I've always been a person who loved the mountains, having spent many happy times visiting the Lake District and the Grampian range in Scotland while I lived in the UK. After I moved to Cyprus I found a new love, the Troodos mountains, and enjoyed getting to know my new home while out trekking the beautiful trails. While the mountains of Cyprus are less exposed and remote than the mountains of the UK, they measure up at twice the height, and are in a different way just as stunning.
When I used to talk about my hobby of mountain walking and rock climbing with my late father who happened to be terrified of heights, the conversation was peppered by sharp intakes of breath and significant eye rolling designed of course not only to moderate my climbing activities, but perhaps also the conversation. He could barely stand to hear tales of dangling from a rope, or how it felt to wedge gear into a rock fissure and then climb past it while the wind battered you on a ridge in the Peak District. So when I asked him to travel to my new home of Cyprus and visit the mountains in order to meet my in-laws it was not a decision I expected to be taken in any way lightly.
Still, my father was a great man and never one to let me down. That combined with a fierce stubborn streak he'd soon booked a flight. He also cancelled that flight due to a fit of nerves, before quickly booking it again and losing about £200 in the process, but let's just gloss over that part. He was coming. And once he was here in Cyprus he even made it into the mountains, although it must be said not on to the somewhat exposed veranda overlooking the distant valley. But after that first trip to visit me in Cyprus he couldn't wait to come back, and he did so on one more occasion in 2016. And on that visit, against the odds, he too fell a little bit in love with the mountains. We drove through them on our way to visit family on the other side of the island, and besides a few colly-wobbles through the steepest of roads, by the time we were returning home that day he was describing it as one of the best of his life.
It was nothing less than a shock when by the end of last year we were faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to my father following a short and difficult battle with cancer. Cancer is a diagnosis that left me feeling bereft, often not knowing what to do for the best. I've written before about that time, about his care and how we got through it, but even now six months later if the phone rings at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night, I still wonder if it's him wanting to update me on the Formula 1. We were unfortunate that at the same time as receiving the diagnosis we were also told that my father's disease would be terminal, and there was no chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgical option that could help us. It meant there wasn't much time to say the things we wanted to say, or arrange the things we wanted to arrange. So we relied on the wonderful doctors and nurses who were caring for him, and the support staff like physiotherapists and managers of palliative care homes who came out to see us. We were lucky that my father received a place in a great facility, and I couldn't imagine a better place for us to spend his last weeks together. The support we had was exceptional, and we would have been lost without it.
But one thing my father conveyed to us before he passed away was that he wanted his ashes to return to Cyprus, to be with me, to be left on a mountain overlooking Limassol at an altitude he would never have reached in life. So after managing to get a green tube filled with ashes through three different European countries on my way back home to Cyprus I did just that. And just a few days later we headed into the mountains to fulfill his last wish. It was a strange day, carrying him on my back in a similar way he would have done for me as a child, and in all honesty I found it pretty hard. So my husband and I decided to make a day of it, go for a hike, take some lunch, walk out into an area we had already explored well that we knew would be suitable to grant his wishes. And high up on a ridge we found a beautiful juniper tree overlooking the whole of the Limassol district, and we left him there, just as he had wished, overlooking Limassol, higher than he'd ever managed to go before. I made a cup of tea, sat with him and drank it, and we said our final goodbyes.
My father never thought he would climb a mountain, and the course of his illness felt like a mountain I never wanted to climb. But experiences like cancer and ultimately death leads us to unexpected places. And now, in my father's memory my brother Martin will tackle his own mountain, another unexpected journey in the name of a good cause. He is taking on the challenge of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, raising money for The Myton Hospices, a place which offers families like ours the vital support they need when faced with the unthinkable and don't know where to turn. Without places like The Myton Hospices difficult moments like the loss of a loved one would be so much harder to take, and the importance of palliative care should never be underestimated. That said, such places often rely on charitable donations in order to keep going. My brother's initial intention was to raise one pound for every metre of the mountain, £5895,00. He has already exceeded that and has several weeks of training left to go. He is now working to raise as much as he can. He is paying all his expenses himself.
I'm incredibly proud of his achievements so far, and if anybody wishes to donate to his charity mountain climb you can read more about him and do so here.