When the 1,000 Years Hike started on 26th May 2022, eight months had passed since Stuart’s funeral. That was when we had decided to form Stu’s Band of Brothers and Walk the West Highland Way in his memory. It was quite a journey, literally and figuratively, and each of us approached it in his own way.
How did our preparations go, and what were our hopes and fears for the 6 days of the Hike? After we completed it, how did we reflect on what was achieved?
In each Brother’s own words:
Preparation, Hopes and Fears
The West Highland Way Walk was first mentioned over a year ago. I have already admitted that I was not at all keen to sign up. The Band of Brothers was a gathering of old Scottish mates at this time, some of whom enjoyed hiking and could regularly clamber up mountains in Scotland and Switzerland. Stuart’s passing had a profound effect on all of us and I decided that this had to be a challenge I then wanted to take on.
The Band members who live in Scotland are fortunate to have been able to train on some really challenging climbs in the mountains and glens over the past months. My fellow southern based Brothers – Del Boy and Elton – have managed to join them. I envy that experience and wish that I had been able to be a part of this. Instead, I have had to settle for long and lonely hikes in the South Downs. How shall I cope with the Bonnie Braes of the West Highlands?
I am pleased with my preparation for what will probably be the most physically demanding challenge of my life. I have found the anticipation and commitment to be all consuming over the past months and my day to day living has had to fit around my preparation for the walk. I know that I can complete the journey; determination and my competitive spirit will ensure that. The support from family and friends has been astounding, including their engaging with me whenever I bring the West Highland Way Walk into almost every conversation.
My family have called us the “Intrepid Explorers”- resolute, fearless, adventurous, enduring. No room for foolhardy now as I look forward, but still with some trepidation, to sharing such an honourable and memorable adventure. Keep us safe, Stuart.
After accumulating around 50 hikes in the last five months of 2021, this year has brought fewer opportunities on account of the weather in January and February, and family responsibilities.
However, fewer walks have translated into longer hikes with the average time increasing by 50% to 3.75 hours with elevations of around 2,000 feet.
I have also compensated by adding 5 walks each week – anything between an hour and two hours. The neighbourhood is built on a series of ridges so a number of steep inclines are part of the challenge – some paved and others as nature would have it.
7X7 Indoor soccer on a 3/4 size field was added from January to March and we are already 5 games into the 11-a-side over 55s outdoor season. Tennis twice a week with two hours for each session started at the beginning of April.
I am a relative latecomer to the joys of Yoga and Pilates and wish that I had known more about the benefits 40 years ago.
Pilates in particular has been a great addition to my fitness regime.
Greatest concern – not having the stamina to last 6 days and 96 miles but there again, sometimes you just have to grind it out. Oh, and jet lag too.
I have surprised myself by really enjoying the training programme which I have undertaken in the lead up to the actual walk. Prior to the pandemic my exercise was really limited to one gym session per week. Since early 2020 the number and lengths of weekly walks have increased as have more recent weekly gym sessions with the reopening of gyms in mid-2021.
In a typical week I now undertake 3 long walks (each walk being 10 to 13 miles) and 2 gym sessions. These have helped with weight loss over the past year and I feel that I am as ready as I’ll ever be to take on the walk.
What has been invaluable to my training programme were the 3 days of walks in Scotland over some testing terrain in late April / early May. The final day’s walk across “Almost Jock’s Road“ was particularly tough but I did get through it and this has given me confidence in my ability to complete the 6 day walk.
The walk itself will be a real challenge. I have read a book and various internet articles dedicated to the walk and watched various You Tube videos’, so I have a reasonably good picture of what lies ahead. The biggest challenge in my mind will be the need to get out of bed each morning for 6 days in a row and tackle a new stretch of Scottish landscape each day. I will need to be very resilient to take on the daily challenges of the walk.
As a team though we will help each other through the challenges of what lies ahead to make sure that we all complete the walk and celebrate accordingly in Fort William.
I’m probably like most of the Brothers – going to the gym four times and walking upwards of 40 miles each week would never have happened had it not been for this call to action in aid of Prostate Cancer UK and in memory of Stuart. With this in mind and to give me a boost to my natural fitness, I enrolled in Dundee University gym’s senior classes. A lovely lady called Hazel takes classes with a mixture of weights and cardio vascular exercises that has boosted my strength, my fitness and my general outlook on regular exercise. These will continue long after the Way is done and dusted.
Hillwalking has always been a staple part of my fitness diet and it always will be. That, added to Hazel’s finely-tuned regime, has put me in as good a shape I could hope to be prior to the WHW. My feet are hardened to years of walking, my stamina is in good shape and my outlook is positive.
On such a challenge as the Way, optimism must prevail. I will adopt the same thinking as I do on a hill – cut down the distance bit by bit. It gives you something to concentrate on, like a boulder or a shoulder of scree. Once you’ve passed that one particular target, focus on the next.
For instance, on the BIG day, I’ll also take it in stages. Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran, Inveroran to Ba Bridge, Ba Bridge to Glencoe, Glencoe to Kingshouse, Kingshouse to Devils Staircase, Staircase to Kinochleven. That way you aren’t thinking about the full 23-mile picture. The same doctrine could be adopted on any stage of the walk.
Prior knowledge of the Way is a double-edged sword – you know the pitfalls but you also know the good bits. But the pros out-way* the cons massively. Apprehensive? Maybe? Excited? Surely! There may be some soreness along the way, some stiffness in the morning and other little bits that might nag, but that’s not going to put me off. No way!
*Ed: out-way? I see what you did there.
Lindsay, John S and I are still walking Mondays and Fridays with golf on Wednesdays and Saturdays. However, with the Hike approaching we have increased our walking distance from 10-12 kms to 15-20 kms. With golf the distance varies, but with my form of late it is longer than I would like, although it does involve regular rest periods in the rough, ball searching.
Walk talk often revolves around, “Have we done enough?”, but I think for what we have missed in length, Switzerland has provided an adequate alternative with climbs. So far, no serious injuries thankfully.
I’m looking forward to meeting all the Band colleagues and have been training understanding the Scottish dialect listening to Billy Connolly and Stanley Baxter, whom I found particularly helpful. I hope my Scottish colleagues have spent adequate time listening to Dame Edna, Bazza McKenzie and Paul Hogan to understand my perfectly clear Aussie dialect.
With approximately one week to go prior to the challenge of the West Highland Way, I must now recognise that my fitness levels are unlikely to improve during this last week.
My training schedule has been a little more sporadic than I would have wished in recent weeks; I blame an unseasonal wet and cold spring in British Columbia for not providing the inspiration I required.
I have been undertaking walks of around seven to 10 miles every other day and similarly stretching exercise sessions on alternate days. The walks have been enjoyable, giving me time to stay abreast of latest global news from podcasts and, of course, updates on sport. The stretching exercises have been less inspiring as they can be, in my view, a bit tedious especially when undertaken on one’s own. For the first time in my life, I have ‘enjoyed’ a few sessions with a personal trainer. It pains me to admit it but I do feel significantly fitter and more mobile than I have for many years. The challenge will be keeping up with my new fitness routine after the walk!
Moving forward to the walk itself I think weather, joint mobility and walking for six consecutive days will be the key challenges for me.
On a positive note, I have worked hard for the apres hike activities and feel reasonably confident of lasting the pace in this area.
I am really looking forward to the reunion and the hike. To spend time with the ‘boys’ again in such a spectacular location will be a magical experience. I have been envious of all the training walks undertaken around Scotland by so many in the Group and I will be thrilled to now join them. I am certainly not so prepared as these ”professionals” but I will hopefully keep up.
I know we will all have our challenges along the way but we will be a supportive team (after some gentle teasing and banter).
PS – remember I may be jet lagged!!
“96 miles, that’s not far for 6 days”, I naïvely told myself last summer when the idea of walking the West Highland Way was proposed. And now? Part of me is wishing we had plumped for a sponsored silence instead.
I thought my fitness was not too bad but the training walks have shown just how difficult it will be to walk long distances day after day. Even 11 miles is punishing on the knees and feet, but that is our shortest day. How will I manage 21 miles on Day 5?
There’s no turning back now though. Exactly a week to go, time to start thinking positively, time to think about the good cause we are supporting, time to think about buzz and excitement amongst the Band of Brothers and time to feel thankful that we are all able to spend 6 days walking through the wild and beautiful Scottish mountain scenery.
Fort William, here we come!
Walking with the Phantom.
It was October when I booked our accommodation for the hike. I had just recovered from a ligament injury and walking was still painful. My fear then was that I would never even get to the start line in Milngavie. My hope was that I could make Fort William.
Our logo made its appearance courtesy of my nephew, clothing was ordered, a website built and a Just Giving page established, thanks Elton. Press releases were drafted and issued, thanks Garry.
The only thing missing was fitness.
Training has taken me into the Angus hills most Tuesdays since January and to the gym for the first time in 50 years. New walking partners from the Brothers appeared on the hills as a cohesive group started to take shape and the shape of many of the group started to change too.
My final training walk was Jock’s Road, an unforgettable day for many reasons but especially the resilience of Del in completing the route despite looking as though his day was done half way up a steep escarpment with seven miles left to go.
My hope for our adventure is that the 15 of us can manage, and enjoy, the walk and that if it becomes too much for any of us we can accept it is OK to stop. It is not a failure.
I don’t have fears. Why would I, walking with The Brothers and guided by The Phantom?
Enjoy guys. Stuart, always in my thoughts. John see you in the hills soon.
With just a week to go before the start of the Band of Brothers West Highland Way walk, by this time my physical training should have been completed, and all my focus should have been on finalising travel plans, and double-checking kit lists. However, my own cancer diagnosis back in January, and treatment that only finished 10 days ago has meant that I have sadly had to pull out of this challenge. Having been part of the planning and build-up, it has been fantastic to witness the bonding of all the individual members into a true Band of Brothers, challenging themselves to achieve something that will genuinely make a difference, in so many ways, spurred on by memory of a friend and brother. I will genuinely miss the camaraderie that I know will drive them all on to complete this hike, which I hope will be the first of many.
There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think about Stu, but the lead-up to this hike has reminded me of our first walking holiday, which really cemented a close friendship that lasted more than 20 years. For 16 people to step out of their comfort zones, travel from all corners of the world, and set up a fantastically organised and successful fundraising effort only shows that each one of them forged a similarly strong bond with Stu, a true mark of the great man he was.
Brothers, I may not be able to join you in person, but in spirit, I will be with you every tiring, ankle-jarring, midge bitten, hilarious, rewarding and life-affirming step of the journey.
My preparation for the big Hike is progressing well. I have been ramping up the distances and inclines with Jock and Knuckles over here in Switzerland, and I am starting to feel fitter. We recently walked up the Wildspitz mountain near Zug to 1700 metres with the intention of enjoying a well earned luncheon, but of course the restaurant, exceptionally, was closed. My injury niggles are at last improving, so fingers crossed that it stays that way!
I had a few people round for a BBQ recently which involved some rather pleasant quantities of red wine, followed by a walk early the next day. The walk was tough. The moral of this anecdote is that “we” need to sensibly manage the alcohol intake during the Hike.
I am hoping the weather stays kind for us, and so far the forecast is looking positive, which will make a big difference. Celebrating Stuart, missing Stuart, will be emotional. The Brothers are a close bunch and the amazing camaraderie we enjoy amongst us will help each of us pass the finishing line whilst having a good time in each others’ company. I’m really looking forward to the whole experience and the final sense of achievement.
Zoom call, sometime in late September, 2021:
Ian: “Should we have a website?”
Me: “Not necessary. Too much work. A JustGiving page for donations will be fine”.
Wrong again, Elt. Within the week I’d started on the website and Stu’s Band of Brothers and The 1,000 Years Hike were going online.
I realised early on that I needed to improve my fitness if I was going to enjoy the Hike. I was fairly confident that I could manage it, but what’s the point if you don’t enjoy it? A knee injury threatened to derail any hope of participating. Specialist advice gave me hope that a course of physio might get me back on track, and it did. Seven months of physio did the trick. Thanks, Jonathan and Helen!
I’ve managed three separate trips back to Scotland for training hikes since the middle of March, and they’ve been fantastic; particularly the three days spent in the spectacular surroundings of the Torridon mountains. I’d forgotten the rewards of climbing in the Highlands. I will do more.
Other training attempts have been less successful. Almost non-existent actually. Plans for regular gym visits have been thwarted by Hike-related demands on time. Knowing I had to lose weight, I opted for a more sedentary fitness regime. I devised a diet (“Look Svelte like Elt”, available from no good bookshops), which saw me drop 10 kilos in just over three months. Job done? We’ll see.
So although most of my time has been in front of a screen rather than on a treadmill, I’ve really enjoyed the journey getting to this point. We’re finally about to embark on the Hike, and I can’t wait to get started. I hope Stuart would be proud of his Brothers’ efforts, and I often think how much he would have enjoyed being with us. We’re prepared. We’re fitter, motivated and determined to continue to spread awareness of prostate cancer in his memory.
There are no fears for the challenge ahead. Bring it on!
My preparations for the 1,000 Years Hike have been relatively consistent since after Christmas, with walks 3 times a week on average. The Tuesday walks have been a great help in getting used to and appreciating company. I haven’t done the 2 twenty-milers I’d intended doing although I got one in around 2 months ago, but the cumulative efforts have hopefully been enough. I actually set out to do another one on the flat last Friday but stopped at 13 miles as the body, or more specifically the foot was telling me enough. That’s perhaps not surprising as I’d just started on antibiotics for a UTI and I was brewing a cold which broke on the Sunday. On the plus side, on that day I’d stepped on the scales and had got below 13 stone for the first time.
My concerns are the standard ones; remembering to take stuff to cover every eventuality and hoping not to suffer any major injuries. Apart from that I’m also concerned that the obsessive compulsive side of my nature doesn’t get me too focused on the end point and that I can relax into a rhythm during the walk and enjoy the company and the surroundings.
Any fears I had about the walk quickly subsided as the spirit and camaraderie in the mini bus started to build. We set off at a brisk pace from Milngavie, but by the time I passed Glengoyne Distillery, I had fallen way behind.
Day 3 was by far the most challenging. The views from Inversnaid hotel, over Loch Lomond, reminded me of the Queen’s View over Loch Tummel. After a mile or so of clambering over rocks by the lochside, Lindsay called me and urged me to turn back. I felt going back would be defeatist, so I continued – intrepid or foolhardy?
Day 4 to Bridge of Orchy was probably the most sociable day for me and I walked for some way with a Canadian couple, chatted to a group of ladies from North Dakota and was stopped by a couple who wanted to know if I was Checkshirt.
The route from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven was the most spectacular leg of the whole journey and time to show the others that I was in this for the duration. The sense of achievement at the top of the Devil’s Staircase was overwhelming. The descent into Kinlochleven was a long and snaky path. With three miles remaining, a fellow hiker called Richard caught up me. I was glad of the company as I trudged wearily into Kinlochleven. I almost collapsed on the last hundred or so metres. I had been out walking for over 12 hours!
The final leg into Fort William should have felt like a victory lap, but the climbs were steeper and the terrain much tougher than I had anticipated.
The evening celebrations at the Tandoori and pub reflected the whole sense of achievement, both from a “brotherhood” perspective and a huge sense of personal pride. We raised a glass in memory of Stuart – the real drive behind my decision to join the walk.
The day had finally arrived and we packed our bags and headed for Milngavie. All 15 of us kitted out for the best and worst the Highland weather could throw at us. Lucky for us, apart from a few small rain showers, the weather was a mixture of sunny/cloudy and windy weather with moderate temperatures.
The walking pace was varied so we quickly split into smaller groups. I had one pace and liked being at the front of the group but had plenty of company along the way.
Day 1 was an easy start to the walk with some diverting to sites of historic importance on the way 😀.
The hardest day for me was Day 3, the trip from Rowardennan to Crianlarich. The route was long and ran alongside the Loch and had many large rocks as obstacles. Despite an ankle injury about mid-point the final base at Crianlarich was reached by 6:40pm.
The banter within the group was growing and the social evenings were getting longer.
The most scenic route for me was Crianlarich to Kinlochleven via Kingshouse. A mixture of old military roads, ancient droving roads and well worn gravel. This was starting to play havoc with blisters and bruising on our feet.
The best climb of the walk was the Devil’s Staircase, as the name suggests it was not easy and tested our stamina, followed by a very long sweep into Kinlochleven.
The final day arrived and the cross country walk, latterly overshadowed by Ben Nevis, was upon us. The final walk into Fort William was a relief, as were the next few hours in the Ben Nevis pub. The 1,000 year hike walk was over but the party was gathering pace.
The organisation prior to and including the walk was excellent, and we made a few friends along the way. So what now ? Great Glen?
By any measure a great success and a great tribute to Stuart. The organization from the website, to the apps, to fundraising, to the logistics were all excellent.
The individual lessons were many. A reminder of how a motivated group pulling in the same direction can move a mountain….or at least walk up and around a few.
How awe inspiring nature is and the humility that comes from the realization that you can never beat it. Rain and sleet on Rannoch Moor; the wind on Conic Hill; the beauty of Loch Lomond; the daunting and haunting features of Glencoe; and much more packed into 6 days. The self discipline and motivation to get up each morning knowing that even if it was only 13 miles, something was going to hurt.
To my “brothers” – old and new – thank you. You inspired me, and you reminded how precious each day is and how it needs to be filled with laughter, joy…..and a shot or two.
When we finished the walk in Fort William it was really a time of mixed emotions for me.
Initially it was a huge sense of relief that I had completed such a challenging walk with no major dramas or injuries enroute with the exception of the tick bite on Day 4 which was removed by our surgical team of Band Aid and Club. Thank you gents.
The second emotion was one of self satisfaction that I had achieved the goal of completing the walk through perseverance in training over the winter and spring months and having the determination and belief to keep going over the 6 days.
The third emotion was a real sense of pride being a member of not only a great team of walkers but also a great team of friends who set out to achieve the goal of completing the walk in memory of Stuart and to raise funds for such an important cause as Prostate Cancer UK. Each day of the walk was different and challenging in it’s own way but the evenings in the hotel bars and over dinners had the consistent feeling of having fun with a great group of friends.
The most challenging day for me was the Day 3 walk from Rowardennan to Crianlarich. The words ‘the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’ did not spring to mind during that particular walk.
Would I walk the West Highland way again? Probably not the whole route but I would love to walk the 3 days from Crianlarich to Fort William again. The scenery was spectacular and on this occasion the weather overall was kind to us.
What a fantastic experience. A blast from start to finish.
When the idea of the walk was first mooted my first thoughts were that my dicky knee would preclude me from taking part in such an arduous challenge. However, a few sessions with the physio followed by eight months of building up the knee through gym work, swimming and hill walking with the local Brothers gave me the opportunity to attempt the walk.
The walk itself was challenging at times however the camaraderie between the Brothers, the wonderful scenery and the Compeed kept our spirits up. Some of the views, particularly in Glencoe and up and over to Kinlochleven were breathtaking. I was stunned by the endurance, mental capacity and sheer doggedness of the Brothers particularly on the longer stages when some were walking for up to twelve hours.
The support and enthusiasm we received from family, friends and fellow walkers was inspirational. The tracking App was a big hit and allowed supporters to feel involved and follow our progress.
Many thanks to our supporters who kindly donated to Prostate Cancer UK in memory of Stuart. Our target of £30,000 has been reached and is still rising.
Heartfelt thanks to Gary, Ian and Neil for organising the hike.
At the end of it all my overriding thought is a sense of achievement and pride that I have been part of something special created by the Band of Brothers.
Here’s to the next adventure.
Forearmed is forewarned, they say – and what they say is true. Having done the Way before, I knew just what to expect, the pros and cons of a wonderful 96-mile walk. I knew that Loch Lomond-side would be tough, but I knew that the rest of the walk more than made up for that. My only nagging doubt was this – will my 65-year-old body stand up to the rigours? Luckily, I need not have worried. Having more time on my hands to prepare, with daily walks and gym work, I felt fitter than the last time I did the Way.
I felt good at the end of the longest days, albeit a bit tired, and I managed to maintain a miles-per-hour average that I was extremely proud of. I also managed to stay free of midges, blisters, sprains and strains, of which my fellow Brothers had more than their fair share.
The enjoyment of the hike was due, mainly, to the company. Walking with the Brothers was an experience I’ll never forget, and although I had only met the majority just before the hike took place, it was as if I’d know them for years. I think the spirit of the occasion gave us that special bond. Yes, it really was the bond of brothers!
The post and pre-hike banter, over breakfast or dinner, or the light-hearted conversations during the hike – you always found a different brother to chat to en route – gave the team an informal touch and to that I thank all of you for your company, your comradeship and your contribution to a great cause.
I don’t know about the rest of you but I could sense Stuart was there or thereabouts, having a chuckle when the heavens opened or a grin when the sun shone. But then, as George Orwell said, Big Brother is watching you!
The hike was brilliant in several dimensions.
Firstly getting to spend time with the Band individuals and hear their story and the story of the Dundee Group was a privilege and full of interest.
Secondly this was only my second trip to Scotland and the grandeur of the landscape encircling areas of natural beauty was magnificent.
Thirdly the hike itself was a significant challenge that tested my physical limits particularly on Day 3.
Finally the Prostrate Cancer Cause gave the Brothers a very worthy cause and a target that was beaten.
The Dundee school core of the Brothers is a great story and I am very grateful for the invitation to join the hike and meet all of the Brothers.
What an amazing six days they were, full of fun, laughter, and over-sized meals including a full Scottish breakfast every day for my overindulgent self. And, of course, there was the small matter of the 96 miles!
The two long days were certainly the most memorable in my view utilizing all the energy reserves. Day 3, 21 miles walking along the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond was significantly harder than I had expected. In fact, so challenging was it that when we arrived at Beinglass, a beer was in order which we enjoyed in the sunshine. According to Beano, we had only six miles to go from there but that took forever. We had a wonderful moment when, with possibly 2 to 3 miles to go, we were offered a brew or a beer by a great friend of Ashteads who had made a huge effort to come and support us.
Whereas Day 3 will be remembered for the challenge of the trail along Loch Lomond, Day 5 was a longer day of 23 miles across beautiful Rannoch Moor and then up and over the Devil’s Staircase.
This Walk has been memorable on so many levels, delivering everything and more than I could have imagined or asked for. To be with such a great group of friends old and new was indeed special – the banter, the camaraderie and the support never stopped.
Raising £33,000 (and still rising) for Prostate Cancer UK is an amazing achievement. My thanks to Ashtead, Elt and Beano for their tireless efforts – the organization, the accommodation, the transport, the meals, the website were all beyond impressive. And, as always, my thanks to all our friends and families who have contributed to Prostate Cancer UK and who supported the memory of our good friend, Stuart.
We met some fantastic people along the way, everyone with a kind word and a smile on their face. Some of those same people were in the Nevis Bar in Fort William celebrating with us and also contributed to our fund raising.
It was a great joy and privilege to participate with my Band of Brothers in the Thousand Years Hike.
My thanks again to all.
Well, that’s a week I’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.
What an achievement for all 15 of us, everyone showed determination and strength of character to push through pain, mile after mile.
My feet are still swollen like balloons four days after the walk and the blister on my heel has deepened to form an small ulcer. That is all temporary, whilst the sense of achievement, the friendships and the pride in raising so much money for Prostate Cancer Research will last forever.
We all breakfasted by 9am and then walked into Fort William to see the shops, get our passports stamped and take part in the final photoshoot of the tour. John Stuart had left for Bathgate at 7:30am so missed out.
Fatigue, discomfort and a general closeness to the event left me with an empty feeling having finished the walk. I couldn’t get myself into the celebrations for finishing. A drink and a meal then bed. I have always been sceptical of people who are interviewed immediately after an event and say it hasn’t sunk in. I think they mean they are so close to it they can’t get perspective on their achievement, I may have experienced that.
It has been eight months in the planning and six days in the execution. Friendships of over 40 years have been cemented by the experience. For most it hasn’t been a six day walk but a five month diet and fitness programme. Most have turned up fit enough to enjoy the experience as a group of walkers, whether tortoises or hares.
For one it has been an arduous and largely lone journey of endurance, creditable but ultimately selfish, ignoring the danger of solitary wilderness walking and the stress he created for the rest of the group. Some humility about his shortcomings would have gone a long way. Maybe a churlish view but valid nonetheless.
At the end we all got the 96 miles. Everyone has their own tale to tell and scars, whether blisters, bruises, bites or sprains. Friendships have been reinforced and made through the cameraderie. Adventures such as the one we have all experienced stay in the memory and create bonds that last long into the future.
We have also raised a substantial sum for Prostate Cancer Research in memory of our great friend and brother, Stuart.
I think it is one of the greatest events I have been involved with and it now almost overwhelms me with emotion to think about it. It is also intertwined with the sense of loss of my best friend.
Will we go again – watch this space.
Walking the WHW with the Band of Brothers was an unforgettable experience and one to be cherished for the rest of my life.
Physically more demanding than I envisaged, particularly due to the longer distances on several days and some of the rocky terrain. Proud to have completed it. Personally I loved the company, banter, mickey taking, camaraderie and catching up with dear old friends and making new friends during the walk.
Organisation of the logistics was superb, as was the website and technology used for the walk. A big thank you to Ian, Elt, Garry in particular for all their efforts in this respect.
Fond memories of Stuart pervaded thoughts during the walk, and he will be very proud of his Band, laughing at some of the antics, and happy with our fundraising success. We all miss him greatly.
It reminded me of how beautiful Scotland is, “God’s land” as one of the people I met on the route called it, and refreshed my enthusiasm to enjoy more of it.
Friendships are for life. We are lucky to enjoy such friendships in our Band and should continue to meet in the future and continue to capitalise on our experiences and friendship.
That’s it. Done. Well actually, no. It isn’t. It’s time for reflections; honest reflections.
New friends were made, old ones reunited. Meeting up after so many years was superb, and do you know what? Most of us had hardly changed. Older yes, wiser possibly, but certainly not matured in some cases. It was as if… ah, I forget myself. What goes on Hike, stays on Hike. 😊
Let’s get the disappointments over with first. I had intended to update the website each evening with progress reports, but this just wasn’t feasible. The occasional Tweet or Instagram post had to suffice.
The agreement was to walk at our own pace. The hope was that we would still be able to rest, relax and lunch together, but from the start this was impossible. Despite numerous pre-Hike training reports, one Brother was clearly unfit for a long distance walk of this nature. Stress levels rose as he turned off his tracker and struggled on against advice, often leaving us waiting well into the evening for news of his whereabouts. Consequently the Band of Brothers was a morning and evening gathering.
But none of this detracted from what was a wonderful experience for the “unappealing pensioners”; we happy few. My own highlights were the gale blowing at the top of Conic Hill while we took in the magnificent views over Loch Lomond, and the technical demands of clambering over the rocks and roots of Lomondside on Day 3. The carpets of bluebells were breathtaking. Rannoch Moor was wet and unrelenting but Buachaille Etive Mòr was magnificent as we approached Kingshouse. The Devil may have all the best tunes, but we rocked up his staircase, well conditioned by then. And Greg Drumm unexpectedly and magically appearing with cans of beer as we struggled through Day 3? Hero!
We met the same groups of walkers day after day and struck up new friendships along the way. Spending evenings relaxing with fellow hikers – not just our Band of Brothers – was an added bonus of the West Highland Way.
Each evening we’d check the donations. As we approached and surpassed our target on Day 4 we were buzzing, especially as Brother Ozzie – who couldn’t walk with us due to illness – was the one who took us over our target. And still donations kept coming… Thank you, everybody.
Exhilarated, happy, frustrated, tired, empty – all describe my feelings now, after our own Lord Mayor’s Show. But we got there, in every way. Satisfaction and the sense of achievement trumps them all.
If only Stuart could have been with us. He’d have loved it.
Well, it’s all over now, so looking back what are my thoughts?
Firstly, the West Highland Way is not for the faint hearted. At times it’s a slog, the surface is a pain, the weather is changeable and the wee beasties love a feed. But it’s also beautiful, inspiring and great fun.
My main concern going into the hike had been my foot and the effect on it of cumulative effort, but strangely it didn’t bother me. Perhaps this was because it became subsumed in the general plethora of discomfort in the lower legs, but no ibuprofen was required.
My highlights were seeing Bobby again for only the second time since he emigrated, enjoying the ‘easy’ days, catching up with old friends and re-establishing an easy trust with them. And discovering that Derek doesn’t snore like a steam locomotive any more.
There is also the satisfaction of reaching our fundraising target and recognising that most of us had anticipated the enormity of the task and had taken the required steps to get fit. Unfortunately we were let down by one who turned up as ill-prepared for the venture as could possibly be imagined. The rest of us are strong and fit for our age. And how often do the staff of a hotel thank guests for being good company?
My personal physical highlight was Day 5 from the Devil’s Staircase. I attacked with the mantra ‘It’s not Loch Brandy’. From the top I took an inventory and feet, calves, knees and thighs were feeling okay, so I went for it, and truly loved the last 4 miles. When I hit the forest road I could have jogged in, I felt that good. I passed a group of American women walkers and told them of our hike. Choked up a bit when I mentioned Stuart, which put things in perspective.
Finally, my hike hero is Derek. He’d upped his training after the May weekend and strolled into Fort William with the peloton. I looked around and some of my best friends were there with me.
Thank you guys.