It took a month longer than I thought it would, but Three Points of the Compass is now home after completing my hike across mainland Britain. I reached Duncansby Head, the most north easterly point of mainland Great Britain, on 29th August 2018.
I have yet to tot up the total mileage, but it is around the 2000 miles mark. I was on trail for one hundred and fifty two days (around five months) of which eleven were zeros, or rest days. Though a handful of these were forced upon me due to weather. So one hundred and forty one days actual hiking.
It is some time since my last blog. At that time I was still in Wales on the Offa’s Dyke Path. I completed that when I reached Prestatyn around mid-June. From there I followed the Wales Coast Path round to Chester for a couple of days rest, where I was able to briefly meet up with Mission Control for the second and final time of the entire hike. I then crossed the less interesting part of England to enter the beautiful Peak District.
The gritstone walking led me to Edale where I joined the Pennine Way. It had originally been my intention to mix up my northward walking, switching around between paths, but as it was, I enjoyed the Pennine Way so much that I mostly stuck to the official route. The work carried out to restore the heather moors, repair damaged peatlands and lay flags across the worst of the denuded and damaged peat hags is remarkable. My arrival coincided with one of the hottest summers on record which bought its own challenge of hydration. Many small streams and springs were dried up as a result of the weather. I was also very aware of the moorland infernos, the one on Saddleworth threatening my onward progress. It was subsequently described as the largest English wildfire in living memory.
I found the Pennine Way a much more varied walk than originally anticipated. Only the northern part of the Peak District, the Dark Peak, is on the route. Moving on to the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines bought equally excellent walking, as did the Northumberland National Park where I crossed Hadrian’s Wall and began to encounter midges for the first time on this trek.
Entering Scotland I then followed a mixture of routes- St. Cuthbert’s Way, the Roman Dere Street (giving opportunity to see the Lilliard memorial), the Cross Borders Drove Road, then the Union Canal, Forth and Clyde Canal, pausing to admire the Falkirk Wheel and the best preserved section of the Antonine Wall, eventually joining up with the West Highland Way.
Fair Maiden Lilliard
Lies under this Stane
Little was her stature
But muckle was her fame
Upon the English loons
She laid monie thumps
An’ when her legs were cuttit off
She fought upon her stumps
I enjoyed being back on the West Highland Way. I walked this path with Mrs Three Points of the Compass (now promoted to Mission Control) and our daughter in 2013. This is a very well known and popular route, especially with international hikers and I met, chatted and frequently briefly hiked with people of a wide variety of nationalities.
After a short pause in Fort William for food resupply and send maps off and receive replacements, I moved onto and into the roughest and hardest terrain of my entire Three Points of the Compass hike- Ardnamurchan, Morar, Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt. I joined the Cape Wrath Trail for a single day before branching off for six days to reach my Second Point of the Compass- Corrachadh Mòr.
I can certainly see why this particular point is not more heavily marketed and most visitors settle for the more accessible Ardnamurchan Point, complete with lighthouse, cafe and road for access. The walk out to the correct place is a splash through bogs and gives scant reward for the more casual enquirer. But still, I was delighted to finally reach this place as my First Point, Lizard Point, in Cornwall, had been reached many weeks before.
This is a pretty wild part of Scotland and I enjoyed great views of some rather special wildlife- Otters, Porpoises and Golden Eagle were seen well, and I put to flight more Red Deer than you can shake a trekking pole at, by chancing across them unexpectedly and suddenly as I crossed trackless moors.
Having returned to where I left the Cape Wrath Trail, I continued northward on this. The weather had deteriorated dramatically from the fine days of earlier in the summer and burns were in spate, feet wet all day while hiking and fierce winds encountered on exposed hills and wildcamps. My foot care regime was good though and I experienced no problems health wise.
My Z Packs Duplex tent was used throughout my five month hike however whenever I could, I would take advantage of Youth Hostels or bothies if on my route. The Duplex is no mountain tent though and in Scotland it began to show a number of points of wear, fraying tie outs and strained seams.
I kept on top of repairs where I could with cuben or tenacious repair tape and less frequently with gaffer tape. But site selection for wild camps had to be made with care whenever possible, but on just a couple of occasions, late in the evening etc. there was little choice.
All that said, while this particular shelter is now worn out, and I wouldn’t use it on any further hike of any distance, I would not hesitate to purchase another of the same make and model.
While the often poor weather meant less midges, when the rain dropped to a drizzle or infrequently ceased and the wind dropped, needless to say, I had arrived in the heartland of midge territory and the worst possible time in the year, some evenings were ‘interesting’ to say the least. The bug netting on the Duplex is superb and the roomy two-man interior made for comfortable living space for a single occupant.
I don’t use DEET, but found Smidge was enough to put them off, slightly, from me. It also worked brilliantly in killing them off if sprayed into the apex and corners of the tent, where any midges that had followed me into my tent would eventually land.
Beside these, I left horseflies behind in England and only had to remove two embedded ticks. A nightly ‘tick check’ was an essential task to be carried out.
I reached Sandwood Bay on 20th August. In keeping with what seems to be a rite of passage, I wildcamped atop the dunes at Sandwood Bay on a rare quiet, calm evening. My journal entry for that evening describes it thus:
”Evening meal of lentil curry with couscous, mug of tea and packet of peanuts with three mini cheeses. Went and stood on the large rock outcrop behind me to eat it and watch the sunset. Quite magical. Feel privileged to be here”
The following day was another fairly strenuous hike, this time round to Cape Wrath where the Cape Wrath Trail ends. I spent the night in the new, if basic, bunkhouse that the owner of the Ozone Cafe has built inside one of the buildings he now owns there. Despite this having been the toughest walking of my entire trail, and my feeling pretty pleased with myself, it wasn’t the end for me. Though the walking became far easier. I was now walking into the Flow Country of eastern Sutherland and Caithness.
I was both surprised and delighted to see White Tailed Eagle here. This is the largest bird of prey in Britain. I had just about given up hope of seeing one of these birds as I had moved away from their widest favoured distribution. It was actually while viewing the Dounreay Nuclear Development Establishment through my monocular that I carried, that I picked up this raptor. Dounreay itself is now being decommissioned, originally built here purely because of its remoteness.
Despite my having reached Dunnet Head, my final point of the compass, I had just a little more hiking to do. I wildcamped on the sheltered eastern side of the peninsula and the following day walked a little further round the coast to John o’Groats, thereby also completing a Land’s End-John o’Groats hike, then the very short jaunt further along the coast to Duncansby Head. This is the most north-easterly point of mainland Britain and it was here that my Long Walk finished.
I stayed in the Seaview Hotel that night and the following day set about getting home. I had planned and booked nothing in advance. As it was, it was simple. I walked down to the John o’Groats jetty, booked myself onto the Orkney Coach which left there at 10.30, This took me to Inverness in three hours, a short wait until the bus to Inverness airport where I had been able that morning to book myself onto an afternoon flight to London Gatwick. Once there it was a swift walk through to the Gatwick Express to London Victoria railway station, twenty minutes later my train was transporting me to north Kent, and home. I arrived home less than twelve hours after leaving John o’Groats. My only loss on the journey home was that my battered, slightly bent and very knackered Pacer Poles couldn’t be unscrewed and separated, so couldn’t join me on the plane. They were left leaning outside the hotel.
I shall be chatting more about various gear choices, trails walked, logistics and food etc. on both website and blogs in the future. For now though, that’s it!