Shots of Equipment – #1

The only way I have found of making this work is to have everything one needs in a specific place, so that it can be found easily, even in darkness.

These are the items that I keep in my trouser pockets/on my belt.

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Finding one’s way in the wilderness.

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Day 32

To say it’s a bit wild and lonely between Aultguish and Braemore Junction is an understatement.

The latter is a bus stop and a phone box.

I kid you not.

It’s now 11 miles in to Ullapool and a much-needed day off tomorrow.

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Day 31

I had a good route from Garve to Aultguish Inn and enjoyed the windswept loneliness of the heights.

Heeding my brother’s warning about the adders here in the region of Ben Wyvis I climbed atop a large rock to eat.

Ben Wyvis

Ben Wyvis

My right foot is better but not good and I made better time than I had expected.

Two of the straps on the rucksack are now broken and Linda at Birch Cottage B+B, in Garve, sewed one of them for me.

Lovely food there by the way, as Ray is an experienced chef.

Aultguish Inn is nothing like my expectations – high up in the hills and nestling immediately below a vast dam that draws on Stalinist Russia for its architectural inspiration.

Aultguish Inn

Aultguish Inn

A lovely place though.

If when I check in a moment it’s got big cracks in the dirty dark grey concrete I shall feel as though I have had a lucky escape.

A croft in the hills

A croft in the hills

Autumn

They say that Spring travels north through the UK at about the speed a man can walk.

So I’m guessing that the same must be true in reverse, and Autumn comes on from Cape Wrath down, broadly meeting me at about the same rate of knots.

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I’m increasingly conscious of the Autumn drawing on, leaves falling steadily on my tent as I broke camp this morning.

Day 30

The distances between settlements here make for some difficulties.

Garve, on paper, was too near and Aultguish too far.

As it happens Garve though proved only just about do-able in a day due to the renewed bad condition of my right foot and so the itinerary now is Aultguish tomorrow, a wild-camp* the night after and Ullapool the night after that.

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Birds lined up on telephone wires, as they always were in my youth

* for those not familiar with the term ‘wild camp’ does not involve a camp-fire surrounded by dancing wailing naked locals clad only in woad and knocking back whisky by the pint, but simply camping in the countryside, as opposed to at a campsite. The other kind of ‘wild camp’ may exist, but if any do I haven’t seen any. Just so that we are clear.

Day 29

7:52AM
I slept okay the first few hours, and then only really dozed – in and out of a light sleep for ages, before finally getting another ‘proper’ burst nearer the morning.

I’m currently sitting at a picnic table outside the shop here in Contin, the last shop for 38 miles.

Fortunately the shop sells hot coffee, so I’m recovering without having to boil water down by the river.

I’ll next cook myself some breakfast and break camp and walk to Garve.

It’s 6 miles so it won’t be hard, with 8 point something the day after and then 2x lots of 12.5 on to Ullapool.

Harder, with wild camp in between. I’m just concentrating on the next thing i.e. reaching Ullapool.

8:36AM
I’m off to go and cook breakfast at the fire-site down by my tent by the river.

My tent in situ

My tent in situ

It’s a lovely spot, though the ground is made up of some material that is impenetrable so the tent pegs hardly go in.

I’m going to suggest its use for nuclear blast shelters!

Fortunately it’s not at all windy or I’d have woken looking like an idiot parachutist who’d come down all tangled in his ‘chute – much rip-stop nylon and orange cords with a dazed twerp underneath!

Day 28

Tornapress B+B on the Black Isle is a lovely place to stay and the folk are so hospitable.

I was deeply touched by their kindness.

The weather for the walk to Contin was absolutely ideal, cool with a light breeze, but not cold – no baking sunshine and no rain. Ideal.

An injury to my right foot picking some fabulous blackberries took the shine off the conditions and by the latter part of my walk I was back to hobbling painfully.

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Fortunately my left ankle is no longer hurting as it was last week.

The campsite here is pleasant and a trip to the swanky hotel outside the village for juice for the BlackBerry and er ‘juice’ for me proved a pleasant interlude.

Day 27

1:10PM
I left Inverness and walked over the Kessock Bridge through North Kessock and now through Tore and am en route to Conon Bridge. That’s about 3.75 miles away, I think.

The pace carrying the pack in full sunshine is mighty slow and it’s hot, painful and sweaty business.

Despite my brother’s very helpful advice about keeping the lap strap very tight the shoulders do take a beating and I don’t think there is a solution to it.

8:30PM
I set out from Inverness this morning somewhat daunted by the distance still to go.

It’s 124 miles to Durness, which itself is a good 18 miles + from the Cape — and it’s 57 miles even to Ullapool. Plus I had nowhere to stay.

Not being sure which is my best foot any more, as neither are that great, I can’t now recall which one it was I put forward to set out.

I was heartened to see a road sign for Ullapool and it did indeed confirm my first forebodings about the distance.

Crossing the Kessock Bridge, helpfully opened by the Queen Mum in ’82, I had to use the closed-in metal footway by the side of the cars which was fine until I encountered an amoeba driving a Council sweeping truck coming down the path the other way!

A perilous squeeze-past which would not have been possible had I not lost all that weight!

The sun decided I’d had enough fun and re-doubled its efforts to fry me like an egg on the pavement.

As a result my trudge along the cycle paths of the Black Isle was a less than pleasant affair and I eventually gave up and started looking for somewhere to stay.

A lengthy side trip proved initially fruitless but turned into a true gem of a place to stay – at Tornapress at Easter Kinkell.

Lovely place, lovely people. To say God shines on this mission is an understatement. See pic from the place below.

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Discussions with the family reveal a dark statistic. The rate of incidence of MS in Ullapool is very high for such a tiny place. No one is sure of the reason.

It lends a poignancy to my sweating in the sun followed by a refreshing meal and rest.

If a small community is hit with a big thing, the impetus to do something somehow seems stronger, albeit that the actual number of sufferers is far fewer than in say London or Manchester.

Why do our minds work this way?

Either way it spurs me on on my journey, the aim being not to just suffer, or just enjoy the sun and the breakfasts and the views but to raise money to find a cure and some effective treatments.

Out on the Edge #2

After 6 days walking and rest-stops involving camping, B&B’s and hostels I have completed the 75 mile Great Glen Way to bring me from Fort William to the finish plaque at Inverness Castle.

Some exceptionally cold weather led to me catching a cold whilst camping, which has made for difficulties this week, but I felt disinclined to stop and rest.

I enjoyed my time walking and camping with the Polish young couple Pawel* and Carolina*, first encountered on the banks of the Caledonian Canal and only the third couple I have seen walking holding hands. (The second was an elderly couple in Gourock and plainly holding hands for love, not mobility needs!)

But last evening it all came to an end, after some hard and fast walking to reach Inverness. See photo.

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Within a minute of the picture being taken, I had a text from the twerp in my accommodation telling me if I didn’t arrive within a certain number of minutes, my booking was cancelled.

Feeling like Phileas Fogg, I hailed a cab and raced across town.

With a display of patience worthy of an Oscar nominee waiting while the ‘guest’ pauses before reading out someone else’s name, I resisted the temptation to biff my new landlord on the nose.

And then I fell into bed to sleep, without even having any tea.

For anyone who thinks that this a jolly jaunt — it isn’t. My left ankle sprain has resumed hurting, so each and every step is properly painful.

And so after my rest day today tomorrow morning I set off on the final leg of my journey, via Ullapool and ever north onwards to the Cape.

*with apologies if I have the spelling wrong!

Day 26

En route on Friday from Drum to Inverness, I fell in step and walked for some miles with Daniel and Maye from Singapore.

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We settled on a visit to the extremely strange but weirdly lovely Abriachan eco-campsite and cafĂ© – and we were so glad we did.

The tea, from a proper pot, with tea-leaves, was the best I’ve had in a long long time and although hens had to be dissuaded from joining us with a plant-sprayer, it was a very enjoyable experience.

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The welcome from Howie and Sandra could not have been warmer.

A later encounter with their pigs on the trail certainly raised the adrenaline levels but I brought my negotiating skills to the fore and we got through unharmed.

I must add my note of especial thanks to Daniel and to Maye for their very kind contribution to the cause, later the same day. Many, many thanks to you!