I'm not much looking forward to today. A long A road slog seems to be by far the easiest option and the weather forecast is dire, making any alternatives less attractive and the prospect of the A68 even less inviting. If you are reading this blog for pretty pictures of the British countryside it might be an idea to skip this entry altogether.

Never maind. I get up  earlier than I need because of the usual paranoia about missing the train and off to Kings Cross by bus. At least the Cafe Nero stall is open and I get a cappuccino before heading for my train. How many times have I done this now? How much have I spent on tickets? I am getting a bit jaded, I realise.

The bus to Oxton leaves Edinburgh at ten past the hour. The train is due in at eight minutes past. Brilliant! Still, if the train is a bit early or the bus late (which it was when I caught it last time) there is a chance I will be able to get round to the bus station in time. A thin chance. But as we rattle through Lincolnshire or Yorkshire the train slows and stops and soon they are announcing that it is running ten minutes late. An emaciated chance? Not really.

We get into Edinburgh ten minutes or so after the bus is due out so I don't bother running round to the bus station. Instead I check out the gear shops. It is pouring with rain. Even wetter than when I left here a couple of weeks ago. People run around or huddle under brollies as it buckets down.

It is cold. It is absolutely tipping it down and I am about to take an hour's bus ride so that I can walk back along a busy A road.  This is how I am using up my meagre holiday. It is ridiculous. The insanity of it rocks me for a moment and I seriously consider just not going on but doing something enjoyable instead.

I need a decent waterproof after losing mine last time, changing trains at Carlisle. When I got back I phoned lost property but it had not been handed in, so someone recognised its value. I didn't like it all that much, the hood was a bit shit and the pockets were too high (no doubt designed for danglers wearing a harness)  but it was a proper gore-tex £150 plus job and, though I had had it a few years it had not had much serious wear.  The Regatta one I got in the garage at Haltwhistle was only ever going to be a stop gap. I would not venture into the Cairngorms in winter in Regatta. Did try the Five Sisters of Kintail in summer in it once. Not again.

But the 50 minutes go before I know it and I don't have enough time to think about the discounted waterproofs in Tiso, and so it is to the bus station to wait for the 51 to Jedburgh. Ten past comes and goes. No sign of the bus. Twenty past. Twenty five past. Shit, if the last one was this late I would have caught it after all.

Never maind.  At last the bus comes in and the driver hurries off. It finally leaves about half an hour or so late. Through the deluge it rumbles out of Edinburgh. I follow the route as I am going to be walking back down most of it. After Dalkieth it takes a B road to Pathhead and I note that there is a section without a footpath. I also note that the bus, speeding down the narrow road, is sending great sheets of water up. I note that, had I been walking down there now I would have been hit by a wave of freezing water at about shoulder height.

Oh joy! This is going to be fun.

At least when we join the A68 I see that the footpath goes even further than I thought. I noticed this on the bus journey in to Edinburgh last time and it is what resigned me to the road slog. I spotted it at Fala but it extends another mile or so. It is still pouring as we crest Dun Law which is where I saw the Firth of Forth last time, from this bus but going the other way. There is nothing to be seen now, though. Visibility is down to a hundred meters or so. But as we start to go down the hill towards Oxton, a minor miracle. I notice that the bus has stopped using its windscreen wipers.

And when I get out at Oxton, by the bus shelter I waited in last time, it has stopped raining.

I nearly take the wrong road out as the bus has come in by a shorter, wider road than my route, which keeps me off the A68 for a wee bit longer.  There is a possible option at the end of it. The Kings Road, an old track, but everything is soaking and it looked like just a muddy footpath from the bus. I want to keep my feet dry. I am a bit worried about the lining on my left boot which has come lose above the toe, which is where it rubbed last time, and I think wet boots will be worse.

It isn't fun. It never was going to be. But it is going in exactly the right direction and, at least, there is a recently cut verge which I can step onto when the traffic roars towards me. Fortunately, it mostly comes in convoys, cars queueing up behind a slow lorry, then a gap when I can step back on to the road for a hundred meters or so before getting out of the way of some huge speeding artic.

Most drivers give me a wide berth, swinging over to the other side of the road and I try to give them an acknowldging wave. But I still step up unless it is an individual car and I can turn and check that nothing is coming up behind.

At the drive for New Channelkirk it is decision time. It is drizzling now and everything is soaking so I decide to stick with the road until the top of the hill, where, again, there should be an option. By Turf Law something strange happens. There are cows with calves in the field on the other side of the road. Traffic roars past them all day. But the sight of me seems to freak them out. They begin to run across the hillside, all of them. It is a small stampede. Why? I wonder. Walkers might be rare but they surely must be used to farm workers.

There are a few cars parked at the top of the hill, travellers resting. An older couple having a cup of tea from a flask. I have to clamber over the fence at the side of a locked gate and the path looks a bit unprepossessing.  It would be fine in the dry but it is sodden and the vegetation is long. So much for keeping my boots dry. Still I need a break from the traffic so I press on over wet turf and the path becomes a track. After another locked gate I am on a dry wide track. This is what I had expected. A service track for the windfarm. The drizzle is turning to rain and, of course, I have not got my overtrousers on so my legs are getting soaked again. The Regatta top wetted out in Edinburgh and is soon sodden again.

I have to laugh. Trudging through a windfarm in the pouring rain is likely to be the best bit of today. Why am I doing this again?

The turbines look ghostly and rather beautiful through the murk though, that is something.

The wind is freezing though and the rain relentless. And, all too soon the track starts to make its way back towards the road.

And soon I am back dodging the  lorries and their spray.

There is another bit of old Kings Road by Soutra Hill, but I miss it. Oh well, head down and slog on. And this turns out to be not so bad because the rain is easing and when I get to the corner where there is a lay by, the view had cleared. At least it has cleared enough for me to see the Firth of Forth off in the distance.

Yes, I had seen it from the bus last time out but this is different. I have walked every inch of the way from London so to see the Firth, to make out the hills beyond and distant ships, gives me a lift that helps me down the hill to Soutra Mains.

And at Soutra Mains there is a real treat. The start of a proper footpath going along the side of the road.

Last time up, talking to Nick who had been putting me up near Melrose, I talked about the bit of the walk through Coalville and that area of Liecestershire. In ex coal mining areas like that you tend to have a lot of small towns and industrial villages scattered through the land, rather than one great industrial city. And I guessed that was why there were footpaths at the roadside almost all the way I walked, linking one small ex-mining town to the next.

Nick mentioned that Midlothian had been mining country too. And then I saw this footpath from the bus. But it is not really comparable country. The towns and villages are far smaller and more scattered than around Coalville. This is countryside with the odd settlement, not an industrial landscape interspersed with farms.

But whatever the reason for it, the footpath is most welcome. I am still on a busy A road. The artics still roar by and make me dodge the spray. But it feels like... luxury. Almost as if the worst is over. Though the tidal waves the bus was making between Pathead and Dalkieth are still on my mind.

On I trudge. As fast as I can. It was a very late start and there is not much fun to be had here so no reason to stop. I eat a cheese sandwich as I walk, not wanting to stop for longer than it takes to swallow some water.

Fala comes and goes and then there is a long stretch to Pathhead. At one point there is a hedge between me and a field with more cows and calves. There is a gap and they see me. Again, my presence seems to alarm them and they get out of the way, rushing to form a defensive circle and mooing at me.

What is going on around here? It is very strange. Maybe I have turned into a wolf and just not noticed?

I carry on up down a long slow hill and into Pathhead. This is a neat little place, marred by having the A road going through the middle of it. An Edinburgh commuter town these days, I would guess. There is a takeaway place and I am desperate for a cup of tea but still don't want to stop so I go and ask if they do take away tea. They do but the girl tells me they are out of milk.

At this stage warm and wet is all I really require so I get a black tea and take it with me sipping it as I go.

Down the road from the takeaway I say goodbye to the A68 and take the B road that drops down to Ford. On the bus this did not feel so different but the lack of traffic makes it instantly much more pleasant than the A road.  Almost right away I pass the fine viaduct that my map tells me is Lothian Bridge. Looking it up later it turns out to have been built by Thomas Telford.

Out of tiny Ford the road rises again and passes through the linear village of Edgehead. Beyond the village the road is Roman straight, but pleasant, with woods on my right for a long spell. The light is just starting to fade and a couple of small deer run across the quiet road in front of me. I cannot work out what they are as they seem tiny - almost muntjac size - but I don't think there is anything like that around here so they are probably roe and just looked smaller than they are in the distance.

The footpath gives up as the woods end but, thankfully, the road goes right over a hill and the surface water has all drained away. Those cars and buses that do pass give me a decent berth too so the going is OK.

And then I crest the hill. I can see Dunkeld below me which I had expected. But beyond Dunkeld, unmistakable because of Arthur's Seat, the castle rock and many spires is Edinburgh. And beyond Edinburgh I can see the Ochil Hills on the other side of the Firth of Forth. And beyond the Ochils I can see the distant mountains of the Highlands.

Suddenly this grim road trudge does not seem quite so insane after all.

But if Edinburgh is in sight I am not there yet. And I am getting tired and it is getting late. So I carry on down the road and through the estates fringing Dalkeith.

I could, perhaps I should call it a day in Dalkeith. There is one 51 still due to whisk me in to Edinburgh. But the further I go today the more likely it is I can get across the Forth Bridge tomorrow so I grind on up the hill that takes me out of town, back on an A Road to the massive Sherrifhall Roundabout.  As I go I am reassured to see lots of buses going in to Edinburgh.

A kilometer or so after the roundabout is the Sherrifhall Park and Ride, which I am guessing will be an easy place to get to and from.  There is a bright new waiting room bit and a few people standing outside at a bus stop, and just as I start to cut across the car park an 86 bus to Edinburgh comes in.  I run across the road and just manage to catch it.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Hey Spencer I miss your comments on the UT, what happened?  

  2. Spencer said...

    Hi Jenni,

    Oh, I just decided it wasn't for me. Too "unmoderated."  

  3. Anonymous said...

    Is that your lot for the year then?


  4. Spencer said...

    Nope, back up in a couple of weeks for five days. My leg has stopped hurting but I am still a bit worried about shin splints.

    I have a couple of days to update from the last lot too. I am in Alloa now. But I got stuck in Stirling with very bad shin splints.

    Also, I may do a bit at Christmas though that will probably be in the New Year if I do. It depends on where I am and the weather etc.


  5. Anonymous said...

    Good luck. We should meet up in Stornoway when you arrive, that is if I am back home at that time.

    Yeah, I agree with what you say about the UT. It is just full of haters. Remember we were simply talking about dive pubs in SY and some people just went nuts about that for no reason. So, I don't post there. Pity, becuase there are a few good posters on there.  


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