Coming Home

Wednesday 17th October 2018

111 days of walking. 1184.14 miles walked.

In an earlier blog I noted that

I inhabit an internet world where
extreme achievements are normalised
by some amazing people.

Many of those people record their activity at Fetcheveryone.com, and have been really positive supporters of this challenge. They understand what it means to push boundaries, and have been the people I turned to when I had problems that required knowledge and encouragement, and some have also provided practical help (Walk Day 63 is the most obvious example). They shared many more of the problems than originally appeared in this blog, and they also understood my caveat to any question that “Quitting is not an option.” It was therefore delightful to find that Fetch (Ian) had created a personalised congratulatory banner for the site when I finished. Thank you all 🙂

There was a warm glow as I read all the comments and congratulations, and I slept well on Friday night.

First thing on Saturday morning I went down to the Seaview Hotel to sign the visitor’s book and collect an ‘arrived in John O’Groats’ certificate. There was a similar ‘overcast and uninhabited’ end-of-season anti-climax feel to the place as I’d discovered at Land’s End last year when I started, but my reward was in knowing I’d achieved my objective. I’d finished what I came for and chose not to walk the additional distance to Duncansby Head or to find somewhere to dip my feet into the sea.

Freda and her husband Ronnie were kind enough to collect me from John O’Groats and drive me to Wick so that I could catch the bus through to Inverness. Thank you both. During the two hours sitting still on the bus my legs went to sleep so that I hobbled off the bus. It didn’t look very heroic!

I’d booked a room at the Black Isle Hostel before they opened their new rooms in a separate building above the Black Isle Bar. I occupied one of the new rooms… I had been unaware, when I booked, that the Bar was a popular nightspot, or that the window of my room would open onto the same level of decking as the rooftop bar – open until 1am. On this occasion the industrial extractor fan and noise of people enjoying themselves wasn’t a problem because I knew there was no need to get good sleep in order to be able to walk the next day. It meant I could sleepily enjoy the buzz.

Having promised myself a decent scotch once I finished the walk, I went down to the Bar to see what they had to offer. Their range of beers was so impressive that I chose a wheat beer instead, and really enjoyed it.

The rain made my exploration of the town centre a bit gloomy, and I was suddenly and unexpectedly tired, so retired to my room to watch Strictly Come Dancing on my phone. It’s the first time I’ve used it to stream a television programme and it felt quite decadent after saving all my data for essential use on the journey up to that point. What would we do without our mobiles?

On Sunday morning I attended Choral Eucharist at the cathedral.

After that I explored around the river,

noting the Great Glen Way signs relating to a walk that suddenly seemed such a long time ago. The castle is the starting/finishing point of the Great Glen Way.

All the local tourist attractions were closed for the weekend, so coffee and chocolate cake at a cafe were then followed by a trip around the shopping centre. This is the Unicorn and Falcon statue in Falcon Square.

Outside one of the shops I saw a slogan that made me giggle.

Then, another treat. I met another ‘stranger from the internet,’ (Fetchie) Laurie, who lives in the area, and we went for a coffee and a chat before she gave me a lift to the airport. Thank you Laurie.

There were some items that I knew I couldn’t take on the plane, so I donated the MSR gas bottles to the ‘Help Your-shelf’ at the hostel and handed in my spare food to the cathedral for their food parcels. By the time my rucksack had been wrapped in clingfilm at the airport it only weighed 6kg.

Luton Airport was wetter than Inverness, and we finally arrived home just after midnight on Monday morning.

There was no lie-in on Monday because I had to prepare for a talk at the Rotary Club on Monday night, and my laptop had three weeks of updates to install, with associated interruptions in operation. Eventually everything worked and I had an enjoyable evening. The Rotary Club made a donation to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. Thank you gentlemen.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was finally an opportunity to catch up with the family, drink the champagne that had been in the refrigerator for months, and to feel that I had finally come home.

I’ll blog my reflections, and update some of the static pages with learning along the way, but for now, thank you for reading, thank you for your comments, and good luck with any adventures that are currently stirring your hearts.

Advertisements

Walk Day 111 – Keiss to John O’Groats

Friday 12th October 2018

9.04 miles today. 1184.14 miles total.

In the hotel last night I met Carol and Nick, last seen in Dunbeath. They had been walking the John O’Groats Trail, and we had walked some of the same route. We spent some time catching up and sharing walking stories and tips.

They were going home so we said goodbye after breakfast and I set out into the rain and wind for my last day of LEJOG.

The rain stopped but the wind was very strong and made walking ‘difficult’. (British understatement)

I managed to avoid being blown under the wheels of approaching vehicles, and to enjoy the scenery, when I could see it.

This herd was lined up waiting for the farmer (behind me) to drop the straw bale over the gate for it.

The sea was being blown into choppy waves.

The weather for most of the morning was overcast and raining, with very strong southerly winds gusting to 70mph. I was glad to turn north and have the wind behind me.

In a break between showers, finally, on my last day, I found a long horned cow to photograph!

Eventually the worst of the rain passed and the sun shone for a short time.

The signpost said 3 miles. It was a bit further to my destination.

The wind died down to ‘strong breeze’, which was quite enjoyable, and the rain had passed over, so with clear views I stopped here to record a Facebook live video to test the technology for later.

This was the scene with about three miles to go to the end. I turned on the Google location tracker so that my family could see my progress.

The road still showed the aftermath of the rain.

This was my first sight of my destination.

The multi-coloured huts were my target. Finally I could see them.

This was the first of the John O’Groats signs. It’s about a mile from here to the famous fingerpost.

I passed the Seaview Hotel with its invitation to join the LEJOG Association. But I still hadn’t arrived at the end of my journey.

Then, looking across to the brightly coloured huts, through the car park, I thought I could see the finger post.

Despite wearing a rucksack and a waist pack I had looked forward to running to the finish, and the adrenaline kicked in.

Not only did I run, holding my walking poles in one hand and my phone in the other hand, but I even managed to record it as another live video. Go me!

I’d been a bit uncertain about how it would feel to finish such a big adventure and not have anyone there to share it with. Then just as I crossed the car park entrance a voice called my name. It was Freda, the mother of another Fetchie. She had come to meet me at the finish, and it was lovely to see her.

I found it very emotional to finally reach the finger post. It symbolised the end of an adventure, a journey, and a time of separation from ordinary life. The walk had been a dream and a plan, and I didn’t know when I started whether I could or would finish.

And here I was; slightly astonished to have succeeded, and very thankful to all the people whose kindness and generosity made the journey easier, and helped my soul to sing.

Thank you Freda for taking the photograph.

The harbour looked really calm, in contrast to the waves further out.

Freda and I went into the cafe for a hot chocolate. While we were inside another rain shower came and went.

A final picture before leaving. The wind speed had increased again and was doing its best to remove my hat.

There is more to say, but for tonight I’m resting before a long journey home.

If you would like to contribute to the work of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, the link is here.

Walk Day 110 – Wick to Keiss

Thursday 10th October 2018

8.41 miles today. 1175.10 miles total.

Mist, rain showers, low cloud and southerly winds were my companions on the road today. What a contrast to yesterday.

I started at Caithness Hospital bus stop, which meant overlapping a bit with yesterday, and set out following the road signs which now all show John O’Groats as a destination.

It was encouraging and motivating to see the numbers come down at each junction.

17 miles to go. The house below epitomized many of the points I’d been noticing about Scottish architecture, even down to the shade of red paint. I just love the tower.

A rare Gaelic sign for this area.

Goodbye to Wick. 16 miles to go.

These goats were in a front garden, beautifully groomed and they all had collars. As I approached they bleated for attention.

13 miles to go.

“I can see the sea!”

There were occasional signs of the North Sea oil and gas industry, including this notice,  ‘Sea to Shore’ at the start of an industrial area where the underwater oil pipeline comes ashore. Oil field Beatrice is visible from all points on the east coast from Dornoch northwards. The oil rigs are accompanied by offshore wind turbines.

11 miles to go.

My view of Keiss through the mist.

Keiss Beach doesn’t look too appealing today.

I’ve arrived just ahead of more squally showers and it is definitely much more pleasant to be indoors and watching it through the window. However, I’ve been enjoying these last few miles, despite the weather.

My ear-worm for today was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Walk Day 109 – Whaligoe Steps to Wick

Wednesday 10th October 2018

7.15 miles today. 1166.69 miles total.

What a beautiful day. The view from my bedroom window at dawn was of low morning sunshine uplighting the tree outside.

The sun continued to shine all day and there was a coolness in the air that made walking a pleasure.

One of the features of this landscape is a large number of abandoned and derelict buildings. The house below was being engulfed by a tsunami of gorse.

The houses are well spaced and each has an area of fenced land, often with animals, and I wondered how many were working crofts.

More abandoned homes.

Another wide load was escorted past me on the road. Yesterday I realised that I was seeing parts of a giant wind turbine split over three days. Today it was the turn of three blades, one per lorry that required the police escort.

This was the disused but not forgotten railway station at Thrumster, the end of the line.

This little ode bemoans the closure of the Lybster railway line.

“Hid didnae gie a scrap for win’
Or hail or time or rain
But chooged away contented lek
Til Week – an back again”

Loch Hempriggs, just outside Wick.

Why do brown cows have black calves?

The landscape has flattened out with mixed farming.

Finally in Wick I explored a little before catching the bus back to my last night at the B&B.

Walk Day 108 – Lybster to Whaligoe Steps

Tuesday 9th October 2018.

6.2 miles today. 1159.54 miles total.

High winds and 100% probability of rain didn’t spoil an enjoyable walk.

At one field a group of around 20 cattle were busy watching two farmers who were near the field boundary. As I arrived they switched their attention to me and lined up facing me as if for inspection. The farmer said they are a Simmental cross and curious/ friendly (he also joked that tbey are sentimental cows), and confirmed that the black cattle I’d seen were Aberdeen Angus. Sadly no photos of these very pretty animals as it was too wet for the phone.

I reached Whaligoe Steps on time, walked down to the (closed) cafe to have a look,

The John O’Groats Trail follows the fresh-air side of the barbed wire side of the clifftop path around this ravine.

took a couple of photographs, then went hunting for the bus stop.

There was no mobile or internet signal so I couldn’t ask Google. The lady I found to ask was just shrugging her shoulders as the bus came sailing past, and I didn’t see it in time to signal the driver to stop.

A three hour wait for the next bus, in rain and with temperature dropping, was my immediate future. The bus stop had no seat, a wet floor, but was out of the rain. It was also full of midges waiting for their lunch.

Given the choice between being chewed or being cold and wet I chose the latter.

I sat outside and cooked instant pasta with cheese for my lunch. It was as unpleasant as every instant pasta I’ve ever tasted, but it was hot and filled me up.

The next two hours were spent trying to keep moving so as to stay warm, and playing mental distraction games to pass the time.

One game involved moving my head slightly so that the drips from my hat landed on a lump of mud to dissolve it. It worked but wasn’t the most exciting afternoon of my life. The rain continued to fall and I got a little colder.

I still had one extra layer of warm clothes to add, including thicker gloves but was delaying the decision in the hope that the weather would change.

With one hour still to go before the bus arrived Gary, who lives close by, returned from a journey and realised that the person at the bus stop was the same one who had been there when he left some time before.

Gary offered me a lift back to Dunbeath, which I readily accepted. Thank you Gary.

Back at the B&B it only took a few minutes and a change of clothes to warm up. My wet kit is in the drying room and I’m looking forward to better weather tomorrow.

Walk Day 107 – Dunbeath to Lybster

Monday 8th October 2018.

7.9 miles today. 1153.34 miles total.

Reverse travelling today!

The 81 bus took me to the harbour end of Lybster and I walked back towards the harbour before turning around to go back to Dunbeath. It seemed safer than trusting the sparse bus timetable, but while I was walking the right buses came past me, so I have a bit more confidence that the service exists.

Temperatures are still low but for a change, today it didn’t rain!

Lybster has a golf club, football pitch, harbour, heritage centre, glass factory and more. Today all except the glass studio were closed,

Every cafe and public toilet from Lybster to Dunbeath was also closed, as were the churches and the croft museum.

Leaves are still falling and the mist now hovers over the landscape reminding me of Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn.’ “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

A resident of Dornoch had told me that the felled timber used to be transported from the North of Scotland down to Inverness by boat, but that stopped some years back. Every day I’ve seen numbers of timber laden lorries on the A9 heading south, and returning empty. I can’t help wondering what happens to all these precisely cut lengths of tree trunks.

Today the A99 was closed by a rolling road block as three lorries carrying extra-wide loads were escorted south. This is part of the tower for a wind turbine.

I finally saw some junior editions of the horned cattle that are associated with the highlands. These youngsters didn’t look very interested in me, except for one that had been de-horned, who watched from a safe distance.

The ivy on the house below made me smile.

More landscapes below.

Walk Day 106 – Berriedale to Dunbeath

Sunday 7th October 2018.

6.9 miles today. 1145.44 miles total.

This was one of the shortest and easiest days so far and I enjoyed it.

This morning I woke to blustery winds of 45 mph and above, and rain. It looked quite cold outside too. The weather forecast predicted gusts up to 50 mph, so my decision to walk on the road rather than on the coast path and cliff edges was never in question.

Suitably wrapped up I walked down the hill to the bus stop, and by the time I arrived in Berriedale, back at the bus stop where I finished yesterday, the rain was easing off.

Berriedale is mostly invisible behind the trees. It lies at the bottom of a cove with steep road access back to the cliff tops in each direction, and I set off up the hill.

On the way I passed a small redundant church which was, sadly, locked. It had information boards outside relating to the church design and also celebrating Thomas Telford.

I then had a lovely breezy walk back towards Dunbeath and with my lighter pack, found myself walking much faster.

The weather to the south looked as it was brightening, but the cloud cover remained over me.

Over the last three days the occasional driver has tooted and waved or shown ‘thumbs up’ in support of my walk. It must be common to see walkers here as it’s a bottleneck for John O’Groats. Local animals were less impressed.

I spent quite some time smiling at the contrast between the actual weather and the words of the harvest hymn being sung in Dunbeath Church of Scotland service this morning, “The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain”. It all sounded much gentler than today where even a cow was searching for shelter..

Faster walking meant I arrived back in Dunbeath before lunch, and was able to see another low-lying harbour.

I stopped in the Bay Owl for a drink before the final 100 yards of hill. While there two women stopped for a chat and gave me their contact details in Wick. I should get to Wick on Wednesday. Their details are now safely in my hat pocket.

I’ve spent an hour since then snoozing and am now checking the bus timetables for next week. I’m staying in the same place and using the bus stops as my start and finish point each day until I reach Keiss. The road signs are charting my progress.

Walk Day 105 – Helmsdale to Berriedale

Saturday 6th October 2018

9.7 miles today. 1138.54 miles total.

Today was the Triumph Round Britain Reliability Run and several vintage/veteran cars passed me before someone stopped to take photographs and I was able to find out more.

They started from Knebworth yesterday, spent the night in John O’Groats and will be breakfasting in Land’s End tomorrow. I was reminded of my Triumph Dolomite Sprint that I so enjoyed driving in the early 1980s.

It was A9 road walking for me today, with a couple of diversions.

The first was a nugatory exploration of a field boundary while looking for a link path to the JOG Trail.

I found another kind of mushroom but not much else.

Then…

The second was a diversion to Badbea to see the remains of a Highland Clearances settlement. I wasn’t surprised to read that at least one family emigrated to the New World.

While there I rerouted down the hill to join the JOG Trail, only to discover I would have to fight my way through high bracken to make the path for myself.

The accompanying sign on the fence warning that the cliff edge was dangerous made up my mind to climb back up the hill and return to the road.

This is meant to be enjoyable and the next three miles looked as if they would be an endurance test, and possibly dangerous.

In reality on a day which was mainly sunny and cool, and on the A9 where the traffic arrives in bunches with clear gaps, it was a pleasant walk. The rain was intermittent and light. At times I could see my breath forming steam, but mostly the sun shone.

When I reached Berriedale I stopped at the River Bothy tea room and found myself chatting to a local resident who has walked this JOG section and some others. He recommended the road instead, for safety and access reasons.

He knew about the background to the work being done to create the trail, and said that part of the difficulty has been that not all stakeholders are committed to the idea, and that the ‘better’ route for the path clashes with set-aside land. Apparently there are 160 croft owners on the Dunbeath estate alone, and it’s not just the major land owners whose co-operation is needed (and is not always granted) to make the path passable.

The wind was much lower than in recent days and the clouds were reflected in the still surface of the sea.

It was a lovely day and I spent a lot of time singing.

Walk Day 104 – Brora to Helmsdale

Friday 5th October 2018

12.2 miles today. 1128.84 miles total.

Yesterday was a rest day, so as well as doing lots of stretching and resting I posted my tent, sleeping bag, mat and liner back home.

Even with added food my pack was noticeably lighter this morning.

My starting point was on the A9 on the ‘wrong’ side of the railway line for the coastal John O’Groats Trail. Handy for the distillery for anyone so inclined. I didn’t spend the time visiting it.

High tide at 10am, and the advice of locals meant I decided to start walking on the A9, and then try to join the trail when I could.

One diversionary circle took me to the Caravan site at Dalchalm, then to the Caravan and Camping Club certificated site (flat clean pitches, worth remembering) where I met Kimberley and Cheryl who are exploring the area on fat wheeled bikes, carrying everything with them.

The man who lived next to this sign didn’t think the route was accessible until lower tide.

I’d previously been told that the rivers were probably too deep to cross.

Having explored different options, I eventually walked the whole day on the A9, admiring the views but separated from the beach by tracks, walls, barbed wire, rocks and of course, the sea itself.

Sun and rain were out in equal measure with a strong westerly/ south westerly wind that was sometimes quite helpful at pushing me up the hills.

For the second day running I wore gloves.

The wind that was helping me was hindering John and PegLeg, two men from the surfing community in Cornwall who are travelling the other way. They were pedalling downhill and finding the effort quite draining. But they managed a smile.

It was another day for rainbows. This is a double. The lower rainbow is in front of the hill.

Below is Helmsdale harbour. I’m just up the road in the newly renovated hostel, with lovely warm showers.

Walk Day 103 – Golspie to Brora

Wednesday 3rd October 2018.

8.93 miles today. 1116.64 miles total.

Yesterday’s wind gusts were strong enough to stop the ferries to Orkney and between the islands. This morning the wind had died down, to be replaced by steady light rain as I walked into Golspie centre.

The shortest route to Brora would have been 6 miles on the A9.

Instead, after food shopping I took the John O’Groats Trail

through the woods

to Dunrobin Castle, home of the Earl of Sutherland.

After a cup of coffee I followed the coastal path round to Brora. It isn’t waymarked and the beach is not accessible at high tide.

The variety of sandy beach,

dunes, fields and stones (what is this one?)

made a pleasant change to road walking.

A man called Dave stopped me at the harbour to say he admired what I’m doing. People are so encouraging 🙂

Along the coast I saw lots of seals and sea birds.

The weather, although mostly overcast, did have occasional clear spells.

After visiting the estuary,

I walked further into Brora following signs for ‘Information’ and ‘Hub’ hoping to find a list of places to stay. Instead I found a place offering lots of activity and other classes, a welcome for a dripping traveller and a cup of tea.

While there I found an AirBnB for tonight, passing this front garden display on the way.

Tomorrow is a rest day. I don’t need to camp in the cold any more. I’m going soft 😉