5495 miles already walked

‘Training' for a Wedding!

How would you feel if you’d just arrived at John o’ Groats on foot, only to turn around again and travel all the way to west Cornwall, almost to Land’s End?  Like the board game, the Victory Walker having clambered all the way up a Ladder from Portsmouth to John o’ Groats, found herself sliding down a huge Snake to Truro and onward to the Lizard!

This was a family wedding we couldn’t miss, and I’d punched through the winds to be sure of reaching Thurso, end of the line, where we’d board the train next morning.

It seemed a good idea to travel over 2 days by train, allowing the walker and support team to rest-up, look out the window, and spy places they had passed through on foot or wheels respectively.  As is often the case, theory and practice can be very different.

We arrived in good time at Thurso station for the 0836 train that would take us first to Inverness, for an onward connection to Edinburgh.  The journey would take until 1600, which would then allow ‘Auntie Jane’ time to visit a department store in Edinburgh.  With only jeans, T-shirt and trainers on the support vehicle, I needed to buy a suitable outfit and some shoes that would fit my enlarged feet. An overnight stop had been booked at Edinburgh before our 10 hour onward journey to deepest Cornwall the following morning.

All was looking good until we realised there was no train at Thurso, no announcements and a notice which read that staff did not start work until 0930.  Another precise notice told us that the toilets opened at 0954 daily!  There was no indication that a replacement bus service had been provided for our absent train - everyone was left stranded. As it would be another 5 hours before the next train to Inverness, we gathered our belongings and went off in search of a Stagecoach bus.

Two and a half hours later we were on the Inverness bus and I began to think about the type of outfit I needed for a country wedding. Places whistled by, but suddenly the bus ground to a halt at the end of a long queue of stationary traffic. The A9 had been closed in both directions following a very serious road traffic accident. A nearby diversion was soon to be blocked by yet another accident.

Unknown to everyone stuck on the road, a long wait of almost 5 hours in sweltering conditions was ahead of us.  People got out of vehicles to stretch their legs, sat in the shade on verges, talked to one another and gratefully received water from a passing Samaritan who cycled by handing out bottles from her rucksack and panniers.  The road ran parallel to the railway line and ironically, that later Thurso to Inverness train we could have caught trundled by.  All we and other inconvenienced train passengers could do was laugh and wave!

We’d already missed two connections to Edinburgh and were on the verge of missing a third when the long skein of traffic began to grind into first gear.  Vital minutes ticked by as our coach driver did his best to get to Inverness station before 1845. We caught it with seconds to spare. Finally, at 2300 we checked into our Edinburgh hotel and the bridegroom’s ‘Auntie’ was still in jeans, T-shirt and trainers!

Next morning our Cornish train pulled away punctually from Edinburgh Waverley at the start of its long Cross-Country route to Penzance.  Familiar views and stations flicked by as we clattered south towards our destination.  Departing from Brunel’s famous Temple Meads station in Bristol, the Train Manager announced our train would terminate at Plymouth owing to a lack of crew. Groan!

Timetables were hurriedly consulted before we ‘jumped ship’, opting for a First Great Western train which was also bound for Penzance.  By now running late for car hire collection, frustrating minutes were spent trying to contact the company with a phone whose signal rose and fell with each cutting and tunnel.    

Eventually, with car keys safely handed over at Truro, we set off in failing light through deep Cornish lanes to locate our smart B & B.  For me, having been used to a walking speed of 3mph since last October, it was quite novel to be back behind a wheel again!  The journey took forever through unfamiliar twisty lanes, seemingly with every place name beginning with the letters Tre. Eventually, at 2230 we arrived at Tregaddra Farm, and the bridegroom’s ‘Auntie’ was still in jeans, T-shirt and trainers!

Next morning there was no time for an outfit shopping trip to Truro. I’d booked myself into a local salon at Helston for a haircut and other beauty treatments with the aim of smartening-up.  I had resigned myself to my fate – ‘Auntie Jane’ would attend the wedding in – that’s right – jeans, T-shirt and trainers.

Enter June, owner and Angel of Tregaddra who generously offered to loan me one of her dresses; a choice of outfits magically appeared in our room after breakfast - one was selected. Another guest kindly lent me a pashmina, and another guided me to a local shoe shop where I later bought some blue sandals. Miraculously I was ‘sorted’ and the rest of day was spent having a hot rocks massage. Chilled at last!

The sun shone as we made our way to the little church to witness my nephew Andrew marry Frances. In true wedding tradition ‘Auntie Jane’ attended in something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ – and who would have guessed!

Readers will be mightily relieved to know that the return journey was uneventful.  We were soon being reunited with the Victory Van that had been given a quiet holiday at ‘Achies’, a 400 year-old croft settlement near Thurso. Our landlord, a veteran Royal Navy submariner, now runs a smallholding where he has geese, ducks, chickens, goats, makes pork sausages and is renovating his many outbuildings. All this in his spare time as he does shift work as well. Who said sailors can’t multi-task?!

Since our return we’ve found somewhere to take a few days break, spread out our many maps and plan how the Victory Walker will attack the frighteningly complicated west coast of Scotland.

Normal (walking) service will resume as soon as possible!

See Photo Album No 38 - 'Training' for a Wedding