Friday 31 August 2007

We've Made It! Thanks for your Support!

Sorry for the delay with the pictures!! I have added some links to other Internet sites too so you can get a better idea of the areas that we passed through. I've also added a couple more stories to earlier original updates if you really fancy reading it all again from the start!!

Thank you to everyone who has been following and supporting us. It has definitely been the support and interest of everyone and meeting such interesting people along the way that kept us going and have made this so memorable.

You have helped us to raise £2070 for the Rowans Hospice! Thanks :-)

Feel free to leave any comments.....

Tuesday 21 August 2007

John O'Groats Back Home to Portsmouth [18th-21st August]

[Update 13]

Subconsciously, our feet must have known it was the end as we were in the worse physical pain yet. Our gear was on it's way out too. Will's thermarest mattress and watch broke the day after finishing, and all of a sudden our patience was running out for living in our tiny tent and smelly clothes. It was definitely time for a rest. I think Daisy felt the same way, sticking her out out of my sleeping bag for breakfast and getting straight back in again. We wrote lots of postcards, sheltered from the cold wind, still not quite believing what we had achieved, or that we didn't have to get up and walk anymore. We had faced the worse summer on record but although it had hindered things we were thankful that injuries or anything else had not prevented our completion. In fact we reckon the rain has made it all the more memorable.

That afternoon our friend from the Pennine Way, Jonathon, brought us a celebratory bottle of wine and we met his family as they were on their way to Orkney for a holiday. It was really good to see him again as it reminded us of our favourite section of the walk. Despite the awful weather the Pennine Way had the best character (and fish of chips)! I'm surprised we didn't turn into a fish and chip (and Daisy a battered sausage). Fuelled along by batter, pasta, chocolate, shortbread and sweets we relished any fresh veg' we could get. We thought that we would come across lots of country farm shops but Petrol Stations, Tesco's or Spar's seem to be the only shops in abundance. At the end of a long day a two mile hike to the shop makes the campsite shop tins of food sound so much more appealing!

At John O'Groats, we had forgotten the day. It's just lovely to do that, but not so much when it's Sunday and the local Grocer is shut, so we ate more rubbish from the burger bar and gift shops. We had a nice plod to Duncansby Head though, and enjoyed the white beaches and the amazing Duncansby Stacks. The Orkney's looked lovely too but we decided to save exploring those for another day, for when we had more energy and started our journey home on the Monday.

We waved goodbye to the wild but serene John O'Groats as a nice bus driver took us down to a different stop otherwise the busy school bus that we needed would miss us. Then, at Wick the lovely ticket lady booked us on the trains before a four hour wait. After a wander and a violinist played on the platform for a bit we were whisked off to Inverness. We saw seals flopping about on the shore and it was starting to hit us how far we had walked, Scotland is huge! We'd seen so much of the country, being fully immersed in it's character all the more because we were on foot and yet there is still so much more to see. In the simple world of backpacking everything slows down and the whole world seems to open up. Touring around, collecting as many sites as possible just isn't the same.

Our return to civilisation smacked us in the face at Inverness though. We were expecting an after trail 'culture shock', but nothing quite prepared us for next part of our journey home. The hustle and bustle was just bearable but not the unkind, unhelpful train staff on the sleeper train to London. They provided a completely impersonal service, one in particular getting a kick out of his authority, ordering us around like school children. The problem was that the lovely lady in Wick hadn't realised that dogs are not allowed on a sleeper train, unless booked into a sleeper carriage. We'd waited four hours for this train, but now with only half an hour before the train left we were unable to pay the extra £120 to upgrade as it was too late in the day to transfer money from our secure account. We frantically tried to find another solution, but they were passing us around to more unhelpful colleagues, all were saying that we would completely lose our money for their mistake! I was a blubbering, embarrassed idiot begging some manager in First Class for another way, but even explaining about our walk didn't help. We started to think that walking all the way to John O'Groats was a bad idea, would it be easier to walk back? Eventually a nice ticket lady suggested taking different trains the next day as the ticket would roll into the next day anyway. Easy, what was the point of causing us so much worry? While trudging to a campsite two miles away through a dark creepy park, we tried to remember what we'd learned on the trip - that something good would come out of this soon....?

Eventually, after getting away from Inverness, then a train change in Edinburgh later we reached London, where we met Joe from Yorkshire on his way to China. He very kindly donated £20 which took our target of £100 to collect en route to £110. This was our 'something good'!:-) Then, a little freaked out by the hot underground, of all the people to see, Miss Portsmouth was there with her sister and they helped us find our way to Waterloo. Eventually we arrived home at 9.30pm extremely relieved. We were greeted with hugs, kisses, flowers and champagne. We'd made it, now both more than a stone lighter (Daisy I think doubled her weight with muscle), we were already reflecting on the best adventure and planning our next trip. A little shorter and less strenuous next time though!

Friday 17 August 2007

Highlands: Inverness - John O'Groats [11th-17th August]

[Update 12]

We passed the official end of the Great Glen Way at Inverness Castle and started the dreaded road walk to the end. It had some bonuses though, burger van goodies to pig on (Daisy did well with two free sausages) and we found two lucky pennies to help us on our way. Toilet spots were more tricky to find along the roadside though! We could smell the sea and at Dingwall, our friends Brian and Caroline treated us to a lovely roast beef dinner and a shower with dry, warm towels, an absolute treat!:-) We were quickly knocked back down to earth back at the campsite though - it was raining as usual, but one of our tent zips finally broke, so we duck-taped ourselves in away from the flies.

Next morning after stuffing ourselves with pastries, we met an interesting chap called John, outside Tesco. We had a lovely chat about his own Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG)'barefoot' walk in 1979, raising £50,000 for Leukemia, also how he served in the Royal Marines based in Portsmouth and how he had lived in a cave for 17 years. He later very kindly sent us a donation and his interesting press clippings!:-)
After John and some maltesers had raised our spirits, a smaller road took us to a sunnier Evanton where we met another LEJOGer, cycling this time. It was too cloudy to see the meteor shower that night though.

We had showers and wind for the last few days, except one morning when the suncream made a rare appearance and Irn Bru refreshed and helped us burp our way along the busy roads. We managed to get off the A9 for a bit around the lobster pot shoreline near Dunrobin Castle but it was soon back on again to face the dusty lorries. We saw a seal bobbing around at Helmsdale Bridge and had the best fish supper in Scotland so far (nothing can beat Yorkshire though)!

Passing lots of brochs and clearance villages, the weather got colder and windier and we were finding that we both had horrendous shooting pains up through our feet and into our legs, our bones must have known that we were near the end, the roads were finally finishing us off. After a car skidded off the road where we were walking two minutes before, we thankfully left the A9 to join a quiet country road to Watten. Surrounded by old forests and moorland, the road seemed to stretch on forever and we passed the ancient Cairns of Camster before the weather turned even more colder and windier. With 50mph gusts the wind farms in the distance must have been happy! Eventually a perfectly placed Public Convenience provided sanctuary from the cold shards of rain smacking our faces. After a hot pasty from the shop, Daisy shivered her way into Will's rucksack, while Will found out if the campsite, 4k off route would take dogs and tents. He came bounding back with an end of trek treat.... room 7 from the hotel! No en suite but dry, warm towels, a radiator, beds and a TV - weird! The drunk, swearing landlord was even weirder!

From weird to surreal, it was our last day!! On the long cold, barren road the wind howled eerily through the phone lines alongside the road. Finally, the Orkney Islands and the rough sea came into view - yippee! A contrast to anywhere else in the holiday season, there were B & B vacancies everywhere, then a car bibbed and waved at us for nearly completing, then the John O'Groats sign... it looked amazing! Before we knew it we were having our photo taken by a nice round faced photographer and signing the End to End book in the hotel. After a drink and sausages for tea, we had an overwhelming feeling of contentment, listening to the shore lapping and watching the lighthouses flash through the tent before falling into a deep sleep. Zzzzzzzzzz :-) Yes, Daisy snores too!

Friday 10 August 2007

Highlands: Fort William - Inverness (Great Glen Way) [6th - 10th August]

[Update 11]

At Fort William, we had to decide whether to head North East up the Great Glen Way, another national trail, then up the east coast of Scotland (which would involve walking a lot of the treacherous A9) to John O'Groats, or to head North up through the West Highlands, then North East to John O'Groats. Despite the latter (North) being our original plan as it was the more scenic and remote route, everything seemed to be pushing us to choose the former (North East). Here's a list of con's for going North;

* The inner tent zips were breaking and there are plenty more midges North. We'd be eaten alive!
* It would involve carrying six days worth of food, then another six days of food after that. Also, our stove was on its way out.
* There would be lots of potentially dangerous river crossings, so after all this rain.... Also Will's shoe had gone through to his holey socks, Inov8 trainers have been great though!
* The expense £££££ of replacing all our kit!
* Deer stalking shots to avoid!
* We were knackered and going North was harder!!!

So, we decided to save the remote way for another drier summer and bought some duck tape for when our tent zips broke. Going NE would also have the bonus of seeing our friends in Dingwall, and be in time to see our new friend Jonathon from the Pennine Way, at John O'Groats as he was going to Orkney for a family holiday from there.

We started the Great Glen Way and saw some Harry Potter train carriages, before reaching a canal. Oh dear, memories of that painful 42 miler came flooding back. A view of Ben Nevis's snow patched north face and a peaceful Great Glen created better canal memories though, until the rain returned. Funny how all the bad, forgotten memories can come flooding back. Oh well, as we have learnt along the way, low points are always rewarded with high points (eventually) and our next high point was just around the corner in the form of a surprise fairy forest. We've never seen anything like it. Decorated in every corner of a dark forest were fairies, trinkets, wooded carved mushroom houses and wishing wells. Starting as an egg hunt, the locals have added to it over the past year and raised over £150 for Marie Curie. It was so nice to see something respected and unspoilt. We paid our fairy toll so that we'd safely find our way out and spent ages looking around. Daisy particularly liked the snake pit and leopard den and we particularly liked Eric the bagpiper who had timed his arrival there perfectly for us. At first we wondered if his photo would come out, or whether we'd just see a mysterious aura, but we later found out that he was maintaining the tradition of 'playing for pints' along the Great Glen Way. (incidentally the photo didn't come out)!

The stunning views of Loch Lochy ensured that the endless forest track didn't become too monotonous, until we reached the Caledonian canal's only floating Inn. You can't pass that by, so we didn't, and met two lovely ladies, Irene and Helen who kindly gave us a donation :-).
I finally ate my tin of tuna (a complete idiot for carrying a tin for 10 days) and noticed that my thumbs were sore again after developing hard skin as a resistance against my walking stick handles.

We found delicious dripping-cooked fish 'n' chips at Fort Augustus and the next day it actually didn't rain. Well, except for a few drops that night, it just can't quite manage it can it. Loch Ness looked an amazing deep blue mass of sparkling water. Even more amazing is that it holds more water than all the fresh water lakes in England and Wales put together. There were lots of American tourists along this part of the trail so toilet spots were tricky. Invermoriston had even more tourists taking pictures of the token Highland cow, but unfortunately the campsite there no longer took tents so we had to walk the next days walk that day, another 17 miles.

We met two nice musical Glaswegians, Mike and James, who helped us along the long, long Loch Ness forest track to Drumnadrochit. As it was a late finish we were too tired for pudding so we had that for breakfast the next day and had a day off at the campsite there, full of horses with flatulence, they even gave Will a run for his money! We reached Inverness the next day after reaching the Great Glen Way High point at Craig Leach forest, passing more ancient mossy forests, baby frogs and scary dogs - Daisy kept looking back in fear for ages.

Only one week to go now!!

Sunday 5 August 2007

Stirling + Perth and Kinross: Drymen - Fort William (West Highland Way) [29th July - 5th August]

[Update 10]

The whole Drymen campsite awoke, I'm, sure, relieved that the Belgian group playing whisky poker did in fact 'shut up' at 11pm. We thought they were heading for a telling off after they proclaimed that whisky was foul and that the West Highland Way was for whoosies! Funny though how in two days time they would be making use of the 'Travel Lite' service, which takes your rucksack ahead for you to the next campsite, probably due to their hangovers, but they were clearly enjoying themselves.

It was lovely not to have to navigate through the clearly signed and grit tracked West Highland Way (WHW) and apart from the toilet roll trail created by novice walkers not in the outside loo know how (read How to shit in the woods), it was the best bit for stunning views. Walking around Conic Hill, the first view of Loch Lomond was amazing and Daisy's energy came bouncing back after a play on the loch shore. The ups and downs of the loch shore path (still aching after that 42 miler) led us to a stunning wild camp site right on the loch shore at Rowardennan. Someone had left a tin of mutton hotpot by the camp fire so Daisy tucked into that while we watched the sunset and listened to the lapping shore. Romance was obviously in the air as our Pennine Way friends, Rachel and Adam announced their engagement :-).

Next day we scrambled up to Rob Roy's cave - quite cosy and we left the loch to join streams that led us to Inverarnan campsite where a really good guitarist entertained everyone. Road to Amarillo was best! We'll have to go back to the Drovers Inn here though, apparantly it's an old dusty traditional Scottish pub with stuffed animals and kilt wearers. Instead we had a dreadful tin of stewing steak for dinner, we really miss real food!

We met a nice, 'really' lightweight backpacking family, Mike, Ngaio, Jasper and Sam who was walking the Highland Highway. What an inspiration making their own lightweight gear (Ngaio was 10 when she made her rucksack) and Mike even knew Ray Jardine, the American lightweight backpacking guru. We kept bombarding them with questions and they've definitely pushed us in the right direction to make our own gear and go back to sleeping under a tarp with more space and no zips to break. We were a bit dubious using such lightweight gear before we started our walk with our British climate, but apart from winter conditions they've proved that gear can be cheaper and lighter, plus you know how to fix things when as we have found, everything breaks! See Ngaio's blog, we are featured on a couple of the August entries.

More forests, heather and streams later, (didn't see any otters or pine martens :-() Tyndrum had nice fish and chips (although not as good as Yorkshire) and lots of midges. Another drove road took us to the Bridge of Orchy, where we got chatting to James, who also had a Jack Russell called Daisy, but she was back at home. We've discovered that talking to fellow backpackers is great for taking the pain out of walking! We resisted the hotel bar and pushed on to Kingshouse, passing ridiculously lush yellow/green grass. Daisy was allowed in the bar there and she behaved as she was so tired so we treated ourselves to some real home cooked food - mmmm! We also met Steve, the camper van man, who shared tips about living in a camper for when we eventually finish the walk.

Stob a Ghlais Choire, and the moody weather looked amazing in the morning, then it was up the Devil's Staircase for a view of Ben Nevis and Kinlochleven where we dropped down to camp beside the best view on the WHW, Loch Leven and the Pap of Glencoe. Due to postal strikes, our next maps hadn't arrived at the local post office from home so we had a welcome day off to wait. It was nice to check emails for the first time too. The midges, however were worse than anywhere here, even worse than Byrness, so after choking on mosquito coils and Will, looking like he had been to a collagen injecting lip surgeon after so many bites again, we thankfully collected our maps the next day and moved on to Fort William.

Will thought he saw a wild cat in the misty, spooky forest and Ben Nevis, although under cloud as usual looked immense. At busy Fort William we had a feeling of being finished, but obviously there was still more to do - 200 miles in fact! Darn it, it was also Sunday, so the 1 hour photography service was closed. Sorry, will have to wait a bit longer for snaps!