Watten Amazing Place

A short day of flat walking along the quiet back lanes of Caithness.

Again I have been walking in ancient footsteps – the way has been dotted with hut circles and standing stones. The juxtaposition between the 3000-year-old standing stones and the modern wind farm is an interesting one.

It’s been a short walk because we chose a nice loch-side wild camping location at Watten for me to meet up with the motorhome. I’m not keen on walking along roads other than country lanes and Kerriann is not keen on driving Dickie along the very narrow roads which means there are not many places where we can meet up.

Loch Watten looked ideal on the maps and when I arrived after some 4 hours Kerriann had found a lovely flat place to park in the shade, alongside the loch.
So today I’ve walked about 8 miles but tomorrow I will be walking around 18 miles to a campsite just 2 miles from John o’Groats. On Saturday, all being well, I should complete the last two miles of my marathon journey.
I’m not sure how I will feel about finishing; mixed emotions. Sadness, pride, elation? We’ll see.

These Banks Are, Indeed, Bonny

It’s good to be walking again after my day off. The weather has been fabulous – far better than forecast –  the sun was out but not too hot, the wind was blowing but not too much and the hills were there but not too steep.

wood store
love a good woodpile

Walking the West Highland Way is yet another of my ambitions being fulfilled; it has been on my bucket list for many years. I always imagined that it would be a very difficult walk but it appears to be only difficult in sections. I think Rannoch moor might be one of those sections and The Devil’s Staircase doesn’t sound as if it’s easy going! I will find out over the next few days.

I did around 18 miles of relatively easy walking today. It was a little hard on the feet though; not much grass and lots of hard surfaces like compressed gravel. My boots are hanging on in there; no more obvious problems with them.

It was lovely to meet the West Highland Way Trust Team in their home-made shepherd’s-hut-style caravan made from recycled materials. I think I can feel a project coming on.

The trust raises money to help with search and rescue, does litter picking and lots of other good work. They give free tea and Mars Bars to walkers and hope for donations to their cause.

Of particular interest were their pets – a baby wolf and a tame wild cat! The wolf has been imported from Russia; apparently they have no fear so are particularly good for lowering from helicopters in search and rescue situations.

The wild cat was a rescue and they think it is the only tame wildcat in Scotland.

Because of abuse and over use, wild camping has been banned on the east banks of Loch Lomond. Yes I am on the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond – so I am camped on a commercial site. I am sure that I could tuck myself away on the hills above the path and not be noticed but I respect the wardens, and the reasons for the regulations so I’m being a  good boy.

Such great folk music on radio Scotland.

 

Lovely Ladies of Strathblane

John Muir was a Scot who emigrated to America where he became known as John of the Mountains. Back in the late 19th and early 20th century Muir was an active environmentalist. When he took President Roosevelt camping in Yosemite Valley it resulted in a massive change of awareness and an organisation like Friends of the Earth grew out of his efforts. The John Muir Way was opened in 2014 in recognition of his achievements, to promote environmental issues, and to ‘bring him home’ to Scotland. Be aware that it is not marked on older OS maps!

John Muir Way
Looks like me in my Tilley hat too

Kerriann and I walked some of this path, along the southern banks of Loch Lomond when we visited the area in our motorhome. I’m looking forward to re-visiting that area.

Because of the slight modification to my planned route I will be joining the West Highland Way a little higher up than planned which means that I missed the opportunity to purchase a guide book/map at the start of the walk.

As I’m having a day off in Strathblane I took a stroll down to the shop and cafe and had a cuppa. I asked the lovely ladies that run the teashop if they knew where I might purchase the above – she couldn’t think of anywhere. A few minutes later she came to my table with a folder -‘ I just printed this off the internet for you …. I put it in a folder to protect it from the wet’.
They wouldn’t even accept payment for the paper. So if ever you are in Strathblane, call in to the Pestle and Mortar for a cuppa and a chat.

In the shop next door I purchased more AA batteries for my GPS. If I’m walking without an OS map, even on good way-marked trails with a guide book, I want to make sure that my trusty Garmin Dakota stays working, especially if I’m wild camping. Buying the batteries reminded me of my walk across Spain many years ago.

Unbeknownst to me I acquired the Camino name of Duracell Man because of my habit of keeping going when all the others had stopped. I have never been a fast walker but I just keep on plodding. It was difficult for me to take a day off today although I know it’s the sensible thing to do.

There seems to be another game on and I can hear the raucous cheering of the locals from the bar below. Maybe there is a rule in Scotland that everyone must gather at their local bar and drink, chant and shout whenever a game is on?

I suppose this is all part of the walk. I’m experiencing Scottish culture but I do hope that things quieten down before I go down for my dinner.

Am going to give my boots another good waterproofing/conditioning with Nikwax in the hope that I can make them last the next 100 miles to Fort William. As well as the obvious damage I have just noticed how little tread there is left on them and have taken a couple of photos for the record.

A Day Off …finally

I thought about staying another night in Bonnybridge but although I had a very nice room the Inn was not offering breakfast until 10 AM – far too late for me and the bar was not to my taste. It was very noisy with TV screens on every available wall space and gaming machines in every nook and cranny. The people were extremely friendly; a visit to the bar would normally provoke one of the locals to hold out a welcoming hand ‘hi I’m Jimmy,  nasty weather oot there’ or similar. But because of my deafness and their accents I found it very difficult to converse.

So I decided to move on.

I set out on the trail that I found on the map yesterday – I had missed it when planning my route.  Basically It cut off a corner and saved me walking through the suburbs of North Glasgow.

Much of the route is The John Muir Way and it has, after 20 miles, brought  me to Strathblane where I’m booked into a rather nice old inn for two days. Yes two days! I am at last taking a day off from walking.  The weather forecast is dreadful and  I’m feeling a little tired so I’m looking forward to a day doing very little or even nothing at all.

John Muir Way
looks a bit like The Boscastle Busker

Last night I noticed the state of my right walking boot. For some while it’s been showing signs of cracking across the toe area; this crack is now quite deep. Rather more alarming is that a large chunk of  rubber sole has disappeared from the toe of the same boot. The left boot is in far better condition. Maybe I am heavy footed on my right hand (foot?) side?

The boots were bought specifically for this trip and other than about 100 miles of breaking in were brand new when I set out so they are covered by warranty. I will try and make them last to Fort William where Cotswold Outdoors have a branch and see what they say. My biggest worry is the thought of breaking in a new pair of boots whilst on a big walk. I must say that I’ve not had any blisters or foot problems yet (I’m touching wood), other than a general aching and throbbing at night.

I might also treat myself to some new socks. My favourite walking socks are made by Bridgedale and some of the pairs that I am using on this trip could be over 10 years old; well used and darned several times.

Again, touching wood, the rest of my kit is doing well although I might ask Cotswold if they do a larger rucksack cover;  mine struggles to fit over the bag if I have anything (like a water bottle) in the side pockets.  All of my clothing is in colour-coded waterproof dry sacks within the rucksack so a little water getting in is not a major problem but it would be nice to resolve the issue.

‘Colour coded clothing bags? What is he on about?’ I hear you ask. Blue for clean clothes,  orange for dirty clothes, green for worn once or twice but still clean enough to wear again. All very organised!  The dry bags with clothing in also make very comfortable pillows in my tent.

But I have a proper bed and pillows tonight…….

 

Wheel and Tunnel

It’s funny but I’m not sleeping well in hotels. I’m waking up in the night with sweat-soaked sheets.  I’ve been opening the windows where I can but maybe the rooms are still too hot or maybe I’ve simply become accustomed to sleeping in a cold damp tent!

Walking the tow path I met one of the work men that I passed yesterday; he was strimming the

verge of the canal. We chatted briefly but deciphering the local accent is becoming a problem. But he told me that he walks 24 miles strimming the Union Canal then starts on another.  He said he loves his job and it keeps him fit.

I waved at the boat whose occupants I met last night in the Inn where I was staying – the bearded man from New England ran to the front of the boat and shouted best wishes and good luck to me.  I thought that they would catch me up before the Falkirk Wheel but didn’t see them again – maybe they passed me when I stopped for brunch in Linlithgow.

Before arriving at ‘The Wheel’  I was unexpectedly let through a canal tunnel which was dimly lit and quite spooky- my first stretch of subterranean path on the walk.

‘The Wheel’ is a wonderful example of excellent engineering – I watched it for an hour or so as it quietly and effortlessly transported boats from the elevated Union Canal to the lower Forth and Clyde Canal. It’s the sort of machine that I wished I had designed and one that my dad ( a science teacher) would have used in lessons as an example of simple physics  being used in a practical way. For more information check out Falkirk Wheel.

Despite the rain I covered a good distance today but have had to book into another Inn in the lovely-sounding town of Bonnybridge. The locals are being very friendly in the bar but to be honest I am struggling to understand a word anyone is saying.

I have been looking at the maps and think I can cut a few miles of my planned route whilst also avoiding some of the northern Glasgow suburbs. So  be warned Malcolm ( the map master); I may be taking a short cut to the West Highland Way. I also feel like a rest day but will wait until I’m somewhere nice  and the weather is bad – it’s a shame to waste a good walking day.

……………………………………………………………………………….

Whilst writing my notes the bar got quite busy, apparently because of ‘the game’ . I have no idea what game it is but the 5 large television screens in the bar seem to have a lot of people watching (and screaming at) them.

Those of you that know me well will realise this is not my ideal environment. I know nothing about football and am going deaf so don’t particularly like noisy pubs – throw in an accent that I can’t understand and you will realise why I tried to retire to my room early.

That is until my key card didn’t work in the door. I had to go back down to the bar and try and attract the landlady who was busy due to ‘the game’.  She came and tried the card and agreed with me – it didn’t work.

Eventually she gave me a free pint to stall me whilst she found a man who could sort things out.  So I am back in the noisy bar – I think ‘the game’ has finished and that there is a lesser one on now.  A polite chap (the manager?) has just handed me a new card and explained that the girl had given me one for the wrong room and he seemed confident that the new card will work………

Fingers crossed.

Beards Unite

As I set out this morning I had a brief chat with a poor young employee of Starbucks. He had turned up to work at 5.30 (they open at 6am) and nobody arrived to let him in. It was now raining and getting on for 8.30 and still he waited. I advised him to nip into the Travelodge and phone Starbucks head office. I hope his day gets better…..
Walking into the southern suburbs of Edinburgh I was overtaken by some young soldiers in camo gear complete with rucksacks that looked very heavy. They might have been faster but I bet they weren’t walking as far as me.

Hidden Edinburgh
Hidden Edinburgh

Kerriann is getting excited/worried about her forthcoming adventure. She is going to drive Dickie out motorhome and Hugo our dog to Somerset for a service then start catching me up with a view to offering me support and eventually a lift home. The motorhome is quite wide and Scottish back roads are quite narrow so she is a tad nervous but from my experience last year she won’t have a problem. She is a very good driver.
This morning drizzly weather cleared around lunchtime and I took my jacket off and had a lovely walk on the Union Canal in the sun, then, at about 5 o’clock, it started raining and showed no sign of stopping. I found a pub/hotel in Winchburgh and asked for a room – yes, they had one.

Union Canal
The Union Canal

Later in the evening I was approached by a chap from New England who had a beard slightly longer that mine, he had overheard me asking for a bed. Had the pub not been able to put me up they would have offered me a bed on their narrow boat. How kind, I would have enjoyed a night on a boat.

They will pass me tomorrow on their way to the Falkirk Wheel – a sight I have wanted to see for many years. Narrow boats are restricted to fairly slow speeds so they may not be much faster than me walking. I wonder where we will pass each other.

Grouchy and Soggy

First I must thank Malcolm the Map Master for the lovely progress maps and reports – thanks Malcolm.

Pentand Way
Pentland Way

I think the reason that the distances are slightly different on Malcolm’s software and my GPS are: my GPS is recording where I walk even if it is in the wrong direction. I often deviate from the planned route, sometimes to take a short cut, visit a shop or attraction or more often when I take a wrong turn or direction. Malcolm’s software is expecting me to walk the route I had planned by stringing together several long distance footpaths.

The distance walked today is over 17 miles and that brings the total distance walked to 805.7 miles. Tonight I am in the Travelodge in Edinburgh as there is rain forecast. I’ve just had a long soak in the bath and am washing loads of clothes.

Edinburgh_stormclouds
stormclouds over Edinburgh

Last night I didn’t sleep very well mainly because I was cold and damp. I had an accident with a cup  of water which I spilt inside the tent soaking my sleeping bag and liner.

A few nights ago there was another incident involving chicken soup and an ordinance survey map but I digress….

Kerriann detected that my mood was not good when I phoned her this morning. I think the lack of sleep and lack of decent walking path (I was on an old disused railway line) along with traffic noise added to my slight depression. Even the big full Scottish breakfast that I ate in a roadside cafe didn’t really lift my spirits.

It wasn’t until the ground started to rise and I left the houses behind to the north of Penicuik that my spirits lifted. As I walked up Glencorse I could hear the military drum and pipe band playing in Penicuik barracks. I tried walking in time with the music but a military march is too fast for me especially up hill.

It was interesting to see the cup marked ancient stone against the kirk up here.

Later, on the Pentland Hill, I passed the firing ranges and paid particular attention to my navigation making sure I avoided all the danger areas marked on the map.

I stopped for half an hour to dry the tent out by hanging it on a sign post and was thinking about wild camping, I even checked out some spots by Bonaly Reservoir that looked ok, but I pressed on and before I knew it I was in the outskirts Edinburgh. I used my phone to find B&Bs near me but most didn’t answer their phones and those that did did not have a room for a single person so I’m in a Travelodge again.

I don’t particularly like these places but they do have a bath and they are dry and comfortable. I do, however, like Edinburgh and used to spend quite a lot of time working in the National Library of Scotland and drinking in the folky pubs here.  If the weather is bad tomorrow I may find a better B&B and take a rest day or I might have a shorter day’s walking.

I’m quite looking forward to strolling along the Union Canal for a few days heading towards Glasgow.

Let’s see what sort of mood I’m in after a night’s sleep in a proper bed.