Part 3 of my journey to Mordor… I mean John O’Groats. It’s now the start of my 3rd week and I’ve just made it to the Lake District. This is where things start getting a little trickier…
Day 14: Kendal to Patterdale
It’s Saturday! To many people, this means weekend. To me, it meant time to get moving again. Refreshed from a sleeping to 11am and with the rigors of yesterday behind me; I set off for the Lakes.
A trip through the Lake District was not a textbook, economical manoeuvre up the country by any means. I could have easily stayed on the main road and been in Penrith in no time. However, I was so close to Windermere, it felt like it would be an absolute crime not to run that way. And when I say “run”, I really mean “walk” for the most part here. The muscles in my upper leg were so sore, running was made difficult. I could manage the uphill bits okay, but downhill felt quite painful.
This was also Saturday of the Sport Relief weekend. Walking through Windermere was fantastic for attention and support! Whether it was locals, or weekend tourists drawn to the glare of my ostentatious shorts, people were all very generous and I raised a good amount money for my troubles here.
Time dripped away that afternoon and I decided to get at least a little bit of proper running done before it went dark. The trouble is, at the precise moment of making this decision, I was approaching the start of the climb up the Kirkstone Pass. For anyone that doesn’t know what this is (as I didn’t), this is an unbelievably picturesque mountain pass through to Ullswater, and oh yeah, it also happens to be the highest pass open to traffic. I couldn’t help but notice the 20% gradient signs as I ran past them. When I got to the summit at the ‘Kirkstone Pass Inn’, I checked my phone, expecting to have run 12 or 13 miles to the top. Unfortunately for my self-esteem, my GPS app on my phone bluntly informed me that I had in fact run only 5. Blast!
The trek down felt just as tough; now pitch black as well to add to things. I made it to Patterdale, by Ullswater by 9pm I think. My legs had now completely seized up, which meant my next opportunity to sit down was a more permanent operation than I initially thought it would be. This non-voluntary sit down occurred at the “Old Water View”; a really nice place in a spectacular area of Patterdale. I walked through the door, and in my tired confusion, honestly mistook this for somebody’s home I’d accidetally walked in on. This, as it happened, was EXACTLY the look they were going for I was told by the owner; a mountaineer who had trekked Lands End to John O’Groats on foot himself some years before.
Due to his own experiences, I think he recognised my incapacitated demeanour and I was well looked after, plus it was great chatting with everyone in dining area before my last act of the day; heading over to the hostel up the road to pass out until morning.
Day 15: Patterdale to Gretna
I woke up to heavy rain at 7am and remember thinking to myself I was glad not to be camping this time. It’s not the most pleasant activity, having to get up and ready to go in the rain, so I was very grateful of the roof to make things a little easier. It eventually cleared up by 9am whilst running past Ullswater; a location I was last at 15 years ago for a Duke of Edinburgh type thing with school. I’m sure back when I was 14, I would NEVER have envisaged being able to remember something with clarity, something that happened 15 years ago. Must be getting old now!
Ullswater was exactly as I remembered it. Strikingly scenic and really good for running through; plus most of the hills were now behind me as the static water of the lake would confirm.
I had it in my mind all morning, that I would make my first main stop in Penrith, but when I got there, perhaps due to the good nights sleep, or the decent meal in me from the previous evening, I felt I had plenty of energy still, so quickly became impatient to move on.
It was a nice day today; quite sunny but incredibly windy. The running was tough, as I ran directly into the wind. I eventually made my first real rest and food stop in Plumpton at a place called the “Coral Room Café”. This was the surprising revelation for me I leant about myself; I seem to become more of a tourist in between the main cities. Quite often when I got to the default tourist areas, I either just wanted to sit down somewhere and do nothing, or I am eager to move on. Here, I became interested in everything. I’d never heard of Plumpton before, or any of the little places I passed through on route to Carlisle.
I ran an odd way into Carlisle (some would describe as ‘wrong’). My brain just had a blank moment (I get lots of these for some reason) and interpreted a road sign incorrectly. I felt like a child learning to read.
I did eventually reach the centre, foloowing my impromptu detour around the houses. My legs were VERY tired and I considered the option of stopping here for the night. Then I had coffee, lots of coffee.
Heavilly caffeinated miles always follow the same pattern: firstly, feeling brilliant! Full of energy and deluded ideas of running all night, to very suddenly feeling agonisingly tired and craving sleep like a small child. It was pitch black when this happened, so I just mindlessly pitched my tent somewhere that looked like grass, without paying too much attention to detail and went to sleep like a log.
Day 16: Gretna to Ettrick Marshes
That night was freezing, as in the coldest night of my trip so far, 5 degrees lower than my 2-season sleeping bag was built for. Yet strangely I slept absolutely fine. Climbing out my tent, there was an odd sensation of confusion. The thought of “how on Earth did I manage to sleep at all?” came to mind, as I didn’t notice last night how close to the M6 I was. I just saw grass and thought “that’ll do”. There was also a train line nearby, so between the noise of all the traffic and the layer of frost coating the tent, it all added up to make successful sleep here seem utterly unlikely. Oh well, all’s well that ends well…
Just a couple of miles jog into Gretna, then a quick pause here to acknowledge that I had now arrived in Scotland!
Nearly there then! In my mind, the rest of the journey went as follows: nip across to Edinburgh, up the road to Inverness, then John O’Groats. Easy! My god, I’m an idiot sometimes…
It wasn’t long into Scotland before I started to wonder when I last ate… Plumpton, yesterday afternoon. I had no food in my stomach, limited snacks in my rucksack and there was an unerring lack of stuff around me in all directions. Oh well, won’t be long until I find somewhere.
I trekked north all morning and afternoon, admiring the sights; trees, hills, fields, the occasional farm or shed. Very nice, but I could do with a shop. To add to the excitement, I then noticed the extent that my emergency supplies were running low. I had three cereal bars and a couple of 25g packets of biltong remaining. Surely a shop or somewhere to eat would appear before too long.
I elected to walk again as we hit the middle of the afternoon and I still had no food in me. The thought process of ‘conserve a bit of energy’ came to mind. I wouldn’t say I was panicking at this stage, but alarm bells were just beginning to ring. I was following the river Esk directly north when finally a sign for a village appeared – “Eskdalemuir”, five miles. Brilliant! Food is just five miles away!
Arriving in Eskdalemuir, I was greeted with sights such as, a couple of houses and a couple more sheds. No shops to be seen. There was nothing else for it really, I just had to move on without delaying.
The positive thing I clocked at this point, was that my feet didn’t really ache any more. Like the rest of my body, they had got used to the new, demanding workload. They now just let me get on with it. I also suspected I didn’t sweat as much in the heat any more. Amazing really, as water wasn’t exactly in short supply around here with clean streams everywhere, so it was nothing to do with dehydration. Just another demonstration of how the human body can adapt and become more efficient the further it is pushed.
Having said that, I decided starvation was not something I wanted to test it with.
Desperate now for something to eat, my heart leaped when I saw a sign for ‘café’ at a Tibetan monk religious retreat centre I passed in the middle of nowhere. Closed.
6pm… Do I wait until morning until it opens? Or do I move on and hopefully hit a more built up area sooner? It had now been a day and half since I last ate a light meal. Schoolboy error not stocking up before I got into Scotland, but I took the option of moving on.
I passed many signs for forests, caravans and rivers as I trudged on, but I was particular amused with all of the “neighbourhood watch area” signs I saw… What neighbourhood?!
Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing here through the Scottish Borders. I was just in a bit of pain and my stomach felt sick. I put a tent up and ate the second to last bit of my emergency food among the many trees I found. I thought it best to save the last cereal bar until morning.
Day 17: Ettrick Marshes to Eddlestone
I woke up not feeling that hungry strangely. Then I ate my final cereal bar and instantly became excruciatingly hungry. How does that work? Was that a bad move?
I kept myself moving using a combination of things – vitamin tablets that contained a few calories (a bit like Berocca) added to stream water I found everywhere, and pure will-power just to keep my legs turning. There were at least signs of life now along these long, winding roads, in the form of trucks carrying timber. As the area was mostly forest, timber was clearly the main industry here.
I must have inhaled so much sawdust every time one of these trucks went past. This was probably a very dangerous road to be on now I think about it. I repeatedly had to leap urgently out of the way every few minutes. I was still more focused on the ache and constant noises coming from my empty stomach.
Well into the afternoon now, and despite my diminishing pace, I somehow managed to pull a quad muscle, which was getting progressively worse. More worryingly however, I could definitely feel my ribs now from the recent lack of sustenance.
Then suddenly, completely out of nowhere, I clocked a main road with cars on it in the far off distance. Adrenalin then obediantly kicked in and I miraculously ran faster than I had done in days. As I crossed a bridge over the river Yarrow I saw the building pictured below; a celestial beam, a picture of salvation… I saw, a pub!
“The Gordon Arms” in Yarrow. I have such good things to say about this place. My first meal in over 2 days (I had haggis, obviously) and I discovered the colossal generosity of Scottish people, despite the stereotype. I don’t think there was a person in there that didn’t donate to my run. I definitely looked a little worse for wear at this point on my trip, which possibly added a sympathy card, but still a terrific response.
I left there feeling revitalised and replenished. I didn’t even mind the big hill out of Yarrow. Unfortunately however, shortly after, the torn muscle on my quad progressed further to become unbearable; even walking was pretty agonising, although it did lead to my following discovery: if you roll running leggings up, by the time reaches your quads, it produces a pretty good amount of compression to ease the pain. Every cloud, right?
I managed as far as Eddlestone, before I’d had enough for the day. Dave Hunt (my lift to Lands End) had put me in contact with his sister Ali upon hearing where I was, who happened to live in south Edinburgh. Ali very kindly drove down to Eddlestone to pick me up to save me camping out where I was.
I was once again broken. Such a nuisance when that happens, but another night in a bed lifted my spirits massively.
Day 18: Eddlestone to Dalgety Bay
I spent a good portion of that morning poured over a map with Ali and Jim, where I was given loads of ideas for my route and coastal paths to try once I got back to Edinburgh.
A slightly later start to normal at 9:30am back in Eddlestone. The road here was an absolute nightmare to run on; narrow, uneven grass verges ran alongside the main road and no footpath for miles. I moved along steadily all the way back up to Edinburgh where I’d spent the night. It’s unbelievable how much difference a good night’s sleep can make. I was utterly broken, tired and quad muscle in pain only 12 hours ago; now I was running along like the previous few days never happened!
Reaching Edinburgh, I had some time to kill for a change. My plan was to stay over at my friend Ric’s house in Dalgety Bay and I was well ahead of schedule for that. I wondered around the streets of Edinburgh complete with rucksack, camera and a look of boyish wonder on my face. I loved it there!
Following Ali and Jim’s advice, I took the coastal path towards Queensferry (where the Forth Bridge is), which was stunning. My stomach had shrunk a lot in the past couple of days, which made eating large amounts difficult now. However, the value of eating food was well and truly etched into my brain now, so I stopped for food here before crossing the Forth Bridge.
Then my sat nav, in a moment of whimsy, sent me running in the wrong direction for two and half miles.
One of the lessons I’ve learned on this trip is never to dwell on anything; being frustrated or angry at things wastes such a lot of energy. So with that in mind, I can only be proud of my reaction to learning of this needless five mile detour. I simply acknowledged the mistake, immediately turned around and set off back in the right direction without hesitation or annoyance. I call it “Vulcan running”, as it’s basically like switching your negative emotions off. Did I mention it was also raining? It was, obviously.