A long-overdue fundraising update…

Our apologies for it having taken so long to sort this, but after keeping the Just-Giving page open a little longer, we finished up raising over £3,000 from our Harris Walk. Fantastic! Last week a cheque for £1,053 went to each of our 3 chosen charities (Muscular Dystrophy, Air Ambulance and Tom and Mia’s Legacy) and we just wanted to add our grateful thanks yet again to each and every one of you who contributed. We raised so much more than anticipated, thanks to you, and besides the walk itself being just about the best thing we’ve ever done, it was made even more special because of your help, support and generosity. Thank you.


Wonderful world, beautiful people

On this walk we have passed through some tremendous landscapes, we’ve been so lucky to have such fantastic weather and the whole thing has been such a great adventure, with the lows making it just as much as the highs. Since day one we’ve been treated to magnificent views, shaped by both man and nature. Our first picnic of the walk, on that high path between The Chevin and Farnah Green, offered up a cracking view of Belper, with its mighty mill and tower, and the Derwent Valley, while a few miles further north, we saw Crich Stand which seemed to point to the airy White Peak and everything else beyond in those fabulous and ridiculously varied landscapes of northern Britain: rivers like the Eden and the Tweed, cityscapes like Manchester and Edinburgh, hills like Blencathra and Eaval and islands like Harris. What a beautiful land is ours. We both feel quite sad now that it has come to an end. It’s definitely been one of the best things we’ve ever done and we consider ourselves so fortunate to have been able to do it. But what has really made this walk so brilliant has been the people we’ve met along the way, as well as the kindness and generosity of people in spirit, in terms of donations given and the many messages we’ve received.  I can’t believe how many have been reading the blog and we’ve had messages from people we wouldn’t have expected, sometimes on an almost daily basis, which really helped to keep us going.  Your support has been wonderful. Every single person who has contributed to our journey, whether with a donation, a comment on the blog, a message via facebook or messenger or whatsapp or a text, every one who has rang us and joined us en route, every single word of encouragement has been greatly appreciated by us both. It’s been a fantastic feeling that so many people have been walking along with us and joining us in meeting so many other lovely folk on the way. Thank you.

Far, far away, on the island of dreams

8.69 miles   542ft
Well, what a finish! Andrew, the owner of our b&b last night, and the two other guests he had staying, Lorine and Trisha, each contributed £10 to the fund and sent us on our way in a suitably celebratory style. We had a definite spring in our step as we knew we were almost there, the weather was glorious yet again if a tad windy, and the views out to sea which accompanied us all the way to the ferry port seemed to be joining in with that feeling of, ‘Wow, we’ve just about done this!’

No sooner had we set foot on the ferry Andy and his wife Muriel, who we had met on Barra, came up to us, ‘Hello there, fancy seeing you again.’ Any previous idea of being anti-social was immediately dispelled. They are such a lovely couple and it was fitting that we should be chatting to such wonderful peolle when that is what has made this trip. This time we all sat outside taking in the views and comparing notes about people we’d met and places we’d been. Muriel told me about the woman who owned the place where they stayed last night on South Uist. Apparently she could point to the house where she had been born just across the field from where she was living now, and the place where she was was living now used to be the school she went to and one of the rooms the classroom she used to sit in. How funny. I told Muriel about the couple Donald from Nunton House had told me about. Apparently this couple had come over from Canada to try to trace their family history which they knew went back to Benbecula. It seems that they had booked into a nearby hotel but upon arrival were disappointed to find the staff rather rude and resolved to find somewhere else to stay. They found themselves at Nunton House and after talking to Donald, that font of local hiatory they found that not only had their ancestors come from the area nearby, but that they had actually owned Nunton House, and so because of shortcomings at the Benbecula hotel they found themselves actually staying in their ancestors home and walking through the rooms they would have walked through. Fantastic. We continued chatting throughout the ferry journey, marvelling at our good fortune with the weather. Muriel and Andy were on their way to the Tarbert hotel where they were staying for the next 3 days. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t bump into them again at some point whilst on Harris. As we approached Leverburgh, and even Leverburgh managed to look inviting in the such lovely weather, our excitement rose. Just before we said our goodbyes, Andy took a photo for us, with the hills of Harris behind. As we disembarked, mine and Ians’ grins were as wide as they could be. We were on Harris – yay!

Our first port of call was the post office, where the woman behind the counter was suitably impressed with the idea that we had walked there from home. We then called at the shop, An Clachan, for provisions. One fly in the ointment over the last couple of days, was that we had been unable to process an online shopping order with Tesco from Stornoway, whicb provided us with a bit of a logistical nightmare. Thanks to the help of Ian’s cousin, Adele and her husband Steve, who live in Lewis, and who very kindly picked Joy and Jim up from the airport and took them shopping before putting them on a bus to Harris, we had supplies to last us for a couple of days. We also now did our bit by filling every available space in our rucksacks with extra provisions, including a box of red wine which we managed to cram into Ian’s rucksack! One of life’s necessities…

Despite the additional weight and the long incline out of Leverburgh, we set off for Scarista with ever widening grins (if that was possible). At the top of the incline we found ourselves looking down upon Toe Head, Northton and the dunes of Scarista beach! Oystercatchers flew over our heads as we continued on our way. They had been ever present since we reached the islands and their cries as they have soared and hovered above us have provided a lovely accompaniment. Today it felt as if they were out in force and there to cheer us in to the finish. We paused at the sign which told us we had now entered Scarista for the all important photographic eveidence and continued on towards Scarista House. We noticed that a lot of the houses seemed to have a had a bit of a tarting up, a lick of paint here, a new sign there – was this to do with the opening of the new Hebridean Way, we wondered? Scarista House itself, in contrast, despite its glowing reputation and the fact that it is very expensive to stay or eat there, seemed a little down at heel, and the garden very unkempt. 

On to the schoolhouse. Some years back when we were considering the possibility of buying land or a house up in Harris this house came on the market. Very run down, it nevertheless had the potential to make two really fantastic houses, perfectly situated with a path to the beach from the back garden. From the top floor were views over to the Harris hills which would have been lovely to wake up to. We actually went as far as to put a bid in, but someone else bid higher. Whoever bought it hasn’t done much with it and it still looks careworn and unlived in. Such a shame. Not for us though. If we’d been sucessful in our bid we would no doubt have ended up having to spend a lot of money to be able to do what we wanted with it and the logistics of managing a project like that from a distance would have been very difficult. It was a nice dream for a while, but I’m very glad it didn’t come off.

And so instead we cut up the path at the side of the school house and made our way onto the beach. Stepping foot on Scarista beach was always going to be a special moment. We sat amidst the dunes and reflected on what we’d done. Was there ever a time when we thought we wouldn’t actually make it? We both thought back to Colterscleugh when my shin was playing up and we did think that we might have a problem, but thankfully it was fine. It seemed such a long time since we set off from home and it was such a wonderful feeling to realise we’d actually made it all the way here, and here we were now, sat in the sunshine on Scarista beach with the prospect of a weeks holiday to look forward to and a rest for our tired feet. What a lot to reflect upon. We sat for some time. We took a couple of very inadequate selfies (there wasn’t a soul on the huge expanse of sand to witness our achievement, but that was ok with us), before we continued on our way up through the golf course and over to Sandview, our holiday house. Putting our rucksacks down, we made a quick cup of tea and took it outside to sit on the bench in the sheltered corner at the front of the house from where we could just gaze at the magnificent view over the golf course to Scarista beach and beyond to Toe Head. It all seemed rather surreal. 

It wasn’t long though before it was time to go and meet Joy and Jim (on their way to join us for the week), off the bus. We walked up towards the golf course again and watched the bus approach from the distance. As it drew nearer, we got more excited and soon it was coming up the hill – and then it carried on past – with us just catching sight of a hand waving as it disappeared round the bend! The bus driver had obviously decided to drop them right outside the house in view of all the shopping they were carrying. This meant we set off back towards the house at a run – we could still run! As we drew near we saw that they were both wearing party hats and holding up signs of congratulations. Cue lots of hugs and laughter. A superb end. We had our own party hats to don and we were given ‘gold medals’ to wear and the very fortuitous passing by of some holiday makers who had just arrived nearby, meant we got a picture of the four of us in full celebratory mode. It wasn’t long before we were all sat together on the front, with a glass of champagne (courtesy of those lovely Halsalls, how kind) drinking to a job well done!

Grand Total – 579.7 miles!

And the best view of the walk goes to….

19.9 miles   1409ft
Another fantastic day! We’ve handed in our Western Isles loyalty card and we’ve got more reward points than we realised. We dared to hope for one good day on the islands and instead we’ve had five!

Last night the stove in front of the camping hut didn’t really give out much in the way of heat (though Ian reckons it warmed up after I’d gone to bed)  but inside was warm and cosy thanks to the extra bedspread Duncan had given us to put on top of the duvet. Nevertheless we were up early and off for the last full days walking of the tour.

The first stretch of the walk involved crossing the interior to get from the west coast to the north. The interior is basically peat land and there was lots of evidence of peat cutting going on. As we dropped down to the north we were treated to some wonderful views of the sea and white sands with traditional blackhouses beautifuly positioned as if just waiting to take their place on a postcard. This side of North Uist seems to have a wealthier feel to it with fewer houses, all spaced apart. We were making a call to Joy to check on packing preparations ahead of her and Jim coming up to join us tomorrow, but I had to cut her short. As we rounded a corner we were greeted by the most stupendous view of all the Harris hills before us, with a lovely interplay between a blue and jade sea forming swirly patterns with shades of yellow where the sand rose above the water line, the whole creating a scene that was just stunning. We could see from Roneval at the southern tip of Harris to the Mealasta Hills on Lewis, with the hills of North Harris dominating the foreground. Ian could even make out Luskentyre and its sand dunes (he did have his glasses). Just super. 

We stopped for a while just to savour the view. Then continuing on to Berneray we saw so many other uninhabited islands, some with their own beaches, which must be lovely to sail out out on a day like today. The hills on Skye and the mainland put in an appearance again and when we reached Berneray itself it afforded yet more beautiful sea views including seals basking on the rocks just beneath the window of our room in the b’n’b. We are sat here now. The sea has turned a very deep blue but there is still not a cloud in the sky. Tomorrow is the last day of our walk and a weeks rest beckons on Harris, our favourite of all the islands, and again full of memories – fiercely fought football matches (with silver foil and cardboard trophies), ultimately disappointing meals at Scarista House (saved for all year), body boarding, sunsets, Rock Kitties performances, basking sharks, porpoises, Mr and Mrs Seal, fires on the beach, sand wrestling, golf (including a hole in one by yours truly who can’t play golf at all), Jim’s office, big waves, naked policemen (don’t ask) and more recently Harris gin – but always, lots of laughing and good times.

It’s going to be very strange to finish. But we are looking forward to seeing Joy and Jim, and it won’t be long before we see Jo and Hannah and other family and friends, which will make for a lovely return home. In the meantime, it’s a beautiful evening. I think we should go for a walk…

The last few weeks have thrown up many surprises, ie Edinburgh is better than Venice, pets are nice, Lidl “Choco and Caramel” bars (made by Mr Choc) are loads better the Marsbars and, at 79p for six, are half the price! One of the biggest surprises though, is having my old teaching pal, Andy Mort, as a text buddy; he’s a bigger technophobe than me. Morty’s latest text, received yesterday, read “Given your amazing weather can you give me any tips for horses to back, and will there be any left for me on Skye?”, which is clearly a euphemism for “You lucky bleeder”. Ah well, if it’s any consolation Andy, I haven’t won on the football fixed odds for over two years. Just after I’d picked up Andy’s text, as we were following the road north to Lochmaddy and admiring Eavel’s ability to punch well above its 1200 ft summit, the Skye Cuillin suddenly appeared, in all its serrated glory, so I texted Andy back and told him the good news. Since then, strangely enough, I haven’t heard back from him.

We set off early this morning, knowing that we’d got a 20 mile stretch ahead of us but also aware that this long, strange, golden road that we’d embarked upon back on 29 March was drawing to an end. There was little time for melancholic musings though, because at 8.30, before we’d barely got into our stride, my phone rang. It was our press officer, telling us that he had arranged an interview with Radio Derby for 5.45 this afternoon. He’d also impressed upon them the need to publicise Muscular Dystrophy UK and Air Ambulance as our other two charities,  as well as Tom and Mia’s Legacy. When I told Sharon the news I could see a line of worry on her brow. Yes, it would be her turn to speak to the listenership of Derbyshire and East Staffordshire; she accepted her fate. Here though, in Berneray, in the high north west of the UK, there is no mobile reception, so Radio Derby couldn’t get through to us. Maybe tomorrow. 

Pet Sounds

18.6 miles  1333ft
I’m sure you’re sick of hearing what a great day it’s been by now. You probably don’t want to know that we woke yet again to glorious sunshine and that we had another day of great walking, this time from Benbecula to North Uist. You won’t want to know that the sunshine caused great light displays on the landscape with myriad shades of blues and greens and yellows and browns, all competing with each other as to which colour should have dominance, or the way these ever changing colours provided so many different foregrounds to North Uist’s highest hill, Eaval, so that it was difficult to know which showed it to its greatest advantage. You don’t want to know that the outline of the Cuillin on Skye, could be seen really clearly on the horizon across the sun speckled sea and you probably don’t even want to know that we got our first sight of the hills of Harris, which for us was especially exciting. I’m sure the last thing you want to hear is that when we reached the camping hut where we were staying tonight, we found that the back wall acted as a perfect windbreak, sheltering us from the breeze so that we could just sit basking in the sun for an hour after our 18 and a half mile walk. Anyway, you don’t want to know any of this, so I won’t bother telling you…

What I will tell you, is that Donald was the perfect host at our Benbecula hostel last night and a veritable font of local knowledge. A man of many talents, he used to be a fireman, but got fed up with the red tape that was becoming more and more demanding, and anyway he didn’t really have the time for it. He has a small croft, keeps sheep, has the hostel and runs a b&b, builds houses, transports tractors and he is also the local gravedigger. Also, Donald stands in for the village undertaker when needed. An interesting bloke to chat to.

Yesterday we met a man who stopped for a chat (he was in his car but the roads on the island are very quiet) wanting to know where  we were walking etc. We chatted for a while and he went on his way. Today we bumped into him again, in North Uist. This time when he stopped us, he left with the blog details. I wonder where we’ll bump into him tomorrow.

Since arriving at Oban we have constantly been reminded of previous holidays and times spent in Oban and on the islands, and as we’ve been walking there’s been a lot of, ‘Do you remember when…?’

Travelling back from North Scotland we had to get to Oban to put Jo and Hannah on a train back home, before we carried on with Joy and Jim to get a ferry to one of the islands. We were in the campervan and had greatly underestimated how long it would take to get there. What I remember most about that journey, other than that it was fraught, was that for about the last hour and a half none of us spoke. It was if our silence would somehow help to power the campervan on and get us there on time. We did get there on time, but only just. Jo and Hannah didn’t even have time to take their seats before the train departed, with us barely having time to say goodbye. Tense times.

We have recalled nights on Barra and Eriskay, either just us and the kids, or with Pete and Hel and Katie and Rosie, and the number of times we’d go down to the beach in the evening,  saying, ‘It’s too cold to go in the sea tonight’, only to have the kids decide otherwise and go in anyway, unable to resist, sometimes fuly clothed, to then have to go running back to where we were staying for hot showers and hot chocoate, leaving us to stay on the beach, watching the sunset and drinking red wine. Hard times.

We reminisced about when we climbed Ben More on South Uist, only to have the cloud come down just as we reached the ridge, so that we could only just make out the path. We found the top and then quickly retraced our steps and we hadn’t got down very far before we reached a point where we could see the edge of the cloud and below it we could see the the coastline bathed in sunshine. At the same time we picked up a call from Hannah to tell us she was at the airport waiting to catch her flight to Benbecula. She was on her way to join us and would get a bus from Benbecula down to Eriskay where we were staying. I can still recall the excitement of going to meet her off the bus.

Tomorrow we head to Berneray, which is a beautiful little island joined to North Uist by another causeway. We once spent a couple of nights there with the campervan next to a beautiful stretch of beach, but Berneray will be forever associated with a certain corn-based snack called Space Raiders. Jim got into a strop when he wanted a pack and was told he couldn’t have them (he was only about 5 at the time). He took himself off into the dunes and sat crossed legged with his head in his hands, his bottom lip hanging down, and refused to come for his tea, just repeating, ‘ I want Space Raiders’. Being the caring mother that I am, I took out my camera and captured his sulky pose for posterity. Its the best ‘Boy in a sulk’ picture ever!

These islands have meant a lot to us, and even though we haven’t always had good weather (in fact I don’t think we’ve ever had a spell quite like we’ve been having now), there is something about them that just keeps us coming back. This last week then, on the islands, has been a fitting finale to our walk and I’m sorry we’ve been blessed with such good weather – actually, no, I’m not…

As the tour draws to a close an emerging topic of conversation between myself and the expedition leader is lists, such as top five views, top five annoying habits of your walking partner, top five air b&b’s etc. One list to which we can’t give the top five treatment is “pets encountered on the walk north”, because we might get into trouble with Paul and Esther if we don’t put Gwennie in the top spot or Mr Bathie if Poppy is not on the prime pet pedestal. It’s a bit weird having a “pets corner” to the blog, if truth be told because neither of us is a pet person. Back in the cold Liverpudlian winter of 83/84, as we shivered in the suitably named Eastern Drive, we took in a sad looking cat and christened it Tiddles. How did it repay our hospitality? While our backs were turned it scoffed a fruit cake that had been left pitch side during a break in Subbuteo hostilities,  before sicking up said cake all over the hallowed green baize and then, in the bathroom, resulting in Sedge’s ear-piercing lament,  “Lakes! The cat’s been sick in the bath!” Later on, whilst working as an insurance salesman in the Ilkeston area, I had several close shaves with irate dogs, before my luck finally ran out in Kirk Hallam when an Alsatian bit me in the groin area, necessitating a tetanus jab. Sharon, meanwhile, has no great memories of Tiggy and Midge, the Carr family cats, mainly because of their vile smelling cat food and all round anti-social behaviour.

So, over the course of the last few weeks, we’ve surprised ourselves by taking to so many really nice, really cute pets. On day 2, as we trod the High Peak Trail, we had the pleasure of Gwennie’s company and, the following day between Flagg and Monsal Dale, Poppy bounded along at our heels: both as good natured as their owners. This set a precedent as we encountered many more affable hounds : Charlie in Selkirk, Baillie in Penicuik, Hope and Pirate in Carbeth and Eve the Staffie in Drymen. We even came across a fairly agreeable moggie in Cumwhitton. Our stay on Benbecula, though, really raised the cuteness bar when we got to feed those wee scamps, Struan and Chops.

La belle dame sans merci

14.2 miles  269ft
Found it difficult to get to sleep last night because my feet were throbbing so much, but this morning, amazingly, they felt fine. Howmore hostel is just fab. Loved it. An old croft house; it’s in a super setting. After breakfast we sat outside with a cup of coffee taking in the views and soaking up the now taken for granted sunshine. We had a litle wander and then set off for Benbecula at around half 10. This top end of South Uist had a lot more to recommend it and we enjoyed our stroll along, passing small lochs, crossing causeways, looking back at Ben More and its satellite hils and looking ahead to Eaval, North Uist’s highest hill, which had now come into view to accompany us. As we crossed the causeway that took us into Benbecula the tide was on the ebb and the shades of blue and jade in the water were just beautiful, with patches of white sand adding to the scene as the sea drew back, a little like Luskentyre. 

We stopped to get food for tea and after this I think our heavier bags and tired limbs from yesterday meant that the last 4 or 5 miles to the hostel felt longer than they actually were. We weren’t sure what to expect from this hostel, with it being independently run and its website making it sound rather grand. It actually is rather grand as hostels go and it has the most amazing inglenook fireplace. The owner, Donald, is a very cheery chap, and he told us that since they weren’t fully occupied we could have a room to ourselves, with our own ensuite facilities no less. We chatted to another couple, John and Helen, who come from Kent. They are cycling around the islands on a tandem. We retired to our room but we’d only been in it 5 minutes when Donald came knocking to see if we wanted to go with him to feed his lambs. We readily agreed. Donald said he would drive us to where the lambs were, which it turned out was out of the hostel drive, 50 metres up the road, and into the next drive. We could probably have walked it quicker (although maybe he’d seen us arrive and decided he couldn’t ask us to walk any further, even such a short distance). We were then introduced to Chops and Struan and given a bottle from which to feed them. Eager little feeders they were too. Donald took a couple of photos for us but said he should really have taken some video instead because of how much I was laughing!

After tea we were treated to a lovely sunset down on the beach which is just in front of the hostel. Yet another glorious day!

The name of our pub quiz team is Ever the Optimists. Towards the back end of the 1990s we could be found in The Dolphin on Sunday evenings pitting our wits against such rivals as Blessed are the Cheesemakers and, occasionally, scooping the big prize: a gallon of Bass. Then the landlord/ quizmaster retired, the tables became stickier and the provenance of the half time chile con carne more and more dubious, so we knocked it on the head. Intermittently, say on holiday in the Lake District, the Optimists might make a one-off reappearance before slinking back into quiz hibernation. In recent months, though, Ever the Optimists has had a bit of a renaissance at The Cross Keys Tuesday night brain teaser. Indeed, on the first Tuesday of March, when the planets of quiz fortune were in perfect alignment (ie we’d assembled a team of eleven, while the two other teams competing that night totalled eight and a couple of faithful hounds), we won and found that a whole £10 had been deducted from our bar bill. So, sometimes, we justify our “glass (of Pedi) is half full” choice of name. 

It was in the spirit of our cheerful and never say die pub quiz team that I packed my rucksack, a couple of weeks after our stunning victory at the Keys. One of the first items to make the touring party was my pair of blue shorts, that can also double as swimming trunks. Upon seeing this essentially optimistic garment on my pile of  rucksack clobber, Sharon tutted, Ooh, you’re taking shorts, are you?”, in the same tone of voice that her son used when carrying out his caddying duties at Auld Achy. Today they were summoned up from the bottom of my rucksack, where, for several weeks, they had lain unused, beneath my sleeping bag and the emergency packet of ALDI porridge. So, this morning I emerged from the Howmore hostel, legs as pale as porridge yet savouring that wonderful feeling of sunshine and warmth on the old pins. Sharon, by the way, who hadn’t packed her shorts before we set off from home, bought a new pair in Oban. They’re black and now she’s worn them she’s worried that they look like football shorts, which isn’t like Sharon at all. Ah, yes: walking in shorts – even better than unzipping the vents on your walking trousers! After a couple of miles Sharon had yet to clock my, er, legs (sad face), so I said, “Have you noticed? I’m wearing my shorts.” She guffawed and said “No”, before moving through the next stages of her maniacal laughter. What chance have I, when we’re in the midst of the sunny Hebrides with its sparkling seas and soaring mountains, of catching her eye?