Shona’s Cape Wrath Trail Plan

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!

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 13.16.38Topographic Map The Cape Wrath WayCape Wrath Way Elevation graph

Route Planning

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.

Cape Wrath Trail: The Plan

Kit

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
  • Trowel
  • Water bottles x 2 (one with a filter)
  • Boots
  • 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

Food

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.

trail mix

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.

one day

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!

Food planning for The Cape Wrath Trail

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’:

  1. “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.”
  2. “I’m happiest when I’m outdoors in nature..”
  3. “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.”
  4. “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”.

Why am I walking the Cape Wrath Trail? Living my values and beliefs

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!

 

 

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Walking and remembering Lewis

27th March 2014, Inverness

My car had broken down – or was it in for a service?

Either way, Joanne and Lewis picked me up outside Les McLaren’s Garage and we drove to The Priory in Beauly. Being 6-foot-tall, he’d have ridden front seat next to Jo. I’d have been perched in the back, popping my head forward between the seats as we blethered. The others were waiting at the hotel.

We ate high tea.

I’ve always found high tea an odd meal: a main course served with tea and toast, followed by plates piled with cakes and scones, scarlet red strawberry tarts and puffy clouds of meringue bursting with confectioners’ cream.

It was Lewis’ 17th and with his signature huge appetite he ‘out caked’ the rest of us.

I don’t recall what we talked about over the meal but the memory feels warm and kind, punctuated with laughter.

I see him now, with his massive smile, shrugging his thanks for the driving lesson vouchers we’d bought him.

We’ll never know exactly what happened –

he didn’t take his own life and no one was to blame –

but he died a sudden and unexplained death just weeks later.

~~~

25th April 2018, Sandwood Bay, Cape Wrath Trail

Although Lewis loved the idea of travel, walking to Italy had been his dream.

This trail wouldn’t have been his thing, at least not at the age I knew him. But he’d have liked – or at least been mildly amused – by the fact that his auntie was doing it.

It’s 6pm and I’m climbing the hillside to the west of Sandwood Bay. It’s duller and over cast here. As I follow the path leading towards the cliff, the damp straw like grass saps under my tread.

The sea stack, Am Buchaille, meaning ‘shepherd’, visible from the Bay is no longer in my eye line. Whilst on the beach moments before, I’d felt an urge to visit and as I walk this urge grows.

sea stack.jpg

 

Now I see him standing just a kilometre or so from land, yet completely alone and cut off.

The waves are frothing at his feet and beyond him lies a small island and then a never-ending Ocean.

The wind’s picking up. I know I need to retreat from this cliff edge yet I’m filled with this beautiful paralysing sadness.

Time passes.

My animal body pulls me inland.

As I retrace my steps back to the bay these words come to me.

I share them in loving memory of Lewis and in the fearful hope that they may bring comfort to another who grieves:

 

“The Shepherd”



You stand tall

Now made of stone.



Am Buchaille

Your new name.



Standing between this boggy earth

And an Atlantic of ‘what ifs?’.



I welcome this scarf of sorrow

To tighten around my throat.



In this moment, I too am made of stone.

And a warm tear tracks down my fleshy cheek.

 

lewis Mac.jpg

Post Script:

Mikey’s Line are an Inverness based suicide prevention charity. They provide support for those who feel alone, desperate and without hope.

Although Lewis didn’t take his own life, his loss has brought home to me the fragility of life. I’m passionate about preserving and embracing the gift of life and of the importance of speaking of those we’ve lost.

It’s been a privilege to fundraise for Mikey’s Line whilst walking The Cape Wrath Trail, I know Lew would have approved.

 

 

 

 

 

Carried: Finding strength when you’ve none left (Part 1)

Cape Wrath Trail, Day 4:  Clunie to Kintail

It’s 7:30am, passing the unmanned reception of The Clunie Inn, the automatic doors swing open, I step out.

The sky and Loch Clunie are pastel blue, a warm glow emerges from the clouds. The silhouette of the mountain range lies before me. Having eaten and slept well last night, I’m feeling invincible.

IMG_0785

Loch Clunie

The plan is to walk about 30km to Kintail today. The first 1 ½ km is on the tarmac but soon the familiar Forest Green Scottish Rights of Way sign comes into view, leading me northwards into the glen. I’m wearing a huge grin.  Although alone I often find myself smiling on this trek.

The walking’s easy for the first 8 KMs, both height gain and descent are gradual. The mountains Am Bathach and Ciste Dhub on my West and A’Chraliag on my East. Each top has a tiger bread layering of snow.

I’m following the River Affric as she thunders in full flow.

An early river crossing isn’t safe so I’ve an extra 5km dog leg to the bridge at Alltbeithe Bothy. The wooden beamed bridge leads me westerly into Fionngleann, my pace slowing.

Sun present – sun behind cloud – jacket on – jacket off. It’s great walking weather – warm but not uncomfortably so.

The path is clear and soft underfoot so navigation and tread are easy but I’m not moving as I’d like to be.

IMG_0797

Bridge at Alltbeithe

My pack is weighing heavily and painfully on me. By midday my feelings of invincibility have morphed into frustration. Why am I not more present in this breathtaking landscape? How can I stop my mind slipping into a dialogue of bodily complaints?

I’m carrying too much weight. I create a visual inventory of my backpack contents. At Kintail I’ll leave behind my Rab Vapourise jacket, my Icebreaker jumper and the small Katherine Stewart book I took for company. There’s no time for sentimentality. The clarity of this decision brings me relief in the knowledge that tomorrow’s walking won’t feel like this.

To boost my morale further, I set a destination goal for my lunch stop.

Now I’m slumped on the bench outside Caban Bothy. Lunch of oatcakes with a vegetable pate doesn’t interest me. Nor do the numerous cereal bars I carry. Typically, I’d have scoffed these down. I force some food down me whilst relishing the coffee that I’ve made with my faithful pocket rocket stove. And the walking continues.

It’s now 5pm and I’m approaching Glenlicht House. My shoulders are fused forwards with a tight achy pain and my feet feel arch less. I feel my body silently scream at the friction each step creates.

A sheep regards me with a look of sheer distain.

I’ve always felt an affectionate pity towards sheep yet I envy this ewe. Clad only in a fleece, she looks light and care free. I’m the foolish overburdened creature.

I hear myself laugh at my dark humour yet I’m worried – I’m losing strength of mind.

 

IMG_0806

Caban Bothy for lunch stop

 

Looking up I see steep Bein Fhada and Meall an Fhurain Mhor forming a mountainous wall to my right and The Five Sisters a wall to my left. With each step, the outlines of their peaks become clearer.

Mountaineers use geological features as navigational hand rails. In this moment, I realise I literally need these mountains to be my hand rails.

Painstakingly moving forward, I turn to Bein Fhada and Meall an Fhurain and ask for their help. I know it’s crazy – mountains are indifferent to human struggle. Yet in these moments I need their strength, their ancient beauty, their otherness to get me through.

I turn to the Sgurrs on my left – I can make out the outline of 2 of the 5 Sisters of Kintail – again asking for support.

This landscape, created through fire and water, the land churning of the ice age, has stood for millennia. It will remain. These few hours of struggle won’t even register as a dot on the timeline of these mountains. Considering time from a mountain’s perspective reminds me of the insignificance and temporal nature of my suffering. The insignificance and temporal nature of me!

From the depth of this thought I bounce to a more familiar thought-scape.

In my walking induced madness the sister sledge lyric starts looping in my mind.

“We are family,

I’ve got all my sisters with me”

Although smaller than earlier, my smile is back. I think of my own dear sisters, Morag and Joanne. I imagine they are here with me. I’ve an arm strapped across each’s shoulder as they carry me.

We travel together now, for these last long slow KMs. The path leads me down the Glen. I’m constantly looking up, left and then right, talking to the hills, thanking them and telling them I’ll be back in better spirits.

A small pathetic limping Shona held up by Bein Fhada, Meall an Fhurain and Mo on my right and the 5 Sisters of Kintail and Jo on my left.

I can see a clump of trees about a KM away. I’m nearly there – the buildings of Morvich come into sight. I’ve been carried.

 

IMG_0817

Glenlicht House, Kintail

Post script:

This story brings to mind the themes of flow, letting go of burdens and holding on to that which gives you life.

There’s a sense of the river and I being in flow at the start of the day.

My flow stopped due to the weighty burden I was carrying; unlike the light sheep who looked on in distain!

What’s holding you back in life that you need to let go off?  Are you carrying any excess baggage? For me it was an unnecessary jacket, jumper and book in my pack. But I also let go of other attachments on this trail (see future blog!)

What do you need to hold on to – or to re grasp – that makes you come alive? In this story and in real life, I’m lifted up by being in nature and beautiful relationships. Nature also helps me put myself and my worries in context, it keeps me right sized.

In this memory it was my thoughts about the hills and memories of loved ones that carried me. In Part 2, which is a memory from later in the same day, I’ll tell of how a real person carried me. Stay tuned!

Has this blog sparked anything in you? My passion as a coach is to help people move from stuckness to flow in their life. I’d love to work with you if any of these themes resonate.  Contact me to arrange a free 20 minute consultation here.

You can also trek with me this summer! Find out more here.

Thanks so much for your time and care.

 

 

Instructions for life

“Instructions for living a life

Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.”  (Mary Oliver)

Pay attention.

She shifts in her chair, turning away.

Desperately looking for something to focus us on,

something to take the gaze off her.

~~~

The snow squealed under the weight of my La Sportiva boot. The child in me worries I’m inflicting pain.

Be astonished Continue reading

Trekking for Wellbeing. Why bother?

Last year I had the complete joy of teaming up with Simon Greaves from Cairngorm Treks, to run Trekking for Wellbeing. Seventeen intrepid women came on our women only treks.

We wanted to break down some of the barriers that can prevent us accessing  the freedom, beauty and healing of the remote outdoors. Barriers can include confidence, navigational experience and the kit required to eat and sleep in the hills.

Many were nervous and unsure what lay ahead of them but something within urged them to commit to spending 3 days and two nights wild camping in the Cairngorms.

Was it worth the risk?

Last night, nearly a year on, I emailed the ladies to ask them, with the passage of time what do they feel changed for them as a result of their experience.

Here’s what they told me: Continue reading

Dreams, Doubts, Distractions and Determination. My 2017 Story.

I love the idea of our lives being framed as story.

Just as a good story doesn’t happen by accident, neither does a good life.

As a life coach a big part of my role is to help people to decide what story they want to their life to tell.

At the end of the year I decided to reflect on my ‘2017 Story’.

It’s a story of dreams, self-doubt, distraction – and tiny baby steps towards these dreams.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Then I shall begin. Continue reading