350 Miles to Cape Wrath


I’m going to walk far, through beautiful, wild places. I’m going to go alone, in winter, because I will grow more this way. I’m excited about feeling the wind whip the cold rain and snow up against my skin. The occasional glimmer of warmth from the sun to my face will feel all the better. My legs and shoulders will ache under the weight of my rucksack each day, but each day my legs and shoulders will grow stronger. I feel lucky to live in Scotland, because I have this on my door step, and I intend to make the most of it, the snow topped mountains, the forests and the moors, the sea cliffs and white beaches. I feel nervous because I may not succeed, I may not even get far, but I’m excited because I might.


I’m going to follow the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Fort William via Loch Lomond, Rannoch Moor and Loch Leven , and then a variant of the Cape Wrath Trail from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the north western tip of Scotland, via Morar, Knoydart, Torridon and Assynt. This adds up to about 344 miles (551km) and a total of 17,725m of ascent. I will spend most nights wild camping, staying in a hostel roughly every 3-5 days to wash, eat and aid recovery in the warm and dry. I am also fundraising for Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre – if you would like to donate, please visit my JustGiving page here.


 


Challenges


Weather – The weather during a Scottish winter can be pretty wild, although it should be easing up a little now that we’re approaching Spring. The day’s length will increase from 9:40 when I begin to 12:15 hours when I finish. Staying warm and dry is a concern due to the windy, consistently wet nature of Scottish weather – it might even rain every single day. I’ve chosen clothing so that I should be warm even when wet as long as I’m active. If there has been particularly heavy rain, the rivers may be in spate, making crossings difficult. For the crossings that I expect to be difficult, I will have an alternative route in mind. Otherwise it may be a case of detouring to find an easier point to cross or waiting for the river levels to lower. As it will be very windy at times (60mph+), there is always a concern of catastrophic failure of my tent poles – this would not be great if I am a day or two from any other form of shelter. I’ve chosen the Hilleberg Soulo – it isn’t super spacious, but it’s semi-geodesic and copes well in strong winds, it should be fine so long as I’m wise about where I pitch.

Physical – I smashed my patella two years ago. Knee pain is not uncommon for me, and I’ve yet to see how it’s going to hold up on a long distance trip – especially over the rough ground of the Scottish Highlands. I’m worried that this will let me down early on in the trip, but I can only try. My rucksack will be heavy (~25% of my body weight), but I’ll have walking poles to help disperse the weight, and I’ll have to go with care. I’ve yet to get a blister with my new boots, but with the inevitability of wet feet, I’ll have to do what I can to keep them as dry as possible for as long as possible. Boots with gaitors, waterproof socks, spare socks, and the occasional hostel stop to dry things out will hopefully suffice.

Morale – Physical pain and solitude can take its toll. Each evening I will have a hot meal (dehydrated meal in a bag) to look forward to. The daylight hours are still relatively few. I am taking my Kindle and some notepads so that I can read and write. I’m also taking my photography gear. I’m aware that this will be a large amount of extra weight, but I just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t try to document the trip this way.

Navigation – From Fort William to Cape Wrath, there are some areas where there is no trail to follow, so navigation tools and the skills to use them are essential. The Cape Wrath Trail Harvey maps cover the whole route in two maps, and the maps themselves are light, tough and waterproof. For minimalism, I will primarily be using these maps but I will also be taking a GPS.

Logistics – I need to keep costs down. I can’t afford to buy pub meals every night, and the further I go, the less infrastructure there is to resupply. I am posting food parcels to pick up every 5 days or so. The further I have to walk without resupply, the heavier my bag.


 


Kit


Shelter – Hilleberg Soulo. I’ve replaced six of the standard 16cm V pegs with Alpkit 24cm Y beams. This should give the guy ropes extra hold in soft ground.

Sleep – My bed will comprise of a Sea to Summit silk liner, an ageing Vango Viper 750 four season sleeping bag, an Alpkit Hunka bivi bag and a NeoAir Xtherm sleeping mat. For extra luxury to ensure a better nights sleep, I’m also taking a Nemo Fillo pillow and some ear plugs.

Cooking – I’m going to use a Primus Omnilite Ti with a Primus Etapot to boil water. As I’m going to eat Expedition Foods dehydrated meals in the evening, boiling water is all I should need to do. The rest of the time I will eat cold food. Snacking will include granola bars, dark chocolate and peanuts and raisins. These foods are high in calories for their weight, and contain plenty of fats and protein. I will buy fresh fruit whenever I can for much needed nutrition. I’m taking a Sawyer Mini water filter to filter water if necessary – weighing only 20g, there is no real penalty for taking it.

Lighting – Headtorch and lantern for the tent

Navigation – I’m using the West Highland Way and Cape Wrath Trail Harvey Maps, along with a compass, and a GPS in case I get lost/need to check where I am in terrible weather.

Emergency – I have a first aid kit and a personal locator beacon (McMurdo FastFind Ranger), just in case.

Photography – If it rains all of the time, doing any photography at all will be a challenge as my camera will be staying in a dry bag. However, not many photographic opportunities like this come along. I’ll be taking a DSLR, a range of lenses, filters and a tripod.


Notes to self


  • Leave detailed copy of route plan with friends/family.
  • Set up camp before dusk, sheltered if possible.
  • Always have a set of dry gear to wear at night.
  • Keep an eye on weather, it can change quickly.
  • Be flexible.
  • Don’t be overambitious – there’s no shame in turning back if the conditions turn for the worse or if you feel an injury coming on.
  • Leave no trace of your presence (poop trowel).

Continue to West Highland Way 1: Milngavie to Fort William


 

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