More than a hundred years ago, the great conservationist John Muir wrote:
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.
This summer, we set off in search of the far-flung places which help us reconnect to our roots and get us closer to who we really are and where we came from. Our trip took us beyond the Caledonian pine, to the wild reaches of the rugged Scottish Highlands and onto The Cape Wrath Trail. With pals Fiona, Larkin, Alex & Amy leading the way, this is their diary, documenting one of the most challenging and rewarding trails in the UK.
To get there, a 22-mile-long stretch of still, dead-end road. Kinloch Hourn. Past the dead-end, an expanse of land that’s as unorthodox as it is beautiful and one that teaches us about compassion, perspective and – wait, who packed the coffee?
The winding road into Kinloch Hourn. The punches of colour, gorse so yellow, rhododendron pops purple, all falls onto a backdrop of hills, the loch and roaming deer.
As we followed the single-track road along the edge of the Loch Garry and onto Loch Quoich, our phone reception started to fade. We’d already been taken into the world we would call home for the next 5 days…
We arrive, stretch, get our bearings. The local Roe Deer named Callum comes to greet us, we feel welcome.
We slowed to a stop as the Roe deer roamed so close to the van we could reach out and offer a friendly hand. We look up and in the distance on top a hill the silhouette of a Red Deer, antlers towards the sun stood proud. It was one of those iconic wild scenes, a calling to the soul. It was hard to take it all in.
Then, up front we heard rumblings, “You packed the coffee, right?”
“Oh… I thought you had it”.
So, no coffee. Someone offers we could drink hot water for the week. By the sight of all our faces, that was just not an option. A well-tuned operation ay! A keen team member piped up he was so very happy to run back the 40 minutes collect coffee and run back. He didn’t lie, ran he did. We stomped on whilst another teammate carried his rather heavy pack of essentials. We carry on hill climbing. It’s a great workout. The backpacks are heavy, I felt it, it was hard work.
Barrisdale Camp is insight. Our bodies find the ground quickly. Its 12:10am. The warm air finally found some breeze, the midges scarper. Stoves are lit, water boiled, and we tuck into our plant-based Firepot cuisine. Tents up, we crawl into our abodes, I don’t remember falling asleep.
It’s raining hard.
It’s about 6am, I doze and drift in and out of lucid dreams. It’s time. Out into the elements one must go. There are narrow flowing burns on either side of our camp and across the way is a stone bothy, already full of another camp party. We patiently wait (apparently that’s bothy etiquette).
Up we climb, along the soggy path. The rivers are alive with energy, water is filling the banks, cascading in torrents, over rock and boulder. When camping in a valley, the only way for a hike is up, if you would like to see the sights. Walking uphill feels like a mindfulness practice. From the research, it states hiking in wild spaces is powerful. It helps us concentrate, gives focus and clarity to process our thoughts and feelings. It heals our brains, helps us de stress, makes us more creative and can help treat depression. Both while we are walking and after, it really does seem like all this research is true.
It’s not all a tale of ease on the trails though, the bothy that night has characters pushed to their edges. Anna, in particular was suffering from the wet lonely trail, finding slugs in her dinner capped off the end of a hard, tiring, emotional day. She hit the hay about 5.30pm.
We ponder her journey, wonder of her wellbeing, hope she is okay.
I woke before the alarm. Up and at it. Anna had already taken her tent down and left camp. We sent love and strength to her through the cosmos for her journey ahead.
To summit a peak there is not often a path and thus we took to the long-wet grass. A known tick and leech habitat, we tucked our trousers into our socks and our tees into our trousers.
As we climbed, we took note of the wild shrubs and flowers. A little white flower Alpine Chickweed and a leafy shrub Bog Myrtle with its distinctive sweet smell, of eucalyptus and blueberry, were most common.
“The peak, the summit!” I could hear a few in front, who had already reached the top, cooing with adoration of the view. To the left a wide high rock face, circling in a horseshoe formation, dotted with extreme sheep encased the valley below. A conical peak to the left started this stack. We felt like eagles soaring high above. Sitting on the edge the vastness stretched out into remoteness, no roads, cars, people, houses, just peaks and rocks and wispy low-lying cloud, tumbling in from the peaks to the valley below. One gets the idea quite quickly, we are on our own.
I feel small after the vastness of the sights. Having a bird’s eye view of the land puts human existence into perspective.
We all comment on feeling lighter, fitter, from a few days hill climbing, that mixed with a diet of nuts and noodles. It is a work trip but of the best kind.
Anyway, on we stomp, it feels weeks since we have been on the outward path. Spending time with a crew in this way enables boundaries and borders to be crossed in a lateral timeframe. We have conversations and share stories which back in our daily lives away from community living, could take years to come to when meeting new people. I’m grateful for this exchange.
As the rhododendrons and gorse blossom come into sight, we all know we are nearly home. Our hooves hit the tarmac and we walk the last 100m to the van. We strip off, don our swimmers and jump into the loch for a wash down. I try not think about eels.
A celebratory beer in hand we wander up to the B&B for our home cooked feast. There’s a great sense of camaraderie. As we sit round the table it’s like being with old friends, though 3 of them I have known for just four days.
My head hits the pillow and then it’s morning.
As we sit in the window watching an abundance of hiking clad tourists saunter by, coming towards us, is Anna. I almost rush out to hug her, but quickly realising she has no idea we’ve been concerned of her whereabouts, and the intricacies her life for the past day, we all just stand watch her pass.
There’s a sense of peace and the passing of time within us.
That’s a wrap.
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