Sunday, 28 June 2009
My first assumption was that my sole shelter along the route would be my tarp, a Golite Cave. I’ve had this for about eight years and I know it pretty well. I then wavered and thought maybe a robust solo tent would be better overall and this was my intention until shortly before I left. I then did a complete turnaround and took the tarp and didn’t regret it. It’s lighter in weight, takes up less space when packed and gives much more living space when pitched. I’ve never used it in, say, 50mph wind conditions but my LEJOG route didn’t take me to really exposed places. I expected wind and rain (and had them) but not extreme wind and rain. I experienced rain, wind and below zero conditions on the walk and there was never any problem. The tarp has put up with worse conditions than this. It is far more robust than it looks and I can cook under it.
The main drawback of the tarp, in its basic form, as far as I am concerned, is that it gives no protection against midges. However, I have the Golite Nest which attaches by hooks to the inside and outer edges of the tarp. I had this sent in a resupply parcel when I got near to Penrith. I used the Nest for many of my overnight camps in Scotland and I’m glad I had it with me. It cuts down on much of the living space under the tarp but it guarantees a peaceful night’s sleep.
Pacerpoles (aluminium). These were really very good. Their specially shaped hand grips were comfortable and gave extra power to propel me up hills and were also helpful when crossing streams. They kept the tarp up as well. I tended not to use them when I was using the Golite Breeze pack (see below). I found that I prefer to have my hands free when using this pack.
I chopped and changed here. I started with a Kimmlite (now OMM) Mountain Mover 55 + 15. However, I felt that I was using this to its full capacity and the rather sparsely padded shoulder straps were a little uncomfortable. I switched to a larger, unbranded pack I’ve had for years. It carried everything well but, I came to realise, it’s made for someone with a longer back than mine and it tended to hang too low. On my quick visit home at the end of April, I bought an Osprey Ariel 65. This took the required load well and was generally reasonably comfortable. Once I got into Scotland and Amanda arrived with the camper, I was able to carry a lighter load and food supplies for maybe one or two days and nights and so used a Golite Breeze. It doesn’t have a hip belt but that isn’t so important with less being carried. It only weighs a few ounces and, when packed well, it is very comfortable and, I have to say, is still my favourite pack. On a future multi-day walk, if food can be picked up more often then this would be my pack of choice.
I used a Mountain Equipment Xero 350 throughout. I bought this as a bag for winter use but only rarely did I get too hot in it on this trip. It’s a superb bag. It’s down, lightweight and packs up small.
Alpkit Hunka – it only cost £25 but it does the job in making sure my down bag doesn’t get wet from rain and is as breathable as I need it to be. I took it with me following the problems I had last year on my coast to coast walk but I could have done without it but it was sensible to have it.
Thermarest ¾ length self-inflating mattress. This is the thinner one but is more than adequate for me and ensures that I sleep comfortably. I carry a short length of closed cell foam to go under my legs and feet as well. This is also my sit mat under the tarp and provides good padding down the back of the Golite Breeze pack.
As the tarp has no base, I used on this trip a length of clear Polycryo, about eight feet long and 2.5 feet wide. With careful treatment and a few duct tape repairs, it lasted the required ten weeks. In case it was needed, I also had with me a space blanket which does the same job just as well. The advantage of both of these is that they only weigh a couple of ounces.
Mini-Trangia. I’ve had this for years. It’s very simple and there’s nothing to go wrong with it. To lighten its weight, I’ve replaced the burner with a Varga titanium stove which weighs just one ounce. It uses much less fuel (methylated spirits) and, in the event of me running out of meths, I can use fuel tablets with it.
My jacket is a Mountain Equipment Ogre, not cheap but reliable, comfortable and very breathable. My waterproof trousers were a disappointment. They were Rab Bergen and were sent home when I found that they let in rain. I’ve yet to decide what to do about them as they haven’t been used much but I can’t find the receipt. I used for most of the trip a pair of Gelert overtrousers which cost £11.99. They were very good and did the job but the taped seams started to fall part towards the end so I dumped them. I had a pair of Peter Storm overtrousers sent on from home which, after reproofing on the campsite at Peebles, were fine.
I started with a broken-in pair of Alt-Berg Fremingtons. These were good but I found that the little toe on my right foot was being pinched. These were stretched for me, which helped. In the meantime, from Whiddon Down to Broadway Tower, I wore a pair of Scarpa fabric boots I'd had for some time which were very comfortable but the heels started to come adrift. I had the Alt-Bergs brought to me (I wasn't far from home at this point). I then wore the heels of these right down by the time I was half way across Scotland so may have them resoled. A replacement pair, identical but in a wider width fitting, saw me through almost to the end. These are excellent boots, waterproof and comfortable.
For the last couple of days, carrying only a day pack, I wore trainers, an old pair of Merrell Exotechs. I could have worn trainers for just about all of the walking in Scotland.
Other bits of kit
Golite Wisp windproof top – indispensable. It weighs nothing, packs down to nothing and, over a fleece top, keeps wind out.
Mountain Equipment Polartec 100 fleece - a favourite.
Vaseline – I used a couple of Compeed blister patches but, if caught early, Vaseline is effective in preventing rubbing from developing into a painful blister. A £1.00 tin lasted me the trip.
Pocketmail – whilst I’ve used this on previous trips for blogging, this tended to exhaust my patience. It’s an old model and doesn’t work with a mobile phone. Therefore, I was dependent on finding public call boxes. This was generally no problem but not all were working, when they were, I couldn’t always get them to work with the Pocketmail – it was very hit and miss. In the remoter parts of Scotland there were no call boxes. In the end, I gave up and used the little Blackberry that I’d bought just before leaving. I thought I’d never get to grips with the minuscule keyboard but, with practice, I became quite proficient. The drawback with it was that it needed charging periodically whereas the Pocketmail uses AA batteries. I will definitely use the Blackberry for blogging again but for longer trips might consider using a separate phone for making calls and restrict the Blackberry’s use to posting to the blog to conserve its power. I can post photos to the blog with it, whereas the Pocketmail is capable of sending text only. The Pocketmail weighs nearly nine ounces compared with three for the Blackberry.
I used Exped waterproof bags to keep kit dry. With all kit kept in a waterproof pack liner, I didn’t use a waterproof pack cover and just let the pack get wet in the rain. It always dried out quickly.
My only light was a Petzl e+lite. My only knife was a small blade in a Swiss card; I used most of the other gadgets in this during the trip.
I camped 47 nights, of which three were in gardens, twelve were wild camps and the rest were on sites of one sort or another. None of the sites were really bad, some were better than others. I spent one night in a backpackers' hostel/bunkhouse (Fort Augustus), one night in a bothy (Loch Choire), one night in a pub (Aultguish Inn), one night in a Travelodge (Whiddon Down), thirteen nights in beds in houses plus one on the floor of a house (Eskdalemuir) and five in a campervan.
I can't say exactly how much the trip cost me. I know that those who I met also doing LEJOG who were using B&Bs would have spent around £3,000 in all, to include an evening meal with drink. As I used my own food most of the time for breakfast and evening meals, I think my cost was around £500.
I didn't wear out any pairs of socks. I used a few pairs of socks I've had for a few years and will continue to use them. I think I must be very light on socks.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Back to work tomorrow. Am I looking forward to it?
Saturday, 13 June 2009
Distance walked today 19 miles
Total distance walked 1059 miles
Today was a road walk all the way to John o'Groats. The site we were on was three miles north west of Watten. There didn't seem much point in going into the village - it was an A road with no footpath. Therefore, I went up the A882 in the Thurso direction for half a mile before turning right signposted Gillock. I tramped along this road for two miles, turning right on to the B874 for half a mile to Gillock, then left for three miles to the B876, turning right for one and a half miles.
At Hastigrow, I turned left and continued almost in a straight line for eight miles to Upper Gills. Just before here, I came over the brow of a hill (more a vague change in elevation as, shortly before this, I'd passed a trig point at a height of 66 metres) and there before me was a view of the Pentland Firth something over a mile away with Stroma Island to the fore and the Orkneys beyond.
First glimpse of sea since Sennen Cove, Cornwall!
Continuing through Canisbay, it started to rain. As an aside here, one of the commonest birds I've seen on this walk has been the oystercatcher and, in a field in Canisbay, there must have been at least two hundred of them. Passing by the youth hostel, I then joined the A836 in to John o'Groats.
On the way in, there was a house named Aargh - is this some strange Scots word?
Just for the sake of completeness, having started from the most southwesterly tip of England, I shall continue tomorrow to Duncansby Head, the north east tip of Scotland. The rest of tomorrow will be spent exploring some of this part of Scotland, Monday involves a trip on the ferry to the Orkneys with a circuit by coach of the main tourist sites and we shall head for home on Tuesday via Morpeth to visit the people at my charity, MS Research and Relief Fund.
As for the other End to Enders I met, Reg and Geert, who I Iast saw on the West Highland Way, got to John o'Groats a couple of hours before me (Amanda met them whilst parked up some way ahead of me). Unfortunately, they'd had to make a dash for a bus to Wick just before I arrived.
Vinnie, my American friend, is just two days away and I shall go off in search of him at some point.
If having got hooked on this blog, you wish to switch to another, you might try http://brendanslittlelegs.wordpress.com/ - Brendan is now close to the Scottish border.
At this stage, I'd like to thank all family, friends, friends of family and friends and others who've given so generously to my charity. The original target was £2,000 and now the amount raised is nicely over £3,000.
I hope this blog has kept people entertained. I've certainly enjoyed doing it. I shall add more photos to it in due course and hope to make the whole adventure available as a downloadable pdf. The blog itself will continue with occasional postings relating to ultralight hiking and backpacking as before.
Friday, 12 June 2009
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 1040 miles
Distance left 20 miles (actually, 20.5)
Lots of midges last night. I wiped the condensation off the inside of the tarp and realised that it wasn't just wet on the outside, it was ice - in June. I think the last night the temperature dropped below zero was in Devon two months ago. Judging by the amount of water I often squeeze out of my sponge, there must be a pint at least - I'd rather not be carrying it.
I'd been camping only three feet off the forest track so I rejoined it, continuing alongside the railway. I left without breakfasting as the midges were out in force. I'd made some tea but that had midges in it. I had a head net on but it's not easy to eat or drink with it on.
The first five miles was through forest. Breakfast was had on the edge of Loch More.
Whilst there, I had the feeling of being watched. Turning round slowly, I saw a deer no more than thirty feet away. It obligingly let me take a photo before it ambled off - by far the least afraid deer I've come across so far.
Shortly after this, the track joined the road which passed Strathmore Lodge, a large house with a tower and a turret.
Thursday, 11 June 2009
Distance walked today 19 miles
Total distance walked 1024 miles
Distance left 36 miles
I had a brief exchange of emails yesterday evening with my friend, Gayle (http://gayleybird.blogspot.com/), regarding her route from Kinbrace last year. In fact, the route she and Mick took over Knockfin Heights is the one described in Andy Robinson's "The End to End Trail". The OS map shows absolutely no paths over Knockfin Heights but Gayle likes a yomp over boggy, featureless moorland, the wetter the better.
I didn't go this way. Taking advantage of having my support vehicle and team with me, I took a day pack with just waterproofs and water, donned trainers and power walked the seven miles by road, the. A897, to Forsinard. This was single track with passing places and there were very few vehicles about.
We had a quick look round the RSPB Visitor Centre and then went for a pot of tea at the Forsinard Hotel. I then continued, covering a further four miles in record time.
After this, I put boots back on, shouldered my Golite pack and headed off, initially south east, on a trail signposted Altnabreac. This was easy to follow, being waymarked and having a good sandy surface. In fact, I'm certain it was wider than the A897 in places.
The map I had was supposedly up to date and I expected to be walking through forest much of the way. Most of the forest had been cleared, obviously some time ago as part of a scheme to return the land to its original wet moorland state.
My planned overnight stop around Cnoc Maol Donn proved to be totally unsuitable so I collected water at a burn and carried on walking. After another three miles, I found a reasonable pitch close to the railway alongside a forest track at ND010461. In the three hours I've been here, one vehicle and one train have gone by.
Wednesday, 10 June 2009
Distance walked today 17 miles
Total distance walked 1005 miles (now, doesn't that look impressive?)
Distance left 55 miles
I spent a peaceful night in the bothy. Those responsible for it have taken a lot of trouble over it.
There was no need for a compass today. I followed the track along the south side of Loch Choire. I chatted to the housekeeper of Loch Choire House, who's from Hampshire, although her husband, the stalker, who I also met, is very Scottish. Along the way, I met the estate handyman, who is from the Czech Republic.
I took the track east, rather than the estate road, just past Loch Choire House. There were numerous deer around here but, as usual, they moved on as soon as they became aware of my presence. I then rejoined the estate road and followed this for eight miles to Badanloch Lodge - very easy walking. All along this road, there were superb open views from the west right round to the east. I passed by lochs I've never heard of - Truderscaig, Rimsdale, an Alltan Fhearna and Badanloch.
Joining the B871, I followed this, passing by Loch Achnamoine, for the remaining four miles to Kinbrace. I moved off the road for a vehicle coming up behind me, only to find it was Amanda in the support campervan. She went on to put the kettle on.
Distance walked today 17 miles
Total distance walked 988 miles
Distance left 72 miles
I'd planned to walk out of Lairg up the A836 for nearly six miles and then head east along the track to Dalnessie. However, after my road walking yesterday, I looked for an alternative. I happened to have with me in the camper Andy Robinson's excellent book "The End to End Trail" and he gives a route through forest north of Lairg which joins the track to Dalnessie.
Above the descent to the trees at NC623247, I caught a glimpse of Loch Choire, still nearly two miles away.
There is a bothy by the loch where I am spending the night. A jogger went by earlier. She has a very remote route. Having been showery during the day, it's now raining again.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 971 miles
Distance left 89 miles
The route as originally planned would have had me walking along the A837 all the way to Lairg. However, in somebody's account of a LEJOG walk, I was able to identify a bridge crossing the River Oykel at NC407006 which isn't shown on the Landranger map. This enabled me to plan a route south of the river as far as Inveroykel. This bridge does exist (June 2009).
Having gained the track, it was an easy walk to Inveroykel. I stopped and chatted to a farmer on a quad bike for twenty minutes or so. He was extremely English but has farmed here for years and wouldn't live anywhere else. He told me that the village shop in the next village, Rosehall, is owned by Mohammed Al Fayed, (who also owns some 70,000 acres locally) and let to the proprietor. I went in the shop, called Invercassley Stores. It's very good.
There was about a mile of the A837 to Rosehall, then, just past the river bridge, a track leading to Invernauld House. A lane from here took me up to the A837 again and I then followed this for the remaining six miles into Lairg. It was single track with passing places much of the way with very little traffic so, as far as road walking is concerned, it was quite good. It was dry and cloudy/sunny most of the day.
The remaining mileage to John o'Groats is now in single figures!
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 955 miles
Distance left 105 miles
I slept well on my side of the river, although last night a herd of long haired, long horned cattle appeared on the other side. I checked the map to see where the nearest bridge was! I woke early this morning to the sound of them clearing their throats.
Camp at Abhainn a`Ghlinne Mhoir
After last evening's rain, this morning was lovely and sunny. It was easy enough continuing along Gleann Mor. After four miles, I reached Alladale River and, after going over a couple of bridges, I turned right alongside the river. The map shows a path from the back of Alladale Lodge to Croick but I'm not sure if it is passable - there were 4x4s going to and from it and it looked a bit private. Anyway, my intended, albeit longer, route was the way I went.
Bridge at Alladale Lodge
The way along the south and then east of Amat Forest was easy and on a hard unmade surface, although it became tarmaced. The forest to the left was attractive and I caught sight of one or two deer.
The road to Croick
At The Craigs, I turned left in the direction of Croick. I'd got marked on my map Croick churchyard as a possible wild camp and with water obtained in advance (maybe from the river near Alladale Lodge), it would be OK, not that I needed it today.
Passing through Croick, I went on to where I expected to find the path to Oykel Bridge at NH397961 but there was just unbroken deer fence. I went on a bit and found a gate but it was locked and no sign of a path on the other side.
Information I had with me from the Scottish Hill Tracks book gave me another alternative. I went back to NH407958 where there was a way through apparently. This took me to a gate across the track I'd just been down but no sign of a way towards Oykel Bridge.
What I did from this point was just take a compass bearing and, using a GPS as well, headed towards Oykel Bridge, thrashing through heather and going through young tree plantations, uphill north west for the first mile or so. Once I was about half way, I took yet another compass bearing and, turning in that direction, espied a stile over a deer fence. That meant I was on course and it was then a long downhill, mainly not on a path, to Amat and then Oykel Bridge. Whew.
I'm not sure if there is a proper path all the way here or not. I was pleased in the end to have got through and just trusted the compass - the GPS was invaluable as well, enabling me to check my position frequently.
My support picked me up as arranged and I'll be dropped back at Oykel Bridge tomorrow morning to walk to Lairg.
Distance walked today 12 miles
Total distance walked 939 miles
Distance left 121 miles
The Aultguish Inn is on the A835 Inverness to Ullapool road. As well as offering comfortable accommodation, there is also a well equipped bunkhouse. There are no camping facilities. The food is excellent and so's the beer. Couldn't fault the place really. Also, Lesley, who owns the place with her husband, gave me a generous donation to my charity.
From the inn, I went east along the A835 for one and a half miles. At Black Bridge, I took to the road which heads north through Strath Vaich and then alongside Loch Vaich. There were a few passing showers but it made for undemanding walking.
Having covered ten miles, just before Deanich Lodge, I came across my first people of the day. These were two ladies from Wales, in the early stages of cycling from John o'Groats to Land's End, raising money for Macmillan Cancer Relief. I forgot to ask them their names or take a photo.
A couple of miles further on, I found a good pitch by the river, called Abhainn a`Ghlinne Mhoir. The rain torrented down not long after I'd settled and there are now frequent showers.
The new boots have, as expected, been comfortable straight from the box.
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Distance walked today 14 miles (including 2 unplanned)
Total distance walked 927
Distance left 133 miles
It was eerily quiet this morning. I'm used to a dawn chorus but here, next to the loch in open moorland, there are no trees and so, very few birds.
I rejoined yesterday's path. I'd been some two hundred yards off it and totally hidden from passers by (although I doubt there were any). The path was fairly well defined for the first mile and a half. The wind became quite chilly.
About half a mile from Loch Luichart, the path just totally disappeared in a mass of ferns and then there was a deer fence. After flailing around a bit, I caught sight of a ladder stile over the fence so thrashed my way over to it. There was no sign of a path to it. Once over it, there was no track to continue towards the loch. With a few false starts here and there, I eventually arrived at the loch side; the main thing was to avoid deer fences and just keep going downhill.
There were few traces of path to follow around the loch. Heading west, I made for the head of the loch and at last saw the railway bridge which was my way over the river. I walked along the railway track to the station and then along the A832 to Corriemoillie.
I'd planned to shave a couple of miles off by taking the track at NH358636 to meet the path at NH380651 but found a locked deer gate with a "no unauthorised access" notice. It was rickety and may not have borne my weight. Should I have gone through it? As it was, I went on down the road to Gorstan to look for the drove road to Aultguish.
It went into a felled forest and, as this part of it wasn't shown on the map, I couldn't find it at all. Therefore, I took the lane up to the A835 and so went the long way round to pick up the drove road.
This road took me a couple of miles through largely felled forest up to open moorland. Here, the weather took a turn for the worse. I saw the rain clouds heading my way and the wind and rain came and it really got cold. I had full waterproofs with me but stuck with my windshirt and Lycra shorts and just cracked on to the Aultguish Inn, arriving quite cold and, Amanda having booked a room there, I fell into a really hot bath which made me realise how much I'd lacerated my legs in the undergrowth this morning. It was very painful and it was about ten minutes before I was able to fully submerge my legs! The tap water here is peaty - it was like having a bath in Bisto, but it was good.
Had a super meal - casserole of oxtail & mash followed by marmalade bread & butter pudding. The beer was An Teallach (not sure of the brewery) - very nice.
Friday, 5 June 2009
Distance walked today 14 miles
Total distance walked 913 miles
Distance left 139 miles
I camped last night just below the path I took this morning along Allt a` Choire Dhomhain.
The path was reasonably well defined most of its length but where it ascended away from the burn at NH209449 it disappeared but this wasn't too serious as I knew I had to go over the saddle and then drop down to the River Orrin. There was no defined path down but I could see the river (such as it was) way below and made my way down to it.
I followed the course of the river for about a mile, the path then continuing by the north side of Loch na Caoidhe for half a mile.
At this point, a path ascended north east to Torran Ceann Liath and then dropped gradually to continue in the valley bottom of Gleann Chorainn for three miles to Inverchoran, a small cluster of cottages. Past these was a bridge over the River Meig and the narrow road for four miles down to the village of Milton. I received a reminder of the real world here, seeing the village hall open as a polling station - 4 June - local and MEP elections.
From Milton, I took the path up through Strathconon Woods on to moorland, taking a right fork from the main track passing to the east of Carn Airigh Charn. I'm camped beside Loch Cul, a bit tussocky but not bad. I got my water for the night from a burn in Strathconon Woods, but there are a couple of burns across the moor.
I've measured out the remaining miles to John o'Groats. Instead of the 139 indicated above, there seem to be 145, so I'll use this figure from tomorrow.
Distance walked today 16 miles
Total distance walked 899 miles
Distance left 153 miles
After a leisurely breakfast, a late start but it wasn't to be a long day. My support team, Amanda, will be meeting me again on Friday evening so I decided to take a lighter pack. Therefore, I have my Golite Breeze - empty, it only weighs a few ounces. I have enough food to see me through as I won't be passing any shops. Today and the next two days will be in remote areas.
I took the road out of Cannich heading north west along Glen Cannich, in sight of the River Cannich much of the time. The weather today was fine although not quite as warm as the last few days. I followed the road for nearly six miles. As road walks go, it couldn't have been better - valley views and only a few cars passed by.
At Liatrie bridge (NH252327), I took the indistinct path up the western side of Liatrie Burn, disturbing a herd of deer. This was track 260 in the Scottish Hill Tracks book. The book mentions an alternative path to the east of the burn but I couldn't see it.
Deer by Liatrie Burn
My path was quite slow but I eventually reached the point where the book instructs to cross the burn. The way continued up over open moorland. There was no discernable path but I knew the direction to aim for. Just as I saw a faint path and headed for it, I inadvertently sank my left leg half way up the calf in a reddish brown bit of bog.
The path didn't last long and just petered out. Eventually, as the River Farrar came into view far ahead and below, a path appeared down to the left alongside the burn. I was able to follow this all the way down to the very rickety bridge over the Farrar.
Turning left along the road, there was a pleasant road walk for four miles to Monar Lodge. I got slightly worried about finding water along here. I filled a bottle from the river but the level was low and barely moving; the water was quite warm and I didn't really fancy it. Fortunately, I found a fast flowing burn behind Monar Lodge.
Beyond this, I followed the stony path above the eastern end of Loch Monar. I'm camped looking down at the loch.
I've seen lots of deer today (and no sheep). I heard on the radio recently that the number of cuckoos is declining. Well, they're all in Scotland - either that or one's following me.