When an adventuring party in Dungeons and Dragons needs to cross a river or a part of the ocean like we did on Sunday morning, they go down to the docks and hire a boat.
In modern UK it’s not quite that easy – much better to talk to P&O Ferry, who does all the crossings between Larne, Ireland, and Troon, Scotland.
We woke bright and early on Sunday morning, scarfing down a quick meal before heading to the harbour before 6:30am. There were a dozen or so other foot-passengers waiting for the boat as well when I checked in and was told the bad news: Larne to Troon had been cancelled due to high winds and rough seas. The good news was that they would be giving us a ferry to Cairnryan and then sending us by bus up to Troon port. Even though my stomach was starting to bother me, the ferry’s foggy portholes and comfortable seating made for an interesting little trip.
If it weren’t for the delay of more than an hour and a half it wouldn’t have bothered me; we saw some of Scotland’s beautiful Ayrshire countryside from the bus, including some great castle ruins and a whole lot of cows.
By the time we got to Troon, rain was coming down. It was 11:00 already, so we decided on an early lunch. Our waitress Natalie was kind enough to find us some alternate directions to Glasgow. Which is when things started going really wrong.
Unable to find a proper street map of Troon, we asked a local who – after telling us she didn’t understand why our directions would point us a certain way, we should go this way, instead! – pointed us down a road… which is where I have to tangent onto two things: road signs and spoken directions.
Road signs in the UK are absolutely ridiculous. Roughly as ridiculous as purple unicorns, in fact: they’re not what you’d expect, and that’s because they’re just not there. They don’t exist, no matter how much you may wish they did. When they’re there they aren’t somewhere that is necessarily visible to the naked eye; you have to search at each street corner, and hope and pray that someone thought “this street should be marked somehow!”
And when you finally think you might be lost, asking someone for directions may not be as helpful as you would like because, well, directions in the UK revolve around landmarks you’re not familiar with. “Just go a wee bit down the street here and you’ll pass a wee church and a big church; turn at the big church – not the wee church, mind, the big one – and take the second left after… no, maybe the third, aye, the third.” And before you think I’m exaggerating, yes, those are exact directions I got from someone yesterday afternoon.
We got almost 50 minutes down the road, having run into some Canadians from Orangeville who were having remarkably similar problems (but with access to a car, so perhaps less annoying), before getting back on track with the help of, without a word of a lie, a young man with bagpipes wearing a kilt.
So we walked back, much more careful about streets and landmarks. We turned right immediately after the library, and then left again when we came to the end of the street (according to the map, at least; the driveway for the building started right there too, so it was a bit misleading). Then we were on the right road and started walking along the shore, a beautiful site that was marred only by our frustration with the wrong turn so early on. One or two more helpful citizens later and we’d cemented the fact that we knew where we were going.
Part of our Google directions took us on a bike path, right through a wilderness reserve that was absolutely beautiful and reminded me so strongly of Ontario that it felt like home. We stopped a few times along the reserve, both to rest and to drink it all in. Trees and streams everywhere, not a building in sight; only the asphalt of the trail showing me that there were humans about at all.
Apparently there are biking trails that could have taken us all the way up to Glasgow, only occasionally by highway. It’s something to think of if I’m ever silly enough to do something like this again.
Part of the problem with directions is Google, which uses one street name when the street has four, only two of which are on any given sign. A fine gentleman on the bike path with his two sons gave us the best news we’d heard all day: we were on the right track and, in fact, on the road that would lead us all the way to Glasgow. “Just keep following the signs up ahead,” he told us. “As long as the roundabout exit says Glasgow, just take it. You’ll get there.”
So we did. We walked another two hours or so after meeting him, and the sun was sliding beneath the trees on the horizon when we thought we should make camp. The highway shoulders were much smaller than we had anticipated, forcing us between walking on the road – we weren’t ever honked at, and I can only imagine it’s because we looked so funny rather than because we weren’t frustrating some people – or walking through wet grass. We alternated depending on how heavy traffic was, but eventually came to a flat ground that we pushed through to find a camping site.
We came into a small forested area near a subdivision of Irvine, where we poked a bit at the ground, hoping to find something without so many roots. Eventually Drew decided to set off on his own, sans heavy pack, to search something out. We both took off our packs and he left me to watch them in the dying light of the sun.
As soon as my pack came off I was swept with a wave of nausea, something I’d felt twinging that morning but hadn’t actually succumbed to. Cramps in my stomach redoubled, and I had to sit down with the pain. Standing up made me light-headed. Something was definitely wrong, and only the adrenaline of being on the trip and the exhaustion of the pack had kept it down.
When Drew returned I let him know, and we hurried to set up camp on the stretch of beautifully flat grass he had found nearby. The tent went up easily, and we pushed everything inside as carefully as we were able. I was asleep twenty minutes later, around 8pm. Drew had cracked a glowstick – one of our nods to D&D’s “adventuring pack,” where you can buy an item called a sunrod that operates on a similar principle – and was reading to pass the early evening by.
I woke again throughout the night with cramps and waves of nausea, thankfully never having to run outside. The rain came down heavily at one point, and I am happy to say that our tent worked in every way but one (it’s too short; the feet of our sleeping bags got wet). We finally woke ourselves at almost 10am, and I knew as soon as I woke up that there was no way I could walk today.
We packed slowly, Drew having spoken to a gentleman named Richard who was out walking his dog and told us that the train station in nearby Irvine could get us to Glasgow. Before we finished, Richard had returned with an offer to drive us to the station itself.
Let me say this now: the kindness of people we have met, from Marleen in Belfast to Richard in Irvine, has been unsurpassed by anyone I’ve ever met before. Going so far above and beyond their call to help out strangers… we could not have come even this far in our adventure without Marleen, and I’d be significantly more miserable right now if not for Richard.
I’m fairly certain it’s food poisoning. I’m even more certain that I won’t be up to walking tomorrow morning either, given how hard it is for me to even walk up the stairs, much less do it with some light-as-feathers bags that I have with valuables that I don’t want to leave in the hostel luggage room.
Drew and I are looking at alternatives for the next few days to ensure that we are still walking the full distance, to make up for the distance lost today and the distance we will surely be losing tomorrow and maybe even the next day. The advantage to us staying here overnight is that we’ll be able to ‘blog about those changes fairly soon – you won’t have to wait ’til the 8th of October for our next check-in, but unless this illness gets worse overnight instead of better, we are still very solidly finishing this trip, even if part of it has to be done by train and made up for by walking in the city.
We’re a little discouraged by all the early setbacks, but we’re not giving up. We’ve still got plenty of time to reschedule, remap, and finish up the full 500 mile walk by the end of the month. Thanks for all your support and well wishes!