Oh Durness do be do.

Week 1 of my six week walk around the northwest of Scotland is complete and what a week it was. I will run out of superlatives by then end of this section so forgive me for the overuse of the words stunning, amazing, beautiful and many others.

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I picked up my VW campervan from Stuart of Strathpeffer Campers and headed straight up to the north coast, crunching the poor gearbox at regular intervals. The unique setup of the gears left me floundering and cursing at critical moments but I eventually got used to first gear being bottom left and move up to second gear. I reached Reay and parked for a moment remembering the sad evening a few months ago where, exhausted and unwell I made the difficult but ultimately sensible decision to abandon NW Scotland and return home to get better. Reay hadn’t changed much but I certainly had.
I soon got into the rhythm of driving to my end point, hitching back then walking to the campervan. Over the course of this week, I improved my hitching techniques and then I stumbled on a better way of doing this. I park in a viewing area and wait for people to stop and then ambush them with my story. Suddenly I went from potential axe murderer with his thumb out to a mad eccentric Essex boy on a mission. So thank you: Tom, Ken and Deidrie (oh I know you couldn’t make it up! As a Corrie fan I pretended to be Mike Baldwin), Svetlana and Aurule (I didnt check spelling) and two others that I didn’t get their names. Maybe I could call them Jack and Vera.
Seeing the campervan in the distance makes the last section so much easier. I collapse into it and doze for a while then pop the kettle on. The evenings are a really special time. Closing the curtains and putting up the bed can take quite a while but the extra stretching is probably helping. Once the lights are off and I am tucked up in bed, the real magic of a campervan takes over. The patter of drizzle or the gentle rocking by the wind (external not mine) makes a soothing end to each day.

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So, this week I racked up 76 miles with plenty of hills and it was all done in typical Scottish weather ie unpredictable and changeable. Kyle of Tongue and Loch Eriboll were some of the highlights even though the weather wasn’t particularly great, they both were stunning.

 

It was the beaches in and around Durness that blew me away towards the end of the week.


Saturday, with blue skies and bright sunshine I made my way to Keoldale to catch the ferry over the Kyle of Durness to go to the most North Westerly point on mainland Britain – Cape Wrath. I was overjoyed that it was such great weather for the trip however this elation soon turned sour as the ferryman told me that the winds were too high to go across. I was gutted.  He has a little speedboat and towards the middle of the day, as the wind increased, I saw his reasoning.


I had got chatting to Terry, a man from Kent who was in a campervan close to the ferry and after a bit of deliberation, I decided not to waste the good weather and do Monday’s walk instead. So Terry and I drove to Shegra and set off of on an out and back walk to the amazingly stunning beautiful Sandwood Bay beach. There were couples having romantic lunches on the beach looking out across the white sands to the Atlantic Ocean. Sadly for them they were joined by big burly man from Kent and a show off in a BHF top but we didn’t stay long. The peace and beauty of the bay returned after we left.
The walk to and from Sandwood Bay was not that strenuous and I would highly recommend this day out on a fine day. The most remote corner of Britain has to be seen.

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To finish off a splendid day we went to the pub as it is the law that all splendid days should end in the pub. Durness Sando bay Oasis pub was packed, well I say packed – everyone had a seat. Terry and I looked at the photos and videos of the day and drank the local ale. We politely mocked three people who were hitting the surround of the dartboard more times than the dartboard itself and listened to the locals talking about the weather. A young couple came in and as they sat down near us they groaned like old people do. I asked if they were ok and the man simply replied “Ben Nevis”
I said “Hello Ben” but he looked confused. Ester and Erik were from Holland and had came over to Scotland for 3 days to climb Ben Nevis, motorbike up to Durness and go back to the ferry in Newcastle and back to Holland. A speedy mountain fix. We all joked about being English, Dutch and wanting to be Scottish and as the pub got louder our Dutch Essex and Kent accents became more noticeable. Their eyes eventually began to droop with fatigue not my schoolboy humour and we decided to end the night at 10pm.

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Terry, a biker himself wanted to see their bikes so we trampled in the dark to their campsite to take look. I have very little interest in motorbikes but thanks to my new “say yes” mantra I was to witness a surreal ritual. Here in a field in one of the most remote villages in Britain stood 4 adults in a circle beaming 4 mobile phone torches at two bikes. It was like a scene from Harry Potter. Phrases such as “fuel consumption” and “horse power” were like spells, cast into the blustery night and sent towards the artic circle ahead of us.
I wondered how long this ritual would last. Three petrolheads and one unleaded dipstick. I muttered “mmmm” every now and the, mainly just to tell them I was still alive. After what seemed like a all night long bike party, we parted safe in the knowledge that Anglo Dutch relations over motorbikes were as strong as ever.
Today, Sunday, is my day off and tomorrow I will attempt Cape Wrath again with the forecast less windy. Then I start heading south.
Kieran xx

 

 

 

 

Chatty Cumbria

I can’t believe I did not blog all the time I was walking in August. It became a very busy month and a sociable one too. I don’t feel creative at the end of walks and my new “rest day” on Sundays are now busier than I thought they would be.

August brought some incredibly good news. Travelodge are now on board and have offered to put me up whilst I am walking.  I have their newly formed partnership with the BHF to thank for this. Sundays are now my transfer day between Travelodges. To be able to park my rucksack in one location and walk with a daysack makes my walking days much more enjoyable. Also, no more rough sleeping, begging for a free bed or the dreaded camping, I should be able to get a good nights sleep for most of the 3000+ miles left.

I spent the first part of August walking by myself in Dumfries and Galloway. Some of my days involved 6 buses to get to and from my walk route. Some people may have found that a drag but I loved it. Sitting on the various buses gave me a chance to listen to conversations (if they were speaking slow Scottish) and watch how southern Scotland got by day by day. Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkudbright and Sandyhills were gorgeous and it was lovely to see the Lake District in the distance as I got closer to the border. It was also a sad time too because I would be leaving Scotland and even though I still have a section in NW Scotland to complete, I really felt as though I was going to miss Scotland.

I was amazed that walking just 12 miles from Gretna Green to Carlisle that accents changed so quickly. I visited the BHF shop in Carlisle and spoke with the manager who was born and raised in Carlisle. To me she sounded Geordie and was unsurprisingly amused at being told that. She told me of local rivalries, Carlisle history and things to see and do. I had arrived in chatty Cumbria and it stayed like that for the rest of August.

Nigel, a retired hotelier and father of Laura, who works at BHF in London, joined me for two days along the Cumbria coast path.  Sadly on the two days we spent walking, we didn’t have the best weather and the routes were not the most picturesque but Nigel, from the Lake district, didn’t seem to mind and we completed 30 miles together in good spirits.

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Whilst I was in Carlisle taking photos of the Castle, I saw out of the corner of my eye the BBC Cumbria building. Nothing ventured, I went in and asked if they would be interested in my story. Within an hour and a half, I was live on air being interviewed by the friendly and zany DJ Caroline Robertson. It was one of the better interviews  I have had and I thoroughly enjoyed being in the studio for a change rather than battling with mobile phones

Thanks to this five minute plug, I received an email from David, a retired Sellafield worker and we walked two days along the coastline with some of his friends.  They gave me a fascinating insight into life at Sellafield and the impact on the surrounding area. I was incredibly grateful for this and they were great fun to walk with.

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This coming week is National Organ donation Week . I have been very lucky to have met many transplant recipients on my walk and in Whitehaven I met Dave who is 4 years post heart transplant having spent many years on the transplant list. We walked from Whitehaven up to cliffs where he left me and welcomed me coming back down at St Bees. We both know how organ donation not only saved our lives but has given us a quality of life we could never have dreamt of. We exchanged stories, both of us knowing how lucky we were to be able to walk with each other.  I was made to feel like royalty during my stay with him and his wife Tina.

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I ended the month at Barrow in Furness having racked up 1665 miles which is exactly a third of the way round. I still can’t believe that I have walked all this way and maybe I never will. It’s only when I look back at my photos that I recognise each of the 127 days walked so far.

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I will be back up to NW Scotland in a few weeks to do the section I missed when I was previously unwell. I am really looking forward to this and I hope I get some good weather to make the pictures better. Whatever happens, the scenery will be stunning and my dream of getting to Cape Wrath will eventually come true. Then once I have ‘joined the jots’, I will go back to Barrow to carry on to London.

Kieran xx