Day 66 has been wet yet seen 9.3 miles walked, a volcanic plug tackled, a dumpling surmounted and 460 feet climbed for no view but it has been a great day.

Balloch Castle
Balloch Castle

I was a little heady this morning with that thick fog and dull ache commensurate with a hangover throbbing menacingly in the front of my head. My joints aching with a metallic flavour to breakfast I was I think having a bit of a chemo hangover. The only thing that was going to cure me was some strong exercise. The children were happy and squared away for school. I knew that it was going to be a wet day from last nights forecast so thought that maybe I should postpone any fun activities for today until Thu or Fri when the children were off school for teacher training. So I checked the weather forecast for Thu and Fri. It was rubbish and therefore not the sort of days to be dragging out the children unless I wanted to put them off country walks for life. It was settled then I was going to Balloch to do a walk and climb a hill and needed to go immediately.

My departure went well and on the train towards Balloch I met a pleasant gentleman who was off fishing for pike with the most enormous flies I had ever seen. He asked what I was up to today so found out about the challenge. He is I hope enjoying his glass of wine with his wife as they catch up on the challenge. If so I am sorry that I did not catch your name but do please let me know that you have found me and welcome to the journey.

He jumped off and I was left for the last few stations towards Balloch. Travelling to Balloch by train felt a little like travelling to the ends of the earth and was a real adventure until I arrived and popped in to the information centre to find out if there was a better way to Gartocharn than walking up the Main road. The answer was the other end of the National Cycle Route 7 that you will remember I have cycled over the Menteith Hills in to Aberfoyle several times. We aren’t that far from home after all. It just requires a round the way journey by public transport to get round small bodies of water such as Loch Venachar, Loch Katrine, Loch Lomond and the River Clyde. It was great to be on familiar territory and after a quick map check I realised that it would add an extra mile or so to my walk up to Gartocharn but when compared to the alternative of a trog up the main road it was clearly going to be worth it. Such a conversation gave me the perfect opportunity to introduce the challenge to the ladies in the information centre. They are I hope enjoying a glass of wine with their partners or friends as they catch up on the challenge. If so I am sorry that I did not catch your names but do please let me know that you have found me and welcome to the journey.

Balloch Country Park Duncryne Hill Trip Point

It was time to make tracks for Duncryne hill and was feeling a little fizzy but better than earlier. I was going. I went. It was very wet but a pleasant route. I was smiling as I walked along the gently undulating and very quiet track with Georgie trotting at my heels. I spotted a short cut towards the end of the walk in to Duncryne which went across some fields to the hill so went for it. I didn’t really regret it too much as my feet sank up to my shins in the mud but instead became thankful that I had decided to put on my gaitors that morning and giggled as I waded step by slippery step onwards as if through thick gooey porridge, map tucked away and arms outstretched for balance and to help break the inevitable messy fall. Georgie looked most unimpressed by the predicament in which we found ourselves but we made it across and I didn’t fall once. We were very very muddy but cracked on to climb this volcanic plug named rather fondly locally as the Dumpling and made famous by the late Tom Weir for the views. The short climb with the exertion of the slog through the mud was enough to clear the head. I started to feel great. But at the top. No view!! I’ll just have to come back on a good day.

I made it up and down in good time to catch the bus back to Gartcharn which left enough time to grab a Mocha – tell some more people about the challenge – grab a sandwich from the village store – meet a distant cousin whom I never knew I had and get a kiss!! Hello Alison Douglas o’ the Black Douglas and welcome to the challenge. Good luck with the birth of the newest member of the Douglas Family tomorrow!! A small prayer for your new grandchild:

‘Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord most dear,
As thou wast once an infant here,
So give this child of thine, we pray,
Thy grace and blessing day by day.
O holy Jesus, Lord Divine,
We pray thee guard this child of thine.

The grave for Bran, a dog from the Balloch Country House
The grave for Bran, a dog from the Balloch Country House

The bus arrived and as we entered Balloch I spotted the entrance to the Balloch Castle Country Park. I jumped off and set off on another short 2.1 mile walk around the park. Having just jumped off a bus and in to the rain I asked a ranger where I was in the park to orientate myself. He very kindly agreed with my interpretation of where I was so I set off with a spring in my step looking forward to the great views of Loch Lomond promised by the walk leaflet and a smile humming as I walked: ‘I’m walking in the rain, just walking in the rain, what a wonderful feeling but I can’t see Loch Lomond again!! I found a dog’s grave for Bran, who once lived at the castle built by the banking empire from Glasgow in the early 1800s. The grave reminded me of a dog I inherited called Jock and who as a mongrel terrier was a real character and much loved by all I worked with. He sadly came to an early end but was buried in the pets graveyard with a piper and prayers in Glencorse Barracks one Sunday afternoon. This memory was followed by a lovely wander through the Copper, Rust and deep red colours of a deciduous forest. However all the while I was being troubled. A year of Chemotherapy appears to have made my waste movements far more frequent. There are now 5 fir trees on National Cycle Network Route 7 between Balloch and Gartocharn quietly wilting after being watered by chemo toxic waste products. As I walked around the park, despite having gone before I left I was now desperate for the loo and no amount of farting was going to make that pressure better. I know because after checking behind me I had a jolly good go. It made no difference but I am sure that I left a vapour cloud so thick that it brought great danger to any bird flying through it. I felt like a 2 year old as I hoped from foot to foot desperately seeking a loo thankful that worst case I had packed some loo roll. I found some loos and as I jogged in frantically untying the draw string onmy waterproof trousers I turned the corner and bumped in to that nice ranger from earlier. He was about to lock up but must have heard the desperation in my voice as I asked for directions to the nearest open loos. H egave me 10 minutes grace. Realising that I had been stood there shuffling from foot to foot I turned, dumpedmy kit in the corner with Georgie and fell in to the cubicle shuffling and desperately untying as I surveyed the loo and gave thanks that they were clean. As a boy at school I had a tape of the sound of a man running up the corridor, banging a cubicle loo door shut followed by the sounds of an immense and rapid release of pressure followed by a deep sigh of relief. I smiled, even chuckled as I realised that I had just created that moment. All done, hands washed I went outside to warn the ranger not to light a match in there but instead had a chat about the challenge. It was lovely to meet you Alan Meechan and I very much hope that you enjoy your wine and introduction to the wonderful journey of the challenge with your wife. Thank you for being so very kind to me.

I made it back to Balloch in time to thank the team from the information office in Balloch and grab a celebratory ice cream before jumping on the train. The journey went well but arrived in Stirling at the same time the bus was supposed to be leaving. I hoped that the bus would be late as usual and not on time just to spite me for being late. The doors to the train opened. I ran for the lift to save Georgie’s old and tired legs on the stairs and hit the button. It was waiting for Georgie and I so the doors opened and welcomed us in. Up we went. The doors opened and across the footbridge we ran. No queue at the exit barriers. Amazing start so straight through and outside for a ‘Sprint to the finish, cause I eats me spinach, I’m Archie the challenge man, toot toot!!’ I know I know but I really do not get much choice as to which tune pops in to my head at random times during the day and sometimes surprise myself with the imagination applied to the selection of the new lyrics!! It brought me light none the less as I realised that I was 3 minutes late and the bus had gone. As I sat waiting for the next bus with Georgie and I shivering and scribbling my notes for this post I realised that my bus was now currently 10 minutes late! The good news though was that I was sat next to the bus manoeuvring area so with the busses turning over their engines and manoeuvring in and out of their bays with all the smell and noise of engines and reversing bleeping I could fart to my heart’s content!!