Friday, 27 May 2016

The Cape Wrath Trail (SNT3) - 27th May to 1st June

Loch Eil
After a rest day in Fort William, I left the town the following day on the small ferry across Loch Linnhe to Camusnagaul and the start of the Cape Wrath Trail as my wife waved me off from the jetty. I had expected this part of the trip to be hard, having just spent eight days hiking with her, and so it proved. My mood deteriorated throughout the day as the early sunshine degenerated into grey gloom along with my mental state. The early part of the walk in the sunshine alongside Loch Eil was very pleasant but soon the miles along the roadside became monotonous, although there was little traffic. Eventually, I reached the head of the loch and crossed the road into Glenfinnan and passed a sign stating ' Strathan 10 miles' as I headed into Gleann Fionn Lighe, which signalled the start of the walk proper. As I followed the clear wide track into the mountains, I thought of the time sixteen years earlier when I had set off on this walk with a friend. This time however, I felt very lonely without my wife walking alongside me. This mood deepened as I progressed through lovely countryside with forest to my left and a river to my right. Eventually, the surroundings became wilder as the peak of Gulvain appeared ahead like a huge sharks fin. Soon, I left the main track for a strength-sapping climb through tussocky grass and bog to the summit of the Gualann nan Osna pass, which seemed to take an age to reach. When I finally did reach it, it was with great relief and I stood staring at the mountains ahead and down into the Glen Camgharaidh as a number of red deer, disturbed at my approach, scattered down the steep slopes into the glen below. On my earlier trip with my friend, we had passed this spot and descended into the glen and turned west to set up camp on the bank of the River Camgharaidh. For some inexplicable reason, I didn't want to do this, my whole being told me to go in the opposite direction down the valley, so I did! I still don't know why I did it but as I squelched along, I suddenly spotted a potential campsite by a tree next to the river and set my tent up. Once my tent was up, my mood improved and as I ate I looked up at the near vertical slope of Gulvain and pondered what to do next. After eating, I slowly settled down for the night and studied the maps and guidebook for the onward route as rain began to fall on the tent. I wasn't quite sure exactly what I would do in the morning but I fell asleep listening to music on my MP3 player. Tomorrow would bring a solution!

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The West Highland Way (SNT2) - 18th to 25th May 2016

At the start of the West Highland Way, Milngavie

We made our way to the centre of Milngavie and the start of the walk and were amazed at the sheer amount of walkers by the post marking the starting point. Groups stood having their photos taken before setting off but we headed into a shop to buy breakfast from a grumpy woman behind the counter and stood outside watching the constant parade of walkers as we ate. Eventually, it was our turn to be off and an obliging walker offered to take our picture together and then we joined the parade of walkers heading for MugdockPark. For me, it was a total change from the previous days when I had spent most of my time walking alone. The weather was fairly wet, which was also a change as this was the first rain I had experienced on the walk so far. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The Central Lowlands (SNT1) - 15th to 17th May 2016

Union Canal 

After descending from the Cauldstane Slap and leaving the hills behind, I walked for around a mile on a fast but fairly quiet road before leaving it for a country lane heading for the Union Canal. Reaching Almondell Country Park, I drew glances from strolling families - this was not hiking country - and after more road walking, finally reached the Union Canal, where a sign advised me that Linlithgow was ten miles away. The canal was opened in 1822 to carry minerals, particularly coal, to Edinburgh, and is unusual in that it follows the 240ft contour and therefore has no locks. It was re-opened in 2001 for leisure purposes and reconnected to the Forth and Clyde canal in 2002 by the Falkirk Wheel, which I would be passing later in the walk. At first, the ease of the canal towpath seemed like a luxury but I soon came to find that walking on a flat hard surface and the repetitive nature of both the walking and the scenery became very wearing and I was glad when I eventually arrived in Linlithgow after twenty five miles of walking. I had a moments confusion when I arrived at the room I had booked as I couldn't work out how to access the building, which had an electronic pass-key entry system and every time I rang the booking number, I got a helpline for a well known supermarket chain. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The Southern Uplands (SNT1) - 10th to 15th May 2016

Wideopen Hill on the St.Cuthbert's Way 

The next morning, after breakfast, I left the guesthouse and headed to the bus stop in the centre of Kelso. In common with most of the Border towns and villages that I had visited in the past, I liked Kelso. It had a handsome square sporting an impressive town hall and I had enjoyed spending a couple of hours wandering around it's tidy streets the previous year as I waited for my bus to Berwick as I made my way back from completing the Pennine Way.  Now, however, I was too impatient to start my walk to spend time looking around the slumbering town as I crossed the square to the bus-stop.  After a short bus ride, I found myself on the village green outside the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, scene of my post-walk celebrations at the end of my gruelling ten and a half hour battle against the elements the previous year as I had crossed the Cheviot Hills from Byrness. My first two days of the walk would follow the St.Cuthbert's Way, a long distance walk from Melrose to Holy island, although I would be walking it in a reverse direction to Melrose. From here, I would then follow the Southern Upland Way to Traquair. I was familiar with this long distance, coast to coast National Trail as I had walked it in 1999 with a friend, so I knew what to expect. 

Monday, 9 May 2016

Crossing the Border - My Scottish National Trail hike - 9th May 2016

Royal Borders Bridge, Berwick Upon Tweed

In the summer of 2015 I walked the Pennine Way completing the whole route in fifteen days and at the end of the walk, as I sat on the train returning south from Berwick-upon-Tweed, I wondered what challenge could compare with what for me, had been a superb trail. In 2000, I had attempted to walk the Cape Wrath Trail with a friend but illness had forced me to pull out after four days at Shiel Bridge and the walk had, in the intervening years, lurked in the back of my mind as unfinished business.