the entire time of the event. Threave walk (Custom)

We took longer than anticipated on the walk because everyone was so fascinated and had so many questions. Going for a walk in the countryside with Keith is a wonderful thing, especially as he is so happy to share his knowledge.

I have to say I found standing in silence in the deepening dark with a dozen people, all our senses tuning into the falling night, quite a moving experience.

A moving experience of a different kind occurred as we walked back to the visitor centre and encountered a herd of young cows which was not there when we set out. They had wandered onto our path – for some reason they were in a field with no gate – and had to be moved to allow us to continue.

Back at the visitor centre tea and shortbread were produced by the event organiser, Jane McBeth and Andrew Mellor while the serious work of translating the experiences into words.

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I will never wear this jacket again! That’s all padding, honest. Jacket padding!

What was really special was that everyone – new writers, established poets, artists – enthusiastically took part in the workshop and everyone shared what they’d written with the group. Keith was astonished at how twelve people on the same walk together produced twelve very different accounts of their experiences.

At the end Jane handed out specially produced postcards of Keith’s sunset at Threave Castle photo,

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset, photo by Keith Kirk Photographer

with an envelope and stamp so that people can send in their edited work so that it is not lost – perhaps displayed on the walls at CatStrand or perhaps a poetry pamphlet?

We are already talking about repeating the event next year – in the summer.

MarySmith’sPlace – Sunset Poetry Walk

My collaborator on Secret Dumfries, Keith Kirk and I are teaming up to take people on a sunset poetry walk at Threave Castle near Castle Douglas.  It’s on Sunday, November 25.

With Threave Castle as a backdrop, we will lead a twilight walk along the banks of the River Dee.

Wildlife expert and photographer Keith Kirk will talk about the wildlife which inhabits the area and once the sun has set and it is dark he will enable participants to see the night in a completely different light with the aid of thermal and night vision cameras.

We will pause from time to time to simply listen and absorb the evening sounds and scents. Opposite the castle, I’ll talk briefly about its fascinating history and maybe share a poem or two. And we’ll watch the sun go down – or banks of grey clouds gathering above the castle. Either way, it’s sure to be atmospheric.

Threave Castle on the River Dee near Castle Douglas at sunset

Sunset at Threave Castle. Picture Credit: Keith Kirk


When we return to the visitor centre, I’ll be encouraging participants to think about the sensory experiences they’ve shared on the walk and write their own response to the landscape and season in poetry or prose.

It is a short walk on a well-defined, fairly level path from the carpark to the Castle Hide. A short stretch can flood if we’ve had lots of rain – like today – so sturdy, waterproof footwear is required as well as warm waterproof clothing.

Anyone coming on the poetry walk should also bring a notebook and pencil. We’ll meet indoors at the National Trust Visitor Centre (by Threave Castle carpark) from 3.15, ready to start walking at 3.30.

Booking a place (£5) can be done online at (no booking fee) or by phone: 01644 420 374

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