Wednesday, 14 September 2011

And we're back....

So, it's been a while since my last post so apologies to those of you who have been losing sleep over the lack of communication on my know who you are....(singular). As for the rest of you, here's a little catch up on what's been keeping me away from my computer over the last few weeks. Be warned, there is little to do with food in the following lines!

Having realised that the cost of all these cooking experiments needed to be met, it was time to go out and do some real work, the type where people actually pay you money for the services you provide. So it was off with the apron and into the car, which took me to London to be precise. A few successful days at the grindstone later, a bit of cash in my pocket and it was back in the car to head north, to Glasgow, on my holidays. The bad thing about car travel is that it invariably means eating on the service stations....which equals yuck and tasteless....unless you happen to be traveling on the M6 from Manchester to Glasgow and you stop HERE!! 

Tebay services, the only privately owned services in the UK (possibly the world??) It's phenomenal and was just the thing to pick me out of the drudgery that is the usual squished toasted ham and cheese (with mysterious white sauce...uugh) and a latte from Costa that is my usual diet on such journeys. Here you can find any amount of homemade tray bakes, delicious hearty and healthy sandwiches and hot dinners, not to mention the full butcher and cheese counters that have some of the best looking local produce you could imagine. Oh and a dangerous array of beautiful pottery and kitchen ware. I recommend avoiding that bit if you are partial to your savings. Couldn't resist picking up a little spot of cheese from the incredibly helpful and knowledgeable cheese lady as an offering to my kind hosts for the night. Unfortunately I was camera-less on this journey, for shame, but the view was spectacular. I know what you're thinking, it's a service station, how good can it be? Well, it was so good that I think next year I'll forget my end destination and I'll just go here for my holidays.

Having recovered my composure, I picked my jaw up off the floor, dragged myself back in the car, got back on the motorway and continued on my way to the Highlands. I love Scotland and I love Glasgow and of course I love the amazing people I know who live in Glasgow that give me brilliant excuses to visit time and again. The excuse this time was walking the West Highland Way. For those of you who know anything about the West Highland Way you will know it is not something to be undertaken lightly, (which I did), it is something that should be trained for, (which I didn't), and  one should be properly prepared with the right equipment, boots etc, (which I wasn't). Looking back I was a little naive. "A wee 95 mile walk", I said, "Sure no bother, you just put one foot in front of the other right?" And even now, I would probably approach a similar task with a similar mindset. It's amazing the capacity the human body has to not learn it's lesson.

Cake shops like this are one of the many reasons I love Glasgow

Thankfully though my thoroughly prepared and experienced walking companion Ali had most of the bases covered so we were set. Well I would have been if only I had known that little trick of wearing walking boots a size bigger than usual so your feet have room to swell. Will I always have to learn these lessons the hard way? Why is there no manual to allow you to avoid learning such lessons the hard way? Pre-emptive solutions to not yet encountered problems, that's what I'm after. So head's up, next time you go for a 95 mile walk....wear big boots. 

Views like this are what can be seen from the way (of course there wasn't any of that snow there in September)

Anyway, day one over and game over for my poor big toes. With a great big blister under each toenail it was grin and bear it time from then on. Which would have been fine. I'm not above grinning and bearing it. I would have happily squeezed my screaming toes into my foolishly sized shoes for another 5 days had I not gone through a rapid overnight ageing process that left me with the knees of a 70 year old. Hobbling to the end of day two the thought of going on was beyond me. I would have happily lay down in the wood then and there and called it quits, the walk, life, the lot, were it not for the ever encouraging words from my faithful companion. So the two of us dragged ourselves over the last two miles of the day and arrived, seriously shook, at our second night's accommodation. This was where my foolishness and naivety really hit home. What was I thinking? A 95 mile walk? Who does that? Why does someone do that? 

I dwelled on these thoughts (and my pain) overnight and when I couldn't come up with a satisfactory answer in the morning I waved goodbye to Ali at the start of day three and hopped on the delightful ferry which took me across the loch (Loch Lomond should you be interested) to a main-road....with buses....and on to civilization. It took me all of forty minutes, including waiting time for bus and ferry, to get to our next night's accomodation. It took Ali 9 hours. It just doesn't add up. 

So the days went by in a disappointing haze of me attempting to walk, and failing. Day four was started with much pep in my step. My feet felt like they were returning to something resembling their normal size, knee was almost pain free and motivation was at an all time high. As we pushed north the desire to walk grew and grew. This was something I was not expecting and even now find hard to comprehend, but something in those Highlands definitely took over and try as I might to explain it to myself now it feels impossible to grasp it. I guess it was an in the moment thing. Anyway, I started out on a magnificent morning feeling on top of the world and seriously motivated to walk. Half an hour in, the pain starts. 6 miles later and I hobble to a halt. Luckily this coincided with the intersection of the main road before the way heads over Rannoch Moor and into nothingness so I decided the sensible thing to do would be to stop here and again catch a bus to that night's hotel. 

I was gutted. Really low. What a failure I was. 

Arriving in the hotel once again before I was allowed to check, I killed time in the bar looking out across all the stunning scenery. Thanks by the way to the lovely bus man who informed me as I was getting off the bus that I had just missed out the part of the way with the most impressive views and scenery. That really lifted my spirits. So it was decision time. Give up altogether? Head back to Glasgow? Rent a car? Battle on? No, I'd decided battling on was not an option. So I would rent a car, hang out, drive to the nice views I'd missed and find myself in the Highlands. It'd be magical....I had no driving license with me. Oh how I cursed my stupidity. So, still no plan of action, I drowned my sorrows in some fabulous ales and went to bed. 

Then the rains came.......and came.....and came....

 Perfect day for a stroll

We woke up on day 5 to the wind whipping around the hotel, the rains beating down on the roof and against the windows. It was the kind of weather where the only sensible thing to do is stay under a duvet. Or, go for an 8 mile walk over a big hill, in the Highlands, with a gammy knee.....and sore toes. With the weather what it was, that really was my only option. What else would I do in the pissing rain in the middle of nowhere when I couldn't get into the next hostel for another 5 hours or so?  I dosed myself up with drugs, strapped up my knee and readied myself for the ordeal ahead. 

It was amazing. I've never been so exposed to the elements in my life and it really was one of the most exhilarating experiences I've ever had. Again, it's probably a 'you had to be there' scenario and even looking back on it it's hard to remember why I would have felt the way I did. It makes no sense, but having nearly been blown off the mountain twice, walking through what were essentially rivers not paths, crossing waterfalls that the previous day and the day after didn't exist, screaming at the sky for what it was throwing down at us and coming through it all at the other end, in pain but alive, was fantastic. Oh how we earned our pints that day as well as redeeming a little bit of my self esteem. 

Conquering day 5 made it just that little bit less bitter a pill to swallow when I had to leave Ali off to complete the last day by herself, with her substitute walking partner that she picked up along the way. I was sorry not to cross the end point with her, but was delighted to be able to walk out and meet her there to congratulate what was on her part an extraordinary feat of strength both physical and emotional.

Would I reccommend this as a holiday? Hmmmm......

Is it fun? depends on your definition of fun. But having gone through the journey (I'm really not a 'journey' type of person) I can safely say it's one I won't forget. Despite the pain and what at times can be a monotonous and very challenging track, the sense of accomplishment, even having only actually completed half of it is fantastic. Not to mention the people we got to meet and the places we got to see and the ale we got to drink.  So....yes...I would recommend it. Just be bloody sure and have the right size shoes.
Tea and coffee left for the walkers by some lovely local. They were nowhere to be seen!


  1. How many miles a day then? About twenty? Madness. Well done you.

  2. Well Ali averaged about 16 miles a day I reckon but there were three days of nearly 20 miles. She was a demon for the walking.

  3. OMG. We were congratulating ourselves on our 20 KILOMETRES a day when we did the Wicklow Way. You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of!

  4. I think I would let someone pull me in some description of sumptuous cart. Is that the same?