No, we’re not still wandering the labyrinthine lanes of caithness (just kidding, i’m fairly sure there’s only one road up there) in search of the coast. That bit was fairly foolproof. Harder, somehow, has been finding the motivation to write up the ending after returning to reality.
Here’s a rather belated update of our last few days, written from the luxury of my desktop computer.
Embo to Brora-
’Grannie’s’ wasn’t what i’d expected. we arrived to find what appeared to be a small town made from static caravans. it took us fifteen minutes to nervously traverse the grounds in search of reception. even so, we were both amused and horrified to see campers DRIVING from their tent to the site shop. it was quite a strange setting for a holiday park; and having waltzed in from the back of beyond it was a little surreal to have a karaoke bar and swimming pool at our fingertips. we managed to skulk away from the zombie-like holiday makers and pitch up behind a sand dune, about three metres away from the beach. Made chilli, drink cider and watched the sunset (that’s right -sunset- it actually stopped raining for a few precious hours). Anyway we set off the following morning and walked along the beach for a few miles. we’d hoped to cut out a good 6 miles by wading across the 100m or so estuary of loch fleet, rather than walking round to the bridge. unfortunately we misjudged low tide (by misjudged, i mean i guessed wrong) and the water was too deep to cross without swimming. so that was a fairly miserable 6 miles, punctuated by bitter glances shot at the rising water. Walked along a mixture of roads and coastal paths, past Golspie and Dunrobin castle before arriving in Brora. i was having a bit of an epic sugar crash and kept falling over and bumping into things (so nothing out of the ordinary), so i ate 4 kit kat chunkies before we stumbled into an indian for tea. we’d still got a couple of miles to walk before we reached the campsite at dalchalm, but neither of us could be bothered to move, and by the time we left it was dark. not the best idea, judging by the difficulty we had finding the campsite.
Brora to Helmsdale-
leftover curry for breakfast. om nom nom. before we left, we met a man walking in the opposite direction. turns out he is walking john o’ groats to land’s end via all 16 cancer research centres in the UK. It’s going to take him 6 months, so he will be walking throughout winter. here is his website, it’s really epic challenge- http://www.whereswallace.org/
A short and unexciting walk along the dreaded A9. It’s not nearly as bad as we’d expected, and not nearly as bad as the A roads heading into Edinburgh. arrived in helmsdale in time for lunch, before wandering the last mile to our b&b. our plans to walk back into town ( back into village? hmmm) were dashed by more horrific weather, so i heated up supernoodles in the sink while sarah demolished her stash of snickers.
Helmsdale to Dunbeath-
The lady at last nights b&b had promised us wonderful views, should we follow the minor road to the top of the hill. unfortunately we awoke to very dense fog, and could see nothing. visibility was so poor that when the fog lifted for a moment, we realised that the road was perhaps only 50m from the sea and we’d had no idea. Not great conditions to be stuck on the A9; we walked with headtorches on, and i managed to peel a bit of hi- vis ‘stuff’ from a roadsign and stick it to my clothes, but it was pretty difficult to see cars coming until they were virtually on top of us which was a bit stressy. after lunch we climbed above sea level and conditions improved slightly. we sat at the side of the road and waited for my dad, who’d driven up to meet us. walked the last few miles and arrived at the campsite where dad had arrived with his car of luxuries. ate pasta, drank cider and saw the milky way.
Dunbeath to Watten
i think this was just about our longest day, at 24 miles. it was made to seem longer still by the monotony of the single, dead straight road we followed for the last 13 miles, and the crazy wind that drove sideways rain at us and tried to push us back to land’s end. arrived at a very basic campsite, tired, wet and cold, and attempted to pitch our tents in the gale. morale wasn’t at its highest, so when the owner of the campsite offered us a static caravan on the cheap we were pretty excited, and spent the last night in luxury.
Watten to John O’Groats
another long day on boring roads, with nasty horizontal rain. yes, it’s a theme. i really couldnt motivate myself to walk, as we seemed so close to the end, but it felt like we’d never get there. dad acted as a support vehicle and brought us snacks and a warm place to sit throughout the day. as we reached the final five miles we decided to alternate walking and running to speed up our progress. To say that John O’groats was an anticlimax would be somewhat of an understatement. the famous John O’Groats sign had been whisked away 15 minutes prior to our arrival; the John O’Groats hotel was a ruin and the lady in the John O’Groats shop was grumpy. I found it really difficult to get exited by the fact that we’d finished, it was quite underwhelming and we just wanted to get home and rest.
Anyway, we did it. We’re both really grateful to anyone that sponsored us; all the kind strangers who helped us out and befriended us along the way; and all the lovely folk who came to visit us. We had some tough times, but we also had some really amazing, hilarious, adventurous times, and I miss it.
Oh, we found the sea. It’s literally right next to the road.
A seal, chilling
Haven’t blogged for ages, and can’t really remember what happened- so I think I’ll just summarise.
Tyndrum- King’s house
Quite a long day compared to the others on the WHW. Most people tend to split it in two, so we lost a lot of the people we were walking with; with the exception of Ingrid and Candice, the two Canadians. The scenery became more mountainous and at the end of the day we passed over Rannoch moor and into Glencoe, which was fantastic. Camped behind King’s house hotel, with a spectacular view of Buachaille Etive Mor.
King’s house- Kinlochleven
As short as yesterday was long. Skirted the edge of Buachaille Etive Mor, keeping it in view for the first few miles. Headed over ‘the devils staircase’, which wasn’t as evil or soul destroying as the name had led us to believe. Raced off the hills down to Kinlochleven in time for lunch, a well needed break in the weather and a celebratory drink. I’m not sure what we were celebrating.. Life? Punctuality? Sunshine? Either way it was nice and I even managed to crack out my shorts for a few hours.
Kinlochleven to Fort William
Not terribly exciting. Followed a path through a Glen for ages. I expect there were some pretty nice views, but we were in the clouds and saw nothing. Long descent into Fort William, but with a view of Ben Nevis (or at least the bottom half of Ben Nevis). I popped into a visitor centre and read that on average, the summit of Ben Nevis is in cloud for 355 days per year.
Rested on the following day. I had been planning to go up Ben Nevis but upon waking at 6 found the weather characteristically awful. I felt sleepy and lethargic and couldn’t really be bothered, so bailed on the grounds that I DID actually need a rest. After lounging around we went for farewell drinks with Ingrid at the Grog and Gruel. They played cool music.
Fort William to Gairlochy
Began the Great Glen Way. Nasty nasty nasty weather. Our waterproofs have decided that they are no longer waterproof, which makes it that little bit worse. We left Fort William by road, and got splashed by pretty much everything that drove past. If it wasn’t funny it would have been annoying. Followed the Caledonian canal past Neptunes Staircase. At the campsite we met three men cycling LEJOG. They had been going for ten days, and had another three until the end. We were most jealous.
Gairlochy to South Laggan
Today we walked the shore of Loch Lochy- clearly named by someone with a limited vocabulary/ a sense of humour. We came across a tyre swing hanging from a tree in shallow water. I couldn’t very well ignore it, and decided to go for a swing. I waded up to it, looked at the tree, said ‘I’m pretty sure this won’t hold my weight’, and leapt for it. Sure enough, the branch snapped and I was thrown into the loch. Luckily I was pretty drenched already and a dip in the water made little difference, but it certainly gave us something to laugh about for a LONG time. We arrived at a hostel that advertised camping, but for some reason wouldn’t let me camp. I pulled my sad face and they gave us a pretty decent discount on a dorm room. It had free internet and a TV, and we managed to scrounge three meals from the ‘free food’ shelf. Success!
Laggan to Alltsigh
Followed the canal to Fort Augustus and the southern end of Loch Ness. It’s a massive toursit trap- I’m pretty sure there are more b&bs than houses. Skirted Loch Ness, but stayed slightly above it, and sadly hadn’t the views we’d been hoping for since we were walking through woodland. Like last night, we’d been told that the b&B were headed for allowed camping and it turned out not to be the case. The room was really cheap, and our lovely hosts cooked up a three course dinner, so it was well worth it. Our room looked out over Loch Ness, so we got our view at last.
Alltsigh to Drumnadrochit
Shared our route with a bike race coming in the opposite direction, so spent a lot of our day stepping off the path and saying ‘hello’ every three seconds. Managed to vary our greetings with cycles of ‘hi’, ‘morning’, ‘heya’, which went slightly awry at midday. We arrived quite early so had a wander around Drumnadrochit. It’s the place with all the Nessie exhibitions. Sarah stayed in the hostel and I wandered down the road to the campsite.
Drumnadrochit to Beauly
Boring day following a main road. We stopped fairly early on to sort out a fuel issue we’ve had. Back in Kinlochleven a kindly gentleman gave us some free petrol. Turns out the petrol had some oil in it, and ever since my stove has been having hissy fits and trying to singe off my eyebrows. We tried to switch it for actual petrol a few days later, but were told that the only way we could get rid of it was to ‘burn it next time we have a bonfire’. Now the likelihood of us having a bonfire anytime soon is fairly slim, but if we did I would be mildly concerned that chucking half a litre of petrol on it might cause somewhat of a health and safety issue. So, back to the story and we rock up at a petrol station with our petrol and ask the same question. The man said ‘oh just pour it on the floor’. The expression of pure horror that must have dawned upon my face remained as I scouted for a suitable ‘pouring location’ and slowly poured a highly toxic, flammable liquid onto the roadside. Awful. After that he refused to sell us petrol, so the situation had advanced very little. more boring road walking, the end.
Beauly to Evanton
Solved the petrol fiasco after a brief run in with the petrol station man, who was reluctant to let us fill up our fuel bottle. Moral of the story- we should have just carried a gas stove and millions of bottles of gas. More road walking. Feet hurt. Sleepy now. Zzzzzzz.