10 days, 1,000 plus miles and 6 stopovers in a place that captured my heart. I’m taking on Scotland’s answer to Route 66 (the North Coast 500) and I’m going solo. It’s not that unusual for someone to take the road trip alone but my reason for taking on the challenge is perhaps not your typical tale.
To make it even more special, I’ll be halfway round my trip on my 32nd birthday. So, for all the friends, family and colleagues wondering why I’m making such a ‘daft’ trip on my own, over my birthday, here’s my reason why…
But first, Why Scotland?
Before I tell you about why I’m taking the road trip solo, let me explain why Scotland has captured my heart (It doesn’t take much imagination to work this one out).
Since taking on my 1,000 mile walking challenge for the MS Society in 2015, I’ve been an avid walker, rambler, hiker or whatever endearing term you’d like to use for us folk who love the outdoors.
That challenge ended at Loch Ness and let me tell you, don’t believe the the stories about Scotland always being wet. As you can tell from the photo below, the sun was shining bright on that final step in my 1000th mile.
The landscape on the drive up there, the short walks it Pitlochry, Stirling and Edinburgh all had me in awe at it’s beauty and depth of history.
Since then, I vowed to explore more of Scotland each year. Last year, I discovered the wonders of Falkirk Kelpies and the Wheel which made for an amazing canal side walk.
This year, I wanted to set myself a challenge to explore further and when someone suggested I look up the North Coast 500 I knew I had found my next challenge.
What is the North Coast 500?
The North Coast 500 is the marketing name for the scenic coastal roads that wind around the most northerly part of Scotland, starting and finishing in Inverness. The North Highland Initiative gave the route its name in a bid to boost the local economy.
The aptly named route is made up of many single track roads, some infamous parts (Bealach na ba) and breathtaking views including beach scenes that could be mistaken for some faraway exotic destination.
There are hundreds of walking spots dotted along the route too including many Scottish Mountains (Munros).
So, why solo?
Imagine having the freedom to do everything yourself and then suddenly having it taken away and becoming dependent on others for every aspect of your life. From walking to eating to washing or using the bathroom. Scary, right?
Some of you reading this might not realise but I have multiple sclerosis (MS). Let me guess, you’re thinking ‘but you look good or you look ok?’ Well, MS is a neurological disorder that has many hidden symptoms and effects everyone differently.
My experience with MS has mainly been around sensory pain and a little clumsiness. But I know that my condition can change instantly.
This year I had a new symptom – double vision. I had one eye looking forward and the other looking to the side and everything I saw was double. My balance was off so I couldn’t walk let alone drive.
I was suddenly a very independent, head strong woman, who had to rely on others for every move I made. Even as I type this I feel overwhelmed at the loss I felt at the time.
The doctors didn’t know how long it would last. Some cases had gone on for months (months!!). But I was very fortunate that after strong medication, lots of rest that the double vision subsided inside two weeks. But I was still reliant on others for a further month. I can tell you that the whole period felt much longer. Time began to slow right down and the self pity cloud descended over head.
So, after regaining my independence I wanted to push myself (but within my limits, which I learnt from my previous walking challenge) and do something just for me. Something that didn’t rely on anyone else’s input or involvement. Something that would sooth the soul and warm my heart. Well, I love to walk and I love Scotland and this is where my epic 10 day solo road trip was born.
I can’t say I’m not nervous because there will be some roads that might make me breath in at times but what’s overwhelming is my excitement for the whole experience. I’ve researched the route to the max, I’ve connected with many like-minded solo travellers on forums and I hear the locals are really friendly so I know if I need any help there’s plenty on hand.
So, to my friends, family and colleagues who might be worrying, just know I’m doing this for me so I have memories of experiences of being independent just in case one day my legs decided to give way or just in case my eyes decide to go dark.
For the love of walking, Scotland and my own independence I’m taking on the North Coast 500 solo.
(Look out for the photos from my trip in late September:-))