Tuesday, September 4, 2007


In January 2007, on my thirty-second birthday, I set off on an attempt to walk from Land's End to John O'Groats. This was almost as surprising to me as to the people who knew me. I am not an adventurous person. I do not have an obvious history of mental illness. I like chairs. Yet, somehow, there I was, windswept and sea-sprayed, at the southern tip of the land, taking the first steps of a journey, walking alone, in the middle of winter, between the two points of the British mainland separated by the greatest distance. How had it come to this?

For it had only been three weeks earlier that I had had no notion of doing anything other than continuing with my computer-based, office-bound, button-bashing career, the kind of role that, though often well rewarded, people fall into while they try to decide what they really want to do with their lives. And it had been only three weeks earlier that it occurred to me that I was inconceivably, mind-crushingly bored. That I needed a challenge that was as far removed from my normal existence as possible. A challenge that could be attempted with minimal preparation and no special skills, that didn't involve immunisation or visas or learning a different language, that didn't require a vast amount of savings or a team of people.

I would go for a walk.

So, in the three weeks between Christmas Day and my thirty-second birthday, I scoured the high street shops for appropriate equipment, poured over the internet for guidance, and attempted a couple of disastrous practice walks in the Peak District that saw me upto my arse in peat bog and wondering if I would ever find a pair of truly water proof gloves.
What I learnt from my quick studies was that there was no official route for the much travelled journey between Land's End to John O'Groats, and that there is very little in the way of published material. The best resource seemed to be the website of Mark Moxon, who had embarked on his own LEJOG in 2003. He had used a route and book by someone called Andrew McCloy, and as this route mainly followed long distance paths rather than busy main roads (which was something I was also keen to do), the decision was made.

As for kit, my existing boots and pants were complemented by a hastily acquired pile of gadgets, gizmos and goodness knows what. I was flailing in the dark, which is something I realised I may have to get accustomed to unless I began to focus on the essentials. The kit was pared down to what at the time I believed was an absolute minimum. Some decisions were easier than others. I wanted comfort and convenience, so the idea of a tent was quickly dismissed. This saved a great deal of weight, and allowed me to walk faster for further, but would result in the daily limitation of searching for accomodation in the pressing winter gloom.

Improbably, amongst the items I did not discard was a small laptop computer, which I reasoned was essential to plot the daily guide rope with which my bewildering GPS device could drag me to safety. Thankfully this proved to be the case, but the laptop also allowed me to maintain this daily blog of the walk, my first foray into writing of any kind.

I hope it proves to be of interest to any fellow chair-lovers, and of value to anyone who may be moved to attempt something similar.

May your feet be dry, your path be smooth and your landscapes inspiring.

It's all out there waiting for you.
The link below will allow you to download a gpx file containing the GPS tracklogs for the entire walk from Land's End to John O'Groats.


This file is compatible with Google Earth and MemoryMap, amongst others. Google Earth seems to only allow you to view one day at a time so you may need to fiddle around a bit.

This is the actual route that I walked, so it includes all the mistakes and detours that I took, but it may be interesting to anyone intending to walk all or part of this route in the future as it includes large sections of the Pennine Way, West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, South West Coast Path, Severn Way, Cotswold Way, Staffordshire Way and Limestone Way.

When I walked, I listened to music. It was my constant companion. Nothing compares to those moments where a mood, a view and a song fell into place, to stir the senses and enhance the experience. There were songs that I happened to be listening to on certain days that completely encapsulated the situation, and so for each of the 60 days of the walk I attempted to nominate a relevant song.

You can download all 60 of the songs from the links below. Each song contains a photo and the written account of the relevant day. I hope they bring you as much comfort and pleasure as they brought me.

LEJOG Music Part 1 of 6
LEJOG Music Part 2 of 6
LEJOG Music Part 3 of 6
LEJOG Music Part 4 of 6
LEJOG Music Part 5 of 6
LEJOG Music Part 6 of 6

Have fun!

Thursday, June 7, 2007


The figures below are the Daily Mileage, Cumulative Mileage, and Average Daily Mileage

1 Penzance 18.8, 18.8, 18.8 : South West Coast Path
2 Tregathenan 22.4, 41.2, 20.6 : South West Coast Path
3 Truro 21.5, 62.7, 20.9
4 Dunmere 31.2, 93.9, 23.5
5 Launceston 35.5, 129.4, 25.9 : Camel Trail
6 Launceston (Rest Day) 0, 129.4, 21.6
7 Okehampton 24.5, 153.9, 22.0 : Two Castles Trail / Granite Way
8 Crediton 22.7, 176.6, 22.1
9 Tiverton 16.9, 193.5, 21.5 : Exe Valley Way
10 Taunton 28.7, 222.2, 22.2 : Grand Western Canal
11 Glastonbury 29, 251.2, 22.8 : Bridgwater and Taunton Canal
12 Glastonbury (Rest Day) 0, 251.2, 20.9
13 Midsomer Norton 19.7, 270.9, 20.8
14 Bath 11.4, 282.3, 20.2
15 Old Sodbury 18.2, 300.5, 20.0 : Cotswold Way
16 King's Stanley 22.5, 323, 20.2 : Cotswold Way
17 Tewkesbury 25.4, 348.4, 20.5 : Cotswold Way / Severn Way
18 Worcester 19.7, 368.1, 20.5 : Severn Way
19 Bewdley 20.6, 388.7, 20.5 : Severn Way / Staffordshire Way
20 Wolverhampton 26.6, 415.3, 20.8 : Staffordshire Way
21 Penkridge 11, 426.3, 20.3 : Staffordshire Way
22 Uttoxeter 26.9, 453.2, 20.6 : Staffordshire Way
23 Dovedale 16.3, 469.5, 20.4 : Staffordshire Way / Limestone Way
24 Castleton 29, 498.5, 20.8 : Limestone Way
25 Edale 5.1, 503.6, 20.1
26 Padfield 20.2, 523.8, 20.1 : Pennine Way
27 Diggle 18, 541.8, 20.1 : Pennine Way
28 Hebden Bridge 17.4, 559.2, 20.0 : Pennine Way
29 Hebden Bridge (Rest Day) 0, 559.2, 19.3
30 Skipton 24.6, 583.8, 19.5 : Pennine Way
31 Horton-in-Ribblesdale 25.1, 608.9, 19.6 : Pennine Way
32 Hawes 13.6, 622.5, 19.5 : Pennine Way
33 Bowes 25.7, 648.2, 19.6 : Pennine Way
34 Langdon Beck 22.6, 670.8, 19.7 : Pennine Way
35 Alston 16.7, 687.5, 19.6 : Pennine Way
36 Haltwhistle 14.1, 701.6, 19.5 : Pennine Way / South Tyne Trail
37 Bellingham 19.6, 721.2, 19.5 : Pennine Way
38 Byrness 16.6, 737.8, 19.4 : Pennine Way
39 Jedburgh 20.7, 758.5, 19.4 : Pennine Way / Dere Street
40 Melrose 15.6, 774.1, 19.4 : St Cuthbert's Way
41 Peebles 24.5, 798.6, 19.5 : Southern Upland Way
42 Edinburgh 21.9, 820.5, 19.5
43 Edinburgh (Rest Day) 0, 820.5, 19.1
44 Linlithgow 22.9, 843.4, 19.2 : Union Canal
45 Twechar 24.7, 868.1, 19.3 : Union Canal / Forth & Clyde Canal
46 Drymen 23.4, 891.5, 19.4 : Forth & Clyde Canal / West Highland Way
47 Inverarnen 24.7, 916.2, 19.5 : West Highland Way
48 Inveroran 21.6, 937.8, 19.5 : West Highland Way
49 Kinlochleven 19, 956.8, 19.5 : West Highland Way
50 Fort William 15, 971.8, 19.4 : West Highland Way
51 Invergarry 28.8, 1000.6, 19.6 : Great Glen Way
52 Invermoriston 17.2, 1017.8, 19.6 : Great Glen Way
53 Drumnadrochit 14, 1031.8, 19.5 : Great Glen Way
54 Inverness 19.2, 1051, 19.5 : Great Glen Way
55 Alness, 29.4, 1080.4, 19.6
56 Dornoch, 20.9, 1101.3, 19.7
57 Helmsdale 29.6, 1130.9, 19.8
58 Lybster 23.7, 1154.6, 19.9
59 Wick 14, 1168.6, 19.8
60 John O'Groats 19.4, 1188, 19.8

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

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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 Gu.st 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

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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

View Larger Map

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 cafĂ© 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