13 days through the Scottish wilderness - it's been a great adventure. But was it as tough as I thought? Certainly, it wasn't walk in the park but to be honest, after reading many hiking reports, I expected the trail to be rougher and much slower going.
Kind weather, prior experience and a good fitness made for a good progress. Hence I budgeted too much time, carried too much food. But better safe than sorry. Especially out there in the wild. One thing that greatly impressed me though was the solitude on the trail, especially up north. Settlements, with the aura a morgue, are few and far between. Other hikers? Very few. Besides some day trippers, during my 13 days, I met two solo-hikers doing the Scottish National Trail and three others hiking the Cape Wrath Trail north bound. To be honest, I was expecting to see more.
Terrain, Technical Difficulty and Navigation
Very bleak and monotonous - that's how I'd describe landscape. Boggy (tussock) grassland, some rocky bits on the higher parts and hardly any trees. There are the odd stretches along the beach or through forest, which give a bit of variety to the trail. For me, however, this bleak, open terrain is what makes the trail special. It gives it a very exposed character, making me feel vulnerable to the elements.
While I was expecting the bog to slow me down, it never really did, apart from the muddy sections in the Knoydart, which were a bit annoying at times. Otherwise, it feels like walking on a sponge - for me actually enjoyable. Energy-sapping yes, but together with the rather flat terrain still fast going. Where there were paths it was a bit of a hit and miss. Sometimes the paths are a pleasure to walk, sometimes they are rough, muddy and slow going. At this point I think it's important to mention that Cape Wrath Trail consists of a surprisingly big part of gravel road walking. More than I expected. While it personally doesn't bother me at all, I can understand people, who don't exactly like it.
The trail is technically straightforward. While there are climbs and descents, I'd consider the risk of falling as relatively low. With the exposed Falls of Glomach as the only exception, where care is needed. But even as someone, who doesn't like heights, it was well doable. Another steep part that stuck in my memory was the descent while on the way from Barrisdale to Sourlies, where I had to avoid several rock spurs. However I'm not sure if I navigated correctly.
Writing of navigation: Even though the trail is not way marked (I only spotted one single sign!), I wouldn't consider navigation as very tricky. Mostly it's obvious which direction to walk. When I wasn't sure, I used my phone with pre-loaded topo maps as primary use of navigation. It worked like a charm and effectively prevented me from getting lost. I carried paper maps and a compass with me, only used it for planning though.
Weather wise, visiting Great Britain in September and October entails some risks. While the weather certainly can be gorgeous, it can also be horrendous. Of course I was hoping for the best but was preparing for the worst. E.g. carrying enough food to be able to wait for water levels to drop or make detours if needed.
Despite the remains of hurricane Lorenzo coming alarmingly close, the weather, as mentioned, has been kind with me. While it wasn't great and I got soaked a few times (two rainy, windy days up north and two in the Knoydart), I enjoyed some lovely, dry, sunny days with hardly any wind in between.
These clear, calm nights let the temperatures drop and more than once I woke up to some ground frost. As a cold sleeper, these were the days I was glad I decided to carry my -7°C rated down sleeping bag.
On my last day, I got a taste of how harsh the weather can be, when I got pounded by driving rain and gale force wind. It's no fun! Therefore, I appreciate that if the weather is throwing its worst at you, it would make the trail a huge, maybe even a impossible challenge.
Many of them - many unbridged. Thanks to the mostly dry weather and sensible planning (e.g. when rain was foretasted for the next day, I did, where possible, long days in order to avoid as many critical river crossings) luckily all crossings were straight forward. In fact, as far as I can remember, the water never reached my knees. However, like on many other trails I do appreciate that if the rivers are in spate, the crossings can get very dangerous very quickly.
After finishing CWT I continued along the East Highland Way, where with River Calder, which looked higher than normal, I had my most challenging crossing during my three weeks in Scotland.
Accommodation and Resupply
Bothies are an amazing thing! Free and in my case (usually) empty, they offered me some welcomed shelter during cold, rainy or windy nights. Many of them had a fire place and sometimes even fuel (wood or coal) was provided. Nothing better than a fire after a long wet day on the trail.
Some of the bothies were super cozy with nice views, while others, with its thick walls and small windows felt rather claustrophobic.
When I did not have the chance to stay in a bothy, I usually camped. If not too picky with the location, there are usually plenty of places to pitch a tent.
Twice I booked a hostel, on the one hand to pick up my resupply parcels, one the other hand to recharge my batteries. While Gerry's Hostel in Craig was a bit of a letdown, my stay Ratagan was very enjoyable. Despite already being October and thus way past peak season, some accommodations seemed to be very busy, which took me by surprise.
Midges and Ticks
Luckily I only encountered midges at my first camp spot, where I got bit a few times. The remaining days were midge-free.
While I got rid of the midges, the ticks were annoying me throughout the trail. The first two days I wasn't paying too much attention and that's when I got bitten dozens of times. To be honest, I was shocked, when I spotted them all over my leg and around my private parts on my second night - espicially since they carry the Lyme Disease. Walking in shorts and sandals, obviously I was an easy target for them.
After that distressing experience, I started checking for ticks on a regular basis. Not an easy task to spot them when my legs were covered with mud but apparently I was quite successful in checking as I could remove most of the ticks before they had a chance to bite.
My fears that parts of the trail were closed for hunting where for no reasons. In fact I haven't seen a single hunter. I was talking to several locals about the stag stalking season and they explained me as long as one stay on marked paths (where they exist) and follow ridges, it's usually possible to cross areas, where stag stalking is taking place.