2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 18.
(30th April 2021)
I’m writing this diary entry at a ridiculous hour. I’d intended to start May in a new way and that meant an early night but I’ve had so much on and deadlines to meet today, and not enough hours for some reason.
Therefore, at five past midnight on what is actually May 1st, I’m writing a few quick notes and will infill when I wake which by the time you read this I’ll have probably done that so it won’t make any difference to you anyway – ha!
Good start to the day. Off out for a walk relatively early and met a stranger. We walked and talked for quite some time in the park and she was a lovely lady who was explaining all about how she had lost her husband a few years earlier and how she had also had work related stress. Our stories in the latter respect married quite well, although she was working in the busy A&E at the time. So important to connect with people at the moment and this was such a good encounter today and really lifted my spirit.
I see a neighbour on the return route and we walk and talk on the way back home. I end up being ‘late’ for a meeting as a result. I say late in inverted commas because I managed to reschedule for 15 minutes later as we walked back so all was good.
My meeting was amazing. Another project that is gaining momentum and things are all falling into place. This one takes off in two weeks time, and sees me getting back into schools. Really looking forward to reconnecting with children face to face and supporting their wellbeing.
After some lunch, I’m into the admin side of things and some editing of my script which will be submitted later. Fifteen minute scripts are notoriously harder than longer ones as you have to squeeze so much into a short space. You have to be able to tell your story in as simple a fashion as possible to be heard.
Time flies by and soon dinner time comes around, as does an evening walk of some length. Beautiful sunset and the sun was a burning ball of pink. Really stunning and I couldn’t get a picture with my phone that did it justice.
Back at home and a bit more editing before script submission. I take a breather after this just to the end of the road and back and it’s rather peaceful apart from some rave in one of the houses that’s reverberating around the street. I hope not too many will be disturbed by the lack of respect.
Virtually, having stopped overnight in the RNLI building – thanks for the breakfast – I step out and take a proper look at the bridge I crossed the previous evening. It’s a monumental concrete block type structure, spanning the Beauly Forth. Looking back, I can see Inverness on the other bank and as noted yesterday, one of my last chances of seeing full on busy civilisation before we only see the odd hamlet. We’re going rural, lads and lassies. The RNLI base actually has a really good viewpoint, with Moray Firth to the east and Inverness airport in the distance, and out to the west, the views of the hills opposite as you look inland.
All of my walking totalled together sees me pass through Charlestown first of all which is where the RNLI station was positioned, and along tree-lined tracks as the route heads west. This seems slightly counter-intuitive considering we’re meant to be heading north-easterly, but when you look at the country, it dips in sharply here so I have to come back I’ll be swimming for a few miles. The small village of Tore appears to be centred fully around a roundabout and doesn’t really sprawl at all.
The tree-lined roads continue but the actually tree line does dissolve back away from the road now, leaving more of a grassy edge to walk on, and making the road seem wider. It hasn’t changed size but it’s all about perception. How much bigger things appear when we view them differently or the perspective changes. It’s mostly Christmas trees along here, with some yellow brush thrown in for good measure, and it continues like this for some time. As the trees melt away behind me, vast open fields surround me on each side and in the evening haze ahead I can make out the looming shadows of something large. The map suggests its the hills, possibly mountains actually, surrounding Loch Glass and Loch Morie, some miles off. I pitch up for the night and suspect that from here on in it’s likely to be tent each night. I can’t imagine there’s too many B&B’s this far north, although I may be mistaken.
I’ve had a pretty amazing day today with lots of positivity and good news, and for the most part it’s because I’ve changed my outlook, and considering what’s in my circle of control. What are the things I can control? If it’s not in that circle, then I’ve let it go.
(1st May 2021)
It’s the first day of May. May Day. A public holiday, and usually in Oxford we would see Magdalen Bridge closed off and the Magdalen College choir singing atop the college tower. This year, as per last year, things are different with the pandemic still around, and they have pre-recorded it and it’s all online.
I wake up relatively early and spend time sorting out this page as I left it a little messy last night. Having sorted that, I spent a bit of time starting a new manifesting project for the business which puts a positive spin on the opening of the day.
As I’ve been walking many steps over the past few weeks, I’ve decided today is going to be something of a ‘down’ day. A rest day they call it. Nobody can be on the go all the time, so I’m expecting to only do the minimum of 12,000 steps today. That’s always the minimum limit of an average day. That’s what it was before I even started the challenge.
I head out to Argos to pick up a Click and Collect order, and on the way back home pop into Costa for a hot chocolate, sandwich, and slice of cake for lunch. Very tasty and a real treat. We should treat ourselves as much as we can through bigger acts and smaller acts. Anything that feeds positivity into your soul helps keep the negative stuff at bay.
The weather is up and down today. At times it rains, other times the sun comes out, and a couple of times they battled for control of the sky. Back at home I do a lot of admin for the youth club. We’ve had a few enquiries for joining and our welcome packs and things haven’t been updated for some time. As the world has moved on somewhat, everything needs updating again.
I take an evening walk tonight to make up the steps as I’ve virtually none today. Late walk tonight but a great one nonetheless with various gradients. I’m hankering for crisps this evening so pop into the shop and pick up some Bacon Fries and Burger Bites. I’ll have a few of each tonight. It’s rare I have crisps but from time to time I do fancy a packet.
Having packed the tent, I head through Duncanston and then over Cromarty Bridge, which opened in 1979 connecting Finden Mains and Ardullie which lie on opposite sides of the expanse of Cromarty Firth. The Firth starts in the east and leads into the River Canon in the west. The water has been known as a good place to spot dolphins, seals, whales, and sunfish. A real hive of marine wildlife. For a long time this patch of water was used for military training and was a major naval anchoring area, especially during World War Two.
I follow the road along the edge of the Firth, and because I’m taking it easier today, I don’t manage to quite get into Drummond, so pitch the tent, listening to the gentle lapping of the water as I drift off to sleep. It’s surprisingly peaceful tonight and I manage a good few pages of my book. Bliss!
(2nd May 2021)
Woke up to a completely clear blue and the sun beating down. I was up early and headed out for a walk. I wasn’t going to go far. A little stroll to get the energy flowing. This ended up being more than three miles as I walked the parks and river.
It was quiet to begin with but soon got busier. There were dog walkers, people camping in the field on the opposite bank, flowers blossoming, and lots of wildlife to see. Geese sat patiently eating the grass, ducks swam with goslings, and swans were pulling at the weeds, tidying their houses. I didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the type of birds that were out this morning but there certainly was a chorus. I fully immersed myself in nature and it was thrilling to feel that connection with our planet.
Having pulled the tent pegs, stowed the canvas, and grabbed my hiking boots, a few steps on and I’m in Drummond. Directly north of here is the Fyrish Monument. This is a large stone structure like a giant set of linked archways built in 1782 by those that used to work the local land but were being moved on. It allowed them to continue in the area for a while longer. The part of the route I’m on at the moment alternates between field and river views to trees obscuring everything every few tens of metres.
I walk in the door and nobody else is up. Wow! Late start for them today. The room is bathed in light and I really do think that I need to make more of this early morning walking rather than later in the evening. There’s a pile of paperwork that I’ve been dismissive of recently so I tackle that, and clearing down really does make you feel better. I reply to a couple of emails, read my book and spend a while on self-care.
Family need to return some items to town so we decide to go to walk, but first, I have an appointment. We’re ringing the handbells again, practicing once more because we’re a tad rusty. It’s interesting trying church bell methods on these and it really tests your brain power.
And so to town. It doesn’t take long to get there but it’s absolutely heaving with people. We do our couple of tasks and get out of the there quickly. That’s nearly another four miles walked and my feet are weary. I’m struggling with pain in my heel now, and I think I’ve done enough walking for one day.
My next stop on the route is Allness and I owe an apology to the residents because I believed that Inverness was to be the last place I would see lots of people, but Allness is quite a large town with a population of circa 6,000. They’ve won Scotland in Bloom many times over and have previously won some prestigious Scottish Awards for their economical work. It has three primary schools that feed into the local secondary, and two whisky distilleries which don’t feed into any educational establishment, as far as I know. There’s an interesting colour to some of the stonework around here with a mix of grey and buff envelope. They do have a castle too. It’s only in ruins now but Newmore used to be a three-storey construction dating back to the 1500’s.
I’m soon out into the fields once more.
After dinner and a bit more reading and getting my diary together for the week, my brother decides we should have an evening walk. Oh my! Physically I’m not in the mood, mentally I could do with the break, so mind over body on this occasion and we take a short evening walk.
By the evening I’ve continued to follow the single track road with low walls and scrub either side, and few passing places, and pitch up in the shadows of the trees of a plantation.
I don’t need to do any kitchen steps this evening so I settle to write the diary whilst watching a programme (perhaps on a portable TV if you want to use your imagination) about jewel heists in London. Today’s big highlight is there’s now less than 100 miles to go!
(3rd May 2021)
Today started off OK with the weather fine, however, there was a weather warning that it was due to be wet and windy and as the day progressed, it was.
I went for a walk early again and bathed myself in all that the woods and parks had to offer. A plentiful supply of birds from Robins, Wrens, and Great TIts, to Blackbirds, Crows, and Magpies, through to the Treecreeper and Woodpecker.
Having packed the tent, I follow the single-track road, with the forestry to my right and the open fields to my left, all flat to the middle distance where there is a gentle incline to the top of the hill. It’s a very straight road. Nothing like my walk in Oxford which follows curving footpaths.
I cross the Strathrory River and am soon in Scotsburn. I’m also soon out of it too as it’s a small place to visit. The only thing I can see of note is Scotsburn Croft, who craft traditional Scottish crafts and clothing.
Arriving back at home, my brother’s up and thought that if I was up we’d go for a walk together, but I’ve been and my foot is suffering so we shelve the idea of going out again. I do feel as though my feet are really feeling the strain now. It’s almost as if they know the end of the challenge is coming and they’re slowing down to the finish line. I have an idea for a blog which brewed whilst out so I wrote this. It would need editing later.
In the meantime we decide to go out. It’s getting grey and drizzly out but we need to do something a bit different. It’s Bank Holiday Monday and likely to be busy as it always is but we risk it. We take to a local garden centre. We don’t really need anything but I do pick up a couple of bits and they’ve some new displays for homewear and it provides a few ideas when the time is right.
We tried to get a Costa lunch on the way home but were out of luck as the shelves were mostly empty so we came home via the Co-op and made our own versions of the food we would have had. Cheaper doing it this way so perhaps for the best.
Back to editing the blog, a bit of tidying, some manifesting work, and sorting out for the week ahead, it’s a day of clearing the mind a bit. I know that the next two weeks are due to be full on with lots of appointments and I’m due to be back in the schools too so that’s going to make it busy travelling across the county, that I’ve pretty much taken the full three day weekend to rest. Tomorrow I’ve filled the diary up and I’m gearing up for some positive changes with work.
Dinner rolls around and then I head out and I need to go and post some things through local letterboxes of friends. It’s hammering down with rain but we’ve coats and umbrellas so we head on out. Three young blokes saunter in front of us, stare back, and then about turn and walk back past us. It was quite strange and I’m not sure what they were spooked by. Maybe it’s my cheerful disposition but they certainly didn’t seem pleased to see us. Guilty conscience perhaps?
In much the same way as we started this journey, residencies are now becoming few and far between with the odd house appearing behind the trees at intermittent intervals, many of which are chalet bungalows in appearance and have the air of high cost to their name. This single-track road has continued to alternate between winding its way through forest areas and open fields, but ahead I can see more properties coming into view that are closer together. This is Tain, which gets its name from the river which passes through on the north easterly edge.
Tain is raining too although the wind is less there than here in Oxford where it is blowing a gale. Nevertheless, with the rain still pouring in both locations, I head to Carnegie Lodge hotel for the night. At least I’ll be dry and warm for the next leg of the journey. Tomorrow, I’ll pass the Glen Morangie distillery. Now I know that’s somewhere my brother won’t mind visiting.
(4th May 2021)
Had a lovely evening in the B&B but now it’s time to pack up and head out again. There’s only a few days left now. Tain sits on the edge of Dornoch Firth looking out to the North Sea. It has its own golf course and on the outskirts, the Glen Morangie whisky distillery. You can take a tour of the place, and if you’ve a spare £650 you can buy a small bottle of their top class single cask, which is a ‘rich, buttery whisky bursting with tropical aromas’ according to their website. It’s an interesting place to take breakfast but having taken a morning stroll in Oxford, I find that’s where I’ve passed by.
The wind is still blowing strong here and a weather warning remains in place. Thankfully as I head out in the Highlands it’s quite still. I find a new path that I’ve never found before in Oxford, and it’s only round the corner.
The Dornoch Firth Bridge crosses the water, linking Tarlogie to Cuthill, and with the weather as it is, the cloud hanging fairly low, it is near impossible to see anything in the distance and the road almost appears to disappear into nothingness. It’s a really stunning view both ways though. Normally, bridges that I’ve crossed have taken me, for example, into Wales, so the view is into the Bristol channel, but this is right out to sea. If my eyesight was especially good, I’d be able to see Norway.
Once in the Cuthill area, the land is far more bleak with the trees almost non-existent and heather all around. It’s starting to take on the appearance of the desert or a moonscape.
I got on well back at home. Lots of studying done today for all of the courses I’m working on and one of my projects for the business looks like it’s ready for launch within the week. It’s an exciting time. It does mean I’ve spent much of the day at the computer but a lot has gotten done. I speak to my senior friend who is closing in on her hundredth birthday. She has felt extremely lonely throughout the pandemic and explained to me that at her time of life the best thing is to slip away quietly because the day consists of waking up, eating, colouring a mindful colouring book (because there’s nothing on the TV or radio), and then going to bed. She has received a few calls and shopping has been dropped off, but there’s not a lot else. It’s sad to hear this from someone who has always been very active – she was an actress.
A lovely tea was had and then it’s out for an evening walk. I have a birthday card to deliver, and the wind has decided to calm but it’s still fairly overcast and grim.
There’s finally some sign of life near Clashmore and more trees and lush vegetation emerging which gives more to look at, but otherwise things are still sparse. I do pop into the service station for something to do. It surprises me that there’s one so far north but that’s a bit of a misconception really because I suppose people still have to drive cars and get about.
For tonight, I could pitch the tent, but you know what, there’s a wooden pod with a bed a short distance up the road, so I think I’ll stop there. As I fall asleep, my phone tells me I have just done 1,000 miles since the start of the year. 83.5 to go to the end of the challenge.
(5th May 2021)
The wooden pods at Evelix, Dornoch, are quite something. They have wi-fi, an en-suite shower room, and a kitchenette. Comfy cosy and certainly a step up from camping, and even glamping.
There’s no time for a morning walk today as I have to run a class and there’s some prep work required still. Class out of the way and I’m back to being taxi service. Typically as soon as I start the car it warns me that I haven’t topped up the petrol, something it reminded me yesterday. On my return home, I do the deed. It’s becoming so expensive. £1.24p per litre. Back at base camp, I check emails and get a few smaller tasks done before heading back out to collect my passenger.
The weather is changeable today. Sunny one moment and then overcast the next. I manage to get a few more sections on projects ticked off before taking a quick once around the park to get some mileage in. I won’t get much in today at all really which is a shame. It’s lovely outside and we’ve had a heavy downpour this afternoon. Now the sun is out it’s made everything feel really fresh, a bit like after a thunderstorm. The bones of a poem emerge as I walk. I’d forgotten paper and pen which is unlike me so thank goodness for notepads on mobile phones. Not my first choice but it’s there for emergencies.
My walk, along with my steps around the house and the petrol station through the high heather and other wild bushes into vast expanses of field that cut through the even vaster expanses of sky. When there are no buildings and little in the way of trees, everything seems so much larger and expansive around here.
I had tasty sausages for tea. That and a jacket potato. Quite enjoyable. Now though, it’s time for youth club. Seems to roll around quicker and quicker each week. This week there’s a surprise waiting for us. We’d left all of our equipment out and a hall hirer has decided to go in and use the space thus moving everything out of the way. They didn’t put it back which means a bit of extra unexpected work for us at the start.
It was a good evening. Our new wellbeing room is really well liked and used for the whole evening. We basically converted my office into a sort of sensory space and a lot of our young people need this breathing space at the moment.
At the end of the evening I feel ready for bed but there’s a bit of diary entry work to be done. I can’t stay up long as I’ve a bit of a journey in the morning to a new project that starts next week, however, I end the day walking further north, reaching tall pine trees either side of the road and in the gap you reach on the horizon, a mountain in the distance can be seen.
I reach a point where the road suddenly runs parallel to the River Fleet, which adjoins Loch Fleet. Loch Fleet is what is known as a sea loch, one where unlike it’s inland counterparts, the water flows directly from the sea via an inlet. It’s quite shallow, especially when we remember how deep Loch Ness is. You can actually see the sands and mud-flats here. In 1975, a nature reserve here was designated as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and it’s possible to walk the tree-lined paths, watch the osprey, or test your skill in otter spotting.
What I do know is that the original date set of 10th May is going to be a bit tight. In reality we’re looking later next week, but that’s fine as I gave myself some wiggle room. For now, I pitch the tent at the edge of a field, mountains rising behind me, and prepare myself for what will be my last few days. It’s so surreal to think this whole project is nearly done. There was a B&B half a mile back along the road. If I’d have been sensible, I’d have stopped there. Best snuggle down. It’s -1 degree celsius tonight although the rain has eased off.
(6th May 2021)
It was a cold night in the tent, but I was certainly cosy in the house. I woke up early, then turned over, and went back to sleep for an hour and a half.
This morning I’ve got to go travelling. I’m back into working in the schools and have a meeting with a headteacher. It’s all exciting. The journey was relatively clear which is surprising as traffic has been picking up as lockdown has eased. The meeting was short and sweet and back at home I have lunch before getting down to doing some risk assessment writing. It’s the fun stuff that makes the day tick.
It’s election day today so I go to vote. Who knows who to vote for? Everyone promises to do the best for the community, but do they really? As I’m virtually in Scotland, should I be abiding by their voting rules?
Before class today, which throws me out because I think it’s Friday thanks to the Bank Holiday at the start of the week, I have a walk around the park. It may be the only steps of substance today but the break is also needed as my mind has been in that heavy writing mode.
It was a lovely walk and normally I take the footpaths but decided to go ‘off piste’ and cross the field. It was fun to see a different angle on things today.
Class seemed to pass really quickly today and then I was on Facebook Live once more, then to dinner, then in a meeting for youth club. It’s been pretty full on.
I did manage to get an evening walk in of a few miles which has helped, and so let’s go back to the map and see where the land lies.
The road lies between a steep rising hill to the left and a rather flat field to the right. I arrive in Golspie, where if you fancy a round of golf, you can do so on the edge of a cliff. Just down from here is the beach, a long sandy one overlooking the Moray Firth. The village has about 1500 people and one of the most important places is Dunrobin Castle and Gardens. This is the last big house in the north of the country and has been inhabited since the 1300’s when it was built. The interior and gardens are heavily influenced by the French, and is 1379 acres in size. From the castle windows you can see the sea. I can think of worse places to stop, but there’s still some distance today.
Leaving the castle I follow the road which continues in line with the cliff edge, the sea twinkling in the moonlight. I pass Cairn Liath, a small fortification looking out to sea, still in a reasonable condition. A little way on, in a field overlooking the sea, I’ll camp again tonight, and as long as the sun comes up tomorrow, I’ll have the best view of the sunrise anywhere.