We awaken by the sound of a train passing us by, 30 cows around our tents and the busy trunk road heard. Not quite the scenic Wild camping Scotland we’d encountered along the way. However, there isn’t much choice on these last few days & in hindsight looking back, next time I’ll probably try heading up to Cape Wrath which goes through Scotlands Western Flank through the last wilderness with very little civilization for many days.
As we continue along the coast off the road and off the path, its very pleasant. Seals are seen and heard in the north sea which is an amazing experience for the 2 of us. We figure, if we just follow the coast, the walk would be nicer in so many ways. We take this plan, until we hit a river which isn’t really cross able. Adam’s witty thinking leads us to throw big boulders for 20 minutes into the river making it crossable. Quite literally ‘Building bridges’ & whatever tensions has naturally arised between us during the trip diminished at this point as we rebuild not just physically but emotionally. I must say, no matter how puny the bridge was, it is the first time I have build a bridge. To be fair, it would make for a great team building exercise. We soon change our minds and decide the road is probably going to be the better option from now. The ghost town of Helmsdale is reached, pots of tea are had with a light lunch.
We make pace walking through the high winding roads which vaguely reminds me of a visit to the Pakistani Himalayas as a young boy. On a bus cutting through the cliff faces with view of the K2 mountain in the distant. It has me thinking I must visit that part of the world again at some point. What comes next is what all the locals have been talking about. Berriedale, which is a series of small, extremely steep hairpin bends. As we reach the bottom , into the very small hamlet of BerrieDale, we stop for tea & biscuits, air out our feet & rest. Berriedale Smellydale. It’s quite a steep climb back up but nothing compared to what we have experienced over the past month.
As we arrive in Dunbeath, we hope for a shop, but the spar is shut. So we check in at a campsite & proceed with cooking an extremely bland meal with a pack of pasta, a can of chopped tomatoes & some mince. Food for fuel I suppose. Not quite the lobster & champagne we had hoped for…. nethertheless, the high pressured, hot showers at the campsite made up for it all….
What a day, at times today for some moments It seemed like I was in Barbados. This North East flank of Scotland is beautiful & full of pleasant suprises.
Road walking continues, and it is never easy, however today we walk the road for some 6 miles to the town or village called Golpsie. It is here, the usual pot of tea is enjoyed outside a cafe in the smeltering sun, than we sit for lunch by the ‘award winning’ stoney beach, the town is quite nice actually & well presented….
Not a soul on this beach, and the space in front which is the north sea, is so clear. We decide to walk the longer route along the coast, as we do the coast line just gets better & better, sands whiter & whiter. Before arrive at Brora, we pass a mighty castle. Dunrobin castle, an impressive build, but the stories behind arn’t so impressive. About the families once living in the castle, clearing out the poor villages. When arriving Brora we buy some dinner supplies & find a place to camp a few miles north from town by the coast. Brora is much like Golpsie, but a bit more run down with a ghost town feel to it.. We head north a few mi
there’s alot to be said for wild camping, but ill start by saying if you’re not near water, and the day isnt relatively warm, having a wash can be difficult. However, streams & rivers are often crossed, and when you haven’t washed in days, the cool water is such a gift.
This morning the sun is shining and we awake to start a small fire. Why you may ask… midgies, smoke seems to keep them at bay. So the usual pot of porridge is eaten & of we go towards a town called Tain. On route, some incredible views of Moray Firth & beyond are seen on this clear start to the day.
This Northern part of Scotland differs very much from the West coast which I am used to, but has equal beauty. We arrive in Tain for lunch and ofcourse the infamous couple pots of tea. Upon leaving Tain we cross the long bridge across Dornoch Firth. Back on the A9 once again and we are greeted by another sign. John O Groats , 83 miles, nearly there. Its a little tiresome road walking, on the mind, but more so on the feet.
As we continue on this busy trunk road, we read a woodland, which doesnt seem to have anywhere suitable to pitch up, which slighty fustrates us, so we continue a couple more miles to Skelbo wood arriving at 9 pm. Beef and rice is cooked & spirits are once again raised. While we are here and there is a stream, we also take the time to have a dip, wash ourselves & our clothes. Refreshing & cold but so worth it, squeaky clean once again..
Today we enter into the last leg of the walk. The last 100 miles or so & it is supposed to be the least scenic part with the majority on roads. For those reasons I anticipate this last leg the most difficult. However, today was lengthy, rainy but not so bad at all. As you can imagine, the walk out of Inverness on this Saturday morning was busy, especially on the A9. We first cross Beuly firth coming out of the city & for 10 miles we cross another Firth. Infact, as we proceed we cross quite a few firth’s along the way. Cromarty firth is a big one and feels like we are on the bridge for a good hour. Incase you didn’t know A firth are coastal waters, and opening into the wide ocean.
A very different feel from what we have been walking this past month, walking the roads takes a while to adjust to. The weather is wet today, but we carry on, walk and smile, walk and smile. By the afternoon, the weather takes a turn for the better as we arrive in Alness 22 miles later from Inverness. We are both hungry, but while loitering on this high street, the usual ‘debates’ are had as to what food is better to eat. We can’t be bothered to cook tonight after a lengthy walk, we walk past a busy curry house, and decide that is the best option. And yes it is. Sag Palak (Chicken and spinach) with a couple of roti does the trick. As there is no camp sites around here, we decide to walk on a bit a find a suitable woodland to camp in. 4 Miles on, its getting late, and 26 miles is a lot for a day. We settle up but the midges are rife. Adam hates midges, lol, and I’ve never seen someone start a fire so quick. He picks up a bundle of twigs quickly, lights em up, and there you go, fire and smoke, midges gone. Laying down to rest with the crackle of the wood, the fire and smell of burning wood. Heaven is indeed here on earth..
Today, I really begin to get acquainted with the Great Glen way & much prefer it to the West Highland way for many reasons. As I write this evening on a hill, slowly watching the sun depart for the day I feel gratitude for where I am right now & for all the experiences which have let me to this sweet place.
Distance wise, today is short, but the peak of the trail is reached with views over over the whole loch ness & Mr Ben Nevis lurks in the distance.
As you can see the sun shines today, more so as the day goes on. Continuing my walk up through a forested area I than stumble across a small wooden ‘troll’ bridge which crosses a stream. A bunch of people congregate here, so I stop to admire my surroundings. All of a sudden the people all line up & a couple are stood in the middle. I am than invited my the couple to witness them renewing their wedding vows.. so here I was, on a flimsy bridge, witnessing a priest speaking, watching wedding bands being exchanged. Just before hyms are being sung I depart with a smile for they have the precious gift of love. God bless them.
At the top of the hill, stunning views of the loch are had & me and Adam are reacquainted for a strong pot of tea.
From here on it is pretty much up and down, but mainly down on the approach to Drumnadrochit. We roll onto down feeling lively, but we must look weary as a milk man and his family from Newcastle who we met along the trail kindly gives us some money for our dinner & a drink. I chow down scampi & chips before departing to set up my tent. And indeed it is a room with a view…
How do you eat an apple Adam asks. I bite at a time ofcourse. No, adam responds ‘ with your mouth ‘… we both chuckle & we’ve both found humour to be a great ally on this journey, more so because we are having to put up with each other waffling crap all day to one another.
Strength & hope are 2 things which have been circling my mind the past few days. Strength, where does it come from ? What is it ? As if the old saying goes, what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. At the core of our being, the cosmic heart holds infinite strength. When a tree is cut, it is weak around the edges, but tuff at the core. Like an onion, at the core it is most potent. It is our inner strength which holds potentcy and hope is sometimes all we have, which drives us to search for strength within…
The walk today was nice & easy, especially after our well rested night in Laggan. A rainy start continuing along the great glen.
The canal is followed for about 11 miles into the small but extremely busy tourist trap of a town, Fort Augustus. Coaches of tourists pile out like sheep ready to spend their Stirling on overpriced shortbread & souvenirs.
However it is quickly left behind and easily forgotten on the climb up to take in the views over Loch Ness.
Loch ness is certainly impressive, as all the Scottish Lochs are but its a shame tourists don’t come for the Loch alone & one can’t help but think, if it werent for the ‘monster’ , this place wouldnt be so busy. Nethertheless, walking continues eventually reaching a quirky little camp site called Inver Coille.
Always hard to get up after a day of rest but we manage roll out of our tents, whack on the gas burner & gobble down a healthy portion of porridge. We depart the campsite passing the grand nevis on the right. In Fort William we start the great glen way towards Inverness..
Eventually we gain some heights passing through the beautiful forested shores of Loch Lochy
As we continue along this Loch and back on the Caledonian canal after we reach a small village called Laggan for an experience I certainly wilk never forget. We come across the eagle barge inn, which is a boat on the canal, with a bar serving food.
It comes to be another hidden gem crawling out the woodwork. Well , until adam notices they do a chilli challenge, the chefs sauce is said to be one of the hottest in Scotland containing 3 of the worlds hottests chillis in the world. So, before I know, tired and hungry, im signing a disclaimer waiting for a sample of this chilli sauce. Adam goes first, seems bearable. As soon as the damb stuff touches my lips I am in agony, streams of tears, and I freeze from the shock of what is happening to me, I turn green and white, a lady at the bar seems concerned asking if I am okay. For the next 25 minutes I genuinly dont know.. than it hits the stomach and intestines… all I remember saying is ‘the chef is evil & I would not wish this on my worst enemy’ . An evening to remember…
Incase you haven’t notice, it is a real pleasure to be walking the world famous West Highland Way, which before this walk I never really heard of. Today is the last day on the trail & as much as I have enjoyed it I look forward to leaving the tourists behind, and carry on the adventure on less visited trails.
The weather is moody & cloud mists past the tops of the munros. On exit of Kinlochleven, the guidebook said nothing about a leg breaking ascent. However, some views over the loch leven are savoured like a piece of dark chocolate.
Not to discredit what is around me, the majestic munros, the lochs, the glens. There is a mumour in my eye, the pennine way whispers ‘come back, come back’ And I must say, the pennine way left me with memories which will forever be with me.
Todays walk feels beautiful & bland at the same time. Bopping through the valleys eventually reaching the bottom of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Great Britain. The clouds make the beast hard too see, however its grandness is still felt from afar. The walk today is easy, well pathed, nots to many ups and downs & some nice forest walking towards the end. A long awaited rest day follows exploring Fort William
We awake in the early morning forest with the suns rays cutting through the Scots pine. Yes, its one of those days & its clearly ‘the strech’ of the walk to walk if one were to pick. The highlands really say hello today.
The whole journey so far comes flooding in my vision & a conversation I had with Adam near to the Scottish borders is recalled. It goes like this ..
Adam – ‘You know, sometimes I really feel that there are some angels looking out for me’
Me – ‘Yes, I know what you mean. I think I got them too. You know, some would say we’ve both been through alot, both could have lost our lives on numerous occasions, but we are both here today, walking, talking & smiling. Adam, we still have stuff to do down here, that is why we are alive. And, these angels you speak off are rejoicing and having a tea party up there right now’
I relived this moment & was reminded not just of angels but of faith & hope. These days, we have modern remedies and solutions for absolutely everything. What did our ancestors have.. faith & hope. After all hope comes as a result of our suffering. Suffering makes strength. Today we are strong, breezing through the valleys like the wind itself.
We reach the kings house pub. Which is a pot gold at the end of a fading rainbow, well equipped with plug sockets and pots of tea. A brief stop than the final scramble up the devils stair case, and yes the name fits perfectly. At the top, a nice stroll down into the once industrial town of Kinlochleven..