Hike Southbound through Britain with Daryl May
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Tain tolbooth
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Thursday, Feb 14, 2008 to
Friday, Feb 21, 2008

Tain, Highland

Miles: 0
Cum miles: 94.7
Percent complete: 9.8
Bed signRoyal Hotel, Tain ***
Cost for bed and breakfast: 45 ($90)

Bed sign Morangie B&B, Tain *****
Cost for bed and breakfast: 25-27.50 ($50-55)
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Bad blister
Rest Day 1 - A visit to the doctor

After checking out of the Dunbius on Thursday morning, I limped half a mile or so to the Tain and District Health Centre, where I flashed this photo of my blister to the receptionist, hoping that her breakfast was decently digested. It must have impressed her, because they kindly took me in as an urgent case after a modest wait.

Americans have poor opinions of the National Health Service, probably because they pick up on the horror stories that the British themselves expose. But the NHS has its good side too.

Dr. Simon rapidly looked at the foot, prescribed an antibiotic (by computer), and sent me off to Nurse Mary McConnell for dressings. She involved the podiatrist at the clinic, and between them they gave me royal treatment and a supply of dressings for a week. Their advice was to rest with my feet up at least until the infection had receded, as judged by swelling and redness over a lot of the foot. That will likely take a day or two.

After the doctor's visit, with the Dunbius fully booked in the space of a couple of hours, I holed up in the Royal Hotel with a supply of food and juice and the antibiotics - and set my clothes in the bath to wash, which was timely.

Tomorrow, I think I'll bus into Inverness, and get some new boots or at least running shoes, returning by bus to Tain where, because the Royal is full tomorrow, I've booked at the Morangie B&B, arranging to leave my backpack there in the morning and to check in when I'm back from Inverness.

Two days off are nice, except that I don't feel I've earned them.

The health center charged 50 ($100), and the pharmacy 7 ($14) for the antibiotic. It seemed excellent care, offered promptly, and would have cost more in the States. Judging by their reaction to the wound, and my pain, it was as well that I got medical attention when I did. And I felt fortunate that these nice people could see me promptly and handle it.

I'll feel even better if the treatment and new boots solve the problem. Blisters, like motion sickness, are easily forgotten when you're no longer afflicted, but hell to experience in the here and now.

Royal Hotel Tain

Rest Day 2 - A slow realization

Over breakfast in the Royal Hotel - of "porage" dribbled with honey followed by my annual serving of kippers - I learned why the hotel was full tonight. A sheep farmers' convention was scheduled. So at 9.30 am, Hobson hobbled out of the Royal and down the street to the Morangie B&B, where owners, Allan and Tricia Andrew, took him in that early. The Andrews offer quality accommodation affordably. With a dawning realization that the blister would take time to heal, I decided to stay at least three nights.

Breakfast at Royal Hotel Tain

Why that long? Well, Alan Sloman and Mark Alvarez - both more accomplished hikers than I - emailed incisively that it was no good starting off again without these blisters healed. I reluctantly agreed, and Jennifer agreed, and Hobson then agreed, even if it takes longer than three days, which is quite possible because the darn blisters are right on underfoot pressure points. Moreover, it makes no sense to rush into Inverness today to buy new boots. Not only would the time on my feet retard healing - but what's the sense of judging the comfort of new boots when your feet are bandaged and you can't walk easily around the store to try them out?

I just have to replace the walking agenda with a healing agenda for a while. To do this, I need to shape my mind and embrace patience - take the medications on time, elevate the feet, keep the wound clean, and change the dressings daily. And, of course, a good part of the therapy is drinking Cadbury's hot chocolate and eating cookies in my room.

The Royal Hotel had a bath. But I wanted to hold off until I was at the Morangie before changing the dressings, since I couldn't guarantee that my own handiwork would stay on for the half-mile hike from the Royal, via the supermarket, to the Morangie. The right foot's blister is so close to the toes that the adhesive part of the dressing has to adhere to the toes for it to stay in place. At that time, this seemed quite a tall order when you have to flex your feet to walk.

But the bathtub beckoned, and I decided to take a bath while keeping both feet dry. Now the Royal's bath had a fixed but rather frail shower door covering half the bath length, so getting in and swinging my feet around the door wasn't easy. But getting out without wetting my feet was even harder. How is that done? In my daily journal, I offered a prize to the first person who emailed me the the official, i.e., my, procedure.  The prize is an electronic picture of human-dog Hadrian.

Of course, if you have more of an interest in human-dog Hadrian than bathing protocol, he is my avatar on the outdoor bloggers forum.  More to the point, this is a very useful hiking forum.

Walking from the Royal Hotel this morning, I passed a fair-sized bookstore right in the high-rent district of central Tain. Now you may have read my treatise on British literacy in the northbound part of this website. If so, you'll understand why a small town like Tain (fewer than 5000 inhabitants) has a decent-enough bookstore, even though it has no real clothing or footwear stores, and no fast-food chains.

The explanation must be that the Scots pay more attention to books than to clothing or Big Mac's, correct?

So what I want to know is why Tain has at least six banks.

Bookstore Tain

Rest Day 3 - Nice weather for hikers

The blister felt just slightly better this morning, but not at all comfortable enough to walk on, even to the bus stop, and certainly not well enough for a traipse around Inverness to find new boots.

A photo showed only a slight reduction in swelling and the same area of wound.

There's just nothing for it but to nurse this for longer. Tomorrow is Sunday, and not a good day for either buses or shopping. But Monday is starting to feel like a more likely day for me to be able to get around anyway.

I really wish I hadn't wisecracked about underfoot quackery earlier. One scorns witchdoctors at one's own risk.

So I remain holed up in the Morangie B&B, sipping Cup-a-Soup, eating sardines from the can, and keeping liquids up to speedily carry away any toxins.

As for room comforts, I'm as snug as a bug in a rug, and I highly recommend the Morangie and its kind hosts, Allan and Tricia. Mine isn't a large room, but it's got everything that's needed - to a high standard - and it's quite devoid of fancy frippery. Nice touch: a TV with only one remote control.

Outside, it's still great hiking weather. This morning, over breakfast, I looked out at a frosty meadow running down to Dornoch Firth. On the meadow - a pair of Shetland ponies with frosty manes, chomping away on frosty grass. In the entrance of the B&B is a map on which I traced out my backroad route to Alness, past many such frosty meadows. The combination of view and map almost made my feet dance. The spirit is willing . . .

Of course, perfect hiking weather when you're out of action means what sort of weather when you're ready to go?

Morangie meadow

Rest day 4 - Slow to heal

In my opinion, this morning's blister photograph showed very little improvement. But, through the kindness of friends and their friends (whom I won't name for medical etiquette reasons), a podiatrist looked at my foot this Sunday morning. She said that there was no infection, which removed one of my worries. She also pronounced it much improved judging from the daily photo sequence.

It's got to heal by itself now, she said, which is going to take time.

I am going to search out a good book. A long one.

Rest Day 5 - Murdo's diagnosis

I'm starting to like this invalid thing. Who would want to pour out sweat on a thousand mile trail when they could settle down with Nevil Shute and C.P. Snow under a duvet in a peaceful Scottish town like Tain? The term "God's country" comes readily to mind here.
I find I can hobble less painfully this morning. I'll save any more itemization of my condition until tomorrow.

Last night, I was fortunate to meet a young Scottish mountaineer (also recuperating from an injury, much more serious than mine). He's quite an expert on boots. Murdo reckoned my boots weren't much good, and also that their fit was quite liable to cause blisters. I had no trouble agreeing.

What we came up with as a low-risk strategy for new boots was to buy the same as I wore northbound. So I found them on the web this morning, and ordered them for next-day delivery to my bedside in Tain. They weren't expensive either (55, $110) delivered, including tax. They may not be the greatest boots these Hi-Tec Mid Sympatec Waterproof Fasthike V-Lites in Taupe-Chocolate-Gold with Vibram Soles and Toe-Protector Toecaps, but they're just the ticket if they confine their blistering to the front, top, back and sides of my feet and steer clear of underneath. That's how they performed last time. I will gladly trade my underfoot blisters for those common or garden variety.

What does next-day delivery mean? In times of yore, i.e., when I lived here, Tuesday's promised delivery had a serious chance of translating to Friday's indignant discovery that they sent one boot to the wrong address yesterday and the other might well follow at such time as they find it in the warehouse. I'm ready to believe that forty years have made this a thing of the past. Still, it will be quite a surprise if they arrive tomorrow, and a considerable achievement, too, if they're coming from down south. I'm just praying that the right boots arrive and don't need returning.  As you'll see later, I should have prayed considerably harder.

Gavin M, a hiker from this area and a veteran of the TGO Challenge, tracked me down today, and offered to drive me to Inverness mid-week, as also has Tricia, my B&B hostess when she goes on Friday. It sounds like I won't need that help - in fact I'm quite ashamed to be the offeree - but I'll reserve judgment until after my internet boots delivery has actually occurred. Meanwhile I've exchanged memorable limericks with Russell P, and I'm glad to say that I've had the rare good sense not to publish them here.

Earlier, I offered a prize to the first person to describe the process for getting out of a bath when you've kept your feet dry getting in, and want to keep them that way. Frank from Wolverhampton wrote to say that you exited the bath on your stomach, but didn't say how you got to that position and what you did to prevent scraping off some of your finer anatomical features. In any event, Frank's answer is wrong. Brian from Brisbane Australia suggested a kind of flip on to your feet from lying on your back in the bath with your feet hanging over the side. Brian's advice sounds good for Australian surfers. It is not the technique that Hobson the Geriatric Hiker employed.

No, what I did was drain the bath, leaving me like a beached whale. Then I grabbed a towel prepositioned within arm's length, and placed it under my feet, whereupon I got out in the normal way.

Sometimes, you just have to think outside the bath.

Rest Day 6 - Poached egg and haggis

The right-foot blister (the left was never serious and is almost gone) is slow to heal. Mind you, it is less swollen now, and its square footage, so to speak, and its blood and dead-skin appearance are improved. I'm hoping that I'll be fit to go when the new boots arrive, but that's something to evaluate when delivery occurs and I try them out. While waiting for delivery, I decided against accepting an invitation to stay with friends in England, whom I could now have reached in my somewhat-recovered condition. I didn't want to be in England when the boots were delivered to Scotland.

I am taking my time with everything. This morning at the Morangie, I enjoyed Allan's delightful poached eggs, breakfast haggis, tomatoes, mushrooms and bacon - slowly, and that's after munching on a wonderful berry melange - also slowly. I ought to add that haggis does wonders for the taste of a poached egg - rather as a juicy sirloin steak with bearnaise sauce improves the taste of mashed potato.

Mind you, this morning's poached eggs had a special downside. Fixated as I am about the blister, I could see distinct similarities between the two. Why, a poached egg resembled my blister in size and even in color and texture - and vice versa.

I quickly covered one of the eggs with the haggis, and downed it in one bite. But the second poached egg was still there to mock me.

And so was another day of birdsong and awesomely perfect hiking weather.

Rest Day 7 - Life as a Scottish TV junkie
The weather forecast is now for gale force winds and rain over northwest Scotland, which is where I'm headed. So it's clear that my blister is nearly healed?

Unfortunately not - but it is getting better. I've asked Allan and Tricia if I can extend my stay at least until the new boots arrive. When will that be?

Per the seller's reports, the new boots didn't get handed to the package delivery service until after they should have been in my hands. Per my own research, they're using a two-day service and not actually a next-day one. So I'm hoping they'll arrive on Thursday now. In fact, I'll be relieved if they arrive before the weekend. Hobson's blood pressure has at least moderated now there's reason to believe that the boots have left the store. "Reason to believe" does not mean "verified" by the way. Oops, the blood pressure is rising again.

Meanwhile, there's television. Today, there's an interesting story about the endangered peregrine falcon, a sure-fire subject for British viewers - and interesting too, as I said. The peregrine is apparently the fastest of falcons, having been measured swooping at 200 mph. Now endangered in their natural habitat, some of them are adapting to city life. A few have nested in Lincoln Cathedral, allowing the television producers to combine old cathedrals with animal conservation for added audience appeal. (I am a cynical, old b------?) Adding interest is what these urban falcons now prey on. It turns out that they like nothing more than a pigeon or two for lunch - which addresses another environmental problem, further raising the television program's ratings. Why, only a politician's extra-marital affair could rival the appeal of an urbanized peregrine falcon story. Plus, think of the follow-up potential. When the audience is yawning at the politician's wife's protestations that she stands by her man, the falcons will have learned that pet cats are quite as scrumptious as pigeons - "Moggies are disappearing into thin air in Chipping Norton" - and think where that will take the ratings.

There are basically five television channels in Britain. In my cabin-fevered mind, one usually shows soccer, while a second airs quiz shows. A third is likely repeating a soap (but has a classic drama on Sundays), while a fourth may be a kid's show in one of the U.K.'s four official languages, i.e., English, Gaelic, Welsh, or Brum. [For American readers, Brum is short for Birmingham, Britain's second city. Brum is just English spoken with the accent of "Brummies" or Birminghamians.]

The remaining show could be about antiques, badgers, teapot collections, farming, old sailing ships, or knitting . . . or the news. And that's a subject in itself.

British news is an eclectic mix. International matters receive so much wider coverage than in the U.S. The election in Poland may get a full five minutes. The main matters of world affairs are covered with less parochialism than in the U.S. For example, if they're covering a civil war in Kenyanistan, they're more likely to cover the war than to be asking a senator's or MP's opinion of it - a man who never heard of Kenyanistan until five minutes earlier.

But where it gets really "British" is when they get to the government's decision to abolish oral exams for French language students in schools. These oral exams are apparently too stressful - never mind that much of the purpose of French language instruction is to educate people to talk French in France, an inherently stressful thing to do for multiple reasons, but which is eased by good oral French skills acquired at school. The news may devote a full ten minutes to this subject, and it could be the lead story all day.

I have clicked between all five channels for all seven days of my convalescence. I am not an expert on British television. Have I got it wrong?

Getting-better blister
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