The 11th April 2018 marks ‘Day 1’ of my biggest adventure to date: solo hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.
‘Cape the what?’ I here you say.
The Cape Wrath trail is considered one of the most spectacular and challenging walks in the UK. Much of the time there is no path. The trail leads you through uninhabited Highland wilderness.
The prospect fills me with excitement and anticipation with a fair smattering of fear!
In this blog I’ll share some information about the trail, my preparation and why I’m doing it.
Shona’s Cape Wrath Trail – Vital Statistics
- Route: Fortwilliam to Cape Wrath
- Distance: roughly 360km (223 miles)
- Elevation: About 11,500 metres of assent. The highest point is 630 meters.
- No. of days I plan to walk it in: 16 (plus one day to get from Cape Wrath to Durness)
- My food resupply points: Kintail, Oykel and Rhiconich
- Predicted calories I’ll eat: loads!
- Fundraising target for Mikey’s Line: £1000
- Predicted wet feet episodes: will probably lose count!
The Cape Wrath Trail (CWT) is not an actual trail with a defined path. Rather it’s a route that runs the length of the Scottish Highlands between Fort William in the south and Cape Wrath in the north. You can create your own way to do this.
The key things I’ve born in mind whilst planning are: safety, shelter and food resupply. I also have to take into account a nagging injury in my Achilles.
My planning bible has been the Cicerone guide “Walking the Cape Wrath Trail” and Harvey’s Cape Wrath Trail set of maps. The biggest route decision point for anyone doing the CWT is whether to go north-west from Fortwilliam into the wilderness of Knoydart; or to go north-east on the more tame Great Glen Way.
I felt the call of the wild but, alas, a bridge crucial to the Knoydart variant is down (on the River Carnach). Attempting a solo crossing isn’t worth the risk.
So I’m going for an easier start with the first two days being on the Great Glen Way path following the Caledonia Canal. With hindsight this is probably a good idea. It gives me and my Achilles a few days to get used to walking with my back pack weight.
From Day 3 to Day 16 things get a lot more wild, hilly and interesting!
Below is my route plan. I’ve a mix of wild camping, hostels, bothies and one hotel. The hostels and hotel are on longer walking days so they will give me a big incentive to push on when tired.
The wild camping and bothy nights give me more flexibility on my route and pace.
Luckily for me I didn’t have to invest much money on kit as I already had most of what I needed. My main investments were a new pair of walking poles, a trowel and a second-hand Garmin Epix (GPS thingy).
My main concern with kit was to strike the balance of being warm with not having too much weight to carry.
I’ve not gone yet so let me know if you think I’ve missed anything!
Packing Kit List:
- Osprey back pack
- MSR one (wo)man tent
- Rab 3 season down sleeping bag; and liner
- Thermorest mattress
- MSR pocket rocket stove; windshield; cup for cooking in
- Water bottles x 2 (one with a filter)
- Sandles for camp at night and difficult river crossings
- Black Dimond Walking Poles.
- 1 pair of walking trousers, 2 merino base layers; Ice Breaker mid layer; Men’s Rab Vapour Rise Jacket; Mountain Equipment waterproof jacket; water proof trousers, Seal Skin socks and liners x 2 sets; underwear
- Compass, Harvey’s Maps
- Phone and Charger
- Head torch (& spare batteries)
- toiletries essentials and tiny camping towel
- Garmin Epix
- Emergency blanket
One of the big challenges with the CWT is the lack of food shops/ restaurants. Many walkers post food supply boxes to hotels and hostels to pick up en-route.
Kind friends have offered to deliver my food resupply boxes to pre arranged points so I only carry 4 days worth of food on Day 1. I’ll also eat dinner at local hotels where possible. (Friends have also offered me lifts to the start and from the end).
Below is a picture of my trail companion, Harvey, helping me make up some trail mix. This a great way of snacking whilst walking. It’s just a heap of nuts, dried fruit and ‘yogurt’ (read white chocolate) coated dried fruit. SO good.
A typical days eating on the trail will consist of:
- Porridge, muesli and granola mix with desiccated coconut. (Just add some boiling water and breakfast is sorted)
- cereal bars x 3 to snack on
- trail mix to snack on
- oat cakes and veggie pate stuff (it comes in a tube and should last 3 days)
- Cuppa soup as ‘starter’ (good for warmth and salt) and then a veggie dried dinner that I just add boiling water to.
This is a pic of food before I packed it into the resupply bags. I also packed extra gas canisters, blister dressings, wipes and a large bar of chocolate per resupply.
I love how much I get away with eating when I hike. I’m only 5 ft 3″ so I don’t get away with eating loads in everyday life!
Why? The long answer…
Why am I messing about with trail mix recipes, GPS devises and taking 16 days ‘out of my life’ to do this trail?
I see it more as putting 16 days into my life.
I’ve found the answer to the ‘why’ question in my previous blogs:
Last year I wrote a blog after going on a 10 day trekking expedition in the Cairngorms (you can read the blog here). In it I list four major ‘whys’:
- “The walk gave me a window into what’s possible and into what might be next for me. Maybe even what’s coming after that.The ever-expanding horizon.”
- “I’m happiest when I’m outdoors in nature..”
- “The current norm of life can leave me feeling restless, disconnected and distracted…This walk unplugged me from the internet, from constantly running around and being busy – both with work and with life. It gave my mind space to work out what really matters and what’s just distraction.”
- “I’ve a clearer vision for my life: to live more simply, closer to nature, and to be more adventurous and generous.”
In a blog I wrote called Dreams, Doubts and Distractions I have “Whys” no. 5. and 6.
5. “To learn what I’m capable of physically and mentally”.
6. “To inspire others through sharing my stories. I dream of creating blogs, articles and, maybe one day, writing a book about my adventures”. (I’m really fortunate to have won a bursary to go on a nature writing retreat immediately after the course)
A 7th reason which I haven’t blogged about yet is that I am doing it because I can.
Kind friends have equipped me with valuable knowledge and skills.
I have my health and energy and I’ve created flexibility in my working pattern to make it possible. I’m extremely grateful for this.
Maybe in a few months my health or life circumstances will change and this won’t be possible again. All I have is now and this opportunity.
My 8th and final reason.. I’m fundraising for Mickey’s Line. Mickey’s line is a Highland charity providing support for young people struggling with difficult feelings. I’m aiming to raise £1000 for them whilst walking.
Why? The short answer…
All of these 8 points boil down to:
“I don’t just want to talk about my values and beliefs. I want to live them and be changed by them”.
I know that I’ll be challenged and changed by the experience.
I’ve no idea what that will change will look like but I’m excited to find out.
Thanks for reading and for your interest. If you have any questions or thoughts on any thing I’ve shared here I’d love to hear from you!
If you’d like to walk with me find out more here. I’m currently dreaming and creating two women’s Highland retreats for wellbeing & connection with the outdoors in October and November. Please sign up to my mailing list or email me if you’d like early notification about this.
PS. Big shout out and thanks to Dougie, Arthur and Kevin from the Inverness Mountaineering Club and also to Lindsey, Kate, Simon and Myrddin for advice, support and for believing in me.
PPS. I’m writing and publishing this blog before I go. There’s a possibility I won’t make it to Cape Wrath and instead I’ll be back with a different story to tell. And that’s okay too. All part of the adventure!