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.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Day 42 - Alltsigh to Beauly (24 miles)

I left Briarbank B&B in Alltsigh and headed back on to the Great Glen Way with stories of 'The Nessie Monster' fresh in my head. I'd obviously taken the stories for what they were, tall tales of a non-existent entity. However, no sooner had I got on the GGW did I see something I've never seen before. I watched as small, dense patch of fog rose up from Loch Ness, through the trees, enveloping me in moisture, before it disappeared again. All in under 90 seconds. Maybe we should keep an open book on Nessie? Weird things do happen.

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

Day 41 - South Laggan to Alltsigh (21 miles)

The Great Glen Way follows a lot of the Caledonian Canal. Now, if you've been following my blog you'll know I have a soft spot for the man made waterway that is The canal. However, and I say this in the nicest possible way, I found today unchallenging. The reason being is the GGW is a route for all abilities, it has to be. If I had more time I'd probably like to try some of the other walks in the area. It is still a very beautiful place after all.

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

Day 40 - Fort William to South Laggan (20 miles)

Leave the West Highland Way and you can almost immediately join the Great Glen way (GGW) that stretches up to Inverness.

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

Day 39 - Kinlochleven to Fort William (15 miles)

So there it is, the WHW has been completed. It marries up to the Great Glen Way which will be tomorrow's starting point.

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

Day 38 - Kingshouse Hotel to Kinlochleven (9 miles)

Today may only have been 9 miles and done in 3 hours but the weather was a wild animal.

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

Day 37 - Tyndrum to Kingshouse hotel (19 miles)

A late ish start to the day with a quick trip to the local shop which boasts of being the last shop until Fort William. I got energy food for emergency rations. I wouldn't want to be stranded with nothing to eat. I now have enough rations for 2 days. Better safe than sorry.

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

Day 36 - Inversnaid to Tyndrum (19.5 miles)

I was advised by a friend to get a panoramic photo stitch application for when I got up to this part of the World. Never was a truer word said because everywhere I looked today was a landscape picture waiting to go on canvass.

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

Day 35 - Drymen to Inversnaid (20 miles approx)

Today I left Mark and Debbie's place in Glasgow with a heavy heart. I'd been made to feel very welcome and at home. I really appreciate the fact they have given up huge chunks of their time just to take in this stray.

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

Day 34 - SE Glasgow to Drymen (20 miles)

I couldn't possibly have walked through Glasgow without seeing friends in the Ernst & Young office. I turned up looking more like a tramp than my usual sharp self(!) I'm not sure some of them believed me when I'd said I'd walked from Lands End. Hopefully you believe now.

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

Day 33 - Boghead to SE Glasgow (20.5 miles)

Strange happenings afoot on my Camino again today. This time at the start of my journey. I was only minutes into the day and I'd got bamboozled by the information on my map vs the world around me at that point. A road was missing. I was confused. I walked into someone's garden, nope, not right. I walked back and into a section of woodland, found myself in someone else's garden and back tracked again. As I was thinking what to do and where to go and heading back to the woodland entrance I noticed a man standing at the gateway I'd used. I asked if he was from around the area. He lived nearby. Now here's the odd thing. He hardly ever came to the area where we met. He only turned up to check on the houses in the area. He was restoring an old house nearby and wanted to restore it in keeping with the existing old properties.

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.