mental health, Walking, wellbeing, Writing

Roy’s Ramble – Week 13

2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 13.

DAYS 85-91

DAY 85
(26th March 2021)
Lowther Castle (c) pixabay
Ullswater (c)pixabay
Helvelyn (c)pixabay
Keswick (c) pixabay
Castlerigg Stone Circle (c)pixabay

*Before I begin this week, I’ll issue an apology from the off. I wanted to talk about The Lakes. I haven’t had enough time and from the outset you’ll see why.*

Woke up early because today is vaccine number one. I’m being injected in the hope that the coronavirus won’t strike me badly (in all honestly, I’d like it not to do so at all). The process was well managed and swift, although as I was ‘pricked by an American’, having been given the Pfizer, I had to sit and hang around for 15 minutes after. That was the worst bit and when the anxiety was at its peak.

I was a tad nervous beforehand but one deep breath and it was done. The sitting, waiting, overthinking about the possible side effects is what really made it difficult. As I sat in one of two rows of labelled people (we had our exit times on us) I was not only worrying about my own symptoms but feeding off the anxiety of those around me who were asking questions of the supervising nurse. I turned my attention away to try and focus on something else and came face to face with a poster about blood clots following vaccination. Not the best.

My phone was my lifeline, allowing me to message friends to keep me focused on anything but receiving a new concoction into my body. In the car park one of the marshals was someone who used to work at Restore and we had a quick chat before I went on my way.

Back at home, I compared notes with the family. I’m the odd one out as everyone else has been ‘pricked by the Spires’ having received the Oxford fluid so we see how our experiences compared.

I manage a little walk twice around the park but the pace is slower and my arm starts throbbing. I have to sit at one point. Other than that, I feel fine. There’s a few people out so life feels normal. I see no way that I’ll get my steps in for today though. It’s a tall order.

Back at home, I pull myself into baking mode after lunch and make honey and mincemeat crunch bites. First attempt at these. Not bad but I’d adjust the recipe in the future. I’ve always been hung up on recipes having to be exactly right but more recently I’ve experimented a bit more and mixed and matched recipes to suit what’s available and what I think will work better. It’s good to try new things and mix it up from time to time. How do we know what we are capable of otherwise?

For much of the rest of the afternoon I sit and do some work on my business project and generally take things easy. It was recommended I drink plenty of water to avoid the headaches forming and I did. By bedtime no headache has formed so this is looking promising. That arm is still very painful though.

I take an evening walk with my brother, then have a meeting with the youth club chair which takes about an hour, then I walk, then an hour with my friend putting the world to rights. What a day it has been!

I know today I haven’t had the opportunity to put in anything about the places I’ve visited on the route. My brain’s not always been fully engaged with the writing. I’ll try and do this tomorrow and fill in the blanks. We’ve been without proper heating for two days now and are reliant mainly on moveable heaters so I’m keeping up with a few steps in the kitchen again before I flick the switch and say goodnight. Hopefully I’ll sleep well and not roll onto my jabbed arm.

Despite my doubts I manage 8 miles today, which has allowed me chance to get from Lowther to Stoneybeck Inn at Plumpton Head. A bed! Hooray. Needed tonight as it’s pouring with rain in Oxford. Not so in Plumpton Head, although it’s only just above 2 celsius, much as the same as in the house, or so it feels.

EDIT: I’m back! That’s right. I said I’d update and here I am to do just that.

Lowther, despite being a village, has a fair amount there, including the Lakeland Bird of Prey Centre and Lowther Castle. The former is host to 150 birds of prey exercised daily, which must take some doing, and the site also has a tea room for the visitors. The castle was built on the site of two houses and ‘boasts a room for every day of the year’. It was destroyed in the mid 1900’s and today is what one might call a patchwork of ruins, bits still standing, gardens, and fun for the children with a playground included. All sorts of exhibitions, food stop, and events are usually on offer. Hopefully as we begin to emerge from this lockdown we may see some of those restart, not just here but across the country.

We headed towards Penrith, and in fact passed through it. We didn’t do this when we visited the area last year. The Lakes are so vast you can’t do it easily in a week. There’s so much to see and it’s so picturesque. Almost in a horizontal line as one looks west on a map is Ullswater and Aira Force One. Ullswater is dominated at one end by the mountain of Helvellyn, standing at 950m high. OK if you’ve nerves of steel and a head for heights but parts of it are like a knife edge to climb. Ullswater has a paddle steamer boat that you can hop on in order to cross the lake and begin your ascent from. Air Force, which is something far more manageable, and I was able to visit, was stunning. It is a waterfall that tumbles down the hillside and you can follow it’s route over quite some distance until it eventually reaches Ullswater itself.

If you continue from here you reach Keswick, and this felt almost like the centre of The Lakes to us mainly as we stayed on the perimeter and used the shops here as our base. It was also the only place we could get signal sometimes and we spent a couple of rainy nights sat in the car in the middle of the car park, shadows of the mountains looming over us, trying to make calls.

There’s so much that can be said about the area. There are your usual shops, but there’s a huge market, a pencil museum, marinas and paddle boarding, the start of hill walks, camping and caravan sites, the Castlerigg Stone Circle, and well, so much I can’t put it all in here. I could probably write a whole blog on The Lakes alone. It’s straightforward to navigate from here to many other local villages and amenities too. A good base for anybody visiting.

Penrith was the next stop on the route and the market town also boasts a castle, now in ruins and run by English Heritage. Penrith has lots of wells and takes part in well-dressing events. I remember us doing this as part of an activity when I was a Scout Leader. It’s great fun. Another opportunity to get creative in nature whilst taking part in a tradition. You can get a train right up to Penrith so if you fancy exploring The Lakes on foot and not driving, why not go for this option? There’s 16 major lakes to choose from.

It was just north of Penrith in a little pub called Stoneybeck Inn that I laid my head for the night. In the immediate vicinity are the fields, but in the distance the shadowy masses of mountains rise with their jaggedy edges.

DAY 86
(27th March 2021)
River Eden (c)pixabay

This morning I woke up quite tired and arm still achy. Thanks Pfizer! I’ve got it down to do a youth club nature wellbeing walk this morning. I really don’t feel like it. I haven’t the energy and at times I feel nauseous, but as my brother said…What else are you going to do? Sit here and worry about your symptoms or face the day?’ I therefore decided to face the day and as a result was distracted enough that I didn’t really notice the symptoms. Surprising how well we can distract our brains when we work at it.

We continue northwards and the deep grey stone walls that existed in Yorkshire have given way to more of a white and brown mix here. I make sure my wallet is securely away as I pass through Thiefside, and catch up once more with the River Eden.

Today at the youth club session we spoke about mindfulness and positive self-talk, then our wonderful Spoonington event – do you remember it from a few weeks back? – had to be removed. The church need their space back so we are hoping to relocate. After sorting that, at home, a change into clean clothes and a bite to eat, I’m onto a business call, building creative ideas, which I love doing. Then a chat with a friend, and soon dinner arrives.

For anybody who eats gluten free food, I respect you for it if that’s your choice (or not if it’s for a health/medical/dietary thing), but I’m afraid I’m not fond of the taste and struggled to cook the food we’d been gifted. It’s good to try different things though. How do we know what we like and what we don’t if we won’t give them a go? I say that, I’m quite fussy, but I have tried a few different things recently.

You’ll have been able to tell from today’s report that I’ve not walked far at all and so you can also probably guess where I managed to clock up more miles. That’s right. In front of the cooker.

And so it is that, having followed a few tracks, and gone a bit more ‘off the beaten track’, I end up sticking the tent up outside the village of Armathwaite. It’s a clear night in Oxford but in my tent, the rain persists down and is not set to lighten at all overnight. The cloud cover is thick too. Quite a humid night on all accounts. Looking at the weather forecast I’m due to get virtually soaked for the next two days unless the wind changes. Not much fun when it’s constant. I’ve walked in constant rain before and whilst I’m not adverse to the rain, when you walk for hours in it, it does become quite tedious.

Oh well, at least I’ll have one hour less of rain as the clocks go forward tomorrow and we should start to see some lighter nights. If I manage 9 miles tomorrow, I’ll have less than 400 miles left. I was told weeks ago that I probably won’t make my end target by the set date. Bearing in mind that I can be a little flexible within the Mental Health Awareness Week, that makes life a tad easier, however, I still need to aim for about 9.5 miles a day. Come on folks. Keep pushing me on. We’re going to get there!

DAY 87
(28th March 2021)
The church I walked past

Did anybody else wake up this morning and realise that it was far later than it should be? Yes, the clocks changed time and ‘sprang’ forward an hour as they do every year. They go back in autumn of course else we’d eventually lose days and days!

I have no idea what time I woke up. It might have been eight, nine, ten or even Thursday for all I know. I laid for quite some time today though. Not even with my thoughts, but with quite an empty mind. It doesn’t often take much.

Whilst dry in Oxford, it’s wet in the tent and that’s got to be packed away and stowed on my back once more for the next leg of my journey. If things weren’t wet enough I’m continuing to follow the River Eden first thing.

I’ll admit to being a bit out of sorts today. It’s full moon tonight too and that always throws people’s body clocks out. It’s a good time to make wishes though. Always do them on a full moon. I spent a year each month writing new wishes on a card and slipping them under my pillow on a full moon. Amazing the things that actually came true. The power of persuasion?

I didn’t do a lot at home today. Bit of tidying, plenty of eating (mainly of sweets and rubbish food but I rarely have a splurge sort of day and it happened – hey ho!). I find I’m eating a lot more at the moment and I can only put it down to the fact I’m walking more and need the energy. I should improve my diet though. I started to and let it slip a bit. Anyway, I ended up spending most of the day writing. I’ve not gifted myself enough time for this recently so that’s what I did. I wrote a poem about getting my vaccine (arm pain now gone!) and I continued to edit my book. Other than that, not a lot else, and it was really enjoyable.

In the afternoon, we went for a lengthy walk and would have gone further had dinner not been close to being ready and the pain starting to creep in too. I’ve managed to get a lot of steps in by doing a ‘standing desk’ attempt again. These desks are meant to be really good for you and I’d love one – if I had the money I’d get one of those fancy ones that goes up and down – but I’ve settled for a windowsill, books, and a chest of drawers at different times.

A few steps in front of the cooker before bed bumped up the miles.

Outside Armathwaite is Low House, a large country house that is hireable for events. A gorgeous setting in the middle of nowhere. I ease away from the river and follow a single track road uphill, with steep banks either side. Best to do this bit earlier in the day. You don’t want to be doing this before bedtime. It plateau’s out eventually and we’re once more into seeing nothing but fields for quite some distance. In fact, apart from the odd house dotted here and there along the road, it’s green grass as far as the eye can see. In Oxford, it was pretty silent. We’ve not had it this quiet for a long time. Even when there aren’t works going on locally you can usually hear the bypass or voices down the road, but it was as still as anything. Eerily so. It was about as beautifully serene as it was when lockdown began last year and you could actually hear yourself think.

I arrive in Castle Carrock about bedtime, home to ‘Cumbria’s friendliest music festival’. I’m not stopping here though. After the wet night last night and rain all day today, the good folk at Chapel House Caravan Park are putting me up for the night.

DAY 88
(29th March 2021)
Hadrian’s Wall (c)pixabay

Woke up to a pleasant morning in Oxford which got increasingly better as the day went on. Meanwhile, the view from the caravan across to Cold Fell is dreary and remains so.

I’m catching up with editing work today. It goes slowly. I’m seeing any progress as progress at present but I’m really wanting to get to the end now so that I can have a final revision before it gets sent to the editor. I also need to find a publisher/designer for another project, and I still haven’t sat down to do coursework. There’s tomorrow’s plan then.

I take a walk along the road in the sun and it is glorious. We’re almost at that point of not needing a coat. It’s so close. My walk wasn’t long but virtually got me to Brampton Golf Club. From here a few more steps around the house took me into Brampton itself. I did that thing of walking back in and somehow realising I hadn’t picked up any ingredients to do baking today! Out I went again.

The market town of Brampton is on the outskirts of Carlisle and made up mainly of red sandstone buildings, the red sandstone being local to the area. It also has Fairtrade status, recognising the community’s commitment to Fairtrade.

This afternoon I baked a cake that was a first for me. It was a Bakewell Tray Bake. Bit too heavy on the pastry but otherwise fine. Might try it again. I was told today by the relation of a neighbour who has tried my bakes that I should sell them. We laughed about opening a bakery and I did admit to wanting to run a cafe. I can dream still and who knows, one day it may happen.

After some more editing, as well as speaking to a few business contacts, and having a visitor at the door who was offering a donation, I head out for an evening walk. I don’t really need a hat this evening. It must be warming up.

Leaving Brampton we’re on a steady incline up the road. It’s not quite single track but it has the feeling of the roads we have been on that are with little else but fields and hedges to see on the way, the odd house dotted around. It then becomes quite undulating. What we often forget is that these fields were once vast spaces and all us humans have done is cut through them with our roads hence why, particularly in rural spots, you get a feel for what it would be like still if we hadn’t cut up the landscape.

I cross the River Irthing. There’s so many rivers across our fine country that we simply aren’t aware of. There’s 22 that can easily be counted as they are the larger, better known ones, but as for the smaller ones, who knows? Somebody online guessed at 180, but it was purely a guess. Anybody fancy exploring them when lockdown is over and letting me know?

Next on the route is Lanercost Priory, another part of our country managed by English Heritage to prevent it being lost in time for ever. It’s an old Augustinian priory which suffered lots of attacks due to it’s close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. Today it’s deemed to be in a reasonably good condition only really requiring windows and a roof to be in use again. It is however a visitor attraction that one could visit if you were in the area.

I continue through the village of Banks and reach part of Hadrian’s Wall. The app I’m using actually lets you walk the Hadrian’s Wall route if you sign up for that one. Maybe that’s my next challenge, although if lockdown eases enough, maybe I’ll do that one in real time. I continue to follow it and pitch the tent in the shadows of the wall.

DAY 89
(30th March 2021)
Sycamore Gap (c) pixabay

What a gorgeous morning. It’s a clear blue sky and set to be the best day we’ve had for a while. There’s a lot in the diary but as it’s so nice I’m not keen on getting it done. I’d rather sit and enjoy the garden which is slowly emerging from the winter throng. Decisions are made about which plants to move in the coming weeks, what’s staying and what’s going and then we have a few minutes enjoying the sun as it creeps above the houses.

I have a chat to a friend whilst I complete a website update for a client then decide to have my walk earlier. It’s still a little nippy so I take my coat. No hat though, and coat was open. We’re progressing. The world will soon be able to see my Restore t-shirt as we hurtle towards the final miles. I’ve about six weeks left. Today I decided to walk along by the river. It wasn’t particularly busy and I heard a Eurasian Nuthatch, so says my bird app.

Back at home, I try a savoury bake. Cheese and ham muffins. Very tasty. Then it’s back to work. More editing work, prepping articles for magazines, and prepping to edit a charity magazine in the next few days. On top of that I’m building ideas for a project, sorting out youth club matters, and everything seems to come to a head about dinner time. It arrived at the right time.

I set off this morning from my vantage point at Hadrian’s Wall. Along the wall are turrets which were erected every 495 metres serving as key vantage points along this barrier between Scotland and England. Interestingly, although soldiers were positioned along the wall, they weren’t sufficiently trained to the level to defend the city wall, and it seems they weren’t really expected to put up that much of a fight either. Not far from where I set off is Birdoswald Roman Fort. Owned today by English Heritage, it once housed 800 Roman soldiers, and is the most preserved fort along the route.

Hadrian’s Wall itself, which I mentioned yesterday you can walk as one of the other challenges on the app I am using, is 73 miles long stretching from the Carlisle area, ending in Newcastle. It literally cuts across the countryside from West to East, and is a definite line between the north of the island and the south.

It’s a shame I had to go out this evening but as I left a programme was coming on the television with Denise Welch, who I like because she’s a massive advocate for mental health, and she was walking along Hadrian’s Wall. She’d reached the Sycamore Gap, a little further up the road, which she says is one her favourite parts of the wall, and it’s easy to see why. Also known as Robin Hood tree, it’s a lone sycamore that stands in a dip next part of the wall. It’s a well photographed ‘piece’ because it has such great composition added to it’s heritage – it’s a few hundred years old and known as Robin Hood tree mainly due to the film Robin Hood Prince of Thieves that was filmed here way back in 1991.

You may remember the Spoonington project I mentioned that youth club had been doing. Well, it’s on the move and tonight it finds its new home a little further up the road, now outside the pub. The spoons are all staring at the pub waiting expectantly for it to reopen in April. A quick pop to the supermarket and then an evening of walking in the kitchen. I think I clocked up about an hour and a half at the laptop/on the spot once more.

Having visited Hadrian’s Wall, clearly as a divert for this purpose alone, I double back and head west. It’s another day of mainly fields and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve said before that it’s a shame the route is done via roads because navigating across fields is so enjoyable. It really makes you aware of your surroundings when you have a map and compass in hand and you’re having to use your observation of the landscape to reach an end point. It’s not for everyone of course. Many a time I’ve gone round in circles and the anxiety can creep in but practice makes perfect and the only way we’ll ever get out of those circles and spirals is to practice it. It’s a bit like last night I suppose.

I was getting into bed and I could feel a touch of the anxiety creep in. Practice hasn’t quite made perfect but enough to control it for the most part. I messaged my friend and said ‘Tell me I’m silly. This is what I’m thinking’. She replied ‘You’re silly’. I know that wouldn’t help some people, but actually, for me, in that moment, it did, because it’s our sense of humour. Take me back four or five years and we’d have ended up chatting for an hour trying to calm me. Within about five minutes, all was well. It’s rare these days I call on her, but last night it felt the right thing in the moment, and I’m always grateful that she’ll be there in those times.

It seems completely counter-intuitive that the route has actually taken me southwards now, although it’s quite nice to walk through Walton, a small village on the far outskirts of Carlisle. The reason I like it is because I’ve spotted a place called The Reading Room Cafe. I can’t find a lot out about it but it conjures up the image of a cafe where the walls are lined with books, and that’s my kind of place.

There’s a couple of bunkhouses to choose from tonight and I settle for one in the shadow of a copse called Sandysike. It has central heating don’t you know. Very posh. Not really needed as it’s a mild 12 degrees celsius up there, and similar down here in Oxford too. The beds in the dorms are separated by curtains and there’s a shower for the morning. It’s in a Grade II Listed Georgian building. It may only be a bunkhouse but it’s one of the grandest exteriors to date and at £15 for the night, I’m not going to grumble. A matress and proper bed for this evening with kitchen facilities too. A dream!

DAY 90
(31st March 2021)

90 days in and more than 700 miles walked. I woke up earlier than usual today. Not a lot but a bit and decided that rather than my normal ease in to the day I’d leap out of bed, face the world, and have my walk earlier. It was great. Couple of laps of the local park, one of my favourite places, and there was so much to see and hear this morning. I was surprised how quickly it became busy. There was a photographer out taking pictures of a husband and wife with their baby. They’d blocked the path briefly and I scooted past them offering to dance behind the photographer to get the baby looking in the right direction. She did say I could but I laughed and carried on walking. Trouble was, the thought played on my mind and two minutes later I realised I’d spent the time since leaving them behind making the faces I would have made if I’d actually fulfilled my duty.

Lots of wildlife about. I heard a dunnock, eurasian wren, crow, robin, and woodpecker. I saw a robin too, as well as blackbirds, and squirrels. It was a real sensory overload this morning. A nature bath you might say. There is a thing called Forest Bathing. It’s a form of ecotherapy where you immerse yourself in nature. It is all about consciously immersing yourself in the habitat around you. A friend of mine, Stuart Mabbutt, delivers workshops to support with this. Very knowledgeable and highly recommended. William Mankelow, my guest from Shot At An Angle, who was on with me a few weeks back, works alongside him and mentioned their work together.

Left Sandysike Bunkhouse and head through Newtown. A little further along the road is Carlisle Lake District Airport, which I’ve never even heard of. It appears to be one of those small independent sorts of places, and how lovely to fly over the lakes and land your plane here. How lovely to have a plane in the first place I suppose. The weather is amazing in the Lakes with the sun shining too, the same as here. I wonder if it will be as warm as yesterday. Busy day ahead. I foolishly booked too many tasks in today. Time to prioritise.

Prioritisation has worked and nearly every task has been signed off by the time dinner rolls around. It’s always tricky when clients don’t appear on a zoom call. You do wonder if everything is OK. I waited today for a child I work with and eventually their mum appeared to tell me that it had been a pressured week (not through anything the child had done) and that time had slipped by, however, there were positives to be taken from the week, which put my mind at rest. Having always worked in pastoral care and latterly honing this in to mental health and wellbeing, there is this tendency to really take people’s lives to heart. Clients become family. This is why it is so important we look at self-care. This applies to people of all ages I work with too. Often children and teens I work with will say that I’ve helped them so they are going off to help others. It is admirable, but the last thing we want is to set them back so self-care is the absolutely priority. Never put your mental health and wellbeing under anybody else’s. It always comes first.

A short evening walk tonight because it’s been a long, full on day, and my ankle is in excruciating pain to the point that at one stage this evening I couldn’t even put pressure on it. I think it is starting to feel the effects of constantly walking these extra miles every day. I used to walk a regular amount each day and could easily go off of a weekend and clock a few more up, but this challenge sees me walk double and at a more consistent rate.

I pass through Smithfield, a village with a population of about 250. I think that’s less than my little street in all honesty. I pass over the River Lyne and past a builders yard on the right. Just past it are a couple of houses and what views they have of the lush fields to the front, although out the back is a timber yard so I don’t suppose it’s especially quiet during the day. Maybe the houses belong to workers. On the left is Whitesyke Garden Centre. It’s open so I pop inside. Their coffee shop, The Lemon Tree, is award-winning, and the outdoors section does everything you would expect from any well-managed centre of its kind. Having perused the flowers, which I also did in the park this morning on the magnolia tree, I keep on walking.

This road could quite easily be a Roman road, perhaps more so here than anywhere due to the Hadrian’s Wall link. Reaching Longtown, a place called Borders Business Park. I’m sure you can see where this is going. We’re are now on what could arguably be said to be the final push. It’s not. There’s a long way to go, but I’m about to cross the England/Scotland border. Exciting times. I wonder what the landscape has in store for us there.

I’m quite disappointed to see on a local Facebook group this evening the state of the Oxford landscape local to me. South Park plays host to various events outside of lockdown and is famous on many postcards, photos, and TV programmes as it has that well-known image of the spires in the distance. It has been lovely to walk around it during lockdown, but now with restrictions easing and groups out picnicking, certain groups (the fingers have been pointing at students but my finger points at anybody with no respect for the environment whatever your age or upbringing) have been leaving it in a frightful mess. The Countryside Code applies here as it’s an open space and the quote ‘Leave nothing but footprints’ should be adhered to. The photographs of the detritus left behind is appalling. It says a lot about people and how they live at home. Well done to those volunteers who have been able to get out there and return it to its former glory. You shouldn’t have to but it is appreciated.

I digress, but it’s important. It’s the future they are damaging. Our planet was recovering during lockdown. Mother Nature reclaiming her land. She doesn’t need people destroying it.

Now, not the greatest claim to fame but Longtown is well known for being at the centre of the foot and mouth crisis in 2001. It was a bad year really as 9/11 occurred then too. The foot and mouth crisis was grim for agriculture across the land. ‘Over 6 million cows and sheep were destroyed’ (wikipedia) which eventually led to the disease ceasing to spread any more. If I had been doing my walk then, most of the land that I would have wanted to have crossed wouldn’t have been open. Footpaths, bridleways, everywhere was being shut down to stop the spread, in a similar way to what has happened with humans over the past year. Herd immunity of another kind? It wasn’t confined to the UK either. Cases appeared in parts of Europe. 2001 I travelled overseas and remember in the airport having to disinfect shoes and all sorts. The things we’ve seen in our lives, eh?

For a period of time, Longtown was a coal mining village, although it was only ever drilled. Despite being a small village, it has a link with with Ministry of Defence as it is a Defence Munitions Centre, having been set up as one in the Second World War. Gretna, a short distance up the road was one in the First World War.

I haven’t made it completely into Longtown, but having topped up my miles by spending 90 minutes at the kitchen worktop again, I pitch the tent in a field outside. I can’t walk a great deal further tonight as my feet are really achy, and it is bed time after all.

Today, I baked a lemon and banana cake. Yum! Tomorrow I will cross the border into Scotland I do believe. That then gives me about 39/40 days to walk the length of Scotland. Any Scottish people reading this know if that’s likely to be possible? Maybe I need to search out Scottish baking recipes too. Shortbread is an obvious one. I’ve potentially one or two interviews lined up which I’m really pleased about as we’ve not been able to get any for a while. It’s a dry night in Oxford and a clear night sky in Longtown, temperature of 7 degrees. You can see the stars.

DAY 91
(1st April 2021)

Today I completed my walk having managed to do the remaining 372 miles by lunchtime. It was some going but I wanted to finish it sooner as I was desperate for cheese on toast.

April Fools! Well, I think that was pretty obvious. You’d have to be some sort of superhero to manage that and as my friend told me one day when I was working hard trying to do everything for everybody else, ‘you may be a super man, but you’re not superman. Don’t push yourself too hard’. That’s stuck with me.

I was up out and earlyish again this morning for a walk in the fresh air before it got too busy. Didn’t feel great to start with but got better as the day improved. My few miles saw me closing in on the Scottish border but it’s still a little way up the road.

I do some occasional freelance work for a couple of charities, and so my admin tasks had to be done when I got home. I checked in with a few business buddies, and then it was on to planning for classes, running classes, doing home admin, and the afternoon passed in a blur. A positive for today was being able to send out some new rewards I have created for children taking part in my classes. I hope they like them when they arrive.

I cross and then follow the River Esk, past a nurseries (dare I buy any more plants?), and as I head towards the border, on the opposite bank is Coop House. Originally a Gothic pavilion (a sort of ‘decoration’ for those with money), today, the Landmark Trust hires it to holiday makers. Having partly collapsed around 40 years ago, it has been lovingly restored and sleeps three on the edge of the river.

Slightly beyond that is Netherby Hall, which has a 2,000 year old history. It is believed to date back even before the Romans set up house in the area. It’s certainly come a long way from it’s early days. As with Coop House, it is now a holiday destination and you can snap up one of nine luxury self-catering apartments for a mid-summer romantic getaway at a mere £2000 average. I’ll make space in the tent if anybody needs it!

Evening rolls around and my internet decides to make my class like a scene from the Matrix and it lags badly. My hair, what’s left of it is getting long, and as we can’t get to any hairdressing venues still, it’s a home attempt once more. I certainly feel a little lighter after it. Not so in the stomach area though as this evening, having now crossed into Scotland, I make shortbread. Nobody, please nobody, ever ask me to make shortbread. They are clearly not me forte.

I take another evening walk before returning to the kitchen to clock up about half an hour’s worth of hob walking. I’ve never crossed the border before so I don’t know what I was expecting. A sign, a man on guard, a flag. Anything would have been good, but…nothing. There’s a couple of houses, you walk a couple of steps, and you’re in Scotland and the next couple of houses. I wonder if there’s any rivalry between neighbours for being in a different country? What about all the different rules England and Scotland abide by? Notably, how have they coped in the pandemic when England has said one thing and Scotland another. Have a few neighbours had to abide by one set of rules and the ones 15 metres down the road abide by different ones?

A little further along the road, a massive blue and white sign looms welcoming us to Scotland. Now either somebody has added the line wrong online or the English have forced the Scots to push their sign back a bit. Maybe it’s a bit like a boundary dispute. Have they snuck out dead of night and inched the sign back a bit?

There’s no immediate change in scenery. You don’t cross the border and think ‘wow, those fields are a different colour’. A field is a field. I’m sure, however, that the further north I travel, the more rugged it will become. For now the route sees me on a slightly lower level, as though I’m walking through a ‘cut’ in the landscape, and the banks are growing to quite a height on either side.

I pass the village of Canonbie and Gilnockie Tower emerges on the right. The tower is an example of a pele tower. A pele (or peel) tower was a fortified tower used as a place of safety in times of danger. One even appeared on the television as it was converted to a bed and breakfast. Gilnockie Tower runs to five floors and hosts weddings now. A beautiful spot on the edge of the river.

Almost due west and a thirty minute drive from here is Lockerbie, a small town that really seems to only be known for the terrorist disaster of Christmas 1988 when a Pan AM flight crashed there. It’s past also includes housing a prisoner-of-war camp. The Lockerbie disaster though was an awful event when a plane came down in a residential area following a detonated bomb. Houses were wiped out and many died. I’ve seen many reports and interviews on it, but one that often pops up is of the journalist Lorraine Kelly who said that she was early in her career and was on scene so quickly she was able to get right up to the nose cone. Later, residents took down their Christmas decorations in respect. I don’t think any of us can ever comprehend how anybody could do such an act. The people it affects is more than we ever see, and those effects are long-lasting.

I’m stopping tonight in a field on the side of the A7 on the outskirts of Auchenrivock. It’s about 4 degrees and cloudy in Oxford but in Scotland, in my tent, is at freezing point. Tomorrow is due to be sunny though and a touch warmer and one above the zero. I think I’ll wrap up warm. Meanwhile, back home, I’ll scramble into bed, and who knows, I may be up early again in the morning for another sunshiny walk.

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