The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Monday 30 June 2008

Week 11 - Wishing Your Life Away

30 June
Distance to date: somewhere around 1115 miles

The end is within sight. If all goes to plan and no legs drop off, then we should reach JOG seven days from now.

I'm not wanting to wish my life away and it's no reflection on our enjoyment of this trip, but our minds have started turning to the After and all of the things to which we're looking forward.

They're all normal things that one usually takes for granted.

Sleeping in a bed for more than three consecutive nights.

Sleeping in the same bed for more than two consecutive nights.

Being able to get drinking water without looking at a map or having to detour further than the kitchen tap.

Having a cup of tea that doesn't taste of peat.

Being able to wash on a daily basis.

Having clean underwear every day.

Having a choice of different clothes to wear.

Not having to put on wet shoes.

Living in a room in which one can stand up - and in which we can both manoeuvre at the same time.

Having a shave (Mick's very beardy indeed after 11 weeks and my legs are positively yeti-esque!).

Of course all of that comes at a price. We will have to return to reality.

Day 76 - After Loch An Nid to After Inverlael

29 June
Distance: 15 miles (plus a bit of wandering around a forest)
Number of people seen out walking today: 5 (one group of four and a singleton, all within a ten minute period and all off for a jaunt up An Teallach)

Yesterday the streams appeared to be quite full. Then it rained through the late afternoon and evening and torrentially most of the night. By comparison with their state this morning, yesterday's streams were mere trickles.

Getting up late and with reluctance, given the frantic drumming of rain on taut nylon, we packed away expecting a grim and damp day ahead.

Luck was on our side. After a couple of heavy downpours early on, as we made our way up a good track, the weather started to clear. By the time we were approaching Corrie Hallie the sun was showing signs of bursting through and the mountain tops were clear (and what mountain tops they are!).

The second uphill pull of the day was out of Dundonnell, and the sun beating down was a very pleasant change - we even started overheating!

Two pulls out of valleys were not enough for us on this day. After lunch we attacked the third, and steepest of the day - if Anquet is to be believed this is one of the biggest ascent days of the whole trip.

The third uphill didn't go entirely smoothly. I always get annoyed when either I don't know where I am, or when I can't find the way to go and that annoyance only increases when such circumstances occur near the end of a day - particularly a day with lots of upping and downing.

So, there we were with only 3km to go, standing in the midst of a large construction site in the forest above Inverlael, trying to find the track we needed to take which, according to the End to End Trail book, zig zags up the felled hillside.

The description in the book said to ignore the first track, a while before, and that track was shown on the sketch map. What it didn't mention, in words or sketch, was the second track which happened to be about five yards before the one we wanted. To make things even more tricky the one we wanted has clearly not been used in a lot of years and is completely overgrown with young firs, bracken and heather. To make things even more tricky, neither the track we could see nor the one we wanted was marked on the OS map, so we only had the guide book words and sketch to go on.

Not being happy that we were going the right way we first tried the visible track, but when it didn't zag back on itself we had to conclude that it wasn't going in our direction. Back we went and scratched our heads again.

"Perhaps we can just get out of the forestry via the main track and follow the outside edge up the hillside", we thought. We tried it, but were thwarted by the construction works. Back we went, scratching our heads and dreaming of a nice warm tent and a cup of tea.

Off went Mick to bash through the bracken and new trees in the hope of finding this elusive zig-zagging track. Personally, after the Hideous Nightmare 2km From Hell last week, I was reluctant to give up on finding the right route and taking a direct line.

Standing back on the main path, looking up the hillside, I then noticed the vaguest of lines in the bracken. Up through it I waded and within a few yards it was obvious that I was on the long abandonned track. Success. The cup of tea was getting closer.

We had already decided that we would stop short tonight, purely because tomorrow is a short day so we thought we would even up the mileages a bit.

It was a good decision. As we were choosing a pitch the rain started. We threw the tent up without our usual care of ensuring that it was as level and lump free as possible and had just got in side when it started coming down like stair rods again.

A wind is accompanying that rain. We're being fairly whipped by it just now. I think we're safe from the midges tonight.

Post Script: the Steripen lives! Sitting in the tent this evening, I just thought that I'd give it another go, just in case it had dried out, and to my surprise it worked. There's still lots of moisture in the light tube, so I'm not convinced that it would be effective, but it shows hope that it may recover in time.

Sunday 29 June 2008

Day 75 - Kinlochewe to After Loch An Nid

28 June
Distance: 14.75 miles
Number of people seen out walking in last 7 days: 0*

In many of the places that we're walking at the moment we get a real sense of remoteness. We can walk for a day without seeing a road or house and we've gone a week without seeing another person other than in cars or in villages. Standing on a high pass, with towering mountains around us (when we have the visibility to see that they are towering) it feels like we're a very long way from anyone else and from anything man-made (except of course all of the things we're wearing and carrying!).

Coming from a crowded area of the country and being familiar with the much smaller spaces of the Southern Snowdonian hills and the Lake District it's good to feel the big open spaces up here.

Alas today we didn't get the vistas to go with the feeling.

I know that we were jolly lucky with the weather for the first couple of months of this walk, and that all the rain now is just averaging things out, but really, I've had enough of rain!

Again our walk had the same pattern as previous days. With showers falling on us, we walked up a valley, alongside a loch and then climbed up a pathless hillside to a pass then down the other side to another loch. The ingredients may be repetitive, but the terrain and scenery are always different and the views are usually something more than stunning.

We felt sure that the views today would have been absolutely first class, but we'll not know that for sure unless we return in better weather. In particular, from what we could see of the single huge sloping slab of mountainside on the opposite side of Loch An Nid, I would very much have liked to have seen it better.

But the wetness. Oh my, it was wet underfoot to an amusing degree today. It was pretty wet from above too, with the drizzle and rain being far more sustained than the dry spells. The bonus of the wetness was that the many waterfalls that we passed were being shown off in all their glory.

In spite of the wetness underfoot the pathless bits of the pass seemed much easier than similar passages in recent days.

We needn't actually have been pathless as much as we were. We could have followed a trodden line from the top of the pass down to Loch An Nid, except that to do so would have required a river crossing at the bottom that we thought may be ill-advised in the conditions. So we yomped down the other side of the stream, thinking as we went that our feet were so wet that wading across the river at the bottom couldn't have got them wetter, and of course, when we got to the bottom we found the river to be far more fordable than the streams we had encountered earlier.

We completed our walk quickly (or perhaps it was more that it was a shorter walk and we didn't stop for lunch) and by just gone 2.30 we were pitching the tent. After last night's campsite interlude we're back in our proper position tonight: on the edge of a babbling stream with towering hills around us.

(*The number of people seen still stands at zero but we did walk past a tent today. And we saw fresh footprints somewhere else. It's amazing how excited one can get about seeing fresh footprints!)

Friday 27 June 2008

Day 74 - River Coulin to Kinlochewe

27 June
Distance: 7 long miles
Number of people seen out walking in last 6 days: 0

Last night's wind and rain had gone by this morning, which meant that we awoke to a midge-fest.

It was an exercise in packing away not just within the confines of the tent, but within the confines of the inner tent.

Once out trying to out-pace the midges the walk started easily enough along tracks, where the rain started gently to fall again.

As we left the track to make our way through a forest we expected the going to be hard. For the next seven days we're following the route described in the Cicerone End to End Trail book, and the description for the passage through this forest did not give us an optimistic feeling.

That bit of the route turned out to be fine (wet underfoot, but that's expected).

It was the final couple of miles into Kinlochewe, which the route description made sound so easy ('pathless but easy walking' then 'follow the path ... into Kinlochewe') that turned out to be today's trial. At one point we became so convinced that we weren't where we thought we were that we broke out the GPS. It told us that we were exactly where we thought we were. It didn't make the going any easier, mind.

We did finally pick up the path into Kinlochewe and after what felt like a much longer walk that it was, we arrived in the village at just after noon.

After establishing that the Post Office closes at 10.30am (so that's me carrying the dead Steripen for at least another four days), we headed for the campsite.

'Sorry no tents' said the sign outside. Now that was unexpected. Not only do I have a note on the schedule that says 'It does take tents', but we phoned earlier in the week to check too.

So we popped in to find that we had been given erroneous information earlier in the week. The main reason that they don't take tents is that they have no grass - except for one tiny corner where there's a small lawn laid on hardstanding.

We weren't to be homeless for the night. The warden is very friendly and helpful and said that if we could use the little patch of grass then we could stay there. She warned us that we'd likely need rock pegs.

Funnily enough, I didn't pack rock pegs and a hammer, but I also wasn't in fear, in this sheltered corner, of a wild gale (famous last words?), so we made do with shallowly laid pegs. Even better, the warden then donated the £9.30 fee to Macmillan.

For the fact that we got a pitch at all, I'll overlook the fact that there's a midge gathering happening at our tent as I type this.

Looking at the schedule we find that we've now spent 50 days in a tent and that we're well under-budget on B&Bs. So, as a special treat, we've booked ourselves into the hotel at Oykel Bridge for Monday night.

Alas, we then went on to find that the two hotels in Watten, where we're due to stay next Saturday, are fully booked. That leaves us with a smidge of a problem for the moment. Vic (our emergency crisis resolver as well as web-master) is on the case.

Today's rant (by way of a general rant and not in any way looking a gift horse in the mouth): What's wrong with conventional mixer showers that work with a knob and a valve? They work and they're pretty reliable with little to go wrong. Electronic showers on the other hand, that turn on when they sense someone in front of them (showering that person with cold water) and then randomly turn off and even more randomly think (when your back is turned) that you're touching the 'cold' sensor repeatedly, and then fail to acknowledge repeated touches of the 'hot' sensor - well they're just a bad idea. That was not a pleasing shower experience after three days of smelling.)

Day 73 - Loch Monar to River Coulin

26 June
Distance: about 17.25 miles

It's feeling like our customary setting as I type this. The tent is sitting perched on the very edge of the bank of a stone-bedded (and therefore noisy) river. Once again the rain is drumming down, and today it's being battered by the wind too.

It hasn't been bad weather all day, though. At 6.15 this morning, as I stuck my head out of the tent, I found that my wish had been granted. There were blue skies with fluffy clouds setting off nicely our surroundings of big hills and water.

Off we set at the usual time, under an increasingly cloudy (but still dry) sky, along the wiggly, undulating path along the loch shore until an hour or so later, after a tricky stream crossing (there were the remains of a bridge, but not sufficient remains to consider using them as a means to cross the torrent below) we started heading uphill to our first pass of the day.

It was a similar story to yesterday (although much prettier surroundings, in my opinion). Once the path up to the pass ran out it was a cross country yomp that slowed down our usual pace considerably. It was a tad drier underfoot than yesterday, mind, and at least it wasn't raining, although we were being thrown around occasionally by the blustery wind.

Dropping down into the Glen Carron, amid spectacular scenery, we opted to take a slightly higher path than I'd plotted, which gave the knees a good test on the downward side (the jury's out as to whether it was a test they passed)!

The wind was getting us good and proper as we made our way along the glen to Craig and, perhaps as a result of yesterday's hard day, the limbs were starting to feel tired even though we had a way to go.

In Craig we would have succumbed to the hostel except that it wasn't open at 3pm and we didn't fancy hanging around, so on we plodded steeply up to the Coulin Pass.

The schedule had our day ending at the top of the pass, but even from the map it looked unlikely that there would be suitable ground there, and so it turned out to be.

So, with complaining feet and weary bones we continued on for 2 more miles - giving the heavy rain just enough time to reach us.

The good point about having walked 2 miles into tomorrow (as we kept reminding ourselves as the rain got heavier) is that we now only have a 7-mile day tomorrow. That equates to both a lie-in and an early finish.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Day 72 - Cannich to Half Way Along Loch Monar

25 June
Distance: About 20 miles
Number of people seen out walking since Saturday afternoon: 0

It's been a long hard day; ten hours long with breaks only amounting to about one hour. I'm even inclined to believe that Anquet mapping wasn't too far off in saying that it involved 4000 feet of ascent. It certainly felt like a lot. By the time we made camp I was desperate for a bit of a rest.

The day started easily enough with the walk along the minor road in Glen Cannich. I'm not sure whether it's a dreary glen or whether it was just the rain and low cloud that made it seem that way.

Things got more interesting but a lot more hard-going when we struck out to head over to Glen Strathfarrar. It was a 3.75 mile walk that took us 3 hours. Fortunately the rain stopped for most of those three hours, but it was still a wet experience.

After all the rain of the last few days, overnight and this morning the burns were full and water was positively running off the hillsides. Added to that we had substantial quantities of bogs and hags to deal with and on a drier note the odd land-slip - one of which forced us into a couple of balancing-precariously-on-rocks river crossings.

Once down in Glen Strathfarrar and once we'd hunted down the well concealed bridge, we found that the track along the glen is actually a tarmacked road. It made for less squelchiness in the boots, but as if on cue, as we left the wet ground behind the rain started again.

Having taken so long in the crossing between glens, it looked unlikely that we would make it to our intended destination today. However, despite good camping spots two miles short, we pressed on - being pleased at the end of the day that we had done so in spite of the tiredness.

We've found ourselves a good pitch here, next to a very noisy stream, with superb views that we got a glimpse of earlier when the cloud lifted a while (it's lashing it down again now). Fingers crossed that we have a fine early morning tomorrow to appreciate them more over breakfast.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Day 71 - East of Clach Bheinn to Cannich

24 June
Distance: 9 miles

At 1.20am I woke up. Two things immediately struck me: I needed to visit the en-suite and I was cold.

The latter prevented the former until half an hour or so later I conceded that I wasn't going to get back to sleep until I'd resolved both issues.

Re-entering the tent a few minutes later I noted the frost on the fly-sheet.

Zipping up the solid door on the inner tent (we usually just have the mesh shut) I put on my long-sleeved merino wool top over my short-sleeved one that I was already wearing and donned hat and socks. Snuggled back down I was soon warm.

Off went the alarm at the usual time in the morning and my nose, poking out of the sleeping bag, told me that it hadn't got any warmer. There was no way that I was moving until the sun had hit the tent.

When it had finally struggled over the hill top and started warming us up, we opened the door to find a thick frost on the grass in front of us.

Okay, so it's far from unheard of to have such temperatures at night in Scotland, especially when you're in a dip that runs north-south and you're at 1500 feet, but it was still a bit of a surprise.

As such low temperatures would suggest, the morning brought a startlingly blue, clear sky.

Down to Tomich we walked (saved from a failure to navigate by a handy Scottish Rights of Way Society signpost), where we surprised the hotel by popping in for tea and third breakfast at 10am (the sign outside did say 'Morning coffees' and 'food served all day', but perhaps people don't usually take them up on that).

It was then a three mile road walk into Cannich, being chased by a swarm of flies the whole way.

We arrived to be told that our emergency supply parcel hadn't arrived. Fortunately, I could see it behind the desk so didn't require the panic that could have ensued. Amongst a couple of other items, this parcel contained new batteries for the Steripen. Those batteries confirmed that the Steripen is dead. So, as well as being miffed about the price per litre that we've achieved from the device I'm now carrying 100g that I don't need (having missed the POs short opening hours here today).

Week 10 - Random Thoughts

Week 10 has seen us make our way up the middle of Scotland, stitching together paths described in Scottish Hill Tracks. Occasionally my stitching together has involved routes that just wouldn't work, but nowhere have we had any significant detours. More pleasingly, there have been a few places where we've been able to take more direct routes than I'd plotted, always a bonus when it also omits some road walking.

The weather has been somewhat less kind to us than for the previous weeks (admittedly we were remarkably lucky early on), but it's obvious that this area is in desperate need of rain (surely they could have waited two more weeks, mind!).

Pity that the rain isn't deterring the midges. I'm sporting plenty of bites.

As for gear, I think that it's time that I mentioned socks. There was a bit of discussion about socks on here a while back, with reports of longevity of between 215 and 2300 miles per pair. This is how mine have done thus far:

Pair 1 - only used for the first week and a half. Because of footwear issues I was having at the time I wanted to try a thinner pair. I approximate that these only had 50 miles use.

Pair 2 (Bridgedale Endurance Trekker) - approx. 500 miles to date and showing no significant signs of wear. After a wash and tumble dry they're still nice and fluffy.

Pair 3 (Bridgedale Comfort - the thinner pair that I started using in week 2) They've had something in the region of 450 miles use and are getting well and truly onto their last legs now. Soon to be retired to a bin.

Pair 3 (Bridgedale Endurance Trekker) - picked up in Halifax as I expected one of the other pairs imminently to start showing signs of wear. Miles to date 0, even though I've carried them for the last five weeks (so much for lightweight!).

Pair 4 (Sealskinz) - Used a few times in the first 3 weeks, until I switched to boots. Then sent home and retrieved in the latest resupply parcel, now that my boots have started to leak. There's no considerable mileage on these, often only used in camp, so they're doing fine so far.

As for my trousers, the holes in the ankles are now quite sizeable, but I'm hoping that they'll last the distance. They'll most definitely be binned at the end of the trip.

Boots: Like my trousers, it's fingers crossed that they make it to JOG. Giving them one of their now-regular washes last night I noticed that part of the rand on the back of the right boot is coming adrift. They've got something like 800 miles on them to-date.

Day 70 - Fort Augustus to east of Clach Bheinn

23 June
Distance: about 14 miles
Number of people seen out walking: 0

It was another lazy start to the day, approaching 10am by the time we left the supermarket in Fort Augustus with very heavy packs (I was particularly looking forward to elevenses and lunch, as I was carrying both).

The walk out of Fort Aggie over into Glen Moriston was a little less than inspiring, being through forestry. Out of Glen Moriston up to the col between Beinn Bhan and Meall Ruigh Uisdein was barren in an unpretty way and was saved only by the views off to the north-west, where hilltop after hilltop was visible.

Of course I knew that there are an awful lot of hills in these parts, but you really do get to appreciate the magnitude of them when passing by at 2.5mph.

Things improved as we popped over the col as we now had views ahead of us too, although the track we were walking was ugly and the surrounding area didn't have much to recommend it either.

Finding a camping spot didn't look too difficult on paper and it looked as though we should be able to find a good one, with nearby water and views. It wasn't to be.

All we ask for in a pitch is a reasonable amount of flatness, dryness and breeze. Today we were struggling to even get two out of three.

Those ideal looking pitches we'd earmarked from on high turned out to be sodden and even extensive walking around, up hillsides and up and down stream only revealed dry ground on steep slopes.

In the end we settled. It's far from the worst pitch we've ever achieved. It's not as dry as we'd like, but nor is it squelching, and it's flat, plus it's right on the edge of a babbling stream, so there is a certain element of prettiness. Pity it's a bit sheltered; no splendid view and scant breeze. I feel another midge-fest coming on.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Day 69 - Before Melgarve to Fort Augustus

22 June
Distance: 14.5 miles (maybe 15)
Distance to date: just over 1000 miles
Number of people seen before Ft Aggie: 0

Mick tells me that it rained last night like someone had a power hose aimed at the tent and that the wind was lashing. I slept through it all; these mileages seem to be making me sleep well!

It was to the sound of rain drumming to which I awoke this morning and even having indulged in a lie-in it was showing no signs of letting up. The food situation (plus the fact that it's not realistic to hide each time it rains) meant that we couldn't stay where we were, so up we got ready to don waterproofs and head out.

Alas, the rain didn't stop the midges from making a meal out of the exposed parts of my body when I nipped out to use the en-suite, but at least today the Avon Skin-So-Soft was back to being a liquid (shutting that stable door again). Yesterday morning it had solidified in the cold temperature.

As for the walk over the Corrie Yairack Pass to Fort Aggie, well we put our hoods up, our heads down and we marched along. I'm sure that there are views to be had from up there, and fine ones too, but today with the rain and the low cloud all we got to see was the path ahead.

As others have reported the erosion of General Wade's Military Road (the route over this pass) is dreadful. At its worst about eight feet of the surface have been eroded away. The damage that was started by vehicles is now being continued by nature as water gushes along the channels caused by tyres.

The walk wasn't too bad though; the worst parts of the track could be avoided.

Having only paused briefly for second breakfast and having marched on without taking elevenses or lunch we made it to Fort Aggie much earlier than expected for the mileage. During the whole walk the rain had eased for maybe 10 minutes. We arrived dripping and with very wet feet (and legs and hands in Mick's case).

We were greeted by a good campsite (it even has a camp kitchen complete with tables and chairs and a kettle) and, more importantly, our three parcels. We now have food for the next week, a new MP3 player with a new book on for Mick and the new poo-shovel (thanks again Backpackinglight for getting that to us at such short notice).

Tomorrow is scheduled to be a 24.25 mile day. It was clear early on (like in Devon) that there was no way we would want to tackle such a mileage, so we're splitting it in two. So tomorrow we will walk for 5 or 6 hours and see to where we get. Wherever that is, hopefully the weather will oblige us by being a touch drier.

Post Script: yet more interesting food experiences. Tonight's veggie lasagne (or at least that's what the menu sold it as) contained broccoli, cauliflower, swede, carrot chunks and leeks. The only vegetable present that I would expect to find in a veggie lasagne was onion. Still better than the pudding in which I found the unexpected ingredient of one of the chef's hairs...

Day 68 - By Culra Bothy to before Melgarve

21 June
Distance: 17.5 miles

We woke up to a truly spectacular scene. I cannot possibly do it justice with words or with my snapshots.

Our tent was perched on the bank of the stoney river in the valley bottom.

As I stuck my head out at 6am it was to see a herd of deer crossing the river just behind us. The sky was absolutely clear, a startling shade of blue, and all around us were towering mountains, many sporting patches of snow.

It's no wonder that it's such a popular place. We saw more people before 8am than we've seen out and about in any one day since leaving the Pennine Way. There were five other tents nearby and at least five people staying in the bothy (the other side of the river), plus as we walked out (seemingly in the wrong direction - being Saturday everyone else was heading towards the hills as we headed away from them) we saw plenty of people cycling in.

Along the river we headed and along the edges of forestry until before we knew it we were at Kinloch Lagan where the loch was incredibly low on water - as have been most that we've passed.

Heading back into forestry the other side of the loch a marshall warned us that a race was coming through and that very soon we would meet mountain bikes coming towards us at speed.

It was a warning repeated by two more marshalls along the track. At any moment we expected to have to leap out of the way.

When we stopped for lunch an hour later we still hadn't seen a single bike. Perhaps they'd all taken a wrong turn, we pondered?

What we did notice whilst looking at the map and the landscape over lunch was that we were walking two sides of a triangle and that there was no obvious reason why we couldn't just cut across the third.

Over a deer fence we clambered and across land that could so easily have been bog and tussock territory (as was yesterday's similar direct route), but turned out to be mainly dry and relatively easy, with just a couple of stream crossings thrown in for interest.

Having cut just over a mile off our route (avoiding a bit of road walking into the bargain - always good) we finally started seeing the mountain bikes.

Garva Bridge was our intended end point of the day, but that was from where the bike event was starting and it was teeming with people, plus it was only just gone 2pm, which felt a bit early to stop.

So we carried on a little while further, but not dreadfully far.

Rumour (i.e. a Munro bagger we met near Garva Bridge) tells us that it's going to be miserable weather tomorrow, but at least we've got a reasonably short day now. I'm not sure what I'm looking forward to most in Fort Augustus: a proper meal or a hot shower. I think that I need the latter more than the former.

Saturday 21 June 2008

Day 67 - Allt Camghouran to by Culra Lodge

20 June
Distance: 19.5 miles

A quick post today. We were late finding somewhere to camp (and walked further than intended in the process) and other requirements are pressing - like sleeping!

The low point of the day: finding, after walking quite some distance without water and having detoured to a less than satisfactory stream to find some, that the Steripen no longer works. It appears to have water in its mechanism. Seems to me that it's a bit of a weakness in a device designed to be used in water (admittedly the water ingress was caused by rain rather than in use).

Our water shortage was solved later in the day when we left the flat lands behind and found plenty of good streams.

The high point of the day: popping out of the north end of a forest and having the view of Loch Erich open up before us. A heavy shower had just passed through, another was not far behind it, by as we came upon the view it was with a blue sky. We agreed that it was the best of the walk so far.

Things were pretty good beyond Ben Alder Bothy too. The scenery and views are truly magnificent.

And rumour (from a chap we met on his way down from Ben Alder who reported that it had snowed on him on the summit) has it that after four days of rain and showers, tomorrow is going to be fine.

Even better, tomorrow is now down to 16.25 miles, having accidentally walked 6.25 miles further than scheduled today.

Thursday 19 June 2008

Day 66 - East of Killin to Allt Camghouran

19 June
Distance: 17.8 miles

It was a hideous nightmare.

Not the whole day.

The first ten miles were fine. Although on tarmac and although in the rain, they were through Ben Lawers Nature Reserve, which provided stunning scenery with barely any cars.

Innerwick was a disappointment as yet again we had our hopes up of a cup of tea and a slice of cake and again found that although the tea room advertised itself as being open it was shut.

The route out of Innerwick was complicated by a minor failure to navigate, but the back-track wasn't great, and although still accompanied by rain the Pass of the Swines (or Lairig a' Mhuic as you'll find it on the map) was uneventful.

The pathless yomp up to the col and down the other side was hard going (and accompanied by rain), but we can hardly expect an easy ride in this terrain, can we?

Then we got a kilometre or so into Rannoch Forest and the nightmare began.

There was a fallen tree across the track. Nothing overly unusual there, and around it we bashed.

Then we came to another fallen tree and another and another. The next two kilometres were a mess of fallen trees. There was not a single stretch of twenty metres that didn't contain a fallen tree.

We climbed over, under and round. Branches tore at us and in the style of an assault course at times we had to do a belly crawl and at times had to heave ourselves over (backpacks off, backpacks on, repeat).

We would have gone back and found a different route, except that we kept optimistically thinking that after the next obstacle it would improve and then we'd gone so far that to fight our way back would have been worse than going forward.

It was worse than our bash through a forest last week (by a long way), only this time we were on a track (part of Scottish Hill Track 139 according to my notes). It would be no exaggeration to say that this track was impassable - irrespective of the fact that we fought our way through (and I bet there's some information out there somewhere that, if I'd found it, would have told me that three hundred trees block this part of the route).

Our slow passage was of course accompanied by rain.

All that was bad enough (or if your cup is half full then it was quite an adventure), but about three trees from the end of the nightmare (as it turned out) I noticed that the distinctive yellow tip of the poo-shovel handle was missing from the back of Mick's pack.

Eeek. And we're four days out in the wilds!

Leaving Mick and my pack I tackled the assault course in the other direction (much easier without the pack), but didn't find it within half a km, so gave it up as lost.

Ten minutes later a new shovel was on its way to meet us in Fort Augustus as once again came to the rescue. They're turning out to be a jolly handy supplier of emergency replacement items on this trip - and you know that you can rely on their prompt service. Thanks Bob & Rose!

The day didn't have a bad ending (and there were actually dry spells between the periods of rain, so the weather wasn't quite as bad as I've painted it). We've pitched in a lovely location right next to the picturesque Allt Camghouran which puts us 2.5 miles into tomorrow's route (a pre-planned bit of re-shuffling to reduce Saturday's scheduled 22.5 mile day).

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Day 65 - Killin (South) to East of Killin

18 June
Distance: 3.5 miles

It was a lazy start to the day. At the time we are usually out walking I was still lounging in bed. At the time that we're usually stopping for second breakfast we were just sitting down for a cooked first breakfast.

Leaving the B&B as late as we thought reasonable it was a slow journey through the village. There were visits to the Post Office, the Co-op and the outdoor shop to way-lay us.

We were quite a while at the Co-op figuring out what to buy to see us through to Fort Augustus in 4.5 days time. Then we were even longer outside trying to cram the big bags of food into our packs. Heaving it onto my back I just reminded myself that it will get progressively lighter as the days go on!

Then there was the outdoor shop - that was a very long visit.

Mick came away with some super shock absorbing Sorbothane footbeds. £20 and the first thing he's had to do with them is cut them in half so that he can wear his orthotics with them, but if they help his feet then it will be worth it. He also invested in a pair of Sealskinz socks in the hope of sometimes having dry feet in this wet weather and on the upcoming terrain.

The exciting find in the outdoor shop was the Avon Skin-so-soft. It's reputed that midges hate it, so it's got to be worth a try.

Finally after chatting for quite a while in the outdoor shop we left town and set out on the road alongside Loch Tay.

There's nothing really to be said about the walk: it was short and entirely uneventful.

Arriving at the campsite the fundraising took its second boost of the day when the owner kindly donated our £10 fee to Macmillan, which added itself to the £15 donated by last night's B&B. I do believe that that takes our fundraising over the £4000 mark :-)

For us personally she also donated some washing detergent. After another hour or so clad in my waterproofs so that we could treat oruselves to more laundry we'll be setting out for four days in the wilds in a reasonable state of cleanliness. All I have to do is remember that if I use the Bushbuddy in those days not to rub soot all over my trousers - which is precisely what I did the day after I last washed my trews!

Weeks 8 & 9 Random Thoughts

18 June
Distance so far: about 930 miles

Here we are in week 10 and I've not given my random thoughts from weeks 8 or 9 yet. Between sleeping, eating, walking, daily blogging and keeping a journal there are just not enough hours in the day.

Here are a few brief thoughts whilst I wait for my tea to rehydrate:

Pennine Way: my verdict was that I liked it a lot. Quite a few people who we met on the way didn't seem to be enjoying it, but it was definitely my cup of tea. I also liked the fact that there were waymarks but not so many as to make the map and a bit of thought redundant.

Boots: It wasn't looking promising for my boots a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that the suede at the toe crease had cracked. This I blame entirely on my abuse of them, having been none too diligent in cleaning them. In the manner of shutting the stable door, I've now got some Nikwax and have been treating them. My fingers are crossed that they make it the distance - I can't be doing with getting hold of or breaking in a new pair at this stage! The fact that the right boot has also sprung a leak is an added annoyance.

Mick's boots: That Mick's right boot is leaking is even more annoying as they are a few hundred miles newer than mine. That part of the sole is not well adhered to the upper is also not pleasing. I think Mick would quietly weep if he had to start over with a new pair of boots.

Weight: We were in a B&B last week which had a set of bathroom scales. They told us that Mick has now lost over a stone - not a big surprise as his trews are hanging off him. I have lost a few pounds but nothing drastic. I have however lost inches. My hip belt is perilously near the end of the stops and my trousers are falling down!

Pocketmail (that's the little device from which these blog posts are sent): A truly fantastic device and perfect for this trip. I was unsure about battery life when we set out but it turned out that the first set of Duracell AAs lasted seven weeks. Not bad considering the amount of daily use it gets.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Day 64 - Gleann Nam Meann to Killin

17 June
Distance: about 17.5 miles
Number of close encounters with bulls: 1

The rain that started just as I was finishing up cooking tea yesterday continued through the night and into this morning. The only time it let up was just as we were about to take the tent down, when it gave a ten minute respite.

Fortuitous timing you may think, except that as the rain stopped out came the midges. Call me picky, but I'd rather have the rain.

The rain duly started again and my goodness did it come down?

By the time we got to Balquhidder, only about 6 or 8 miles into our day, I was thinking that if it was going to continue as it was then an early B&B would be an attractive option.

Pushing such defeatist thoughts aside we carried on through the village and after a brief sojourn for elevenses in the church porch we set out up Glen Kirkton.

By near the top of the pass I was tired and wet and sinking into misery, added to which I'd discovered a leak in my right boot. Oh, and the blister I developed under my little toe yesterday had reformed nicely in the wet boot.

Then we got over the top of the pass and quite unexpectedly the rain stopped and out came the sun. The world was suddenly a rosier place.

A noise made us look up as we made our way down the glen, and there silhouetted on the ridge above us was a huge herd of deer.

Alas, perfection was short-lived. Down came the rain again, accompanying us our final five miles into Killin.

Having decided that we'll have a rest day here we stopped at the first B&B we passed (which explains why we only walked 17.5 miles not the expected 20). Tomorrow we'll walk to the furthest campsite, on the other side of the town, which will put us in a good position to set out again on Thursday.

Day 63 - Kippen to Gleann Nam Meann

15 June
Distance: about 20.5 miles

It was a day that linked tracks together and in doing so used too much tarmac.

There's not a handy path running out of Kippen to the north (or at least not as far as I could find), so our first 8 miles were on roads, where far too many motorists (whose time is clearly too precious to spend ten seconds avoiding pedestrians) glared at us and some shook their heads. We got the feeling that the general concensus amongst those on one particular road was that pedestrians had no right to walk along it - not even those taking up only six inches of the road edge.

We finally got off the road only to find ourselves on a tarmacked track. Groan.

Tarmac finally gave way to unsurfaced track and that led us into a forest where tracks wiggled around and about, doubling the straight line distance that would have seen us to the other side.

I had thought that once we got out the other side of Brig O'Turk (where the 'Tea Room Open' sign was a complete lie) the track would be kinder to our feet. Alas it wasn't to be. We had another couple of miles of tarmac to contend with.

Things did start to get a bit more interesting up this track, mind. There were the two women who were very pleased to have completed the 13.5 mile Mell Circuit. There were the three shepherds who were making an absolute meal of rounding up a small flock of sheep with seven dogs.

And there were the five D of E chaps who were 3km away from completing their Silver expedition. They had a story to tell as one of their number had been airlifted to hospital yesterday after two of the lads had run 2.5 miles to the nearest farm to raise the alarm. It sounded like it had been a trip that they'll remember for more than the weight of their packs (in typical D of E style there were some big packs going on with lots of things lashed to the outside).

In an effort to reduce tomorrow's mileage, we didn't stop at the intended place today but decided to push on until 17.15 and see how far we got. The answer was that we got about 2 miles into tomorrow's walk, reducing it to a more palatable 20 miles.

We found ourselves a rather nice pitch too, with good views and good water close to hand. Unfortunately we didn't get a dreadfully long time to enjoy the location before the rain started.

It's rain that's forecasted to last for three days.

Day 60 Photo - Thanks to Rodger and Richard

On the Union Canal between Edinburgh and Linlithgow

Sunday 15 June 2008

Day 62 - Kilsyth to Kippen

15 June
Distance: 14.5 miles

After our mammoth day yesterday we arrived at Allenfauld Farm B&B, which turned out to be a B&B well worthy of mention and recommendation.

In this lovely farm house, complete with stunning furniture and in-keeping decor we had a very large and comfortable room. All of that makes for a nice B&B, but this one was made even better by our attentive host Libby, who went beyond the call by driving us to and from the pub for tea last night.

It's apparently a night-stop popular with LEJOGers too, as we're the fourth through in recent weeks - and the other three who are currently on their way are not amongst the five who we have met - so there really are a lot of people walking this walk right now.

Heading out of the door rather later than usual this morning, we had a change from the last couple of days. We're away from the canals now and so as we left the farmhhouse we headed behind it, directly onto the hills.

The path marked on the map was not evident on the ground so we were immediately in our element yomping through long grass, reeds and bogs (I let Mick go ahead of me so that each time he fell into a hole I knew not to follow in his very footsteps!).

An hour or so in we hit a forest and found ourselves to be a wee touch off course. However, as the woodland ahead of us had been felled, we decided to just yomp on through down to the first track running through it, a move which we completed successfully.

Then came the really interesting bit of the day. A veritable adventure in fact.

I can only assume that when I plotted this and failed to make any advisory comment on the itinerary or on the map it was late at night and I had imbibed a quantity of wine, as the route I had plotted ran directly through the forest - not on any sort of marked path. I'm well aware that plantations of this nature are usually a tangle of impassable branches, yet I had assumed that in order to get from one track running east-west to the one running parallel, half a kilometre lower down, we would be able to take a straight line.

Having not noticed this random bit of route planning until too late, we were faced with two options: stick to the plan, as mad as it was; or walk a 6km detour so as to keep on the forest tracks.

Obviously, we stuck to the plan, which was fine at first because there was a bit of a clearing where a burn ran. Then the clearing ended and we variously found ourselves walking down the burn, scrambling up and down its edges, scrambling around fallen trees and bashing through the dense dead lower branches of the firs.

It did strike me half way through this escapade that if one of us was to come a cropper and require rescue then it would be a very tricky operation and would deserve a huge amount of censure from the rescuers.

As it went we came out on the intended track (in the intended place too) and after taking our tops off to shake out the three pounds of bits of dead tree we continued on proper tracks.

Having rounded the loch (the name of which I can't recall and I don't have the map on me) we sat down for five minutes. It wasn't the prettiest location to sit - at the side of a road and next to a car park, but I was glad that we did.

Had we not stopped we would have followed the route I'd marked, however given the time to look around us and at the map Mick noticed that we could take a more direct route up a track opposite us. I took a bit of convincing that it would work out okay (this track was not marked on the map), but once convinced was more than happy to omit the few kilometres of road walking and the descent-to-reascend that would have been involved in the intended route.

The direct route worked just fine (well, ignoring the small issue of a ravine to cross) taking us to the track that would lead us through Ballochleam Spout and down to Kippen.

The view from the Spout was fantastic. Lump upon lump upon lump of hills spreadout ahead of us (and with heavy rain showers passing both right and left of us).

Down to Kippen we dropped, miraculously missing all but a few spots of the passing rain.

Donations update: I am taken aback. There we were walking up the road to the B&B last night when a voice behind us checked "You're walking for Macmillan?" We confirmed that was the case and he handed to us £20 before heading down his driveway without further conversation. That £20 was further boosted this morning with another £20 donation from our B&B. Two donations that caused us to both end a day and start a day with a spring in our step.

Post Script: Another food post script tonight. We thought that our meal at The George in Melrose was good, but that's now in the shadows of the Cross Keys in Kippen. I had an asparagus and broad bean risotto starter, an asparagus and broad bean main course (tiny quantity mix up on the first attempt which was swiftly resolved without fuss) and a lemon tart pudding. Mick had pork loin mains with rhubarb creme brulee pudding. If I lived anywhere near here we'd made a regular visit to this place. If you find yourself in Kippen (and it's a fine place to come if you're walking LEJOG) then I'd strongly recommend a meal at the Cross Keys.

Saturday 14 June 2008

Day 61 - Linlithgow to Kilsyth

14 June
Distance: about a million miles
Actual distance: 22 miles

Well, I'm glad those two days are over. I've had enough of flat ground, big miles and hard surfaces!

Today was not without merit. In fact it had a couple or three notable points.

My starting point for planning a route along the length of the country was that I wanted to go via the Falkirk Wheel. As it turned out, when planning the route in detail, via the Falkirk Wheel was the obvious route in any case, and today was the day for this highlight.

In fact, it was the highlight that kept me going along the almost lifeless (there were big shoals of fish basking in the clear water in places) canal all morning - that and the views of the hills over to our right.

Before the wheel was another feature that I'd not expected: a 620 metre long tunnel, complete with significant water seepage through the roof at times, just to give those walking through the darkness an occasional shower.

A while was spent at the wheel, sitting in the sunshine and watching it working. I like things mechanical and the Falkirk wheel is an impressive structure. I would quote some facts and figures about it, except that the Visitor Centre seemed strangely devoid of any information. Either it was well hidden or you have to take the audio tour - and given the length of our day I didn't want to spend the time on an audio tour. Nevertheless, I went away happy to have seen three rotations of the wheel.

Dragging ourselves away after about an hour, we were onto the Forth and Clyde canal, which at least has the feature of a few locks (the Union Canal wiggles around a bit to keep to the same contour rather than having locks).

Here hoards of people were out enjoying the sunshine, walking or cycling along the towpath (at least until the rain hit, then everyone mysteriously disappeared), but again there was scant life on the water. A few ducks, a canoe and a (smelly) motor-craft.

By a mile from our destination we were suffering from last half mile syndrome, added to which Mick found that he had incurred his first blister of the trip. 880 miles and he goes and gets a blister!

Our B&B for tonight is up the hill on the north side of Kilsyth. That was a shock to the legs after the flatness of the canals. In the world of Anquet mapping (and probably other mapping software too) today's ascent was 1500 feet. Phil over at Doodlecat wrote a post a few months ago about the over-estimation of ascent by mapping software (worth reading, but I can't post a link just now) and if memory serves he reckoned the software to be out by around 20%. Well, some days I reckon that Anquet is about right, others it's clearly way off the mark. Today it was way off.

By my calculation today (a bit difficult to be accurate; I think the ink was all but out when I printed today's map) we crossed no more than 20 contour lines, at least five of them downhill. An alleged 1500 feet of ascent versus a reality of about 500. That's quite an overstatement isn't it?

Post Script: interesting food experience tonight. I'm not sure that including swede and baby new potatoes in the filling of fajitas is entirely authentic...

Friday 13 June 2008

Day 60 - Beyond Cauldstane Slap to Linlithgow

13 June
Distance: 21 miles
Number of times I've been mistaken for a boy in the last 36 hours: twice

At 8pm last night, as if timed by their midgey alarm clocks, the midges came out. Into the tent we dived and closed the net door, marvelling at the quantities swarming outside.

At 9pm I had to pop out to the en-suite and despite a very carefully choreographed set of moves designed to avoid midge ingress, we ended up with hundreds of the blighters inside. For twenty minutes we were playing 'hunt and kill the midges'.

Fortunately by this morning the cool temperature and hint of a breeze was enough to have sent to ground the eighty million that we didn't kill, so we didn't have a repeat of the Byrness face-slapping fiasco.

Leaving our pitch a bit of bog-trotting took us back to the path for the walk down from Cauldstane Slap down to Little Vantage, where Mick changed into his running shoes in recognition of the fact that the rest of the day was on hard surfaces: road, tracks and tow-path.

Almondell Country Park was a colourful interlude in the day, being in bloom as it is - particularly the rhodedendrons. Walking through (actually Mick was almost running in his comfy shoes) we started fantasising that the Visitor Centre marked on the map would have a tea room. Then the fantasy grew - a cup of tea and a huge slab of cake. Then it grew further: a cup of tea and a fried egg bap. It culminated in me sitting with a pint of tea, an egg bap and a huge slab of cake.

The fantasy was shattered when we found that all that was available was a small styrofoam cup of tea (thimble-esque) and packets of 2 biscuits.

Not quite refreshed, we made our way to the Union Canal, which turned out to be another canal that is lacking in life. I counted two swans, two coot, one mallard, one British Waterways dredger and a chap on an inflatable sit-on canoe. That's not a lot of life in ten miles or so of canal.

Until the meeting of the canoeist, the walk along the canal had been so uninspiring as to cause me to get out the audio book and prove that I can listen to a whole chapter without falling asleep!

Then we met Roger and Richard. Richard was the chap on the inflatable canoe, Roger was on the bank supervising this first test of the craft (and an interesting craft it looked too). We had stopped nearby for a quick break and soon found ourselves chatting. It was another of those nice meetings that momentarily distracts you from the fact that your feet hurt and you've still not reached your destination.

Twenty-one miles is a long way to walk mainly on hard surfaces and by the end the breaks were coming often.

I know that I can walk far further than 21 miles in a day; I know that because I've done it dozens of times, albeit without a pack. However, on this walk it seems that my psychological cut off point is 20 miles. That doesn't make tomorrow's 22 miler a happy prospect - but at least we have a real bed at the end of it to which we can look forward.

However, our packs will be heavy, for today we've picked up two more parcels (which are the only reason we're at this campsite that's a mile out of our way and on the hard-shoulder of the M9; had I looked at the map earlier in the week and noted the location I would have had the parcels sent elsewhere). As well as the requested items those parcels contained unexpected treats - so thanks go to Vic for the sweets and to Kay for the flapjacks (and not just any flapjack, I immediately recognised this as the extremely good Mouldy Old Hall flapjack) - yummy! Perhaps with all of these treats I'll regain a few of those curves that I've lost and people will stop mistaking me for a boy!

Thursday 12 June 2008

Day 59 - Peebles to beyond Cauldstane Slap

12 June
Distance: 18.25 miles

I was tired today. More tired than I've been at any point since Day 2. However, I put that down to the ignorami (I would be a little less polite except that my grandmother reads this (hello Much!)) who decided, amongst other unnecessary disturbances to do the hokey cokey at the top of their lungs outside of our tent in a fit of extreme drunkenness at 12.30 this morning.

The lack of sleep didn't stop me springing out of bed at the usual time, and I was cheered to find that after some very heavy and very prolonged rain during the night, the day was again a fine one, with lots of blue sky.

We were soon out of Peebles, making our way first to and then along the old drove road that leads to West Linton. A nice route it was too, with mainly nice underfoot conditions - albeit a bit hard in places (the dreaded tarmac, in particular).

We didn't meet anyone out walking the whole way to West Linton, although we did stop for a good chat with a chap maintaining one of the paths for the estate upon which it lies.

I can't comment on West Linton itself, which is in the midst of its festival at the moment, as we skirted around it, but I can recommend Rosehip tearoom on the outskirts. It's housed in the old drove road toll house and serves some excellent lunches. Being not a planned stop that meant that we find ourselves unnecessarily still carrying today's intended lunch - so much for lightweight!

'Twas hard underfoot again leaving West Linton and the tiredness was seeping through all of my bones.

Unexpectedly, at a time when I thought my weariness was going to make the rest of the day a trudge, I was cheered by the chance meeting of two very nice men.

Kenny and Jim were their names and they'd been out to the Caulderstane Slap on a 5 hour walk during which time we were the only people they'd met.

A bit of a chat was had and upon learning the nature of our trip we were invited to have a meal with them in a local pub. Alas, given that our intended destination for the day was up in the hills, we had to decline, to which Jim put his hand in his pocket and handed over a generous sum of money which he was quite adamant was to be spent on beer and food, not to be given to Macmillan. We will abide by that instruction and I look forward to finding a pub tomorrow, whereupon we will toast these gents.

Macmillan didn't lose out either, as we also came away with a £20 donation.

We continued our last few miles with a renewed bounce, reflecting on such random acts of kindness by strangers. It makes what is already an excellent walk even more special.

Pushing on having scoffed some very nice cake for sustenance, we passed through more wonderful open country, with just birds and sheep for company. At Cauldstane Slap it was time to leave the path to start looking for a pitch.

It's not a bad one that we found, not too near but not too far from our route, and with running water close to hand. We've the sight of planes taking off from Edinburgh not to distant, but beyond that, to the north-west is our first glimpse of highlands. Those are definite high pointy things on the horizon - and in just a few more days we'll be in amongst them.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Day 58 - Beyond Broomy Law to Peebles

11 June
Distance: about 15 miles
Number of donkeys within ten feet of the tent: 2

Today was a Very Good Day.

After something of a breezy night we left our practical-over-idyllic pitch under fine skies.

An hour later at just 8.30am, I noticed a chap walking towards us. "Early for someone to be up here" I thought.

His greeting of "I was worried you'd taken a short cut" made us realise that this was more than a chance meeting and led to Mick's rejoinder of "You must be Ian".

This was the very same Ian who I mentioned just last night, who gave us some route advice for this section of the walk.

He turned around and walked with us back to Traquair (pointing things out to us as we went; very knowledgable on this area is Ian), where he'd left his camper van. Once there he produced a big pot of tea and from his refrigerator pulled out mountains of fruit salad and salads. After 2 months of dehydrated meals and cracker/fish/cheese lunches I was in food heaven.

Let it be known that this man, who had until now been a complete stranger, is a star-of-the-First-Order. Read a few other on-line journals of people who have walked from Land's End to John O'Groats and you'll find that he crops up more than once. So, a big thank you Ian.

Finally dragging ourselves away from the comfort and the food, we set out along our hastily re-jigged route. The forestry through which we passed was far from the most dreary and we were soon yomping up a pathless hill the other side to get to the top of Kailzie Hill, from where we could pick up an old drove road down to Peebles.

It was a fine bit of re-routing. The drove road runs along a ridge giving expansive views.

It also gave a good vantage point from which to see the rain approaching. I think the technical description would be 'showers, some prolonged and heavy' - the first heavy one certainly had us diving into our packs for waterproofs.

The good events of the day did not end on arriving in Peebles. We got to the campsite to find it to be not only one of the best ones yet, but also one of the cheapest. They also had for us the emergency parcel, sent yesterday (thank you Kim & Hayley), containing Mick's running shoes (in the hope that they will ease his foot problem, at least when we're on hard surfaces). I don't want to Keegan things, but just requesting them may have helped - today the shoe-faffs were minimal and I didn't hear any ooching and ouching.

Then just to round the day off, for the first time this trip we splashed out on laundry (saving me time standing at a sink and the usual drying problems). It involved me having to wear waterproofs in lieu of trousers, but we now have all of our clothes washed and dried - and they even came out a bit cleaner than they went in. I think that much dirt may require more than one cycle to cure!

Added to all of that, thanks to a chap who was walking the SUW (wearing a kilt and with a large pack) and to the very generous donation made by Ian, we ended the day with the Macmillan fundraising £25 richer.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Day 57 - Newton St. Boswells to Beyond Broomy Law

10 June
Distance: about 16 miles

Our grocery shopping is usually done in village stores, which vary from tiny independent ones to reasonably large Co-ops.

Today we didn't use the store in Newton St. Boswell, where we arrived back by bus just before 8am, nor did we use the Co-op in Melrose when we passed through for the second time at 9am. Instead we decided to delay the buying of supplies until Galashiels, even though that meant taking a bit of a detour.

What we didn't realise when making that decision was that we would find ourselves in a Tesco Extra the size and nature of a French Carrefour.

Whilst we've not yet failed to find enough suitable food substances in the little local stores to do for our meals, the bonus of a big Tesco was that it offered choice and at low prices.

There is, however, a big minus to choice and that is you have to walk a mile around the store searching for the items you're after.

Whilst I did the searching Mick supped tea and scoffed a bacon roll (well there was no sense both of us walking an extra mile wearing backpacks) in the cafe, which is where he attracted the first donation of the day - £5 from a woman who must have seen our backpacks as we entered.

Incredibly we managed to spend an hour and a half in Tesco (multiple cups of tea were involved) and it was as we were fitting the shopping into our bags that a chap stopped to chat (turned out that he was out in the Cheviots on Sunday too). Before we parted he added another couple of pounds to the Macmillan fund.

Then it was back out onto the Southern Upland Way (SUW), which we'd joined at Melrose having left St. C's Way.

The day had been reasonably unremarkable until we ascended the Three Brethren (anyone know whether there's a story behind the three cairns on the top?), where we left behind the ugly forestry and the views opened out.

We pitched the tent at 4pm, enjoying the fact that now we're in Scotland we can legally camp and thus don't have to wait so late to pitch. Alas, we didn't achieve an idyllic pitch, going instead for practicality - there's rather a stiff wind blowing so shelter was our first priority.

As I usually do, once pitched I started looking at tomorrow's route (tomorrow we get back to the schedule after the re-jigging of distances over the last couple of days). I also dug out the notes that a chap called Ian had sent to us when he very kindly looked at our proposed route through this area. I should, perhaps, have read those notes more thoroughly before, as I now appreciate that my intended route is at best not advisable and at worst not possible. Being thankful that we're already about 5.5 miles into tomorrow's route (or it could have been a jolly long day) I've reconsidered and we have a new plan. Looks like a good one too.

(Personal note: Hello and congratulations to Willie and Fiona. All being well we'll be seeing you a month from now!)

Days 54-55 Photos - Thanks to Mike Roberts

Mike, Gayle and Mick

The end of the Pennine Way

Home sweet home

Monday 9 June 2008

Day 56 - Morebattle to Newton St. Boswells

9 June
Distance: about 20 miles (according to my piece of string)

It didn't go according to plan. The plan saw us walking 12.5 miles to Lilliardsedge. Even that bit of the day couldn't be achieved per the plan - firstly because we didn't trust to take another of my 'direct routes' and so decided to just follow the St Cuthbert's Way, and secondly because the St Cuthbert's Way in reality does not match its representation on my map.

So, getting to Lilliardsedge involved 1.5 miles more distance than I'd plotted - and about 3 miles more road walking than planned (the St C's Way does seem to like tarmac).

That was fine and would have still given us a short day.

However, the campsite I'd planned to use involved an out and back detour of over half a mile each way. In the current series of days the direction of which seems counter-intuitive (finally we get a south westerly wind in this walk but it's on a day when we're walking southwest and west!) I didn't fancy such a detour so instead we decided to push on to St Boswells and treat ourselves with another B&B.

Alas, despite the best efforts of the ladies in the Post Office there, who were exceptionally helpful, there was only one bed to be had anywhere nearby and for that they wanted £100, more than a smidge above budget.

Reluctantly we concluded that we would have to press on to Newton, where we received the dreaded news that there was not a bed to be had there either.

In Melrose we knew that there was a campsite but Melrose was another 2.5 miles distant and Mick's feet did protest too much.

Having just missed the bus a taxi was called and ten minutes later we were dropped off outside the Caravan Club Site in Melrose. We presented ourselves at the (closed) reception where the day took a verging-on-farcical turn when we saw the 'Site Full' sign.

Of course, I rang the bell anyway and prepared to bat my eyelids. It wasn't required, it turned out that it was only full for caravans. For little backpacking tents there was plenty of room. That was a good thing. It was seven o'clock, which felt like time to eat, not time to re-start a bed search.

Despite the deviation from the plan, it was a good day. The weather was again fine, albeit rather on the warm side and there were castles and hill-top monuments to be seen in amongst the agricultural land.

The map suggests that tomorrow we will find lumpy land again, but before that we will be making a bus journey back to Newton, to make sure that not a step of this walk is omitted. As we'll be passing the campsite again an hour or so after we leave it, we could do the first bit of the walk without our packs - except that having carried them thus far it would feel like cheating to walk even a step without them.

Post Script: Oh wow! We may have felt exceptionally underdressed (not to mention a tad grubby) in the restaurant of the hotel in which we chose to eat, but they served us anyway and what food. I'm in food heaven. And the wine was good too. A perfect end to the day.

Sunday 8 June 2008

Day 55 - Refuge Hut to Morebattle

8 June
Distance: about 13 miles
Number of stoats seen: 1

What a fantastic place it was to wake up this morning, outside of the refuge hut. At 6am the skies were clear and the haze that last night had obscured the most distant hills had gone.

My promise that, after yesterdays arduous day, there was only one significant hill today was an absolute lie. What I actually meant was that there was only one significant hill on the bit of the map that I'd looked at. I'd not looked at a lot of the map.

We were finally on the downhill stretch to Kirk Yetholm when we stopped for second breakfast. Having scant food left, we were down to a packet of raisins each when Mike made sure that he got his name into the Blog: he pulled out of his pack a box of Jaffa cakes. What an absolute star.

Suitably sustained with chocolate, sponge and orange we were soon down in Kirk Yetholm, taking the 'end of PW' photos outside of the Border Hotel.

A chap then leapt out of a car to shake us by the hand before we headed over to Kirk Yetholm to stock up a little and to while a way the best part of an hour on the green eating and drinking and eating some more.

We were then on the St Cuthbert's Way, except that to cut off a corner and to avoid some road walking I had plotted a more direct route down to Melrose which followed a path marked on the map.

Today the short cut did make for a long delay. That path/track was not evident on the ground and the woodland bore no resemblance to that shown on the map. It was a bit of a struggle, I got comprehensively stung, and Mick reports that I may have lost my sense of humour for a wee while.

The final obstacle of the day was a nettle bed through which our alleged path led. It may have looked strange to an onlooker, in the fine (now overcast) weather, to see three people donning waterproof trousers, but waterproof is also nettleproof.

Tonight we have a bed to sleep in at the Temple Hall Inn. I don't count the YHA last weekend as being a bed as it was sagging bunks that were even less comfortable than Thermarests, which means that this is the first bed we will have slept in for over two weeks.

Mike is also staying in Morebattle tonight. Tomorrow he has the task of working out how to get back to Byrness (he apparently doesn't have sufficient time off work to turn around and do the Cheviots again). As for us, we'll continue walking in a direction that is less than intuitive for a south-to-north walk. Today, after thirteen miles of walking, we have finished just three miles north of where we started, despite being at one point five miles north.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Day 54 - Bryness to Hen Hole Refuge Hut

7 June
Distance: 19 miles (plus water collecting detour)
Number of snakes encountered: 1
Number of people seen in vicinity of Windy Gyle: about 100

Two things had me somewhat less than amused before we left the campsite. The free range roosters that decided to stand outside of our tent to do their cock-a-doodle-doing at 5 o'clock was the first thing to irk me.

Then, when it was really time to get up (rather than the time the roosters wanted us to get up) I looked outside of the vent that we had open in the flysheet and counted, in that view hole of one square foot, no less than two million three hundred thousand and thirty four midges. Appearances were not important. Out came the head net.

The day improved massively once we (we including today Mike who joined us last night) left the campsite and set out up the killer hill that got us up onto the ridge.

What a spectacular day it was for a walk along the ridge into the Cheviots. It was by no means wall-to-wall sunshine, but there was plenty of sun between the clouds and the warmth of the day was tempered by the nice breeze.

And the views. Well, they went on for miles without the hint of even a farmhouse, never mind a road. This is one big empty place - just as I like.

It was one of those days that made me appreciate once again how lucky I am to be able to take this little walk.

For most of the day it was pretty quiet too. There were the two chaps who we passed on Ogre Hill who were just cooking a full fry up, in a full size frying pan, in the middle of the path (bikers they said, I assume that they meant motor; we all sniffed the aroma before continuing). Then there was Limping Man who we've been seeing off and on for a few days, but didn't have the opportunity to talk to until today.

Then we were all on our lonesome until we were sitting having our late lunch and down the hill towards us came twelve people. A group outing, we thought. But then we continued up the hill and in the next couple of miles met somewhere approaching 100 people. Eventually we had to conclude that there was some event going on, and sure enough on asking a chap he confirmed that it was a challenge walk.

Fortunately not long later their route diverged from ours (really, we'd said enough hellos by then!).

The day was long with plenty of ascent and descent putting it firmly into the category of 'quite hard', but for me it was one of the most pleasing days of the walk.

We're now camped outside of the Mountain Refuge Hut with magnificent views. The skies have cleared to give us the perfect end to the day.

If we had a bottle of fizzy with us we would raise a toast to having successfully negotiated England and Wales. Just 500 miles of Scotland to go.

Friday 6 June 2008

Day 53 - Bellingham to Byrness

6 June
Distance: 14 miles

Not too long after setting out this morning, having cleared Bellingham and being once again amongst greenness, we came upon an unexpected sign.

Right, it told us was the Pennine Way, straight on was an alternative route of the Pennine Way. Decisions, decisions.

The translation of the sign was, of course: right for an obvious path with waymarks; straight on for no discernable path, but many bogs and heather fields to negotiate.

Quite predictably we didn't make our lives easy and went down the bogs-heather-no-discernable-path route. Well, it does make the days more interesting...

Everything had been very quiet indeed all morning, with no signs of other people, when around noon towards us came a chap with the most enormous rucksack.

I've been stunned at the size of backpacks that we've been seeing. Mainly people B&Bing with a pack bigger than mine (whatever are they carrying?). Yesterday we met a chap who had quite a big pack, which he reckoned weighed in at about 50lbs, but compared to this chap today it may have been a daysack.

Massive pack or not, the chap seemed happy enough apart from his sunburn (I obliged with some suncream for him) and we had a bit of a chat before we moved on and into the forest.

Looking at the map I'd thought that the last five miles of the day was going to be another of those 'just put one foot in front of t'other' trudges, as the map showed that we were walking through forestry.

In reality great swathes of the forest have been harvested so there was only about a mile and a half that we were in amongst the trees. For the rest of the time we had views, and fine ones they were too.

Alas, not all was rosy: the forest track was not nice. It was one of those stone tracks that alternates between slipping under your feet and trying to twist your ankle away from you. Mick found it as tedious as I found the disused rly line a few days ago.

Nevertherless, we made it to our destination without trouble (having nearly met three other people walking the PW, but we all came upon each other at the same time and it turned out that the other three knew each other; we didn't like to butt in) and I had parcels to look forward to.

Today is the day when the Icebreaker t-shirt that has been chasing me around the country was due to make its third attempt at reaching me. We checked in at reception and I asked if two parcels had been received.

The owner looked at me so completely blankly that my heart sank. I was sure that I was not destined to get my new top, and secondary to that we would have no food for the next few days.

Then something must have dawned and she said 'the dehydrated food?' and bustled off.

So I'm sitting here typing this, holed up inside of the tent by way of midge avoidance, wearing a non-smelly t-shirt. It's a nice change - even if Mick & I are now somewhat matchety!

We also have something to look forward to today. Mike (the chap who undertook his first backpacking trip in 30 years with us in terrible weather last December) is on his way up to Cottonshopeburnfoot (which is where we actually are) and will be walking with us for the next two days.

Thursday 5 June 2008

Day 52 - Just before Once Brewed to Bellingham

5 June
Distance: 17.25 miles
Number of close encounters with bulls: 1
Number of licks of the face by overly friendly dogs: 2
Number of midge bites: 9 (and not even in Scotland yet)

After our exceptionally lazy rest day yesterday the route along Hadrian's Wall came as something of a shock to the system this morning. That is one undulating route, and by the necessary anti-erosion work which has built stone steps into the steepest slopes it was a test of the knees as well as stamina.

Our time along the wall was brief, but gave us a taster. A few moments after second breakfast we left it and all the people walking along it (a surprising number for the early hour of day) to make our way north, often through forestry and often through bog (often both combined).

We'd just entered the forestry for the second time when Mick nipped off to powder his shiny nose and I looked around for a tree stump on which to sit for a few moments.

Having found a suitable stump I was distracted by a glimpse of white I could see behind a boulder, in the hollow under the stump. I stood at all angles to try to work out what it was, until finally I decided to see if I could move the rock to find out.

It turned out to be a very well concealed geocache - the second that we've stumbled across so far. Being apparently the first to find it this year (although probably not in the right spirit as I was't looking for it and wasn't using a GPS) I left a note before we moved on.

The incident with the bull (it wasn't really an incident, we just had to pass within a few feet of it, all the time nervously looking over our shoulders and noting escape routes) happened on the same farm as the dogs which turned out to be far from killers. It's always nice (albeit rare) when passing through a farm to see that the dogs running towards you have wagging tails and grins on their faces.

The walk down to Bellingham was pleasant enough but unremarkable. What was remarkable was the discovery that none of the pubs here opens until 7pm. That was a bit of a problem given how hungry I was at 6pm (in spite of the two scones and can of fruit I'd bought and eaten on arrival a couple of hours before).

I'm now sitting typing this (7.30pm) with a pint of beer and waiting for a plate of food which promises to be huge.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Week 7 - Routine and MP3

Distance so far: 705 miles

Our tent days have a definite routine to them. It's been pretty much unchanged since day 1 and goes something like this:

The alarm goes off at 6am. Mick groans a bit and asks if we can have an extra half an hour. I leap out of bed, pack away my things and set about making cups of tea and boiling water for porridge.

The porridge cooks itself in the pot cosy whilst we're packing the tent away and then at 7.30 we're away.

It doesn't seem to make much difference how much or how little we need to do before we set off in the morning, it's still invariably within 10 minutes of 7.30 when we get away.

After 2 hours of walking (give or take, depending on views and suitable stopping points) we take five or ten minutes for second breakfast.

After another hour and a half to two hours (give or take) we stop for ten minutes or so for elevenses.

After another couple of hours, if we're not within spitting distance of our destination, we stop for lunch.

Once we're pitched (something we have down to a fine art (did I mention that we switched back from Wendy to the TN Voyager at Hebden Bridge?)) there's the blog to type, notes to write, maps to faff with and the next few days provisions to think about.

The evening meal making process generally starts about 6pm and depending on whether we're using gas or the Bushbuddy can take a while. In line with stereotype, Mick's the hunter-gatherer (or the gatherer at any rate) who goes in search of Bushbuddy fuel; I cook. Mick washes up.

Before we know it it's bed time, which can be anytime after 8.30pm. In we get to our sleeping bags and out come the talking books.

I was worried when we set out that a 1GB MP3 player each wasn't going to be enough and that we would have run out of listening matter in the first couple of weeks.

It didn't take me long to realise that, for me, running out of audio book just wasn't going to be a problem.

Listening to books in other situations works just fine for me. What I've now found is that when snuggled in my sleeping bag, nine nights out of ten I'll be asleep within ten minutes.

Every night I get into my sleeping bag, put an earphone into an ear and set about trying to work out where I'd listened to the night before. Shortly afterwards I fall asleep and half an hour, maybe an hour later I wake for long enough to switch the player off.

One week, quite impressively, I managed to fall asleep on three consecutive nights whilst still in the process of trying to get back to the point where I'd fallen asleep previously. It took me eight days to listen to chapter 14 of Northern Lights (and I'd already been on Chapter 8 when we set off!). They're really not long chapters.

Mick is having more success in listening, but that does mean that he will run out of material way before we run out of country (and we've already swapped books).

For this rest day in Once Brewed we have real books. I bought myself one in a charity shop in Haltwhistle, then we got to the campsite to find that they have their own mini library. It's something that was common in the first few weeks of our walk, but that we haven't encountered for the last month. Every campsite should have one.

As for walking and looking to the week ahead, it's only a few days (touch wood, hoping not to fall down any rabbit holes) now until we reach the Scottish border. Someone said to Mick yesterday "So you've only got a couple of hundred miles to go". I'm not sure that he quite believed the news that Scotland is a wee bit bigger than that.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Day 50 - Alston to just before Once Brewed

3 June
Distance: about 14.5 miles
Number of JOGLErs met: 1

We've come to meet and chat to a number of walkers over the course of the Pennine Way so far, a few of whom we've seen repeatedly. Sometimes news of a particular person precedes them and yesterday we had the reverse experience of meeting someone who did indeed utter "oh, so you're Gayle and Mick". The fact that he went on to say "you're the ones who imported a tent from America" made us ponder over how that cropped up in conversation.

Last night, amongst the walkers, news circulated that there was an alternative route to get to Haltwhistle, that being via the South Tyne Way, which follows the route of a disused railway line.

Some people immediately saw the sense and said that they would go that way, even if only for a while before hopping back onto the PW. Others (the purists) exclaimed that one could not possibly claim to have walked the PW unless you'd stuck to it rigidly for its entire length.

Fortunately our objective is to walk LEJOG, not to be purists about the PW. That combined with a few other factors: the guidebook saying that today was a very dull day designed purely to link the highlights of the Pennines with Hadrian's Wall; the weather forecast being for hood-up-head-down-trudge weather; and the desire to give Mick's feet an easier ride. So we set out this morning (in the rain) along the South Tyne Way.

My goodness it was tedious. I couldn't believe when we got to just before Haltwhistle that a sign said it was only 11.5 miles back to Alston - it felt more like 20.

There were a couple of highlights. For one thing we met another end-to-ender whilst having elevenses. Maurice set off from John O'Groats 36 days ago and is the first person we've met coming the other way - however he's the fifth end-to-ender that we've encountered (and strangely not one of those has met another).

The other highlight was on the route itself and was Lambley Viaduct. What was a shame was that a land owner just before the viaduct had refused to grant access for the path to run through his land and as a result you have to leave the old track-bed just before the viaduct, descend all the way down to the valley, go under it and then climb right back up the other side in order to cross it.

'Twas a good vantage point from the top, mind, which soon made us forget the hideous too-big-steps arrangement to get us down and back up there.

Haltwhistle, when we finally got there, provided us with a cup of tea stop, where we bumped again into Doug (End-to-ender no. 4), who has been on the same route as us for over a week now and with whom we spent quite a few evenings. Shortly afterwards, as all three of us made our way towards Once Brewed, we said farewell to each other as Doug will get ahead of us tomorrow and will reach JOG 2 weeks before us.

Our campsite tonight couldn't be a bigger contrast to last night's. Whereas last night not a single toilet had a door that would shut, and the only sink with a working hot tap had no drain pipe, tonight there is just about every facility we could want (drying room and free spin drier included). Both sites cost the same. Tonight we don't feel ripped off.

As we are now effectively a day ahead of schedule by virtue of having cut off a corner, tomorrow we are having a rest day. Mick will rest his battered feet and we will both enjoy being 10kg lighter for the day.

Monday 2 June 2008

Day 49 - Dufton to Alston

2 June
Distance: 17.5 miles
Number of red squirrels seen: 1

This is one if those posts typed whilst supping ale and carrying on a conversation, so don't expect it to be coherent.

The day had seemed so fair as we set out this morning and we made jolly good time up Knock Old Man, appreciating our new-found fitness as we made our way up the hill side.

Alas, by the time we got up there we were in the cloud and as we continued into the increasing gloom I realised that I had erred in my choice of eyewear.

With the weather forecast being fair I had worn my glasses. The problems were two-fold. Firstly the dratted reactions lenses believed that it was very bright sunshine even though the light was low.

Seconldy, the cloud was being blown onto my glasses, continuously obscuring my view.

Not that there was a view to be had.

The guide book says that the radar station on the top of Great Dun Fell is a good navigational aid in all but a white out. Well it was far from a white out today (by my definition anyway), but even from the perimeter fence of the radar station we couldn't see the 'golf ball'. We stood and stared until eventually the cloud drifted away for a few seconds and we got a slight glimpse.

Making our way on we decided that there was little point in going to the top of Cross Fell when we could instead take a path around ("Short cuts make for long delays, Mr Frodo"; it proved not to be the case today).

For a while there was a faint path too, but then it hit bog and petered out. In the gloom and without visibility it turned into a good and interesting navigation exercise.

Where the path started to contour around the hillside we decided that a direct route back to the PW would be more expedient. More compass work with scant sight and bog trotting a-go-go and we came out in exactly the right place. I was most proud of myself.

Another detour was taken before Garrigil which gave more yet interesting navigation, even though by then we had dropped below the cloud.

We arrived in Alston to find that a lot of travellers are in town on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair (lots of horse drawn caravans and lots of horses) and then to find that our campsite is far less than desirable. That it is accessed via a scrap-yard was the first off-putting feature; then there are the facilities. They have to be seen to be believed. I'm not sure whether I was more bemused by the access arrangements or the nature of the shower. It goes without saying that for this lack-of-luxury we're paying one of the higher prices. Any thoughts of a day off here were soon scrapped.

I hear that the weather conditions for tomorrow are forecast to be dreadful, so we'll be looking at the map later and considering a different route to a different destination.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Day 48 - Langdon Beck to Dufton

1 June
Distance: 12.5 miles
Number of killer dogs thwarted by their cages: 2

It was a day that made no sense in the context of a walk from the south of the country to the north, for we have ended the day some 3 miles further south than we started.

There are two reasons why we made the detour south rather than heading straight up towards Alston.

One thing is my wish to walk the Pennine Way, and whilst we've not been entirely true to it to cut off a day and a half would have been a step to far (or not far enough, I suppose).

The other reason is the features on this leg of the route - which also explains why the Way takes this detour.

First up this morning, after a delightful walk along the river and then a beck, was Cauldron Snout, which ranks up there as one of, if not the, most impressive waterfalls I've seen. It's not a high fall, but it's quite long and it contains an immense quantity of water. The scrambly bit up the side just added to the experience.

The only 'ordinary' part of the day (except nothing is really that ordinary up here; the space and scenery are noteworthy in and of themselves) was the walk along the track, past the army range, between Cauldron Snout and High Cup Nick.

High Cup Nick is the feature to which I've been most looking forward on the England/Wales leg of the trip, so I was rather disappointed last night to learn that today's forecast was for lots of rain.

We managed to get ahead of the rain. It didn't start until we were past Cauldron Snout. However, by the time we got to High Cup Nick we were being hit full force by the wind (which for the first time on the trip was mainly behind us - only at the head of High Cup Nick did it come from the side, trying to whip us down into the valley) and it was lashing it down.

How to describe High Cup Nick to those who don't know it? Well, it's a valley, but it has the shape of a snowboarding half-pipe, with steep sides at the top with a layer of rock before giving way to scree and grass. Of course there's also the winding stream running along the bottom of the valley. If you've not seen it then google it and find a photo - it's very impressive.

It would have been a fine place to spend half an hour, maybe have elevenses, but the weather dictated that all we did was take a quick photo (justifying the water-resistant camera) and then hurry on.

We managed to get the tent pitched in Dufton before the worst of the rain hit (just 1pm we arrived) and then retreated to the pub for a humungously large roast dinner and a pint of Black Sheep's finest ale.

Mick will now be nursing his feet for the rest of the afternoon and having trepidatious thoughts about tomorrow's mileage. His feet are still not happy. He is not happy that they are not happy. But, for now, he is managing to soldier on.

Day 47 - Brown Rigg Moss to Langdon Beck

31 May
Distance: 16 miles
Number of other people seen: about a million
Number of other people seen other than by Low Force and High Force: 5

I stand at risk of sounding like a cracked record, but what a fantastic day!

We awoke to the sound of curlew and lapwings and to the far reaching views of the moors with the dot of a hot air balloon drifting across the sky in the distance.

Having rescued a sheep whose curly horn was stuck fast in a fence (didn't even get a baa of thanks) our morning started with a decent down to Baldersdale. It was something of a novelty to be starting the day down-hill.

By the time we'd passed the reservoirs and started up the other side of the valley the sun was winning over the clouds and a suncream faff was called for.

It was with views extending all around us, getting more impressive the higher we went that we made our way over to Middleton-in-Teesdale.

Given that we're staying in a Youth Hostel tonight there was no value in an early arrival, so a good hour and a half was frittered away in Middleton (where apparently the womanin the Tourist Info Centre didn't know there was a large co-op just around the corner), before we set out along the River Tees.

The river was unremarkable along the first section, but then suddenly became something more impressive, with its hard rock bed and tumbling shelves.

As it became more impressive, so things started getting busy. Low Force is indeed a set of small waterfalls worth seeing and it seemed like today was the day when people had chosen to go there. However,that was nothing compared to how busy it was at High Force (a 70 feet high fall, but in my opinion not that much more impressive than Low Force), although the vast majority of people were on the other side of the river where the guidebook says that you have to pay to see the falls. I guess that people would prefer to pay and not have to walk any distance than park somewhere on the other side of the river and take in all of the spectacles that the Tees has to offer.

Taking a ten minute shoe-off break (the day was hot by this time and my feet needed to breathe) Mick decided to soak his in the river. He reported that it was quite bracingly cold. We couldn't believe when Sarah and Eddie caught up with us (they're the couple walking the Pennine Way) that Eddie had actually taken a swim. Refreshing was the understatement he used to describe it.

Doug (the most recent End-to-Ender we've met), Sarah & Eddie and Mick & I all arrived at the Youth Hostel within five minutes of each other, and not long later they let us in, whereupon we all made a bee-line for the kettle.

The Youth Hostel here at Langdon Beck is a nice building and the views are first rate. I can't complain about the facilities either: we have our own room, have had a hot shower and the washing is drying in the nice warm drying room. However, at £50 including an evening meal for Mick (but he has to wash his own plate!) but no breakfast for either of us, there is the feeling that if there was a B&B then we may just as well have stayed there. For an extra £10 we could have had a double bed and a breakfast. Mind, there's not many a B&B that will sell you a bottle of organic wine for under a fiver. Now if only there was a bath to go with it...