2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 17.
(23rd April 2021)
And so Week 17 arrives. I was always told you shouldn’t start a sentence with the word. And? I have.
I’m only just managing to write this at 11.45pm. Far later than I wanted to. Today has been a mixed bag. I woke up knowing that it would be a full on day of back to back appointments, some at home online, and some out and about. I’ve been back and forth as though my braces are caught in the door. Does anybody use that expression still? I met somebody who congratulated me for all my hard work and I’ve had chance to spend time in the sun with two walks. As it’s late I might not be able to put everything in that I’ve done today, but suffice to say, I’ve been racing around a lot. One meeting, which was an extremely useful business meeting ended up being two and a half hours and we’ve so much more to discuss in order to progress the project that we’re having another session next week.
Clear blue skies again with some quite balmy temperatures. Took three walks today and that’s helped increase the mileage no end. Mum had her second covid jab so I acted as taxi (and managed to catch enough time for one chapter of my book too). I had a returning client today whose whole body language changed within ten minutes of us working together. A wonderful breakthrough.
The evening was marred by a negative event which I won’t go into but made me feel quite distraught before bedtime. Thank goodness for friends and music I say. ‘Putting the world to rights’ makes a massive difference to a situation and one of my dearest friends reminded me of what two old friends have always said, and two new friends also says ‘if it doesn’t bring you joy and brings negative energy into your life, get rid of it’. I wonder what changes are afoot?
Woke up at the edge of the quarry and packed the tent before heading up the busy and dangerous road (remember that from yesterday?). Tall trees to the left and the mountain ranges in the distance on my right, and the wild heather within touching distance. As I slowly wind my way uphill, I pass the Raeburn mountaineering hut before reaching the hamlet of Catlodge. The road is winding on the way and it’s possible to see on the horizon the peaks and troughs of the mountain ranges, which lie between me and Loch Ness on the other side.
I’m still following General Wade’s Military Road here and pass Caoldair Pottery Cafe and Craft Shop. A bit of looking shows it was for sale at one point and the details all still exist online. If ever I have the money to buy a place like this, it is what dreams are made of. It’s the sort of place I want to run. It’s out in the countryside (in the wilds here), and has a residential building for the owner, but the main part is an oak-beamed ceiling with glass doors looking out to the mountains beyond. It would be an ideal studio for workshops and coaching. It also has accommodation for clients stopping over. One day this will be my reality.
A little further along the road I pitch the tent at the edge of the River Spey, overlooking a vast lake, falling asleep to the water lapping against the bank.
(24th April 2021)
After a difficult night getting off to sleep, I finally awake and lay there gathering my thoughts. I decide that today is going to be a day of tidying and taking it slow.
Behind me, as I emerge from the tent, I find in the woods, Dun Da Lamh, an old ruined hill fort with spectacular views.
It’s a beautiful day outside and I do spend lunchtime in the garden, reading, enjoying the birdsong, and spilling yoghurt down my top and jeans. It’s warm in the sun but chillier in the shade. Aside from this interlude in the middle of the day, I’m primarily indoors. I’m not the best at being outside in the heat and sun so often hide away and wait until it’s cooler. Come the afternoon, I can’t avoid it though. As restrictions are lifting, I’m able to meet up with my old bellringing friends. Normally we’d be ringing church bells, but we can’t go into the tower as it’s a confined space, but we can use the handbells in somebody’s garden. We practice Amazing Graze with harmonies and some of the normal methods (tunes) that we would ring when pulling the ropes. We’re a bit rusty but then the last time we could all ring together was at Christmas outside the church.
The tidying and reading continues this afternoon, and a new client enquiry comes in too. It feels like we’re in the height of summer at the moment and I should be out and about clocking up the miles, yet, by dinner I find I’ve done just shy of half the amount for a day simply by travelling around the house.
A pizza takeaway for dinner was far too much. We were quite greedy, but it made a pleasant change. As soon as we were able to move again (or at least roll off the chairs), we head off for a walk across the fields, the sun setting, sinking behind the trees cutting through the skyline. At one point we stopped to listen as a chorus of Song Thrushes and Goldfinches battled it out in the trees. The Thrush is quite distinctive with its speckled markings although was tricky to see in the shadows of the bushes. With my silly child-like hat on I’ve always laughed at the fact it’s also known as a Turdus. It’s perhaps not surprising that the Goldfinch was out considering he’s a sociable bird. Have our feathered friends been in their own version of lockdown and this is the first time they’re all coming out to meet up in the local bark and down a berry or two, I wonder?
I buy flowers for mum, just because. It’s always been one of my things. People can’t always show grand gestures, and actually, grand gestures aren’t really needed to show your love. The act of thinking of somebody else in even this rather simple way makes a big difference to both theirs and your mental health, and again, being able to bring the outdoors in, has massive benefits too.
During the walk the temperature in Oxford was similar to the temperature to where I’m walking in Scotland – hovering around 18 degrees, although it’s cloudier up north. I follow the River Spey and the edge of the lake. Sadly, the little peg man doesn’t work here as it’s now slightly off the beaten track so I can’t quite see what it’s like. The Spey is the ninth longest river in the UK and the third widest and fastest flowing in Scotland, according to Wikipedia. For the food and drink connoisseurs, it’s an important player in salmon fishing and whisky production.
The route takes me north-westerly, around the lower part of the north eastern side of Craig Meadgaidh (pronounced ‘Me-gad’). It’s a complicated mountain to climb apparently with different levels and gradients radiating out at all manner of angles, yet is best to climb in winter. I cross the River Spey and follow the edge of a plantation, yet Street View still has nothing. I feel a bit lost in the wilderness unable to tell you where I am. It’s not the first time, both physically out in the field, and in my mind. What do we do in both circumstances? Look for aids to help us navigate back to safety? If I’m lost in ‘the wilds’ what notable things I can I see, such as roads, church spires, fences, and so on? Physical features that may point to a safer space. In much the same way, when we are lost in negative thinking and feel that we have no way out, what do we look for to help ground us and bring us ‘home’ to a more neutral state? Do we notice that the walls around us aren’t actually crumbling down, that the front door is actually locked, that the telephone does have signal and we can call friends and family? It’s interesting being lost in the wilds of Scotland now (granted only virtually) and wondering what impact this would have on me both physically and mentally. The two are so intrinsically linked.
Melgarve is where I settle for the evening. There is again little I can say. The land from what I can see appears to be quite barren, bare, destitute of anything. Yes, this may seem good to allow us to absorb ourselves in nature but if, as I suspect whilst looking from above, there’s been nothing for miles and will be nothing for miles other than this landscape of mountains and bracken, I think I would probably struggle mentally. As I head to bed this evening, I count myself lucky that I’ve my book to read that will allow some escapism. It’s perhaps not the right book to be reading in a tent in the middle of the Highlands as it’s a crime novel about a series of murders. Sleep well.
(25th April 2021)
I’m making a note of this the night before in case I forget, but Ben Nevis is south-westerly from where I am now. It’s about a 45 mile drive because everywhere takes forever to get to in remote locations, but as the crow flies it’s probably about half. I can’t quite see it from my location as I’m at the foot of another mountain, but Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in Scotland, making up a third of the three peaks challenge (attempting to conquer the three highest mountains in the UK in 24 hours). It’s also the highest point in the whole of the British Isles. I’ve never climbed it and know I never will, in part due to my head for heights, but it’s one of those things that were I more sure-footed would be amazing to achieve. It’s a round journey to the peak and back of about nine hours. I know based on my current abilities at least it would be difficult. It doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the beauty thanks to the adventurers that have gone before me who have uploaded images online. How great is it that we can share these experiences in this way?
Woke up to yet another lovely day in Oxford, and on my route it is much the same. Temperatures today are averaging about the same whether in England or Scotland (or where I am in Scotland anyway). I’m hugged by the mountains still with no chance of seeing the route. Today is another day of lounging around, reading, and writing, plus a touch of tidying. I’m not feeling a hundred per cent this morning. A touch of anxiety creeping back in. I do my best to put it out of my mind.
One of the best ways I found was to put some music on and hoover the car. It’s not had a birthday treat for a while, to the point that I find a car park ticket from my holiday last August – oops. It’s exceptionally dusty. More than I’d realised, and despite hoovering the seats, each time I move, more dust is unsettled so it takes a long time.
Once lunch is out of the way, I receive a message from a friend who needs my support with her business by doing a LIVE video on her group’s Facebook page. I draft some notes quickly and hit that button. After this, I head out to use the jet wash on the car courtesy of a local garage. As a rule, I tend to get the bucket and sponge out but having spent a long time tarting up the interior, I didn’t have a lot of energy to do the outside. I also needed petrol. Whilst out, I call in at B&Q and get some plant pots for the garden, and then stop by Costa opposite for a second lunch. I know, I was feeling peckish. Had a hot chocolate. Has anybody realised it’s one of my favourite drinks?
More reading and writing back at home, as well as a few minutes in the garden. I’m currently working on a couple of writing projects and am having to split my time between all of them. After dinner I continue with the writing and then take a walk into the sunset. Typically, the ideas start flowing for another story, so there’s several in mind now.
We hadn’t really had the intention of going to the pub this evening but they’ve a large outside area and it’s quiet so decide we’ll give it a go. Very disappointed with the handling of customers. Apparently they were closed. No signs up, people still drinking and going inside for the toilets, but there we are. We left despondent and probably won’t return. The reception wasn’t welcoming. That friendliness can make or break a place. First impressions count and that’s what I think is so special about Restore. When you walk through the doors, especially at the Manzil Way cafe, it always feels like a happy place to be in.
We stop by the shop for some chocolate and return home for more reading and writing. I end up writing at the hob. I don’t actually need to do many steps to reach the target but suddenly realise I’ve walked about three miles more.
As if by magic, Google Earth has decided that whilst I can’t use the little peg man for a street view, I can now look at the surroundings in 3D. I appear to be walking through a steep sided valley. The path is undulating and at times goes quite high up the side of the mountain. Other times I’m back down in the depths of the valley. Still nothing to see but I suppose that’s it, isn’t it? There wouldn’t be other than these tall pillars of earth either side. It reminds me of my walk through Dartmoor for my DofE award when there were huge boulders at one point reaching high on our right. Still vivid in my mind.
There’s a few rivers and streams to cross and I can’t tell if there are bridges. I presume so otherwise it’s a very wet walk. Greener vegetation finally draws nearer and I spot a car park ahead. Civilisation of sorts before the day ends. Wonderful. I’m able to pitch the tent in the field next to the car park. 11 miles completed today. My best day yet. I am about a mile from Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, which I will have reached by lunchtime tomorrow. A clear evening in both locations and a chance to see the almost full moon.
(19th April 2021)
I laid in today. Not on purpose but I slept really well and had a lovely dream that was typically forgotten as I opened my eyes. Great sky again. Start of another working week, although when you’re self-employed, most days end up as working days.
Crawled out of the tent and saw a plane flying over quite low. It turns out there’s an airstrip behind where I stopped the night. Once I’m up and dressed, I do a few bits of admin then spend a while in the garden surveying the land. Soon I’m off, taking a walk for some essentials that we’ve run out of as well as to drop off a few bits at our local charity shop. Sadly, because I wasn’t thinking, I did it in the wrong order and ended up with my rucksack full to bursting with charity items and milk!
It was a really pleasant walk and despite the slight chill in the air, there’s no need for a coat today. Things are picking up. I follow a single track road through high trees and lush ferns, taking a low sided bridge over the River Taff. There’s basically no wall. It’s a bit like a curbstone and then the drop to the drink below. A short walk up a track and I emerge on to the B road and ahead, the glistening of Loch Ness can be seen above the grass.
I bear left, crossing the river once more, before arriving in Fort Augustus, a small settlement with less than 1,000 residents. Originally called Kiliwhimin, it was renamed after the Jacobite rising. Probably most famous for its Loch and Nessie, the monster that does or doesn’t reside within, this small place on the south-western edge of the vast expanse of water relies greatly on tourism.
The Loch has its very own lighthouse, still in working order, although nowhere near as tall as the ones we’ve come to know and love at the coast. This one is only about 7 metres in height. Its position indicates the start of the Caledonian Canal which is fed or feeds into the Loch, depending on which way you look at things. The Loch sits in the middle of the Canal, it running from Fort William to the south up to Inverness in the north, and boaters have to navigate the vast expanse of water partway through their journey.
Loch Ness is 23 miles long and 240 metres deep and ‘contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined’ (Wikipedia) and due to this, they have their own RNLI station overseeing the area. Last October they had a plane land on the water which they had to rescue. I head on up the road and have a great vantage point from higher up. The water level rose when it was made into part of the canal and a small island, Cherry Island, is now a lot smaller than it once was, and another island has been totally submerged. There are a few houses dotted along the route, but otherwise it’s quite expansive views across the still water.
It’s a heavy admin day today and before I know it, dinner has rolled round. That eaten, I take a sunset walk and what a gorgeous blend of oranges and purples this evening streaking across the sky. So busy talking was I that I failed to take a single photograph. My mind was clearly elsewhere.
Back at home, I check in with a few friends and finish some paperwork before having a wobble. I still don’t feel great. I’ve held it together today but there’s a touch of imposter syndrome creeping in and I think I’m exhausted from my 11 miles yesterday. I finished my book today so I’m going to try and find a new one to start tonight. The last bit of walking allows me to continue to follow Loch Ness to Invermoriston. My final hoorah before the evening is seeing the stunning Invermoriston Falls, where a couple of bridges come together, and as such water thrashes down the hill and combine in a swirling mesmerising viewpoint. I could stand and watch it for ages. Apparently, the best day to visit is on Tuesday as they open the dams further upstream and the water thunders through here. Tuesday is tomorrow and I’m at the end of my walking capabilities tonight so I’m bedding down. As I’m in the village, I’m finding a comfy bed but I’ll wake and try and be around to watch this wonder.
I’m stopping in Darroch View B&B tonight. Has very good reviews, excellent views, and a bed where I can get some rest.
(27th April 2021)
A chilly start to the morning and more overcast today too. The B&B does a good breakfast and I head out feeling quite full. I knew today was going to be a really full on day today so I took an early morning walk through the woods. I was stopped in my tracks early on by the sight of a Jay. He was extremely active and surprisingly didn’t hide much, although was clearly camera shy because when I tried to get a shot, he flew.
Around the park and I was dismayed at the amount of beer cans left by thoughtless, mindless individuals. I didn’t have anything to pick them up with or to clean my hands with after so was disappointed that I couldn’t pick them up. Our poor wildlife.
This short walk has moved me on from Invermoriston and following the route north-easterly along the edge of Loch Ness still, with a few concerning signs making it perfectly clear the some of the rocky outcrops to my left could collapse at any moment. Well, they know how to instill confidence! Alltsigh is passed through in no time, primarily made up of a hostel and a B&B.
I’m at home now and focusing on catching up with my coursework. It’s surprising how much information we can retain really, especially when the memory part of our brain is so small. Learning is good for us though. We should always be learning something new each day. It’s one of the Five Ways to Wellbeing and so beneficial for us. You never know when you’ll be in a quiz and need to know how often wooden spoons should be replaced. Yes, I learnt this during lockdown.
It was a really progressive day today but again, I’m not a hundred per cent health wise and I can’t put my finger on why not. I plough on though. I’m pleased with how even 20 minutes on each project is making a massive dent in getting them closer to completion.
I was originally due to go out to another bellringing practice this evening but plans changed and thankfully, after speaking to a couple of clients, it meant I was able to enter another short walk into my mileage. Oh, and I had a toad in the hole this evening with the yorkshire pudding containing mustard. I was quite pleased with that. I’ve got some of those individual tins that I call wartime tins as they remind me of what was around during the world wars – not that I was there but you see it in books and museums.
I’m quite surprised that despite my two shorts walks, I’ve actually walked a lot around the house today. Other than following the bank of Loch Ness with still no sighting of Nessie, and minding my head for falling rocks, there’s not a lot to report on for the journey today. Set back amongst the trees along the way is another pottery and cafe, and a few more B&B’s (clearly a popular tourist place).
For tonight, I’m pitching up in someone’s field out the back of their house, the view of the water, and the sun sinking behind the hills. What more could I ask for? There’s access to a toilet which is always a bonus! Officially under 150 miles now too. Yay!
(28th April 2021)
A rather wet start to the day underfoot and not a great deal better from above. I’ve got an online training course for most of the day today so I get out early and walk several laps of the small part before settling down to renew my Mental Heath First Aider certificate.
The Mental Health First Aider course is one everybody should do. The more people that get on it and recognise the signs and how to support those struggling with mental ill health, the better. My course was free via Restore, who I am raising money for and you don’t have to be a service user to do it. As this was only refresher it was shorter, but still packed with content and t he trainers are excellent. Extremely knowledgeable.
We had a few short breaks throughout and each time I walked as many steps in the kitchen as I could whilst grabbing a biscuit and drink. I had to keep up with the target. I’ve nearly reached the pacer which is the first time ever. I’m so pleased with myself.
With the course done and dusted and my brain full of updated knowledge and skills, it’s out for another short walk. I’ve had a few emails and messages today that have caused some frustration and any chance to get out and release that pent up negative energy is a bonus.
I receive quite a distressed call from a parent of a youth club member who is going through a difficult time. The life of a youth leader is never a simple one, and we do act as therapists to parents as well as their children a lot. Youth work, in the ‘traditional’ or dare I say stereotypical sense of a youth club (because some believe youth work only happens in club buildings) has taken a massive knock during the pandemic and many will have shut, yet youth work and workers are essential in supporting our young people, not just in the current climate at all times. It’s why we have our own curriculum to work to.
After dinner, I’m straight back out to youth club. It used to take 20-30 minutes to get there. Unfortunately, not only has some ‘sensible’ person on the council decided to put in traffic measures that help(!) the roads, they’ve also authorised road works, so my journey ends up closer to an hour as I sit in backed up traffic, barely moving, churning out fumes to pollute our air. Good job there’s no local election coming up…Oh, wait!
Enough of politics. Youth club is back. Two back to back sessions are tiring after a day of talking about mental health issues in a really focused session with other professionals, but key to the wellbeing of our young people. Our younger group have decided that they don’t want to be called Juniors. They think they should be the Cool Kids or similar, whilst they believe the Seniors should be called the Nerds. I’m sure they’ll have something to say about that. The Juniors as I still call them get excited about the new wellbeing room and are fascinated by the elderly running club meeting in the car park, believing that in their hi-viz they are some form of alien from another planet because no elderly person in their right mind would wear fluorescent clothing and go running in the rain with a group of about 20 others in the middle of a pandemic. Interesting point.
The older group arrive and are quickly set to task. Simple stuff as we’re only starting back still so easing them in. They have to take two slips of paper, one red and one green and write down one thing that has made them sad this week and one thing that has made them feel happy. This leads on to some 1:1 coaching, and later a short activity on friendships and kindness. We also discuss an important matter raised in youth work circles recently (by a young person) who is concerned about school changing facilities and body confidence. Fascinating stuff.
Soon I’m home and realise I’ve not written any diary today and other than reporting that I got wet when out walking, I’ve no clue what else I’ll be adding. Let’s see.
Woke from my tent this morning overlooking Loch Ness and headed toward Urquhart Castle. The castle’s clearly feeling sad for itself, it’s in bits. Literally. It’s ruins. Sorry, poor attempt at a joke. It perches quite cautiously on the edge of the Loch and is one of the largest in Scotland. It was raided several times, and today is taken care of by Historic Environment, Scotland’s version of the English Heritage organisation, and tourists can visit.
I head a little inland in order to navigate around the cove, passing through Drumnadrochit, a small village with the River Enrick running through it. In true form I visit the RNLI station. My route from here lets me follow the edge of the Loch still, and I spot Nessie! Yes, the Loch Ness Monster! Well, it appears to be a fibreglass model outside a gift shop and B&B. There’s a jetty where I can get a short cruise also to see if I can spot the hiding creature. For anybody using the stopover facilities, it’s an amazing view in the morning of the Loch, and in fact, it’s a pleasant spot to stop and ponder for a while. I could have stopped here but I walk a few more paces and pitch the tent in a car park. It was a daft move as the rain is coming in again and is set to last through the night. I’ve stopped mid-way between two B&B’s. More planning on my part. The gentle sound of rain is peaceful though, so I’m sure I’ll soon be drifting off.
(29th April 2021)
Another sunny start to the day in Oxford and I wake up really early, which is surprising considering I didn’t manage to fall asleep until the wee small hours due to too many things swirling inside my head.
I packed up the tent and as the final few steps around the edge of Loch Ness were being walked, I found myself heading down on a usual river walk. A bit of a chill in the air but the sun is already getting warm and the school children haven’t quite settled at their desks yet either. I take some photos of a few leaves that look pretty and then remember the elderly couple I met a little while ago in the park who mentioned an app that identifies foliage, so I download that quickly. Well, if only I’d done that sooner. I end up snap happy as I head along by the water’s edge. I take some more bird recordings too, and at one point stop for a few minutes to photograph a deer on the opposite bank. It was peaceful until a woman past behind me, screeching after her dog who clearly wanted to investigate the four legged creature opposite but didn’t do more than take a few steps towards me and walk around in a circle. Thankfully the deer remained.
As I reach home, I virtually reach Lochend. It’s at this point that Ness shrinks down considerably into a small Loch by the name of Dochfour.
I have a call with Restore almost immediately. We’re so close to the finish line now that we’re trying to make arrangements for the final mile and how we can celebrate. We were hoping to be sufficiently out of lockdown that I’d be able to have about 30 people there, but the restrictions still remain at no more than six, so it looks like it will be a small affair. A couple of very small jobs take place at home, mainly project work, and then I’m taxi service for a doctor appointment, so another chunk of the day gets taken up away from work but it does mean that I can spend time sitting and watching the world go by and laugh at people who have clearly forgotten how to drive during lockdown.
The Loch shrinks down again and splits. More easterly it becomes the River Ness, but running parallel to it is the Caledonian Canal, which I now follow, still in a north-easterly direction. I should be following the A-road, but where the canal’s and rivers are concerned, I’m going to be there as it’s much nicer, and somebody has taken the time to send the Google street view along the water’s path, so let’s take a gander. Lots of boats, and the water is at quite a high level. That seems almost standard for much of the route. Around Oxford there’s usually a foot or so drop from the path to the water, but the images seem to show it almost level.
Returning from the doctor’s it is time to really make a dent in some of these projects. I’ve some exciting news about one which I hope to be able to release soon but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like to tease before things are a bit more watertight. Soon enough, class time comes around and I spend part of the evening laughing for an hour with a client.
Dinner polished off, there’s time for one more walk this evening as the sun sets. We stroll across the open fields and return home via the shop because I deserve chocolate. I shouldn’t have it, I know, I have too much, but it’s my life and I’ll live it how I want.
I’m behind on steps today simply because of how things have worked out so I’m in front of the kitchen tiles once more part writing this but also trying to complete a script that has to be submitted tomorrow evening. It’s got about three pages left to be written, then edited. Tight deadline, but I’m pleased with the fruits of my labour.
Soon the outskirts of Inverness appear. I’ve made it. I can’t believe it! This is the last city I will come across now. One of the last largest inhabited places. From here on in it looks to be mainly villages and hamlets. Inverness is classed as the capital of the Highlands. The population of the city has grown steadily over the years. It has an Archive Centre, a college, and many of the businesses that once existed have made way for more hi-tech alternatives, especially in the field of science. It is Inverness where a majority of the outer-lying island’s children and teens get educated, having taken boats across in the morning, and returned the same in the evening. A far cry from Oxford where you sit in traffic.
I cross the canal and see on the opposite bank of the river, which runs through the centre of Inverness, the train station, which opened in 1855. A massive reconstruction of the buildings, which have been developed over the years anyway, has been given the go-ahead, so it’s exciting times for the transport links in the area. The city has a cathedral, the northernmost in the UK, and a castle built of red sandstone. There’s no time to hang about though because as night draws in and my bed beckons, I’m heading over Kessock bridge, which crosses Beauly Forth, stopping the evening in the RNLI station on the opposite side.