The runners

Walking through Cornwall. Destination John O'Groats, then Shetland!

Walking through Cornwall. Destination John O’Groats, then Shetland!

On this day one year ago I was in Cornwall. I’d just passed the 100 mile mark, and had over a thousand miles still to crunch under my boots. I felt uncertain about my capacity to walk such a long way. But I was already learning that the best way to cope with the self doubt that accompanies any sizeable and exciting challenge is to focus all my attention on what’s around me. Paying attention to the day ahead, the next footstep, the views, the next meal….these are all the simple but incredibly effective ways to harness that most powerful muscle of all, the mind.

Today, I’m six days away from running my first marathon; 26.2 miles along the Brighton seafront. My good friend Alison and I have spent the entire winter focussing on the next footstep, trying not too think about the fact that in April we will run further than we ever have done in our lives before. I said a while back that I think that the training IS the marathon. Well, we’ve succeeded in doing the training. Since the start of December I’m amazed to report that neither of us has missed a single training session. We’ve completed the whole thing, which jointly means that over the last four months we have:

  • Cycled 600 miles
  • Run 780 miles*
  • Plus all the stretching and lifting at the gym, and mindless turbo sessions
Perfect perfect early morning run in the Cairngorms, just a week ago

Perfect perfect early morning run in the Cairngorms, just a week ago

Whatever happens on Sunday, I’m ever so proud of our determination, and the fact that we have enjoyed our training so much. We’ve run through rain, howling wind, through knee high floodwater, snow. We’ve run in Kent, East Yorkshire, London, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire. We’ve run along the sandy paths of New Forest, along the trails of the North Yorkshire Moors, over the fells of the Peak District, and through a hill pass in the Scottish Highlands. We have learnt to love running. We have learned how to eat. We are both fitter and stronger than we’ve ever been at any time in our lives before. We have become runners.

The small crowd that was there early on, cheering us on through your sponsorship has become a much bigger crowd. We are both so grateful. And if you’ve not done so, it’s not too late to sponsor us.  I’m fundraising for the MS Society, and Alison is fundraising for Mind.

*A small coincidence:
I looked back at my diary and realised that this is the mileage I had done on the day I crossed the Scottish border last May. Lands End to the border – the length of England – was 780 miles exactly.

The longest day

It’s light until well past 10.30pm here at the moment.  But that’s not the reason for the title of this blog post, The Longest Day.

You left me at the end of the last blog post in Blair Atholl, feeling irrationally apprehensive about setting off into the Cairngorms.  It would have been really easy to go a low level route round, and wimp out of the more challenging route.  I didn’t though.

The campsite was still and quiet, and the hills swathed in their night time duvet like mists when I set off at 6am.  Glen Tilt is gorgeous.  To start with it is really easy going, a quick march on great tracks.  There’s a lodge 8 miles up which a post van delivers to every morning, so I made rapid progress.  In fact I amazed myself by getting to the 8 mile mark by 8.30 in the morning.  The walls of the glen narrow in after this, and a magnificent waterfall is reached after 13 miles.  This is a place where a lot of people stop and camp for the night.  It’s a great spot.  But I’d set off so early at such a lick that I arrived at the Falls of Tarf at 10.45am.  Rather a long time to wait until nightfall.  Another twelve hours to be precise.  I felt great anyway, so I marched on.

The glen opens up at the top, with views further in the distance of the big guys – the Cairngorm plateau, where almost all the summits are above 4,000 feet.  There was plenty of snow still up there.

Look carefully and hopefully you can see the Cairngorms in the distance

Look carefully and hopefully you can see the Cairngorms in the distance

At 1.30, and after 20 miles of walking, I reached White Bridge, which marked the end of the Glen Tilt stage of my journey. I had planned to camp here.  But again, my excellent progress meant I could now aim to go further.  The funny thing was that some years ago, I camped a few miles further back the valley, absolutely exhausted.  It was really motivating and reassuring to know that I definitely am loads fitter now.  So on I went, now entering the deep valley and pass through the Cairngorms known as the Lairig Ghru.  It’s one of the most famous mountain passes in Scotland.  A real gem of a walk.  The word ‘pass’ makes it sound easy, but it actually takes the walker up to 835 metres, (2,739 feet) which I think I’m right in saying is higher than most English mountains outside of the Lake District.

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Corrour Bothy – a simple hut – appeared at a quarter to four, and at about the 26 mile stage.  Now I’d walked further than any other day on my journey so far.  Again, I decided against camping near the bothy, as the day still felt young.  I was a bit tired but felt strong. Also I was curious.  I’d never walked this far before.  I felt ok, so how far could I walk?  So it was onwards and upwards through grey mists, and over the pass.  The actual top of the pass always takes ages – there are boulder fields which seem interminable.  Quite a number of snow patches were up there too.  Finally I could see light from the valley below. Now I was feeling tired.  I had to keep telling myself to focus and concentrate on the rocky path.  After a while, legs and feet rather weary, I reached the tree line.  Scots pines are my absolute favourite tree, and this time I was so very happy to see them.

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I phoned Ian to give him the surprising news that I had popped out the other side a day early.  By 7.30pm I’d descended right down into the Rothiemurchus forest, and the very second I crossed the little river and was able to fill my water bottles, I found a grassy spot and put up my tent.  Boy did I sleep well.

That 'I've walked 34 miles' feeling :-)

That ‘I’ve walked 34 miles’ feeling 🙂

 

 

 

 

I had walked 34 miles in one day, with my tent and all that stuff on my back.  A kind of challenge within the challenge.  I’m rather chuffed that I am physically able to do this.  The weird thing was that the next day I was fine.  A bit sleepy to start with.  But once I’d walked down to the road and met Ian, and been treated to a fantastic breakfast of french toast, bacon and banana at the one and only Mountain Cafe in Aviemore,I was a new woman.

That was Wednesday, and since then I have had a couple of days R&R with Ian.  For some strange reason I often feel guilty about rest days.  But although I felt fine after my big day I think it’s still important to give myself chance to recharge.  Also, there always seem to be a surprising number of things to do – laundry, mending stuff, haircut (of course!), and pouring over maps. Tomorrow I’ll besetting off north for the final couple of weeks on the mainland. After much dithering, I’ve finally decided on my route north.  It’s not the fastest or the most direct, but I’m hoping it’ll be enjoyable and a good mix of coast and inland walking.  I’m not going to hammer out the last couple of hundred miles, even though I probably could now.  I decided that I should try to savour every day, and enjoy the experience to the full.

 

Into the hills

Major blog catchup needed!

Righto, so from Glendevon in the Ochils, which is nearish to Stirling, I walked up and over another pass to take me out of the Ochil hills.  As I descended I was again rewarded with fabulous new views north of fertile lowland Perthshire and then the BIG hills in the distance.   Although I’m very familiar with the Highlands, seeing them this time, knowing that I had to walk through them, suddenly felt more intimidating.

My route that day from Glendevon to Crieff was a bit of a hit and hope.  The first bit through the Ochils to Auchterarder was fabulous.  Then I hit a bit of a dud as a disused railway path that was marked on the map turned out to be a proper leg trapper after a bit. Trees, brambles, and branches blocked my way.  Instead I took to quiet roads.  It was a roasting day.  How often will I be able to type that?  By the time I arrived in Crieff I was drained.  It was just an 18 mile day, but it came on the back of a number of long hot days.  I was disappointed in my route planning, and suddenly, for some reason, felt completely intimidated by the scale of my whole venture.  Which is rather ridiculous since that very day I’d passed the 900 mile mark.  Looking back now, I can only think that physical exhaustion affected my emotions.

Luckily I have an amazing husband who was due to come and spend a week’s holiday, meeting me each evening in our motorhome.  He arrived a day early and spent the following day appearing intermittently in lay-bys, with sandwiches and cold drinks at the ready.  Walking without a loaded rucksack made me feel like I was walking on air, and the miles passed quickly.  Although, again, my route planning wasn’t brilliant.  I aimed to follow the remnants of General Wade’s road from Crieff to Aberfeldy.  Once again, not all these tracks translated into easily walkable terrain.  The following day I still had a portion of this stage to complete, as well as a short (c. 7 mile) stretch into Pitlochry.  I’d recovered from my tiredness, so I had an unusual day in which I walked for 90 minutes.  Then I crossed a road and so met Ian.  I changed into my running shoes and ditched my rucksack altogether.  I ran through a forest on great tracks and down to the Tay, then along a riverbank track to Grandtully.  That took 2 hours.  My hiking boots went back on, I scoffed down a salad on board Celeste, and yomped over a hill for 2.5 miles to Pitlochry.  Sounds crazy, but it was a fun day, and it was nice to travel at a different pace.

The day was also notable for meeting a couple who were also long distance walkers.  I was probably overly chatty as I was excited to meet other walkers.  My first since walking with Guy and Alastair during my final days on the Pennine Way.

Pitlochry to Blair Atholl is just 8 miles, so it was an easy morning’s hike to follow my walk-run-walk day.  I spent the afternoon getting my camping gear together, and feeling nervous about my next couple of days walking.  My aim was to walk into the Cairngorm mountains – up Glen Tilt and through the Lairig Ghru pass, wild camping along the way.  I’ve done this fantastic walk before, so heaven only knows why I was feeling nervous.  I think it is just that I knew how small it makes me feel out there, miles and miles from any roads or communications.  But I also know that it is an amazing experience to be there.

Finally, some nature notes.  These few days were notable for seeing: red squirrels, a weasel, a wonderful oystercatcher right outside Celeste’s window, and a pintail duck with 12 TINY ducklings.  I caught the oystercatcher on video, so there’s a tiny clip below in my photo compilation.