The Borders region of Scotland is simply stunning, especially after the bleakness of Northumberland, and walking along the River Tweed has to be one of the most relaxing experiences any walker can have. Unfortunately the canals between Edinburgh and Glasgow are less impressive and the West Highland Way is a variable beast, but Loch Lomond in the sun more than makes up for the midges and clegs that devour you at every opportunity. And one day the weather will be clear enough for me to actually see the high parts of the Highlands... if I'm lucky.
Leaving the Pennine Way to enter Scotland along the old Roman Road of Dere Street is a momentous occasion. The sun comes out, the landscape suddenly becomes gentler, and the weight of the past few weeks lifts off my shoulders. Welcome to Scotland!
I describe exploring the incomparable Jedburgh Abbey in the pouring rain before spending a day walking through the Borders region of Scotland. I celebrate the differences with England, particularly money, accents, food, beer and national identity. Following St Cuthbert's Way along the River Tweed I reach Melrose, home to another fantastic ruined abbey, Melrose Abbey.
Following the Southern Upland Way for a day, I get caught in strong winds and driving rain as I crawl over Minch Moor. Luckily there is shelter in the forests, but the weather pushes me further on than planned and I make it to Peebles a day ahead of schedule.
My B&B in Peebles turns out to be vegetarian, which throws me a bit, but the breakfast is good and the walking pleasant. Again I'm following my own route, and I describe the difference between Scottish and English rights of way. I also find a decent pub, the first in Scotland, and settle down to enjoy Scotland's finest ales.
A wet and windy walk into Edinburgh demonstrates how worn out my boots are, and my feet get wet for the first time. The skies clear in Edinburgh, and I spend ages staring up at Edinburgh Castle while trying not to freak out at the hustle and bustle of the biggest city on my route.
I've been looking forward to this section for ages, as it's all along canals, but the weather and the monotony of the Union Canal combine to drive me nuts. I meet a local who tells me that the weather is always like this, and I fall in love with the psychedelic orange rubbish tips outside Broxburn. I reach Linlithgow with aching feet, and my boots are falling apart in front of my eyes.
A very long walk, but with three highlights: a huge aqueduct, a very long and murky tunnel, and the Falkirk Wheel, a stunning piece of modern engineering. Unfortunately Kilsyth, my destination, turns out to be the worst place I've ever stayed in, and I explain why in detail.
The heatwave finally hits Scotland, but my feet are in serious trouble. I can hardly walk on the right one and today is yet another long day, but I struggle through and take the odd shortcut through the woods, which gets me to Drymen in time to meet my girlfriend for another rest day.
My girlfriend is staying with me for a few days (though she's not walking), so I want to get through the walking as quickly as possible. Despite this, I thoroughly enjoy hopping along the east shore of Loch Lomond on the West Highland Way, and we end up staying in a wonderful B&B.
I experience casual racism at the start of the walk – a strange feeling for a white Briton in Britain – and this spurs me on to complete this leg along Loch Lomond in record time. I keep my boots together with elephant tape and walk my socks off to get back to my girlfriend for our last night.
Unfortunately yesterday's forced march has seriously strained my left shin, and today's walk is as agonising as anything that has gone before. On top of that my fellow walkers on the West Highland Way turn out to be a pretty drab lot, and to cap it all the heavens open overnight. I'm seriously worried whether I can go on; again, I can hardly walk.
Luckily I manage to struggle on and my shin holds up, and even more miraculously it doesn't rain. On the way across Rannoch Moor I get lacerated by horseflies as well as midges, and I start to wonder why everyone always raves about walking in Scotland. I'm not enjoying it at all...
Things go from bad to worse as I spend the morning walking through dismal weather, with the mountains hidden from view and the horseflies and midges on full alert. Worse, when I get to Kinlochleven I eat a dodgy sandwich and suddenly start throwing up; I have food poisoning and have to spend the rest of the day in bed, weak and unhappy.
Despite my food poisoning, and against all common sense, I continue walking through the weakness and nausea. My guidebook suggests I take a hike up Ben Nevis, which I treat with the scorn it deserves, and I finally get to Fort William and a well-deserved rest day.