12. Aug, 2016

So now it’s a week on and time to review the experience.  As anticipated, a day back in the office and it’s almost a distant memory, amazing how the mind just moves on.  So how has the experience affected me?  Well the balls of my feet still feel puffy and my toes feel like they have plasters between them, and they don’t seem to be changing yet.  Otherwise, no ill effects.  I realise I’ve achieved something and completed my ambition but to tell the truth, it’s less of a big deal after the event than it was before.  There’s no great euphoria, it already just feels like something I did once. I suppose the familiarity of the day to day grind of the walk took away the specialness.  The thing is I don’t think I suffered enough to feel like I overcame adversity and completed a daunting challenge.  Beforehand, having read several other accounts, I presumed I would have physical problems, blisters, shin splints, sprains or strains, back problems etc.  In the event, happily, I just had the one minor blister after the first week or two and a few days of feeling my left calf but thereafter, no problems at all.  I also anticipated that the solitude and stress of the effort would put a strain on my mental state and that from time to time I would look for excuses to stop and chuck it in and have to battle with my will to continue and press on to the end.  In fact that never happened and, although I got fed up with the constant rain by the time I reached the Yorkshire Moors and was disappointed that the experience was being spoiled, it didn’t get beyond that at any time.  Walking was just what I did and I got up each day and got on with it.

Of course, I’m very pleased that this was the case, I’m not looking for pain or depression, but that’s why, at the end, not having to overcome anything critical means that I’m left without the sense of achievement of overcoming anything critical.  In other words, in retrospect, it didn’t feel like such a challenge.  Hey, what am I talking about, I just walked 1358 miles, virtually every day for three months carrying 30 – 35 pounds on my back at 64, mostly in the rain on a mixture of crazy walking surfaces up and down the hills and mountains of GB.  I’ve got to feel pleased and satisfied about that.  Anyone who lifted my rucksack was shocked at the weight but, it just became part of me and I took it in my stride (pardon the pun).  The thing is, looking back, I don’t think of the effort, I just remember the places and experiences, so that’s got to be a good thing.

 

So, what stands out for me?  Well the many completely different and varied walking conditions and surfaces sort of fascinates me and I’m going to put another section on my photos.  I took pictures but didn’t post them as I don’t think it would be interesting for others but I want to remember them.  Unfortunately, the touchscreen on my mobile has stopped working and I’ll have to sort that out before I can transfer them to the site. Also the lack of wild life.  Obviously I saw some but presumed that in the entirely natural surroundings of the countryside, I’d see much more and that was a shame.  Plenty of sheep and cattle though.  The differences of each mountainous area but also the similarities. The differences in the accommodation but also the similarities. Obviously the variety and range of terrain and landscape was a highlight and I feel I’ve experienced it all now.  I have been going over the trek and am surprised at how much of the route I can recall and every time I think of it other little details come to mind.  I think of the trek in sections.  I walked the ups and downs of the South West Coastal Path, then from Barnstable cut across Exmoor and the Mendips through Cheddar Gorge ( which tands out in my memory) to the Severn Bridge.  Then, over the toll booths (weird) to Wales and the Offa’s Dyke Path with Hay on Wye standing out.  Then Eastwards via the Shropshire and Staffordshire Ways.  Then the Pennine Way of course with the moors and dales and periods of no path at all.  That took me via Hadrian’s Wall to the Scottish Borders along the River Tweed, which led me to the West Highland Way, an incredibly busy walk.  Ben Nevis will always stand out and how lucky I was to have a clear sunny day, apparently it doesn’t happen very often.  The Great Glen Way, with Loch Ness was like a walking motorway in terms of the surface and finally from Inverness, up the East Coast, the mixture of the easiest walking along the A9 to the worst, the ridiculous course picked out along the cliffs where there is no path, over fences and through heavy foliage.  Eventually to Duncansby Head, on to John O’Groats and then finally to Dunnet Head.  Quite a trip really.

 

During the trek, I remember feeling at ease most of the time.  I was always interested in what was around me.  I had expected to be listening to music, plays and audio books to alleviate the boredom but I never felt that necessary and only used the radio to listen to the cricket when that was on.  That was a highlight and certainly shortened the day.  I had also expected that I would have deep thoughts, have revelations, make plans and put the World to rights but I didn’t really.  My mood was light and I just took in my surroundings and enjoyed being amongst them.  In the evenings, I didn’t watch any TV, except the news, or read.  My regime was to drink tea and eat biscuits, shower, have dinner and type the diary, then sleep.

 

So in the end I walked 1358 miles.

I spent £2100 on equipment beforehand, £4145 on accommodation, just £73 on lunches ( excellent idea to get the hotels to give a sandwich instead of a  cooked breakfast), £1028 on dinner, £51 on sweets/chocolate, £516 on other items which all totals £8000 odd.  Of course there was a bit more with getting there and back and no doubt some stuff I’ve forgotten. Then there’s the training and preparation.  The three trips to Snowdon and the Peak District and of course Kilimanjaro, but although they are directly due to the trek, they were enjoyable in their own right and separate experiences so I don’t add them to the total cost. Of course I still have all the equipment and will use most of that again, not the boots though, I’ve gone through two pairs of heels and soles.

 

In the end I’m pleased with my effort and quietly self satisfied (well maybe not that quietly since I’m writing a blog).  Perhaps the thing that pleased me most was my adaptability.  I wasn’t discouraged or panicked by circumstances. I resolved problems, I dealt with equipment failures, walks taking too long, problems with clothing or accommodation.  I didn’t flap and was pragmatic and practical under pressure in the face of dilemmas, of which there were many.

There were no negatives to the trek, except that now it’s done and I have no challenge or target to look forward to.  I don’t plan any sequels.  I still propose to walk.  I expect I’ll  have some weekends away, possibly camping and also go on walking holidays once a year maybe in the mountains of Europe and around England.  I’d like to do all of Hadrian’s Wall and having covered the South , West and North of GB I think I should link them to the East sometime.  They’ll probably be escorted walks with groups though, so I don’t have to think, and they transfer your baggage from point to point.  It’s not that I don’t want to carry the weight, it’s more that I’d like more than two choices of clothes and maybe some shoes.

So this is the end of the Diary and the website.  I’ve been absolutely amazed at the hits, over 4400 and running at 250 to 300 per week near the end.  I can’t think who the people are as only a few have been in touch and although I know some view it regularly, even daily, that doesn’t make 300 hits.  It looks like I’ve raised around £3000 for the charities, which is nice.  As before, I’ve been surprised and very pleased at some of those who have unexpectedly supported me and just as surprised and rather disappointed at some who haven’t.  Of course the trek was not about the fund raising, if it were, the arithmetic would look a bit silly, but people said I should do it and I’m glad I did.  The tin rattling gave me occasion to talk to a lot of people I wouldn’t have and that really enriched the experience.  It rather fell away as I went on, partly because I didn’t see many or the weather was bad and you can’t ask people to stop and dig around for their purse when they are all covered up, but also because I stopped taking the can out in the evening as you are not welcome when people are eating.  Still, all in all a worthwhile effort.

 

Finally, you may remember that I was pleased with my weight loss.  It was falling off me and considering it took me two years to lose two stone whilst preparing for the trek this seemed and altogether easier way to achieve that.  My body shape changed considerably and my trousers went from a snug 34 to a very loose 30.  So it was with some anticipation and almost excitement that I got on the scales when I returned.  Before I left I registered 10st 10lb so what was it now?  10st 10.5lb.  HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?  A week later it’s still fluctuating between 10.6 and 10.8 so I haven’t lost weight just inches, still I guess that’s more important.

 

So, the question I posed at the beginning was, how did it affect me?

Well, I’ve got it out of my system and I’m pleased that I did it.  They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger........well I’m not dead.....

1. Aug, 2016

I decided to go straight on to Dunnet Head today rather than leave it a day as that makes it more of a continuous experience and gets it done in 3 months exactly, May, June and July.

I set out in fairly light rain but it doesn’t last long and then it’s back to bright but more than breezy, it’s a really strong wind and right in my face.  It feels like I’m walking with an inflated parachute on. Oh well, it’s the last day and not a very long walk and on the road, as there really isn’t any alternative, so quite manageable. 

Before too long there’s a group of Oyster Catchers above and one starts exactly the same routine as I had with them on the Pennine Way, just after Tan Hill.  He’s swooping back and forth in front of me at around 20 or 30 feet calling all the time then going to the side for a while before returning and repeating the pattern.  It takes me back in a really nostalgic manner and I recall where I was last time.  It really does seem a long time ago but it connects that part of the walk to this and makes it more of a whole rather than separate parts, which is how it generally feels to me.

Yet another group of cows follow me along and come over to the fence staring at me and then I come to a graveyard which is all on it’s own in the middle of nowhere it seems.   It’s very well kept and the stones are clear and clean.  With that usual morbid curiosity I start to read some, partly because I always think that by reading someone’s stone you have in a way remembered them or given them a thought, which has fulfilled the purpose of the stone in the first place, and also because the ages and the information contained on them often throws up something of interest.  The thing that interested me here is that all the Husband and Wives had different surnames. For example “George Manson husband of Catherine Mackay” and “Evelyn Munro Bain, Wife of john Dunnet”.  I’ve never been aware that such was a Scottish tradition, certainly of any Scots that I’ve known.  Maybe I’ll look into that another time.

Further along, but not attached, is Canisbay church where the Queen Mother has attended, having bought a castle nearby, as you do, and Prince Charles is photographed with Camila also attending there more recently.

There is another headland before Dunnet Head and that blocks the view for quite a while, but I could see that when I reached a certain point in the road, I would be past that one and on high ground so that I would then see the headland I was aiming for.  When it first came into view, in the mist, I was taken by just how far out to sea it extended.  I took a couple of pictures and set off with a firm resolve and an air of expectation.

Eventually, five miles later, as I walk along the last stretch of the path leading through the bleak landscape to the end of Dunnet Head I started to review the whole walk, starting from Lizzard Point through Lands End along the South Coast Path Way, inland via Barnstable and Cheddar Gorge to the Severn Bridge, through Chepstow and Monmouth along Offers Dyke Path, right turn through the Shropshire and Stafford Ways to Hebdon Bridge and the Start of the Pennine Way.  I remembered the disappointment of the poor weather and visibility of the Yorkshire Moors and Dales, the pleasure of the River Tees with it’s rapids and waterfalls, Hadrians Wall and the entry into Scotland via the Lowlands and then the West Highland Way with Rannock Moor and Glencoe up to Fort William.  A fantastic day on Ben Nevis and the Great Glen Way along Loch Ness on the High route with the weather improving on to Inverness and then the last push up the East Coast with some of the hardest and easiest parts of the walk, depending whether on the road or off on the cliffs.  So now I’m approaching the last mile of the walk, the path zig zags so that for some of the time the wind is now behind me and that makes a huge difference, shame it wasn’t that way all day I’d have finished a while ago.  I can see the hill in front of me and when I’m over that I’m done.  Suddenly the top of the Lighthouse is there and I take a picture of it.  I’m almost loath to walk in through the gate as then it’s all over and it’s what I’ve been about for so long it seems.  People are all around, having driven, of course, and they’re having their picture taken by the stone marker indicating the most Northerly point and I have to admit to feeling they’re not entitled to do that, they haven’t earned the right, they have just come here, they haven’t even been to the Southerly point.  Stupid I know but there we are. I walk around the place and go to the viewing spot, to take pictures back towards land.  You can see Duncansby head from here and various Islands.  It’s much higher than I expected but you can’t see Lands End, even from up here, even if it wasn’t misty.  There’s a gallery and some artist is hoping to sell very average paintings for £2500, I really don’t know where they get their inflated ideas from, some pictures are more stylised and as usual I think of Tony Hancock, you’ll know what I mean if you’ve seen his film.  Then I follow a family through a gate with warnings that you enter at your own risk as it takes you to the cliff edge.  They are almost hanging over the edge now and taking pictures and I can’t see what or why.  When they go I edge nearer the edge than I’m comfortable with but am rewarded by seeing a group of puffins on the cliff, a few feet away.  Fantastic.  I’ve never seen puffins before and these are just sitting there.  Much smaller than I imagined.  Then I see them soar off and ride the wind floating stationary swooping and coming back again, just playing with the elements.  Loads of them, a fantastic view which truly lifts the soul which at a stroke, gives me a full appreciation and underlines for me what this whole venture has been about. That moment, just then, at the very end of my whole trek, that was what is was all about.

So that’s a good place to leave it for now and I’ll come back to do a summary later.

1. Aug, 2016

This is it then, the day I finish the main trek.

Just before leaving Wick I’ve taken a photo of the smallest street in the World. That’s it, the width of the front of the restaurant, Ebenezer Street.  The weather is more of the same, mostly dry, quite windy, bright spells and bewildering sudden short showers.  In short, very acceptable.  I passed another field of amiable cows that came to the fence to meet me, just to prove, if proof were needed, that the phenomena is not a flash in the pan but a characteristic of most herds of cows …….who knew.  The first section is along the road and I’m struck by the different ways motorists deal with me as a walker.  Some indicate long before reaching me and pass right on the other side of the road, as if there was a risk of sucking me under their wheels, on the other hand others have driven almost up to me and, because there is traffic coming the other way, stopped until the way is clear and then pulled out around the obstruction, me.  If I can see that this is the case and if there is a suitable grass verge, of course I step onto it but I can’t do that with every car as you often can’t walk on it and I’d be there all day.  Most sensibly just pull out a bit and drive straight past giving me a bit of room and that’s fine although I must say an arctic at 60mph can blow me off course, and when it’s raining and there are puddles, I have to turn to avoid a shower, only one almost took me out.

I leave the road at Westerlock and from this point, I’m back on Andy Robinson’s book as he joins from here and has a route to John O’Groats via Duncansby Head.  There is an interesting industrial railway line of two tracks, going under the bridge.  Apparently, it’s a full five miles long and they build pipelines which are then run along the tracks and into the sea where they are towed into the water by barges. Yet it seems very overgrown so, although the buildings are clearly operational, I wonder if the railway is still in use.  But not for long as I have to go through a gate and into a long range of daunting looking sand dunes.  At this point, I notice that Andy’s route and Jay’s route, on my GPS seem to be the same.  Now I remember sand dunes well from my Cornwall days which seems a long time ago now.  But once I get into them I find the path which is much easier than last time.  I’m attacked or at least pestered, by a small yappy dog but he soon settles down, and I make good time through towards Keiss.  On the way I pass the oldest tractor I have ever seen actually being used and this one is cutting down the grass on the side of the track.  I’ve seen older ones in country shows, being exhibited.  I passed through a farmyard and another dog starts barking at me but he’s locked behind a gate whilst at the same time, a collie starts to round me up.  He walks sharply past and behind me, part crouching with his head down, then comes up behind me and is passing left and right following until I leave the yard.

Soon I reach Keiss Harbour, I say harbour, this stretch of coast, for the last few days has had the smallest harbours I’ve ever seen, some are just small inlets in the river with a single wall to protect just a few small boats. This one is slightly larger and one of the local houses sports a very nice themed gate.  I’m back onto the grass thereafter and the going is variable.  I pass two Keiss Castles one old one much older and just a ruin.  I did read about it and when it was built but I forget now. In front of it is a WW11 pill box which is a little anachronistic in that scene and yet somehow appropriate being three ages of military defences.   From here the route deteriorates and becomes typically Jay’s manic, non-existent route through heather and gorse.  I have to climb down to the waterside from the top of the cliff to get past a fence and I meet a lady there walking a dog which suggests to me there must be and easier section now or she wouldn’t be there.  So I ask her if there is a good place to climb back up that she used and she tells me that this is her garden and she is the landowner here, so that theory is blown out of the water.  We discussed for a while the lack of an East of Scotland path and she tells me that, as of just two months ago, it has been officially named but expects it will take years to get landowners agreement to create a proper path.  I’m surprised to hear that she and apparently most other locals don’t want it.  I point out it would bring benefits to the area and nice cafes and bistros to the deserted harbours, like Cornwall and she is aghast, that is exactly what they don’t want.  Fair enough.  Anyway, it’s not hard to scramble up to the top again but the path disappears and now I’m struggling through the usual peat bogs and heathers and gorse but now I have to take into account regular geos, which I’ve just learnt, are those deep inlets.  Very dramatic and good pictures but a bloody nuisance when they turn up in front of you and you have to skirt round them.  Happily, I was listening to the 50 year commemoration of the 1966 world cup final which was enthralling and held my attention so that I wasn’t too bothered. Never the less, after a while I realised it was going to hold me up too much and I had to reach not only Duncansby Head today but also move on another couple of miles to the End of the Journey, so I got back on to the road around Nybster.  That caught up a bit of time although I only stayed on it for around 3 miles.  So far today I’ve not seen any work gloves on the road at all which seems to me a clear indication that no one works north of Wick. I did see a man’s boot and a pair of ladies knickers on the side of the road.  I say lady, she probably wasn’t.  So then I got back cross country for the final push at Skirza Head.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned that my satmap button, which fell off a long time ago, has now stopped working all together which means I can’t reset my log and I can’t zoom out.  If I can’t zoom out that means I daren’t zoom in.  Just as well I’ve almost finished and I don’t really need it, it just gives me some useful and interesting information now.  I would not have been at all happy had this occurred a few weeks ago and I’ll have to get on to Satmap when I get back to get three defects corrected and complain bitterly at how this has let me down and why it shouldn’t have.  Actually make that four defects because it’s also started to reset my log during a day, on it’s own.

I press on along a reasonable path now, which I can see, which is always an advantage, and I head on for the last few miles. So then, after a couple more geos, which I photograph, I reach the true end of the trail, Duncansby Head, just as Geoff Hurst the winning goal.  “They think it’s all over, it is now”       ……………………..   How apt is that.

This is the real end to the Land End John O’Groats trek as Duncansby Head is the furthest point away from Lands End being on the coast, behind John O’Groats.  I don’t know why they’ve always specified John O’Groats, maybe it was more of a town but barely. So I took some photos, took in the moment and then moved off towards John O’Groats because I feel I have to end there even though I think it’s a bit back to front, but that’s where the register is and the obligatory signpost . Walking along the final two miles for the day I saw birds sitting on sheep’s backs, then they took off and flew around a bit and landed on another sheep’s back as were others.  Now after three months in the countryside, I’ve never seen that before and it just made me feel that the country is full of surprises and things of interest.  The sheep were completely ignoring them riding piggy back and they didn’t seem to be fee

ding from the sheep’s fleece so I really don’t know what that is all about.

So then I reached the target of the End to End trail.  There was a little harbour again and a coffee house, a couple of shops but no hotel, and I thought the register I want to sign is in a hotel.  This place is not nearly as organised as Lands End and there’s no line to cross and no indication of anything suggesting the end of the route.  I saw four middle aged guys in lycra in the coffee house so they obviously have just cycled it so I asked them if they knew where the register is.  They indicated that it was behind the counter in the coffee house so I asked the girl, who was again East European, not Scottish, and she gave me it without ceremony or fanfare.  So I sat at the table and signed it.  I looked back but couldn’t find any entry from Mike Henry which surprised me since he signed the book in Hornsby and Tan Hill so I wonder if he had a problem.  I’ll never know.

I went outside, took some photos of the harbour, view and of course, me at the signpost and then I’d finished.  So how did I feel.  I’m not sure.  Of course I’ve still got to walk to Dunnet Head to complete the South to North thing so that takes the edge off a bit because I’ve finished but it’s not finished. Naturally I feel satisfaction and I guess it was an achievement but walking just became “what I do” so it’s just what I did it, each day, and thus I feel a bit matter of fact about it.  I’ll reflect on it when I’ve finished and maybe have a better handle on it then.

I got back to Wick, where I’m staying and have to say I feel a bit deflated as it’s a big deal to me and you would really like a brass band to greet you at the end and frankly it’s all something of an anti climax.  However, someone must have tipped the wink to the good folk of Wick as that evening, they put on a firework display, presumably in my honour. That’s more like it.

30. Jul, 2016

So today I’ve resolved to start on the road rather than waste time clambering through undergrowth and falling behind the clock.  I’m actually looking forward to it in that it will be a different type of walking experience and that’s what this whole trek has been about.

I continued to try to get a picture of the gaudy but beautifully decorated trucks up here but, as usual, by the time I’ve seen it coming and grappled for my camera it’s past.  I did get part of one, albeit behind a passing cyclist but I think you can see enough of the cab to see some of the artwork.

I saw a herd of deer in a field, which is the first time in Scotland which is rather disappointed as I thought they were all over the place in the Highlands.  Unfortunately not an antler in sight and I was hoping to see the Monarch of the Glen.  However, I’m no longer in the Highlands and the landscape has substantially changed.  Now it resembles the Home Counties or even East Anglia in places.

There are still some hills though and on the top of a hill, on the road ahead, I saw a church and beside it a derelict building which also looked like it had been a church.  The skeleton of the roof remained and I couldn’t tell if it was in the process of being refurbished or in the process of falling down.  Closer inspection, upon arrival suggested it is falling down.  Strange though that the roof timbers remain in such good order.

I arose the interest of a herd of cows in a field who once again all came over to the fence when they saw me approach.  It really is quite charming the way some cows react to you, it’s almost like having pets.  They start walking towards me and when I stop and turn to them they gingerly come a little closer.  Then some at the sides or back push through to get a better position and one or two braver ones step closer. Then I move towards them to see if they will let me touch them and they all turn together and gallop, yes gallop away into the distance.  This time I started to walk off and they all came back again and ran to the corner I was about to pass but they were too late, I’d given them there chance and now I was on my way.  Horses often do much the same with some getting twitchy as soon as I put out a hand but others coming forward to receive some attention.  I find you have to be really patient with most of them but I just don’t have the time to hang around while they build up their confidence.

So now I’ve reached Wick and I’m less than 20 miles from the end.  It’s an odd feeling, similar to having an event or holiday booked which seems far in the distance.  You know it will come around but it’s too far to think much about and then, all of a sudden, it’s upon you and comes as a surprise despite always knowing that this day would arrive.  So tomorrow I finish the John O’Groats bit then I intend to have a day off and then move on to Dunnet Head to complete the trek from South (TheLizzard) to North.  Then home.

30. Jul, 2016

This day’s walk is marked as red (challenging) by the author of the trail but as the weather is miraculously still bright, I decide to give it a go despite my growing reservations about his idea of what constitutes a  “walk”.  It starts well enough but before too long I’m walking through pretty tough conditions on a path that is no more than some downtrodden grass and plants indicating that someone has passed this way before.  Then I’m in a field facing a gate completely overgrown by bracken about 6 feet high.  I push my way in and the other side is even worse than it looks, however I press on roughly along the route of a deer fence.  Then it occurs to me that the fence is cutting me off from the glen which clearly I have to go across so obviously I need to be the other side.  So I retrace my steps, with considerable difficulty but I can’t find the gate I just came through.  The whole area is behind tall bracken and I can’t see it, even when I try to push some down to get closer.  I thought I might have some trouble one day from the Authors description so I’ve taken the precaution of taking some wire cutters so I approach the fence and set about cutting through except  they and I combined aren’t strong enough.  They’re only a cheap pair and they just won’t cut the thicker horizontal wires, just the thinner vertical ones.  However, I find that by cutting a panel about 12 to 15 inches wide I can pass my rucksack through and then climb through after it.  The path from there gets far worse.  It follows the very edge of a ravine but even worse, the edge is obscured by the plants being downtrodden by the walkers so you can’t’ actually see where the edge is.  I used my poles to see where the firm ground was and progressed with great caution.  At one point there was a gap under my feet which would have dropped straight down had anyone stepped into it, and it was covered by the bracken like a trap.  Eventually the climb turns into a descent to cross the burn falling down through it and I’m amazed that there’s a tall kissing gate there, indicating this is or at least was, an established route as it is extremely old, and in disrepair and as mentioned, the path is almost unwalked.  At the top of the rise it gets worse.  The bracken is above my head, there is no path although it would seem that someone has used it as some are a bit downtrodden but that drifts away and then I’m just ploughing through.  I need a machete to get through as I’m having to take high steps to try to tread them down but then the back foot is getting caught as I try to lift it over.  So I’m walking at snails pace like a Lipizzaner horse.  I can see from my GPS that I’m where I am supposed to be but you wouldn’t think so.  I read the next section of the notes and he says that we are heading up the hill diagonally to reach a road that will take us further along.  Thank God for that.  The GPS says it’s just another 377 yards so I press on.  I tumble out of the bracken relieved but it’s short lived.  I’m where the road is supposed to be but this isn’t a road, it isn’t really much of a path.  It’s completely overgrown and although much better than the bracken I’ve ploughed through, progress is still not going to be fast.  Now my speed has reduced to an average of 1.1mph despite much of it being a pretty good pace beforehand so this is just taking too long.  I realise now why he’s only doing  12 or 13 miles per day with some only 6 or 8 miles.  Thus far I’ve been covering two of his days in one but that won’t continue if it’s like this.  Anyway, this “road” leads to the A9 and I decide that this is the only sensible option.  I can’t see the A9 but it’s on the map and my GPS shows it’s up there so I’m sure it is.  It’s strange the way roads can be invisible.  There have been many occasions over the last 3 months where the GPS has indicated a road and I just can’t see it and doubt it’s there.  In the countryside the small lanes can be just the other side of a hedge or running along the top of the field but because of the lay of the land or the hedgerow I can’t see it at all.  I remember on a golf course (you may remember the guy taking 4 shots to move his ball 20 yards) I asked if this was near  the road and they said they didn’t know and then a car drove past right behind them, behind a hedge.  So I struggle along the road which is completely overgrown with gorse in places and bracken or heather elsewhere so a painful experience to push through.  When I reach the A9 I discover that this road goes under it via a tunnel/underpass and doesn’t join it.  However, I don’t have any alternative now so I climb up the side of the tunnel/underpass and over a fence, then up the rest of the bank to the road.  I feel like I’ve just escaped from captivity on the River Kwai and reached a safe route out of the jungle.

So now I’ve taken to the road and I’ve got a long way to go. It’s 12.30 and I’ve been walking for about  3 hours but I’ve only covered about 3 miles and I wanted to do nearer 20. I press on, I don’t really mind the traffic and the walk is obviously easy even though it’s uphill.  Guess what, I’m not going to make a fuss of it but there are more gloves on the road.  Considering I’m usually not on the road that’s a lot of gloves in a short space of time.

The trucks up here are very brightly painted with flashy livery.  Quite intricate and showy almost like some I’ve seen in India and other, dare I say, more primitive countries.  I’ve tried to take a photo of a couple but I haven’t been quick enough with my camera.

I’m in a bit of a depression, that’s a dip not a mood, and a deer runs across the road.  I thought he was lucky to avoid the traffic which at times is quite heavy.  Then she suddenly ran back the other way and I can see there is deer proof fencing where she was trying to go so I presume she will go back into the woods, but then I see there is deer proof fencing that side as well and she can’t get out either side.  She runs across a couple more times and I wonder how she’ll get out of there avoiding an unhappy ending but I know there’s nothing I can do to help as she wouldn’t let me get close.  I don’t know how the story ends.

I leave Sutherland and enter Caithness which lifts my spirits as it’s the last county on the walk.  I resolve to make a list of all the counties I’ve walked through as that will be interesting, for me at least.  I can see oil rigs out to sea and the views are just as good from here as from the bush.