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  • Jane Smith

A few days later




A bit of a catch up for those who are interested! After making the decision to stop, there was a lot of admin involved in enacting it. I was cared for tenderly by Ollie and Laura at Forest View in Byrness, allowing me to stay hours later than the check out time, making me lunch, carrying my kit, cheering me up. We were very sobered by the tragic news of a fellow walker dying on the section of the Pennine Way that I had walked the previous day. My disappointment at not getting to John O Groats was put very sharply into focus as something that was utterly unimportant compared to my safety.


Because I had a room booked for the night there, and Forest View was full, I decided to go on to Jedburgh to stay before being picked up by my friends the next morning. The taxi driver was endearingly and justifiably proud of the view as we crossed the Scottish border on the main road. The skies were so clear, looking over to the ground I would have walked that day. And a piper was playing for the tourists. I would have been too far away from him to hear him if I’d walked.


As we approached the town the driver told me he’d slow down so I could ‘really appreciate it’. Not knowing what it was I was going to appreciate, I thanked him. Round the bend, in front of us in quite startling loveliness were the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey. I think he was as delighted by my gasp as I was by the surprise. But no opportunity to go and look at it, as it was enough of a mission to extract myself from the car and make the journey to my bedroom using a combination of poles and banisters. Again I was overwhelmed by the kindness shown to me at Allerton House in Jedburgh. I was brought extra drinks, a fan, and checked in on during the afternoon and evening. Then in the evening they suggested that the local Indian takeaway might be good for dinner, ordered it and wouldn’t let me pay. They got a few tears in return.


The next day my friends Fi and Dave drove me the long journey home, cheering me with discussions of which actors would play the characters in the film of the book of Jane’s Big Walk. They reckoned Emma Thompson for my character. I’m not sure she’s got the hair or the sturdy (if currently partly faulty) legs, but who am I to quibble if she’s up for it?


It was surreal. We drove past places that I’d walked through, and the journey took 8 hours. That only got us to Bucks, nowhere near as far as Cornwall. I’ve walked a really long way. The original plan for returning from John O Groats was to take it very slowly over 3 days, so that I could decompress after the time away. Instead I was very gratefully back home by the first evening. David and I were a bit stunned. Obviously it had been difficult for me, but it had also been very worrying for him, and suddenly his new solo life at home was being upended, and my solo adventure was curtailed. We just sat and looked at each other, trying to instantly adjust back.


Since then, I have been caught up with trying to get to the bottom of what is wrong with my leg, with a scan completed and a consultant’s appointment coming up. I have done nothing but rest it, being grateful for the crutches I acquired when I had my last leg injury. Very slowly things are improving, and I am able to bear a little more weight every day. But until I see the doctor I am not going anywhere or doing anything. This is probably the hardest bit of the challenge so far. My body is both crying for rest and also desperate to be walking. My mind is both wanting peace after a traumatic time and also frantically wanting to be busy navigating a footpath and digesting the experience through writing. I feel like I’m only meant to be walking, and writing about walking, and those are the things I absolutely can’t do.


Because I’m very good at it, I’ve done a lot of probably unhelpful ‘what if’ thinking. What if I’d stopped days or weeks earlier, before my leg became acute? But then how could I have known that it was heading that way? The day before had been great and I had been walking so strongly that Simon and Bernard complained that they couldn’t keep up. And to think of all the adventures and people I would have missed if I’d not got to the end of England.

What if I’d stayed up North and recovered there instead of coming home? But I had no crutches, and also no back up to drive me anywhere. It wouldn’t have been nearly as easy to get better.

And the most sobering, what if I’d not managed to get myself to safety on that last day? That is one that doesn’t really bear too much attention. I did get myself to safety.


The 'what if' thinking also detracts from my overview of how I feel about the walk, and therefore it's something I am now trying to banish. It wasn't the way I'd hoped it would end, but that doesn't mean that what I actually did is diminished. When I look back on my adventure, I want to see exactly that, an adventure with some definitely low points, but many more high ones. And something of which I'll always be proud.


I have decided that even if I make a speedier recovery than expected, I’m not going to return to Scotland this year. With my choir commitments I haven’t got time to restart in Jedburgh and finish the walk before work starts again. But I don’t want to go back and just do some of it. Therefore I’ve sadly been cancelling all my accommodations. I really hope that next year I can return and walk Scotland in full. And I have flickers of excitement at the prospect of planning that again, and pleasure in knowing I still have it to look forward to. I hope you’ll come along again for the ride with me.







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