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  • Chris Jones

Day 108. Wed 12th July. Achiltibuie to Ullapool.

I walked the 200 meters back up the hill to the hostel, to put my rubbish in the bin but also to thank Ruth for her hospitality and to say goodbye. I had done some research on todays walk and I was already apprehensive about what lay ahead. When Ruth told me that there was a spare bed in the hostel that night if I wanted it, perhaps I should consider waiting a day because of the amount of rain that had fallen in the past week... I was feeling even more jittery about the prospect of 'taking the rock', a challenging path along the cliffs of Ben Mor Coigach. Ruth further explained that the trail, also known as the Postman's Path, named after the postmen that used to 'take the rock' twice a week to deliver mail back in the 1860's, is a formidable walk. A group of kids had to be airlifted off the trail last year and the official coastal trail organisations won't list this trail as a coastal path as it is too treacherous, all of that shared knowledge really wasn't helping. I agreed that if I couldn't get across the first of the four rivers I'd have to ford then I'd make my way back, stay the night in the hostel and try again tomorrow. If I could get across then I'd forge ahead to Ullapool so I took Ruth's number so I could text to let her know I'd got there in one piece.

Within a mile, it was raining steadily so all togged up in my waterproofs, I knew I was in for a wet, windy and arduous day. Reading the sign at the start of the trail, I did wonder as to whether I was adequately experienced and indeed, was I equipped to complete my journey without assistance !!! How the hell did I know, I'd never walked this trail before so how would I know if I had the requisite experience to do so ?? I can tell something, if I had walked this trail before, there's no way in month of Sundays would I be walking the bloody thing again !!! I can honestly say, without any question, it was the toughest, scariest walk I think I've ever done in my life. Walking across sharp edge or even striding edge in the Lake District on a windy day has nothing on this trail.

It had everything you could imagine necessary to ensure that almost every step was a challenge. I did get over the first river fairly easily, the second and third I had no choice but wade across, the fast flowing water up to my knees, stopping after each crossing to tip the water out of my boots and ring my socks out.

There were path markers but because the terrain was so up and down, in and out, I had to continually check the map to ensure the trail I was on was the correct path and not just a random sheep trail, leading me off into the unknown.

At one point, I found myself on a 45 degree slope up to my neck in bracken, clearly I'd strayed from the path. I could see that I couldn't go any lower as just below this line of bracken, the Cliff fell away some 100 meters or so down to the sea, checking the map I could see the path was somewhere above me, all I could do was attempt to climb up, I couldn't go back because I couldn't work out how I got through the bracken and thistles to where I was. Using the bracken to pull myself upwards, on my hands and knees, sweating and blowing I somehow managed to get myself up onto a rock ledge where I propped myself up for a minute to try to work out how the hell I was going to get myself to safety. Checking the map, I worked out, I was actually on the path, the shear vertical rock face above me was impossible to get up and I already knew what was below me. Looking to my left, sure enough, I could just about see the 8 inch wide ledge I would have to carefully balance along to get around this rock... I swear, I nearly wet myself, I couldn't believe it... one slip and it was good night Vienna...

Around every bend, over every rise I kept saying to myself, surely, this can't get any harder, but it never seemed to end. Even when I got to what I could see was nearly the end of the missery and the decent down towards a huge empty beach, I couldn't work out which was the correct path. Constantly having to climb over and down huge boulders or wading through knee deep stinking bogs...

After 7 hours of gruelling punishment, I was down from the rock, exhausted and stinking I stripped to my pants and lay down on the timber bridge over the river Runie. I'd walked 11 miles but I knew there was at least another 7 miles to get to Ullapool, after the stresses of the day, I was desperate for a shower and to get my kit in the wash but I was completely washed out, I had no idea how I was going to muster the strength to finish the day but equally, I knew I couldn't wild camp either. The sun had at last come out so for half an hour, I just lay there on the planks of the bridge with my eyes closed, in my soaking boxers, looking every bit the wreck I felt...

At about 7pm, I eventually staggered into Ullapool, listening to my back catalogue of Depeche Mode albums, I sang and whistled and jigged along the road and somehow, I'd made it. I walked straight into the first chip shop I came to and ordered a large portion of fish cake and chips with a bottle of lucazade, dispatched it in record time and then a short walk round to the campsite.

My tent pitched, I stripped naked in the laundrette and threw every piece of clothing I had in a washing machine then spent the next 25 minutes in the shower while my kit was washing. I was a bit naughty and used the disabled shower because it had one of those white plastic garden chairs in there, it was pure heaven sitting in the hot shower, I just had to keep leaning back and pushing the button with the back of my head to start the water when it timed out. I had to sit in the laundrette with my towel around me while my clothes were in the dryer, I got a few strange looks but only from the blokes, the women seemed fine with me sitting there in just a towel. 🫣🙄

I had a few people to contact in Ullapool but I was soo tired, I figured that could wait until morning, I was planning on having a day off so I had a walk around the town and slipped into the first pub I walked past for a swift pint of painkiller. Half a pint in, the singer in the band wandered up and recognising my hat, offered his hand. Callum was one of the guys I had a contact number for so now accidentally aquainted we made arrangements for a visit to the Lodge the following day. The first lodge visit I've made yet on this journey where a got to meet a Westie in the Lodge. The WM had kindly come to meet me and in tow was his dog.

I was back in my tent and fast asleep before 10pm with no plans for an early start, I could have a lie in and I had a huge surprise to look forward to.

When I got to the lodge at 4pm, I was gobsmacked to walk in and there was my good mate Gordon, the Assistant Director of Ceremonies of The FreeWheelers Motorcycle Lodge back in Lincolnshire. Gordon being a native Jockaneese chap was up here visiting his home town of Elgin but had driven over two hours with his wife and their friends to come and see me. We had a tour of the Lodge and the five of us went to a local pub for a few pints and finished the evening in the Indian Restaurant having a lovely meal. I did get a photo of Gordon and I in the Lodge, or at least I thought I did. The chap that took the picture somehow clicked my camera onto video and I can't upload it to this blog !!! 🫣 I said goodbye to my visitors and headed back for an early night, I was still completely shattered so I decided to have a second rest day.

I was up and in the local swimming pool for 10am, I had a great swim to loosen up my body and I repeatedly lay in the sauna, ten lengths of the pool, ten minutes in the sauna for an hour... pure heaven...

I'd received a text and a call from Andy just before I got to the pool, the current Worshipful Master of the FreeWheelers Motorcycle Lodge was on route !!! He too was up in Scotland doing a bit of touring around and bagging a few more Munros, as is his pleasure !!! He had also decided to detour and he was driving the two hours from Inverness with Judith to come and see me...

I was completely overwhelmed, two visits in as many days and both from lovely people from home. We had lunch but having a long drive ahead of them, they hit the road leaving me to relax and catch up with my admin.

On a bit of a high from my many visitors, I wandered around the few pubs in town for a couple of pints. In one of them I got chatting to a great guy called Willie, an operative stonemason but not yet a Freemason. Being exactly the same age as me, bar three weeks, we had a great chat about all things construction, exchanging pictures of the various building jobs we had both worked on but he told me a story I had a vague recollection I had heard before, but Willie had a personal link to the story.

Back in 1950 one of Scotland's most meaningful Royal objects was stolen from Westminster Abbey by four students and taken back to Scotland. The Stone of Scone had been taken from Scone near Perth by King Edward I, (Longshanks) in 1296 as a spoil of war and as it was viewed as a symbol of Scottish nationhood, by removing it to London, Edward was declaring himself 'King of the Scot's'. In 2008, the incident was made into a film called The Stone of Destiny and my new mate Willie, had a personal connection. Throughout his schooling, he was taught Gaelic by a lady called Kay Matherson, the only woman and one of the four that had broken into Westminster Abbey and liberated the stone back to Scotland.

What a top bloke and a fascinating story, cheers Willie, a pleasure to meet you buddy.

I'd had a great rest in Ullapool but it was time to move on. The wiser for the extreme challenge this coastline still has for me, I was going to be studying my maps much more before I decided on my daily walking routes. There is still a long way to go and I fear that falling from a cliff face might just impede my progress somewhat... 🫣

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had me panicing there, so glad you got through it!!xxx

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