I left the Southern Upland Way last night, at Sanquhar, at the end of Day 6.
I posted this tweet from the train station.
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.