Are there any problem solvers in the congregation? Then you'll know the old saw "Where are we now, where do we want to be and how are we going to get there?"
This map shows the fourteen start points on the west coast of Scotland. The green and yellow shaded area represents the countryside that Challengers must stay within to walk to the east coast. Rail and bus services are shown in red for rail and green for buses. Quite why red is chosen for rail services defeats me as I would have chosen black but this is a free country and Challengers are free spirits.
As you already know, if you have read previous posts on this year's Challenge, I'm starting at Acharacle - number ten on the map - and so my journey there ("where do we want to be") from the Thames Valley ("where are we now") is reasonably straightforward. The "how are we going to get there" bit results in a combination of trains to London, a hike across our capital city, the Caledonian Sleeper to Fort William, and a bus via the Corran Ferry with an overnight stay at Salen as the hotel at the start point was fully booked, then the school bus the following morning to Acharacle.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before all this can happen there's the small matter of bagging up the food into the relevant parcels and sending them off to be collected by a ravenous hiker later on on the walk.
CHOCOLATE, BREAKFAST BARS, TUNA, WRAPS, DEHYDRATED MEALS, SNACKS AND DRINKS
DUTIFULLY BAGGED AND READY TO GO
The new boots needed to be 'proofed with Nikwax (thank the Good Lord Himself I did this!) and kit gathered together for the first time in a year to be stuffed into waterproof bags inside another, larger, waterproof bag to then be stuffed inside my trusty rucksack.
IT ALL HAS TO FIT INSIDE THAT LITTLE GREY BAG.
It never ceases to amaze me that it actually does fit in the tiny grey bag.
For those in the back pews fond of image intelligence, you'll note that the imitation white roses are missing a bloom. It is currently stuck in the innards of my Dyson. Any offers of help for its retrieval will be gratefully accepted.
And that's how you now find me hogging two 'priority seats' on a suburban train heading for Britain's largest and busiest railway station in reasonably good order, but blessed with zero fitness, not having carried a pack for a full year and having done no training walks whatsoever.
It has to be said, I struggled like hell carrying my pack across the Jubilee Bridge and then up the long slow hill heading north away from the Thames towards Euston, which seems to have relocated itself to the top of a very steep hill since I last frequented that Architectural Horror.
LONDON, FROM THE GOLDEN JUBILEE BRIDGE SPANNING THE THAMES
I should charge for this albeit very brief, foot tour of London. By the halfway point in this epic footslog I was beginning to tire. Fortunately I recalled an excellent stopping-off point which also had the added advantage of selling food and drink. I made it through the doors as they were calling last orders for nourishment, and so snaffled an excellent haddock, chips and peas washed down with a couple of pints of London's finest muscle relaxant.
A LONDON PUB
A RELAXED CHALLENGER
Last year, Paul and I very nearly missed the Sleeper to Inverness as the good people at Euston Station didn't let the travelling public know that the train was actually in the station and ready to depart. That was not going to happen this year, and so I strode away from the Plough with purpose and a new found dynamism. After a couple of hundred yards this foolishness abated and I was back to a steady plod, passing the British Museum and a few hidden gems along that way.
RUSSELL SQUARE CABMEN'S SHELTER
TAVISTOCK SQUARE: MAHATMA GANDHI
ST PANCRAS NEW CHURCH
I made it to the unannounced platform with an hour to spare before departure and so was first in the queue for checking in to my rather nice berth. The staff on this service are extraordinarily efficient, polite and I would go as far as to say friendly. The train is modern, comfortable and clean, and the club class rooms come with an ensuite bathroom - a shower and loo. Travelling Club Class also gives you priority access to the Dining Car. All in all it's a very good experience and a first class way to travel to Scotland overnight.
THE BOWELS OF UGLY, UGLY, EUSTON STATION & THE CALEDONIAN SLEEPER
SLIPPING OUT OF THE EUSTON HELL-HOLE ON MY WAY TO FORT WILLIAM
DINING CAR DESSERT
POST DINNER SNIFTER
I woke up as we climbed softly up the floating railway from Rannoch Station to Corrour. Rain was brushing the windows as I tucked in to a Full Highland Breakfast. I thought about the dozens of Challengers who were already walking through this weather as this year there was an elongated staggered start. Usually most Challengers start on a Friday, but for this year's larger entry and problems with Covid, Challengers were encouraged to start on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. I'll write more on this later.
Leaving the station at Ft William I decided to head for the coffee shop above Nevis Sports to re-sort my pack for the stuff I needed for today and have a leisurely morning doing sod-all. That's always a good plan on a journey.
Fort Bill is not a wildly attractive town at the best of times but the wind and rain make it pretty ghastly; I was far better off indoors. Countless cream buns and white coffees later as I watched the weather worsen from a light drizzle to thrashing wind blown rain, I climbed aboard the Shiel Buses service to Salen. I have nothing but good things to say about this company. The driver seemed to know everyone and diverted slightly from the route to deliver the less-able to their front doors. After a very pleasant journey he then delivered me almost to the front door of my B&B.
AN OVERCAST, COLD AND BLOWY SCOTLAND FROM OUTSIDE MY B&B AT SALEN
Ready or not, I'm here. The weather is grim. I'm unfit, I'm unprepared and I'm overweight.
What could possibly go wrong?
Here's one of my all-time favourites. They don't write them like this anymore.
In the chilly hours and minutes of uncertainty
I want to be in the warm heart of your loving mind
To feel you all around me
And to take your hand along the sand
Ah, but I may as well try and catch the wind
When sundown pales the sky
I want to hide a while behind your smile
And everywhere I'd look, your eyes I'd find
For me to love you now, would be the sweetest thing
To my shame, you are ahead of me sir. Mind you, I do mine in 'a oner', and I've just arrived in Braemar, so...ReplyDelete
Anonymous just has to be Mad'n'Bad Mr Walker... Looking forward to it, Sir! However, if it isn't that crazed gentleman, show yourself, who hidden Ninny!Delete
Anonymous was not I sir. Not sure who it was. Just listening to Donovan now. Might learn that for next year 😁🎸🎶🎙️Delete
A lovely portrait of your journey. I’m looking forward to the next instalment.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Miss! You could always get a red pen out and scribble all over the text to make appropriate corrections. On second thoughts, don't do that, as there would be nothing left! ☺️Delete
Much as I would love to point out some glaringly embarrassing errors, it really is looking very good 😊Delete
Seat belt buckled. Ready for the trip.ReplyDelete
All good backpackers carry a decent towel. You're going to need one to dry yourself off after each episode.Delete
Hello, Sweet Thang! Chilled, Sir. Properly ice cool. Now. 😂Delete
Always very nice to read your very well-written stories sir! I'm already looking forward to reading more! Cheers!ReplyDelete
You're a very kind fellow, Mark.☑️Delete
Always good to know what I missed! Looking forward to the rigours of the trip from the comfort of a soft squidgy arm chair. 😉ReplyDelete
There were quite a few moments on the Challenge this year when a soft squidgy armchair was infinitely more preferable to forcing myself through sodden bog, Sir.Delete
A sound start.ReplyDelete
I like your opening question and I'm still thinking about it. You may next be be running it up the flag pole, rolling it out, making a robust plan to ensure this never happens again, and going forward, most likely into a perfect storm.
🤣👍Comment of the week, Conrad.Delete
So good to see you use 'Highland Perthshire' on a parcel rather than the awful 'Perth and Kinross'.ReplyDelete
Good to see you made back in one piece . I,m looking forward to reading about your trip across scotland .And to unblock the dyson take it to a garage with a good strong airline they should be able to blow the rose head out .ReplyDelete