LEJOG – Stage Five

I was finally in Scotland. I’d been looking forward to getting here since I started. I followed St Cuthberts Way, Southern Upload Way, John Muir Way and the West Highland Way to Fort William.

Stage Five

31st July 2016 – Jedburgh to a wild camp near River Tweed (just past Galashiels)

I decided to miss the day and a half walk from Bellingham to Jedburgh. There was transportation complications and to be honest the route looked boring and I wanted to get started in Scotland. It’s my walk and my adventure and I was keen to cross the border and get into the mountains.

I left Jedburgh and followed St Cuthberts Way along Jed Water where I crossed a suspension bridge at Monteviot. From here it was a straight walk along an old drovers road to Maxton.

Along the way I passed Lilliards Stone where the English and Scottish would meet to try and resolve their differences. It never really worked and resulted in a few battles including the Battle of Otterburn.

From Maxton I followed the trail to Eildon Hills where I got a beautiful view down to Melrose. I headed down, picked up some supplies and headed on to the Southern Upland Way to look for a wild camping spot.

I passed Galashiels, came off the trail and followed the River Tweed. Eventually I found one near the river in a nice field with sheep.

After sticking up my tent and eating I caught up on a few things and watched the sun set. My first day in Scotland had been good.

1st August 2016 – Camp Spot to Peebles

I woke up to a beautiful sun rise and a herd of sheep charging down in my direction. They stopped when they caught sight of me. They wanted to be at the river and didn’t figure how to go round me.

After packing away and eating I set off and got back on the Southern Upland Way. It was a slow and steady climb up Three Brethern but worth it. The views were amazing.

After a while I followed the trail round Broomy Law and Lucken Head to Hare Law. From here it was a good walk to Minch Moor and down to Traquair.

This was my scheduled stop but it was only 12pm so I decided to keep going and eat into tomorrow’s miles.

I followed a road along to the bottom of Castle Knowe and went up for another beautiful view. 

I descended down into Peebles and decided to call it a day. I’d had a good run but was getting tired. I grabbed some food and sat down to look for a place to wild camp.

I found a park along the river so went to check it out. It required some cunning so I sat around for a bit then walked to a more secluded part with trees as cover.

I hung about a bit more before sticking the tent up. Then waited. I’m not sure if I would have been kicked out of the park to be honest but I just wanted to hang on before unpacking and eating.

Eventually I sorted my gear out, ate and slept.

2nd July 2016 – Peebles to Calder

Today was a hard day. I decided to eat into the next day’s miles and get the Pentland Hills out the way before camping. I underestimated how hard it might be.

I left the park early and headed up a track to South Hill Head. There was no recognisable trail up the hill at one point so I had to pick my way through heather. I walked from here to White Meldon Hill and then down to the start of an old track through a forest.

All fairly easy going and I dropped down to the Cross Borders Drovers Road. I followed this to Romannobridge and then on to West Linton. This was my scheduled stop for the day but it was early so I bought some supplies and kept going.

I went up a track into Pentland Hills and followed Theives Road. It tried to rain but didn’t get above a shower. The track was nice though and it was a slow walk down to Harpering Reservoir.

I stopped to look along the route where I might camp. I had a few ideas but the places that looked good on the map werent when I got there. Essentially a lack of good water. The streams were either dry or just didn’t look clean enough even for my filter. I got all the way to Calder before just buying some water, sticking my tent up in a field, eating (even though I wasn’t massively hungry) and sleeping.

3rd July 2016 – Calder to somewhere between Linlithgow & Falkirk (don’t recall)

Last night took a bad turn. I woke after midnight feeling nauseous. I got out my tent and was violently sick before having the shits. After cleaning up I crawled back into my bag. I had a splitting headache so took some tablets and tried to sleep. 

I managed a few hours on and off but eventually woke feeling stiff and achy. I had no appetite at all so just drank some green tea and plenty of water before packing away.

I passed a shop so had a banana and a can of Coke. All I could manage.

Today’s walking was flat along a river/canal thankfully so I just kept going. I decided to get as far as I could and just get a b&b for the night.

I got to Linlithgow (scheduled stop day) and just kept going for a bit before jumping in a b&b/pub.

I managed a salad and later a steak pie with vegetables before sleeping.

4th July 2016 – to Drymen

I woke up feeling a bit better but still had no appetite. I could only manage toast and cereal.

I left and got back on the John Muir Way for more easy walking along the rivers and canals.

I got to Kirkintilloch (my scheduled stop) but decided to keep going. I felt OK (even though I wasn’t eating)

The plan was to join the West Highland Way and wild camp somewhere. I kept going but again struggled to find anywhere to friggin camp. I’m not being too picky here but there are parts of Scotland I’ve struggled to find camping spots. This time it was finding a field that wasn’t overgrown!!!! 

I passed a sign that said “Drymen 7 miles”. How the hell had I got here so quickly!!! I say that because Drymen was tomorrow’s scheduled stop and I had a b&b booked.

I rang ahead and they could accommodate me so I just walked. And by the time I got there I felt ill again.

I’d pushed myself to exhaustion and whatever this bug was it hadn’t truly shifted.

The lady (Frances) took me in, fed me cake and a few cups of tea before I crawled into bed. Normally when I stop moving I layer up to keep warm but I didn’t so I got cold really quickly. And because I hadn’t eaten properly either I was shivering.

After warming up I went out and forced some soup down before coming back and sleeping. I woke up a few times in the night soaked in sweat. I was hoping that whatever bug I had was now out of me.

5th July 2016 – forced rest day

Despite feeling a bit better and having some sort of appetite again I decided to take a days rest in Drymen to build up my strength. I had 27 miles to walk up Loch Lomond to a campsite so wanted to feel 100% for it.

I make a crap patient though. I wanted to walk down to the Loch or go up Conich Hill but I had Sal and other people telling me no. Stop. 

6th July 2016 – Drymen to Inverarnan

I woke up in better spirits and planned to walk 27 miles down Loch Lomond. I ate breakfast and said a fond farewell to Frances.

The Loch looked beautiful in the early morning sun. The water a deep blue echoed by the sky, surrounded by hills and mountains luscious in their green splendour. 

The trail was clear and still pretty busy at this early hour. Everyone else had the same idea. Take advantage of the weather while it lasted.

At Inversnaid I stopped to eat lunch and the rain started. I heavy thick rain associated with the mountains of Scotland. This made the second half of the walk up Loch Lomond tricky. 

The trail stopped being a nice easy path to stepping over rocks and climbing round the edges of the loch. In the rain it was pretty slippy so it was slow going with a pack on my back. And before long I was soaked through.

I eventually got to the campsite and stuck my tent up in the gap between showers. The site had a shelter as well so I joined the group of people hanging up wet clothes and cooking hot food.

7th July 2016 – Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy

Today started wet, cleared for a bit but then it got worse. Much worse. My objective was to get to Glencoe although I was scheduled to stop at Bridge of Orchy.

When the wind and rain came in I was soaked through again. And cold. And not thinking straight. I should have stopped, stuck up my tent and took shelter but in my own stupidity and the desire to get from point A and point B I kept going and risked hypothermia.

The nagging questions that had bothered me for weeks about why I was walking started to surface badly and I really started to think about quitting. The reasons for me doing this walk had gone months ago. The crippling anxiety, stress and depression had lifted and my life was better. Why was I doing this? I just wanted to get back to the familiar, be around people and get started with the plans I had for the future.

I reached Orchy and made the decision to get a train to Fort William. Something wasn’t right and I needed to think and talk to someone who’d been there and done this sort of thing before.

I changed out of my wet clothes at the station and got on the train. And when I got off the train the weather at Fort William was worse. My dry clothes were now wet and I had to walk around knocking on doors to find a room for an hour. Eventually I got one. 

I changed into what I could and went out to eat. I needed to eat badly. When I got back I spoke to Sally for a bit and tried to relax. I went out for a pint just so I wasn’t staring at four walls.

I had some serious thinking to do and slept on it.

8th July 2016

I’m no quitter. After speaking to Sal the night before and some family in the morning I decided to carry on.

I had a lot of people supporting me and rooting me on. And I didn’t want to let myself or them down.

I went to the hostel where I had a room booked and hung up all my wet gear in the dry room. I stuck all my damp stinking clothes in the wash and sorted out my gear.

I collected my Cape Wrath maps and book then went to Costa for three hours to study them. This trail is notoriously hard and I wanted to be prepared. The rugged terrain and remoteness would be a challenge. The bogs, unmarked tracks and river crossings tiring.

While I was nervous and apprehensive I also knew this experience would go a long way for my future plans.

Final Thoughts 

Not much I can say. The nagging doubts and questions I’d had for weeks all surfaced and I nearly quit. So close to finishing.

I’m just lucky to have the people I do in my life and maybe I need to listen to them more and talk when something is bothering me.

The next stages aren’t going to be easy but with a renewed sense of purpose I have to take the opportunity to finish this.

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