The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain

Day 24 - Looking back to the Kings House

Day 24 – Leaving Kings House, Glen Coe

Because I live in southwest Connecticut, I mostly share hiking experiences from my home state and neighboring New York. Other parts of North America get a look-in when I am lucky enough to travel. I love the American wilds. But long before I ever set foot on an American trail, I loved the landscapes of Scotland.

Scotland just happens to be where I was born, although I did not get to stay there for long. The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is, for sure, about walking; 420 miles of it, in fact, from the far northwest to the English border. But the book is also about roots and heritage. If you like the outdoors, or Scotland, armchair journeying or memoir, you might like my book. Clicking on the image to the right will take you to bookstore links, as well as to cover reviews and the chance to read the opening pages. Here are snippets from two cover reviews, one from each side of the Atlantic:

“This is a book that inspires and it urges you to grab your boots and turn your face to the wind and set off into the Celtic twilight.”— Cameron McNeish, hiker, author and television presenter

“The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain is travel writing at its best.”—David Miller, author of AWOL on the Appalachian Trail

Scottish Hills (4) – Stob a’ Choire Odhair

Burn flowing off the Stob and Beinn Toaig

Burn flowing off the Stob and Beinn Toaig

On Tuesday, it stormed all day long. I drove around Skye in search of the Gaelic tongue. On Wednesday, the clouds stayed thick and low and it rained intermittently. I took a low-level hike in Glen Arnisdale and afterward went in search of Gavin Maxwell’s Camusfeàrna, both outings on the mainland adjacent to Skye.

The lousy weather continued overnight and through Thursday morning. But it was forecast to break around lunchtime, and I was determined to be in place when it did. I could have headed for any number of hills, but I wanted to be in Ayrshire for Friday evening, which made south the way to be heading. Friday’s weather looked good too, and my plan became Stob a’ Choire Odhair now and Ben Lomond on Friday morning before driving down to Ayrshire.

So, Stob a’ Choire Odhair (stop a hoy-yer oar, very roughly):

DATE: Thursday, September 27th.
START & FINISH: Parking area just south of Victoria Bridge, near Inveroran, which is in turn a few miles from Bridge of Orchy, Argyle. (Parking GPS: 56.536887, -4.814138)
ROUTE: There is no point in my describing what someone else describes very well. I followed stages 1-3 of this Walkhighlands route, out and back. (I did not go on to Stob Ghabhar for lack of daylight.)
DISTANCE: 7.5 miles at a rough guess.
TIME: About 5 hours (1:30 to 6:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Flat, smooth track beside the Abhainn Shira (river); then a rougher path for the climb beside the Allt Toaig (stream); finally a sometimes heart-pumping ascent of the Stob’s south side to the 3,100-foot summit.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Dry, cool, decreasing cloud (though only gradually and erratically).
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Well before the hike but, for what it’s worth, coffee and croissant in Fort William.
LUNCH: An early burger & fries at the Clachaig Inn, Glen Coe.
UPS: Moor and mountain views from the summit.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: The summit required extra layers.
COMPANY: Not a soul.

THE HIKE IN PICTURES:

Scottish Hills (3) – An Teallach

Driving toward An Teallach, Wester Ross, Scotland

Driving toward An Teallach

[These climbs took place on September 21st and 24th this year.]

An Teallach was near the top of my Scottish hills climb list. Seven years ago, walking Scotland end to end, I had admired from below its “dark, jagged peaks swept by translucent mist”. Now, I wanted to see the view from on top.

An Teallach is more massif than mere mountain—ten 3,000-foot-plus summits rising near Little Loch Broom in Wester Ross (Ullapool is the nearest village of any size). I wasn’t sure which of those summits I would climb. The middle peaks looked potentially precarious, the flanking summits—Bidein a’ Ghlas Thuill and Sàil Liath—less jagged. I decided to head for the Bidein (which means pinnacle in Gaelic).

Even before leaving the US, I had thought about taking a two-day approach to some Scottish hills, not because they require it, but for the pleasure—or so I imagined—of spending a night in my tent halfway up. I decided now to take this approach to An Teallach—an afternoon climb, a night camped in a cirque, an early start for the summits in the morning.

I set out from near the Dundonnell Hotel about 3:30 and, climbing, the prospects seemed fair. The clouds stayed reasonably high and there was no rain. By 5 p.m. I was beneath the cliffs of Glas Mheall Mòr at perhaps 1,800 feet, and pushed on, following a stream up. I don’t know if it was my ascending or the cloud descending, but soon I entered mist and rain showers, then hail squalls, all driven by a gusting wind. I looked for a place to pitch my tent, ideally sheltered and on firm ground, but compromise was needed—a little shelter, ground a little less soggy.

Before sunset, I was zipped inside my tent and sleeping bag, eating, reading, listening to podcasts. It would have been a pleasure if the tent were not being assaulted by wind and rain-hail, bending double in many blasts. And it did become a pleasure of sorts as my confidence grew that Big Agnes would not be ripped to shreds, leaving me exposed on a cold, dark mountain.

At dawn, the weather was still wild and there was no point in continuing to the summits.

Two days later—an interlude filled in part giving a talk in Ullapool about The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain—I returned to An Teallach, and set off for the other flanking summit, Sàil Liath. Approaching the mountain on fine track then rough path, its summits were hidden in mist, then clear, then unseen again. Climbing and scrambling the long slope of Sàil Liath, the views south were superb, a bird’s eye view of a route I had hiked seven years ago—Strath na Sealga, the river Loch an Nid, Loch an Nid itself.

Higher, I entered mist, and thereafter was in and out of it, the mountain appearing and disappearing at the clouds’ whim. By lunchtime, I was on the summit, 3,130 feet. An Teallach’s precarious tops stood ahead, a cold, strong wind covering and uncovering them. They were magnificent—precipitous, pointed, jagged, devoid of any company. I decided this view was enough and returned by Sàil Liath’s smoother angles.

Scottish Hills (2) – Suilven

Suilven, Lochinver, Sutherland, Scotland

Return leg — Mist definitely lifting

After Arkle on Tuesday, Suilven—20 miles southwest—was next on my climb list. Wednesday’s weather had been way to wild to attempt an ascent, and today’s was distinctly doubtful. The threats were high wind and low cloud, possibly diminishing during the afternoon hours. I set out later than I normally would, hoping to time my arrival at Suilven’s base to the coming of better conditions.

The approach hike along Glencanisp was worth it in itself. (I will assume “Glencanisp” is the correct name for the glen leading to Suilven’s north side, although I have only seen it attached to a forest and lodge in the area.) A fine track led east, beside small lochs and a river, flanked by bracken and heather. Suilven soon appeared, or at least the very base of it, the bulk still hidden in dense cloud.

Some words about Suilven from The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain:

“Suilven is … 2,400 feet of sandstone sitting on a boggy moor. From my vantage point, seven miles to its northeast as the golden eagle would fly, I saw the full length of its ridge, a jagged blade rising to a dome. But Suilven looks quite different from other angles. The Vikings saw it from the sea, and gave it the first part of its name—sula, a pillar. The Gaels added their word for mountain, Sula-bheinn.”

What I wanted to do today, seven years later, was scale that dome, that pillar.

As I got closer to the mountain, I did notice a slight lifting of the cloud. My hope grew further when I reached the place to turn toward Suilven’s cliff. Instead of a squelchy, erratic path, I found a superb new one, dry and firm. It began to climb and the wind to strengthen. At 1,000 feet, emerging onto a flat, loch-strewn ledge right beneath the cliff, I was hit by gusts so violent they threatened to push me off the trail. The cliff was out of the question.

I sat behind a boulder and, in relative comfort, admired the power of nature being so unequivocally demonstrated above me. Then, returning to lower ground, I met a retired couple from Sheffield who explained the superb new path. Suilven, it turned out, had starred in a 2017 movie called Edie and the locals feared that the volume of walkers who would be drawn to the mountain would overwhelm the old moorland path. I am going to try to watch Edie and will let you know how it goes.

DATE: Thursday, September 20th.
START & FINISH: Parking beside single-track road between Lochinver and Glencanisp Lodge.
ROUTE: My guide, again, was the route described by Walkhighlands.
DISTANCE: Perhaps about 11 miles.
TIME: 6 hours plus (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. or later)
TERRAIN: Fine estate track along Glencanisp, then excellent newly built trail to the base of Suilven.
MAP: Ordnance Survey map downloaded to my tablet.

WEATHER: Showery, blustery, cloudy, cool.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note that, five weeks later, I recall.

BREAKFAST: Bacon roll and coffee at The Tea Store cafe, Ullapool.
LUNCH: I ate sheltering in the lee of a boulder from the hurricane blasts beneath Bealach Mòr, and again on the return leg sheltering from rain in a lochside boathouse.
UPS: Accepting defeat by the elements and still judging the day a success.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: My polls helped with staying upright in the wind.
COMPANY: Just the couple from Sheffield and some friendly types around Glencanisp Lodge.

Scottish Hills – Arkle

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Feeling optimistic — Arkle from my starting point

Seven years ago I walked across Scotland. The experience led to a book—The Kiss of Sweet Scottish Rain. The walk was long and, at times, tough. But, generally speaking, it followed the low road—along loch shores, beside rivers, trudging the glen floors. True, my route embraced mountain passes, but the highest did not exceed 1,800 feet or thereabouts.

Last month, seven years on, I returned to Scotland determined to climb some of the magnificent hills I had seen along my route, to admire from on high the landscapes I had hiked through. This post will be the first of a series about the Scottish hills I scaled this year in September and October.

Arkle lies in Scotland’s far northwest. Back in 2011, I enjoyed its company on the second and third days of my trek south from Cape Wrath. Cloud had trailed out of its folds “like smoke from a wildfire”. Arkle derives from the Norse language, and may mean flat-topped hill. It is a modest mountain of 2,582 feet, a suitable challenge when you are still tired from a transatlantic flight and the long drive north.

My hike began in optimism. It looked as if the mist sitting on Arkle’s summits two miles ahead might lift, and I recall a mild breeze stroking me. Climbing the great slab of Arkle’s south slope, I remained hopeful that the mist would blow away. It didn’t, and I came to a misted top where disorientation would have been easy. Arkle’s summit lay a mile northwest along ridge- and cliff-top paths where—perhaps mercifully—precipitous drops to either side were shrouded. The summit when I reached it was a cairn on a bouldered plateau. Only coming down the mountain did it become clear just how much a promising day had turned into a bleak, gray one.

DATE: Tuesday, September 18th.
START & FINISH: Parking area beside the A838 road a little north of the hamlet of Achfary.
ROUTE: My guide was the route described by Walkhighlands.
DISTANCE: 11 miles.
TIME: 7 hours (9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: A fine track to the base of the mountain, then a rougher track around its south slope. The climb up the south slope is unmarked, a steady slog on rock and rough vegetation. The first summit is an easily traversed plateau; the second (true) summit is reached by ridge paths and some scrambling.
MAP: Ordnance Survey (see KIT).

WEATHER: Promising at first, but mist set in at 1,700 feet and never cleared. It rained too, on and off, from this point on. Mercifully, there was little wind.
WILDLIFE: A lone red deer stag spied on my ascent. 

BREAKFAST: Full Scottish Breakfast at the Lairg Highland Hotel, Lairg.
LUNCH: Trail food beside a cairn on the first summit.
UPS: Just to be outdoors and walking.
DOWNS: I had imagined being atop Arkle and taking in huge views of moor, loch, and the Atlantic Ocean. Oh well, next time!
KIT: I experimented with carrying my map (OS—Ordnance Survey) digitally on a tablet, downloading it for offline access. It worked well, with the bonus that the OS app displayed a little red arrow to show me where I was in the landscape (via GPS, I assume). I vowed never to rely on that little arrow!
COMPANY: A lone, far-off hiker seen silhouetted against gray sky.

Day Hike Notes – Camel’s Hump

Mansfield from just below Camel's Hump

Mount Mansfield from just below Camel’s Hump


Last Friday, I rose at 5:00, drove 300 miles to northern Vermont, and there took a couple of short hikes. I haven’t—as far as I know—taken leave of my senses. The main purpose of the trip was not hiking. My youngest has started college up there, and our car was filled with her gear much more than mine. But why drive all that way without making even just a little use of the Green Mountains?

On Friday evening, somewhat drained, I climbed a couple of miles up the side of Mount Mansfield to Cantilever Rock (here is a better photograph than I managed of the strange formation). The last time I was on Mount Mansfield, I saw Camel’s Hump off to the south and resolved to climb it one day. That day arrived on Saturday, four years later.

DATE: Saturday, August 25th.
START & FINISH: Trailhead at end of Camel’s Hump Rd, Huntington VT (44.304679, -72.908154).
ROUTE: Burrows Trail and short section of Long Trail to summit; return by same route.
DISTANCE: 4.8 miles roundtrip.
TIME: 4 hours with long summit sojourn (9:30am-1:30pm).
TERRAIN: 2,300-foot ascent to 4,083-foot summit, ascent gaining in steepness toward summit. No scrambling involved.
MAP: Not necessary, but I took Northern Vermont Hiking Trails.

WEATHER: Sunny, warm, humid; probably mid-60s on summit.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: McDonalds, Essex VT.
LUNCH: Snacks on the summit.
UPS: Well, the summit views. But also feeling my “engine” was working well on the climb.
DOWNS: A bit too much company maybe; Camel’s Hump was popular that day.
KIT: I took an extra layer for the summit and briefly needed it.
COMPANY: Loads, but all good-natured and well behaved.

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail: The End

Mohawk Trail, Connecticut, Housatonic State Forest

Somewhere in Housatonic State Forest

Four months after my first Mohawk outing this year, yesterday I completed the 25.7-mile Trail. It took me four hikes and, because of doubling up, some 46 miles. On this last section, I was accompanied by Katie, my eldest, and was therefore able to make it a point-to-pointer (two cars). Most of our hike was in Housatonic State Forest, but relief from the trees was provided by swamps, waterfalls in full spate, and finally a grand view from Lookout Point. One day, preferably in the fall, I would like to join Mohawk with a section of the Appalachian Trail for a 3-day backpacking trip.

DATE: Sunday, August 19th.
START: Just off Lake Road, Cornwall, CT (GPS 41.881821, -73.295923).
FINISH: Northern terminus Mohawk Trail, Falls Village, CT (GPS 41.939016, -73.361660).
ROUTE: Mohawk Trail north and west.
DISTANCE: Something over 10 miles.
TIME: About 7 hours (9:30 to 4:30).
TERRAIN: Trail overgrown in places and many blowdowns to negotiate. Steep climb and descent near the end at Lookout Point.
MAP: CFPA CT Walk Book.

WEATHER: Cloudy, humid, mild (low 70s).
WILDLIFE: Climbing Lookout Point, we heard a sound, repeatedly, that seemed to be huffing, scraping, or flapping. We saw vultures, but couldn’t pin the sound to them. Mystery!

BREAKFAST: Bagel & coffee from J.P. Gifford, Kent.
LUNCH: At Wickwire lean-to.
UPS: Catching up with Katie.
DOWNS: For some reason, my forearm itched furiously as I sweated up Lookout Point. If it persisted, such an itch could drive you to madness!
KIT: We resorted to Off! after an hour or two.
COMPANY: Katie, otherwise no one.

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail: Route 4 to Ford Hill Road

Mohawk Trail, Johnson Road, Cornwall CT

Johnson Road Trailhead

I am gradually working my way around the Mohawk Trail. Gradually, because each hike has been an out-and-backer. In three outings, I’ve covered 17.3 miles of the Trail, but that’s 36 miles for me (out and back, and then hikes 2 and 3 overlapped a bit). Mohawk has provided variety—forested hills, country lanes, a short stretch of busy road, waterfalls, fields. But this section was more uniform—wooded hills that were dank and buggy here, bright and airy there. The ledge on Red Mountain offered the only view. The Trail did cross a 1,428-foot summit called Overlook, but if there was a view, I overlooked it.

All Mohawk Trail posts.

DATE: Sunday, July 29th.
START & FINISH: Mohawk State Forest entrance on CT Route 4, Cornwall (41.844205, -73.289977).
ROUTE: Mohawk Trail north to Ford Hill Road; return.
DISTANCE: 12.6 miles according to the CT Walk Book.
TIME: I was out for 6¾ hours from 8:15 a.m.
TERRAIN: Up and down, steeply in places; occasional blowdowns obstructing the trail; 0.7 miles on Johnson Road—a quiet lane.
MAP: CFPA CT Walk Book.

WEATHER: Sunny and mild (mid-60s to mid-70s).
WILDLIFE: Hummingbirds graced both my food breaks. At the other end of the beauty spectrum, I startled a pair of vultures out of their perches.

BREAKFAST: Bagel & iced coffee from J.P. Gifford, Kent.
LUNCH: Split over two breaks—near Lake Road and, near the end, on Red Mountain; ham & cheese on pita.
UPS: Airy woods in a cool breeze.
DOWNS: Buggy woods in no breeze.
KIT: I yielded to Off! after a couple of hours.
COMPANY: A few words with a guy loading his golf clubs into his car on Johnson Road.