Freedom to Roam

Published by SM

After apologising to a local farmer as we walked through his land to access Talisker Bay he told us that in Scotland ‘it doesn’t matter if it is private property the public has freedom to roam’. This statement adds a certain kind of excitement and adventure to walking in Scotland as literally anywhere is accessible, as long as you have the right gear. Hiking in Scotland can afford a certain sense of freedom- wander far enough and generally you can find yourself almost completely alone in beautiful scenery. The wild weather and wind beating in your face quickly banishes thoughts of city/ working life to the back of your mind, your concentration taken entirely by trying to pick the safest path (or if you are like me trying hard to spot signs of wildlife). On Skye we met a man who travelled from London on an overnight bus just to get to Skye- he was studying his masters in History and came to ponder how his thesis should be written whilst wandering through the complete wilderness of the Cuillins.

Hiking the Quirang

 

When Marty first told me we should invest in some hiking shoes for our trip I must admit I was a bit hesitant- after all I had made it through Europe (including through the mountains in Zakopane (Poland) and Durmitor National Park (Montenegro)) in a pair of Nike trainers. However with our upcoming trip to Colombia and the 5 day hike/ trek to the lost city firmly placed on my to do list, I thought I should get some decent footwear.

These boots were made for walking!

 

Fast forward to our first day on Skye- Marty had looked up a trail for us to complete, the ever popular fairy pools- not content to stick to the tourist trail Marty led me off the rocky path to complete the loop. As we left the clear pools, the camera carrying tourists fell behind, preferring to return the same way to their cars, slightly soggy from the ever persistent Scottish drizzle. The path too dwindled to a waterlogged trail which served mainly to carry excess water from the mountains down the slope. We picked our way across the boggy grassland beneath the slopes of the mountain and the path disappeared completely. In the end we just followed sheep paths in the vague direction of where the path should be. As I navigated yet another little rivulet, a misplaced step had my foot and heart sinking calf deep into boggy mush… Quickly I pulled my foot with a great slurping sound out of the mud hoping to minimize the damage. In amazement Marty and I watched as the water and mud drained off my new hiking trousers and shoes, multiple droplets finding the quickest path back to the cold dark bog. My leg and shoe was dry!! It was then I knew the investment was worth it.

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Chilling by the fairy pools before the fateful bog incident

 

This was not the only time I was thankful for the investment in decent gortex ankle high walking boots. In fact I would say that if you decide to do any trails in Scotland hiking boots are essential. Far from the well-marked paths I remember from home, Scotland’s pathways are often similar to those we encountered on our first day in Skye- muddy trails barely distinguishable from the surrounding grassland. The trail if you can find it often tracks straight up and down the steep sides of hills. The path leading down from Storr (extension of The Old Man of Storr) loop hike literally took us down a waterfall. Funnily enough the only time I didn’t slosh through peaty trails was when we went to the ‘flow country’ in Forsinard where we walked on boardwalks through a national park protecting…. You guessed it PEAT BOG.

Navigating the path- a regular occurrence

 

Can you see the path? Look closely- we follow the waterfall down and then follow alongside that river down there!

 

The views of course are generally worth the tough scramble and risk of rolled ankles- unfortunately you do have to stop to enjoy the view otherwise you risk stepping in a puddle, slipping off the side of the hill you just clambered up or tripping over a tussock of grass.

 

View from Knockan Crag

 

On the list of hikes I would recommend are the Quirang in Skye and the extended version of the Old Man of Storr which affords fantastic views to the Cuillins, the Isle of Raasaym and Applecross on mainland Scotland. I also really enjoyed walking to the stacks at Duncansby head, amazing red sandstone pillars rising up out of the sea, surrounded by the squawking mass of Fulmars and other sea birds. Although much tamer and less steep then our usual trails, the walk through the Torridon mountains alongside the loch was beautifully peaceful. Unfortunately even in mid-April, snow coats many of hills and munros both in Torridon and in the Cairngorms. We heard many reports of mountain rescue helicopters needing to rescue even experienced mountaineers who had become injured, suffered hypothermia or became lost in conditions that can change very suddenly. I therefore decided that without serious climbing gear any attempt to summit these beautiful peaks was not a risk I would be willing to take.

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The old man of Stor

Scotland is an amazing place to walk. With lochs, glens and munros the scenery is varied and the network of bothys and bunkhouses allow multiday hikes. Just please do not expect a Sunday stroll along a graded gravel path. Timberland boots definitely do not make the cut, and I am afraid my poor Nike runners would never have had a chance to dry out between the walking trails and the sudden squalls bringing lashing rain or flurries of snow.

 

Lucky I learnt ballet as a child- still a graceful leaper!
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