A time of mixed emotions: on one hand there is the achievement of dipping the feet in the North Sea; on the other the disappointment that it’s all over.
That’s stayed pretty constant as a baseline throughout my 3 Challenges, but the actual details have varied slightly..
Challenge #1 (2017)
If I were doing this on a strict day X basis, I’d have finished with 2017 in my previous post. For 2017 I hit the coast at the end of Day 13 – just as the Lunan Bay café was about to close. Too late to head for Montrose, with no dinner booked and no accommodation sorted, I dossed on the beach. Which actually was far better anyway.
Approaching Redcastle was a weird feeling. The day had been a hot one, and this being Scotland I had erred more on the side of protection from cold and wet than sunburn. My legs were roasting in my softshell trousers. The tarmac beneath my feet felt soft – that’s how warm it was. Plus the heat reflected off the road surface. It was hard work for little scenic reward.
That last day was one of grinding the walk out. It just seemed to go on and on. It was 25km, so at the upper end of my daily distances, but with little in the way of up and down. Many breaks were taken on verges.
Eventually, I crossed the A92 at Inverkeilor and a short way further on down the lane, got my first glimpse of the sea, and then the castle itself. I think that was the point it hit me. I’d walked across a country. The rest of the walk to the castle was in a bit of a daze.
I sat at a table at the café with an ice cream and cold drink (nothing else available as they were shutting), and didn’t really know what to do next. It took some time before I decided to explore the beach and find a camp spot.
The far end of the beach afforded a flattish spot on grass covered dunes that was decently solid and above the tide line. I just lazed there until all of the local youths had given up whatever they were doing in a nearby cave and headed for home. The guy that locks the car park came over to me and I thought we were about to have an altercation, but he was just coming to tell me the car park was about to be locked up.
I watched the evening light disappear over the North Sea and rolled into bed with the sound of waves breaking to lull me to sleep.
It was a languid surfacing routine the next morning. I woke early for sunrise but was in no hurry, so just lazed for a while before I got going. Even so I was in Montrose for about 10am, a short walk through the lanes being all it took.
Challenge #2 (2018)
2018 I consider to be an aberration because of being ill. Day 13 I’d got to the Fetteresso and had a pleasant camp at Cowie Crossing. Despite all the tribulations, I was bang on schedule – largely through judicious use of FWAs after Ballater.
All I had to do on day 14 was walk down to Dunnottar Castle, a mere 17km on my route card. It was a surreal day: as I left the forest and caught the first glimpse of the sea, I expected some of the same feelings I’d had the year before, albeit accepting they would plainly be less intense.
Actually, though, the overriding feeling was that of relief. Relief that it was nearly done; relief that I’d made it across safely; relief that I didn’t pull out in Braemar; relief that I’d still enjoyed it (mostly).
So great was that relief that I didn’t feel it necessary to walk to Dunnottar, where I’d expected to camp before walking into Stonehaven for the train to Montrose the next day. I simply headed for Stonehaven itself. In any case it was so early in the day that I’d have had to kill hours and hours before I could sensibly set up camp.
I did mull over that I could go into Stonehaven, fill my face, grab some supplies and then head for Dunnottar, which would use up the time. But I know me, and the relief of touching the sea was too great and I sought out a B&B instead.
All that remained was to head into Montrose the next morning. I arrived on the train to be greeted by a sea of blue t-shirts all waiting to board to head for the south. None noticed me, they were still on a high.
Challenge #3 (2019)
Day 13 saw Paul and I in Tarfside, and our route to the coast followed the time-honoured pattern, albeit a day later than the main wave – the walk to Edzell and North Water Bridge, then the following day the final push to the coast. We opted for the beach at the northern end of Montrose itself.
Tarmac pretty much the whole way (as someone wanted to “bag” the milestones counting down to Edzell), and therefore, mundane walking. But in company, such mundane walking is a companionable amble with many stops and pauses, and is totally fine.
This being my third, feelings were far less intense than on my first, although Paul was clearly happy to have made it and broken his duck, especially as he’d had a wobble early on.
Challenge #4 (
2020 >> 2021)
This year would have been a bit more like my first year, as I was heading for Lunan Bay again, although at the southern end this time. It’s obviously impossible to predict how I’d have felt approaching the finish, as that feeling would have been built up through the experiences of the past two weeks. I think it’s fair to say, though, that 2021 may be a different matter. I’m sure it will feel more like my first one in more ways than just the route.