Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 49 - Bruan to John O'Groats (25.5 miles)

Although I'd stayed in Lybster last night my starting point for today was a tiny place called Bruan. Initial mileage workings were made by working backwards from Duncansby head, which looks like the furthest point heading north east when you look at a map of the UK.

I got dropped off at Bruan and started my marathon run. It was early and the road was empty. Unfortunately the other thing yearning to be empty was the sky. It started raining with a vengeance. What did I care, in a few hours my journey would be complete.

I'd worked out I'd done 892 miles before I started so I was looking out for the 8 mile mark to celebrate my 900th mile. It could not have been timed better. Two of my brothers had driven through the night to meet me at the finish but to get to the finish they had to go past me. As the 900th mile rolled over, I got to Wick, and my brothers caught up with me. Delightful. We said hello, I had a bacon butty, some drink, then said goodbye again. I had a run to finish.

Around mile 11 my feet were in agony. The tenderised chunks of meat at the ends of my legs were in no condition to be carrying me on a marathon distance. I asked my brothers to get me some pain relief. This arrived very quickly. It was great having a support team on hand!

The pain killers kicked in and I kicked on. The rain threw itself down and I got in the zone. The pace picked up and I reached a car parked at the side of the road, windows steamed up, a pillow resting against a window. The drivers had got themselves a bit of well deserved shut eye. Instead of waking them, I ran on.

Mile 18, the thirst was getting to me. Should I call for support? No they'll be along soon.

Mile 19.... Same as 18. I got toward the end of the 19th mile and called for back up.

They wondered where I was, they'd backtracked to find me. "I'm at mile 20. In need of fluid!" I shouted over the top of the gusting wind. They couldn't believe I'd got so far. I think I may have fallen into the twilight zone myself because the miles seemed to disappear quickly. According to the time I was on for a 5hour marathon. Not bad considering my legs and feet were over 900 miles without real rest.

Having refuelled again I kicked on, again, it rained, again. This time it threw hail stones at me. It was pelting so hard I couldn't see out of my right eye. The drips that ran off my nose just flew straight to my left. It was harsh conditions but I loved it. When else would I ever be running to one of the most northerly points of the UK? Awesome.

I got to the last few miles. I was due to tuen right to Duncansby head. Where were my support team? They said they'd wait by the turning. Just as I turned back to find the turning for Duncansby head a car came speeding up behind me. "you have to keep going, this way!" a voice called to me.

It turns out the finish point we all thought was the finish point was not the finish point at all. I had to go to the John O'Groats port which was straight on and not at Duncansby head. I turned around again and gave it legs. Within a few hundred yards I was crossing the line. I'd finished! My epic journey was done. The final day was less than marathon distance (it turned out to be approximately 25.5miles) but I think with more than 900 miles in my feet I can be excused a mile... surely?

So there it is. Lands End to John O'Groats walked in 49 days. Covering 917miles (1475km). The best bit being the people. I've had some lows and highs but the people I've met along the way have constantly amazed me. Whether it was an old couple giving me cake at the roadside; or a stranger contacting me offering me lodgings for the night and food (and clean clothes); or donating money to Richards appeal unexpectedly (people emptying their pockets to help). I can't list all the good things people have done for me over the last 49 days but I can say that without those people I would not have finished this challenge. People are amazing. There is so much kindness out there that I knew nothing about. So thank you and until the next challenge I say a fond farewell. This walker is all walked out... for now.

Oh, one last thing.

It's been emotional.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Day 48 - Dunbeath to Lybster (7 + 5 miles)

The mileage is strange today because I am staying in Lybster tonight but tomorrow, the final day, I start 26.2 miles from John O'Groats. That is a further 5 miles from Lybster so I have checked in to the rather posh Portland Arms, unloaded the backpack, slipped on some warmer clothes (it's very windy up here!), and competed the extra 5 miles without the extra backpack weight.

I'm actually nervous (as I am for any long run), but I'm also nervous because after tomorrow my life has to revert back to what it was. It's going to be a challenge.

Today the wind whipped across the North Sea, and churned the sea into a foam. The foam then blew up the cliffs, and was scattered again by the high winds. It gave the effect of a child's bubble making toy. Bubbles and foam flew all about me. Then a fighter plan roared overhead. I felt like I was at a carnival!

Sue is a lady I spoke to yesterday about her son that was cycling LEJOG. her family all together in a car today stopped as they were leaving the north. They stopped just to say well done and good luck. That's been the general spirit of this trip. It's been amazing because of the people I've met. My faith in humanity has been restored.

So it is with mixed emotions that I go into the last day. Excitement to be getting to the finish line, but sadness because I don't want it to end. Maybe I could detour, make my way west to the most North Westerly point of Scotland then travel to the South Eastern point of England... or maybe not. No, my journey ends tomorrow with a flourish. I'll obviously be doing a final blog tomorrow.

I will say now though that this has been a life changing experience. It's been more than I ever imagined it would be. More highs and lows than a roller coaster ride and much more fun than any coaster I have been on, and I've been on a few.

Until tomorrow, ciao.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Day 47 - Helmsdale to Dunbeath (16 miles)

Today was like being in a special LEJOG club. It started at The Customs House B&B where I met 2 cyclists over breakfast who were due to finish today. I spoke to the lovely landlady and she said there were plenty of people that pass through doing either LEJOG or JOGLE so I should see a few today. She was not wrong.

I saw only cyclists doing the challenge. 2 going south and obviously just starting, and 4 that were due to finish today. 2 of the cyclists that were due to finish today had their parents following as a support team. One cyclist passed me and I wished him well, his father followed behind and after asking me how many days I'd taken he proudly told me "that's my son up there peddling away, he's on his 8th day". He was right to be proud but I am so happy I walked it instead of cycling. I've loved the 3 mph pace and meeting the people I've met. It's been an amazing adventure.

I had time to do a little sight seeing today and I noticed a little sign that said "Badbea - cleared village. Historical site". I wondered what a "cleared village" was so I diverted in to take a look.

It turns out a cleared village is a village that the landlord evicted. Land owners would be able to make more money from livestock than they could make from the rent the villages were bringing in. It was harsh times but generally if the villagers refused to leave the land owner would simply burn the homes down. In Badbea you can still see the foundations of the properties. It looked as if the village would have struggled anyway. It's right on the edge of a cliff and has no room for expansion. It ties in with what I was thinking yesterday, this area of the world would have been extremely harsh to live in.

The hills are now rolling again but not too high. I've got myself mentally set for the final day and the marathon but tomorrow I need to cover just 12 miles. The end is very much in sight. What AM I going to do after this venture?

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Day 46 - Golspie to Helmsdale (18.5 miles)

The day started really well. My host from last night advised me there was a nice beach walk I could take instead of the main road. This beach walk was just over 4 miles long and took in the sights of Dunrobin castle. The castle looks out to sea and you can image the architect planning the build, with it's surrounding woodland. The trees make way for a perfect view from castle to sea. Very nice. Apparently seals can be seen frolicking near the shore along this stretch of coast, just not at this time.

My beachside walk ended as I had to return to the dreaded A9. Not really a bad road in places. Absolutely dire for a walker in other places. Just as I joined the road the heavens opened. Once again I was soaked to the skin. This time I had gale force winds blowing from the NW. This meant driving rain in the side of my face. Time to go into 'head-down-and-plod' mode. Pleasant it was not, especially with lorries rushing by just inches away. Just as the conditions were starting to get the better of me I stopped and looked out to sea, thinking how nice it would be to walk along the coast again. I then noticed a seal looking at me. That made me smile. He was probably thinking "strange these land creatures, if they like getting wet why don't they come in here?" The seal entertained me for a short while, following me as I made my way along the carriageway. It then decided I was boring and swam off.

I took a breather in a lay-by and noticed a memorial stone. The stone stated "To mark the place near which the last wolf in Sutherland was killed in 1700". It got me thinking how wild Scotland must have been back then and how hard you would have to be to live here without the infrastructure that's in place now. I mean we get in cars that take us (hopefully) to our destination, get out of our chosen automobile and leave it standing patiently until we need to use it again. Back then I'm guessing a horse would have been your mode of transport. You can't just leave that standing in the driveway day after day without any attention, then expect to jump on it and do 60 down the bridleway. It's going to need input from you, feeding, stabling, etc. Living back then must have been so hard. On top of all the extra work they had wolves to contend with! I guess something had to give and the wolves lost out.

I counted my lucky stars and moved on. I decided to start taking as many minor roads as possible. First one was hilly, tranquil, just right. Second, too short to bother with. Third... ouch! It started fine with a nice Tarmac surface, it then got narrow, then turned to gravel, then to grass, then into a garden. I went for it and walked across the garden. The owner was out in a flash! "Can I help?" she said. I really didn't want to retrace my steps just to get back on the A9. I played a bit dumb and explained I was following a track on my map.

"oh yes, well, you can try going down there" she pointed the way I was heading, then eyed my trousers. "They look quite hard wearing, you should be okay. Just keep going passed the cottage then you'll be back on the road". Sounded reasonable. I got 100yards in and found out why she had been inquisitive about my trousers ability to wear hard. Gorse. Gorse bushes everywhere. A tiny path could just be made out. I followed it all the way passed the cottage and to the road. My legs are cut to ribbons! I ventured back to the A9 and decided I'd take my chances with the lorries.

It was only a few miles later that I arrived in Helmsdale. Time now for me to tend my cuts then get sustenance. Being a harbour town surely it has to be fish and chips tonight!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Day 45 - Tain to Golspie (17 miles)

I left Agnes and her homely B&B and stepped out into rain. The forecast had predicted rain all day so mentally I was prepared.

Within a few minutes I was wet through. My wide brimmed hat was sodden and lank. It hung in front of my eyes and the channel it created fir the water meant there was a near constant flow of water pouring on me from the brim. It was miserable but my spirit is strong and putting one foot in front of the other is the sane if it's wet or dry.

My main view for the first 2 hours was my shoes. I'd bought these shoes on Day 24 in Keighley. 21 days later and my toe is hanging out of the right one, the left one has a stick jammed in the heel adjustment, and both shoes are just about worn out. I can safely say these have been tested to destruction. As I watched water bubble out the sides and tops of my shoes I thought about how far they've brought me. I've done a chunk of England and most of Scotland. They've served me well.

The rain abated. I could remove my hat and explore the scene around me.

As I explained yesterday the geographical make up has shifted from hilly/mountainous to flat. This changed again today. I now have large hills to my left as I walk. These are covered with heather in bloom. They're craggy but the soft tones of the heather make them visually attractive. There is a sharp contrast to my right. I now look out to the North Sea. A reminder that my time on this journey is drawing to a close. What with torn shoes, thinning t-shirts, a distinct lack of clean clothes (lending to the Walker aroma!) it's probably good timing that the journey ends soon.

Being on the road is not really fun but there are bits and pieces to see. Some of the trees lining the roads are obviously very old. This tells me the road must be fairly old also. It carries busy and (at times) heavy traffic. I wondered what it carried at it's inception? And where was it carrying to?

There are the odd bits of woodland to walk through. Over the last 100 miles or so I've noticed there is a stringy lift green moss that covers some trees. It seems to starve the tree as generally the moss covered trees loss their leaves. This then creates a magical wonderland picture. Old gnarly trees covered in moss tendrils. You half expect someone to step out of a wardrobe when you peer deep into the woodland.

I've also noticed I've walked into autumn (fall, herbst). Trees are starting to look like they deserve a part in Joseph and his coat of many colours. It makes me realise I've actually done something with my summer this year! Makes a pleasant change. I know now that walking is awesome. As long as you're prepared for it and have somewhere to go at the end of your day, walking is brilliant. So simple. My legs have become my mode of transport and they have only needed a short service.

I'm now finishing thus Saturday so only about 72miles left to go. 26.2 of those are being run as the inaugural 'End to End Ender' marathon. I'm not sure exactly where I'll end tomorrow but you can be assured it'll be somewhere near John O'Groats!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Day 44 - Dingwall to Tain (22.5 miles)

The environment changes substantially when you hit the North East of Scotland. Since Balmaha I've been surrounded by stunning hills and mountains. The going has been interesting (hilly, challenging at times, waterfalls to grab your attention) but pass Inverness and everything changes. Yes there are hills but nothing on the scale of the WHW or GGW. I was warned of this. However, the gentle environment has allowed time for reflection. My thoughts today started with Elizabeth Wilby.

Elizabeth was running down the road I was walking up. She saw my Lands End to John O'Groats t-shirt and, reaching for her stopwatch, paused to chat. She asked all about what I was doing. She had admiration but not as much as I had for her. Elizabeth said she was 'of retirement age' and was on one of her 6 weekly half marathon runs! Unbelievable. She said it kept her out of mischief. Brilliant. She also gave me the change she kept for emergencies toward the appeal for Richard. Thanks Elizabeth, you put a spring in my step.

I plodded on. I was missing people. I've been surrounded by like-minded walkers for what seemed like weeks but now I was walking solo again. The rain came, the roads straightened, the hills flattened. It turned into a real struggle to entertain myself. Then I started thinking of what I've accomplished. Just 5 weeks ago I was walking paths and bridleways in Cornwall. How time flies when you have this much fun.

So I finished today soaking wet but happy. A little water will dry and evaporate, my memories will last as long as I do.

There's only 4 walking days left (plus a marathon). It looks like the Geography of Scotland is protecting me from the harsh conditions that are currently battering the West coast so if you are over that way, stay safe.

Tomorrow I'm off on a 17 mile trip to Golspie along the A9. The last major road I will need to use on this journey.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Day 43 - Beauly to Dingwall (10 miles)

A nice easy day today. 10 miles. Nothing to report as such. Tried to do some sight seeing and all I can say is Fort David along my route was either a lie or disappeared many moons ago.

Extended the walk by 3 miles to avoid the main streets. It wa nice to be able to walk at leisure instead of by a time frame. It still took over 4 hours to walk the 10 miles but it was a treat. It's nice my body accepts 10 miles as an acceptable distance to walk.

A short day equals short blog so I'm off to feed!

Tomorrow sees the last of the 20+ mile walks. After that it really is the home stretch. I'll have a prevailing gusting wind so I expect a speedy 20 miler. Fingers crossed for lack of rain.