I was trying to remember the last time I had two full days off but couldn't. Very often I would walk for a few hours to get to a campsite that was close to all of the services I'd need without having to walk or get a bus, I'd pitch up, wash my clothes and do my shopping which would then leave me a full day so I could relax. If, as is often the case, my day off falls on a Sunday I would do some research into the times and location of a local church service and then tip up for the service. I've mentioned in previous blogs, I'm not a religious man but there is a lot to be said about the many benefits one can get from attending a group event such as a church service. Lots of research has been done regarding whether following a religion helps prevent people developing poor mental health and I think it's fair to say that the jury is still out as to whether it's the religious influence or the process itself that might help. Religious leaders would advocate it does of course help, bums on seats is a necessity for any organisation to survive but for me, it's not the religious part of attending a service that helps me. I'm often fascinated by the differing architecture so I always take the time to sit and take in the construction of the building, every church I've sat in has been different and many are spectacular structures. I'm spending a lot of time alone while I'm walking and I've always known that I'm not a solitary person, I need human contact. I've never once walked into a church and not been welcomed and made to feel like I'm welcome. Very much like walking into a Masonic Lodge where I don't know anyone, very quickly someone will approach, shake my hand and welcome me. Another thing I think helps, lots of research has proved that group singing or chanting is an excellent bonding experience, singing makes you feel happier, it reduces feelings of anxiety, depression and even loneliness. Singing releases endorphins which are associated with feelings of pleasure and oxytocin, which can alleviate anxiety and stress.
In my mother Lodge, The Round Table Lodge of Lincolnshire, we do a lot of singing at our festive board so it's not surprising that we finish our evenings with a hightened feeling of elation and a longing for the next meeting. It's not just me that experiences this, I see messages on various social media groups and emails where others feel overwhelmed by the sense of achievement gained from our meetings but also the true feelings of camaraderie and brotherly love they get from the singing and banter we share over our festive board (the meal we enjoy following our meetings). Even if the quality of the singing is questionable and believe me, I'll not be appearing on Top of the Pops anytime soon !!!
Anyway, I digress, I got it slightly wrong in Applecross on my day off, the church service was at 3pm and the church was a two mile walk. I'd had a particular greasy sausage, bacon and black pudding roll with two large cups of coffee for my lunch and walked the two miles setting off far too early so I arrived just after 2pm, my stomach gurgling and churning. I sat on the church wall for just under an hour, the pain in my stomach growing causing me to sweat profusely panicking that I wouldn't be able to hold on and praying that this tiny little church actually had a toilet !!! 🥵
Anyway, somehow I held on and thankfully, there was a toilet in the church. It actually took me three flushes to dispose of thd evidence and as the toilet was right inside the entrance of this tiny building, the congregation had to endure 'the cloud' as they entered the building, 🤢I did actually hear one of them ask the vicar if they were having problems with the drains again !!! Not surprisingly, I didn't feel as welcome in this church as I've felt in others and nobody offered me a lift after the service so I had to walk the two miles back to the campsite !!!
It was raining when I woke up on Monday morning, a great way to start the week !! I knew I was in for a tough day, I had to get up and over Bealach na ba, an 11.4 mile walk from Applecross to Tornapress, the highest point is only 2053ft but in parts, for every 5 meters you travel, you are ascending or decending a meter, that's steep and believe me, that gets a fat bloke blowing... 🥵
It was a sweaty walk, waterproofs on, waterproofs off, waterproofs on which repeated throughout the day. When the rain came, it hammered down and with the heavy black clouds blowing through constantly , it was difficult to know how long it would rain for so it wasn't worth risking cracking on and getting soaked through. I wasn't planning on stopping at Tornapress as there was nowhere suitable to camp so kept walking until I reached Lochcarron. The Wee Campsite is a lovely little site, £7.50 for a backpacker, a nice hot shower with sockets in the toilet block to charge phones etc. The only problem, it was midge hell !!! I had a shower, got in my tent and never came out. I cooked up a pleasant enough dinner of noodles with a whole pack of cooked chicken only putting one hand through the fly sheet to operate my burner and to avoid getting covered and chewed to bits by the flying assassins...
I didn't anticipate getting as far as Skye the next day, it was 24 miles to the Kyle of Lochalsh and the Skye bridge but 2 miles in, it all went wrong !!! The road passing through Lochcarron is the main route through to Inverness so it's very busy. After a mile or so, I left that road to walk around the top of the loch to then start the 24 mile walk all the way back down the other side and back to the sea. The road alternated between two way and single track so I was constantly jumping up onto the verge to get out of the way of oncoming traffic. Bimbling along quite happily one minute, the next, face down in the gravel, belted off my feet from behind... shocked and disoriented, I scrambled back to my feet brushing stones that were imbedded into my knees and the palms of my hands to see a French motorhome pulling in on the left up in front of me. The 50cc motorcycle he'd just overtaken followed and then went past him as he pulled over. Clearly, the driver of the motorhome had misjudged the width of his vehicle and as he overtook the bike, his passenger mirror struck me right in the centre of my rucksack knocking me clean off my feet. To add insult to his crap driving, as I walked the 50 or so meters up to him, he got out, walked round to the passenger side of his motorhome to pull his mirror back to the correct position and check it wasn't damaged... he didn't give a toss about me, he never even looked back in my direction... needless to say, at this blatant disregard for my wellbeing, I completely saw my arse and was on route to give Frenchy a piece of my mind, or possibly even a piece of my fist but as my pace quickened to reach him before he got back in and drove off, a police car appeared on my left, the driver winding his window down enquired if I was ok and clearly reading my mind encouraged me not to do what my body language must have screamed I was about to do. 😡
He put on his blue lights and pulled up behind the motorhome before I got there and I noticed the worried look on the 'mirror man's' face. The Bobby was great, he had seen the whole thing as he was following a few vehicles back, he enquired if I was injured and if anything was damaged, I was ok and I checked my pack which was also ok so he explained that it would take a long time and paperwork to do him for dangerous driving and as I was not hurt, was there any need. I agreed so he then proceeded to rip the driver a new arse, there was nothing lost in the Scottish/French translation, the driver of the motorhome knew he'd got away without incurring a load of trouble and probably a fine, he apologised to me once, he then apologised to the cop about 6 times which was getting a bit embarrassing, he them climbed back into his tin tent and buggeted off. I thanked the police officer man for preventing me from battering the idiot, he then gave me a lift about a mile up the road to the little train station and advised me to catch the train to Kyle. The road ahead was even more dangerous having rock faces on both sides of the road with many blind bends and summits, he explained they we're constantly scrapping bicycle riders and walkers up, literally having nowhere to go when vehicles come flying around the blind bends.
I waited an hour for a train but would you believe it, I got on and sat down, a few minutes later, the guard came along asking for tickets. I told him where I was heading, he noticed my shirt, shook my hand and didn't charge me... he also handed me a piece of paper with the phone number for WM of the Lodge in Kyle telling me to give him a call and he'd meet me to show me around the lodge.
I'd still walked 14 miles by the time I'd crossed the Skye bridge and reached the campsite on The Isle of Skye but I'd survived...
The final play of the day... I eventually reached the town of Broadford and just in time... I was breaking my neck to be sitting on a toilet. 😰 I dropped my pack, ordered a pint and enquired as to the location of the facilities. Suitably relieved, I returned to bar a gulped a few mouthfuls of the cold beer. The barman returned to take my money and said, 'that will be £7.45 please' !!! How much I spat, I didn't order a bloody room, just a beer !!! I never specified what beer I wanted in my panic to empty my handbag so he poured me a pint of local craft beer !!! The final insult, he explained he had paid more than that for a pint in London, in his very French accent... The barman was from Paris... 🤬😡
I drank my beer, walked to the campsite, showered and went to bed... I'd had enough of French for one day....