Today we set out from the Scottish parliament at Holyrood. It was a very warm day, and we were greeted by our friend and guide, Geoff Angel. He was clearly more enthusiastic than anyone else, but that might have been because he was only accompanying us for the first nine or so miles. Geoff guided us out of town, around hectic junctions and down sneaky back-roads bypassing Penicuik.
We found some trolleys, on the outskirts of Penicuik, which James and Euan used with some vigor. Geoff departed moments after this discovery. There are really four of us on the walk; Euan, James, Robert and myself. Robert being my brother, and the other two are his old school friends. Euan is someone I can see embarking on the adventure; he has long, untamed hair, equally bedraggled clothing and a somewhat liberal attitude to match. Euan is one of those anti-government types (head of the somewhat ironic anarchy society), he regularly participates in protests and procures most of his food from shop bins. I was to learn a lot about freeganism and “the agricultural revolution” along the way, starting with the old bottle of Irn Bru Euan found by the side of the road, which he began to drink from. He’s not dead yet. James, by comparison, is tall, lanky and usually sports the sort of grin that means he’s not taking things too seriously and doesn’t understand why anyone else would. James had injured his foot the day before, carrying a large number of Festival Fringe leaflets across Edinburgh. This didn’t bode well for the walk, but the discovery of the trolleys was a welcome relief from the weight of his pack. James was perhaps the least suited to the walk; he was hypoglycemic and the first to develop serious blisters due to his limping gait.
The trolleys helped for a while, we discarded one early on once James and Euan discovered that one was sufficient for their needs. They dragged it everywhere; over pavements of bumpy tarmac or gravel, or on the roads when the pavements gave out. James and Euan are quite a pair; encouraging each other, sticking together like true companions and stopping together to take rests. Sadly they take numerous rests giving Robert and I a substantial lead. Robert is torn between a decent pace, set by me, and his friends. The trolley was like a fifth member of the team, taking Euan and James’ load allowing them to keep within shouting distance of us. The trolley also seems able to traverse all manner of terrain, but at the cost of Euan and James’ energy. James regularly stopped for sugar.
Robert and I are just ahead when a black car slows and stops by the lagging pair. A middle aged man leaps out and starts gesticulating at Euan, James and their four-wheeled companion. I rushed over to see what was going on. Apparently this man is the manager of the Tesco in Penicuik. He wanted his trolley back. Fair enough, said I, we found it abandoned, we won’t leave it that way. Mr Manager says we can take it back to Tesco or leave it here for pick-up. James’ foot is injured, I say, and the trolley has been a great help. We’re on a walk to London, so I am reluctant to backtrack, can we take it to the next Tesco? Sure, he laughs, the next Tesco is in Galashiels. Fortunately that’s exactly where we were aiming to be the next day. After some gypsy slander, and our reassuring him that we certainly weren’t gypsies, Mr Manager went on his way, asking us to let him know when we reached our goal. On we went, dragging the trolley and getting nasty looks. Clearly public opinion leaves no room for resourcefulness. Perhaps people were confused by seeing a trolley out of context. Regardless of people’s opinions we kept focused on our mission.
Day one is over, and we are camped at the top of a farmer’s field, by the edge of the road. This was one of the worst places I’ve ever slept, but I was so tired that I could just about bear the frequent thunder of articulated vehicles and somehow managed to sleep on the ridiculous gradient of the field; it was like sleeping at the top of a child’s slide. I reasoned to myself that I needed the blood to rush to my feet, to help them heal from the day’s exertion.