Saturday, 6 February 2016

Three Colours: Willgoss

I'm fairly sure I'm more the Cornetto Trilogy rather than the classic French-Polish trilogy of my formative years...

However, in my pile of running tops I have three colours; three tops of equal meaning to me.  When running this blog through my head as I walked this evening I wondered if I could call them head, heart and legs... But they're all my heart...

Which would give my heart three chambers - and I don't have a Fontan circulation (even though I'm told by some it's the "coolest" circulation to have).

But hey ho - lets give this a go...

My Children Heart Federation tops are probably the one I'm best known for wearing - black and pink these days, it and its predecessors have been the length and breadth of the UK; 5Ks; 10ks, halves (too many to count), my first marathon, ultras... I've killed more CHF tops than I care to think of - after a while the corrosive nature of my sweat will destroy anything...

CHF is my "heart" as it is and always will be home - a charity which is prepared to ask the awkward question, even... no especially, when the "sensible" thing would be to walk away.  Now if that sounds familiar to anyone whose ended up on the wrong side of an argument with me, well what can I say... I've done more, behind and in front of the scenes, to help people in the UK with CHDs than I ever could've done on my own.  The member groups feed into the process and again we've never shied from giving a complicated answer when simplicity just doesn't cut the mustard.  I could wax lyrical about the friends I have around the Trustees table, but simply put if you ever wanted a bunch of experts in CHD on your side, these are the the ones I'd pick...

My next heart chamber - the Children's Heart Association (CHA); my local group, the ones who mange to get this technical gear wearing loon into a black tie at least once a year.  These are like family, people who know me well enough to take the rip out of my antics in a way that only true Scousers and Mancs would get... (I think I'm an honorary northerner).   They never expect anything more than I, or anyone else, can give, and always give more than I can ever imagine.  If you want someone to help you, and you can find them...  The support they give to anyone with a congenital heart condition (unborn, young, teen, young adult or old fart is immense, the fill the gap that other charities can't reach).

Then the pumping chamber - the Knowsley Harriers.  I never in a million years thought I'd be a member of a running club, and a couple I approached took one look at the medical bit of the form and suggested I joined someone else... Knowsley Harriers, well they're made of sterner stuff... or are just as mad as I am.  My dark and dismal year last year meant I didn't get to as much as I wanted to, and I know the Thursday group awaits me when I finally get a break in the timings of my climbing and essay writing.  Friendly, committed to make running fun, as well as deadly serious... Their the ones who scream support whenever another hoop goes past, any run in the NW (and wider) you'll see them... and if you do, go chat... you'll end up joining a running club... one with a social secretary... and a brilliant approach to rehydration...

So, a three-chambered heart - each bit working to make me, and each bit inspiring me to go further, do more, try harder... The only problem is I can't wear three tops at the same time.

On Monday I start the training for the Rock & Roll Liverpool Marathon, which this year I'm running for CHA.  So I'll be running the big races until May in Tommy & Tina... If I get to the club runs then its Hoops, and CHF?  Well, I'm still walking my daft challenge of four mutiday walks, in four countries in a calendar year... My CHF flag is on my backpack, and my top ready to get out when the time comes.

Three simple pieces of cloth, with printed letters and logos... And yet when I look at them, each of them, there's a stirring; pride, I'm allowed to wear these by people I respect, inspiration, others who've worn them have done great things and that faint feeling of a pat on the back, almost ghostly, for whichever top I wear, whoever's colours I wear that day all wish me well...

TTFN, I've the MadDog 10k in the morning and 1400 words on Renaissance Art to write...


Monday, 1 February 2016

The Way of the Rottweiler

This is a post I’ve been playing with for a while, it's probably vain, it could be semi-autobiographical, it could be completely made up, anyway…

You see him from a distance; his size and bulk make sure of that. The low rumble of his growl commands attention both welcome and unintended.  Depending on where you see him; the eyes either twinkle with amusement, gently encouraging open conversations and shared adventures or pierce through your skin, examine you critically and seem to decide that you don’t make the grade.  

Those, who know him best, know the control, the precision he tries to bring to all that he does. Others, who think they know him, question who let him off the leash, and whether the strap should be applied.

To some he’s an overgrown puppy; all clumsy big feet, bustling around, inquisitive nose always seeking out the new, the next toy, wandering while he wonders what’s over the next hill.  To others, he’s a creature born out of the pits of hell, prodding and poking where he’s not wanted, asking the questions they’d prefer him not to, challenging the status quo just by existing.

No one doubts his intelligence, well not more than once. For some it’s a thing of light, his ability to roam the knowledge of the worlds, a modern day Renaissance man; as equally at home in the National Gallery, the great religious houses or, his first love the Natural History Museum.  For others, this is the sign of a lightweight, a butterfly of a mind unable to settle, a show-off who can talk well, but never scratches the surface of anything.

His staying power is legendary, he is a persistence hunter par excellence, with apparently boundless energy he tracks, follows and takes down those he perceives as threats to those he cares for, or about.  When wounded, or defending those who are hurt, he does not slink away but turns to the fight… even when the best thing would be to retreat, regroup, and fight another day.  Stubborn and argumentative say some, passionate and committed say others.  

But what of this conundrum? He calls himself the Rottweiler; both revelling in and hating the associations the word brings.  He knows that it provides him with the cover he needs to make the points he needs to make bluntly, in the interests of time, but knows that others don’t see the need and just imagine the snarl that never existed.

He, himself, can look inward with a wry smile… He knows some of the truth about himself, he knows the training in the pits of hell was real, but that his pits are shallower than many others.  He knows the smile and the twinkling eyes can beguile and charm, and that the snarl and bark can shatter people’s confidence.  He loves knowing, questioning, seeking and when time and interest dictates can dive deeper into a topic than almost anyone else, but will always love those conversations that never seem to end, never lighting of the same topic more than once, rolling on for years and decades. 

He knows his weakness and his power come from the same place; his loyalty to a cause, an idea and most especially to people.  He knows on a moment-by-moment basis his power and weakness can be swapped around, working for him and against him at the same time.

So how does this hound of hell, this heart of the pack, find balance, find a way forward in this maelstrom?

He explores himself, constantly challenging himself more than he ever would challenge someone, anyone, else.  He checks his loyalty, whether it is given in the right places, to the right people, he surrounds himself with people who challenge him; push him not just to be good, but to be better. 

And sometimes he just lifts his head, sniffs the sky and knows the only thing to do is run, pad into the distance and leave the world behind until he and his skill set are needed again.

That is the Way of the Rottweiler…  



Sunday, 31 January 2016

Naming Rights

Let's get the apologies out of the way first, this blog post is in no way a criticism of anyone who likes to call themselves by these names, or indeed calls their children by these names, or indeed siblings, cousins, etc etc etc... It is the musings of me, on what some people have called me.

There's an odd thing about names, they're given to you at birth and you are (in the main) stuck with them; nicknames can come and go (yes, I will always be Polo to some), but without deed poll or marriage (for half the population) we tend to be stuck with what we're given.

Letters after the name we earn, or go through a lengthy nomination and selection process for others...

So why do people decide I'm a "heart warrior"... I know warriors, I grew up in Aldershot and Sandhurst, I respect and admire many of them and am terrified of a few of them.  What I do know is they don't don't fight all the time, they can't they'd burn out.  If I tried to fight my heart condition I'd burn out in months or years...

Or why am I brave - brave is doing something I don't want to for some reason, normally for the benefit of others.  Looking after my heart, up to and including any operations I need to have in the future, is basically me being selfish.  If I'm in pain I'll take drugs, if I need to cry, trust me I'll cry.  (Also applies to hero).

Inspirational - I've written about before, and stand by it... If you want to be inspired by me, please be inspired by something I've done above and beyond eating, breathing and functioning like a normal human being.  I'm inspired by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons; the artist who makes my see things in a new way, the campaigner who does things behind the scenes that no one else will ever know about, or, someone doing something that scares them for the first time (heart condition or not). My other musings are here - ACHA Blog

At the end of the day I can't control what people call me, and probably after this (despite the apologies at the top) I'll be called all sorts... But I may well start charging....



Sunday, 17 January 2016

Chaffing Fishnets!

My thighs are slightly sore...

I'd dodged the rookie error and made sure the "ruby" studs on the garter bit of my fishnets were facing out, rather than in... However, the hold-up section had to go under the shorts, which had two effects, my shorts wanting to slide down and mild chaffing from the "suspender" straps.

All of which is nothing compared with the pain and trauma that my mate Tim and others go through when being treated for cancer, and if me looking like Walt Disney's worst nightmare helps raise a few more quid then so be it.

The run was fine, well organised and had the theme of being a Winter Run aided by the occasional flurry of snow, given where I am in my training I'm even happy with the time - 74 min is a long way off my best, but as I overheated going up hills and got cold on anything where the wind cut through I'm chuffed, as well as chaffed.

I seemed to attract some attention - small children did recognise me as Snow White, as did some Dads, and I fear for both some fantasies have been shattered... My arse got slapped three times... and my legs commented on more than once...

Joan and Lynsey from work kept my company until I choked on the wig, and then waited at the end to see the state I was in... Many a photographer saw their lens shattered as they focused on my visage (and if any of the photos make it through the purity tests I'll probably buy one).

So, a well organised run in a reasonable time... and with a little bit more help - I'll be less subtle if you've laughed at the sight of me I want some cash! - I should've have made over £400...

So go on, my pain is nothing to theirs, and a couple of quid can make a difference...


Snow White

Saturday, 9 January 2016

There are Mindful runs and then there are the other sort...

Mindful running is that beautiful moment of connection between body, mind and environment... You breathe, rotate your feet and absorb the outdoors in a flowing experience which is the closest I've ever had to a religious experience (and I'm an aggressive atheist).

You seem to just be one, gliding through time and space; your watch is forgotten, your target pace is forgotten, your body tells you what's right and that's what it does.

Sometimes this feeling lasts an entire run, sometimes it's fleeting like sunshine on a cloudy day...

And, for me at least, its as rare as hens teeth.

Thursday was the other extreme, an as valuable extreme for other reasons...

The sun set and I was still at my desk, a bad day of dealing with idiots and nincompoops, playing political games I wish others had grown out of, and generally being a grump.

The time came, the laptop went off and almost on cue the first rain of the day hit the windows.  The kit went on, and I went out.

The wind blew me sideways, and I persevered,  bending into the wind like a boat tacking around a headland.  Then the rain came, seeming designed to rip the hairs from my legs, tears formed in my eyes as I swung around a corner and a sidewind sent straight into my face.  And still I plowed on, feeling every step, every flap of my waterproofs, the seep of rainwater up my arms...

And I turn again, buffeted from the other side, the weather worsens, hail hits my sides...  I start to enjoy knowing that this isn't a run, its a battle.  I could walk back now, but then the elements win.  The hood goes up, over the baseball cap wedged down to try and protect my eyes, and on I go.

The wind swings into my face again, and tries to push me backwards... I scream into its maw, words almost incoherent even to me through the howling, but in there there are the words "these are the runs marathons are made of".  I turn up the last hill, a bete noir of many a runner in Bootle, Miller's Bridge... The wind shifts to keep into my face, my hood is now down, baseball cap clasped in hand, me versus the weather and the hill... The traffic lights are with me, so straight up, the first rise conquered, it shallows off and a final fury of the wind pushes back... another scream, vaguely aware that friends and colleagues may be driving past and just how mad I may seem, and it's over... downhill and the wind eases, heart racing, mouth somewhere between grimace and huge grin I know that the battle is over, and this time I won.

There was no gliding, no floating, just battle worn grit.  It was only a 5km, and I've run so much further, and in worse weather, but right now, it was just right.

I may be my heaviest for five years, and I may be out of shape and stamina, but by hell I'm still a runner.



Thursday, 31 December 2015

It's been a while... A 2015 review in medals

As I've said in other places, it's been a poor year in running terms.  I started the year with a form of viral bronchial infection, moved through fighting my lack of umpph, then just as things were settling down I got sent flying by a berk on a bike and have ended up with a permanently scarred knee, and then as things were getting better again, an infected elbow. 

However, I managed to do all but one of my planned runs, and also fitted in two long distance paths - the Speyside Way and St Cuthbert's Way. 

Mad Dog 5: Game of Bones… The run with the same title as a porn version of Game of Thrones… It’s a classic, the run, not the film… 

Cambridge Half… The run with my mad friends and their mad friends – and they’re all lovely… as is the traditional scotch egg the day before the run, and free (non-alcoholic) beer at the finish

National Trust Night Run – the run was around a Tudor estate, and the medal glows in the dark… need I say more?

Liverpool Spring 10K – the first primrose yellow t-shirt of the year

Liverpool Rock and Roll 5k – a stadium finish, not a a sports stadium but a rock stadium :-)

Liverpool Rock and Roll Half Marathon – This is not a flat half, it is one of the best I’ve done though, and the second primrose yellow t-shirt… and complimentary beer at the finish (alcoholic)

The Remix and Encore medals – extra medals for running the pair of races, and for running them in consecutive years??? Get in!!!

Great North Run – what can I say, 45,000 runners, the Red Arrows, and a sun tan… more of a crispy Paul at the end!

The Colour Run Obstacle Course – great fun, injury avoidance almost impossible, lots of bouncy things to bounce on – and fellow runners to land on!

Beat the Reaper 10k – Want to be chased by a personification of Death? Do this run!

As you can see the medals are of variable quality... Yes that it rust on the Color Obstacle Run is only in a couple of months... The GNR medal is tinny, the Beat the Reaper, Spring 10k and MadDog much better than the size of the runs suggests, and the ultimate are the Rock and Roll ones - they are just awesome. 

And so the year ends and a new one begins... 

So far, I'm doing 10ks in Jan, Feb, March, a marathon in May, a half in August (I go international - Dublin - rock and roll, world rocker medal here I come).  I've also the Welsh leg of my ongoing challenge to do in Feb and Northern Ireland to plan.  For the first time in a long time I'm enjoying the runs, even in the wet and windy weather. 

So friends one and all, thank you all for your support and encouragement - being a (recreational) long distance runner can be lonely, but the comments and messages over the year do keep this one going.  

I hope 2015 was good, but know for many it wasn't, all we can hope for is the new year brings new hope and better things to make us smile.

TTFN, I've a bag to pack - the Peak District is calling:-)


Saturday, 17 October 2015

The last run of the year (sort of)...

It's been a bad year for running... Between hideous coughs that threatened to make my lungs come up, smashed and bloody knees and a general nagging feeling of being blurgh my running, by my standards hasn't been brilliant...

However, my fastest half marathon on the hills of Liverpool, two other halves that showed what I could do without much training... an obstacle color run... and a lot of fun.

Which did lead to an interesting chat with my cardiologist, I don't think he's met many runners who sit there and say "I've had a bad year of running... but that means three half marathons, a handful of 10k's... oh and a couple of long distance paths".

Knowing what I can do means this year does hurt, a bit... A marathon downgraded to a 16 miler due to the knee and then a DNS due to the migraine hurts in terms of a run not done.

However, it's still three half marathons, two long distance paths walked and a lot of fun - and I can remember the years where I thought that a single half and some walks was a good year.

So, I've just kicked myself in the arse and started looking forward to tomorrow... which is officially the last run of the year, the last medal, the last t-shirt and what a t-shirt and medal - for in the morn I race Death himself...

I've done every one of the Beat the Reaper 10k's - I've been chased by the big bloke in black and by some quite cute devils... so I know the route, I know the fun to be had and I know that I will be slow. My plan is to enjoy it, to jog around in 75 minutes (hopefully) and to re-state the obvious - enjoy it.

And then I rest... With a possible short run around Chester on Monday night - testing head torches...

And then I rest... Until November, a dedicated couple of weeks off... and then the long, slow process of getting back into shape...

As for the 12 month challenge, I have 7 months to do multi-day walks in Northern Ireland and Wales, whilst fitting in my usually busy life - Plans and maps are bought, logistics will come soon.

I hope my luck with injuries, viruses, and other irritants has turned, because I am missing a damn good run...



Sunday, 27 September 2015

GNR & St Cuthbert's Way - raising awareness one step at a tme

There is something special about crossing things, the transition between one state and another, not being in one place or another... in this case plenty of interesting river crossings, a pilgrims path across a causeway and the border between Scotland and England.

The Great North Run, that fixed point in space and time I return to for the craic if not in expectation of running well, has crossing - the magnificence of the Tyne Bridge, the switch from motorway to A road (trust me, you might not notice but your legs do) and from land to sea as you finish on the coast.

Following the knee incident, I've not been able to run much, if anything... So, the plan for the GNR was to get around - and I did.  Sunburned and battered from the congestion but I got around.  Not fast, but ok for me on a baking hot day with no training.

Then it was back to the caravan, and set the alarms for before dawn - five hours travelling to Melrose was only downside of my plan to go straight from run to walk.

St Cuthbert's Way is a walk I've wanted to do for a while, a cross-countries romp taking in ruined abbeys, roman roads, winding rivers, and a walk out across the sands.

Simple when you say it quickly...

As is the way of these things, Monday, the longest day was wet... it varied from drizzle to downpour and the views were somewhat curtailed when I did gain any height.  The Eldion Hills were a short sharp introduction to the type of hills to expect - not big, but fairly sharply up and down.  Then lanes, paths and a long straight roman road take you to Harestanes, where Day 1 officially finishes. The abiding memory of the day is duck-board steps - if it got damp under foot someone has put duck-board in... fine for a while, but my renditions of "under the boardwalk" started boring me after a short while... and this was just unfair!

And also as is the way of these things, there's no accommodation here, so its an extra couple of miles into Jedburgh for a cosy bed, and a dry off.

 The next day was much, much better.  Rejoining the roman road for a stretch and then heading off into the hills.  Again not big hills, but ones that reminded you that little hills can bite back too... Lunch at Morebattle left one such hill - Wideopen - and with these views you can see how it got its name.

Kirk Yeltham - a lovely little village, with excellent pubs, and B&Bs... and this!

Another cracking day dawned for the border crossing; and with deer, feral goats, friendly dogs and ponies the walking was a joy to behold.

It was also the day I crossed the border... eat you heart out Great Wall of China or Berlin Wall - this is how borders should be done ;-)

Again the hills were short and sharp, but the drop into Wooler and the absolutely cracking Youth Hostel more than made up for the ache in the legs.

This was a youth hostel from another era - a 1943 vintage Women's Land Army accommodation block it was basic, warm, clean and did an excellent fry up!  There were others walking the Way there and we reminisced about the best bits so far, and as walkers do grumbled about the weather, the guidebooks and the maps.

Wooler to the coast was next - with a detour for a hill that is meant to be littered with neolithic artefacts.  Unfortunately the bracken was 6' high, so not a lot was to be seen.  Apart from the red kites, hares and stupendous beetles:-)

Then St Cuthbert's Cave - not where he was a hermit, but where they hid his body from the rampaging vikings.

It was also this day the value of carrying the flag became very real.  I'd been raising awareness with most of the walkers I'd chatted to - we all asked why we were doing it... No pilgrims, which was slightly odd, but hey ho.  And the flag prompted a few questions, and a long chat with, as they called it "the loud Irish group" and also with a dog walker... whose sister's baby had just been diagnosed with Fallots, and as of yet hadn't found any support locally.  Being able to list the local charities she may want to contact, and explaining the good those charities do and what some Fallots get up to seemed to help and I hope the message, and the contacts will get back.

Another cracking B&B and then out to Lindisfarne - the guidebook is full of dire warnings about the pilgrims path, so at the start of low tide I walked out along the road causeway, watching the poles recede across to Holy Island.

A quick tour of the Abbey, lunch, chatting with a GUCH I randomly met, some of the other walkers I'd met on the way, and then at the lowest of low tides I took the risk of walking along the poles... and loved it, water lapped the top of my boots in some places, I jumped across squelchy mud in others and looked at the line of poles and refuges and smiled.

A good walk done, awareness raised, can't ask for more than that:-) Apart from some sponsorship -

Go on - it does make a difference!



Sunday, 30 August 2015

Speyside Way - Blog 3/3 - The Walking Bit...

There is a good reason to leave the blogging of a long walk a week and a bit, the highs are less high and the lows are less low.  The born-tired weariness has left the body, the blisters are well on the way to healing, and the clothes are in the wash...

So, I have notes from each day and some bits I will be emailing the guidebook people and the mapping people...

Day 1 - Aviemore to Nethy Bridge

12 miles, a gloriously sunny day that was only marred by Scotrail being very uncomfortable and late. A simple walk along a disused railway, alongside a working steam rain (to Boat of Garten) and then a wander through Caledonian forest and plantations.  The views in places were superb...

Looking back there was still snow in the corries of the mountains, and as I wandered I saw my first deer of the week.

The walking was easy trails, navigation was fine - apart from the pylons having moved since the book was written...

Nethy Bridge took me to the Lazy Duck hostel, imagine your dream eco-hostel and the picture in your head is the lazy duck... Wood fire to keep the chill at bay, cosy beds behind privacy curtains and wildlife to share your breakfast with....

Day 2 - Nethy Bridge to Cragganmore

23 miles

A day of two halves.... The first 11 miles were more of the same, good trails through conifer... Granton-on-Spey was a perfect tea stop... Then it started raining...

The short section to Cromdale was memorable, if only for Charles and his very welcome approach to providing hospitality - a huge family dining room table, a giant tea pot, homemade cakes and an honesty box... Combined with sage advice from previous walkers about just how bad the next section was...

And boy was it.  In terms of rough walking it wasn't bad (bad day in the Peak District) but in contrast, in the rain, it was unwelcome.  The route deviates from the OS mapping (the Harvey is ok) as the local farm moved the path in the height of the foot and mouth.  The Cicerone guide says it requires careful navigation, I'd say it was easy - there were plenty of waymarker posts and thistles.  It did require concentration in the wet, as it was rubble covered in mud for a couple of miles.

Dropping back to the railway I saw a mountain hare, and also either a ginger rat with cute ears or a pine martin - I'm going with pine martin.

Then it was Cragganmore House, my B&Bs for the night.  I can't recommend Tony and Helen's pad enough.  From excellent food, through to a giant bath, free WiFi and most importantly for the end of that day - a boiler room where they kindly hung my gear to dry out.

Day 3 - Cragganmore to Tomintoul

15 Miles

After a great fry up, it was a two hill special via Glenlivet, the rain of then day before had turned some of the paths into streams.  A long slow grind uphill, was followed by a short sharp descent into the valley - there was a minor detour along the road to a suspension bridge for walkers and then Glenlivet Hall - which in August is taken over as an arts, crafts and most especially food centre.  Local ladies were serving homemade food for MacMillan, and it seemed rude not to stop (another thank you to Helen who'd suggest this as a port of call).

Through the distillery, and up and over the next hill... The highest on the route (well my version of the route), with friendly if well accommodated cows watching my passage.  Down through the woods to Tomintoul was a bogfest - Three metre wide tracks ankle deep in mud across their full width isn't conducive to clean walking. 

Tomintoul is a long, thin town... and the Smugglers Cove Hostel is at the other end of it.  However, clean, warm, cosy, with an excellent kitchen area I was happy as a bug in a rug.

Day 4 - Tomintoul to Cragganmore

15 Miles

Yep - I was heading back - the plan being I had a bit more time to see a distillery, and explore a bit... The top of Carn Daimh had a random post on it, on closer inspection its an "authorised" camera post...

Not a bad view...

Dropping back into Glenlivet, I timed it completely wrong... I arrived just as four coaches did... So I went back to the hall for lunch and carried on over the next hill, the paths were drying out and the walking was good.

I tried to visit Ballindoch... but for a visitors centre it seemed to fairly unwelcome to visitors - by appointment only and £35 a visit... So I popped into Cragganmore, had a lovely couple of shorts and a good chat to some of the staff.

Back to Helen and Tony's - duck pate, followed by cannon of lamb.... delicious... and a good nights sleep before the longest day.

Day 5

26 Miles

Helen looked sceptical and mentioned that there were buses... I looked at the map again, and reckoned that I would be fine. 

The first 13 miles were genuinely easy walking - disused railway all the way to Aberlour, a pub lunch at the Mash Tune, and blat on for the hard bit.  The road section was as weary as they ever are, then the forest track began.  Hemmed in, in high humidity, hard tracks... limited views due to the trees...

Yup, it was one of those moments when you start questioning your own sanity...

However, just as boredom and footache was getting to be annoying, along came the organisers of the following day's Speyside Way Ultramarthon.  A chat about runs done, and inanities shared I saw the first of their "motivational" way markers....

And for the next eight miles, they made me groan, grimace, smile and be very glad that I wasn't running it... The hills aren't massive, but they are short, sharp and irritating when you've a big rucksack on your back.

Into Fochabers, to a lovely pub, a local bungee me a tenner for the cause and a pint later I was almost human - well human enough to find fish and chips, relax and find my compeed - 26 miles had rubbed badly.

Day 6

10 miles.

This was the gentlest of walks.  Pancake flat, to the coast.  Stop at the Dolphin & Whale centre of tea and cake, do a sharp right turn and walk into Buckie.  I was serenaded by silliest as I went, 30-odd seals on the beach, just enjoying the sun... Through small coastal villages with history, catching German spies in WWII, and the last stretch into Buckle itself.

What Aviemore seemed to lack in official markings of the way Buckie relished in...

Overall, it's a good easy walk (especially if you break it down to more days that I did), the way marking is good (apart from where the pylons have gone) and the paths are 90% very good.

One thing I did find interesting, is at no point did I see the official sign of the way.  The thistle, almost everywhere, the Cairngorms National Park more than once.  Something with a leaping salmon, never... I also passed no walkers going my way, and only about eight going the other, all week.  So if you want a break from busy routes this could well be for you!

Oh, and there also seems to be a lack of commemorative tat... I like fridge magnets or t-shirts of walks!

I raised awareness when I chatted to people and will have fun of doing it all again in a couple of weeks, this time England and St Cuthbert's Way