Scottish Coastal Walk. 2488 miles. 217 days. 10 years.

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January 1st 2017
Saved: January 9th 2017
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It was my sister Kate who started it all. Having trained for a charity event on the Fife Coastal Path, she suggested that I would like to walk it with her. After some persuasion I agreed, and, allowing for my shifts, we set a timetable of a year to complete the then 81 miles of the walk. In the early days of January 2007 we set off accompanied by another sister Janet and her husband Dougie. When I say "set off" I mean we went at breakneck speed for 9 miles from North Queensferry to Aberdour. I wasn't aware it was possible to feel so tired. I'd need to get a lot fitter to keep up with these girls.There was also another important lesson learned that day - a yogurt is NOT the type of food to take on a walk!
The following month and we were joined for the next section by Janet's friend Janey and the 5 of us formed the nucleus of the group for the rest of the Path which we finished in 8 sections by the start of June. Others who joined us for sections were our sister Margaret, and Kate's son Angus. Burntisland, Elie, Anstruther in the mist, the St.Andrews RNLI fundraising event (eat all you want for a donation!) and finishing the walk at Newport on a blisteringly hot day after crossing Tentsmuir Sands were all highlights. Great celebrations were followed by the thought "That's it - I can stop walking again! "
However we'd all had such a great time we decided to repeat the exercise, this time on the south side of the Firth of Forth, walking from Bo'ness to the Border at Berwick, a task that took from September 2007 to July the following year. During the 100 mile walk we were joined on occasion by Kate's husband Iain and their daughter Catriona, and Iain's brother Donald with his wife Helen. Great weather all the way spoiled only on the final day, getting soaked walking into Berwick. In the meantime I'd discovered, via the internet, and completed the Clyde Coast Way - Ayr to Largs (and on over the Moors Road to Greenock) and started walking round the Firth of Clyde from Largs. July also saw my then 10-year-old daughter Alice and I set off to walk the newly opened Ayrshire Coastal Path (which partly follows the route of the old,unsignposted, Clyde Coastal Path) northwards from Glenapp, which we finished at it's end in Skelmorlie in March the following year. It was at the end of 2008 that I started to take the idea of walking the whole coast seriously, spending time away from home for the first time walking from Newburgh to Rattray Head, where I stayed in the hostel in the old lighthousekeepers cottage. Another notable day was walking during the Christmas holidays from Ardentinny to Sandbank on the Cowal peninsula with my friends John and James Bennett. Totals for these first years were 132 miles in 2007 and 289 miles for 2008.

The highlights of 2009 were another two trips to the east coast - St.Cyrus to Montrose over 5 days and Stonehaven to Newburgh over 4. Both these trips were in the autumn as I had had an ear infection from October 2008 and throughout most of 2009 and hadn't been able to travel anywhere comfortably (or drink, drive or cycle). The section along Menie Links was done at this point just in case Mr. Trump tried to restrict access beside his golf course. Also at the end of this year a series of 1 day trips saw me complete the section from Perth to Arbroath. A bad year - only 132 miles covered - was finished off with making a start on the Solway coast, a journey of 294 miles including the Rhinns of Galloway, which eventually took over 2 years to complete.

The first half of 2010 was entirely day trips continuing the way round Cowal and along the Solway. A caravan at Southerness was my base for walking between Kirkbean and Dalbeattie in July. Bob, Dougie and Janet Burton joined Alice, Eileen and I on the section between Rockcliffe and Sandyhills, said to one of the most spectacular walks in Scotland. Later that year the sections between Rattray Head and Forres were completed, which included one of my favourite parts of the whole walk, the Moray Coastal Trail. Stranraer was the final destination of the year in December walking round the Rhinns to Portpatrick, with the highlight of these days being watching the red squirrels from the beer garden of the Blue Peter pub in Kirkcolm. 254 miles done this year - very pleased!

2011 was a year that involved, among other parts of the coast, continuing along the Solway and doing the section from Elgin to Beauly but most especially passing the 1000 mile mark. (It was also the year for climbing 5 Munros, my first in 30 years, including Ben Nevis as well as completing the National 3 peaks, though that's all another story! ). Surprising to manage 236 miles on the coast while walking all the Big Tops too.

Kintyre was an area of Scotland that Eileen and I had never visited, so as part of our 25th anniversary celebrations we spent a long weekend in March 2012 at Tarbert, travelling all the way down to Southend, visiting Campbeltown, Davaar Island and Machrihanish beach with it's views to Jura. Following the Kintyre Way from Tarbert to Claonaig, to make sure some of the coast was walked, was probably the least exciting part of the trip! I returned to the peninsular in May and September working my way down the east coast. Up north again, July and November saw the section between Beauly and Golspie completed, round the Black Isle, Dingwall, Nigg, Tarbert Ness and inland as far as Bonar Bridge. The trip in November was one of the main highlights of the whole walk - no blisters in 102 miles over 7 days. Blisters often curtailed the amount done in a trip, even returning home early on one occasion. In terms of blisters (and knees) I just don't know how anyone walking the coast does it day after day !

Extended trips in 2013 saw trips to walk the sections between Golspie and Reiss in the far north east, Southend and Mausdale in Kintyre, and between Dornie and Kishorn on the west coast. These three trips made up the bulk of my walking that year, though the highlight was walking with Eileen from Moniifieth to Carnoustie via Buddon Ness which is a MOD firing range and very hard to access. I had spent years ringing up trying to get a suitable day for this trip and finally arranged it for Remembrance Sunday, just about the only day there's no firing. A wonderfully sunny day topped off by finding a gaff (still proudly displayed in my garden).

The following year had many highlights - finishing the east coast at Duncansby Head, meeting fellow coastal walker Alex from Swansea on the way, Ockle to Arisaig in perfect October weather where I hitched for the first time in 30 years, but especially Durness to Blairmore via Cape Wrath and Sandwood Bay with Kate, Janet and Dougie. Visiting Kervaig Bay and staying in the lighthouse were exceptional along with the swim some of us enjoyed which lasted a total of 2 strokes! There was also the day Eileen and I walked from Arisaig to Mallaig in perfect weather until the hour-long downpour. Though overall it rained very rarely over the whole walk.

2015 was the year of "the Knoydart Trip" with, once again, Kate, Janet and Dougie. Having walked from Mallaig, along Loch Morar as far as Tarbert, we got the ferry to Inverie and the following day walked over Mam Barrisdale (climbing Luinne Beinn on the way) to Barrisdale. Staying there 2 nights we walked along the coast to Kinloch Hourn and back, swam in Loch Hourn and returned to Inverie the next day where there was an evening of celebration in the Inn. (The beer on sale, Loch Ness Brewery's Remoteness, is only available in the Inverie Inn, the remotest pub in Britain - no road so you can only get there on the ferry or on foot.) Other highlights of the year were Melvich to Hope on the north coast, and Sonachan to Ockle on the Ardnamurchan peninsular where I visited the Viking Boat Burial at Swordle Bay. Another memorable day was walking along Loch Creran north of Oban with my friend Frank Wright.

2016 and the race is on to try to get the walk done in under 10 years. Dougie had the pleasure of joining me for what turned out to be two of the hardest section of the walk - Bealach Sloc an Eich in Morven and the Postie's Path in Assynt. This was also the year with the worst weather - freezing, horizontal rain in March at Altbea and wave after wave of hailstones at Durness in May, though overall the weather has kind through most of the walk. After the freezing cold rain in Aultbea I returned home with my knees severely warmed up, thankfully a condition that cleared up after a while. A return to Glenelg after 30 years and a first-ever visit to Applecross were highlights, though walking the Bealach na Ba (The Pass of the Sheep) was slight disapointment after all I'd heard about it. The final section of the whole walk was completed between Blughasary and Ullapool at the end of December with Eileen and Kate, Iain, Angus and John Honeyman who had all travelled up from Aviemore specially for the Big Day. Wet, windy and warm - a memorable day and slapup meal to finish the day.

The walk has been completed mostly clockwise on the south and west coasts and mostly anticlockwise on the east and north coasts, eventually meeting at Ullapool. A bit haphazard I know, but to have done it in strict order would have taken many more years and as a shift worker would have been impractical.

A shout-out to friends and family who were part of the walk - in descending order of number of days walked - Dougie, Kate, Janet, Janie, Eileen, Alice, Iain, Angus, Donald and Helen McBride, Margaret, Catriona, John and James Bennett, Bob, Frank Wright and John Honeyman.

Hello again to the fellow Coastal Walkers I met while on my walk - Gil Campbell, Alex from Swansea and Alan from Cheltenham, and to those I met while they did their walk - Nat Severs, Amy Leigh, Christian Nook, Alex Ellis-Roswell and Jimmy Hudson. Also thanks to David Cotton for his Coastwalk section on his " britishwalks" website.

Sandy beachs, cliffs, railway lines. Sea stacks, puffins, dolphins, deer, bulls, seals sunbatheing on the sand. Electric fences, (and electric fence testers!), barbed wire, castles, forests. Mountain passes, shipwrecks, aching shins, sunsets. Cars, trains, buses, a bike, a couple of ferries. Blisteringly hot days, horizontal hail, blisters, fog. I-walks, P-walks, there-and-back walks. B&Bs, hotels, bunkhouses, a caravan, a lighthouse. Old friends, new friends. Getting lost, cut off by the tide, losing a map. Coffee, water, beer (even at Cape Wrath - thanks J n D!),. Bananas, energy bars, crisps. Poles, vaseline, ibuprofen. Big breakfasts, slapup dinners. Picts, Scots, Britons, Northumbrians, Vikings. History, Geography, Geology. Rivers, stepping stones, where's that bridge? and twice "where's that bus??" 5am starts and thousands of miles driven, worth every moment. End of walk treats - prosecco (with 4 miles to go!), a t-shirt, whisky and a Jackie Kay poetry book!

What an adventure!

Thanks to Kate, Janet and Dougie, couldn't - and wouldn't - have done it without you, and especially to Eileen who kept the home fires burning all those days while I wandered the coast.

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