The North Highland Way Challenge

Noooooo… I am not planning on doing this myself! I think I have had my fill of long distance walking for a while. Even if my legs still nag me to get active again, sadly work demands mean that I must tippy tap away at a screen authoring nerdy technical documents rather than stride my way healthily around a blustery coastline with nose dripping enthusiasm.
When I walked around this little island, that some of us mistakenly believe as being separate to the European continent, I had some great marked paths to use, but not a full set. Five years later and the new England coast path is well on its way to completion, and with Wales already ahead of the game, this only leaves Scotland lagging behind the rest of the British mainland. Yes, they have some great coast paths in Fife, Ayrshire and Moray – to name a few – but otherwise it can be tough finding a legitimate route through without using roads, or blazing a trail through head high bracken.  Indeed, the North and West coasts have very sporadic routes and when I did discover them, they were invariably the most stunning and rewarding sections of my entire walk.

I like to do my bit and though I’m not promoting another coast walker or directly trying to raise money for a grand cause this little news update is to promote the development of a new Scottish coast path. This time it’s Tina Irving’s baby of the North
Highland Way that deserves some help. The walk from John O’Groats to Durness is 150 miles long and can be done in easy stages.  The route is still under development in places, although The Highland Council are doing a great job of looking after the route within their remit.

From 30th April to 30th June, Friends of the North Highland Way are organising a challenge event to help raise proceeds for the development of the Way into a multi-user route for horses, cyclists and walkers. There is a prize for the first person to send in their completed Pilgrims Passport for verification. So if you fancy a challenge, why not give it a go. An entry form can be found here.
Tina Irving was the “perpetrator” of the North Highland Way, and still works in conjunction with public services in Scotland and others to make it a multi-use route.  It has been renamed the Camino of St. Brian in honour of St. Brian Arrowsmith whose father fought for the Spaniards in the Low Countries, and Brian Richard Sparks, who put up with Tina for over 30 years.  Tina speaks fluent Spanish and often organises Spanish events in Ireland – see www.tinasfreelance.comtinaShe has accompanied the Royal Irish Fusiliers to lay a new stone for the Battle of Barossa which took place in Chichlana de la Frontera on 5th March 1811.  She is an ex Corporal  and served in 219 Wessex General Hospital from 1972 to 1979.
She has written a number of books, including “Creating the North Highland Way” and the “Battle for Brough Bay”, both available on Lulu.

Run for Sue

It is very rare for me to post anything these days, but this is something that really needs mentioning and it’s about someone who is and always will be very close to my heart.

As a reader of this blog, my book or even the Flickr photos you will have come across Sue in more than a few of my posts and pages. Sue and Diesel (her loveably mad rescue dog) were essential to the success of my walk. She helped assess my initial fitness and devised a training program based upon her distance running experience. She also provided a huge amount of support, fund raising, advice and general chivvying, particularly throughout Scotland where she joined me for over a week in Morvern and Ardnamurchan, rallied her friends to drive my bus and put me up at her home near Aberdeen. She also joined me again for another week along the Northeast coast of England, cheered me up when I was having a bad day and visited whenever she could. Sue walked more miles with me than anyone else and by a very big margin. Her little legs easily kept apace with mine, and if it had been possible, she would have dropped everything to walk each one of those 5,045 miles with me.

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Sue has always put me to shame in many ways. Not only in being as fit as a butcher’s dog on performance enhancing drugs, but also in being a far nicer person than I could ever be.

We met at Newcastle University back in the 1980s, where we both studied Geology in a small but tight knit year group. Whether it was talking nonsense together, sharing slightly nerdy interests, exchanging loads of affectionate banter or offering support and advice when life took a few worrying or troublesome turns, Sue and I have always been close and best of pals first.  It just wouldn’t be right for me to publish privately held feelings here as we had only really admitted them to each other a few years ago. But our story is a complicated 35 year old one, underlain by a mutual and misunderstood fear of acknowledging any affection beyond friendship. To some, our entire story would probably make a half reasonable romantic comedy – if it wasn’t for the ending.

Sue suddenly became poorly early this year and to spare you the full tale, she very sadly passed away after a short illness. Her unexpected, untimely and utterly unjust departure has been felt by many, not least her lovely daughters Steph and Abi, her mum Lena, her siblings David and Lesley, and her extended family and friends in Aberdeenshire and across the UK.

We also shared a good university friend who had connections to the Spinal Injuries Association and Sue ran the 2016 London Marathon,2016 04 London 2aa like I had walked the coast, to help raise money for them. She wasn’t slow either and completed it in a very impressive 4 hours 11 minutes, whilst always believing she could  do better! She was a huge supporter of numerous charitable causes in so many ways and was just an all round enthusiastic good egg, tackling everything in life with optimism, natural congeniality and a big cheesy smile. She completed many half-marathons and marathons whilst trying to balance being a great mum and working her socks off to develop her career in Aberdeen before recently moving close by to become a highly respected, honest, diligent and dedicated Group Chief Finance Officer at Coventry University.

It was Sue’s intention to do the Great Aberdeen Run on 26 August and she had chosen to run in support of Brain Tumour Research.  Sadly her brain tumour denied her the opportunity to run. However, in a few weeks time her running partner, Caroline Inglis, Irene Bews and a large group of Sue’s friends from Aberdeen University will be doing a ‘Run for Sue’ at The Great Aberdeen Run in support of the Brain Tumour Research charity.

4af83e1f-996b-436e-88b5-b5301c2822eaIn reading this I am hopeful that you will either click on any of the photos or on the links in the text nearby and maybe offer your support to Caroline, Irene or any member of the Aberdeen University team.  I am all too aware that there are so many cruel illnesses, diseases, injuries and conditions out there that take so many lovely people, but this one is particularly close to my heart and I hope that you can find it in yours to contribute and maybe help others who are diagnosed with such a devastating disease.

Thanks for reading this far and I can only offer you my heartfelt thanks in advance if you manage to support Caroline, Irene and the team.

 

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For “My Suze” – an enormous warm blanketing soft hug, as always and forever a team! x

Sue Richardson 1963 – 2018


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A Little Favour and Other Walkers

Having no personal news of walking adventures, I thought I should take advantage of this opportunity and maybe ask all of you kind souls and all-round wonderful people who may have purchased, acquired, borrowed or stolen a copy of my book to do me another favour. Could you please leave me an honest (but preferably half-decent) review on Amazon???

Apparently it helps sales and if I can get rid of the heap of boxes sitting in my study gathering dust, the weight bearing floors in my house would certainly gasp a big sigh of relief. I’m not begging for kind words or glorious recognition of a literary masterpiece, but if you can be vaguely pleasant it will protect my tender feelings. I am hoping to see the back of this hefty lot, if only to make sure that the paper gets used before I find another use for it in the smallest room of the house. AND if you haven’t bought one yet then – go on – pretty please. It makes a great door-stop!

In other walker news – I can report that Natalia Spencer recently completed her year long walk around the coast at Durdle Door in Dorset. Her extraordinary ‘walk of love’ in remembrance of her 5 year old daughter, Elizabeth, who tragically died after a short illness in December 2016, was done to focus her grieving energy positively and raise as much money as she could. With the assistance of a cracking back-room team, she has managed to raise over £130,000 for Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Appeal supporting Bristol Children’s Hospital and has rightly earned recognition with numerous awards including the Just Giving Endurance Fundraiser of the Year. A huge congratulations to Natalia and I am aware that she hasn’t by any means finished her fund raising efforts. She is now the most successful fund raising coast walker I know of.

To be completely fair to Natalia, I know that she also had a rather large grumbling bone to pick with me in trying to follow some of my Viewranger published routes. I sneakily suspect she was right to tell me, with a wry grimace, that more than a few of my….errr….20+ mile days ended up being more like 25 miles of actual walking. I know that my documented mileage was Pete Hill’s personal “official” yet completely unofficial record, but I also acknowledge that I probably walked a smidge further than I claimed. To save battery use, my tracking device only registered every 10 seconds / 33 feet. Hence a sharp bend in the path might be logged a little straighter than actually walked. Although it is reassuringly nice for me to know that I probably walked a wee bit further, it still means that there is room to improve in terms of accuracy and if I’m not careful I will get drawn into the old mileage debate again. I am and will remain adamant that the grand total is NOT an issue, it’s the effort that counts. I still silently seethe over those purist arseholes who consider their mileage as sacrasanct and belittle everyone else.  I just think I will leave it for others to check and improve upon my accuracy and hence I am not laying a belated unverified claim to having walked further than I recorded. Feel free to do so on my behalf if you can be bothered.

I am also aware of two other walkers (not telling you who they might be, yet) who are looking to start their circumnavigation of this island over the coming months and one other who managed to get going back in February but who sadly had to stop due to injury. From nerdy research, my best guess reckons that around 50% of those who have started the walk have made it round in one hit. But as far as I am concerned, anyone who has a go is a ‘coaster’ in my eyes and it is sometimes only bad luck that draws things to a halt. Indeed there have been many reasons for people not completing the challenge in one long slog. Bravely, many have returned later to complete it or reverted to doing it in sections. The following is a list of the reasons I could find for stopping and not one of them has been due to excessive rain, which could be viewed as a surprise to some who consider Britain to be a rather damp island:

  1. Injury or Illness (just bad luck)
  2. Injury (due to inadequate planning, lack of preparation or poorly fitting boots)
  3. Exhaustion (too fast / too many miles per day / inadequate diet)
  4. Lack of funds / resources
  5. Undefined Personal / Motivational Reasons (not telling)

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How About A Prize Winning Book for Christmas?

create_winner_seal-phpI have to say that I am genuinely and very pleasantly surprised, if not a little shocked!

Not that I am one to brag….err….too much. But it appears that my little tome has won first prize in its category at the 2016 International Photography Awards (IPA).

Now surely that must make it a half-decent Christmas pressie for someone you might love, like, occasionally tolerate, or even cross the road to avoid.

Much though it is truly grand to be awarded a gong of any kind, the manner in which I discovered I had won something was a reflection of my level of expectation.

Late last night I opened what I thought was junk mail from the IPA only to find a request for a high resolution image for the new IPA Book of Photography, featuring this year’s winning images. I responded asking them if they were sure they wanted something from me, as I didn’t think I had won anything. Err….wrong Mr Hill.   And now a few things began to dawn on me. Why was it that I had received an invitation to attend the awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York last month? Maybe it wasn’t just an invitation to part with a huge wad of cash in air fares and tickets to an event they were promoting. Anyway, the invitation was very short notice and though they said that the tickets were complimentary I had some work booked in Sweden (which was then cancelled at even shorter notice…ho hum).

Nonetheless, I never suspected that I really stood a chance when the entry was sent off. Nor was I even sure that the competition was a big deal or particularly well recognised. Err….wrong Mr Hill. Maybe my category was a little low on entries? Err….wrong Mr Hill. So hey – I’m pretty chuffed! Thanks guys!

Maybe now I can actually feed a little from this and get those hefty boxes of books shifted from my study. So if you fancy buying a book or ten for someone this Christmas, or for a birthday or even just for the hell of it, then please do?  Signed copies won’t increase the value – but I can still hold a pen.

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A Short Walk and an Award or Two

What with my more mundane life style firmly back on track and my waistline slowly returning to more typical dimensions, recent events have been a little more encouraging. Though regular work is still hard to come by I am nevertheless not entirely idle. Certainly the garden is looking a little more presentable, even if many of the weeds are still failing to motivate me enough to really want to dig them all out.

So what has become of GB Coast Walk and any news it might still generate?

  • At the SIA Awards dinner in Birmingham last week I was nominated and unexp11254277_1105692542780740_7943999245219318122_nectedly won their Community Star Award. It was a real honour to be invited and to sit in a room full of such hugely inspirational people. In truth I was a little embarrassed to receive the award and felt more than a little fraudulent for the recognition I received for completing something I had rather selfishly dreamt of doing.Yes the charity side of the walk became increasingly important with every step I took. Yes I felt pressured to raise as much as I could and indeed my fund raising frustrations sometimes got the better of me. But maybe it wasn’t me who deserved the thanks but all the people who gave money in person and via my Virginmoneygiving page who really needed thanking. The page is still open for anyone who still fancies chipping in. Hopefully the £16,000+ raised to date will help make a difference and I can only thank good friends Graham (SIA) and Rik (MSNTC) for all their support, encouragement and inspiration along the way. The only thing that really caught me off guard is that I wasn’t expecting to win and hadn’t prepared an acceptance speech. My incoherent and shaky handed mumble on stage was a little out of character for those who know my usual ease at standing up and talking, so I kept it to a few words to save further embarrassment.
  • As you may or may not know, this site was also up for Simply Hike’s outdoor bloFINALIST-GB-Coast-Walkg of the year award. It didn’t quite win but apparently it was very close with only the odd vote in it. However, Simply Hike have honoured me with a Finalist’s award and apparently I get a trophy. So once again I thank all of you who voted for GBCoastWalk and I hope that you can still find something on this site to keep you interested as I intend to slowly develop it into more of a reference site for British Coast walkers…. ideas welcome!
  • The routes now published on Viewranger are receiving quite a bit of interest and I ho11167950_10153768179559942_3803066591691673716_npe that they continue to do so. They are all available for download and the links are all live on my ROUTES page. I think that the per mile cost is very reasonable, with my favourite routes a little more expensive than some of the others. I have identified my Top 20 and Top 50 routes and might well do some more work on these to promote them further.
  • I have now produced a manuscript from my original blog and corrected it for typos and grammatical ineptitude. I still hope that I can get a book published of my walk last year and include all of my favourite photos.  Though completely expected, it is a smidge depressing to get repeatedly rejected by publishers or agents and even more depressing to not even get a response. Nevertheless, I understand that they have huge piles of poo to delve through and my work is probably just a small part of that steaming heap. If I cannot find someone foolhardy enough to pick up my photos and rambling tale I will dip into google and see if self-publishing with my limited expertise is a viable option……unless anyone has any good leads or ideas???
  • And…. what of my walking? Well apart from short strolls with the dogs every day I did manage to venture out with a few friends and a tent into Derbyshire. I can’t say that the weekend was great for anyone’s health. I proved that I’m a bit of lightweight these days as I hadn’t drunk as much beer as that nor had I played drinking games for 30 years. But we did cover a few undulating miles of Peaks and dales and my stomach muscles still hurt from laughing so much. I have to admit that they look like a posing bunch of ageing rock stars in the photo, but look a little closer and I reckon there is evidence of hard breathing and a tad of perspiration.

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All Routes Now Published

Since completing my walk I haven’t spent all of my time thumb twiddling. I have now managed to convert ALL 247 of my GPS tracks into routes on ViewRanger. I have corrected them for some of my minor detours and errors and have added a daily photo, notes about the terrain and a very brief description on what to expect. These are available for viewing and uploading for your own use if you fancy a go at any of my stages. I have also created six curated collections covering the more popular walking areas.

Click Here To See All The Routes ViewRanger_Logo_2

AND – if you haven’t already – PLEASE VOTE FOR ME by 31st May in the hiking and walking section of the Simply Hike Blog Awards.

Click Here To Vote
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Another Sanity Test

Stage 226, 12th November: Heybridge Basin to Bradwell Waterside

It was a brief mile or so up the River Blackwater to Maldon and then a sharp turn to head back down it again, giving me a whole day in the company of a wide and muddy tidal river. I spent the next couple of hours dodging showers as I managed to walk East across the front of the first big black cloud approaching from the Southwest, which dropped its contents on Maldon now some distance behind me. The next two smaller ones hit me, but not enough to dampen my spirit and barely enough to really need the waterproofs I had put on in readiness.

It was very much an iPod day and any thoughts of a river being soothing company were lost as the monotony of the flat landscape became a soporific reality. A brief rainbow across St Lawrence Bay and Maylandsea woke me and an adder was the most sociable of creatures I saw all day, though I wouldn’t say that the hiss it gave me was a friendly greeting. I was amused by the sight of a riverside pool with a dozen plastic duck decoys bobbing around like corks. As I approached these were supplemented by two flapping and equally plastic ducks mounted on poles at the water’s edge. Finally I came across some camouflage netting and the barrel of a gun as a duck shooter scowled a begrudged greeting my way. I think I’d just ruined his day. He even had one of those plastic whistles that sound like a mumbling Donald Duck. I thought I looked ridiculous.

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Maylandsea, Mayland and The Stone were places which offered little of interest other than the odd boatyard and a few nondescript houses for me to throw a passing glance towards.  However, the light of the now rapidly setting sun cast a shallow winter warmth across the water to the nuclear power station a few miles away at Bradwell. The marina near Bradwell Waterside looked as if it might have given me some smart or antique boats to look at but sadly the sun had long gone by the time I got there and all I wanted to do was have a shower and get something to eat.

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Stage 227, 13th November: Bradwell Waterside to Creeksea

I was immediately back on the sea-bank again and started the day listening to the Anglo-Saxon shouts of the workers decommissioning the nuclear power station. Their words were soon silenced as distance grew and a cold wind blew in making me pull my woolly hat down low. The sea-bank and occasional stretches of concrete topped sea-wall continued in long straight sections interspersed with gentle curving ones and occasional sharp detours around a small inlet or sluice.

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To break the tedium a lovely golden retriever bounded up to me from distance with two terriers trailing behind. After a barked greeting we were best of pals in seconds as Lennon stood on my foot and leant against my thigh slobbering as I compared ailments and doggy traits with his owner, Pam.

A few miles of real seaside didn’t last as I took a turn up the River Crouch. It brought little change to the terrain or the scenery and only a few huge thudding explosions from the range over the estuary at Foulness gave me any interest. I had a passing thought that I might have just seen a large chemical incident and briefly worried as a heavy rusty coloured smoke cloud skimmed across the bay in my direction. The cordite smell reassured me as the rest of the day sunk into obscurity.

By the time I arrived in Burnham-on-Crouch the cold wind had brought in some rain and I counted four sailing / yacht clubs along a clearly prosperous but short waterfront. The large marina half a mile further on was full of brash displays of wealth but with summer long gone I barely noticed any activity. The only noise was a strangely comforting one and I liken the sound of the wind drumming the rigging against the yacht masts to that of alpine cow-bells.

Stage 228, 14th November: Creeksea to Hullbridge

Heavy rain had been forecast from home and it arrived early morning to wake me and drip into Snickers bathroom a little too easily. Paul and I checked the skylight for leaks. What skylight? Was this another case of “It just fell off”?

With Snickers now an open-topped vehicle, Paul had a job on his hands looking for an urgent replacement and I headed out into the rain hoping his plastic bag patch wasn’t a long-term fix.

I continued up the River Crouch following yet more sea-bank and wall. The rain on my back wasn’t too much of a problem but the thick gooey mud underfoot was and every step seemed to make my feet slip away in random directions. Progression was slow.  By late morning the rain had eased, but I knew the mud would stay with me till Southampton now that the sun was weak and grass growth had slowed. It was the first time that I had really thought of the end. My family and friends had been mentioning it for a while, but I saw that as a minor irritation and had been in denial, trying to concentrate on one day or, at the outside, one week at a time. With over 90% of the walk complete I had entered the nervous nineties and the slow muddy progression would probably be mirrored in the clock ticking away in my head. I was preparing myself for a few mentally testing weeks. It really didn’t help that the whole walk up river via South Woodham Ferrers and back down again via the antique traders kingdom of Battlebridge was a featureless walk.

I ended the week with the sun going down over the pylons and yet more sea-wall to Hullbridge. Paul cheered my mood considerably with a newly fitted second-hand skylight. By the sound of his day it was entirely possible that his blood pressure had been tested a smidge. In my eyes he was a star for getting it fixed so quickly.

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Rest Day, 15th November: Shoeburyness

With the salubrious nature of our campsite, the slug populated showers and cold damp toilets by torchlight encouraged an early start. I dropped Paul off at Wickford station and I said my heart-felt thanks as he boarded a train for London with, I suspect, some relief to escape my slightly surreal, cold and muddy world. It had been a tough week for finding stopovers open to receive a motorhome and for driving the lanes of Essex with impatient drivers pushing their way through. The behaviour of drivers had changed hugely over the last few weeks and with every step closer to London the driving was undoubtedly getting faster, more aggressive and less courteous. It’s not a trait I like of the Southeast but it is a comment on how busy this part of Britain is and how overcrowding breeds an uncaring selfishness.

I picked up old uni pal Ian a couple of hours later and we headed over to stay with his brother Paul in Shoeburyness. An afternoon watching England lose to South Africa at Twickenham was a rare treat and looking at a large television screen was an alien experience with the colours and camera work almost hypnotising me into a restful doze on the sofa.

Miles to date: 4,678.2   Ascent to date: 519,282 ft