A change of plan

I blame Transport Direct. I’ve not really been paying too much attention to the news beyond the Israel/Lebanon stuff in the past week, but I have been using Transport Direct to check train times for getting up to Scotland, so assumed that as I’d been specifically checking for the 21st and 22nd July, there were no expected problems on those days. After all, you assume they’d warn you of the possibility of strike action disrupting all services and making it highly unlikely that you’d get north of Leeds on Friday, wouldn’t you?

So, I’ve had to delay the start of the walk by two days – I’ll now be travelling up on Sunday and Monday and starting Tuesday. The one main benefit of this change is that it means I don’t have to drive across to the Midlands today in some of the hottest weather of the year. However, it’sstill rather annoying as I’ve been mentally preparing myself to start on Sunday and now have to hold on for another couple of days – a case of walkus interruptus, I guess.

Media star

It’s not on the web, so you don’t get to see the lovely picture of me, but I was in my local paper today (the Colchester Evening Gazette). Unsurprisingly, it was about the walk, and accompanied by a picture of me in the back garden with a rucksack and a couple of walking poles.

Also thanks to Tim for the plug for the walk today as well. If I knew anything about Blogads, I’d make one myself to plug it, but as I don’t and I’m not sure if I’ve got the time to learn before I go, anyone who wants to make something to plug the walk, please go ahead and do it!

20 days and counting

Just an update on what’s happening with my preparations for the walk. Everythings going pretty smoothly so far – I’m getting in a nice selection of long day walks as training, and discovering that an astonishing number of nettles grow around the fields of Essex. Even with long trousers on, I came back with quite heavily stung legs the other day. I’ve been doing short walks the last few days, mainly because the heat and humidity have been pretty high, and it seems pretty silly to run the risk of getting heat or sunstroke by pushing too far in this sort of weather. There are some very nice day trips available on the Essex Way around Colchester – I’d especially recommend walking through Dedham Vale on a lovely sunny day.

My current plan is to start from John O’Groats on the 23rd of this
month which should give me plenty of time (and days off) to reach Edinburgh by my birthday. I’ll be leaving Colchester around the 19th to go back to the Midlands for a couple of days, then likely taking the train up to Scotland on the 21st, though it will take a couple of days travelling to get all the way to John O’Groats.

As there are likely to be various times when I’m not able to get to a computer to post an update as to where I am, my friend Ben will be stepping in to the breach on occasion to do so. I’ll be calling him from the road at various points and he’ll be posting updates here. Be nice to him – it’s his first time blogging!

What you can do

As I’m only about 8 weeks away from setting out on my walk, time for an update as my body now seems to be willing to work properly again and has got over the teething problems, aches and pains. So, as promised, here’s what you can do to help while I’m walking.

First and foremost, you can sponsor me and help me raise money for the Brain Research Trust. I’ve set up a page with JustGiving to make it all very easy to donate online (and for me to keep a running total of what’s been raised) or you can send donations to the Trust directly. I’ll also have sponsor forms should any of you want to help raise money offline – email me and I’ll send you one, and I’ll put link to a downloadable one ASAP. You can also click on the Trust and JustGiving links that are now in pride of place on the sidebar.

(Update: You can now download a sponsorship form (.doc format) from here)
You can also tell people about my walk as I’m doing it. I’m hoping to be blogging the journey as I travel down, so you can read about it as it happens. There’s even a slightly different address – http://www.nickbarlow.com/walk – which will take you to a slightly different version of this blog containing just the posts about the walk, so please plug that.

If you want to do a bit to help me with the organisation of the walk, you could help by buying some of the maps and guides I’ll need for the trip. I’ve set up an Amazon Wishlist of the ones I’m going to be needing (it’s mostly for the Scottish and Northern England section right now) and when I’m done with the walk, I’ll auction off those I’m not likely to need again in the near future (which should be most and probably all of them) with all the proceeds from that going to the Trust.

For those of you who want to be a bit more active, I’ll welcome any company you want to give me on the walk. If you want to come walking with me for a few hours, a day or longer, then get in touch – I can’t be exact about where I’ll be on any given day, though I’ll know the rough area I’m planning to be on certain dates, so we can sort something out.

If you want something more sedentary, I’ll be quite happy to have volunteer support drivers for as long as you want to do it. Basically, it involves giving my shoulders a bit of a rest by meeting me in the morning and picking up my rucksack, then meeting up again in the evening. You can have a nice day out, and I get to be several kilos lighter for a few hours. Also, anyone who wants to have a short break in Northern Scotland at the end of July or Cornwall in late September/October and wants to give me a lift to the start or finish of the walk to save me from the train will be very welcome.
If you happen to live on or near the route I’ll be taking, I’ll also be very grateful for any offers of accomodation for a night to spare me from B&Bs and campsites for just one night. Hopefully, I’ll have a string of interesting anecdotes to entertain you with in exchange for your hospitality.

Finally, if you’re in or around the Midlands, my brother Andrew is planning a fundraising evening for when I’ll be back in Redditch, so it should be on or around September 15th. The more the merrier, and I’ll have more details as they’re available.

Oh, and if anyone’s done parts of the route I’ll be on and wants to offer any hints, tips or advice, then I’m all ears.

Irony hurts

Oh, I do love the Universe’s sense of humour – ever since I’ve started getting into serious preparation mode for my walk, my body has protested with little injuries. I managed to strain or pull a muscle in my shin on election day two weeks ago, and then just as that’s returning to normal, I wake up this morning and discover that I was sleeping in a contorted position last night so I’ve got a rather painful neck today. Not that such niggling things will stop me, but they’re just annoying… I’m guessing I’ll pick up a cold around the time the weather starts getting hot next month.

And today’s thought: how is it that ibuprofen gel is effective on the area it’s applied on, but doesn’t do anything to your fingers?

Where the road leads

So, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in the last few weeks looking at maps and reading guidebooks, yet still I haven’t finalised the route I’m going to be taking on my walk. Partly that’s because I think it’s best not to set a route that’s too definite, just to allow me to change and improvise along the way if some other direction looks preferable and partly because it feels a bit too much like tempting fate to be doing detailed planning for the later sections before I’ve even started the walk. So, here’s the plan so far:

You don’t actually start at John O’ Groats – the Scottish equivalent of Land’s End is Duncansby Head, a couple of miles to the east of the village. But, the road leads through John O’ Groats anyway, and it sounds more poetic, so you can assume that’s the start of the trip. From there, it’s south on the A99 through Wick until it meets up with the A9, then following that south along the coast through Caithness. Most of that section is following the road, but there are some diversions onto pathways along the way. While walking along roads can be dull, it’s a good way to start the walk, I think, allowing me to have a long warmup before hitting any hills. Also, having read a few accounts of people who’ve started from Land’s End and travelled north, it’s a somewhat dull end to the walk, so probably a good idea to get it out of the way early.

Eventually, after crossing the Dornoch Firth, Cromarty Forth, Black Isle and the Moray Forth, I’ll get to Inverness and the start of the first proper long-distance path of the walk – the Great Glen Way. As the name suggests, that follows the Great Glen (Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and the Caledonian Canal) to Fort William, where the West Highland Way begins. I’m actually going the backwards route down the WHW – the conventional way is to start at Milngavie (just outside Glasgow) and go northwards but needs must, and maybe some other time I’ll get a chance to walk it in the ‘proper’ direction.

At Milngavie, I’m going to turn away from my destination and walk towards the east (and a little to the North), following the Millennium Link canal paths through Falkirk and Linlithgow to get to Edinburgh. A friend of mine is performing on the Fringe this year, and if I get my timings right I should be able to arrive in Edinburgh on or around my birthday (August 18th) which will make it a good time to stop and rest my feet for a couple of days – it won’t be the first day off I’ve had of course, I’m not that mad, but I suspect it’ll be the most enjoyable.

From Edinburgh, I head south-easterly towards Kelso and Kirk Yetholm, the start of the Pennine Way, which will hopefully be my route through a lot of England all the way down to Edale in Derbyshire. A lot of end to end walks tend to jump across to the west at this point, to follow Offa’s Dyke along the Welsh border to the Severn, but as a Midlander by birth, I’ll be walking through the heart of the country, heading down past Buxton, Ashbourne, Uttoxeter and Lichfield, then through Birmingham to my home town of Redditch, for another couple of days break.

From Redditch, it’s south through the Vale of Evesham to Broadway, where I’ll pick up the Cotswold Way (which starts nearby at Chipping Campden) and follow that to its end at Bath Abbey. After that, it’s west across the Mendips and the Quantocks to Minehead in Devon, where the South West Coast Path begins and will roughly take me (allowing for cutting corners and including a stopover to visit a friend near Barnstaple) all the way to Land’s End, where I’ll probably sit down and refuse to move for a couple of weeks. If everything holds up, I should hopefully make it there around the end of September, about two months after I set out from John O’ Groats.

So, that’s the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ explained a bit more. Coming next, more of the ‘how’.

I know what I’m doing this summer

So, I’ve only been posting sporadically recently, mainly because a lot of the time I used to spend blogging I’m now spending walking. While both tend to be rather solitary and involve going round in wide circles to end up in either the same place or a completely new place with no idea how to get back to where you started, they’re not really compatible.

So, why has walking won out over writing? Because this summer I’m going to be walking from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. (And no, I’m not doing it naked and no, you’re not the first person to think of asking that)

Why am I doing this? It’s something that’s always been in the back of my mind as something I want to do, and the circumstances have finally come together to change it from one of those things that I’d get round to doing some time before I die to something I’m doing this year.

Last year, my brother Simon died. He was first diagnosed with a brain tumour in 1998 and after seven years of operations, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, all clears, relapses and lots of normal life in between, a third tumour was finally too much for him and he died on October 11th. It was around then that I realised I’d finally be doing my walk this summer. After all, Simon was probably the fittest member of our family – he’d run the Paris and New York marathons – so something like this seemed a perfect way to remember him. Plus, I’d sooner walk 1000 miles than try and run 26, but I’m strange that way.

Serendipity and Radio 4 came into play at that point, helping me discover the existence of the Brain Research Trust whose work includes studies into the causes of and possible cures for brain tumours and it gave me another reason to do this walk – to raise money for them in the hope that it might just do a little bit to help
other families not have to go through the same pain we did.

So, that’s the what and the why sorted out. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you about the where and the how soon enough.