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

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.

Baxter State Park – Two Short Hikes

Before and between my longer Baxter hikes (Traveler loop, Pogy backpack, and The Owl), I took a couple of shorter walks, both about five miles.

SOUTH BRANCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL to Black Cat Mountain (2,611′) and back was mainly notable for a high ledge with fine views over Upper South Branch Pond to The Traveler and the other summits I planned to climb the next day. Black Cat summit, like most of the rest of the hike, was wooded in.

Between my Traveler hike and Pogy backpack, I took it easy on FOWLER BROOK TRAIL and its extensions to Middle Fowler Pond. These were gentle trails leading to two scenic ponds, popular with brook trout fishermen and inhabited by outsized tadpoles.

Before I wrap up my Baxter posts, my latest “Taking a Hike” column was of course about the trip. Click for “Endurance and Delight in Baxter State Park” in The Norwalk Hour and Hersam Acorn Newspapers. Farewell to Baxter until the next time!

Day Hike Notes – Baxter State Park, The Owl


Katahdin seen later in the day from across Daicey Pond, The Owl looking small to its left

I had walked over 45 miles in Baxter State Park since arriving late on Sunday morning. Leg-weariness from those miles was one reason I wasn’t sure about climbing Mount Katahdin on my final day in the Park. The other was crowds. Friday’s forecast was great, and sun and warmth would draw multitudes to Maine’s highest peak.

If I didn’t climb Katahdin, I told myself, I’d do The Owl; 1,600 feet lower than Katahdin and utterly unfabled, it would surely draw next to no-one. I didn’t need to bag Katahdin either; I’d reached its socked in summit on a climb 12 years ago. I went back and forth about Katahdin v The Owl until the very last minute, at the trail register for both summits. Countless groups had already struck out for Katahdin; for the Owl, there was just one register entry.

DATE: Friday, June 15th.
START & FINISH: Katahdin Stream Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Appalachian/Hunt and Owl trails to The Owl summit; return by same route.
DISTANCE: 7 miles.
TIME: 5-6 hours (roughly 8:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Elevation gain from Start to summit = 2,571 feet; a steady climb growing in rockiness and rootiness, then a little bare-rock clambering, and finally a stroll to the summit.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide

WEATHER: Sunny and increasingly warm, high in the 70s.
WILDLIFE: Nothing of note.

BREAKFAST: Oatmeal and coffee at my campsite.
LUNCH: Tortillas, cheese, peanut butter atop The Owl.
UPS: Close-up views of Katahdin, huge views across Maine.
DOWNS: None.
KIT: I packed layers for the summit but didn’t need them.
COMPANY: A friendly threesome of Bostonians—dad, middle-aged son, a friend. We met on the way up and again on the summit. Funny men. Otherwise, a few scattered parties, including a couple from London.

Baxter State Park – Pogy Backpack


THU – The end for me, but an apt warning

Pogy Notch Trail connects Baxter State Park’s less visited north with its Mount Katahdin-dominated south. Pogy is a relatively flat, low-level trail; its highlights are ponds—Lower and Upper South Branch, Pogy, and finally Russell. I had visited Russell 12 years before, hiking north to it from beneath Katahdin. Hiking south to it now gave me the satisfaction of connecting on foot the distinct worlds of Baxter’s north and south. I don’t think it’s a popular activity, particularly in bug season. I chose this trek to see Baxter’s deep woods and hopefully some of their “charismatic megafauna”. I met a lot of utterly charmless microfauna. I would repeat this hike, but in the fall.

DATE: Wednesday and Thursday, June 13-14
START & FINISH: South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Pogy Notch, Grand Falls, and Wassataquoik Stream trails to Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos; return via Wassataquoik Stream and Pogy Notch trails.
DISTANCE: About 24 miles (13 out, 11 back).
TIME: 8:45 a.m. Wednesday to midday Thursday.
TERRAIN: Mostly level or gently up and down; mostly dry underfoot; two thigh-deep streams to wade at Wassataquoik Stream lean-tos.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains from the AMC Maine Mountain Guide.

WEATHER: Wed—sunny, warm, humid (70s); Thu morning—rainy and cool (upper 40s).
WILDLIFE: Of the bug variety.
MEALS: On Wednesday, oatmeal for breakfast and freeze-dried beef & veg stew for supper; otherwise, the usual trail rations.

UPS: (1) Making good time through the rain on the return leg. (2) The mountain views from pondsides and riverbanks.
DOWNS: After the first hours, I didn’t really enjoy Wednesday. The bugs were a plague and, when they were not, you knew it wouldn’t last.
KIT: I occasionally made use of a head-net that I packed at home at the last minute. Drawback—too hot to wear when actually hiking.
COMPANY: None at all in 27¼ hours.

Day Hike Notes – Baxter State Park, The Traveler Loop

Descending from North Traveler Mountain

Descending from North Traveler Mountain

The first of what I hope will be 3-4 posts covering four hikes plus a short backpack in Baxter State Park, Maine, earlier this month.

DATE: Monday, June 11th.
START & FINISH: South Branch Pond Campground, Baxter SP, Maine.
ROUTE: Pogy Notch, Center Ridge, Traveler Mountain, and North Traveler trails (counterclockwise loop).
DISTANCE: 11.1 miles.
TIME: 8¾ hours (7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Elevation gain from Start to The Traveler = 2,569 feet; total gain on the loop = 3,700’. Ascent from/descent to Lower South Branch Pond are steep and, in places, scrambles. Careful attention required to foot-placement on several stretches.
MAP: AMC Maine Mountains.

WEATHER: Warm and sunny, high in the 60s.
WILDLIFE: Bear scat on Center Ridge.

BREAKFAST: Chickpeas & chorizo (yep, for breakfast!) at my campsite.
LUNCH: Tortillas, cheese, nuts, etc. on Traveler Mountain.
UPS: Feeling strong on the morning climbs of Center Ridge and The Traveler.
DOWNS: The final descent off North Traveler was tough, the bugs and warmth increasing with lower elevation.
KIT: 2.5 liters of water, sunscreen.
COMPANY: All alone all day.

Traveler Loop Montage

Top: The South Branch ponds from Center Ridge; trailside rock formation. Middle: The Traveler summit; North Traveler summit; Trillium. Bottom: Trail up The Traveler; Mount Katahdin from Center Ridge

Tunxis Trail—Connecticut’s Wild Woodlands

The Tunxis Trail “northern terminus” is a remote, tranquil spot

The Tunxis Trail northern terminus

Wildness, like pretty much everything else, is relative. If you’re from Maine, the idea of wild Connecticut woods may provoke a chuckle. If you’re a city-hound, almost any forest may seem way too nature-dominated. I’ll be the first to admit that some of Connecticut’s forest tracts are small and intruded upon by civilization (Connecticut’s Wild Corner is a notable exception). But in Tunxis State Forest, Katie and I walked for 13 miles without seeing a car, or hearing a leaf blower, or meeting hardly any other hikers at all. We found moose scat and knew for sure that bears were in the neighborhood. Wild.

For a change, I am posting my Day Hike Notes (below) and my Taking a Hike column simultaneously. Katie and I took this hike over a month ago. Here are the links to the column:

Tunxis Trail in The Norwalk Hour
Tunxis Trail in Hersam Acorn Newspapers

I am, by the way, just back from the wild Maine woods. More to follow.


DATE: Friday, May 11th.
START: Pell Rd at CT-MA line, Hartland CT (GPS 42.037715, -72.898143).
FINISH: CT Route 219 northeast of Saville Dam, Barkhamsted CT (GPS 41.926324, -72.925151).
ROUTE: Tunxis Trail south.
DISTANCE: About 13 miles.
TIME: 8 hours (8:50 a.m. to 4:50 p.m.)
TERRAIN: Only moderate elevation gain and loss, but often rocky & rooty underfoot.
MAP: I carried the CT Walk Book (a bit bulky, really).

WEATHER: Sunny and warm, high in upper 60s.
WILDLIFE: I don’t associate Connecticut with moose, but some do live here, and we saw their scat!

BREAKFAST: Cheese & bacon hard roll from Pleasant Valley General Store, Barkhamsted.
LUNCH: Sandwich and snacks somewhere in the Tunxis State Forest.
UPS: 13 miles of tranquil forest.
DOWNS: Worrying about my (still newish) car on rutted and potholed Pell Rd.
KIT: This was the first hike of the year when I carried my water reservoir instead of bottles—no chance of freezing up and a greater quantity of liquid required.
COMPANY: Katie McWilliams from beginning to end; 3 encounters with other hikers, mostly nearing the end.

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

Clouds above Indian Council Caves

Day Hike Notes – Mohawk Trail: Mohawk, Red, and Breadloaf Mountains

In Cathedral Pines Preserve

In Cathedral Pines Preserve

When I walked over Coltsfoot Mountain in April, I wasn’t thinking that this was the first of a series of hikes to trek the whole Mohawk Trail. But when I was looking for a Memorial Day weekend outing, I chose another section of Mohawk, joining up with where I’d left off at the foot of Coltsfoot.

Mohawk is a 25.7-mile half-loop that begins and ends on the Connecticut Appalachian Trail, and indeed was part of the AT until a 1980s relocation. By the time I’d finished my second Mohawk hike (“Hike 1” in the notes below), I’d covered 10.5 miles of Mohawk Trail—twice, in fact, as these had been out-and-back hikes. The idea of hiking all of Mohawk this season began to grow. And that was the reason for “Hike 2”—to tick off the short Mohawk section I had not hiked between the AT in Sharon and the start of the Coltsfoot section. Next, north from Red Mountain ledge.
DATE: Saturday, May 26th.
Hike 1—Mohawk State Forest entrance on CT Route 4, Cornwall (41.844205, -73.289977).
Hike 2—Parking area at Furnace Brook Memorial sign, CT Route 4, Cornwall Bridge (GPS 41.818627, -73.369069).
Hike 1—Mohawk Trail south and west to Cornwall village; return. Then Mohawk trail north to Red Mountain ledge; return.
Hike 2—Mohawk Trail west to Appalachian Trail; return.
DISTANCE: Hike 1—9.5 miles. Hike 2—2.5 miles.
TIME: Hike 1—5.5 hours from 7:30 with long lunch break on Red Mountain. Hike 2—about 1.5 hours from 1:30 p.m.
TERRAIN: Good trail, some road-walking. 800-foot climb back up Mohawk Mountain from Cornwall village; 650 feet plus to summit of Breadloaf from Housatonic River.
MAP: CFPA CT Walk Book.

WEATHER: Sunny and hot, increasing clouds in the afternoon. High in the upper 80s.
WILDLIFE: I startled a fox out on a hot afternoon on Breadloaf Mountain. Earlier, on Mohawk, I found the substantial scat of a carnivore (contained fur)—coyote or bobcat, maybe.

BREAKFAST: Bagel & coffee from Village Market and Gas, Goshen (I was too early for more familiar places).
LUNCH: On Red Mountain ledge.
UPS: I was delighted by the ledge on Red Mountain, which I had to myself.
DOWNS: Having to apply bug spray.
KIT: Nothing noteworthy.
COMPANY: Sunny Memorial Day Saturday = hikers.

Coltsfoot Mountain

Back at Coltsfoot Mountain after a month’s absence