Exactly forty-eight hours after setting off, and frustratingly just 27-ish miles in, on Wednesday I awoke in The Beehive. Over the past few hours this bothy had become my own personal sweat lodge and with every minute that passed, greater the danger was that I would start to become a little bit Colonel Kurtz. It was definitely time to be on my way.
As with the previous morning, the sun shone brightly; last nights thrashing rain seeming a long way off. Although I had slept a lot lighter than I usually do at home, I had actually managed to get a decent few hours kip and happily awoke to realise that my legs, back and shoulders felt fine. If anything my legs were itching to simply get moving again. There was just one problem – my mutant dead piglet feet. I peeled off my socks and recoiled in horror. If I’d had phone signal, and if I wanted to be a complete meanie, I would of sent a picture of them to my foot-phobic friend to give her a nice start to her day.
Here’s the thing: over the last twelve months I was proud of the fact that I had learnt how not to get blisters on my heels during my long walks – I’d experimented with various types of socks and worked out which ones worked best for me and found super comfy boots (which I bought in all 3 available colours). I’ve had ‘problem feet’ for most of my life, but recently I had been mostly fine. The blisters this time covered the whole of the balls of my feet, running under my toes, and turning my little toes into two huge individual blisters. The pain was high on the feet-hurty scale. I figured that perhaps due to spending a lot of the previous day in wet boots negotiating my way through bog, I actually spent a lot of the journey essentially tip-toeing, and thus putting most of the pressure on the front of my feet, hence the mega blisters.
But, there was nothing that could be done other than to get moving and block out the pain. By 8.15 am I said a fond farewell to the Beehive, promising to return again soon. I passed by the 4000 year-old standing stones of Laggangarn without really stopping and continued along the gravel path through the forest. Exactly an hour after leaving the Beehive I was leaning against the trigpoint of Craig Airie Fell, looking out across a sea of wind turbines, and an hour on from this I was down on the track which lead past Loch Derry and the eerily deserted farm of the same name.
Not long past this point I regrettably decided to ignore a slight detour off to a Covenanter’s grave. I had initially planned to check out all the historical points of interest along the route, but I couldn’t face wading through more wet bracken and walking any further than was necessary. I will have to do this whole route again at some point and focus more on the journey itself, rather than the destination.
A short while later I came upon the picturesque hamlet of Polbael, with its neatly clipped hedges, evenly spaced red berry shrubs and beautiful gardens. I could count no more than four houses, but it was clearly a place filled with love and rather like a dream world. I saw someone – a human – working in a garden and I realised that I had not seen a fellow human since I left Castle Kennedy Gardens and the lovely waitress in the tearooms nearly 48 hours earlier. I had seen foxes, deer, sheep, cows, herons, a thousand dead frogs and a million slugs, but no humans. I was in need of something other than murky burn water by this point, so I decided to approach one of the houses. As if by magic a Jessica Tandy doppelganger appeared at the door, exclaiming “We’ve got another walker!”, and in a well-practiced routine my water bottles were instantly refilled.
By 12.30 pm I passed through the ghostly-quiet hamlet of Knowe and the weather seemed as if it was going to repeat yesterday’s action. In a blink the blue skies were covered over with grey clouds and I felt disappointment of rain. I took shelter in the cover of the dense forest which handily lay beside me and braced myself to walk the remaining 4.5 miles of this 13 mile stretch in the rain. Pleasestoprainingpleasestopraining I repeated over and over again, in a slightly delirious manner, and as quickly as the grey clouds had appeared, they were gone again. Blue sky and sunshine reigned! But my feet were hurting beyond belief.
Past Glenruther Lodge and Glenruther Farm I went, along a track which wasn’t at all kind to my blistered dead piglet feet. At this point I annoyingly had a Longpigs song stuck in my head which has the line “I just can’t go on” which was stuck on a loop and was playing over and over in my head and really didn’t help matters. I was so frustrated because other than my stupid blisters, I was totally fine, yet I was walking as if I was completely crippled. By now I was gritting my teeth in pain and when a SUW signpost told me to head up grassy path on my right, up Glenvernoch Fell, I very politely told it to fuck right off. I knew from my map that if I just stayed on this track, passing by Loch Ochiltree, then it would join up with the proper route at the bottom of the hill. Clearly I am not a ‘SUW purist’.
After a final trek following my dear yellow-topped friends through a few fields, at 3.30 pm I found myself in the village of Bargrennan. I had made a decision by this point and I was feeling excited: I was going to get a room at the House o’ hill Hotel and have a much needed bath, sort my blisters out and then start completely refreshed on Thursday. I had done 41 miles of my 92 miles in 57.5 hours so I knew that if I pushed on, I could make up some of the lost hours in the Beehive and still arrive back in Sanquhar by Friday. I ordered a pint of Guinness and asked about a room – surely there would be a room on a Wednesday night – but apparently not. This completely scuppered my plans – and annoyingly, when I checked booking.com hours later, it clearly stated that a room was available, albeit a ridiculously over-priced one, but a price I would of paid at that point. Even though the staff were perfectly nice to me, I think they just simply didn’t want a tramp-like walker stinking up their posh place.
And so, I hate to admit, it was at this point I caved in. As soon as I spoke to Jay and heard the sound of the kids in the background, all it took was for him to say “Do you want picking up?” and my adventure came to an instant end. A journey hampered by rain and cows, but completely ruined by blisters. Such a weak cop-out, I know.
But, it wasn’t a wasted journey; many lessons were learnt. In hindsight it was perhaps a bit of an ambitious plan for my first SUW attempt, and for my first ever proper solo mission. My main two errors were taking waaaay too much food and stupidly taking a child’s sleeping bag (because it took up less space in my rucksack, leaving me more space for tubs of food which I didn’t even eat), so at least I know to do those two things differently next time. I think I was perhaps more mentally prepared than I was prepared practicality-wise; I was trying to do everything on the cheap which wasn’t wise – maybe I’ll invest in some proper ‘stuff’ one day. But I survived, and that’s the main thing.
I’m gutted I didn’t make it along the beautiful stretch past the Lochs of Trool, Dee and Clatteringshaws, or spend a night in the White Laggan Bothy, but at least I know I have that to look forward to another time. The Southern Upland Way might have broken my feet a bit, but it certainly hasn’t stopped me from wanting to do it all over again.
Did I completely end my mission here? Of course not! Admittedly I had a 4 day break to catch up on everything at home but I did ‘get back on the saddle the following week. The journey continues here: https://thescottishdream.com/2019/09/19/the-southern-upland-way-day-4-bargrennan-white-laggan-bothy/