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

Wherever I lay my hat

I have been at a secret location for my recuperation. Being an international public figure (sniggers) and a ZZZ list celebrity, I have to be careful with papperazzi, groupies and giraffies (don’t ask!) I can, however, reveal that I ended up back “home” for a day. I say home with speech marks because I feel my life is getting more and more like the Paul Young’s song “Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”
(For the pedants, I know it wasn’t his song. It was a cover)
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It was strange to be on the grizzly M25 and the whole experience made my stress levels raise significantly. The momentary upside was being able to surprise my friend Emma whilst she was in her local pub. Her face was a picture: “what the ***ing hell are you doing here” Priceless.

On the whole though, I came away from my “hometown” feeling down and lost. The purpose if going back was to collect some more tablets after my GP refused to do something against their procedures. We all have annoying stories of our GP’s and NHS admin but I would still prefer to have a slightly flawed free system than the terrifying alternative of a private one.

Where would I go after the walk? What would I do? These questions have been with me everyday whilst walking as something to distract me, daydreams I guess but they became very real thoughts as I sat in a traffic jam on the M25. I have seen so much of the breath-taking beauty of our country and I am only a quarter of the way round. Walking in the peaceful surroundings of John o Groats one day, sucking exhaust fumes on the road to hell on another day couldn’t be more different.

I have been staying with an old school friend, her fella and daughter. My recuperation has been filled with so many days of nostalgia and laughter. It is the best medicine and I have laughed myself back to fitness. Thank you Sharon, Matt and Shania.

My plan now is to arrive in Inverness later on this week and start from John o Groats on Monday 5th.

Lastly, I am planning a rest day every week from now on. I am not superman, I have no time limit for this mad walk so a regular rest day it will be. The only negative to this is that I will walk through the full winter finishing Jan/Feb 2018. It will be the southern softie winter by then not the Scottish winter so I will be fine.

So, I am raring to go again and looking forward to the peace and quiet of NW Scotland and time to process the events of the last month…..and more sheep singing
Beardy McKiltface xxx

John o Groats

Before transplant, I had the usual timescales of getting over bugs. We have NHS websites offering help regarding this so as to not clog up doctors surgeries. Most sites have said three weeks maximum for a meaty cough – then see a doctor afterwards.

Post transplant, recovery seems to be in slow motion. When people ask how I am, I can only say “the same, maybe a bit better” because there is little difference from day to day. It is a painfully slow process. I am eating fruit and healthy meals, drinking plenty of water and sleeping a lot but none of those will be a miraculous cure.

I am frustrated but I am using this time to take stock. (Not gravy…or shoplifting)

It has been incredible that I have managed to get to John o Groats by myself. No entourage, no massage or ice baths, no nutritional experts or psychologists. These ‘celeb’ challenges make me laugh now. I am funding this, organising it, finding accommodation, organising walkers, meeting press, maintaining a website, tweeting and facebooking each day as well as walking 15 miles a day.

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Having said that, these 4 lovely people are looking out for me, promoting me and are as near to an “official” backup team as I have.
Marc Shaw – BHF Fundraising Manager (East)
Amelia Komor – BHF Communications Co-ordinator
Dr Sonia Babu-Narayan – Keeper of my old heart
Rachel Sacks – BHF Research Communications Officer

Seeing this pic when I was very poorly last week was a huge tonic. They are fantastic people and they smile like that all the time!!! (Ahem) I guess everyone reading this, posting messages on FB and Twitter are my backup team too. You all help. Thank you 🙂

I am extremely proud of what I have achieved and will continue to fight bugs and weather till I finish…whenever that may be.

To be honest, moving away from commercialism, corporations and capitalism and making a very simple life for myself has been the most refreshing part of this walk. I have met many like minded people – all kind, generous and willing to give up time for others. I want to hug them all. Some have brought a tear to my eye.

We have all met someone who will spend all of the ‘conversation’ talking about themselves, their possessions, their life. When this happens I find it astounding that two humans can be talking to each other, but only one of them is listening.
How did we get to a stage where material things define ourselves, our lives? We learn nothing from this type person and they learn nothing about us. What a waste.

I believe in a caring society, not a greedy one, I always have done. My mum was a nurse for the NHS for 40years whilst bringing up 5 children single handedly. She cared for others her whole life.

Why is it that people are motivated by buying, buying buying? We are conditioned. Step away from commercialism as I have done and you see beautiful, selfless, kind people.


I managed to get up to John o Groats on Thursday. I was met by Simon Gillespie, the CEO of the British Heart Foundation, who had kindly flown up to meet me. What did we do first? Ice cream!! Then photos at the famous board. I wanted to go to Duncansby Head which is about 2 miles from John o Groats itself so we walked there; my first real walk for a few days. I was shattered but happy to reach the most North Easterly point on the mainland. It was a blustery walk but with bright sunshine – a real bonus.

So, my plan is to take more time to rest. I still have a meaty cough, the cold has virtually gone but my physical strength will take some time to get back.
I may be back by the end of the month but I have no crystal ball.

Rest assured, I will look after myself and the precious gift I have been given.
Kieran Beardy McKiltface xx

4 Blisters and a Bug

Nearly 1200 miles without a blister then four arrived in one day.

Things are a bit rocky here on the trail and I am not talking about the terrain. I was battered into submission along the Moray coastline by Scotland’s un-spring like icy blast and decided on a camping break on the Black Isle to recover.

I also had medication issues to solve so ended up taking five days off. The actual experience I gained from camping for the first time will stand me in good stead for the next two months. However, along the way, I developed a virus which initially weakened me but has now developed into a cold and cough.

My first day back walking was a long treck of 18+ miles in much warmer conditions than I had previously experienced. I was more concerned with my water and fitness levels over the course of Day 085 and neglected to take care of my feet. As a result of this, Day 086 became a painful experience not only hobbling with two blisters on each feet but with fatigue from the virus and a good deal of negativity aimed at myself – battling with chimp all day long. I called off the 16 miles to Tain at 12 miles when a bus appeared right on cue with another bout of feet cursing.

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The bed at my Bnb in Alness swallowed me up for the rest of the afternoon. Its never nice being unwell but it always seems worse when you are hundreds of miles from people you care about. Luckily nowadays we have social media.

I woke this morning feeling worse and started working out a “get better quickly” plan. I have taken the train to Helmsdale today which is about 50 miles north and booked into a bnb for 3 nights. If I feel better, I will do some of the next days’ walking using public transport to get me there and back. If I feel worse, then I will stay in bed.
Financially, I can’t afford to stay in one place and get better then move on so this seems a good enough compromise.

The last cold took me six weeks to feel fully fit again. Anyone immune suppressed will identify with this. My transplant team went through a lot of things to avoid post transplant but I don’t remember Scotland as being one of them 😉

So…..PMA

Positive Mental Attitude.

I’m pretty sure I am not allergic to Scotland and I will definitely get to John o Groats next week. Whatever it throws at me 🙂

Kieran Beardy McKiltface xx

And rest..

“Listen to your body” is something I have always taken seriously. When I was ill, informing doctors of all the odd things that were happening gave them a better picture of how to treat me.

On this trip, I knew a week ago that I hadn’t been recovering well enough to tackle the following days’ walk so I have finally decided to take a wee break.

I am currently in a tent on the Black Isle staring back at Inverness having walked 1161 miles and climbed nearly 2 Mt Everests! The thought of John O Groats and the next 3 months in some of the most remote places on mainland Britain is still exciting and also a bit daunting for a self-confessed Townie.

Each day brings new challenges, new people and new surroundings. I will tackle NW Scotland in much the same way as everything else I do – with a joy of being alive and a sense of nothing ventured nothing gained.

This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. The rewards are in the pictures on Facebook and my memories of all the wonderful people I have met. This week, though, the rewards became skewed and as fatigue and loneliness set in, I doubted myself and felt like quitting on many occasions. Chimp took over and one day, I stopped by the side of the road, threw off the evil rucksack, kicked it, swore at it and sat on it burying my head in my hands.

After scoffing a banana, I soon got chimp back to sleep again and made friends again with the evil rucksack. However, this sort of event happened quite frequently this week so I knew I had to listen.

I also had dreadful weather this week which probably didn’t help my spirits. 7 miles of sand, hail, snow and rain spray leading up to Lossiemouth left me drained. (And looking a bit of a mess)

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My first nights camping felt like a reverse striptease lasting 7 hours from lights out. Each hour, I awoke colder than the last. I think I was wearing all my clothes by the end of the night.

It was nice to have not been worrying about sleep as I knew I was not walking today. So, this morning I took a short stroll to Chanonry point to Dolphin spot. They were there, jumping around in and out of the water. I stood gazing at the spectacle and for about half an hour forgot about the walk.

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Just what I needed

Hoping to start back off next week and head north to the most NW point, Duncansby Head, then John o Groats and the most northerly point Dunnet Head.

But before all that…..rest 🙂

Kieran Beardy McKiltwell xx

 

 

1000 up

On February 1st, I was apprehensive about the physical part of this challenge but not the mental side. Even with 1000 miles under my belt, I still feel the same.

I have had minor wobbles during the last 77 days walking, including a very public vlog but on the whole I have prepared well for this part. Having read many accounts of this sort of challenge I know what to expect. I also know me very well now. My chimp sleeps most days now (see earlier blog) and having trained for the London Marathon, I know the mental tricks when pain takes hold. Good luck Amelia (BHF) and Linda (Anstruther) who are running this weekend. Enjoy it. There is nothing like it.

Today was by far the most challenging day so far. A disturbed night sleep didn’t help my body recover from 20miles on sand yesterday so I set off  from Fraserburgh tired. The elevation, heavy rucksack, headwind and 15 miles sapped my energy and even several stops to tend to feet issues and sing to the sheep didn’t relieve the all over pain. I searched for distraction ideas. Some worked like trying to remember all my destinations in order but some made me loop back to the painful feet, tight calves, aching thighs and a desire to stop.

It was a farmer and his young boy in a tractor that fixed me today. He stopped the tractor and said he had seen me in the paper. We had a brief chat and his dog came and stood in front of me wagging his tail. I patted the dog and instead of attacking me (like the many dogs on this trip) he sat down gazing up at me.

The moment was brief, the story is simple but these few minutes of the 8 hour walk really spurred me on.

I got to Gardenstown and collapsed on my bed.

All day I questioned my fitness and feared the days still to come in NW Scotland but now, 4hours after the walk, I feel a lot better.

Fitness, like deterioration, comes gradually. On day one, I would not have been able to finish today. That’s how fit I am and I hope my fitness fears take a backseat after today.

Kieran

“A pain that I’m used to” – Depeche Mode