Day 63 - Bellingham to Byrness
Another day that didn’t turn out the way I’d expected. But sadly this one was not as good as yesterday.
I had an early breakfast chatting with Debbie and Nicki about our meal last night, laughing about my friend James being offered a pint of Malbec, and also laughing at the size differential between the tiny bag of stuff that I am having transported compared to their massive suitcases. To be fair though - if I didn’t have to carry it later on the walk I would have popped the kitchen sink in as well.
I got going just before 8, a bit concerned that my leg felt worse than yesterday, particularly painful and stiff. But I presumed that the walk would ease it, as it has done before. The sky was completely blue, and walking through Bellingham (pronounced Bellinjham - I’ve been corrected!) there was the feel in the air of a hot day to come.
The path followed the road out of the village and then up on to the edge of the moor by Callerhues Crag. The pain was not wearing off, it was very focused in the hamstring. I tried to distract myself by looking at the beautiful day and the lovely view.
I was aware that I was taking an increasing amount of weight on my poles, and for the first time I wasn’t able to stop myself limping. However I was confident that it would ease off, once I took some painkillers. I generally avoid them, as I don’t like masking what’s happening in case it risks more serious injury, but today it felt necessary. Again, I tried to notice my environment and appreciate the heather blooming all around me and the increasingly extensive vista.
David talked to me on the phone, providing encouragement and support, but things were really not feeling right. As a distraction, I bumped into Bernard from yesterday. I had sent the photo I took to his wife, and had had a nice reply commenting that he looked well and that the weather looked good from the photo. Definitely an unusual set up. He told me that last night he had slept in a barn, which was nice and dry. But there was a bull in it though. With a poorly foot. Doesn’t sound like my ideal sleeping companion. I stopped to have a drink and he asked if I’d like to walk on my own. I said I would.
The next section was an expanse of heather going over Lough Shaw. I took a clearly marked track, and negotiated the boggy sections carefully, with every bump causing a wince as the pain shot into my hamstring. Sadly after a little while the track stopped, and I realised that I had been seduced by the marking on the ground instead of the route on the map. Today was not a day for retracing my steps, so I ploughed on, over heather where there wasn’t any grass, through bog and water. The heather smelt sweet, the birds were singing, the skies were blue and the views were amazing. On another day without pain I’d have been feeling blissful.
Eventually the moor met a road, and I decided that the sensible option would be to reroute to walk on even ground. I also thought that if it got any worse there would be the chance of getting rescued. I felt very alone and increasingly scared being in such a remote place while unfit. So I painstakingly started to make my way down the tarmac. There was a house ahead of me, maybe a mile away, and I watched as a van left that building and drove off in the direction of Byrness. If there was one vehicle, there might be another. But there wasn’t. I walked down to the house and knocked on the door looking for help, there was no one there. My watch and GPS told me that I had eight miles to go. I wasn’t injured enough for an ambulance, so I wasn’t going to call 999. I wanted someone to come and rescue me, but there was no one to do that. I had to rescue myself, and I had to do that by continuing to limp onwards.
The road eventually joined a forestry track. Watched by highland cattle, I negotiated the gate to start this next phase.
It was getting hotter, and where one might have imagined that a forest would have been a good place to have shade, here there had been mass felling and therefore the shade was much sparser.
I promised myself that I would sit down at the first bit of shade I saw. It eventually came, and the relief when I took the weight off my leg was indescribable. I sat in the shade with my head in my hands, eventually forcing myself to eat some food through the tears of pain and disappointment at what the pain might mean. Getting back up to upright was not easy though, so the prospect of stopping again was slightly less appealing. But I couldn’t keep going for more than a mile or so before the pain was too much and I’d search out a bit more shadow and another uneasy lurch to the ground. Frankly, it was like a nightmare.
When I had just under 4 miles to go I was beginning to feel I couldn’t continue. At that point as if a knight on a charger, Alan drove towards me in his forestry commission pickup. I did something I’d never done before, and flagged down a car for a lift. He was travelling to the road to meet the fire engine, as alarmingly one of the forestry vehicles had burst into flames. With everything so dry that was not a good scenario. He kindly allowed me to get in, and drove me a mile and a bit to the main road where he was going to meet the firemen. In getting in his car I had for the first time since the beginning of June gone a little way of my trek on anything other than by foot. It showed how much it hurt that it didn’t bother me at all.
And then there was a final long thirty minutes of limping along a busy road until I got to my B and B in the tiny hamlet of Byrness. It wasn’t yet open to check in, so I lay down on the grass in the shade and rested. I was so utterly relieved to have got somewhere safe. Laura and Oliver, who own Forest View, couldn’t have been kinder to me. They got me drinks, changed the rooms around so that I was on the ground floor, and Oliver allowed me to lean heavily on him to get to my room. It’s an old youth hostel, and the communal ethos is very much still apparent. Debbie and Nicki arrived a little after me, Imogen and Polly came and pitched their tent in the garden, Steve and Jane arrived at dinner time, and Bernard also turned up, wanting a quiet place to write his diary, and eventually was offered a space to sleep in the garden too.
So the issue is what will happen next. Currently I cannot bear any weight on my bad leg, so walking tomorrow is out of the question. The next day was always going to be a rest day anyway. So I will get a taxi to Jedburgh in the morning, hopefully getting to see a physio too, if I can. I will then have two rest days. That time might allow it a chance to start to recover. Or it might not. Therefore at the moment I’m facing the certainty of a hiatus in the walk, and the possible prospect of it being curtailed more dramatically. This is obviously very disappointing. But this morning I heard tragic news about a former colleague which has made me assess what I want from this. I wanted an adventure, I have definitely had that. I wanted to push and challenge myself, and again that has happened. Although I’m currently unable to walk, I am fitter than I’ve ever been. And I’ve had lots of fun too. I also know that I have walked over 750 miles on my own to get within a hair’s breath of Scotland. And if that’s as far as I get, that’s still something I’ll be proud of. I’ll just have to see whether this is the end of the journey, or perhaps a pause.
I’ll continue to write the blog whilst in Jedburgh, until such time as it becomes clear what’s happening.
Distance travelled: 16.5 miles
Total ascent: 2215 feet
Calories burned: 2350
Local tipple - low alcohol lager bought for me by Debbie and Nicki
Dinner at Forest View - lovely
Smoked salmon and cream cheese bruschetta
Goats cheese tart and salad
Video of the day