Across Scotland – Shenavall Bothy to Ratagan

CW to SF Week 2Following on from last week’s post, here are notes, a map and two pictures for the second week of my walk across Scotland three years ago. I did fewer miles this week. Partly it was lollygagging. But I also suffered injuries that slowed things up – a bruised rib from a slip on a mountainside and, more seriously, a strained thigh muscle. I am quite sure the strain was caused by an assault course of a trail leaving Kinlochewe. Anyway, I ended up walking only four days out of seven.

Tomorrow, of course, is a huge day for Scotland, probably the biggest for 307 years. Whichever way the vote goes – independence or staying a part of the UK  – the trails, I suspect, will be much the same. Or maybe I have missed a promise or a warning from the campaign. Week Two:

START: Shenavall bothy, Saturday September 10th.
FINISH: Ratagan youth hostel, Friday 17th.
DISTANCE: 53 miles.

TERRAIN: Same as the first week, everything from trackless mountain to the main A87 road, with every standard of path and track in between.
BEST WEATHER: Thursday, definitely. Sunny and warm for the hike over a 1,700-foot bealach (pass) to Loch Duich.
WORST WEATHER: The remnants of Hurricane Katia on Monday bringing heavy rain to Glen Carron.
WILDLIFE HIGHLIGHT: Startling a stag below Bealach na Croise, north of Kinlochewe.

Day Eight - An Teallach from near Loch an Nid, the "Great Wilderness".

Day Eight – An Teallach from near Loch an Nid, the “Great Wilderness”.

MOST IMPRESSIVE HILL: An Teallach (photo right – the far-off, jagged ridge).

BEST COMPANY: Joe and Brid from Ayrshire, fellow guests at the Strathcarron Hotel. They set me on the right track to fix my injured leg, and were good company too during my enforced rest.
BEST “CRAIC”: The bar of the Kinlochewe Hotel – MC’ed by barman Scott.

Day 13 - Climbing above Camusluinie.

Day 13 – Climbing above Camusluinie.

BEST LODGING: Willie Nicolson’s bunkhouse in Camusluinie, all to myself and a wood-burning stove too.
HIGHEST HIGH: Probably seeing a soaked tent with two mountain bikes strewn outside it after decending from Bealach na Croise. They meant I would surely soon find the trail to Kinlochewe next after miles of heather-whacking.
LOWEST LOW: No doubt about this one. Developing a shooting pain along the inside of my right thigh on Monday, and fearing the whole hike might be over. Katia’s rain came along to cheer things up further.

HISTORY NOTE: The area around Kyle of Lochalsh is the most Gaelic-speaking of mainland Scotland (about 20% of the local people can speak the language). I heard not a snatch. A thousand years ago nearly all Scotland spoke this Celtic tongue. Only parts of Skye and the Outer Hebrides are majority Gaelic-speaking today.

Across Scotland – Cape Wrath to Shenavall Bothy

CW to SF Week 1

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.  

Cape Wrath to the Solway

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.

Cape Wrath to the Solway

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.    

Taking a Hike – Two Peaks in Vermont

The "Chin" and Summit of Mt Mansfield, VT.

The “Chin” and Summit of Mt Mansfield, VT.

One of the good things I have discovered about writing about hikes is that it keeps them alive for longer. Before, I took a hike, then came home and forgot about it. I exaggerate, but the hikes did go little reflected upon. Now, to take the example of the two climbs that are the subject of August’s “Taking a Hike” column, I went hiking, posted a few notes and pictures about it on this blog, and later wrote a column based on the outings. Then, when the column was published, I re-read it in order to write this post. It has all served to keep the Vermont hikes pleasantly front and center for a month and a half. It might be time to move on. But before I do, here are the links to the column at The Hour and Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure.

May’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “May – Norwalk River Valley” – or by clicking here).

Day Hike Notes – Mount Mansfield, Vermont

On the "chin" of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On the “chin” of Mt Mansfield, highest point in Vermont.

On our way home from Quebec last month, as on the outward journey, youngest and I stopped in Vermont to climb a mountain. This time it was Mount Mansfield. Unlike Mount Pisgah, nobody had recommended it. In fact, everything I had heard suggested that Camel’s Hump – VT’s highest undeveloped peak – would be the better hike. We went to Mt Mansfield for the essentially dumb reason that it is the highest in the state. Hey, I’ve now been on top of seven state high-points. Whoop-de-doo!

We lucked out with our weather and accommodation. Torrential rain gave way to sun for our drive into Vermont, and the sun mostly stayed with us on the mountain. Underhill State Park was the real stroke of luck. We drove to it as a name on the map, without knowing if we could even pitch a tent there. At 15 miles off I-89, some of them on dirt, it would have been a long wild-goose chase. The park turned out to be a gem, a basic campground in cool woods hard against the mountain; and right at the start of the trails leading up to the alpine tundra.

DATE: Wednesday, July 30th.
START & FINISH: Underhill State Park campground, Underhill, VT.
ROUTE: CCC Road–Halfway House Trail-The Long Trail-Sunset Ridge Trail.
DISTANCE: 6.8 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours, with lots of lingering.
TERRAIN: 2,550’ elevation gain to 4,395’ summit. Some clambering on slick rock higher up the Halfway House Trail. Easy going on ridge (Long Trail). A few downhill scrambles on the Sunset Ridge Trail.
MAPS: Simple trail map available from state park office, alternatively “Northern Vermont Hiking Trails” (4th edition) from Map Adventures.

WEATHER: Dry and mostly sunny.
WILDLIFE: Turkey vultures (?) circling the summit.

PHOTOS: Here, including some from our earlier Mount Pisgah hike.
BREAKFAST: Coffee, cereal, odds and ends at campground.
LUNCH: Cold quesadillas, assorted trail food on the way down.
– The mountain’s undeveloped and picturesque west side.
– Views from the ridge to Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks.
– Hearing the sounds of Stowe resort (east side, 2,800’ below) from the summit.
– The busy ridge, made possible by the Toll Road from Stowe.
KIT: Be prepared to put poles away when the clambering starts.
COMPANY: Only my daughter until the ridge, thereafter throngs (well, not exactly Times Square, but thronged for a mountain top).

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.

Sunset Ridge, along which runs the Sunset Ridge Trail.

The Long Road to Natashquan

Natashquan, Quebec.

Stop in Innu and French in Pointe-Parent. We did, and headed for home.

Natashquan is a village in Quebec, on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence; in Quebec, but 800 miles northeast of Montreal. If you want to travel farther east along the shore, you can take a dirt road for another 28 miles, then you would need a boat to take you on to Labrador. Last month, my daughter and I spent two weeks driving to Natashquan and back from Connecticut. We stopped a lot along the way. I suppose, if you pushed it, you could do the trip in a week, but what would be the point of that?

Our journey actually ended a few miles beyond Natashquan, at the edge of the Innu community of Pointe-Parent. We parked the car on a bluff overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence, and started to picnic out of the trunk. Two Innu men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, stereotypically carrying a case of beer. Hey, it was Friday! The younger of the two examined us suspiciously; the older, the one holding an open Bud, sat on my fender and started a conversation (in French, which the Innu here speak alongside their own Innu or Montagnais language). Were we from Quebec? The United States! We were, he said, bienvenue, and repeated his welcome in Innu – kwe kwe. Then they strode off through the dunes, the older man calling to his friends who were starting to fish for salmon.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

Limestone monument, Ile Niapiskau, Mingan Archipelago.

We had crossed from the south shore of the St Lawrence to the north on a two-hour ferry trip from Matane to Godbout, 340 miles “upstream” from Natashquan. After that, the navigation was very easy – keep following Route 138. It wasn’t all remote and beautiful, at least not until the last 100 miles. Particularly as far as Sept-Îles, Quebec’s hydroelectric and mining industries were much in evidence. Sept-Îles is an ugly town on a beautiful bay. But the farther east we went, the more the taiga and muskeg took over from dams and transmission lines. We spent a day exploring the Mingan Archipelago by boat and on foot, enjoying shorelines that reminded me of the very best of the Great Lakes.

Then, on that sunny Friday, we drove the last stretch. Natashquan dines out on being the end of the road (a status it’s losing) and the birthplace of Gilles Vigneault, an iconic Quebec singer-songwriter (“My country is not a country, it is winter”). But it is also quirkily beautiful, at least in the July sun. I have posted pictures of the village, and the journey to it, here.

Taking a Hike – A Creek to a Peak in the Catskills

" ... just a narrow, winding line through nature ... "

” … just a narrow, winding line through nature … “

My “Taking a Hike” column for July was published while my youngest and I were road-tripping and hiking up in Quebec. It is about a very plain trail in the Catskills, though one that leads to superb scenery. I recall a few signs at the start of the trail, but then just a narrow, winding line through nature all the way to Panther Mountain. Quebec was a contrast. Though the scenery in the various national parks was stunning, the trails were mostly anything but plain. Signage was frequent; some trails offered benches and shelters; viewing platforms were common. Trails, of course, should be developed according to the number and needs of their users, but Quebec reminded me how much I like the very plain kind. You can read the column at The Hour and Hersam Acorn Arts & Leisure. More about the hikes and roads in Quebec later.

April’s “Taking a Hike” is now available in full on this site (via the Taking a Hike tab – 2014: “Apr – Bear Mountain, CT” – or by clicking here).

Day Hike Notes – Mount Pisgah, Vermont

Lake Willoughby from Mt Pisgah, Westmore, Vermont

Lake Willoughby from one of Mt Pisgah’s outlooks.

I started putting this post together two weeks ago, perched above the Saint Lawrence river near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec. It was before 7 a.m. My youngest was still asleep in her tent behind me. The sun was up and there was a cool breeze. But before I make it sound too idyllic, I’ll add that a few mosquitos were up too – and breakfasting; and that my view of the Saint Lawrence was heavily screened by birch and pine. 

Still, summer roadtrip time had come round again, and that is always good. It was the fourth year in a row that D3 (daughter number 3) and I have hit the asphalt together. This year, we went to Quebec again, with bits of Vermont on the way up and back. After Rivière-du-Loup, I got carried away with the roadtrip, and forgot the post about our hike in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom the day before. So here it is now.

I have to thank Alex for the hike. He builds trails for Timber & Stone LLC, the VT company laying down the Norwalk River Valley Trail in Wilton. I asked him about his favorite hikes in VT as we walked down what was gradually becoming the NRVT last winter. Mount Pisgah was, if I remember correctly, at or near the top of the list.

DATE: Thursday, July 17th.
START & FINISH: Trailhead approx. 0.5 mi south ­of Lake Willoughby on VT Rte 5A.
ROUTE: Up Mt Pisgah south trail; down north trail; return to trailhead on Rte 5A.
DISTANCE: 7.0 miles total, of which 2.8 on Rte 5A.
TIME: 3.75 hour (8:00-11:45).
TERRAIN: 1,500-foot elevation gain to the 2,751-foot summit. The trail is steep in places (including some manmade steps), but well-maintained.
MAPS: Posted at trailhead kiosks.

WEATHER: Sunny and warm.
WILDLIFE: Red squirrels high up.

Mount Pisgah, Vermont

Looking south from Mount Pisgah.

PHOTOS: Just those in this post for now.
BREAKFAST: Half a cold quesadilla before setting out; the other half, plus granola bars, on the summit.
LUNCH: Dube’s Pittstop, Pittsburg NH, many hours and miles later.
– Well, the views of and around Lake Willoughby.
– Resting on a rock beside the crystal-clear lake on the final leg.
DOWNS: If I must find one, maybe that the summit is thoroughly wooded, and the views are from a few small outlooks; or maybe the wind farms in those views.
KIT: We set off in t-shirts, but could have used an extra layer when up top.
COMPANY: D3, plus one hiking pair on the way up and another on the way down.