Scottish National Trail: Hanging out in the hills (days 16, 17, 18, 19)

Today: 124km | Total: 720km

Four more days lie behind us and we are now in touching distance of Cape Wrath having completed more than 700km. The last few days were kind weather wise with lots of sun and only occasional showers while walking. By now we are hanging out in the largest hunting estate on the island owned by the Duke of Westminster (the largest overall estate is owned by a Dane though) and deers have become a normal sight for us.

 

Laura’s comment: Desde nuestra salida de Ullapool el viaje se tornó un poco difícil, llevar comida para 6 días no fue fácil, por lo cual sólo podíamos caminar pocos kilómetros. En el segundo día encontramos un hermoso Bothy para pasar la noche, mi primera vez en este lugar, y fue una experiencia muy agradable, el lugar es muy cálido y lo sientes como un pequeño hogar.
Cada vez el camino se hace un poco más difícil, pero las vistas son increíbles y a medida que avanzamos al norte a nuestro ultimo destino, sé que será aún mejor. 😉

Leaving Ullapool with a heavy load

Having learned the art of hitchhiking on my way into Ullapool, we used that skills to get us the 7m to our trailhead. From there on foot. In our bags we had food for the remaining 6 days given no further resupply options on our route. Man were they heavy! First stop after 1km (seriously). Red wine had to go first 😂.

 

After a healthy lunch the path continued up before eventually a new valley came into sight and we decided to sleep near the river. Walking by now was completely off trail, hard, wet and slow. Anyway, great camping location, but loads of midges! Thousands and thousands! At first no firewood in sight (no forests about), but then we found some. Life saver!

 

Cutting through the hills

The next day started with… Midges. No fire this time. RUN!!! We were looking to reach one of the two bothys on the path for lunch and did so after a tough bit of hiking. No path, up and down, wet… Lunch was great and had the bothy had firewood we might have stayed. Eventually we opted to move on to the next bothy – the schoolhouse.

 

The path by now was more like an off road track and good for hiking. The sun was out too. By the time we reached the bothy it was not too late in the afternoon. A group of mountain bikers were in the house and we briefly chatted before they continued to our lunch bothy.

 

We in turn had time to sort gear and ourselves with a refreshing river wash before retreating to the bothy for a little time in a lot of space after all the nights in our tent. We even had a movie handy. Great.

Hitching on…

The third day started with good weather though late as we enjoyed the comfort of the bothy. We had some 7km to walk to the next village where a pint of lager was waiting. From there we hitched further north.

 

First with an older english couple. Then, after a brief time in proper rain, with a young english/scottish couple. They dropped us off at the only bar/restaurant in Kylesku. Nice views from there while we sat out the rain.

 

But we had to move on and find a camping spot. We did, eventually, somewhere on the estate of the duke of Westminster – the richest english man. Thanks dude. Really great views from our campsite on the hill to which we rescued ourselves amidst ☔.

Exploring the rich man’s lands’

We managed our latest start yet.. At midday! Rain was constant all night. Tent held up. Same in the morning… So we just waited with breakfast and a movie in our campsite with a view. Nice.

 

As we hiked up the hill we met two fellas part of a hunting group. They told us a few things about the duke & his family. You can at times hunt here yourself. £500 a stag. You pay on success only. Not a bad deal i think. Loads of deer about.

 

From there we went off track down the hill, through the forest, across rivers… Amazing time. Thankfully with lighter bags now.

 

Back on the road we hitched to Rhiconich. First with two older anglers (well-connected guys to get permission for that here) and then with two dutch ladies from Eindhoven. A little practice for my Dutch. Dank je wel for the lift!

Now off to the pub! 🍻 🍲

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Scottish National Trail: Over to Loch Ness (day 12)

Today: 88km | Total: 424km

My first solo day while Laura enjoys a few well deserved rest days. We will meet in Ullapool soon. Di kindly gave me a lift that provided me with a good headstart and hence let me catch up on the schedule. But still 39km on foot. Pain levels very high towards the end of the day.

Having skipped the relatively short Kingussie to Laggan leg, my hike today took me across the Corrieyairack pass to Fort Augustin. It is a pretty little town strongly frequented by tourists as a gateway to Loch Ness. I guess i don’t need to say much more. 🐲 🐍

Meanwhile in Grantown-on-Spey … The ladies are enjoying themselves on bike & relaxing at home. 🚲🍷🏡😁😊🚿👧🏻

I got shopping for the coming three days done (including half a kg of haggis…will use all my gas to cook… 🙄😣🙄) and caught the bus to Mandally. This stretch seemed not overly interesting running in most parts parallel to my route into Fort Augustus today.

From there i managed another 6km or so before tired legs and nightfall demanded a rest. Probably my worst camping spot yet… Directly next to a forest road (busy in the morning as i know by now). Anyway, got my haggis cooked (35min) and will half a kg in my belly went off to dreamland 😴 😴 😴

Scottish National Trail: Crossing Cairngorm National Park & Dinner at Di’s (days 9, 10, 11)

Today: 100km | Total: 336km

The three-day trip through the Cairngorm National Park took us past the 300km mark and close to halfway. We finished this stage with a super pleasant reunion with queen of the hills Di Gilbert. Thanks for having a ♥ for hikers and the amazing Scottish hospitality (and for giving Laura a bit of time to recover 🇨🇴 🙏).

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Laura’s comment día 9, 10 y 11: Estos días en el parque fueron muy agradables, un poco fuera de lo común en nuestro recorrido, pues el lugar es recorrido por muy pocas personas y en nuestro camino sólo encontramos 4 de ellas.

Para mí el dolor en mi rodilla es algo con lo que evidentemente no puedo luchar, un fuerte dolor que muchas veces me impide caminar y disfrutar plenamente los maravillosos paisajes que nos rodean.

Para nuestra fortuna al finalizar el recorrido por el parque encontramos a Di, una mujer con un hermoso corazón, la cual nos ofreció un espacio en su hogar, una deliciosa comida y una ducha de agua caliente 🙏🏼.

Entre todo el grupo decidimos que lo mejor para mí es descansar unos días y recuperar fuerzas en mi rodilla.

Ronny por su parte continuará su ruta hacia nuestro destino final… Te veo en unos días Amor. 🚀😘

Gear upgrade in Aberfeldy

After a healthy 🙄 Scottish breakfast, we started our day  with a search for the right gear. Scottish summer with at times sub 10 degrees days and rain en masse need addressing. In particular we needed a better hard-shell for Laura. Thankfully, the shop was conveniently located opposite our hotel.

The sales guy must have been happy! 🛒 After some deliberations we left with a new hard-shell, down jacket, waterproof over pants, waterproof gloves, cotton sleeping bag liners, a large gas canister and a second knee support for Laura (poor thing). Now we both feel well equipped.

Slight shortcut to start with

We arguably took a shortcut on our first stage of the day by using public transport from Aberfeldy to Blair Atholl. But we have to keep to a schedule somehow. Funny that we got picked up by the same bus driver twice, after the connecting bus just snubbed us. Thank you a$$!

Pitlochry was the end of our bus journey. A pretty little town admittedly. We, however, were just interested in the train station to take us one stop to Blair Atholl and the start of our three-day Cairngorms crossing. As the train warden said… Blair Atholl is a really nice stop. Indeed.

We should have sorted our resupplies beforehand though. Just a tiny grocer in the village. But heh! We got plenty of pasta, sweets, some fruit, 🥃 and other little things we might need. The bags were now significantly more heavy than in the last days.

 

Through the Cairngorms

And just a brief lunch (burger & haggis) later we were off to the national park that holds so many memories from earlier visits in Jan/Mar 2017 (see here). The path is pretty straightforward and follows the river Tilt all the way to our first wild camping spot. This time with a fire and the soothing sound of the river and waterfall nearby. Notably no midges 😊.

 

On the way we spotted a few folks fly fishing salmon (Atlantic Salmon runs all the way up to the waterfall near our campsite). And there were loads of mushrooms. Seems no-one picks them here. Below mushroom gallery is the result of 3-4mins of pictures along the main hiking path. Incredible. I think the last time i saw this was on the island Olchon (lake Baikal).

 

The weather was stable on our second day meaning neither rain nor sun. Just wind and loads of clouds hanging over the Cairngorm hills. We managed 28km today in at times challenging terrain. Pain level rising in feet, legs and knees. 😣

 

For lunch we stopped at the ruins of Bynack lodge. Fire, soup, pasta… Nice. Shortly after, we bumped into two other hikers walking in the opposite direction. The guy told me about previous stays at the lodge with hin son and that the place is haunted. He enquired if we had any strange encounters.. Mmmh no! 👻

 

We arrived at our overnight spot an hour before sunset. Once the sun went, we figured the camping was full off midges. Thousands. The deet spray helped to an extent, but hiding in the tent was still the better option. Nasty little things… And it will only get worse further North.

 

Our last day arrived with a nice breakfast (boiled 🥚 🥚 & 🥓🧀 🥪), a bath and midges. Mushrooms continued to pave the way… This time i picked a few like back in childhood days in Germany.

 

Weather remained a mix of sun and clouds, but thankfully little rain (just at night a little). On the way back to civilisation we passed through gorgeous valleys (glens) and, when approaching Kingussie (pronounced ‘kinnussie’ as i am told), a big rainbow over the park said goodbye in the loveliest manner.

 

Scottish hospitality at Di Gilbert’s

I met Di during my time preparing for Lhotse. Scottish winter is a great way to test yourself in harsh conditions and Cairngorms in winter is simply a stunning place. That was in March 2017 and hadn’t met since.

 

We had agreed to meet Di at some pub in Kingussie and, tired as we were, picked the first one that we passed – The Silverfjord Hotel and Restaurant. We didn’t have to wait long for Di. All ☺ and 🤗.

 

Di offered us to stay over in her place in Grantown-on-Spey and recover for a bit. It gave us also the chance to sort out gear (a washing machine!) and ourselves 😀🚿

Much to chat about over dinner and a bit of map reading and planning (in particular the increasingly difficult issue of resupplying as you head farther north). Fact was that our schedule is pretty tight. Laura also needed a rest. Her knees in particular.

 

So we decided that i continue solo for a few days to cover some ground and meet Laura 3-4 days later in Ullapool (180km on our route). So one more day for Laura at Di’s (together with lodger Anna now a three member ladies gang… OMG!) and then a little spare time to go sightseeing in Northern Scotland. Enjoy.

Scottish National Trail: New bearing North & birthday drinks with Moira (day 4)

Today: 31km | Total: 116km

Overnight and morning rain made for a late start, but still we busted the 100km mark (1/7th of the way 😕) . We followed the Forth & Clyde canal a little longer than we should, but eventually changed our heading from West to North and left Glasgow behind us. Given that we missed the correct turn, we now walked along a rather busy road. Not great, but heh. 12km into the day we reached the town of Milngavie.

Laura’s comment (day 4): El destino final de nuestro día fue el pueblo de Drymen, lamentablemente para mí llegar a este lugar no fue fácil, porque debí tomar un bus a razón del fuerte dolor en mi rodilla izquierda, pero después de este breve descanso puedo continuar la aventura. 😎

Laura’s knee was in some pain and so we decided to split up here and give her a little rest. We won’t have that option all the time at last. She’d take the bus to Drymen while i would walk. That meant that she sadly missed the start of a really nice trail – the west highland way. Suddenly you find yourself in forests, walk up and down hills (210m ascent) and get to take in some awesome scenery. Very enjoyable.

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On my way I met the first hiker headed our direction. His name is Peter and he is Irish. In his normal life he teaches English to foreigners (many South Americans). He is headed for Fort William along the west highland way. Peter has lived for some time in Chile and recently spent time in Patagonia. Conversations like this let the miles just fly past you.

Once in Drymen, i met Laura at the Drymen Inn for dinner. Not long after Moira and her husband stopped by. Moira is a good friend i met in Nepal last year and saw since in London (5,800m test hike; bye Mo & Zena). It was her birthday on top and a great way to catch up. Loads of gossip and mountain anecdotes 😁🤣.

We finally found a wild camping spot just outside Drymen – right next to mountain rescue as we discovered the next morning.

Elbe paddle (day 9): Barby – Schönebeck – Magdeburg

Today: 38km | Total: 372km

Half of the journey is in the bag after today. It is also the end of my solo effort as Laura will be paddling with me from tomorrow (assuming transport works 🤔). My main focus that has emerged more and more is how to get through Hamburg harbour. The people i spoke to all question if it would be reasonable to do in an open canoe. Much to think about over the coming week. Is there a way around?

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Otherwise, it was a very hot yet short day as i am waiting for my 2nd paddle here in Magdeburg and covered a longer than planned stretch yesterday. Good progress in the morning, a look around Schönebeck (also dead quiet) & shopping (drinks + crushed ice) and a long rest in the shade to evade the afternoon heat.

I am staying at the grounds of SC Magdeburg with loads of professional paddlers (though mainly on training camp in Brandenburg right now). They paddled from the Czech border to Hamburg over two summers (2017/18), but did not paddle through Hamburg harbour. I have the place to myself basically. Sorted all gear and had a shower first time since Wittenberg (meanwhile Elbe shower that seems to add to my tan 🚿😒).

I have only been to Magdeburg once for the house-warming party of my sister. She studied here. Naturally, little sightseeing. Didn’t know they have such a huge dome here though i had heard about the Hundertwasserhaus. Cool. Generally, the first city in a while with people about including loads of immigrants.

Tomorrow 36 degrees are expected. OMG! Better just do swimming in the river. But i hope with amorcita on board the pace will pick up and we make good progress towards Tangermünde (though too far for one day).

So, now back to my Vietnamese dinner. Change in diet for tonight. 🥢 🍜 😋