Photos from the trail

I’m back in Cambridge and procrastinating over cleaning and fixing my equipment, so have instead sorted through my photographs and uploaded them to Facebook. You should be able to view them by visiting the Hitting The Hills Facebook Page.

Here are a selection of my favourite photos:

The West Highland Way

Day 3

Day 3 – About to be overtaken by a 10 year old girl on a bicycle.

Beauchaille Etive Mor

Day 3 – Near Kings House, looking towards Beauchaille Etive Mor.

Aonach Eagach

Day 4 – Aonach Eagach ridge walk.

Aonach Eagach

Day 4 – Having fun in high places along the Aonach Eagach ridge.

 Stob Coire nan Lochan

Day 5 – Making my way up to Stob Coire nan Lochan.

Devil's Staircase

Day 6 – The early morning view from the top of the Devil’s Staircase.

Fort William

Day 7 - Making my way back down Ben Nevis towards Fort William, taking the main route down.

Day 7 – Making my way back down Ben Nevis towards Fort William, taking the main route down.

Cape Wrath Trail

Loch on Day 11

Loch on Day 11

Loch na Leitreach

Day 12 – Loch na Leitreach

Looking out from Sail Mhor

Looking out from Sail Mhor

Another Loch

A wee loch I encountered on Day 17

Loch Beag

A slightly bigger loch I encountered on Day 17


Day 18 – Loch Inchard, heading towards Badcall.

Loch Inchard

Day 18 – Loch Inchard, heading towards Kinlochbervie.

I’ve not done any fancing editing or anything, so if anyone who is good at that sort of stuff wants to play around with the photos then drop me an e-mail and I’ll send through the high resolution versions.

Day 19 – Cape Wrath

The view may have been spectacular, but the sleep wasn’t. I’d not bothered with the thermarest or tarp due to the midges and had left myself with an uncomfortable sleep. It must have been late when I finally got cool and comfortable enough to sleep. It was too hot inside my sleeping bag but too damp and sticky outside it. To make matters worse some of these midges had worked themselves into my bivvy, so I was being bitten as I attempted to sleep.

If it was late when I fell asleep, it was stupid early when I arose. It was raining. Actually, it was belting it down. It was before sunrise and the rain was making its way through my bivvy. It was only a matter of time until inevitably it made its way through my sleeping bag. I was lying in a pool of cold and damp, but at least that meant I’d be midge free, right? I unzipped my bivvy and got a face of midge. Inhaling midge is not particularly pleasant. I imagine you could achieve a similar sensation by attempting to snort cornflake dust.

Some time and just a hint of self-pity later, I packed and was off. While I had been lying there in a pool of water I felt that maybe I was just about done after all.

I couldn’t face the midges enough to warrant a trip back down into the bay. Besides it was dawn, so about 05.00, and it was raining, so maybe not the best time to be sat on a beach.

Instead I stood on top of the small hill to the north of the bay and admired the view. The rain stopped and the sky started to clear. I still wasn’t going back. I’m more of a hills person anyway, even if these weren’t my hills. They certainly weren’t my hills, they were just lumpy bog.

As I made my way down to Strathchailleach Bothy, I found myself knee deep in bog. I had been promised such experiences so this was not too surprising. I then found myself in thigh deep bog, this was a little more awkward.

The bothy itself was a bit odd. It had been inhabited by a strange old man until the mid-nineties. He had painted on the walls, they weren’t very good paintings, but seemed to be the main attraction of the bothy.

Leaving the bothy, I turned north and made my way towards the lighthouse at Cape Wrath. Whatever fair wind had carried me so quickly forward from Ullapool was now gone. I trudged through the insect-dense bog to the lighthouse. If anything had dented my enjoyment at times it has been the insects. I’ve tried using deet but it feels icky, the midges treat it like hot sauce and the clegs attack anywhere not covered in deet, such as my eyeball, ears, mouth and deetless patches of my thin t-shirt, e.g. the nipple area. Oh well, it’s a small price to pay for the fun I’ve had, and you’ve gotta laugh.

I was walking through the military zone when I heard an intermittent beeping somewhere to my right. I was tempted to go and investigate it but chose not to, more because I was tired and it would take a long time than the fact that finding unexploded explosives is the sort of hobby that you probably don’t do for very long, well not if you are good at it anyway. Heading towards the lighthouse seemed the more sensible option.

The sun shone down on the lighthouse I had seen blinking in the darkness from Sandwood Bay. There’s a cafe of sorts there which was empty. I had arrived well before the tourist bus would. The shop served a selection of tea, coffee and cold snacks; a cup of tea was needed.

I don’t know whether it was the tired was or the fact since yesterday being here had seemed inevitable, but I didn’t have the same elation that I had experienced while walking on down the road yesterday evening. I was happy enough, I just wasn’t sure what to do next.

I sat and drank tea, chatting to the owner. I had not seen another trail turtle at all during my journey up from Fort William, so I asked whether many people turned up here having done the Cape Wrath Trail. He told me that a fair few people did, that fair few was about a hundred people a year. Of course, he added, not all of them did the whole trail in one go and most who do take three weeks complete it. He went on to add that the record time was something like 100 hours, now there’s a challenge, although travelling through such scenery in the dark seems to miss the point of the journey.

It would be landrover track for the last fourteen miles, so I switched back into my new trail runners. New shoes and dry socks provides the same boost the cup of tea had. I sat and thunk and drunk tea until the tourists arrived by minibus from Durness. The driver asked whether I wanted a lift back, I declined, I still had fourteen short miles left to hit my magic total. He warned me that if I didn’t make it back in time then I’d be stranded on this side of the Kyle of Durness. I had no intention of missing the ferry.

I got caught by three tourists as I departed. They asked what I was doing, and donated a couple of quid when I told them, wishing me luck before off I marched. A little while later they waved as the minibus took them back to Durness. A little while later it would pass again, taking another load of tourists to the lighthouse.

I reached the ferry point and waited around. Eventually the man from the cafe drove up, he seemed pleased that I had made it, next the minibus arrived and finally he ferry did. I say ferry, because that was the purpose it served, I really mean small boat capable only of holding about eight people at a time. Two of them had seen me walking towards Sandwood yesterday, they asked about my journey and seemed amazed when I told them.

As I sat in the ferry, I felt that same kind of happiness that I had the precious evening. The sun shined down on my face, the breeze blew through my hair (ok, well, stubble) and the boat made its way through the water. This feeling continued as I made my way to Durness. The man from the lighthouse stopped to offer me a lift but I politely declined, these were my last few miles. I couldn’t go any further even if I had wanted to; I had run out of map and out of food.

Durness seemed soft and tranquil compared to the rugged, weather-beaten Cape. It was already shut for the day wham I arrived. My bus back would leave at 08.00, so for me it would remain shut.

I stopped for dinner at a nearby pub and got talking to the family on the table next to me. They had done the West Highland Way previously and congratulated me on my achievement. I don’t know how much of an achievement this has really been. Nothing too hard was thrown at me, but I look back at photos I only took a couple of weeks ago and they seem like they were a lifetime ago. I’ve been away for a long time but other than that I’m too tired to reflect on what I have been through. I’m sure my feet will remind me in the morning.

I really don’t know what else to say. Tomorrow I make the long journey home, spending the afternoon in Inverness before taking the sleeper home. I’ll then continue to sleep all weekend.

What an adventure I’ve had, I’ve been happy out here and as they say – be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.

Day 18 – Sunset over Sandwood Bay

Today was the day that I would find out whether my route to Cape Wrath was blocked. It was a bright and breezy day; the only things I had to contend with were the clegs.

By late morning I was at Ben Dreavie, the last hilltop of my journey. I admired the views of what would be my final days of this adventure. I made my way along and, having not even seen another person since a brief encounter with a couple of workers near Inchnadamph, decided to stop off at Rhiconich Hotel for a tea and irn-bru. It was quiet here too. The lady working on the reception desk served me before hurrying back to her desk. I checked the time; it was 17.00 and I was nineteen miles into my day.

With my heart in my mouth I called the Cape Wrath military number. It was all clear, it would be for the whole of July and August. I was very happy about that, particularly as I had spent a good portion of the afternoon working out alternatives if I couldn’t get there. I was now only twenty miles from Cape Wrath, where I’d get to celebrate the end of my journey before having to walk another thirteen and a half miles to catch a bus home.

I couldn’t wait to reach the end, but at the same time I wished that I could spend longer out here. My feet were sore but I was used to that. I probably looked a mess, but then again I usually do anyway. I can safely assume that I also smell, but I’m so used to it now that I don’t notice it.

I sat and let some time tick by in the hotel before heading out towards Kinlochbervie. It was twelve miles to Sandwood Bay. I half-hoped to get there before nightfall, not only to watch the sun set over the sea but also to be away from the houses that were spread along the coastal road.

It’s hard to describe just how happy I felt while walking down the road. There was a sense that I had already made it, now all I had to do was coast along until my destination. I was ridiculously happy; I’d been waiting for this feeling for two years, since the glorious failure of 2011. The miles on this adventure had been less dramatic than those; I had better known what to expect this time. It had been a hard journey at times, even if I had expected worse. There had been no moments to make a grown man cry. My only doubts had been towards Barisdale, where I doubted that I would be able to cover the miles in time, and Ullapool, where I had been concerned about my feet. Yet here I was, bouncing along on the final stretch.

I stopped off at a place called London Stores in the wonderfully named Badcall. It was overflowing with foodstuffs. I didn’t think you would be able to pack any more food in there even if you added another dimension. The owner of the shop was quite odd. At least I think he was odd, it’s hard for me to tell now, maybe I’m the odd one. He asked if there was anything I wanted out of the freezer that he was cutting out newspaper coupons over. I replied no, I had no way to cook those foodstuffs, but the cheesecake looked good. He then pointed me to the refrigerated pies and sandwiches that he had. He seemed very insistent that I buy one. As he grumpily took my money for Fanta and a flapjack he continued to ask if I was sure that I didn’t want a pie; he could probably have sold me that cheesecake if he’d tried.

I came across some toilets managed by The John Muir Trust before I turned off towards Sandwood Bay. They had a leaflet which outlined the quality of wild land. From red through to dark green for not wild through to very wild, with blue reserved for the “top 10% wildest land”. Most of what I had walked through over the past weeks had been blue. What hasn’t been blue had been dark green.

I was still on a high when I approached Sandwood Bay. I’m not a beach person, but as an acknowledged non-expert of beaches, this was the best beach I had seen. The sand looked clean without a hint of rubbish, the sea was the bluest I’ve seen in Britain. The only downside was that the midges were terrible. As I made my way down to the beach they somewhat spoilt the experience. Once on the beach, with a good sea breeze, it all felt worthwhile. Had it not been so late I would have paddled in the sea. I put that on my list of jobs to do tomorrow.

I sat on the beach as the sun disappeared behind cloud. I made my way up to a grassy patch that seemed breezy and started to unpack for the night. The breeze stop and the midges appeared en masse. It got so bad so quickly that I quickly have up on the tarp despite the grey sky. Instead I threw myself and my sleeping bag into the bivvy and curled up for a night overlooking another beautiful part of Scotland.

Day 17 – Glendhu (too tired to think of a title)

Not the most restful night I’ve ever had, I’ll admit that. Having once again fallen asleep to the sound of midge rain, I had been stuck with condensation building up inside my bivvy, leaving me cold and damp. At least I didn’t have any crazy midge dreams this time. I only decided to rise once someone from the lodge ran past.

I was better prepared this time and was able to escape he worst of the midges. They hadn’t been quite as bad as the other day either, which helped. I set off through what was listed on my map as Benmore Forest. There were no trees here, I guess there must have been once.

I was once again back in my trusty old trail runners. It dawned on me that one of the reasons that they had been rubbing my ankles was that I often tend to walk with my feet at very odd angles when walking along, rather than up or down, the side of a hill. It was just as well I was wearing them because I soon had wet feet. I stopped concentrating while walking over some stepping stones, admiring the view, and I let my right foot fall straight into the stream. You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now.

I continued on towards Inchnadamph, another village that looked like it had four houses, a hotel and a red telephone box.

I felt a little sad as I walked wistfully past Conival, my journey was coming to an end. I didn’t really feel ready for it to end just yet. I’d miss the hills and the glens, the clear lochs and washing my face in mountain streams. I’d miss walking along as the sun set with everything I needed on my back. I’d miss the little frogs that jump out of my way as I walk down the trail and the flies of the butter and dragon variety. I probably won’t miss the midges or the clegs.

For lunch I had a tortilla wrap containing “grated Italian-style cheese” and salt and vinegar crisps. Then my adventure towards Glendhu finally started. The rocky path was good enough but slow going and I could see how it could take a long time in bad weather. It took a long time in bright and breezy weather.

The view that awaited me when I rounded Beinn Uidhe caught me by surprise. I had been expecting more rolling hills, perhaps with some bog and heather to make things difficult. Instead I was greeted with rocky, lumpy hills; it was a fantastic sight. Then the path stopped and I had to make my way through heather and bog. I then stopped at Loch Beag for another crisps and dried cheese wrap.

A few uneventful hours later and I was in Glendhu. It had been a long and tiring stretch, even if the distance wasn’t far. It wasn’t as hard as some of the stretches between Sourlies and Strathcarron, but it had been hard enough for these tired legs.

My night would be spent in Glendhu Bothy. It was very eerie with the wind blowing across the loch and I tried not to think of any horror stories.

My left IT band has now gone and my right knee hyperextends as I walk. Hopefully both will feel a bit better by morning. I’ve now just got to hold everything together for that last 50 miles

Day 16 – Slowly Cruising Along

I had a slow start from the B&B, mostly due to not getting up until eight, but partly due to wondering about feet. I had taken advice from the obvious blister expert and switched to new shoes for the day. I’ll try to keep these dry and use the old pair for boggy bits.

The foot fairies had been hard at work overnight and my feet were generally less sore. After trying on the new shoes, and resorting to my third and final set of socks, I decided to make do with only a few pieces of tape. It’s easier to add more tape to a blistered foot than it is to peel it off. The main area I taped was my heels, it seems that if inov8 trail runners rub, it’ll be at the heel. My old pair never did, but this new pair seem to a little, so better to fix that before it becomes a problem.

Breakfast was a bowl of cereal followed by two bacon and sausage sandwiches. Given that the Blacksmith’s Cottage B&B owner had also donated a fiver, it made the stay a worthwhile bargain. I’ll have to stop eating so much once I stop walking though, as I’m getting through an awful lot of food.

The morning plod was just that, a plod. I plodded down a single track lane and then I plodded some more. I’d like to be able to say it was due to being up late last night typing up blog reports and doing laundry, or that I was taking it easy because of the blisters. The real reason was that I now only have two walking paces, slow or limping; I preferred slow.

I made my way along this relatively flat track, first past Loch Achall then along a river, before stopping at Loch an Daimh for a lunch of crisps, fudge and macaroons. I’m saving the Irn-Bru flavoured macaroon for later.

The loch itself was as blue as the clear sky above it. On a hot day like this I was tempted to go for a swim; if only I knew how to swim. I’ll have to come here again for that swim one day.

As the path confined to Oykel Bridge it reminded me of the Great Glen Way, a good solid track to walk along, gradual ups and downs with lochs and trees along the way. The hills were changing here too. The hills here roll in a more gentle manner than those south of Beinn Eighe. The views were still wonderful, except for those bloody wind farms, but they were less dramatic than those that I had seen before.

I rolled into Oykel Bridge around 18.00. It’s a funny old place, like many I have encountered. From what I could see Oykel Bridge has two houses, a hotel, a bridge and an old-fashioned red telephone box. That’s it, that’s all you get. What I got from the hotel was a can of coke and a cup of tea while I rested for half an hour.

My spreadsheet told me that I had done 317.97 miles and my diary told me that I was on day 16. It felt like I was within touching distance of the finish line. Today was the fist day that I thought about the possibility of not being able to finish due to the military bombing the heck out of the wilderness that I hoped to be walking through shortly. As I had walked to Oykel Bridge, cruising along with my home on my back, my other reoccurring thought was “I’m like a turtle, lol.”

I continued plodding on into what was listed as day 17 on my maps. I decided to set myself the somewhat optimistic challenge of completing 30 miles by the end of the next night, because, you know, it was getting too easy otherwise. The Cape Wrath Trail guide I had looked at when preparing for this trip had suggested allowing a day for the twelve mile stretch between Inchnadamph and Glendhu. If I did nine miles of the stretch before that tonight and the other nine in the morning, I’d have all afternoon until nightfall to complete that stretch.

The walk from Oykel Bridge to Benmore lodge was quiet and, with more good path and no need to navigate, it had been an uneventful day. It had given me a lot of time to think about my life and the people in it. For me this has been a long journey, a long few weeks, most people won’t have even noticed that I’ve been away.

I hurried past Benmore Lodge as the sun set behind Loch Ailsh. Outside it were new off-road vehicles and a motorboat. I’d seen another lodge earlier in the trip with tennis courts outside it. I’d settle for a small cottage somewhere out here. I scurried past the big old house and camped out near the end of the forest. I knew there would be midges here but it was getting too late to continue in death of somewhere better.