John’s Walk for Freedom

This journey started last year (2018), when we were in Scotland with our daughter Zoe, who had just started working for IJM UK. We were in an outdoor shop on a wet day, John picked up a book on walking from Land’s End to John O Groats and said ‘maybe I’ll do that next year when I’m 60’… Zoe then pipes up ‘you could raise money for IJM while you walk’… so started the plan!

We have been challenged weekly by the stories of success and pain that Zoe shares with us, so looked carefully into all IJM do and find they are so successful in helping people escape the bondage of modern day slavery. We also have a child-free house for the first time in 25 years so are ready for an adventure.

So here goes, 2+ months in a friend’s camper van, 1,000 miles and supporters all up the British Isles to meet up with, tell the story to, walk with, eat with, borrow a bed for the night and rekindle friendships (and make new ones) we have neglected while working probably too hard for a long time.

Please join us, either physically or virtually and help us to help lots of others walk in freedom – Thank you!

Return to the Isle of Man

Saturday 16th November – with Fiona!

Driving down the M6 from Lancaster, after a lovely evening with friends in the Lake District. Bablu rarely gets into the fast lane, but even in the inside lane, she was travelling at 60mph! Quite a contrast to my journey, walking cross country, moving at an average of 3mph! I had reflected on this a little while walking north, along the Lancaster Canal to Kendal, a few weeks ago now. I was travelling about the same speed as the canal boats and the train would occasionally speed past, while the M6 traffic was constantly flashing past at 25x my speed.

Although the folk in the fast lane were getting to their destination very quickly, whether that be to earn money, see friends and family for the weekend, or simply getting a buzz from travelling fast, I wondered if their experience  would be as memorable, as significant, or ultimately as helpful and fulfilling as mine.

Even if we do enjoy the cut and thrust of our busy lives, my experience over the past two months is that it doesn’t do you any harm, and hopefully will do a lot of good to take life more slowly for a while, maybe get out of your normal routine, your comfort zone and walk at 3mph (or slower … or just stop and sit down!)

In the Bible, Jesus set a pretty good example for us to follow (and if he needed time out then we probably all need to!) Why not read Mark’s Gospel to find out more? As Jesus walked through the crowd … although he was busy, the speed with which he walked must have been slow enough for people to reach out to him, and for him to converse with them. PS…. Although I walked through several streams, ditches and rivers and even swam in the sea, the nearest I got to walking on water was walking over many bridges!

This has been a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends, who have also consciously chosen to take a day or two out of their schedule, to walk or meet up … and generally, I think (and hope) that, like me, they have benefitted from their experience. Several people have shown an interest in doing something similar, to visit new places, to commit to a new challenge, meet new people and take a different perspective of life and its priorities.

Of course, even the walk hasn’t all been easy and definitely not a ‘walk in the park’, but that also is true of life. Friends and family are currently going through some of the most difficult stages of their lives.

It was amazing to constantly see the geese flying overhead on my walk through England … Scotland …to see how they chose to fly as a team to get to their destination, and while they would take their turn at the front, doing the hardest work, and bearing the biggest burden on the journey, others would step in to give them a break and share the difficulties, working together.

Watching them, reminded me that I need to do likewise. Just as people have encouraged me along the walk, particularly when I have doubted myself, or if the elements were against me, I need to do that with the people in my ‘normal’ life (whatever ‘normal’ is in the future).

Looking further ahead, one day it would be good to do another expedition; but maybe that’s for five years hence … there are already a few ideas buzzing round in my mind … spending two months walking has definitely not put me off, quite the contrary. I think Fiona finds that quite alarming!

Great homecoming from lots of friends ❤️
Beard money – so worth it 🤣

Day 48 – The Final Day

Tuesday 12th November – with Zoe

9.08 miles … 23,749 … 1,047’ ascent … 1,334 calories … 3 hours 31 minutes

Another windy and wet start from the dramatic location of Freswick Castle on the wild coastline. It was particularly appropriate that I walked this last section with Zoe, as she set me off on my way at Lands’ End, almost 2 months ago on September 20th. I looked at a photo taken on that day … it almost looked like we could have been brother and sister. Now 48 days of walking later I could very easily be Zoe’s great grandfather! It certainly must be strange to passers by, that there’s a picture of somebody completely different on the van, to the person walking … maybe they think it’s a relay?

Incredible castle

As we walked past a few more dramatic cliffs, with many more seals on the beaches below, the strong wind made conversation difficult … but plenty of time for thought. When I woke up this morning, my right foot found it difficult to get from the bed to the bathroom and I had genuine doubts about walking these last 9 miles. Amazingly, AS I started walking, my foot was fine… although possibly numbed by the cold water in my socks and trainers.

Duncansby Stacks

Making good progress at 4km/hr, we reached Noss Point, where the final lighthouse warns off shipping in wild weather. In 1959, the year of my birth, a trawler from Aberdeen was a victim of the elements and 13 lives were lost at this point. Just a short walk in a westerly direction, along the beach, with the Orkney Isles to the north, and we could see the iconic buildings of John O Groats. It would be untrue to say that the location actually lives up to its renowned reputation … but we had made it and fittingly Fiona was there to greet us with her bunch of IJM balloons and a bottle of Champagne.

We made it!

We took photos (as best we could in the wind), with the banner from one of our sponsors, the Isle of Man Steam packet Company, and a school sweatshirt from the one school I visited en route in Lymm, Little Bollington Primary School. I was also appropriately wearing my mohair socks, that were given to me by Claire and Mike, who breed the goats on the Isle of Man. They have been very well used and definitely are to be recommended.

Happy team mates
John O Groats Hotel

After the photos, in a rather bleak and deserted John O Groats, we had lunch in the Seaview Hotel, with two friends, James and Doreen Mellor, who are also staying at Freswick Castle… and that was the perfect location to spend the final evening with Murray Watts and Monique and have some inspiration al conversations about vision for the future and some amazing God-incidences over the past 50 years. One of Murray’s favourite passages from the Bible is found in Psalm 27 ‘I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord’.

On this walk I have seen this to be my testimony, what a unique opportunity this has been to reconnect with ‘old’ friends and make so many new ones. You have all been an amazing encouragement and blessing to me and Fiona … who has had the hardest part to play on this journey, I have just walked!

Freswick Castle walled garden
More footprints in the sand as Zoe runs along the beach!
Breathe in Bablu…

You may be interested to know the final statistics of the actual walk?

48 days walking

6 rest days

1,078 miles

349 hours 54 minutes of walking

2,288,191 steps

137,204 calories burned

101,534’ ascent … equivalent to climbing Mt Everest more than 3 times from sea level!

PS Craig, I was a good boy and walked at an average of 3mph!

More importantly, the latest fund-raising total for IJM is £26,692.44, sufficient to finance 5 rescues and I am hopeful that we will make that one more when we get to £30,000.

You have all played your part in making these rescues possible and what a difference we have made to those lives, well done and thank you!

Deeply spiritual Chapel

Day 47 – Wick to Freswick Castle

Monday 11th November – with Crispin Heath

No data yet – waiting for WiFi… about 18 miles

The penultimate day … wet, windy, walking with Crispin.

John and Crispin starting at Wick

I was in good company today for an early start from Wick with Crispin Heath, a very experienced outdoor instructor who helped build up Fiona’s confidence and skills in the outdoors, during her year at Moray House in Edinburgh.

The weather could have been a tad better … easterly winds buffeting us as we negotiated the wild coast of Caithness. Thankfully Crispin was in charge of photography, which made life easier for me in the wet weather.

We walked through Wick in the dark and then followed through to Staxigoe and on to Noss Head, where we had a close look at the Lighthouse and the very dramatic Castle Sinclair… still very much intact.

At least we had the weather behind us as we travelled west along to Ackergill Tower. Sinclair’s Bay is enormous, and the waves were wild today. We were able to walk along the top of a ridge of sand dunes, with the golf course to our left and the North Sea to our right. Eventually we had to take the road for our lunch meeting with Fiona at Keiss Harbour – as a river crossing would have been too dangerous.

Fiona joined us for the first part of the afternoon walk, despite the inclement conditions, leaving us as we reached the remains of the old Keiss Castle.

Keiss castle
Poignant view of the beaches on Remembrance day from this bunker

On the final section we came across a whale’s jaw fixed into the wall of a farm we passed, Crispin had seen something similar in Fife before, but it was a first for me.

With light fading fast, we travelled the last mile on the road, with Freswick Castle ahead of us. A farmer did stop on the main road with his tractor and trailer offering us a lift … it was tempting, but these feet have gone so far, I’d like to finish the journey unassisted!

Freswick castle
Unbelievable setting

What a dramatic location for the last two nights of our journey … everything you could ever imagine sleeping in a castle would be like … and more. We are being hosted by Murray Watts, a good friend, well know author and playwright. We also shared the evening with Zoe, here for the final day tomorrow, and James and Doreen Mellor. It was a very special time as we caught up with one another, shared communion after dinner (nestled up, just like that first time) and remembered our dear friend Miranda Harris, who we all miss so much, but are so thankful that she has been part of our lives.

It was good to have the day with Crispin and I regret not having properly said ‘Goodbye’ when he left this afternoon with Fiona, as he is heading back to Fife on the train tomorrow. Thank you, Crispin!

DAY OFF – Wick with the Paterson’s

Sunday 10th November

After a splendid Scottish cooked breakfast with the Paterson family, it was a great pleasure to worship at Wick Baptist Church, where we were given a very warm welcome. It was a poignant reminder of just how much we have to be grateful for in the light of the sacrifice made by so many so that we may have the freedom to make our own choices. Many paid the ultimate sacrifice for their countrymen, families and their descendants.

Matt Alexander spoke in both morning and evening services and particularly challenged me that we should look out for each other more and not take the attitude that we are not responsible for our brother or those in the community.

In the evening meeting they invited me to share of my experiences of the long walk to freedom and talk about the work of the International Justice Mission. The Church and individuals gave generous donations for the walk to IJM, so that I can officially announce we will have raised enough for 5 rescues once all the money has been banked (over £25,000), and I would love to make it to 6 rescues … which would be twice our agreed target of £15,000 (3 rescues). As Desmond Doss said in the amazing film ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ made to show the Battle of Okinawa in WW2 ‘just one more…’

The verse on the notepad of the man in front of me in Church was freom Jeremiah 29:11 ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future’. It was written to the Jewish exiles many years ago but is equally relevant today … a promise to free people from captivity when we pray.

Suffice to say that more calories were consumed today than were used up treading the coastline of Scotland … back to reality in the morning!

Great news from Zoe today about another very recent rescue:

Praise God for a rescue operation that happened recently and resulted in three children walking free! These children were enslaved and forced to work in the fishing industry in Ghana for over two years. Upon rescue, the children shared with social workers details of their gruelling work conditions. One of the children, an 8-year-old boy, said his job was to scoop water from the canoe. He would be caned by the slave owner whenever he did something the man thought was wrong. This young boy was afraid of harsh winds and storms but had to go on the boat to avoid being caned. Please pray for the children and for their healing from the trauma they experienced.

Following the rescues, IJM Ghana saw its first convictions on human trafficking charges. Four arrests took place and the case was heard the day after the rescue. Two suspects pleaded guilty to human trafficking and received a five-year prison sentence. “These were our first convictions and will be critical to a future where children are no longer being sold or treated as commodities in Ghana,” Will Lathrop, Country Director for IJM Ghana said.

(IJM have many rescue plans. God has just one – Jesus – his great rescue plan for everyone to live; freely, forgiven, with him forever. It’s the most exciting journey in the world, I hope you will all be joining us on it. We love talking about our faith journey, please ask us! Ed)

Day 46 – Lybster to Wick

Saturday 9th November

19.15 miles … 2,966′ ascent … 2,992 calories … 41,210 steps … 7 hours 25 minutes

Setting off at sunrise down the wide Lybster High Street, apparently wide for all the herring sales and processing…

Sleeping patterns are a little irregular in Bablu, but we did sleep well… I just woke up rather too early for Fiona’s liking (and started huffing and puffing … Ed). Not so cold as usual and I made an early start at 7.20am. Fiona joined me for a short while, to warm up, until she was put off by the potential bull in the field of cows she would have to return through alone! Then it was another morning of following the coastline (literally) above very dramatic cliffs, with stacks of stacks.

The farmers fence their fields as close to the edge as possible, then the path runs outside the field, I climbed over several barbed wire fences, when it was a little closer to the edge! Plenty of photos to prove it.

I chose trainers rather than boots again, as although my feet are wet all day, at least they are comfortable. Both Compeed plasters on my little toes dropped off today after several days in action (I can certainly recommend Compeed!)

Apart from the obvious oil and gas platforms, far out to sea, there were rock platforms closer to the coast, with a selection of seals and shags resting on them. Today I came across a fox as I was walking on a path through the gorse and a hen harrier just finishing its lunch – I don’t think I have been so close to either before and needless to say, they didn’t hang around long enough to have their picture taken.

The Beatrice Field of wind turbines off this coast
See the steps just going into the shadow

One of the well-known landmarks on this section of coastline are the Whalligoe steps; 360 steps built in the rock used in the height of the herring industry during the 1800’s. Of course, I couldn’t just walk on past them, and anxious to get my steps up for the day, I walked down to the bay below and obviously had to count them. I got to 300 but forgot the ones right down at the bottom next to the sea… and wasn’t going to count again. The women would carry creels of herring up the steps every day! Unfortunately, in all the excitement of the Whalligoe steps, I missed Bablu and Fiona and went on past (I was parked on the trail and am not small…Ed). Thank fully I got a mobile reception to send a message later on. We did meet up at Sarclet Haven harbour at about 1.30pm for a quick lunch in Bablu.

I continued along past more stacks and remnants of buildings from the 19th Century booming herring industry in several deep little bays. I think the many seals seen lounging on the beach below may consume a lot of the fish these days.

Wick Castle

I finished the day at 4pm, when the light is beginning to fade this far north, at Wick. Wick Castle is just a ruin now, but in its heyday, it was a fine building and is one of the oldest Castles in Scotland, dating from the 12th century, it was inhabited by …. Who was half Norse and half Scots. Fiona, who is all Scots, walked to meet me in time for us to send a live Facebook video before we gratefully arrived at the home of Bruce and Sheelagh Paterson, parents of Sarah, who spent a year with Zoe in Italy with BMS pre-University. It was great to catch up with them all, wash and enjoy a warm, cosy house and comfy bed, after a delicious meal.

Finishing as the moon rose in Wick

The mirror in our bedroom tonight has written on it ‘Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations’. I hope that anyone reading this blog today can take some encouragement from these words when life is particularly hard. Also, we do need to know that we don’t need to travel alone. I have been so encouraged by those who have journeyed this walk with me, physically and followed my progress from a distance. I have been aware of God’s protection … that he indeed, as the poem ‘Footprints in the Sand’ suggests, carried me when I can’t manage in my own strength. Acknowledging God who created this amazingly beautiful world and despite the scale of even this little place called ‘The British Isles’, that he is concerned about me and loves me, and wants to have an amazing relationship with me. The same is exactly true for you … whether you recognise it or not at the moment. A life with Him is infinitely more rewarding than one without Him, I can tell you that from my own experience.

I want to finish this journey to John O Groats well … but I have learned that, though the starting and finishing points may be mentioned most, it is what we do, how we respond, behave and learn on the journey AS it is happening. Take every opportunity available to you today, bless someone, encourage someone and be encouraged.

Day 45 – Berriedale to Lybster

Friday 8th November – on my own

17.49 miles … 2,740’ ascent … 2,897 calories … 38, 882 steps … 7 hours 22 minutes

Stacks, more castles and cold, wet feet…

Aah, fabulous, if rare, path and steps!

We woke up in Bablu to another very icy day. Thankfully the rain had stopped, but after our usual breakfast of cereal and hot coffee, it was wet and slippery under foot.

Quite a feat of engineering going on here

Fiona walked the first half hour with me, negotiating major road alterations to get onto the footpath proper. I say ‘proper’, at least navigation was pretty straightforward today. There was no walking on beaches, but the walk hugged the headlands of the coastline. My phone cum camera was low in charge this morning, so I’m afraid there are no photos of a couple of dramatic stacks and a spectacular waterfall or Dunbeath Castle.

I was meant to go around it, but negotiated a couple of barbed wire fences, and ended up going up the magnificent driveway of this private residence, which has been inhabited since about 1500, it certainly looks dramatic from out at sea, prominent along the coast.

John and Judy – what a God-incidence!

I met up with Fiona for coffee at Dunbeath, a lovely lady called Judy noticed the camper van and had been asked by her sister in law (who chatted to Fiona at the church she went to in Moffat with Oriel) to look out for us… she was sitting in Bablu with Fiona, having a coffee when I arrived. Fiona enjoyed chatting to her and praying together.

Great Geography lesson here

I carried on from Dunbeath Bay with my phone now adequately charged for taking photos of this magnificent coastline, for you to share; splendid stacks, a ruined castle and steep cliffs. I made steady progress, although it is more like 3km/hour on varied footpaths. Very wet vegetation and quite uneven. I discovered a box en route for walkers to record that they had been along the path, I noticed it was only signed by one person in October and nobody in November until now! It is not a path that is trodden by many.

The incredible power of the sea

I reached Latheronwheel for a cup of soup with Fiona by the harbour (she’s keeping a close eye on me, after me not turning up till 6.30pm last night). I left by 1.30pm for the final stretch to Lybster.

I took a few more pictures of stacks and a derelict castle. I am increasingly aware of many wind turbines out in the North Sea, as well as oil platforms. I spotted several individual hinds (red deer), skipping around on the headlands, precariously leaping along dramatically steep cliffs. I won’t apologise for saying I held on firmly to the pig wire fence, while negotiating the cliff path. Mind you I haven’t got a very good head for heights.

Lybster harbour, one of Scotlands main herring fishing villages in the mid-1800’s
Fascinating history of the herring boom.
Widest High Street you’ve ever seen and the only two convenience stores are next to each other?

I was pleased to reach Lybster Bay in daylight, soon after 4pm and an earlier supper in Bablu. Lybster High Street must be the widest street in the country, although not the busiest, but we did find a pub to write todays Blog in…. Every day is an adventure, the end is in sight! We are up to £23,580 now – hopefully we will get that 5th rescue covered.

(I feel quite challenged by Lybster. It must be easy to give up hope, when many houses are for sale, shops and churches boarded up, fishing industry is on such a huge scale that little harbours and boats are not used so much. I’m sure there must be some wonderful people keeping this community going, despite what it looks like. It reminds me that God never gives up on me, whatever my life looks like – Ed)

Day 44 – 1,000 miles … 1,000 seals… a tough day

Thursday 7th November – on my own

22.55 miles … 46, 646 steps … 8 hours 48 minutes … 3,405 calories

As we slept in Bablu we were aware of the heavy rain and strong winds through the night. Thankfully the rain had stopped by 8am and despite a cold NE wind it was a good start to the day.

I made good progress over yet another Golf course in Brora, although I was rather amused to see cattle grazing on it.

Cattle on the Golf course, note the electric fence round the green!

A little later on I realised they had an electric fence round all of the greens, so it must have been intentional. Progress thereafter was slower than usual, due to walking on sand, gravel, cobbled stones, seaweed and through sand dunes.

You can just spot the yellow of Johns rucksack in the distance…

As forewarned, there were significant river crossings today, accentuated by last night’s rain. I could jump over one or two, but decided just to walk through the bigger, deeper ones, so wet feet for most of the day.

Fiona had a productive morning in Bablu, with pretty good office views…

To the right …
… and to the left!

I met Fiona about 1pm in Helmsdale for half an hour’s lunch in Bablu.

Helmsdale harbour, lunch stop
Joining the selfie competition…
My usual view of John – Ed

Fiona joined me for the first half hour of the afternoons walk. We saw a couple of grey seal pups. Earlier in the day I’d seen two dead seal pups and believe it or not a dead deer on the beach. We kept our distance from these pups.

and this … I love rays of sunlight

I continued to walk along stony beaches and came across huge numbers of seals and their pups, which I assumed had been washed up in last night’s storm. But Fiona met a marine medic on her way back to the van, who said this was pupping time for the grey seals. The older, wiser mothers give birth higher up the beach, even in the bracken well above the shore. Here they are safe from storms and the mother seal returns at high tide to feed the pup for about 6 weeks, then the pup is old enough to be weaned and hunt their own food. She also talked about the Moray Orca Pod – Number 27 who are around these waters often.

Spot the seals…

I’d never seen so many seals before, and they were becoming increasingly aggressive as I walked along the beach, so I headed up the cliff, as there were no markings for the footpath. I scrambled up through bracken and then thick gorse, before eventually finding the path again. By then I had lost one of Fiona’s gloves (they were excellent ones from Angie too!). I was getting a bit tired and the path was not getting any easier. It was very uneven underfoot, very boggy and slippery and with poor markings. I was behind schedule by now and the days are closing in, so light was becoming a problem.

I managed to negotiate a steep ravine without incident, but as light deteriorated, so did my speed along the path. I phoned Fiona, who I knew would be starting to worry, to say I’d not be in til 6ish.

Just getting dark…

Thankfully I managed to get back safely to Berridale, with tired limbs, tired body and anxious wife. Thank you, Lord, for protection for the day, every day is an adventure. I was very pleased to be back in Bablu, safe and sound for a hot meal and a G&T to calm Fiona’s nerves…

Gorgeous campsite, I was very pleased when John arrived
Berriedale Harbour
Rickety bridge over to the Berriedale Landmark Trust cottages – beautiful

(It was very interesting with John being so late, tricky times do make me depend on God far more than easy times … I suppose that has been the case throughout the history of the world! As the moon was shining brightly, I was reminded of the verse which talks about Jesus being the light to our dark world…. Ed)

Day 43 – 3 Golf courses and a beautiful coastal walk

Wednesday 6th November – with Rachel Aird in the afternoon

Dornoch – Brora

22.68 miles … 2,729 calories … 682′ ascent …47,166 steps … 7 hours 20 minutes

Greta site behind the Struie links course

It was very cold overnight in Bablu, I could see my breath … but snug under the duvet!

Lovely start to the day ❤️

Fiona joined me for the first part of the walk in beautiful early morning frosty light. Lying water on the Golf course was frozen, but on the Royal Dornoch Championship Links Course they were rolling new turf! I presume just to make it softer on my feet to walk.

Beautiful Dornoch beaches

Fiona took some great photos and it was a joy to walk along the shore, past Embo and then the sand dunes to reach the site, where in the summer you can cross the estuary by ferry (that would be cheating anyway…).

Good path along the sea front
Dornoch Firth beaches
Dornoch Firth

I soon reached the quiet side road leading eventually to the A9 again. I was able to follow the John O Groats footpath by the side of the Mound and the bridge beyond it. The further I go along the ‘John O Groats Trail’ I feel more of a pioneer … signage is quite good, but footpaths are rather uncertain, or non-existent.

After crossing through a forest, I found myself in a newly seeded field, alongside the railway. The next field had just had a heavy coat of dung spread on it, so my trainers were well covered…

The next field also had two large bulls in. I was OK walking alongside them, but many people wouldn’t be, especially if they had a dog for company. I walked passed more cattle, water buffalo may be the way forward if it continues to be so wet, and a great stockpile of straw bales.

Beautiful house en route

I walked on through forest to yet another golf course at Golspie. Here I caught up with Rachel, who studied Geography with me in Durham quite a few years ago (and whose daughter happened to be studying Engineering at Durham at the same time as Tom was!). After lunch on a picnic bench in warm sunshine, Rachel and I left Fiona and followed the shoreline from Golspie towards Brora.

Dunrobin Castle

The first significant historical feature was Dunrobin Castle, built by the Duke of Sutherland, not particularly popular in these parts due to his role in the Highland Clearances. I had a great catch up with Rachel as we negotiated the odd river and coastal debris.

On arrival at Brora we learned more about this little coastal village, where my mother in law had spent many childhood holidays. in the 1600’s it was like the industrial capital of the Highlands, with coal mining and salt production to the fore. Another information board mentioned two brothers, John and Robert Naylor, who walked the whole way from John O Groats to Lands End starting in September 1871 … nearly 150 years ago. I look forward to reading the account of their journey online at the end of my journey. Interesting, they also walked about 25 miles a day!

Published in early 1900’s after 1871 walk

Just 22.5 miles today, before a 4pm finish and Rachel treated us to supper at the Sutherland Inn, before another night in Bablu in another stunning location.

PS We are approaching £22,500 now raised for IJM. What a privilege to play a small part in giving people freedom …nearly enough for 5 rescues!

Day 42 – Better weather and another bridge to cross

Tuesday 5th November – alone

Alness to Dornoch on ‘John O Groats Trail’

23.54 miles … 1,204′ ascent … 2,513 calories … 48,829 steps … 7 hours 3 minutes

After a very good nights sleep (best ever for Fiona, she even took a photo of the mattress label, Princess Fiona doesn’t sleep well very often…) at Derek & Carole’s home in Nethy Bridge, Carole drove us to Inverness, where James Stewart from Blythswood Care, then gave us a lift to where Bablu had spent the night in their yard near Alness.

If it’s not on Strava…

I set off at about 8.45am, while Fiona went off to meet a great friend Eileen, from teacher training days, for coffee and a walk at the Storehouse in Foulis.

Looking for Foulis castle… we found it

I made very good progress for the first 6 miles or so on minor roads.

The Canada Geese were out and about, noisy and flying in formation overhead – probably more entertaining than tonight’s fireworks displays. I met a lady out cycling who informed me she had recently met another person walking between Lands End and John O Groats … only she had been walking barefoot!! … I’m not tempted, although the skin on my feet is a bit like leather now. My feet stayed dry until I ventured up into a forest with very wet footpaths – however a nice change of scenery and I was in the town of Tain by 1pm, just on cue to meet Fiona for a coffee.

I stopped for 30 minutes before continuing along a rather indirect ‘John O Groats Trail’, but it brings variety and more safety than the A9 road. I crossed the third major bridge in two days over the Dornoch Firth.

The bridge was built 30 years ago and opened by the Queen Mother. I took the steps down to the waters edge at the end of the 800 yard bridge and walked through rough ground to the side road leading towards Dornoch – past a rather interesting bull with big horns (I am glad I wasn’t there – Ed).

Another stretch of woodland through Dornoch forest made for an interesting end to the day in good weather, past a solitary standing stone in a field.

On the final walk into Dornoch – apparently host to the best golf course in the world, I learnt that 200 years ago , before the Royal Mail or emails, there were post runners, boys who delivered news from overseas etc, by running 18-22 miles a day between towns. I can identify with them, having done another 23 mile plus today, after yesterday’s marathon.

Fiona has found a great spot to park Bablu next to the Struie Golf course, looking out to sea, our first night for a while in the camper van, after being spoilt by our wonderful hosts. Maybe there will be a bonfire in the village tonight? There is cold weather expected for the next few days, but it should be mainly dry. Only 5 days to go, if all goes according to plan, mixed feelings…

They must have spotted Fiona and me!

Notes from the Editor…

I woke up this morning feeling overwhelmingly thankful for so many things:

For a warm, cosy bed in the campervan

For being free to be able to do this walk and support John

For enough food for breakfast and each meal

For the stunning scenery we are travelling through

For the freedom to read the Bible together in the morning, with no fear of persecution

For the people covering for us at home

From our family and friends

From meeting so many amazing people on our journey

For endless hospitality

For the purpose that Jesus gives to our lives

For the waves breaking next to the campervan

For the diverse amount of wildlife that we are seeing every day

For our health to take this time out and enjoy the journey

For technology that makes recording this journey easier, keeping in touch with people possible and running our business from a distance OK!

For amazing weather, even when it’s windy and rainy

For peoples generosity in supporting us; financially, emotionally, spiritually and physically

For comfy shoes … and so many things it is hard to list them….. endless gratitude to God for all he has blessed us with, but also an awareness that even when things go wrong (which they do often), He is good all the time.

Day 41 – Inverness to Alness

Monday 4th November – alone

26.53 miles … 1,870′ ascent … 3,363 calories … 55,240 steps … 7 hours 27 minutes

Two bridges to cross, plenty of navigational errors and another dreich day in the wind and rain.

We set off in good time from the Ferguson’s in the dark, for the start of the John O Groats Coastal Trail from Inverness Castle … and hugging the east coast of Scotland. Sadly, the early start wasn’t so successful as I spent the first 30 minutes walking in the wrong direction, before realising the error of my ways (or was it Fiona’s, still in debate… but forgiven either way …Ed) and returning to the original starting point 1 hour later! The things I do to get my steps up … and the beard sponsorship….

Take 2 … walked down the river to the Kessock Bridge to cross over the Beauly Firth. It was very busy on a long bridge, but not too scary(all relative to later bridges … Ed). From the bridge I followed the coast, walking on seaweed and stones for a while, before reaching the village of Kilmuir.

Here navigational choices were again probably not the best (as Strava followers will no doubt be amused / confused by …), in fact my watch didn’t record ‘Take 2’ to the bridge so I probably did an extra 3Kms… but it did mean I was able to take extra pictures, having borrowed Peter’s phone (don’t tell Peter I have already lost the waterproof cover…) (I’m on it – Ed)

Slightly later then expected due to the navigational misunderstandings, I met up with Fiona and Bablu for a coffee and bite of lunch having just passed Munlochy.

Amazing autumn colours
Stunning despite the rain

I made very good progress on good side roads before crossing the Cromarty Firth on the Canon road bridge. It was very wet and windy for this section, but I survived despite the efforts of large lorries to soak me with road spray! I met Fiona at the end of the road bridge (worried… Ed), then Carole soon after (Carole cycled the Hebridean Way in September with the IJM team I was supporting with Zoe in September). I did a bit of cross country to avoid the busy A9 road, before following a wet cycle track past Foulis Castle, through Evanton and along minor roads to Alness, where Carole and Fiona walked back to meet me.

Souvenirs of the day and my wonderful Manx mohair 1,000 mile socks…
Carole came to meet me with Fiona

Fiona left Bablu in Evanton at ‘Blythswood Care HQ’ for the night, while we are off to Nethy to stay with Carole and Derek tonight in The Croft, their beautiful Highland home, where we were totally spoilt by the log fire, with delicious meals and great company. Relishing the last night in a bed before several in Bablu…

Derek & Carole at The Croft ❤️