Thursday, March 22, 2007

Day 60 : Wick to John o’Groats (Duncansby Head)

Thursday 15th March 2007

Distance Walked: 17.6 (+1.9) miles
Start Time: 6:01 (12:19)
End Time: 11:18 (12:53)
Elapsed Time: 5:17 (0:34)
Weather: Overcast and drizzly
Final Distance Walked: 1188 miles

Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day 60

“What do you think you’ll feel at the end of it?” said the guy in the pub back in Helmsdale.
“Overwhelming disappointment, probably” I replied.
“Oh, you’ll be overwhelmed, all right” he said, knowingly. “You won’t be able to hold back the tears”

We were both wrong. After an early start and a long, re-energised stomp through the final miles, I reach the small community of John o’Groats at the end of all the roads and the overriding feeling is relief. It’s over. The sadness and disorientation will come later. Now, it’s just pure relief. The fact that the deadline is hit and the minor celebrity’s pockets are briefly lightened is momentarily satisfying, but the sense of accomplishment is strangely absent. I don’t know what to do with myself.

As at Land’s End, the famous signpost is not in operation so I touch the battered stump, sign the book in the Groats Inn, and complete the final two miles along the coast to Duncansby Head, the true furthest point from the start back in Cornwall. It’s been a journey of 1188 miles through some of the most remote yet spectacular landscapes in Britain, taking sixty days to complete in a mild but challenging winter. Whatever else I haven’t done with my life, I’ve done this, and maybe, for now, that’s enough.

On the train home, it hits me. Passing the places I’ve spent days, weeks, walking through, it’s as if my heart has been nailed to the stump at the top and I’m being stretched away from it, with all the cares and worries that had unravelled during the trek being pulled back towards me, tighter and tighter, as the carriage drags me further away from the place that I’d struggled to reach for so long. The clarity of thought that this liberty provided drains away. Whatever dissatisfactions were present at the start, still remain.

What do you do when you realise that you’re not the person you imagined you would become? We can be so immersed in the daily struggle to maintain and improve our lives that it’s possible to lose sight of who we wanted to be, until we look up one day and realise that years have passed and the chance may be gone. And the comfort and ease that we may have created for ourselves through the years of hard work compels us to accept our fate, rather than risk losing everything by stepping away from it all.

I’ve realised, as the miles ticked by, that I wasn’t really looking for anything when I started this Walk, back in Cornwall. This has not been a metaphysical journey, an existential experience. The pain, the swellings, the blisters, the bleeding. It’s all real, and I welcomed it. I welcomed the rain and the snow and the darkness. The hardship and the discomfort and the frailties compelling me to stop, just as I welcomed the sunshine and the beauty and the urge to continue. I welcomed the meaninglessness of it, of doing something for its own sake.

No, I wasn’t looking for anything, but I wanted to see everything. It’s not clear if I’m now more connected to the country in which I live, or more displaced from it than ever, but there’s a certain understanding and appreciation that could not have been gained in any other way. I don’t know if the wanderlust that took hold of me was a love to wander or a search for wonder but, either way, the experience of the last sixty days has only increased its pull. Whether this is a way of embracing the world, or escaping from it, should not be a concern. As the pressing realities of the world close in, it’s the desire to keep moving that needs to be protected.

Song of the day:

Isobel Campbell & Marl Lanegan

Now after all /
Don’t feel like nothing /
Like walking away /
Like a mouth full of rain /
At twelve o’clock a bell starts ringing /
A dog starts barking /
And you’re still missing /
Still missing something /
You’ve never known what it was

Day 59 : Lybster to Wick

Wednesday 14th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 14 miles
Start Time: 9:15
End Time: 14:17
Elapsed Time: 5:02
Weather: Grey drizzle
Distance walked so far: 1168.6 miles

One of the guests of the Portland Arms had clearly heard about my quest and, as I was struggling along the road and attempting to quell the morning pains, he drove up alongside, wished me well and handed me a huge block of chocolate, before driving back again. An astonishingly kind gesture, which moves even my hardest of hearts, for this is the greyest of days, devoid of life and energy like the legs beneath me. I’ve ground to a halt. The body is deserting me, within sight of the finish.

There have been days where it’s felt as if I could walk forever, but now each step is a battle. At least there are no distractions to taunt me. It’s just the black road ahead and the dark sky above. The moisture turns to drizzle and, in the swampy lands surrounding Wick, the first swarms of midges emerge to torment and terrorise. This is the nightmare of the summer walker in Scotland, but my tasty flesh is swathed in layers of fabric and I manage to limp to the final major town of the journey without incurring their wrath.

I didn’t expect much from Wick, and that’s exactly what I got. If it hasn’t yet been dubbed the “Mansfield of the North”, then maybe it should be, though perhaps that does a disservice to both Mansfield and the North. It’s a surprisingly large town, particularly after the sparseness of last few days, but the time of prosperity here seems to be long gone. There is a Wetherspoon pub in the centre though, a rarity in Scotland, and its calmingly reassuring interior helps to banish some of the lingering aches. Tomorrow it will all be over. Some aches, I suspect, will linger longer.

Song of the day:

Nick Drake
“Day Is Done”

When the day is done /
Down to earth then sinks the sun /
Along with everything that was lost and won /
When the day is done

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Day 58 : Helmsdale to Lybster

Tuesday 13th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 23.7 miles
Start Time: 8:27
End Time: 16:21
Elapsed Time: 7:54
Weather: Strong wind and sun. Occasional shower.
Distance walked so far: 1154.6 miles

There’s a phrase that is plastered throughout the popular walking areas of the country that says something like: “Take only memories; leave only footprints”. Often it feels like I’m incapable of doing either of these things, that this journey is so brief and negligible that its effects will fade with the light of each dying day. Sometimes I feel like I slide through the world so undemonstratively that I’m barely there at all.

There’s a permanent conflict between wanting to make the most of this opportunity, to cherish every moment of this rare liberation, and yet simultaneously to want to shed such pressures, to simply walk and enjoy the sensation of walking, without really caring about either the location or direction, or whether a brief chance of freedom in my life is being wasted.

It’s hard though. With each new landscape I’m beset with flashbacks of encountering a similar vista, and am shocked to recall that the related events were so recent, and that they occurred just a few weeks ago on this very Walk. It seems such a long time ago that it all began that I’m struggling to remember a time when I wasn’t doing this. The prospect of returning to a former life presses heavily upon me.

Yet, the structure of the Walk propels me forwards, and I’m grateful for it. It’s a windy, corrosive part of the world up here. Whatever isn’t secured, is lost to the elements. In the morning I leave the “Be.grave Hotel” in Helmsdale, and this afternoon walk past the “Inver House”. Somewhere in the North Sea, an L and an E are searching for a home.

What they’ve fled is the Ord of Caithness, the last real challenge of the Walk, and a bleak, blustery place it is too. The steep, coastal hills are something of a shock as the A9 climbs fiercely up the slopes out of Helmsdale, with the temperature dropping along with the clouds. This proximity to mountains and moorland evokes the spirit of the Highlands, but thankfully the wind is at my back and the sun emerges, and even the climb out of the steep Berriedale valley passes without incident. It has a fearsome reputation but, after so many miles and so many hills behind me, it barely registers, and certainly is not a factor in the rapidly increasing sensations of pain that fizz through the feet.

Maybe it’s the rare sunshine that does it, though it’s more likely to be the crushing tarmac, but the blisters on the heel can be felt as they form and spread, each step increasing the discomfort. If I didn’t have an artificial deadline now, the dilemma would be obvious. Would it be less painful to slow down and do fewer miles each day, but to therefore drag the pain out over more days, or to increase the pace to complete the task, but risk further damage? I try to calculate but I can’t do the sums. I don’t even know what the formula is.

Having treated myself to a pint at the Inver Arms in Dunbeath, a ramshackle portacabin of a pub containing a friendly bunch of ramshackle regulars, the final miles of the day merge into a stubborn relentlessness. The environment is increasingly desolate, with a succession of scattered farmhouses and disparate communities, clinging to the coastline. There are aspects of Cornwall here, but a Cornwall that has been stretched and decimated and denied investment. I pass villages that I presume have seen better days, though the concrete and tin structures seem timelessly tatty and the worrying procession of disbanded hotels ring the first note of panic, before The Portland Arms Hotel in Lybster comes to the rescue and I’m bathed and shiny again and ready to complete the job.

Song of the day:

“These Days”

I've stopped my rambling /
I don't do too much gambling these days /
These days I seem to think about /
How all the changes came about my ways /
And I wonder if I'll see another highway

Monday, March 19, 2007

Day 57 : Dornoch to Helmsdale

Monday 12th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 29.6 miles
Start Time: 8:52
End Time: 17:33
Elapsed Time: 8:41
Weather: Sunshine and showers
Distance walked so far: 1130.9 miles

Your heart gets broken and you think that you’ll never love again and then, when you try, you find that there’s not as much love to give anymore. Something has died inside and so you guard your heart in case it happens again and you’re left unable to feel anything at all.

I’m hoping it’s not the same with feet. These are my weapons of self-destruction. After weeks of merciless punishment, I now dread the moment when I have to squeeze into the boots, locking myself into position for another day of relentless hammering. And the A9 is an unfeeling host. A truly dreadful way to finish any walk. Such great work has been done in opening up areas of Britain for walkers, and so many fantastic (or at least well-intentioned) paths have been created, that it does seem incredible that so much of the coastline is not accessible to the public. It would make such a huge difference generally, but specifically to a walk like this.

For I’m truly now on the coast again. I’ve walked besides sea lochs and firths, but today really feels like the first day actually alongside the sea since I dragged myself away from the bay at Saint Michael’s Mount, fifty-five days ago. But, like fire or a pert breast, I don’t have to touch it to know that it’s real, preferring to take the inland road to Loch Fleet rather than walk across the sands and grass of Dornoch Links.

From here it’s back onto the A9, where the grass verge disappears and the dodging of the lorries becomes an all-encompassing exercise. Thankfully though, there are a few delightful detours along the way which salvage the day from painful drudgery. From the town of Golspie, a footpath along the coast passes behind the marvellously eccentric Dunrobin Castle, a fairytale palace with Disney-like spires shooting into the air. But the personal highlight is the walk along the amazing beach at Brora; orange sands below and a perfect blue sea beckoning, with just the seabirds and a gang of lazy seals for company. It’s only a mile and a half, but it restores my faith and confidence, acting as a sedative for the final burst, along the A9 to Helmsdale.

These last few miles of the Walk are the hardest of all. It is becoming a slog. I know I’m going to get there now, so mentally it’s as if there’s no point actually physically getting to the finish. Basically, I just want it to end. I long for rest, and days of lazy sunshine. I picture myself in Southern California, or driving down the Surf Highway in New Zealand, with the waves on the right, the mountains on the left, tunes on the stereo, blue sky, hot sun and a sweet heart by the side. The pain comes and goes. The discomfort is constant. The battle is in the mind.

If I had had a reason for doing this then I’m sure I would have stopped by now. I would have argued myself into submission and given up. It must be hellish for those with people depending on the success of their Walks, those with charitable donations weighing on their shoulders or who had been planning and dreaming of it for years, who have engineered their lives to give them the time and resources to try, and to then be put in a position where they might cave in.

I love the fact that it’s difficult. That there are huge sections, days sometimes, that I hate. I love the meaningless of it all. I have no reason to be doing this whatsoever and, for that reason alone, I continue.

Song of the day:

Belle & Sebastian
“Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie”

Wouldn’t you like to get away? /
Kerouac’s beckoning with open arms /
The open fields of eucalyptus /
Westward bound /
Wouldn’t you like to get away? /
Give yourself up to the allure of “Catcher in the Rye” /
The future’s draped in stars and stripes

Day 56 : Alness to Dornoch

Sunday 11th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 20.9 miles
Start Time: 8:49
End Time: 15:24
Elapsed Time: 6:35
Weather: Overcast and windy
Distance walked so far: 1101.3 miles

Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day 56

She leaves in the morning, quietly, and is away. Though I relish the company, it only feels right that I finish this alone. One of the appealing aspects of the Walk was that it seemed like something that could be achieved with no support or preparation and, with the end almost in sight, I’m keen to push myself as hard as possible to see just how much discomfort I can withstand.

I’ve had no sensation at all in my big toes for about a month now, which is probably lucky as they’d be furious if they knew what was going on down there. I have adopted a walking technique which can only be described as “upright indifference”: arms folded, head back, spine straightened, eyes fixed down the length of the enormous nose. This form of arrogant plodding seems to alleviate the pain in the left shoulder but gets me some funny looks from the passing traffic. To hell with ‘em. Let see how they look when they’ve walked eleven hundred miles.

Today’s morning miles are rain-sodden and drab, along back roads between forest and farms. The thick cloud presses down and all is gloomy. Reaching the outskirts of Tain by midday, with the expanse of the Dornoch Firth beckoning before me, I join the A9 for the first of many miles over the final few days, this time as it heads over the bridge towards Dornoch. It’s a smart, elegant town, enticing visitors with its seaside location, impressive accommodation and world class golf course. It feels like I’ve walked into another world in a single day.

The minor celebrity that has been plaguing me on a weekly basis continues to interfere. Completing the walk is not enough to keep him entertained, it seems. Now there’s an artificial deadline and the spectre of charitable donations if the deadline is met. Not only is he trying to turn me into a performing monkey, he’s also trying to make me dance. Worse, he’s trying to add meaning to the Walk where previously there was none. Yet, as much as I’m indifferent to the notion of charity, the prospect of forcing such a Scrooge-like character to dip into his money-bin is too enticing to dismiss. It will involve completing the final five days worth of walking in three and a half days, but I suspect that I won’t be the one in the most pain at the end if I succeed.

Song of the day:

Rickie Lee Jones
“After Hours”

All the gang has gone home /
Standing on the corner /
All alone /
You and me, streetlight /
We'll paint the town - grey /
Oh, we are so many lamps /
Who have lost our way

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Day 55 : Inverness to Alness

Saturday 10th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 29.4 miles
Start Time: 8:47
End Time: 17:36
Elapsed Time: 8:49
Weather: Sunshine and showers. Grey later.
Distance walked so far: 1080.4 miles

I know little of magic but, crossing the Kessock Bridge out of Inverness, I see the first road sign to John o’Groats (120 miles!) as a huge bold rainbow arcs across the sky, and it feels just about as perfect as anything is ever going to be. A fairytale. Of course, the pummelling wind nearly dumps me into the Beauly Firth below but, clinging on, I stagger down to follow the road as it hugs the shoreline of the Firth from North Kessock.

Walking into a headwind is a bit of a nightmare, and the road here is totally exposed. The air sweeps down from the mountains, along the expanse of water and into the face. Still, the sun is out and creates interesting silhouettes which I admire as I struggle on. More than anything, it’s a relief to have a change of scenery, a different kind of environment. The smell of the sea is enervating. No change is as good as a rest, but this is definitely a welcome change.

It doesn’t last long. Cutting inland between farms and fields, I pass villages of shire horses and Highland cows before joining the A862 as it heads towards Dingwall, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth. This is where they bring the huge oil rigs for a holiday, but I can’t see any today. It’s not holiday season so this would be a logical place to stop for the night, but, of course, I carry on walking.

My feet start to break.

Nineteen miles seems to be the usual point at which the discomfort turns to pain, regardless of terrain, but nineteen miles of unforgiving tarmac is guaranteed to hobble. Every step of the next ten miles becomes an interesting exercise in sensation management. Eventually I pass through Evanton (where a note scribbled on the door of the Police Station says “Do Not Disturb”) and onto the road to Alness which, it seems, is extremely popular with boy racers, keen to use me as target practice as they scream up and down in their low-slung, rumbling lumps of crap. I’m itching for a fight, then, as one of them pulls up alongside.

“Do you need a lift into town pal?” he says, Scottishly
“No thanks mate. I’m walking to John o’Groats so that would ruin everything”
“Man alive!” he coughs, exhaling plumes of smoke “Good luck pal!”, and off he screeches.

Nice of him to ask though. Maybe Alness is not a reflection of its car-owning youths, I ponder. Wishful thinking. It is a nasty little place. The Support Crew had secured a room in the Station Hotel, a drab depressing place which, on a Saturday night, plays host to a throbbing disco for the bristling locals. It was Launceston all over again. Finally, at midnight, the bass ceases, the bedroom stops shaking and the drunks fade into the streets, obscenities spilling through the darkness.

Signs in the town centre proclaim that Alness is a recent winner of the “Britain In Bloom” competition. This I can understand. Flowers thrive in shit, and this place is full of it.

Song of the day:

Sigur Ros

Hopping into puddles /
Completely drenched /
Soaked /
With no boots on /
And I get nosebleed /
But I always get up

Day 54 : Drumnadrochit to Inverness

Friday 9th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 19.2 miles
Start Time: 9:32
End Time: 15:42
Elapsed Time: 6:09
Weather: Windy and grey, with bright patches
Distance walked so far: 1051 miles

Joy! Someone must have stolen the sign that indicates the point at which the Great Glen Way swings upwards, away from the evil A82, because I certainly didn’t see it, and was left with a five mile jaunt on the tarmac to begin my day, sandwiched between roaring trucks and the grey expanse of water on the right. At least it allowed a consistent view of the loch, which is something that the irritating Way doesn’t do, and, glancing back, the views of the receding Urquhart Castle were almost worth the threat of imminent flattening.

Intrigued to see how much worse the Way could get, I fashion a route up the sheer slope towards Abriachan, and rejoin “It” as it follows tedious back roads over dull, exposed moor land. I wish I hadn’t bothered. The committee that designed this route must never have walked it themselves and, if they have, I suggest they do so over and over again, as punishment.

After a few miles through yet more pine, Inverness come into view, with the expanse of Beauly Firth behind. It looks like a grey kind of place from the approach, somewhat confirmed during the meandering wander through the housing estates and leisure centres that the Way insists upon before reaching the centre. The park through the river is pretty though and, with a stumpy cathedral on one bank and a stock castle on another, there’s something solid and imposing about the town.

The Great Glen Way ends in front of the castle and so do I. It may be a poor excuse for a Long Distance Path, but it’s the last one I’m going to get. I’ve run out of trails. From here it’s back to the roads. Until the roads run out. Then I’ll know I’ve made it.

Song of the day:


Sometimes I go and walk the street /
Behind the green sheet of glass /
A million miles below their feet /
A million miles, a million miles

Day 53 : Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit

Thursday 8th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 14 miles
Start Time: 9:45
End Time: 14:02
Elapsed Time: 4:17
Weather: Sunshine and showers
Distance walked so far: 1031.8 miles

He could snap me like a twig. Of that I’m certain. And once snapped, he could toss me over his shoulder and cart me up to the top of Ben Nevis, like the people in his stories who carry pianos and fridges up to the peak, leaving them on the summit for the mountain rescue helicopters to winch down. He has so many stories, the genial owner of the Glenmoriston Arms, and he works through the full repertoire from his place behind the bar. Tales of runners who pelt up and down the mountains in thirty minutes, or who conquer twenty-four peaks in twenty-four hours. Ridiculous tales. Of non-stop five day stomps as a member of the Special Forces. These days he is a friendly hotel owner but there’s something steely within and, impressed by my efforts, he yearns for the day when he can once again take on a challenge like mine. He’ll run it, he says. Fifty miles a day. Easy. I don’t disagree. He could definitely snap me.

The section of the Great Glen Way from Invermoriston to Drumnadrochit may be relatively short, but it’s by far the hilliest of the trail, with countless switchbacks to test the patience. Once again, it’s the high path along the Forestry Commission track through the firs and, as yesterday, the glimpses of the loch below are rare and precious. It looks moodier today too. Meaner. The myth of the monster is, of course, ridiculous but, just as I can’t help but check for lurking ghosts when having a piss at night, I involuntarily keep scanning the surface for any sign of the beastie. To no avail, thankfully.

Regardless, the Way soon pulls away from the water altogether, concluding the day with some dull, pointless miles along the high back road before dropping down to the tourist hub of Drumnadrochit. What’s most peculiar about this choice of route is that it totally avoids the one landmark that would logically be the highlight of the walk, for the picturesque remains of Urquhart Castle are two miles back along the A82 from Drumnadrochit, two miles that are definitely worth retracing as the ruins are some of the most iconic in the country.

And they’re iconic because they confirm most tourist’s preconceptions. This is what Scotland means to them. A land of castles and mountains and water and clouds and, at Urquhart, they can capture the single photograph that includes all those things. It’s beautifully convenient. They come from all over the world to see it, stepping straight from their Nessie boat trip into the history and romance of the neatly packaged castle, balancing on the edge of the water. Tellingly, the shop and café dwarf the size of the tiny museum at the Visitor Centre. This is a place of myth and merchandise, and I don’t really have any room in my pack for either.

Song of the day

“Nature Anthem”

I wanna walk up the side of the mountain /
I wanna walk down the other side of the mountain /
I wanna swim in the river /
And lie in the sun /
I wanna try to be nice to everyone

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Day 52 : Invergarry to Invermoriston

Wednesday 7th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 17.2 miles
Start Time: 9:30
End Time: 15:37
Elapsed Time: 6:07
Weather: Sunshine and showers.
Distance walked so far: 1017.8 miles

Brad is from New Jersey and, on his first trip to Europe, has already seen more of the continent’s major cities than most Europeans will ever manage. Across the sunlit breakfast room we compare stories of our two contrasting journeys, and end up feeling rather envious of each other’s escapades. Rather than waste time in England, he spent a weekend in London then came straight up to Scotland. It’s easy to understand why. There may be many interesting sights down south, but Scotland feels unique and, just as importantly, actually seems to welcome visitors. I tear myself away from the warm hospitality of the Invergarry Hotel and head out into the light morning mist.

It’s a few miles along the A82, by the shores of Loch Oich, before I can rejoin the Great Glen Way at Bridge of Oich, from where it again follows the Caledonian Canal northwards. Like so many of the feats of engineering that allowed Scotland to prosper, the canal has Thomas Telford’s skilled fingers all over the design. Here it runs parallel with the River Oich and, as the sun finally usurps the grey bursts of rain, I almost begin to warm to the monotonous pounding, especially when it leads to Fort Augustus, the little town at the southern end of Loch Ness.

Now here’s a place that is known throughout the world, though probably for the wrong reasons. It doesn’t have the surface area of Lomond, but it is by far the bigger of the two. It’s almost unimaginably big, actually, but these two stats might help you to try. If you were sufficiently minded, and had a lot of help, you could fit all the people in the world into the waters of Loch Ness, three times over. And it’s so big that it holds more water than all the lakes and reservoirs in England and Wales put together. It’s a real monster.

True to form, the Great Glen Way lurches away from the shore and insists on plunging through yet more bland forests, obscuring the sight of the water for much of the time. Through the sporadic clearings though, the view is simply stunning, and I grudgingly admit that it’s only truly possible to appreciate the scale of the landscape from such an elevated position. It’s mostly a view of pine though, and a slog up and down the slopes. Most of the Great Glen Way uses the route of the Great Glen Cycle Path, and it’s certainly geared towards bikers rather than walkers. It also seems to lack the range of accommodation that was so reassuring in the Highlands, which is maybe why the stop in Invermoriston proves to be such a welcome relief.

I nestle into the beautifully comfy Glenmoriston Arms Hotel, just as the Support Crew arrives to administer a final hello. She tells me that I stink, and I say what I think of her too. To be fair, the sack of clothes hasn’t been washed since I set foot in Scotland and the hum is almost overpowering. I add the task to my “To Do” list, somewhere between “Finish Walk” and “Find A Job”. It’s good to set priorities, but at the moment mine do not especially centre on personal hygiene.

Song of the day:

The Arlenes
“Lonely won’t leave me alone”

There was a time I thought I knew /
About life and what to do /
And now it’s plain /
I know nothing at all

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Day 51 : Fort William to Invergarry

Tuesday 6th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 28.8 miles
Start Time: 8:37
End Time: 17:41
Elapsed Time: 9:04
Weather: Mostly wet and gloomy. Rainbows!
Distance walked so far: 1000.6 miles

Fort William is the self-styled “Outdoor Capital of Britain” but, in the same way that I’m the self-styled “Lord of Lingering Disappointment”, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. The town is certainly in an enviable position, wedged between mountain and sea loch, and, more importantly, it has loads and loads and loads of shops. I invest heavily in new socks to pamper my suffering soles and look for a Way out.

Just as the West Highland Way ends at one roundabout, so the Great Glen Way begins at another, sandwiched between a supermarket car park and a McDonald’s drive-thru. It leads out through miles of stained concrete houses before joining the Caledonian Canal at Corpach, where the multi-tiered lock system of Neptune’s Staircase allows the sea-going vessels to penetrate the inland waterway. It’s a huge canal, much wider and more imposing than any of the others I’ve encountered, but no more entertaining, particularly as the torrents begin to fall.

I should be used to walking along wet towpaths by now, but it still grates. At least there are sporadic glimpses of the diminishing, cloud-covered Ben, and the path is certainly smooth, but it’s a relief when the canal is left behind and the walk along the lazily-named Loch Lochy begins. Unlike with Lomond, here the path sticks closely to the shoreline, perfect for moments of quiet, if damp, contemplation, if that's your thing.

Heading up into the lochside forests, the seasonal lack of the dreaded Scottish midge is again a source of relief. They love the wet, wooded places, and they would love me too, but today my concern remains with the search for a bed for the night. Laggan appears to have been deserted, so I press on in failing gloom and falling rain, taking an annoyingly meandering cycle track which eventually drops down to Invergarry where, mercifully, I secure the last remaining room in the only hotel in the area. It’s a comforting kind of place, and I pad around bare foot trying to get my legs to bend, whilst the huge alsation eyes me suspiciously from his spot by the fire. Slowly, the feeling returns.

Song of the day:

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
“Wonderful Life”

We can build our dungeons in the air and sit and cry the blues /
We can stomp across this world with nails hammered through our shoes /
We can join that troubled chorus who criticise and accuse /
It don't matter much we got nothing much to lose /
But this wonderful life /
If you can find it

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Day 50 : Kinlochleven to Fort William

Monday 5th March 2007

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Distance Walked: 15 miles
Start Time: 9:17
End Time: 14:34
Elapsed Time: 5:17
Weather: Overcast
Distance walked so far: 971.8 miles

Everyday I’m ashamed of the person I was the day before. The things I said and did, I seemed so naïve then. So much I didn’t know. Yet somehow, in the moment, I forget this, and persist with the notion that my experiences are not simply mundane. If my rampant arrogance wasn’t balanced by crippling self-doubt, I would be a monster.

In the Lime Tree Gallery in Fort William there’s an exhibition of Frank Hussey’s stunning photographs of Shackleton’s unsuccessful expedition to Antarctica. It’s astonishing stuff. True adventure. Even the rugged types in the huge Nevisport outlet at the other end of the High Street seem more genuine than me, as they discuss their recent exploits on the Ben, avoiding avalanches and leaping through the crags. What have I done? Walked from one B&B to another. I am a fraud.

To reach Fort William, the last section of the West Highland Way climbs steeply out of Kinlochleven, then slopes incessantly upwards through the long Lairigmor valley. With snow capped peaks on all sides, and the wind and sleet slamming into the face, it’s a pretty isolated place. Bending north, the stony path leads into the Nevis Forest, where timber felling has turned the path in places into a mushy mess that’s difficult to penetrate. Presumably these seasonal operations will be completed before the hordes of spring walkers arrive for, again, there’s virtually no one else around.

Those that are here, are here for the mountain. For looming above the pine trees is the bulky outline of Britain’s highest peak. Life should be as it’s drawn by four-year-olds with crayons. Cars should be boxes with wheels. Parents should have huge heads with strands of wispy hair. Mountains should be triangles with squiggles of snow on top. Ben Nevis at least has the snow, but otherwise it’s a pretty drab pinnacle, a squat behemoth. A minor mount in world terms, but it’s the biggest we’ve got. I toy with the idea of taking a day off to climb it, but decide against it. That would be too adventurous and I am a fraud. The Way ends beside a roundabout, car park and shop. I take a photograph, and track down another B&B for the night.

Song of the day:

Dave Mason
“Shouldn’t have took more than you gave”

Shouldn’t have took more than you gave /
Then we wouldn’t be in this mess today /
I know we’ve all got different ways /
But the dues we’ve got to pay /
Are still the same

Day 49 : Inveroran to Kinlochleven

Sunday 4th March 2007

Distance Walked: 19 miles
Start Time: 9:13
End Time: 15:30
Elapsed Time: 6:17
Weather: Cloudy. Rain later.
Distance walked so far: 956.8 miles

Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day49

I’ve had plenty of opportunities on the walk to consider what it would be like to do this whole thing the other way round, from top to bottom. A JOGLE rather than a LEJOG. Aside from the obvious drawbacks, such as the map being upside down, it just seems that the country is designed to be walked from south to north. The manner in which the landscape reveals itself today, following the Way as it drills efficiently between the majestic mountains, emphasises this in the most spectacular fashion.

This is big sky country. Everything is distance. Rannoch Moor is vast and desolate, but the morning clouds are benign and the still air makes for comfortable walking on the gentle cobbled trail. Passing a friendly crew of weekend walkers who cheer me on and insist on a photo, I reach the Pass of Glen Coe and it truly inspires awe. This is how it should be experienced. On foot, savouring the power of the landscape. A moment to cherish. The trio of peaks, the Three Sisters, stand like guardians and I approach with head bowed as the wind rises.

The passage out of this place is up the ominously titled Devil’s Staircase, which winds steeply northwards up the hillside for a couple of hundred metres and, like the ascent of Jacob’s Ladder in the Peak District, it seems only proper that such a route be conquered rather than used as a means of descent. It’s an unrelenting climb, but the path is smooth and, with so many miles in the legs, I eat it up, just in time for the deluge to begin at the top. Thankfully, the long descent down the pass and through the forest at the end of Loch Leven is not too arduous and, donning the full suite of wet-weather gear, I make rapid progress.

It’s not until I step in a murky puddle and feel the water flooding into the sock that I notice the chasm between the sole and boot of the left foot. Ensconced in the cheery Tailrace Inn in the Twin Peaks-like town of Kinlochleven, with its pine tree setting and cast of kooky characters, I make a final attempt to seal the boot's fate. Grabbing the remains of the superglue, I spunk the whole tube into the gaping flap and hold on tight, for this is make or break time. These boots are going to carry me all the way to the top whether I like it or not. It’ll be the last thing they ever do.

Song of the day:


The village used to be all one really needs /
Now it’s filled with hundreds and hundreds of chemicals /
That mostly surround you /
You wish to flee but it's not like you /
So listen to me, listen to me

Day 48 : Inverarnen to Inveroran

Saturday 3rd March 2007

Distance Walked: 21.6 miles
Start Time: 9:50
End Time: 17:32
Elapsed Time: 7:42
Weather: Changeable. Like pants.
Distance walked so far: 937.8 miles

Of all the paths, in all the country, the West Highland Way is my favourite. Like a good lover, it is gentle and forgiving and undemanding, whilst simultaneously providing access to the goodies. And like all the best partners, I've got it all to myself. Bet she’s a tart in summer, but in the grey morning rain it was just me and the trail, nuzzling each other in unspeakable ways.

After an enforced late start, waiting for the drab processed breakfast at the Drovers Inn, the day began inauspiciously in the wet gloom. Walking up hills through a film of rain is not much fun, especially when the clouds are so low that they obscure the view, but when the sun slowly started to emerge to display the mountains all around I began to forget the dampness and simply marvelled at the expansiveness of it all. If I’d ever dreamt of Scotland, this is the Scotland of my dreams.

And the West Highland Way simply slides straight through it, dipping up and down, but never forcing a strenuous diversion into peril. It largely follows the old military road that was built to allow rapid movements of troops and supplies to squash the pesky local uprisings that threatened the influx of taxes, and as such it follows the contours of the hills, bending around rather than over, and for a walker it is a delight.

As is the Real Food Café in Tyndrum, which arrived at my feet for a timely lunchtime munch. If the pull of the hills wasn’t so strong I could’ve spent the afternoon working my way through the menu, which combines the rare feat of being both ethically sound and amazingly tasty. I loved the atmosphere. I loved the sausage roll and chip butty. I loved the community spirit. I had to go.

Through the rain and the rainbows, in the shadow of the magnificent Ben Dorain, along the military road down to Bridge of Orchy and then up and over the steep Mam Carraigh to reveal the shapely Loch Tulla and the isolated Inveroran Hotel, one of only three buildings in Inveroran itself. A perfect place for a romantic getaway, but I was alone, with just the memory of the special times I’d shared with the path and the prospect of more to come tomorrow.

Song of the day:

Nancy Priddy

Feelings /
Are washing over me like summer rain /
I feel as if I’m being born again /
Alive and warm and free /
The way that I was meant to be

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Day 47 : Drymen to Inverarnen

Friday 2nd March 2007

Distance Walked: 24.7 miles
Start Time: 7:51
End Time: 17:26
Elapsed Time: 9:35
Weather: Atmospheric. Then very wet.
Distance walked so far: 868 miles

Loch Lomond has the largest surface area of any body of fresh water in the country, and today I walked its entire length, transfixed by the moody beauty of it all. The waters were still, the clouds slowly drifting across the peaks, and the grey morning light reflecting on the surface like a seductive mirror. This is a special place.

From the tiny harbour town of Balmaha, the Way attempts to hug the shoreline as it winds northwestwards. It largely fails in this pursuit, forced onto the road that leads towards Rowardennan, or settling for tracks through the wooded lands that sit by the water, but occasionally the path emerges on the very edge of the loch itself, at deserted stony beaches where the gnarly trees protrude from the water in sinister ways. Somewhere up above is Ben Lomond, the southernmost of the munros (the peaks above 3000ft that denote mountain status), but the overhanging fir trees prevent any view of it. It's the sporadic glimpses of water that dominate, each new vista exposing another delight as another island becomes visible or a brief burst of sunshine changes the greys to greens and browns. It’s splendid stuff, each new image inviting admiration and calm reflection.

But I had many miles to cover, for again my ambitions were threatening to cripple me. Passing through the logical stopping points of Rowardennan and Inversnaid, with their inviting but bland hotels, I pressed on. The literature says that the section of the way between Inversnaid and Inverarnen is the most difficult of the entire West Highland Way, scrambling sharply over rocks, roots and roughage, so of course, at that point, the rain began to fall to add an extra dimension to the challenge. It was certainly hard going, the prospect of slipping into the water never far from reality, but somehow both a snapped ankle and soaked arse was avoided. If you’re wondering what the perfect soundtrack for such an activity might be, try the soundtrack to “Shaun Of The Dead”. It worked for me and, as the last dregs of light faded along with the signals on the GPS and mobile, the clouds rolled in and I finally reached the point where the huge expanse of water narrows, almost inconceivably, to a minor river.

Once again, I hadn’t booked ahead for a place to stay, so all day there was the nagging concern that I was heading towards disaster but, though the facilities at Beinglas were closed, a treat was in store across the bridge in Inverarnen. The Drovers Inn claims that it’s not a Scottish theme pub. If so, this is what all theme pubs aspire to, for it’s a wonderfully evocative place. Three hundred years of history accumulating in the wonky rooms, held together with spittle and dust. The roaring fires in the wooded bar encourage celtic cavorting, as do the kilted barstaff, though they’re actually from the southern hemisphere and slightly tetchy.

They provide me with shelter, though, and a thoroughly decent feed, before I retreat upstairs as the bar band begins to twang the life from a dozen Americana classics. In the rickety bedroom there’s a rickety bedside cabinet, with a Gideon’s Bible stashed within. Inside the front cover somebody has scribbled, “All the best, God”. Unfortunately, that somebody was me.

Song of the day:

Richard Ashcroft
“Check the Meaning”

When I'm low, and I'm weak, and I'm lost
I don't know who I can trust
Paranoia, the destroyer, comes knocking on my door
You know the pain drifts to days, turns to nights
But it slowly will subside
And when it does, I take a step, I take a breath
And wonder what I'll find

Friday, March 9, 2007

Day 46 : Twechar to Drymen

Thursday 1st March 2007

Distance Walked: 23.4 miles
Start Time: 9:06
End Time: 17:04
Elapsed Time: 7:58
Weather: Sunny after morning gloom
Distance walked so far: 891 miles

Last night’s scramble for food resulted in a dubious feast of Babybel, Pepperami, Guiness and crisps. To compensate, the morning breakfast is so bounteous that it completely covers two plates, with waves of toast to sweep me back out onto the towpath and along the few miles to Kirkintilloch, from where I escape the pull of the Glasgow suburbs and head north along the reformatted railway line towards the evocative profile of the Campsie Fells.

It’s such a relief to be away from the canal that even the myriad of mishaps that befall me cannot douse my spirits. The housing developments in Lennoxtown that block the path and cause me to wander for a mile in the wrong direction. The soggy, overgrown path from Strathblane that I use as a shortcut but which attempts to suck the boots from my feet. And finally reaching the West Highland Way, doing a little dance, and then realising that I’d dropped my hat half a mile back down the squidgey path and having to squelch my way back to get it.

Still, the West Highland Way is a veritable highway, slicing a flat, easy passage towards the beckoning hills. In the distance the snowy peaks glisten in the rare afternoon sun, and it’s a wonderful moment to realise that maybe it was the right decision to head west from the capital after all. As the last hill of the day is conquered, the huge expanse of Loch Lomond is revealed, and it is magnificent.

The village at the entrance to the loch, Drymen, is home to the oldest pub in Scotland and, for a night, it’s home to me too. The Clachan Inn doesn’t trade on its status, which is a refreshing change after the Edinburgh experience, and I’m able to enjoy a quiet evening admiring the fantastic hairstyles and beards of the Greenpeace crew sitting conscientiously in the corner of the bar as I hack my way through the biggest chunk of lamb I’ve ever seen. Some battles are definitely worth fighting.

Song of the day:

Iron & Wine
“Each coming night”

Will you say to me /
When I’m gone /
Your face is faded /
But lingers on /
Cos light strikes a deal /
With each coming night

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Day 45 : Linlithgow to Twechar

Wednesday 28th February 2007

Distance Walked: 24.7 miles
Start Time: 8:47
End Time: 16:57
Elapsed Time: 8:10
Weather: Strong wind. Driving rain. Pretty shitty really.
Distance walked so far: 868.1 miles

In Edinburgh Castle it’s possible to visit the room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son, the future James I. In Linlithgow are the remains of the castle in which Mary herself was born. I was born on the bathroom floor of a terrace house in Blackburn. It’s not currently a tourist attraction.

I follow the Union Canal out of Linlithgow fearing the worst, for today the wind pummels the face, with the rain crashing down with it. It’s not a high point of the Walk. The canal lacks the infrastructure that you might expect from a potential tourist mecca. No pubs are provided. Just pain, puddles and poo (dog’s, not mine). I sink into myself.

Having crossed the Avon Aqueduct, the second biggest in Britain but impossible to appreciate from the narrow path above, the canal ploughs on towards the dismal environs of Falkirk. Here the grimy houses and foreboding prisons are briefly obscured from view as the waterway plunges for nearly half a mile through a dark tunnel, dug purely so that the land owner at the time would not have to view the passage whilst eating his breakfast.

In its operational days, the canal used to terminate in a series of locks, dropping the boats down to join the Forth & Clyde Canal, before proceeding towards Glasgow. As part of the regeneration of the waterway, the locks have been replaced by a shiny modern marvel, the Falkirk Wheel, an S-shaped device which ingeniously rotates to raise and lower boats from one canal to another. In the Visitor Centre I learn that it is so efficiently engineered that it is powered by a toaster, or something. Today there’s more demand for toast than for boat lifting, and the foreign, elderly and work-shy visitors sit forlornly in the café, wondering what became of themselves and their lives.

Though the canal is different, the second half of the day is an equally vapid experience. The downpours intensify and, by the time I reach Kilsyth, I’m in no mood for the kind of town I’m faced with. Leaving the towpath, I get half-way towards the town centre before determining that I’d rather sleep in my own arse than stay there a minute longer. Dusk is descending, the feet are complaining and it’s five miles to the next major town, Kirkintilloch, but thankfully I happen upon a B&B only a couple of miles down the path at Twechar where, though there are no places to eat and I’m the only customer in the pub, I manage to dry off and inspect the new blister which has formed on top of yeterday’s, like a sixth toe. Stabbing it with the scissors, I swathe my pains in Savlon and look to the hills, for the Highlands are almost within reach.

Song of the day:

Johnny Cash

I hurt myself today /
To see if I still feel /
I focus on the pain /
It’s the only thing that’s real

Monday, March 5, 2007

Day 44 : Edinburgh to Linlithgow

Tuesday 27th February 2007

Distance Walked: 22.9 miles
Start Time: 9:34
End Time: 17:20
Elapsed Time: 7:46
Weather: Wet and windy
Distance walked so far: 843 miles

“There’s a reason why there’s so much water in the lochs over there, y’know” the landlady says, as she belays the morning sausage.
“Oh. Why’s that?”
“Because it never stops raining. Aye, reckon you’re in for a drenching.”

The price for walking all the way into Edinburgh is that I have to walk all the way out of it again, but thankfully the suburbs to the west are more scenic and hospitable than the southern passage and, though the rain is heavy, I have a luxurious supply of Jelly Babies to see me through the hard times. As the grim flats and warehouse outlets merge with the ring road and motorway junction, I slide down to the Union Canal which I’ll follow for the next day or so as it slithers towards Falkirk.

This is another path that has apparently benefited from recent investment and the walking is certainly easy but, christ, it’s dull. The project to regenerate the canal may have opened up the area to pleasure seekers, but there’s not much pleasure to be had. It’s drab, litter-strewn and brown. Not a sign of boats, cyclists or walkers. Even the sporadic wildlife looks depressed.

I tip-toe through the turds as the rain relentlessly falls. The Union Canal is famed for being at a single level for its entire length, winding around the hills and avoiding the possibility of interesting scenery or shelter from the elements. Walking along it in the rain and wind is a thoroughly miserable experience, and I’m left hoping that the decision not to go directly north from Edinburgh wasn’t a catastrophic mistake.

Even the bizarre highlights of the day, the huge slag heaps of rubble near Broxburn that stand like Ayers Rock above the grey, concrete estates, don’t elevate the walking above the mundane. At least, when the huge deluge arrives, I discover that the sexy coat is actually waterproof after all and that the moisture that had been gathering inside whilst walking the hills was purely internally generated.

But the coat doesn’t protect the feet, and the combination of leaking boots, driving rain and unforgiving towpath has resulted in bruising and an interesting blister beside the left big toe which I probe thoroughly once ensconced in the safety of the Star & Garter Hotel in the slim town on Linlithgow. With another day of pounding canal walking in store, I resign myself to the prospect of another stretch of struggle and strain.

Song of the day:

Shelagh McDonald
“Waiting for the wind to rise”

There used to be a time /
When I knew where I was /
And people would say to me “Are you crazy?” /
And I’d laugh at that /
There was no doubts, no complications /
Life was a game of situations /
For me to play, from day to day

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Day 43 : Edinburgh (Rest Day)

Monday 26th February 2007

Distance Walked: 0 miles
Start Time: n/a
End Time: n/a
Elapsed Time: n/a
Weather: Cold but bright
Distance walked so far: 820 miles

Today I’m a tourist. Strolling into the centre with the morning workers, the options for entertainment are astonishing. It’s believed that civilisation began when men first developed the ability to grow and harvest their own food. Freed from the constant cycle of hunting and scavenging, different pursuits became possible. The concept of the job was born, and with it the city, where the workers could gain access to the food that was provided for them. Money was created to determine the value of exchanged products, and with it was created the pursuit of money itself. Into the cities flooded every perversion and decadence. Whatever you desired, you could acquire.

Cities offer choice. It’s all here. And it’s overwhelming. I ride the tour bus and whip through the castle. This may be history, but it's not my history. The struggle of the rich and the royal is as relevant to me as the preening of celebrities. The tokens of Scottish power, The Honours, glitter and shine and are fiercely protected but are simply ridiculous symbols of supposed superiority. People are slave to symbols. Beware the dangers of the logo! There are tokens of wars, and statues to men (always men) long dead who mean nothing now. What did Walter Scott actually do to warrant such a huge memorial? There seem to be more monuments to Waterloo than any other event other than the World Wars.

Holidays are stressful. The pressure to make the most of the time available becomes too much. There’s always something else that could be done. What if it’s better, more fun, than the current activity? Life drips away. I give up, and sit in the café of the beautiful sunlit foyer of the Royal Museum and watch the people as they wander through. It’s more interesting than any exhibit. And more relevant. I’m tired of the Walk and long for normality.

Back in the B&B, having carried a puncture repair kit ever since the overtrousers were ripped on Bodmin Moor, I try to plug the hole in the left boot with superglue and positive thoughts, but only succeed in fusing the sole to the shower tray. I persist with the notion that it’s only proper that the boots I embarked with will carry me to the top, and am loath to contemplate replacing them. Of greater concern is the left shoulder which, even after a day without the pack, aches with every slightest movement. Motionless, I plan for the future.

The logical route northwards from Edinburgh would be to cross the Forth Bridge and head through the Cairngorns directly to Inverness. Perversely, I’m heading west, adding days to the journey, but in search of drama. For west are the mountains and the lochs and the monsters. The Scotland of myths and legends and romance. The heart swells as the allure of the city fades.

Song of the day:

Don Cooper
“A Better Way”

It’s a job just livin’ in the city /
Tough breaks the only pay /
I spent many a year /
And too many tears /
Now it’s time to stop and say /
Surely there’s a better way /
Tomorrow looks as bad as yesterday

Day 42 : Peebles to Edinburgh

Sunday 25th February 2007

Distance Walked: 21.9 miles
Start Time: 9:04
End Time: 16:01
Elapsed Time: 6:57
Weather: Sopping wet
Distance walked so far: 820 miles

Weekly Audio Update: Dave on The Steve Show - Day 42

There’s a shop in Peebles that sells outdoor gear and, being in a bit of an outdoorsy mode at the moment, I popped in last night to look at all the kinds of things that I could be carrying, but aren’t. As I’ve progressed through this walk I’ve gradually become aware of the huge industry that is propped on man’s simple desire to experience nature from the comfort and safety of a Gore-Tex encased world. Yes, to a degree, I’m one of these people (there’s no doubting that I wouldn’t have got this far without my little black friend the GPS, or my light bouncy boots, or sleek sexy coat) but it seems that some are so obsessed with the gadgets and the gear that they forget that the intrinsic essence of a walk is the walking itself, and it’s slowly dawning on me that I’m pretty good at it, which is a pleasant surprise. As is the reaction of the woman in the shop when I tell her where I’m heading.

“Oh, you’re the first of the year!” she says “We always get them in, but never this early”

I’m beginning to wonder if my winter Walk is unique, though I seriously doubt that there’s much in this field that hasn’t been done before. Apart, maybe, from walking straight from Peebles to Edinburgh in the most direct, Northerly route possible. Rather than spend two days winding around the Pentland Hills before finally reaching the capital, my plan today involved a voyage into the unknown, initially along the remains of a disused railway line that seemed to allow access, though the legality of the passage was vague, particularly when hopping through a variety of back gardens and leaping over imposing fences. Finally forced onto the thundering, verge-less A703 by heavy industry, it was car-dodging mode for a few miles as the rain increased and my mood darkened.

From Leadburn, thankfully, a pavement, and though the ten miles of suburbs seemed to go on for ever, finally I was there. Edinburgh. Edinburgh!

Washed and polished I slipped out into the city night. And it was a marvel. Deprivation certainly heightens the senses and tonight everything tingled. The lights, the sounds, the atmosphere. I loved it all. Edinburgh is a beautiful city, but it was the overwhelming noise and vibrancy that moved me. The sheer energy of the place. I sucked it in. I’m going to need it.

Song of the day:

Van Morrison
“The way young lovers do”

And we’ll sit on our own star /
And dream of the way that we were /
And the way that we wanted to be /
We’ll sit on our own star /
And think of the way that I was for you /
And you were for me

Day 41 : Melrose to Peebles

Saturday 24th February 2007

Distance Walked: 24.5 miles
Start Time: 9:03
End Time: 16:29
Elapsed Time: 7:26
Weather: Gloomy. Damp clouds on hills.
Distance walked so far: 798.6 miles

The suburbs of Melrose are strewn along the banks of the River Tweed and, walking west along the cycle paths, I bisect the industrial estates that lead towards the housing projects on the outskirts of Galashiels. These are not the places that tourists and walkers are encouraged to see. Poverty doesn’t really exist in Britain (even the high-rise council flats are peppered with satellite dishes) but this is a grim contrast to the rural idyll of the pamphlets. It’s refreshingly normal.

There are many miles to cover today, and I approach them with foreboding. The Pennine Way has scorched itself into my head to the extent that I contemplate a stupidly long, winding route in order to avoid the high places that I now associate with tortuous progress and potential disaster, but I put my faith in Scotland and Scotland does not let me down.

The Southern Upland Way is fantastic; safe yet exciting. It’s a steep climb up Cribs Hill but, having overtaken the wobbling bikers, the gradually rising path towards the forested and cloudy Minch Moor is a delight. No danger of disappearing here. The pockets of rain clouds sweep amongst the fir trees, but the downpours are so brief that I barely notice. The shapely hills elevate the forest above those on the English side of the border, and the view of Innerleithen on the descent is almost Alpine in its sheer prettiness. I drop down to the village of Traquair, famed for its beer and royal connections (apparently), and then it’s a long, long couple of hours on the winding B-road that eventually leads to Peebles, where a cute girl with big eyes let’s me stay in her hotel for the night, for a fee. Bargain.

Song of the day:

Emmitt Rodes
“Blue Horizon”

I’m not excited and I’m not enthused /
I’m disillusioned and so confused /
Ask your questions, I hope you’ll try /
I feel no judgement, I’ll answer with a smile /