|Posted on 3 February, 2014 at 17:55|
My planned End to End route was a 1236 mile off-road walking route from Land's End at the tip of Cornwall to John O'Groats at the tip of Caithness in the north of Scotland. Planned was a 64 day walking schedule at a average of 20 miles per day with an added 6 rest days totalling a epic adventure of 70 days. I had posted ahead 26 parcels around the UK filled with the dog food kindly provided by CSJ along with dog energy bars and also maps I needed. The dogs would then refill their packs with food at these points of the hike
On 23rd April 2012 I set off all fully kitted with the dogs carrying their own food and equipment needed for the hike. We (just the dogs and I) followed the spectacular northwest coast of Cornwall and Devon all the way. Most of it was on the South West Coast Path. Both the dogs and I found this section very hard due to the amount of ascents of descents on the coast path and also the weather battered us with gale force winds and very heavy rain for days. We had to sit out a severe weather warning in Boscastle for 2 days. Click on the following link to view a short video I filmed around noon on day six. The difference in appearance from the picture took at Lands End on day one shows how hard this coast path were. Lovely, if you didnt have a pack on your back and a storm in your face
When I arrived in Clovelly, Devon one dog (Tara) needed resting due to stiffness. I decided to send Tara’s pack home when in Barnstaple to relieve her from carrying weight. Her sister Jess and I shared her load. We then slowly plodded on at Tara’s pace.
We left the coast at Barnstaple and crossed Exmoor, the Quantocks and the Mendips to skirt Bristol and joined the Severn Way to reach the M42 Bridge over the Severn Estuary. I had to rest Tara again at Roadwater after crossing the Quantocks and also at Chedder after walking over the Brendon Hills and across the Somerset flats. I was getting concerned about Tara; would she cope and should I send her home? We had a long way to go. Her sister Jess was having no problems and loving the walk. She had a spring in her step that is when it wasn’t raining mind. The walk was slowly getting tougher and tougher even though it seemed I was getting fitter. Once across the bridge and into Wales we picked up the Offa's Dyke Path and followed it up the Wye valley and over the Black Mountains to Knighton, halfway up Offa's Path. Through this section the walk sometimes got quite dangerous due to farmland with fields full of cows with calves which resulted in us getting very harassed and sometimes chased. I had to deviate off route many times to avoid these dangerous episodes and this went on all the way through to the Scottish Borders. I was not happy and ate prime beef at every opportunity. An unscheduled rest stop was taken at Pandy, Powys to wait for dog boots to be posted to me. The pads of the dogs were showing wear and I was not taking any chances; we had a long way to go.
From Knighton we headed northeast through the Shropshire hills to cross the Severn again at Ironbridge. I had to rest at Ironbridge due to heat exhaustion and a pain shooting through my legs. The weather had finally improved after weeks of terrible downpours and high winds. But the weather has hot, very hot without a breeze. More deviations off route were needed to cool down the dogs in streams and rivers through Shropshire and this had left me and the dogs shattered. The heat persisted and we continued in a more easterly direction into Staffordshire, joining the Staffordshire Way and following it across Cannock Chase and north towards the Peak District. When I arrived in Penkridge, Staffordshire Tara’s stiffness had slowly developed into a limp and after consideration to send her home I decided to rest there for 3 days to see how bad the limp were. I gave her ‘no ache’ which is a natural herb containing devils claw root to ease any pain, again kindly provided by CSJ. I decided to walk on in the sun after a few days and while wishing for rain we crossed the Peak district along limestone valleys and gritstones edges heading to the start of the Pennine Way at Edale, Derbyshire. 2 rest days was fully enjoyed at Edale before setting off along the Pennine Way. My wish for bad weather days before had been heard as the clouds were low and it was raining hard. I wished I hadn’t wished now as it basically stayed like that until Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.
After leaving the Pennine Way near Todmorden, I headed over Worstholme moor towards home in Barnoldswick, Lancashire. After 2 days rest at home I reluctantly rejoined the Pennine Way. I had to rest in Keld, Alston and Greenhead due to my mental state. I had reached the half way point of the walk and it had dawned on me how far I still had to go. We had felt the distance done hard and it was demoralising to think what was ahead. Both dogs seemed not pleased with me after having the luxury of home being taken away again. Tara especially as her pack had been back on her back since leaving Barnoldswick. The rain didn’t help either with morale and I felt like giving up.
After a fantastic day walking along Hadrians Wall all seemed not as bad mentally and we marched on to Scotland. At Jedburgh I was interviewed for ITV Borders evening news during a scheduled rest day. This can be found by clicking on the following link (please excuse the hobo look).
Leaving Jedburgh we walked on Dere Street, a Roman road and crossed the Southern Uplands via Melrose, Peebles and West Linton to join the Union Canal west of Edinburgh. At Melrose I came down with a virus/bug which had me visiting the local doctors and having to stay tent bound for 4 days. After recovering I followed the Union Canal to Falkirk, then the Forth and Clyde Canal most of the way to Glasgow, leaving it for a disused railway track which is eventually joined by the West Highland Way. Being harassed by clouds of midges we followed the West Highland Way along Loch Lomond, over Rannoch Moor, and past the foot of Ben Nevis to eventually reach Fort William.
The dogs were now in fine condition. A little lean but very healthy with little sign of stiffness. The boots worn at intervals had protected they paws well and each morning and evening I gave the dogs a massage which had helped with their stiffness and condition. Their food at sometimes had to be rationed due to the days behind we were. Both dogs coped well with this rationing though when fed with the energy bars supplied. However I was worse for wear, I could not feel my thighs due to numbness; both feet felt like a bag of spanners. Although the surface of my feet was free of blisters the boots that I had walked in had little sole left. My mental state was waning again as I now didn’t want to take the girls over the remote Highlands. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to ford the 14 rivers I had to safely due to being in spate. The fact that I was a lone walker with dogs and that anything could happen to me or even worse the dogs in such a remote place was a risky challenge and needed reassessing. However I was bound. I had posted my supplies ahead to remote villages in the Highlands so it was go home or carry on and walk into the wilderness. I wanted to change route and head all the way up the Great Glen to Inverness and then north but decided against it as I were now well behind schedule and very low on funds.
After an extended break in Fort William we set off, initially following the Caledonian Canal to the northeast along the Great Glen, before cutting north into wilder areas of the Highlands. We walked over bealachs into Glen Garry, Strath Cluanie, upper Glen Affric, past the incredible sight of Falls of Glomach and down into Kinlochewe, the on to reach the head of Loch Broom on the west coast. I rested in Kinlochewe after not seeing anyone for days while crossing the remote areas and the socialisation for me and the dogs was much needed. From Loch Broom on the west coast our direction changed northeast, crossing more wild and remote country to Oykel Bridge. We all struggled at times with no path, the wildness of the highland’s peat hags and heather while having to avoid very visible Adders were taking their toll. Having to cross the rivers proved to be no problem as it had not rained in the Western Highlands for 8 week while the rest of the UK was drenched. My worries were eased but we were not there yet, we had over a hundred mile left and in front of us was difficult wet terrain over the flow county.
We headed around the south end of Loch Shin, then out of the mountains to the lower moorland around Crask. At Crask things went wrong. I had a dog in pain, Jess could not put her left front paw down and when I tried to inspect it she howled. I was gutted as she was 80 miles from her goal. I decided to all rest at Crask Inn with Jess visiting the vets at Rogart some 25 miles away. The cause was burned heather splinters and with no infection diagnosed she was prescribed painkillers to sooth her pain. It was several days later Saturday 28th July 2012 when we all walked into John O’Groats, elated, sore and ready for home.
Our actual hike was 1287 miles over 68 walking days averaging 19 mile per day. Shortest day was 11 mile while our longest day was 39 mile. The latter distance taking 16 hour and the former 5 hour but our average walking day was ten hour long. We had to rest 27 days due to various reasons. We spent 73 nights in a tent, 15 nights at B&B’s, 2 nights in garden sheds, a night in a brothy and a night in an abandoned lodge. 3 nights was also spent in our own beds at home.
The dogs have now settled back down their daily routine and are both in full health confirmed by their vet on returning home. The dogs would not of been able to undertake this walk if it wasn’t for the high protein diet and support from CSJ. My good friends Andre & Emma Physouni are responsible for me being able to complete the hike. They provided the transport for Lands End and John O’Groats and sorted all the logistics out once I had set off.