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]

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!

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