I spent last weekend planning my long distance path for 2015! It was significantly easier than the planning I’ve had to in recent years, simply because I’m returning to the Southern Upland Way. It and I have unfinished business and I’ve been itching to get back there and finish it off.
In 2013 I had to cut the walk short due to injury; managing about 130 of the 212 mile length. The bits I walked were generally excellent; the quiet hills, empty paths, friendly people and reasonable weather all made the experience quite memorable and I can’t wait to get back and start again. Yes, that’s right, I’m not just going back to finish it off, I actually want to start from the beginning again and do it all.
I’m going to start a couple of weeks later than last time, in early May; which should hopefully mean slightly better weather. On a path like Wainwright’s Coast to Coast, or the West Highland Way, starting at that time of the year would probably mean walking at the head of a caterpillar of people every day, but the Southern Upland Way will almost certainly be empty again, which suits me just fine! I saw absolutely no-one on the hills last time; not a soul in eight days.
Similarly, if I’d tried to book accommodation at this time of the year for a Coast to Coast in May, I’d be taking the slim pickings of what was left; on the Southern Upland Way I got my first choice in every village. Some experiences from last time led to a change in selection of accommodation in one or two places. I remember freezing half to death in two particular B&Bs, so they’ve been swapped out and I’ve taken a slightly different approach to another section which forced a change there.
On all the long distance paths I’ve walked to date, I’ve shunned any sort of motorised transport on the route – no lifts to pubs in the evening, no ringing the B&B for a collection off the path – an approach that has been driven by the purist in me. I’ve abandoned all my principles in this instance though!
There are two consecutive 25 mile days in the early part of the walk, both of which have quite a lot of up and down in them. Last time I split the second day by walking 2 miles off route to a remote B&B, dropping over a 1000 feet in the process. The next day the weather was pretty bad so I shunned the 1000 feet climb back to the path, favouring a lower level path instead. I need to fill that gap.
I found a hotel in Dalry that offers a free collection and drop-off service for walkers who stay with them for two nights and break the two days into three. I now have three manageable days in the place of back-to-back marathons. A nice by-product is a reduced pack weight for the middle day!
In previous years I’ve managed to get a lift to the start and from the end of a walk. This year I’ve decided to try and use the train at both ends. I often enjoy a train journey at the start of a day walk, using two stations to create a linear walk. The train journey seems to add a special something to the experience; perhaps it’s a lingering shadow of the romance of trains? I’m hoping this change will enhance the feeling of adventure at the start and end.
Using public transport isn’t an ‘easy option’ by any means, not does it save me any money. It would still be easier and probably cheaper to get a lift my son or my wife; so this is more about enhancing the enjoyment of the holiday than it is about practicalities.
The nearest train station to the start point in Portpatrick is Stranrear, which also happens to be the end point of Day One. I will get a lift to our closest mainline station at Crewe, which should mean I arrive in Stranrear about 6 or 7 hours later, with either one or two changes, depending on the route. Providing I book far enough in advance the ticket looks to be about £25 – or £125 if I don’t book in time.
I’ve booked two nights in a B&B in Stranrear, using a regular bus service the next morning to get me to Portpatrick, then walk back to the B&B on Day One.
At the end of the path in Cockburnspath (Co’burnspath) I need to get a bus to Berwick and then two or possibly three trains back to Crewe. My initial enquiries suggested this ticket was going to be well over £100 – but once I split the route down into its component parts and bought separate tickets for each leg, I found I could do it for about £40.
So I’m pretty much good to go – other than the business of shedding the weight I gathered last year when I was severely limited in the walking I could do. I may follow this up with a couple more detailed route selection posts. I’m planning on changing one day radically!