Walk this way
Way to go. Words: Richard Rees
be best way to experience the Highlands
is on foot. Don't be put off by the Core—
tex fetishists who tell you to take the latest in satellite navigation or forget it: people have been walking these hills for centuries with nary an ergonomic fanny-pack between them.
Beginners wanting to stretch themselves with a long—distance walk could do worse than start with the West Highland Way. This continuous US-rnile hike leaves (ilasgow to skirt Loch l.omond. crossing the bleakly beautiful Rannoch Moor and takes in (ilen (‘oe. It ends at the foot of Scotland‘s highest mountain. Ben .\'evis.
l'd tackled the trail before. in Augtrst. alone. My companion had dropped out due to industrial blisters caused by new boots: a salutary lesson to break them in before you go. The weather was perfect and the only problem was the midges. Without them. though. maybe this unique wilderness would be all holiday homes by now. so respect is grudgingly due.
These mtisquitoes-with—aggressive-tendencies have all but died out by the end of summer. so
my mission -- to walk some of the Way in winter
had at least some logic to it. The route actually links many existing trails. so it can be done in parts by the less ambitious. For the chronically lazy. there are even companies (www. transcotland.cornl that will take your bags each stage of the way so you can enjoy the walk
18 THE LIST 1.: ;*~, i.’l«:f 'g
The car park was full of stags, tame and hogging the
without lugging your body weight in kit.
This time. my companions and I decided to take on what is probably the most dramatic segment of the Way. Kingshouse to Kinlochleven. climbing the near vertical Devil's Staircase. with stunning views of the Three Sisters. followed by a knee breaking descent. We left lidinburgh late on a cold but bright afternoon. Weather reports were favourable.
The logical place to camp the night before was behind the Kingshouse pub. After pitching tip. we decided to plan the next day"s activities over a few beers. The last time I‘d visited this remote boo/.er was last summer. Following the Way across Rannoch moor. I had the experience of seeing a thunderstorm approach me while the sky above was deep blue.
As it got closer. I could actually see the forks of lightning connect with the ground. The moor is flat and treeless in places and I realised that l was the only upright thing in the immediate vicinity. So this was it. then: a bizarre believe—it—or-not death. I was
about to succumb to panic when over the crest of
a low hill whiz/ed a bunch ofT—shirt and shorted bikers. ‘Keep it up mate: the pubs only about a mile away.‘ As they shot past laughing. rainbows really did appear . . .
Bi/arrc. magical experiences were common occurrences. l‘d camped on a hill near (‘rianlarich the previous night. eagles hovering below me as I cooked my tea. And this time. as
llll’ 5 Lllllli WALKS
Fife Coastal Path North Queensferry to Crail, 45 miles. A mostly easy coastal walk which should take 3—4 days to complete. Once finished it’ll connect the Forth and Tay bridges. www.fifecoastal path.com
Speyside Way Spey Bay to Aviemore, 66 miles. A reasonably easy walk which takes in coast, riverside and farmland. It should take you 4—6 days to completewww.moray.org/area/speyway/ webpages/swhome
Great Glen Way Fort William to lnverness, 73 miles. The estimated time for this route is 4—7 days, which is easier in the south but gets hilly north of Fort Augustus. Enjoy the scenery through the Great Glen and above Loch Ness. www. greatglenwaycom
West Highland Way Glasgow to Fort William. 95 miles. The original. You’ll trudge through lowland to start off with before meeting more rugged terrain. Expect to take 7—1 0 days to complete it. www.west- highland—way.co.uk
Southern Upland Way Portpatrick to Cockburnspath. 212 miles. A series challenge and you’ll need 15—20 days to cover it. Expect a varied trek with coast, forest, farmland and hills. rising to over 700m in places. Perhaps one for the more experienced walker. www.dumgal.gov.uk/ SouthernUplandWay
we left the pub at closing time. the car park was full of stags. tame and hogging the place. Well. you can do that if you‘re a stag.
Next morning I peered through my tent flaps. last night‘s (iuinness making me feel a little more like Withnail then Wainwright. The magnificent site of Buachaille litive Mor. the (ireat Herdsman guarding the glens of litive and (‘oe. gave me a sobering slap in the face. By the time we'd taken down the tents. mist that was to persist all day descended and visibility was down to ten metres. Scotland in winter. eh'.’ Mission terminated.
Some walkers have a problem with the Wl lW because it helps demystify the great outdoors. but this inclusivity is precisely the reason it appeals to the novice walker. liven the ubiquitous celebrity walker. (‘ameron McNeile has reformed his anti-Way snobbery. ‘.\lany who walk the West Highland Way will probably never do anything like it again.‘ he says. ‘But the resonance of their days on the trail will stay with them forever.‘
The hills are alive