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.
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.
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.
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.
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.