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Day 34 – Wick to John O Groats

Day 34 – Wick to John O Groats

The final day, it sounds weird saying that after being on the road for a month. When an adventure ends, a new one begins & I’m sure there will be plenty more adventures of varying kinds coming my way for the remainder of the year. I sit here at home while I write this appreciating the homely comforts which aren’t available’on the road. But I also sit here, quite simply with less desire to actually do anything. The amount of options and choices available within an arms reach aren’t as fascinating as they once were… Back to the days of stirring my tea with a spoon instead of my finger, Back to the days of using a proper toilet, you know like the ones made of ceramic with a wooden seat. It’s been emotional, no actually, it IS emotional.

The last 11 days of this walk have been the hardest physically. There weren’t really any hills or mountains, but the last 11 days was pretty much walking on road, which is the hardest terrain to walk on in my opinion. Gimmie 3 mountains in a day over 20 miles of road.. As you come to the end, all sorts of thoughts & emotion are conjured up. The realization that I’ve walked such a distance still hasn’t really sunk in.

Me and Adam briefly talked about the difficulties we have encountered during this trip & although there were challenges, I can confidently say we approached the challenges with ultimate vigor, like a bull heading for a red rag. Perhaps it was the humorous daily racist splur that came out of our mouths which helps us maintain a bit of sanity. Some of which shall never ever be repeated..

But you know, 1 of the most difficult aspects of this journey wasn’t at all the walking, it wasn’t the distance, it wasn’t the physical extertion, it wasn’t the foot problems. It was actually doing it with someone else. Pretty much 24/7 we are in each others presence. Me & Adam go back a few years, we’ve been through a lot and understand each other fairly well, 1 thing is for sure. We both love food & are both as stubborn as Iron girders. A combination which may have ended badly if it wasn’t for our experiences together as friends. After a long days walking it can be easy to lose oneself & be completely irrational. The ‘london cut’ shines through at times, even to the point where the Scottish can’t help but laugh at us. The amount of times stood for 20 – 30 minutes in the supermarket or in a cafe, arguing about what we are cooking tonight or ‘no, its your turn to get the cake, i got the last one’. A scots man put it in to perspective for us at Loch Lomond ‘your walking 650 miles together and you’re argueing over a pound’ LOL. When it’s put like that……

not far now...
not far now…

Netherless, a great test of characther for both of us & and certainly a major learning curve. What is seen in others is often what we hold in ourselves, deeper levels of acceptance have to found in order for us both to function together as friends.

The road to the end...
The road to the end…

Today, the walk itself takes us further up the busy A9 before turning off to the A99. Drivers beep encouraging us with these last steps. Up & over some ‘hills’ & John O groats is seen in the distance. I don’t know why but I was expecting John O Groats to look like the cliffs of Dover. I was wrong ofcourse. it’s a tiny little village, with some craft & tourist shops. A nice pub which does a cracking meal & a load of bikers crowding round the John O Groats marker getting there picture taken. When we reach the marker, we both kinda want to do something , but we dont know what. I turn to Adam and say ‘ so what now? are we supposed to get naked and jump in the sea or something? ‘ We opted for sitting down and letting it all soak in. What a journey..

The end
The end
Day 32 – Brora to Dunbeath (Berriedale)

Day 32 – Brora to Dunbeath (Berriedale)

Day 32 – Smellydale Berriedale

We awaken by the sound of a train passing us by, 30 cows around our tents and the busy trunk road heard. Not quite the scenic Wild camping Scotland we’d encountered along the way. However, there isn’t much choice on these last few days & in hindsight looking back, next time I’ll probably try heading up to Cape Wrath which goes through Scotlands Western Flank through the last wilderness with very little civilization for many days.

As we continue along the coast off the road and off the path, its very pleasant. Seals are seen and heard in the north sea which is an amazing experience for the 2 of us. We figure, if we just follow the coast, the walk would be nicer in so many ways. We take this plan, until we hit a river which isn’t really cross able.  Adam’s witty thinking leads us to throw big boulders for 20 minutes into the river making it crossable. Quite literally ‘Building bridges’ & whatever tensions has naturally arised between us during the trip diminished at this point as we rebuild not just physically but emotionally. I must say, no matter how puny the bridge was, it is the first time I have build a bridge. To be fair, it would make for a great team building exercise. We soon change our minds and decide the road is probably going to be the better option from now. The ghost town of Helmsdale is reached, pots of tea are had with a light lunch.

We make pace walking through the high winding roads which vaguely reminds me of a visit to the Pakistani Himalayas as a young boy. On a bus cutting through the cliff faces with view of the K2 mountain in the distant. It has me thinking I must visit that part of the world again at some point. What comes next is what all the locals have been talking about. Berriedale, which is a series of small, extremely steep hairpin bends. As we reach the bottom , into the very small hamlet of BerrieDale, we stop for tea & biscuits, air out our feet & rest. Berriedale Smellydale. It’s quite a steep climb back up but nothing compared to what we have experienced over the past month.

As we arrive in Dunbeath, we hope for a shop, but the spar is shut. So we check in at a campsite & proceed with cooking an extremely bland meal with a pack of pasta, a can of chopped tomatoes & some mince. Food for fuel I suppose. Not quite the lobster & champagne we had hoped for…. nethertheless, the high pressured, hot showers at the campsite made up for it all….

Day 25 – Fort William to Laggan

Day 25 – Fort William to Laggan

Always hard to get up after a day of rest but we manage roll out of our tents, whack on the gas burner & gobble down a healthy portion of porridge. We depart the campsite passing the grand nevis on the right. In Fort William we start the great glen way towards Inverness..

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Caledonian canal leaving Fort William

Eventually we gain some heights passing through the beautiful forested shores of Loch Lochy

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Loch lochy
Loch lochy

As we continue along this Loch and back on the Caledonian canal after we reach a small village called Laggan for an experience I certainly wilk never forget. We come across the eagle barge inn, which is a boat on the canal, with a bar serving food.

Relaxing in the Eagle Barge inn
Relaxing in the Eagle Barge inn

It comes to be another hidden gem crawling out the woodwork. Well , until adam notices they do a chilli challenge, the chefs sauce is said to be one of the hottest in Scotland containing 3 of the worlds hottests chillis in the world. So, before I know, tired and hungry, im signing a disclaimer waiting for a sample of this chilli sauce. Adam goes first, seems bearable. As soon as the damb stuff touches my lips I am in agony, streams of tears, and I freeze from the shock of what is happening to me, I turn green and white, a lady at the bar seems concerned asking if I am okay. For the next 25 minutes I genuinly dont know.. than it hits the stomach and intestines… all I remember saying is ‘the chef is evil & I would not wish this on my worst enemy’ . An evening to remember…

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Day 20 – Sallochy to Inverarnan

Day 20 – Sallochy to Inverarnan

The birds tweet as I write this evening, gazing into the remote highlands. Skys have turned blue from a day of threating rain, and most importantly midgies are no where to be seen. A deep breath in and long sigh out… life is good. Like anything, walking is an art, a vast amount of people we bump into on the West Highland Way seem to be in some sort of state if shock. If only they walked the purgatorious Pennine Way instead…

Today is a sweet 16 mile, along the beautiful shores of Loch Lomond. A reasonably easy but slightly tedious in places due to the ups and downs on boulders. Apparently this is the hardest section of the trail… really? I ask myself. Either way as each day passing , more fulfilment, joy and perfection of this art are aquired. The key is what I saw printed on a board. ‘ keep calm and carry on walking’ ‘ Each soul I pass, encouragement is given to firstly accept and than really enjoy the ups and downs. Otherwise, whats the point of this all ? To prove a point ? To make a statement ? Or just to live, and today is one of those days I sit in my tent, kiss my feet and realise that I have never been so grateful to step foot on this earth. Sitting here away from all, but at the same time with everything.

I was supposed to right about my walk today, but the words above speaks more, and with the pictures below you may sense what is inspiring me. God bless

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sdr

Day 19 – Drymen to Sallochy

Day 19 – Drymen to Sallochy

A wholesome interesting relatively short day. Weather is dreary and we are stuck in the clouds by the time we reach conic hill but Loch Lomond is seen for the first time through the mist.

Loch Lomond from Conic Hill
Loch Lomond from Conic Hill

The clouds start to lift as the sun rises and the route is packed full of walkers. Conic Hill looks higher than it actually is & we scale around the side before the descent into busy Balmaha. Coach loads are here spending money in the extortionate village shop. We pass through quickly and walk the beautiful shores of Loch Lomond all day..

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sdr

We eventually reach a simple campsite in Sallochy where we pitch up. Until now, Ive been under the impression the whole midgie thing is just the Scottish exaggerating, but no, it is a problem. A big problem, lol..

Chilling in Sallochy
Chilling in Sallochy 
Day 18 – Croy Hill to Drymen

Day 18 – Croy Hill to Drymen

Limits. What are they? What’s there purpose ? Barriers of the mind…

Todays a turning point & from today we leave behind canal walking for the West Highland Way. We walk the canal for several miles where it turns in a disused railway line. Walking through several picturesque villages & admiring the change scenery. The Campsie Fells domi ates the north.

Walkers welcome
Walkers welcome
Campsie fells
Campsie fells

We eventually hit the West Highland Way..

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West Highland Way

The West Highland way takes us into the lovely town of Drymen. We arrive at a bunkhouse called Kip in the kirk, and welcomed warmly by the kind staff. This place is a gem and really feels like a home away from home. Our stinky clothes are washed and dried, we were fed home made South African milk tart. walkers pass through here with bags of enthusiasm and I can say I left here with some new friends.

Samanthas delicious milk tart
Samanthas delicious milk tart
Day 17 – Linlithgow to Croy hill

Day 17 – Linlithgow to Croy hill

Now following yesterdays blinding canal walk, we ramp up for the same again. But soon start to realise, theres only so much straight line walking with no gradients one can take. Especially as underfoot is mainly concrete. However we are overwhelmed by the musky aroma of fresh Yarrow growing along these canal banks…

Yarrow
YarroW
Long straight canal
Long straight canal

We are mildly impressed by the Falkirk wheel (featured pic), and before reaching we take a quick walk into Falkirk for some quick supplies which takes longer than expected. Which adds on a few miles to an already long walk.

As we reach the walks end, we walk up Croy hill overlooking Kilsyth, we set up camp, get a fire going and cook up a stir fry before departing to sleep..

Kilsyth from Croy Hill
Kilsyth from Croy Hill
Day 16 – Edinburgh to Linlithgow

Day 16 – Edinburgh to Linlithgow

Tranquillity…. Is a word I don’t use much. These days I barely read so my vocab isn’t to vast, but after today tranquillity is certainly a word I will be welcoming back into my life.

The walk today left Edinburgh Haymarket around 9am after a sharp cup of tea. We took the opportunity to walk around the city early morning to see it without the hustle and bustle. This old city shines in the light rain on this quiet Sunday morning.

The road out of Edinburgh took us out of Westwards joining onto the Union Canal. This canal goes all the way to Glasgow and we encounter only dog walkers & cyclists throughout our day. The setting is in constant change as we walk through the suburbs surrounded by the high rise blocks. Empty cans of buckfast are seen on the canal sidings.

As we leave the suburbs we hit various outstanding aquaducts until reaching a small village where we stop off for a quick cuppa. As we proceed we enter in Broxburn, an extremely deprived area. Adam comments along the lines of ‘this place makes modern day brixton look like Buckingham Palace’. 2 miles through this ghetto still along the canal, what comes next & for the remainder of the walk is truly wonderful & tranquil. Canal boats pass us every half hour along the wooded banks filled with wild flowers & hawthorns.

By the end of todays walk, 22 miles or so later, we stroll into Linlithgow (the birthplace of Mary queen of Scots) with a spring in our step…

 

 

Day 14 & 15 – Innerleithen to Penicuik

Day 14 & 15 – Innerleithen to Penicuik

There is not much about today except, moist feet, walking a busy A road & coming into Edinburgh. Actually I’m currently sitting in an internet cafe in Edinburgh, with some afro beat music playing in the background, with the lady continuously bringing me pots of tea. I’ll be very surprised if I don’t have a strong caffeine addiction by the time I get to John O groats.

However on days like this, with ‘mundane’ walking you have to look beyond & be patient, and something will pop out of somewhere which just takes you away.

We walk a relatively new trail out of Innerlaithen to Peebles, where we arrive 6 miles later.

Busy peebles, church seen in distance
Busy peebles, church seen in distance

This is a busy town, banks, cafes, art shops, barbers, incense shops & the rest of it. It’s all a bit overwhelming, readjusting to everything, so many options all around us. So much confusion, we grab lunch, and I say to Adam, I’m going to sit in the quiet church, so we go. 45 minutes after meditation in this quiet church, stillness is found. I than walk amongst this busy town, holding space & feeling peaceful. We find a spiritual shop called house of Gaia, as we need some incense to help with the less desirable smells of odour coming from our tents! Only entered in for a quick stop, but end of staying for an hour speaking to the lovely shop worker named Hanisa. Deep conversations are had in regards to spiritual healing, fear, environment, walking, ego and the rest of it. Before we know it its 2pm & we still have 15 miles to walk!

So we depart, and walk along the pavement along the A703, fast cars, trucks & motorbikes continuously pass us, but we grit & bear, as we know we have a rest tomorrow in a campsite just outside Edinburgh..

A road
A road

 

Day 13 – Melrose to Innerlaithen

Day 13 – Melrose to Innerlaithen

The image featured is on the top of the 3 Brethren, I can only assume, that is what these cairns are. Many representing 3 brothers or something? Who knows.

Either way, we take the road out of Melrose, passing along the edge of Innerlaithen. We both notice changes, as we in more urbanised areas, people change, attitudes change. Edinburgh is near & we actually walk by the trainline for the start of the day. The start is a bit dull & boring to be honest, however that changes quite rapidly once we follow the Southern Upland way through Gala Hill & down into a crossing called Yair bridge, here we stop to admire the wide river..

Mighty river
Mighty river

There is something very relieving about walking by water, especially when you are being battered by the sun all day. It’s soothing and this is a good stop for the uphill struggle for the remaining 10 miles of the day. We head through the Yair forest up onto the exposed Scottish moors where we eventually meet the 3 Brethern… This is the highest climb we have done in Scotland so far, and a sign of things to come and the hills beyond glasgow, are not hills anymore, but Munros!

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Up and beyond the 3 brethern, the path cuts further through more moorland, staying above 500 metres until we drop into Traquair by the end of the day. Traquair is a tiny hamlet but the nearby town of Innerlaithen is nearby where we are to camp for the night. We were hoping to stop in the bothy on Minch moor, however it is now closed. Today was pretty hard, & by towards the end we are both looking at the big birds wondering if they are going to pick us up by our shoulders and drop us into the village..

View into Innerleithen from Minch Moor
View into Innerleithen from Minch Moor