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]

Saturday 30 April 2011

Day 34 - Dollarfield to E of Muthill

Saturday 30 April (0750-1600)
Distance: 18 miles (Tot: 597.75)
Weather: Sunshine except for one fluffy little cloud which covered the sun for about 30 seconds
Number of tadpoles seen: 2 puddles full (incredibly, the first we've seen; we didn't see any frogspawn this year)

What a pretty walk it is out of Dollar and over to Glen Dover! A perfect stream, complete with tumbles, falls and rifts (I'll overlook the intrusion of the man-made walkways that give access to otherwise inaccessible bits) leads up to a castle, from where fantastic views can seen back the way we came yesterday. Through a bit of forestry we got shelter from the brisk NE wind, but also lost the warmth of the sun. Once out the other side we were warm again and we felt an 'oooh' coming on. Sure enough as we popped through the pass, the view down to Glenquey Reservoir below was indeed oooh-worthy.

A perfect pitch was found on the way down, but Mick protested that we couldn't stop for the day after just 3.5 miles, and I suppose he had a good point.

The other side of Glendevon another climb gave equal rewards, and many an exclamation was made about the prettiness of it all. I'm sure that the perfect blue skies helped. Again, more good pitches were spotted on the way down to Auchterarder, but working on the principle of 'better to walk further today and shorter tomorrow*' we continued down through Auchterarder and out the other side.

Then came the bit of the walk that, when I looked at it on the map last night, I had no idea why I thought we could walk that way. I had plotted us following a disused railway line, but past experience has shown that the presence of such a line marked on the map doesn't mean that it's walkable. I've been saying for years now that I really ought to make notes when I'm planning routes as to what research I did, and whether it's a bit on the dodgy side. Later it came back to me that I had studied aerial maps before I had concluded that the route looked doable.

Of course, aerial maps are only so much good. They didn't show the fallen trees, right across the old track bed, within yards of joining the route, but we managed to get around those with some clambering, and the next mile was reasonably uneventful. Then we found the way barred by a big bank, and having clambered up that found that the old track the other side had been commandeered as a garden (and a very well kept garden too).

If I disclosed that there was a road running parallel to the ex-railway, and not very far away, you may wonder why we didn't just walk along that road (and we did, just to get around the 'that's someone's garden' issue). The thing was that we were hoping to find somewhere reasonably discreet to camp and our chances seemed better on the ex-rly than on the road.

Sure enough, we did find somewhere. We're hoping that if the farmer comes along he doesn't mind us being on the margin of his field. We had intended to pitch on the riverside, the other side of the fence, but the field was much less lumpy.

After a small handful of miles tomorrow we'll pass through Crieff and a few miles after that we should clear this most-inhabited band of Scotland and be out in the sticks a bit more.

(*unless it's awful weather today and forecast good tomorrow)

(Ron: glad the tip was of use! I've been following the preparations for your upcoming trip and am looking forward to following your progess too. Hope everything goes well, with unseasonably fair weather, for you.
Louise: didn't get your text but hopefully you got mine.)

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Friday 29 April 2011

Day 33 - Dulloch Hamlet to Dollarfield

Royal Wedding Day (0730-1530)
Distance: 20 miles (Tot: 579.75)
Weather: mainly sunny
Number of friendly cyclists encountered: dozens

I said yesterday that today would be more interesting (on the basis of it being longer than 15 minutes). As it turned out, it was the least interesting day of the walk so far - and every step of the way was on tarmac.

Our first task of the day was to get through Dunfermline. I always find it a bit tricky navigating through a big town with only a 1:50k map, but it was made trickier for us today by virtue of a massive amount of building having gone on since the date of my map. In spite of all the development, we negotiated most of the town succesfully, until the point where the cycle path we wanted had been obliterated by a new estate. Backtracking a little, we took an alley, which seemed to be going the right way; it brought us out just up the road from where we'd been ten minutes before...

Back on track, another minor detour was taken, intentionally, as we realised that second breakfast time was upon us and that the longer route gave scope for a second breakfast involving bacon/egg baps and cups of tea.

Finally leaving Dunfermline, our way along a disused railway line that is now part of cycle route 764 (and is, unfortunately, both tarmacked and largely uninspiring), which sped us along for 8 miles.

Things did get more interesting as we left the ex-rly line; suddenly before us there were proper rough lumpy bits (of 2000' and more) not too far distant.

We're now camped just a stone's throw from those lumps. By late morning tomorrow we should be the other side of them.

(Maike - there are two questions there: a) how far are we capable of walking in a day; and b) how far would we want to walk in a day. To answer the second question: with my full backpack on, my current mental cut-off point is 25 miles (assuming reasonable terrain and not too much upness).)

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Thursday 28 April 2011

Day 32a - Inverkeithing to Dulloch

Thurs 28 May (1700-1715)
Distance: 0.75 miles (Tot: 559.75)
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine

We're back in our proper place - inside Susie - after a journey that went smoothly from a train point of view. Our bus breaking down just as it got to our bus stop could have caused a tiny bit of a panic, but we had enough time in hand to put Plan B into effect (i.e. trot down into the village for the other bus service).

There's nothing to report about today's walk, as I'm sure you'll appreciate from the stats above! Tomorrow should be more slightly more interesting - but perhaps hard on the feet as we walk 19 miles along roads and cycle-paths.

'Interesting' campsite tonight (or 'rustic' according to the owner). Very pretty, but perched on the edge of the M90, with no running water and composting toilets (and £12 for the pleasure)...

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Wednesday 27 April 2011

Random Thoughts


Random photo: sunset from the campsite at North Berwick

How has a week passed already? Okay, so I did spend three days of it walking the Missing Days, but the rest seems to have disappeared in a rather mysterious way. Tomorrow we’ll be heading back up to Inverkeithing for Part 2 of our adventure.


A couple of evenings ago I re-plotted, on Anquet, the section of the route that we’ve walked so far, to reflect the route that we actually took (on-the-ground variations to the plotted route are common; one day in particularly we barely followed any of the intended route).  I was very surprised by the results, as I would have reckoned that more often than not our amendments  cut corners, rather than adding mileage on.

What I found was:

- According to the originally plotted route, we should have walked 553 miles to Inverkeithing

- According to the tally on the blog, we have walked 556 miles

- According to the re-plotted route, we have walked 559 miles

So, not any great variance at all.


The Royal Mail has not been kind to us over the last week. Things that were put in the post in time to arrive before we leave tomorrow (even taking the Bank Holidays into account) have failed to arrive. Mick’s going to be setting back out without his merino wool short-sleeved t-shirt; Susie’s going to set out with a leaky seam (which hasn’t been an issue so far on this trip, but even with our weather luck to date I do feel like we’re living on borrowed time); and I’m setting out still without a tip on one of my Pacerpoles.

I did receive the replacement tip for my pole, but the old tip is proving very reluctant to part company with its companion of four years. So, after a chat with Heather and Alan at Pacerpole yesterday they kindly put another new section in the post to me in the hope that it would arrive today. It didn’t, so there’s now another section going in the post to meet me in Fort William. That will be the fourth pole section they’ve sent me so far this trip. (Mick is suggesting that we should rename the trip accordingly: from ‘E to W’ to ‘from pole to pole’.)


I’m struggling with shoe decisions this year. My last minute change before we set out in March didn’t turn out well and even though I’m pretty sure that the blame lay with the footbeds, I’m not risking returning to that pair. I then switched to some XA Pros, which have been superbly comfy, but (a) they haven’t got enough life in them to finish the trip; and (b) they’re not best suited to traipsing over Scottish lumpiness. Last weekend I tried out my Salomon Elios Mids (I used a pair extensively in 2008 with great comfort), but they didn’t work out either. So, here I am, 12 hours from the off and I still don’t know what shoes to wear. Guess a final decision will be made sometime before I get on that train…


I very nearly switched to my OMM Villain for the rest of the trip. I got as far as packing it today. The problem with the Villain is that for a long trip like this, with a few days food on board, I find that it’s full to the gunwales. The issue is even worse this year as I’m using a Thermarest NeoAir, so I can’t use my sleep-mat to double up as a back-pad, which means more space is being taken up in the pack. Everything did fit, but it fits a whole lot more easily (and more accessibly) into the Exos. So, the Exos will remain the pack of choice for this trip – even though it’s heavier and bulkier.

Lofty Down

On the vast majority of camping mornings on a long trip we get up early, pack our sleeping bags away and aim to be walking by between 7.30 and 8. The problem that presents is that the sleeping bags don’t get a chance to air. Add in a few long days, and we’ll find ourselves pitching in the evening and very soon we’re sitting in our sleeping bags. Even though I do try to air them when possible (when we camp early on a nice day; when we’re in a B&B), there is inevitably a build-up of moisture which can affect them. Last year Mick’s bag suffered particularly badly. I think that he must have had a sweaty night early on (which is quite astounding considering how cold the weather was; there was probably an incident involving him falling asleep fully clothed…), and his bag went all clumpy and stayed that way until the end of the trip when we had it professionally cleaned. Obviously, clumpiness caused a big drop in warmth. And none of our shaking and teasing of the down in warm B&B rooms served to restore it.

This year the moisture hasn’t taken its toll too badly, except around the hood areas. Presumably when the hoods have been done up tight there are times when we accidentally breathe into them in the night.

I would have thought that the only remedy would be having them cleaned, but last week I stumbled across the tip that as an alternative to a full wash you can pop them into the tumble dryer with a damp towel, the theory being that the moisture from the towel is enough to separate the down as it dries. Worth a try, I thought (obviously, it was worth a try on Mick’s bag first, just in case it went horribly wrong).

Well, what a revelation! Wish I’d known that tip last year! The bags are de-clumped and lofty once again. Even better, it’s something that can easily be done at a campsite that has a laundry.

Other down loftiness

Mick’s jacket is all lofty again too. And it doesn’t smell any more. I think that four years without a wash may have been pushing it just a little bit…

Sunday 24 April 2011

Day 14 – Brantingham to by Shiptonthorpe

Easter Sunday, 24 April (0810-1305)

Distance: 14 miles

Weather: high cloud, a few sunny intervals, warm again

Number of weasels/stoats seen: 1

This was the day that Mick described as being ‘much lumpier’ and he wasn’t wrong. My goodness, some of those early lumps were quite violent! They were fine lumps though, which gave stunning views and, although the day was again hazy, it was not nearly as hazy as yesterday so the views were there to be enjoyed. The sun wasn’t blazing down as it was yesterday either, although it was still warm, especially as I huffed and puffed up those uphill bits.

Being on a National Trail navigation wasn’t an issue. The paths were obvious and the white acorns and prominent sign posts were at just about every point where you might possibly think “I wonder which way I need to go?”. So, without my head in the map I enjoyed farmland and views – and I positively sped along.

Ridiculously, I was disappointed when 1pm came and I hadn’t arrived at my destination. Ma-in-Law (with whom I stayed last night) had asked at what time I expected to finish the walk and I had said 1pm. I was out by 4 minutes (and I didn’t half march though that last half a mile!).

Mick was waiting for me in the lay-by where his brother had dropped us off a few weeks ago, and he laughed and called me an obsessive as I walked past the car. I wanted to be absolutely sure that I didn’t miss a single step of the walk, so I’d walked past him so that I could be certain that I had overlapped with the point from where I’d restarted on Day 15.

So, there we go. I’m all caught up, even if a little out of order. A few more days of rest and chores are now in order before we set back out for Inverkeithing later in the week for Part 2 of the walk.

IMG_2693aOne of those lumpy bits: the clue was in the street name!

(Stats for the day: 14 miles, 4 hours moving, 55 minutes stationary)

Saturday 23 April 2011

Day 13 - Barnetby to Brantingham

Saturday 23 April (0650-1600)
Distance: 24.5 miles
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine, v hazy, no wind, ridiculously warm
Number of people encountered on west walkway of Humber Bridge: 75 (yes, I did count them)

With a day of indeterminate length ahead of me I thought that I may as well get an early start. Theoretically that would also allow me to enjoy the cool of the morning, but it was a coolness that was short-lived. Before eight o'clock I was in short sleeves and obviously in for a hot one.

The morning was much like yesterday afternoon: lots of pretty yellow, but otherwise unremarkable farmland. A good handful of miles in the surroundings changed and as I popped over a rise the land fell away below me, presumably to the River Humber below, but I couldn't see it due to the haze. I also felt sure that I would ordinarily be able to see the Humber Bridge from there, but without being able even to see the river just below me I stood no chance of making out any part of the bridge, a few miles downstream.

My first glimpse of the bridge was from about a mile and a half away, and soon afterwards I was climbing the steps to the west walkway (I recalled that Mick had taken the east walkway, so I thought I'd take the west). I got onto the bridge smack on noon, and during the next 30 minutes, until I left the bridge at the other end, I encountered 75 people (in contrast, three weeks ago Mick met only 1 other person). It seems that if you want to take your family out for a walk in the Humber area on a sunny Saturday then the bridge is the place to go.

Seeing people eating ice creams as I left the bridge I deduced that there was an ice cream vendor nearby. A few minutes later I had gone marginally out of my way but was sitting with an ice cream and a cold can of pop. Bliss!

Having told Mick, during my break, that I was going to aim to reach South Cave and that I would be there in 3.5 to 4 hours time, I thought I'd better get back on my feet and onto the Wolds Way I went.

All was going well until I met a dual carriageway that, according to my map, didn't exist (although it took me a little while to realise anything was amiss, as I was expecting to meet such a road so I didn't immediately notice that this was a different (and very new) one). That was the start of my decline. The heat of the day was taking its toll such that I was struggling to even remember my own name and having to put my brain into gear to work out where I was and what this non-existent road* was doing there was not a welcome intrusion. Having got myself to where I needed to be (turned out I hadn't gone off course, I was just confused by the new road), I put my brain into gear again just enough to look at the map and decide that the sensible thing to do was to finish the day a mile and a half sooner, at Brantingham. The decision to stop was made easier by the fact that Mick had phoned to say he had arrived in South Cave, and I didn't want to make him wait too long (that was my excuse anyway).

At exactly four o'clock I found Mick loitering in a pub car park, and dragged him inside for a glass of cold pop. I'd run out of water (which had been horribly tepid for most of the day) just before I'd reached the village, so that pop barely touched the sides.

Stats for the day: 24.5 miles; 7 hrs 10 moving; 1 hour 45 stationary.

(*we've had quite a few 'that's not what it says on this map' moments on this trip. Things change over the years. Time to update my digital maps, methinks.)

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Friday 22 April 2011

Day 12 - Market Rasen to Barnetby le Wold

Good Friday 22 April (1045-1700)
Distance: 17.75 miles
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine; hazy; nice cooling breeze
Number of long-tailed black flying insect-things encountered in the lee of hedgerows: 5.3 million

What a stunning day for a walk! With it being a public holiday too I would have expected half the world to be out walking, and maybe they were, but not on the Viking Way.

Three trains, which ran nicely to time (something of a relief what with a 5-minute connection to make at Lincoln), had me in Market Rasen by 10.45, to fill in the gap in my journey from 3 weeks ago.

Three miles of road walking got me onto the Viking Way at Walesby, and soon I was huffing my way onto a ridge that would have commanded superb views over the flatness below, had the weather been clearer. I may have missed the view that Mick had of Lincoln Cathedral, but I can't really complain about a bit of haziness given the perfection of all other aspects of the weather.

What goes up must come down, and it was a long downward trend into Caistor, which presumably isn't always as quiet a town as it was today. I arrived there having covered 10 miles in under 3 hours (I blame it on having only a light pack on!). I did then start to take things more gently, or at least to stop more. A can of ice cold pop gave me cause for a break in Caistor, but with nowhere attractive to sit without backtracking from the shop to the town square, I carried on another half a mile before pausing for lunch.

From lunchtime, the afternoon had two distinct trends: yellow and the -by suffix.

I was walking through lush farmland where the main crop (or maybe just the most noticeable crop) was rape, which is currently in full bloom. Mick had noted one particular field where the path was very narrow and had said that I would be covered in yellow pollen when I passed through. Looking at the photo he took, the rape was so short that I dismissed the notion that it would have grown so much as to cover the path within 3 weeks. I now appreciate that rape grows quickly - it was up to shoulder height and above, and in full bloom. I didn't get covered in pollen, though; a wider path has been recently mown through.

The -by suffix was the other notable theme. During the last six miles, before reaching Barnetby, I passed through Clixby, Grasby, Owmby, Searby, Somerby and Bigsby. They were mainly tiny villages, and in most cases I just crossed the main street from one bit of farmland to another, but I couldn't help but notice that all bar one of these -by villages had impressive little churches.

Barnetby is a bigger village than the ones that came before it, but it seems to be lacking in interesting features. Still, it had everything that I needed on arrival: a shop selling ice creams, and the guest house where I'm staying tonight.

Tomorrow, the Humber Bridge (a surfeit of big bridges - it was only two days ago that I crossed the Forth).

(Note: without the need for most of my kit, and with access to plug sockets, I brought my Garmin Forerunner GPS with me to record some stats, mainly to see how the actual distances compare to the distance measured on the map. I can therefore report that I covered 17.8 miles today with 5 hours 5 minutes spent moving and 1 hour 10 minutes spent stopped.)

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Thursday 21 April 2011

Things Breaking

During the week of Wet Highland Washout trip in October 2008 we went through an unprecedented (and, thankfully, thus far unrepeated) spate of things springing leaks (Mick’s trousers, all of our dry bags, a flysheet seam, the entire tent floor).

During this trip we’ve gone through an equally surprising spate of things breaking.

I didn’t think that spate would continue once we got home. However, when we got in the car this morning to go on a new-kit-collection-mission, we found that something was quite noticeably wrong. At first I thought that one of the front brakes was jammed (which was odd, because my sister reports that all was fine when she used it just five days ago, and a front brake shouldn’t jam on when not in use), so off came the tyre and I worked to free it. The disk was spinning freely, so back on went the tyre. It wouldn’t move. Back off came the tyre* and then I noticed the blazingly obvious – the suspension spring had snapped, had dropped down, and was pressed against the tyre. Oh dear. And coming into a Bank Holiday weekend when places are likely to be closed. And with me needing a lift to the station in the morning so I can return to Market Rasen to walk the missing three days, not to mention needing a lift home from Shiptonthorpe on Sunday night.

My usual garage couldn’t fix it until next Thursday. The Ford garage couldn’t fix it till next Thursday and wanted a price that would have required us to mortgage at least three of the tents. Kwik Fit wouldn’t quote a price unless I took it in (I still don’t understand why, particularly as I’d explained that the car wasn’t driveable*). ATS said ‘we can do it now’ and with the added benefit of charging a quarter of what the Ford Garage wanted. Three hours later and the car was fixed.

Can that please be the end of things breaking?!

(*top tip: when you need to start crawling around under your car and taking bits off it, first go and change out of your just-laundered clothes and into some scruffs. That’s really what I should have done…

**it turned out that the car was driveable, albeit only gently; it was Mick’s genius that suggested putting the space-saver spare tyre on, which just gave enough clearance, and fortunately it’s a pretty straight route from here to ATS!)


Wednesday 20 April 2011

End of Part 1...

...there will now be a short intermission.

We're sitting on a train heading south. Fear not! Nothing has gone awry. Those who have had sight of the itinerary will appreciate that the plan was always that we would pop home for Easter (the only variation on the plan being that, as we got ahead of ourselves, we walked one day further and left two days earlier than planned).

The journey will continue from Inverkeithing on 29 April. In the meantime there will be a little bit of blogging going on as during the next week I intend to return to Market Rasen and walk the three days that I missed up to Shiptonthorpe.

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Day 32 - Edinburgh to Inverkeithing

Wed 20 April (0645-1135)
Distance: 13 miles (Tot: 556)
Weather: fog

With only two tents in a camping field (sitting on opposite sides of that field), what are the chances of an occupant of each getting up to use the facilities at exactly 2.24am? He apparently didn't see me leave the tent, though, and when we both left the toilet block at the same time and I found myself following him, he kept looking back over his shoulder, apparently nervous of this shifty looking person who was following him into an almost empty field. I suppose that dressed as I was, in black trousers, a black top and with a black beanie pulled down low, I possibly did look a bit threatening on a dark night.

Just a few hours later we were getting an early start to our day as we wanted to be in Inverkeithing by just gone noon, and so at a quarter to seven we were heading out of the campsite in quite dense fog. At that point I hadn't much contemplated the implications of that fog on the day's walk, other than to think that there wasn't much value in taking the coast route for the first couple of miles of the day. Instead, we took a cycle route slightly inland, which took us through the suburb of Barnton. Well, there must be a lot of noughts on the values of the houses around there! We oggled massive houses on massive plots as we went by. I rather like oggling houses in such neighbourhoods, so I was happy.

Having crossed the River Almond we reverted to the coastal route when we entered the Dalmeny Estate. An information board talked of excellent views. We'll have to take their word for it - although the weather had cleared enough to see a very short way off-shore for the last couple of miles. (Incidentally, had I thought that there would be so many campable spots on the Dalmeny Estate then we would have walked on yesterday - but, in the absence of prior knowledge, I hadn't thought we would be able to discreetly tuck away so close to the city.)

The implications of the weather only really struck me as bits of the Forth Rail Bridge came vaguely into sight (as shown in the photo above). What an absolute shame that of all the good weather days we've had, we had awful visibility today and thus didn't get to appreciate the engineering magnificence of these bridges.

Even pausing at a cafe for tea and second breakfast just before we got to the road bridge didn't prompt the fog to lift, so when we found that we were obliged to use the west-side walkway on the road bridge it was no great loss. The rail bridge wouldn't have been visible even if we had been on the right side of the road bridge for it.

Inverkeithing only lies just over a mile the other side of the bridge and there was nothing exciting about that last mile and a bit other than the fact that there was a train station at the end of it, and that was our walking destination of the day...

(Chris: what a shame to have been stuck in the office on such a glorious evening! It would have been good to meet you.
Maria/Hannah: after days of awful photos (or that's how they looked on the little screen of my phone) it was nice to get some pretty ones yesterday.
David: you're not wrong - it's been a fantastic stretch of coastal walking. So much nicer and prettier than I would have imagined. I can't believe we've been so lucky with the weather for it too - at least until today.
Maike - we've not run out of dehydrated food (you'll not be surprised that the food is all organised and set out on a spreadsheet for the entire journey!). But, those meals are only for the evening. We also have to get breakfast, 2nd breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon snack and after-tea snack. After a month of walking, hunger can verge on being a constant companion, hence the fixation on food!

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Tuesday 19 April 2011

Day 31 - Musselburgh to Edinburgh

Tues 19 April (0825-1430)
Distance: 13 miles (Tot: 543)
Weather: rain in night! Day: high cloud clearing to wall-to-wall hazy sunshine

I didn't expect the walk into Edinburgh to feature passing through a beachy sea-side resort; it was yet another pleasant surprise that this walk has given me.

The day started on rather a more industrial note as we passed the 'ash lagoons' followed by the current ash mounds. In the 1960s, Cockenzie Power Station started dumping its ash in this area and whilst the older dumping grounds have now been landscaped with large ponds and wooded areas, beyond the green haven there are fresh mountains of grey.

A few miles later, second breakfast was had a tad earlier than would ordinarily been the case. We'd stopped at some immaculate toilets, sporting many 'Loo of the Year' certificates (but no fresh flowers...), and what should we find next door but a snack wagon. The queue suggested that it was a good one, and so it was. The bacon and egg baps went down a treat.

And then we were walking along the promenade at Portobello with a big sandy beach to our right. That was the bit I didn't expect. All it was missing was candy floss and ice cream vendors (the obligatory amusement arcades were eventually found, but they were quite subtle compared to other places). The views across the forth were also missing due to a heavy haze, but on our side of the estuary all was very pleasing.

Things didn't stay quite so fantastic all day. I would have been mightily shocked if they had, given that we were skirting such a big city. But, it was only a couple of miles of unattractive walking before we passed the Port of Leith, where modern developments (including the Scottish Exec building) gave the place a fresh and up-market look. There were harbours sporting mill-pond water reflecting the moored yachts too, which looked even prettier with the blue-skied backdrop.

A small trog through an industrial estate took us onto another wide esplanade, where our first proper glimpse was seen through the haze of the Forth Bridge. We'll be crossing over the road bridge tomorrow (although not before we come to it).

Based on the distance we had to go at 1pm, my estimate was that we would arrive at the campsite by 2. Usually my estimates are reasonably accurate, but not today. That we stopped for lunch overlooking Cramond Island was one delaying factor (as it struck us that a picnic there would be far nicer than lunch in a camping field), but more significant was that we overshot our destination by a quarter of a mile and had to walk back. Sack the navigator, I say. At least it was a nice day for an extra bit of a walk!

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Day 31 - Lunch

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Day 30 - North Berwick to Musselburgh

Mon 18 April (0825-1555)
Distance: 18.75 (Tot: 530)
Weather: sunny intervals with high level cloud, turning to heavier cloud later
Number of golf courses passed: 43 (I may be exaggerating slightly)

Yesterday was a day of three parts, and today was a day of two halves. The first half (using the term loosely, in that it comprised the first 14 miles) was from North Berwick to Longniddry and was absolutely superb. It made me very glad to have picked the longest of the three potential routes I'd plotted to get us to Edinburgh.

Getting out of North Berwick was a little bit of a tour of the streets (although we weren't fooled where someone had pointed the JMW sign in the wrong direction), but it was a worthwhile street-tour. North Berwick is obviously a place with money and being able to gawk at so many big old houses was a joy.

The path then took us around and about a bit, but it was a pleasing route, with sea views, a blue sky and the links.

Second breakfast came at Dirleton, on a fantastic village green overlooking the castle (or at least it would have been had it not been for the big trees obscuring the view) and with the sun beating down it would have been easy to sit there for a long while.

But we went on, passing more and more golf courses, which being so well-kept was a pretty sight. Even prettier was the town of Gullane when viewed from across a particularly busy course.

Great lumps of concrete confounded us as to their purpose for a while, until we popped out of some woodland onto the sea shore and Mick came up with the theory that they were anti-landing defences from the second world war. The concrete lumps only went on so far, but we followed the coast all the way into Port Seton, sometimes shaping our ankles in deep sand in the dunes.

Although the day was warm when moving, it didn't strike us as being warm enough to jump in the sea, but there were children paddling on the beach where we stopped for lunch, and at Cockenzie they were jumping in off the harbour wall. It made me shiver just to think of it (obviously, spoken as a nesh southerner).

From Port Seton the day became more of a road walk (even where the path left the road it was a hard surface running behind houses rather than in front of them), and the surroundings far less enticing. Still, you can't go for a walk of this length and expect every minute of every day to be pretty, and even through these towns, when on the waterside, we had the views (albeit very hazy) to the lumps on the other side of the forth.

A good turn was completed right at the end of the day when an old dear requested help to catch her dog, and then we had arrived (the campsite being up the only hill of the day).

Pitched and showered, we were soon off out again, to investigate the local bus service and to go and have dinner with TVPS. An excellent evening was had (thank you once again TVPS - very much appreciated; you are still a star of the first order!), but we did feel like naughty stop-outs as we returned to our tent in the pitch dark.

(Note 1: we weren't as late setting off as the timings above suggest. We actually left the campsite at 0740, but only went a few hundred yards up the road to Tesco where, somehow, I managed to spend so long buying a few provisions that it was 0825 when we got going again.
Note 2: I'm not doing very well with blog photos am I? Of all the things worthy of photographing today I failed to get the phone out, so you'll have to make do with another rather uninspiring snap of not much)

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Sunday 17 April 2011

Day 29 - Below Lothian Edge to North Berwick

Sun 17 April (0750-0830;1015-1205; 1305-1510)
Distance: 13.75 miles (Tot: 511.25)
Weather: a few high whispy hints of cloud in a glorious blue sky
Number of seconds it took me to exit the tent when I mistakenly thought there was a bee inside with me: 0.3 (and in quite a comedy way)
It was a day of three parts. Under glorious blue skies, but a wind that was keeping it cold, we walked the first two miles of the day until, at Pitcox, we came across a chap known as TVPS (aka 'the trail angel') sitting at the side of the road. Out came deckchairs and a picnic for us and before we knew it over an hour and a half had passed. Bidding TVPS farewell until tomorrow night, on we went clutching the very useful map (a cycling map, as it happens) he'd lent us. If we'd had that map yesterday our passage through the windfarm would have been much smoother!
Just before East Linton we picked up the John Muir Way (JMW), and along the river into East Linton it went. It isn't a particularly big place, but somehow we were there for an hour. I think the main factors were that it was a sunny day (and by noon it was warm too, with the wind having dropped) and we didn't have very far to walk - two things that always cause us to spin out even short days to feel like long ones.
We did finally get going again, for the last five miles into North Berwick. Or was it 6 miles? Or 7.5? Depends which sign post you looked at, or whether you believed the route plotted on my map.
We actually walked further than the route plotted on my map, as with the benefit of a more up-to-date and more detailed map we found that the JMW takes paths that don't appear on my map, and in doing so wiggles around a bit. A few wiggles are preferable to road walking though.
The views coming into North Berwick were set off beautifully under the blue skies, with the two main features being 'The Law' (a 187m pimple which towers above the surrounding flatness) and Bass Rock, a big rock island just out to sea that looks completely out of place. I was sorely tempted to pop up 'The Law', to enjoy the panorama, but as Mick wasn't so keen on a side-trip, straight to the campsite we came. On reflection, we chose the campsite which probably made least sense from a positional point of view, but it's got stunning views (including the one at the top of this post, which was taken from the site). More seaside will feature tomorrow...
(Maike - I thoroughly recommend it as a past-time - particularly in the stunning surroundings of Scotland. Moreover if you get this lucky with the weather.
TVPS - big thank you for this morning's picnic and company!)
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Saturday 16 April 2011

Day 28 - NE of Lauder to below Lothian Edge

Sat 16 April (0830-1710)
Distance: 19 (Tot: 497.5)
Weather: cloudy start, then sunny intervals, clearing late on to mainly blue sky; windy
Number of inches away from a grouse Mick got before it flew away: 2
Number of mountain hares: 2

Leaving our lovely pitch after a leisurely start to the day, the SUW sped us along for the first five miles until, upon a ridge, it turned SE and we yomped off through heather and bog to the NW, before dropping down into the next valley.

It was in that next valley that we encountered eleven D of E-ers, and where we came across the notice, per the photo above, which told us which mobile phone networks served that spot! A bizarre notice in such a location but explained by the fact that we were on a construction site. The track that runs along that valley is currently a newly-constructed scar as it is undergoing widening work to bring it up to about motorway width.

The second yomping section of the day (my sections being defined as the bits in between where we crossed roads or major tracks) saw us follow the exact line that we wanted to follow, although I did feel that we achieved that as much by luck than by navigational skill.

The next section of the day culminated in us lunching in the sun overlooking Whiteadder Reservoir (there's a picture of it attached to this post). We tarried a while knowing that our afternoon was only about 3.5 miles long.

Then we came upon Crystal Rig wind-farm, a development of some 85 wind-turbines. As we entered (where signs told us to follow the red posts for the right of way; we saw a total of two posts, a mile apart) I looked at the map and scratched my head. There should have been a massive forest about a kilometre away, but not only was there no forest visible, there were not the stumps of an ex-forest either. We were definitely in the right place though, so through the wind-farm we went. A while later I noticed all the wood debris on the floor around us. Part of the wind-farm had been sited on the ex-forest, which had been mown so thoroughly that no stumps remained, just lots of jumbo wood-chips and some small branches.

The lack of consistent waymarking, and the fact that the multitude of wind-farm tracks bore no resemblence at all to the few forest tracks on my map made the next half a mile trickier than it ought to have been. Worse, we had realised that both of our potential pitch sites were inside the wind-farm. We were clearly going to have to walk on.

On reflection, what we should have done (particularly as I voiced doubt that the other streams on our route would be reliable) was to pick up some water at one of the streams next to which I had intended to camp. I kicked myself for that omission as, when we got to Lothian Edge and saw the view out to sea (which was far prettier than I would have imagined), it would have been nice to have popped the tent up and enjoyed that view all evening.

But, we had no water and the nearest stream was dry, so after many 'what are our options' faffs, we continued on down. The problem that presented was that we were entering farmland which was going to limit our ability to pitch.

We did, of course, find running water in the end, and by wandering off our route by a quarter of a mile or so we found somewhere that seemed sufficiently discreet to pitch. It's got a bit of a view albeit not of the sea - but it's a pity that it's in a wind funnel!

(Note: I realised that I'd made an error a few days back in the cumulative mileage. I'd managed to add 16 to 431 and come up with 427 - doh! I've (hopefully) now put it right.
Theo: 'fraid I've had to abandon the wind-farm count. I completely lost track today as to whether we saw 4, 5 or 6. As for around the coast, I'm afraid that I don't much fancy that as a continuous walk. I do have another potential walk up my sleeve, though...)

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Day 27 - Melrose to NE of Lauder

Fri 15 April (0930-1545)
Distance: 14 miles
Weather: cloudy, one brief drizzly shower
Number of killer cows: 1
Number of windfarms: 3 (Tot: 6)*

It was a leisurely start to the day. A big breakfast and the purchase of pies featured before we bounced over the suspension bridge to take us north out of Melrose. It seems that barely a day of this trip has gone past (if indeed one has at all) without us being on one named Way or another, and today it was the turn of the Southern Upland Way (SUW).

It was pretty easy and fast walking too, with much of the day being on tracks (old drove roads, it seemed by appearance). Being a National Trail it was also, as you would expect, extensively waymarked meaning that we didn't have to pay much attention to the map.

Not very far into the day we met two women who are section-hiking the SUW, one of whom we caused to be re-united with her walking pole, which she'd left two gates back. Chatting to her we learnt that it was her third pole, the previous two having met the same fate.

Even with all of the named Ways that we've touched along our route, we've seen scant few other walkers, and these two ladies were the only SUW-ers we saw all day.

Having bade the ladies a good trip, we'd not walked many paces into the next field when a cow looked up from its grazing and promptly ran straight at us. Unusual behaviour, I thought, but looking around we realised that her calf was the other side of the fence and that we were about to walk between her and it. A quick change of path saw us avoid over-stressing the cow, not to mention a trampling.

Having stopped for a cup of tea in Lauder, and then for lunch a mile later, overlooking the castle (a lunch of the very tasty pies from the butcher in Melrose; Dauphinoise in my case which was a splendid change from fish and crackers) we were debating where to end our day. On the itinerary, I had us walking 20.5 miles, but Mick held a suspicion (admittedly one based on precedent) that if we walked that far today then I would push for us running the next two days together. So, when we reached a perfect camping spot 14 miles through the day I was happy to stop. Aside from the eminent suitability of the ground I pointed out that it would remove any possible notion of reaching North Berwick tomorrow. Plus, the map didn't show the likelihood of anywhere so good further on.

With the joys of being in Scotland now, there were no concerns when the farmer drove his sheep through the field above us just after we pitched. We enjoyed watching his excellently executed drive, and got a friendly wave from him as he moved on.

Now we sit here, cups of tea in hand, enjoying the babble of the stream/river next to which we are pitched. It's our favourite sort of pitch.

(Maike: we certainly did get lots of snaps of the otters, plus a little video snippet. I'll post them over Easter)

(*it's really difficult counting the windfarms; I keep losing track of which ones I've already seen from a distance)

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Thursday 14 April 2011

Day 26 - Jedburgh to Melrose

Thurs 13 April (0740-1455)
Distance: 17.5 miles (Tot: 444.5)
Weather: some sun, some light rain, much warmer than yesterday
Number of attempts to find somewhere to stay tonight: 3
Number of consecutive wooden steps in the hill leading down to Melrose: 133
Number of windfarms seen: 1 (Tot: 3)

What an excellent day! And it's not often that I enthuse so on a day when we've not had wall-to-wall sunshine.

My bag felt heavy as we set out. In part that was because we'd received a food parcel in Jedburgh, but it was also because when we set out yesterday, in addition to our food bags being empty, I was wearing pretty much everything in order to keep warm. Today's weather was kinder to us, but with the side effect of having to carry more on my back (although as Mick keeps pointing out the weight on my feet is the same).

Everything didn't stay in the pack. At 8.45, just as we approached the River Tweed, we concluded that the rain that had been falling was too much for our wind-shirts and that it showed no signs of clearing any time soon. I therefore called for a 'jacket on' faff and popped my bag down.

A minute later, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a movement and without even thinking about being quiet, the words "Oh my goodness, it's an otter!" were out of my mouth. It wasn't just an otter, it was an adult with two young, who obliged us by fishing right in front of us for a good few minutes. The young were squeaking away, and obviously finding battling against the flow quite a struggle, so after giving us a good display off they moved into calmer water. We watched them there a while too, until they swam off to the river bank. We moved on with smiles on our faces, not quite able to believe our luck. Absolutely fantastic.

We also noted as we moved on that the rain had stopped - but I'm mighty glad that we did choose to stop just when we had, to don waterproofs.

From that point our route was more or less the same as the route we took on our LEJOG in 2008, and a pretty route it is too (except for where we passed the council offices on Newton, which must be one of the ugliest buildings in the country), through woodland and along the river. It was also a route festooned with close encounters with wild-life. After the otters we had both a yellow hammer and a chaffinch allow us to get unusually close, and when Mick thought he had a blue tit crash land at his feet it turned out to be a pair fighting.

On reaching the Eildon Hills (a feature we omitted in 2008) our intended route had been to cut through between the two main hills, but finding ourselves with the choice of skirting the easternmost or going up it (having approached from the east), we opted to go up. The path was mightily steep, but in practice it was a small amount of effort compared to the reward of the views.

We soon cooled down in the brisk breeze up there, so having taken in the 360 degree views, down we went. We didn't excel ourselves with our navigation on the way down (small failure to pay attention, and it's not like it's a tricky place!), so we ended up taking a bit of a circuitous route into Melrose. We got here in the end though, and made straight for the campsite, where we stayed previously.

The 'Tent Area - Closed' sign didn't bode well, and the warden confirmed, very apologetically, that the council wouldn't allow them to take tents until 21 May. She also declined to allow us to masquerade as a caravan. She did, however, happily agree that we could return to use the laundry, as all of our clothes were desperately in need of a wash.

A trip to the Youth Hostel ensued, where we arrived before reception was open. As we sat and waited I googled it, and found that, according to the SYHA website, it was going to cost more to get our own room in the Hostel than it would to stay in a B&B (and at least in a B&B we get an en-suite and a cooked breakfast included in the price). So, a bonus night of luxury tonight.

Tomorrow we set out (in clean clothes!) for three days of very sensible lengths, and two nights of wild-camping, as we make our way over to North Berwick.

(Conrad: You're packed for next Wednesday already? That's far more organised than I ever am before a big trip! Hope you have a top trip yourself and look forward to catching up with you somewhere in June.
Louise: you have a good (and sunny!) trip this weekend too.)

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On top of the world...

Atop the eastern top of the Eildon Hills with amazing views all around. It was a steep old pull to get up here, but definitely worth it (even though, strictly, it wasn't on our route).

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Wednesday 13 April 2011

Day 25 - Chew Green to Jedburgh

Wed 13 April (0735-1400)
Distance: 16 miles (Tot: 427)
Weather: few brief bits of sun, light showers (everytime one of us dared take a waterproof item off), windy again.
Number of bulls encountered at close range: 4

At 8.30pm last night my thermometer was reading 0 degrees and, accordingly, it was feeling a bit parky. A cold night was expected.

At 1.30 this morning I woke up with a start, immediately sitting bolt upright in a panic. There was a tank coming straight at us! Or, as I realised after a few more moments of wakefulness, we were pitched really quite close to the road that runs through the Range, and there was a big, loud military vehicle driving along that road. What I did notice whilst I was awake, was that it had warmed up.

When the next military vehicle came along at just after 3.30, it was raining - which explained the rise in temperature.

It was a balmy 6 degrees as we set out this morning, joining the Pennine Way for a mile, past the Roman Camp at Chew Green and up to the Scottish Border. Then, off we forked, to continue along Dere Street (Roman Road), almost all of the way into Jedburgh.

Having ensured that it wouldn't rain by covering ourselves from head to toe in waterproofs before we set out, we suffered just one short shower in the first three and a half hours. A break was called to remove some items and in the usual way of these things, we hadn't even moved three yards before rain was felt again. It didn't amount to anything, but half an hour later I'd just removed my overmitts again and the rain, whilst light, was seeming more persistent and I was getting cold. On went the overtrousers again, but we'd not moved more than five yards when the rain stopped.

The continually passing showers (most of which did miss us) did curtail the views, but it was still possible to make out the magnificence of the lumpiness around us. Photos were duly taken (alas, not with the phone, hence today you have a snap of last night's pitch), but we know that those photos cannot possibly do justice to the depth and colours that we were seeing.

It was as Dere St continued across farmland for a while that we encountered the four bulls, all in one field and without any cows to chaperone them. One of the beasts was stood right next to the stile. We hesitated. Was it wise to walk into a field of fully-grown bulls? Should we walk around? Were four bulls in a field scarier than a military firing range? We tentatively entered the field to see how they would react, and the answer was that they started head-butting each other, so whilst they were distracted we hotfooted it past them.

As a contrast to the stretches of Dere St that are designated as an ancient monument, with vehicles strictly prohibited, towards Jedburgh it's a byway and one section is horribly and very deeply rutted by tyre tracks. It made for the worst type of walking, but eventually we were past that section and onto the road to Jedburgh.

"I thought you said today was quite flat" grumbled Mick as we made our way up the last long rise before dropping down into the town. I don't know why he ever believes me when I say these things. More often than not it means that I've not looked at the map in any detail!

We walked the long way into Jedburgh so as to pass the abbey (impressive, as abbey remains usually are) and a shop. I also had a hankering after a Big Lunch, and having selected a cafe that only adverised itself as offering "snacks", I found myself with a lunch so big that it defeated even this hungry walker.

A hop, skip and a jump took us to the campsite, where awaited me the new sections of my Pacerpoles, so having put the tent up I trotted back down into town to put my old pole sections in the post to see whether anything can be salvaged. That added the best part of two more miles onto my day, but of course they don't count in the totals.

(Louise: is your faith at all based on having seen a weather forecast?
Anon: I suppose that filling bladders isn't a usual activity when visiting toilets, but something that we do quite often!
Maike: I think carrying a helmet might go against my lightweight principles!
Robin: Time does fly, doesn't it? As do the miles. Only feels like five minutes since we were just setting out.
Martin: it was the wind that made me opt for a final unlawful camp rather than nipping over the border. We were vaguely sheltered where we were, but would have felt the full force of the wind had we continued up the hill to Scotland. I'm hoping this wind drops sometime soon!
Tor: that's some fantastic trivia - certainly made us smile! (For anyone who missed it, go and look at the comments on Day 24's post.) And thank you for verifying the mackerel/St John's Wood fact too.)

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Day 24 - S of Harwood Forest to Chew Green

Tues 12 April (0800-1615)
Distance: 20 miles (Tot: 431)
Weather: mainly sunny, luckily avoiding 2 showers that passed behind us, but strong westerly wind

As 20 mile days go, that was quite a hard one. That might have been because the 14.5 miles of bridleway through Otterburn Range turned out to be a tarmac track, and thus it was hard on the feet. Or it might have been that the sound of artillery and the sight of red flags made us want to clear the area as soon as possible, so we walked rather quickly for much of the day. Or it might be because we spent the entire day going NW or W against a strong westerly wind (often with tears running down my face; it takes a strong wind to make my eyes water). Or it might be because so much of the day involved such looooong climbs. Or maybe a combination of all of those factors. It's certainly good now to be lying in the tent at such an reasonable hour.

What else of our day? Well, the only place through which we passed was Elsdon, where the public toilets were closed due to lack of funds, but where there was an outside tap, so we broke out the stove and had a cup of tea with second breakfast. Leaving the village a while later we then came across a tea room, and were sorely tempted to stop for even more tea and more second breakfast, but somehow we managed to resist.

It was shortly after leaving Elsdon that we entered the Otterburn Range and with concern saw that the red flags were flying. I was pretty sure that our route took us along the outside of the Danger Area for the first few miles, but knew that a while up the road we were going to cut across it. Our entire route was on public rights of way, but what I didn't know was whether they also become out of bounds when the red flags are flying.

On we marched with the sound of heavy artillery to our right (occasionally sounding close enough to make me jump), and as more and more military vehicles passed us without challenging us, our confidence grew that we weren't commiting a criminal trespass.

Our way continued unhindered as we enjoyed the incredible wide open views around us, which were set off finely in the sunshine. There may have been an unreasonable number of long hills today, but they did give some stunning and far-reaching views.

With only a mile to go until we cleared the Range we were happy that we'd avoided all military activity and were just standing reading an information board, when about 40 chaps in full camouflage, toting big packs and big rifles, came over the brow of the hill and ran down the road towards us. I have to say it's a little bit disconcerting having that many gun-wielding soldiers running towards you!

We hadn't even cleared the Danger Area before I started looking around for a pitch, having decided that I'd had enough for the day. A nice flat pitch was found a whole 50 yards outside of the Range, next to running water. Unsurprisingly, being down in a dip there's no mobile signal here, so this post won't be sent until we reach Scotland - which is just half a kilometre distant.

(Andy: When we do see you I must rave about how good your dehydrated stew recipe is. It smells so good - just a pity that, being meat, it's not on my menu. Mick's enjoying it though.
Hannah: thank you for that information, based on which I can't see why I would have been on St Oswald's Way before. Have to look at a map of the route when we get home.
Tor: St is indeed short for Saint, but for the sake of the mackerel fact, we can be thankful that the station naming committee went for the shortened version in the official station name!

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Tuesday 12 April 2011

Day 24 - Lunchtime

Sitting having lunch looking out across miles and miles of lumps with no visible signs of civilisation. It would only be made better if we weren't walking across a military firing range whilst firing is in progess!

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Monday 11 April 2011

Day 23 - Hexham to S of Harwood Forest

Mon 11 April (0950-1845)
Distance: 21 miles (Tot: 411)
Ascent: 4500'
Weather: sunny intervals, a few very brief light showers, windy
Number of minutes-old lambs seen: 5 (ooh, it was just like Lambing Live!)

Why is it that, with the opportunity for a nice lie-in in a sumptuously comfortable bed, I was wide awake at 0520 this morning? (And an unrelated question: why is it that with a double sided map in a double sided map case I find myself, having unfurled the case, looking at the wrong side 98% of the time?).

The lie-in was necessitated by having arrived in Hexham too late on a Sunday afternoon for the shops, and we had a need for gas and for groceries. With shopping done, I then delayed our departure even further by taking the time to re-repair my broken Pacerpole. In Barnard Castle I'd got creative with some plastic packaging and some duct tape, but the following day showed the short-comings of that repair. This morning I remedied those short-comings, so now I have two perfectly useable poles again, even if one of them won't collapse down.

So, it was nearly 10am by the time we left our rather-nice B&B and set out on our day in rolling green countryside. And, my goodness, did it roll?

A sizeable chunk of the first half of the day was on roads, a little chunk was on the Hadrian's Wall Path, and other bits were on field paths and tracks. Then, after lunch (which didn't fall until nearly 1430 today) we picked up St Oswalds Way. No idea where it starts or ends, as we only followed it for half a dozen miles or so, but we both felt sure that we'd been on it before somewhere.

I'd earmarked Kirkwhelpington (what a fantastic name for a village!) to pick up some water and in the absence of a pub we needed to find someone tending their garden to ask. Unfortunately the person we asked was the gardener, and the house-owner wasn't in, but he did point us to the village hall and tell us that there was a toilet around the side where we could fill our bladders.

We sat for quite a long while outside the very pretty church, with its graveyard full of daffs, until eventually the cold got the better of us (such a contrast to the shirt-sleeves of previous days) and we moved on.

I then found that I'd entered a timewarp as the final three and a half miles flew past and seemingly moments later we were looking for a pitch. We're now pitched in the lee of a pine plantation (per the photo above) which is protecting us from the brisk wind so well that it's hard to believe how windy it is just a matter of metres away. The skies have almost completely cleared now too, so it's promising to be a cold one.

I'm rather looking forward to tomorrow night, as we'll be very close to the Scottish Border and from there wild camping will become much simpler!

(Mike: last time we were on The Chase we met a group of lost prospective D of E-ers, out on a navigation training session with a leader. Unfortunately for them, when the leader asked us for help (they were way off route), she confessed that she'd never even seen an OS map before and didn't know how to navigate!
Louise: I fear that we're going to let you down with the weather. We must surely be getting to the point where our luck can't last any longer. I'm sure you'll have a ball anyway, and look forward to reading your report afterwards.)

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Sunday 10 April 2011

Day 22 - Beyond Stanhope to Hexham

Sun 10 April (0745-1610)
Distance: 18 miles (Tot: 390)
Ascent: 5000' (per the altimeter)
Weather: some high cloud but mainly sunny
Sheep with bottomless buckets attached to heads: 4

After a few snoozes of the alarm this morning (the result of yesterday's long day and late finish), the theme for the day was soon set as we headed quite violently uphill.

With height rapidly gained, an off-road cycle route took us flatly for the next couple of miles, during which we encountered 20 cyclists in various groups. Obviously a popular place for a ride early on a Sunday morning - and who can blame them in such superb surroundings?

I must have taken half a dozen photos at various stages of the morning back down towards Stanhope, where the mist was hanging in the valley (see the photo on the last post, although it's a poor representation of the reality). Then the valley went out of view as we left the track to fill our shoes with heather in the approach to the trig point on War Law (actually, Mick sensibly wore his mini-gaiters).

Having dropped steeply down to Bay Bridge it was a steep old climb back up the other side of the valley. Reaching Blanchard Moor at the top of the climb, during the next half an hour we saw more people out walking than we've seen on the entire walk so far. It must be the place to take a stroll on a sunny Sunday. The number of people, who all seemed to be heading up from Blanchard, made us think we should have gone via that village. With that many people around, there must surely have been a tea room.

When Hexham was just a handful of miles distant and the afternoon ticking by, our thoughts had turned to lunch and a lovely spot was spied from a distance. As it went our lunch plans had to be put on hold; never have we seen so many huge ants! The place was absolutely crawling with them. Never before in this country have I seen such massive ant hills either.

Hexham is a town that keeps itself well hidden when you approach from the south, so we were almost upon it before we saw it, and no sooner were we upon it than we were right in the town centre.

Part of the route rejigging three days ago (which it turns out wasn't needed as we ended yesterday exactly where we had originally intended) saw us book another B&B for tonight, so the luxury is coming thick and fast at the moment. This is our third bed in eight nights. Seems a bit of a waste given how nice the weather has been!

(Louise - are you on the Moffat-Peebles adventure next week? Fingers will be crossed for good weather for you - particularly as we'll not be too far away ourselves; we're due to hit the border on Wednesday morning)

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Another Nice Day!

There was no photo last night. I trotted up a hillside in the last dregs of usuable light to try to find a signal to send the blog, and when I did eventually find one it was so poor that I didn't think a photo would get through. So, here's a bonus photo of this morning's view down into the misty valley.

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Saturday 9 April 2011

Day 21 - Barnard Castle to Beyond Stanhope

Sat 9 April (0800-1945)
Distance: 22 miles (Tot: 372)
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine, bit hazy
Number of grouse seen: 843(ish)

We really are incredibly lucky to be able to do a walk like today's in weather like this. We are also lucky that neither of us has been crushed under a boulder.

A short way through our day, walking through gorgeous woodland alongside the Tees, we came to a huge boulder (3'x2'x2' sort of size) sitting right on the path. The first thing I noticed about it was that it wasn't covered in moss like other such lumps of rock on the path, but was incredibly clean. Looking at the cliff from where it had fallen and the dents in the ground where it had bounced it was apparent that it had fallen very recently indeed. Yesterday or overnight, I'd say. Glad we weren't there at the time!

The morning went on in stunning surroundings as we passed through farmland, sometimes on footpaths which gave no evidence of their existence. Over locked gates we climbed and, with the absence of waymarks, if we hadn't been working from a 1:25k map I would have thought we had gone awry. Few people, it seems, go the way we went, which didn't make me feel any better when we approached a farm with the most enormous Alsatian in the yard. I figure that farms on thoroughfares are more likely to restrain their killer dogs, but when we got there the monster was indeed chained. Didn't stop it from wanting to kill us, mind.

Onto the moors we went, still drinking in the joy of our surroudings, and over lunch contemplated whether we should go to the west (track and path) or the east (road and track) side of the lump we were looking at. "We could just go straight over it" I said, and so we did. Our first proper pathless yomp of the trip, and although it involved some extensive heather bashing (which made it by far the slowest way we could have gone) it was good fun.

And then, as if the day wasn't going well enough, what should appear before us as we reached Bollihope, but an ice cream van? We joined the masses on the riverside as we enjoyed our cornets, before heading up over the next lump that lay between us and Stanhope.

Despite my statement just two days ago that we were rejigging the next couple of days such that we wouldn't reach Stanhope until Sunday morning, we passed through Stanhope late this afternoon (not without a little navigational trouble on the final approaches across farmland). We'd noticed at second breakfast that we were taking an unnecessarily circuitous route via Middleton-in-Teesdale, and having cut a bit of distance out of the day we thought we may as well revert to the original plan.

Having stopped for a drink in Stanhope (where I looked a little out of place amongst the girls dressed up for a Saturday night out), we didn't think we'd have to walk dreadfully much further to find a pitch. What I hadn't anticipated was that one of the buildings marked on the map is a farmhouse with a view of everywhere you might want to pitch for quite a distance. And then there was the issue of finding anywhere vaguely flat (lumps abound). Of course, we found somewhere in the end; something always turns up.

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Friday 8 April 2011

Day 20 - Ellerton to Barnard Castle

Fri 9 April (0655-1605)
Distance: 22 miles (Tot: 350)
Weather: wall-to-wall sunshine and jolly warm when out of the brisk breeze
Number of 'oh dear!' incidents: 3

You may notice that one of the photos above is of the Scotch Corner Hotel. Many of you will know the said hotel is situated on a junction of major roads and many will also appreciate that I try to avoid road walking, particularly on anything other than little lanes. I certainly wouldn't plan to take us along the A66.

Finding ourselves at Scotch Corner after a complete failure to navigate in the village of Middleton Tyas (that is to say, we both assumed the correct direction without even glancing at the map), wasn't our first or last mishap of the day, although it was the only navigational incident. Being not prepared to backtrack by the time I realised the error, a mile along the A66 dual-carriageway ensued. It wasn't as bad as I'd expected. A very wide verge and light traffic made it better than other roads we've walked.

The first 'oh dear' of the day was rather more distressing and happened early on. I love my Pacerpoles and wouldn't be without them. A rough tot-up would suggest that I've used them for in excess of 3500 miles now. So, when the bottom section of my left pole suddenly fell out, having parted company with the locking nut (which is left in the middle of the middle section), it was considered a catastrophic failure.

Over second breakfast, I emailed Heather and Alan at Pacerpole and just over an hour later they confirmed that they would send two new pole sections to meet me in Jedburgh next week. In the meantime, I'm walking wonkily!

The third 'oh dear' was moments before we got to a track, when I realised that it wasn't a right of way. A few moments later we discovered that the 'track' was actually someone's front drive and that we clearly could not use it. A bit of trespassing across nearby fields got us to where we needed to be, but looking back on the day, I think that this may have been on of those 'plotted it after a couple of glasses of wine' days. There were a couple of incidents of assuming we could walk along private tracks - an assumption I wouldn't usually make when there's clealy a building on that track.

Aside from having to re-route ourselves a few times, it was a stunning day. The air clarity meant that views were far reaching and the sky was absolutely clear. The only downside was some of the terrain. We've been spoiled with waymarking to date, but today we returned to the hit-and-miss that we're used to. Then there was a farm where every field had been ploughed to its margins and no paths had been reinstated. I didn't feel bad there for ignoring the clear 'private - no right of way' sign and diverting along a track.

Latterly we reached the Teesdale Way and soon afterwards had the first glimpses of the Tees, which must be my favourite river in England. The surroundings for those last few miles were jaw-droppingly good. Woodland filled with the sent of wild garlic and speckled with wood anenomes (I think!), and the gorgeous Tees flowing below. It was so good that I nearly forgot how hot and energy sapped I was. It's a shame that the snap I took with the phone doesn't even start to do it justice.

Arriving in Barnard Castle was a bit of a blast from the past for Mick. He lived here briefly about 50 years ago, and it's Ma-in-Law's home town. A lovely looking place it is too. We've just had a tasty dinner (it's a B&B and a meal out tonight) and now we're going to go for a quick wander (because we've not walked far enough today...).

(Mike: I'm not mentioning the state of the feet for fear that they will immediately revolt, but likewise I'm glad they're permitting me to continue for the moment!
Maike: will you still be jealous when you're looking out of the window in the middle of a day, watching the rain bounce off the cars below? ;-)
Robin: thank you for acting as a foul weather magnet over the other side of the country. We heard that it had rained heavily not much further west, yet we missed the worst of it. Alas, luck like this can't last forever.)

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Day 20 - Lunchtime

What a gorgeous day!

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Thursday 7 April 2011

Not a bad pitch!

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Day 19 - Osmotherley to Ellerton-on-Swale

Thurs 7 April (0735-1530)
Distance: 18 miles (Tot: 328)
Weather: vaguely drizzly start then fluffy clouds clearing to wall-to-wall sunshine
Number of tree creepers seen creeping up a tree: 1

Well, that wasn't too shoddy a day either, you know. It started as they usually do with us lowering the top section of the front door, and putting a brew on. Proving that green tents make very good hides, it was as we sat there, tea in hand, that just a few feet in front of us we watched a tree creeper doing what they do best. An excellent way to start the day, even if the weather wasn't quite playing ball.

The drizzle was light enough that we didn't feel that even waterproof jackets were called for, and off we set: up, up, up. We knew that it wasn't going to be a lumpy day, though. After having a good view of the flatness that we knew was to come, down, down we went.

Danby Wiske was 11.5 miles through the day, and by the time we got there only a few fluffy clouds remained. We had been hoping that the pub in the village would be open, but finding it shut until 6pm we opted for elevenses on the green outside. A couple of minutes later the pub door opened and the landlord came over, explaining that as of Saturday the pub would be open all day (the Coast to Coast 'season' (i.e. when the baggage transfer service runs) started last Monday, apparently), but that we were welcome to use the toilets or fill up our water. Minutes later we were supping a lovely pot of tea.

Our stay was then prolonged as, just as we were about to leave, a group of 7 lads (from Wellbeck College) arrived and we got chatting. They couldn't comprehend the length of our journey. Equally, we took our hats off at the speed of theirs - they're doing the C2C averaging 28 miles a day (partially because they're mad, partially for charity).

Nearly an hour after we sat down, off we went again.

An hour later and I hadn't recognised a single thing about our surroundings, and I was thinking that we must have gone a different way to our Coast to Coast route in 2008. Then we met a chap with a C2C guide book in his hand and I wondered whether it was just that cropped farmland is pretty generic (the rape is bursting into flower around here, BTW) and thus not memorable. Finally there was something I remembered: a small sign on a bridge between two fields saying that local farmers had paid for the bridge to be renovated, along with the local hunt.

We've now left the C2C route. Tomorrow we head north again. In the meantime, we are pitched on a campsite at Ellerton (which doesn't accept tents anymore but has allowed us to stay as we look 'responsible') right next to the lake. The site isn't anything to write home about, but the location isn't bad at all.

(Karen/Alan - the question is: how did anyone ever come to realise the St John's Wood/mackerel fact?!
Martin - not ahead of schedule. In fact, currently a day adrift. It's just that we're working to the (unwritten) schedule that I came up with a matter of days before we left. It was omitting the Scarborough loop, in favour of ground we've not before walked, that did it. We'll fall further behind on Saturday as we've just decided to rejig the next few days, so we won't now be reaching Stanhope on until Sunday morning.)

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Wednesday 6 April 2011

Kit Casualities

There have been a few kit casualities so far:

Mick's sleeping bag liner was, I think, the first. It was already tired at the beginning of last year when I resewed the seams and this year age got the better of it. When Mick's foot went straight through the fabric in week 1, it became a liner with two entrances. Fortunately, we never go on a big walk without Backpackinglight's number to hand, and they came to the rescue once again with their excellent and prompt service.

Then the strap fell off Mick's watch. We found a jeweller just before "what time is it" became too tiresome.

In an incident involving stony ground and a foot misplacement, Mick managed not just to bend one of the titanium v-stakes, but to break it. Learning from last year (where we had a spate of peg losses), at least we had a spare this time.

In common with his sleeping bag liner, Mick's gloves were perhaps also a little too old to start this trip, and gradually the falling-apart-at-the seams got too much for me to think it worth patching them back up. They've now been replaced.

There's a bit of a 'Mick theme' going on here, but when the end came off my Pacerpole, they were in Mick's possession. I've been in touch with Heather and Alan at Pacerpole who have popped a new tip in the post. I'll be performing surgery on the pole at Easter, until when my one pole will have to wear a ferrule at all times.

Mick's Icebreaker t-shirt then went missing in action. We think (hope) that it's still at his brother's house. A stop-gap synthetic replacement has been bought today.

As if all that wasn't enough, Mick's mini-gaiter started falling apart at the seams yesterday. I don't know what he's doing with all this stuff to make his seams keep parting company! A stint with a needle and thread sorted that, and Mick didn't even object to my having used pink thread.

That's an awful lot of casualities in 2.5 weeks. Hopefully the casuality rate will slow!
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Day 18 - Scawton to Osmotherley

Wed 6 April (0740-1520)
Distance: 15 miles?* (Tot: 310)
Weather: blue sky all around but a big cloud overhead

(*bit of a guess on the mileage as I don't have a map of the whole day to measure it.)

What a magnificent day - even if longer than we felt it should have been. Perhaps it was all the faffs and stops that made it feel that way, or maybe it was longer than my 15-miles estimate (I'd err on the side of the former).

With the combination of Al's directions and the knowledge that National Trails are usually very well waymarked, we opted to take the Cleveland Way even though it involved falling off our map. And, whilst I don't know what we missed by not taking my originally planned route, I definitely feel that the Cleveland Way was the better option.

The bit that Al described as the "great view" was most definitely worthy of an oooh of surprise. Reaching the escarpment the land didn't just drop away below; it dropped a long way. The views were truly superb.

Even better, whilst we were getting side tracked by the cafe in the visitor centre at Sutton Bank, the skies brightened and the views cleared. Right across the flatness we could see, to the Pennines beyond.

It wasn't a short-lived view either. Whilst it changed subtly as the day went on, we remained up on that edge for the much of the day.

It was windy up there, mind (the night had been rather windy too; the downside of pitching atop a hill). A westerly wind, so it was neither impeding us nor trying to push us off the edge, but it was a constant presence.

Hiding behind a dry-stone wall for lunch (not that dry-stone walls offer the best protection from the wind), we enjoyed tins of mackerel on oatcakes, which justified me trotting out the fact that St John's Wood is the only station on the London underground that doesn't share any of its letters with the word 'mackerel'...

The moors to the east were almost as impressive as the views to the west, but eventually both were left behind as we made our way downwards. There was still a bit more up and downing before we reached Osmotherley (this was the most ascent in a day so far).

We ummed and arred about whether to visit the village first or go to the campsite first, and the village won. There Mick replaced the missing t-shirt and I got inventive in selecting groceries for the next couple of days in the tiny general store (so tiny that some of my selections caused the step-ladders to come out).

I'm unlikely to gush so much about tomorrow's surroundings. I know that they're completely inoffensive, but we've walked most of tomorrow's route before, so for the first time in this walk it's not going to be all new.

(Louise: I am looking after the feet, even if we're failing on the short mileages! Only 5 weeks and 2 days to go? That's sneaking up fast isn't it?
Maike: good to hear from you. About to tuck into a tasty Butter Bean Curry - just a pity there's not a brownie for pudding!)

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