2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 15.
(9th April 2021)
Friday, and the start of another week in virtual land. Woke and made some easy biscuits before cracking on with clearing yet more emails, sorting a few bits for work, and this mostly consisted of writing and rewriting notes and risk assessments in light of the recent lockdown easing guidelines. It’s never ending. Manage a few steps around the house.
Lunchtime we were all dealt a blow as history was made. His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, has passed away at the age of 99, and Her Majesty The Queen is now a widow. The news is flooded with his life story. It’s a big day. Momentous. We wonder what will happen now going forward. I sit and watch the rolling news for a while, and whilst it is sad, there is not a lot else that can be reported on, so I finish a bit of paperwork that needs doing today, and then take a walk.
I loved my walk today because it was in my local park but I linked up, socially distanced, with an elderly couple and we exchanged stories about the place and what a great park it is. They have an app that identifies the plants. I have one for birds, so we exchange details, and we walk a short distance, chattering excitedly.
I peel off and head up the hill, before getting caught in a cloudburst.
Soon enough, dinner time has arrived and I make a pasta bake, or I would if I’d had realised it’s a different sauce so the timings are wrong. Half-cooked pasta isn’t horrendous. Ha!
After dinner, I’m off to the youth club. We’ve some technical matters to sort out so we spend an hour or so trying to do them. Then it’s to the shop and home. Nowhere near the miles I should have done today, but I follow Eddleston Water past a quarry, and then onto Leadburn Community Woodland. The forestry plantation is owned by a charity whose aim is to ‘create a pleasant and varied space for the community’. A variety of native birds and plants have now been spotted and the volunteers have spent many hours created bog pits and updating paths. It’s a little further on on the outskirts of Howgate that I pitch the tent for the evening.
(10th April 2021)
Day 100. I’ve been walking 100 days…OR…I would have been if I’d have done walking. I woke up this morning feeling quite refreshed but as the day rolled on I felt really quite poorly and ended up not being able to manage to do a lot at all.
I sat at the computer trying to do my work but all I really managed was designing some posters. I felt weird all day. I was dragged out of the house in the evening and I managed to walk a couple of miles.
It feels a bit flat for a major milestone, however, I still manage to walk from Howgate and continue northwards. It’s another milestone as I’m under 300 miles to go now.
Having been walking through the countryside for quite some time, I’m soon in the suburbs of Edinburgh, the first part I reach being a large industrial estate. As I’ve not managed a lot of miles today I end up having to pitch up on the edge of the Edinburgh Bypass. I’m sure tomorrow will work better. I’m determined to get out even if I’m struggling. I will pull these miles back. Tomorrow also means I’ll be in Edinburgh itself, which is really exciting as I have been sent some photos to upload.
(11th April 2021)
I laid in this morning, for very good reason. After struggling to get to sleep, I was woken by a strange noise at 3.30am and it soon became apparent that one of the tent neighbours that had their rave a few weeks ago had clearly caught up with me and we were back to listening to the thump thump thump of it through the canvas, as well as their voices. I’d got my ipod plugged into my ears as well! Amazing they’re partying at all considering the lockdown restrictions, but who am I?
Once again, it ended up being one of those days where you go through it in a bit of a daze. It’s my cousin’s partner’s birthday today, so when we finally had the energy to make a move, we drove over, through the countryside (and peace and quiet), to their house to drop off a card. It was lovely being able to see the children who were full of excited chatter. Of course, we still can’t go in people’s houses but seeing them outside the house in the sunshine felt good. We returned via the supermarket for a few groceries, before arriving home.
I spent the afternoon reading and editing my novel. It’s one bonus I suppose. I’ve reached quite a crucial point in it and never been entirely sure it works but by bedtime I feel I’ve got it right. Then, because I really need something to boost morale, I baked a ginger and elderflower cake. I hadn’t intended to, but that’s what happens when you put any old thing in. It’s become a favourite.
Another evening stroll to get a breath of air and break up the monotony of feeling rough and it’s time for much needed rest.
Having woken from the sounds of the bypass – that’s right, we were there virtually so perhaps I’ll pretend I was kept up by that instead – I continue north through the suburbs of Edinburgh. the webcams show it’s a beautifully sunny day, and in particular, the view of Queensferry looks pretty. I should reach there at some point within the next day or so. If I’d have been able to keep up with the pacer I would have.
The Pentland Hills have been left behind. I only passed by them so didn’t really mention them but it is a regional park of various hills and reservoirs, with the land part publicly-owned and part privately (for sports and leisure activities).
I pass St Katherine’s Park on the right, an area which up until 15 years ago was mainly trees and grass. In 2006, redevelopment began and today is quite a hub of activity, with football goals and wildflower areas. Despite being quite built up at first glance, there are numerous parks here. The next one a short hop up the road on the left – Liberton Park, open since the 1930’s.
Off the main track and north east from where I am is a marker for the Innocent Railway Tunnel and Bridge. Now a walking trail, they are famous for being the first railway tunnel and bridge in Scotland. Why Innocent? Because it was drawn by horse and carriage. Simple explanation really. The steam powered engines were felt to be dangerous and the horse was trusted, albeit a tad slower of course. Much of the line has now been built on but as parts of it have been restored and make up some of the national cycle network, it is possible to still explore where the tracks would have run.
Every so often as I cross a road, I can glimpse to my right Holyrood Park and the Salisbury Crags. Most famously known perhaps for Arthur’s Seat, which is the highest point, this is the remains of a volcano. You can climb up it and see all of Edinburgh from up here, and for those who read the Ian Rankin Rebus novels, it will be a familiar location. If you want to climb it, it’s about an hour each way so a good morning or afternoon activity. Nobody ever seems to plan things over lunch do they? We always seem to speak in morning or afternoon terms for activities and meetups. Maybe lunch is precious to us.
I pass through the University of Edinburgh campus. It’s huge, and perched next door is the Anatomical Musuem. The University is one of the top ones in the world, founded in 1583, and their former Chancellor was HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. There is a strange feeling passing through this city so soon after the man died. It appears he did a lot of good for the University and they have courses in everything from Accountancy to Biomed Sciences, Middle Eastern Studies to Veterinary Medicine.
The Writers’ Museum, a little way up the road, celebrates Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson, with all manor of artefacts on show.
Edinburgh is rich in heritage and culture, so much I really don’t think I can fit it all in. It’s no wonder it’s the capital of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle, for example, allows you to walk in the footsteps of the many soldiers and kings who have passed that way before. Today, it’s one of the most popular attractions in the city, offering tours, a chance to see the one o’clock gun salute (once used by ships to set their time to), and learn about prisoners of war as well. It’s here, in the grounds of the castle, that the military Tattoo takes place annually, an astonishing display of military creativity with bands and cannons bringing together a totally immersive experience.
I pass some rather grand hotels and restaurants, as well as the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, before bedding down in the Leonardo Royal Hotel for the night. The centre of Edinburgh! The view from the window is great and at the time of crawling into bed, it certainly seems like I could be in for a good night’s sleep.
(12th April 2021)
As Herman’s Hermit’s once proclaimed: Woke up this morning feeling fine, and I certainly did. Throwing open the curtains I soon closed them and reopened again as I couldn’t believe my eyes. Snow! Yes, white stuff falling quite steadily and covering the ground in it’s blanket. April weather is always fun in the UK.
I headed downstairs to complete the usual Monday morning ritual of producing my reflective article for my Facebook page. It took quite a while this morning as I was watching some really hashed footage and interviews following the death of His Royal Highness on Friday. The funeral is set for this Saturday and will be a small affair.
An exciting morning as a major project that got shelved last year due to lockdown has had some good news. I spent half an hour on the phone to the coordinator and it looks like it’s all systems go so children in Oxford are about to have me land in their school to support them with their mental health and wellbeing.
A few business emails later and I take a short lunchtime walk before an afternoon class. This afternoon I linked up with the Autism Family Support Oxfordshire service for their Easter holiday’s activities and taught essential skills to children and teens to support their wellbeing. I was on cloud nine after this. Such an amazing group and some were nearly asleep by the end – not because I was boring but they felt so relaxed.
More admin time and liaising with business contacts (busy day) and I then have to head out, in rush hour traffic (yawn!), to deliver some important documents. As lockdown has eased today, the pubs and non-essential shops have reopened. This has turned many Jekyll’s into Hyde’s as they break free from the restrictiveness of being in the house. Whilst I appreciate the need for some freedom again, it’s quite sad to see tables outside pubs which clearly aren’t a good distance apart, and places packed. On the TV, there were queues outside shops. It’s more like desperation. Will I be visiting the shops any time soon? Yes, I’m not a complete hypocrite, but I will be sensible. There’s no need to all cram in on the first day. We’re more likely to come out of lockdown’s and be back to ‘normal’ if we all help each other.
There’s also the flip side. If shops are heaving, I can’t go in. I know I couldn’t face it. The anxiety would be sky high, so I will have to choose shops that are quieter or aim to go in the dead of night. It’s a good time to go but at the same time, it would be quite nice to go during daylight hours. For some though, that’s not possible, and I wonder how many people consider those with anxiety and mental health conditions as they rush out to crowd the shops or the hairdressers because there was nothing more important. Caveat: getting your hair done is important (says the bald man) because it makes you feel good, but I still come back to the fact that there are probably a good many people out there who would love to be able to visit a hairdresser as soon as they open, but the thought of walking a crowded high street, past busy pubs and shops, makes it a near impossible task.
Thoughts aside, my run out to drop the important documents off is done and I head back via the local chip shop for supper. You have to wait outside and there’s plenty of space and it wasn’t particularly busy so no issues for us. After that, back up the youth club to finish a few more tasks. It’s easier to do a few bits here and there at the moment and keep the brain occupied rather than spending hours at a weekend doing it all and then wanting something else to distract me.
No walk this evening as a result, so I do a little bit in the kitchen as I type this entry, and oddly, I’m not sure how, I’ve managed to walk miles and miles today. I’m really pleased with myself. Today has been a really great day on the whole. The snow cleared by lunchtime and we had gorgeous sun and blue sky for the rest of the day.
Oh, yes. Edinburgh. That’s where we were! I left the hotel this morning and strolled past the police station, also home to the British Transport Police. All the buildings seem rather grey in this part of the country. I presume it’s down to the stone and nothing else but it does give a sense of the land that many of these crime stories inhabit. You can imagine the rain pouring down on a grim evening as a detective trawls the streets. Not so this morning in the bright Scottish sun.
There’s a couple of things of note now. On the left, a crescent of tall town houses that remind me of Bath, and opposite, on my right, St Mary’s Cathedral. It’s an imposing structure, and the tower alone weighs over 5,000 tons. Similar to a cargo ship or the Roman Parthenon perched up there.
I cross the Water of Leith, a 21 mile stretch of water, which flows through the centre of Edinburgh, eventually flowing into the sea at the Firth of Forth. The bridge I cross has a turret-like design across the top so from water level it’s as though a castle is looming overhead.
The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art looms into view with wonderfully manicured garden with lakes, and on the opposite side of the road, a statue of Sir Isaac Newton in the search for knowledge, as depicted by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. I’ve passed a sign for the Forth Road Bridge. It’s getting close now! I continue along the road and Edinburgh certainly has got a lot of green space. I’m heading into the suburbs now and there’s a few lovely parks. There’s even a path behind some houses that looks once again as though it could have been a train line at one stage. It took a little investigating and I was right. An old line called the Caledonian line used to run through here. One website that supposedly would have told me all I needed to know, no longer exists, which is a shame, but from above it looks as though it would have gone straight to the docks. The Ravelston Woods, not far from this trail, plays host to numerous native trees.
As I cross the River Almond, the Queensferry Road gives way to the A90 with lush green fields on either side, with Dalmeny House, a revival mansion, at the heart of the estate on the right. The road opens again into the M90 and it’s a scary place to walk and by bed time I’m exhausted dodging the cars (I jest of course). I’m stopping in a Premier Inn tonight, and guess what?! Exciting. I’m on the approach road to the Forth Road Bridge. I can actually see it ahead, and the water! I’ll be crossing that in the morning. I’ve also passed the 800 mile mark. Hooray!
(13th April 2021)
Did you miss me?
You may not have even noticed but I wasn’t around for two days. No, I wasn’t off sunning myself, although we have had sun, but my website has been ‘migrating’ (I think that’s the right word) to elsewhere in the world. We reached a technical point where everybody else could see my site and I couldn’t, which meant I couldn’t update it. Sorry if you were hanging around. Hopefully we are now back in business, and my friends, we have two days worth to catch up on.
So what happened on this Tuesday? Well, I spoke to my little band of merry self-employed buddies to get a morning boost of energy and we were all fan-dabby-dozy. Then it was off for a walk down by the river. I loved the walk today. I couldn’t be out long because of all the tasks I needed to get done today so I chose a short walk. Somebody has put a picnic bench by the river. I don’t think it’s been put there officially but I ended up sat on it for some time, really soaking up the atmosphere, and there was a jolly little wren who was singing and dancing around in the branches above me. It was glorious and I felt refreshed by the end. Water really does have healing properties.
At home I couldn’t decide whether to bake a chocolate cake or a fruit cake, so baked a chocolate fruit cake. Why not? Who makes the rules? It was then on to writing risk assessments. It does get tedious but essential in these times to have all bases covered. With these done, the youth club will be able to start again in earnest.
I then heard that a friend’s dog was suddenly ill so we rallied around with supportive words, and a couple of hours later, the doggy was OK. Positive thinking and support from others doing the same works wonders it seems. It was then straight to running class, a walk to the shop, and then an attempt to migrate the website.
It seems a bit of a rush saying it all like that but I made a quick note before I got into bed so that I wouldn’t forget, so let’s have a slower saunter through the route for today.
I woke up in the Premier Inn at Queensferry. You may remember that’s where I laid down last night. Having partaken in the breakfast – I do love a Premier Inn breakfast – it’s on to the Forth Road Bridge. Opened in 1964, it is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. One of the first things I noticed however, is how close it is to the houses below it. Some of them on the nearby terrace are so close it covers part of their gardens and is metres from bedrooms. Both vehicles and pedestrians can cross the bridge and there are barriers in place so the two should never meet. I read last year an Ian Rankin story that starts with a car chase on the Forth Road Bridge. Rankin described this as his ‘Hollywood moment’. Not the sort of thing that would necessarily happen in reality but would in the pictures.
I was quite surprised to see that there’s more than one bridge. I’m on the central one but to the left I’ve another motorway on the Queensferry Crossing Bridge, and to my right, the Forth Bridge, which is a cantilever railway bridge. Classed as one of Scotland’s greatest structures, it is certainly a sight to behold in its resplendent red with huge almost diamond shaped shapes every so often.
On dry land once more, I walk into North Queensferry, a small village on the edge of Fife. I pass Waterloo Well. The village has three wells, and this one at the foot of a hill is so named as it commemorates the Battle of Waterloo. I’m going to head up the hill, but to the east is Carlingnose Point, an area of grassland where finches and warblers nest as they look out to sea. I notice something in the sea and can’t get particularly close on Google maps so I use my detective skills to find that it’s an old pier, now in a similar state to Brighton’s. The pier was used during both World Wars for handling mines, and housed artillery to aid in defending mines at sea.
As I progress north, I pass one of the largest quarries I’ve come across. It is huge and used to ‘harvest’ tarmac it seems, or maybe that’s just the company name. The high street ahead has some local independent shops, hairdressers, and so on. This is Inverkeithing, a port town with royal status, and it has many new housing developments, so clearly is somewhere that is up and coming.
Past its train station, which opened in 1877, and out into open fields as I slowly climb out of the area. I drop in at Scout Adventures Fordell Firs, the home of the Scottish Scout Headquarters. It’s a 48 acre camping site, and they even have a couple of lodges to stop in too. Activities galore from archery to bat detection and even canoeing. Well, they’re not that far from the sea. Fordell Castle sits behind the site and is another 16th century tower house, as per the ones we’ve seen previously on the route.
I don’t stop here though, although it would have been cosier, but with the miles I’ve done, I end up in a field a little further up the road.
(14th April 2021)
Still issues with the website. It shouldn’t be like this and none of us can figure out why. Everybody can see it but I still can’t edit it. Eventually, by the evening it decides to play ball.
Before that though, I stepped out of my tent and prepared for another busy day. This morning I’ll caveat by saying no baking occurred. This was purely through lack of planning as I had no butter, and partly because I’ve enough cake still to sink a battleship. It’s a heavy admin and tidy day today as we have an important visitor arriving. It’s nobody we need to bow down to but it’s important the decks are clear, so admin and tidying then lead the way to a walk. I stop part way to sit in South Park and take stock of Oxford. It’s from here that many a famous photo gets taken, but it’s also here that if you tune out of listening to the traffic and tune in to nature, you may be lucky enough like me to hear a Goldcrest or Nuthatch. The Goldcrest is a very small bird with, not surprisingly, gold plumage, and in folklore it’s known as the king of the birds. The Nuthatch has a large head and a short tail. Sounds a bit unbalanced to me. Tending to have some blue feathers and a black stripe, he’s a noisy chap and you can’t help but notice him, although you need to stand nearer the top of the park by a clump of trees to hear his song.
Back at home it’s a final tidy splurge before our visitor arrives all masked up. I mean, in reality, they could have been anybody couldn’t they?
Mossgreen in Scotland is another small place that has a community garden. I really do like this idea. As I head on up the road I notice that the landscape, even on the edges of the villages becomes more and more ‘sparse’. There’s certainly things to look at but it does feel we’re getting into the real rural parts of Scotland now. Cowdenbeath, which I’ve just passed however, is a large town with a population of about 15,000. Every so often there’s a large town that creeps up out of nowhere.
After our visitor left, I headed to the charity shop. We’re having a big spring clean and I tell myself I won’t buy anything whilst I’m there. £2 later and I failed. I’m pleased with my purchase which is a little writing ideas set. Quite quirky really. The afternoon is taken up with more paperwork, walking around the house doing tasks, sorting out the website, and preparing for an evening business meeting. I don’t feel as though I’ve been especially productive this afternoon but I’ve gotten lots done, so I must have been. It’s a strange feeling.
With dinner out of the way, my meeting goes without a hitch (exciting new project!) and I take the evening air with a stroll for more baking resources. Naughty. Oh well. Back at home, the website is finally working so I can update it, and for some reason I end up walking for an hour and a half in the kitchen. I think it’s because I’m finally able to update the blog at the same time. I hit ‘the wall’ though pretty much as I type this paragraph and I’m struggling so I ease off to a stop and clearly that must be bedtime, but I’ve a few more bits I must tell you about the route. I can do that but just not walk. Always listen to what your body is telling you.
Kelty has a country park on its outskirt but I’m not heading near it, but there’s a large Loch down the track from its obvious entrance. I’m generally following the M90 now but I’m on a more minor road with the 356 metre high Benarty Hill on my right. In the shadow of the hill is Loch Leven and it is here, on the edge of the Loch that I stop for the evening, but tent or Kelson Lodge, with its comfort? It’s a clear night and five degrees, so not horrendously cold, and if it’s clear, I can see the stars. Maybe I can have the best of both worlds and if it gets too cold, they’ll let me go inside. A long day. I walked nearly 11 miles, and I’m not quite sure how I managed that much. I’ve realised that it’s a lot and perhaps the upper reach of my limits, at least in my current condition of eating too much cake.
(15th April 2021)
Woke up this morning and having looked at the app realised I’d missed one of my walks off, so I’ve walked a couple of miles more, plus a walk in the sun this morning, has got me almost to Milnathort.
Let’s rewind slightly though. Last night I mentioned Loch Leven. The Loch is a freshwater Loch, triangular in shape and about 3.7 miles in length. At one stage it was deeper than it is now but due to works in the early 1800’s the water level dropped and it now exposes several small islands. A castle stands nestled amongst the trees on one of these islands, and it is here in 1567 that Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned before she was forced to abdicate the throne for her one year old son. The castle can be reached today by ferry and the total cost for an adult is £9.
This morning I had an early walk round a different local park. I haven’t been to this one at all much recently even though it’s closer, partly because it’s primarily just a field, but I was glad I did go there because it was next to empty apart from a small family that arrived about ten minutes in with their dog. I took a couple of loops and figures of eight across the park and was about to leave when I met a lovely lady who I’ve not seen for some time. She lives locally, which I hadn’t realised until a couple of years ago. We used to work together at one of the Oxford schools, and she was actually there and looked out for me when I was a pupil there too. Quiet and reserved with a heart of gold. We had a five minute catch up and went on our way. This park means a lot to me even though I don’t come here a lot because it’s this park in which I took some of my first steps to recovery by myself. Close enough to get home in a couple of minutes, enough space to see everyone coming and going and move on quickly if need be, a couple of benches, with my favourite overlooking the pond. I spent many hours here five years ago, soaking up the sun and talking to myself. It’s surprising how often the answers you need are actually in your own head and until you sit and talk to them and tell them you want to take control and you’re ready to put life back on track, that the brain kicks in. I still strongly advocate for speaking to others too for help, of course.
Back at home and I decide to do a quick bake. I’ve a few bananas looking sorry for themselves so in a bowl they go and I chuck in cocoa powder for a laugh to see what happens. Came out OK. 10 minutes prep and an hour in the oven whilst I checked my emails. When I got on the computer, and with emails as clear as I could make them, I suddenly felt lost. I’ve got a zillion things in my head at the moment. Ideas mainly of things I want to do with the business and I think, in all honesty, the imposter was creeping in to tell me that not a single one of them would work. I reached out to a couple of friends whose wise words of ‘choose one idea to work on and don’t stray from that and I want to see what you’ve achieved by the end of the day or I’ll kick your arse’ seemed to help. It was a firm grip on the collar (virtually) that spurred me to get a lot done as well as make some new contacts. A really productive day in the end.
This afternoon, class beckoned, and my 1:1 client on Thursday afternoon’s is a lovely child I’ve worked with for a year now. We somehow managed to get onto the topic of bogeys, purely as a throwaway comment from him and we then laughed pretty much constantly for the 45 minutes as everything we did turned to ‘bogeys’ or a variation of it. This may sound dreadfully rude to some and how can I get paid to sit and talk like this. The key to take away is that this was a comment that he made and from that one thing that made us both chuckle, we were able to use that as a catalyst to not only have a session full of useful content but one bursting with laughter -he was rolling around on the floor at one point, and as laughter is some of the best medicine ever, I’m glad to have helped administer some of it.
After dinner, a little more work before heading out for an evening walk. It was a bit all round the houses tonight, which was good. We like to mix it up and we covered lots of topics too. Walking is always a good way to talk things over. You may remember Tina mentioning this way back in Cornwall.
Through Milnathort I travel, crossing the M90, and then out into the rolling fields again. As I reach the brow of one, due East is a tall mountain range in the distance. I take this to be Lomond Hills, which stand at 522 metres, with two peaks, the summits containing the remains Iron Age hill forts.
The road ahead is a bit like a Roman road. Very straight. The hill on the right rises steeply and drops gradually on the left, but for some distance it remains grazing land with heathers and ferns on both sides, hugging the road. I reach Glenfarg, a village with a population of about 700. Up until the mid-60’s, it had it’s own train station but it closed and was overtaken by the motorway. In its heyday it was a popular tourist trap, although today it seems to be more of a sleepy village in the county of Perth and Kinross. It has the usual few shops you’d expect to get in a village, plus a primary school, but that’s about it.
I cross the River Farg, which was in the news in 2014 due to being polluted thanks to the actions of an employee at the water treatment works nearby. It’s only a small tributary but important, and was once a boundary line for a local Lord.
I follow the River a short way before kicking off left across the fields, past an outdoor activity centre, and then crossing over the M90 before bedtime. It’s a clear night in Oxford and the stars are twinkling down. It doesn’t feel especially cold though and the moon is a slither of crescent. Tonight the tent comes back out as I camp on the edge of some woods. Tomorrow I should arrive in Perth. I mentioned before that I always try and find a positive from the day to go to bed with. I read tonight that you should try and think of a positive for the next day to think of before you fall asleep too. I like that idea. It gives you something to get up for. It’s a clear sky where I’m camping and about 3 degrees. Best put on the thermals. It gets cold in Scotland. Tomorrow we start Week 16 of the travels, and then there’s less than four weeks to go.