Unplanned Adventures

I am so chuffed that my next walk will bring up 100 days of walking for the BHF and for my own wanderlust. According to my spreadsheet, I will have walked nearly 1300 miles so that’s averaging a half marathon a day though I know I have walked a lot more. To have walked from London to John O Groats along the coast is a mad thought and one that still makes me smile

Obviously, it hasn’t gone to plan with stops for illness and a rethink about how to tackle NW Scotland safely but now I am back, I realise it will rarely go to plan and actually I am very good at adjusting to what the world and this walk throws at me.

Day 099 is a great example. I spent an hour the night before looking through the route, finalising the public transport back and forward and even checking a satellite map of the area to make sure the route would work. It didn’t.


An industrial estate with footpaths was one of the options to get to Irvine (blue line) but I soon found out that my maps bared no resemblance to the landscape. Dodgy looking buildings with high security fences soon gave way to barren fields and I didn’t realise that the huge fence separating me to the shoreline had in fact surrounded me. Path after path led to gates and viscous barbed wire. What was this place?


My bewilderment increased when I saw thousands of oyster shells surrounding an area that looked like an alien landing site.


I had gone too far to walk back by then so looked at a possible escape from this odd environment. I found a gap in the fence, clumped my forehead on a metal bar as I went through and surveyed my new surroundings.

I could now get to the bridge that my map said would lead me to a road. I got to the bridge after half a mile of trampling stinging nettles and the like to find it had a 4 foot barrier of pipes. Undeterred, the “heroic” me (or stupid), climbed the massive construction (remember 4 foot is high for someone scared of heights) and walked across the disused bridge across the estuary.


At the other end was a huge fence so I was presented with two options – go back or walk north up the estuary. There was no road as my map had suggested so I walked a mile up the edge of the water, mostly in seaweed.


I then was able to find a gap in the fence and with the help of two branches as walking poles, made my way up the 10 foot mound and pass through the fence. I gingerly got down the other side. I had escaped !!

I followed my map and compass and headed through dense forest, tripping and swearing every so often. After 5 minutes my map said there would be a path very soon. I found another fence. Aarrgh. I walked along the fence, my trousers soaked with dew from the high grass and all of a sudden I heard a huge cheer.

Puzzled, I thought for a fraction of a second that I was involved in a reality TV challenge or the Crystal Maze. It was in fact the golf course I was heading towards. If only these people knew there was a tired, wet, bitten and stung coastal walker a few hundred yards away.

My spirits were raised at the thought of civilisation, that is if you can call people in fancy dress hitting a ball around a field, civilised! Sorry golfers, just don’t get it. Golf is a good walk spoiled – Mark Twain.

I sped up through the brambles, thistles and strange plants hoping that I wasn’t penned in again. Eventually I saw another fence blocking me in. I shouted a swear word. Use your imagination. But as I approached the fence I saw another gap. Was there someone in front of me with a pair of plyers? This was the third fence I had to get through, I was now an expert.

My map was now saying a path was underneath me. I started moving forwards and all of a sudden, out of the growth, I noticed tarmac just beyond the next tree. Was this a mirage?

I excitedly kicked and trampled the foliage and sped up at the sight. I was now about three feet from it when my right foot fell down a hole. I stumbled onto the floor and pulled my saturated right boot out of the ground, my arms literally touching the tarmac.


The tarmac led me, one squelch at a time, under the railway line and onto the cycle path to Irvine (red on the map and maybe what I should have done)

I had survived with a bruised forehead, cuts, bites, scratches and a wet foot. I finished the day reflecting that it could have been so much worse.

Today, I woke up aching all over and a sore hip so decided not to walk.
If I am fit tomorrow, I will have walked 100 days with Day 099 being one of the most memorable!!

Kieran “adventurer (ahem)” Sandwell


A rethink and Emu

When I started planning this walk I knew that setting a target finish date would be, to be frank, a bit silly. Living with congenital heart disease makes you very adaptable because one minute you could be at work or at home doing a usual task and within half an hour you could find yourself in A&E with a confused short term future. Now, post transplant the principles are still there. I have no idea when I will be struck down with a bug but I do know it will be much more frequently than others and the recovery will be slower.  I also didn’t set an end date because I wanted to enjoy it and not be stressed by targets after all, I am not trying to set a time or distance record. Being the first transplant patient to walk around the coast of Britain is a record enough for me! *well I think I might be lol

So I am adapting the walk. I will explain.

After getting to the most northerly point on the mainland, Dunnett Head, I had a shorter 10 mile walk to Thurso. This was a very wet and uninspiring walk, mainly uphill and with a 20mph headwind. My injured calf was not enjoying the test and I took many wet breaks to ease it through the journey.  A ginger bearded Scottish man stopped his car alongside me at one point and asked if I wanted a lift. “Yyyyeeea….No thanks” was my reply – the fourth time on this walk that random car temptation was put in my way.  I arrived in Thurso at The Weigh Inn, who kindly gave me a complimentary room. I used it to its full potential, sleepy and resting my aching body.

It was here where I realised I was ill again. I took paracetamol and drank lots of water but I knew that I would have a difficult decision in the morning. I felt no better the next day and the weather forecast deflated me further. A months rain had fell in NE Scotland in the last 3 days I had heard but it looked like it was about to disappear into the North Sea by lunchtime. I checked out and sat in the hotel reception waiting for the rain to stop.  I sat there considering my options. The last thing I wanted to do was to stop the walk but this option seemed to keep popping up as the the most sensible option.

The truth is, and I am being honest here, the barren, bleak and isolation of NW Scotland was starting to terrify me. I do risk assessments all the time from being immune suppressed so carrying on into this area by myself was top of the list. I was ill again and had no support. It was just me against the elements. I could try to use facebook to get support but the chances of finding warm dry places to stay were minimal and could this be done for 2 months? I pictured an ill, lonely figure wandering around, heavily weighed down by his rucksack cursing the walk for the next few weeks. An image that was the complete opposite of what I had thought it would be.

The rain eased a bit by midday and it was decision time. Thurso had an link back to civilisation. The further I went along the north tip of Scotland, the more remote it would be and the more vunerable I would feel. I stepped out of the hotel and the sun suddenly came out and a rainbow appeared. A sign? I turned so that the sea was on my right and carried on with the walk to Reay. I started to make plans with my new decision. I looked at stopping points, planned my food and water and found a spring in my step. Sadly the spring rusted pretty quickly as the rain came back and the cold headwind made me cough and curse at the same time.  I persevered and eventually passed the Doonreay nuclear power station. I started to look for possible wild camping sites (for wild camping – not crazy evenings at a campsite) Reay had very little there and I found a bus stop and sat down pondering.

It may seem a romantic notion to be wandering around Scotland with a rucksack reaching parts that very few people get to see but the reality was now very different. It was 6pm and I was so tired that just the thought of battling with the tent made me feel  even more tired. The wind that had not let up all day and I knew I needed to find shelter if I wasn’t going to attempt the tent.  I looked at the position I was in and made a decision. I had to get back to Thurso and I had to re-think  NW Scotland leg of the walk.

I put the rucksack back on and stuck my thumb out. The first car flew by but the second stopped. Carmel was Israili and he had hired a car in Glagow to ride around the coastline up to Durness, along to John O Groats and back to Edinburgh. He welcomed me into his hired Mini and we chatted as he drove towards Thurso. Watching the route that I had just walked was weird and we soon reached Thurso after some nifty cornering by my rescuer.

I booked myself into a hostel and looked at the train times to Inverness. After a fairly sleepless night, I found myself sitting on the train to Inverness looking out of the window and wondering what had just happened in the previous 24 hours. Thanks to my lovely new friends in Strathpeffer, Anne & Barry, I got a lovely hot meal and bed and then took the night bus back to Hemel Hempstead. Home.

Reunited with Emu and my Guitar 🙂

I feel better today, still tired but the sore throat has eased and the cough virtually gone. As for the decision to stop the walk? I think it was the right one. It was sensible. I have this precious gift to look after and though I would love to be like my heroine Spud who put up with all sorts of challenges on her coastal walk, I have to think about doing it my way and if that means stopping then so be it.

I will blog in a few days with my plans which are gradually forming. I would love to do NW Scotland with a travel companion, a volunteer or friend and have a camper van. That way, instead of packet food, I can get a good meal each day, somewhere warm to sleep and I don’t have to carry a huge rucksack. Also Emu can be with me too !! Lol

Any volunteers?

Kieran xx



Northern boy

I am back!!

After three weeks out recovering from a virus, I returned to the far north of Scotland to continue the walk. One of the most special parts of the walk is the delight in meeting new people. I was met at Inverness airport by Barry just as a huge thunderstorm began. The kindness shown by total strangers still amazes me and I was taken to his and Anne’s wonderful house in the beautiful village of Strathpeffer.


Once a spa geteway, trains used to trundle up the country from London so southerners could experience the wonderful Spa pavilion and amazing views.

I was treated to a mouthwatering Sunday roast and enjoyed the company of Anne’s mother and the very amusing Arthur. I returned the treat by getting out my Ukelele….ahem. Well they seemed to enjoy it.


We drove up to John O Groats, had a quick brunch in the carpark, took the obligatory photo and said our goodbyes. This is always difficult for me when people have given me so much and all I can give back is a “thank you” and hugs.



Once on my own, I headed west, the sea still on my right but the whole of the British mainland on my left. I grinned to myself as I set off. It felt good to be back and with the weather forecast good for the day, was excited for a good days walking.


I reached the Dunnet Headland after about 10 miles. My feet were moaning by then but other than sore feet I felt good. The 3 miles of boggy land separated by a single track road leading up to the lighthouse was the most remote I been on the walk. I was joined by plenty of birds that I didn’t recognise and saw many flowers and plants that meant nothing to me. I could have been on the moon. I was passed by six cars in total as I trudged in solitude to the end.

I had reached the most northerly point of my journey.


The Northern Sands hotel in Dunnet had kindly offered me a room for the night and it was my intention to hitch back from the cliff to the village, about 4 miles. However, after a few cars had driven passed, I realised that hitching in the middle of no-where was not a good place. I have never hitched before but I made sure my thumb was out and sticking upwards and I tried not to look like a murderer.

No luck so I ended walking the 4 miles back to the hotel making my first day back an aching 19 miles. As I approach the hotel, I began to limp. My left calf and kneecap were very sore. I knew this was because I had overdone it but I had very few options than to carry on.

The hotel and staff were lovely and I went to sleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

It feels good to be back but already my body has spoken. If only my determination to succeed and my body were on the same page.

Shavey McBeardface xx