Thursday, 24 September 2015

45 miles in 3 days with 10kg!!

Midges are horrible. Scotland is beautiful.  Walking is fun.

Sepha and I got a flight up to Inverness on Friday night, scored a free lift to our hostel thanks to the lovely ladies on the Helpdesk and checked in to our night’s residence – a very odd hostel in the centre of Inverness.  To check in, you had to phone the owner, who directed me to a door with a coded padlock on it, which released two keys to get into the hostel and then our room.  I felt a bit like I was in the Crystal Maze. 

We headed down to the bus station and had a breakfast of ‘tatty scones’ (so delicious, where can I get them here?), a bacon sandwich, and a peppermint slice, and got the early bus to Fort Augustus, marvelling at the views on the A82.  It was a misty morning and the clouds were low, covering the mountains either side of Loch Ness and giving it an eerie feel. 

What took an hour and 15 minutes to drive, would take us three days to walk back along – yikes! 

David and Cesca were waiting for us at the bus stop and wow – they’re so fit and slim!!!! I guess 2.5 months of walking 15 miles a day does that to you – they looked very well indeed.   We hugged a hello and set off for the first day of walking along the Great Glen Way.

Day One was 9 miles so not too strenuous, however there were a lot of hills to tackle in the first few miles, which when you’re not used to walking with a 10kg backpack prove quite hard. We took a few breaks, had a lunch of cheese rolls overlooking Loch Ness (it’s hard to moan about the weight of your backpack when David’s was huge, containing the tent, sleeping mats, other misc items plus a jar of pickle, butter, bread, cheese, ham, drinks and snacks.  He’s a machine!) and carried on our way, reaching the first stop off point of Invermoriston at around 2.30pm.  We sat in a pub drinking local bitter until 4.30pm when we put up the tents, got attacked by our first midges of the day warranting our sexy head nets, and returned to the pub for dinner.  I am still itching my bites days later!

The very specific sign in the village hall toilets

Lunch with a view!

Very practical


 We were wild camping behind a village hall, next to a field of Highland Cattle which was quite exciting, though at one point I heard a rude boy car roaring its engine and had a horrible thought that it might start doing doughnuts on the grass that we were camping on and mow us all down.  The Highland Cattle were a massive tourist attraction, with several coaches spitting out passengers on an hourly basis, who would then wave at the cattle until they came over for a photo shoot.

The next day I found the hardest.  It was a 14/15 miler depending what map you look at, and again started with and continued with several steep hill climbs.  This is the longest I have ever walked and seemed to be never ending and I was lagging at the back a lot.  David and Cesca were walking up hills effortlessly, I am in awe of them!  Half way through the walk I started using walking poles which made quite a bit of difference, especially on the hills, but also gave me something to grip on to and clench when I was getting frustrated with my progress.  

The flip side of a hill is that there is usually a good view at the top of it, so we had a lovely lunch at a view point overlooking the Loch and I accidentally did a wee in an enclosed picnic spot by a rock bench – I thought it made a great toilet spot but Cesca pointed out afterwards it was actually made for picnickers to shield from the wind. Sorry future picnickers!

We passed another walker who told us we had around 6 miles left and I died a little inside, as I thought we’d walked a lot further than we had, but eventually we rolled into Drumnadrochit around 4pm – both me and Sepha collapsing in a heap on our bags whilst David and Cesca went off to get some food for the evening. 

The only thing that could put a smile on my face would be a cat (Sad I know) and my prayers were answered when we got to the campsite – a field in a riding stable, who said they had a pet cat who was very friendly.  I was SO excited when this little white cat came bounding over to us, but less excited when I saw it looked like this….

Possibly the ugliest cat in world? It also pissed into the grill of a fellow campers car, however it was very friendly, so there’s that.

We showered (at a cost of 20p for 5 minutes, urgh!) then had a dinner of spicy pasta (with added grass) and chocolate cake (with added grass), and then Holly joined us for the evening, and we all piled into Cesca’s tent because it was raining and had a brilliant evening gabbling away.

pasta straining through a holey plastic bag - genius

In the morning we discovered that to put down a pop up tent takes 5 fully grown adults plus one Dutch man, who ended up saving the day (and Holly’s tent), before heading into the town centre to stock up on lunch and snacks (and tablet…nom nom) to get through our 20 miles (or 19 depending what map you look at!) of a day.

the impossible tent

and the man who managed to do it in one go

Every step hurt and my left ankle was starting to ache and my knees were sore from the up and down gradient, but I enjoyed every minute.  We walked through beautiful forests where you can imagine fairies would live – tall lichen covered, scented pine trees and bright green moss and purple heather lining the walkways.  The moor land was equally beautiful – desolate of people but covered in bright yellow gorse and more heather in a variety of colours, tall grasses and extending for miles.  I am sad that I forgot my camera ( a semi deliberate choice as it would have been added weight – I’ll just have to go back another time!) as my phone camera is pants so have stolen photos from Sepha.

About half way we stopped at a brilliant little café in the woods – Abriachan Eco Campsite and Café.  The menu is painted on stumps of wood along the footpath, and when you enter the café grounds you’re greeted by a flock of chickens and two giant black pigs.  The owner was very friendly and brought us much needed biscuits and chocolate along with our drinks order, lovely!

With four miles to go we turned a corner in the track and suddenly had a view of Inverness sprawled out below us, and to top it off, a rainbow stretched out above it – it felt like Inverness was the pot of gold we were heading for.  I think it put a spring in everyone’s step and 90 minutes later we were at our (ridiculously overpriced) campsite.

To celebrate reaching the end of our walk (Well, mine and Sepha and Holly’s – David and Cesca still have a few miles to go to John O’Groats) we took a taxi into town as we couldn’t face walking any further and had a pint and some dinner before falling back into our tents for the last time.

On Tuesday we packed up our worldly goods and headed into the town centre, had a fry up, did a small bit of shopping, said our goodbyes and got a bus to the airport, where we sat in the tiny lounge, stuffed our faces with cheese and biscuits and a G&T, then flew back to reality.

Holly found her dream car

The end!

Cesca and David are on their final leg, and will reach John O’Groats in the next few days.  I am so proud of them and in awe of their achievement.  It’s not too late to sponsor them, click here, and read their blog here

The Great Glen way is easily accessed by bus from Inverness, and very well sign posted.  Mostly gravel tracks means you could do the walks in trainers rather than walking boots, or even cycle if you so wish! I highly recommend it. 

Friday, 18 September 2015

Please Sponsor Me (and Cesca and David and Sepha!)

I promise a bumper update next week but I have been SO busy it's ridiculous.  In fact I don't promise it for next week because I am away this weekend and then off to Cardiff for a hen do the following weekend, argh!

Anyway this is just a quick post to say that tonight I am flying up to Inverness and tomorrow I am getting a bus down to Fort Augustus, then walking all the way back to Inverness!!! It's 45 miles over three days and I will be joining David and Cesca who are walking the 1,111 miles from Lands End to John O'Groats.  I am really excited to be joining them and hoping I don't get too bitten by the infamous midges, or gain too many blisters!  David and Cesca are raising money for Crohn's and Colitis UK, and so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and try and raise money too.

If you'd like to sponsor me/them/us, you can do so by clicking on this link.  We're camping along the way, so having to carry all of our stuff and currently my bag weighs a it's going to be pretty hard!  I'll have a blog post all about it when I get time to write one up!

Fingers crossed for good weather and no plagues of midges!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

It could happen to any of us

Last week the news was dominated by photos of Aylan Kurdi, the three year old boy who drowned when the boat he was in with his family capsized.  The images were shocking and horrific and I cried on the bus to work when I was reading the news.

Images of people suffering and dying are always horrific, but I think what brought this home to most people was the fact he was so young, so helpless, and dressed in 'western style' clothing - I think one of the reasons this image was so powerful was because many people could look at that little boy and then look at their children, and think, "shit, that could be my child".

It certainly kicked the newspapers into action - one example being The Daily Mail, who only six days earlier ran a front page story about "how many more migrants can we take", now featured a photo of the drowned boy face down in the sand, with the headline "The victim of a a human catastrophe". Well done Daily Mail - whatever sells papers eh. (that's sarcasm FYI - I detest the Mail).

Unfortunately, not everyone was moved by the picture of the small boy.  Some ignorant, heartless sociopaths who have nothing better to do with their lives, continued and still continue to spout vile, factless and quite frankly stupid opinions on facebook and other internet forums.  One that particularly upset me was the former UKIP candidate Peter Bucklitsch who made headlines by announcing on his twitter feed that Aylan's parents were to blame for his death for putting him in that situation, that they were 'greedy' for wanting to come to Europe.  The statement enough is upsetting, but the fact that many people agreed with him made it worse.  (This could lead into a whole other debate about people's opinions, free speech, and the responsibilities of public figures watching the things they say and publish.  I'll save that for another time).

People are so quick to judge others, and the internet makes it even easier to type out stupid comments on a whim and for it to then spread.  It was such an ill-thought out and disrespectful comment.  I think unless you've been in Syria, you cannot judge anyone for their actions in wanting to get out - and you wouldn't endanger your child unless you were really desperate and didn't think you had any other choice.

I was in the hairdressers the other day and listened in on a conversation my hairdresser was having with his client (yes I am nosy!).  She was a teacher at a school in South London, and in her class she had a Syrian boy.  He was an orphan - he'd watched his parents be blown up in a market place, and was now living with foster parents in London.  No one knew how old he was, or when his birthday is - at a guess they have said he's 12.  He is slowly learning to speak, read and write in English, and the first thing he ever wrote was "I love school".

People are so horrible sometimes.  This article on The Daily Mash made me laugh (and sort of want to cry too) because it's really quite true.   This also made me really despair - it's actually quite scary that a 17 year old boy, on a whim, started a petition based on no evidence whatsoever, and that 100,000 people then signed it, based on what he'd written, which had no substance whatsoever.  I'd like to start a petition whereby anyone who says anything derogatory and heartless about the crisis is swapped with a Syrian refugee - they can swap lives, and maybe it'd teach them some humanity.

I think the thing a lot of people forget is that it could be them.  It could so easily be them.  This video is a brilliant demonstration of this.

It's pure luck we live where we do, in a developed, safe country.  People take SO much for granted, their house, their family, their belongings, their skin colour, their gender, their birthplace.  Who knows, in the future the UK could become a war zone, and where would we escape to?

I absolutely loved this facebook status by Emlyn Pearce, a writer, below.  Why do we feel like we have a god given right to travel the world and resettle wherever we want to, yet a portion of us don't feel like we can extend the right to anyone else?

"Emigration is completely out of control in this country, and I’m sick of it. I’m not staying quiet any more. You can’t walk down a street in Jamaica or Hong Kong or India without hearing someone speaking English, and in Canada and Australia we have even introduced our own legal system, decimated local communities and installed our own head of state! DISGUSTING! English has now been imposed as the official language of 57 sovereign countries! FIFTY SEVEN!!! What the hell? Who do we think we are?! And the government is doing nothing: any British person can just pack their bags and go and live anywhere in the world at ANY TIME and nobody in the British government will do anything to stop them. If I wanted to, I could just get on a plane to Germany tomorrow, get a job in their booming economy and live there for the rest of my life! My parents could up and retire to Spain or Portugal at a moment’s notice! Why should we have that right? It’s political correctness gone mad! (And it’s also probably, somehow, part of the war on Christmas, and health and safety and women thinking it’s ok to wear comfortable, unsexy clothing.)

The figures speak for themselves: 

1,300,000 Britons live in Australia; 761,000 in Spain; 678,000 in the USA; 603,000 in Canada; 291,000 in Ireland (11,200 of whom are drawing unemployment benefit from the Irish state), and even 8,500 in Mexico and 7,100 in Kuwait! We’re literally EVERYWHERE! I bet there’s at least one branch of Greggs in the Falklands.
We need to close our borders immediately before the situation gets even worse for everyone else. We are sleepwalking into a nightmare where a third of the world will be overrun by the British! AGAIN!"

I also want to link to this blog post - it's a lot more articulate than mine and I love the honesty of it.  I wish more people felt like this.

Anyway I am not too sure what the point of this post is.  Maybe there doesn't need to be a point. I think I just wanted to rant about how horrible people can be and how important it is to not take things for granted, to make informed opinions, to have sympathy and compassion, treat others how you would like to be treated yourself, and to generally try not be a dick.