Sunday, 27 July 2008

On the Border

Last night I prayed to a God that hadn't really been listening for the past two years.
I said "The forecast for tomorrow is torrential rain sweeping across the whole of the UK. We are being advised to board the Arc immediately. With places to get to and people to meet, if I don't walk the 30 miles to Byrness tomorrow I won't be able to. Now, if you can't work big miracles can you try a small one please, and stop the rain?"
And do you know what? He did. Leaving Melrose for the "St Cuthberts Way" under grey, but dry skies, I said a silent "thank you"
It was with a regrettable sigh that I past by a very attractive house on the "S.C.W." I was due to meet a "Paths to Health" WHI leader yesterday for afternoon tea at his home. Obviously that had to be re-scheduled to morning coffee, but he unfortunately at the last minute, had to be elsewhere.
Never mind, I needed to get a pace up. The route is well marked and easy to follow as it wiggles and squiggles it's way alongside the river. One huge loop near St Boswell's was one I was determined to cut off. I tried and failed last year, but today, Hurrah! I succeeded.
Somehow it seemed easier this way round, and before too long I was heading down the long straight "Dere Street" into Jedburgh.
Just as I got into town, the heavens opened and so I darted into a steamy cafe. "Is this seat taken?" were wise words, as I met the most interesting lady who was really taking "Active retirement" seriously. Having bought herself a camper van to travel the world, going wherever the fancy took her, she was starting the journey here in The Borders, one of her favourite haunts.
A voice in my head said "Ok, you've made one cup of coffee last an hour, if you want to get to Byrness before nightfall, it's time to move on - and look, it's stopped raining" and so with a quick swapping of e mail addresses and promises to keep in touch, I was on my way out of Jedburgh, only pausing to take a photo of the magnificent Abbey.
Walking down the minor roads and riverside paths, the clouds slowly cleared away and by the time I stepped out onto the main road at "Carter Bar" (the border of Scotland and England) the views of the sun setting over the Borders were stunning. All was quiet and still. The Bagpipe Player, who last year was entertaining a coachload of Japanese tourists, had packed his souvenir CD's and gone home.
Was I ever glad to see the Youth Hostel in sight, and even gladder that I'd booked ahead, as there really is nothing else but the hostel in Byrness. It had been touch and go when I'd rung yesterday. "Sorry, fully booked. school party in" "What! Can you not squeeze one small female in anywhere? I'll sleep on the boot rack if I have to!" "Well, give me five minutes to check whether "Jan" on the Pennine Way is a man or a woman, and I'll phone you back" and my luck was in, she found me a bed. Whew!
I don't think I'd realised just quite how tired I was until my eyes blurred and I started swaying, trying to take in the instructions for using the shower.This place is full of them. Run with military precision by the ex Army trainers they were, all guests clearly know the rules. The boot one being the most important to remember. "Do not under any circumstances attempt to enter the house wearing your boots or you will face a court marshall" or words to that effect.
After a very very late meal, I collapsed into bed, far to exhausted to care if my room mate was "Jan" the man or the woman.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

A summit meeting of the Legog Society

Feeling fresh, invigorated, dry and ready to finally make up those extra miles I missed on the first day, I was going to walk to Jedburgh. Oh yes I was! Or was I?
Taking the easy low road which follows the Tweed, the plan was to weave alongside the main road, stop at Innerleithen for a coffee, and then on to Walkerburn, over the bridge to the minor road to Melrose. None of that "faffing around" with the "Southern Upland Way" going all the way round the houses (literally) in Galasheilds I was going straight to the "St Cuthberts Way" at Melrose. From there on it was an easy route to Jedburgh. All I needed to was book somewhere to stay.
Circumnavigating "Cardrona" the ostentatious housing development favoured by footballers wives, ( how any property developer ever got planning permission to blot the beautiful landscape of the banks of the River Tweed remains a mystery), I arrived at a minor road pointing me towards the hills and "The Southern Upland Way" Well, I considered the options, perhaps this stretch of "The Way" to Melrose might be a good idea, after all. Not long down the road I met a lone female walker. After the initial "Hi, and where are you walking today's" she told me she was walking to Lands End! In the next half hour we swapped stories and e mails before moving on. Blow me, 20 minutes later I met my next "Lejoger" .We chatted about this, that, and the state of play at the Byrness Youth Hostel. (the only place to stay en route) If I booked ahead, as they are getting busy, and remembered the boot rule, I should be ok. Half an hour later, I was off again, thinking I really needed to get a spurt on if I was going to make it to Jedburgh before nightfall.
Undoubtedly, it was hard going, but the views made it all worthwhile. "The Point of Resolution rings "were an interesting "lets stop and get my non existent scientific mind around this amazing sight" sort of moment. Later, pausing for another breather, I met two ladies doing the "SUW" and as we chatted, who should appear up the slope but another trio of "Lejogers" As one of them enquired about the whereabouts of Ruth, I detected a distinct frisson of enthusiasm that she'd been spotted earlier. Could this be the beginning of a Lejog romance, or was my imagination running away with me?
By now, I was way, way, behind time and by the time I'd stopped for another chat with another "Southern Upland Wayer" I'd resigned myself to staying in Melrose.
Which seemed, initially, not a bad decision, I'd really liked the place last year, and regretted not having enough time to enjoy it. So, first stop the Youth Hostel. £30 for a shared room without breakfast! They'd got to be joking. Unfortunately not and as every B & B had "No Vacancies" in desperation I finally checked into a hotel. For £45, I was offered a "non smoking room" (like I should be grateful)which would have been almost acceptable if the T.V. the lights and the shower had worked. In the end, it was so late, I was so tired, I even ate there. Another disappointment. The lack lustre attitude of the bar staff reflected in the service and the food. So, Melrose, beautiful a place as it was, passed me by.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Like Pooh and Piglet I go hunting but don't catch a Woozle

Well, news travels fast! Here I was in West Linton with the Pipe Band playing me out of town to a cheering crowd. I wish! No, I'd arrived on the morning of the "West Linton Festival" a day unfortunately dawning grey and drizzly.
Originally planning to stick to the River Tweed, I decided instead to take the old "Drovers Road across the hills. It was well signposted and with a more direct route, I should have made good progress. Unfortunately not, as I climbed higher, the weather deteriorated, and somehow, head down against the driving rain I missed a signpost.
To spend the next hour in a huge forest, knowing I was going round in circles, was getting to the scary "will I ever see my family again" point. Confused and disorientated the only way forward was to go backwards. Clambering through the bracken, I eventually backtracked to the point where I'd taken the wrong turning.
From there on, it was easypeasy all the way back to Peebles. Easy, but grim. Soaked to the skin, all I could think of was the hot bath I'd sink into when I finally got there.
It was only after I was warm, safe and dry, I could see the funny side of it.
Like Pooh and Piglet I'd wasted an afternoon going round in circles in the wood, and didn't even see a "Woozle" never mind catch one.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

An unexpected guest

If your thinking I should have been at the bridge yesterday you'd be correct, but in order to meet up with the B.F's yesterday, I needed to swap the days over. And, just to complicate matters further, I also decided not to walk back to Balerno, because for the equivalent mileage I could walk right into the city. And what a brilliant decision that turned out to be ( I certainly don't make many of them) On a beautiful sunny day I followed the cycle track all the way to the Haymarket, practically to the front door of the flat.
Why was it so great? Well, after the excitement of striding over the bridge I was walking back into the countryside again heading towards Barnton, one of Edinburgh's most affluent suburbs. As I tried to guess the price of a huge detached house in this area I came across one of those really modern architectural splendours of the type you see on "Grand Designs" juxtapositioned between the 1930's mansions, and it somehow didn't seem out of place.
On this bright Saturday morning everyone and his dog was out cycling on the path. As every northerner knows (me included) a warm sunny Saturday is a rarity to be made the very most of.
A perfect day for a visit to the "Royal Yacht Brittania" Permanently docked at Leith, it is now a museum for the viewing public to get a feel of what life on board the Royal Yacht was like-from both sides of the "green baize door"
It was fascinating, and I came away feeling really quite sorry for the Queen, and the rest of the Royal Family, in that they were probably bowing to public opinion (influenced by the media) into relinquishing what had been a damn good P.R. exercise. My goodness, she worked tirelessly. OK, between state visits, life on board was a relaxing interlude, and why not? I didn't feel quite so sorry for those "below stairs" The hierarchy of life aboard ship was all apparent as we descended to the bowels of the ship. Anyway, I'm sure a compromise could have been made. As it is, it's being preserved in pristine condition, hired out for corporate events no doubt at some mind boggling cost.
On the bus to Peebles, I was slightly concerned. All attempts at contacting Ruth and Roy (my hosts) failed. There was nothing for it but to ring the bell and hope for the best...No response. The car was in the drive, it was a beautiful sunny evening, they must be in the garden, watering the plants. "Hello, how nice to see you!" exclaimed Ruth, hose in hand, in a way that indicated she was surprised to see me. However, this wasn't a problem. As we got stuck into a quick change of sheets, I was, I think, flattered that I was an "ok" sort of unexpected guest.

Chapter 3. The Balerno Footsteps

In a flash of last minute inspiration I decided to fly up to Edinburgh very early on in the morning I was due to meet my first "Walking for Health" group. It made more sense to use airmiles, than use up hours getting there by train or bus. And so, just over 3 hours after leaving home, I was sitting in the office of the Balerno High School Community Office waiting to meet Chris the "Balerno Footsteps" Co-ordinator.
When I was introduced to the group, it all felt so familiar to me. They were such a nice friendly group of people, and talk about coincidence, one of the walkers had a sister who had just joined one of our walking groups in Surrey!
We set off with a melee of school children looking like they were joining us on the walk, but they were actually on some sponsored walk and soon headed off in a different direction.
Balerno was vaguely familiar, as I'd walked through it last year to make my way to the start of the canal. As we walked through the suburbs I chatted to George. In his 80's he had lots of interesting stories to tell.
Eventually I had to say goodbye him, Chris, and the other male walkers as I walked on with the three ladies to the Harlaw Reservoir for another few miles. It was a beautiful spot, if only it hadn't been spitting with rain. Another fond farewell as in such a short space of time they already felt like old friends.
And then there were two, as Carol and I walked on towards the Pentland Hills where she was going to set me off on the right track. Incredibly fit for her age, she'd already walked about 12 miles the day before!
Finally, it was just me, the wind and the rain. As I climbed higher the fog came to join us. It wasn't anything like the same hike we'd made last year in the warm sunshine.
I was beginning to get tired. Perhaps getting up at 4.30 am hadn't been such a good idea after all, and so, after a few miles of road walking, I called it a day and got the bus back to Edinburgh from West Linton.

A Bridge too Far

On a brighter Monday morning I viewed Perth from it's best side. As we drove alongside green parks and fine Victorian houses it crossed my mind that in any city or town the west or south sides is nearly always the more affluent. Must be something to do with the sun.
Today was a challenge, a revised one at that.
I'd planned to reach Edinburgh on this leg of the journey, but underestimating how long it would take the wiggly cycle route to get from A to B, I was now faced with a 30 mile stretch just to get to the Forth Road Bridge the gateway to the city.
However, I had a master plan. The way to tackle a hefty mileage day was to break it up into stages, and take breaks.
Stage One: To reach Milnathort for "Elevenses" and find a really nice bohemian cafe for a latte and a toasted teacake.
Stage Two: Dunfermline by mid afternoon. Spend an hour in the Library and another looking round the town followed by afternoon tea. The road to Dunfermline was still following a Cycle Route, but through the urban Town Hill Park, it made a refreshing change.
Now bearing in mind Dunfermline is a pretty big place, it had to have a library, or did it? This was the question I put to two teenagers. "Er, don't fink there is one, is there?" they looked doubtfully at each other for conformation "Nah, we haven't seen it, have we?" then they thought about it a bit longer and decided there just might be one "somewhere down there" waving vaguely behind the High Street.
Dunfermline's most famous son Andrew Carnegie the millionaire philanthropist must surely, right now, be turning in his grave. Contributing £8,000 to building and stocking what was to be the first of over 2,500 Carnegie funded libraries in the world. It was so popular with the lending public, that "heavies" had to be employed to control the crowds crushing round the desk.
By 1904 it had to be enlarged and virtually rebuilt to this glorious building I saw before me. With a wide sweeping staircase, wood panelled walls and a very pleasant library assistant at the information desk, who issued me with my very own plastic card (even though I was but a mere visitor) it was everything a library should be. So it was a shame that the only crowds today were round the computers. A sign of the times.
I spent so long in there I only had time for a whistle stop tour around the town, pausing for afternoon tea, before trekking out of town in pursuit of "Carphone Warehouse"
Why? Well I couldn't remember if it was the 10th or the 12th when my new monthly minutes and texts were issued. Now usually the young assistants talk to you in that outwardly friendly, but somewhat condescending way they have with old fogies like me who only have a phone with a contract because they've been told (by their children) they should. The phone the offspring have chosen on your behalf is all singing, dancing and performs all sorts of tricks you are totally oblivious to. Why, only today, in the Town Hill Park, I discovered how to send a picture message!
Anyway, back to the plot. This assistant was so patient and kind, he didn't make me feel inferior at all. I think I should nominate him for employee of the year.
Stage Three: The homeward stretch, a mere hop, skip and a jump to the Forth Road Bridge.
I walked up and up the hill, and then there it was in the distance, shimmering in the sunlight, and beyond it I could see Edinburgh stretching on for miles into the haze. Wow!
My destination however was the less stunning "Forth Road Bridge Park n' Ride" as it was from here I'd get the bus back to town.
Before I left for the overnight bus I took Mari-Ann out for a thank you meal. She'd even given up her bed for me, bless her, and so we went to the appropriately named "Mercat Bar" and celebrated the completion of the "Second Leg"

The "Perfect" Centre -not on Sunday's

Why was there a Beatrix Potter museum in Birnam? This was Scotland, not the Lake District. Because Beatrix spent her childhood summer holidays nearby at Dalguise House. I'd actually walked passed it yesterday. It was the Victorians who first put Scotland on the tourist map, when affluent Londoners realised the air was much cleaner and fresher up here. (Did they not have midges 100 years ago?)
While the men engaged themseves in the manly sporting pursuits of hunting, shooting and fishing, the ladies drank tea and played Croquet on the manicured lawns. Their offspring, normally confined to sedate walks with Nanny in Kensington Gardens, got a taste of the freedom of the great outdoors. Spending long days splashing around in the rivers, climbing trees, and generally getting their white smocks dirty, Beatrix was one such child and her fascination with wildlife, plants and animals began right here.
The museum was small and very child friendly. I was itching to sit down at the activity table and start crayoning a picture of Peter Rabbit, but I didn't think the other children would like it, and so I went on my way.
Just beyond Birnam I bid farewell to the River Tay, as the cycle route headed towards Bankfoot. The cycle route is deceiving, in that it wiggles here and there, making your original mileage calculations way, way, off the mark. For instance: Today should have been about 14 miles but was probably more like 20. Whatever it was, it was a long way from Bankfoot into Perth. The sign told me I was entering the "Perfect Centre" Well, obviously everyone, and everything has it's best side. Clearly this wasn't Perth's. To match the ambiance of the grey suburbs it started to drizzle with rain. I plodded on to the bus station ready to go "home" to Edinburgh.
"You can't get on this bus, it's booked" the driver informed me. "But, I have a City Link Pass" I cried in dismay. Clearly relishing his moment of "jobsworthness" he jabbed his fat finger at the back of my pass "Read the small print darling" and he actually smiled. "You'll just have to wait for the next one and hope that's not full. Should be along in, ooh let me see now (running aforementioned fat finger down the timetable), in an hour and a half"
Well, I could understand why people wanted to leave Perth en masse on a drizzly grey Sunday evening, but as I wandered through the deserted shopping precinct, I wondered what I was going to do for the next 90 minutes.
Make one cup of coffee in a dreary pub last for an hour by doing the crossword in a discarded newspaper, that's what.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Moving On

Today, I was moving on to Edinburgh and Mari-Anne's flat.
And with no rush to leave Inverness, I had a few final visits to make. Firstly the Post Office to shed some of my load. It was time to be ruthless. Maps, clothes and anything else I could live without was posted home, as the Rucksack felt mightily heavy after the lightweight day bag. I also got my "End to End" Passport stamped by a very impressed assistant.
Then to the Inverness Museum. I wanted to try and understand, just what had made these Highlanders such a strong fearsome bunch, and how did all this Clan business start?Well clearly, the early Picts (painted) people had to work hard to make a living in the Highlands, and probably had to fight for every fertile scrap of land they could. But after hearing all these tales about the fairer sex I reckon this is how it all began...
"One cold night, in a remote settlement, the menfolk were sitting around the fire complaining about their "Other Half's" "All she ever does is nag, nag, nag, do this, do that...and every single day I get a clip round the ear for drinking more than my recommended daily units of alcohol. I tell you I need a break" The others all nodded sympathetically. Then one of them had a bright idea. "Hey, why don't we go and pick a fight with the next village? It'll take us at least four days to get there and back, and with a couple of days fighting, that's nearly a week!" "Great idea Reg!" said another " But how will we know we're not killing each other?" "Yea, good point, what we need is a common identity. I know, I'll get the Missus to rustle up some kilts, that will keep her busy. Now, what about colour? Personally, I think blue, with a splash of red, is rather fetching"... and off they dashed to pack the crates with enough alcohol to last for at least a month.
On the road towards Dunkeld, all the interesting places, i.e. places to get refreshments and facilities like Ballinluig and Dowally were all on the other side of the A9. The cycle track was quieter, but less interesting. Only one solitary cyclist passed me by all day. In need of company and conversation, he slowed down for a chat. "Oh well, best be on my way" he said when he eventually realised I wasn't. In spitting distance of my destination, I didn't want to linger.
Dunkeld was a picture postcard of a place, and as I entered through the forest, there ahead of me was the Cathedral, I was entranced. The bus, however, left from Birnam on the other side of the bridge.
Conveniently, the bus stop had placed itself at the end of the pub garden, and I conveniently had just enough time to enjoy a Spritzer as the sun went over the yard arm. And yes, I had already made sure I was on the right side of the road!

A Slog and a half!

There was only one way I was going to get to Pitlochry before midnight and that was to get the earliest bus out of Inverness, trek down the A9 (missing out Blair Atholl) and eventually turning off at the sign for "Killiecrankie" What a delightful name. As I ate a late lunch, I half expected "Wee Jimmy" to pop up from under the bridge and with silly schoolboy humour, nick my sandwich.
Killiecrankie had a great little Visitor Centre, and a small museum. The helpful assistants put me on the right woodland track to pick up the trail...all the way to Pitlochry! It was a perfect walk to finish what had been a hard day. Dappled sunlight filtered through the trees, as the trail weaved it's way alongside the river. Passing two large lakes the track finally opened out onto the outskirts of Pitlochry.
Pitlochry also proved to be a delight, and if I had known the bus was going to be an hour late I would have had a good old poke around. Well, I shouldn't complain as it had been my choice to commute, and despite the longer, and longer bus journey's to and from Inverness, I was glad I'd stayed there.
I'd already picked up my bag from the Youth Hostel and bid my fond farewells to the cell and the cheery cook in the kitchen (who always let me make a packed lunch from the breakfast food-even though it wasn't strictly allowed) At the B & B I wallowed in my "en suite" bathtub, which was luxury after the "down the corridor" shower at the Hostel before heading to the "Riverside" for my final meal where I met a very interesting couple. We seemed to "click" straight away, and it wasn't long before we exchanged addresses and I was being invited to visit them in Ullapool. They were staying in the hotel so as they went inside for a meal, I strolled in the evening sunshine down to Ness Island, across the bridge to the Cathedral and finally back to "Nico's Bar" for a coffee to write up the day's journal.

Do not dispute the cycle route

Reluctantly dragging myself from the "Wildcat Walking Centre" and clutching my latest purchase - the more detailed "Sustrans Cycle Route" map which would take me all the way to Perth, why on earth did I go wrong within the first hour?
Because I disputed the cycle route, that's why.
About a mile out of Newtonmore I spotted a sign, pointing towards a quiet, shady tree lined road telling me that the information centre/cafe/picnic area I had already earmarked for an elevenses pit stop was but a mere 3/4 mile down this way. The blue cycle sign was saying "Come this way, down the main road out of the village, where there is no shade, the sun is rising on another hot day, you have no suncream on, and you will most definitely get burnt"
And so I chose the shady route, deciding that "Sustrans" had made one major misprint. An hour, and approximately 3 miles down the road I arrived back on the A9 - 4 miles nearer towards Inverness. In other words, I'd walked "Backwards,Backwards"!
Muttering unrepeatable language I furiously stomped down the A9 to the point where I came upon the cycle route sign smugly saying "Newtonmore - 2 miles - You foolish woman - forget that Latte at the veranda cafe, you'll not even make it to Dalwhinnie to catch the bus in time for that Theatre trip you booked and paid for"
And it was unfortunately right. No matter how fast I walked, as I reached the turning into Dalwhinnie - "6 miles" there was indeed no way I would make it.
And so, I decided to do the thing that all good, sensible parents tell their children, never, ever, under any circumstances to do, I hitched a lift.
Justifying that I'd already walked at least an extra 4 miles, if I got a lift to the village I could walk the 2 miles out the other end to the bus stop and it wasn't really cheating, was it?
Happier now I'd made the decision, I walked on..and on...listening out for any oncoming vehicles. On this quiet road it was 10 minutes before I heard the chug chug of the Mobile Library Van coming up the hill. Joy of Joys! What a safe bet, and he's bound to stop. As I waved in a "I'm flagging you down so that you'll offer me a lift" sort of way, he waved back in a "Nice day for a walk" sort of way. Drat! It was another 10 minutes before I heard a car approaching. Taking no chances this time, I positioned myself in the middle of the road, waving my arms like an Air Traffic Controller. The two young Belgian mountaineers who screeched to a halt at my feet had no alternative but to offer me a lift. Now I was more than happy to squash in the back with all the gear, but they were Belgian and serious "You must wear ze seat belt, it is the law,ya?" Well, ya, it is, but for heavens sake, this was but a mere, by now, 3 mile hop down the road!
However, in no position to argue, and with the minutes ticking away, I waited impatiently while they carefully and neatly stowed the gear into the boot. As they dropped me in the "village" and sped off under a cloud of dust to catch the ferry I realised the place was deserted, and I had a very important question to ask. I could have strode across to the Saloon Bar, swung through the swing doors to find the entire population drinking whisky and playing poker. They would all probably turn round and stare in silence until one of them would say "We aint seen you around these parts before" and I would reply "Well no, I'm from Tadworth Surrey, and could you please, please tell me that the bus stop is only another 2 miles down the road"
Well, It may have felt like being in the "Wild West" round here, but I did get the answer I wanted from an unlikely source. Amazingly, in this tiny hamlet I found a school where I heard children's voices and found four uniformed schoolchildren happily playing in a sandpit in the shade, while a teacher read her newspaper. (What a great job)
With enough time to buy suncream, find a comfortable B & B for tomorrow night, my last in Inverness and a quick meal at the "Riverside" I strolled across the bridge to the "Eden Court Theatre" beautifully refurbished with two theatres, a cinema, cafe and restaurant. About a year ago, a random group of musicians had been selected to spend 2 weeks in a house, told to be "creative" and see what they came up with. It was one of those arty experiments which they happily, and without guilt, told us was "all paid for by the taxpayers" Musically, even to my untrained ear, they were very talented and versatile, but most of it was pretentious rubbish. However, one song, and one singer stood out. Inverness born, of french parents, she had the looks, personality, voice and charisma to be a star as she strutted up and down the stage with all the energy of a young Mick Jagger.