When I started planning this walk I knew that setting a target finish date would be, to be frank, a bit silly. Living with congenital heart disease makes you very adaptable because one minute you could be at work or at home doing a usual task and within half an hour you could find yourself in A&E with a confused short term future. Now, post transplant the principles are still there. I have no idea when I will be struck down with a bug but I do know it will be much more frequently than others and the recovery will be slower. I also didn’t set an end date because I wanted to enjoy it and not be stressed by targets after all, I am not trying to set a time or distance record. Being the first transplant patient to walk around the coast of Britain is a record enough for me! *well I think I might be lol
So I am adapting the walk. I will explain.
After getting to the most northerly point on the mainland, Dunnett Head, I had a shorter 10 mile walk to Thurso. This was a very wet and uninspiring walk, mainly uphill and with a 20mph headwind. My injured calf was not enjoying the test and I took many wet breaks to ease it through the journey. A ginger bearded Scottish man stopped his car alongside me at one point and asked if I wanted a lift. “Yyyyeeea….No thanks” was my reply – the fourth time on this walk that random car temptation was put in my way. I arrived in Thurso at The Weigh Inn, who kindly gave me a complimentary room. I used it to its full potential, sleepy and resting my aching body.
It was here where I realised I was ill again. I took paracetamol and drank lots of water but I knew that I would have a difficult decision in the morning. I felt no better the next day and the weather forecast deflated me further. A months rain had fell in NE Scotland in the last 3 days I had heard but it looked like it was about to disappear into the North Sea by lunchtime. I checked out and sat in the hotel reception waiting for the rain to stop. I sat there considering my options. The last thing I wanted to do was to stop the walk but this option seemed to keep popping up as the the most sensible option.
The truth is, and I am being honest here, the barren, bleak and isolation of NW Scotland was starting to terrify me. I do risk assessments all the time from being immune suppressed so carrying on into this area by myself was top of the list. I was ill again and had no support. It was just me against the elements. I could try to use facebook to get support but the chances of finding warm dry places to stay were minimal and could this be done for 2 months? I pictured an ill, lonely figure wandering around, heavily weighed down by his rucksack cursing the walk for the next few weeks. An image that was the complete opposite of what I had thought it would be.
The rain eased a bit by midday and it was decision time. Thurso had an link back to civilisation. The further I went along the north tip of Scotland, the more remote it would be and the more vunerable I would feel. I stepped out of the hotel and the sun suddenly came out and a rainbow appeared. A sign? I turned so that the sea was on my right and carried on with the walk to Reay. I started to make plans with my new decision. I looked at stopping points, planned my food and water and found a spring in my step. Sadly the spring rusted pretty quickly as the rain came back and the cold headwind made me cough and curse at the same time. I persevered and eventually passed the Doonreay nuclear power station. I started to look for possible wild camping sites (for wild camping – not crazy evenings at a campsite) Reay had very little there and I found a bus stop and sat down pondering.
It may seem a romantic notion to be wandering around Scotland with a rucksack reaching parts that very few people get to see but the reality was now very different. It was 6pm and I was so tired that just the thought of battling with the tent made me feel even more tired. The wind that had not let up all day and I knew I needed to find shelter if I wasn’t going to attempt the tent. I looked at the position I was in and made a decision. I had to get back to Thurso and I had to re-think NW Scotland leg of the walk.
I put the rucksack back on and stuck my thumb out. The first car flew by but the second stopped. Carmel was Israili and he had hired a car in Glagow to ride around the coastline up to Durness, along to John O Groats and back to Edinburgh. He welcomed me into his hired Mini and we chatted as he drove towards Thurso. Watching the route that I had just walked was weird and we soon reached Thurso after some nifty cornering by my rescuer.
I booked myself into a hostel and looked at the train times to Inverness. After a fairly sleepless night, I found myself sitting on the train to Inverness looking out of the window and wondering what had just happened in the previous 24 hours. Thanks to my lovely new friends in Strathpeffer, Anne & Barry, I got a lovely hot meal and bed and then took the night bus back to Hemel Hempstead. Home.
Reunited with Emu and my Guitar 🙂
I feel better today, still tired but the sore throat has eased and the cough virtually gone. As for the decision to stop the walk? I think it was the right one. It was sensible. I have this precious gift to look after and though I would love to be like my heroine Spud who put up with all sorts of challenges on her coastal walk, I have to think about doing it my way and if that means stopping then so be it.
I will blog in a few days with my plans which are gradually forming. I would love to do NW Scotland with a travel companion, a volunteer or friend and have a camper van. That way, instead of packet food, I can get a good meal each day, somewhere warm to sleep and I don’t have to carry a huge rucksack. Also Emu can be with me too !! Lol