First blog from home

So that is it. 1,026 miles. 555 views of my blog in one day. A very surreal day in which I achieved probably the most difficult thing I have attempted in my life.

Yet, perhaps sadly, I was quite unemotional about it. There’s clearly a lot of interest in what I have done, and it might not hit me until I go back to work next Tuesday. Perhaps I am a bit world weary after two and a half months worth of getting up at a reasonably civilised hour and then walking down roads that I don’t know for most of the day.

Though not the primary purpose of the walk, I did lose 21 pounds in weight, perhaps not as much as I had expected but I am now at a much trimmer poundage. My belt was on its last notch this morning when I put on jeans for the first time since early February.

Fundraising has accelerated in the last day or two as the walk  completed. Over £7,000 is brilliant and I know there is more to come from sponsor forms and a 40/50s night late in May. Still a small number of tickets available, dress is optional. Er, by that I mean that you don’t have to dress in 40/50s clothes, not that it is a choice whether to dress at all.

Very tired and feel as if I have jet lag. Sleep timings were necessarily shifted, but I have to give massive thanks to Dangerous Brian for getting Pam and me back to Sarisbury. I went out for a stroll to buy a newspaper and milk and that did me a bit of good. But my waking hours might be all over the place for a few days, and I need that time to recover.

This blog will continue for a while as long as I have something to talk about. Certainly I have enjoyed having to write it as part of the daily ritual.

Done it!

Not much to say. I reached John O’Groats at 1pm. Wind was against us all the way, whichever way we turned. A few pictures and the odd souvenir before coming home. Currently in Wetherspoon’s in Wick.

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The Third Way

Today we contrived to make a mountain out of a molehill. This was meant to be a walk of between 13 and 14 miles from Watten to our b&b near Canisbay. For the records, it is slightly nearer to 13, but the reality was that Pammy and I probably walked an additional three or four miles at the end attempting to locate our accommodation.

A lovely breakfast at Loch Watten House included fresh fruit salad – yay, my favourite. Kathryn also donated £5 to our charity from our bill. Pammy was her usual schmoozing and conversation-making self while I was a bit grumpy with painful feet and an Achilles that feels like it has been stung by a big bad bee.

Dangerous Brian took our bags in the car and my shoulders wondered what had happened. It was great to be with Pammy on the road and we took a good route through quiet lanes and B roads. This included an excellent view of Loch Watten to the west.

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I was feeling a bit under the weather – I think it is just being so close to the end but still having to work quite hard up some straight roads that were just at that slightly annoying level of undulating.

The confusion came when we approached a T junction towards the end. My directions that I myself had composed from Street View some months ago indicated that the b&b was on the right before the junction. Google Maps was indicating that it was to the right of the junction about a mile or more down the road. The place was nowhere near my own directions so we followed Google Maps. We ended up almost in the middle of nowhere.

We decided to head back towards the junction, thinking we might have missed a turning. A local dog walker greeted us and we asked directions to Bencorragh House. Of course, it was very close to where we had passed about 45 minutes earlier, to the left of the junction, where ironically there was a sign that pointed us to the b&b.

We were greeted at Bencorragh House with a nice pot of tea for both of us and Dangerous Brian, who turned up a few minutes later to make arrangements for tonight and tomorrow. As this is also a farmhouse, it was inevitable that when DB asked me a question, my answer was prefaced by a deep moo in the distance, probably indicating some sort of bull.

So almost there. Just a quick trot up the road tomorrow morning, around 4 miles and then all the stuff at John O’Groats. Can’t say I’ll ever want to do this all again, but I have massively enjoyed both the experience of the walk and the chance to slip a split infinitive into this sentence.

I haven’t mentioned this for a while, but many many thanks to everyone who has donated through my Just Giving page, http://www.justgiving.com/keith-spicer1 or who has given or pledged money on one of the very many sponsor forms circulating in ONS, and I am particularly grateful for those people who may never have met me but still felt motivated to contribute, some through Just Giving and others on sponsor forms handed round by some of my close relatives. As I write, the Just Giving total is £6,768 which does not include any off line donations not yet paid or collected. Many have said what a fantastic effort I have made and, in all modesty, it has not been easy peasy lemon squeezy, but it is only those donations that can make this walk worthwhile. So John O’Groats tomorrow it is, and a long journey home. Of course, many many thanks too to Dangerous Brian for arranging transport and providing the driver!

Best wishes to you all. Don’t forget to donate if you haven’t already.

Happy chickens and crop dusters

I absolutely hate that song. To me, the Proclaimers are Jedward with glasses. But I can say that I have walked 500 miles and then walked 500 more. 1,008 to be more precise, and a mere 18 to go.

My room at Inver House was upgraded and had probably the best shower I have had during the whole walk. An added bonus was that Rhona gives 10 per cent off for walkers or cyclists, so I had a real double whammy good deal. The day was off to an excellent start.

It was nice too that chickens are having their happiness measured, presumably an extension of the government’s programme on well-being. They must just be cock-a-hoop.

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I have referred to this specific day privately as the crop duster day. After 7 miles through some villages, the largest of which is Lybster, famous recently for the police discovery of a cannabis cultivation farm, I turned off onto the long road to Watten.

This is indeed a long road, almost 13 miles, much of which is gun barrel straight. I had previously Street Viewed this route and fallen asleep in front of the PC. There is very little of interest here, except the Camster Cairns, where I did actually see four people mooching around, pretty much the only persons on foot that I saw in almost four hours. Cars and other vehicles passed at a rate of about one every five minutes.

The Hitchcock film North by Northwest features a crop dusting scene, where there is very little dialogue but is one of the signature Hitchcock scenes. The terrain just reminded me of that. The scene could easily have been shot here.

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Arrival at shortly after 5pm was an excellent result and, at some time tonight, I will be joined by Pammy, who is travelling up for the last rites of this walk with Dangerous Brian.

The Fog

This was the day where my Street View instructions were effectively: Left out of b&b onto the A9, straight on for 17 miles, destination on left. Now in Dunbeath or, to be more accurate, Inver, which is just, and I mean just, north of Dunbeath.

My feet were to be disappointed by the lack of beach, but it would have been rocky and stony rather than sandy in any case. But they performed well to complete the journey in almost exactly six hours, no break, and without significant pain.

The story of the day was the weather. Rain and heavy cloud were forecast for the whole day and the opening two miles into Helmsdale were precisely that. A lengthy climb was there to test my tired limbs and fog became the issue. What would be a nice scene became a moody view across the valley.

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In the afternoon, the view was typically:

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but though this did make for difficult detection of oncoming vehicles, I did really enjoy it, especially as the signposts counted down the miles slightly quicker than I was imagining.
What was most amazing was the number of cars travelling damned quickly in these conditions without lights. Madness.

The walk is rapidly coming to a close. Not many miles to go now, in fact I am probably at the outer edge of what I could do in one day, if it were dry, if it were flat terrain, if I hadn’t already walked 988 miles, and I was prepared to start at 6am, with plenty of potential refreshment stops.

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38 miles. That is all that stands between me and walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I’m not sure I can believe it myself.

Feet get special treat

Well I gave my feet a special treat today. I have said before that local knowledge is so invaluable and I was advised that there was an alternative to the 15 miles up the A9 to Portgower, just west of Helmsdale. Because the route is close to the coast, it is possible to take a coastal path for a mile or two and even walk on the beach. And that’s what I did.  About 10 of the 15 miles were on the beach, mostly sand. My feet certainly appreciated it:

Thanks, Uncle Keith, for taking us to the beach today. The sand was great but we didn’t like the stones.

No I must admit that they haven’t done anything great since the 70s.

Can we go again tomorrow? Please, Uncle Keith, please, Uncle Keith?

Well today was a special treat. It looks like it will be raining and we need to get up to John O’Groats by Tuesday.

We can still walk on sand if it’s wet.

Sorry, Pat and Ella don’t like it. Knees are very temperamental.

Knees are rubbish. Feet rule. Can’t we just go in the sea for a few minutes, Uncle Keith, while you have your lunch?

No.

And why do you need lunch anyway? We don’t get anything. A drink in the sea would just be fair. If you don’t let us, we’ll tell Auntie Pam you had loads of salt on your chips yesterday.

Look, Auntie Pam will be here on Sunday and she’s bringing your stepsisters. They really should be your sole mates.

Oh, I hate them, they are wimps. We do walking, they can only do pilates.

Look, just behave. Show some respect.

You spicegirl, not spiceboy.

Can you two just behave?

Spicegirl! Spicegirl!

OK, if the weather is nice, we’ll see about going to the beach. But don’t tell Auntie Pam.

And, Uncle Keith, you are doing this walk for our charity, so it’s only fair.

What do you mean, your charity?

Sand. We love it.

No, guys, it’s SANDS, the stillbirth charity, to help bereaved mothers.

What? And we’ve walked all this way for that? I thought we were going to get a sand pit when we get back.

Will the feet agree to go walking tomorrow? Will they tell Auntie Pam everything? Will they get a sand pit? Find out in the next instalment of “Spiceboy’s Very Long Walk”.

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Dull aches

A long haul and trawl up from Fearn to Golspie. I’m afraid there is nothing to persuade me ever to repeat that 21 mile walk. The only good thing about it was the rather means to an end reduction of the target to around 70 miles. That apart, painful feet and a mind numbingly dull route up the A9 meant that, by about noon, I couldn’t wait for it to end.

Unfortunately there is very little alternative to that route, though I did nip into Tain town centre to buy lunch for later. I sound a bit like the kid at school who said his favourite subject was ‘playtime’ but the highlight of the day for me was finding a wall to sit on and eat lunch. A cheese and tomato (no Mayo) sandwich, a sausage roll, a mango juice drink and a iced cream bun. The bun was reduced from £1.50 to 40p as today was its best before date, and by coincidence my feet were feeling as if their use by date was getting near.

Again I crossed water, the Dornoch Firth Bridge, that did at least offer a decent view or two.

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For the second successive day, a motorist stopped to offer me a lift. This could mean one or more of three things:
• I looked knackered
• Drivers in the very north of Scotland are very thoughtful
• I have become so fit looking that people want to take me home and have their wicked way

I think we can discount the last one. I was pleased to reach the Blar Mhor b&b in Golspie by my target time of 5:30. It had been a day when I had needed to concentrate hard on footing and traffic and not one to look back on with great fondness.