Day 100 Back to Inverness

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Thurso back to Elgin

Train trip

Dave and Cally’s house

It rained during the night but had dried up when I packed away and headed for the bus to Reay where I was going to look around and walk to Melvich. I had a late start as I needed to pop to the post office to collect a parcel. Thurso is apparently the largest town in Caithness and yet it has a rundown air about it. These days Dounreay Nuclear Power Station is the biggest employer and it is set to close so I wonder what will happen to Thurso when it does? 

No sooner had I got on the bus than the rain came. We drove along the roads, past Dounreay Nuclear Power Station, and it was getting greyer and more miserable. The bus arrived at Reay and there was nothing in this small town, nowhere to shelter from the weather, and the beach looked distinctly uninviting. I couldn’t face getting off the bus, so I didn’t, and headed back to Thurso on a round trip. I think the driver thought I was a bit strange. 

I headed into a cafe that served something other than Nescafé instant coffee to reevaluate. I wasn’t having the best time, nor was I getting the most out of my trip and here I was in Thurso, at the end of the UK train line. That was my answer: to catch a train back ‘Sooth’ while I still had the opportunity (next train station is Kyle of Lochalsh near Skye). If I went to Inverness I could probably hire a car for a couple of weeks and take my own advice to do a driving tour of North Scotland. This way I could pick and choose where I go and hopefully walk the best bits and leave out the really difficult bits. 

Buoyed with the ideas for a modified plan I decided to be cheeky and contacted Cally to see if their ‘hotel’ was open for business. Lucky for me Dave and Cally are wonderful, and accommodating, people. 

As it turned out I really enjoyed the train ride. We went through the barren middle of Caithness, stopping at Forsinard, which looked like the logging capital of Scotland. The scenery was moorland, patches of fir trees, a few lochs and lots of deer fences.  

Is that a deer hide?
The train line heads right down the Strath of Kildonan, a huge valley containing the River Helmsdale, and hits the coast at Helmsdale town. This is salmon fishing country.  

The wide, shallow River Helmsdale in the Strath of Kildonan
 We followed the coast for a while and passed through towns and places I now recognise. 

The Mannie on Ben Bhraggie above Golspie
 The sun came out once we were as far South as the Cromarty Firth and I was enjoying the different views of the places I had visited.   

Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth
 Invergordon station was covered in murals, just like those I had seen in the town last week.  

Mural at Invergordon train station
 We passed all the bridges I have crossed and I was able to admire them from different angles.  

The Dornoch Firth road bridge
 
The Cromarty Firth road bridge
   
The Moray Firth road bridge and the River Ness
 I arrived at Elgin and popped into the supermarket to get a couple of bottles of wine so that at least I didn’t arrive empty handed for a second ‘vacation’ with Dave and Cally. It was nice to catch up. I can now take a couple of days to formulate my new plan. 

Day 71 Return to Fife

Monday 15 June 2015

Dundee to Wormit (across Tay Bridge)
5 miles
Ruth’s house

I left Shetland on the Sunday evening ferry and, after 12 hours of mostly lying down trying not to let the motion of the boat make me feel sick, I arrived at Aberdeen at 7 am. I caught the train from Aberdeen to Dundee and then walked over the Tay Bridge and back into the Kingdom of Fife. Unusually, pedestrians walk down the middle of the bridge with the traffic lanes either side. Not sure it’s my favourite design!

Walking over the Tay Bridge with Dundee Law behind me
  My friend Ruth had kindly offered me the use of his house so I can hopefully walk “light” for a few days around the Fife coast. 

Although not technically a walking day I still covered 5 miles of coastline and then a further 3 walking to and from the shops. I also managed to get a haircut. And all this while still feeling the motion of the boat; I must have looked drunk as I felt like I was swaying more than walking! 

Looking at the Tay Bridge and Dundee

Day 62 Off to Shetland

Saturday 6 June 2015

Train Edinburgh to Aberdeen then overnight ferry to Lerwick

It was time to pack my rucksack, say goodbye to Ali and set off on my long trip to the Shetland Islands.  

Me and Ali (she’s holding a bag of cous cous I’ve been carrying around as an emergency meal)
 Next week is the first of my 2 planned ‘holidays within a holiday’ as I’m spending the week on Shetland. I really wanted to include the Shetland and Orkney Islands in my trip but can’t possibly walk around everywhere so I picked Shetland and am visiting for a week rather than walking round it. 

I’m hoping for more wildlife and rugged scenery. Heading as far North as possible in Britain is a great way to spend my 40th birthday, away from everyone and any possible parties. Back to walking on Monday 15th June when I will hopefully get back to Kirkcaldy. 

Really pleased that it’s such a windy day here in the North Sea; I hope I’m not seasick!

Day 53 A Windy Walk to Berwick

Thursday 28 May 2015

Beal to Berwick-Upon-Tweed
8 miles
Hosted by Clive & Yvonne

I survived the rain through the night and woke to another beautiful sunny morning. I had small tents either side of me and it was disheartening to see how wet my tent was compared to theirs. At least it showed that my tent struggles are not all my fault. That settled it, I need to buy a better tent. 

I eventually got the tent dry in the strong wind, made myself some porridge, admired the beautiful view and set off on the relatively short walk to Berwick. Although it was sunny, the wind was in my face and very strong, which made it quite hard going. Once past the marshy areas opposite Holy Island, I tried to walk along Goswick Sands but hadn’t taken account of the North Low River that flows out over the beach cutting it in two. I walked along looking for somewhere to cross but to no avail. I could have paddled if I’d taken my shoes and socks off, but as I was being sand blasted and struggling into the headwind I thought I’d leave the beach anyway in the hope of some shelter. I ended up almost turning back on myself and then struggled to find a way through the dunes until finally I reached Goswick Golf Club. I was relieved. Almost as soon as I picked up the coast path signs again they tried to send me further inland so I headed back towards the beach, braving the busy (and private) golf course, and stayed close to the dunes. It didn’t take long before I was back on the coast path and overlooking the beautiful Cocklawburn Beach. A few families were enjoying the beach, despite the gale force winds!  

Cocklawburn beach
 Chris’s friend, Ed, lives in a house overlooking the beach and had invited me in for a brew (no cups of tea in the Army, just brews). I had only walked 8 miles but was desperate for a break from the incessant wind so timing was perfect for me. Ed was out but his mum, Sue, was there and made me feel very welcome, feeding me tea, sandwiches and cake. I admired the views and watched from the window as squalls of rain came through, alternating with the sunshine, and I wasn’t keen on heading back out. Ed came back so I stayed for more tea and then, after I’d been there a good couple of hours, he offered me a lift the last few miles to Berwick as he had to go out anyway. I gratefully accepted. 

I’d had a wonderful afternoon chatting to Ed and his family and was treated to a scenic drive the long way round to Berwick to take in some of the sights. Fantastic. We drove over the Union Bridge, possibly the oldest suspension bridge in the UK, that crosses the River Tweed and so I had my first foray into Scotland. Then we drove up to the viewpoint on Halidon Hill which has an incredible vista. I was lucky it was such a clear day and I could see for miles; right across to the Cheviots, South as far as Ross Castle, and of course the Farne Islands, Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island.  

The view from Halidon Hill across the Tweed to the Cheviots
 
The view from Halidon Hill to Berwick and all the way back to Bamburgh
  We drove into Berwick-Upon-tweed and had a quick drive around so I could admire the immaculately preserved Elizabethan town walls and see the home of Ed’s old regiment, the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. After he dropped me off I had a short walk along part of the wall to the Quayside where Clive and Yvonne have a beautiful town house with wonderful views across the mouth of the Tweed and out to sea.  

The view from one of Clive’s windows overlooking the quay just after yet another rain squall
 Clive had heard about my trip ages ago and kindly offered me accommodation, and a wonderful meal, and use of his washing machine. What a perfect ending to the day. I had a lovely evening. Yet again some very kind people had made my day by being kind to a stranger. 

Day 29 Skegvegas is Caravan World

Monday 4 May 2015 (Bank Holiday)

Skegness to Chapel St Leonards
6.5 miles
Seasgate Guest House

After my 2 days at home I decided to catch the train to Skegness (referred to as Skegvegas by Gareth, who comes from Lincolnshire so I’m taking his word for it). This was in preference to starting back in Boston; the route between the 2 towns did not look overly appealing as a good portion would again be away from the coast. I did consider walking South to Gibraltar Point at the mouth of the Steeping River, which boasts great views across The Wash. However, after negotiating my way from Skegness train station to the sea front I didn’t have the will to walk through Skegness twice. There were a lot of people, well I suppose it was a Bank Holiday and it was sunny. There were also a lot of fish and chip restaurants, cafes and kiosks, and there were queues at nearly all of them. I was tempted but I’d eaten my chicken sandwiches on the train so really ought to do some walking before my next meal. 

I’m now expecting the stares when I walk through big seaside towns and Skegness was no exception to my rule. An interesting place, very noisy and colourful with lots of funfairs, cafes and tattoos. I saw my first donkeys.   

Donkeys and funfairs at Skegness beach
 I avoided the clamour in the town and walked along the beach instead. The tide was out and the North Sea was back to the usual dirty brown colour I associate with it. (It seems to me that wherever the East coast actually faces East the sea is brown and where it faces North, the sea is blue.) It was a pleasant walk up the beach, past Ingoldmells, to Chapel St Leonards. With the tide out there was plenty of golden sand and quite a lot of people taking advantage of it. Chapel St Leonards was the start of ongoing work to improve the sea defences, and the beach, by increasing the amount of sand at the beach. Diggers were in operation and the beach closed.  

Adding sand to the beach at Chapel St Leonards
 The main thing about this stretch of coastline was the number of static caravans. I thought I saw lots on Mersea and in Norfolk, but the parks here are incredible. Huge. There are even funfairs and supermarkets dotted about amongst them. My accommodation for the night feels like a lone building in a sea of caravans. Strange.  

How do you know which one’s yours?

Day 26 in Boston

Friday 1 May 2015

Around Boston
10.5 miles
Train home for the weekend

A fine morning for ambling around Boston as, let’s face it, I need the exercise! The lack of bus services in the local area, combined with my decision to take a break and go home for the weekend, led to my decision to take a look at Boston this morning. 

I headed out early, which was my first mistake as nothing opens in Boston until 10 am at the earliest. I did get a good view of the Boston Stump in the morning sunlight.  

The Boston Stump
 I had wanted to get out of my strange accommodation that felt like somewhere prisoners would be sent on release from jail. There were lots of signs telling you what you could and couldn’t do (e.g. clean the bathroom after you’ve used it, no visitors without asking permission) and CCTV cameras about the place. Still, Margaret was very nice to me and we had a good chat about all her ailments over a cup of tea before I left. 

Boston was gearing up for the annual fair that starts today. I had a notion that I’d visit the memorial to the Pilgrim Fathers’ first attempted voyage to the New World in 1607. I knew the memorial was in the village of Fishtoft so, upon seeing a brown sign pointing the way, 2 miles to the memorial, I set off along the banks of the River Haven. This was my 2nd mistake. After 3 miles of walking along the river and then through fields and bungalow-land I came to another brown sign indicating a further 1.5 miles to go. I gave up at this point, deciding that the memorial wasn’t interesting enough for a 9 mile round trip! I walked back to Boston town centre (ignoring the signpost that pointed the wrong direction to Boston) and consoled myself with coffee and cake in a lovely little cafe. After some refreshment I felt ready to tackle the 209 steps up to the top of the Boston Stump, the St Botolph church tower. The view from the top was worth the climb and I could see the mouth of The Haven in the distance.   

The view of Boston Town and The Haven from the top of The Stump
 I had already made up my mind to take the Bank Holiday weekend off and go home for a rest. Chance to reevaluate my planning and let my feet heal properly (they no longer hurt but the bruising hasn’t recovered yet). So it was the afternoon train for me and I’ll be back on the road on Monday. 

Day 25 It’s Lincolnshire!

Thursday 30 April 2015

Sutton Bridge to Fosdyke Bridge (then Wyberton into Boston)
20 miles
YNot Guest House (I know why not!)

The forecast was for rain in the afternoon so after yesterday’s experience, and with a very long walk of the same ilk today, I set off early. The lovely lady from the pub I stayed at gave me an egg mayo roll to take with me and a lift around the Sutton Bridge Port in case they wouldn’t let me through. Those 2 small things set me off with a spring in my step for another march around the edge of The Wash. It felt like a march more than a walk because there was little to see and I passed no one. The most excitement was skirting around RAF Holbeach bombing range, which extends into The Wash. The red flags were flying but unfortunately I didn’t see any aircraft.  

Aim Here; the RAF Holbeach bombing range
As I got further around towards the Fosdyke Wash I could see the famous Boston Stump in the distance.  

Looking across The Wash at the Boston Stump
I was lucky with the weather and although rain threatened I never felt more than a few spots. It was very windy and chilly again though and I was glad when I arrived at the Fosdyke Bridge, the final one of the 3 that link N Norfolk to Lincolnshire. Feeling a few spots of rain I decided to pop into The Ship for a welcome pint. Whilst sipping said pint I discovered from the barmaid that the Internet had lied to me and there are in fact no buses in this small town to take me to Boston. I was hoping to catch a bus to Boston and then back to Fosdyke in the morning to carry on my walk but a rethink was now required. In the end I got a taxi to Wyberton, just outside Boston, and walked the rest of the way to my accommodation. The taxi driver couldn’t take me all the way to Boston because he had a school run to do, there were no other taxi drivers in the area and no point being dropped at a bus stop because the buses get diverted for the school run…well it is Lincolnshire!

Day 23 There’s No Coast Path Through the Sandringham Estate!

Tuesday 28 April 2015

Heacham to Kings Lynn
10 miles
Beverley’s house (Airbnb)

No second breakfast required today after a stay in a lovely B&B that I fully recommend if you’re ever in Heacham. Jo you would have been proud of me, I ate until I was full and then ate some more. It was a wonder I managed to get moving, but I did and I set off early to try and beat the rain that was promised in the afternoon. It was unbelievably windy.  So windy that I almost had to dig my hat and gloves, which would have looked funny as I was wearing my shorts. Too much tea meant pissing in the wind became a literal rather than metaphorical phrase for me as I struggled along the coastal path taking shelter behind the sea wall whenever I could. 

Where’s the sea? Looking out at The Wash
I passed through Snettisham RSPB reserve, where I should have turned inland to Dersingham, but I didn’t know that. Suddenly the coast path seemed to disappear and before I knew it (call it lack of attention in the howling gale) I was in the middle of marshy land trying to cut through the spiky bushes that were scratching my legs (now I was wishing I’d worn trousers). The sensible thing at this point would have been to retrace my steps, but no, why do that when you’re convinced you can find a way through. Idiot. I struggled on, jumping ditches and forcing my way through waist high grasses until I finally got out onto the raised bank. Unfortunately, on the way I disturbed a nesting greylag goose (I’m not sure who was the most shocked) and she flew off her nest of eggs. Not my finest moment.  

Greylag goose eggs
The only way out, other than heading back up the coast, was through a gate marked private so I decided to risk it. I could see a man walking towards me so I got my map out and pretended I was lost. It turned out he worked for the RSPB (thank goodness he hasn’t turned up 15 minutes earlier when I was blundering through his reserve disturbing the wildlife) and very helpfully showed me the way out. He did suggest that I might get yelled at if anyone from the estate saw me as they are strict about trespassers. Fortunately no one saw me and I made it out to Wolferton, passing a little memorial to a downed RAF pilot on the way.  

memorial to a Tornado pilot who crashed near Wolferton in 1983
It was only when I reached safety that I realised it was the Queen’s estate I had been trespassing on.  

Oops. Definitely shouldn’t have been there
Seeing as the Queen doesn’t have a coast path through her estate I thought maybe someone ought to complain about it, and so I decided to walk to Sandringham and tell her. First I stopped off at the Wolferton Royal Train Station for a quick peek into the past.   

Wolferton Royal Train Station, closed 1969
I took advantage of my last few days in the military granting me free access to Sandringham and enjoyed a couple of hours looking around the house, museum and church (lovely place to get married Chris). Unfortunately the Queen wasn’t in so I had to have tea on my own in the cafe.  
View of Sandringham House from the grounds
After a nice and relaxed afternoon I hopped on the bus from Sandringham straight to Kings Lynn to avoid walking on the roads. We drove through Castle Rising and I must come back to look at the castle there sometime. 

A strange but fulfilling day.  

Day 17 Most Easterly Point of Britain

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Kessingland to Great Yarmouth (via Norwich)
9 miles
Barnard House B&B, Great Yarmouth

It was much colder during the night than it has been but luckily my jacket makes an extra blanket inside my sleeping bag and I was ok. I had some tent neighbours and I heard them get up and drive off in the car. Everything was wet this morning and drying out the soaked tent was more difficult without the sunshine I have become accustomed to. I am finding myself spending more time in campsite toilet blocks than ever before – they all have hand driers where I spend what seems like hours drying clothes and my tent. 

I had a 3 mile walk along the beach to Lowestoft; a blustery walk along a shingle and sandy beach with lots of tufts of maram grass. The erosion of the cliffs is quite prevalent here. I walked along the deserted sea front at Lowestoft, rather different to my experiences at Southend and Clacton. Past the harbour was the industrial part; clearly a town built on the fishing and marine industries. My target was Lowestoft Ness, the most Easterly point of the British Isles, on the outskirts of an industrial estate but handily marked by a huge wind turbine and something called a Euroscope (a concrete compass with distances to random places in Europe – John O’Groats is 465 miles).   

At Britain’s most Easterly point
 
I reached the Euroscope
  After the excitement of Lowestoft Ness I caught the train inland to Norwich to buy some new, lightweight, softer boots in the hope that I can finally sort out my foot problems. Hard earned experience from the last 2 weeks convinces me that there’s too much walking on roads and concrete for me to wear hard boots. Shopping done I caught the bus to Great Yarmouth and my first night in Norfolk.  

New boots
The best thing about today was that although I missed out a bit of the coast I did get to see the famous Norfolk Broads. The train from Lowestoft followed the River Waveney marshes and on the bus journey to Great Yarmouth, like an excitable child, I sat in the front seat on the top deck of the bus and was rewarded with a great view of The Broads. Definitely not a wasted day. 

Day 4 Trip to the Dentist

Thursday 9 April 2015

Day off

My broken tooth is fixed. A lovely sunny day spent on the train, washing my kit and going to the dentist. As I only have a dentist for one more month I needed to get it fixed. My feet definitely appreciated a day off and on closer inspection using a mirror I realised the soles are quite bruised, which is more painful than the blisters. Back on the train to Benfleet tomorrow.  

Icing my bruised feet