Posted: 7 Oct 2007 9:53 pm
Hope this will be of interest
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A Ross Rambler’s walk from Lands End to John O’Groats
Walking alone by the shortest route he could find, 920 miles, by footpaths, cycle tracks, canal towpaths and lanes wherever possible and mainly camping at night Allan Ricketts, without backup, completed this journey from 27 April to 22 July 2007. He walked 12 miles a day and is amazed that only 60% were in England and Wales and a huge 40% in Scotland. A veteran backpacker he has enjoyed 25 long distance walks over the past 35 years and now at 60 thinks thought its now or never for one of the ultimate walking challenges in the UK. He has produced a talk illustrated by slides which is on offer to interested groups. email@example.com
Dedicated to the makers of Elastoplast and Imodium
26 April Day –1. After a lift by a friend Neville, a local bus from Ross on Wye and a National Express coach from Gloucester I arrived in Penzance 10 minutes early after a 10-hour trip and having to wait 30 minutes in Bristol for connecting passengers. Penzance Backpackers Hostel is one of the cleanest in Europe. Shared a dorm with Christopher and James, two Southampton surfers. They kindly offered a lift to Land's End on their way to Sennen Cove.
27 April Day 1. My rucsac on my knees in very full Volkswagen Polo I reached Land's End at 9am. Fortunately the theme park was closed so no signpost photo, but got my vital transit form from the hotel reception, which having 15 squares and intending a backpack of 920 miles I will try and get stamped every 60 miles. A plaster was immediately needed on top of left foot under the laces. May be I should not have trained for this backpack by having a month off walking! Lost basket off walking pole in first mile. Only 919 to go! I did not appreciate some stiles, like the steps in a 1m high wall with a gap in a hedge on top. It was a good job it was the start of day. I enjoyed Penzance, which was to be typical in gloriously weathered Cornwall. Camped on first area of grass reached. It was between the railway, cycle path and beach with St Michael’s Mount framed in tent door. One of my top ten best sites ever. Fortunately, I did not notice the “NO CAMPING” sign until after pitching, when standing back to admire my tent. Enjoyed Wetherspoons’ Real Ale Festival.
28 April Day 2. Found at 8am when they started, I had camped under a helicopter airport flypath, one every 20 minutes helped to get me packed. At Marazion, found St Michael's Mount closed and had first Cornish pasty for mid-morning break. Met 5 walkers following the coast to Falmouth. It was lovely walking in hot weather and I soon reached Porkellis. Camped in 1 in 4 field overlooking a ruined engine house and chimney. Kept slipping down during night but too tired to care after a meal in local pub. A regular joked at seeing my rucsac "Are you going to John O’Groats?" "Hopefully!" was the confident reply. Two blisters already on the sole of my left foot, fortunately no pain and being drained nightly.
29 April Day 3. Being powered by strip maps from www.multimap.com (old site) at 1: 25 000 which were great weight-wise and very clear but do not show field boundaries, so only used for short footpaths as their signing does not seem a priority. I had photocopies of OS Explorer maps for longer paths, which was good. I had identified a farm near Truro, back last month in Hereford library as a possible site for 2 nights. Farmer was welcoming and the 30cm high grain made a great mattress. 30 minutes walk to Wetherspoons but this was nothing without my 15-kilo burden! Very impressed with only city in Cornwall.
30 April Day 4. At Truro. Spent 3 hours in museum, which has an interesting collection of local and international material. Got thrown out of cathedral because the choir was making a DVD, but had time for quick look and to admire a model of the building made out of 40-45,000 matches. Back to Wetherspoons where I had breakfasted to taste the 8% Ankers Goulden from Belgium at cheap ‘guest beer prices’. In hindsight I should not have had a second pint!
1 May Day 5. In Truro I crossed the ring road 4 times (2 above and 2 under) and after a Tesco breakfast left. Reached Tresillian and had a drink at its beautiful thatched pub, where the landlord (Ken) and wife (Gladys) were celebrating a 25 year stay. The pub was the headquarters for the Earl of Fairfax before he took the local surrender of the Royalist troops during the Civil War. Given advice by locals and at the Post Office on best way to Probus. " Don’t go on the bypass", they darkly chorused in unison! Interesting church at Probus and it is rightly one of England's top 1000. Walked field paths until one blocked by a new landowner. Told by a local man that the council was on the case. Great campsite at a small holding just short of St Austell and made very welcome by Neil and Sandra with 3 mugs of tea, 4 huge cheese on the top ham rolls, and a donation to my charity Christian Aid.
2 May Day 6. There is a great Oxfam bookshop at St Austell. One coffee table walking book I had to have and it was even a bargain after posting it home from a real separate Post Office. Took photo of a dying breed. Powered by my third Cornish pasty of the backpack, reached Luxulyan, with its important church and historic village. Then it was on to near Bodmin. Given campsite by Keith and Rita where I charged mobile, did my washing (I am a believer in clean socks every day) and allowed much needed shower. So much help to a stranger!
3 May Day 7. I bypassed Bodmin via the extensive grounds of Lanhydrock House (National Trust). Got to the house, which did not open for 90 minutes, I had the guidebook and intended a visit but it takes 2 hours and because of the very hot weather, pressed on. Saw with horror that wandering in the grounds cost £5.30. Had a scare of having bought the most expensive postcard ever but fortunately managed to avoid ticket office. Lovely path through bluebell woods and on to a green lane with 270 degree view. Everything was as flat as a dinner plate, but still I had the view! Arrived at St Neot, in 21-degree heat, which used to be on main London road, hence the London Inn. Here heard from the guide of a German walker that a couple of B&B LEJOGERS were behind me. She thought they were taking 85 walking days with 10 site seeing days. Met Bill a mine of local information and it turned out we had both been at the Boy Scout Jamboree in 1957 at Sutton Coldfield, near my then home city of Birmingham. Church with finest artistic treasure in Cornwall its medieval stained glass was in flower festival chaos with 20 flower arrangers and 10 naked mannequins. Reached Minions where 4 local people kindly suggested different sites to camp on Bodmin Moor. Chose, pitched tent and then 5th local told me I was trespassing on the Duke of Cornwall's land. Not having Highgrove's number in my mobile phonebook, decided to take a chance and asked for a bottle of tap water, which she provided. Wonderful range of food at local pub the Cheesewiring. Unfortunately sleep disturbed by the neighing of the semi-wild ponies.
4 May Day 8. I had a great full Cornish breakfast at Minions Post Office and got transit form stamped. Went to see the Hurlers, the 3 adjacent stone circles on the nearby moor. Walked by lane to Upton Cross and Rilla Mill on its lovely trout stream. It was a bit early for lunch, but stopped at the Manorhouse Inn where I met Geoff and Tom who were interested in my backpack. Tom was former jockey and pony breaker and loving horses as I do we had much in common. Tracy wins the prize for the barmaid with the best personality in Cornwall. Best wishes on the birth of a sibling for Christopher and to the dad Shaun who also popped in. Found farm near Launceston and given good site with a great view for 2 nights. What a relief to have a day off packing up!
Brief meeting with Celebrity
5 May Day 9. I enjoyed a day off in Launceston with a visit to its unique church. Searched charity shops to successfully buy warmer pyjamas. Enjoyed the cheap beer at Conservative Club. Went to library for internet. £1.50 per 30 minutes for aliens. Free for locals. The two no pain blisters on my left foot sole had finally not reappeared.
6 May Day 10. I had breakfast at the Launceston Tesco. I visited the castle and joined the church service. Lunched at Conservative Club were I watched Birmingham (my team’s) football match. Terrible! Neutral locals had wanted to watch the WBA match, a 7-goal thriller. I felt I was not most popular person in club! At 3pm started out to cross the border into Devon. 30 minutes after the long awaited crossing, a rain necessitated a first use of my Lidl multi-adaptable rain suit. Got to Lewdown and asked a local where I might camp. “On the cricket pitch,” he replied. Ventured into Jethro’s, the comedians, vast property. In the first entrance I could see nothing much and so talked to 3 of his horses on the other side of the road. Looked in the second entrance to the vast complex comprising houses, stables, exercise ring, helicopter pad, restaurant and theatre. Snooping over, I was about to leave when called over by Jethro, from the balcony of his house, the original pub. “What are you doing?” he asked Good chat with banter for about 10 minutes in the rain. He claimed to walk 30miles a week on local roads and is a lot thinner in real life!
7 May Day 11. The cricket pavilion, which Jethro had financed, kept me dry when packing up in the rain . Reached Bridestowe and took advantage of its campsite laundry and decided to have short walking day and camped. Alison the owner was very helpful.
8 May Day 12. A very wet day. Nearly drowned I had enough by the time I reached Belstone. A smallholder took pity and let me sleep in his stable. I know I am not the first, 6 BC at Bethlehem and all that, but I bet I am the first to find clean mattress felt in the rafters. Folded as a bed it was 4inches thick - never slept better. Best value meal so far at the Tors Hotel, Belstone. Huge steak pie, vegetables and chips, which amazingly because I was starving nearly beat me, but after a rest, not quite!
9 May Day 13. At Sticklepath were I mistakenly joined a coffee morning at the Village Hall twice weekly post office, thinking it was a shop. Wonderful demonstration at National Trust forge in village. Camped at Yeoford in pub garden.
10 May Day 14. A kind lady, Jo, gave me a much-appreciated cooked breakfast. I enjoyed Crediton with its fine church. The "topbanana" bitter at Wetherspoons for 99p a pint helped. Kept going back to check it had not run out. Got my transit form stamped. Camped at side of rugby pitch. The football pitch had better grass but unfortunately also better fences!
11 May Day 15. Arrived at Thorverton where the mobile shop lady asked me was walking to John O' Groats as part of a midlife crisis. I replied, "At 60, I hope so!" After Cornwall with its super abundance of public toilets, the total lack in Devon proved difficult for washing socks. Lovely walk through woods to Tiverton on the well marked Exe Valley Walk. Camped in unofficial backpacker’s field. Unfortunately Morrison’s nightly deliveries are a little noisy. Also the church clock as well as chiming every 15 minutes began its chimes with a jolly little tune!
12 May Day 16. Morning in Tiverton seeing sights and then it was off by canal towpath. Very tempted to join barge passengers being pulled by a splendid Welsh cob Taffy, but instead walked behind the barge for 3 miles. Both Taffy and I pull and walk at about 2 miles an hour. Camped at Sampford Peverell in a pub garden having slipped a few miles but it was still raining hard.
13 May Day 17. During the last morning in Devon I experienced the heaviest rain I have seen in my 35 years of long distance walking. Walking by the canal seemed to magnify its effect! I was wondering how the youngsters attempting the 10 Tors on Dartmoor were getting on. I cannot imagine how but clothes in two thick plastic bags got wet. Passing an official campsite at 12 noon I very nearly gave up for the day. Thirty minutes into Somerset at 2pm, the sheet rain gave way to sun. Camped in Bill’s garden at Taunton. Having maps turned to mush, I decided to buy a new waterproof map case. Fortunately the West Dene Way which I had used is well signed.
A Chance Meeting with Angela and Edward
14 May Day 18. Bill was very kind. The two free four course breakfasts and the use of bathroom, and the drying of clothes was much appreciated. Offered money was refused. In Taunton or Tonetown as following its river, I think it should be called. Saw unfortunate lady cyclist knocked down by a bus. Emergency services soon on the scene. Two Wetherspoons to choose from. The Perkin Warbeck, was like a Nevada nightclub, and is best avoided by over 30’s at night. Aliens allowed 20 free minutes on their oh so slow separate internet computer in the library. It took 10 minutes to open my email and 10 minutes to delete 25 junk emails. No time for real emails! Filled in two complaint forms. Got transit form stamped.
15 May Day 19. In annoying April like weather four miles out of Taunton I was sitting on a bench removing my waterproof trousers for the third time that morning when a male walker over took me and I noticed his 35-litre rucsac. We said hello and he carried on. A minute later a female walker passed with a 30 litre rucsac. "Hello," I said, "Going far?" "John O Groats" she replied. The trick I had already used countless times rebounded on me and I nearly fell off the bench in astonishment. This was Angela and David that I had heard about on Day 7. They knew about me from a church visitors’ book were I had mentioned my backpack. We chatted for about 10 minutes and realised we had both been heavily influenced by Andrew Mcoy’s and Mark Moxon’s books. They had all their B&B’s booked and were including the Cotswold Way, Pennine Way, West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way. As I was following the direct Wetherspoon’s Way our paths were soon to divert but it was great to meet up. Camped in Phil and Sandra’s garden at Bridgwater, which was 5 minutes from a fish and chip shop in centre.
16 May Day 20. Sandra kindly gave me breakfast. Fantastic walkers’ bridge over M5 it is a half a circle and truly terrifying for first time users. Three juggernauts on top of each other could pass underneath. Long hard boring day on the Somerset levels. It is no wonder the county cannot afford a proper library computer system if they spend so much money playing Canute and pumping water from one canal to another. It is so dreary it’s got to be the favourite candidate for a reservoir. Perhaps for the south-east. Camped at the Cheddar Bridge Touring Park. Great facilities and normally showering had my first bath for years. So relaxing!
17 May Day 21. Hardest climb of the trip so far walking to the top of the north-west rim of the Cheddar Canyon (Gorge). I past a cave on the way, which would have, make great place to camp. On the rim path met Mark training for a 3 Peaks Challenge later in the month. He told me the 10 Tors had been cancelled last Sunday. I was not surprised! On the way to Winsford joined a field path with a woman, man and 3 dogs. It was difficult to say who of the five was most horrified to see me. The woman shrieked "Gas, gas!" As I hit the ground, she caught and muzzled one of the twin dobermans. I hoped that in the panic she had got the right one and the man attached a gas cylinder to the collar of the massive, barley legal in my opinion, bull terrier. It snarled, growled and bared its teeth at me 4 times before a hiss of gas calmed him. Following them, at a respectful distance, was the longest mile of my life so far! "What happens if the gas runs out?", I murmured to myself. At Durley Ridge with all Bristol down below I had a fall slipping on some wet stone steps. A grazed right elbow and a walking pole write-off as it buckled under the weight of my backpack and me. It’s a good job I had noted the Millet’s stores on the town plans I had made by courtesy of the old multimap site.
18 May Day 22. Great YHA hostel in Bristol. It was very quiet in 4-bedded dorm. Went to the charity shops, John Wesley’s House and St Mary’s Church, Redcliffe.
19 May Day 23. A good route out of Bristol via Clifton. 60 temporary toilets to choose from on the downs in position for the ‘Race for Life’ later in the day. At Stoke Bishop, Andrew kindly gave me £10 for Christian Aid. Had a thrilling 30-minute walk over the great white bridge, the Severn Bridge, that unites the 2 countries England and Wales. Found the best technique was to walk resting on the side wind. It would be the highlight of a great free day out for walkers. Drink at the Grape, Chepstow and camped on the grass in front of its castle. Only Welsh Castle of this trip.
A sad parting
20 May Day 24. For this and the next 3 walking days I followed a route cleverly designed by a friend Neville to use paths as much as possible but to minimise the spectacular meanders made by the River Wye in its last 35 miles to the sea. I walked along some good stretches of paths in woods on the Wye Valley Walk and lunched at Tintern Abbey. Crossed the river at Brockweir and was back in England. At the next bridge, crossed this and was back in Wales. Having been given £10 for my own expenses by Chris of Berry Hill, Forest of Dean, in the Grape last night decided to go to a proper site at Monmouth. Staggered by the 60% increase in prices since I last camped there. But that was 30 years ago when I walked Offa' Dyke Path. A great site on the banks of the River Monnow and I cannot understand how it is so central and yet so free of traffic noise. £5 well spent.
21 May Day 25. Breakfasted at Wetherspoons and finished just in time to welcome off the Ross bus the “Monday Gang”, friends who kindly meet me to walk me home. Margaret, Pamela, Danny, Neville and Keith. I had thought we were all going to share in carrying my rucsac but that was seen as not being true to the spirit of my venture. Cleverly, Neville designed the route to finish near Keith's house, so it was in his garden for strong lagers all round.
22 May Day 26. At home with post, lawns and planning the next 650 miles, including posting 4 lots of maps to see me through to John O’Groats. Among the post was an invitation for my 60 year MOT. “Sorry doctor will hopefully be in touch on my return.” Coming home to a lot of a media was a shock. I had tried to keep up on route but was well out of touch! Gutted my £20 of free beer vouchers for Wetherspoons, because I had joined CAMRA for £12 had not arrived. The mind over heart decision had to be made to abandon my Karrimor Cheviot boots who had been my pride and joy for the last 3 years, but now with 1200 miles on the clock and worn down heels, it was the end of the line. It's over, no more being lovingly polished but now reduced to flower pots! My ruthlessness shocked me and I had my transit form stamped.
23 May Day 27 Met by the “Wednesday Gang”, Heather, Keith and Neville, for the walk into Hereford which was completed in good time. On the way to the bus station, Heather saw a good campsite surprisingly near to the centre. Later I went back and after asking a neighbour who gave me a mug of tea, camped there. After a parting drink at Wetherspoons, which is fortunately near the bus station, I was back on my own.
24 May Day 28. A very hot day and a good introduction to my first day on the Marches Way. I would be following part of it from Hereford to Chester. It was useful to have the additional information from photocopies of OS Explorer Maps. At Leominister I camped at the picnic area in a nature reserve but it was very noisy with the Priory chiming clock, the railway and the busy A49. This reserve is working well, the dawn chorus at 4am was deafening!
25 May Day 29. Enjoyable day in fine weather of mainly field walking, where on this stage, much of the Marches Way coincides with the Herefordshire Trail (HT). It was good to see that the new HT is now much better signed than it was last year when I backpacked the route with Fie, a friend Pauline's dog. It seemed familiar and different as I walked a part of it for the second time in the opposite direction. Twice, such is the HT’s reputation locally that I was mistakenly thought to be walking it. In addition the ground evidence through crops made direction finding easy. Found a good campsite in Ludlow with spectacular views of the castle. Yes, camping was banned but surely the Earl of Plymouth would not mind just one night!
26 May Day 30. At Ludlow Market, I had best value breakfast yet. Charity shops visited and had my transit form stamped. At Bromfield had morning tea with the 1st Ludlow Group Scouts & Cubs. Chatted with Ken and Jonathon. It looked a very well organised 3 day camp over the Bank Holiday. Walked through Oakley with its magnificent drive of the relevant tree, it could be called nothing else. I understand the son Lord Windsor now lives in the big house and dad, the Earl of Plymouth, lives in the old stable block. Kindly given lunch by Jim and enjoyed talking with him and son Will. Visit to Stokesay Castle, the famous fortified manor house, where a re-enactment society was busy preparing for a civil war siege. However, the weather forecast for Sunday was dampening expectations. Reached Craven Arms and finally found the fish and chip shop. Camped at Halford in a field the farmer's friend said would be stockless. An hour later when stock invaded I quickly moved to a small triangle at a footpath crossing outside the fields.
27 May Day 31. Slept well. Cancelled watch alarm by mistake and woken by 8am joggers using my footpath crossing! Spectacular forest walk on Wenlock Edge. Unexpectedly managed to come off at the right place. Met 3 Duke of Edinburgh assessors looking for a group of youngsters, which I had not seen. The lady asked me if my backpack was being financed. I must get on to Wetherspoons, Tesco and Millets. Mysteriously arrived in middle of Acton Scott Historic Farm without paying. Had a quick look round as I looked for a cafe. It was raining hard now, so few visitors. Followed the Jack Mynton Way to Church Stretton. Here dripped alarmingly in cafe eating a burger and chips. Thought about going to official campsite and with hindsight should have but I was already 5 miles behind schedule and once you are wet! Enjoyed by myself, because of the rain, the most spectacular scenery yet. The hard climb of the Carding Mill Valley was exhilarating. At the top the moor was horrific with rain, mist and a biting cold wind. Thought in the case of mishap it would be the emergency bag and airlift time. “Is it really possible to get frostbite on the Long Mynd in May”, I pondered nearing hypothermia? Fortunately, the bridleway was well marked across the moor. Saw 2 farmers in Landrovers dimly in the mist. At the bitter end never has a Shropshire Way footpath sign been greeted with more ecstasy. Weary, wet and cold, I asked at the Thresholds Centre if I could camp. Trevor and Anne kindly insisted I slept in a room of their visitor/craft centre with all mod cons and a TV. A stable it might have been but now with a full kitchen, it has been transformed. Spent a fascinating evening looking at the crafts and the historical displays of the local area as I thawed.
Unexpectedly in the footsteps of the naked rambler
28 May Day 32. Had OS Explorer map for area and it was a great relief to be using it after field boundary-less Multimap. I left with many thanks to Anne and Trevor. Anne gave me a packed lunch and dried out wet clothing. She refused a donation, asked me to give it to Christian Aid. On the way to Shrewsbury, Joyce and Jim gave me a donation and food. Congratulations on their 50th Wedding Anniversary next weekend. At Shrewsbury I rejoined the Severn Way for a short time and reached a fete in the park. The Squirrel helicopter reminded me of the day at Barnard Castle on the Pennine Way in 2005 when the Mountain Rescue was mistakenly called out to find me. As I was in the Bowes Museum and a pub they failed until I was walking back to the tent. Thanks to a new ring road bridge I found a good central campsite on the flood plain
29 May Day 33. Diverted from the Marches Way to Myddle. In truth find Richard Gogh’s 17th century account of the village unreadable but felt village and surroundings a very historic place. More is known about this village in the17th century thanks to Richard, than any other place in the world. Completely disorientated by a council footpath diversion through Myddle Quarry and so asked cottageholder to confirm where I was. Tom mentioned that the Naked Rambler passed nearby. Also that a church in the US is being made of nearby Grinshill Quarry Yellow Stone much to the delight of the quarry owner. Camped at nearby farm, which had recently changed from producing milk to rearing pheasants.
30 May Day 34. Back on the Marches Way to Wem, one of the places the Naked Rambler was arrested. Passed the imposing Trench Hall, now a Woodlands Centre but from 1939-46 it had been host to a progressive German Jewish boarding school which was started in Ulm in 1926. Arrived in Clive with its local shop. Inquired out of academic interest if there were any public toilets. A lady passing by suggested, "I nip in the medical centre". There was no need this time but I must remember this fine piece of lateral thinking. Reached Wem and much appreciated the hour's free internet use at the Learning Centre. Thanks to Kim. At the third attempt because people were out, camped in John and Jane's paddock near Tilstock. Use of shower room and lovely breakfast of bacon sandwiches provided by Jane.
31 May Day 35. Reached Whitchurch and left my rucsac at the Eagles pub, one of the oldest in town. Toured charity and bookshops and had my transit form stamped. Left town by the canal towpath. Great relief as they are without stiles. I thought there must be some sort of rally at Grindley Brook but this was just a typical bottleneck as the 3 locks are negotiated. At the cafe here, the Gaul's kindly gave me a donation to Christian Aid. On entering Cheshire, the Marches Way was excellently waymarked and had a tall finger post in the fields where the Sandstone Trail and Marches Way parted. For some inexplicable reason I thought my target for the day was Malpas, not the proper Shocklach. Camped actually on the Marches Way path thanks to Bill and Angela. Matters raised in discussion were the increase in the number of foxes as they are top of their food chain and how can bottled water be more expensive than milk?
1 June Day 36. Soon reached Malpas and met Vera at the Co-op, she was the friendliest shop assistant so far. She remembers seeing Barbara Moore on her LEJOG in the 1960's in Whitchurch. Barbara was a small woman and when a friend said she was Russian, Vera joked, "She was certainly ‘rushing’ through Whitchurch". Unfortunately Malpas church was locked which was a disappointment as it is one of England's top 1000 Churches. Malpas has a very smart launderette, but in a rush to get to Chester, I pressed on. Alternated between the Marches Way and the Bishop Bennett Bridleway. The latter looked good on the map but was so overgrown and tractor rutted, it proved an obstacle course in places. Little used I guess! Reached Alford and partly because of a very hot day, and my fear of dehydration every since I had sun stroke walking down the Grand Canyon 42 years ago, I joined the happy hour at the Grosvenor’s Arms next door to the Duke of Westminster's ancestral home. Chris and Mick kindly gave me donations for Christian Aid and own expenses. The happy hour stretched a bit and after refusing to ford the River Dee, I finally reached the YHA at 22.50 with much relief 10 minutes before reception closed!
2 June Day 37. First time in Chester and I was captivated by the city with its wonderful walk around walls, history and architecture. The Grosvenor Museum presents its exhibits well with much in room settings. Nearly met up with Christine (Backpackers Club), but my mobile was off so I sadly missed her call. It is a great pity the YHA is closing next year. Let's hope for a replacement nearer the city centre if possible.
3 June Day 38. Left Chester by the Northgate and a cycle track. When following lanes to Mickle Trafford I thought it prudent for the first and only time to leap into the hedge when an approaching car rushed a blind bend. He did actually stop with the smell of burning rubber. Nearest time I faced death on the whole backpack. A reminder that lane walking is impossible with bad hearing such is the volume of traffic. Rejoined the Sandstone Trail. I had walked the first 2 sections of its 34 miles exploring the backbone of Cheshire and now on the last 2 sections had spectacular views of the River Mersey and the Liverpool cathedrals. Camped in Frodsham Park
Caught wild camping in park
4 June Day 39. I had all my excuses ready but having found out it was only a one night camp, the park worker brought me a mug of tea! Frodsham rightly makes a great deal of its long history and the preservation of what remains. Had my transit form stamped. Got to Runcorn, which was much bigger to cross on cycle tracks than expected with the new town and old town. It took three hours, only one of which was spent in Wetherspoons’ Ferryboat. The friendliest so far! Owing to its strange curb I had an alcohol-induced fall, I am ashamed to say, at the start of the Runcorn to Widnes Bridge. A regrazed right elbow and right knee. With all the water about I needed a pee. Checked the huge River Mersey was free of traffic but unfortunately missed not taking into account the wind. Fortunately the Manchester Ship Canal was also not being used. Camped in a huge garden in Widnes. Wendy, Tom and son James were very kind. Drinks, supper, bathroom, washing and breakfast. Ian Botham on his LEJOG might have lost weight but I predict it's not going to be my problem!
5 June Day 40. Followed roads to St Helens and went round the charity shops and its glass museum. Had a problem leaving my rucsac to view the exhibits, but I insisted and allowed to leave it in the classroom. Camped near Billinge in a wood. Bob a dog walker and keen cyclist introduced himself and gave me water and food for tea and breakfast, Payment for food offered but kindly refused!
6 June Day 41. Reached Billinge library where the librarian was very interested in my backpack. She gave me a mug of tea and unlimited use of internet. So different from the dark days of 20 minute slow dial-up in Devon! Not yet halfway and my right hip is showing disturbing signs of wanting to go home. I saw on the map the town, which seemed to go on forever, had a hospital, so I thought I might seek some advice. Found hospital demolished, soon to be replaced by 250 homes of various sizes. Reached the gates of Up Holland Comprehensive School at the end of dinner hour. A group of about 30 young people heard my LEJOG story. “Honestly?” they asked disbelievingly. I left to cheers, clapping and shouts of "Good luck". Finally camped at the side of a football pitch at Appley Bridge.
7 June Day 42. On a hot day I walked to Leyland. Then school children in Farington kindly got me on to the cycle path to Preston. Stopped just before and camped in Arthur's garden. A retired English schoolteacher, we talked for hours and he could not have been kinder. Food, TV, bathroom, washing machine!
8 June Day 43. Reached Preston and had an interesting chat in Wetherspoons (the best building interior so far) with Nigel and John. Members of a group of 12 fathers talking their 36 children camping for that weekend in Keswick. Very interested in my LEJOG. I found the canal to Lancaster with some difficulty. Camped by side of canal near Woodplumpton and slept well until the dawn chorus alarm.
9 June Day 44. Continued on the Lancaster Canal. Cookie and friends gave me lunch with lager. Danny and friends gave me tea. So many boat owners interested in my walk I had to stop saying where I was going. I camped in John and Beth's garden and they kindly gave me use of shower and a good breakfast.
10 June Day 45. From the canal saw Cragg Hall built for the famous furniture makers of Lancaster, the Gillows. Went aboard Sam's narrowboat to see the restoration work. Had a cup of tea and left my heavily faded Canadian sun hat on board. I hope that she will send it on, as being found on a stile on the Pennine Way, it has great sentimental value. Had Sunday lunch at the Lancaster Wetherspoons. Left town by cycle route until reached canal again. Later camped on its banks. Diane, kindly gave me tea and breakfast.
11 June Day 46. The canal ceases to be navigable at Tewitsfield where I had cup of tea with Greg and Garry. Looking at a monument to the old locks of the area I found a clean man's handkerchief. 4 knots and a new, very necessary, sun hat was born. Plans to spend £83m in restoring this last 12 miles of canal. A great pity the noisy M6 spoilt it in the first place. After a very busy weekend canal, the upper reaches resembled a river and seemed lonely with only a couple of fishermen. Got to Kendal and camped on the exact same spot I used last year when I came here walking the Dales Way. A double campsite first for me!
The legs would have, but the right hip refuses to quicken, therefore added days
12 June Day 47. After dithering for a day and consulting my base camp support group, I added 7 days to my backpack. ”Return in August was Neville’s advice.” Heather, Keith and Tony echoed, “There is no rush.” I was a day late in Kendal, feeling rushed and insistently my right hip wanted to come home. I only had 4 commitments to change, and it was a great relief once done. Spent the morning in Kendal site-seeing. Ever the optimist bought a new to me sun hat from a charity shop. With hindsight an umbrella would have been more useful and it remained unused for the rest of the backpack. Had my transit form stamped. Unfortunately, the Wainwright Museum was closed on a Tuesday. Camped next to village hall and public toilets in Longsleddale.
13 June Day 48. Started to rain at Sadgill where the track leads off the road and this continued for 24 hours. With my history both comforted and disturbed by the fact the Lake District has ten mountain rescue teams! A steep climb (1 mile an hour) and reached where I thought Haweswater would be and could not find it, but did find a signpost saying it was 2 very wet miles further on. One mile up over the pass and then one mile down. Got to the Crown and Sceptre at Bampton and had a very good reception from the attractive landlady. Who told me to take off my wet clothes and she would take me upstairs! A better actor could have pulled it off but her attitude hardened when my look of astonishment proved I was not the long awaited Mr. Atkins. Very cold and wet I badly needed a meal. In the bar, a lounge bar, were a lot of Wainwright's books and Everest memorabilia so I felt it all right to dry my wet stuff on the radiator. Much to the amusement of my young granddaughters, I told later, I ate in my track suit pyjamas. Bar not very busy thankfully! After a horrendous day £28 B&B here was a mighty temptation but I had seen a great spot by the first river to camp.
14 June Day 49. Had to pack up in rain, something I hate because I like to pack the tent first in rucsac top compartment. Bought food for breakfast from local shop. Lots of signs everywhere asking people to drive slowly so as not to run over red squirrels. A lady assured me this was not a prank and I actually saw one in the Lowther Camping/Caravaning Park, at Penrith. I did think of staying until told the charge would be £19. I made my excuses and left. Camped for free in a pub beer garden in town.
15 June Day 50. The rain so far had been only for practice. In Penrith it fell in sheets so that the manhole covers overflowed. I got really worried but instead of building an ark, bought an umbrella from a charity shop and more clothes to have something dry. Enjoyed Penrith Museum not just because it had a roof. There was a display of how the local police killed the Monocled Mutineer Francis Toplis, the Andover murderer, in self-defence. For the second day, joined the Miller Way which was not surprising really because it and I were both going from Kendal to Carlisle. Camped at Ivegill Village Hall and had a very cold and windy night.
16 June Day 51. Got to the Post Office in Carlisle where I sent my maps for backpack to Pitlochry. They had arrived but been refused as it was only a sub office. Instead of sending them 1 mile down the road to the main post office, there being no return address, they sent them to Belfast. Decided I could manage with Landranger Maps and bought the first. The second was alarmingly unobtainable in Carlisle. As I left it started to rain so 3 miles north asked at a farm to camp. They were very kind and offered the use of their en-suite hay barn. Sheer luxury!
17 June Day 52. Followed a lane and a disused railway line were I met 9 walkers for peace supported by CND and the Quakers on an 850-mile walk from Belfast to London to arrive on the anniversary of Hiroshima. Had a long chat as both were interested in each other's ventures. Thankfully, bought the second OS map at garage in Longtown. At 17.30 hrs, crossed into Scotland at Canobie. 10 minutes later Anthea and Stewart at work in the garden offered me a pot of tea. It came with dried apricots to nibble. Camped near tennis courts and allowed a free shower next morning in the village hall.
Finally, in Scotland only 40% of backpack left.
18 June Day 53. Had my transit form stamped. Elated to be in Scotland with it having no laws of trespass and overjoyed that its right to roam also means the right to wild camp. This is going to be my kind of country! On the way to Langholm I was overtaken by about 30 various Dutch cars in a spread out convoy. I don't know, but I imagined the descendants of John O'Groats were on their way to pay their respects to their famous Nederlander. No next OS map in Langholm. Hopefully the Southern Upland Way is going to be well signed.
19 June Day 54. Visited Samye-Ling Indian Buddhist Monastery. Very interesting and lots to see. Wanted to camp here but the cost was £15 for a site and 3 meals. Did not want to stay for lunch and despite their ministry to travellers, an offer of £10 was refused. Camped at a farm in the Eskdalemuir Forest. The farmer was busy preparing 2 of his Connemara ponies for the Edinburgh Royal Highland Show.
20 June Day 55. Followed lanes to Ettrick and did washing at a caravan site where unfortunately tents were not allowed. Camera started playing up and I lost a film of photographs. Camped at Honeywell Camping and Caravan Site (£5 for a charity walker). Before I had pitched Ray asked me over for a cup of tea. Went for a good meal at the Tushelaw Inn where I met Thys & Sielske from Nederland. Decide to give John O’Groats the 15th century Dutch ferryman his original name and try to think of him as Jan de Groot (Big John) in future. Returned to campsite and Ray’s caravan for a drink with him, his next-door caravan neighbour Pamela and the site owner Alan.
21 June Day 56. Highlight of the morning was reaching the Gordon Arms Inn. Hanging on the wall in the public bar was a letter written by James Hogg, ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ in support of the license application of a previous owner. I continued on lanes and thought it best without maps to avoid the Southern Upland Way. At Innerleithen was very kindly offered a bed for the night by John. As it had just started raining I was very pleased to accept.
22 June Day 57. In the morning wife Sharon kindly cooked me a huge breakfast. After a look round Innerleithen, I spent the day at Traquair Castle, the oldest inhabited home in Scotland. Layers of history and a fascinating day. Finished off in the brewery. Camped by its famous gates closed when Bonnie Prince Charlie left in 1744 and still closed quite rightly waiting for a Stuart king of Scotland. First camp for me in a stately home.
23 June Day 58. Walked in driving rain to Peebles passing Cardrona on the way. This was an old mining village converted into a large dormitory estate. Very surprised considering its present size that it did not have a post office. I had bought books at Traquair I had to post. Reached Peebles in time to see the start of the Beltane Festival carnival procession. To see it 3 times, actually, as it circled the town! It is partly to mark the beginning of summer but the procession was an hour late because of the rain. The town was teeming with people but with most of the shops and post office were shut. I asked for the cheapest real ale at the Bridge Inn and fellow drinker kindly asked if I needed a sub. A middle-aged lady came round gently feeling the mens’ bottoms and in return asked for a silver donation to charity. In the packed pub she seemed to be doing very well!
24 June Day 59. Sunday in Peebles repairing kit. It finally stopped raining in the afternoon.
25 June Day 60. Museum visit in Peebles and free hour on the internet in the library. Had my transit form stamped. Making my way to Eddleston I passed a memorial to George Meckle Kemp. It is a false wall at the end of a garage with its own garden. George was a carpenter here and later became an architect, designing the Edinburgh monument to Sir Walter Scott. Joined a forest track in isolated country and judged an overgrown firebreak between the trees was my desired direction. Much relieved to get through the trees, had a 12ft anti-deer gate to climb into the field but saved myself 2 miles. Camped at the farm below.
26 June Day 61. A straightforward well signed crossing of the Pentland Hills but completely misjudged the distance travelled. Thought I had walked about 4 miles and had 2 to go, however a sign on the way down reversed these figures. Reached Balerno, once a papermaking village but now as Edinburgh dormitory. Camped by a golf course.
A waltz with the M90
27 June Day 62. The crossing of the Firth of Forth by a similar bridge to that crossing the Severn and the Wye south of Chepstow but with boating activity below. Camped overlooking the Inverkeithing harbour on the Forth. Used my tent's 2 guy lines as a precaution because of the strong wind. Met Monty, walking his dogs, who promised a porridge breakfast.
28 June Day 63. Fortified by this reached Kinross. Saw Loch Leven Castle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned and the nearby gardens. Needed to wash my hair so went to the official campsite and fortunately missed by a week the 40,000 campers they were expecting for the 'T in the Park Concert'. T stands for ‘Tennants’, a Scottish brewery. No charge for camping being a charity walker.
29 June Day 64. Cameron a young lad at Milnathort with friend Douglas asked about my backpack and asked if I was one of England's big walkers? Replied, tentatively, “Yes, but not as well known as my friend Neville! The Cotswold specialist!” Had my transit form stamped. Route to Perth on very quiet lanes, which turned out to be a waltz with the M90 with eight crossings or meetings on the journey. At Perth camped at start of North Inch, just behind the River Tay flood barrier 3 minutes from Wetherspoons and near the shops, as I badly needed next map.
30 June Day 65. Camera had been killed by rain so bought another from Argos. Sadly had to leave Perth before a good look round. Dry morning but rained heavily after lunch. Got lost in a wood on way to Luncarty but rescued by a cycle track. Very wet camp in the woods south of Dunkeld. The working title of my book has changed from ‘Please don't call me Superman’ to ‘My Quecha T2 ultralight tent is my hero!’
1 July Day 66. A Beatrix Potter Exhibition at Dunkeld which was great for presents for young granddaughters. She used to come here for holidays as a girl. The fine Cathedral was very visitor friendly with free audio guides as detailed as could be hoped for. Got to Pitlochry hostel. Kelly, a teacher with a party of pupils from Columbus, Ohio, after hearing about my venture was reminded of and kindly gave me a book she had just finished about Christopher Johnson McCandless. After a 4 month trek in Alaska his decomposing body was found by a moose hunter. Too relevant now but will read it if I get home!
2 July Day 67. Charity, camping and tourist shops in Pitlochry great. Third map case bought and day sack for possible ascent of Ben Macdui. Had my transit form stamped.
3 July Day 68. Still in Pitlochry.
4 July Day 69. For much of day I was on a track next to river on the way to Blair Atholl. Entered village over footbridge, surprisingly, built by Royal Monmouthshire Engineers (based 10 miles from home in Ross). Big gates prevented camping in grounds of Blair Atholl castle, the most visited in Scotland and I had to be content with castle estate's riverside meadow.
5 July Day 70. Great track up the River Tilt. Progress slowed by removal of boots and putting on flip-flops to cross 3 rivers. The first was 2/10 for difficulty, the second 1/10 but the third 10/10! Having 6 Duke of Edinburgh girls and their 2 teachers on mountain bikes watching my progress and how high above the knee the water came did not help. Fortunately my walking poles prevented the slips becoming a soaking! Later an amazing sudden deluge. No wonder the rivers and waterfalls are in March condition, not July's. Walked late to bothy at Corrour. It can sleep 9 so being number 8 was no problem.
The ascent of Ben Macdui (the second highest mountain in the UK)
6 July Day 71. Day off in bothy. Because I was stopping 2 nights became manager, which meant I had to sweep up and burn the rubbish. The morning rain ceased at midday, so a quick walk up the Devil's Point (until Queen Victoria’s visit called the Devils Penis) was cancelled for the much grander ascent of Ben Macdui. Relieved of my 15 kilo camping pack I almost ran up and it only took 210 minutes. Stupidly did not keep to stream as advised because it was so steep and so had boulder fields to cross. Got first mobile signal for days from the top. Started to rain and get misty and so hurried off summit. Lunch could wait. Had constantly looked back on the ascent so I would have no trouble on the descent but had to resort to the compass when two snow patches appeared much bigger than I had seen them before. Thank goodness I had the proper OS Explorer map!
7 July Day 72. Biggest disappointment of the trip. The crossing of the Lairig Ghru in horrendous conditions. Thankfully walked with ‘Montaine Man’ Jem, who I had met at the bothy. In his gear he could go yachting. The track was clear enough, it was a deep stream, but the rocks and boulders went on and on and on. The glimpses, through the mist, of the huge mountain walls were tantalising. The persistent rain and winter like cold prevented many rest breaks. With weather like this no wonder the ‘Pools of Dee’ had expanded alarmingly. My plastic poncho (£2), which I had bought to replace the bin liner I had been using as supplementary wet weather gear, proved worth its weight in gold. Arrived at Aviemore where it was still raining, in shocked trauma after the day’s events. It took warming fish and chips to bring me round. Great wild campsite by tributary to River Spey, 3 minutes from public toilets with shower facilities and 5 minutes from a huge Tesco. What more could you want? Only a Wetherspoons!
8 July Day 73. Day off exploring camping gear shops in Aviemore. The extreme sport capital of the UK, seems a frontier type place. The Pitlochry map case had not survived the wind of the Lairig Ghru, so number four was purchased with a 5-year guarantee, which I am keeping very safe. Day of beautiful weather and a complete change to yesterday. I so wish I had waited another day at the bothy! The big regret of the whole backpack! The new Scarpa boots SL (2005 model) which I had worn since day 27 were heavy, rigid and stiffly high sided. Mountain boots really and far too good to be used on lanes but twice in the Lake District and once in the Cairngorms I felt they saved my ankles. The only niggle was a little toe trouble on the right foot at first, cured by sheep’s wool. Being an old design and among the last made in Italy, as long as the superb tops can take it, I will get them resoled as necessary.
9 July Day 74. Lane and forest track (General Wade's road) walk to Tomatin. (Tumatin) Camped in village hall grounds. Best value meal at pub in whole of Scotland so far. Crossed two extremely interesting bridges by Wade and Telford.
10 July Day 75. At friendly post office, noticed the post vans/buses are managed from Gloucester, England (12 miles from home). Followed Wade and Telford's old A9, which is now reduced to a service road and cycle track. Deserted except for a BMW trying to do the ton. Some right foot pain but a tubular crepe bandage and medicinal malt whisky bought at the Tomatin distillery got me to Inverness a day early!
11 July Day 76. Good nights sleep in Inverness Youth Hostel. Bus to Culloden Village and then a 3-mile walk to Culloden Moor the battleground of 1745. The new visitors’ centre being built is much needed.
12 July Day 77. Extra day in Inverness visiting the museum, a riverside walk and shopping. Had my transit form stamped.
13 July Day 78. Warm day. Left by the Kessock bridge opened by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on 6 August 1982. A lot of traffic but a good pavement. North up a steep hill to Munlochy and then to Fortrose via Avoch. Camped overlooking the Moray Firth. Stefan, originally from Stuttgart gave me water also a 35cl bottle of Famous Grouse to add excitement.
14 July Day 79. Met Sophie and Kirsty, Saturday shop assistants who were very interested in hearing about the backpack. They were friendliest met in Scotland. Went to the Coffee morning at the church were I had a very interesting talk with Anthony who used to work for the National Trust of Scotland. From Rosemarkie I tried to walk along the beach to Cromerty. At one point had to wait a 2 hours for the tide to go out. The way off the beach up the cliffs seemed impossible so I had to turn back. Finally got to Cromerty at 10pm not best pleased. Felt better after Tony had bought me a pint and William a dram in the harbourside pub. Camped on the links.
15 July Day 80. Following the King’s Route caught the 2 car ferry to Nigg. In good weather reached Tain. A Royal Borough since 1066. After exploring a local hostelry put up tent on the links in the dark. Lost the loose section of the front hoop pole and had to use a replacement from the back pole. With in its place a walking pole. The tent looked better and larger than normal.
16 July Day 81. Went to the excellent “Tain through Time exhibition”. Had my transit form stamped. Very wet day and remembering how the old cattle drovers coped. A stop to enjoy the work of the 16 men of Tain at Glenmorangie seemed a necessity. Did not have time to go on the distillery tour but they kindly given a free dram out of pity. A very windy wet crossing of the Dornoch Firth, on a bridge opened by the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and I was mortified that my plastic poncho, which had saved my life in the Cairngorms, was ripped by the wind. Got to Dornoch and visited it’s wee cathedral. Camped just behind the 5th tee at the Royal Dornoch golf course. Quite a difficult hole I should judge by the hard luck comments by the early morning golfers.
17 July Day 82. Sunny hot day and passing Loch Fleet was very glad of my telescope to see about 30 seals basking on the sandbanks. Got to Bora camping on grass at the back of the beach. A remembrance of Penzance 81 days before!
18 July Day 83. Crossed Bora golf course and very interested to see the electric fences to deter the cattle round the greens. Then on to the beach and finally up to Helmsdale. Interesting, seemingly prosperous, harbour village with the shell fish harvest providing a living for some. Found a super shaded campsite out of the wind by the river.
19 July Day 84. Slept well but woken at 8 am by two lawn mowers. I asked if they wanted me to move but the men seemed shocked at my offer and promised to mow round me. When I had packed up you could clearly see where the tent had been, a little embarrassed because Scotland’s First minister was coming on Monday to unveil a statue to those who had been forced to leave the crofts in the glens to be replaced by sheep. Had my transit form stamped. Followed A9 to Dunbeath and camped by a church.
“Hello are you Allan?”
20 July Day 85. Slept badly because of the cold so had a magnificent cooked breakfast at the Castle View Restaurant. Caught up three walkers. Carol, a slim attractive lady in her early 40’s purred, “Are you Allan?” I was stunned until she explained that she had seen about me on Mark Moxon’s internet site. Using B&Bs she was walking the LEJOG in memory of daughter Sophie and fund raising for a project with the Royal Marsden Hospital. Sister Lynne and friend Don were walking with her for the last 3 days. Camped at the 6000 year old Camster Cairns.
21 July Day 86. Through Watten to Alterwell farm, where I camped out of the Baltic wind behind a shed in the farmer’s garden, south of Sickly.
22 July Day 87. Final push and reached Jan de Groots at 13.20. It was great to meet up again with Carol as we had gone our separate ways from Lybster. Planning to camp here but hitched a lift thanks to Ron and Pauline back to Inverness. They had brought their grandsons Tyler and Marley to see their father Ross complete his nine day cycle LEJOG. The 3 Inverness hostels I knew about were full so having a booking at the Scottish Youth Hostel for Monday night. I asked a resident on the way there if I could camp on the front lawn. Hazel said yes! Yet one more night for my utterly dependable tent!
23 July Day + 1. Breakfast at the Youth Hostel and had another day in Inverness present shopping.
24 July Day +2. Caught 6.30am coach south but missed my connection to Gloucester. In Birmingham for the evening and stayed at the very good Central Birmingham Backpackers Hostel. Which gave me the chance to visit 2 more Wetherspoons.
25 July Day +3. Caught 12.45 coach to Gloucester and a bus to Ross on Wye where Keith kindly picked me up. After a great meal cooked by friend Neville. There was a welcome home party that night at the Ross Wetherspoons.
In conclusion, I must thank my base camp support crew of Heather, Keith and Neville for their encouraging texts and phone calls and all who including Mark Moxon who emailed. Thanks also for the same to daughters’ Kate and Clare and Backpackers Club Officers Christine and Tony. All this contact was a major boost to morale, which despite all the rain fortunately never dipped. This 920 miles, as the crowflies route, in 75 walking days and 12 site-seeing/charity shop days were divided about equally between paths and mostly minor roads. By the end my right foot had definitely had enough of carrying 15 kilos! It was more than 3 times the distance in one time, I had ever walked before. The statistic my bank account is most pleased about is that thanks to wild camping, the generosity of two camp site owners and hostel nights funded by Tesco Clubcard Deals my accommodation bill was on average 40p a night. I have yet to work out my beer bill! I do not know how, as I have eaten so many fish and chips, but like Ian Botham I too lost weight. In my case 5 Kilos. According to my BMI in Sweden I would now be classed as malnourished!
Any questions, constructive reactions, comments or corrections to this report which is the synopsis of a pending book gratefully received. allanricketts @fsmail.net
P.S. Angela and Edward B&B LEJOGERS from York, that I heard about on Day 7 and who I had met on Day 19 finished their 1185 miles on long distance footpaths where possible in 83 walking days and 8 site-seeing days at 5pm 29 June. Many thanks for their texting and email companionship while we walked together “THE BIG ONE” and many congratulations to them for a wonderful achievement.
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