Fort William Or Bust

I think it’s safe to say that I’ve travelled more than most.

Thanks to a childhood spent as a Forces brat, I’d visited much of the UK, most of Europe and the east coast of Australia all before I’d even finished school.

My global footprint has somewhat shrunk in recent years, though I have still found the time to tour Romania, volunteer in Russia and holiday in Corfu.

But while I have travelled by horse and cart, car, minibus, coach, train, ferry and aeroplane, I have done very little of that travelling on foot. With no overseas trips planned for 2014, this year I set out to change that.

Back in 2013, around October time, I had an idea. To begin with that’s all it was; I had just finished reading Walking Home by Simon Armitage, the poet’s account of the Penine Way, and fancied that I might too attempt a Long Distance Walk of my own.

I must have tweeted about my ambition, in some non-committal way, because the next thing I knew Paul Greenwood had signed on to accompany me from Milngavie to Fort William, a route known to most Scots as the West Highland Way.

Together we walked the first leg of the journey, a sort of dry run to ensure that the outdoors was indeed for us. It was relatively easy-going, our newfound optimism and positivity even going as far as to attract Nathanael Smith. And then there were three.

Since then we have walked quite a bit. Paul and I walked from Dundee to St Andrews, then Perth to Arbroath. He also took Nathanael to The Beech Tree Inn outside of Drymen to give him a feel for the Way. Then, as a threesome, we walked the 30-odd miles from Glasgow to Lanark. Well, most of them.

It was while walking in Lanarkshire that we got our first taste of real hardship. Up until that point, it was simply sore feet and moderate dehydration that we had had to contend with; after a day of persistent rainfall walking through the suburbs of Glasgow, however, we were faced with a near-impassable stretch of mud that ultimately got the best of us.

For the last month, however, it has not been sore feet that has been the chief concern, but cold ones. The West Highland Way is now only days away, and with 96 miles stretching out in front of us, around lochs, through glens and over hills, it’s difficult not to feel slightly daunted by the task at hand. Are we really ready to walk for six days solid through the Scottish highlands?

It was during a moment’s panic that I found myself in Blacks, suddenly convinced that I was desperately unprepared for the trip. I had sensible if unspecialised shoes, a bag which at some point between St Andrews and Glasgow I had discovered came with a waterproof cover, and a camera, but really that was it.

After initially convincing myself that jeans would do (and until the saturated banks of the River Clyde at least, they had) I added a pair of walking trousers to my basket, along with an emergency whistle (in case we get lost in the fog), an emergency torch (in case we get lost in the dark) and an emergency first aid kit (in case we get lost down a well). Suddenly this was serious — so serious in fact that I’ve opted to quit using movie puns until Fort William.

Mercifully, such bouts of uncertainly are relatively short-lived, and no sooner had I get home I was wearing everything I had just bought and was half-tempted to start walking then and there. Even at its wettest, dirtiest and most tiring, walking is always a joy, and though you’re often in the middle of nowhere, cut off from civilisation you must always remember that that is a good thing.

After all, it’s not like we’re climbing Everest or anything. The furthest we’ll ever walk on any single day is about twenty miles, and we’ve done that before. What’s more, at the end of each day we have the luxury of being able to check into a hotel, find our bags waiting for us, and fill up on food before a long, leisurely evening of beer, a bath and bed. And we get to do it knowing that we’ve raised some money for Cancer Research along the Way.

The journey to Milngavie is almost at its end. Now it’s Fort William or bust.



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