A pilgrim’s progress

It feels like progress. A week spent travelling around Northumberland and Scotland and I am in a different place from when we left. Since arriving home three days ago I am contemplating returning to work (with more than a little trepidation) and have even been for a jog (whilst wearing a very supportive bra).

I felt insanely excited to be setting off on my first holiday since my cancer diagnosis. Normally at this time of year we go hiking in Austria but what with coronavirus and cancer somewhat cramping our style we settled for a road trip around Northumberland and southern Scotland. I wasn’t sure how much walking I would manage, nor whether my wound would be watertight for swimming but I was feeling optimistic! I cannot overstate how buzzing with energy I felt as we headed up the M6 and turned on to the A69 towards Hadrian’s wall. I’d already planned our first coffee stop at House of Meg (I’d checked it was open, thank you Google maps) in Gilsland, then up to Housesteads Fort for some history and a stroll (!) along Hadrian’s wall. I couldn’t believe we’d never been there before. And we were blessed with wonderful sunny weather too. I managed a 10km walk along what I think is the most beautiful part of Hadrian’s wall, from Housesteads to Steel Rigg and back. Then collapsed onto the bed at the very well appointed Bowes Hotel in Bardon Mill. What a great place! Newly refurbished and very friendly. I recommend the pulled pork burger.

Hadrian’s wall

I was so chuffed at my progress with the walk along Hadrian’s wall that the following day we decided to walk to Holy Island (Lindisfarne) across the causeway as we didn’t want to have to pay for parking! We hadn’t quite appreciated what a long walk it was. My Fitbit seemed to think we’d clocked nearly 20km, which certainly felt like a long way. Holy Island is a wonderful place. The priory was only open for pre-booked tickets but we strode off to the less touristy part on the north of the island and discovered sand dunes, seals and a perfect place to swim. I’d been dying to swim for a while but had desisted due to worry about my wound being slow to heal. By now however, it was finally watertight and I could contain myself no longer! It felt wonderful to be in the water, and in such a special place to boot.

Once I’d dipped my toe in the water there was no stopping me! The following day I swam on Bamburgh beach, and the next at Low Newton-by-the-sea, a picture perfect fishing village heralding a stunning stretch of golden sands as far as Dunstanburgh Castle, a couple of miles down the beach. The water was a little nippy but that’s half the fun (14 degrees C). I don’t use a wetsuit.

Beach at Low Newton

Seahouses was the perfect place to stay, and we enjoyed the fish and chips and the walk back from Bamburgh along the sands. We were even treated to a rather exciting croquet match on the lawn outside Bamburgh castle. There was also a Co-op which was a godsend as I was starting to crave fruit after a cooked breakfast or two too many!

Croquet, anyone?

It seemed such a pity to leave the Northumberland beaches behind but when we booked the trip we didn’t know how much walking and outdoor stuff I would manage, so we went for 2 nights each in Edinburgh and Stirling too. On our full day in Edinburgh we experienced wall to wall sunshine, which we made the most of by walking the length and breadth of the city, including a trip up to Arthur’s seat. Well worth the view!

Steve was happy in Stirling when he found a guitar shop as well as a vinyl record shop, and I was happy exploring the cemetery (I am a big fan of cemeteries). I love to imagine the people who went before me, to take notice of their names, when and how old they were when they died, and the nature of any inscriptions about them. There were also plenty of good coffee houses and a fabulous cafe which served the best borscht I’d tasted since Moscow (complete with a generous dollop of smetana). We’ve driven past Stirling castle on many an occasion on our way up to the Cairngorms and finally took the trouble to stop and visit. My favourite queen was crowned there aged 9 months, poor baby, she didn’t know what she had coming to her! It was a bit of a shame that the main indoor areas were closed due to Covid, but the castle was well worth a visit.

Old Kirkyard cemetery, Stirling

Steve and I discovered the Outlander boxset during lockdown, so on our way home we visited Doune castle and I managed one last swim in the Teith river, which was a little warmer than the sea (only a little)!

One last swimming photo!

Since returning home I have been sleeping a lot – I wonder why?! I am very excited to report that I have managed a couple of my “jog-swims” and not ended up in Morecambe Bay yet (the current in the Kent is absurdly strong at the moment with all the rain we’ve had). I haven’t contemplated a proper run yet, but one step at a time. And I’m keeping a very close eye on my wound as the risk of skin breakdown and implant infection is ever present. So far so good, though!

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