2021 arrived and I decided to take on a huge challenge. Walk from Lands End to John O’Groats (LEJOG). This is Week 19.
(7th May 2021)
This is it then. Week 19 signals the last bit of the challenge. I was originally due to complete on 10th May at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, with the understanding that if I needed to have a few more days I could. Whatever happens, the end of next week is the absolute end so I’ve got to keep it together for the last bit now.
The strong winds have eased and the sun is beating down. It’s really warm however, I’ve a lot I need to get done for work today so the walk will have to wait. There’s a lot of design work taking place today and by lunchtime, excellent progress has been made. For some reason, whilst lunch is cooking, I decide to make some flapjack, and jolly tasty it was too.
Leaving my walk to the afternoon was almost a bad idea as the bad weather is starting to drift in, but I go out anyway and manage to get a few miles. No park walk today. I walk a couple of the private roads, and having not been on them for a while, it’s good to see how things have changed.
This afternoon I’ve a new client and we spent much of the time giggling away. There’s worse ways to ease into the weekend. We have a pizza takeout and then on to an evening walk.
I’ve spent a lot of the day watching the TV (or at least listening to it in the background) to see what happens with the election results. It looks like there’s a great shift in political party leadership this year which is extremely interesting.
Back at home, I update this diary whilst watching the TV.
Virtually however I’ve packed up the tent and left Doll. One of the first places to pass through was Brora, a small industrial village. It has its own train station and the main road through the village crosses the River Brora and the beach, mostly sandy, has many boulders and one of the best vistas around. I follow the cliff road, upon which the train line passes. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it, but it’s never crossed my mind that trains would travel this far up, instead stopping at the major cities, but they are quite a distance away from us now.
Cinn Trolla is another broch on the right made of a set of stones which one made up a building consisting of many rooms, likely used for defense purposes. Further up the road on the left is the wolf stone, which marks the killing of the last wolf of Scotland.
A few miles further along the road, with the sun setting across the fields, as it was also doing here in Oxford, I pitch the tent, whilst watching over the sea.
The muffled sounds of a party at the local farmyard can be heard in the distance. Maybe they’re celebrating my success. It’s good if they are. Let’s hope we sleep through though. Could do with some well-deserved rest.
(8th May 2021)
Today is a wet day. Wet and windy. Across the entire country. I decide to get up and do some editing to start with. There’s quite a large chunk of my novel that I’m not keen on. It takes a lot to look at something that you’ve worked hard on and which you’re proud of and to say that it’s not the best you could do and needs to go. The great thing about writing is that it doesn’t need to go completely. Keep it because you never know where you can use that writing again. It was lovely to sit in the peace of the house for a while.
It’s one of those tidy up days again today and I’ve a few tasks from yesterday that didn’t quite get finished so some time is spent on rounding those off, and exciting news, one project I’ve worked on is now with the publishers. Can’t believe it! As the heavens open and the rain thunders down, I spend some time sat at the desk being creative and also doing some manifesting work. I do enjoy the sound of rain. It’s extremely therapeutic and reminds me of the RAIN process for mindfulness when you’re facing difficulties.
RAIN THERAPY FOR MINDFULNESS
- Recognise – recognise what is happening.
- Allow – allow and accept the experience.
- Investigate – investigate it with kindness.
- Natural loving awareness
It’s surprising how many miles can be clocked up tidying the house. Also, walking on the spot whilst reading – yes, I’ve found ingenious ways to keep fit!
This evening is the only time I have an outdoors walk. It’s dryer but still quite damp. I realised earlier that I’m a little behind on the miles again. I’m not going to get disheartened but I will admit I’m struggling somewhat. My foot is getting pins and needles a lot now even on lesser miles.
Nevertheless, packing up a wet tent, I head down the cliff edge to stand on Crakaig beach, feeling the spray from the North Sea. It suddenly dawns on me that amongst the sandy dunes, there are a few others here, and they’ve the cheek to stand there naked. I’ve stumbled upon Scotland’s only official nudist beach! It’s cold so there’s not a lot to see. I’m certainly not about to be seen in a state of undress so move back up the cliffside.
It may be wet but I’m following the cliff path once more. Out to the right, the vastness of the sea stretches for miles, whilst behind me and to the left, the hillside rises so high that the only really thing I need to focus on are the waves crashing on the shore. For anyone that’s ever simply stood and watched the waves, you’ll know how invigorating and uplifting that is.
The former fishing village of Portgower is reached. Whilst it still retains the small community, it no longer is known for fishing. The Duke of Sutherland, a former prominent figure locally, decided that the village should be built on a grid system similar to France hence the housing is numbered completely different to what is known as a conventional method in the UK.
A few miles along the road, Helmsdale is the next village to walk into. The approach is via a bridge over the River Helmsdale. Despite how small a place it is, a lot has happened here. Gold rushes, WWII RAF radar stations, and the poisoning of the Earl of Sutherland in 1567.
There’s a really lovely thought-provoking statute here known as the Emigrants Monument. This statue, which sees a woman looking at the village whilst a man looks out to sea with trepidation, is a mark of the Scottish Clearances, a vast period of time (approx 100 years) when Highland inhabitants were forcibly evicted from their dwellings and moved out of the area. This as a result of a north/south divide emerging in Scotland, the southern half of the country believing they were progressive, whilst their Highland counterparts were stuck in the past and ‘weird ways’, whilst the Highlanders felt they were sticking to their traditions, embedded in their lives for thousands of years. Their roots were important. Bloody battles, including with Bonnie Prince Charlie became common, and many lost their lives fighting on both sides to uphold their views and beliefs.
Being a fishing village, there is a harbour here, small and simple but key to their trade. The road out of the village has a steady incline as it heads slightly inland whilst still following the general direction of the coastline.
It turns out as a result of the election, Scotland may have a referendum and as such I may not get back into England, so I need to hurry up with the last few miles.
Nevertheless, I can do no more tonight as darkness is falling. I pitch up in a field on the edge of the cliff again. It’s cloudy at the moment but we’re expecting a few hours of rain overnight because of course the canvas hasn’t had enough of a soaking yet! It will continue to be on and off for most of Sunday’s walking too it seems. I fall asleep to the sound of the waves crashing below.
(9th May 2021)
It continued to rain overnight, but as I pack the tent it soon dries up to leave a mostly sunny morning. In Oxford however, we lumbered with the grey clouds. Following a small breakfast I head out. I want to try and catch up on miles today but my foot really is feeling the pain at the moment from constant walking. Distraction is the key so we talk a lot whilst out and head towards the river which always provides some respite.
It’s lovely and not especially busy. We decide that as the natural route is towards town we’ll stop for a morning pick me up at the Horsebox Coffee Co once more. Lovely hot chocolate and today I manage to get a slice of their delicious panaforte cake.
I thought we were going to walk once around the University Parks and home, but oh no, brother has other plans. We get engrossed in spotting all the sports that are taking place. Ultimate frisbee, rugby, cricket, and football. It’s good to see things gaining some sense of structure once more where people can mix. Before I know it, we’re heading out across the fields, following the river to one of our old pubs, through the village, and after a stop in the memorial garden, the long walk home. It’s been a real struggle and I can feel myself over-compensating for the pain in my foot by not putting pressure on it, so my hips are really twisting out of shape now.
At home I find I’ve walked 5.4 miles. In one hit!
The walk has taken me virtually past Ousdale Broch, which like many others we have passed was previously in a poor state, but is now being longingly and lovingly restored. Slightly further along the road is the former village of Badbea (pronounced bad-bay). Yesterday we passed the monument for the Clearances. Badbea was a village that was formed when people were forced from their previous settlements. It’s a strange thing to be stood here (and I can thanks to the internet). Formed on a steep slope on the edge of the cliffs, Badbea feels like the sort of place you would have banished people to. The edge of existence. Today, little is left, although the general outlines of buildings can still be made out, and it’s worth a visit as there are panels explaining what occurred here. This small patch of land housed 80 people at one stage. It’s quite something to wonder how. The villages last inhabitant left in 1911.
The road has continued to incline gradually for a while now and there’s a large metal gate ahead with a warning on for snow. It appears that this gate closes the road when the weather turns out to be bad. It must get bad here if there’s a permanent fixture.
Ahead it’s clear why that gate is needed as there’s a steep, 13 degree, drop in the road as we head down towards 3 metres above sea level and the village of Berriedale. So steep is it that there’s an escape lane to prevent drivers whose brakes fail from hurtling into the river.
A quick bite to eat and I’m out again as it’s handbell practice once more. We’re meant to be ringing for a proper service next week. People will be at the church! We didn’t do too badly but it felt a bit like theatre where you have to have a bad dress rehearsal to have a good performance, so let’s hope next week will be amazing.
Back at home, dinner is served, and after a few minutes rest, we realise we need some provisions from the shop to tie us over until the main shop arrives tomorrow so out we go. The heavens open and the rain pours down. We could get in the car but I need the miles, so raincoat on, brolly up, and away we go.
This evening, I’m a bit wobbly in all honesty. Somebody sneezed in my direction earlier and they were quite close. As such, my anxiety has flared somewhat and thrown me into a general worry about will I catch Covid, etc. I’ve had the first jab, we were out in the open, so I’m hopeful, but this is one of those things I have to contend with daily as someone with anxiety, as many others do too.
The road into Berriedale crosses the aptly named Berriedale Water, and in no time, I’ve passed the memorial, the pub, and cemetery, and I’m ‘out the other side’ of the village. There are a few houses down in a cove below me, but that’s it. The road bears steeply to the left and if you were driving and taking it too sharply, you could go straight over the edge to the sea below.
Continuing to rise steeply, it’s playing havoc with my calf muscles, and the height I am at appears almost level with the mountains in the distance. Of course, perspective is everything, as it always is in life. There are houses dotted about here with stunning views of the sea, and all that remains between me and the cliff edge is a field for as far as I can see. The water looks as smooth as glass today as well.
As evening falls, I spend a while looking over my diary for the week ahead and admittedly watching Youtube because by brain has had enough and needs a rest. It was mind-numbing stuff I looked at but it made a change to the usual work. The road has stepped back from the cliff a short distance which is good and after a while I take my refuge for the evening in a place call the Old Mission Hall. It’s actually a mild evening and clear too so there’s a great view of the stars, however, the tent could do with an airing and a dry out, and a comfy bed sounds preferable. If I look out the front window, there’s once again a small field and then the sea. Tomorrow is set to be a sunny start in this part of Scotland, so seeing the sun rise over the breakfast table is not to be sniffed at.
(10th May 2021)
Start of another working week and it’s been a bit wet overnight, however the rain is easing. In the Highlands, the sun is out and I take breakfast whilst looking out over the sea from the little B&B I stayed in. The sea is glistening this morning. Doesn’t the sun make you feel all the better?
I take a short walk. I’ve a lot to do today and with how my foot is playing up I’m thinking short walks regularly will help break the day. The issue is that whilst I used to walk a lot, I’ve doubled my daily mileage and it’s been consistent walking so it’s a lot of pressure on an injured foot.
It’s a short hop around the park and it may as well be a hop. I’m struggling to even put pressure on that foot and what should be about 20 minutes ends up nearly double that. I’m so slow and at one point I could have cried, but I shook myself round and reminded that brain that each step forward is a step in the direction of progress and success. The app that I use to record the journey is called Conqueror and we have a Facebook group too, so I kept in mind the thought that by the end of the week I will have conquered the UK, and that helped but I was so glad to get home and sit.
That short distance this morning has taken me past Dunbeath Castle, an A-listed building which dates back to the 17th century, although there was a property here originally in the 15th too. Many Laird’s have taken it on and whilst a beautiful place, it’s perched a little too precariously on the cliff edge for my liking. With its white exterior, it’s described on the estate’s website as looking like ‘a lone white sentinel overlooking the Moray Firth that lashes the cliffs on three sides’. Whilst the castle is privately owned, the extensive gardens are open to the public, and the castle does host weddings occasionally if you fancy a really unique destination.
I’m working hard on my new projects today and it’s one of those days where it’s not flowing and that’s annoying, however, we have to push through those barriers. I could have sat here and given up. Instead, I forced myself to sit in front of the computer and not move until I had completed the allotted amount of time. There was some progress but not as much as I would have hoped for.
Having had lunch along from the castle, I continue with a bit of project work, and then head out again. The weather in Oxford has picked up and the sun is shining. Hooray! In Dunbeath though it’s clouding over. It’s a small village where novels such as The Silver Darlings by Neil M. Gunn are set, he taking inspiration from the landscape where he lived. There’s a neat little harbour tucked away, and a shop and pub. A proper little village you might say, yet cutting through the middle, almost a blot on the landscape, is the A9. It’s a crucial road though, joining the top of the country all the way back down to Perth, a total distance from end to end of 273 miles. Without it, the only routes north would have been minor roads, at least doubling the distance.
Up once more as the hill inclines, and I pause for afternoon tea at the Laidhay Croft Museum. The museum site houses a tea room, opened especially for me to partake in a tour and cream tea, and all of this in a 250-year old thatched long house.
Dinner time seems to come round quicker and quicker with each day that passes and once it’s over I’m torn because I need to get some more steps in but also need to go to the youth club building as I’ve left some equipment up there that I need. It’s too far on foot so in the car I shoot before returning home and walking out to clock up more miles. I’ve not done bad by the time I’m back again, but I will have to do a few kitchen steps before bed.
It’s been a bit of a strange day with the walks today because the times when it’s been sunny it’s been chilly yet when the sun’s vanished it’s been quite warm. Our weather is certainly fascinating when you think about it. The weather has been variable in my corner of Scotland too. The road had plateaued for a while but is now gradually dipping downwards, the cliff edge and sea crashing to my right getting ever closer, and the bracken and hills rising to the left once more.
Latheronwheel is my next village to pass through. A small settlement that never seems to have really grown. At its heart is a hotel dating back to the early 1800’s. Original residents ‘were allocated 2 acres of land and a right to fish from the harbour’ (Wikipedia). At one point the pocket-sized harbour, which is so easy to miss, even from above, would have been stacked with fishing boats. Today it’s virtually empty. They do still fish from here, but the former preferred catch of salmon is now herring. You can walk the harbour wall though with views across the North Sea to (if you have an exceptional pair of binoculars) Denmark.
I walk a little further and find that I’m struggling again. Last little push for tonight. It’s a clear night and not overly cold. I check my emails because I remember I haven’t replied to one from Restore from last week. The great thing about Restore is they haven’t left me too it. They regularly check in on me and mental health and they noticed this morning that I was having a tricky time so they reached out. It’s so important to do that.
This week is World Mental Health Awareness Week and the theme for this year is Nature. How apt that I’ve been spending the past 130 days in nature and talking about nature and our great country, and have had such fine support. Nature has always played an important part in my life.
Nature is all around us. Wherever you are, whether in the far reaches of Scotland or in the centre of Oxford, find that green space, notice the birds, the plants springing up, the sounds and sights all around you. Why not start keeping a diary or photograph journal? See how your perception of nature in your area changes how you feel.
For now, my last few miles leading me to my bed take me past the Clan Gunn Museum and Heritage Centre, telling the story of the Gunn Clann, from its Norse roots to the modern day. An interesting church of a building, surrounded by some ornate graves. We can’t go in as they’ve decided to remain closed until 2022 due to the pandemic, but it’s not a big place, but one of importance for the area.
The villages of Lybster and Invershore are next, the latter having a tiny harbour once more, although this looks like it is frequented more than the last one.
Many years ago my father bought my mum a Title. She can officially call herself a Lady, and she is the Lady of Glencairn. I feel quite fortunate in that, because I’ve now reached the Glencairn estate, which means I have a choice of where to stay. Of course, I have the tent to pitch, but who’s doing that when there’s many small lodges dotted about the fields. I’ve found one called The Antlers and I like the sound of it. It’s also only set back from the sea a short way, perched high on the cliff, so that’s where I bed down for the evening, the stars twinkling above.
(11th May 2021)
Wake up to the sun emerging from the clouds, whilst in Scotland, the sun is streaming in the window. Following breakfast I take a lengthy walk. I’m out in a school for most of the afternoon and won’t get many steps in so I have to do the majority first thing.
I’m a little wobbly this morning. Not like jelly. I can’t really describe it. Maybe I’m anxious about being back in school, perhaps I pushed too hard yesterday. Either way I don’t feel great as I leave the house, but nothing’s going to stop me now. Who sang a song with similar words?
Being out in nature has been the miracle cure for me and it’s allowed me to mull over many things that are on my mind. I’ve been going round in circles, both with some of life, but also with my walking. Figure of eight around the park, circle around an estate, circle around another park, then home. Although undulating, the fields in Scotland at this point are quite low lying and I can see for miles. I pass a farm and a couple of houses, and it’s clear to see how remote things are. It makes me wonder whether communities are closer here than where people are on top of one another because surely when you live further apart and resources are further to get to, you need the support of your fellow man more.
As quickly as anything the weather can change in this country, and as I type this, the sun vanishes in an instant and a roar of thunder is heard in the distance. Moments later, the heavens open and tears flow down to soak the earth, clearly crying out for the sun to reappear. I know that’s what I want!
Apparently it’s sunny in Scotland still and I’m in the wilds of Blackness so I search for a local webcam but typing in ‘Blackness webcam’ into a search engine yields computer troubleshooting tips. Shame.
The sound of thunder and rain often takes me back to two places. Camping as a Cub Scout. Many a camp we ended up with a downpour and I remember being in tents (not intense!) and hearing the pitter patter of water on canvas and the thunder rolling in over the fields, and secondly it reminds me of a couple of holidays on the south coast where we would venture later in the year. A couple of occasions we had torrential downpours and you could hear beyond the rain and thunder, the crashing of the waves being whipped up against the sea wall in the cove. Quite magical and spectacular to watch too.
A mental health ‘episode’ can be like a thunderstorm. Things can build up until there’s an almighty crash and what emerges afterwards can be cooler and calmer. It doesn’t always feel like it, not in a mental health sense, but in time it can, with the right support. Often we don’t realise how much it can affect us for good. I have flaky moments but the fact I’m still here five years later and running my own business proves I have the strength within. I would never have dreamed of being self-employed before.
I emerge from Blackness, but outside the window, it’s still pretty dark and the thunder is getting closer. I’m OK until the lightning arrives, then I might go and hide for a bit. I have to drive in it later! Oxford being where it is, in the bottom of a valley, means the weather systems often land and roll around for a while before they find their way out. We’ve had storms go on for hours before. The sun’s emerging even as I type, but the thunder is still rolling and cracking.
I was asked earlier where I would have walked to if I’d walked ‘as the crow flies’. I’ve just found out that my total miles by the end would take me as far as the bottom of Portugal, or the southern most point of Spain. Halfway through Italy if that’s your bag, nearly to Helsinki, or even Iceland.
This afternoon was really exciting. I’m back in the schools doing what I love – coaching in wellbeing. This is the first time in ages that I have been able to do not only direct contact coaching which isn’t via Zoom but also proper youth work. It is liberating when you almost have permission to work your vocation, especially in the youth work field which has been decimated by many governments. It would be good to think they’ll see the benefit of our work and pump money into the field again.
This is a series of workshops that I co-designed and now co-facilitate on. I love it so much and the children we were working with were enthused and excited by it. We have four more weeks of the programme to go.
Back home and dinner is had before I head out to buy some cakes for a special occasion tomorrow. I’m going to share them with the youth club because you know, young people love cake.
I’ve a few steps to get in before bedtime so whilst I do some editing and this diary entry, I walk in the kitchen again. It’s a tad painful but I’m rebalancing the body to ride through it.
In Scotland, it’s becoming more rugged and rural. Houses dot the fields. I pass through Bruan where a famous sermon was given about the Clearances, and on to the Whaligoe Steps. These are a set of 365 steps – one for each day of the year? – which have won Best of Britain Awards. Carved into the side of a cliff edge, they take the walker down to the sea in this naturally formed cove. At the bottom, fishing boats once would harbour here. They’re something of a tourist attraction, with the cliffs rising steeply in a horseshoe formation, and as such, they receive a lot of footfall and resultant wear and tear but a couple of volunteers spend nearly every spare hour cutting back and repairing the steps so it can continue to be enjoyed. Their work seems them carrying heavy loads up to the top of the cliff before returning for another load and so it continues.
On we go past Loch Watenan, past an alpaca trekking company, passing through Whiteleen, another quarry, and through Thrumster. Because of the lie of the land, we’re not really heading inland, more the land to the east is spreading away from us as we head due north. Thrumster used to have a train station, no longer in use but still preserved, and also used to be the location of one of the BBC’s transmission pasts until the 1960’s. It also has a pub called The Old Smiddy Inn. I do like that name. As bedtime beckons I pitch the tent at the edge of Loch Hempriggs. Perfectly clear to watch the stars.
The nature themed tip today is to appreciate the wonder of nature’s weather. How we can weather our own storms, riding out the thunderous times and emerging from the rain to shine bright. Enjoy the thought that like the stars, you are one in a million, and part of a massive solar system with others like you, but also so different and unique.
(12th May 2021)
Once again this is being written at bedtime. It’s been a busy day, starting with running an active client session. I’m also celebrating being, ahem, slightly older, so the whole day is birthday themed. From coaching, a family friend arrives to pass on good wishes, a delivery of a birthday hat arrives, and then I’m off out to buy some cakes for youth club to celebrate. The eagle eyed will have noticed that I bought some yesterday, however, I was not able to find any vegan ones last night and I have one young person who is vegan so it’s important that he is included. It’s the little things that make the big difference and can help people’s mental health too by not feeling left out. Whilst out we did a doorstep visit to my uncle, which was lovely.
Back from the shops and my time is suddenly really limited. I have to get ready for youth club but I also need to get a lot more miles in before then. I take a walk which was similar to yesterday’s route and my mind was full of ideas and questions to ponder today. Sadly, I seemed to spend much of the time on my phone trying to organise things, but there was the opportunity to enjoy the birds and sun through the trees.
After a whistle-stop dinner, I’m straight back out and away to youth club. Traffic was quite clear tonight which was great. Two lovely sessions with some fantastic young people. We did archery and went to the playground, but more than anything I had some lovely conversations. The older group have been with me four years and have grown to be some of the finest young people you could wish to meet. Helpful and polite, and keen to impress.
When I finally make it home (after doing first aid – what a birthday treat!) – I settle down to cake and chocolate.
In Scotland I pack the tent up and head north once more. It all feels so close but still so far. Past the fields of sheep I go and soon I’m in Wick. It’s a town! A larger settlement. On the south-eastern side of Wick is The Old Wick Castle, now ruins. The coastal path here is rather fascinating. The Trinkie is a tidal outdoor swimming pool. Once an extremely popular spot to learn to swim, on the edge of the sea, today, believed to be because nobody much cares for cold-water swimming here, it is no longer used, although is kept up rather well by a team of volunteers.
There’s quite a few people I know and have heard of locally in Oxford that enjoy cold-water swimming. It’s not something you can leap straight into, but with practice, you can increase your metabolism and circulation, and it’s been proven to reduce stress and aid better sleep too – plus it’s in nature!
Not far up the coast is Tinker’s Cave. It used to be inhabited, possibly by several families, up until the early 1900’s, despite it being prohibited from 1915 due to concerns over smoke from their fires guiding war enemies to the area.
Wick has it’s own train station and airport. It’s actually known as Wick John O’Groats airport, which proves how close to the finish line I now am. The town also plays host to the world’s shortest street, measuring at 2 metres, and only having one property on it. I’ve soon passed it! Over Wick River and then out into open fields.
I’m really pleased to divert slightly and come across Noss Head lighthouse in Castle Sinclair. Constructed in 1849, it’s still active and is known for being the first-ever built with a diagonal paned lantern room. This one is 18 metres high and is Category A listed. From here it shines in the general direction of Norway. There are lots of listed buildings around this area and almost next to the lighthouse is Castle Sinclair Girnigoe. Another large structure, now mainly ruined. It is believed to be the earliest seat of the Sinclair Clan.
I head inland a short distance and set up the tent in Ackergill. Tomorrow is the last full day.
For nature today, allow the mind to wander. Let thoughts ebb and flow like the sea. Let them wash over you. Let them pass. Don’t fret over them. Recognise them and let them go, imagining that they are floating up to the clouds if necessary.
(13th May 2021)
Here we are then. The last 24 hours of this challenge. It’s a busy morning as we’ve some building something or other person coming round the house. I don’t understand technical things. We all have our strengths and weaknesses. Leave me to be creative.
What it means is a bit of a quick tidy. I used to get frustrated tidying all the time. There’s more to life but now it’s good because you can move one item at a time and you get in so many steps. I can’t leave the house for a bit so I have to get in my steps wherever I can. Sat at the computer, the rain pours down once more, but the window’s open and I listen to it hammering the ground outside.
In Scotland, a small smattering of rain overnight but otherwise the tent is fairly dry so I pack up and make the most of the last day. It’s due to be overcast all day, but a day is what you make it and whilst a non-sunny day can affect the mood greatly, it doesn’t have to if you decide to hold a sunshine smile inside. By lunchtime I’ve managed enough miles to get me to Reiss. Not far, but a bit further along. It’s a small village and if I take a stroll across the field I can slip down the cliff side (hopefully not literally) and stand on the sandy beach.
Between Ackergill and Reist is Ackergill Tower. Built in the early 16th century, it’s an oblong shaped tower over five storeys with a four storey wing added later. Originally belonging to the Keith Clan, it passed through various hands before in more recent times becoming a wedding events venue, and then sold to Dr Betsee Parker, a millionaire American church minister. Often these sorts of moves can be met with a lot of upset from the local community feeling that its heart is being torn out, however Dr Parker is extremely community minded and has been known to donate £40k to one community project alone which helped people in need. She has also donated £10k to a community initiative to support people during Covid times. These are the sorts of people we need in our world now. Let’s hope going forward, more of this care for our fellow human will come back into being.
Reiss Sands is a beautiful beach. It’s at the bottom of the cliff and has a large sandy strip, before a thin almost planned strip of pebbles, before being sand again, similar to those fancy interior designs where the tiles are broken up by a line of a different colour. I read online a description of the area which states that ‘pure white sands [sit] alongside the azure waters of the North Sea’ (thebeachguide.co.uk). I mean doesn’t that paint the most perfect picture?
With lockdown restrictions easing again on Monday, rules are once again likely to change for youth organisations, or so it was thought. It’s not the case. We have a webinar to attend with the National Youth Agency and in order to help preserve education, we have to remain very strict with how we operate, continuing with masks to ensure that we minimise the chance of getting a young person in the group with Covid and spreading it between several schools. It does make it tricky when they only want normality but they’ve become pretty resilient our group and we’ll continue with that fighting spirit.
My brother’s van had to have a service today. Turns out his brakes are virtually non-existent. Oh dear! I drop him off so he can pick it up and then head home to hang out with a client again. I should say I was working really, but my work is so much fun that it often feels like I’m hanging out with friends.
I was due to meet up with my friend and her Beaver Scout group afterwards. They were due to go pond dipping on the next street over. That does sound like they were going to drop their nets down the drains but the local park is that close to me. Sadly, it’s been torrential rain once again nearly all day and having checked out the area for her, she’s decided to cancel the session. It’s too risky to lose a child in the water, suffer a twisted ankle, or get hypothermia.
Instead, this affords me more time to walk, which I need to do really to be in a good position to finish tomorrow.
I cross the River of Wester and continue to follow the coastal path until I reach Keiss Harbour. It’s small and quite bare looking but the waves do crash up here as you might expect. It’s still used as a ‘parking space’ for fishing vessels and there’s one building on the harbour which runs over three floors and is of old stone in structure. This is the harbour house and can actually be hired out for a residential holiday let. It’s got stunning views of sea and sky, is filled with antique furniture yet still has modern necessities, and even has log burners to keep you warm in the chilly Scottish air. Keiss Harbour was used recently in the TV series The Crown when Lord Mountbatten is seen leaving for a fishing trip.
I pass Old Keiss Castle, another ruin standing precariously on the cliffs, and which used to rise over four floors. Again, as with many of these structures, this is extremely draughty thanks to lack of roof and walls.
There’s not a lot else to see as I continue along the way. Fields to the left, sea to the right, and that’s it. Yet, it’s in these moments that I can be truly reflective. I’ve half a dozen miles left before the challenge of trying to walk the length of our fine country comes to an end. In that time there have been ups and downs, and they’ve been extremes on both scales.
It’s strange, but as I type this, walking the final few steps before I take my last sleep, I’m feeling a bit sad. Yes, I’m able to reflect on what a journey this has been, but at the same time, there’s nothing holding me to account for such an exciting phase in my life now, no end goal, and no fun little blog to write about daily. I can continue to explore the country, but it’s, well, it’s a very strange experience. An odd feeling. I didn’t know how I would feel at this stage. Yesterday, and even this morning, I thought, ‘Oh well. It’s nearly done and that’s it I suppose’, yet now, it’s tinged with an almost grief of loss.
We all have those moments in life of loss, of grief, bereavement, and each of those is a mini trauma that we have to deal with, and deal with them we do, in one way or another, but we must always hold to the fact that we never ever have to deal with them by ourselves. There are always people out there.
It’s almost a sombre thought to have especially considering what a momentous moment this is for me, but if there’s one thing we can all take away from this is that if we can push through those moments, those grey skies, the sun will shine again. One day it’s rainy, the next it’s sunny, and one day, the two will mix, and that’s where you’ll find a rainbow, and whilst it seems like one of the simplest things in the world, that rainbow is the combination of two almost opposing characteristics combining to create something beautiful that always brings a smile.
I wonder whether when applied to our mental health, maybe those dark moments really can be helped by somebody’s sun shining through, and together, really working together, we can make a rainbow. Perhaps that’s Restore’s mission? Maybe what we’ve come to realise through our dark moments, our grey skies, is that Restore is the sunshine, and when we combine, we’ll create the most fantastic rainbows that bring joy, happiness, and the biggest smiles back to our lives. Not only Restore though, but the message that they send out. Their mission, their sunshine, is to help people take control of their own recovery until the cloud eventually blows away. That’s really want we want and need. Not somebody to tell us what to do, but to hold our hand through the rain, giving us the umbrella to shelter under, as together we watch the rainbow emerge.
For now, as I settle into my sleeping bag for the last night, overlooking Freswick Bay, goodnight, and good health. Good physical health, but as important, good mental health to you, and may you find your rainbow soon.
A nature related tip for today, although not entirely, but we covered in class, is to imagine you are sat on a cloud looking down on your life. What does it really look like when you see it from this perspective? From a slightly different angle are there positives you can focus on? Is everything really bad? Maybe if you look carefully, you can see the rainbow.