Day 23: Old Man River

Sleep is the great healer, but over the past week, I had been giving it a heavy workload. I would go to sleep each night sore and exhausted, and expect to wake up ready to do as much or more walking the next day. Sleep couldn’t keep up, and I found myself a little worse for wear every morning. I was decaying. On the morning of my longest day so far, I was probably starting in the worst condition I had been in.

I was determined though. I would reach Glasgow that night. There was no alternative. We had booked the hostel. Adam had come up with a plan for himself. He wanted to support me as best he could, and didn’t want to hold me back. We would start walking and see how it went. If his feet were giving him too much trouble, he would let me go on ahead and find a way of getting public transport to meet me at the end point.

We set off along the riverside, with damp, grassy fields rising to our right and on the far bank. The weather was fairly neutral; blank white skies and a mild temperature. I had held onto a small hope that we would be able to go a bit faster than the previous night, but it wasn’t long before I was reining in my natural pace to avoid creeping ahead. We went through the Milton-Lockhart estate, which once contained a fine castle until it was moved brick-by-brick to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Railway in 1988 (with the permission of Mikhail Gorbachev) by Japanese film star Masahiko Tsugawa. Lockheart Castle is now the centrepiece of a medieval European town and “Lover’s Sacred Ground” two hours’ drive north of Tokyo.

After 8km, we stopped for a break in a wood. “How are you feeling about the next 32k?” I asked Adam, in a quippy tone but with a serious question behind it. “Not great, to be honest,” he admitted. We worked out a plan. If Adam was left to go at his own pace, he’d be all right getting to a station near Motherwell, and he’d go on by train and meet me at the hostel. I gave him my part of the tent to lighten my load a bit, and he gave me the snacks he was carrying. We wished each other luck, and I set off ahead at a renewed pace, driving myself forward with my poles, despite my perpetually hurting feet.

Cambusnethan Priory – it has an interesting spread of reviews on Tripadvisor

I passed a creepy ruined priory that had been colonised by jackdaws, then, a bit further on, came across a group of youngish lads working on a farm. I guess finding any excuse to take a quick break from their digging, they shouted over to ask what I was doing. I always carry a slight worry that after hearing three words come out of my mouth, people will assume that my natural state is hunting pheasants with young men in barbour jackets called Hugo and Hector, and therefore possibly despise me, but I tried to rise to the level of banter. This wasn’t easy when I had two or three people asking questions at once and other voices swapping jokes with each other. They took some convincing that I had actually walked there from Wales, but most of them believed me in the end. They gave me a donation for my pot, and I went on with a smile on my face. Adam said he passed them too and backed up my story.

No trunk, no problem

I had spotted on the map that the Walkway passed through Baron’s Haugh Nature Reserve ahead, which I was looking forward to, but when I got there, the footpath was closed off, and I had to find another way around. Instead I went through some cow fields where some trees were showing amazing resilience, growing healthily despite their ruined trunks. A kilometre further on, I passed under the impressive, looming arches of a viaduct at least 50m high.

I respect the hell out of this tree

Another couple of kilometres, and I was out into Strathclyde Country Park, following the path alongside the bustling loch. There were walkers and joggers, rowers and fishermen. It took the best part of an hour to reach the far end, where I sat on a bench and ate. I was worn down. I realise I’ve been saying this constantly, in several different ways, but it was how I felt. I seemed to be perpetually being worn down without ever hitting rock bottom. The burst of speed I had put on after leaving Adam was long gone. Bursts of speed didn’t make any real difference unless they could be sustained for long periods of time, and that no longer seemed possible. I also had had the last of the enjoyment I had managed to eke out from points of interest along the way. It was all about finishing this now. I checked my map. I had done just under half the distance.

I passed under the M74 and over the river. The Clyde Walkway followed a road for a bit, but I then failed to find where it turned back towards the river. Looking ahead, I could see that it meandered, so I might even be better off taking a more direct route though Blantyre; as I said, I wasn’t enjoying the scenic walk any more, so I didn’t feel I would miss out. I passed through the town and turned north to meet the Walkway again where it left the river and followed a road. It started to rain, and I sat on my bag for a while under my umbrella, feeling sorry for myself and eating biscuits. The only positive was that, knowing I would be able to charge my phone that night, I didn’t have to be careful with the battery and could listen to music and podcasts.

The next section was unpleasant; a pavement-less road where I had to avoid getting splashed by the regular cars. The light was starting to fade, and I hoped they could see me well enough through the rain. I took another break in a bus shelter. I tried to find songs with a beat that I could match my footsteps to. “Six weeks” by Of Monsters And Men sets a rapid march for a tired man with a heavy load. It’s not sustainable, but for those five and a half minutes, you’re really motoring.

Wide-eyed wanderer

It was dark by the time I reached Dalbeth cemetary. From there, the Walkway stuck closely to the riverside as it meandered. That was unnecessary extra distance. I decided to leave the river and follow a road that went almost directly towards my end point. I was feeling quite vulnerable. I was tired, weak, and not very mobile, and whether it’s well-founded or not, parts of Glasgow have an intimidating reputation, and I didn’t know which parts those were. I had stopped using my walking poles and had shortened them but held onto them. It might have been ridiculous, but there was a comfort in having something to hit or poke potential marauders with.

The last few kilometres were a haze of pain, weariness, wariness, pinpricks of drizzle under orange street lights, and bright advertisements on bus shelters. At long last, I arrived at the hostel. They were expecting me, and Adam was waiting. I dumped my stuff, and he told me that he’d scouted out a pub just a hundred metres down the road. We made a ridiculous sight walking next to each other, both with ludicrous, pained gaits, limping with both legs, tottering like stiff old men. We sat at a table in the corner. I ate too much, and went semi-comatose and a bit queasy. Outside the window, normal city life passed by; people out for a smoke, drunk people laughing hysterically, and girls who surely were no older than thirteen dressed up for a night on the town, arm-in-arm. When I felt slightly recovered, we double-limped back to the hostel, and I climbed precariously onto a squeaky top bunk, and slept.

But what if I don’t want to bang, regardless of how exciting the city is?

Published by Alasdair Robertson

Hiker, birder, conservationist, and occasional comedian

2 thoughts on “Day 23: Old Man River

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