National Geographic : 1950 Aug
A Stroll to London By ISOBEL VLIYE HTClIIISON With Illustrations by National Gcographic Photographcr B. Anthony Stewart ON A SUNLIT day of March I set out from my home near Edinburgh to walk to London, a distance by the shortest route of 380 miles. But what stroller takes the shortest route? My walk would be a goodly stretch of over 500 miles in 38 days. On the 39th day I had a date in London with National Geographic photographer B. Anthony Stewart, who would retrace the jour ney with car and camera. I planned, keeping to the hills, to cross the English border at Gretna Green, join the Pennine Chain near the Roman Wall, and follow England's spine to Derbyshire (map, pp. 184-5). Thenceforth, in the entertaining company of Boswell and Johnson, George Eliot and Shakespeare, I would find my way to Lichfield, Nuneaton, and Stratford on Avon. There I planned to diverge through the blos somy Vale of Evesham to pick up the Thames at its source near Cheltenham or Cirencester. Both cities claim parentage of the stream (page 202). I hoped to follow it right into the beating heart of London. With my sister accompanying me for the first 18 miles, I set out in high hopes (page 173). An Old Road Leads Across Lonely Moorland The old road from Edinburgh to Lanark hugs the north side of the Pentland Hills through a stretch of bleak moorland. With Arthur's Seat and Castle Rock still faint blue clouds on the Edinburgh skyline,* a finger post of the Scottish Rights of Way Society indicates the old Cauld Stane Slap drove road which cuts across the hills from north to south. The track led down to the infant Water of Leith. The steppingstones being covered, we removed shoes and stockings, planted flinch ing feet in the icy stream, and waded over. At Harper Rig Reservoir, which is part of Edinburgh's water supply, we inquired the way of a shepherd, for the path had disap peared. In a high-pitched shout, like one used to converse with distant sheep dogs, he told us to make for a post between two heights ahead. It was eight and a half miles to West Linton. "But it'll take you all of three hours," he shrilled after us, above the excited barking of his dog. It was the season of heather burning, and the tang of smoke was in the air. Only sounds to be heard, the wicker of sheep and the call ing of curlews, seemed to emphasize the quiet of these black and ocher heights. We met no human being till we came down the southern slopes to West Linton and the road to Habbie's Howe. There Allan Ramsay wrote his pastoral The Gentle Shepherd, little thinking that it would one day land him on a pedestal in Princes Street Gardens, Edin burgh (page 182), wearing round his brow a headdress much resembling a wet towel! There was ice on the pools when I looked out next morning, but the frost proved merely a March frolic and the day soon became hot as summer. Alone I took the main thoroughfare to Moffat. Though heavy traffic thundered, I saw few private cars save in a funeral pro cession of 17 snaking down the valley from a white farmhouse. I slept that night in a room I had engaged at the Crook Inn, halfway between West Linton and Moffat. Because I had imagined it a small place with little accommodation, I was surprised when the door into its luxurious lounge was opened by a page in a white jacket looking for my luggage! I swung it off my shoulders with a sigh of relief, for I was beginning to find my pack too ponderous a companion. Next day at Moffat I bought a handbag and divided it. First Offer of a Lift Declined "Are you walking for walking's sake, or would you like a lift?" It was my first offer, and it came, shortly after I had quitted Crook Inn and breakfast, from a lady driving a small saloon. Since the day was young and my pack still light, I thanked her and said I was walking for walking's sake. I seemed at that early season to be the only person in Scotland thus occupied. But for the Youth Hostels Association, Britain seems to be losing the use of its legs. This energetic body provides for members cheap board and lodging in a chain of hostels, often charming old man sions, from Land's End to John o' Groat's, the only rule being that they must arrive on their own steam, whether it be on foot, on cycle, or by canoe. * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Bonnie Scotland, Postwar Style," by Isobel Wylie Hutchison, May, 1946: and "Edinburgh, Athens of the North," by J. R . Hildebrand, August, 1932.