Saturday, 17 September 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Saturday, 10 September 2011
I arrived in Drumnadrochit after 3 hours of walking. I still had 15 miles to cover. I'd walked just 9 miles and already felt tired. I've been walking fir 6 to 8 hours each day without breaks. I think my body is now of the opinion it does not like doing that. I pondered how I was going to cope with the remaining mileage. By now though it's easy, you just put one foot in front of the other. I did just that and moved on.
It had been decided I'd leave the GGW and head up a B road to Beauly. The roads were quiet but there was still a few cars. Again I experienced an idiot. He looked me in the eye and pointed his car at me. I was mad to begin with but now I just feel sorry for him. If that's what he needs to do to feel better about himself - sad.
Beauly is a really nice place and quickly my thoughts of fools vaporised. My only issue with Beauly is that I arrived there having walked 23 miles. My feet were on fire, and not in a good way. I needed to sit. All day it had rained, stopped raining, the sun had shone, then it had rained again. Repeat that pattern infinitely and you have the Scottish weather system. I like it. You know where you stand with it. As everywhere was still wet I couldn't sit. So I just had to keep moving.
There was some confusion with my next place of residence. Ultimately I ended up in Springburn lodge which is situated 1 mile north Beauly. Joana is an amazing host. She has a warmth about her that most others do not posses. She has offered me a room for the next few days and if I didn't need to move on, I wouldn't.
I dud see a sign today, albeit a handmade sign, but it's the first one that stated John O'Groats 125 miles. I can't believe this journey will be done in just a matter of days.
Friday, 9 September 2011
I did have a chat this morning with some people in the hostel I resided at last night. They were very interested in what I was doing and had lots of questions. One question being "don't you get bored of telling your story to lots of different people?" and the answer is no. Every time I get to tell my story I get to relive all the good bits. As time goes by even the bad bits are turning good. So, the Caledonian Canal may have been unchallenging BUT I wouldn't change it for the world. It's all part of the tapestry that is this walk/challenge/venture (delete as appropriate).
I had a tasty lunch in Fort Augustus. And by tasty, I mean poor! It was mushroom gruel, sorry I mean mushroom soup. Ordinarily this wouldn't matter, but when you have to hike 10+ miles it is a bit of a problem. WC's are not 2 a penny! It highlighted to me the fact I'm now in very remote territory. Which is a silver lining if you think about it. It is something I love, being remote, so I'll not moan too loudly.
I can't quite believe I'm counting down the last days of this journey. Inverness is on my doorstep, as is Loch Ness. Keeping them peeled!
Thursday, 8 September 2011
By the 4th mile you stand in front of the impressive Neptune Staircase. A series of approximately 8 locks on the Caledonian Canal. I stopped to take snaps and moved on.
Where the canal opens into Lochs the GGW takes a detour into woodland. Eventually I found myself alone, in the woodland, with only the sound of trickling streams to keep me company. It stayed like that for nearly 2 hours. I took the time to reflect on my journey and I know that this has been more than a holiday. It's changed me a lot. It's opened my eyes to possibilities. I feel a little sad that I'm only going to be on this journey for another 10 days. There will be other challenges that I'll take up in future but this has been the most life changing experience (second only to the birth of my daughter).
I'd been walking some time and I saw a gentleman taking a seat in the distance. He was the first person I'd seen for ages. We said hi and exchanged pleasantries. When he heard what I was doing he asked if he could take my picture. I'm amazed at how people find what I am doing wonderous but not as amazed as I used to be. It does now feel like a long way.
His name was Andy Currie. A thoroughly nice man who had done plenty of walking in his time. We talked about the WHW and he said he'd like his ashes spread there after he has gone. Obviously the place has had a similar effect on him as it has had on me. To think I nearly bypassed the WHW.
Tomorrow I go Nessie hunting! I'm having a bit of trouble with further stops along the way but being so close to the end nothing is going to stop me.
I have decided one thing. The final 26.2miles I will be running as a marathon. The first ever End to End Ender!
Wednesday, 7 September 2011
I met a travel buddy since Kings house hotel a few days ago and she has been great company. It's been nice to walk and talk. Simona is also a geologist so it made for a more interesting experience, knowing how old the ground we walked upon was. Apparently the hills and mountains we walked are among the eldest on the Planet.
You can't help but marvel at the beauty of the WHW. We thought of the passed few days and where we had come from, what we had seen. If you do just one part of my journey so far, let it be the West Highland Way.
I'm going to move on from here and feel a little sad. I'll have to say bye to my buddy, bye to Ben Nevis (who is currently hiding behind clouds), bye to some familiar Walkers. A few of the walkers over the last few days have decided to get together tonight to celebrate their achievement. I'll be joining them even though I didn't do the starting points but I'm hoping the other 600 miles I did before that will make up for it.
The weather is due to be horrendous over the next few days so drying clothes will be a necessity. I only have 1 dry set of clothes. As long as the chill keeps off I'm golden!
This is a landmark being at Fort William. It's now a straight line to John O'Groats (well, it's mainly north east from now to the end). Bring. It. On.
Tuesday, 6 September 2011
Walkers are the main business of hotels along the WHW so you find you meet a lot of the same people and generally travel, unintentionally together.
Everyone that left the Kingshouse Hotel was dressed for the extreme weather that was obvious all around us. I was one of the last to leave as my kit is not waterproof and I wanted to see if it was going to ease up. It didn't. I was going to get wet!
My game plan for the day was to go as fast as I could so my body heat would stabilise at a good temperature. As long as the wind didn't get to me I'd be okay. I set off.
Within a minute I was soaked to the skin. The rain was coming down side ways. It was crazy! I caught up with some walkers and we struggled across a raging flood. The day before this had been a trickling stream. It now roared down the side of the mountain. I'd been trying to keep my feet as dry as possible. The only way to cross this 'stream' was to wade across. I ended up knee deep in icy water, my feet actually appreciated the cooling effect. Nature was now in my shoes.
I left the other walkers behind and attacked the Devils Staircase. Wind howled, rain fell, visibility shortened. I was approaching the top and just as I crested the top of the Devils Staircase the wind nearly knocked me over. I was using sticks just to keep myself upright. I've never felt so alive! I stood at the top and raised my arms laughing. I wanted more. I pushed on.
All the way was a total challenge but by the end I was struggling with the cold. I recommend waterproof clothing rather than doing what I did. Not very clever. My gamble had payed off but only just.
I'm now in for a long rest. One of the walkers I Ieft with is here in the same B&B. We'd met at lunch last night and got chatting. We're now going to celebrate surviving the day with some food!
Tomorrow, all being well, I'm off to Fort William and the end of the West Highland Way.
Monday, 5 September 2011
As I set off I passed a Scottish Water worker, said hi, moved on. He the drove passed me and stopped to open a gate. He beckoned me through but I said I'd close it for him. He thanked me and drove off. Gate fastened I moved on. 200 yards up the track was the Scottish Water worker. We struck up a conversation and when he spoke about the WHW you could tell he was extremely passionate about it. He loved it! He told me of a museum to visit (Dumrobin Castle) near Inverness when o get there. This guy was right about everything else today, with his explanations of stunning Ba Bridge, that I thought I would definitely give Dumrobin Castle a go when I got near, and if time allowed.
Again it was a day of wondering when NOT to take pictures. The scenery is epic here. The start of the day was dominated by Beinn Dorain which rises up 3000 ft from the valley floor in one colossal sweeping motion. The WHW only rises to about 200 ft above the valley floor so Beinn Dorain always dominates you spectacularly. SNAP SNAP, camera shots a plenty.
The WHW then ducks back under the train track that runs parallel to the A82. The Way underpasses the track at Bridge of Orchy station. At the start of this End to End challenge I used to find myself thinking "just go sight seeing instead, jump on the train/bus/plane (delete as appropriate)" but that thought doesn't occur to me anymore. With 700+ miles under my belt I'd be robbing myself.
The WHW then climbs up over the side of Mam Carraigh to an altitude of just over 1000ft. It rises fairly quick but also drops away quickly, down to Invernon hotel. Places are few and far between now so you'll find a hotel constitutes a place on a map. Invernon hotel being one such place. I stopped for a quick pint and snickers bar then made off again.
The rest of the day was spent walking on an old road made of compacted stones. This was very very hard under foot and the Scottish Water worker had warned me of it. I took pain killers and did my usual - try ignoring the pain. This worked as I managed to pick up pace.
I caught up with Ally (not sure how to spell here name) a fellow WHW walker. We chatted for a while which is always nice. It alleviates the loneliness that sometimes creeps in. We parted company after a short while, she was due a break. I've ditched my breaks now. I generally take between 6.5 and 7.5 hours to cover 20 miles and if I have a break it will be less than 5 minutes (apart from today, I wanted a pint!)
I'm in the Kings house hotel which is built in the shadow of some monster mountains. Although they're huge, they're not oppressive, just stunning. So I'm going to get some food, eat, drink, and look forward to the fact I have a very short day tomorrow.
Tomorrow is a 9 mile (yes, just 9!) and I think my feet are going to LOVE it! I do have The Devil's Staircase to climb but again Mr Scottish Water man said it isn't that bad. We will see!
Sunday, 4 September 2011
I left the brilliantly bohemian Inversnaid bunkhouse and set my sights on a fast ish time along the West Highland Way (WHW). I wanted to up the pace today to challenge myself. I felt my legs needed a workout, they were becoming 'one pace plodders'.
The first 4 miles were a challenge all by themselves. Thin pathway that ran along the north east stretch of Loch Lomond. In places it was thin, others steep, others slippery, others all three at once. A challenge I was loving. That was up until I turned my left ankle. I thought I'd messed up the entire End to End challenge. Pain shot through my foot and up my leg. I thought I'd torn something but quickly realised I'd escaped without injury. That was the first turn on that ankle of the entire challenge and it opened the door to me turning it a further 3 times today. I escaped each time with a simple cuss and a short section of limping. I must be more careful. To injure myself now and not be able to finish is unthinkable. I slowed my pace until I hit open track.
Once in the open it was a case of enjoying the scenic environment and getting to my next port of call. Along the way I passed a few walkers but 2 guys stuck out because of their backpacks. It turns out they were walking the WHW with full military pack. It looked heavy! Really heavy. Having had a quick chat with them I promised them a beer in Tyndrum.
I pushed on along the trail, passed more awesome scenery, and arrived in Tyndrum 7 hours 15 minutes after starting. It had been a successful day. I showered, changed, snoozed, then went for food. Whilst waiting for food the 2 guys I had spoken to earlier walked in. They've done an awesome job in getting so far with their packs. Hats off to them.
We sat, ate, drank, and had a right laugh. It occurred to me I've not had a good chuckle like that for a long time. Good end to a good day. Better still I spoke to Adie regarding my route and I have some short days coming up. Not tomorrow, but the day after. My feet can't wait!
Saturday, 3 September 2011
Mark dropped me off at my start point - the heart of Drymen - and I set about getting myself on the West Highland Way (WHW). I'd daubed my feet with Compeed's followed by a layer of thick socks, I'd put the Sorbothene insoles in my all terrain shoes, and I crossed my fingers that my feet would stop hurting today. En route to the WHW I took a B road and I could feel the shock of my feet hitting the road almost straight away. I thought today was going to be a looong one!
I arrived at Balmaha (sorry for any spelling errors on names) a little over an hour into my days walk. I stocked up on supplies (Ginsters pastry slice, 2 pork pies, and a litre of water) and looked for my starting place along the WHW. It could not have been easier to find. A clear track was marked out and I set about my days task. From this point it was 15 miles to my finish point.
Weather wise I couldn't have asked for better. Overcast but no rain, a light breeze, a moderate temperature. Perfect. On top of that Mark and Debbie were legends and offered to take my bag to Inversnaid. Today was all set up to be amazing, especially from Balmaha. It did not disappoint.
Having left the road behind I set about the WHW with gusto. I was delighted to be off of the road and back amongst nature. Within a few miles I was taking panoramic pictures of Loch Lomond. A truly stunning place. It's hard to explain what I was looking at and what I was amongst. "track by water" is where I was but nature was all around me being busy. Waterfalls to my right, the Loch to my left, birds in trees tweeting. Nature was showing off and well it might. I was happy and my feet were loving the change in surface below them.
As you can probably tell today was a good day. I'd bought a small guide to the WHW and it had said to look out for a stunning waterfall before Inversnaid. I didn't know which one the guide meant. Every 100 yards a waterfall appeared. I had to stop myself taking pictures as there would not have been enough time in the day. I felt blessed. To be amongst such majesty, I didn't deserve it. Stephen Fry tweeted about something unrelated but it fits perfectly: "Dull would he be of soul who could pass by a sight so touching in its majesty" Wordsworth. Perfect.
I passed many people whilst out on the trail and it was great to be amongst like minded people. Being where we were you either had to drive on scary windy roads or you had to walk there. Everyone was going to Inversnaid for a purpose, not just idly loitering or just there by some kind of accident. You had to work to get there. Consequently everyone in Inversnaid is chatty and more than willing to help. There's a definite air of Bohemianism about the place and I love it.
The waterfall that had been mentioned in the guide was awesome. It was also right at the entrance to Inversnaid. I'd befriended a fellow walker, Mandy, and she took a tourist picture of me. Today was so special I shall undoubtedly treasure that picture. I'll use the word again... Perfect.
Tomorrow, well hopefully more of the same.
Friday, 2 September 2011
Glasgow is really nice and has bags of history what with the dock yards and the obvious glory times they once brought. Oh, Glasgow also has a canal, the Forth and Clyde canal. This is probably most famous in recent times for the Falkirk Wheel. This is a brilliant piece of engineering that joins the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union canal. The 2 canals were originally joined by 11 locks. Do yourself a favour and wiki the Falkirk Wheel. Only after reading the rest of this though!
I went through Glasgow and, as I had been told would happen, suddenly found myself on the open road in the countryside. The day was rough going as it was all road walking and although I had new treads on the feet were still complaining. I'm thinking whatever damage has been done may need rest to resolve it.
The walk was again uneventful. I will say though that Mark and Debbie have been absolute saints to take me in, feed me, clean my clothes, let me use their home as my own. They've been brilliant. Thank you.
I'm really tired now so off to bed I go with the promise of Loch Lomond being my walking view tomorrow. It's a tough job...
Thursday, 1 September 2011
So this guy, Terry, that hardly ever came to this area just so happened to be in the same place at the same time as me, just when I needed help. The Camino had provided. He was a historian and explained to me why all the roads were blocked off in the area but he knew of a little known walkway through the woodland. We walked and talked. He led me through twisting and winding walkways that I would never have found my way through, directly to where I needed to be.
"Just 200 yards down this road and you'll be back on the B road. Have a safe trip. Nice meeting you" he said. We shook hands and we parted. I wondered if what had just happened was weird or not.
Back on track and heading toward Glasgow I found myself in increasingly populated areas. I plodded on with agonising feet. My shoes were getting thinner each day and the pain worse.
I arrived in Glasgow. Today I met up with an old school friend. Mark Barrow. Mark has been good enough not only to take me in for a few nights but he also sourced and identical pair of shoes (only new obviously!), got them put by, and got me a really decent discount. Which meant the insoles I'd promised myself (Sorbothene) were, in essence, free. Top man.
We spent the rest of the evening catching up. It's so nice to be in the company of friends. Debbie and Mark are saints. I'm already feeling the revival. I'm sure the next few 'no back pack' days, combined with new shoes and shock absorbing insoles, will mean my final stretch of this challenge will be a more comfortable one.
Tomorrow I cross Glasgow and head towards Loch Lamond. The West Highland Way is calling, it's just a matter of where I'll join it.
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Leaving the excellent Holmlands Country House (not Holmelands as I previously put) I decided it was going to be a headphones day. I was delighted that not only was it dry but the wind had dropped to near nothing. A T-Shirt day. Headphones and t-shirt. Great.
The only interesting thing up until the 10th mile today was a two seater open carriage with 2 wheels, being drawn by a single horse. I'm not sure what they're called (a Stanhope?) The driver and passenger were just taking the horse for a run out and chose to turn around in front of me. They then disappeared into the distance. Pretty uninteresting until about a half hour after this event. I was answering a text, head down, headphones in, largely oblivious to the World around me. I glanced up and to my utter surprise the horse pulling the carriage was running straight towards me. The carriage was still being pulled but it was on it's side, dragging behind the frightened horse. I put my hands up to try stopping the horse but I'm no horse whisperer. It was trying to gallop but was being slowed by the carriage smashing around behind it. It wasnt interested in me, it just wanted to get away from the noise behind it. I decided very quickly that getting out of the way would probably be my best bet in this situation. I legged it up a bank and the commotion barrelled pass me.
I did call 999 (who else would you call?) because the out of control horse and cart were heading toward the motorway. As I tried to explain the situation to the emergency services I saw that the horse was being brought back under control off on the distance. Disaster averted, I advised the authorities and moved on.
The scenery is starting to become more picturesque and undulating. I've also noticed the traffic is thinning out. I know I have Glasgow to go through but already I can go a few miles and see no one. The few people I do see have all said how amazing the scenery is 'up there' so I'm really looking forward to indulging in delightful Scotland.
My only issue that I'm experiencing at the moment is the pain in my feet. The rest of my body seems to have got used to the extra work and extra load I have put it under but my feet... ouch! I think it has something to do with the fact my shoes are just about worn out. I have a second pair but they are very hard soled so both pairs ate giving my feet a battering. Still, Glasgow beckons and the promise of new 'treads'. I can't wait! The pain killers just don't work at the moment.
Tomorrow I stride into the last large populated area, Glasgow.
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Today I dared to think of counting down to the finish line. Glasgow is fast approaching. From there it's approximately 100 miles to Fort William, then from there it's approximately 180 miles to the finish. So I'm thinking it's about 330 miles to go. That's approximately 17 or 18 days.
The reason I've made these calculations is because I've had the time to make them. The stretch of the journey I covered today is notorious as being void of any real interest. Indeed I was passed by just one cyclist. She commented I was a quick Walker. This comment is what spurred me to think of my original predicted end date (30th September) and look at when I will complete my challenge. I'm excited by the prospect of completion but I'm also very aware there is plenty to do. There's some big hills up here!
I got a Scottish rinse and blow dry again today. It seems I've chosen to do this walk during one of the wettest summers we've seen for some time.
As far as equipment is concerned I have been incredibly impressed with a Rohan jacket, my Icebreaker tops, and a pair of Rohan light weight trousers. For kit to be this light weight and yet keep the Scottish winds out, and me warm, is awesome. I'll do a kit run down after I've finished the challenge but these items have been great.
The small village I find myself in (Crawford) is fantastic. Everyone is extremely friendly and willing to help. I dropped into the local shop hoping the post office that was also in there, was open. It wasn't but the employees bent over backwards to help out. Just really helpful people and nice to boot.
When I arrived at Holmelands Country House the owners were very quick to stick a pot of tea on and light a fire for me. Yes, a fire is needed here! I cannot believe we're in Summer. We supped tea and chatted, I got to 'debrief' with someone which is fantastic.
I've just eaten a big meal at the local eatery and am now ready for a snooze. I slept much better last night and it showed in my time for covering the 24.5 miles - 8 hours exactly. I'm happy with that.
I'm not entirely sure where I'll be tomorrow evening but you can guarantee it'll be 20 ish miles north ish from here. Fingers crossed for dry weather (the wind wasn't too bad today. Thanks for the tip Barry)
Monday, 29 August 2011
I couldn't get to sleep last night. I'd snoozed for an hour during the afternoon so I struggled to get to sleep. Consequently today I am in pain as I've had little 'healing' time. No matter, the show must go on!
I tried haggis at breakfast. I'd never had this before and I approached it like it was a pate. I'm not sure what the consistency, look, smell, etc should be of haggis but treating it like a fine pate worked for me.... and I live to tell the tale.
Today, as most of the days from here until Glasgow, was a B road (service road) slog. If I thought the wind was bad yesterday then I knew nothing. A NW wind was blowing in my face the whole of today which made the going uncomfortable. Head down, one foot in front of the other, I ploughed on.
Nothing really to report today. I stopped in Lockerbie fir a quick bite to eat but, apart from the small amount of people thy graced the streets there, I saw only cyclists.
One cyclist did stop to chat and advised me I was wearing the wrong shoes for the west highland way. I explained that the "new" shoes were due to be changed in Glasgow,
I did see a tractor! No ordinary tractor. This one was small, fast, clean, and had adverts saying "long way up - Lands End to John O'Groats" all over it. Well at least I was heading in the right direction.
Just a short entry today as I am beat!
Tomorrow is a long day to Crawford. Hopefully sleep will be easy to come by tonight and I'm also hoping tomorrow the wind dies down (or is 'gale force' standard for Scotland?)
Sunday, 28 August 2011
I set off from Carlisle, which was an eerie ghost town and headed yet again Northwards. Obviously Sundays are still a day of rest in these parts. I liked it.
I hit the outskirts of Carlisle and the mood of the weather shifted. It turned more menacing and in the words of Paul Hogan "it was windy enough to blow the dog off his chain". The landlady of my previous nights lodgings had told me how End to End cyclists go up the country because it's easier with the prevailing winds. I'd also seen a headline of a paper this morning that read "quicker to walk: traffic chaos". I contest both of these statements.
I caught up with a fellow Walker along the way. He was from Düsseldorf and for the last 11 years had been making his way around Great Britains coast line. He'd started in the South East and our paths had intersected at this point in time. Bernhardt and I walked and talked. He'd seen masses of Europe both walking and touring in a car. It told me what I had already worked out on this challenge - you don't need to do it all in one go!
We continued into a welcoming Scotland and the first town of Scotland, Gretna. This was Bernhardt's final day of his 'holiday' and leg of of his journey so we did what any self-respecting person would do and celebrated. Into the nearest public house for a congratulatory beer. We sat next to a couple, Pam Green and Terry Armitage, who chatted with us. On hearing what I was doing, and why, Pam and Terry donated to the appeal. I swear I am not press-ganging people into giving money! These are just kind people. Terry also donned a fine royal blue bowler hat when he left - a true eccentric.
Bernhardt and I also had to leave. He to the train station, and I onwards to today's destination. We parted company. It had been good to have someone to talk to. My Camino had provided yet again. I hope to catch up with Bernhardt again one day to hear more of his tales.
I now sit feasting on some good food before a good rest.
Tomorrow I venture forth into Scotland and hope for less of a gale about the place!
Saturday, 27 August 2011
As I head North my family are trying to plan my route based on B&B's so I may occasionally drop below 20 miles from here on in. To compensate for the lack of miles I really pushed myself hard today. You have to take into consideration that I am carrying 35+ lbs on my back and I have over 500 miles in my weary legs so far. Hence pushing myself meant getting up to a heady speed of 4 mph for 30 minutes today. That 30 minutes hurt like hell I can tell you! The rest of the time I am usually dragging along at about 3 mph and trying not to think of where it hurts.
Going back to the start of the day and I left Penrith at bang on 9am. This may be a weekend but for me it was just another day out clocking up the mileage.
I'd decided that I would be pushing hard today so I stuck my headphones in and turned on the iPod. My choice of album was not the best. Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits. A good album but it conjures up some very strong memories for me. So ensued a few hours (with some songs on repeat) of me having to wear sunglasses to hide my eyes. A grown man(?) crying is not pretty. I've found that being out on the road day after day, punishing your body does make you feel good but also makes you very emotional!
With thoughts of past relationships, my Dad's condition, and my daughter all swimming around my head I decided I'd just go with whatever feelings came to me. If ever there was going to be a time to iron out my emotions, now was that time. I felt extreme emotions swaying from happiness to sadness to worry and then back to happiness. I just let everything go and kept putting one foot in front of the other. I was pushing myself harder and harder so the bad feelings didn't drag me down. I was really wrestling with things when all of a sudden an impossibly massive Mark Knopfler appeared over the horizon smashing out the guitar riff for Money For Nothing... I'd gone mad.
Whatever had just happened my brain was done with the bad feelings and had switched instead to "music video" mode. I imagined the gargantuan Knopfler and equally huge Guy Fletcher using the scenery as their stage, playing just for me.
I seriously thought for a second that the madness had come but it was extremely funny to me how ridiculous the sway from being down to being back in the game occurred. Our brain's are complex bits of kit and letting mine try and sort itself out had just worked. It had taken all the sad elements of what was 'up there' and basically taken what it could from my surroundings (in this case Dire Straits) and squashed/played out the sadness. I was happy, and sane, once again. No need to call the men in White coats.
There was another good reason for going fast today. Wolves were playing Aston Villa away and it was being aired on TV. I'd done a bit of homework and there was a pub I could reach by 12:30 at best if I went fast. I would miss some of the start of the game but I'd still get to see a good chunk of it. The pub was The Rose and Crown just outside of Carlisle. I'd timed it impeccably. My feet were screaming at me to stop and I thought with about 100 meters to go of a nice cool drink, me sat on a cushioned seat, sat in front of a big screen watching my team playing the glorious game.
My homework hadn't extended to seeing if the pub was open let alone showing any sport. Oh well, it was probably for the best. Instead I made do with reading updates on my phone. This passed the time and took my mind off of the pain in my feet.
Before I knew it I was in Carlisle. This is the earliest I've finished a day so far. I'd done 18 miles in a little over five and a quarter hours. Averaged out this was about 3.4 mph and all other days I've only managed to average around 2.7 mph. It had been a crazy day but I think I broke the back of a lot of emotional baggage and in double quick time!
Tomorrow is a rest day but following from last weekends successful 'short walk' I will be doing a 10 miler to cross the border to Gretna (no marriage) and into Bonnie Scotland!
Oh and today I passed 500 miles. If anyone can verify that?
Friday, 26 August 2011
It comes to this time of the week and I struggle. Today was no different. I've bruised the soft tissue on my heel of my left foot which means the bodies natural reaction is to only allow you to walk flat footed. This strains everywhere else and after 8 hours of walking you can guarantee pain. Even though my heel hurt like hell I just kept saying to myself "it will heal, it will heal". Eventually the pain subsided as the bodies natural pain killers took hold.
I tried to take my mind off of the niggles by doing maths in my head. I often give myself problems to solve to pass the time. If it takes me X amount of minutes to walk 20 paces, how far in miles would I walk in 10 hours? For example. Jumbled up questions that need sorting first. I puzzled for what seemed like a good 50 minutes or so then o checked my Garmin to see how long it had been since I last looked. 7 minutes had passed. I was clock watching and when you do that time may as well stand still. I marched on.
To help ease the time factor I took videos of myself speaking some of my thoughts. I noted that you don't feel lonely but when you finally get to talk to someone you just talk and talk. I've had to stop myself a few times mid flow with people because my stories overlap and it gets confusing. That's because I'm trying to say everything at once. It also occurred to me that when I left Lands End people thought it crazy, I moved up the country and crazy turned to amazing, moved up again and amazing turned to impressive. Today I got a "good luck" without even telling the person what I was doing. I can only guess that by the time I reach John O'Groats I will tell people what I am doing and they'll say "well, you picked a nice day for it" and they'll stroll off.
My watch was now speeding up, great! I'd got through the lull. I then entered Clifton which proudly states on it's village sign "last Battlefield on English Soil 1745". I wondered if this was a good thing or bad thing. Does this mean Clifton is a peace loving area or does this mean Clifton is long overdue a scrap? It turns out this is the place the Duke of Cumberland's army caught up with Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highlanders as they retreated from Derby. So ensued a bloody battle where the Duke came out tops... or so the sign said in the middle of the village.
I reached Penrith early but bruised and battered. My body is under enormous pressure to consistently perform this 8 hour walk, day in day out but I do also feel stronger, in mind and body. A good rest tonight will mean I'm all set for Carlisle tomorrow.
Thursday, 25 August 2011
Everything looked great, I'd planned a route that would take me off of the main road again and see me at a PC stop at roughly half way (what does PC stand for? It's the two most important letters on an Ordnance Survey map - Public Convenience). The route was also only a slightly longer distance. Perfect.
I'd bought a Landranger map yesterday for today's route. I'm not being geeky here by using it's correct name, I've used it's name because "Landranger" maps are a different scale to Explorer maps (the maps up until yesterday were all Explorer's). Landranger = 1:50,000 scale; Explorer = 1:25,000 scale. This was crucial in today's gaff. At my halfway stop point the footpath on my Landranger map dotted itself merrily across a little stream. Had I had an Explorer map I would have seen the little stream was in fact a 30 meter wide river and the map would have also shown a termination to one footpath and a start to another on the opposite bank.
I tried to cross the river. Shoes off, socks off, in I went. We don't live in the Bahamas and that means our waters run slightly cooler than theirs does. My feet nearly froze right there. It's the fastest I've moved for the last 3 weeks as I left that water. Nothing for it, I had to go round.
Consulting the map (more carefully this time!) I could see the next crossing point was an old disused railway line only half a mile or so away. I set off cursing the fact I was back tracking. Only a little way back I saw another public footpath leading off in the general direction of the way I wanted to go. This time I wasn't tempted! I stuck to my plan and headed for the old railway line. This was easy to find as you can imagine and with a fresh spring in my step, due to the fact I was once again heading forwards, I whistled my way down the tracks as if I were doing a screen test for Stand By Me.
My happy mood suddenly evaporated. In front of me stood a giant metal fence complete with heavy metal door, with no way round it, blocking the bridge I'd travelled to use. This was a disaster! I looked at the map. The next crossing was so far away it would be quicker for me to turn back and go the original way. I would lose at least 2 hours walking time. I was gutted. I slumped to the ground with a heavy heart. My "easy" day had turned into a nightmare. I put my hat over my eyes and tried to collect myself. My feet were already throbbing... Nightmare.
"Alright mate? Lost?"
What the deuce?!? I looked up and a lumberjack (I kid you not) was standing at the big metal door. The door was open! He'd opened it! I'm not sure how much tree work goes on around these old bridges but I'm guessing not a lot. The chances of this guy working in this area on this day at this time must be pretty minuscule. Rushing as best as I could to my feet I explained my plight and this gate keeper from God said "you're not supposed to use this but I can't see why not. I didn't say it was okay if you get caught though!" and he waved me through. Unbelievable.
When I was in Holme in The Fleece Inn a few days ago, a couple of women came and sat with me. We chatted and they explained they had done a pilgrimage type walk in Spain. They said when they were on their Camino they had been told that what you need, the Camino will provide. Since they told me this I have had very strange things happen on my own Camino. I'm not knocking it but it is very strange... and reassuring.
My walk led me into a huge valley with armies of Goliath's standing either side of me. I was 220 meters up and the mountains were 400 meters above me. I felt very humble. It was like they were the sentinels of The Dales. Monitoring every inch of it's border. Only the brave should enter. My path wound through the valley, not daring to breach 250 meters.
The rest of the day went without incident. RAF jets both old and new were on training runs and they use the canyon type surroundings for their manoeuvres. This was a treat as every now and then these noise machines would rush by and send the pulse racing. It was almost like you could reach up and touch them because they were so low. For a while I was a little boy again imagining myself in the cockpit 'pulling G's' and fighting off the enemy. Being scrambled to save the day. Life was and is good.
I finally arrived in Tebay and my feet are throbbing, I'm feeling shattered and weak, but I am happy.
Tomorrow I'll be stuck to the A roads until I find a map shop! I'm guessing that means no fighter planes and no strange happenings but we will see!
Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Off I struck in the direction of Kirkby Lonsdale along the A65. This route had to change quickly. The A65 is hellish to walk on! If you walk End to End do NOT follow my path! Not at this section anyway. I noted I could take a minor road that turned into a bridle way and also mirrored the A65, albeit at a higher altitude. It was a no brainer, I turned off the A65 ASAP and headed for the hills. Within minutes I started to feel the fear subside. My life no longer in imminent danger of expiring I started to enjoy myself again. I passed to Yorkshire gents who took an interest in what I was doing. Immediately they dug deep and donated to Richards Appeal. I thanked them and we parted company.
I walked into Settle and headed for the Information Centre where I picked up a map for my next leg of this journey. Foolishly I've left my other maps in Cinderford (sorry Uncle Fred and Aunty Pat could you let me know the numbers of the maps that are with you please?) With delight I could see I could spend a lot of time away from the busy A road.
I arrived in a little place called Austwick and I was due a break. It was 4 hours in to the day. I found a convenient bench and sat with my pack still on. Now it was lighter since shifting the extra weight the other day it wasn't such a chore having it attached to me. I leant back and tilted my hat to shield my eyes. "have you come to a standstill?" I removed my hat and opened my eyes to see a couple walking down the road. I'd passed them earlier and now they asked me how I was doing. I told them what I was doing and they immediately offered me a cup of tea "we only live up there", but it was more than o could ask for. The couple were heading in the other direction to their home, they were obviously off out somewhere. We chatted and indeed they were off out. Their son David Holme had been involved in an accident 26 years previously and at the age of 20 this couple had lost David. They were off to tend his grave. It struck a chord with me for obvious reasons and how everything that has and is happening could have turned out so differently. The lady reached into her pocket and gave the contents of it. I said my farewells and really felt for this couple. "not forgotten" is what they said he was and I went to pay my respects at David's grave.
Moving on and it started to rain. I've been really lucky with the weather so far but today I got a good soaking. It really didn't concern me though, all I had to do was look around me. Stunning scenery everywhere I looked. How can you be miffed with such delights around you?
As I write this I'm half a mile from my campsite. There will be no food near there so I've stopped to fill up on fish and chips at Whoop Hall. Great name.
Tomorrow sees me heading due North once again. Scotland I'm nearly with you!
Tuesday, 23 August 2011
The last question I answered with simple time vs distance. 14 miles on the road equalled 18 miles on The Tops. Time I didn't have would be lost so a tough decision made easy, The Pennine Way will have to wait for another time. I'll be back for you though!
I did get back to sleep and I did wake at the right time and things started to settle with me. I'd made another decision based on what Mick and Gayle (See Day 18) had suggested - if I had a pile of my pack that was definitely in, and a pole that was 'maybe', be ruthless with the 'maybe' pile and send it home. I was ruthless and a cull was made. I shaved a whopping 11lbs off of the weight of my pack! I'd also sent home my walking boots. They'd been passengers for too long and the Achilles tendon problems were returning because I'd worn the boots one whole day (yesterday). This meant I needed more shoes so before my walking day started I went to Keighley and bought a pair of Brasher shoes. I was amazed to find I could do 20 miles on a pair of shoes 'out of the box' with no harm to my feet. Looks like I'd made a good buy. Unfortunately they're discontinued so I'll not be able to get anymore but hey ho, there will be other good buys.
By the time I returned to Haworth fir the start of today's walk it was noon. This was easily the latest I'd started one of my walks. I needed to make tracks, I usually like having 10 miles under my belt by lunch time.
It started with a huge descent into Sutton-In-Craven. I was dreading the bottom of this giant hill. After all, what goes down has generally meant it must go up again thus far. Only this time it didn't. This time the roads made for gentle inclines and declines. My speed leapt up and before I knew it I'd bagged 13 miles. Nice! It was at this point I joined one of my beloved canal walks. The Liverpool and Leeds canal went through Gargrave and linked up the other side with the road I was going to walk on. Perfect. I do love canals. I think it might be the boat names "Excalibur", "Merlin", "The Amy May", "No 4". Okay maybe not the last one but generally the names make the boat dear. Someone thought of the names. It could be a loved one, a historical character, a place, a book, a pet, anything. All of them are personal to someone who obvious cares for the vessel. There's a lot of pride on those waterways.
Unfortunately I had to leave the canal. Unfortunate because I like canals but also unfortunate because I was now on a very fast, narrow, A65. I spent the remainder of the walk playing with traffic but it made me walk faster and I got to Hellifield in 7 hours or thereabouts.
I'm staying at Chapel Farm run by Jan and Barry Hills. It's one of those magical places for me. I feel very comfortable and relaxed, not to mention welcome. This is definitely somewhere I would recommend for people to stay if in the area. The other great thing is (fanfare sounds) I am at the half way point! It's no longer can I do it, I CAN walk still so no reason my body should complain any louder than it has been doing.
Tomorrow I set off on the nasty A65 again and keep walking! Unsure of my destination as yet.
One last thing before I sign off - in answer to Cindy's question regarding singing. I'm not sure where this "sing loud" has come from!
Monday, 22 August 2011
Something else I need to mention is if you'd like to see some pictures from my travels you can befriend me in Facebook www.Facebook.com/Daimon.walker and peruse LEJOG images at your leisure.
Lastly on the 'admin' front I want to say thank you for the comments you leave. I'm not being rude by not replying, I am just technically unable to respond from my iPhone. Sorry and thanks all at the same time!
Right! Onto today. I was treated to stunning views after stunning views today (hence why I'd like you to see some of the pictures on FB). I really didn't know what to do with myself at one point, I sat, looked, tried to drink in the phenomenal surroundings. So so stunning. These continued all the way from Marsden to Haworth. I took the road route because I am tied by time to get to John O'Groats in an allotted amount of time. I would implore any person thinking of doing End to End to spend more time ON The Pennine Way itself. You will not be disappointed.
I travelled light today thanks to Bobby Thandi (very good friend and serial 'stag-member') who took my non-essentials to my next port of call. It's made me think about what I am carrying and do I REALLY need that stuff? I think not so tomorrow I will send back home the excess weight. 45lbs is WAY too much to carry over 1000miles up and down hills. It's also dangerous on some of the descents, it tries to topple you over. Not fun!
I'm going to cut the journey story short (suffice it to say I am a very happy man having seen the sights I've seen today). I want, instead to talk about my support team.
People have asked if I am doing this solo. The answer is yes and no. I am walking solo and 'out there' on my tod but could I have done this without my family and friends? Simple answer is no.
Everything from encouragement to map purchasing to hotel/B&B booking all of this has been done by family and friends. You the person reading this blog, you let me know someone is there. So I'm not REALLY alone. Physically yes, but not emotionally. For that I want to say thank you. Without your help and support this would have failed within a week. Thank you.
Another thank you goes to Mark Hutchinson who is MD of Harrison and Clough ltd. My brother Adie used to work for this company and he says (I quote) it's the "Nicest company I have EVER worked for" and I can tell why. I have never met Mark but he has secured me a stay in an inn in Haworth. Thank you Mark, it's very much appreciated.
Tomorrow I was going to dabble with "The Tops" again. I think a few miles beyond Gargrave will see 20+ miles out. While the body is still not broken why not use it?
Sunday, 21 August 2011
Michael Addis donated £20; Jitka Roberts and John Holroyd donated £20; and Roy Farrar put £5 in the appeal. I'd asked people to note their names down and I'm not sure who wrote "tight arse!" next to Roy's name but it's simply not true. Every penny going to this appeal helps massively so I thank them all. Not only for your contribution financially but for putting a smile on my face. You are great people. I'll be back one day to buy you a pint in The Fleece!
I'm back at The Fleece Inn (fantastic company and food here!) enjoying a pint of Banks's then it's on s bus to Huddersfield for a spot of shoe shopping and hopefully meeting up with a mate - Bobby Thandi who has kindly offered to Sherpa my bag to my next drop off point. I'm not sure exactly where that is yet but basically 20 ish miles north of Marsden! Cheers Bobby.
Saturday, 20 August 2011
Breakfast was later than other days and threw me out of sorts. I left The Waltzing Weasel an hour later than I'd been starting on previous days but no matter, it's all about putting one foot in front of the other. Let's get going!
Within a few miles I bumped into a guy out walking his daughters dog. He'd moved near to the Pennines after his Father had passed away. The Pennines were his gym. He guided walked with me and guided me to William Clough. I later worked out a Clough is like a gorge cut out by water. Until I worked that out I was climbing William Clough and I was thinking if Mr Clough knew that a walk way was to be named after him he'd be proud!
I reached the top and my next encounter occurred. This was my inauguration on The Pennines and I didn't want to go wrong. I just need confirmation that Mill Hill were near by. A group of walkers appeared from the direction I thought Mill Hill was so I asked them. Indeed I was right but it sparked a conversation. The gentleman shook my hand and genuinely wanted to know what was going on. I left him feeling very happy.
At mill hill it was a right hook heading north. The ground had levelled out and the walking was good. A fellow walker caught up with me and I stopped to allow him to pass. Encounter number 3. Again a really genuine guy who had done masses of walking and really wanted to know my story. We walked and talked until the A57. A natural Pennine way break. I needed to change into my boots. I could feel the stones through my running shoes and looking at the soles I could see why. They were done! 300+ miles had taken their toll. I changed and bode farewell to my walking partner.
The way was a little confused at one point and I took a right instead of staying straight on. This was quickly rectified when another friendly walker helped me out. No real time lost. I headed towards Torside Reservoir.
The going was good but slow. Flies and a thin path were causing me to slow. I'm not a fan of heights and this was making me slightly dizzy. I ploughed on albeit very slowly. I got to the reservoir but after looking at my Garmin I was deflated. I'd only done 13 miles and had been going 6 hours. Not good. The descent had slowed me a lot. The pain in my toes had made me slow to a crawl. Descending is more painful that ascending.
A quick call to my brother and we decided (begrudgingly from me) that I should take the road from here on for today and pick up the miles another day. Grrrr! I wasn't happy. I stomped off, cursing the pain in my feet. How dare they slow me?!
The Holmes Moss Transmitting station stands at 1716 feet above see level. This I know because I read the sign as I passed it. I was determined to make time up and had marched up the 1700 foot climb at double pace. I was exhausted but no stopping! I needed to make the time up! The road route I had picked up would mean a 29 mile day!
On the decent from the Transmitting station I was in agony. The descent was crucifying my feet. I hobbled into Holme and saw a pub. No argument, I was in like Flynn!
Chatting to a local he said the walk across The Pennines from here to where I was due to stay is a really nice walk but it would be late if I did it now. Probably would be descending in the dark. Best to do it another day was the advice. Decision made I was walking on my day off. Encounter four and the people were getting nicer. Shortly followed encounter five - John Whiteley.
John is a fantastic guy. He noticed the pack and we chatted about what I was doing and why. Immediately he added £20 to the Richards Appeal pot but he also had some great stories of what he has done and it was obvious to see this was a guy who loved his challenges! John even offered a place to stop for the night, bought me a tasty pint and was generally just really really nice. They don't make many like Mr Whiteley but I'm starting to think they've nearly all been deployed to 'The North'. I'm generalising a fair bit here but the country seems to be like a kindness barometer - the further north you go, the kinder people get.
I'm walking on my day off but hopefully it will be in new shoes and a short walk at a leisurely pace. This will allow time for me to take in the stunning scenery and hopefully meet more nice people.
Tomorrow - Digsley Reservoir to Marsden.
Friday, 19 August 2011
Today was going to test my stamina. I'd noted that I had 23 miles with large hills and still with a full 44lb pack. I broke it down to 2 parts - pre Buxton and post Buxton.
The first hill I came to I assumed was the big hill I'd been warned about. I attacked it hard and within a few minutes I was breathing hard. Within another few minutes I was sweating but I pushed harder and reached the top. HA! 'big hill'?! Pah! I'd nailed it... Or so I thought. A mile later I rounded a corner and saw the biggest hill ever disappearing into the distance. "ah" I thought, "they meant THIS big hill!" I attacked this one slowly, head down, plod, plod, plod. When I reached the top I took a chance to stop and breath. It was then I looked about me properly. All I can say is 'stunning'! I was in beautiful surroundings, breathing fresh fresh air, watching birds of prey circling. Fantastic. I pushed on.
4 hours in and I'd not gone far. I reached the highest store in England (apparently) Flash Bar Stores and Coffee Shop. I stopped for a rest and a refuel. I wasn't going to make yesterday's mistakes again. 20 minutes later I was back on the road.
Fast forward and I reached Buxton - 13 miles done. I stopped only briefly here as time was starting to work against me. I'd worked out at the rate I was going I'd be on the road for 10 hours. I pushed on having spied a short cut on my map that Google hadn't. It would take me through a golf course but I'd be careful not to interrupt anyone. When I got to the cut through I immediately regretted it. I was a direct route but directly up. I was climbing and climbing. When I came out of my shortcut I was gasping for breathe but I was ahead of where I was going to be. A shortcut yes but at a cost. I should be more careful. Slow and steady will win this race.
I headed up an old disused road that went on for miles. I took me away from everything. No traffic, no people, no sound. I sat. I enjoyed. This was peace. Whilst I sat and pondered life, the universe, and everything I also thought I'd see if I could find another shortcut to Birch Vale. I'd found one and this time no ridiculous climbing. Having triple checked my route I set off back to civilisation.
I want to take this moment to confess I think I may have an unhealthy fascination with canals and their boats. I say this because I stumbled across a basin in Buxworth. As soon as I saw s canal boat I thought "Canal! Canal = Tow path = flat ground". I immediately consulted my map, how had I missed this? I changed my route immediately and loved the decision. Flat ground! My legs were loving it! 20 miles and still feeling strong.
I needed to peel away from the canal so I could get back on track for my B&B. Part of my walk back on track took me under a railway line. Nothing amazing about that you may think but I was nearly on top of the point where a bridge should be but I couldn't see it, then I looked up. Through the tree branches I could see a huge old bridge towering above me. Another amazing sight.
The canal diversion had cost me an extra mile but it was well worth it for the flat and the bridge alone.
Lots happened today but I can't really convey all of it. In summary though - we live in a beautiful country if you're reading from the UK, and if you're reading from elsewhere you really should visit. Come and see the sights. Grab a map and start walking, it's that easy. I guarantee you'll find something interesting.
Tomorrow will hopefully be a shorter day as my legs ended the day aching.
Marsden here I come.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Today was going to be a bit of minor roads and A-roads which is fine. I would say though if anyone else tries the End to End experience you should plan not to use roads and you should take longer to do it than 2 months. I currently feel I am rushing it and although I am seeing many beautiful places and things I am sure there is oodles that is passing me by. But back to today...
Like I said I struggled. Within 30 minutes I was grumpy, not really grumpy but on the cusp of becoming very grumpy. I obviously knew this was futile and silly but I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me. I do know my walking poles kept slipping from their bungie housing on my pack which made them irritating. I took a moment on the side of the road and tried to sort the poles. They weren't playing ball so I did what any juvenile would do and had a tantrum! The sticks landed in the hedge and I immediately thought "idiot". As I'd let the poles get to me this made me more grumpy. I'm starting to think I could probably have an argument with myself if you put me in a box. I decided what was best was to keep walking until this feeling subsided. Sticks retrieved and back in their bungie home I set off.
I reflected on the last few weeks, on how lucky I am, on Richards plight, on my Dads condition, on my daughter and not seeing her as much as I'd like, on relationships. And then I stopped myself. I realised negative emotions were getting to me. This was all part of the weird feeling I started with. I had to power through this. First walk break came and went, I didn't want to stop. Lunch came and went, I still didn't want to stop, I had to walk this feeling off. 16 miles and I spoke to my brother Adie. I explained I feeling like it was getting to me but I was okay. I knew this was going to be one of those days. After the call I started getting feedback from my feet to tell me to stop. A convenient bench appeared and I sat, released my pack, tilted my head back, and promptly fell asleep. This is not the first this instant sleep has hit me and when I woke 5 minutes later I realised my whole days mood was because of tiredness. 20 miles a day carrying 3 extra stone is a lot of punishment for the body and exhaustion builds up. Rest days are important!
I felt really happy that I'd found the root of the problem and took to the road. The 20 minute break had done me wonders! A spring was back in my step and a smile returned to my face. I felt happy that I'd worked through the problem. Okay it had taken 6 hours but I got there. The next few miles sailed by, normal service had been resumed.
As far as the walking goes the terrain is getting hilly again bit they aren't having the impact Devon had. These are much more enjoyable!
I've arrived at today's B&B in Leek and I'm famished! (I don't recommend skipping meals especially when you are doing upwards of 120 miles a week, not clever!) I'm off to the local Italian to load carbs galore into my body.
If today sounds like a downer it wasn't, it was just hard. Other people have much much harder battles in their life, my day was nothing but a bit of exhaustion. Rest days 'cure' that. I need to remind myself there are others out there trying really hard to get better and I know they will (Richard I'm thinking of you) but you'll need to take your time. When I get back hopefully you can take me for a beer and tell me all about your journey.
Tomorrow I think I'm heading out of Staffordshire. Another county closer to the goal!
Wednesday, 17 August 2011
To get there I had to pass through the likes of Shapshill, middle hill, Wedge's Mills, Cannock, and Rugeley. All pretty nondescript but that was okay. Not every place is going to be stunning or blow me away. They were... functional.
I wanted a good nose around Abbots Bromley so I decided to save up my breaks and have them all in one go at "Abbots". I made my way along the B5013 and crossed the Blithfield reservoir. On the other side I sat to tie a shoelace and was asked the usual inquisitive questions "where, why, when, how, are you crazy?" and as I was talking someone else chimed in and asked if I were Matt Taylor. This is the 2nd person to mention him to me on my travels. Who is this guy? I made to leave but left the details of Richards Appeal.
It was a short few miles to Abbots and when I arrived it was via "Goose lane" which was ironic because the person who told me all about Abbots has the nickname 'Goose'.
Abbots Bromley is really nice. It's got it's fair share of pubs but it also has "old town" written all over it. One of the houses is called "Gaol House". I'm sure the inhabitance now are much better behaved than it's historical name suggests. I stopped in The Crown and Jess served up a pint of Landlords. When I mentioned what I was up to I got the usual quizzical look, then the follow up questions, followed by the 'impressed but your mad' comments. To be expected. I feel a bit mad now. I didn't at the start but as time is going on I'm thinking.. this is a looooong way!!
It's good though because I get to see some fantastic places and life slows to a pace where you can take things in. You also get to meet some truly amazing people. Take tonight for example. I am staying with Mick and Gayle who picked up on the fact I was walking End to End via this blog which is advertised on Mark Moxons website. Gayle and Mick contacted me and offered me food, a bed for the night, the use of their washing machine, more food, and they threw in loads of information pertaining to The Walk. These are kind people and this is something we discussed tonight. You meet people when you do these types of thing, good people. It really has rekindled my faith in humanity. As Gayle said the news would have you believe the world is full of hoodies and criminals... I simply isn't true. My advice to all is go stick a pair of stout shoes on and hit a trail, path, canal, whatever, but go and enjoy it.
Tomorrow it's off to Leek I believe. The weather sounds like it may be a damp one so quite apt.
Tuesday, 16 August 2011
I woke to the same indescribable smell I had gone to sleep with. If I hadn't been so tired last night I would have moved to a decent hotel at the drop of a hat, but I didn't. Now I was laying in a dirty room, looking through dirty windows, smelling the dirty air. I could not wait to leave but before I left I HAD to see the effort made for breakfast. In Tripadvisor someone had commented that the food hall was even worse and that the chef looked like lurch. Sure enough he did, and it was, and so I left... To the bus and Kiddi.
The morning walk started perfectly. I was once again fully laden yet I still had a spring in my step (Mr Elliott's work was paying dividends). I think of all the walking I've done the tow paths have been the most relaxing. There's no reward as such with them but you can't fail but to be fully relaxed after a 10 mile jaunt along quiet tow paths. Friendly boaters bidding you a good morning and telling you what a lovely day it is. Just perfect. However this was still a challenge and the meandering was costing me miles so I broke away from the tow path and made my way to Wolverhampton via the sub and main roads.
I'm an avid Wolves supporter and I was really keen to see the home of Wolves style of the beautiful game, Molineux. I kept glancing at my map but all I had was my gps on my phone for most of today and you could only see fine detail if you zoomed in further than I wanted to. I gave up looking for Molineux and promised myself a return there one day soon. As I rounded a corner my jaw dropped. By chance my route had taken me to the front entrance of Molineux! I was delighted! I'm still delighted! I went in and had a good nose around. I could not stop smiling. So so happy. I've promised myself I'll still go back there but next time hopefully with a ticket to a game. For now I had to tear myself away. So happy!
I continued on through Wolvehampton and I watched as a man deliberate tossed his rubbish into a hedge, lit a cigarette, finished a bottle of drink, tossed that in the hedge, then attempted to make a phonecall (which failed probably because the Cro-Magnon man couldn't recall how the noise box worked). I wondered what it is with cities. I'm not saying you don't get litter louts outside of cities but to be so blatant and think it was cool, surely that's got to be some kind of 'display'. I'm not sure what it is and if I work it out well line up The Nobel for me!
Suddenly my senses were being assaulted. Wolverhampton has a tyre making factory. I've worked in some factories in the past but wow. This hummed like nothing I'd smelt before (even at last nights accommodation). Pew, I hastened on and then I was in leafy suburbia once again. The pack weight was starting to make my feet ache. I still had 4 miles to go. Time to dig deep and trudge on.
I arrived in Featherstone at about 5pm and at the Featgerstone Farm house at about 5:15pm. I'd been day dreaming of a little picturesque farm house in stunning surroundings. I nearly cried when I saw it. It was better than my day dream. Rufus let me in and should me to the most comfortable room ever. Complete with a bath. I iced my feet and ankles in the coldest water for 10 minutes then bathed away the rest of the days strains and stresses (like there had been any).
Today was a good day. It was cloudy, it rained, the clouds cleared, the sun shone. The World kept turning as it always does but today... today was a good day.
Tomorrow I head towards Uttoxeter and tomorrow nights accommodation.. Well I'll tell you more about that tomorrow.
Monday, 15 August 2011
Mark (Clare's husband) walked with me for the first half marathon distance. Walking is great but can be a little monotonous at times so to have a good chat whilst we walked was great. The miles passed quickly and we arrived at Stourport-On-Severn in a speedy 4 hours. Unfortunately on our walk we'd worked out I'd made a schoolboy error in calculating the walking distance to Bewdley. I'd measured in Km's not miles. This meant I'd only cover around 16 miles if I went to Bewdley, missing my daily 20 mile target. Mark suggested heading to Kidderminster via the canal path and we varified this as a good idea with Marks niece and local PE teacher Gemma Steward. Gemma's relationship with the canal was a close one going by a story she told us! I could then go back to Bewdley and do lesser miles tomorrow when I was fully laden. Up until now my pack was being driven around. (never ever look a gift horse in the mouth!)
We had lunch and parted company. Mark and Clare drove my pack ahead to my Bewdley B&B and I set off on the canal tow path to "Kiddi". What a great idea thus had been. Idyllic setting bled into idyllic setting. Tranquillity reigned.
I got to Kiddi feeling very happy and relaxed. I had to leave the canal path and take, once again, to the A-roads. I was passing through Kiddi when I noticed a memorial to Richard Baxter who it was said "In a stormy and divided age advocated unity and comprehension". Maybe we need another Richard Baxter to sort out this 'rioting' issue?
20 miles done and I decided on the lazy Man's route back to Bewdley. Cab. My cab driver told me how Bewdley was a 'catchem' town (where one of the fish bars gets it's name from) which meant in olden times if a vagrant reached and breached Bewdley then he was free to go as no law was enforced beyond there. Hence Catch them but I fear I may have been sold a tale there. Comments welcome.
I went off to my zero star, non luxury B&B. It was the cheapest I could find and believe me it shows. If ever you are desperate to stay somewhere in Bewdley and The Bridge accommodation is the last place left... sleep on the street. It is laughable what can be passed as accommodation but what do I care? I'm staying for one night, I'm in a bar having feasted on fish and chips, and enjoying a game of footy!
Tomorrow see's me pass through the home of the best football team in the world, albeit a sleeping giant, Wolverhampton.
Sunday, 14 August 2011
When I went in to see Alan I had very restricted movement in my legs, ankles, hips as well as the continuing pain in my Achilles tendons. When I left my tendons felt 90% back to 'normal', my range of movement elsewhere restored to how it was before I started this challenge. Amazing work for which I can't thank him enough.
On a sadder note tomorrow I leave Gloucestershire for the last time during this challenge which means leaving my family behind. It's been a long time since I've seen everyone from here and I'm so happy to have had the chance to see everyone. They've all been brilliant to me. Thank you for being there for me. You've turned my frown upside down!
The route all the way to Jedburgh has all but been decided. Tomorrow I'll be in Bewdley, Tuesday in Featherstone, Wednesday in Abbots Bromley, Thursday undecided but heading towards Chapel-En-Le-Frith for Friday. Next weekends stop is yet to be decided.
Saturday, 13 August 2011
I felt energised. The countryside was stunning with 360 degree views, the Malvern hills in the distance slowly creeping down my left as I progressed. There was a light breeze and cloud cover. Perfect walking conditions. I could feel perspiration building under my new printed tshirt that stated I was "Lands End to John O'Groats". I checked my Garmin to see how I was getting on. I had to double check because I'd done 3 hours walking in 2 hours. This just didn't make sense but it was true. I was tearing along!
I arrived at Tewksbury in need of refreshment. The local pub promised "Coffee and cake £2.95". I went in and asked for my deal. "Sorry, no cake left". It was only 11am. How much cake did they have in the first place? Was this prize winning cake? Did everyone queue at 10, just to get their hands on this delicious cake? "Just a coffee then please". I was handed a tiny pipette of coffee squirted into a thimble "that'll be £2.50, please". I didn't argue but I made sure that coffee lasted half hour and also made sure I used their wifi for the entire time. It was actually nice to sit for a while.
Off I set again and admired Tewksbury. In 1471 a battle had taken place that was still commemorated today with adobe floral display. Read here for more http://www.britainexpress.com/History/battles/tewkesbury.htm I did and got right into the feel of the town. It really felt like it was in some kind of strange time warp with parts clambering for the 20th century whilst the rest languished in it's comfortable past. I could have stayed there for hours. A really really nice place. I highly recommend it.
I moved on though back into countryside and I was still making excellent time. I dared to imagine completing a marathon distance and as time shuffled on and the miles crept up I decided that the marathon was on!
I tried to call my Aunty and Uncle who were due to pick me up once again but too late, they were already here and I'd only(!) done 21 miles. I asked if they minded if I did 5 more miles. They agreed gladly. I whipped off the bottom part of my trousers making them the rugged Man's marathon shorts, left the relatives with all my other belongings and started running... well I didn't want to keep them waiting any longer than was necessary did I?
It felt awesome, I felt light, in control, and best of all pain free. The perfect end to a perfect day. With a rest day due tomorrow a physio session has been lined up for me and then I'll be plotting my route to the end. The value of being in a bed and carrying less is now tangible so I'll be looking for places to stay (youth hostels, B&B, etc) then ditching the camping gear.
I felt like I could have kept going but no point damaging myself. I finished on a complete high. Brilliant. The week has gone full circle but I am pleased to say team Walker/Niblett have turned the week into one of great success.