On the day after I completed the walk we had invited a number of people who’d been associated with the walk for lunch in Southerness where we’d been staying for the final week. In the end ten of us who walked on day 134 were able to stay over and we were joined by five others
George Harris – a former colleague at Edinburgh Academy and long standing supporter
Andy and Mary Trotman – Andy joined me on day 124 and we stayed two nights with his sister Marion at Isle of Whithorn
Esther and Warren Saunders – friends of Ian Orr who put me up on days 130 and 131. They cycled over from their home in Rhonehouse near Castle Douglas.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to the lunch but most of all to Margot who organised it. It was a good opportunity to get together with some old friends and meet new ones. After the meal in lieu of a speech there was an impromptu question and answer session about the walk. I have been asked similar questions by many of you in person or in email messages in the past few weeks as the end approached so this blog may provide a few of the answers.
The most FAQ of course was “what is your favourite part of the walk?” I think I’ve given several answers to that one – Knoydart (days 71, 72), Cape Wrath (days 51 and 52) but I’ve decided that the best day of all was day 42 around Dunnet Head and past Thurso. Of all the days this was one that I just didn’t want to end. I’ll maybe resend this blog so you can see it again.
The toughest day was day 72 across the heart of Knoydart and out to Tarbet. 13 hours of walking from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. No other day came close although there were several days of unpleasant walking in heavy rain and/or along busy roads.
The most unusual question – do have favourite underwear? Actually, yes – Kalenji Breathable Running Boxers.
A few of the more unusual experiences –
a close encounter with a guillemot in Aberdeenshire
hitching a lift from a bus at Bettyhill
being stalked by a pheasant
getting locked on a bus in Ayr
being mobbed by a herd of bullocks in Galloway
finding ten ticks attached to my anatomy one evening after a walk in Ardmamurchan
The total distance of 2455 miles gives an average distance of 18.3 miles a day.
The longest day was 26.7 miles (Tain to Golspie) with 8 days over 25 miles.
The shortest was 9.1 miles (Gills Bay to Ham)
Earliest time leaving home 4.15 a.m.
Latest time returning 1.15 a.m.
Day trips from Edinburgh 28
Nights at B&B or hostels 33
Nights with family or friends 38
Nights camping 3
Nights in rented house – final week 7
You may notice that the total is less than 134, the number of days walked. Remember that a one night stay may allow two days of walking and so on.
The walk itself was a wonderful adventure, more satisfying and at times exhilarating than I could have imagined. I have enjoyed taking the photos and writing the blog and this has been made all the more so by your encouraging comments and interest.
Will there be another walk? Almost certainly. And a blog no doubt. Until then, thank you for reading this.
I had chosen a fairly short route for the final day because I knew that some friends would be joining me. In the end 13 of us crossed the bridge over the River Sark which marks the border between Scotland and England just east of Gretna.
Ian and Isabel Orr – Irish friends now living in Scotland
Davy Hill – another Irish friend living in Scotland – Davy and his wife Mary had put be up after days 110, 111 and 112 and Davy gave me lifts while in the Helensburgh area.
John and Judi Matheson – neighbours from Edinburgh – John walked with me on day 33 around the north of the Cromarty Firth where he grew up.
Richard and Anne Arnott – neighbours from Edinburgh – Richard walked with me on day 13 to St Andrews.
Malcolm and Anne Davidson – neighbours from Edinburgh – Malcolm gave me a lift and walked with me most of the way on day 105 in the Cowal peninsula
Jeremy Fenton – a former colleague from Edinburgh Academy who now lives in Gairloch. He was a great help from days 60 to 68, putting me up and driving ever longer distances each day.
David Michael – lives in Paisley and found me on a coastal walkers website. He completed the coast of Scotland at the end of 2016 and has begun Cumbria. He joined me on day 116 from Gourock to Largs
my wife Margot who drove me more miles than she cares to remember.
I had been in touch with several media organisations but the only one which showed any interest in my endeavours was Dumfries and Galloway Life who arranged for a photographer, Allan Devlin to meet us at the start of the walk. He accompanied us for the first mile or so to get some “action” shots. After a few photos at the start we set off around 1015. The weather stayed dry but was rather cloudy. A road led us down to the shore. From then on the map showed a path most of the way along the coast to Gretna. However a path as such was apparent only sporadically. Elsewhere we had to make our way over tussocky grass and some deep incisions in the mud below. It was slow going at times and I was glad of the company.
The main point of interest on the walk was the Munitions Factory at Eastriggs. Built in 1915 it was part of the world’s largest cordite factory spread over 4 sites around Gretna. The Eastriggs site covers about 6 square km on the Solway shore. We walked along the south perimeter fence. The nearby village of Eastriggs was greatly expanded to accommodate some of the 20 000 employees, two thirds of whom were women. Beyond the factory site we were met by Margot and Isabel who had driven to Gretna in order to ferry drivers back to Annan. We rejoined NCR 7 which led us into Gretna. We followed the southern edge of the town to a rather unassuming bridge over the River Sark where I passed beneath a pair of walking poles and was presented with a bottle of bubbly. I can’t say there was a feeling of euphoria but I was delighted to have a group of such good friends around me to complete the epic journey. It began to rain as we retreated to a hotel (on the English side) for a coffee while the drivers went to Annan to retrieve their cars to transport us back to Southerness. Ten returned to Southerness to enjoy a meal together and stay the night in preparation for an official celebration the following day.
Day 134: 12.6 miles
this week: 62.2 miles
the whole walk: 2455.7 miles
See the final day’s route at https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_4634942.html
This isn’t the final blog. I need an epilogue to tie up a few loose ends.
Weatherwise this was the best day of the week. Margot took me back to Glencaple for 0930. It was a day on quiet roads with a two mile beach stretch near the end. For most of the way I Followed National Cycle Route 7. Heading south along the Nith estuary there were plenty of birds to see. Turning east the road took a long loop inland to find the lowest bridging point of the Lochan Water. I soon came to the Brow Well; in the 18th century and before it was noted for its health-giving properties. Shortly before his death in 1796 Robert Burns visited the well – to little effect. Today the well is surrounded by a quotation from a Burns poem “A Prayer, the Prospect of Death.” The sun was warm and a bench made a tempting lunch stop.
The next point of interest was Ruthwell with its famous Savings Bank Museum. Sadly it is closed on a Wednesday so I shall have to return on another occasion to avail myself of the treasures therein. I returned to the shore west of Powfoot (not sure whether the first syllable rhymes with “mow” or “how” or something else entirely.) There is a large caravan site here alongside a golf course. It is a pretty little village mainly consisting of single storey whitewashed cottages but with a rather grand terrace of red-brick houses in their midst. Here I could return to the beach, sandy at first then stony. At one point there was a great deal of brick masonry fragments. I couldn’t decide whether this debris had been dumped on the shore or a building had been demolished by the waves in situ.
Leaving the beach I thought I had arrived at the edge of Annan. In fact it was the village of Newbie which is able to boast not one but two significant manufacturing sites making pharmaceuticals and industrial boilers. Beyond Newbie I was soon on a riverside path by the River Annan and a footbridge taking me into the town. I had chosen as an end point, a suitable parking area for the next day when I expected several cars would bring walkers to the start. So I finished at Annan Harbour where Margot arrived just as I did. Back at Southerness the first of several friends had arrived who would accompany me for the final day.
Distance covered: 19.7 miles
See the route at https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_4634627.html
In sending me messages of encouragement for the final days of the walk several people had added the caveat “look out for Ophelia” or something to that effect. Ophelia was a west Atlantic hurricane which somehow escaped to Europe and was sent spiralling northwards. The west of Ireland took the brunt of Ophelia’s exuberance but south-west Scotland had severe weather warnings in place. The serious winds arrived on Monday evening around 7 pm and by the time I went to bed I was glad I was in a house with solid walls and not in one of the caravans in the large site up the road. Waking around 3 am on Tuesday the wind kept me awake for a while and when I finally came to at 7 am and read the BBC Scottish news website it spoke of roofs off in nearby towns and roads blocked by fallen trees. Was I being foolhardy to plan a walk along roads in these conditions? The BBC weather website suggested that the wind speeds would decrease rapidly during the morning. I took that as a green light to proceed with my plan.
I’d planned this day as the longest of the week, mainly because it was the least interesting and being predominately on roads. I’m pleased to say that the winds did die down as predicted and the day turned out less windy than on Day 131. Kieran and the family departed for home at 0930 and Margot dropped me back to Kirkbean at 0950. The road wasn’t too busy and what wind there was was at my back. The main point of interest heading north was the village of New Abbey. It is the home of a 13th century Cistercian abbey known as Sweetheart Abbey. It was founded in 1273 by Lady Devorgilla to commemorate the death of her husband, John Balliol.
Approaching Dumfries I was able to pick up a riverside path along the River Nith and cross a footbridge which was the lowest bridging point. It had been dry but cloudy when I set off but now the sun was out and I found a bench to stop for lunch. The path continued south again on the left bank. It was along this path that I saw the only examples of Ophelia’s destructive power; a couple of downed trees. The River Nith is a pretty wide at this point and was flowing powerfully indicating a much wetter spell of weather the previous week. When I rejoined the road it was fairly quiet and it was a pleasant few miles down to Glencaple where Margot was waiting for me.
Distance covered 16.3 miles
See the route at https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_4634189.html
The final week had arrived. People kept asking me how I was going to feel once I’d finished – elated, deflated? I didn’t know. I was just thinking about the actual walking part.
Margot had done most of the planning for getting us all to Southerness with places to stay for everyone who said they might come and enough food and drink and more. We drove down on Saturday accompanied by my daughter Kirsty and grand-daughter Lily, and my son Kieran and three other grandchildren, Evie, Finn and Milo. Margot’s sister Susan also joined us.
Day 131 : Sunday 15th October
Kirsty took Kieran and I west to Sandyhills where I had completed day 130. There we met David Drummond who I had stayed with on two occasions when walking around the Rhinns of Galloway in May. He and his wife Leanne were staying at Sandyhills for the weekend. The three of us set off along the A710. It was dry, mild and cloudy with a westerly wind. The road was fairly quiet so we were able to chat. At Caulkerbush we turned south-east towards the coast and the Mersehead Nature Reserve. I had noticed lots of geese flying along the coast the previous afternoon. Now we could see where they had gone and more importantly what they were. They were barnacle geese. One guide said “few birds so numerous as this are restricted to such localised traditional wintering sites” and the Solway coast is the most important of these in Great Britain. They were to become a familiar sight in the air and down on the extensive mudflats during the week. There is no path along this piece of coastline. I asssumed we could walk on the beach. What looked as if it could be a long sandy beach on the map turned out to be a mixture of tussocky salt marsh and shells and stones. The tide was in and there was a lot of plastic rubbish along the high tide mark. Down at the shore the wind was strong and we were glad it was at our backs.
We reached Southerness at 1245. Margot, Kirsty and Susan met us with the children down by the lighthouse. Leanne and her children May and Eric had also come for lunch so it was quite a busy occasion. At 1430 I set off again to complete the day’s walk. The weather was deteriorating with some rain. Some photos are a bit blurred by raindrops . I turned the corner heading north towards the mouth of the Nith estuary. Now I was on a proper beach – much easier walking. I passed Thirlstane Arch and soon after the birthplace of John Paul Jones “famed naval officer and hero of the American Revolution.” Other references to him are less flattering! He fled to America to avoid trial after he had killed a man during a mutiny. Earlier he had a man so severely flogged that he died.
I soon reached Carsethorn where the path ended and turned inland to Kirkbean. Now I had a headwind with rain but just for a mile or so. Kirsty collected me at Kirkbean.
With my porridge gauge set at full Warren drove me back to Auchencairn for the final day of three on this stage of the walk. It was a promising start with sunshine and the forecast was an improvement on Thursday (not difficult). Put simply my route would take me on a long detour north along the estuary of the River Urr to Dalbeattie and down the other side, concluding with a short section on the Solway coast to Sandyhills.
There are several short peninsulas running south-east into the estuary. My initial thought was to bypass these but Warren advised a route along part of one where there was a good coastal path. So after a few miles on the A711 I turned south-east on a minor road, taking me past Orchardton Tower, a free standing round tower, the only one of its type in Scotland, dating from around 1455. Further south I joined a track leading through woodland to the east side. There were lots of pheasants about, mainly scuttling away ahead of me into the undergrowth or occasionally making me jump as they suddenly became aware of my approach and flew away exclaiming loudly. The path was easy to follow but very muddy or flooded in places following Thursday’s rain. Further north I took a short cut across a large field. It wasn’t quite as wet as I’d feared and brought me directly opposite the village of Kippford. The tide seemed fairly low as I looked across the steep mud banks with the deep River Urr meandering in between. Northwards I rejoined the A road at Palnackie at the head of the estuary but it was still a few miles to the first bridge at Dalbeattie.
As I turned south again it had clouded over and there was light rain in the air. I decided to stop for lunch at Kippford but did not linger as the rain was briefly heavier. Kippford and the neighbouring coastal village are not linked by a road so they are not plagued by the through traffic would otherwise have been generated by this picturesque shoreline. There is however, a good coast path, maintained by the National Trust. It is a popular place with some very attractive houses and holiday homes. Beyond Rockcliffe the coastline turns east again and rises up to cliffs of 50 metres. I was pleased to see a sign for a path all the way to Sandyhills. So I had another enjoyable clifftop walk to end the day. I made it to Sandyhills just in time as no sooner had I purchased a cup of tea to drink outside than the rain came on as heavy as any on Thursday. While I waited for Warren I sheltered in the shop. After a shower and more tea back at Rhonehouse I drove back to Edinburgh by 2030. A good three days with many thanks to Esther and Warren for their hospitality and logistical support.
Distance covered 21.3 miles. See the route at https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_4611311.html
Distance covered this week 64.7 miles
I am nearing the end of the walk and as some of you know, plans have been made for the finale. We have arranged accommodation further along the coast during the October school holiday week and friends and family will join us there to share a bit of walking and a celebration. I had originally thought I would do a couple more days on my own, leaving 30-40 miles to do in the final week but now I think I’ll do all the remaining distance while staying down at Southerness with longer or shorter days to suit the weather and walkers. It will be good to have the grandchildren walking with me on the beach at Southerness.
Fortified by a generous helping of Warren’s special porridge we made an early start. Warren dropped me back to Kirkcudbright by the harbour. It had rained heavily around dawn but as I set off at 0830 was just dull with light drizzle. At first the shoreline followed the A711 south alongside a muddy inlet by the name of Manxman’s Lake. As the main road turned east I continued on a minor road. South of the A711 here, most of the area is MoD (Ministry of Defence) property, the Kircudbright Training Area. When live firing is taking place a red flag is flown and Warren had shown me the route to take if that had been the case. However with no red flags in sight I was free to cross the “Danger Area” shown very redly on the OS map. I was a bit surprised to see a fair number of sheep and cattle grazing within this zone. I don’t expect they are issued with ear defenders when the firing is going on. The only humans I saw in the area seemed to be there for agricultural purposes, one on a quad bike and one in a Land Rover. Ahead, a fox appeared on the road, briefly registered my intrusion on his patch and disappeared into the bushes.
As on the previous day it was difficult to follow the coastline much of the time. Leaving the MoD land I followed a network of minor roads and tracks eastwards. The rain was heavy now and the wind strength increasing but fortunately it was directly behind me. At one junction I misread the map and ended up closer to the main road than intended. At this point I was just 3 miles from Auchencairn and as the deluge continued I had more or less decided to give the area around Balcary to the south-east of Auchencairn a miss. Half a mile from the village was the last turn off to the south. It was only 1415. Could I really stop so early? The rain was easing. I quickly changed my mind and headed south and that decision changed the day. Up until that point it had been a rather gloomy trudge in the rain with few highlights. As I turned east again into the woodland of Rascarrel Moss the rain had ceased. I came across a delightful little lake, Loch Mackie with moorhens at the edge. A sign indicated Coastal Path – Balcary Point. A path led right along the cliff edge, in places 60 metres above the sea. Had the wind been stronger it would have begun to be rather hazardous but it proved to be an exhilarating walk. Elated, I again thought to myself “this is why I do this.”
Past Balcary Point the path descended towards sea level. I passed above an isolated house. I could not see how it could be accessed except by a walk down the hill from some track above. Further on the shore was more accessible with several large properties including the Balcary Bay Hotel and Auchencairn House. As I approached the village the heavy rain returned and I sought refuge in a bus shelter where I waited for Warren to collect me.
Back at Rhonehouse another delicious meal was waiting – poachers pie augmented by potatoes and kale from the garden. During the conversation in the evening I happened to mention that I’d taught at an independent school. When Warren asked “which one? and I replied “Edinburgh Academy” Warren said “I worked there for a year.” It turned out that he had been the Artist in Residence at some point in the late 90s and I definitely remembered him.
Distance covered 23.3 miles
See the route at https://gb.mapometer.com/walking/route_4611307.html