Doug had kindly offered to show me around his Lodge in Thurso, before we went down to the British Legion for the Armed Forces Day celebrations. St Peter's Operative Lodge 284 is 203 years old and the Lodge meets in a truly spectacular building.
The famous Johnie Walker advert and slogan, 'Born in 1820; still going strong', most certainly applies to St Peter's Operative Lodge. As you'd expect of any Lodge of this age, it has a fascinating history and can boast a number of prominent members over the years. One former member who's regalia is displayed in the lodge was Bro. Donald Swanson who was born in Thurso, he was a member of the lodge from 1884 to 1924. Bro Swanson started his working life in Thurso as a teacher but moved to London and joined the Metropolitan Police in 1868. He was obviously a fairly good copper as by 1896 he'd risen to Superintendent of the CID, effectively the top detective in the country. During his 35 year career he worked on many high profile cases but probably the one he's most known for, in 1888 he was placed in charge of the Jack the Ripper Investigation. The lodge room was fascinating and a real pleasure to look around.
The Armed Forces day celebrations were as you'd expect, lots of entertainment with marching bands, dancing kids and a well stocked bar !!! I met some great guys, many of them ex army and now active Freemasons in the town. I also met a lovely chap called Gary who is currently supporting a good friend of his who's dad took his own life recently and with the funeral planned for next week, Gary is doing all he can to support his freind through what must be a very difficult time. Gary also taught me a new word and reminded me of an encounter I'd had many months ago in a bar in Yorkshire. You may remember me telling you about a big bear of a man informing me that all you need if your feeling a bit low was one of his cuddles, which he then proceeded to demostrate in the bar. Well, Gary was of exactly the same opinion, in the bar he gathered me up in his arms and demonstrated the Scottish equivalent of the bear hug, the Bosie... I can't deny, I did feel the power of Gary's embrace, a good firm Bosie goes a very long way, as will the very generous donation he made to my fund that evening. Thank you Gary, it was a pleasure meeting you, please stay strong for your freind and please speak some more with guys you now know to be Freemasons, they are great guys and you will fit in very well in their ranks. 😍
Doug, Ian and Mike were excellent company and as you can see, Mike was in the REME so that's saying something !!! the banter was very typically squaddie based, I was repeatedly crying with laughter and often at my own expense I might add !!! The marathon drinking session ended back at Ian's place chowing down a huge chicken kebab before departing to find my tent with the obligatory 'Bosie' and a sincere vow to meet again. What a great bunch of guys and another example of how strong the camaraderie remains when brothers in arms, remain brothers in the Craft.
Monday morning, I was up bright and early, thankful for that monster chicken kebab as I felt surprisingly alive. An 11 hour drinking session in the British Legion, possibly wouldn't be every doctors prescribed way to spend one's rest day but hey ho, I'm not here for a long time so it's my intention to try to make it a good time.
I left Thurso and pretty much all day I was forced to walk on the side of the road, there were only a few small stretches where I could walk on paths nearer the sea. That said, the sea was close by all day and passing out of Caithness and into Southerland, after 21 miles of walking I got to Melvich.
I checked into a campsite, simply because it was there. I didn't need to as I had plenty of provisions, I guess I was tired so the thought of a hot shower was appealing. The site was ok, expensive for what it was, WiFi was crap. I wasn't aware that this part of the world is known as Mackay Country but on reflection, it does appear that everyone and his mate are called Mackay, a seriously large Clan I think.
This past two days have highlighted what I knew was coming, some real issolation and spending long periods of time on my own. Many people have asked me if I'm coping with all this time alone, time to get lost in my own head but to be honest, until now, I haven't really been on my own for very long. During the day while waking I've been alone yes but very often when I've finished my days walk I've found conversation with lots of interesting and kind people so I've not really had the chance to get lonely.
This past two days however, I've hardly spoken to anyone, I found a pitch in a quiet little bay in Bettyhill to wildcamp so apart from talking to Michelle on FaceTime, I've been alone with my thoughts for the best part of 48 hours. Climbing into a cold tent, feeling cold and exhausted, a warm sleeping bag and a good nights sleep were very much on my mind, I think the time has come to prepare for some long periods of solitude. I think the real test is about to begin, the test, not of my physical ability but of my mental ability to get through this next part of the challenge.