I still haven’t managed to go proper camping (in my tent) in the Highlands since coming up here. Partly because I’ve been busy with other things, partly because I’m being a bit wussy when it comes to hiking and camping out and a LOT because of the weather up here. It hasn’t been a very good summer. I think we’ve had about 8 days in total without rain and very few consecutive “decent” days. It seems that whenever I have time off work the forecast is either for all terrible weather or one day nice, next day windy/wet (and repeat). This means that I’ve had some nice day walks, but very few opportunities for overnight trips. OK, lots of opportunities for overnight trips, but very few for pleasant, dry-ish, “not being blown away” overnight trips (hence the “I’m being a bit wussy” comment).
Finally, last week, the forecast was for two consecutive days of mostly fine, relatively calm weather. Rain on the morning of the first day and the evening of the second day, but fine in the middle. I HAD to get out for an overnight walk. I had also not been walking in a while so I was just itching to get out for a “proper” walk.
I came up with a few ideas. There is some lovely wild ground, a beach popular for camping and several bothies north of me, plus a lot of little hills I haven’t been to the top of. There is also the one reasonable sized hill up here that I haven’t climbed to the north east (Cranstackie). Plus, my favourite pub (Smoo) even further to the north east. I had this vague idea that I could walk from home up to Durness, via a bothy and a few hills, grab dinner at the pub, camp out the back (because I know the owners), walk out to Strabeg bothy (see this post) and stay the night, then walk up to Cranstackie via the long back ridge, then wander home. Obviously this was a 3 day trip . . . but possibly I could do the first day, then just meander home, or walk down the line of hills from Ceannabeinne to Cranstackie then maybe get a lift from Rhiconich to near home).
Unfortunately when I got the map out, I discovered it was over 30km to Durness, and that was heading almost direct, across country. Clearly that was probably too far to go there and back in two days, especially with the hills I wanted to go up, and the fact that I’d been dealing with work stuff all morning and wasn’t ready to leave yet.
Still, I came up with a few alternatives, sent a “safety message” to a friend (“I’m going walking. Will be back tonight, or tomorrow evening, or this afternoon if I’m very lazy. Heading towards Durness but doubt I’ll get there”), packed all my gear and left the house by about 11am. So basically halfway through the day already – no way 30km was going to happen!
On a side note, I’ve been thinking recently that I should get one of those SPOT trackers. They are GPS beacons that live update their location to the internet (so you could follow my hikes in real time!) but also have a few message sending functions: some preprogrammed ones that can be sent to specific phone numbers (eg “all going well, see you as per plan” or “running late, but all OK”) plus an emergency button that alerts the nearest emergency services that you’re in trouble and need help (and they can get the location from the SPOT tracker). I’ve realised part way through quite a few walks recently (usually when I’m in a precarious position on the side of a hill or falling down between some boulders) that I haven’t told anybody where I am or when I should be back and that I haven’t even brought my mobile phone with me! I’ll do some more research on them . . . when I have time!
I set off down the road, absolutely loving having my full hiking pack on, my map in my hand and nothing in front of me but hills and bogs. I won’t give you a blow by blow account, but will put some photos below to give you an idea of the walk.
The first blow to plan A, C and D came when I got near the bothy and found that the quite impressive looking bridge wasn’t actually there anymore. It was quite a sizeable river, . . . or at least enough to stop me getting across with my “dry feet” policy. This meant I couldn’t get to the bothy and cut out plan D (visit the bothy, head to the coast then walk back along the Sandwood Bay track to be back in time for dinner). It also stopped me getting easy access to the hill behind the bothy which ruled out plan A simply due to time constraints (walk across all the hills on the way to Durness) or plan C (walk across the hills, camp somewhere and wander home the next day). I must admit, plan C was also hindered by the fact that I’d kind of got my heart set on a pub dinner that night!
This left me with Plan B. Skip most of the rest of the hills and walk straight to Durness, trying to arrive before the pub kitchen closed at 9pm. Given that I hadn’t left until 11am, and I was walking 30km across boggy countryside and over some hills, this was maybe a bit of a stupid idea. Still, I’d been keeping an eye on my progress – how far I’d come vs how long it’d taken – and I had a sniff of success. And from the title of this post, . . . I was obviously feeling better because I decided to do something stupid! (I’ve still been feeling a bit tired from time to time)
Not being able to get across to the bothy, I committed to walking to Durness. From here, it was a bit of a focussed mission, but I made sure to keep enjoying myself, not think about how far it was to go (I did a couple of times and that was a mistake!!) and enjoy the walking where I was. And to laugh about how silly I was sometimes.
Another side note, this time on my walk . . . it was far from the most graceful walk I’ve ever done! I’m pretty glad no one else was there to see it. Whether I was unused to the weight and balance of my pack, or out of practice walking cross country, or just distracted (or maybe I’m actually just not that coordinated and graceful), it was not pretty! I fell over the first time in the first hour. Slipped down a hill. Tripped over several times. Stepped in an old drain (up to my knee). Overbalanced on a river crossing. Sunk in some bogs. Splashed mud all over myself several times. No major injuries (although one of my knees packed in the next day and is still sore) and I never ended up on my bum in either mud or water, but it was still pretty uncoordinated.
I had planned to cross the Dionard River at the footbridge near the end of the Kyle of Durness. I didn’t realise though that it was right in front of somebody’s house. I feel quite uncomfortable walking close to people’s houses. At this point I had wet feet already (from the grace and elegance described above) and mud all over my pants. I decided that wading the Dionard River would probably be beneficial to my appearance and not especially detrimental to my feet. So, my dry feet policy went out the window – it turns out that I’d rather respect people’s privacy than keep dry feet . . . . at least today when I was already wet and muddy! It was quite liberating just wading across the river where I wanted to rather than having to search for the perfect dry crossing point. Maybe I’ll do this more often in the future.
Luckily the tide was at least half way out so I could walk along the Kyle shore, instead of having to walk along the road the whole way into town. I had been considering going cross country all the way to the pub but I think there are a lot of fences in the area immediately south of Durness and I was already pretty tired (actually, I’d been tired since about 15km in!) so elected to road walk instead. Besides, then I got to see some people I knew on the way through town.
I actually arrived at the pub at about 7:45pm. Heaps of time to spare! Some of my friends were in, which was great, and I made a few new friends through the evening. I ended up with house guests for the next two days (two guys travelling around who were really interested in the geology of the area), and a warm, dry place to stay for the night (at the end of the evening I was lamenting not having set my tent up earlier when two of the Navy Bomb Disposal divers insisted I stay in their van for the evening instead).
So, I still haven’t used my tent for a camping trip up here, but have met some new people and had some more quite unique experiences that I would never have thought of (as per Swedish Viking armoured transport!). I also ended up working in the restaurant the following evening because they were short of staff. I love being able to just let life take its random course up here – it keeps things interesting!
I was tired, with quite sore feet however, so had come up with the brilliant idea of catching the bus most of the way home the next day so I’d only have to walk about 3km. Perfect!
I’m pretty glad I did. 30km was clearly too far to try to do in half a day (although it sounds much more achievable if you say it in miles – 18 miles), and to think about doing that again the following day, without any recent training or conditioning, is ridiculous. It’s nice to be doing some stupid things again, although 3 days later I’m still feeling a bit tired and sore. Still, I refuse to utter those damning words “I’m too old for this stuff”.
It took about 8.5 hours, and the GPS tracker only says 26km, . . . but I didn’t remember to turn it on straight away. Still, maybe not quite 30km. Awwww . . . doesn’t sound nearly as impressive now!