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.
On Monday we had a day off and visited Kielder Forest and Water. Some facts I learnt:
25% of all felled timber in England comes from Kielder
3.5million trees are planted in Kielder every year
The reservoir is the biggest man-made lake in Northern Europe
It holds 200,000 million litres of water – enough for a shower for every person in the world. (I confirmed this claim and calculated that with this much water, a shower head that uses 7.75L per minute and a current population of 7,520,378,800 we could all have a 3min 26sec shower.)
They have the most bonkers mini-golf course ever! It has no predetermined course just a set of starting points and holes – each group decides its own combinations. Amidst the chaos, I somehow managed to beat my golf-mad dad!
Back to Haltwhistle station and then I walked through the streets of the town which claims to be at the centre of Britain; if the centre is the midpoint of the longest north–south meridian and includes the Orkneys, but not Shetland Isles. Other methods are available: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centre_points_of_the_United_Kingdom.
Out of the town the path rose through fields and across a road to reach Hadrian’s Wall. We had devised a complex schedule which allowed each of my parents to walk a section of the wall without doubling back to get the car or tend to their very old dog who practically lives in the boot – out of choice – whilst on holiday. So firstly I picked up my mum and we walked up and down and up until we reached Green Slack where the views were extensive.
We dropped back down to a car park to do a relay-esque swap with my dad. We then went up and by Peel Crags and saw Sycamore Gap. At the next junction I turned north to continue along the Pennine Way and my dad dropped off to the south to meet my mum at the pick up point.
The rest of the day was moor and then my first experience of large sections of forest where it was surprisingly boggy underfoot. I thought that the vast swathes of trees would soak up every molecule of water, but alas it appears there is just too much water in these parts and so I got very wet feet having opted for trainers – mainly just because I could!
As I was reaching the point where I had agreed to meet my dad I looked at my watch and saw that I was 5mins early, that’s pretty good timing I thought and it’s no time at all to wait. I continued down the path approaching the lane when the car appeared and just as I climbed over the stile my dad arrived alongside it, so I opened the door and leapt in – A-Team style! We were gobsmacked by the perfection. It was extraordinary that we arrived at the exact same spot at the exact same time.
Tonight was my parents’ last night and mine with the extra home comforts – we played cards and had some brandy.
Day: 61 – Wednesday 18th July
Started at: Willowbog, nr Stonehaugh
Finished at: Bellingham
Miles from LE: 740.5
Duration: 3.5hrs (10:15-13:45)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
I’d arranged to stay an extra night at the campsite sans caravan so all I had to do after being dropped off was walk the 7miles back to the campsite. It was a slightly teary goodbye and I waved my parents off down the lane. Farewell comfy pillow, goodbye clean non-hiking clothes, cheerio well rounded meals and packed lunches, au revoir Dusty (the dog) oh yeah and ciao mum and dad!
It was a fairly uninteresting 7miles but I did find a ‘Pit Stop’ for Pennine Way walkers. Little signs and arrows pointed you in the direction of a former stable building that had been transformed into a hikers haven/treasure trove. It had seats, snacks, drinks in the fridge, a kettle plus accoutrements, toilet and shower, washing machine and tumble dryer (these may have just been the owners’), oh and a little box of hiker goodies – a spare guidebook, plasters etc. As it happened I didn’t really need anything, but I could have done with something similar many a time. Such generosity from the owner to let hikers hang out in their barn – love it. It got me thinking; why haven’t I seen more hospitality based on honesty? Perhaps it’s just too much effort.
The other small piece of drama was coming across an injured sheep. It had a wound on its back leg that had attracted flies and it wouldn’t walk – it just stood there no matter how close I got, I could even stroke it. I took a note of the number on its ear tag and reported it to the next house I came to. Hopefully the girl I spoke to managed to find the farmer and it’s been looked after.
Got back to the campsite in time for lunch and spent the rest of the day chilling out in the campers lounge and getting myself ready to head off again.
No more support crew!
Day: 62 – Thursday 19th July
Started at: Bellingham
Finished at: Forest View Walkers Inn, Byrness
Miles from LE: 756.5
Duration: 8hrs (9:00-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Thirsty Walker – Forest View Walkers Inn Ale
After setting off from Bellingham, heading through a farmyard, getting chased down by a dog and hitting the moors again, I found a number of other Pennine walkers. There was a South African lady who’d walked from Chepstow for charity and was joined by a friend, Greg an Australian chap who likes coming to the UK to do the long distance trails and a group of 3 more Australians (father and 2 sons).
Nothing much else happened so here is a picture of a sheep with massive horns. I’ve seen A LOT of sheep since Land’s End – tens of thousands – and this one has the biggest horns by far.
At around lunch time I met Claire another Pennine wayfarer. Then it was a long trudge down a forest road which I hated. There were a few lorries that barrelled along them too – without slowing – which was lovely of them. I kept myself going until I reached the edge of the forest where there were picnic benches. I was going to treat myself to a long sit down, boots off ‘n’ all. But as soon as I sat down the midges attacked. They put a very quick end to my plans and so I picked up my heavy bag and carried on grumpily. I could definitely feel the full weight being back on my back.
My destination was the Forest View Walkers Inn and I’d arranged to camp in the back garden for free provided I bought a 2 course dinner and had breakfast. At £22 it was a good deal as there weren’t any shops or restaurants in Byrness. It was here that I’d meet everyone that I’d seen on the trail today plus a few others who were staying a second night. (The last day of the Pennine Way is 28miles which is too far for most people so Joyce and Colin have a minibus to pick walkers up halfway to Kirk Yetholm at the end of day 1 and then drop them back the next morning.) One of those with just 1 day left was Dom who I’d met on day 50 (over 2 weeks ago) – how we’d not crossed paths in the interim I have no idea. (Hi Dom if you’re reading! Hope you enjoyed you’re free half pint in KY!) The inn was fantastically sociable with everyone sharing experiences and comparing notes, plus spirits were high as everyone had only 1 or 2 days left. The hand pumps in the corner of the living room helped! As did Colin’s many tales of walkers he’d seen pass through his doors.
Just another note on the Walkers Inn – not only were Joyce and Colin lovely and interesting hosts, the food was great, the beer was good, and everything was clean and tidy. But here’s the clincher – the drying room! Not only did it work but when each walker arrived Colin would take your boots from you, take out the insoles and number with chalk both the boots and the insoles. He’d then prioritise the wettest boots and rotate them around the rack accordingly. In the morning, once they were all dry, they were paired up and brought into the conservatory for everyone to slip on…now that’s service!
Day: 63 – Friday 20th July
Started at: Forest View Walkers Inn, Byrness
Finished at: Dere Street nr Shibden Hill
Miles from LE: 769.5
Duration: 7.75hrs (9:15-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
Last day on the Pennine Way – I had to make a note on my map of where to turn off so I didn’t end up going towards Kirk Yetholm. I set off with Greg straight up Byrness Hill which is a steep and slippery muddy bank.
Once atop the moors we met a few more walkers and we eventually caught up with Claire. We passed by Chew Green – a significant Roman Fort complex – and not long after I turned left off the Pennine Way and across the border into Scotland!
I waved goodbye to my companions and on my own again I got a little bit emotional; “little ol’ me has walked 750+miles across the length of her own country”.
I had lunch at the top of Blackhall Hill staring into the land of haggis, whiskey, tartan and Mel Gibson in a kilt. As I descended I looked around and the landscape definitely seemed different. There were lots of interesting lumps, bumps and humps and I was philosophising over whether I thought it was different because I knew it was a different country or whether if I’d been ignorant to the border would I notice a change? Either way I could definitely sense a change, even if it was just mentally and emotionally.
I was now walking along Dere Street which is a Roman road built well before Hadrian built his wall. It runs from York to Edinburgh and I’d be walking it for the rest of the day until I found a wild camping spot. The border did signify a game changer – I could now legally wild camp almost anywhere, which makes the planning a bit easier. No campsites? No worries, just stock up on food, refill water from a stream and I’m good to go wild camping anywhere. I had my eye on a particular hill and getting closer I started looking for spots. When Dere Street met a lane there was a bench on a flat-ish area of grass. Looking ahead, the hill I’d seen on the map was nothing like reality. The area of woodland had been felled, the walls/fences had been removed and it was littered with cows and sheep. The area by the bench would be more than sufficient so I stopped there and then. It was only 5pm so I didn’t pitch up, instead I wrote my diary, did some stretching and sat upon my bench. The lane was very quiet, only 1 or 2 cars an hour or so, that was until no less than five 4x4s came screeching to a halt right alongside me and turned my tranquil spot into a car park. Well I was fuming, “who the bloody hell are this lot and what do they think they’re doing just parking all over my abode?” Then Tony Robinson got out, and all was forgiven! He was with a TV crew and they’d arrived to do some filming on Dere Street for a series called Ancient Tracks. Once he’d heard about what I was doing there, he came over, shook my hand, congratulated me and posed for a photo. I spent a good hour or so talking to various members of the crew (who gave me 2 bottles of water and a banana) and before I knew it they were gone again. What a surreal moment!
It was only later on that I found out he’s Sir Anthony and I’d never met a knight before. It was probably a good thing I didn’t know beforehand because I wasn’t able to string a sentence together anyway, let alone come up with some quip about a cunning plan. So had I known I might’ve panic curtsied or something!
Once they’d gone I cooked my dinner, sat on my bench to watch the sunset and reflected upon an event filled day.
There was an air of excitement as I packed up and left the 100s of midges behind. My parents had travelled up with the caravan from East Sussex to be my support crew for 10 days and we arranged to meet at the Tan Hill Inn. Which meant, well, bliss. A super light day bag, no worries about accommodation, no thoughts about where my next meal would come from or how I might imaginatively cook it on my stove, and I’d put in a request for some extra clothes, a proper pillow and a nice fluffy towel – a respite from microfibre!
I opted to take a path that was not the Pennine Way – gasp – but seeing the Way unnecessarily climb and fall on the opposite side of the river I felt vindicated as I only had a gentle rise onto the moors. Once up there it rained on and off so I sheltered in a cow-‘ause for my lunch. With less than 5miles to go, I had to consciously slow myself down as I knew the earliest my parents would be able to get there was 4pm and I’d call them when I arrived to let them know I’d made it.
The inn – which at 530m is the highest in England and possibly one of the remotest – is a popular spot for walkers, cyclist and bikers as it offers camping, bunkhouse and B&B accommodation. Plus it remains open in the foulest weather even when they’ve been snowed in for weeks they still welcome visitors. As I reached for the door handle I spotted a handwritten sign stuck to the window which read; “Due to an issue with the water supply we have had to close, sorry for any inconvenience”. Well, I nearly cried, but the porch was open so I resigned myself to waiting there. Then a guy came over, unlocked the door and said; “we’ve taken pity on you, come on in and sit by the fire and dry yourself off!”. I was so grateful for the warmth but pushed my luck by asking if the hand pumps still worked and they did! I supped my beer and steamed by the fire as the staff ate their lunch and I gleaned more information about the issue. Then the landlady appeared and asked the staff to begin a deep clean – they may as well make the best of a bad situation. Meanwhile the phone was constantly going; the message had gone out and those with bookings were calling to find out more or just complain. Amidst the melee someone left the door unlocked and so customers kept letting themselves in – despite the sign; a group of 4, a couple, another 3, another couple. The landlady was sat by the door and welcomed each patron with a smile and the same line; “we are officially closed as we don’t have any water, so you can’t use the toilets and you can’t have tea or coffee. But if you’d like an effing drink, you can pour it your-effing-self or eff off!!”. So that is just what they did, they went behind the bar, found a glass and pulled their own pints. It was absolute joyous chaos and provided great entertainment whilst I waited for my parents to arrive.
When they did, there were hugs and a few tears. I pulled us some drinks and we caught up. Then it was back to the campsite where I’d be pitched for 5 whole nights.
Day: 55 – Tuesday 11th July
Started at: Tan Hill Inn
Finished at: Wythes Hill, B6276
Miles from LE: 665.5
Duration: 6.75hrs (10:45-17:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0 (but a G&T and a glass of wine instead!)
After a very relaxing evening in the caravan, one of mum’s home-cooked lasagnas, a G&T and a glass of wine it was back to Tan Hill in the morning for the walk across Sleightholme Moor. With only a day pack I felt like I was flying, it was great!
Somehow Allan – with a hand he pack – caught up with me, he was walking the Pennine Way as part of his PTSD therapy and raising money for a veteran’s charity having served in the army for 17yrs +. We walked and chatted, crossed under the busy A66 and continued across the moors. At a cairn I stopped for lunch and Allan decided that was him done for the day so he pitched his tent. Another couple of walkers caught up – John and John who I’d met in the Tan Hill the day before.
Shortly before the arranged pick up point there were a couple of nature reserves. One was ‘Hannah’s Meadows’ named after Hannah Hauxwell who farmed there using such simple methods that rare flower species thrive and it is now designated an SSSI. I recommend the original documentary from the 1970s called ‘Too Long a Winter’ and its sequel ‘A Winter Too Many’ about her frugal life on the farm (both are on YouTube). I had a peaceful moment in a hide looking over the reservoir; 2 oystercatchers, a heron, a gull and lots of sheep.
In the evening dad cooked a BBQ and one of my best friends; Emma happened to be in Penrith for work and she was able to drive over for some of my dad’s charred sausages. It was a great surprise and a bit of a shock to the system to suddenly be surrounded by friends and family – I’m not used to so much conversation and having to verbalise my thoughts.
Day: 56 – Wednesday 12th July
Started at: Wythes Hill, B6276
Finished at: Langdon Beck YHA
Miles from LE: 676.5
Duration: 6.5hrs (10:00-16:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Rivet Catcher
Today my dad was going to join me for a large part of the day but first I had to get up over a hill and down in to Middleton-in-Teesdale. The 2.5 miles took over the estimated hour because I had binoculars and so was distracted by the many birds plus I dropped my map and had to go back about 1/4mile to find it. I found my parents at the coffee shop and then me and dad waved goodbye to mum and set off along the Tees. It was a lovely walk along the dale through meadows and copses, plus it was perfect walking weather. We passed by Low Force and High Force where there were many more walkers but out the other side of the attractions we were back to having the trail and the juniper trees (with gin berries) to ourselves.
It was a short climb at the end of the day up to Langdon Beck YHA and dad was pleased to see mum and the car. He had now completed 0.7% of LEJOG but didn’t think he could tackle the remaining 99.3!
Day: 57 – Friday 14th July
Started at: Langdon Beck YHA
Finished at: Dufton
Miles from LE: 689
Duration: 5.75hrs (9:45-15:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Ruskin’s
Yesterday we had a day off and went to Richmond for some gear shopping and lunch.
Then in the morning it was back to Langdon Beck for the walk over the Tees, along a beck to Cauldron Snout Waterfall (which you need to scramble up the side of so I was very glad for the small, light bag), then on to High Cup Nick and down to Dufton.
I’d never heard of High Cup Nick before but I think it will stick in my memory forever. Coming from the south, you come from a narrow-ish river valley. As it opens up you walk across the plain and then wham! you’re stood at the top of a band of rock that surrounds this huge bowl-like feature with views to the Lake District. Absolutely stunning.
High Cup Nick
Day: 58 – Saturday 15th July
Started at: Dufton
Finished at: Garrigill
Miles from LE: 704.5
Duration: 7.5hrs (9:30-17:00)
Trig points visited: Cross Fell, 893m – NY687343
Ales imbibed: 0.5x Angel Ale
Today I was going to reach 893m – higher than I’d been so far and higher than I would get for the rest of the trip – even in Scotland. I did a sun dance but unfortunately I must have been communicating with the low mist and cloud god. After an hour of ascending towards Green Fell I went into the cloud and could only see about 20-30m around me. It stayed this way until an hour before reaching Garrigill when I descended out of the cloud. This weather made for some great photos…!
Little Dun Fell
Great Dun Fell – there is a giant radome in that cloud somewhere
I appreciated the use of Greg’s Hut as a respite from the wind and rain whilst I had my lunch. I expected to find other wayfarers settled in for the night having decided not to continue battling through the weather, but I had it to myself. The final 6.5miles down the old corpse road were grim and hard on the feet – again I was glad I didn’t have the full pack.
Whilst I was out on the hills my parents moved base camp from Barnard Castle up to Bellingham.
Day: 59 – Sunday 16th July
Started at: Garrigill
Finished at: Haltwhistle Station
Miles from LE: 721.5
Duration: 8hrs (9:00-17:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Wey Aye Pale Ale (this is not me being derogatory about being in the North West, this was the name of the ale)
It was a special day today because I had arranged to meet Ronnie and Julie (see days 8 and 38) who were going to join me for half a day of walking. We met in Garrigill and the weather was much improved – perhaps my sun dance had got stuck in an outbox.
We walked the Pennine Way up to Alston where they bought me coffee and cake and then we continued along the railway line, which was not all disused – it had steam trains running along part of it – and it was unlike many other railways lines. It was not completely straight, flat, tarmacked and enclosed, instead it was refreshingly open with nice views. We talked for hours, sharing tales of the places we had stayed. Our differing experiences of the same places were usually dependent on the weather at the time. At 3pm Ronnie and Julie turned around to walk the 12miles back to Garrigill – a 24mile day(!) – and I continued to Haltwhistle (a mere 5 extra miles) . Their parting gift was a small plastic pop bottle filled with whiskey, a very thoughtful present.
Rikki the Rockhopper and Fury the mini Schnauzer puppy picked me up on Friday as planned and drove us to the campsite. It felt like a fast way to travel, the hedges zoomed by the window and the view changed remarkably quickly.
On the Saturday morning all the other small tents had popped up overnight and once we’d agreed a route we set off. Having only a day bag I felt like I could gallop along. Ahh such relief. From West Burton we reached the top of the ridge at Height of Hazeley with ease and added some mileage by wandering around looking for a dropped camera, which we never found. Then it was on to Brown Haw and eventually Buckden Pike along the ridge line which was a pathless, tussocky, bog slog.
From Buckden Pike we picked up a footpath and eventually a track which led us down to farmland. About 100 stiles later we were back at West Burton and it would’ve been rude not to walk past the pub and not stop.
So I’d done a tough 17.5 mile walk and got no closer to John O’Groats…! Hmm.
Day: 53 – Sunday 9th July
Started at: Hawes
Finished at: Usha Gap, Muker
Miles from LE: 644.5
Duration: 6.75hrs (10.30-17:15)
Trig points visited: Great Shunner Fell, 716m – SD848973
Ales imbibed: 0
Today I was back to heading in a line due north. Chris the Rockhopper had also been suitably knackered by the previous day’s walk and so offered to take me back to Hawes and then walk with me for the first mile and a half to Hardraw Force – at 98ft it’s the highest single drop waterfall in England. Entrance is through a pub which is novel and it was quite impressive but I’m not sure about £2.50 impressive.
After this I was back on my own again for the trudge up Great Shunner Fell – the guidebook had warned me about the false summits but at the 10th I was getting a bit bored of thinking I was nearly at the top so just forgot about it and marched on. By the time I got to the top the cloud and mist had rolled in and I couldn’t see very far but it was a uncharacteristically dry mist. I’ll take that!
On the way down, the sun came out and by the time I got to the pretty little village of Thwaite I was roasting so it was a good job the tea room was open. There was less than a kilometre left so I hauled on my pack, ambled down to the campsite and pitched up in a lovely riverside spot.
I left promptly as I knew I had a long day ahead of me and was looking forward to getting to the picturesque village of Malham and a night in the youth hostel. Soon after rising out of Cowling the drizzle began but I reached Lothersdale in good time. Unfortunately I was too early for the nice looking pub – it was only 10am! So I continued on climbing upwards; deeper into the cloud. Reached Pinhaw Beacon and enjoyed the spectacular view – not!
By the time I got to Thornton-in-Craven I was pretty damp and my boots hard started to squelch. This village is crying out for a pub but unfortunately lacks one so a bench would have to suffice (during a brief pause in the rain) where I changed my socks. Just before reaching East Marton – and it’s pub! – there was a short stretch alongside the Liverpool to Leeds canal which included the double arch bridge. An odd feature that can’t be explained.
Unfortunately the pub lacked a fire or warm radiator – it was actually almost chilly inside – but what it lacked in warmth it made up for with a delicious steak sandwich. Once I was mostly dry apart from my socks and boots I stepped back out into the rain and promptly slipped down the stone steps back onto the towpath. Luckily no damage done. On arriving in Gargrave and being presented with a tearoom I flexed my will power and managed to walk straight on by – there were still a lot of miles to go today.
Having noted that the route crossed numerous fields (with saturated grass) I opted to continue along a track and cut back across just one field. Part way along my phone pinged and it was a photo from my dad of my mum enjoying the glorious warm sunshine back home in the garden. This tipped me over the edge and I burst into tears – “It’s not fair! Why can’t the sun come out here? What am I doing? This is miserable. I too could be sat at home enjoying the sunshine, instead I’m trudging through the rain. Was this whole LEJOG thing such a good idea?”. I rejoined the route and was quickly met by another walker and just about kept myself together as we introduced ourselves. This was Connor, on day 5 of walking the Pennine Way, a student who’d just competed his first year studying physics at Cambridge and as I would find out over the next couple of days was into ultra-light backpacking, that, and his brain is the size of a planet! He could tell me the weight in grams of virtually every item in his bag. (Hi Connor if you’re reading this – hope you’re progressing along the Pennine Way as planned with your very light bag!)
Conversation ensued for the remaining 6miles which made the time pass by much quicker and almost made me forget just how wet my feet were – sort of, although I think the squelching was audible. Walking over the crest of a hill and seeing Malham Cove looming in the distance, gave me a new appreciation of its sheer scale and uniqueness – that’s a moment I won’t forget.
In Malham, Connor headed to a campsite, I went towards the YHA and as I approached I dreamed of a very efficient drying room – it’s the small things! On inspection it seemed adequate and I practically deposited all of my belongings in there. In the kitchen I met Jane and Mark who are also walking LEJOG (that’s 9 others now)! Their journey had a different feel; there was no camping so their bags were very light and they were walking a much more direct line through larger places. Unfortunately they are also going to have to cut their trip short, at the Scottish border, due to family circumstances. (Hi Jane and Mark if you’re reading this – hope you enjoyed the rest of the Pennine leg and are able to return later in the year to conquer Scotland!)
Day: 51 – Wednesday 5th July
Started at: Malham YHA
Finished at: Horton-in-Ribblesdale
Miles from LE: 621
Duration: 7.5hrs (8:30-16:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Ingleborough Ale
The hostel was rammed full of year 6 kids who had booked breakfast for 8am and so the vast majority of the hostel patrons were rushing to breakfast between 7:30 & 8:00. I saw Jane and Mark again and we swapped blog addresses before I departed.
The first leg of the walk was to wander down to Malham Cove, climb the staircase and clamber across the limestone pavement at the top. Looking back I could see others starting to trickle out of Malham but as it was still relatively early I was alone on the top, that was until Connor’s head popped up from the last step. I couldn’t understand where he’d come from but it was nice to have some company again.
We set off around Malham Tarn and then up over Fountain Fell where, as we descended, we stopped for lunch with a view over the valley to Pen-y-ghent. Even though the cloud was rising off the top I had already made up my mind that I was going to take the more direct route to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. So at a fork in the path we went our separate ways but knew we were staying the in the same (and only) campsite in the middle of Horton, so it wasn’t for long. Soon after I’d pitched my tent and showered, some cadets arrived and pitched their tents, then more arrived, then more! It made for some rudimentary entertainment to watch the organised chaos of approximately 40 16/17 year olds put up tents, cook dinner and unwind all the while complaining about blisters.(Jasper and Max were also at the campsite in Horton but had taken the bus for today’s leg because they were suffering with blisters.)
Day: 52 – Thursday 6th July
Started at: Horton-in-Ribblesdale
Finished at: Hawes
Miles from LE: 634.5
Duration: 6.75hrs (9:45-16:30)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Lightfoot Ale
When I poked my head out of the tent in the morning all the cadets had packed up and gone without making enough sound to rouse me – couldn’t believe it!
Without much in the way of food and with the well known Pen-y-ghent cafe / tourist information / shop / Yorkshire three peaks challenge check in/out post en route I decided to head there for breakfast. And who should I find waiting outside for it to open…Connor! After I’d watched him drink a pint of hot chocolate – none of this grande, venti nonsense, it was small or a pint when it came to hot drinks – we set off for Hawes.
Today’s walking was fairly unremarkable as it was along old packhorse ways – gradually uphill for the morning and then downhill for the afternoon. However what was remarkable was that at some point in the day I passed the halfway point! 600miles down, 600 to go. When I realised this I was on Birkwith Moor which unfortunately lacked a champagne bar so I merely stopped, through my arms aloft, whooped and then continued.
The second half of the day we were a group of 4 – we had caught up with Jasper and Max.
Once in Hawes I was celebrating reaching the halfway point with a pint outside one of the many many public houses on offer when Jane and Mark walked by. They joined me and even bought me a drink, and we shared stories of our walking experiences. The campsite was 1km out of Hawes so I had to drag myself away from the pub and go and get my tent set up and dinner cooked etc.
The following day was to be a rest day – eating lots of cheese courtesy of the Wensleydale cheese factory and waiting. Waiting for what? Well the Rockhoppers (the mountaineering club of which I am a member) just happen to have a trip booked on the same weekend in the same valley, just 10miles from me. So I’d arranged to meet with them for the weekend and do some more walking – in a circle for a change. I must be mad!
Please excuse this brief but rambling entry – I’ve just jotted down some notes to catch up!
Day: 45 – Thursday 29th June
Started at: Strines Inn, Bradfield Dale
Finished at: Dog and Partridge, Flouch
Miles from LE: 544.5
Duration: 7hrs (9:30-16:30)
Trig points visited: Back Tor, 538m – SK197909
Ales imbibed: 1.5x Deception
Having had the best night’s sleep of the trip it was hard to drag myself out from under the fluffy down duvet and out into the rain again – hence the slightly late start! Today was proper moorland walking with plenty of grouse (and shooting of said grouse). I was worried when I flushed them out that they would get shot straight back down again! Luckily that didn’t happen. Headed up over Black Tor and Lost Lad for the stunning panoramic views.
Got some relief from the rain alongside the reservoirs – which were noticeably low, so I suppose we need the rain. Rose above the reservoirs and experienced the first of the peat groughs – a sign of things to come me thinks. Reached the Dog & Partridge almost dry but still appreciated the open fire in the bar. Another hot bath awaited me which was lovely. Got talking to the landlord over dinner and he kindly bought me a beer.
Day: 46 – Friday 30th June
Started at: Dog and Partridge, Flouch
Finished at: Wild Camp nr Marsden
Miles from LE: 558.5
Duration: 9hrs (9:00-18:00)
Trig points visited: South Nab, 461m – SE156003
Ales imbibed: 0
Left via South Nab and as I started to descend and leave the main road behind me, a man pulled up in his Land Rover. He got out and started heading down the slope in my direction, shouting loudly and rapidly “HEY, HEY, HEY…”. I was slightly disconcerted but I knew I was on access land so the fact that I wasn’t on the right of way shouldn’t have been a problem and I don’t think he was trying to warn me. I glanced over a couple of times but his call didn’t change. I decided to keep my head down and just keep going to see what happened. The penny finally dropped when I realised he was rounding up his sheep and it had nothing to do with me. Phew!
After a rest in the pub at Holme it started raining again and a ‘shortcut’ I opted to take actually turned out to be harder work and drenched my feet – you win some, you lose some! I got to Wessenden Head and the prospect of another 6 miles or so was not appetising (including a 2 mile diversion to a campsite that would have to be retraced in the morning). I had enough provisions for a wild camp so that’s just what I did. I stopped above Butterley Reservoir on a disused bridge and I basked in the 5 mins of evening sun that poked through the cloud.
Packed up an almost dry tent after a windy night but slept better than usual. Walked straight down into Marsden for a breakfast of avocado and poached egg on toast – scrummy! Passed by more reservoirs (they scatter the landscape around here – something I’ve never noticed before having not spent any significant time up t’north). When the sun came out I just stopped where I was, spread my wet things out and basked on a rock for 30mins. It felt so good! Manshead Hill loomed over but it wasn’t a painful climb – listening to Hakuna Matata and singing along at the top of my voice I actually bounced up the hill. The views from the top were extensive and stunning. I think I could see Leeds and the Ferrybridge Power Station which is 30 miles away as the crow flies.
Finished up at Aaron’s campsite; a bit basic – no hot water or showers and quite windy but it’ll do me.
Day: 48 – Sunday 2nd July
Started at: Aaron’s Campsite nr Cragg Vale
Finished at: Hebden Bridge
Miles from LE: 575.5
Duration: 2hrs (11:00-13:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 1x Clive – the ‘Breakfast IPA’, 1x Wainwright
The campsite was a few miles from Hebden Bridge and I had maps waiting for me but as it was a Sunday the Post Office would be closed. I decided to walk into HB to cover those few miles, spend the rest of the day in the town, get the bus back to the campsite and then get the bus straight to the PO first thing Monday morning – are you still following?!
I bounced along with just a day bag and was glad to be unladen as the going was very steep, with complicated path networks and very squidgy bog on the top. As I crossed the moor an owl popped up which was a brief but exciting wildlife encounter. I descended into HB and it was buzzing. It turned out there was a street performance festival, a market and lots of things to see.
The sun was shining and I soaked up the atmosphere and the rays. A perfect day topped off with a Sunday roast including an authentic Yorkshire pudding.
Day: 49 – Monday 3rd July
Started at: Hebden Bridge
Finished at: Squirrel Wood, Cowling
Miles from LE: 591
Duration: 9.75hrs (10:45-20:00)
Trig points visited: 0
Ales imbibed: 0
Due to bus timetable alterations the first bus was at 10am – hence the late start. I headed due north alongside rivers and enjoyed the flowing water and dappled shade from the trees. At a decision point the guidebook said ‘go left to take the road via the pub or continue up the riverside to take the direct route which joins up with the Pennine Way’. I opted to continue along the river – WRONG DECISION. The path rapidly became vague, the gorge got steeper and the terrain more precarious. I was scrambling over slippery moss covered rocks, between overgrown vegetation, ducking under low hanging trees, climbing over fallen trees and hating every step. I should have turned back but I got stuck in the mentality of; “I’ve come this far, I think I can see the end, I’ll just keep going”. I got scared, and moments from the book/film ‘127 hours’ were flashing through my mind. I could have easily slipped and fallen awkwardly and with it being so remote, no-one would come through here any time soon. After I fell and grazed my thumb I became angry at the guidebook for suggesting this route, I became angry at myself for persisting and I became angry at the time and energy I was losing. I eventually got to the end where the valley opened up and met a track. I sat on the tarmac and cried with relief. It was easily the worst hour of the trip so far and could’ve have been a lot worse. I’m not clear whether I had strayed from the path or not but either way it was a bit of a wake up call and a reminder to listen to alarm bells. If it doesn’t feel right, just turn back.
After I’d patched myself up and had something to eat I headed onto the Pennine Way (which I would now follow for the next 190 miles). Immediately there were walkers ahead and walkers behind and I felt reassured. I overtook 2 young-ish lads; Jasper and Max who I would see numerous times over the next few days and headed up over the moorland via Top Withins – the apparent inspiration for Heathcliff’s house in Wuthering Heights. I descended into Cowling late and exhausted. The campsite was very pleasant; basically someone’s back garden and the shower was delightfully hot. I ‘cooked’ some Super Noodles and flopped into bed.