I’m unfit, lazy, and hate exercise, (writes Simon Varwell, author of ‘Up the Creek Without a Mullet’).
Mind you, I love the outdoors, go hillwalking often and cycle occasionally. So what exercise I do get is usually when I think of it as something fun instead or am tricked into it.
That was the case with my latest expedition. It started out as an idea about rail travel, but left me leaner, trimmer and more tanned than I had been for ages, and utterly exhausted to boot. If I’d known that would be the result I probably wouldn’t have bothered, but I’m glad I did.
I live in Inverness but frequently travel by train to Edinburgh for work. It’s a scenic journey of over three hours through some of Scotland’s best bits – the Cairngorm mountains, the rolling, forested hills of Perthshire, and the golden coastline along the Firth of Forth as you zoom over the famous Forth Bridge and into Edinburgh.
But one day I realised that I knew very few of the stops along the way. They were just blurs in the train window, yet they represented an adventure into the unknown that lay right under my nose. So in 2012 I took a week off work and travelled the line, stopping at all twenty-three stations for at least a couple of hours, though often longer and overnight when timetables dictated.
It was a fabulous journey into strange new places – picturesque villages, abandoned castles, crumbling post-industrial wastelands, and quiet, ordinary towns that you’d never imagine in a voyage into the unknown. Yet I uncovered fascinating stories along the way, and saw a entirely new side of my own country. Though I was never far from home, I felt at times like I was in a strange new world.
But what truly surprised me was the amount of exercise I ended up getting. Visiting up to five stops a day and wandering around each of them, I estimated I’d clocked at least ten miles’ walking for six consecutive days.
It proved to me not only that mystery and adventure is there to be found where you least expect it, but also that you don’t need to be a well-equipped mountaineer or steely-nerved daredevil to have an adventure. You just need to go for a walk. Or hop on a train and then go for a walk. But either way, just walk. You never know what’s been lurking on your doorstep all this time.
The Next Stop, an account of Simon’s stop-by-stop journey from Inverness to Edinburgh, is his third book and is out now.