Walking Home to Hastings
Toby Sims is walking from Cape Wrath (the north-west tip of Scotland) home to Hastings, for the joy of it, and to bring the spirit of the wilderness home.
STAGE 3: FORT WILLIAM TO THE ENGLISH BORDER
I am sitting in the Border Hotel, Kirk Yetholm, the end of the Scottish National Trail, the start of the Pennine Way, and the psychological midpoint of my adventure. It’s a couple of miles from the border with England, and I’m poised to start the next great challenge, the wild and empty Cheviot Hills – a good moment to reflect on the most recent stage of my journey here from Fort William.
The first three days were on the West Highland Way, through dramatic scenery, including Glencoe, and all in the pouring rain. One can tire of unbroken drizzle for days on end and having clothes and sleeping bag damp, but I was amazed how many people did brave the elements, often less adequately dressed than I, to take in such views as the clouds allowed.
View of the Loch
Happily, the following two days were the most beautiful of all the 500-odd miles I have covered since leaving Cape Wrath 37 days ago, and I got them in gorgeous sunshine. The trail wound south on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. I was covered by the green fuse of the ancient oak woodland, and the loch itself was a constant presence, glistening between the branches. The going was very slow, as I had to clamber up and down stairways of boulders and tree roots, but it was always worth the effort. I found a wild camping pitch on a tiny beach of the loch, which I had all to myself, and I sat in peace on a boulder, listening to the lapping waves, as the sun sank westward.
Covered by the green fuse of the ancient oak woodland… the loch itself was a constant presence, glistening between the branches
Most people walking Britain end-to-end bypass Glasgow, and so miss the Kelvin Walkway; it is one of the gems of my walk. It connects the southern end of the West Highland Way with the very heart of Glasgow, and does so using no more than a quarter mile of road. The River Kelvin and the city coexist on two different levels: the river, having cut a channel through the bedrock, is on the lower level with a sliver of wild woodland on either side – and of course the Walkway; the streets and city life exist on the upper level. Walking beside the river one has no idea that there are roads and houses all around until a bridge suddenly looms out of the trees and one realises how close it all is. Sometimes there is no connection from Walkway to street and there is a strange sense of the two worlds existing quite independent of each other.
Until Glasgow I hadn’t had much chance to do any proper hiking. I know that sounds odd, but I was always clambering up something, over something, or through something – peat bog most often – so I never got a chance to get into a rhythm. After Glasgow things were different; it took me seven days to cover the 140 miles to Kirk Yetholm through the rolling, agricultural Scottish Lowlands, and past some fine old buildings, such as Melrose Abbey. I found my walking pace and my muscles learnt what they were supposed to do.
(Left) A Bridge Over the Kelvin Walkway; (Right) Loch Lomond Campsite
So here I am, at The Border and on the threshold of the second half. The magnificent scenery of Scotland has opened to me a quality of greatness, something beyond myself which I have been privileged to witness; it has also shown me the joy of my anticipated homecoming: the rich meaning of it all is woven into the fabric of my walk. But first 35 to 40 days of hiking, the next of which will probably be the hardest.
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