WHY AM I DOING THIS?
I was sheltering in a bothy on the Great Glen Way in August 2017 when I decided that one day I would do a big walk. As the rain poured down and we were huddling together to avoid getting more soaked than necessary, David and I started to chat to the other walkers. Two were youngsters who'd been camping and were covered in midge bites from the previous night. The other was an older American man who talked passionately about the joy of walking the Appalachian Trail. Over 2000 miles of walking.
I know that we talk about lightbulb moments, and the idea is a cliche, but that's what it felt like. The Appalachian trail is too far away for me to do, for now at least, but I thought that I could do my own trail, in my own country. And that it could be as exciting for me as it was to the unnamed man about whom I still think a lot.
So ever since then I've been planning my adventure. My initial plan was to take a term's sabbatical from work, and then return to school. But I realised that my taste of freedom might mean I wouldn't want to return, so I delayed my departure until after I'd retired from teaching. It then became a way of marking the end of 35 years of teaching, with 25 years in the same school. I was going to eventually continue with all of my other jobs, as a choral director, animateur and director of large music festivals, but for four months in 2020 I planned to step out of my life to walk from John O Groats to Lands End.
But then, of course, the pandemic forced us all to step out of our lives. A few weeks before I was due to start, we were locked down, and all my plans, like everyone’s, were ruined. The training stopped abruptly and my only walking was for the hour’s authorised exercise that we could do within our area.
2021 felt too uncertain to set up the walk again - I couldn’t bear the idea of it having to be cancelled and to go through more disappointment. So instead I did an interim walk, completing the Coast to Coast over 17 days in the summer heatwave. This was a fantastic experience, about which I’ve written here. It taught me that I am resilient enough to keep going when things feel pretty tough, and that I could cope with, indeed I enjoyed the experience of a solo adventure, albeit a much shorter one than this.
For I’d always planned to do this mainly on my own. I love my friends and family very much, but I wanted to plan my walk the way I wanted to do it. I'm very lucky that many said that they wanted to come and keep me company, and walk alongside me for a while, but essentially this is my adventure. With the excitement of that would undoubtedly come added challenges, on top of the physical exertion, of finding out how I cope with long periods on my own.
With the relaxation of the Covid mitigations, I could consider the big walk again. For various reasons I reversed the original journey, now walking South to North. I also adjusted the route a little, making the average walking day a little longer than in the original plan - learning from the C2C that I’m capable of slightly longer days. The adventure was planned to run from the beginning of June till towards the end of September 2022. Instead of marking the end of teaching, it was marking me turning 60 in the October. It felt like a great way to do that.
But as with all the best laid plans, not everything goes the way that is expected. 3 miles from the Scottish border, my grumbling hamstring finally gave up the ghost, and I had to return home. Many months of rehab and patient exercises later, I am finally fit enough again to plan the second part of the walk, and so I start the Scottish part of the trek towards the end of June 2023.
This blog is intended to be a record for me of the journey, both physically and mentally, and also a way of people keeping up with what I'm doing. In itself writing it will be a challenge, but I learnt a lot from writing the blog over the last two summers, it was a great way of processing what I’d been doing, given I mainly didn’t have people to talk it through with. I discovered that I enjoyed writing, and also, to my surprise, others seemed to enjoy reading it.