Day 81: Drymen to Inversnaid (22.40m)

Today turned out to be one of the most beautiful, the most gruelling and certainly the wettest of my walk. Having packed up my tent in the shelter of a barn at my campsite I trudged off in the rain on the way to Loch Lomond.

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Almost four miles brings me into sight of the loch. It's been slow work and I don't arrive at Balmaha until past lunchtime.

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Tom Weir - climber, author and broadcaster.

Tom Weir - climber, author and broadcaster.

From Balmaha I leave the road and take the path along the misty loch.

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I have massively underestimated the difficulty of today's walk. What I mistook on my map to be a simple path running along the water  actually turns out to be a path which jumps up and down the contour lines, with frequent periods of scrabbling over wet rock. The constant rain has swollen the streams that tumble down from the Ben Lomond so that even the stepping stones are covered by white water.

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I stop to chat to Tony - who is coming down the path in the opposite direction. Tony is near the start of his end-to-end journey - the first person I have met on the walk doing John O'Groats to Land's End!

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At stages the path becomes easier but by this point it's past 18.00 and I truly know what it means to be soaked to the skin. I can feel the water between every layer of clothing and my boats (which have ceased to be waterproof somewhere south of Edinburgh) keep my feet sodden.

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For the first time on my journey it is getting dark and I'm still walking. I eat a welcome treat from a remote help-yourself stall - miles from any roads.

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Another couple of miles finds me crossing the dramatic falls at Inversnaid, although I'm probably too fed up to appreciate them at this point. A mile walking away from the loch takes me to the warmth and shelter of the Inversnaid Bunkhouse for the time, just after 20.00.

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This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
— Inversnaid by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Day 80: Kilsyth to Drymen (20.88m)

Up and early out of Kilsyth on the long Glasgow Road tramping along to Queenzieburn.

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Walking in the flat bottom of a North Lanarkshire valley.

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At Milton of Campsie I pass through the old station (now a garden) and join a path along a decommissioned railway track.

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The path breaks through woods, occasionally along fields and playing fields and over rivers, skirting Lennoxtown. I'm at the foot of the Campsie Fells - rising up to my North.

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On the path to Strathblane I'm at the foot of the Campsie Fells - rising up to my North.

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Having grabbed some food in Strathblane I follow a road called Ballochalary Yett - Yett in Scots is a gate and it seems that the name originally referred to an actual gate but has now been misapplied to the whole road. At Carbeth Loch I join the West Highland Way - a path I'll be following for roughly the next week.

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The valley is open below me and follow the way into the bottom.

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Reaching my camspite - a mile short of Drymen - I stare up at the sky not knowing that it was the last bit of blue that i would see for days.

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DAY 79: Falkirk to Kilsyth (17.52m)

On a drizzly morning I set off first to visit the Kelpies. First I pass Falkirk Football Club and then through Helix Park. The Helix is a perfect example of what is wrong with modern park design - cluttered with mismatched street furniture, uninspiring sculpture and boring planting. It's designed around a series of circles which probably look great on plan but which it is impossible to relate to, or even comprehend, when actually in the park. The wetland section is good though and maybe it will get better when the planting has matured.

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Then to the Kelpies which mark the beginning of a new extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal. These 100ft high sculptures by Andy Scott where opened in April 2014 and are rather impressive. 

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Leaving the Kelpies I follow the canal heading east. Resting next to the site of the old Rosebank Whiskey Distillery (which closed in 2002) a tipsy couple of lads wander past...at 9.30 in the morning. 

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After some more towpath I arrive at the Falkirk Wheel.  

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This magnificent piece of engineering connects the Forth and Clyde and the Union canals. It fully rotates, lifting boats 79 foot into the air and is the only rotating boat lift in the world. Watching it in action is very satisfying.

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I leave the wheel and canal, heading into a small patch of woods which takes me to the Antonine Wall. This Roman wall is less famous than Hadrian's Wall to the south, probably because not much of it exists anymore. I walk past some impressive lumps and bumps which are the remains of a section of wall and a Roman fort.

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Then back onto the canal for the rest of the day to take me to the outskirts of Kilsyth.

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Kilsyth town centre itself is pretty deserted, especially as it's a Saturday night. There are a couple of great modern churches though.  

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I walk up the hill to where I'm camping, for free, in the garden of a bed and breakfast. I lie in the bivy watching the clouds of midges and the perseid meteor shower above. 

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DAY 78: Linlithgow to Falkirk (10.31m)

Leaving Linlithgow I walk the lowland Avon River path, passing under one of the 23 arches of the Avon Railway Viaduct.

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The woods are strong with the lovely ainseed smell of Sweet Cicely crushed under foot.

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I join the Union Canal again as it crosses the Avon. Then continue along the canal towpath, looking out to the fiery tops of the Grangemouth oil refinery in the distance. 

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Leaving the towpath I pass through a tiny tunnel with my bag scraping on the roof. 

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I then enter the Callander Estate on the edge of Falkirk. Walking through the forest I come across Callander House - a mixture of Scottish baronial pile and French chateaux. From here it's only ten more minutes to the centre of Falkirk for the night.

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DAY 77: Edinburgh to Linlithgow (19.01m)

I have a rest day in which I see lots of free comedy at the festival and stock up to deal with the midges in the highlands. 

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Back on the road I leave the city through Coates, Orchard Brae and Blackhall (passing the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art).

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At a place called Davidson's Mains I rejoin the John Muir way walking down a long curved road flanked by large houses sitting comfortably in manicured gardens. 

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A little aside on the John Muir way: this 130 mile route, of which i am doing a fraction, is named after the conservationist John Muir. Muir born in Dunbar on the East Lothian coast is more celebrated in America where is known as the "Father of the National Parks".

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Muir devoted most of his time to the preservation of wilderness in the Western United States and as a political activist he was instrumental in the creation of Yosemite National Park. Muir liked the sound of running water so much that at one time he built a small cabin along Yosemite Creek which was designed with the delightful feature of a stream running through the corner of the room.

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After his success in Yosemite, Muir co-founded the Sierra Club, which today is the most successful environmental organisation in the US. I'm going to reading some of his writings when I get back from my walk. 

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The John Muir way takes me to Cramond, where I cross the River Almond.

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Walking along the A90 on the diverted footpath I turn a corner a take a country road looking down on Edinburgh Airport with the hills of Midlothian behind. I love watching the planes land. 

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I join a disused railway line path on an embankment which passes magnificently, high above golden wheat fields.

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Through Kirkliston and on to Winchburgh where I join the Union canal, which I follow for 5.5 miles. 

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A short walk takes me into the town of Linlithgow. I like Linlithgow, with a large Loch right in the town centre and it's mixture of solid 17th and 18th century buildings and beautiful brutalism.

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 And then to the bivy for the night.

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DAY 76: Musselburgh to Edinburgh (9.39m)

On the John Muir way into Edinburgh today. I walk through Musselburgh and sit by the Roman Bridge and have breakfast. 

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Pass the beautiful Brunton Memorial Hall (designed by Sir William Kininmonth, opened 1971).

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Arriving at the sea front.  

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Enter the outskirts of Edinburgh. 

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Through parks, around the back of houses and along rivers then Salisbury Crags - cliffs on the edge of Arthur's Seat - are on my right. 

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After walking through a long, dark, grim smelling tunnel I suddenly arrive in the St Leonard's area of Edinburgh. 

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It's festival time and the crowds get more and more numerous as I enter the city. 

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It's a bit overwhelming to see all these people so I check into my hostel and go off to see Dunkirk on the IMAX.

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DAY 75: Blinkbonny Wood to Musselburgh (20.10m)

Start by walking back into Gifford.

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To Haddington through sun and showers, past the Chippendale International School of Furniture.

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Haddington has 9000 inhabitants today, although during the Middle Ages it was the fourth largest settlement in Scotland. 

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From Haddington I pick up the old railway line to Longniddry.  This line used to take horse manure from Edinburgh out to the East Lothian countryside - the 'dung-lye special'.

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I was sort of expecting Longniddry to be a slightly grim seaside village but it's quite pleasant (in a retiree way).

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I make my way along the "Scotland's Golf Coast". 

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In Prestonpans there is a sculpture by the artist Leslie Frank Chorley. I've never heard of this artist and can't find much online except for the satisfying fact that he lived for exactly the 20th century - born in 1900 and died in 2000.

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Prestonpans is "Scotland's Mural Town" and I pass a couple of them on the way.   

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I arrive in the outskirts of Musselburgh and have a rest on a bench in a park called 'The Cast' looking out to Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh.

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DAY 74: Longformacus to Blinkbonny Wood (16.82m)

I head up into the Lammermuir Hills. 

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I'm in moor land swathed in Scottish heather with hardy looking sheep dotted around.  

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Cross from the Scottish Borders into to East Lothian.  

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I don't see any other walkers all day and only the occasionally cyclist and car. 

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As I come up to the top of the moors I can see the Firth of Forth for the first time. 

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Into the lovely little village of Gifford, with it's distinctive architecture. 

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A final three miles south to Blinkbonny Wood where I camp in the woods and sit up around a fire drinking homemade Damson Gin (that my Air BnB host gave me  in Coldstream).

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A mushroom lovers dream

A mushroom lovers dream

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DAY 73: Coldstream to Longformacus (18.22m)

Back walking on my own and my first day in Scotland. I leave Coldstream on a long, straight road north and then cut off into a wood for some variety. 

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Due to the mud I give up on the wood relatively quickly and get back onto the road. 

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Seven miles outside Coldstream I reach the hamlet of Mount Pleasant. It's a running joke in Scotland that they get four seasons in one day. I'm walking along in a t-shirt enjoying the sun when, out of nowhere, it absolutely chucks it down. And then it's back to sunny again, all in the space of ten minutes. 

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Cross the River Blackadder and down into the town of Duns, where it's the country show and the sound of bagpipes drifts across the town.  

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Up until now today's walk has been enjoyable but unremarkable. After Duns I head up onto the moors with great views of the borders. It rains on one side but as I come down the other side it's a beautiful evening. 

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The final stretch into Longformacus is along another stretch of straight road, bordered by trees and passing a isolated graveyard. 

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House with paintings on the outside  

House with paintings on the outside  

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DAY 72: Haggerston to Coldstream (21.58m)

After a stretch of walking up the A9 (where Dunc gets his hat blown off) we cut across some fields heading west inland. 

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Stopping for a rest by the side of the road a friendly postman is astonished to see us - "I've never seen walkers around this way".

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We are not going the most direct route today so we can visit the Duddo Stone Circle. This early bronze age sandstone circle, erected about 4000 years ago, has been weathered over the years, leaving the stones with distinctive deep fissures.

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To a winding woodland path alongside the River Till which takes us to the village of Etal.

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Arriving at Etal we have a welcome stop off for some food and a rest. Our route out of Etal is via a ford but it's too deep to cross. A friendly local drives us fifteen minutes to the other side of the river!

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Next to Branxton where I'm looking for the concrete menagerie. This is an extraordinary collection of animals housed in the garden of an otherwise ordinary semi detached house.

First created by local master joiner, 'Old John' Fairnington Snr the garden was taken over by his nephew, John Farrington Jnr and then his daughter kept the garden going when John Jnr died in 1990.

Dogs, zebras, snakes, deer, camels, sheep, swans, elephants, sharks, Winston Churchill, pandas and a giraffe. The animals were built up on a framework of chicken wire, stuffed with newspaper and rubbish and then covered with layers of cement. It's a fantastic example of British outsider art and genuinely one of the best things I have seen in my travels. 

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By the time we leave Branxton it's already 19.30. We cut onto a disused railway line high up on an embankment which takes us to Cornhill on Tweed.

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It's then a short walk to the River Tweed. 

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Crossing the river, with the sun going down, a rainbow in the sky, and Sunshine on Leith playing on Dunc's Bluetooth speaker we arrive in Scotland! 

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DAY 71: Bamburgh to Haggerston (24.48m)

Me and Dunc set off for a long days walking. But first a stop at the butchers for lamb scotch pies. 

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And then we have a look around St Aidan's Church and Grace Darling's tomb (see previous blog post). 

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And then head to the coast to the dunes around the golf course where we find a massive concrete gun placement. 

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Leaving the dunes we do some road walking to the village of Belford, stopping for the high speed Virgin train. 

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Leaving Belford we have five miles of long, straight quiet country roads to take us to the edge of Fenwick and a turn back to the coast. 

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We have largely managed to avoid the rain with the ominous clouds passing over however we get a big shower just as we join St Cuthbert's Way.

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Down to the coast where the shoreline is flanked by WW2 coastal defences comprised of big concrete blocks.

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Then the walk over to Holy Island/Lindisfarne, something I have been looking forward to for a while. Along the causeway singing - with no rain in sight. It's a beautiful walk. 

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One of the refuges for drivers who get caught out by the tides. 

One of the refuges for drivers who get caught out by the tides. 

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A quick look around Holy Island, ice cream and some beers for tonight we head back to the mainland.  

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By now we have done nearly 20 miles and are feeling pretty tired. The last five miles along the coast are a bit of a slog. Arriving, wet and slightly broken, at our BnB at nearly 20.00 for a well deserved curry. My longest day walking so far!

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DAY 70: Seahouses to Bamburgh (3.62m)

A really short walk today, more of a stroll up the coast. But first a boat trip out to the Farne Islands. 

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Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Shags, and Puffins...PUFFINS...flying around the boat and perched on the edges of the islands. And some seals bobbing around. 

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 My best photo of the puffins

 My best photo of the puffins

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We pass the lighthouse on the island of Longhouse the site of a famous Victorian sea rescue. In the early hours of 7th September 1838 Grace Darling, the daugher of the lighthouse keeper, spotted the wreck and survivors of the ship the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby rocky island. She rowed out over a mile, in dark treacherous seas, with her father and rescued eight survivors. She was celebrated for her bravery and over £700 was raised to support her (including £50 from Queen Victoria).

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Grace Darling by Horatio McCulloch (1838) 

Grace Darling by Horatio McCulloch (1838) 

We land on Inner Farne, the largest of the islands. A quick look in St Cuthbert's Chapel celebrating where the 7th century monk lived as a hermit for much of his retirement. Then for some more bird watching at close range. 

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Back on land I walk north up the coast on the beach. 

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The beach is spotted by rock pools and rock formations like twisted and folded cardboard.  

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Then a wide stretch of sand (where someone has written by initials). 

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I get a shot of the castle before the rain comes down and then, at a jog, I head for Bamburgh.

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I'm staying with one of my teachers from school and my mate Dunc is meeting me to walk for a couple of days, so I head to the pub to avoid the rain and wait for them. 

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After some dinner we head out to watch the sunset over the coast.  

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Alice, me and Dunc!

Alice, me and Dunc!

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DAY 69: Alnwick to Seahouses (17.98m)

Before a short break to Germany I had a rest day in Alnwick visiting the castle and gardens. 

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The castle is still lived in by the Duke of Northumberland (complete with flat screen TV and family photos everywhere) and is used for a lot of filming (Harry Potter, Blackadder, Transformers). 

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My favourite bit of the gardens is the Poison Garden - full of poisons, medicines and illegal drugs. 

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 Setting off from Alnwick I cross the River Aln.

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It's then road walking heading north west to the coast.  

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I arrive, through a large stone gateway, at the coast at the village of Craster. 

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From Craster I walk up the wide strip of grass running along the coast heading towards the imposing ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle, a favourite subject of Turner. 

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Moving past the castle onto a golf course.

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Carrying on up the coast, winding my way around holiday cottages in the dunes. 

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I stop at Low Newton-by-the-Sea for a pint to celebrate my 31st birthday

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More beautiful coast heading north on wide flat land behind the links. 

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I reach the village of Beadnell and have a rest before the final walk to Seahouses. 

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Into Seahouses for some fish and chips whilst watching the sun go down over the North Sea. It's been a beautiful day and a pretty perfect birthday. 

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DAY 68: Morpeth to Alnwick (22.21m)

As I arrive in the centre of Morpeth I reach 1000 miles since Land's End!

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Leaving the town I'm back into the Northumbria countryside which isn't that exciting - I'm certainly looking forward to the coast.

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Through the village of Hebron. 

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TOP: Hebron, Palestine BOTTOM: Hebron, Northumberland

TOP: Hebron, Palestine BOTTOM: Hebron, Northumberland

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The countryside has got a bit more interesting before I reach Alnwick to finish the day.  

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DAY 67: Newcastle to Morpeth (17.62m)

I have a rest day looking around Newcastle. People don't seem to ever mention quite how handsome Newcastle is. The high bridges, grand avenues and then the odd piece of brutalist and modernist architecture - a great city. 

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I catch up with my pal Frances and then set off north in the morning. 

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Past the university and then the fancy areas of Jesmond and Gosforth. Loads of people come up and chat to me in street. 

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Leaving the main road head towards the village of Dinnington near the airport. 

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Dinnington is pretty unremarkable however over to the west is affluent Ponteland where Alan Shearer and Peter Beardsley live. Also nearby is village of Meldon which has the distinction of being a "Thankful Village" which means that they suffered no fatalities during the First World War. There are only 53 parishes in Britain which can claim the title of a Thankful Village (of these 14 are doubly thankful as they also suffered no fatalities in the Second World War).

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The countryside around here is pretty unremarkable. 

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I pass under electricity cables which crackle and hum in the drizzle and by a watertower to the edge of Morpeth.

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DAY 66: East Wallhouses to Newcastle (16.74m)

Setting off past the Whittle Dean Watercourse and continuing to walk in the fields next to the B6318 until I reach Heddon-on-the-Wall.

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Heddon-on-the-Wall is a little suburban island outside Newcastle. Leaving the village I walk south and meet the River Tyne, with the small town of Ryton on the opposite bank. 

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For the rest of day I following the Tyne, at first through a country park and the suburbs of Newburn, Lemington and Bell's Close. 

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From Elswick I'm on the embankment through a business park and past a heliport.

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As I round a bend in the river all the famous bridges over the Tyne are stacked up in front of me.  

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Leave the river at the iconic Tyne Bridge for a short walk to my hotel. 

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DAY 65: Twice Brewed to East Wallhouses (22.23m)

With the weather getting better I decide to aim for a long day. Early on I'm walking the most spectacular stretch of the whole wall. 

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I soon arrive at Sycamore Gap - the current British Tree of the Year, current contender for European Tree of the Year and location in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. 

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Striding along the wall, in the sun, singing at the top of my voice.  

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Up to the trig point on top of Sewingshields Crags.  

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The path then runs in the fields alongside the B road eventually into the village of Chollerford.

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I suddenly realise that I'm in much more obviously managed countryside - less wild, more varied. I reach the site of the Battle of Heavenfield where Oswald's Northumbrian army defeated a Welsh army under Cadwallon ap Cadfan in 633AD. The site marks the start of St Oswald's Way, which celebrates this saintly king, and leads all the way to Lindisfarne (Holy Island).

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A stretch of green carpet like grass takes me the garden of the Robin Hood Inn where I'm camping for the night.  

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DAY 64: Gilsland to Twice Brewed (11.50m)

A shortish walk along the wall today. Cross the River Irthing and then passing the remnants of the old Roman bridge.

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Up a short hill into Gilsland where I cross into Northumberland.

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Then I come across Thirlwall Castle. This 12th century castle was built from stones from the wall. A get chatting to a group of walkers who donate £20 to my charities. 

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And further along the wall and stopped off at the Roman Army Museum. There is still debate about the exact purpose of the wall. Although it's construction is defensive (it originally stood up to 20 metres in height), how dangerous or aggressive the Picts were to the North of the wall is disputed. It may have been also used to control smuggling and levy taxes; and as a symbol of the power of the empire (one reason why it was originally bright white with limewash). 

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After visiting the Roman Army Museum at the site of the fort of Magnae Carvetiorum, I continue along the wall through the drizzle. Negotiating my way down a step bank I slip hard and bruise my thigh on a rock. 

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The wall becomes even more impressive as it reaches high cliffs thereby creating even more of a formidable barrier to the native Britains below.

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Then one short further walk across country and along the B6318 to the bunkhouse, where I meet a fellow walker Will - we retire to the pub for the evening. 

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Mapping visitors to the pub.  

Mapping visitors to the pub.  

DAY 63: Carlisle to Gilsland (19.41m)

Having spent a day relaxing and wandering around Carlisle (and getting a haircut/beard trim) I'm back on Hadrian's Wall Path.

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The lovely Carlisle Civic Centre. 

The lovely Carlisle Civic Centre. 

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Cross the River Eden.

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Joining the Roman Military Way.  

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Arriving in the village of Banks I find my first actual bit of Hadrian's Wall.

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Suddenly, as I get close to my bunkhouse for the night, I realise that I'm in the middle of nowhere - peace and solitude.

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DAY 62: Bowness-on-Solway to Carlisle (14.77m)

Today I start the Hadrian's Wall Path - heading towards Newcastle.

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Through the hamlet of Port Carlisle.

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Through Drumburgh with it's bastle - a fortified medieval farm house. 

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I stop for lunch in Burgh on Sands. King Edward I, died on the marshes near Burgh, whilst on his way to war against the Scots. His corpse lay at the village's 12th-century church before being taken for burial in Westminster Abbey. Another famous king with a slight more tenuous connection to Burgh on Sands is King Arthur. The village is said by some to be the location of the quasi-mythical Avalon, the place where King Arthur's sword Excalibur was forged. The Roman fort which once used to stand where the village is was called Aballava which derives from the latin word for apple. The famous Welsh cleric and historian, Geoffrey of Monmouth, described Avalon in his 'Historia Regum Brittaniae' as “a magical place, rich in apples”. Tenuous indeed. 

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Leaving Burgh on Sands I pick up a walking companion - Alan from Workington - and we walk together until the edge of Carlisle.

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Alan striding ahead.  

Alan striding ahead.  

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Arriving in Carlisle there is a sweet nutty smell on the wind which I soon realise is coming from the McVitie's factory.

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