17th April – Uphall to Falkirk

20190417 The only barge we saw on the Union Canal
The only barge we saw on the Union Canal

This was to be another long day on the Union Canal.

20190417 Niddry Castle near Winchburgh
Niddry Castle near Winchburgh

I left Uphall at 7.45, as I had around 5k to walk before meeting up with Rachel at 9.00 at Winchburgh.  Luckily we arrived within minutes of each other.

The only memorable parts of this section were the huge slag heaps and the Peel tower at Niddry Castle.

After a lot of catching up, Linlithgow eventually appeared, with the skyline dominated by Linlithgow Palace, the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.  In all honesty, we were more interested in tea and cakes which were amply provided by the Strawberry Cafe (highly recommended).

20190417 Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow Palace

I am sometimes asked why I do not visit more of the tourist highlights that I pass.  I think it is that I have to view the trip as a job.  Each day the objective is to reach the next stopping place, and I do not want to be diverted from that task.

20190417 Rachel at the Avon aqueduct
Rachel at the Avon Aqueduct

Leaving Linlithgow, we trudged on passing the Avon Aqueduct, which is very similar to the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in Wales.

20190417 Toad

The only other excitement was finding a toad on the path.

Nearing Falkirk things looked up.  The Falkirk Tunnel was a joy, with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and large picturesque calcite deposits on the walls.

The tunnel is 631m long and was constructed because a wealthy industrialist, John Forbes, objected to the canal being visible from his estate!

20190417 Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel
Neil at the Falkirk Tunnel

We left the canal at the Tunnel to walk into Falkirk for more tea.  We arrived around 3.45.  Once we found my hotel, Rachel caught a bus back to Winchburgh.  It was great to have Rachel’s company for a 20-mile day, and our conversation made the walk pass quickly.

After I had a quick shower and dinner, John arrived to take me to see the Kelpies.

20190417 Neil at the Kelpies
Neil at the Kelpies

These are breathtaking and a must-visit if you are ever in the area.  The photos speak for themselves.

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16th April – West Linton to Uphall

20190416 Covered bridge River Almond
En route: covered bridge over the River Almond

After 3 days off moving from Horton to Middridge and then up to Scotland, I arrived back at the Gordon Arms on April 15th.

I was able to organise an early breakfast and left the hotel at 7.45.  After all of the problems last year which ended the trip, it was good to be moving into new territory.

20190416 Agricola's Roman road
Agricola’s Roman road

There was a steep climb out of the village before the path joined a short section of Agricola’s Roman road.  Turning up the valley towards the col at Cauldstane Slap, I was back on the Drovers Trail.  Gentle climbing led to Baddingsgill Reservoir and the open moor.

20190416 Baddinsgill Reservoir
Baddinsgill Reservoir

I made good time up to and over the col in murky conditions, and was soon leaving the Pentland Hills and dropping into Scotland’s industrial heartland.

20190416 Harperrig Farm and Reservoir
Harperrig Farm and Reservoir from the path off Cauldstane Slap

The route took me past Harperrig Farm and Reservoir, before crossing the Waters of Leith and ascending to the A70.

20190416 Bridge over the Waters of Leith
Bridge over the Waters of Leith

Corston Hill was supposed to offer good views over Edinburgh but there was little visible through the mist.

20190416 Corston Hill
Corston Hill with misty views

After some tricky navigation in the park above Mid Calder, I started to follow the River Almond.  I stopped around 1.50 for a late lunch near an old railway viaduct, lamenting the lack of any seats.  Walker’s law was working well: 500m later there was a delightful picnic area with benches.

20190416 Lin's Mill aqueduct
Lin’s Mill aqueduct

Eventually I joined a feeder channel which would be followed until I reached the Union Canal at the appropriately named Lin’s Mill aqueduct.  At the last bridge, about 500m from the aqueduct, I found a sign saying “Path Closed”.  As no diversion was suggested or obvious, I chose once again to ignore the sign.  This time there was evidence of activity and I spotted two workmen digging out the channel.  Not wanting to admit to being a Sassenach who did not understand plain English, I nipped over a fence, crept past the workmen and rejoined the path.  Clambering round the barriers at Lin’s Mill, I was once again a law-abiding member of society.

20190416 Union Canal passing under M8 motorway
Union Canal passing under M8 motorway

The Union Canal will be my companion for 3 days, and I made good progress along the towpath to Broxburn.  I then faced a 3k walk along the main road before reaching the Orchard Hotel at Uphall at 4.15 after a 30k day.

After a quick shower I joined my friends Mark, Rachel and John for a delicious lasagne at Rachel and Mark’s home.  Rachel is joining me tomorrow when I walk on to Falkirk.

27th August – Peebles to West Linton – The End for 2018

20180827 Looking back on Peebles
Looking back on Peebles

The day started well. I had a substantial breakfast, the weather forecast was good and I had found a much better route to take, by following the Cross Border Drove Road.

20180827 Heading for Linton on the old drove road
Heading for West Linton on the old drove road

I left Peebles at 8.30 and climbed up from the valley floor over a ridge before descending and climbing another hill.

20180827 Highland Cattle
Highland cattle – luckily the bull was otherwise occupied!

By this time despite the forecast it had started to rain. I stopped around 10.00 as my lower abdomen was painful with what I took to be trapped wind.  I took some tablets but they had no real effect.  The rest of the day was not very pleasant and it was with great relief when I arrived at The Gordon Arms at 3.30.  I went straight to my room, dumped all the wet kit and jumped into the shower.  It was then that I discovered that I had a lump in my abdomen, near where I had had a hernia a few years ago.  To cut a long saga short, I ended up being taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, just before midnight, where they confirmed that it was a hernia which needed treatment.  When the registrar arrived from theatre, he managed to reduce it, and I was admitted.  He tried to get me on the list for the following day, but this proved impossible.  After X-rays and blood tests, they decided yesterday that I could return to Wantage and get things sorted out there.  Alan kindly came and picked me up and I will be returning to Wantage tomorrow.

I cannot overstate the kindness and concern shown by all the staff at The Gordon Arms at West Linton.  The owner, Seonaid Mann, took me first to Bonnyrigg and then on to Edinburgh Infirmary.  She also very kindly picked me up yesterday ,and could not have been more helpful.  I do not know how I would have managed without her assistance.  The nurses and doctors at Edinburgh Infirmary were also very attentive and kind.

I think that I knew from the moment that I saw the hernia that my trip was over.  The doctors all confirmed that it would not be possible to continue.  This is obviously very disappointing, but I am glad that there was no uncertainty about what has to happen.  The walk is over for 2018.

I will need to decide whether I can complete the trip next year.  Whatever happens it would need to be a different ending.  I will now not risk carrying a rucksack with camping gear – and without camping gear, I cannot go up the Cape Wrath Trail.  Anyway that is for the future.  For now I just need to get home and sort things out with the doctors.

 

26th August – Innerleithen to Peebles

The forecast for today was for heavy rain so I was a little surprised not to hear the patter of raindrops on the tent when I woke at 6.00. I was just about warm enough last night, when the temperature dropped to single figures. I only have a lightweight sleeping bag with me and will need an upgrade when I reach Fort William. Taking advantage of the fact that the forecast rain had not arrived I quickly struck camp and moved to a covered area, near the bar, to have breakfast.

Today was a short day to reduce the mileage I have to do tomorrow to reach West Linton. I left at 8.55 and retraced my steps back to Traquair.  From here, in worsening rain, I took the road to Peebles. The planned route diverts from the road to Castle Knowle or Kailzie Hill but these seemed unnecessary excursions.  I arrived in Peebles at 12.30. A quick visit to the Tourist Information identified the position on my digs for the night.  I am writing this in a Wetherspoons, having had lunch, while I wait for 3.00, when the guest house opens.  It is also giving me the opportunity to dry my kit.

25th August – Galashiels/Melrose to Innerleithen

20180825 Melrose Abbey
Melrose Abbey

Today was a good day in many ways.  The weather was fine, albeit with strong winds on the summits, the route was interesting, and the Southern Uplands Way, which I was following for most of the day, was very well signed.

20180825 Looking down on Galashiels
Looking down on Galashiels

I caught the bus from Galashiels at 6.30 and started walking just after 7.00.

20180825 Suspension bridge over the river Tweed
Suspension bridge over the river Tweed

The trail started by following the Tweed before joining an old railway track and then crossing the A7.  It was then time for the first real climb of the day around Gala Hill.  When I was at the bottom of the hill a man on a horse came round the corner. The horse spooked and the rider went out the side door. He was unhurt but the horse ran off. I last saw it a good quarter of a mile away still running hard. He was unimpressed.

The trail continued down and then rose over Hog Hill…

20180825 Descent from Hog Hill
The descent from Hog Hill. Brown Knowe is on skyline on right.

…before recrossing the Tweed at Yair Bridge.

20180825 The Tweed at Yair Bridge
River Tweed at Yair Bridge

It was here that the serious work of the day began.

20180825 Taking a break near Yair Bridge
Taking a break near Yair Bridge

The climb to the Three Brethren (464m) through a forest took 1.5 hours.

20180825 The Three Brethren
The Three Brethren (cairns)

Once on the ridge things improved, still ascending but more gently, with magnificent views.

20180825 View north from the Three Brethren
View north from the Three Brethren

When I stopped for a late lunch at the highest point, Brown Knowe (523m), a group of about 20 walkers passed me going in the opposite direction. This was more people than I had seen in the previous week.

20180825 Last of the walkers leaving Brown Knowe
The walkers leaving Brown Knowe

Then it was down again before climbing up towards Minch Moor through another forest. Just below the high point I passed the Cheese Well, a natural spring.

Anyone planning to spend the night at Minch Moor Bothy will be disappointed as it no longer exists. Apparently it was demolished after being vandalised on several occasions, a problem faced by the Bothy Association whenever a bothy is near habitation.

20180825 Descent to Innerleithen
Descent to Innerleithen

All that was left was the long descent to Tarquair and some road walking to get to Innerleithen and the campsite, which I reached at 4.35.

After pitching the tent and a shower I had dinner at the pub on the site.  This was very noisy so I returned to the tent to rest and read.  Children finally shut up and went to bed around 10pm.

24th August – Jedburgh to Melrose/Galashiels

20180824 Checking that I am in the right place
Checking that I’m in the right place

When I started this blog I decided to tell the whole story of the trip, good or bad, even if it was embarrassing. Today at breakfast I checked the name of the hotel that I had booked for tonight: The George.  I then looked in horror when it said Montrose and not Melrose. At this point I can picture my friends in MAC (Mountain Activities Club) falling off their chairs laughing.  Luckily there are few problems which cannot now be sorted out with a mobile phone and a credit card, and I found a place in Galashiels. The lady at Montrose was understanding and reduced the bill.

20180824 River Teviot
The trail crossed the river Teviot by suspension bridge

All of that excitement meant that it was 8.40 before I left Jedburgh.  As normal there was an immediate stiff climb out of the town.  Going over the ridge, the trail then drops down to the River Teviot, which is followed briefly before another ascent to regain Dere Street.  This was easy today with a good path.

20180824 Leaving Dere Street
Leaving Dere Street for the last time

The path eventually leaves Dere Street, and descends to follow the River Tweed…

20180824 Salmon fishing on River Tweed
Salmon fishing on the river Tweed

…to St Boswells and Newton St Boswells.

20180824 Mertoun Bridge over the river Tweed
Mertoun Bridge over the river Tweed, near St Boswells

At this point I spotted a shortcut, and followed a cycle trail along a road closed to motorists, down to Melrose, arriving at 4.15.

20180824 Melrose market place
Melrose market place

I considered walking on to Galashiels for a nanosecond – and then caught the bus.

Walking out of the bus station at Galashiels, I was checking the address of my B&B when I realised that I was standing next to it.  This is going to be useful tomorrow, because as it’s a Saturday the buses are a little sparse.  I am intending to catch the 6.30 a.m. bus back to Melrose.  I have another 20-mile day tomorrow, with a lot of climbing, and I then have to camp so I want to make an early start.

Coming to Galashiels has allowed me to pick up a couple of maps for the Southern Uplands.  I had an early dinner between the storms, which set in after I arrived.  It was very windy today and I can do without driving rain.

23rd August – Day off in Jedburgh

20180823 Jedburgh Abbey
Jedburgh Abbey

After a late breakfast and a little resupply shopping I met up with Alan. He had brought all the maps and guides that I will need for the rest of the trip. More weight to carry. I also swapped my t-shirts for long-sleeved thermals and picked up some gloves.

We enjoyed a pub lunch and in the afternoon I was able to book some accommodation and deal with some admin.

20180823 Queen Mary's House Jedburgh
Queen Mary’s House, Jedburgh

The Royal Hotel was very accommodating, and a real example of not judging a book from the cover, as the exterior belies what is inside.

20180823 Jedburgh market place
Jedburgh market place