April 2015: Wikipedia says that the shortest distance by road between these two British extremities is 874 miles. Probably over a thousand on foot. The call of the wide open countryside has lured me back to try again.
Will I make it? Am I as fit as I was ten years ago? Find out here over the next few weeks and months.
Miles walked today: 10
Total miles: 906
I feel quite guilty today - only ten miles walked...
I'm glad I camped once (so far) in Scotland but I didn't sleep too well. It was quite cold and a bit noisy.
"I've got that nasty cough dear, and you have a habit of talking to me all night long, what shall we do tonight?"
"I know, let's go camping! "
At 2.00 am the previous night at the hostel in Aviemore three men decided to turn in. One of them had a weird respirator which made a strange noise. They were bikers. I thought about saying something... and decided not to.
Tent packed away, and fully woken by Margaret and Tom's coffee, I was walking in misty conditions by 7.30. As I approached Inverness (quite directly on roads I'm afraid) the sun came out and I was able to drop my pack at the B&B I'd booked and get some breakfast ...
Inverness entertained me for a few hours until Jim's flight landed and he got off the bus at around 3.30. Lovely to see him, of course.
In the evening Jim suggested a game of pool and the loser would buy dinner. He's not so daft, my son. Best of three - he let me win one...
We tried a couple of popular places to eat, but, unsurprisingly, they were all booked solid. Luck took us past a busy tapas bar and we squeezed into a corner and sat on stools at the bar. The food was delicious and the place had an energetic and fun atmosphere. Perfect. Jim 1 - 0 up :)
Miles walked today: 22
Total miles: 928
Jimmy and I are chatting to Terri in the quiet bar of the Balconie Inn. www.balconieinn.com/
The other bar is heaving, but calmer now than when the football (Ireland v Scotland Euro qualifier) was on. (Do you remember John from the 7th of June, cycling with his bad leg. I really hope he's in Dublin and enjoyed the game). Food is rushed hither and thither, drinks appear at tables and the vibe is one of organised chaos - pure brilliant.
Terri expresses her surprise that I've walked over 900 miles to enjoy the Balconie's hospitality - "Get tae ****!!" Quite. My feelings exactly. To once again paraphrase Winston:
"This is not the beginning. It is not the end of the beginning. It is not even the middle. But it could be the beginning of the end."
Terri's thumbs are a blur on the keypad of her phone. She's donated to the cause! Then her friends Kimberley and Barry follow suit. They seem impressed and make Jim and me feel very good.
Our evening started well - for Jim. He beat me at connect four (again) which means dinner is on me. I'm going to have to think of something for tomorrow evening where I have a chance of winning - a quiz on sixties children's TV shows, perhaps?
We walked across the Kessock bridge to leave Inverness, just as a big ship was entering the river Ness, and then followed the shore of Beauly Firth. It was damp and chilly, but not the downpour we had feared. Striking north took us to Conan Bridge and then Dingwall. Jim (Mr Healthy Eater) entered a shop and got an apple, a banana and a carrot... I followed him in and purchased a bag of liquorice allsorts. If I'd known Jim was going to castigate me all afternoon about the evils of Bassett's delicious sweets and their dire effect on my digestive system - I'd still have eaten them :) (As I type this I'm eating the complimentary shortbread in our room just to annoy him. Not because I'm hungry or anything.)
Near our destination of Evanton Fiona cycled past, then stopped to talk. An end to ender on two wheels, she had two more days to go. Fiona said she stopped so often during the day to talk to people that she often reached her overnight stop around nine in the evening. At this point we have a good view of the Cromarty Firth and can see distant oil rigs waiting to be deployed or dismantled.
Kenonymous has again excelled himself on my fund raising page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardFosh
even going to the length of fining himself for a late entry. And C&N have again put a spring in my step :)
Miles walked today: 17
Total miles: 945
Yesterday and today's earworm:
Jimmy is improving on Johnny Cash's lyrics: I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him diet
as we walk through woods towards Alness. The path isn't that easy, and we stumble up to a high deer fence, beyond which are a couple of houses and some furiously barking dogs. To our right is a gate, from which a track leads in the direction we want to go.
"Can I help you?" asks a man the other side of the fence. I explain that we'd like to get over the gate and procedures down the track.
"You can't do that! This is my house and garden!"
I think he's exaggerating to be honest - a couple of cottages lie to one side of the track.
He begrudgingly tells us how we can detour, and we do so.
Later in the morning, and for the rest of the day, we get glimpes of the oil rigs in Cromarty Firth. Tiny lanes take us to Tain, and our B&B: www.dunbius.co.uk/
Jim and I watch the England game (won v Slovenia away 2-3) while relaxing and dozing for a pleasant couple of hours before eating at the St Duthus Hotel. We play hangman to see who pays for dinner... who won? Answer tomorrow.
Miles walked today: 24
Total miles: 969
Who won hangman last night? Jim and I decided that it would be difficult to get a definitive result so... he paid for dinner. That's as close as I came to winning one of our wagers.
When we left the B&B (too early for breakfast) Jim went back into the centre of Tain to get the 7.25 bus to Inverness (and his flight back to London) and I walked in the opposite direction towards the Dornoch Firth Bridge, along the A9. It has been wonderful to see Jim and have some company.
My destination is an address just before Dornoch. Ten years ago I met Jimmy MacKay in Helmsdale: www.foshy.co.uk/lejog/day45.html
and his sister Heather contacted me in March this year to say that sadly he had passed away. She said to call if I was passing so...
Heather and her partner Ian made me most welcome, and Heather cooked me a delicious breakfast.
Heather used to sing in a band, and is now a nurse, and Ian used to be a lighthouse keeper, having been stationed at many of the famous sites in Scotland. I can imagine Heather singing to Ian:
Thank you both for making me so welcome.
The route through Dornoch to Loch Fleet is on quiet lanes. For a while I'm walking next to the loch, and am lucky to spot a seal in the water close to the shore. After Loch Fleet I am forced to follow the A9 to Golspie, not that pleasant an experience, so while marching along I compose a country and western ballad:
Oh the A9 is mighty fine if you're in a big high wagon,
It's pretty good if you're behind the hood of a shiny new Volkswagon,
But it's no big treat if you're on two feet as the traffic thunders by,
Do I dare suppose that their eyes aren't closed - have I even caught their eye?
Well, you get the idea with that...
I reach Golspie unscathed and buy some chips. As I sit near the sea I'm joined by a flock of seagulls who stand nearby or swoop over me. I toss the last few scraps onto the grass and in a blur of wings the gulls clean up in about five seconds.
From the ridiculous to the sublime - there is a path along the shore from Golspie to Brora.
Away from the A9 it's perfectly quiet apart from the gentle lapping of the waves, and the calls of many different birds. None of which I can identify - sorry. Dunrobin Castle is still looking a bit Disney. These last two or three hours of the afternoon's walk are just perfect.
At Brora I stumble upon a lovely B&B: www.bayviewhousebrora.com/
which has a guest lounge loaded with goodies for the tired traveller. And... relax.
Start: Brora Finish: Latheron Miles walked today: 29 Total miles: 998
The two young women sitting in the coffee shop in Helmsdale are admiring my legs: "That's a fine tan you have on your legs there." I move to give them a better view. The second one says, "Is that a Scottish tan?" "Some of it is," I reply. It's a familiar problem for me. Young - and not so young - women are unable to resist my lean good looks. I'm going have to carry a stick to fend them off... My day starts with a walk along the beach from Brora. Golden sands stretch almost as far as I can see. The sky and sea merge almost seamlessly in a palette of blues and greys with touches of creamy white where the sun threatens to break through. I have to join the A9 (the road follows the shore quite closely most of the time) but am able to get back onto the beach again for a while before scrambling over the railway back again onto the road. Helmsdale is much as I remember it. I think of Jimmy MacKay while drinking my coffee and eating a slice of apple pie outside the cafe in the sun. I couldn't stay inside - it might have been too much for all the females within. The afternoon isn't so much fun. It's road all the way to Dunbeath, where I'm hoping to find a bed for the night. The forecast is for rain in the afternoon, and sure enough it arrives. I walk on the right side of the road, where the verge is wide enough to jump onto when cars and trucks go past. Unlike earlier, I also get a free shower every so often. Most drivers are good and give me a wide berth, but not all. I make appropriate gestures when necessary. At Dunbeath I am directed to a B&B / campsite. The woman at reception seems to think I'm an imbecile for not booking a room but I remember my top ten walking tips (number four from the 30th of May) and smile politely when she tells me she has no bed. I could camp but it's pouring down. Her husband gives me the business card of somewhere three miles further north and I call: www.blackcroft-highlands.co.uk/ who answer their phone and confirm that they have a room. There's no pub or shop but... they can provide an evening meal. I arrive at Margaret and Brian's home very wet and bedraggled but they take great care of me. Later in the evening I see that Ken's mates John and Martin have donated - thank you so much :) Kenonymous's latest: Have a jar of Skull Splitter this eve. It says it's got a tight smooth head with hints of red & amber - that's you, that is!! (It also says it has a fruity, juicy character....so maybe not.) www.sinclairbreweries.co.uk/draught_skull_splitter.html Thanks again O.S. I will probably head for Wick tomorrow as I took a different route last time and have never been there. Another name to tick off the list. Not far now...
Miles walked today: 17
Total miles: 1015
Let's see - a deer, a cat, a hedgehog, a massive gull, a beautiful song thrush, and assorted smaller birds and mammals. I'm taking care not to join this list of roadkill on the A99 this morning.
Out on the horizon of the North Sea are several oil rigs, a surreal sight easily mistaken for ships.
A cyclist from the Netherlands stops - he's on his last day of LEJOG. Ut tells me that an end to ender called David is about an hour behind me. I'll look out for him.
Lots of Ut's compatriots are going by in mobile homes, easy to spot with their orange front number plate. There must be at least thirty in the space of an hour or so.
Wick is overcast and damp, but June soon sorts me out at: www.wickbb.co.uk/index.htm
I intend to explore Wick, but doze off in the guest lounge overlooking the harbour. I'm awoken by the arrival of David. What are the chances of us both staying at the same b&b? We spend a pleasant hour reminiscing about our walks, current and past.
Many thanks to Ken's colleagues Stuart and Janette for your donations - marvellous.
Also thanks to Stewart and Lynne - I'm not sure if I know either of you but your support is very much appreciated.
All things must end - maybe tomorrow for my walk?
Start: Wick Finish: John o'Groats / Stromness Miles walked today: 17 Total miles: 1033
Today's earworm can only be:
Thank you to everyone for your help, support, donations, messages and emails. The final day - touch wood. Will I survive the A99? Will I trip and injure a vital part? Will I walk in the wrong direction and end up back in Cornwall... No. The end is slightly anticlimactic. There are a couple of other walkers and lots of cyclists. And lots of "civilians" who are in cars and camper vans. There is a slight scrum around the famous sign and nobody notices me. No brass band. No popping champagne corks. No fuss... just how I wanted it. I did get someone to take my photo, of course. Then I went into the cafe and signed the register (the iconic hotel is now a leisure complex). I ordered a coffee and got a bottle of whisky - photo below. Fifty five days after thumbing a lift to Lands End with Tina I've proved that there's hope for old gits everywhere :) The wonderful June at the b&b served me breakfast at 7.00 and a little later David surfaced. My intentions of getting off early were undone by June's stories of end to enders. People on penny farthings, four men on a four person tandem (quadem?), and her efforts to see the naked rambler. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Gough She arrived at John o'Groats just after the police carted him off in a van. There was a crowd of women there to witness his arrival and one older lady informed June that she "hadn't missed much." After leaving Wick the route once again led me along a wonderful beach for a mile or more. I met a woman and her dog and we talked for quite a while. She asked where I was headed, and when I told her she insisted that it was in the opposite direction. For a brief moment I was a bit worried. Rejoining the road I shook hands with a couple of cyclists returning home after finishing yesterday. The road was ok, not too busy, and the weather was almost dry. A camper van stopped ahead of me and it was the woman from the beach and her husband. Ulla (originally from Denmark) produced an ice cream - would I like it? It was heavenly. I'd told her earlier about David, who had set off later than me from June's b&b. She'd passed him, but couldn't stop on that section of the road. Would I like another ice cream? It was just as good as the first. I waved them off with profuse thanks. Eventually I crested Giar Hill and there in the distance were the Orkney Islands. To the right was Duncansby Head with its lighthouse. After enjoying myself at the finish line, I walked back up the road and headed East to Duncansby Head - a couple of miles to the extreme north east tip of Scotland. A camper van went past, I stuck out my thumb, and got a lift. There were two couples and a dog on board - Ann, Janet, John, George, and Ned. They were there to meet their son and daughter who had also just finished LEJOG. Duncansby Head was amazing. Towering cliffs, the lighthouse, massive rock stacks, and a multitude of seabirds including a puffin or two made me glad I'd gone. I walked back and wasn't so lucky with my opposable digit. Which was lucky, as I met David walking towards me. David has completed the end to end in sections. When he crossed the fords at Glen Tilt (in the Cairngorms) there had been a lot of rain, and he had to wade through water which came up to the top of his thighs. There were indications on the banks were that the water had been even higher. This was yet another reminder of how lucky I've been on this walk. Someone up there has been looking after me... I was sad to say goodbye but we shook hands and went in opposite directions. But not before David told me off for eating his ice cream :) A bus journey of an hour took me to Thurso, where I realised I could get the 7.00 pm ferry to Stromness on the Orkney Islands. I have always wanted to see the Old Man of Hoy - a giant rock stack. The ferry went very close to it and the view made my day complete. So here I am at 11.00 pm finishing this entry at the: www.ferryinn.com in Stromness. It hasn't sunk in yet... but I did it! A final earworm for Tina, whose support and encouragement made my walk possible:
Start: Basingstoke Finish: Basingstoke Miles walked today: 0 Total miles: 1033 (still)
Final thoughts, images, maps and things. Starting with a map of my route, with overnight stops marked:
One reason to do the walk was to lose some weight. I started walking at a little over twelve stones, and finished at a little under eleven. I'll never keep the weight off but will try. My backpack weighed around 36 pounds. Quite heavy, apparently. I was a bit jealous of one or two other walkers who had very light equipment and packs that contained as much as mine but weighed much less. Here is a video of all the photos I took with my phone:
My phone (Samsung Galaxy S4) was a godsend. It had Ordnance Survey maps for the whole of the UK on it. With the built in gps I always knew exactly where I was. The phone camera is pretty good too. I had to shoot lower resolution images than I would have liked in order to upload them easily, but generally the images are fine for web use. I could start the day's walk with the battery on 100% and if I was careful finish on about 65% to 70%. I took a:
back up battery charger which worked like a charm. All I needed to do was keep the phone dry!
Network coverage was pretty good all things considered. Sometimes the phone signal was faster than the wi-fi where I was staying. I even managed to upload HD videos to YouTube on the phone network - impressive, I thought.
My only regret is that my Nikon DSLR stayed in my backpack far too much. I did take quite a lot of shots with it but not every day. Photos below: