In May 2018 I thru-hiked the Scottish National Trail, an 864 kilometre (536 mile) trail that runs the length of Scotland.
I chose to hike the Scottish National Trail solo, because a solo female hadn’t completed this hike.
I wanted to prove that if someone who has an average athletic ability like I do could finish Britain’s toughest hike, then anyone else could too!
Hiking has helped me with my mental health and has helped me develop my confidence. It has also given me some special memories I’ll carry for life.
I kept a Scotland hiking blog, sharing the adventure on my Facebook page.
I’ve decided to combine it into a blog post to help anyone planning on hiking the Scottish National Trail, or if anyone is interested in reading about my crazy adventure!
I hope you enjoy my Scotland hiking blog of the Scottish National Trail.
My Scottish National Trail Hiking Guides
Scotland Hiking Blog: The Scottish National Trail
DAY 1 | Kirk Yetholm to Cessford Castle
Cessford Castle in the Scottish Borders
I arrived at The Border Hotel the afternoon before and was treated to a wonderful stay. The hotel is very close to the Scottish/English border and is the official end point of the Pennine Way.
I caught a bus from Edinburgh to Kelso, explored the area for an hour and caught another bus to Kirk Yetholm.
I mingled with the locals, ate a fabulous dinner at the hotel and collected a few donations for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
The next morning I decided to hike to the border and start from there. Not the greatest idea I’ve had as it added 6km to my 28km day! But the weather was fantastic, and after I struggled up Wideopen Hill with my 17kg pack, the hiking became a lot easier.
It was 7.30pm when I passed through Morebattle. I was starting to think about setting up camp when I came across Cessford Castle. I pitched my tent underneath a tree with views of the castle ruin from my tent window.
Not a bad view to wake up to!
Although I didn’t reach Harestanes [my target] I’m still getting used to hiking life. I would have made it a lot closer to Harestanes had I not decided to hike to the border, but it was important I started from there because I knew if I didn’t it would plague me for the rest of my adventure!
DAY 2 | Harestanes to Melrose
Well I made it to Melrose! Day two was a BIG day. I hiked 33.6kms to catch up and by the end of the day I could barely walk.
Although the Melrose Campground wasn’t officially open for pitching a tent, the kind lady at reception let me pitch my tent behind the toilet block so I could use the facilities (a shower has never felt so good!)
Today saw me walk the remainder of St Cuthberts Way, although I did take a slight detour to save some time by continuing on the old Roman Road called Dere Street, rather than heading east to Dryburgh and then swinging west to Melrose. I was quite proud of myself for breaking off the route and navigating myself seeing as it was my second day using an OS map and compass.
Today was very tough mentally and physically. I really had to push through the pain, and rest when I thought my body needed it.
Seeing Lilliard’s Stone just past Harestanes really gave me a boost; though it is most likely a myth, the story behind the landmark is that a woman named Lilliard fought to the death in the War of the Rough Wooing (when Henry VIII unsuccessfully tried to wed his son to Mary Queen of Scots). It made me think about all the brave women before me who had been through much worse.
I arrived in Melrose just after 8pm and had dinner at the Ship Inn, before making my way to the campground for the evening.
DAY 3 | Melrose to Traquair Hills
The Eildon Hills
Today I took it easy on my body. It sounds silly but I only really clicked today that if I injure myself seriously, the Scottish National Trail is over for me.
I have barely trained for this. I first put my pack on with its full weight the day I left Edinburgh for Kirk Yetholm. I feel mentally prepared, but my body is behind. My hips are bruised from my straps, I have a blister bigger than a 50p coin on my right heel, my pack is rubbing my shoulders raw and my hamstrings feel as though they could snap.
My left leg also goes numb if my straps are too tight, so I need to stop, loosen them until the tingling goes away, and then tighten them back up and continue.
Despite the discomfort, I’m pushing through all this, and I’m giving myself lots of short breaks.
Very stupidly, when I left The Salmon Inn in Galashiels I left my power bank behind. I was 30 mins into hiking, so I dumped my pack behind a tree and ran (yes, I RAN- have no idea where I found the energy) back to collect it. This put me back around one hour so I was very annoyed at myself because I needed to set up camp soon as the sun was setting.
But, things happen for a reason.
As I was walking past a farm, a man on a motorbike came past, and asked if I was okay. He said I looked very tired and offered me his field by the River Tweed to camp for the night. I agreed, and set up camp and fell asleep listening to the river run downstream. Bliss.
That evening, there was the most magnificent sunset, and when I walked back up the trail to take a photo I met the farmer’s wife. We got chatting and she very kindly invited me over for breakfast the next morning and made me a packed lunch.
So timing is everything! I am incredibly touched by the kindness I’ve received from many so far.
DAY 4 | Traquair Hills to Peebles
The famous Innerleithen goose!
Starting the day with views of the Eildon Hills was unbeatable. I had a lovely trek along a part of the Southern Upland Way towards Traquair, passing the Cheese Well and leaving my “offering” of chocolate for the faeries (they say if you leave food or coins the faeries will give you luck on your travels).
I followed the road from Traquair to Peebles and on my way there I saw a sign for Traquair House– Scotland’s oldest inhabited house. I didn’t go inside because I didn’t have time, but I spoke to the woman on the desk and she told me about a walking/cycle route I could take to Peebles via Innerleithen. This was much safer than walking on a narrow, bendy road along the Scottish National Trail which made me feel a tad uneasy.
She also told me if I went that way I would meet Innerleithen’s famous resident- a goose! Apparently one day this goose just turned up and made its home on the River Tweed by a paddock containing two horses. Sadly, one of the horses died, and then the goose decided to move in to keep the other horse company. How sweet!
After hearing this I was sold on the route, even though it added an extra hour to my walk. As I crossed the bridge into Innerleithen, I immediately spotted the goose swimming on the river! I called out to it and it swam to the shore, hopped out and came over to see me. I was dying of laughter by this point! So I took a few photos of the goose and continued down the cycle path towards Peebles.
The sun was hot and my legs were tired, but after three hours I staggered into Peebles looking for somewhere to set up camp. I passed Whitestone House, a bed and breakfast, and after enquiring about the price discovered it cost only £30 for the night. The temptation to turn down a bed was too strong.
I was too tired to explore Peebles, but from what I saw it looked like a beautiful, quaint town.
DAY 5 | Peebles to West Linton
The Peebles Cross Kirk
After a home-cooked breakfast I left Whitestone House and headed towards the Cross Kirk, a church built on the site of where St Nicholas’ supposed relics were found in the 13th century.
Alexander III paid for the kirk to be built, and it became a popular house for worship. It later became a house for Trinitarian friars, and in the mid-16th century it was burnt by the English. It was repaired two years later, but then abandoned in 1784.
I then left Peebles, walking uphill along a track that took me into farmland. It was there I saw my first herd of highland cattle!
I followed the Cross Borders Drove Road all the way to West Linton, making very good time for once. I practically skipped through the hills! My body was finally starting to adjust to carrying my pack and my new walking lifestyle.
I was around half an hour from West Linton when, crossing through a paddock, I found a wee lamb lying helplessly underneath a gate.
It couldn’t stand, but it had enough brightness in its eyes for me to know it could be saved. It was a very hot day, and it was lying exposed in the sun, so I shifted it into the shade, dumped my pack and ran to the nearest house- around 1km away.
I knocked, and no one answered, so I ran to the next house and thankfully an old man answered the door. He knew the name of the farmer that owned the sheep, but he didn’t have a contact phone number.
Frustrated, I Googled the farmer’s name and called the first number Google displayed. It turned out to be the farmer! I waited with the lamb and he came and collected it, assuring me it was going to be okay after he gave it a shot of antibiotics.
By this stage the sun and the running had tired me out, and not paying much attention to my map, I headed off in the wrong direction.
This added an extra hour to my hike, so by the time I hobbled into West Linton I was craving whisky and chocolate. I went into the Co-op, and by some sort of miracle, someone recognised me from my videos! Cate invited me around for a drink and very kindly let me sleep in her spare bedroom.
I am so touched by the warmth and kindness of everyone I’ve met so far in Scotland. It’s restoring my faith in humanity.
DAY 6-7 | West Linton to Edinburgh
I left West Linton feeling slightly hungover after sharing a few vodkas with Cate the evening before. I followed an old Roman Road to Carlops, passing an Icelandic horse farm.
I stopped and had lunch in Carlops underneath a shaded tree, and plotted my route through the Pentlands Hills Regional Park.
I was nervous about this section. Looking at my map, the large green area of the Pentlands looked daunting. What if I got lost?
My route took me directly through the middle of the Pentlands, and into Balerno, a suburb of Edinburgh, around 8 miles from the city centre.
I was headed to Just B, a lovely looking bed and breakfast. Going from the photos on the website, a night here was exactly what I needed to rest from my grueling week.
The section through the Pentlands was disappointingly easy- to my surprise. I followed a track for most of the way, but it was when I reached the long stretch of road to take me to Balerno I started to wear down.
I arrived at JustB feeling a bit broken, and slightly amazed that I’d managed to arrive at my intended time.
Although, it was when I arrived I realised I must have angels looking after me.
This bed and breakfast was amazing. It honestly felt like I was at a retreat. Karen, the owner, must have taken one look at me and realised I was in dire need of a sleep and a meal, so she made me fresh tomato soup and let me have a few hours kip.
You only need to look at these photos to understand how lovely Just B is! Every inch of this bed and breakfast is filled with care and thoughtfulness. I love how close it is to the city; so if you live in Edinburgh and want to relax and recharge, stay there!
Karen’s beautiful puggles licked my wounds, and I played fetch with them in the forest outside the back gate.
The following day it was a simple three-hour walk along the Water of Leith walkway to my final destination for the week: Slateford in Edinburgh.
I would take the following day off, and spend two nights at Castle Rock Hostel. I caught the bus from Slateford to the hostel, and spent most of my time in bed resting my tired and aching body.
Week 1 Summary
Total kms/miles hiked: 175km / 109 miles
Total amount of steps walked: 253, 921
Most kms/miles hiked in 1 day: 33.3km / 20.6 miles [Cessford Castle to Melrose]
Number of bed and breakfasts stayed at: 3
Number of nights wild camping: 3
Times I cried: 1
DAY 9 – 10 | Edinburgh to Linlithgow
I had mixed feelings about week 2; I knew it was going to be easy as I’d be following the Union Canal for a few days but I was worried it would get boring.
It’s pleasant enough if you’re hiking or cycling for an hour or two on the canals, but after that…my calves got sore and my mind started to wander.
Thank God there is so much to see from Broxburn to Falkirk however!
Swanlings and ducklings are abundant on the canal in spring and the boats are pretty unique too. Many people live on their boats on the canal and sail between Edinburgh and Glasgow. What a life!
When I passed through Linlithgow I visited the Linlithgow Palace– a very cool experience if you’re interested in Scottish history. Linlithgow Palace is where Mary, Queen of Scots was born and is a spectacular ruin. It sits right by Linlithgow Loch, and on sunny days the grassy area around the palace makes a great place for a picnic.
I spent my first night in Broxburn which was an interesting wee town that looks to these odd hills called The Bings.
I’m in cruise mode this week. Last week I felt rushed because my body was adjusting to walking with a pack. Now I am slightly ahead of schedule which means I can explore a bit more!
DAY 11 | Linlithgow to Falkirk
The Falkirk Wheel at night
Today was brilliant. I took some time off the canal to explore Falkirk– and I’m so glad I did.
I first went in search of the battlefield of the Battle of Falkirk Muir; my ancestors were Jacobites and fought in this battle. No one is really sure where the battle took place, but it was somewhere near Callendar House, potentially in the grounds.
I ended up spending some time at Callendar House. It’s a mansion in Falkirk with an incredible history.
A few interesting facts:
- The house has been around since at least the 12th century and has been home to some of the most important nobles in Scotland.
- A lady of the house once hosted English commander, General Hawley, and distracted him while Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army of Jacobites approached. The battle of Falkirk Muir was the last big battle the Jacobites won against the English.
- The house was once seized by Oliver Cromwell. His men killed everyone inside (62 people) and they are believed to be buried under the tree atop a mound to the right of Callendar House.
- Mary, Queen of Scots visited here and was quite close with the family living there. The Lord of Callendar at the time was one of Mary’s guardians and fled with her to France during the War of the Rough Wooing, where Henry VIII attempted to marry Mary to his son.
- The house was sold for £1 to the council when the owners couldn’t keep up with the expenses.
- The notorious scene in Outlander where the Duke of Sandringham was murdered was filmed in the kitchen here!
Part of Antonine’s Wall can be seen from the house, which is essentially, just a giant ditch and not a wall!
After spending a few hours here, I made my way to the Falkirk Wheel, with plans to continue hiking to find somewhere to wild camp. I ended up camping at the Falkirk Wheel because I found out there were showers and plenty of people camping in their camper vans. I was treated to a beautiful sunset which set behind the wheel- so the decision to camp here overnight was a good one!
One of the campers also asked if the wheel could be lit up, so at 11pm we all stood outside and watched the wheel light up the sky in a kaleidoscope of colours.
DAY 12 | Kilsyth to Milngavie
I camped at the Auchinstarry Marina and was again treated to wonderful weather.
I did have a chance to explore the town of Kilsyth before leaving, another lovely wee Scottish town.
I left the canal today and hiked alongside a golf course before reaching Milngavie. I had been dreaming of diving into a pool of water all day (the temperature was around 25 degrees) so I was happy to find Allander Leisure Centre close to the centre of town. After a swim and a shower it was getting late, so I had to find the first bit of forest I could sneakily pitch my tent in.
I found a bare patch of land near the football field and set up my tent just as the sun set. I didn’t actually realise that I had pitched my tent right next to the railway until I heard a train zoom past.
Luckily I was so tired I slept through all the screeching.
DAY 13/14/15 | Milngavie to Aberfoyle
Aberfoyle Old Parish Church and Burial Ground
Oh how my body has changed in just two weeks. I hiked the first day of the West Highland Way with ease- and in just 3.5 hours! I was actually passing people- something I never thought would happen given the weight of my pack.
I know this isn’t a race however, but I was keen to get to Drymen for my rest day.
I arrived at the Drymen Campsite at around 4pm. It was nice to be able to set up camp for longer than just one night. Shortly afterwards I went into the village.
What can I say about Drymen- it’s a thriving wee village! Drymen is also the home of Scotland’s oldest (registered) pub, the Clachan Inn, and I knew where I was headed.
It was madness inside, I was expecting to have a quiet drink but I ended up making friends and going to a Young Farmer’s party in the middle of nowhere.
I also got very drunk. A hangover is definitely not what I needed when I woke up the next morning, but when in Rome (or a wee Scottish town).
So my day off resulted in a lot of sleeping.
The next leg of my journey took me to Aberfoyle along the official start of the Rob Roy Way. It was another very hot day, around 27 degrees, and this day involved a lot of road walking which made it feel hotter.
I arrived in Aberfoyle around 5pm, passing the legendary Doon Hill and the Aberfoyle Old Parish Church and Burial Ground, a church ruin surrounded by a graveyard. The minister of that church, Reverend Robert Kirk, was a folklorist and was said to go to Doon Hill and “talk to the fairies”.
One day while walking on Doon Hill he sank to the ground and died [it was thought he had a heart attack]. After his funeral his cousin Graham claimed the ghost of the reverend appeared telling him he had been carried into fairyland. He told his cousin that he would appear at the christening of Graham’s child. He told Graham to throw an iron dagger over Kirk at the christening, as this would release him from captivity. His cousin was too scared however and couldn’t do it. It is believed that the reverend’s soul is still inside a lone Scots Pine tree on Doon Hill.
Before his death, the Reverend wrote a book called The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies. It can be purchased on Amazon.
I settled myself in at a pub and had a nice meal. I was wild camping again that night, so I looked to my trusty ViewRanger app to find myself a nice spot of forest to settle in for the night.
Only, that midge season seemed to appear out of nowhere that night, and I had to hastily set up my tent and play a game of “kill all the midges inside my tent”. Luckily, I didn’t get bitten, and I had a mostly peaceful sleep until I heard this loud wailing noise.
It sounded like a giant howling cat, or a sheep in labour, or something in between. It moved swiftly between the bushes, and sounded like it could have been the size of a dog or small deer. Because I was in the forest close to the town, there were definitely no sheep around, plus, growing up on a farm had taught me every sound a sheep could make, so I eliminated that option.
So as you can imagine, I lay there in terror for several hours, thinking that Reverend Robert Kirk was right and fairies did exist and they were going to take me to fairy world.
It turns out the animal was actually a female fox, and the strange howl I heard was her mating call.
You need to Google the sound a vixen makes when she is in season, because quite frankly, it’s terrifying. Especially when you’re camping alone in the woods!
Week 2 Summary
Total kms/miles hiked: 140.7km / 87.4 miles
Number of beds slept in: 1
Number of campsites stayed at: 2
Number of nights wild camping: 4
Number of hangovers: 1
Times I cried: 0
Interesting things I saw: Antonine’s Wall, Callendar House, Linlithgow Palace, Falkirk Wheel, Almond Castle, mini kelpies, The Clachan Inn- the oldest pub in Scotland.
DAY 16 – 18 | Callander to Aberfeldy
Hiking through the pass to Loch Freuchie
The hike from Callander to Comrie was ranked 3 out of 5 books on the WalkHighlands website- my first day hike rated ‘difficult’.
I was a bit nervous to say the least- not only did I have the long distance to deal with, but now I had much steeper inclines, no reception and unmarked trails to contend with. Oh, and let’s not forget the heatwave Scotland has been having!
I left Callander and climbed a very steep hill, which took it out of me mentally and physically. The views at the top were worth it though- I was kind to myself and had a rest at the top to soak in the incredible views of the highlands and the lowlands (the viewpoint lies on the boundary).
Then I continued into the land of zero reception (and also, zero shade). This gradually climbed to take me through farmland and many beautiful small hills. The trail after this was virtually unmarked, and I battled bog and gorse bush to make my way to Comrie. I could barely walk by this point (which tends to happen at the end of the day anyway) and it was late so I wild camped in an empty section close to the town. I spotted a wild deer cantering across the field opposite to where I was.
The next day was similar- unmarked trails through hills, but it offered some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve experienced on this hike so far.
In fact, the section from Comrie to Loch Freuchie is one I’m keen to experience again as I camped in one of the most beautiful spots- by the river Almond surrounded by mountains and under the watchful eye of Ben Chonzie. I didn’t make it to Loch Freuchie, instead deciding to shorten the day as I’d hiked almost 30km the day before and I was tired.
This meant that I would have a big day (my biggest day so far) the following day to make it to Aberfeldy.
It was a massive 35km to hike to Aberfeldy, and the weather was a scorching 27 degrees.
I had lunch at Loch Freuchie, and it was 2pm before I realised I still had 20km to go. My feet hurt from walking the long road to reach farmland, and at one point I experienced every hikers worst nightmare by running out of water and I had to go door knocking to retrieve some more (thank you kind, Scottish strangers).
Then I discovered I had to hike up a steep road (climbing 300m in under 2 kilometres) before walking along the ridge to eventually descend into Aberfeldy. Talk about exhausting!
I had made a snap decision at lunchtime to eat all my food and hike to Aberfeldy for dinner. Not only was this very stupid, but it also provided great motivation to actually get to Aberfeldy.
I happened upon a bothy along the way. Curious, I looked inside and was amazed to find a protein bar, lollies, fruit juice and a chocolate bar.
The people that leave food behind at bothies- you are the real heroes of this world.
I had something to eat and continued for another hour before my body started to break down.
I approached the Birks of Aberfeldy, made famous by the poem of the same name by Robert Burns, which would lead me into the town. From my map the route looked fairly straightforward, but I was soon to discover the walk consisted of many twists, turns and steps that jarred my knees. After half an hour of this I was crying out of frustration and hunger. All I wanted was a hot meal, and to rest my feet.
I started to run and ignored the pain. Food was less than a kilometre away.
I found an Indian takeaway with a table, ordered a curry with a naan twice the size of my head, and devoured it.
It was 9.30pm by then and I needed to find somewhere close by to camp. Luckily there was a campground five minutes away and I staggered in to set my tent up for the night.
Today made me realise just how far I can push my body, and how strong I am.
Day 19 – 21 | Aberfeldy to the Cairngorms National Park
After a huge 35km day yesterday, I decided to reward myself in the morning and explore the small town of Aberfeldy. There have been a couple of wee towns in Scotland that have captured my heart, and Aberfeldy is one of them!
There is an amazing bookstore there called The Watermill Bookshop which has a delightful cafe downstairs and a reading room! I wanted to stay and curl up in the corner with a book but I had to continue on to Pitlochry.
As I left I followed the River Tay through forest to Grandtully where I was delighted to discover the award-winning Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier! I stopped there for lunch and nibbled on one of their chocolate blocks before continuing to Pitlochry where I would spend my day off.
I had two nights booked at the Pitlochry Youth Hostel. Sleeping in a bed is a luxury for me these days, and I was looking forward to spending two nights in one.
As I crossed the bridge over the Tay, dark clouds loomed and pretty quickly the thunder, lightning and rain arrived as I was climbing the hill that separated Strathtay and Pitlochry.
I threw on my rain jacket as the rain started pouring down, and I had a wonderful view of the thunderstorm as I reached the summit of the hill. This was my first experience of rain on the trail, and I didn’t mind it- I’d been blessed with excellent weather up to that point and accepted that rain would come. I just didn’t expect a full show.
I spent a lovely two nights at the Pitlochry Youth Hostel, which had a fantastic view over the town. On my day off I explored the gift shops throughout the town and vowed I would come back here for a relaxing shopping trip when I’d finished the trail.
I took my time leaving the following day. I was only meant to hike to Blair Atholl but I decided to hike a bit further into the Cairngorms National Park to make my 27km journey the following day a bit easier.
I followed Loch Faskally through the forest and stumbled across several vans and trucks parked up. They had a film company logo on them, and curious, I wandered in and asked a man what they were filming.
THEY WERE FILMING OUTLANDER.
Of all the places I could have been, I happened to accidentally run into the set of one of my favourite television shows.
What is life?!
As I circled the loch, I could see them filming a boat scene in the distance. I managed to get a photo with my zoom lens, but the faces were too blurry to identify.
I passed another interesting spot during my travels alongside the loch as well: Soldier’s Leap. Apparently an English soldier was fleeing the Jacobites after the Battle of Killiecrankie and jumped 5.5 metres across the river to escape!
The Battle of Killiecrankie (1689) was one of the Jacobites most successful battles against the English. Although I couldn’t see the field from across the river, I had a rest and tried to imagine the scene.
When I reached Blair Atholl I had a late lunch at the cafe at the Watermill, and then headed into the start of my hike through the Cairngorm National Park.
The next part of the trail would take me right into the heart of the national park, and then west to Kingussie. It is the wildest part of the trail yet; I will have no reception, I have to carry all my food in with me, and I will be wild camping throughout.
Day 22 – 24 | Blair Atholl to Kingussie
I was more excited than nervous going into my 3 day hike through the Cairngorms National Park. From my map it looked as though the trails were marked- but I was still going to be alone in the wilderness. I didn’t quite know what to expect.
I had started my journey into the Cairngorms the evening before, hiking 7 kilometres from Blair Atholl to make the following day shorter.
I wild camped by the River Tilt; the midges weren’t so bad and it meant I could wash myself in the river the following morning.
The next day was warm, 27 degrees, and the heatwave decided to stubbornly stick around for the entirety of my time in the Cairngorms. The first days hiking was easy along a track large enough to fit a vehicle.
The highlight of my first day was swimming in the Falls of Tarf. It was my first proper swim on the trail. I climbed around the rocks to get to the bigger pool, swimming right up to the waterfall. I lay in the sun afterwards and sunbathed. It was the first time I properly relaxed without worrying about reaching camp in time.
Shortly after leaving, I was walking along a ridge when I almost stepped on an adder! I dived backwards at the last minute, had a panic and stood there staring, waiting for it to move. Adder’s won’t kill you, but they are venomous, and a bite could have meant the end of the hike for me.
I got out my tripod and hit the ground with it, hoping the noise would disturb the snake, but it wouldn’t move! Then I had an idea- I played some rock music on my phone and held it closely to the wee guy. He slowly slithered into the heather. I did a soldier’s leap over the spot he’d disappeared to and continued on, nearly having several heart attacks at sticks that looked like snakes.
I camped by the Bynack Lodge ruins, which was next to a river so I managed to have a wash again that night.
The next day felt even warmer, and after a long dry stretch without any shelter I was zapped. The only thing that motivated me was that I would spend my first night in a bothy that night- Ruigh Aiteachain.
This bothy also marked the official halfway point of the Scottish National Trail for me!
The lovely bothy caretaker, Lindsay, lit a firework for me to celebrate.
The bothy was just incredible, and had an interesting history. I’m even scared to write this here because I don’t want to let everyone in on how lovely it is, in case it attracts crowds.
The famous painting “The Monarch of the Glen” by Sir Edwin Landseer was painted next to this bothy. In the field next to the bothy there is an old chimney ruin- the only evidence of the house where Lanceer would study the red deer and draw his preliminary sketches of the masterpiece.
The hike to Kingussie was fairly straightforward. I decided to take a shorter route after studying my map. After three days without reception or being able to charge my devices, I was keen to get into the town for a warm meal that wasn’t a protein bar.
Week 3 Summary
Kilometres/miles hiked: 145.9km / 90 miles
Total kms/miles hiked overall: 461.6km / 286.8 miles
Number of beds slept in: 3
Number of campsites stayed at: 1
Number of nights wild camping: 3
Times I cried: 1
Interesting things I’ve seen: Doon Hill, Birks of Aberfeldy, Loch Venachar, Earthquake House (Comrie), Loch Freuchie, Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier.
Day 25 – 27 | Kingussie to Fort Augustus
Kingussie is certainly a striking town if you enter it from the east. The Ruthven Barracks that sit on a small hill overlooking Kingussie are a grand introduction.
They were built after the first Jacobite Rising to help the English to keep control of the unruly Scots.
The Jacobites successfully laid siege to the barracks in during the 1745 rising, however.
I was ready to sleep in a bed after three days in the Cairngorms National Park. Oh and have a proper shower! The river baths had been great and all, but nothing beats a warm shower.
I washed every inch of my skin. Twice. This is when I discovered a very well fed tick hiding in my belly button.
While only 15-20% of ticks will actually carry Lyme disease, it’s worth educating yourself on the subject. Ticks burrow themselves in your skin and can feed on you for several days. If a red ring appears around the bite mark or you start getting flu symptoms, get yourself to a doctor asap.
The following day I hiked to Laggan and ended up meeting a group of Duke of Edinburgh students along the way and their leader, Ross. I ended up camping near them at a bothy just before Laggan. I thought I wouldn’t see many more people after leaving Kingussie, so it was nice to have some company and share my stories.
The following day I almost got caught in a storm. It’s certainly interesting watching the storm clouds roll towards you and hearing the thunder roar from across the valleys. Luckily as the storm hit I found shelter in a farmer’s shed (I hope he didn’t mind) and managed to avoid the rain.
I bought some more supplies from the shop in Laggan to tackle Corrieyairack Pass, which would take me to Fort Augustus.
The man at the shop had told me there was a bothy halfway through the pass. I saw a building across a river named Alltachorain and I thought this surely must be it. I crossed the river and got my feet sopping wet and discovered some couches and a bed inside.
The place felt odd however, and I concluded that it was haunted. But it was 9pm, my feet were wet and there was a bed. I decided to spend the night there.
It wasn’t until the following day I realised this wasn’t the bothy the man in the shop was talking about, after discovering the correct one further up the road. Oops.
I passed two deer who watched me carefully before bouncing away into the woods.
The next section of the pass involved a climb before descending into Fort Augustus. There were a lot of swear words uttered as I ascended over 300 metres along switchbacks to reach the highest point of the pass. The view was lovely, although it was fairly cloudy. Pockets of the surrounding hills were still filled with snow.
The descent into Fort Augustus was easy, with beautiful views of Loch Ness. I decided once I got to the village to treat myself to dinner.
I left the Lock Inn restaurant to search for a camping spot when I heard some voices shouting at me from across the street. I knew they were Glaswegian, because I couldn’t understand anything they were saying.
I did make out one word, however, which was “whisky” so I decided to go over and say hello.
And that is the story of how I ended up drinking with a Scottish family for the rest of the night.
How do I get myself in these situations?
The next day I was very hungover and decided to go check out Urquhart Castle that sits on the shore of Loch Ness. The history of the castle is pretty interesting.
Here are a few facts…
- St Columba converted a Pictish nobleman to Christianity here.
- It was captured by the English during the Scottish Wars of Independence but Robert the Bruce successfully took back the castle in 1307. It was handed back and forth between the English and the Scots many times during these wars.
- The castle was gifted to the Clan Grant chief as a thank you for his assistance with the unruly MacDonalds of the Isles. This didn’t stop the MacDonalds from ransacking it every year however!
- It was partially destroyed in the late 17th century to prevent it from being used by the Jacobites.
Day 28 – 35 | Fort Augustus to Creag Liathtais
I was excited to get to Invergarry; quite a few of my relatives lived and worked in this area centuries ago.
Invergarry castle has to be one of my favourite ruins. I visited at the perfect time; the sun was setting and it gave the castle a soft glow.
I quickly realised that Invergarry has very little facilities, so I made a snap decision to catch the bus to Fort William so I could buy my food for the following week.
I’m glad I did because that’s when Storm Hector hit, and I was almost blown away in my tent wild camping on Cow Hill. I can now fully vouch for my 2-man, £60 tent from Mountain Warehouse can withstand a storm.
I booked myself into a hostel the following night so I could dry out and have a decent sleep before heading into the remotest part of the hike yet: the northwest highlands.
I love Fort William– it is Clan Cameron country, my Scottish clan. There is a lovely outdoors feel to the place and I was surrounded by my people: hikers of the West Highland Way and the Cape Wrath Trail.
I caught the bus back to Invergarry, but stopped off at Laggan Locks so I could visit my 4x great grandfather’s grave. Then it was time to hike towards Cluanie. It rained heavily until I reached Garrygulach, so I set up my tent there. I didn’t quite reach Cluanie, so I would have to play catch up the next day.
Well, that never happened, because the next morning I encountered good ol’ Scottish bog. I trudged through 3.5km of bog and some very full “fords” which could be classed as rivers thanks to the storm the previous day.
It was half-way through the swampy hell that I finally cracked. I was up to my knees in bog when I lost my balance and the weight of my pack pushed me over. I sat there and cried and swore for a good 10 minutes.
It took me over 3 hours to walk 3.5km; I was already behind schedule and I knew I had two ascents later in the day, plus a few river crossings that I was unsure I could get across thanks to the rising water levels.
Oh yeah, and it rained for the entire day.
But I continued on, crossing my first river (only knee height, thankfully) a fast-flowing and potentially life-threatening waterfall (stupid decision- don’t recommend), climbing up to the pass at Mam na Selig only to be attacked by midges at the summit, descending into Glen Loyne, crossing the River Loyne (slightly worrying as the water levels up to my butt- again, a very stupid decision) and beginning my second climb up Creag Liathtais before crossing another life-threatening waterfall.
At least the day ended well with a deer herd spotting, and my amazing camping spot at the summit of Creag Liathtais.
I guess that day taught me a few valuable things. I’ve learnt my hiking emotional pattern now- late to rise, grumpy in the morning before having an energy surge early afternoon, getting tired at around 4pm, and then having another energy surge in the evening and setting up camp usually in a great mood.
I’ve also learnt that sometimes we just have to let ourselves have a few moments when thru-hiking where we hate everything and want to give up. It’s a good thing to have a decent cry once in a while to let it out. What’s important is what you do afterwards.
Because the view at the end of the day was definitely worth the struggle.
Day 36 – 39 | Creag Liathtais to Strathcarron
Wild camping in the Northwest Scottish Highlands
This week has been very tough mentally and physically, leaping into the most difficult trail in the UK: the Cape Wrath Trail. There was also a lot of wind and rain to contend with.
The next day as I descended into Cluanie I met a man on a motorcycle. His name was Ray and he was a photographer. I told him about my journey and he asked if he could take my picture.
I said “Yeah, sure” because who doesn’t want their photo taken after 3 days without a shower.
Kidding, you seriously stop caring about what you look like after you’ve walked through 20 kilometres of Scotland’s swampy hell.
He took probably the best photo I’ve seen of me sans make-up. He mentioned he had photographed a few celebrities, including the singer from the band, Jet.
He must be a pretty good photographer, so I Googled his name. It turns out that aside from being a famous photographer he is also a musician and his songs have been in the charts alongside Amy Winehouse!.
The people you meet in the highlands!
After leaving Cluanie I hiked to the Camban bothy where I spent a dry night by myself indoors.
The wind the following day the weather was insane as I entered Morvich. I extended my walk that day by hiking into Glen Shiel to charge my battery pack and have a meal, before heading into the most remote part of the Scottish National Trail so far.
I would spend the next three days without people, facilities, or reception. And that is exactly when my battery pack decided to stop working.
I had just completed a steep and long climb to reach the Falls of Glomach (one of the UK’s tallest waterfalls) and set up camp when I went to charge my phone- which wouldn’t charge.
I’ve been using ViewRanger on my phone for navigation because it contains all the Ordnance Survey maps of the UK and saved me from buying around 40 hard copy versions which I dìdnt think would be humanly possible to carry with me. If my phone was dead, it would be very hard for me to navigate the unmarked trails in the highlands.
I had a guidebook of the Cape Wrath Trail with me, but the guide only showed a very small section of the maps I needed. If I were to get lost…well that would be that. I would have to wander around until I found civilisation, which was 40kms away and consisted of a small cluster of houses.
Luckily I had a back up battery pack to charge my phone, but this only had one full charge on it and I had another three days of hiking ahead of me.
So after a few hours of blind panic, I decided to do the sensible thing and hike to Strathcarron rather than Craig. This would mean only two days of hiking until I reached civilisation.
I was annoyed I had to change my route and leave the Scottish National Trail for a couple of days- but that’s hiking for you. You have to adjust your plans; the weather can change at any moment meaning a river may be impassable, or you may get yourself in a situation you need to get yourself out of ASAP.
I stopped in at the Maol-Bhuidhe bothy (one of Scotland’s remotest bothies) for a rest before continuing to the Bendronaig bothy to spend the night, hiking to Strathcarron the following day.
I have fallen in love with the bothies in Scotland. They are a very special part of the hiking community, offering shelter from the often harsh climate of the Scottish highlands.
Day 55 | Cape Wrath
The end of the road, Cape Wrath
And just like that, I reached the lighthouse that has featured in my dreams for the last seven weeks.
864-ish kilometres/536-ish miles were walked in thunder, lightning, a heatwave, wind, fog and rain.
I battled the bog, midges, cleggs, heat, blisters, sore knees, and my mind.
Scotland makes you work hard for its beauty. I have seen and experienced many incredible things.
The most beautiful part of Scotland is the people; so friendly, accommodating, funny and kind-hearted. Thank you for welcoming me into your homes, filling me up with food, sharing your stories with me and for restoring my faith in humanity.
The last 55 days will be forever etched into my memory.