Reflections ~ Epilogue ~ End Credits

Shakespeare said “Journeys end in lovers meeting” but what about when lovers part? Not through falling out of love but through the seemingly permanent separation of an early and unexpected end? That journey does not seem concluded somehow, but de-railed, diverted into some strange land called desolation without an answer; it’s not just over the next horizon, nor the next, nor even the one after that. Walking a really long way is much the same as this, until one sees the end and runs with a new hope, a fresh spring in the step… I actually ran when I saw the lighthouse, despite the 424 miles that had preceded that view. I’d told myself it was no big deal and there was no need to be emotional. It didn’t turn out like that at all.

TreeWhen, by reason of her MS, Ruth lost the power of speech many years before her death, a kind of grief began. Sure, she could nod her head or shake it slightly to tell me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and by raising a shoulder could indicate that my questions were not leading anywhere and to try again on another tack. But of speech, there was none. Like, but unlike, the loss of holding hands when we had walked when only a wheelchair was her lot, the not speaking forced a further separation that ultimately ended in her death.

Two years before she died I confided in a friend “Ruth’s dying you know” which prompted the inevitable questions as to when, and how I knew. I said “I just know, that’s all, the fight has gone from her and the fire in the light of her eyes is going out.” My friend expressed her sadness and said something like “God knows what He is doing” and over the course of the time that passed, reflecting on it as I have, walking so much this summer, I grieved for the loss of my wife. She was gone before she left me, but ever in her silence taught me much about God and life itself.

As we take nothing with us out of this world it’s the traces in the sand we leave behind that are our true value to our fellow men. The sense of goodness that lingers in the home that you reflect upon following a friend’s departure is the measure of the value of that friend. They may be gone, for now, but the fragrance of the kindness of their acts long lingers in the mind, teaching you without teaching you with words.

Eagle

MS can be a cruel business. It can steal even life itself, and before that rob the joy from every day. Much fight is expended on cancer, rightly so on runners running and Doctors piling in the hours to find a cure; less so with the less than clear-cut neuro-sickness with its myriad of forms and commonly no definite outcome, as such. For those who suffer from it today, or who will suffer from it tomorrow – and that may be you, or your child, or your loved one, let us do all we can to find a cure so that someone else’s children don’t have to go through what mine and Ruth’s endured.

My eldest, Hannah, a young woman wise before her time, said “Mum’s illness made us better people” – which I believe is true, but I pray that for simpler reasons others’ kids may be made better and have better lives, with softer easier paths to the wisdom of looking after one another, for we know not the day on which we might ourselves fall down and need the hand of aid to put us back on our feet once more. Please give generously at the JustGiving site, details on the right.

This blog is ending soon. A little like the credits at the end of a film, thanking those who’ve played their part in helping me get to the end and raise so much money, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to first and foremost the following, in alphabetical order –

To my dear fiancée for her endless support and putting my somewhat scrappy texted blog entries onto the Web each day, to Abi Askey (my youngest) for her help in booking accommodation in the final stages, to my brother Dave for his kind loans of equipment and very helpful advice at various times, to good old Harry who frequently pressed advice and much-needed amber anaesthetic into my hands after a long day’s toil on the West Highland Way, and for his assistance with transport and the accommodation bookings too.

To my good friend and business partner Nick for acting as Treasurer and for his frequent messages of encouragement. To Tom Peto for all of his help with Fitness Training and weight loss I extend a special ‘thank you’ and a commendation of his services; please just ignore the boxing scene of domestic violence on the first page! And to my dear friend and sister Anina for her and her family’s prayers, her assistance, enthusiasm and for helping Abi with the bookings from time to time too, with a special nod to Gaz and to Steve P for their assistance with my Talks earlier on and at various locations in and around Chester. And to Alastair at Inchnadmamph who with the skilled hands of a surgeon helped me mend my rucksack, a very great act of practical bush-craft in what was at least a two-man job, or so it proved!

I extend my thanks to all those not named, including the innumerable many I met on the Walk who have helped in ways they could not know. My gratitude for a near daily litany of tiny acts of kindness runs very deep, for example to Juliet at the B&B in Invermoriston who, on sensing the somewhat amateurish nature of my endeavours, clasped both my hands in hers tightly in true concern for my wellbeing, or to the lady whose name I do not know who followed me to Fort Augustus and literally ran across the road to press a contribution into my hand with a big smile. I make a special mention too of Hannah Maunder at the MS Society in Scotland for all of her encouragement and assistance with the publicity, both on the radio and in the Press.

To all those who have made financial contributions, and especially to Liz and Steve for their known, generous and sacrificial gift, on behalf of all those with MS and to their extended families I give a special and heartfelt ‘Thank You’ – your gifts have meant so much. I could mention you all by name, but you know who you are and may God shine on you for your generosity and kindness. I raise a glass to Kath, in the pharmacist’s shop, who pressed £10 on me, at time of a low-ebb in the pouring rain – whose own husband goes through what Ruth endured, for her generosity and for her courage in the face of such suffering.

And to all those who have made Comments on this blog or simply sent me emails and text messages of support and encouragement as I have gone along my grateful thanks; more frequently these have meant more to me than you could know as not every day was all plain-sailing, all sweetness and light I assure you. Good Harry who was there will attest to this, as he did at the time on the blog. The nature of the Walk, the common paucity of signal and sheer tiredness combined to make responses to Comments pretty nigh impossible at the time, so please accept my compendious ‘thank you’ now, though I will try to get back to as many of you as I can over the coming weeks.

For those who missed my broadcast on Moray Firth Radio in the Highlands towards the end of my Walk I will soon, on a date to be fixed, be interviewed on Flame Radio on Merseyside, talking about these things with John Cheek, to whom I also extend my grateful thanks for all of his assistance too as this Project has proceeded.

My apologies to anyone I have missed.

KinlochI am sure that when Ruth died her long and arduous journey seemed not just to have ended but to have ended well. At her final moment there hove into view not merely a lighthouse, beautiful though Cape Wrath is, but the very Light of God Himself, the welcome greeting of a Father bringing home His child after a really long day’s walk, an arm around the shoulder, the promise of a sit down, a fine jolly feast, and really good long talk. Thanks be to God in Jesus who has done all things well.

The JustGiving page expires and closes at the end of this week so if you are going to give please do so now. All contributions will be welcomed however big or small. A great big thank you to you all!

Sunset

Return from the edge

To borrow Alistair’s description of ‘feet like hamburger’ (so apt!) all of the areas that were like that have now healed totally and now I’m not walking every day I’ve removed the protective dressings I’ve applied and re-applied so many times and now will live without.

It is an odd feeling, as indeed it will be to wear something other than hiking boots on my feet every day. This, plus not carrying the pack all the time will mean I’ll be able ‘to clear tall buildings in a single bound’😉

My journey back down south again has so far consisted of (1) a bus ride yesterday from Durness to Ullapool (2) a bus today from Ullapool to Inverness and (3) a series of train trips from Inverness to South Ayrshire during the rest of today, where again I’ll break the journey with a sleep — before finally finishing it off tomorrow with yet more train rides. Phew!

If one allows for the couple of half days of walking here and there, eg to Crianlarich when I had sprained my left knee and pulled a muscle in my right thigh, the average mileage per day is just a touch over eleven.

I’d set out aiming for fifteen but this proved beyond my capabilities, something I found very frustrating at times, as I seemed to creep across vast landscapes like a human snail.

Day 39

2:30PM
Some 424 miles walked, I reached Cape Wrath today in glorious sunshine.

Arrived at Cape Wrath

Arrived at Cape Wrath

Such a beautiful place, and so fitting an end to all my journeying.

The beautiful lighthouse

The beautiful lighthouse, my favourite of the many pictures I took

My good friend Harry wrote recently:

Perhaps when you arrive at Cape Wrath you will stare out to sea for a while. Then you will bend as you deposit your emotional luggage there and walk away.

So apt, so true – and it echoes something that dear Anina said too, recently.

I’ve done a radio interview recently up here, and have another one pending.

For those of you who have posted messages of support and encouragement, and especially given money: my huge, grateful thanks.

For those of you who have been waiting to see if I’d die in the attempt and then give more😉 even though I haven’t died, please give it anyway!

At any point you, your nearest and dearest, or your closest friend could be diagnosed with M.S. Giving helps find a cure and effective treatment for this most cruel condition. Every little helps.

Please donate at my JustGiving page.

God bless you.

CWCAPE WRATH

Day 38

2:28PM
Although it’s still probably 4 miles away I can now see the Kyle of Durness and nearly to where the little boat goes across onto the peninsula up to the Cape.

So the line of low hills on the horizon is the land I’ll be crossing on the very very final leg of my journey. Cape Wrath isn’t going to be visible from this side, but the land between it and me is… just!‎

Yesterday I saw my first sign for Cape Wrath, near to Laxford Bridge. Near it was a sign that said “Ullapool 52 miles” (the other way, i.e. south)

I’ve now walked 400 miles I reckon, just to here, to this spot.

4:45PM
I’m on the beach at the Kyle of Durness having had to get off the road to conduct a pre-recorded interview for Moray Firth Radio in Inverness.

I understand it will be broadcast on Monday when I go up to the Cape.

This counts as one seriously weird life.

The view on the beach in the sunshine is stunning; the downsides are that Durness is still a long, long way off and my feet and shoulders are killing me.

7:09PM
I’m staying at the Youth Hostel. It’s basic but nice. It’s very peaceful here. I’m in the common room at the moment but there’s only me here.

I’m sitting still, too absolutely knackered to move‎.

I’ll bumble about in Durness over the weekend and go to the Cape on Monday.

Mainly I need to get my feet right and just rest. Today’s walk was very hard. But it’s the last carrying the rucksack because I don’t need to take it to Cape Wrath.

I’d like to say I felt elated getting here, but I just feel absolutely shattered, to be honest.

Throughout my whole trip I have not done one touristy-thing.

I passed through Culzean Castle but ignored the sights. I ‘went’ to the Cameron Museum but didn’t go in. Tomorrow I think I’ll go to Smoo Cave next door and break my rule.

Day 37

This mountain appears almost as a perfect pyramid.

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Like a giant piece of Toblerone sticking up out of the landscape.

It was a simply stunning day today, but by the end of it my feet and shoulders were extremely painful once more and the weather had turned to damp, windy and cold.

Day 36

I’ve re-applied the padded dressings and plasters to the base of my feet hopefully for the last time.

Discussing feet with my fellow long – distance walkers at the Inchnadamph hostel revealed that I was not alone in the nature of my sufferings, one seasoned veteran of long experience describing his feet on this trip as being “like hamburger” which somehow made me feel better.

Some sore patches aside my feet are currently fine, much of the surface having turned into something resembling rhino hide.

I received great help from Alistair, the Canadian mentioned previously, in repairing my broken rucksack. It was a two-man job. Carrying it has been so much better since, though it remains very heavy.

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The walk through Sutherland is simply stunning and whilst the heights and inclines are tough going, much tougher than Glen Coe, the exhilaration of the cresting of another rise is compensation for the struggle getting there.

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This empty quarter of Scotland simply has to be the most beautiful part of the UK, and on a smaller scale it resembles the South Island of New Zealand and Norway.

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I firmly recommend a visit, albeit that it is so very far away — especially so if one walks here!

I wild camped near Kylesku, hence the trouble with the stag, and then yesterday walked on to Badcall Bay near Scourie.

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Upper Badcall, near Scourie

The heat and a lack of water and at best energy bars for lunch made for a difficult day but in the sunshine the scenery was stunning. I was pretty exhausted by the day’s end but found accommodation at a caravan in a location too beautiful to be described in mere words.

So this week I have stayed in a B+B, a bothy, a Field Study hostel; I’ve wild camped and I’m now in a caravan.

Of course Kylesku made the News earlier this year when its Post Office closed.

Obviously I’m working alongside the MS Society in this venture and I’ve spent some time in discussions with them and in preparing a Press Release.

MS remains an incurable condition causing serious suffering to many and their families and I do not ever forget why I am doing this.

I have good days and bad days.

Day 35

6:04PM
The Kylesku hotel Wi-Fi doesn’t actually work, it’s from a satellite and is hopeless.

I’m currently outside getting bitten to death by the midges which are really bad here. Anyway I’m okay, but the conditions are poor.

There’s a large red deer stag near where I’m camped. It has huge antlers. It is not afraid of people and won’t leave.

The people in the camper van next to me, (it is a car park by the Kylesku bridge) invited me in as respite from the midges and we drank tea.

The food at the hotel nearby was nice.

On the way back I met an 88 year old German guy who fought against the British in the war, was a PoW and ended up marrying a Scottish lass after the war, settling here and was the captain of ferry here before the bridge was built in ’82.

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10:30PM
The stag is now feeding just outside my tent. It’s very unnerving. It’s unlit here.

I’ve had to emerge from my tent for a bathroom break.

No sign of the deer. It brings whole new meaning to the expression ‘stag night’.

Day 34

5:39PM
I’ve arrived at the hostel at Inchnadamph. It’s very nice here.

I’ve covered 24 miles in 2 days, though I was not carrying the pack yesterday. My right foot is very sore, blistered badly at the back of the heel.

My left shoulder also hurts.

But I’m basically okay. I’m more than a third of the way to Durness.

There’s zero mobile phone signal here, even less, unbelievably so, than at Elphin.

However there are massive mountains on all sides one of which, ‘nearly’ has to be climbed tomorrow

I can see the route. I’m not looking forward to it.

Fortunately the hostel has free Wi-Fi and Ian, who is the Warden here, is very helpful and friendly.

‎This is the toughest terrain in Britain. It’s lovely to look at, crippling to walk through.

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Though cold the weather has been kind. It’s not as windy as yesterday and there’s been no rain.

It led to another day of walking without really stopping.

The view from Inchnadamph in the direction of Loch Assynt

The view from Inchnadamph in the direction of Loch Assynt

11:32PM
One meets some fascinating people on a trip like this. The hostel here at Inchnadamph must be some kind of magnet for them, like moths to a flame.

I have spent a highly illuminating evening in the company of a long distance walker of vast experience from northern Canada.

Akin to the John Muir’s and Alexander Mackenzie’s of the past. Absolutely fascinating with such a wealth of stories to tell.

What a wonderfully varied world God has made.

Day 33

Friday’s walk was the final part of my coast-to-coast section in a week, down from Braemore Junction along the shores of Loch Broom and into lovely Ullapool, one of my favourite places.

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I’d intended to wild camp at Braemore but my youngest daughter found a B+B and I stayed there.

My fellow guests’ daughter has MS and we had a good talk. The prevalence of the illness in Ullapool came up again.

The walk was very pleasant in good conditions and although I was very tired, I always am on the 6th day of walking, it was a satisfying feeling getting back onto the west coast ready for the last leg of my journey.

Saturday was a rest day, which meant tackling the anthrax sack of dirty laundry in the bottom of my rucksack, buying some new supplies and route planning, as well as resting.

My dear fiancée was not taken in for one second that it’s me in the picture below but it amused me nevertheless.

The intrepid climber is on the wall of the Outdoor Shop in Ullapool

The intrepid climber is on the wall of the Outdoor Shop in Ullapool

The weather isn’t great.

It is very cold and just a tiny bit like, only a tiny bit like(!) Robert Falcon Scott, I feel like I am racing against the rapid onset of winter.

Help came in two forms both from my very kind fellow guests at the B+B in Ullapool and from its very helpful owner Mrs Robbie Mackenzie.

I can warmly recommend “Carnoch” on West Argyle Street.

With her assistance a bothy was found at Elphin in Sutherland and a hard day’s walk ensued, 15 miles through the mountains in not very great weather.

But I arrived alive and well if also footsore and weary.

Sadly my BlackBerry doesn’t capture the glorious scenery shown to its best advantage in two tiny bursts of sunshine all day.

The bothy in Elphin is owned by Russell and his wife Bridie.

I received a very warm welcome and good times were shared over a beer and real home cooking.

An excellent end to the day.

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