It takes nineteen hours to travel from my front door to a hotel on the north west coast of Scotland. With each passing hour there is a subtle shedding of an urban life in Southeast England.
|CLOUDBURST, THE M4 HEADING INTO LONDON FROM THE TOP OF A BUS|
In torrential rain, I travel a congested computer-controlled urban motorway. I'm aware of overhead gantries, tarmacadam, crash barriers, trucks and cars. People are invisible. Then there are the huge monoliths of the city - temples to retail, and buses & taxis. There are people on pavements but the predominant impression is of colossal urban mass. Pedestrians are abstract figures.
A stroll from Hyde Park, up Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue and though gentle Bloomsbury invites contact at street level with tourists from the world over, the very well-heeled and then the manicured modern-day students. All seem happy, most are smiling, but eye contact is rare. Yet none are more happy than this Challenger, laden down with a rucksack, heading for the Bree Louise, Euston, for a pie and a few pints, to meet up with old friends.
|BREE LOUISE, EUSTON: RAY & PHIL|
|BREE LOUISE, EUSTON: GORDON|
Leaving the pub perilously close to the Caledonian Sleeper's departure time, we scramble aboard, dump our packs in our berth and head to the bar. All the seats are taken but at the far end of the carriage we are invited by a very smiley chap to sample Tomatin whisky. Six bottles of whisky. It is to be a long night.
|TOMATIN WHISKY TASTING ON THE CALEDONIAN SLEEPER|
Halfway through we leave the crush of the bar and find seats with Vic & Nic Slawski, and Thom Sandberg from Minneapolis, USA.
|THOM SANDBERG & PHIL|
Thom has come prepared for the Challenge; His jacket's red silk lining is actually a map of the world, featuring Minneapolis and his route across Scotland. However, there is a problem; Thom's boots are in Oxford. He could well be the first Challenger to stroll across Scotland in his sneakers.
|THOM MAY WELL BE WALKING ACROSS SCOTLAND IN THESE SHOES...|
Somewhere in the proceedings we lose count, and when finally the excellent free Tomatin stops flowing we resort to buying our whisky.
The early morning bus ride from Inverness to Dornie is hellish. My scalp hurts and Phil complains of a mysteriously injured leg. The friendly staff at our hotel sort out soft drinks, and after an alfresco gentle lunch we retire for a recovering afternoon snooze and cups of restorative tea.
|5:00 AM VIEW FROM OUR DORNIE HOTEL BEDROOM WINDOW|
This is our view from the hotel at 5:00am the next morning. A soft mackerel sky, a sea loch and complete silence. The contrast between the first and last images of this post could not be more complete.