Finished

July 15, 2009 - 7 Responses

Well I suppose it’s time I got off my lazy butt and officially updated this blog to let everyone know that at roughly 3:30 PM on July 10th I (and my father!) took the last few steps and positioned ourselves squarely at the northeastern-most edge of the British mainland. I have officially walked from the very southwest to the very northeast of Great Britain.

This post is a little bit delayed because having finished walking I naturally gave myself permission to become lazy beyond belief for a few days, and I’m only just now coming out of it.

Really the only thing I have to say at this point is that though the walk is over, I’m not quite ready to wrap up this blog yet. I have tons of pictures, and I plan on putting some of the more interesting ones up here in the near future. I’ll also trace out the rest of my route on google maps, and maybe spruce that up a bit with some pictures (if I can remember where exactly I took them). So, if you’re still interested in seeing some pictures or want to hear more about the trip, this blog isn’t over yet. If you have any things you’d like to hear more about, just reply to this in a comment. I’m not sure I did a very good job addressing the responses from my previous request (read: I did a terrible job) but I have a lot more spare time now.

Lastly, I guess this is as good a time as any to thank everyone for following this blog. I hope you enjoyed reading my posts as much as I enjoyed living them, and I’m sorry I couldn’t (slash didn’t) update more frequently!

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Helmsdale

July 7, 2009 - 5 Responses

The days since I last updated have taken me through a lot of different terrain. I’ve followed another long distance trail from Fort William up past Loch Ness and finally to Inverness. From there it’s been mostly road walking to where I am now, on the northeast coast of Scotland.

I am about 55 miles from John O’Groats as I type this, which should take roughly three days to complete. If I can stomach it, that is – this far north there really is only one road, and it’s still fairly busy. The weather is also very unpredictable. In general at this point I’m trying to get to the day’s destination as fast as possible to get it out of the way.

I spoke with a man a few weeks ago who told me it was his father’s dream to walk the West Highland Way (95 miles) before he died, a life ambition that I completed in four and a half days. The Great Glen Way (70 some miles) took four. I don’t know how I feel about that, really. I guess I should be proud. Yesterday was the longest confirmed day of the hike so far, clocking in at around 31 miles.

More generally than the route and the weather, though, my haste is because of the fact that I want my feet back. It may sound strange, but I really miss sports and other activities. For the most part all I have been doing for two months over here is walking, and it’s left me able to do little else. I think the bones of my feet are bruised, but I can’t tell because they’ve been numb for a few weeks now.

I could think of more to write but it’s getting late. Time to call an end to the 54th day of my hike, and prepare for the third from the end.

Fort William

June 30, 2009 - 8 Responses

Scotland sucks, and I say that in the same way one might say “Vampires suck.” Most of the insects up here, it seems, live for the sole purpose of tracking me down and drinking my blood, or at least biting me. And there are a lot of insects. The bar I had dinner in last night (quite literally the only building for miles) apparently had a midge (think tiny mosquitos) catching machine, and they had the fruits of its labor on display in a glass jar. Picture one of those gallon-sized plastic milk jugs. Now empty the milk out of it. Now fill it – that’s right, fill it! – with tiny insects, and you’ll have the amount of midges this machine captured in FOUR DAYS.

Fortunately the midges are only really active at night, but the scottish biting flies are there to pick up the slack during the day. I don’t know what these creatures are actually called so I named them based on what they do. If I could make things burst into flame at will I would quite happily dedicate the rest of my life to the eradication of this stupid species. I don’t care what other things depend on them in the food chain. In fact, those animals deserve to die as well because they’re obviously not doing their job.

Anyway, the past five days have been an epic struggle between man and tiny flying insect set against a backdrop of lochs, mountains, woods and the occasional pub. Today was probably the most difficult, both insect-wise and otherwise. The incessant insect attacks, combined with a trail that has been liberally coated with small rocks of perfect ankle-twisting shape and diameter (I like to think they were gleefully scattered on the trail by some psychopath bedecked in plaid), were a recipe for disaster. I was lucky to escape with only a few close calls.

Besides blood, Scotland also sucks money from your wallet. For the past five days out of Glasgow I’ve been following the West Highland Way, which is a mix of old railway lines, drovers trails, and military roads which spans about 95 miles. Most of the way is pretty remote, more so the further north you go, and so frequently you’ll find yourself at the only pub/inn/building for more than seven miles. These places are well aware that they are your only hope, and the prices reflect that. I swear I can see the bartenders fighting the urge to steeple their fingers and laugh diabolically as I hand them my money.

From Fort William it’s 66 miles to Inverness, and from Inverness it’s something like 117 miles to John O’Groats. I’m on the home stretch now!

Glasgow

June 24, 2009 - 3 Responses

Glasgow is the first of the great Scottish cities to fall to my relentless footsteps.

After my last post (wherein I neglected to mention that although I was sitting in a hotel, I wasn’t actually STAYING in the hotel) the weather took a significant turn for the better, and it’s been sunny and relatively cloudless for the past two days. Still, we made the trek from Carlisle to Glasgow, which is around a hundred miles, in five days of walking. This would be a pretty average pace but for two things: I’m now about 10% heavier with camping gear, and the first day we only went maybe 12 miles. So the end result is that the past three days have been 23+ mile slogs through the Scottish highlands with relatively few encounters with civilization apart from the companionship of the M-74, never far from the bike path we followed into Glasgow. We’re here now, though, staying in a hotel that is… how should I put this… a bit of a fixer-upper. It means sleeping on a bed, though, and after four days of camping nothing sounds better.

Tomorrow is a rest day in Glasgow, which I think I’ve earned. I’m about 280 miles from John O’Groats, and I’ve got 20 days to go (I’m trying to finish up on the 14th to allow for travel back down to Edinburgh). Klonick only planned to accompany me as far as Glasgow, so when I leave town on the 26th it’ll just be me and my backpack (counts as roughly 1/5th of a person I’d say. Not much for conversation.)

I’ll be able to update the map and maybe upload a few more pictures tomorrow. For now, I need to rename the hotel I made the last post from. It is now known as The Worst Food and Best Hospitality In Scotland. This is because having served us the aforementioned food (and beer) the owner then declined payment.

Somewhere in Scotland

June 21, 2009 - One Response

As you probably gathered from my last post, I’ve got my camping gear again. This is because I met up with my parents near Penrith and spent two days staying at Hornby Hall, a very big mansion built around 1574, if my memory is right. It apparently has a ghost, although I didn’t experience any haunting. I did have a pretty strange dream though, if that counts.

Anyway, my parents brought with them all the things I mailed away about a month ago, so I have now been gloriously reunited with my (technically borrowed) prodigal backpack.

I set a pretty grueling pace in the days before meeting my parents, and ended up traveling about a hundred miles in five days. This was thanks in part to Alex’s (hencefoth to be known as Klonick, to minimize confusion) ability to take a bus, and my luggage, to our next destination.

That more or less brings us up to the present – I hiked past the Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales, and the Lake District, all of which were beautiful from a distance but didn’t look like anything I wanted to hike through with time being the issue that it is.

As I type this, I am sitting in a hotel north of Lockerbie, Scotland. A group of Scottish people sitting opposite me just concluded a conversation of which I understood not a word. The weather has been pretty miserable the past few days (although it didn’t rain today, for a change) and I feel like that, combined with the added weight of the backpack and camping gear is draining the life right out of me.

I don’t know the name of the hotel/restaurant I am sitting in at the moment, but I’m going to take a guess and assume it’s called The Worst Food In Scotland. It’s literally miles from anywhere and it’s not open for breakfast, so I couldn’t get any food here in the morning even if I wanted to. This means it’s Snickers for breakfast again tomorrow, and I’m not really sure how I feel about that.

Google Maps tells me I’m currently 65 miles from Glasgow, which means I’ll probably be arriving sometime on the night of the 24th. The jury is currently out on whether I’ll be taking a rest day there. Probably not. For now, though, it’s off to the tent to try and get some sleep in the now-perpetual twilight of the Scottish summer nights.

Scotland!

June 20, 2009 - One Response

At around 3 PM this afternoon I entered Scotland, which as far as I can tell is a lawless land where anything goes. It is, apparently, totally fine for you to camp just about wherever you want, which I think is pretty neat. At least, that’s how I understand it, and hopefully nobody tries to reeducate me.

I’m going to keep this short because, as a result of the above, I am literally posting this from inside a tent about twenty yards from the highway and it’s a rather uncomfortable place to type. Also because I don’t want anyone to see the light from the laptop screen. Again, trying to avoid reeducation on the whole camping rights issue.

Glasgow is the new long-term destination, should be there in five days or so. Hopefully I’ll have time to write up something longer between now and then.

Burnley, destination unknown

June 15, 2009 - 4 Responses

Well I’m in Burnley right now, having given up on the Pennine Way after roughly two days. The Pennines are absolutely beautiful – rugged, isolated, craggy – and the weather was agreeable for the most part, but the path meandered and dipped and climbed and it was starting to drive me crazy. Progress was slow, too, and that’s the most important thing at this point, so we’ve decided to stick to the valleys and to civilization for now. I’m just past the halfway point, time-wise, and I still have at least four hundred miles to go. This could be close!

Anyway, internet access has been patchy at best here. When I can find a computer that’s connected, it’s invariably too slow to trace out my route on Google Maps, so I’ve got no idea what the total distance I’ve covered so far is. My feet are saying it’s probably around 500 miles. Anyway, I’ve taken to typing up blog updates on Alex’s laptop even if I don’t have internet access, so here is one I typed up two days ago:

————————————————————–

My goal of walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats will no longer be achievable. I’ll explain why in a bit, but first I’ll fill you in on the past week or so.

We made our escape from the Cookley Asylum extremely early this past Monday morning, with the sole intent of getting as far away as possible. Around midday, we managed to find a library, and from there we booked a stay in a very nice hotel in Wolverhampton for a very low price. All that remained was to walk the remaining distance, which happened to be along a very nice bike path, and then relax for the evening (and catch up on sleep!).

The next day we ran into some difficulties. I’d managed to find a B&B called Highfields that appeared to be right along our intended route, but unfortunately this was not the case. It was, in fact, around six miles east and slightly north of the position indicated by Google Maps, in an area for which I had been unable to find an ordnance survey map.

I didn’t know any of this, of course, and by the time we clambered up from the canal path we had taken into Stafford, it was apparent that we weren’t going to arrive before seven PM. So as not to inconvenience our hosts with a late arrival, Alex caught a bus north to Stone, from which it should have been just a short distance, while I phoned ahead to inform them of our plans. About twenty minutes later, Alex called me on a stranger’s phone with some bad news – nobody in Stone had any idea where our night’s lodgings were located, nor had anyone even heard of it. In short, we were screwed.

Having heard from Alex, I had no choice but to continue walking through Stafford and onward to Stone, where I thought we could at least meet up and form a new game plan. Five minutes later, the skies opened up and it began to pour with rain. I had just put on my rain gear for the fourth time in four days when Alex called again, this time with some good news: Phil, the proprietor, had miraculously managed to locate him at the bus station in Stone, and he and his car were on their way to pick me up.

We ended up staying at Highfields with Phil and Jenny for two nights, and I quite honestly cannot thank our hosts enough for all the help they provided. Phil, obviously sensing our complete incompetence, helped us plan our routes, lent us a map, and even shuttled us around so we could leave our packs at the room for an easy day’s walking. On Tuesday we hiked from Highfields (which turned out to be seven miles northeast of where I had left off in Stafford) to a town called Leek, a circuitous route which once again featured a late afternoon rain shower. On Wednesday morning Phil dropped me off in Stafford to hike the portion I had missed two days before, then gave us both a ride in to Leek to continue onwards.

Unfortunately I put myself right back into the same predicament the next day as I attempted to hike from Leek to the only nearby accommodation we could find, in Chapel-en-le-Frith. I got a late start and made it as far as Buxton before I had to call it quits and take a bus to Chapel. Friday morning saw me playing catchup again, and we didn’t leave Chapel until the early afternoon.

Friday also saw us take our first steps along the Pennine Way, a 270 mile slog through some of the most rugged terrain so far and Great Britain’s oldest long distance trail. It was all very exciting, and for the most part the incredible views made up for the difficulty of the trail.

Coincidentally, it was my first day on the Pennine Way that led to my failure in walking to John O’Groats. Seven in the evening had come and gone and we were still in one of the remotest stretches of country I’ve seen yet on this trip. The last thing I wanted was to be up on the side of a cliff in the dark, so we abandoned the Way and headed down towards town on the straightest path we could find. I don’t recall where we ended up, but it was roughly three miles from our lodging and we arrived at 9, about 45 minutes before sunset. It was apparent that we weren’t going to make it in time, but the last thing I wanted was to spend yet another morning retracing my steps, and so I did the only thing I could.

“It’s not all fun and games, hiking the length of the country,” I thought as I jogged along the bike path in the falling rain and the failing light. I could hardly see the map by the time I arrived, drenched in either sweat or rain and absolutely exhausted. And that is why I will never claim to have walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats – I ran a bit, too.

Leek… sort of.

June 10, 2009 - One Response

This is just a quick update, mainly to inform you that I uploaded a few more pictures to the first link on the pictures page, and also gave them captions.

I spent a little while trying to summarize the past few days here, but I keep launching into lengthy explanations and I want to keep this short as it’s getting late. A longer post is coming soon, I promise! For now, enjoy the pictures.

Wolverhampton

June 8, 2009 - 4 Responses

I put myself in a sort of difficult situation at the end of my last post. If you read it, you’ve probably spent the last several days wondering if I did in fact die trying to make it to Chipping Campden. Fortunately, that is not the case. However, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t achieve the alternative, either – I never made it to Chipping Campden.

I have been saved from literary hypocrisy by the fact that I used an asterisk on my ultimatum – to indicate that it’s not entirely true – and then forgot to put the little thing at the bottom that explains why I’m lying to you. So from now on, the asterisk means that I never actually intended to follow the Cotswold Way to its end. Instead, I made my way to Tewkesbury, then Worcester, then just north of Kidderminster (love that name) and finally to where I am currently, which is Wolverhampton.

I’ve also been making an effort to do a little bit more planning before I start my walk each day, for several reasons. First and foremost, I’ve now met up with my friend and fellow european traveler Alex Klonick, who will be walking the middle leg of the journey with me, and it’s a little bit more difficult to find a cheap twin room than it is to find a cheap single. Secondly, accommodation has become more and more sparse as I’ve headed north, and at this point if you don’t have somewhere lined up by around noon you could get yourself in trouble.

I now know this from experience.

But first, a quick explanation of the events of the past few days. From Cheltenham we headed north for a short walk to the town of Tewkesbury. By short, I believe I mean roughly 14 miles, but I’m having trouble using google maps in the libraries here so I don’t know for sure. In Tewkesbury we managed to find lodging at the Abbey Hotel. We originally booked a double room – it was the cheapest – but the owner took pity on us and gave us each our own double for the price of one.

The next day dawned rainy and grey, but we made an early start bound for Worcester. Because I just couldn’t get enough of water for the day, for the morning we followed a footpath along the edge of a river. My running shoes, dry and warm at the start of the day, were soaked within about five steps. The day turned a little bit brighter, at least metaphorically, when we found one of Britain’s greatest rarities, which is a road with a sidewalk. We were able to follow this road the rest of the way into Worcester, which didn’t make for a very interesting day but we made excellent time, arriving in Worcester just after 2 PM.

In my first encounter with really terrible luck on this trip, a massive horse race happened to be taking place in Worcester that day, and the town was completely full. We spent hours wandering around, but the search was ultimately fruitless and we had to bus back to the Abbey Hotel in Tewkesbury, whose owner now probably thinks I am the most incompetent hiker ever to hit the trails. At least we didn’t have any trouble finding the place.

Again he must have taken pity on us, because the next morning he offered to give us a ride to where we had left off in Worcester, which we gratefully accepted. That turned out to be the end of my good luck for the day, and I wish I’d known it. Instead, I trusted to luck and wandered into Cookley (A small town just north of Kidderminster) confident that we’d be able to find a place to stay. Not seeing any B&Bs on the walk into town, I walked into a local pub and asked if they knew of anywhere in town. Sadly they did not, and the nearest was miles away, which is a pretty big deal when you’re on foot. I was just gathering myself to call the Abbey Hotel yet again when a friendly enough looking man at the bar said he’d put us up for the night for a meager amount.

I’m going to take a short break from the narrative here to explain something. At the end of a six hour day of walking, you really are in very little control of your actions. If it gets you closer to your destination, or allows you to sit down, typically you do it without giving it the consideration it deserves. This is why my budget has been broken on so many occasions, and it’s also why I accepted the offer from this guy in the pub.

In immediate retrospect I should have just continued on to somewhere more reputable. This guy’s house, though I have seen dirtier in college, was not, shall we say, well looked after. To make matters worse, the more we talked with the guy the more something seemed to be a little strange about him. And the crowning glory of this absolute disaster of an evening, there were no locks on the bedroom doors. I considered all of these facts in the utmost detail as I lay in bed while the sounds of Dave (our landlord for the evening) watching TV at ear-shattering volume drifted through the walls. I made a few phone calls to friends back home to take my mind off things, and then consoled myself with the thought that it was only a cheap place to sleep, and that the sooner I fell asleep the sooner I could wake up and be on my way. At around 10:45 I drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

At 12:45, I was woken by a very loud noise. Dave was now snoring loudly in the room next door. I’m a light sleeper these days so I was a little annoyed by this, but I was just drifting off to sleep once again when the snoring, which was growing continually louder, culminated in a very loud, very angry sounding groan and a yell of “F— off!” through the wall. If I had to choose one word to describe myself at that time, the word would be ‘alarmed’. I reached over and slid my backpack in front of my door as a sort of makeshift lock, then laid back and listened to the process repeat for the next two hours. I spent most of the time staring at the door, waiting for it to inevitably be kicked in by an angry British man coming to throttle me in my sleep, but it never happened. I eventually fell into an uneasy sleep at around 4 AM, woke again at 6:30, and high tailed it out of there.

I still don’t know whether Dave was just a little bit crazy, or if he just had a bad case of talking in his sleep, or what, but I don’t really care. The last words I ever heard (or hope to hear) him utter were “Hmm.. ooh, lovely! Lovely!” in what sounded like a very sincerely pleased tone. I’m not sure if I would have slept any better if he’d been doing that all night, though, either. Regardless, in delayed hindsight I’m glad I stayed there for two reasons. The first is that it makes for a hell of a story. The second is that I now have an iron clad reason never to ever do it again.

This has been a fairly long entry in the hopes of making up for my lack of updates recently. I’ll update the map when I get the chance to use a computer with a mouse that can run google maps. This is easier said than done. I also am uploading a bunch of photos to Picasa, and I’ll post a link to that on the Pictures page. For now, it’s time to make up for the sleep I didn’t get last night.

Cheltenham

June 4, 2009 - 3 Responses

Well the library closes in five minutes so I’ve got to be fast. For the past three days I’ve been walking the Cotswold Way and dealing with its rather infuriating obsession with going to the tops of hills and walking around them. Of course, the ONLY section of the way for which I didn’t own a map (and could not, for a while, but one) also turned out to be the silliest, and I naively trudged every mile of it.

I’m making it to Chipping Campden tomorrow or I’ll die trying* thus making four days’ work of the Cotswold Way. I passed a group of seven who were planning to take four years to walk it, so I’m doing roughly 365 times better than them. I’ll update the map next chance I get, although it’ll be a little bit harder to pick out the cotswold way than it was to trace out the roads I was traveling on…