All my energy is violently ejected from my body while I think about my days ahead on the trail, as I find myself confined to a three star hotel bed. The same hotel that, unbeknownst to me at the time, gave me food poison only 5 hours earlier. Seeking comfort after a long tough day on the trail was definitely not to be. The universe had other plans I guess. Kismet. Chance. Stars misaligned. Call it what you will. Plans made can certainly be unmade, especially the best-laid ones. Sligachan Hotel is the new Hotel California. Was able to leave after two days. Did not like. One star.
Three days earlier I had crossed over from IJmuiden to Newcastle upon Tyne, or just Newcastle. A ferry laden with football enthusiastic people that had kept me up all night. Love football. I did manage to catch my connecting train to Edinburgh though. I even had some time for a coffee and some food there. Last time I was here, was with Jurgen back in 2008. That seems ages ago now. Inverness next up, after crossing Firth of Forth of course. Jaw dropping bridge crossing. Finally, Into The Highlands!
Inverness. Didn't see a lot of the place besides the colourful bus stop. The bus ride to Skye however is extraordinary. Probably the most memorable bus ride I've ever undertaken, the one to Palmyra being close second. The stunning view of Loch Ness and seeing the rough mountainous terrain equally so. Especially while the bus navigated the bendy roads.
Long day of travel but I end up at my bed & breakfast with a view over the Loch in Broadford, Isle of Skye. Time for bed.
Broadford -> Elgol
First day on the trail. Headed out early in the rain but that didn't dampen the spirits. Slowly but surely heading into the fog. Bog? Moorland. Marble was once quarried here. Hence the name Skye Marble Line. The Highland Clearances are apparent. Many ruined houses. Evictions by lords almost 200 years ago. Hearing an eagle's scream overhead somewhere in the clouds pulls me back to the trail. Steady pace helped by trekking poles. One foot and pole after another.
I caught the first sight of The Atlantic and sheep. Feral sheep poop everywhere! Or is it mud? As I contemplate that it's probably both I end up on my arse. Mud, poop or both are rather slippery it seems. I navigate the cliffs that eventually open up to a road. A gravel road even. I miss my bike. The gravel makes way for tarmac. Civilization in the quiet village of Torrin. This means FOOD but especially shelter from the rain. Potato leek soup, tea and caramel shortbread. The owners of Amy's Place are inviting and we chat a bit. Reminds me of several short chats I had along the way with hikers and islanders. All friendly with rainy faces.
I decided to do the second stage of the hike on the same day as the first stage. Making good time even with the rain. Onwards to Elgol it was.
The view over Loch Slapin towards Torrin is quite beautiful. Climbing slowly up following the B8083 road I set into a rhythm and listened to a podcast, Het geheim van Rijswijk, to keep my thoughts at bay.
The road to Kilmare was mostly ascending but relatively good weather wise. Lichen grew on old wooden posts before I reached an old stonewall encircled graveyard where only tall trees peered over. Gravel roads change into mud and back until reaching a small forested area. Just mud now with cow hoof tracks everywhere, gated paths and another ascend. The cover of the trees thinned out, the rain taking its place. Time for rain gear including trousers all the way to Elgol. Meeting a cyclist during the last climb before the final descent to the coastal town. Talked in the rain a bit and set out again on the now asphalt roads. Really pouring down now while I get amazing views of the sea and coast.
At the campsite that overlooks the bay I pitch my tent it in double quick fashion. Jump in my tent and start to prepare my first insta-meal. After having gobbled down something close enough to Spaghetti Bolognese I opt for peeing into the bag it came in. As the rain & wind beats the hell out of my tent. I upend the content of my now pee-bag outside my tent. Being a man has its perks.
In the middle of the night I wake up to calm weather accompanied with a thirst for water. My drinking water was all used to cook with, so I walked down the road and scampered under a bridge with plenty of stones that I had to avoid, all illuminated by headlight. The stream from the mountains was cold but refreshing and after having my fill I climbed up again. I'll end my nightly adventures here, although there was an additional story about pooping in a self-dug hole. I'll spare you the details of that.
First day stats of Stage 1 and Stage 2: 38,76 kilometres in 11 hours.
Elgol -> Sligachan
A new day on The Island. Amazing how the weather had changed overnight.
After a bit of yoga I packed everything up and headed to the harbour down the road, passing the bridge where I had grabbed some water only hours before.
I settled for a place that was out of the winds and started my breakfast routine. Using denatured alcohol in my trusty Trangia has its advantages, like silence but it does take a bit longer to boil water then with a gas canister stove. Avoiding any wind will help boil water quicker though. Another delightful meal of course. I saddled myself with my backpack and headed up. The coastal cliffs are particularly serious climbs especially with 15 kilograms and I ended up taking a wrong turn too. Descent a bit and find the path to Sligachan along the cliffs. Birdsong distracts me while I walk the cliff, wonderous to see the fly up sing and glide down again.
One of my walking poles dies on me. Especially great as it's sketchy on the coastal cliff part with lots of mud and slippery rocks. Slow going and a couple of guys pass me but I overtake them again and pass the cliffs on the coast. They have chosen to stay at hotels along the trail and are less laden. I will definitely go more lightweight next hike. My personal goal is rougly 10 kilograms w/o food & water now.
The next section through the valley is probably the hardest section of the entire day. Plenty of wind and some rain but especially a lack of change of scenery, albeit beautiful and tranquil, takes its toll. Multiple crossings of the burns (river crossings) don't help either but I still enjoy the emptiness of it all. Eventually I reached Sligachan and chose to stay at the hotel instead of pitching my tent after a rather hard day. The infamous hotel from my preface.
Second day stats of Stage 2: 21,4 kilometres in 9 hours
Portree & Uig
Moving onward I opted to change those well made plans. No trail or at least not the way I wanted. Portree it was to be. The capital of Skye. Pretty for sure and finally a good coffee place. However I had chosen a pre-holiday to do a seven day no coffee stretch. Which became somewhat mandatory. How apt. Going native. Tea it be.
Hanging out and about, still somewhat on the mend after two days of finishing Netflix in the hotel room. Remade plans and made new friends. Always easy going solo and especially so in hostels. Thomas from Santiago, Chile. Bikepacker of course. Why did I hike again? Who knows. We grabbed a meal together. And talked about climate change which has impacted Santiago especially in regard to their water supply. The possibility to rent a car and see some of the sights that The Skye Trail covers came up. But that wasn't to be. Rentals being in high demand, short supply.
Public transport did however provide me with a means to do a loop of the northernmost part of Skye. Albeit solo style. Old Man of Store with its outcrop of stone spires is indeed a sight to behold. The walk up was taxing with my energy and strength still somewhat depleted.
The next point of interest was the northernmost part of Skye, Rubha Hunish. Either the start or finish for hikers undertaking the Skye Trail. I didn't feel like camping out at Rubha Hunish. I was too tired to go down the cliff face that I faced after a short walk of only 3~ kilometres. Instead choose to walk back and take the bus to Uig to campout for the night. I was greeted by the campsite owner that was working on an old car. Chatted a bit. Then I quickly pitched my tent for the last time and ate my meat pie by the loch. Enjoying the mountains from afar. Uig being quite scenic.
Preparing for the night I ate one of the most disgusting freeze-dried meals I've ever tasted. Maybe I should have known beforehand but my lowest expectations of what should have been an Italian dish wasn't met by any measure. I want Spaghetti alla Carbonara damnit!
All was not terrible that night however, far from it. The sky had opened up by pulling its clouds back and showed a clear sky of stars. Seeing stars like this is quite rare in Western Europe but not on Skye. Amazing sight to see. The last time I can remember seeing a starry sky like this was in Tasmania on a cloudless night.
In the morning, while misjudging the bus schedule, I discovered quite a nice little forested area in the bay of Uig. I've always been a birder apparently but the last couple of years I have tried to observe and broaden my knowledge about our feathered friends. It's quite fun and especially calming to observe their somewhat hidden lives. I've noticed that I see a lot more these days, even when I'm training on my road bike near Rotterdam on the Rotte rowing course. It's fun to see crows delicately pulling a worm out of the earth for instance so it doesn't break or a kestrel hovering before diving for a meal while I exert myself.
Eventually I did get a bus to Portree and another connecting me to the ferry for the crossover to Raasay, a day trip I arranged as an alternative to the trail. The ferry slowly navigated the loch to Isle of Raasay while the wind made its presence abundantly clear. Raasay was however beautiful and after walking around a bit I had an appointment to keep. I had yet to visit a whisky distillery during my trip you see and well when in Scotland.
After getting a tailor-made solo tour of the distillery and getting some extra samples I was off for food. Still on the mend so I opted not to drink too much whisky. I walked Ceam cladaich agus Orchard Wood. A beautiful walk begins along the cliffs of eastern part of the isle and slowly edges inward through forested areas. It was quite clear that plenty of sheep had enjoyed the same route along the cliffs. Sheep wool on barbed wire being a clear indicator.
After my Raasay trip I stayed one more night in Uig. This time in a pod that Calum, a friend I made in Melbourne, rents out. A proper shower was a welcome change.
It was time to leave Skye. With sadness in my heart of not achieving my goal but also delight of what I did achieve, I set out to Glenn Nevis by bus.
So far every bus ride in Scotland has been a beautiful one. The one from Skye to my next destination wasn't any different. Well, except for having a cold. A last goodbye present of the Island. Oh why the hell not, Sláinte!
My cold wasn't too welcome but my energy levels were finally on the up. I was finally hungry, something I hadn't really been in days. My AirBNB host provided a really good room with a comfy bed and even helped me order food.
Next day I went for a short hike down from Glenn Nevis to Polldubh Falls with only a musette instead of a backpack. It was quite nice to be out but I was still not up to full strength. It's crazy how easily you take it for granted how you normally have energy for days on end. Besides being physically in really good form. Having trained a lot on and off the bike. For instance with kettlebells but especially walking with weight before undertaking the hike had helped plenty.
I followed the river Nevis along gravel, muddy and rocky paths while the river meanders down. Sheep, as anywhere in Scotland, are plentiful, but also sheep dogs which are skittish but friendly. Birds were everywhere and their coming and going is a delight to observe. Hard to take note of their unique markings as to identify the ones I do not know yet. The waterfalls were my way point but also my resupply of fresh water. As I set out on the other side of the valley I now walk back to the start on fire roads of gravel between the tall conifer trees on sloped banks.
Happenstance would have it that for dinner a friend was also in Fort William with a friend of his. They had ridden a cyclo around Loch Ness the day before and now would stay a night at Fort William to climb Ben Nevis the next. I had even asked Lennart to bring my daypack as I opted to leave it at home but for a minor hike it is rather handy to have. He would also be taking some of my gear with him so my backpack would be considerably lighter henceforth. We settled for pizza and drinks and talked about the next day's climb amongst other things.
Early days and a fresh start for the summit of Ben Nevis. The steepest part first to come. From the valley where the river flows up to the path that circles the mount. The walk is quite good, sure footing due to the path being well maintained and paved with stones. On the slopes of the final push to the summit the path makes way to lose rock, almost scree, but turns into snow underfoot. Soon we found ourselves on slopes where crampons or even just walking poles would have made a vast difference but we followed a path made by others like a little ladder with footholds. Clear view turned misty as we follow the cairns the last few metres up.
As I had gone minimalist shoe wise I soon found that my feet are rather cold but only noticed this after minutes on top of Nevis. The view was breathtaking. Something I found hard to describe. An ineffable beauty. A climb with a bike is something but this is entirely different.
Stats: 1320 metres up, 1320 metres down, 14.3 kilometres in 5,5 hours.
The final leg of my trip was the lovely and vibrant city of Glasgow. I've visited Scotland before on a citytrip in 2008. Edinburgh being the destination that time around. Glasgow reminded me more of Rotterdam, just like Melbourne did versus Sydney. Second cities are somewhat connected I guess. Rougher around the edges then the more polished capitals perhaps.
Finally had some really good food, meaning plenty of fruit and veggies. The latter is quite hard sometimes to get in rural Scotland. Albeit hardy meals, I find the vegetable content of Scottish meals somewhat lacking most of the time. The city does provide. I also finally got some coffee in me. And after a visit to the local mall for clothes that weren't designed to quickly dry plus a slight trim of my beard I felt like a whole other person.
As always when visiting a city in another country I had gotten myself tickets for a concert. Always fun to see how the Scots are at night and that didn't disappoint. They certainly can drink.
The next day I went for a bike ride using the local hire scheme, visited some museums and ate to my heart's content. I even went for a run to boot.
Next day it was time to head home by train, ferry & train again.
I will certainly visit Scotland again soon. Probably by bike but who knows really. I never do. And although I have mixed feelings about my hike, I do look back on it with joy in my heart and mind. As I look upon this year in general, I've come a long way from where I once was. I've grown and that's never bad.
I wish you and yours happy holidays and all the best for 2023.
Magpie - Ekster
Robin - Roodborst
Canadian goose - Grote Canada gans
Goldfinch - Putter
Common chaffinch - Vink
Hooded Crow - Bonte Kraai
Rook - Roek
Raven - Raaf
Jackdaw - Kauw
Blue Tit - Pimpelmees
Great Tit - Koolmees
Hawfinch - Appelvink
Lesser redpoll - Kleine barmsijs