Three years and one week ago today I set off into the rough grass at Cape Wrath – mainland Britain’s most northwesterly point – to start a lone hike across Scotland. The walk was the fulfilment of a persistent ambition, and it turned into six weeks and 400 miles of rewards and ordeals – mostly rewards.
To remember it, I am going to post a few notes every week until mid-October. The notes will correspond to a week on the hike. I’ll include a couple of good photos and a map. The first map is above. It shows the location within Scotland of that first week’s trek, and my overnight stops (six – I stayed two nights in Ullapool).
I say “to remember” the walk, but that is perhaps misleading; I have never really stopped thinking about it for long. In part, that is because it was one of the best experiences of my life (after marriage, kids, that sort of thing). Mostly, though, it is because I have been writing about the journey, on and off, ever since. I do not know yet when or how exactly the book will be published, but I hope these notes whet your appetite for adventure in Scotland, whether your own or of the armchair variety. So here goes, Week One.
START: Cape Wrath lighthouse, Saturday September 3rd.
FINISH: The bothy (walkers’ hut) at Shenavall in the “Great Wilderness”, Friday 9th.
DISTANCE: 90 miles.
Day Three – Looking north from Bealach nam Fiann (between Achfary and Kylesku).
TERRAIN: Everything from trackless moor to two-lane road, with every permutation of path and track in between.
BEST WEATHER: Sunday morning, when the sun shone bright on Loch Inchard.
WORST WEATHER: A lot of competition for this one. I’ll go for the bone-chilling wind and horizontal rain on the slopes of Glas Bheinn on the Tuesday.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: The snorting seals of Kylesku.
MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: The jagged ridge of Suilven seen from NE of Inchnadamph.
BEST COMPANY: The young couple who, at the end of my first day, brought me a cup of lukewarm, too-milky tea, and made up for it with great conversation.
BEST “CRAIC”: The bar of the Kylesku Hotel.
Day Seven – Shenavall bothy in the “Great Wilderness” (actually taken on the morning of Day Eight).
BEST LODGING: The Inchnadamph Hotel was very welcoming, but Shenavall bothy (left) all to myself is the winner.
HIGHEST HIGH: Again, a lot of competition – my first steps from Cape Wrath; sunny Loch Inchard; pitching my tent in the heather five minutes from the Kylesku Hotel. But I’m going to go for Bealach nam Fiann, pictured above. A bealach is a hill pass, and from this one I could see a day’s worth of hiking behind and ahead.
LOWEST LOW: The last dim, rain-lashed miles to Shenavall bothy (followed, it must be said, by a big up as soon as I was inside the shelter).
HISTORY NOTE: I spent two days crossing the district of Assynt (Kylesku to a little north of Ullapool). It was an area badly affected by the Clearances – the removal of people by their landlords to make way for sheep in the late 1700s and the 1800s. The people of Assynt gained a kind of justice for this in the 1990s when they banded together as the Assynt Crofters’ Trust to wrestle their land from fickle modern landowners and big-time finance.