After a quite windy night (thank heavens for earplugs) we were up just after 7 and getting ready for the “real” start. The wind was still howling as we had breakfast, went through the van checklist and plan for the day. Soon enough it was goodbye and off en route, me leaving Cath and PJ (the dog) behind to pack up. Today was mainly single track lanes past farms and acres of wild bogs, no hills of note but on particular straight stretch which went on forever. Wind was from south east (oddly) but quite cold until the sun showed its face around lunchtime. Cath met me as arranged around halfway (11 miles) and we had a quick salad and planned the afternoon. At this point I have to say that Cath is fast becoming a legend, mastering Betty (the van) and improving her map reading skills as well as being in charge of food, logistics and pretty much everything else – all I do is walk.
So after lunch more lanes and wind down past Loch Watten, and 5 miles further to the meeting point. In summary a decent day, no pains, 22 more miles and a nice bit of grub at the Brown Trout in Watten. As I write just negotiating an overnight stay on the pub car park.
I have to mention also the Clif energy bar that I tried today – White Macadamia Nut – very tasty and I am not a nut lover, but that gets a big tick!
Delayed leaving home after another dog visit to the vet but 8 hours later we are here in Perth at our overnight before driving to JOG tomorrow. Motorhome performed very well so Cath should have no problems for the next 10 weeks!
I learned to walk I believe before my first birthday and have managed to retain that skill ever since, so why the heck do I need to train for a walk? Well if it was only that easy and everyone could just get up and walk 20 miles a day every day for 2 months I wouldn’t be in this position at all.
For this walk and previous ones I began training after Christmas and gradually built up distances with different terrain and carrying a backpack. Over the last couple of years I have also started going to the gym 3 times a week under the guidance of my son-in-law Joe (Coreworx PT) working on overall strength and conditioning which has made a real difference.
So I can be fit and ready to do the distance but can I deal with the psychological challenge of such a long walk? I think the key is not to get too far ahead, just take a day at a time and not worry about the fact that I’ve still got over 1000 miles to go after one week if walking. Also not to worry about injuries, blisters etc, which will surely happen at some point, just deal with each situation as it arises.
The bottom line is being confident that I can get up every day and feel fresh enough mentally and physically to go and do another 20 miles, whatever the weather and whatever the terrain. Having been through some pretty horrible (but exhilarating) experiences on past walks, at least I know I can handle the toughest conditions and get through safely.
I get asked a lot how do I manage to do it on my own? Not an easy one to answer, but I think about loads of different things, constantly planning ahead and evaluating my situation. On new routes more time is spent making sure I don’t get lost (yes it happens!). Sometimes I listen to music on my IPod, other times I’m just comfortable in my own company testing myself against the elements. There are one or two other secrets which I may disclose should I ever write a book. Having said all that, I am equally happy walking with others as company, it provides a different variety of experiences to enjoy.
Now here’s a thing…the original plan was to catch a train (several trains!) to Thurso then taxi/bus to John O’Groats and start walking, wild camping as necessary at least for the first 2 weeks down to Fort William, then get support later in the walk. The reality is that Cath (my wife and chief supporter) and me will on Friday be collecting a quite expensive motorhome that we’ve managed to find a way to buy and Cath will be supporting me pretty much all the way. This saves a long train ride and also means I have a guaranteed comfy bed and conversation most nights with my tent as backup in case we fall out! It also means I don’t have to carry a heavy pack all the way apart from the bits where I will be on my own for a few days. On top of all that it means that PJ (our dog!) can come along and do some walking but he certainly won’t be doing 20 miles a day.
So I have had to revise the route a little to make convenient meeting places and find suitable camp sites, but I’m sure it will all be worth it and it means I can really share the full experience with the person closest to me rather than seeing her at the start and the end of the trek and maybe a few days in the middle. It remains to be seen how Cath will get on driving around the remote tracks of northern Scotland and the narrow, winding lanes of Devon and Cornwall – should be fun!
The first 3-4 weeks are firm now with most camp sites reserved – what can’t be guaranteed is whether I will need more time later on due to injury so it makes sense to book forward as we move. That may mean changing the route again if sites are fully booked or I can’t continue for any reason but I am so determined to complete it and have not contemplated the idea of stopping mid way and going back to complete at a later date. To help reduce the risk of this, for the first time ever I have actually planned some rest days into my schedule.
Another logistics problem is if people want to come and join me for a day or two. I am walking from A to B to C to D etc and not going back. Obviously to join me somebody would have to get to A to start and then back to A again if they had left a vehicle there. Whilst it is great to have company, and I’m sure as the walk goes on I will need all the encouragement I can get, I have to tell anyone who wants to join to sort out their own logistics – mine are complicated enough as it is!!
There is one absolute MUST DO though on the route – and that is to go as close as possible to my home town of Stafford and to do it at a weekend so that some family members can join me for a few miles over Cannock Chase (my mum in particular who will be 75 years old in July).
Final thing here, no idea yet how long we will take to get back home from Lands End, and right now I don’t really care!
Thought I’d put something down about the planning and preparation for this (or any other) walk, the challenge here is not to fall into a nerdy trap or just produce a massive list. Here goes…
1. The Route
I had this idea in mind for at least 2 years having followed others on Twitter etc who have done it alone. There are some books around describing route options, because between John O’Groats and Lands End there’s a lot of space and family and friends almost certainly somewhere along the way – but no definitive route or path. So I bought some books, did some research and started plotting an overall plan and detailed route maps using Ordnance Survey. Even at this late stage I have been tweaking little bits and now have a fair size wedge of printed maps to go with the guide books for the parts where I’m on National Trails.