Sky TV, Sky Blue and Sky Snow

Wow, I am truly smashing my average blog time with this post. My last mutterings were about my journey from Cape Wrath to North Wales. This one doesn’t have to cover such a large distance and was certainly eventful to say the least.

After Trefor was a little village called Tudweiliog. As I waited for the bus, I practised how to pronounce it via the excellent tutoring from BHF Cymru. I must have said it 50 times and as the doors flung open and I looked at a grumpy looking middle aged man (no their wasn’t a mirror) I felt confident that my driver would understand me. Remembering the Scottish bus driver who laughed at my pronunciation of Kirkcudbright, I got into the bus and took a deep breath.

“A single to Tud-whale-ee-org” I said trying to imagine I was Rhod Gilbert.

“Oll wight mate….dats two firty plees”

He was from Clacton on Sea, a fellow Essex Boy. I allowed myself a small moment to capture the magic moment and handed over my change saying “fanks”

Aberdaron and Abersoch on the southern tip of the Lleyn Peninsula both have lovely beaches and are pretty towns. Temperatures had plummeted and both walks had a biting northerly wind. Lucky for me I wasn’t walking northwards into it.

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On the way back from Abersoch the bus driver understood my destination clearly as he was from Yorkshire. He then proceeded to ask me to sit at the back of the bus. Immediately, my mind raced and I thought that maybe he had got a lungful of “walkersmell” He continued, oblivious to my erratic facial expressions and told me that he couldn’t shut the door. I looked into the bus and three people, who didn’t know each other were huddling together on the back seat. I joined them on the seat in front of them – hoping that the icy blasts coming through the door would bypass my end of day odour.

Criccieth, Porthmadog, Harlech and Barmouth then followed, all of them stunning in their own ways. I particularly enjoyed Harlech castle and Barmouth town.

 

Sunday 6th December was the 50th anniversary of the first heart transplant and I was very proud to be invited on to Sky News Sunrise to talk about my experiences, the increased transplant waiting list and my walk. I was very pleased with how it went and was not nervous at all. I was enjoying the experience and its easy talking about yourself. I was amused by the massive amount of vanity on show in the building and compared it to the hairy hiker sat there in his walking gear, smelling like cow pat and looking like I had dragged the muddy fields of Wales in with with me.

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On the back of that came a request from BBC News to be interviewed from home by Skype. I didn’t get changed or washed for continuity and reality purposes and I sat in the lounge in Hemel Hempstead talking to a black screen that said BBC on it. I had no idea that the rest of the BBC News team and viewers were seeing me on a huge TV screen.

Monday, brought another interview, this time for BBC World at New Broadcasting house in London. This felt very special to me – to be walking into the “beeb” so I dressed up a bit. Well actually, I didn’t but I did have a shower! Three interviews in for national TV in the same clothes. Security was tight and eventually was taken into the waiting area where I could watch the presenters live. My interview was sandwiched between some breaking news. The calm and professional environment that I had witnessed when I first arrived quickly went out of the window as the story broke. The former PM of Yemen had been killed was the story. It was fascinating sitting next to the news anchor as she talked with producers about the item. When it finally came round to my turn to speak, I was once again calm having been distracted with the shenanigans.

The interview went well and left wondering what the BBC World viewers in Yemen had made of my 7 mins of fame whilst wondering how their former PM had been killed. I also wondered if the viewers thought that the scruffy man at the BBC would have been more at home on Countryfile.

The last thing that kept me from my walk was a couple of days later when I had my transplant checkup at Papworth. My ECG was done by a trainee technician who was told off for not making me comfortable on the bed. I wanted to say that I have slept in bus shelters and on golf courses in Scotland since my last appointment and that I was ridiculously comfortable on the bed but I stopped myself. An x-ray and blood tests followed and a chat with the consultant. Everything was fine so I immediately got in the car and drove back to Wales to carry on with the walk.

Snow greeted me in Harlech but luckily the coast wasn’t hit as hard as the hills and the rest of England. The worst of the quick freeze is over now for the time being but I am sure I will be stomping in snow a few more times this winter.

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It was quite a hectic few days away from the walk  but very rewarding. Especially that a number of CHD and transplant patients have got in touch with me on the back of these interviews. The walk has so many parts to it. Raising money for BHF, raising awareness of organ donation, raising awareness of congenital heart disease, my own personal mental challenge, the dream of walking the coastline coming true and seeing the beauty of Britain everyday are just some of the parts but knowing that my story is getting out there and is helping others is probably the best bit.

Kieran

Wales….

Well how did I get down here? How long since my last post? I truly am a bad blogger. My last blog was at the most north westerly point in Britain heading south and now I have walked most of North Wales.

Can I summarise this? Um…..

Scotland was taken care of with the help of my campervan, Denise, Her full name being Denise Van Camper.  Hurricane Ophelia turned out to be more hot air in the media than fast moving air in Western Scotland. I jumped onto Skye for a day and then jumped back to the mainland. I then reached the most Westerly point of mainland Britain, Ardnamurchan. From here I reached Oban and then had a wee break, vowing to do the Mull of Kintyre at a later date when Paul McCartney and a hundred Bagpipers were free.

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In the summer months I had already walked from Greenock to Barrow In Furness so after my wee break, I went back to Barrow to carry on heading south. Cumbria followed by Lancashire brought me to one of my favourite walks of the journey – Fleetwood to Lytham taking in Blackpool on a glorious blue sky day. Next was a few tedious, drizzly duel carriageway days but the reward was lovely Liverpool and a ferry across the Mersey.

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Hayley, BHF fundraising manager covering the Wirral joined me on the Wirral and managed to walked 4-5 miles dressed as Hearty.

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As I crossed the border into Wales, my Welsh accent improved from Abysmal to Awful and I am hopeful that, should I get out of Wales alive, my accent might have reached the dizzy heights of satisfactory. I look every dog walker (and their dog) in the eyes and say “Bore da”. Most laugh, some look away and a few have muttered encouragement to me in Welsh. Well, I am guessing its encouragement!

A stiff headwind and plummeting temperatures made the North Wales coastline cold to walk along. The sheep here are not scared of a strange man in a red cap singing to them. In fact, they seem a hard audience to please.

The Wales coast path is fairly well signposted though I did go wrong one day and ended up walking through a posh estate with posh grounds and posh sheep. Feeling slightly out of place, I made an error clambering over a locked gate and with four sheep looking on I fell off and landed on my back. Nothing was broken and I walked off rather gingerly to the sounds of the sheep laughing at me.

Since arriving in Wales, I have walked through Flint, Rhyll, Colwyn Bay, Llandudno, Penmaenmawr, Bangor and Caernafon and now find myself in Trefor.

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Some stats:

2568 miles walked. 171 days walked. Ave 15 miles a day. £8005 raised.

Apologies for not updating this blog. I do post pictures and mutterings on facebook. www.facebook.com/atrailoftwohearts 

Kieran xx

Cape Wrath and heading south

Week two in NW Scotland started off with my boyhood dream of reaching Cape Wrath finally coming true. Terry, a fellow nomad and I made our way to the ferry point hoping the ferryman was there and willing to take us over the Kyle of Durness to “The Parph”
I was also secretly wishing that the man’s name was Gerry or something similar so I could say that me and Terry took the ferry with Gerry. His name was John.

John Morrison has been taking mad tourists, hikers, cyclists and petrol cans over to Cape Wrath for many years. We clambered into small speedboat with 4 other people, two bikes and Stuart our bus driver. The short crossing was smooth with plenty of banter between Stuart and John. Once on land we were ushered onto the bus by Stuart and began the 11 mile drive up to the lighthouse. This took over an hour due to the potholes and general state of the road. Stuart told us all about the area, a fascinating insight into a MOD and UN bombing range. Craters were visible as were the targets and I genuinely felt sad that this gorgeous wilderness was used this way. No people live on The Parph and the half a dozen sheep are wild. In fact they are more than wild during MOD manoeuvres, they are livid.
Some may be wondering why I didn’t walk the 11 miles. I was intending to but I have been suffering with gout so felt that another day’s rest was in order. I would never have learnt as much about the history of the most NW corner of Britain if I had trudged by myself.


We had an hour or so at the lighthouse and Terry took a picture of me at the most North Westerly point. I stayed there for a while on my own, many thoughts spinning around my head. I pictured the small boy looking at maps in his mum’s 10 volume encyclopaedia and making a pledge that one day I would visit Cape Wrath. I thought about the walk and the people I have met.

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Then my eyes filled up as I thought about my heroine Spud. It felt as though her and her dog Tess were sitting there with me. It was cruel that cancer took her away so early in her life.
I looked across to my right and saw the north coast of Scotland where I had come from and then to my left where the cliffs down to Sandwood Bay could be seen. I will be walking South for the rest of this year and some of 2018. I took a deep breath, looked out to the horizon and said “left turn Spud”
The journey back was quiet as the impact of the solitary location took over. It was a deeply moving experience for me. Terry and I toasted Cape Wrath when we got back to Durness and I started to look at my walks for the week.

Cape Wrath had been a drizzly day but the rest of the week was the complete opposite. I was treated to Sutherland at its very best with bright warm sunshine, fluffy sheepy clouds and a wind strong enough to keep the midges at bay.

Scourie bay was spectacular and a wonderful spot for some Ukelele playing whilst resting.


Day 136 to Drumbeg brought me over the glorious Kylescu bridge and amazingly picturesque Unapool. This was the start of some very dramatic roads that climbed and dipped around the cliffs and surrounding hills.


The next day to Lochinver had the beautiful Clashnessie beach. Lochinver itself is a tiny village with an immensely pleasurable walk along the Loch.

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Altandhu sounded like a sci-fi planet and I was really looking forward to reaching that coastline. The Summer Isles spreading out in front of Altandu made a spectacular photo opportunity.


The first two weeks of this Scottish leg has delivered amazing scenery and great weather. I know that this next week will be a tough one as wind and rain is forecast. I am heading south now which, in a weird way feels like I am heading home….with just 3200+ miles to go..

Kieran xx

 

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

I am an 8 year old!

On Monday 31st July, I celebrated my 8th heart rebirthday with a 12mile walk – just for fun.

I was thinking about all my 8 rebirthday celebrations and quite a few have been to go on a long walk or a fast run. I think of my donor all day long, her family and what I have done with my very special gift.

My 8th year has been incredible, visiting my old heart, meeting my TGA/Transplant Twin from NZ, Stuart Watson, two perfect transplant checkups, then the small matter of planning and walking 1400 coastal miles in all weathers. I am already looking forward to my 9th rebirthday where I will look back and say “I have walked around the whole coastline of mainland Britain”

OK, I am getting ahead of myself but I am now very confident that I can complete this and I can’t wait to write to my donors family to tell them. I am sure their reaction will be the same as most people I meet – ‘bloody nutcase’

My mini break included volunteering for the BHF at the Brentwood Festival. We had several stands there and it was so good to meet other volunteers and BHF staff. I was let loose on the main stage to talk about my heart and how the BHF research has helped me. Status Quo were headlining on Saturday evening and whilst I was backstage waiting to go on, Francis Rossi walked passed and I managed to grab a photo with the mad man. Yes, he is quite mad and very funny. (pic with Joanne Howe)

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Before my talk to the crowd, they played the BHF video of me meeting my old heart. If you haven’t seen it, here is a link.

 

It was so strange hearing my voice but even stranger watching the crowd’s reaction when my heart is brought out for me to see. After the video was shown I was invited onto the stage to a nice round of applause.

“HELLO…..GLASTONBURY” I shouted as I grabbed the microphone. There was drunken cheering and laughter. I had an easy crowd. I explained that a friend dared me to do it and would give £10 to the BHF if I succeeded. Never dare me to do anything where showing off is involved. I can’t resist.

I was tempted to come onstage after the video showing and say “So, now you have all seen my organ…”

 

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So with the crowd warmed up, I briefly told my heart history and got a lovely reception especially when  I said I had ran the London Marathon.  Maybe word had got out that I had my ukulele in my rucksack and they were just glad I didn’t bring it on stage. The crowd were great and with my 15 minutes of ZZZ list celebrity status finished I went back to the BHF tents. I was quite overwhelmed for the rest of the day that so many people came up to me and shook my hand.

“I fink yur fabulous”, they slurred holding their drinks. “Really FFF FFF Fablas”

“Thank you. I think you are fablas too” I would reply soberly.

“No but seriously man, did I tell you? Yooo rrr F***** fablas. F***** fablas”

And so it went on. The men were even worse.

 

On the Sunday of the festival, my fablasness was old news and I spent some of the day as Hearty. This was a first for me. Obviously I wear red tights all the time before but the heart costume and the one size fits all boots were quite an experience. I had a two year old girl follow me around the field for a long while until she finally plucked up courage to give me a high five. I lowered my hand, she stretched out as high as she could – we high fived. Then she fell over and started to cry. I felt helpless and feared that any sudden movement to comfort her might make the whole situation worse so I just stood there with my huge hand over my huge smile. I was glad my face was hidden.

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We raised lots of money and personally for me, it was great to talk to two congenital heart patients and many other people who had had heart attacks, bypasses and other heart related troubles. It was a great way to spend the weekend and we stopped in time to watch Status Quo.

I am writing this blog having endured 9.5 hours on a night bus (sleep deprevation bus) from London to Dumfries. I think I fell asleep around Preston for an hour but can’t be sure. I am hoping this blog makes sense. Two minutes after getting off the bus I found Robert the Bruce pub. Well, that seemed a perfect place to write.

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I will be sleeping the rest of the day no doubt but I wanted to get a blog in before I set off again tomorrow. August will bring me another 300 miles down the South West of Scotland and then back into England.

The beard is still a contentious issue. I had no idea my vision to be Forrest Gump at the end of this walk would be so popular and that the two times I have shaved since February have left me feeling guilty. Maybe the beard growing and shaving is representative of the highs and lows of the walk. There. That might please everyone.  Sorry beard fans.

 

So I am shaved and ready to go. Now that’s something I have never said before!!

 

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Grumpy trousers are on

I am disliking Facebook more and more. It is obviously providing a link to all the people I have met on the walk and also my friends and family but I am so utterly frustrated with the algorithms used for advertising and my feed.

Like the news we are fed from the rich, it is disturbingly inaccurate. My ‘recommended for you’ section has videos of hate, road rage, wars, robbery, fights etc. How can that happen? I don’t want this. Or does this mean that my friends like things that I don’t like?

I have actually got to the point where I only log into Facebook to update the walk page. So please don’t think I don’t care. I will find other ways to communicate.

It was fantastic to be able to meet up with a fellow coast walker Ruth Livingstone. She started in Kings Lynn and is walking clockwise in stages, some weekends and the odd week. We compared notes and routes and chatted about how we both came to chose this as something to do.

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Ruth is doing it slowly, thoroughly absorbing each view and making a great record of her journey. She is only the second coast walker I have met and on both occasions, the madness of my idea disintegrates and an immediate bond is created. I have joined a warm, friendly and unique club of people. We understand the good and bad of it all. (And we are a bit mad)

The walk has been hard work this past week. A few times, I had no option but to get a bus to the end with my hip injury still playing up. I am feeling a bit down to be honest. My London marathon training was littered with injuries and frustrating little niggles so I have techniques and exercises to use to overcome this annoying period. I am missing home too but oddly when I was back home, I missed the walk.

Like blisters on a walk, an injury can make a good walk and scenery into a forgettable one. My journey from Ayr to Stranraer has been a tough one but I am still delighted with my progress. I now turn east for the rest of this week (after trying to peek at Northern Island) and then this leg will come to an end very near the England/Scotland border.

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The reason for going back home on the 13th July is to help out at the Brentwood Festival. This is a music event near to where I grew up that has chosen BHF as their charity this year. So I will be volunteering on the BHF stands.
I will also be speaking about the BHF, my story and the walk on the main stage, just before Status Quo!! When I was asked, I couldn’t refuse so if anyone is free on the 14th/15th/16th July come to Brentwood. Maybe even help out? The line up is good and I have been promised non-Scottish summer weather.

Tempted to get my Ukelele out on the main stage and do 500 miles 

 

Unplanned Adventures

I am so chuffed that my next walk will bring up 100 days of walking for the BHF and for my own wanderlust. According to my spreadsheet, I will have walked nearly 1300 miles so that’s averaging a half marathon a day though I know I have walked a lot more. To have walked from London to John O Groats along the coast is a mad thought and one that still makes me smile

Obviously, it hasn’t gone to plan with stops for illness and a rethink about how to tackle NW Scotland safely but now I am back, I realise it will rarely go to plan and actually I am very good at adjusting to what the world and this walk throws at me.

Day 099 is a great example. I spent an hour the night before looking through the route, finalising the public transport back and forward and even checking a satellite map of the area to make sure the route would work. It didn’t.

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An industrial estate with footpaths was one of the options to get to Irvine (blue line) but I soon found out that my maps bared no resemblance to the landscape. Dodgy looking buildings with high security fences soon gave way to barren fields and I didn’t realise that the huge fence separating me to the shoreline had in fact surrounded me. Path after path led to gates and viscous barbed wire. What was this place?

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My bewilderment increased when I saw thousands of oyster shells surrounding an area that looked like an alien landing site.

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I had gone too far to walk back by then so looked at a possible escape from this odd environment. I found a gap in the fence, clumped my forehead on a metal bar as I went through and surveyed my new surroundings.

I could now get to the bridge that my map said would lead me to a road. I got to the bridge after half a mile of trampling stinging nettles and the like to find it had a 4 foot barrier of pipes. Undeterred, the “heroic” me (or stupid), climbed the massive construction (remember 4 foot is high for someone scared of heights) and walked across the disused bridge across the estuary.

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At the other end was a huge fence so I was presented with two options – go back or walk north up the estuary. There was no road as my map had suggested so I walked a mile up the edge of the water, mostly in seaweed.

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I then was able to find a gap in the fence and with the help of two branches as walking poles, made my way up the 10 foot mound and pass through the fence. I gingerly got down the other side. I had escaped !!

I followed my map and compass and headed through dense forest, tripping and swearing every so often. After 5 minutes my map said there would be a path very soon. I found another fence. Aarrgh. I walked along the fence, my trousers soaked with dew from the high grass and all of a sudden I heard a huge cheer.

Puzzled, I thought for a fraction of a second that I was involved in a reality TV challenge or the Crystal Maze. It was in fact the golf course I was heading towards. If only these people knew there was a tired, wet, bitten and stung coastal walker a few hundred yards away.

My spirits were raised at the thought of civilisation, that is if you can call people in fancy dress hitting a ball around a field, civilised! Sorry golfers, just don’t get it. Golf is a good walk spoiled – Mark Twain.

I sped up through the brambles, thistles and strange plants hoping that I wasn’t penned in again. Eventually I saw another fence blocking me in. I shouted a swear word. Use your imagination. But as I approached the fence I saw another gap. Was there someone in front of me with a pair of plyers? This was the third fence I had to get through, I was now an expert.

My map was now saying a path was underneath me. I started moving forwards and all of a sudden, out of the growth, I noticed tarmac just beyond the next tree. Was this a mirage?

I excitedly kicked and trampled the foliage and sped up at the sight. I was now about three feet from it when my right foot fell down a hole. I stumbled onto the floor and pulled my saturated right boot out of the ground, my arms literally touching the tarmac.

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The tarmac led me, one squelch at a time, under the railway line and onto the cycle path to Irvine (red on the map and maybe what I should have done)

I had survived with a bruised forehead, cuts, bites, scratches and a wet foot. I finished the day reflecting that it could have been so much worse.

Today, I woke up aching all over and a sore hip so decided not to walk.
If I am fit tomorrow, I will have walked 100 days with Day 099 being one of the most memorable!!

Kieran “adventurer (ahem)” Sandwell

A rethink and Emu

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

Any volunteers?

Kieran xx

 

 

Northern boy

I am back!!

After three weeks out recovering from a virus, I returned to the far north of Scotland to continue the walk. One of the most special parts of the walk is the delight in meeting new people. I was met at Inverness airport by Barry just as a huge thunderstorm began. The kindness shown by total strangers still amazes me and I was taken to his and Anne’s wonderful house in the beautiful village of Strathpeffer.

 

Once a spa geteway, trains used to trundle up the country from London so southerners could experience the wonderful Spa pavilion and amazing views.

I was treated to a mouthwatering Sunday roast and enjoyed the company of Anne’s mother and the very amusing Arthur. I returned the treat by getting out my Ukelele….ahem. Well they seemed to enjoy it.

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We drove up to John O Groats, had a quick brunch in the carpark, took the obligatory photo and said our goodbyes. This is always difficult for me when people have given me so much and all I can give back is a “thank you” and hugs.

 

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Once on my own, I headed west, the sea still on my right but the whole of the British mainland on my left. I grinned to myself as I set off. It felt good to be back and with the weather forecast good for the day, was excited for a good days walking.

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I reached the Dunnet Headland after about 10 miles. My feet were moaning by then but other than sore feet I felt good. The 3 miles of boggy land separated by a single track road leading up to the lighthouse was the most remote I been on the walk. I was joined by plenty of birds that I didn’t recognise and saw many flowers and plants that meant nothing to me. I could have been on the moon. I was passed by six cars in total as I trudged in solitude to the end.

I had reached the most northerly point of my journey.

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The Northern Sands hotel in Dunnet had kindly offered me a room for the night and it was my intention to hitch back from the cliff to the village, about 4 miles. However, after a few cars had driven passed, I realised that hitching in the middle of no-where was not a good place. I have never hitched before but I made sure my thumb was out and sticking upwards and I tried not to look like a murderer.

No luck so I ended walking the 4 miles back to the hotel making my first day back an aching 19 miles. As I approach the hotel, I began to limp. My left calf and kneecap were very sore. I knew this was because I had overdone it but I had very few options than to carry on.

The hotel and staff were lovely and I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

It feels good to be back but already my body has spoken. If only my determination to succeed and my body were on the same page.

Shavey McBeardface xx