Hitching to Scotland
Colin Thomas and I completed a sponsored Hitch-Hike to Scotland in July 2006.  

The trip was to raise money for a three week mission trip to Montenegro, taking place in August 2006 with about 8 members of the Warwick University Christian Union.  

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We set off from Brooksby, Tuesday 11th July 08:00

The Story:
On our way back we stopped in the lakes for a few days and recorded a video diary for each of the first four days, Tuesday 11th July till Friday 14th.  The videos are a bit big, but now contain relevant photos spliced in for your enjoyment (there's also an audio recording for low bandwidth users):
Colin and Anthony's Video Diary screenshot

Day 1 Video wmv (33Mb)    Day 1 Audio mp3 ( 6Mb)
Day 2 Video wmv (28Mb)    Day 2 Audio mp3 ( 3Mb)
Day 3 Video wmv (24Mb)    Day 3 Audio mp3 ( 4Mb)
Day 4 Video wmv (23Mb)    Day 4 Audio mp3 ( 2Mb)

Or you can read this account of our adventures (for photos, click on the hyperlinks):

DAY 1 – Tuesday 11th

Colin arrived on Monday 10th July, so we set off from Brooksby at around 8am on Tuesday 11th.  First destination: Melton Mowbray.  It being a Tuesday we wanted to catch the market day rush, and as it happened Colin got us a lift within about 15 minutes with what turned out to be the only female driver of the journey bar Christine’s mum.  Only 6 miles from my house, but it’s a start. 

Arrived in Melton before 9 o’clock and headed for Nottingham road.  We hoped to get to Nottingham then cut across to Derby.  Three and a half hours later we gave up on this fantastic plan.  Despite standing at a comfortable lay-by on one of the busiest roads of the town, nobody stopped for us.  We tried everything – writing John O’ Groats on our sign, smiling, the works.  Eventually gave up and headed for the only other road heading vaguely north (west-north-west by west).  After a mere hour or so, in which Colin dozed and I tried to work out how I could fake a photo with our grinning faces either side of a Scotland sign, someone stopped for us.  A friendly bloke who had some history of hitching and picking up hitchers.  He was heading for Loughborough, but he took us to a truck stop just beyond so we could get onto the motorway.  Colin got this lift too (but who’s counting?)  By this time it was about 2:15. 

We didn’t learn till later that the insurance for lorry companies forbids picking up hitchers.  After spending the best part of a dismal hour at the truck stop we tried the A-roads either side of the motorway roundabout.  Finally, at 4:15, I managed to thumb my first lift, up the M1.  True, it was only one junction up, and I had to sit among the tools in the back of the van, but it was a lift nonetheless. 

Our next lift came a bit more quickly – we were actually able to stand on the side of the motorway just before the roundabout at Junction 24 because there was a tailback for a mile or so.  Only ten minutes or so after dragging out the old M1 (N) sign a four-by-four called across and asked us if we wanted a lift.  “We’re only going as far as Rotherham – you’re probably better off waiting here” was what the male half of the couple said, so I thanked him and declined.  The only lift I have ever declined.  Fortunately Colin had a slightly better idea of where Rotherham was, and due to the sluggish nature of the traffic I was able to catch up and retract my refusal.  That lift got us a good 40 miles further up the motorway, during which time they played Bob Dylan (much to Colin’s delight) and offered us mints.  The first lift I’ve had with someone who had a passenger.  They were a confusing blend of Scottish and Yorkshire, but we don’t hold that against them. 

From the services just above Junction 31 Colin got us a lift all the way to Leeds.  The vehicle was a kind of mini-minibus, so we didn’t see much of the driver.  So little, in fact, that the two of us can’t even agree on the colour of his skin.  He took another hitcher as well, who claimed to have been hitching around the country for 12 years, working at services and hotels along the way. 

Leeds.  Ah, Leeds.  Here I must point out that our map of reference was a 20 year old National Trust map.  Roads change.  The M1 has since changed into the M62, the M621 has been created, taking over some of the old M62, and the M1 has developed the ability to sneak traffic onto and off itself without a visible slip-road.  Anyhow, we managed to walk around for over an hour looking for a way onto the M62 west.  When we got back to where we started with nothing to show for it except photographic evidence of attack by the local wildlife we decided to strike out east for one of the nearby villages that hits the motorway at the next junction along.  How hard can it be to find a motorway in the middle of a village?  Answer: next to impossible.  Two hours later we came to a T-junction with a decidedly quiet b-road, and were on the point of giving up when help materialised in the form of a friendly Yorkshire couple in a Transit van.  They stopped when they saw our frightened lost faces and explained how to get to the M62.  Back the way we came for about an hour.  At our crestfallen expressions they bundled us into the cab and took us all the way there.  This feat of passenger seat occupation involved the female half of the duo sitting more or less on the side window, while the driver was restricted pretty much to gears 3 and up. 

After waving a friendly goodbye we settled down to wait in a lay-by just outside Oulton, already casting about for somewhere to sleep as the sun began to sink.  It can’t have been ten minutes, and barely 20 cars, before Colin bagged us another lift – this time with a couple of locals off to Manchester to sell T-shirts outside The Arena after a concert.  They picked us up because “nobody goes to Manchester from here”.  Our hopes of getting in to Liverpool by nightfall, squashed out of all likelihood after our first half day spent within walking distance of my house, started to revive. 

Dropped at a services above Manchester we were fairly optimistic, but an hour later, with the sun almost gone, we decided to jack it in for the night.  The flow had dropped to about 10 cars an hour, and none of them seemed to be paying us any attention.  So, since our only sleeping arrangements consisted of a sleeping bag apiece, we checked into the hotel for the night.  No, wait – our budget for the trip was set at £10 each, so we crawled under the trees a few yards from the motorway on one side and an A-road on the other and prayed for a dry night.  

DAY 2 – Wednesday 12th

Woken by the sunrise at 4:30, we had a lie in till 6, and Colin got us our first lift of the day at around 7.  In another commercial van, but with enough passenger seats for us both this time.  The bloke, an electrician who commutes from Leeds every day, took us to Penny Lane, which was great for those of us who are crazy about the Beatles. 

From Penny Lane, we asked directions for Maghull, certain that we’d be knocking up Christine’s family to shove toast and cereal into our starved maws before too long.  We were told to get a bus into the centre, another bus to the station and a train to Maghull.  Not a very promising start, especially since public transport doesn’t really count as hitch-hiking in the purest sense.  So we walked.  And walked.  Past the docks, past the Liver building.  And eventually found a bus stop that claimed it could take us to our final destination.  We reasoned, partly with our weary feet and sweat-soaked back-packs, that since we had come a long way out of our way to get to Liverpool we could afford a few miles public transport usage, since it would be impossible to get a lift out of the city centre.  After waiting around at Paradise Street bus station we found a little timetable tucked away that told us that there would be no buses till 6:04am on Saturday.  And then again at 6:15am.  You wait a week for a bus and two turn up at once.  But we didn’t really want to do that, so we set off again for a train station.  The only one we knew of was Lime Street, but when we asked for directions we got sent to St James’ underground.  They sent us up the road to Liverpool Central, which turned out to be a better choice anyhow.  £2 each of our precious budget blown on one 6 mile train journey.  This money was supposed to be used for food, but since we had half a packet of digestives and a bit of chocolate we hadn’t found cause to spend any yet. 

Christine met us at the station and walked us back to her house, where we breakfasted sumptuously at about 11 o’clock.  The day went by in a haze of food, Rummikub, cinema (yes, they treated us to a trip to see Pirates of the Caribbean 2), showers and more food.  We met David from work, spent the evening with David’s family and Christine’s alternately and then me and Colin spent the night in a spare room and a hammock in the garden respectively.  It was a lovely night, and still no rain. 

DAY 3 – Thursday 13th

Our next lift wasn’t quite bona-fide, since Christine press-ganged her mum into taking us to the M6 (along the quietest motorway in the country, the M58).  With our unsolicited packed lunches we were looking forward to getting all the way to Scotland by the afternoon.  Our theory that mid-mornings are a bad time to hitch was borne out by the fact that we hung around by the motorway at Junction 26 for hours before deciding to try our luck further up.  I reckon we walked about 6 miles, through villages near the motorway, crossing a very inviting canal, before finally hitting Junction 27.  It was 2 o’clock before we got our first proper lift of the day (yes, Colin got this one too, making the score 6-2).  Arguably the newest vehicle we’d been in – ever.  We had to pull back the plastic of the seats to get our belts on.  It was another commercial van, but this time the delivery was of the van itself.  The chap who picked us up was driving it up to Ireland, and possessed a set of trade plates, so he knows what it’s like to be hitching.  After a small detour at the next services to pick up milk he forgot for his tea we were on our way.  He took us as far as the Lancaster services, where we ate our lunches (I’m sure the tomato wasn’t squashed when it was packed.  Or the pear.  Or sarnies…).  Colin discovered a pound coin on the ground, which upped his working budget to £9 while I was still on £8. 

Not too long after this I bagged our final lift.  Those of you who have been keeping track of the distances so far may be surprised at that last sentence.  Final lift?  Either they happened upon someone visiting relatives in Edinburgh or they utterly failed to get any further than the lake district.  Well, it was a bit of both.  The driver, an ex-Warwick student no less, took us all the way to Carlisle – a whopping 70 miles.  With a working knowledge of bad football clubs and English literature to add to his university he and Colin had plenty to talk about.  This pulled the score up to 6-3, so pretty much a win for Colin.  But we all know that distance is more important than number of lifts.  Well, Colin wins that one too fairly conclusively at 189 to 114 miles.  OK, how about average distance? Yes, a clear win for Anthony with a good solid 38 mile average compared to Colin’s pitiful 31½ miles.  But then, Colin’s new to this hitching business, so we weren’t expecting much anyway. 

Little did we realise that, after our fortuitous shunt (here seen driving off with our silent blessing) to the northern-most reaches of our native land, it would be so hard to hop over the border.  In our newfound optimism we even stopped at Carlisle's football club shop to pay homage to some player or other.  A word of advice to hitch-hikers: Carlisle doesn’t like you.  We don’t know why, but it’s true.  Unlike Melton Mowbray, however, they aren’t afraid to express their feelings.  Meltonites may hold you in disdain.  They may even despise you and your kind, but they won’t go so far as to swear at you, attempt a drive-by hat theft or try the old pretend-to-stop-and-speed-away trick.  Carlisleians have no such scruples.  All of the above and more occurred before we gave up and started our most epic trudge of the journey. 

We didn’t think at first that we would be walking all the way.  We just wanted to get out of the town.  Then maybe go down the road a bit to find a good spot.  Then the road started to resemble a motorway (the A74 becomes a motorway 50 miles earlier than our map led us to believe), and we abandoned it for lonely side-roads and deserted countryside.  Words cannot adequately describe that journey.  Suffice it to say we weren’t quite sure where we were going, continually found our path blocked by farms, rivers or just a lack of actual road, but we kept going.  As Bilbo would have said, “Go back? No good at all.  Go sideways? Impossible.  Go forward? Only thing to do!  On we go.”  Eventually we ran across the Esk, negotiated an overfriendly colt and made our way to the main road to bridge the river and the subsequent railway.  We took a path beside this road till it branched off to Gretna, and we finally stumbled across the border at 10 o’clock with the light just fading and our feet and legs grumbling about the 12 mile trek.  We stopped to get some good shots of the sign, but all we got was this and this (not for the faint-hearted).  By this time we had our hearts set on haggis and chips.  Not much of a reward, you might say, but it’s all we had to hope for, so after a brief break we staggered on into the village in search of a chippy.  On the way we passed a cash machine, where I won 50p off Colin as a result of a bet involving the availability of Scottish money in Scotland.  Easiest 50p I ever earned, but it put us even in the budget stakes, with £8.50 each still to spend after reaching our destination.  Even in Scotland we weren’t left alone to enjoy ourselves – first we utterly failed to find a chip shop; the only place open at the unearthly hour of 10:30 was a Chinese takeaway, where we squandered a whopping £6.70 between us.  Made a very welcome evening meal, but even then we weren’t done for the day.  We still had to find somewhere to sleep.  Now dark, we wandered back through Gretna looking for somewhere secluded enough to dump our sleeping bags, and settled on a big airy bus shelter just outside a shopping centre on the edge of town.  We set an alarm for 10 to 6 so as to be up before the first bus and settled down.  Under cover, it could rain all it cared.  Apart from a brief hiccup in which I found I had lost my phone and we traipsed back across the border to find it, we were all set for a well-earned night’s sleep.  Alas, it was not to be.  Not ten minutes later a security guard walked round, observing our weary forms from behind the shopping centre’s locked gates.  He walked off without a word, and just when we thought we’d escaped being bothered the tannoy came on – “Bing bong! Yer cain’t sleep there”.  With nowhere left to go, we headed for the no-man’s-land between the Welcome to England and Welcome to Scotland signs.  Colin was reduced to sleeping on a park bench, while I was reduced, somewhat further, to sleeping on the ground beside the park bench.  Some welcome. 

DAY 4 – Friday 14th

Dropped off admiring the Scottish stars (which cynics have suggested are no different to English stars) and woke with the sun at some time around 5.  We slept in till about 7 to give the dew time to evaporate off our sleeping bags.  Our mission was complete.  Apart from the haggis and chips.  That still niggled at us, so we took a bus to Annan, just up the coast, found our much sought-after local speciality and spent a sizeable chunk of the afternoon dozing on the grass in the shade of some obscure monument.  Could even have been Robert Burns - they do seem to be pretty keen on him.  We spent some time looking for the sea, but apart from some derelict boats we didn't even come close.  We had had enough of hitching by this time, so ended up getting a train down from Annan to Carlisle.  The station was unmanned, and nobody came down the train to sell us a ticket, so our most difficult stint of the journey on the way up, the walk from Carlisle to Gretna, was matched by our easiest stint back from Annan to Carlisle.  From Carlisle, the hub of hitch-hiker hatred, we took another train down to Penrith.  A brave attempt to hitch from there reminded Colin of family friends who lived not too far away, and the upshot was a weekend spent with them in the lakes.  We went down to Dervwent Water where we sat around getting sunburnt and skimming stones (besides the exciting discovery of a very realistic Loch Ness monster).  We even discovered, to Colin's delight, a grammatically correct  '10 items or fewer' sign in a local supermarket.  Eventually we  took a very civilized, if somewhat delayed, train journey from Penrith back home,. and so the saga ends.  

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The Route: Starting in Brooksby, Leicestershire (at the bottom right)
Our route from Brooksby to Scotland
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