WINIFRED SHAND brought history alive and gave you a sense that anything, no matter what your age or infirmity, is gloriously possible.
She was a romantic spinster with brogued feet firmly set on Scottish soil. Destined to become the chatelaine of a comfortable house, she had fallen in love with a cavalry officer in the 17th Lancers at the tender age of 16. Her mother forbade her to marry until she was 21 but, on the eve of her coming of age, her fiance was killed in the 1922 Troubles in Ireland.
Convinced that he was the only man for her, she set about creating a very different life built around four romantic goals: to see the Cockle Strand at Barra on the Outer Hebrides, the Taj Mahal by moonlight, the Victoria Falls and the Valley of Death in the Crimea. Curious objectives, but they all had a reason and, by the skin of her teeth, they were all achieved before she died this month, aged 91.
The Cockle Strand became a regular sight as she cycled up and down the Hebridean isles for 27 years in her role as organiser for the Highland Home Industries. Travelling from croft to croft, she oversaw the spinning, dying and weaving, galvanised the weary and was appointed MBE for her efforts.
Winifred Shand travelled to Africa to see the falls. But her greatest longing was to see the two battlefields of her great-uncle, Sir William Gordon, 6th Baronet and 17th Lancer, during the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. As a young girl she had sat on his knee listening aghast to his tales.
'You see, I'm an Edwardian,' she explained, as my disbelieving mind tried to tally up the years between the here and now and a piece of far-off history.
As an octogenarian she travelled to the Taj Mahal in a bus and caught it in the moonlight but Tennyson's 'Valley of Death' was elusive because of the strict Soviet travel restrictions. You can imagine her glee when the Soviet regime crumbled; her sights were firmly fixed on the Crimea.
I met Miss Shand in Edinburgh earlier this summer while driving her to the local church, St James the Less, where, aged 91, she was lead soprano. I was incredulous when she told me, as we sat in her drawing room, that she was setting off in October for the Crimea, for here in front of me was a frail old lady who had to fling herself from armchair to table-edge to bolster her failing sense of balance as she crossed the room to serve tea.
But returning to Edinburgh last month she showed me the photographs. There in the middle of the Valley of Death she stood, barely able to walk, leaning on her cane as the biting Crimean winds flapped the excess tweed of her trouser suit against her spindly limbs. Surrounded by gnarled and winter- bared vines, she stood triumphantly clutching the Victorian gold watch that uncle William had pocketed against his breast as he rode with the Light Brigade towards the wall of Russian guns.
She recited to me his letters, all learnt by heart, including the downplaying of his injuries - described with typical Victorian bravura as 'a few cracks on the head' - which turned out to be five sabre hacks, shrapnel gouges to the neck, head and thighs and a dislocated shoulder.
Winifred Shand died just one month after she had achieved her fourth goal. I will never forget her infectious laughter, her twinkling eyes and logic-defying sense of adventure. She proved to me that longevity and a full life have nothing to do with constitution and all to do with imagination and enthusiasm.
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