Planning a long walk

I have been thinking about walking to Edinburgh from my home in Cheshire for quite some time. Various routes have come to mind, the first being using the Pennine Way. I am about 2 days or so from the southern start in Edale and then would need to find a route from the northern end in Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh. To cut down the mileage a little I then pondered walking up the Macclesfield Canal which is close to home here to the end in Marple and then making my way to Standedge and the Pennine Way. However, even the canal is not a particularly direct route as it weaves around quite a bit even before it gets to Macclesfield. I then read about a guy who walked from Boston to San Francisco (a really long walk). When he was asked how he navigated, he replied ‘Google Maps’ saying that it kept him off the interstate and took him through places where there were services. So, what did it come up with for me?
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The most direct route takes me on minor roads from my village to a short stretch of the A50. It then cuts across to pick up the A49 and eventually the A6 all the way to Carlisle. The A7 then goes as far as Langholm before switching to the B-road that climbs over Eskdalemuir to Yarrow and then on to Peebles. The most direct route stays with the A701 into Edinburgh and is 229 miles. I might switch to the A702 at West Linton and come in that way on my last day. That only adds a few miles and I would take around 15 days with a couple of slow days in the middle around Kendal (despite Google Maps listing 76 hours for the route!). The longest walks I have done so far have taken around 9-10 days in India. We have walked the West Highland Way, the Great Glen Way and the Speyside Way in the last few years but this would be longer. Although it follows main roads for much of the way, there will be footpaths and minor roads to divert along at times. Mostly the towns and hostelries are separated by a day’s walking which is good as I really do not want to have to carry my tent and camping equipment and if there is not a convenient campsite you cannot wild camp in England. This route is of course, the old route to Scotland from my part of the country before the motorways were built. Here is my great grandfather with his car at Shap on the A6 in Cumbria on his way to Scotland.
TH en route to Scotland at Shap Sept 1952 (1 of 1)
Before mechanised transport, if you could not afford a carriage journey, you walked. Thomas Carlyle walked from Ecclefechan to Edinburgh to start his university course and John Snow, who identified the cause of cholera, walked from York to London via Bath to start a new job. Others have more recently walked from John O’Groats to Lands End or around the whole coastline for charity. This is more a personal pilgrimage. It will probably not happen until late spring/early summer 2018 as we are away for much of the first half of 2017. I prefer to walk in Scotland at that time of year if possible as it is usually drier, the days longer and the midges fewer in number.

Southwards over the moors

Roadside sunflowers accompanied us much of the way on Route 66. On Sunday’s southbound journey it was the seed heads of Rosebay Willowherb (known as Fireweed in the USA) which waved in the wind alongside fields, moors and forests.
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We had spent the remainder of our time in Edinburgh catching up with a few things in town and cleaning the flat. One of the antique map sellers who used to be in the Canongate (the Carson Clark Gallery), then St Mary St, has moved to the New Town on the corner of Northumberland Street and Dundas Street. He is next to the Wally Dug, a pub that has been serving there since 1811. Chatting to the proprietor, we discovered that the reason behind his move was that his previous landlord had doubled the rent. He said that his business had been replaced with shops selling ‘tourist tat’. We browsed for a while but with diminishing free wall space, did not buy any more old maps.
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We did find several books and some more music in Stockbridge and fortified by coffee, then walked back up the hill to the flat. After a rest, we were at the Filmhouse to see ‘I, Daniel Blake’, a very powerful and emotional film that our government should see.

Rain was forecast for most of the East Lothian coast on Sunday morning so a beach walk was out. We drove south towards Peebles and could see snow on the top of the Moorfoot Hills. It arrived a couple of weeks ago in the Cairngorms and last weekend the Cairngorm Mountain Rescue team were out. Driving through Traquair, we heard the travel news on the radio announce the first road closure of winter due to snow: the A939 between Cockbridge and Tomintoul. Later we heard of ferry cancellations between Oban, Barra and South Uist. I was interested to revisit this road (the B709) as it will be on my Smallwood to Edinburgh walk which I am planning to do in around 18 months time. The Gordon Arms Hotel by the Yarrow River and Mountbenger will be one overnight stop. Before we reached Eskdalemuir, there was a sign warning us of red squirrels crossing. We did not see any but did come across several buzzards who were feeding on a road kill while others were flying overhead. We also saw lots of pheasants by the roadside and James spotted a red grouse. One of my long walk stops will be at the Samye Ling Monastery,a centre of Tibetan Buddhism in the Scottish moors. Scaffolding was covering the Stupa today so here is a shot of the Buddha. The Fairy Hill opposite the monastery also has a shrine but exploration of that and the rest of the monastery will have to wait for another day.
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Continuing southwards towards Langholm we heard that two mattresses had fallen off a vehicle on the M56 near Manchester Airport so the road was closed. James commented that perhaps they had been to Ikea, reminding me of a trip many years ago to the Ikea store at Warrington. James was too mean to pay the delivery charge so I was hanging on to flat pack bookshelves that were sticking out of the sun roof on a very windy day as we drove across the Thelwall Viaduct. We did make it home without mishap on that occasion. Langholm has a racecourse but nothing was happening on a winter Sunday afternoon. We were soon back on the motorway and home to continue planning our travels in 2017.

Driving north at the beginning of winter

The endless summer has ended. The clocks went back last weekend, the temperature has dropped and we had our first frost a few days ago. Fortunately, I had put my pelargoniums into the greenhouse the day before. The autumn colours are still fabulous but high winds are forecast so most of the leaves will soon be on the ground. It is unusual to get to November before the heating is switched on, the warm coat comes out and I am hunting for gloves. In Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago I was cursing because I had not brought my sunglasses as they are not usually needed in October. This afternoon’s drive was punctuated by large black clouds and showers for most of the way. The sun was trying to emerge from behind the clouds in places and we saw four rainbows before we had got as far as Carlisle. On the M74, we passed Stevens Croft, a power station fuelled with biomass: off-cuts from the forestry industry. Many of the hills around here have wind farms and with the addition of hydro-electricity, Scotland is further ahead than the rest of the UK in renewable energy production.

We left the motorway near Moffat and there was yet another rainbow above the golden foliage around the town. It was fading a bit before I could find a place to stop and take a photograph.
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We continued on the A701 and as we ascended, were surrounded by cloud and rain. At Tweedsmuir, there is what looks like a stone monument on the hillside. It might be The Postman’s Stone. This marks the position where the body of stagecoach guard James McGeorge was found, after an unsuccessful attempt to get the mail bags through a blizzard in February 1831. It is inscribed “J McG 1831”. He is apparently buried in Moffat old graveyard. I am looking forward to us both being finally retired in a few months’ time, we will have more time to explore the area we are driving through. Today we needed to get to Edinburgh for a quick meal with a friend before he and James headed off to Murrayfield for a rugby match. I was looking forward to a quiet evening. Just before we descended into the city there was a lovely sunset.
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