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Well, it’ll actually be around 105km by the time I’m complete. The simple answer to this is because I want to. I’ve never ran this distance before in any shape or form. My longest distance ran was 85km Glasgow to Edinburgh and the next distance down from that was 72km on Cape Wrath Ultra. So 105km is quite a step up!

I’m nervous and excited in equal measure. I don’t know how I’ll fare which is all part of the fun. My training has been limited but if Cape Wrath has taught me anything, it is that I can do an awful lot and endure an awful lot more than I think.

The challenge is one of our own making. A colleague mentioned he’d like to run home from work, and home is in Berwickshire, work is Edinburgh. He’d also like to run 100km. The arbitrary finish line of his house seemed too close to England to me and so my suggestion of running the extra 16miles to England was agreed to.

The route was fairly simple, and as the rough map shows, the border is 100km away and we’d finish in Berwick Upon Tweed 5km further down the coast.

Planning started and a date set to be around midsummer to maximise light and minimise running in the dark.

Training has been hit and miss, after my run scotland effort I hadn’t ran long and still really haven’t. But if rest is preparation then I’ve done bucket loads of that.

A few weeks before the date I was due to go on leave, work was particularly busy and low and behold a cold developed. I returned from the warmer climate of the Mediterranean with a runny nose and a chesty cough.

As this was our own challenge, we delayed the start by two weeks. No pressure of an immovable race day was lovely. Making our own rules and our own challenges means flexibility.

So it comes to race week, I’ve managed to cut travelling with work to only one day this week so I can be as rested as I can be come Friday.

The plan:

Leave work at 5pm, head to the coast and follow until Longniddry using off-road paths and promenade. Head inland to Haddington on a disused railway path where we will pick up the course of the River Tyne to East Linton and Belhaven and onto Dunbar. From here we’re on the Berwickshire coastal path where the fun starts. Here it’s hilly, up and down cliffs and we will be tired. It’ll be 4/5am before we reach Nicks house and then some 16miles to the border. Potentially arriving around 8 or 9am Saturday morning.

There will be pain, that I am sure. There will be hunger and euphoria and potentially there will be disaster. But we will try. And we will be the better for it.

Let’s see what we can do!

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I’ve become a sloppy runner. I don’t know if others who run ultras get like this or if it is just me but I don’t really have a training plan, nor do I try to fit in runs. I run occasionally during the week but long at the weekends with no set distance. Perhaps because I’m running long I feel there is no need to do short runs during the week. After all, work is busy and I rarely get chance.

However this needs to change. I’ve not been running long at weekends and thus I need to try to find time to run during the week. I’ve also become extremely busy at work and finding time is now difficult. But I’ve been here before. I know how to train and fit runs in. I just need to remember what I used to do…

1. run in the morning before work can take over the day

2. Use commutes to get a run in by running to work. It’s a good way to make sure you run

3. Take kit away with work trips and make sure you’re up early enough to run (same applies to No2).

4. Run home from airports, train stations or get off the bus a bit early.

5. Walk. Walking helped my ultras massively. Walk everywhere and make time for it.

6. Get a running pack so you can carry work stuff and run.

7. Commit to 2-3 runs mid week. Short but consistent.

That’s what I aim to do!

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482miles / 770 km

119hours of running

18 different days over 11 Months

21000m of ascent.

Running the length of Scotland.

GPS tracks of my route Cape Wrath West Highland Way Clyde Walkway Borders Abbey Way John Buchan Way Southern Upland Way

Little did I know that when I signed up to run the Cape Wrath Ultra that it would lead to many more adventures and personal challenges. I met some wonderful people, made lasting friendships with some and gave me a new outlook on my ability. One thing that came out of it was a challenge to run the length of Scotland and join up the far North of Scotland to the border with England. Cape Wrath is a huge part of Scotland, and also the wildest. It runs from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the most North Westerly point in Scotland.

Inspired by other people’s journeys, like Elise Downing who ran around the whole coastline of Britain, Sean Conway’s Triathlon of Britain and the 401 challenge and many many more! I thought I needed my own challenge.

I got focussed mid August ‘18 after a few months of rehab post Cape Wrath. The Dream Team’s adventures through Cairngorms gave me the confidence to get back to running long. I was ready for the next section of the journey.

I started to plan running the West Highland Way and if I had any chance of completing this journey across Scotland within a year, I needed to do the WHW before the end of that year. I chose November and ran it over 3.5 days from South to North, linking Milgavne to Fort William and thus joining onto the Cape Wrath trail.

That was the easy part. The next section, Glasgow to England would have me pouring over maps which as it happens gives me almost as much joy as running these sections. I dreamt up a route to England that had me running on trails I’d not done before. The easier option (part of Cameron Mcneishs Scotland’s National Trail) would have been to take in the John Muir Way but alas I’d already done that one.

I chose to take a different route, the urban section of Clyde Walkway to Lanark. This is where the national trails seem to be unlinked. I had to make my own route to get to the next long distance path, the John Buchan Way.

Starting at the start of the West Highland Way but heading South with Owain

Motherwell to Lanark with Brian

Somewhere between Lanark and Tinto Hill

Tinto Hill looking North East

John Buchan Way sign on a dreich day

I joined up trails between Lanark and Biggar using google / OS maps/ Open Street Map and over Tinto Hill to join me up to the John Buchan Way to Peebles. From here I took the Cross Border Drove route South East to join me up to the Southern Upland Way to Melrose.

Cross Borders Drove Route / Southern Upland Way

Melrose, Leaderfoot Viaduct with the Dream Team

This is where I finished on Saturday past (12th April).

My last section last weekend (19th April) I took the Borders Abbey Way to Kelso and then South from there using the core path network to Kirk Yetholm. I could have chosen the St Cuthbert’s way but I’d already done that too so I chose the way I’d not run before.

Starting where I left off the last time and running South

Following the Borders Abbey Way

Arriving at the Border Town

On the Border between England And Scotland

It was one of my most challenging days. The day was hot, there was no breeze. I reached Kelso overheating and dehydrated. I managed to eat and drink and replenish my water. I should have carried more than just 1litre. I’d ran out after 10kms, the undulating landscape and lack of shade was exhausting. I asked a lady in her garden if she’d fill my water bottles up, she did and I was thankful. I arrived into Kirk Yetholm with a banging headache and feeling sick. I stopped at the pub for a can of juice and to refill my bottles. The last section was a 3km stint on the Pennine Way. It unhelpfully goes over a hill on tarmac before heading off up a grass hill and cutting around a hill side to eventually reach the border at the wall. Andy had joined me at this stage, I was exhausted and my watch battery was running low adding to my stress.

I launched myself across the border through the gate and fell on the floor. The beating sun was shining down on me and all around me was views of hills and hazy horizons. I’d finished. I’d made it to England.

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Little did I know that when I signed up to run the Cape Wrath Ultra that it would lead to many more adventures and personal challenges. I met some wonderful people, made lasting friendships with some and gave me a new outlook on my ability. One thing that came out of it was a challenge to run the length of Scotland and join up the far North of Scotland to the border with England. Cape Wrath is a huge part of Scotland, and also the wildest. It runs from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the most North Westerly point in Scotland.

Inspired by other people’s journeys, like the lady who ran around the whole coastline of Britain, Sean Conway’s Triathlon of Britain and the 401 challenge and many many more! I thought I needed my own challenge.

I got focussed mid August ‘18 after a few months of rehab post Cape Wrath. The Dream Team’s adventures through Cairngorms gave me the confidence to get back to running long. I was ready for the next section of the journey.

I started to plan running the West Highland Way and if I had any chance of completing this journey across Scotland within a year, I needed to do the WHW before the end of that year. I chose November and ran it over 3.5 days from South to North, linking Milgavne to Fort William and thus joining onto the Cape Wrath trail.

That was the easy part. The next section, Glasgow to England would have me pouring over maps which as it happens gives me almost as much joy as running these sections. I dreamt up a route to England that had me running on trails I’d not done before. The easier option (part of Cameron Mcneishs Scotland’s National Trail) would have been to take in the John Muir Way but alas I’d already done that one. I chose to take a different route, the urban section of Clyde Walkway to Lanark. This is where the national trails seem to be unlinked. I had to make my own route to get to the next long distance path, the John Buchan Way.

I joined up trails between Lanark and Biggar using google / OS/ Open Street Map and over Tinto Hill to join me up to the John Buchan Way to Peebles. From here I took the Cross Border Drove route South East to join me up to the Southern Upland Way to Melrose.

This is where I finished on Saturday past (12th April).

My last section will be this weekend where I’ll take the Borders Abbey Way to Kelso and then South from there using the core path network to Kirk Yetholm. I could have chosen the St Cuthbert’s way but I’d already done that too so I chose the way I’d not run before. The last section will be to run to the border with England from Kirk Yetholm.

One thing that I’ve noticed on this journey is that maps only tell one story. I love maps. I like how they’re the comfort of knowing an area before getting there. Harvey Maps did a great job of charting the Cape Wrath Ultra along with their course creator they had us covering trackless ground, linking paths together, mostly not signposted, over bealachs, across bog and heather and rough ground. Comfort was there that the route was waymarked even if you couldn’t see a defined route in real life.

Some paths I travelled aren’t paths marked on the OS map, but using satellite views I can see marks on the ground, perhaps only used by animals. Never trust a gap in a plantation to offer a safe passage, but choose it anyway and expect a slower journey.

Sometimes you just have to trust that humans will have travelled this way before and if not then deer will have made a track. Animals are canny in finding the path of least resistance. The easier way to cover ground. However they’re helped by their 4 legs and hoofs. That sometimes doesn’t translate to our two legged feet version. But usually these routes are more fun as it’s off the track and it’s an adventure.

One thing that I’ve got out of this adventure, even before it’s finished, is the urge to return and explore off my route.

I missed great swathes of Scotland by choosing a linear route, passing through without return to explore the nooks and crannies that were just off my route would be a great shame.

Also, my route just cannily joins up with the Pennine Way. One of England’s most famed long distance paths. It would be rude not to explore further South too, no?

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Running the St Cuthbert's Way - YouTube

4 years ago!

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West Highland Way Running - YouTube
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Planning the WHW would have been easier if it had been “in season” however I decided to do it in the off season due to work commitments and left over holidays. 96miles / 155km is some feat. Here’s my planning and thoughts with my logistics too. If you want to read my blogs. Links here, here and here.

Overview

Day 1 – 44kms / 27miles Rowardennan

Day 2 – 42kms / 26miles Tyndrum

Day 3 – 46kms / 28miles kinlochleven

Day 4 – 20kms / 12miles Fort William

Some rules for me:

I wanted to run light so decided to book accommodation and leave the tent at home.

I also wanted to run in the light. With less than 8 hours of daylight at this time of year I had a nice window to make it to my destination with time on my hands hopefully.

I also wanted to enjoy it. Running non stop and chasing the darkness wouldn’t have been fun. Also I needed to factor in possible winter conditions, a cold spell had fallen on the UK a week before so I needed to be weary of icy footing.

So I chose to split it in 3 days. Arrive at Milngavie on Sunday morning and run, finishing in Fort William catching the last train home.

However, all best laid plans will fail. It was incredibly difficult to find the right distances and accommodation options at that time of year. Most places shut at the end of September/ start of October it seems. So I ended up doing it over 4 tho the 4th was a short day.

First hurdle was to get to the start. The first train on a Sunday arrives at 10am. Losing 2 hours of daylight.

The first bus only at 0930. So I opted to get an early coach from Edinburgh to Glasgow and caught an Uber to the start.

I arrived at 7:30 to begin running.

1st day was 44km to Rowardennan Bunkhouse. Run by the National Trust for Scotland. The hotel down the road was open for food and drink but no accommodation. The YHA Rowardennan Lodge was closed for the season. Balmaha some 7miles sooner did have accommodation but the next stop after Rowardennan is Inversnaid Hotel. A pricey option. The bunkhouse at inversnaid is also closed. So the bunkhouse at Rowardennan it was and cheap at £20 with breakfast thrown in!

2nd day I did another 42km to Tyndrum. Passing no one and no open shops. The drovers Inn at Beinglas was open and an option if you wanted to do a longer first day but caution. The loch side path is slow going. I did 13km in 2 hours! Lots of scrambling. Could be done in the dark but not much fun! The Wigwam farm shop was closed too. But a trip to Crianlarich could offer accommodation but that’s 4km detour down the hill!

Tyndrum there’s plenty of accommodation. I stayed at the Muthu Ben Doran. £34 including breakfast when you book direct! There also a pub, cafe and a shop! I ate at the Real Food Cafe. amazing place! Highly recommend. I could have pushed 11kms onto Bridge of Orchy and stayed at the hotel but it was pricey. Also it would have been a long day and after that Loch Lomond stretch it took me a good 6.5hrs. Almost all my daylight. BoO is also quiet with the hotel being the only amenity.

Day 3 saw me go to Kinlochleven. It was 46km. The hotel at Inveroran is closed and the Glencoe ski resort has hobbit holes but you need a sleeping bag. It does however have an open cafe where I had hot tea. A good diversion.

Kings house is getting renovated so nothing there but it looks like a nice new bunkhouse will open soon. Kinlochleven didn’t have much for accommodation- the Trail race or the Mcdonald Hotel and Cabins. This is where I stayed – again book direct for good off season price! A good choice as it has a great bar, good food and breakfast. £45 for B&B.

I could have pushed onto Fort William as Day 3 was runable but I would have been pushing daylight. I only had 2 hours spare and on tired legs the road to Fort William is a tough one. If done it with tired legs before.

Day 4 was a short hop over to Fort William. 20km for me as there was a diversion due to forest works on the way (this lasts until April 2019!). Would have been 23km with more ascent. The diversion took me on tarmac road from 13km in.

I rolled into Fort William over 2hours and 20 mins in time for the 11:42 train to Glasgow.

So that’s how I did it. I’m not a fast ultra runner but I did run the flat and downs with hiking saved for the hills.

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I had one too many beers last night and was talking a bit backward so decided to go to bed early at 8:30! I was chatting to the Dutch guy I’d met who was walking it. His long legs means he was going twice as Fast as I would go walking.

Waking up I was slightly worse for wear but after breakfast and preparing for wet weather donning all waterproofs, I headed outside into drizzle.

The hotel is basically at the foot of the Way before it climbs to the Old Military Road.

It’s a steep ascent and immediately regretted wearing all the waterproofs but it would save me when it was pishing it down later.

I reached the track in good time, hot but feeling ok. The track had been worked on since the last time and there were signs warning of works on the route. I started to run and making solid progress when I had to stop as a massive caterpillar digger was heading toward me. It didn’t seem like there was any space either side of it to get around it. But the driver drove half off the side of the track overhanging the valley below and allowed me space to get by. He clearly knows his diggers centre of mass!

I was running well and all the time I was thinking “get to fort william for 11:47 as that is when the train is” otherwise I’d have to get the bus at 2 or the train at 6!

This track was my nemesis of sorts, the last time I was here was on City to Summit and the weather was torrential with head wind. It wasn’t nice. Plus then I had just jumped off my bike after cycling from North Queensferry so I was quite tired. I remember kicking every rock on the route. It was horrible.

This time I was feeling better, and definitely not as tired. I managed to run a lot with the wind at my back it was fantastic. The snow capped peaks had changed to wet rock with the rise in temperatures.

I was going well. Rounding the corner after 8 Km the WHW turns North following the valley. The wind was strong and now blowing across me almost blowing me off the track. I trundled on. Running.

I reached the forest at the bottom of the valley and there lies a barrier across the way. “West Highland Way diversion”. They were doing forest operations between there and Glen Nevis so the way was diverted along the Old Military road, 7kms of undulating tarmac.

I made decent progress tho and entered Fort William after 2hrs 20min. I was an hour before the train so I opted to shower at the station which was a fantastic suggestion by a local. Highly recommend.

So there, I’ve done the WHW. I was a tad emotional when I saw Fort William. That flood of emotion that comes from the bottom of your throat. I blocked it tho and didn’t greet but I guess that means it meant something. It also reminded me of the Cape Wrath Ultra. As the last time I was here was when I started the run. The ferry that took us to Camusnagaul was there. I can now say I’ve run from Milngavie to the North of Scotland. Perhaps it’s time to join up the border with Milngavie?

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I wake in an empty hostel, no one it seems came in last night and I didn’t see the ranger again. I made coffee and went up to my room. It’s still dark. I muster the energy to get dressed and get some breakfast. Freeze dried porridge with sweet bits. Possibly apple. I also made some toast which is free with your stay. I was amazed at the facilities of this £20 per night bunkhouse run by the National Trust for Scotland. I cheekily also made sandwiches for lunch. Strawberry jam with lots of butter.

I headed out at first light, the moonlight still lighting the trail. The track starts wide and follows the loch. I remembered that you have a choice. Either the high road which is forest track or the low road which was deemed to be more tricky. I opted for the low as I’d not done it before. It was single track heaven, I managed to bimble with the odd scramble over boulder and down tree stump.

This continues for a good 10km, not fast progress but fun. Inversnaid Hotel is the next waypoint. A huge hotel on the banks of the loch. I don’t stop, there’s no one about. The next section is notoriously tough, it’s single track, undulating and littered with boulders making progress slow and tiring. I had done 13km in 2 hours and was feeling it. Although the weather was nice, I was sheltered from the wind and sun being on the eastern shore which made it cool.

The other end of the loch can’t come quick enough. It’s a lovely stretch but tough and I was glad to have got that behind me. Reaching the bothy I was in full sun, facing northward my shadow was long and the wind was nowhere. Far away mountains had snow on their caps reminding me that this is getting near to winter.

I reached Beinglas Farm where I had hoped there to be something open. But Monday’s in November mustn’t get much trade and so it was shut. I decided to stop and eat my sandwiches instead.

The next section is undulating along a track, ever increasing in altitude though so progress seems slow. I hadn’t seen a soul all day. It had been 26km by the time I did, two workmen on the railway.

The track dives under the railway and up over a style then through a tunnel under the road the climbs high. I start seeing fresh footprints in the mud could this be someone doing the WHW? I’d met no one doing the whole thing and I wished to actually meet a few folk doing it to share experiences. There ahead was a tall bloke. I reached him and made pleasantries. He said he was “fooked ” and that a train looks good. His mate was further ahead who was more talkative. He said they were thinking of giving in due to “the weather”. That front wasn’t due until Wednesday so I think they were having enough. They had big packs and was unsure if they were camping. Anyway, I ran on.

I was in Cow poo alley. An affectionate term given the levels of cow pat that litters the trail. There was very little actually, no cattle to be seen too. A good time to go through here it seems.

I reached the climb into Elwich Forest and walk up. The views are spectacular, the tops of the mountains covered in snow with a line where the temperature must rise above freezing. A line that stretches as far as the eye can see.

The descent through the forest is fun, eventually spitting you out across the A82 and into the valley. I stop to see if the wigwams shop was open, I was longing for a coke. It was shut, so I plodded on. The route now goes under the road again and meanders around the river where Robert The Bruce has a battle and apparently his sword lies in the lochan. Probably.

Tyndrum arrives and it is getting dark, I checked into my hotel and immediately had a bath and a nap. The luxury of a holiday at last.

I was first to breakfast as I wanted an early start. They were still putting it out when I got there. Not many people were staying it seemed. I leave just after 7:30 and first light is here, sunrise won’t happen for another 45min and in the mountains it can appear gloomier for longer. I make my way up the hill to the Glen that will take me to Bridge of Orchy, from here it’s downhill and I’m running. Im feeling like I am making good progress. The wind is firmly at my back and pushing me along. The sleeper train trundles on by toward Fort William. I’m making excellent progress and feeling quite good for a change. The extra large fish and chips must have helped last night!

Cows! In my road. I approach them slowly and wishing them all a good morning. They don’t look amused and watch me with suspicion. I escape over the style and over the bridge and into another cow field. This time they’re highland Cows. With their big horns they look cute but scary. I don’t run and take my time. They largely ignore me which is a relief. The sheep on the other hand don’t and run away down the bloody trail! Before I knew it I’m shepherding the toward Fort William !!

They eventually see sense and run off the track leaving me to get going again.

I’d not seen anyone yet today and make it to Bridge of Orchy after an hour and a half. The climb out of here is through forest protecting me from the ever increasing wind. It spits you out almost at the top of a hill and from here the vista opens out. Mountains everywhere!

The track drops to Inveroran and follows the road to forest lodge where it ascends onto Rannoch Moor. It’s about 10km from here to Glencoe Mountain Resort along decent track. I’m running and I’m happy. The cool wind is strong on my back pushing me along. My elbows cold but the rest I’m warm.

There’s a guy up ahead. I try to approach making noise as it must be scary coming across an idiot running. He’s from the Netherlands and is heading to Kinlochleven too after starting at Bridge of Orchy and he is walking. I expect to see him late on tonight.

The wind now is strong and I make my way down toward the ski centre. I know this place is open so I go in for a cuppa. Nice sweet tea. So nice I have another one. I had coach’s voice in my head “gotta keep moving ” so I packed up and dawdled no more. The road descends steeply which is tough on the knees. Crossing the road again I’m running and feeling good. Kings house is still a construction site but looking good!

I’m running still as it is keeping me warm. Though I’ve my hood up as the wind is cooling me too much.

Devils Staircase is steep but the views across to Stob Dearg are awesome. I opt to get my poles out as the climb is relentless and my back could do with some help. The wind is also cutting across me on every switch back.

I hit some heather with my pole which rebounds it toward my body and at that time I was putting it down and bam, right into my foot. It’s bloody sore stabbing your self with a pole!

The wind is very strong, gusting and blowing me and my pack over. I was looking forward to the descent. It’s a long descent into Kinlochleven, some 7kms of mainly down, the last 4 on track. Unforgiving on the knees I opt to walk as I’ve plenty of time. And so i did. I walked into Kinlochleven and arrived into my hotel. Very smelly and apparently with some blisters now that I’ve taken my socks off! I best fix them before tomorrow!

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I’ve got my feet up and drinking tea. I’m not long out of the bath. I’m the only one in Ardress Lodge and I feel relaxed. Today was fun, I started the day in Edinburgh and caught an early bus to Glasgow and an Uber to Milngavie. Here I started to run the West Highland Way. A 96 mile trail from just North of Glasgow to Fort William.

I’m carrying a pack laden with all of the things that I think I need for 4 days running a trail. It has winter emergency gear including spare warm clothes, an emergency foil bag, crampons and gloves. It’s got evening gear for when I’m in my accommodation and food for the first night. It’s bloody heavy.

I probably have too much food and probably won’t use everything (I hope I won’t use everything). The weather is cool, a brisk wind from the north east and some periods of drizzle. But it was lovely running weather.

The Way starts off pretty lowland and flat. Following an old railway line for a bit. I stopped to take a photo of a deer that was on the trail ahead. It scarpered quickly after a runner caught up to me. He stopped to chat. Turns out he knows my work and runs The Garage night club in Glasgow! Small world! We talk for a bit about my adventure and his running. It was nice to meet someone on the trail. Running solo is both lonely but revitalising. I find it very therapeutic to put one foot in front of the other. Sharing the experience is also good, and I was pleased to find the Dream Team keeping an eye on my progress sending me messages throughout the day.

I made good progress and was in Balmaha by 12, 4 hours after I started. I decided to treat myself to lunch and chose a massive Haggis and bean baked potato. Perhaps a bit too much as running afterwards was fairly difficult. It was a good 3 hours before the bunkhouse opened and with 7miles to go, I decided to take my time, walking and running. The loch was as still as a pane of glass. It was stunning. The loch trail undulates. Owain said it was “runnable”, no such chance. The hills are steep but short. I was getting tired and was longing for a sit down. Arriving at the Clansman in Rowardennan I opted to warm up with a cuppa but swiftly moved onto beer whilst waiting for the bunkhouse to open.

I had ran passed a couple walking and they arrived into the bar and was told by the barman that I was doing the way too. They invited me to join them and we chatted about the way and our respective adventures. It was good to have the company.

The light was fading outside the pub so I opted to wander to the bunkhouse getting there in the dark. Im still alone here unless there are any late arrivals. I kinda hope there aren’t.

Tomorrow I’m off to Tyndrum.

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