I spent 3 days in Fort William. Throughout planning this trip I was never sure which route I was going to take from there; west coast/central or east coast. I had gotten a sense over the past few weeks that I wanted to tackle the highlands, plus if I went east there would be a lot of road walking which I think would be an anticlimax.
So I had to; purchase the maps and subsequently plan and study the route, plan, purchase, organise and post my food supplies, and purchase and register a personal locator beacon (PLB). It’s an SOS device so that if the proverbial hits the fan and there is no mobile signal, then I can press a button which will send a signal using satellites to the emergency services who then, knowing my location can coordinate a response. It’s like an insurance policy, hopefully I’ll never need to use it but I’ll carry it with me for years to come when out in the hills.
Day: 83 – Thursday 17th August
Started at: Fort William
Finished at: Gairlochy
Miles from LE: 996
Duration: 5hrs (10:30-15:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
So with a 3 week day-by-day plan, a PLB, food parcels posted and some replacement kit for bits that have been worn and torn, I set off on the final stage. Just 250 miles to go, but with the small matter of the highlands standing in my way! The last stage starts surprisingly gently upon the Great Glen Way which leads all the way to Inverness. For the bulk of today I walked along the Caledonian Canal and you probably know by now I dislike towpaths. The two features which stuck out were Neptune’s Staircase (a flight of 9 locks) and the Moy bridge (an old swivel bridge, still manually operated). Other than that it was a towpath. The hills on either side were quite spectacular but were often cloud covered or else I was blinkered by my hood, as the showers passed through with high frequency.
I reached Gairlochy in good time and paused for thought. Should I forego the campsite at Gairlochy and continue on for a few miles and wild camp? I decided that as facilities would be scarce over the coming few weeks that I would take the opportunity as it was there. It continued to rain on and off over the course of the evening but there was a brief break in the cloud.
Tent in the evening sun
On Friday, I woke up nice and early to get cracking on what was due to be a long day (possibly the longest in miles of the trip so far). The rain was hammering down on my tent and after some thought I decided to let the rain pass, I could always walk until quite late, as it stays light until around 10pm up here. By 10:30 the rain had still not passed. A five minute walk up the road I could find a signal and the weather forecast was for persistent rain for the rest of the day and it was due to be worse on Sunday. I was in a quandary as to what to do. I could just ‘woman-up’ and head out into the foul weather, but for my first full day out in the proper hills I would rather not have to battle with the elements too. If I stayed put for the rest of the day and the next I would need to eat into my carefully planned ration packs. The nearest shop was in Spean Bridge – 3 miles away.
Miffed by the rain
I decided to stay for the day and the next and so needed food. I started out on the 3 mile walk along the road and after just 100m a lovely old lady who runs a nearby B&B stopped and offered me a lift. She’d already got one of her guests in the passenger seat, and as I learnt, she offers to pick up anyone she sees, even a schizophrenic – much to the concern of her family – but she’s never come to any harm. She said she’d be coming back through in about 4 hours time and if she saw me walking back she’d pick me up. Well unfortunately our return journeys didn’t coincide but as the rain had paused briefly I didn’t mind. So I sat/lay/slept/ate/read/did crosswords/listened to music and listened to the rain pound against my tent for a further 40ish hours. Gairlochy will also go down in my memory as the place where a pair of my knickers went missing from the laundry room, who knows where they’ve gone but it now means I’m a 2 pair lady for the rest of the trip. On the plus side, I guess my bag is slightly lighter.
Day: 84 – Sunday 20th August
Started at: Gairlochy
Finished at: Loch Poulary, Glen Garry
Miles from LE: 1016
Duration: 12hrs (8:00-20:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
I was frustrated by the delay but by Sunday morning the rain had cleared. I set off towards Glen Garry and I was rewarded for my patience. Loch Lochy was like a millpond and the sun shone on the hills which reflected on the waters – it looked more like New Zealand than Blighty.
I reached Achnacarry which was the home of the Commando training centre when Churchill commissioned the unit in 1942. They endured the toughest training in all the conditions that the Highlands could throw at them and after 6 weeks they left with their well earned green berets. It’s also the home of the Cameron Clan. Finally, for me it will always be the spot where I reached the 1000 mile mark. “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more…”.
Clan Cameron museum – 1000miles!
From Achnacarry the walk took on a very different feel and I didn’t see a single soul until the very end of the day. Firstly was a stiff climb initially alongside some dramatic waterfalls then through felled forestry. When I reached the end of the forest I stopped for some lunch and midges descended – typical! – so I decided to keep going for a while longer. Further on the situation was no different, so I ate lunch from under a midge net, which is a bit of a challenge.
View from Teang’ a’ Choire Odhair
Then was the start of 2.5 miles of pathless peat hags which quickly put my new waterproof socks to the test – which they passed, for the moment. It was tough going but I was feeling triumphant when I reached the end – although the situation on the ground was different from the guidebook. A new fence with an 8 foot locked gate was the first obstacle which was easily climbed and then a torn up landscape lay ahead of me. I eventually found the forestry track and thought that compared to the peat, the rest of the day would be a breeze, how wrong was I! I ended up in a nightmare section of felled trees which made for much harder terrain and the instability of the ground verged on scary.
Loch Garry – another mirror
When I got to the road I was tired and my waterproof socks had also given up against the boggy forest (although they eventually failed, they are great and far superior to my regular socks, especially since my boots now sport holes). I was planning to camp about 3 miles down the road but decided that if I found a suitable spot before then I would stop. I was also all out of water and having been fording lovely fresh highland streams all day there was now a lack of them – typical. I was just filling up at a slightly slow roadside brook when a dog walker appeared and made me jump. Seeing where I had just acquired my water from he offered me his tap at home. I took John up on the offer and was soon on my way again. There were no suitable camping areas so I ended up where I had planned and found a fantastic location – the best you’ll get. An area of flat grass overlooking a loch. After I’d unloaded my bag a dark cloud descended – it was a cloud of midges. It was like a plague. I turned round and my arm was black. Smidge was applied copiously and the head net went on but neither of which stopped me throwing a continuous paddy. After some chaotic but quick decision making I was in my tent with my rucksack, dinner rehydrating and about 100-200 midges. I spent the next 30mins squishing them all in between mouthfuls of dinner.
View from tent – thru the midge net
The day started with yet more midges and with another trip to the cafe – it is a really nice cafe. If you ever find yourself in Tyndrum I recommend it, I managed 3 trips in 18 hours! I had the full Scottish breakfast and was stuffed by the time we came to leave, but not enough to put me off buying a slice of cake to have later.
Off we went; myself, Akshay, Sophie, Rawnie and of course Dougal. The route out of Tyndrum picked up the line of the main road and the railway line which although the views are lovely, tend to distract the eyes and ears a little. Once we turned away from them it was much easier to appreciate the scenery. Other than that the day was uneventful, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.
We arrived at the Inveroran Hotel where there is a ‘wild camping’ spot a few hundred metres down the road, next to the river. I say ‘wild camping’ in inverted commas because there were about a dozen other tents either side of the road and the hotel are very accustomed to people using their facilities, so it more or less felt like a regular campsite but with the facilities all the way at the opposite end of the site. We headed to the bar for some drinks and a few rounds of Uno. Akshay and Sophie wanted to cover more ground the following day so we agreed on an 8am departure time.
Day: 80 – Friday 11th August
Started at: Inveroran
Finished at: Glen Coe
Miles from LE: 959.5
Duration: 5.5hrs (10:30-16:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Bonnie n Blonde
An already slightly damp dog before we’d even left!
We didn’t leave at 8 o’clock as planned. The forecast for the day was not good and I had ummed and arred about taking a rest day, so was slow getting ready. I also noticed a distinct lack of noise coming from Rawnie’s nearby tent and when I knocked on her door at 8, she was still fast asleep. We agreed to let Akshay and Sophie go ahead and we’d leave later. After tea and coffee at the hotel, and once Rawnie had bandaged up her poor blistered feet we set off in the rain to cross Rannoch Moor. It felt like a slog up the gradual hillside in the wind and rain, and the first 3km seemed to take forever – the delights of the moor.
There was a break in the cloud just as we sat down for some lunch which was perfect. Dougal was looking less than impressed at being taken out in this weather, even though he had his little booties on, so Rawnie wrapped him in a jacket. We continued around the outskirts of the moor and came around the corner towards the Glen Coe Ski Resort. For the last few hundred metres it really chucked it down. We were due to head to the next place on the route which had camping and a bunkhouse (and where Rawnie’s bags were waiting for her), but when we saw that there was one cabin left, we grabbed it. Just in time too, the next group asked for a cabin only to be told that the last one had just gone. We settled in, hung everything to dry and then Rawnie found a local taxi driver who was willing to drive out and transfer her bag for just £5 – problem solved.
View from our cabin, after the rain had cleared
Day: 81 – Saturday 12th August
Started at: Glen Coe
Finished at: Kinlochleven
Miles from LE: 969.5
Duration: 7hrs (11:00-18:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Old Speckled Hen
We all enjoyed the solidity of the cabin as the winds picked up and the rain was on again, off again all night. Dougal also looked much happier and took to me so much that he slept at my feet! “Traitor”; Rawnie muttered at him.
The weather was vastly better and we strode off towards Kingshouse where we stopped for a drink and snack. I was quite glad we hadn’t stayed there as it would’ve been a very different night compared to our cosy cabin.
Rawnie, Dougal and I in Glen Coe
Then we set off along the valley (again shared with a busy road) and eventually turned up towards a section of the path called ‘The Devil’s Staircase’. Such a name conjures up images of a relentless set of giant rocky stairs, fortunately it doesn’t live up to its name. It’s merely a few switchbacks at the top of the ascent and don’t appear to give anyone much trouble. The views from the top are well worth it, and it’s the highest point of the WHW.
View from the top of the Devil’s Staircase
Then begins the long descent to Kinlochleven. Rawnie and I agreed that going up is much easier than going down and we both just trudged on. The campsite at Kinlochleven was nice enough but we didn’t hang around too long, instead we headed to the Tailrace Inn for some proper sustenance. After burgers, chips and beer all round we were ready for bed.
Sunset in Kinlochleven
Day: 82 – Sunday 13th August
Started at: Kinlochleven
Finished at: Fort William
Miles from LE: 985
Duration: 8.5hrs (8:30-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Deuchars IPA
Today marks the last day of the WHW and the last day of Rawnie’s trip, I’m staggered she made it this far, but having got to know her over the past couple of days, a few blisters were not going to stop her. She’s tough. It might not have been the end of Dougal’s trip though, if I could just find a way to distract Rawnie I could dog-knap him and enjoy the company of his wagging tail all the way to John O’Groats.
The air was thick with midges at the campsite and I had managed to sleep through my alarm. Both of these factors led me to pack up in record timing.
View back to Kinlochleven
It was a stiff climb out of Kinlochleven through the forest and first thing in the morning too. We eventually got to the plateau and continued up the valley.
There were lots more people out and about today, I think quite a few Fort William day trippers come and walk the last section. Eventually we reached the bealach and Ben Nevis came into view – well what we could see of it – the summit was shrouded in cloud. Then it was time for another long descent through forest to Glen Nevis. It seemed to go on forever but we eventually hit the valley floor and although I was staying at the hostel there, I decided to accompany Rawnie to the end of the WHW which is in the centre of Fort William at the statue of the man rubbing his sore feet.
Us at the end!
We said a quick goodbye as Rawnie had a train to catch, and suddenly I was back to being on my tod again, having had company on the trail for a whole week. I did the only thing that made sense – hit the pub. I was mentally and physically drained, the week had gone by in a flash and I hadn’t had any time to consider the next stage and what I needed to get organised. I’d indulged in the infrastructure that surrounds the WHW knowing that facilities and services would be limited to 2 villages in the last 250mile leg so needed to get prepared for that. It was always in the plan to stop for a few days in Fort William – as afterwards is where the route gets a bit more serious – so that is what I did.
I waved goodbye to William and headed back out on to the tow path. After a brief rain shower I made it to Kirkintilloch (I had to practice saying that one!) where I had a lovely coffee and brownie just above the canal. I wandered around a bit and stocked up on food, it’s a lovely town and wanted to spend longer there but knew I should keep going.
From Kirky (as it’s affectionately known) I left the tow path and took a disused railway line north – I can’t decide which is worse railway line or tow path? I don’t like either. Not a lot happened, there were occasional showers and I walked past the Celtic football club training ground – not visible from the path but I knew it was there.
I continued to just short of Strathblane to find a camp spot. On the map I had spotted a rocky mound called Dunglass Rock and I was excited to see that it lived up to my expectations. It was a 50m high rocky protrusion but with a gradual slope to the rear and a nice flat grassy top – perfect for wild camping. The only snag was the cows and sheep that were allowed to roam over it. I headed to the summit and concluded that the cows rarely visit the top – there were distinctly fewer cow pats up there. It was still early so I just relaxed and waited for the wind to die down as it was forecast to. I watched the attractive sunset and then dived into bed.
Day: 75 – Sunday 6th August
Started at: Dunglass Rock
Finished at: Drymen
Miles from LE: 902
Duration: 5hrs (10:00-15:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Local Ale
It turned out that the cows and calves do come quite close to the top of the rock but luckily they kept their distance to about 10m and didn’t disturb me. I think I’ve cracked my fear.
I left my temporary kingdom behind and passed through Strathblane. It was in the village somewhere that I think was the source of the fireworks that I could hear but not see late last night which gave me a temporary fright! I was still on a disused railway but it’s not marked as a footpath and so was overgrown – I had flashbacks to parts of Somerset and Shropshire where I had to bash my way through footpaths. I decided to take a parallel track but it led to the private grounds of a castle so I ended up scrambling up the embankment and over a barbed wire fence to pick up the railway line again. It was very damp and no sign of anyone just lots of deer tracks. That was until the West Highland Way (WHW) joined the track and all of a sudden I was on the footpath equivalent of a motorway – a constant stream of walkers with backpacks. It was weird. I think I said hello to every single one! Early on I met Susanne, a German nursery school teacher who was here to walk the WHW and then the Great Glen Way to Inverness – I would bump into her a few more times.
Drymen (rhymes with women) was heaving with walkers and tourists, it was blowing my mind. I stayed at Kip in the Kirk which as the name suggests is a converted church and is run by a lovely lady called Frances. She does what she can to help and due the the foul weather had 30 scouts staying in her 8 bed bunk room (not charging any extra) – I’m glad I was not in there! It was delightful chaos with all the coming and going but it felt like a home from home – she even served up tea and scones on arrival. Lovely! It was here that I met Luca and Rafaella an Italian couple who I would also see a lot more of, Florina – more about her later, and 2 girls (eek I’ve forgotten their names) who were on the last stretch of the WHW having walked north to south. I racked their brains about places to stay and the terrain etc – they were so helpful. As I was talking to them, I couldn’t help but notice how young they looked, but I thought maybe they were blessed with youthful faces like me(!). I was gobsmacked when I found out they were 14 and 15 and were walking the WHW unsupported – I have huge respect for them. If they are doing this at their age, what will they do in years to come? The world is their oyster. (Hello to you all of you, if you’re reading – hope you enjoyed the WHW!)
I headed to the Drymen Inn for dinner and enjoyed the live music – there was a great atmosphere. He even sang the Proclaimers – I Would Walk 500 Miles, how appropriate?! Although it should be 900, as that’s how many miles I’ve now walked. Whoop!
Day: 76 – Monday 7th August
Started at: Drymen
Finished at: Rowardennan
Miles from LE: 917
Duration: 9.5hrs (10:00-19:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x West Highland Way
I left Drymen with Florina – a Romanian cardiologist – who arrived on holiday in Glasgow a couple of days ago and having not done any hiking before decided there and then to do the WHW – as you do! Frances had helped her out with booking accommodation but it wasn’t available all the way, so lent Florina a tent and sleeping bag. She was using a baggage transfer company and would be able to send them back to Frances via them.
We set off through the forest and then up Conic Hill (my first hill for over a week) where Loch Lomond comes into full view – and it is stunning. There are so many islands poking out from the deep waters and they look like little paradise havens. It’s just a bit of a shame to be sharing the experience with literally hundreds probably thousands of others. We spent the rest of the day walking along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond – I introduced Florina to the song the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond and had it stuck in my head for the rest of the day.
We arrived in Rowardennan late on, I said goodbye to Florina, she was staying elsewhere, but we thought we’d see each other again. I quickly pitched my tent at the youth hostel, with a stunning Loch side view, showered and then had dinner with Luca and Rafaella.
The WHW is turning into a bit of a whirlwind; so many people to talk to and such lovely scenery to appreciate but so little time to sit and reflect. I’m used to having so much thinking space that I’m finding it difficult to adjust, but rather than resist I’m just going to ride the West Highland wave.
Day: 77 – Tuesday 8th August
Started at: Rowardennan
Finished at: Inverarnan
Miles from LE: 930
Duration: 7.5hrs (9:00-17:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 2.5x Bitter and Twisted
I rapidly packed up amongst the midges – the catch when camping by a beautiful loch. The little blighters are noticeably increasing in number. This was expected but doesn’t make them any less annoying. Without signal, I couldn’t arrange to walk with Florina but knew we’d see each other at the campsite in Inverarnan. Today’s stretch is widely accepted as the hardest day on the WHW as the path rises, falls and winds its way along the rest of Loch Lomond. It’s quite rocky, tree roots are tangled up amongst the path, there are numerous brooks to cross and the day ends with a short climb and fall to Beinglas Farm.
As I approached the halfway mark – Inversnaid – I met a couple coming my way who’d just managed to get their double pram down a flight of stone steps (luckily the children were old enough to walk and were doing so). I thought I’d do the right thing and let them know how much narrower, trickier and down right difficult it was going to get for them to take a pushchair along the route – they were planning to do the full 7 miles! They insisted that they were capable, they’d ‘done crazy stuff like this before’, so I shrugged my shoulders and let them pass by. I would like to know how they got on.
I bumped into Susanne at Inversnaid and so we had lunch together. In the afternoon the frequency of rain showers increased and by about 4pm I was drenched. The Doune Byre(?) bothy despite its disgusting state was useful to get some respite and dry off a little. I was approaching the lively Beinglass campsite and had more or less dried out but with just 100m to go the heavens opened so I made a run for it. I ducked under the first cover – an information board with a little roof, and was soon sharing it with about 10 German children. It was a very tight squeeze! As the rain was petering out I headed for the bar, beer always helps.
By the time I dragged myself away from the bar and had begun to pitch my tent the next rain cloud had rolled in. The field at this point was becoming saturated and the field was rather full so it was hard to find a suitable pitch. At this point Florina arrived and we hurriedly pitched her tent in the rain and off we went back to the bar for dinner. After 1 too many drinks, I returned to my tent to find that in the chaos I’d left my fly sheet unzipped and my tent now had a medium-sized colony of midges – I squished every single one before going to sleep. I already had enough itchy bites to scratch.
Day: 78 – Wednesday 9th August
Started at: Inverarnan
Finished at: Tyndrum
Miles from LE: 941.5
Duration: 6.75hrs (9:45-16:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 2x Innis & Gunn IPA
After more overnight rain the field was most positively a quagmire – with the foot traffic it was starting to get muddy. It was another midge filled morning so I was very grateful for my head net which I bought a few weeks ago. With Florina’s tent packed up we headed off and left the bustling site behind. The path rose and fell through a much more open landscape this time and I was finding that conversation overtook my understanding and appreciation of the vistas. It nagged me a little but I knew that north of Fort William the views would be even more spectacular, I’d have the place to myself and all the time in the world to appreciate them, so for the moment I would relish the company as opposed to the scenery.
We were trying to keep up a decent pace as Florina needed to cover more miles than me today. We took a break for some lunch where we met some fellow walkers. One guy was wearing jeans (yes jeans, on the WHW) and had fashioned himself a pair of gaffa tape socks in an attempt to keep his feet dry as his trainers weren’t doing the job (yes trainers – and fashion trainers at that, not trail or approach shoes). It beggars belief. There was also a girl there with her dog Dougal a cute Westie terrier, on the WHW, whatever next?!
As we all got up to leave, the girl with the dog – Rawnie (pronounced Row-knee) looked to be in some discomfort which she put down to numerous bad blisters and a potentially infected one. Florina’s doctoring instinct took over and she persuaded Rawnie to take the bandages off to let her get a good look. It was clearly exceedingly painful but without sterile equipment or surfaces there wasn’t a lot of treatment she could give. She gave Rawnie some advice including; perhaps not walking the rest of the way to Fort William and going to get the blisters seen to by a nurse. Once she was back on her feet Florina and I said goodbye as we had to dash.
We arrived at Tyndrum at around 16:30 and headed straight to the Real Food Cafe so Florina could get a substantial meal, she still had about 3 hours walking to do. We exchanged numbers and parted ways, she said I’d be welcome in Bucharest any time. When I turned up at the campsite I found Rawnie hobbling around and we got chatting some more. She had found 2 others that she’d met earlier in the trip – Akshay and Sophie, so the four of us went out for fish and chips at the cafe.
I spent 4 nights in Edinburgh. I did a sightseeing bus tour, I walked around the castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia, caught up on my blog, generally soaked up the atmosphere and did a bit of shopping. It’s almost impossible to rest in a city. I also saw a podiatrist who diagnosed me with sesamoiditis. Possibly damage to or a stress fracture of one of my sesamoid bones (a tiny bone under the big toe joint). In an ideal world, after 6 weeks of complete rest it should be healed but she knew I’d like to carry on so attached some specific padding to my insoles and advised that I take anti-inflammatories. She also said that if it gets significantly worse that I should stop because continuing in agony could lead to longer term consequences. I’m hoping that the padding does the trick and I can carry on, as having to stop now would be devastating. I also treated myself to a sports massage and the guy did a fantastic job of ironing out my stiff, tired legs and knotty shoulders.
Edinburgh has been interesting, but busy. So busy. It’s peak season, on the cusp of the fringe festival and tourists of all nationalities wander the streets. It’s been a bit of a shock to the system; the traffic, the choice (of one sort or another), the sirens and just the sheer scale. The biggest place I’ve been since I left was – I think – Barnstaple which is not exactly huge and was a long time ago. I’m looking forward to getting back out on the trail but a bit apprehensive about how my right foot will cope.
Day: 72 – Thursday 3rd August
Started at: Linlithgow Station
Finished at: Falkirk Wheel
Miles from LE: 870
Duration: 6hrs (10:30-16:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
After some morning faff I eventually got on a train out of Edinburgh at 10am. No less than 2 minutes after stepping off the train it started raining – just a brief shower and then 10 minutes later it was stair-rods. Luckily there were some strategically placed trees and I kept out of the worst of it and then stayed dry for the rest of the day. I walked along the Union Canal all day, sometimes there was a rural view (a horse that had moments earlier given birth to a black foal) and other times very urban (a young offenders institute). The two highlights were the Falkirk Tunnel and the Falkirk Wheel.
It’s 636m in length and was dug because the local landowner didn’t want the canal to spoil his view and so demanded the canal go through the hill. It was quite drippy and eerie in parts, but lit just enough.
The wheel, in contrast to a crude hole through a rock, is a feat of modern simplistic engineering. It replaced a set of 11 locks that had fallen into disuse and were dismantled 70years previously. There is something mesmerising about its elegance and many people stand rooted to the spot watching it rotate.
My foot has been ok, I don’t feel like the padding is a panacea but I find tow paths quite hard going anyway so it’s an unfair expectation. Not just because of the hard surface impacting my feet and knees but also the lack of variability of movement in the feet and leg muscles. Even without any issues I find it hard not to become conscious of my gait because of the monotony. I’m looking forward to getting off the tow path (2 more days!) and seeing how I fare on a more irregular path.
Day: 73 – Friday 4th August
Started at: Falkirk Wheel
Finished at: Twechar, nr Kilsyth
Miles from LE: 881
Duration: 6hrs (11:00-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: Seven Giraffes
I started slowly and the day continued in the same vein. I would walk for a while, stop, take my boots off, rest, then back on with the boots and away again. This being the first time on the trip that I’ve been properly suffering physically has knocked me for six a bit. I was expecting that if I made it this far that I’d be a walking machine and that it would only take something major like a fall or bad sprain that would stop me getting to the end. Instead I have niggles that dominate my thoughts and stop it from being fun – that and sodding tow paths.
Enough of my down beat drawl. Today had a distinct second chapter.
After a nice beer at a hotel by a marina I continued the 1.5miles to the campsite. When I arrived it was locked up and didn’t turn out to be a touring site – it was an adventure/activity centre which also offered camping. I gave the number a ring and left a voicemail but didn’t hold out much hope. So I started to consider the alternatives. No other campsites and according to research no B&Bs. There was a potential wild camping spot but I was out of water and there were no streams around, just a stagnant canal. I walked just 100m and there was a B&B sign hanging outside a farm, so I thought I’d give it a shot. A lovely Scots lady answered the door and unfortunately they had no vacancies. Could I camp? Without a moment of hesitation she said; “aye, roond tha back”. Within 2 minutes of pitching my tent on a lovely lawn I was presented with 2 fresh eggs from the hens that were now pecking at my bag. And just 10 minutes later I was offered a bowl of steaming hot soup and 2 slices of garlic bread. Oh how the tide can turn so quickly. William and Elizabeth’s generosity was so heart warming – as was the soup! I tried to offer them some money but they wouldn’t take it.
I woke up at 6:30, or more accurately; having not slept a wink because of the wind flapping the fly sheet I sat up at 6:30 and it hadn’t started raining. I had breakfast and started packing up but just as I was ready to emerge the rain started. So I hurriedly packed up the now damp tent. The rain then got heavier and more persistent. I followed Dere Street more or less all the way to Jedburgh and arrived at the campsite while it was still very much morning.
I had decided to have a day and a half off because Jedburgh has some history to learn about and I felt I needed to ease myself back in to carrying the full weight again. The campsite wardens let me pitch up and with the shower block about to close for cleaning I raced to get pitched, unpacked and into the shower. I think I set a new site record – 35mins from arrival to all sorted and showered! Having barely slept I decided to try and nap. Sleep appeared to allude me so I headed out in search of lunch. Mission completed, I spent the rest of the day and night in my sleeping bag feeling exceedingly snug as the rain fell on the tent – when I’m not walking I can be very lazy!
Day: 65 – Monday 24th July
Started at: Jedburgh
Finished at: Melrose
Miles from LE: 791
Duration: 8.5hrs (9:30-18:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Ossian
I spent Sunday learning about Mary Queen of Scots (who I never studied at school) and about jail conditions in an 1820s prison. Undoubtedly they were bad but not as bad as they could’ve been. Jedburgh Gaol is a fine example of a John Howard (prison reformer) prison; the debtors slept in cells but spent the daylight hours relaxing and conversing with other inmates in the day rooms. They had fireplaces and were able to receive food stuffs from visitors that they could cook for themselves. The Bridewell where the thieves and vagrants were locked up would have been much worse with hard labour being the daytime occupation. Everyday is a school day!
Today the walking was either on the St Cuthbert’s Way which coincides with Dere Street, the Four Borders’ Abbeys Way (such a mouthful) or along the River Tweed. The vast majority of St Cuthbert Way walkers follow it from west to east (Melrose to Lindisfarne) along the route his life took which makes perfect sense. I was going east to west and so everyone I passed made quizzical sounds as if to say, aren’t you going the wrong way?
The first landmark was Monteviot House and Gardens which you see disappointingly little from the path, but I stopped at the cafe for tea and my first authentic shortbread. Next up was Lilliard’s stone. Another history lesson, although this is perhaps more myth than fact. There are many stories but the jist is that at the Battle of Ancum Moor a Scotswoman who’s lover was killed took to the battlefield and despite her legs being chopped off she continued to fight. Her tomb is on the ridge and the inscription reads:
‘Fair maiden Lilliard lies under this stane
Little was her stature, but muckle was her fame;
Upon the English loons she laid mony thumps
And when her legs were cuttit off, she fought upon her stumps.’
Shortly after this Dere Street becomes the current line of the A68 so the route dives off to the Tweed which made for some very pleasant walking. Passed by Dryburgh Abbey – one of the 4. St Boswell’s and Newtown St Boswell’s didn’t grab me so I cracked on to Melrose. My feet were starting to ache in new ways which was unexpected so I skipped out the Eildon Hills – disappointing because they are such distinctive hills but I vowed to come and walk them another time. The final landmark on the way into Melrose was a stone under a tree which supposedly marked the spot where Thomas the Rhymer was met by the Queen of Elfland and taken to a fairyland for 7 years where she gave him the gift of prophecy.
The glimpse of Melrose I got was enough to make me decide to come back and explore it properly, I could do that and walk the Eildon hills at the same time.
Day: 66 – Tuesday 25th July
Started at: Melrose
Finished at: Brown Knowe
Miles from LE: 804
Duration: 8.5hrs (9:30-18:00)
Trig points visited: Three Brethren, 464m – NT432319
Ales imbibed: 0
Another day another long distance path. This time the Southern Upland Way. Initially it followed the Tweed and a not so disused railway (since the guidebook was published they’ve reopened a station at Tweedbank and a stretch of line) which still had a footpath. South of Galashiels I opted to take a diversion around the south of Gala Hill which was a pleasant – but muddy – woodland path, then it was through farmland to Yair. On the sides of the path up through Yair Hill forest were so many mushrooms; a mycologists dream!
It was a steep climb up to the Three Brethrens – a hilltop with 3 chunky cairns marking the point where three estates meet and also the highest point of the Selkirk Common Riding ride.
I’d not seen any other walkers on the Southern Upland Way all day, and at 4pm just when I thought I could sit peacefully and reflect at the summit, no less than 9 people passed by. Nine people…for me that’s like standing in the middle of Piccadilly Circus!
I continued on for a few miles heading for the top of Brown Knowe where I’d be looking for a wild camping spot. I was very glad to have found one – the sun and clouds were my entertainment for the evening. The rapid movement of clouds – a warning sign of a breezy night – made for an ever changing scene, with the sun setting in the background. The camera doesn’t do this justice but you get the idea, the layers of hills went as far as the eye can see.
I had what I think was a Rough Legged Buzzard for company too – which was a privilege.
Day: 67 – Wednesday 26th July
Started at: Brown Knowe
Finished at: Innerleithen
Miles from LE: 810
Duration: 2.5hrs (8:30-11:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Isle of Arran Blonde
I awoke early but had slept like a log! It was 6:30 and as the rain hadn’t started I rolled over for a bit of a doze and was woken up at 7 by the rain on the tent…schoolgirl error. When I opened the tent I could see very little compared to the night before, just my immediate surroundings appeared through the fog.
I pressed on through the Elibank and Traquair Forest across Minch Moor on the Minchmoor Road – used for 800 years as the main route through southern Scotland. There were some intriguing art installations along the way, one of which was this:
The accompanying plaque gave some pretentious artistic waffle but in essence it might look like a series of circles mown into the moor, but they are in fact large ovals that when viewed from the path appear to be perfect circles.
As I descended the rain really set in and my ambitions to walk to Peebles slowly ebbed away. Instead I would head to Innerliethan. When I arrived I saw that the campsite was in possession of some ‘glamping pods’ and they had one available, so I took it. It had a little electric heater which I switched on almost immediately and having just spread out all my wet kit, the steam set off the deafening smoke alarm. I was embarrassed by the loud peel and rushed to open the doors. I put on my apologetic face ready to explain to anyone who sought out the source of the noise that penetrated their peaceful retreat. But no-one came. I was relieved not to have to apologise but then I realised, that at the sound of a smoke alarm no-one came to my rescue. I could have been burning alive in there and no-one batted an eyelid. Luckily for me it was just the steam and after tireless wafting the alarm eventually stopped. Note to self if you or the cabin spontaneously combust in the night, dial 999 – no-one else is going to bother.
Day: 68 – Thursday 27th July
Started at: Innerleithen
Finished at: Peebles
Miles from LE: 820
Duration: 5.5hrs (10:30-16:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Gunner
Having split 1 day into 2 I now only had 10miles to get to Peebles so I had a very relaxed morning. I even found the time to lay out my kit in a colour sequence which scratched some sort of organisational itch.
The route first went through the grounds of Traquair House which claims to be the longest continually inhabited house in Scotland, I didn’t hang about as I’d come from the back entrance and was probably supposed to pay. After a brief stint on the road it was back to forest tracks and up to the remains of a Roman fort called Castle Knowe. I couldn’t find the path that was indicated on the map so did a bit of off-roading to get to the summit and enjoyed the serenity at the top. Upon leaving I begun a lap of the fort when I came across a path – d’oh! I descended for lunch where there were a few day walkers and dog walkers but no backpackers to be seen.
I managed to sneak into Kailzie Gardens via an unlocked gate – I was definitely supposed to have paid for this one, so I confidently strode through expecting a hand on my shoulder at any moment, but escaped. It was then road all the way to Peebles where I posted some maps, bought some new insoles and went to the pub (hotel). My feet have been troublesome – particularly my right foot which has been hurting on the inside (base of my big toe) and so I’ve been walking strangely to compensate therefore leading to some pain on the outside of my foot. It’s not only annoying, it’s harder to enjoy the experience when my thoughts are consumed by my feet and my gait. “Just walk normally, you’ve been doing it for 28ish years, just stop thinking about it and walk naturally…!”
Day: 69 – Friday 28th July
Started at: Peebles
Finished at: West Linton
Miles from LE: 832
Duration: 7hrs (10:00-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Hurricane Jack
I had another slow morning, I think I’ve been using delay tactics because of my feet. If I put off getting going then I put off finding out how my feet are doing. I put the new insoles in and by the afternoon I had brief moments where my feet did not occupy my full attention – hopefully those moments will get longer until it’s business as usual.
It rained on and off in the morning and when the shower got briefly heavy I dived for the nearest shelter which happened to be a gorse bush. It was a tad prickly but it did the job! As I continued up the hill looking at my map to calculate the ascent I had just embarked upon I was passed by a nice enough looking middle aged chap in his car who shouted from the open window; “if you’re using a map, then you must be lost.”. What a prattish and nonsensical thing to say! This gave me enough material for a good 10 minute rant in my head. Idiot.
The route went off-piste for the first time and it was easy enough walking on short heather and bilberry but then I went even more off-piste, deciding to skip out the summit of White Meldon and ended up in tall bracken which slowed me down slightly – it sort of tangles around your legs, but wasn’t particularly bothersome. The Meldon Hills are dramatic but not particularly wild – in fact their proximity to habitation attracts a number of ‘wild campers’ and therefore vandalism of facilities and unsightly litter. The ‘wild campers’ I saw were families who’d pitched up on a patch of flat grass by the side of the road with their full size caravans (or tent equivalents) and BBQs – the end of the valley is basically like being on a campsite except it’s free.
On the way to Rommanobridge I passed through the forest of the Cloich Hills and the mews of buzzards rang out. Their presence has replaced that of the curlews, lapwings and oystercatchers of the mid-Pennines. Despite their increasing frequency in recent days, whenever I hear one, I still stop in my tracks to watch them, enthralled by the grace with which they rise effortlessly on the thermals until they are a mere speck. On another wildlife note, the flora and fauna has also changed; the hedgerows and riverbanks have taken on a definite purple hue. There is the Scottish emblem; the thistle, the non-native invader; Indian Balsam and the native but aggressive Rosebay Willowherb.
West Linton, my destination for the day is a gem. A village with ancient origins and a distinctly – dare I say it – English feel. With a very narrow high street and no less than 2 village greens. The restaurant was superb and unfortunately for future LEJOGers the only B&B won’t be around for much longer.
Day: 70 – Saturday 29th July
Started at: West Linton
Finished at: East Calder
Miles from LE: 845.5
Duration: 8hrs (9:15-17:15)
Trig points visited: Corston Hill, 348m – NT094634
Ales imbibed: 0
Today was dominated by passing through the Pentland Hills – not an area I’d ever considered before. They might be flanked by built up areas but when you’re stood in the middle they feel very wild and rugged. I think it’s definitely a taste of things to come, if I am to go up the west coast. In the middle you pass through Cauldstane Slap – wonderful name – a distinctive col which also forms the boundary of the Borders and West Lothian.
I also had a close up encounter with some proper hairy and horned Highland coos. I’m not sure why but I feel less cautious of Highland cows, part of it might be the memories of driving down a narrow lane to infants and primary school for 6 years where there was often a herd of hairy cows. Occasionally my mum would stop the car and we’d get out for a closer look. I particularly remember the randomness of their presence – sometimes they were there and other times not, the anticipation of starting off down the lane not knowing if they’d be there and finally the squeals of excitement and shouts of ‘hairy cow’!
Just before East Calder the route rose up to Corston Hill which provided great views to the north and east; to the Firth of Forth and its bridges, Edinburgh and Arthur’s seat dominating the skyline.
Unfortunately my feet, or more accurately my right foot, has not improved and so I’ve decided that I’m going to divert by train to Edinburgh to take a few days rest, seek some advice and possibly purchase some new boots. Other than wandering around for a few hours waiting for a train, I’ve not been to the Scottish capital before so it’s a good opportunity to see the sights.
Day: 71 – Sunday 30th July
Started at: East Calder
Finished at: Linlithgow Station
Miles from LE: 859
Duration: 6.75hrs (9:15-16:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Edinburgh Gold
Having taken the decision to stop off in Edinburgh, today had a different feel about it. I was on the Union Canal towpath all day and was just knocking off the miles to Linlithgow from where I knew my trip would be taking a hiatus. Towpaths have their pros; no navigation, flat, and usually something of interest to look at. However they are usually hard surfaces, monotonous and mind numbing.
My foot had continued to give me grief that would occasionally stop me in my tracks, so I arrived at Linlithgow station and jumped on board a train with mixed emotions; looking forward to exploring Edinburgh but some decisions to be made and possibly money to be spent on diagnosis and/or treatment of my ailment.