Southern Upland Way 2015 – Exit

Sanquhar Station

Sanquhar Station

I left the Southern Upland Way last night, at Sanquhar, at the end of Day 6.

I posted this tweet from the train station.

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In some ways it was a stalling tactic – I needed to announce my departure because people were following my progress, but I didn’t want to go into too much detail on why. 140 characters doesn’t give you a lot of scope for explanation. The “need to be at home” was double-edged – it suggested a family emergency, but in truth it meant just that – I just needed to be home.

What follows is probably a rather disjointed series of thoughts on why I made this decision and is probably more for my benefit (for future reminiscence) than it is for anyone else, but it’s part of my walking experience and may prove relevant or indeed revealing?

If I’m honest with myself, this departure from the trail didn’t come as any surprise. I had doubts about how much I wanted to be on the track after I spoke to my grandson on the phone on Wednesday night at the end of Day 4. I finished the call and looked at train times. I managed to mostly ignore these doubts all through Day 5 and just enjoyed the walking as best I could. In my hotel room that night the doubts came back and I began to think where I would rather be, at home or on the trail. These thoughts persisted all through Day 6, through some of the best walking of the Way so far. Even the scenery couldn’t pull me out of the funk I was in. Even the knowledge that Day 7 is great, Day 8 is better and Day 9 better again couldn’t shift the doubts.

Looking back now, and again, being as honest with myself as I can, I think much of the nervousness I was feeling before the walk was about how I would feel when I was out there walking it. It was nothing to do with whether I was capable of walking the route – it’s a tough track, but I’d prepared well enough and I’ve done much tougher. My nerves were more about whether I would stay the course.

This is my second attempt to walk this route and my second withdrawal. I don’t think this is about the Southern Upland Way though and that’s where things start to get even more disturbing for me. The SUW is an incredible route – it passes through some of the most spectacular scenery in the UK. It’s a mostly low level route, using valleys and passes rather than the high ridges and peaks. Although they’re called the Southern Uplands, these are really Lowlands when compared to the rest of Scotland. That does not detract from the beauty, the appeal or the difficulty of the walk though.

I sat on a stile on Cloud Hill with the whole of Nithsdale laid out before me, a spectacular view and I called home and chatted with my wife. She knows me better than I know myself and she didn’t tell me what to do, she didn’t need to, she just listened and let me come to my own decision. I then spoke to my walking buddy Chris and we had a similar conversation. He talked me through the reasons for staying on the trail and I accepted nearly all of them, but the reasons for going home seemed stronger. I had an overwhelming desire to leave.

The underlying concern here, the one that disturbs me most, is that I think this marks the end of my long distance walking, for the foreseeable future at least. I just don’t think I have the mindset at this time in my life to spend 14 days on the trail. In the grand scheme of long distance walking, this is nothing of course, but I’m not a professional walker. I’m a worker bee who gets 20 days holiday a year and spends half of them (or more) walking a UK trail. It has been a big part of my life for the past few years and now I think it’s over. Maybe that’s not a bad thing and I may replace it with another passion, but it’s a change and at the moment it’s unwelcome!

I’m writing this with absolutely no second thoughts, no regrets, no wishing I was still out there, no self-recriminations, I know I made the right decision, which in itself is a relief in many ways. However, it also feels like I’m closing the cover at the end of a really good book and knowing the author didn’t write anything else.

lonewalker

Fell-walker, trig-pointer, peak-bagger, Wainwright-er & Pennine Way author, with a passion for long paths, malt whisky, fast cars & Man City

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25 Responses

  1. Hi Stuart,
    I enjoyed reading this Blog!Great to read about your honesty and it really does sound that what you need from a long walk has changed.

    I did my own version of the Southern Upland way in May 2015 and due to really bad weather on the leg from St. Johns Town of Dalry to Sanquhar where it rained persistently all day and I ended up with large blisters that put paid to the next leg- Sanquhar to Moffat. I missed out that one leg and completed the route I set myself and this year I completed it, I had walked 227 miles on my own route and 275.30 miles in total with extra hill-walks undertaken from Portpatrick, Bargrennan and Moffat.

    My own route started and ended on the trail but in between I often took a different line over more hills, increasing the level of cumulative ascent/descent. In my opinion having a set no. of hills to do on a days walk adds to the interest and creates a series of accomplishment targets.

    I don’t think I would have enjoyed this trail as much if I had not stopped at Portpatrick for 2 nights, Bargrennan for two nights and Moffat for two nights; those extra days gave me an opportunity to climb some wonderful hills and see great scenery that the trail would otherwise miss.I intend to create a blog of my exploits.

    I can really understand why so many people bail out of this trail. The scenery when the sunshine is out can be lovely but there are miles of some monotonous stretches, for instance, after Crossing into the Borders, the route to St.Mary;s Loch has a long road stretch, I regretted not taking my original route planned over the fells instead! In addition the weather can be extreme and really tests the physical and mental stamina of somebody over such long distances

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Regards

    Darren

    • lonewalker says:

      Darren, thanks for sharing your walk. I really enjoyed the route (the section I did at least) and in the way a girl will say “it’s not you, it’s me” – that’s very much how I felt – it really was my failure, not the walk, terrain or weather – just me 🙂 I think I’ll be back at some point to finish it, just not in the next year or two.

  2. Angela says:

    Hi Stuart, loved just reading your SUW blog, disappointed that you didn’t complete it as I was enjoying it so much and brought it all back for me. I have every respect for you heading home to your family, it sounds like you were having doubts early on and as you’re such an accomplished Ldw had absolutely nothing to prove to yourself or anyone else. I hiked the SUW this year end of May/June…I’m an experienced LD day walker but have never done a national trail, so at the ripe old age of 46 it was my first. LdW had never appealed to me, I’m 5ft 8″ and weigh 8.5 stones, so not a natural pack horse, that and a dodgy back and knees and the thougt of tripping over thousands of others on the trail, it just wasn’t for me. Then I saw the film Wild, and I thought if she can do the PCT, then surely I can manage a national trail carrying a fraction of the weight staying in b and b’s, not exactly ‘wild’, but it was a start. It could only have been the SUW, as I wanted it to feel remote and pretty much have the trail to myself. As a complete novice I approached it as a 3 week holiday, 14 days on the SUW, with sightseeing thrown in (I’d never been to Scotland) then a break in Eyemouth at the end. After reading your blog and the responses I realise that I wasn’t wrong in thinking it was bloody tough, I can honestly say that the first 8 days of walking nearly killed me. It wasn’t meant to be that hard! Carrying a heavy pack was new to me, I was warned not to attempt more than 17 or so miles a day, but staying in b and b’s puts you at a distinct disadvantage, and there were a good few 20pluses and I think a 26m day. I was a bag of bones by the time I got to Moffat and had suffered 2 nasty falls and a bump on the head. I ended up spending 3 nights in Moffat as the Gordon Arms had closed down, so had time to rest up. It didn’t occur to me to stop, but I kept thinking ‘it’s got to be more enjoyable than this’. Everyday I start off full of beans, but after 14 or 15m it was just an exhausting trudge, wiping away the enjoyment of the day. Even the stretch to st Marys loch with a tiny daysack was exhausting ad by then I was just knackered. Anyway, after a relaxing day off (the first on the trail) a massage at the Green Frog and a few huge evening meals I was back on the trail. This was more like the walking I was familiar with, so much easier underfoot, it started to be fun. So if you’re on the SUW and struggling, it gets easier. I ended up walking the coast path down to Eyemouth after finishing. After saying never again with a pack in Moffat, I’m now planning to do the Cape Wrath trail next year, ditching the toiletries for a tent! I learned so much doing the SUW, keep the mileage to a minimum, slow the pace down, carry as little as possible and don’t overlook good nutrition. Thanks for the blog Stuart, enjoy walking at your own pace, and enjoy your family.

  3. Paul Southward says:

    Stuart, I walked the SUW in March 2012 east-west and gave up at Beattock(suffering from heat exhaustion, in March!). It then took a further two attempts to complete the walk, doing three days to Dalry and then another three to Portpatrick. I have walked 12 long distance paths and I still rate the SUW as the hardest one I have done. Harder even than the Pennine Way. The SUW is tough as the western half is so boggy, poorly marked and poorly maintained. You can walk for days without seeing anyone. Despite doing the walk “the wrong way round” I met only two people coming the other way, and that was the following year when I went back to finish it off. I missed out Allan’s Cairn as I just couldn’t be bothered with it and I’m very pleased I did!

    As for the rest of the SUW, after Beattock it is a completely different walk. There are no bogs to get through, no forestry other than the first 3-4 miles out of Beattock and the path is easy to follow and well marked. You even get some nice fields to walk through, so my advice is not to turn your back on the route, get yourself back together and go back next year and finish it off.

    Having said that, I gave up on Glyndwr’s Path in April this year as I was bored and had met nobody. The path didn’t really go anywhere and nothing was logical about it. Physically I could do it, but mentally I was fed-up with it. I thought I’d lost interest in walking, but I have decided to do the Pennine Way again and will be leaving Wednesday evening after work. On 1st July 2010 I did in northbound in 15 days and on Thursday morning I will start it again only southbound (and I hope to shave a day off).

    Don’t lose heart, just put it behind you and find another walk to go on, even if you have done it before.

    • lonewalker says:

      Thanks Paul, very true about the Southern Upland Way – it’s a challenging route in many ways and I probably will go back at some point and do the eastern half 🙂
      Good luck on the Pennine Way, hope the weather isn’t too brutal – definite danger of heat exhaustion this week!

      • Paul Southward says:

        I didn’t do to well on the Pennine Way. I was walking southbound and was walking along Hadrians Wall when I jarred my leg and hurt my hip. Over the next few miles my hip and rucksack rubbed together until eventually my hip was bleeding. Gave up at Greenhead and returned home to Essex. I can’t walk with an injury like that!

    • Each LDP is as hard or as easy as you as it to be. We did the SUW in easy bits and we are doing the same with Glyndwrs. I agree the latter has an ‘insane’ route, but the idea of it is to link up scenic bits rather than get from A to B. I have half of GW to do and then Pembroke Coast. That will be all the official LDPs. I have also linked them all up in a massive circular walk from Lands End to Inverness. You can do this each for pleasure or as a challenge, Each to his own I greatly admire the challenge walkers, but if you are not enjoying challenges, just do them for enjoyment If you have done a load of walking in easy bits, its still a load of walking which is better than being a couch potato. There are bogs and other problems of the Southern Uplands Way but I have been lobbying and things will improve. We did the route in a wet spring without getting our feet wet -gaiters, poles and a steady speed will do the trick.
      However, you do it, enjoy your walking!

  4. JohnBoy says:

    I think, perhaps, one day you will take your grandson on his first mini adventure. That’s how it all started for me almost 40 years ago.

  5. Marvs says:

    I just called it a day at Wanlockhead today. I’m with you and the other posters here about pulling out early. Even though I think physically I could have finished the walk, mentally it was harder than I thought. The poor weather forecasted for this week was enough for me to call it a day. I think these isolated walks play on you and it made me miss the company I took for granted before. Much respect to Ian and the other walkers who complete the whole thing. I have gained a lot of experience from the 100 miles I bagged. Maybe I might get the itch to try again, but I’m happy to be home. Besides now I get to make that Macaroni Cheese I’ve been salivating over since I saw a can of the instant stuff at the Whitelaggen Bothy.

    • lonewalker says:

      I used to enjoy the solitude of the long walks I did, but I think that’s changed over the last couple years. Hopefully it’ll come back to me in the future.

      Never easy to give in half way through, we are mostly programmed to consider that as a failure, but in reality this is leisure and if it stops being enjoyable, there’s no compelling reasons to continue, other than personal ones.

      It will still be there when you decide it’s time to return ☺

  6. Trina says:

    Hi Stuart, just read your blog……I like your honesty and it is good to make the right decisions for yourself and not others. I have only been in contact with you for such a short time but I feel that you will be out their again but for the right reasons at the right time.

    You have recently met my husband Ian on the Southern Upland Way….
    .
    Five years ago he completed the Coast to Coast and really enjoyed it. he’s been wanting to do the Southern upland Way since. He hung back because of me because he knew it would take a fair amount of time……I volunteer for Rethink Mental Illness and run two groups in Braintree and he always supports me with all my wacky ideas I come up with . I knew he wanted to do this walk so I have encouraged him but I wanted him to go B&B but no he wanted to camp…..He’s struggled this last couple of days his rucksack is far too heavy, I think he forgets he is 66 yrs old …..

    At last he’s seen sense…….He is on his way to Sanquhar by car….I know he is missing that stretch out but who cares….only Ian…. then from tomorrow will finish the walk using B&B along the way…….one very stubborn man …..but it is something he must do for himself……and I cannot knock that …..
    So Stuart we all have to do the right things for us, you should be proud of yourself . I am sorry I have taken over your blog replies
    Keep in touch ……you never know you might meet again on a smaller little stroll across the country….
    love Trina x .

  7. I know your decision is not without much soul searching mate. You have hiked many trails over the last few years. .more than many folk are able to and you have so much to be proud of and so many wonderful memories.
    I know this isn’t the end of hiking and wild camping for you – just a different focus on how you want to proceed.
    Good luck in future endeavours and I look forward to hiking shorter trails with you soon my friend 🙂

  8. StuartS67 says:

    I must say, 4 weeks’ holiday a year is a bit miserly! You’re right to say using half of this for a solo walk each year is a bit much – when did you last have a good holiday abroad (or anywhere) with the wife? I’d like to think that my best LDPs are ahead of me (and it sounds strange saying that at 48!). Maybe a week at a time is better for you – if you do ever turn to LDPs again. All the best, whatever.

  9. Jools says:

    Well done on your adventure as far as you chose to take it. It is, after all, your adventure and your choice. Hike your Own Hike and all that. There are many ways to enjoy the outdoors and not all of them need take such a chunk out of your life (or annual holiday). Time to explore more the three/four/five/six day options that obviously suit you better. I look forward to reading your next honest and enjoyable post.

  10. rucksackrose says:

    I’ve not done much walking recently since I started looking after my dad. I tried but didn’t enjoy it because I was worried about things at home for the moment. I don’t think this is permanent for me. If anything I think I have my biggest trails ahead of me but I would agree that if you’re not enjoying it then definitely best to stop and enjoy the other areas of your life.

  11. No reason to do a trail all in one go. As you say the next bit is a great section – so come back and do a bit at a time
    Sanquair to Gala is a good section, There are posh buses from Gala to Carlisle, Sometimes they are deckers and the view is superb.
    But next time you go on the bus get a forward seat – better views and comfier ride!
    I have done 17 LDPs and 64k miles, Nearly always a week or less at a time. Walking should be fun not a test. I am very lucky though, my wife comes with me.

  12. Don Benson says:

    Stuart, I’ve loved your blog for years; your database of walks is fabulous – great pictures and prose.

    But solitude in wild and hilly places is a very rich experience. Those of us who appreciate this probably all know that it can be overpowering at times; it’s a very personal thing and will vary with differing times and circumstances.

    Shared wildcamps and daywalks may be your thing for now and then, out of the blue, you may yearn for that long trek on your own again. Just enjoy what’s right for you at the time; it’s not about proving anything, just being there is enough.

    Best wishes. Don

  13. hillplodder says:

    I’ve had a few of those moments out on a trip where you suddenly realise that you no longer want to be where you are. It’s the realisation that your time is too precious to be spending on something where your heart’s not in it. It happened to me both times I’ve had a crack at the Cambrian Way and I’ve concluded that any walk that’s over about a week is likely to put me in that same position. Sometimes it’s boredom with the walk, or with the routine of the walk, sometimes it’s the weather, sometimes it’s just that you feel you should be home – I always look forward to getting home at the end of a longer walk or multi-day trip, and beyond a certain number of days know that will start to pull on me. Which is why shorter section hikes are the way forward for me now. In some ways this is better – they don’t need quite as much planning, they can be organised closer to them happening, you get the same views and scenery but without the pressure of the challenge to do it in one go.

    Think about your recent Pennine Way project. I got the sense from walking with you on some of it and from reading the blogs of the rest that you enjoyed it no less from doing the walk in pieces rather as a single walk. You may be spot on in that shorter walks with company is what you will enjoy most at this time. I’ve found that the long distance walks that I’ve done as daywalks, or as single overnighters have been no less enjoyable. They’re easier to fit in, can be done more often and don’t suffer from the build up of expectations associated with a longer walk. o with what your instincts are telling you – they’re probably right.

  14. lonewalker says:

    Thanks for all the supportive comments!

    This isn’t the end of my walking (at least I don’t think so) and it’s not the end of the blog – there’s likely to be less emphasis on long distance walking though I guess 🙂

  15. Terry Fletcher says:

    Very interesting and honest piece about a little-discussed aspect of long distance walking and especially lone walking. In your boots I would not be overly worried about discovering you’re not only human but also smart enough to realise there’s more to life than walking and more than one way to enjoy it.

  16. Garry Sykes says:

    Shouldn’t worry about it Stuart.

    I have days when I’m eager and full of energy and then lose interest during the walk. Other days I feel a bit down and unmotivated and then have a really excellent walk … just phases in our life and it sounds like you’re passing from one to another.

    Enjoyed reading your blog … I hope you keep it going.

    Cheers,

    Garry

  17. The pull of family is very strong – even stronger when you are totally on your own doing something I think – and you obviously came to the right decision for you at this point in your life. You may feel different again at some point in the future, or you may not. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is following your instincts and working with them to be content with what you do. 🙂

  18. canukwalker says:

    Stuart, Was just starting my day by checking your blog. A bit of a shock!

    But you know when you know.

    I hope this does not mean the end of your walking altogether. I have been looking forward to meeting up with you again somewhere along the trail if only for a few hours.

    With very best wishes, Tim

    • lonewalker says:

      Tim, I’m still hoping to get out whenever possible, but shorter walks and more with company I think, which means we will certainly enjoy some time together again.

  19. Hi Stewart, we met briefly when doing the C2C almost 4 years ago and you kindly hosted my blog. Your honesty and openness in outlining the reasons for leaving the SUW is greatly appreciated. Given your limited annual holiday allowance and family commitments, I can appreciate why you came to this decision. Solo trail walking takes a certain degree of resilience and isn’t for everyone although you have done far more than me.
    I’m currently thinking about how to celebrate my 65th birthday next year. The full Pennine Way seems like too much of a challenge for me and I’ll probably settle for the last 80 miles or so from Alston to Kirk Yetholm.
    Best wishes for whatever walking you decide to do in the future and I look forward to reading about it in your blog.
    Brian (Benwickrambler).

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