Last drinks in Scotland

temple1A very nice Bloody Mary – my drink of choice at airports – has gone down a treat and I’m whiling away the final hour until Andi, Ruth and I board the flight from home. Having IMG_6164covered the entire series six of Downton Abbey on the way over, I’m not too sure what I’ll watch, but travelling home with Andi and Ruth is an unplanned pleasure of this trip.

After our time at North Berwick – when we celebrated our tenth anniversary by relaxing, daydreaming, reading, and doing some Blackadder-related sightseeing in the Borders, Andi and I headed over to the West birthday1Coast to catch the last couple of days of our original holiday plan – joining our darling Mullum mate Ruth at Ardfern and hanging out with our mutual friend Lucy (Ruth, Lucy and Andi all worked together at Zentveld’s Coffee). What a gorgeous time. So lovely to be in the company of close friends. We stayed in a sweet B&B in the village, celebrated Ruth’s birthday, gently saw some of the local sites (one of the most significant
archeological areas in Britain) and gave kitchen1blessings and wishes for Ruth’s new house, laying a stone circle under where the hearth will be.

I’m glad to be coming home. It’s been an amazing time – huge highs, a few lows, changes of plans, unexpected activities, up time and down time. I know it’s hard for Andi to come home – she won’t want to rest, and will be wanting to DO things. But it will be great to be back in that lovely place we inhabit.

Thanks everyone for following our adventures. I know I’ve gone on about our fundraising for kids’ literacy a fair few times – you can get in now and give before 30 June for an IMG_6131immediate tax benefit, or wait a few days and give in the new financial year if you like. Your support is much appreciated. Please click here to donate – every small bit counts.

See you back home! Jesse xxx

IMG_6140 IMG_6131 cow1 craignish1

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Let’s not have a short-fall

Well, we only made two thirds of the Southern Upland Way, but please don’t let this hold you back in donating to the kids’ literacy charities we are supporting through our hike – Room to Read and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. Dig deep folks – think of it as a show of support for Andi – and a great outcome from our trip if we can raise a big donation for both organisations. Every little bit helps, so please click here to donate.

Hiking was, in fact, central to the formation of Room to Read – this guest post from Mihiri Udabage of Room to Read Australia outlines how our funds will go towards post-earthquake education in Nepal – and any funds given before 30 June will be matched by a sponsor. Please read on. (Photos courtesy of Room to Read)

Room to Read Nepal 1 Room to Read Nepal 2 Room to Read Nepal 3 Room to Read Nepal 4Room to Read started its work in Nepal in 1998 after Microsoft executive, John Wood, met a Nepalese education officer who invited him to visit a school high in the hills while he was on a hike. Taking a tour of the small school, John was confronted with the harsh reality of education in rural Nepal: a dilapidated schoolroom with little more than backpacker castoffs as reading material. Sensing his visitor’s dismay, the headmaster spoke the nine words that would forever change John’s life: “Perhaps, Sir, you will someday come back with books.”

John started his mission with an email to friends. With the subject line ‘Books for Nepal – Please Help’ he commenced a book drive that would be the catalyst for his return to Nepal the following year, with his 72-year-old father and a train of eight donkeys bearing 37 boxes of books. What started as one man’s efforts to provide much needed books to a single rural community is now Room to Read, a global organisation transforming the lives of millions of children in ten countries in the developing world, by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Since then Room to Read has:

  • constructed 1930 schools
  • established 17,534 new libraries in schools and communities
  • published 1,158 original picture books
  • distributed 15,641, 734 books distributed
  • given long term scholarships to 31, 636 girls

While the organisation now has operations in ten countries, Nepal remains close to its heart.  In partnership with District Education Offices, Room to Read is donating books to over 4800 schools in 14 earthquake affected districts. The original book titles, published by Room to Read, will be used to set up Temporary Learning Centres. Room to Read Library Management Facilitators and Literacy Coaches will be conducting counselling classes and reading activities in earthquake affected schools to support the students to deal with the trauma of their ordeal and help them return to school.

When Room to Read Writer Ambassadors learnt of the devastation affecting the region, they rallied, dedicating the 2015 World Change Challenge to the children of Nepal. A goal of $40,000 will see 40,000 books distributed in Nepal, in support of Room to Read’s Literacy Program—a three-pronged approach to improve literacy by investing in teacher training, producing quality early reading materials and providing safe and productive learning environments.

Your support of the Writer Ambassador World Change Challenge 2015 will help Room to Read get the children of Nepal back to school and back to education. Thanks to Nuix, all donations from Australia until 30th June will be matched dollar for dollar. We stand by that promise made fifteen years ago to return with books. We cannot afford to let the fury of the earthquakes bury the hopes and dreams of Nepal’s children.

Mihiri Udabage

Room to Read Australia

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The fallout

IMG_5786Midsummer night’s eve and I’m in a cosy seaside flat in the town of North Berwick, about an hour of Edinburgh, watching the clouds scudding against the sky and the seagulls wheeling around outside the window. There’s some late afternoon sun setting the kitchen taps agleam. Andi is snoozing in the next room, resting up after the drive here from Edinburgh.

Tomorrow morning it’s a week since she fell and broke her wrist, but we are still quite shell shocked and subdued. As most of you know, she stumbled off the gutter and fell on the road as we were leaving Melrose for our 12th day of walking. It’s ironic considering how careful we’ve been on the challenging trails, and how much first aid gear we were carrying in case of accidents in remote areas. She was about 7 minutes from the main hospital for the region. Thankfully.

IMG_5794Scottish kindness has kicked in – from the council worker who loaded us into his truck and drove us to hospital, to our hike organiser who found me places to stay nearby for four nights in the midst of Borders festival season, to the B&B owner who personally drove me to the next place when she didn’t have room for another night. I can now see why UK residents love the NHS and why it had a starring role in the Olympics opening ceremony – the health care was fantastic, kind, personal, and free. The only slight gripe was the long wait between admittance and surgery (a day and half). Everything else has been great.

IMG_5841So – Andi had surgery to put a permanent plate plus a temporary pin in her wrist and came out of hospital on Thursday (having gone in on Monday). In more local kindness, friends of friends who saw our predicament on Facebook offered for us to stay with them in Edinburgh and made us welcome for the weekend while we took stock and figured out what to do next (and showed us the best coffee in town – they write a fantastic blog about coffee in Edinburgh). Our hike would have finished on Friday and we had planned to head right up north to Findhorn on Sunday, but had to cancel that. Have opted instead for a quiet few days here in North IMG_5830Berwick (more kindness – the owner gave us a free day in the booking), before taking Andi back to Melrose for her follow up appointment on Thursday. I’ve cancelled the final week of my trip and will fly home with her next Sunday.

Mostly doing OK and very grateful that Andi didn’t have worse injuries. But both of us do have some down moments about missing the rest of our walk and our other holiday plans. And of course some fears about the future.

Thank you everyone for your messages of love and support – they have IMG_5846been so appreciated by both of us.

Over and out for now – love from Jesse – off to protect Andi from the North Berwick lobster. xxxx

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Palace bulletin – Andi

Quick update for friends not on Facebook. All is good. Andi is out of surgery and it went well. She has one pin on loan from the NHS and one metal plate plus screws that will live in her wrist as a permanent souvenir of our holiday. I guess going through airport security will never be the same. One or two more nights in hospital and a return visit in 10 days for a checkup before flying. Now, let’s see if we can get a flight upgrade when we head home… Thanks so much for all your messages of love and support – she looked through them today waiting for surgery and was very chuffed. As was I. Jesse xxx


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The plans go out the window

Ah well, so much for plans. Today has turned everything on its head. We set off in high spirits from our hotel in Melrose and 100m down the road Andi tripped on the gutter, fell over and broke her wrist. Luckily Melrose is home to the big regional hospital, and luckily if an accident was going to happen, it happened minutes from medical help instead of out on the remote moorlands where we may have needed a helicopter rescue.

But still. Shit shit shit. Not so much for the rest of the walk but for the pain and rehab and healing and potential for ongoing problems.

We waited all day in hospital and found out at about 5pm that she wasn’t getting into surgery today, but should be in tomorrow afternoon. Fingers crossed it goes well.

And now I’m sitting alone in a little b&b feeling rather weird, and hating leaving her alone at the hospital.

Please keep her in your thoughts tomorrow night (your time) and send whatever love and light you can.

Jesse xxxx

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Catching my breath in Melrose

IMG_5730mapmelroseA grey, chilly day in beautiful Melrose, perfect for a rest afternoon tucked up in bed with a cuppa prior to an evening at the Borders Book Festival, which happens to have coincided with our rest day stop in this stunning Borders village. Andi has just laid aside her book and snuggled down for a snooze and it’s very tempting to join her, especially as we scampered up the nearby Eildon Hill this morning just for the hell of IMG_3830it. That being said, my body is tired from the long walks. Andi, damn her, is like a young
colt with endless energy. She said this morning that her legs felt like springs, full of energy to get going. It was tempting to hold a pillow over her face.

We’re well into the eastern half of the walk now, having crossed out of Dumfries & Galloway (the shire spanning the western section) and into the Scottish Borders. The IMG_4039weather is milder, the bogs are drier, the paths are more clearly marked and at last we are encountering other walkers on the trails, having seen almost no one in the first half. We bumped into the Galashiels Boys Brigade yesterday and a group of dykes who hike this morning.

We had a heat wave! Two long hot sunny days, temperatures well into the twenties, walking in shorts and t-shirts, slathering on sunscreen, breaking out the sun hats and glasses. Today it’s reverted to clouds and about 13 degrees, but for a moment there! Wow. And the opportunity for lovely photos, particularly as we walked out of St Mary’s Loch, IMG_3897having spent a night at
the historic Tibbie Shiels Inn, which has been running in one form or another since 1825 and has entertained the likes of authors Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stephenson, and (it is rumoured) Wordsworth.

What has remained the same are the huge horizons. Walking over the rounded tops of the Southern Uplands feels like being on top IMG_3859of the world. They are like Australian hills – old and eroded, meaning you can just walk along ridge lines and saddles from one gentle summit to the next, seeing for miles in every direction. It’s impossible not to soar with the experience. As long as it’s in the first half of the day before the soreness sets in.

We’re into lands steeped in history and literature, with place names familiar to me IMG_4081from researching The Raven’s Heart. Melrose is on the Tweed River, one of the top salmon rivers in the world. It’s a beautiful town nestled below the three Eildon Hills, which are covered in gold blooming gorse at this time of the year. Stopping here is a great chance for me to check out the locations for my week long writing course next year – Castles Cloisters and Quests running in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders May 2016. Check out IMG_4031Bookshop Travel if you want more information.

Tomorrow we walk into the Lammermuir Hills and I will try to find the spot where the Blackadder River (a tributary of the Tweed) rises. We have three more days of walking north east through the Borders before we meet the coast, and a final two days of coastal walking before finishing up on Friday in Berwick-upon-Tweed.

I thought I’d be superwoman by now – but it’s still hard and I’m still pretty exhausted at the end of the big days (anything 25km+). But some miracle of recovery happens overnight and I wake up ready to go again. The landscapes are so beautiful in all weathers and the IMG_3851experience of walking with Andi so lovely – it’s an adventure I’ll never forget.

It’s possible I won’t have a chance to write again until we finish walking, though I’ll post a few pix on Facebook. Wish us luck and see you at the other end.

Jesse xxxx

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Putting the UP into Southern Upland Way

IMG_5697Once again I’m kicking back in a superb b&b, feet up, sunshine streaming in the IMG_3674window, 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 IMG_3677drink.

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 IMG_3719ways 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 trainingIMG_5696.

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. TherIMG_5674e 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 IMG_3666where 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.IMG_3696

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 IMG_3690clambering 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 IMG_3647her 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 IMG_3710stronger. 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.


Jesse xxx


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