Once again I’m kicking back in a superb b&b, feet up, sunshine streaming in the window, cup of tea on the go. Across the road a gentle game of lawn bowls is underway and behind that the hills are so green they almost hurt the eyes. It’s brilliantly sunny and apparently 25 degrees, something of a heat wave, coinciding with our midpoint rest day in the sweet town of Moffat. This is the luxurious side of the very hard walk – the lovely accommodation that awaits us each night, the great Scottish hospitality, and superb food and drink.
We’ve crossed the highest point of the Southern Upland Way – Lowther Hill at some 720 metres – and are just about at our halfway point, which I guess means we have around 200km under our feet of the wild western half of the way – apparently much wetter, boggier, more remote and more demanding than the eastern half. It’s good to know that in some ways the hardest is behind us – though tomorrow’s walk of 34km will be a big push. We managed 34km in a training walk at home, striding along at a good clip and averaging 4km an hour with breaks thrown in. But that wasn’t clambering across Scottish hills, skipping around the bogs, sloshing through them, tramping with wet boots, and changing layers about every 20 minutes as the weather changed. This walk is harder than our training.
It’s a very particular feeling to have walked over a landscape. My feet have known it, I have paced it out, I sense its height and length in a visceral way. There’s the chance to breathe in its air, listen to its sounds, see its light and shade and moods. Alongside that is the way your own body calls out for attention while walking. There is generally some body part that hurts. There are also moments where I have felt strong and invincible and like I could walk forever. I wish there were more of them.
I’m loving how much everything changes during the day. One moment it’s hot and sunny, the next drizzling, the next windy and sombre. The land changes from the bottom of a hill to the top. Green winding paths through enclosed forests open out to vast hilltop vistas where you can see forever. Huge skies. Huge windfarms. And my mood changes all the time too. A dummy spit about trying to get into recalcitrant rain gear in the midst of a sudden shower becomes laughter five minutes later. I can skip along singing snatches of The Sound of Music (yes it’s true), or trudge, head down, thinking only of making it to the next break. Everything moves and shifts – weather, land, and me.
Southern Upland Way has its own treasure hunt to distract you from the pain of the walk. Selected waymarks carry little metal badges bearing the word ‘Ultreia’ (on with your quest!), a hint that a kist is nearby. A short search reveals the treasure containers, filled with hand-minted coins, created by artists and local primary schools. Thirteen in all, these treasures are a brilliant distraction from clambering up a steep hill. We have taken to yelling “Ultreia” at moments of triumph (leaping over a bog without getting wet) or when a little extra encouragement is needed.
I love walking with Andi. I can’t imagine anyone not loving walking with her, as she’s strong, even-tempered, happy and funny. She sets a good pace when it’s needed; slows down when I’m struggling, and looks pretty damned hot in her hiking gear. Lucky me.
Tomorrow we enter the eastern half of the walk, the shire of the Scottish Borders, the landscapes of The Raven’s Heart, which are more familiar to me from research. We skirt the old lands of the Blackadders and head to the coast. The days are still long and challenging, but I’m feeling much more confident. We’re better at navigating now, more comfortable with our gear, and getting stronger. Onward and upward. Or downward, as it were.
Please remember our fundraising campaign – we are supporting the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the international literacy organisation Room to Read with our hike. There is almost $1000 in donations so far – we’d love to get to $2000 so please head to my fundraising page to make a donation.