A group of inspirational Sight Scotland veterans recently ventured up the Cairngorms to participate in a life-changing Winter Skills course.

The veterans, who were extremely apprehensive and nervous before the climb, enjoyed a great couple of days learning about winter navigation, mountain weather and avalanche forecasts, using ice axes and crampons, moving on snow and ice, ice axe arrests and what to do in an emergency. It was an experience they never imagined they could do because of their visual impairment and it gave them all a huge boost in confidence and independence.

The veterans who attended were Iain Young, 60, from East Linton, an RAF veteran coping with Stargardt syndrome; Ian Hunter, 65, from Tullibody, an Army veteran who lost central vision due to three brain surgeries and an optical stroke; and Steven Williams, 41, from Edinburgh, a veteran who sustained his vision impairment during active service. Steven is also a centre officer at the charity’s Linburn Centre in West Lothian.

Iain Young explained, “When we arrived at the lodge we were fitted with our equipment and were talked through what to expect the following day. I was really worried I wouldn’t be able to do it as I have Long Covid. But I was reassured to give it a go.

“I am just so happy that I did, as the whole experience was amazing. Our instructors were great, we practically received personal instruction and were taken through everything we were doing on the hill step by step, constantly being reassured we would only do what we could manage. Then before you knew it, we were at the top, which was incredible. It was only when we came down we actually realised how high up we were – we were all buzzing. It really did show us all what we can do, it was a real sense of achievement.

“I would do it again in a heartbeat, it was ten times better than I could ever have imagined. It gave us all such a massive confidence boost, not just while we were there but in everyday life, as it showed we need to believe in ourselves more. So we went there worrying about what we couldn’t do and came back feeling reinvigorated, it was so good for us mentally. It helped us to almost relive what it was like to be in the forces again, pushing each other, sharing camaraderie and using skills we all thought we had forgotten. I always think confidence breeds competence. I can’t thank the organisers enough.”

Ian Hunter commented: “This was the first night I have spent away from my wife since 2017, so it was massive in terms of my confidence and independence. I really was not sure about doing the course, but I was encouraged to push myself, so I went for it. It gave me a real sense of what I can do, and I already have another walk planned to Hadrian’s Wall. It does show you that in life you shouldn’t be worried about what you can’t do, even with a visual impairment, we should all be encouraged to push ourselves, try new things and most importantly to continue doing the things that we love.”

The course was organised by Able2Adventure, a company that strongly believes in the long-term physical and mental health benefits that come from participation in outdoor activities. Through adventurous activities, disabled people can strengthen muscle, build balance and co-ordination, develop social networks and increase confidence and independence.

Gemma Hendry, from Able2Adventure, was lead instructor on the course. She says: “I'm thrilled that our visitors from Sight Scotland Veterans gained so much from the Winter Skills course. They were incredibly organised, resilient and eager to dive into activities. As we progressed, their belief and confidence visibly grew, and by the end they were effectively managing themselves. They even taught me new techniques, like using reference points and navigating with a clock face, which we will now use with other groups.”

For more information please visit sightscotlandveterans.org.uk or call their support line on 0800 035 6409.