Adam and I shouldered our packs and stepped from the Sligachan Hotel Restaurant after a delicious meal of Haggis bon-bons with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and turnips). Instantly all the comfort and warmth we had lounged in for the past hour was swept away by the howling Scottish wind as we set out into an evening storm to hunt for a camp.
Delicious food, wild weather, great beer, outstanding scenery. Pretty much sums up hiking in Scotland. All images: Sage Clegg
We left the parking lot and hit the trail, and suddenly my feet vanished beneath a mush of soupy mud and moss. The hours of doing laundry at the hotel seemed a futile waste of time as mud penetrated my Oboz and socks with lightning speed. Goodbye dry feet, sure was nice knowing you for 20 minutes.
You'll take the low road and I'll take the high road....
We snugged our hoods down over our heads and trudged away from cozy chairs and tasty beer in the hopes of finding a patch of solid ground to pitch our tent in the broad valley ahead. It turns out that wild camping in the Cuillins is something that most people avoid, and we were beginning to understand why.
An hour of puddle stomping and mud slogging later, the long daylight hours were about to fade and we were losing hope of finding dry ground to sleep on. We started contemplating what our night would be like if we set up the tent on top of the heathers. A lumpy mattress? A popped waterbed? And then we spotted it- the only non-rocky, non boggy, semi-dry, sorta flat patch we had seen in four miles.
Before we knew it we had set up our tent, put our feet in camp socks, and fired up a mug of hot chocolate on our cat food can stove (Check out the video here!). All the discomforts of the Skye Trail faded in the warm glow of the sunset with each sip from the flask filled with a peaty Islay whisky.
I'm so thankful Adam and I were willing to push ourselves into uncomfortable situations during our vacation. We did our best to make sure we stayed safe without being insulated from the harshness of the place.
Yes, our feet were soaked for 14 days of hiking, but we made sure they were dry and happy for at least 8 hours a day. Yes, it rained every day of our hike, but we stopped and absorbed the sun whenever we could. Yes, the wind tried to blow us over incessantly, but we learned to find the leeward slope by following the sheep. For every hazard in Scotland we discovered a way to find relief from its grips, but not before a little suffering.
Extreme discomfort helps enhance appreciation of the benign, and elevates a simple pleasure to the point of bliss.
Does this mean our vacation was a suffer-fest? No way! I highly recommend a hill-walking trip in Scotland.
You can pick your degree of discomfort exposure in your route choice. Trails like the John Muir Way and the Speyside Way are clearly marked and maintained. Guide companies can be hired to shuttle your things to your next lodging, and some will even schedule reservations for dinner and distillery tours. Routes like the Skye Trail or the Cape Wrath Trail are more rugged, remote, and exposed. These routes can test the skills and suffer tolerance of seasoned walkers, but can open a door to a beautiful & rarely seen side of Scotland.
Sage Clegg is a wildlife biologist, outdoor educator, and a thru-hiker who thrives when outside. Learn more about her work at sageclegg.com.