2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 14.
(2nd April 2021)
First order of the day is a couple of pages of my book and then a walk. Went with my brother and it was really lovely out. We intended to only walk around the park but in the end we walked the park and by the river. It’s great to walk early because there’s basically nobody around. The weather is gearing up to be a sunny one again.
I spend some time on manifesting again before having a splurge of energy to tidy the house. We all seem to have thrown ourselves into this to the point of sorting the outbuildings too. I spent a while sat outside and reflected on how far I’ve come this year, and not just in walking terms, although, let’s spend a minute now considering that. Since January 1st, I’ve walked from Cornwall to Scotland, having zig-zagged across the country.
My walk this morning means I’ve left Auchenrivock and followed the River Esk to Langholm. This burgh is also known as Muckle Toon and is the home of Edinburgh Woolen Mill, founded here in 1946. From here, looking north easterly to the hills is Malcolm Monument, which commemorates the life of soldier Sir John Malcolm. The 100ft high monument was erected in 1835 and you can walk right up to it.
All of the tidying around the house, plus another walk in the evening meant only a short kitchen walk this evening. I did do some baking again and today it was rock cakes. Most enjoyable. Unfortunately, despite trying to plan ahead for my bakes for the next few days, the shop had run out of the few items I needed. Everything else that could have been needed was there, but not what I actually needed.
On the outskirts of Langholm is a small cast iron footbridge spanning the River Esk and is believed to be the oldest surviving one of its kind in Scotland. As I emerge from the trees, the mountains pull up all around me and I feel tiny in comparison. Well, I suppose I am. Every step I take a new view of a mountain greets me. It may be the same mountain, but it’s just a different angle and it makes all the difference to how you view it. A bit like life really. You can see things in one way but take a step forward or sideways and the same thing can look and feel completely different and make you feel different too. Maybe from time to time it’s worth taking that one step forward or sideways and see what happens.
I pass through Bentpath. In this tucked away place in the middle of the hills lies an old building with exposed beam ceiling. It is the Westerkirk Parish Library, one of the oldest in Scotland. It’s like a museum but crammed with books. A little further up the road I pitch the tent on the edge of the River Esk. It’s a chilly 2 degrees and cloudy and it’s expected to feel much colder. We’re lucky to be inside back at home with the heating on. There’s no let up on the walking at the moment. I need to keep up the pace, but for now, I’ve nearly caught up with the pacer. I was about 26 miles behind at one point. Now it’s 11. Time for bed.
(3rd April 2021)
I had a really lazy day today so this will be a relatively short entry. I don’t know why we say we’re having a ‘lazy day’. Why not say we’re having a ‘self-care day’? That’s what it is. If we’ve been rushing around and keeping busy, taking time to slow down for a day is what’s good for us. Classing it as a lazy day, puts pressure on us to feel as though it’s something naughty and shouldn’t happen. Let’s call them self care days in future.
My self care day started with keeping my eyes shut and dreaming as long as I could. I then proceeded to lay there watching Youtube on my phone and reading my book. Eventually I got up and spent the day on my manifesting workbook, and I mean the day. It was a really boost to the energy. I did take some time to do some baking, and what a laugh that was. I wanted to make an Easter cake and a Simnel cake seemed an easy enough option. I’ve made Christmas cakes before and it’s essentially the same. The moment you put a cake in the oven then realise you’ve forgotten to add four eggs isn’t really a laughing matter – some would say it’s no yoke! Tasted OK though, if a little crumbly.
Other than this, and a bit more reading, I went for a sunset walk and to the shops, and that was it. I really slowed the pace and I felt good for it. You’ll have noticed though, not a lot of steps. Having said that, I did still manage seven miles today so won’t have fallen too far behind on my catch up.
The tent got packed and I followed the River Esk which I then cross and follow as it twists and turns through the countryside. The trees rise either side of me. The stonework on the odd farm building is distinctly grey. There’s a footpath partway along that crosses a stone wall and it’s a proper set of steps in a pyramid formation, then a little further up, the Loupin Stanes, a miniature version of Stonehenge.
At Eskdalemuir I cross the River Esk again. The village is primarily wet moorland. Following the closure of many local amenities a steering group was set up and they soon had taken over the old school building to create a community hub. It’s amazing when people have foresight and vision. If you go on Google Earth you can look inside and the rolling chalk board is still there, screwed to the wall, but today it has cafe prices on.
I pitch up in the shelter of the trees by the side of the road just past Holm.
(4th April 2021)
It’s Easter Sunday and a day to gorge on chocolate it seems. We want to put dinner on a long and slow setting. Meat tends to be a lot tender that way, but I also want to make hot cross buns today. The downside is that because the dough needs proving it takes half a day to make, with hour long breaks between each step. The plus side is I get chance to have a walk whilst it’s having one of its proves.
This walk was a short circular around the neighbourhood. Having struck the tent, I follow the River Esk still, until I reach, in what feels almost like a quite remarkably obscure location, the Samyeling Tibetan Buddhist Centre and Kagyu Samye Ling Monastry. It’s the first Tibetan learning centre to have been established in the West, and you can stay there, learn there, visit the cafe, shop, and more. It’s very peaceful looking and rich in colour inside.
The rest of the day is taken up with reading, manifesting (today’s challenge was a fun one), and baking the cakes. Oh, and lots of chocolate. It’s definitely a self-care weekend – remember we don’t do lazy around here!
I pass through Davington where the old school room has been converted into a B&B. The road has a slow and steady incline here through Fingland, with grassy hills rising similarly either side of me, but otherwise, there isn’t a lot to note. It’s purely grass, nature, peace and quite as far as the eye can see. The day is quite plain weather wise, but back in Oxford it’s glorious sunshine and warm out of the breeze. I visit our friend across the road as the restrictions have allowed us to briefly meet up now rather than throwing cakes at her from the garden gate.
After dinner, an evening walk sees me take in sports fields, ‘general’ fields (is there actually a name for them in this state?), and round some local roads. The sunset is something else with pinks and oranges warming the sky. Looks set to be a fine day again tomorrow then, the ditty ‘red sky at night, shepherds delight’ springing to mind. What other fun ditties are there that we seem to remember from years gone by?
With that lengthy walk under my belt, I find I’ve passed Foulbog (I kid you not), a small lake on the right, and with the steps around the house, end up in Glenkerry, where there only seems to be one house. They let me camp in the garden which is jolly decent. It’s a lovely clear sky in Oxford and the stars are twinkling down. The bare bones of a poem began forming on the walk but didn’t amount to much. I wonder if they would have had I been sat in the tent now, staring up at a Scottish night sky? The air’s apparently different up there. Is it clearer? Does it make you think clearer? One day I may find out for real.
(5th April 2021)
A chilly start to Easter Monday both here and in the virtual world. Spent the morning finishing the last few pages of my book. It’s one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club books, called The Glass House by Eve Chase. I didn’t realise that she also resides in Oxford. I’ve enjoyed the book and it will of course appear in my annual book review blog but for those interested it ranks highly. It’s set across time zones about forty years apart. I didn’t think I would like it because I’m not keen on those books. I tend to struggle to keep up with who is who as they’ve grown up, but this was relatively straightforward, although I did get a bit confused at the end. What really made it was the descriptiveness of the locations and character’s feelings though. It was simply glorious and that’s more what made me turn the pages.
This morning I made Toffee Krispies. Straightforward and one for the children but extremely sweet so you can’t eat too much of them. I followed this baking with a mid-morning walk and took in an old path we’ve not been on for a long time which used to be the best path from Headington to Oxford city. In all honesty, it probably still is.
We cut off the route before where we usually end and emerge into the shops. As we’re still in a partial lockdown, nowhere is really open but the old Cafe Nero on the corner has now decided to change into a Costa, and for Christmas a friend gifted me a voucher to use here so I get lunch and a hot chocolate to go, and headed to the park with my brother to sit and watch the world go by whilst we rest our feet and eat. It’s great to see people being careful and cautious, although there were some young boys, probably about ten years of age, who clearly had learnt some ninja jump kicks from somewhere and running up and kicking each other in the back with great force that threw them to the ground. They were laughing so hey, all is good with the world, right? Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate they’re young and rough and tumble is a part of their lives, but this was really dangerous. I sound like a miserable old so-and-so don’t I, but one wrong kick could have spelt disaster.
Having mused for a while over this we make a return journey home via the family graves and check to see how things look. We also pass the Aslan tree. Do you remember him from the Narnia books?
Virtually, I’m now very much on a single track road, the sort of thing that you might see in a film where a helicopter flies over the landscape, the narrow road winding it’s way between the trees. It’s quite something to see that even with the trees stretching up to the sky, blocking any far-reaching view around me, there are still glimpses of mountains peering over them the top, despite being miles away. The river continues to run parallel to the road, and in places appears to be rather shallow to the point that you could probably cross it, although I imagine it still flows relatively fast in places. A downside to all these trees is the view becomes persistently relentless and ‘same-o’. There’s few passing places for cars either. I pass a lone caravan park on the left.
A few more miles up the road and I cross a stone bridge into Ettrick, a little Scottish Borders village which sees the second fastest rising river in Scotland run through it. That’s the one I presume I’ve been following. As with when we were further south, and as seems to be the norm these days, tourism is essential to the survival of the place. It’s got quite a few literature connections including Robert Louis Stevenson, so that’s a draw for some. We kick off here and head north-easterly, continuing to follow the water. The road has widened slightly, but not a lot.
This afternoon I spent some more time on self-care and manifesting. This is the last day on this part of the challenge and it’s been a really fascinating and enjoyable exercise that almost resets your mindset. I scoffed some more Easter chocolate but thankfully not as much as yesterday so I don’t feel quite so stuffed and sickly. Following dinner, it’s time for another walk to get the miles in. I’d rather go out and walk than stand in the kitchen, which I only had to do for about ten minutes in the end.
Another caravan park comes into view and the name of this one is lovely – Honey Cottage. Sounds like it should be in a book, doesn’t it? Maybe they have bees…
At Crosslee I turn off onto a near single track road on the left. There’s a small hill rising on the left, only a few times my height, and flat sheep grazing land to the right. It soon turns into some really rugged landscape as the hill sizes increase steadily, and all around, even in the gaps between hills in the distance, further mounds like sleeping giants can be seen. The landscape alternates between these views and trees for quite a way again.
Before bedtime, I settle down to more book editing before pitching the tent amongst the heather and gorse at the edge of a narrow slip of a road in the shadow of these overbearing mounds. Our heating’s gone off again in Oxford and as it’s sub-zero temperatures, we’re quite chilly. Thankfully, we have a fire that works separately from our central heating so that’s a bonus, and I type my last bit of diary watching the flames dancing merrily away with only a lamp and a ‘stray’ cat for company. I count myself lucky that I’m not in my tent tonight! I think I should be in Edinburgh by Thursday.
(6th April 2021)
It’s a cold start to the day and remains so for the rest of the day. Up early and I made some treacle cakes today. I’ve never worked with treacle and don’t intend to do so again in a hurry. It’s like a mix between car oil and school glue. It was OK once cooked but everything I touched stuck to me and I to it.
Then it’s out on a walk. Really peaceful and I tried my hand at a variety of photography shots today. I particularly enjoyed the colours emerging and getting close up shots.
That bitter cold is even more biting in Scotland as I trudge along a single track road, the heather rising steeply to the right, sheep poking their heads up from behind it every so often. There’s a bit of a camber to the road too as it slopes a little to the left.
Having got back from my walk, I edited the video above, and then, well, the day didn’t quite go as planned. I was due to run a class for a new class this afternoon…or so I thought. It turns out that because we’d had to shuffle dates, there was a little muddle and it’s next week. At least the room was set up for my evening class. With extra time available today it did allow me to crack on with a few other tasks that were marked in for tomorrow.
As the day marched on, I reopened a writing booklet I’ve got and spotted a competition for scriptwriters. Excited? Me? Too right! I set to work planning my submission.
I’m struggling with my foot again today. The pain isn’t as bad in the one that has the glass in but clearly where I’m over compensating by trying not to put the pressure on, there’s something happening on the opposite side of the body. This is consequently causing me to have a shooting pain right up to my bottom. Is that sciatic? Get in touch if you know or have a remedy please.
An evening walk is short in part because of this, but also because I’m tired and cold. It was only to the end of the road and back (not mine, as that would take about two minutes), but it was enough, with a bit of kitchen walking to push me on to my daily goal. It’s strange how you almost reach a plateau doing this and even if you think you can’t do it one day, your body and mind surprises you and you get there.
Again, there’s not really a lot I can write about at this point on the route. Not that I can see anyway. It’s quite desolate. It is as you read about in books. The vast expanses of nothing other than being wrapped in the mountainous rises on either side. Although, hark fine sir, what hath we stumbled upon? I do declare I see a pub in the middle of nowhere. It’s covid times though fair maid and tis closed. Blast! If it were open, The Gordon Arms Hotel would have provided the ideal stop. They do my sort of food. Proper pub grub. I think I would have started with either the soup and crusty roll or the chicken goujons, followed by the beef steak pie, and for dessert, either the homemade apple crumble or chocolate brownie. Yum. They have a log stove and this for me is typically (or stereotypically maybe) Scottish. Been out roaming the hills and return home to the fire.
The hotel is at a crossroads and if I were to turn left and travel a little way, I’d reach St Mary’s Kirkyard (or churchyard). It’s the remains of an old burial ground and church but there’s not a great deal left to see nowadays. Again, slap bang in the middle of nowhere. Back this way a little and Dryhope Tower sits proud on the hillside. This is another peel tower as described in a previous entry. These ‘mini bunkers’ are dotted across the borders and were used almost as safe houses in times of need.
From the pub the road opens up but becomes more and more barren. A lone B&B stands looking somewhat lost with no other property around for miles. As quickly as the road opened up, it becomes nearly single track again, and then there’s a cattle grid to drive over, similar to the New Forest. This is usually in a bid to stop the animals roaming too freely. Crowd control you might say. Every so often you hear the babble of water and notice a little stream, spring, or brook splashing out of the roadside. Either that or it’s blocked drains.
I was interested to see at this point, what I thought was another crossroads. It is, but it has a marker on the map called Glenlude. Part of the John Muir Trust, Glenlude covers an area of about 208 football pitches in size and thanks to an expanding team of volunteers, they’re aiming to restore the farmland and conifers plantation ‘to a mosaic of native habitats’. It wasn’t until I started looking into it, I knew I’d heard about the John Muir Award before as it’s talked about in youth work circles, and school groups and youth organisations get involved, teaching our children the benefits of looking after the land. What an amazing place to do it too.
I pass Traquair Kirk, which needs a bit more looking into tomorrow, before I settle down for the night at Traquair Village Hall.
(7th April 2021)
This morning I have an interview lined up with Andrew Hailwood from The Football Association. It’s exciting but a little nerve-wracking at the same time because it’s been about a month since I’ve managed to get anybody for a chat. As mentioned before, so many mental health services have had to furlough staff or temporarily close meaning there’s been no chance to get an interview. It was good to get back into it though.
After this, I baked a fruit loaf. I didn’t read the last line, thinking it was going to be ‘allow to cool and eat’ but it was ‘leave to cool, then store in an airtight container for two days before eating’. Oh! Never mind. There’s still enough bakes from the past few days, plus some Easter egg left which will help pile on the pounds.
Come the afternoon I decide to take a walk, but not long after leaving home I feel quite tired and decide I really can’t walk far today. It’s a short loop but up quite a steep slope for part of it. The Traquair Kirk I mentioned yesterday is an 18th century church which is still worshipped in today. As it doesn’t have mains water, toilet facilities are outside in a chemical toilet.
Thankfully, the village hall, which I stopped at overnight does have an indoor toilet, and more. It has mains water, electricity, and a stage. This hall is the heart of a dispersed community, spread over a large area. The hall is really only well known and in existence due to the nearby Traquiar House, which is Scotland’s oldest inhabited house dating back to 1107. Today, the house has its own brewery and is used as a wedding venue as well.
I returned home from my walk and whilst the day felt like it was going well, little did I know what was lurking in the shadows.
Trigger warning – Anxiety/Stress
Feel free to skip this box
I hadn’t long been in and my heart was palpitating like a million butterflies were inside it. Nothing, from what I knew, had led to this. There were no anxious thoughts whilst out walking, and at the time this hit me, and hit me it did, I didn’t realise it was stress related, but I can now only presume it was.
The fluttering was strong and felt as though somebody was playing a rhythm on a drum but hadn’t got the timing right, missing the first beat, then the second on the next bar, the third on the next, then back to the second, to the third, to the first, to the fourth. It was unpredictable and as time slowly crept on, it got worse and worse. The sense of impending doom gripped me. I didn’t remember my first episode of anxiety when I was diagnosed feeling like this and I was sure that death was about to stare me in the face. I was on the verge of calling an ambulance as it was terrifying to think my heart was about to pack up. I messaged a few friends in a bid to seek some form of solace or distraction, I grabbed my weighted blanket, try deep breathing, put on some music (Youtube recommended Celtic, which was surprisingly well received by my brain), and I tried desperately to remind myself what a Dr said a few years ago about if it was my heart packing up, I would either know about it because the paramedics would probably be stood over me, or I wouldn’t know about it as it would have been so quick I’d already be dead.
At the time, being told this I felt was an horrendous thing to say, but it’s always served as a bit of a reality check and good reminder for me. I ran through my mind that I have got through things like this before and I could get through again.
Rendered a useless mess for what I think was about 45 minutes today did nothing for morale. I actually messaged a friend and told them how much I hate anxiety. I do hate it. I have no idea why anxiety chose me. I know it chooses others as well, but it’s taken a lot, and still does, to think why it decided to make its home in my mind and body and continue to taunt at the most annoying times. At the same time, I have to be grateful in some ways that it led me to working with it, understanding it better and what others go through in order that I can then go on to help others.
I remained on edge for the remainder of the evening, every tiny little twinge would send me back to worry mode, and yet, I didn’t feel as though I was anxious or there was anything to be overly anxious for. This pain subsided in time and I can only put it down to stress. I’ve not had a rest day from the challenge for a long time and there’s only so much exercise the body can take before it says enough is enough. We must listen to our bodies. They will scream out to us to stop and pause, and we must do so before we reach a point where we’re not able to hear it any more.
I read a post on Facebook the other day that said people who have gone through mental health ‘struggles’ or live with it are stronger than those without. It’s an interesting point. How many times have they had to push on with their lives when they’ve felt lower than anybody else will ever understand (because each of our stories is individual to us and our low will always be lower than another’s) and have come out the other side to face another day?
A friend says they wake every morning and the first thing they do is say thank you. That may be to God, Jesus, another religious ‘figure’, the universe, energy fields, who knows, but they are grateful that they have woken up and have a chance to try afresh.
I decide that in light of me having a difficult evening and having struggled with my wellbeing, I’m not going to do anything else. I take a little walk, at a much reduced speed, as I want some air and my head is also saying to me ‘you’ll fall behind on the challenge if you don’t do something’. I manage a small distance to a closer shop as we’re out of potatoes – that’s right, the chips are down – and then I return home to sit, watch Matt Baker and his farm on the TV, and write my diary up.
Very few miles completed today, but I’m not going to stress myself over them now. An earlier night is called for and hopefully I’ll be refreshed by the morning.
For the last part of the day, I follow the River Tweed, which seems such an apt name for a Scottish river. Cardrona, the small village with about 200 houses which emerges between the trees, caused controversy when it was proposed, but it was built nonetheless, and today has a rather grand hotel and gold course, as well as a pump track, but not a lot else. A little way up the road, I make it to Glentrees, where there is a Go Ape course. Maybe if I’ve the energy I’ll have a go tomorrow. I reach a small B&B call Craiguart, and after the day I’ve had, it seems an ideal location to rest my head.
(8th April 2021)
Woke up to beautiful views of Tweed Valley. The Craiguart B&B has been peaceful in the middle of nowhere, and as I pull myself down to the breakfast room, I’m greeted with the option of a Full Scottish breakfast. Now, I’ve heard of a Full English, but have the Scots got? Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Haggis, Black Pudding, Mushrooms, Tomatoes, Potato Scone, Hash Brown and Fried Bread. I’ve never tried haggis, although I used to work with someone who loved haggis and brought one to every team lunch. Potato scone is a new one on me. It is, as the name implies, a scone made of potato. Interesting idea. As the B&B’s website says ‘it’s not for the faint hearted’.
I face the day in Oxford slowly. After yesterday, I’m still not 100% so take it steady, reading a bit in bed before I emerge. Soon I’m on my way and because the recipe yesterday said I had to wait two days before I can eat my bake, I decide today to make two bakes for the fact I couldn’t eat any yesterday. I must make a point here that I’m not getting through a whole bake by myself in a day. There are other family members but we now have a good stock of various bakes of cake and bread which allows us to pick at something a bit different when we want a snack. I’m using a lot of calories doing the walking. I should go for fruit really but the baking is something that really makes me feel good and for me, if I can do an activity that supports my wellbeing and doesn’t stress me, so much the better.
Having baked, I clear down emails today. So many over the numerous email addresses I hold for all the aspects of life. I also do some studying. Did you know that your spine takes more pressure from you laughing and coughing than walking? I didn’t until I picked up the materials again. In other words, get out and walk as it’s better for your body. I still stand by having a good belly laugh though.
After checking in with a few contemporaries, I take a swift walk around the park otherwise I know I won’t get many miles in today. As I’m not on top form I’m not going to stress over reaching the average 9.5 miles today but be happy with even managing a few.
I get in and it’s straight to work running a class. It’s amazing how much my job lifts me. If I’m ever feeling down, working with children and teens to improve their wellbeing boosts mine no end. Today, we were discussing the changing seasons and how spring brings new growth, opportunities, and positivity, and how we can apply these thoughts to our own wellbeing.
Leaving the B&B, I notice back the way I came and across the field Horsburgh Castle. As so many, this is in ruins but was once a house castle dating back to the 16th century. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of detail about it though, other than it’s in quite a prominent position. Again, a notable feature of many of these buildings.
I follow the River Tweed. The river is nearly 97 miles long and well known for its salmon fishing. In fact it’s the only river where you don’t need a rod licence. You can find sea trout in there too if you fancy having a go. Using the little Google man view you can actually stand in the river which is quite good. It’s clearly shallow enough in places to allow this.
My next stop on the route is Peebles. Originally a market town, it’s grown and is now classed as a burgh, which means that it also has a royal charter. With the amount of sheep locally, it’s no surprise really that wool was one of the main industries. From here the area developed into being known for hydrotherapy – the use of water in treatments for pain relief. This soon grew and the Hydro Hotel is now one of the only surviving places locally still offering it.
Peebles has been named ‘the most creative place of its size in Scotland’. Outside of covid it holds four major festivals, has mountain biking, culture, golf courses, four schools, and a hospital. It’s even ranked as the best town in Scotland ‘for range of independent shops and ‘home town identity” (Wikipedia). They have a community garden and what a great idea these are. One was started outside our local Scout hall but it never really took off. These projects need a driving force and for the energy to be kept up but I know in many other areas they are extremely successful. The Peebles one looks quite large.
Following class, dinner and some important admin has to be done. I feel quite tired and I think this is purely a continuation from yesterday. By the time this is done, it’s late and we can’t really face doing a late walk so I make up a couple of miles in the kitchen. This takes me north out of Peebles, and I’m well on my way towards Edinburgh now.
It’s amazing what you find when you head off the main path. As I come to my resting point for today, nearby in the grounds of the 16th century Barony Castle, now a hotel, is the Great Polish Map of Scotland. Created by a Polish war veteran it is a 3D model of Scotland using a variety of stones and rocks. On the ground, it looks just like that. Rocks. From above, you can clearly see the outline of the country. Certainly impressive and extremely clever.
The steak at the hotel is £29 and you cook it yourself (on a hot lava rock; don’t knock it until you’ve tried it but you have to work fast). I can’t afford to pay the £155 for dinner, bed, and breakfast on this trip but maybe a special occasion in the future. In the meantime, I pitch the tent further up the road and imagine myself amongst the luxurious sheets. I may change my bed tomorrow to really get that hotel experience. Tomorrow signals the start of my 15th week ‘on the road’ and only four more weeks until the deadline date to finish.
The £1,156 raised so far is way better than I ever imagined, although I will admit to wanting to get it to £1200 now because I like numbers that look more aesthetically pleasing like that. Anybody have a spare £44? Thank you to everybody that has supported with either money, kind words, interviews, or, well simply reading my blog. It means a lot.