Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 15, May 25, 2022
Compared to the past few days of absolutely solitary wandering, today was a veritable social hour. I have to admit, for me the draw of long-distance trekking has always been the solitude— something shared by Rousseau whose Reveries of a Solitary Walker has long served as a model for me. Over the years, solitude is something I have craved, though of late, I’m at cross-purposes, relishing my isolation but missing intensely my current life in Atlanta. Years ago I wrote a brief essay on solitude when commencing the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand: https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/pointless-essays/solitude/
The structure of trails determines to a great degree the level of solitude a walker can experience. The Te Araroa is an isolated walk, while the Camino de Santiago is a traveling party. As the Scottish National trail is a cobbling together of parts of already established trails with some complicated connections, it lacks the social continuity of those paths. As mentioned earlier, my brief overlap with the West Highland Way brought memories of the Camino, not just because of the crowd of walkers but also the support system along the trail— coffee shops, etc. set up close to the path— and of course the pub culture at the end of the day, where weary walkers gather to exchange tips, names, and sympathy.
The past few days have been up and over hills and passes, skirting towns and civilization in favor of the high, uninhabited moors. Today was mostly a river walk (actually three rivers with a hill climb between two of them), passing through towns and villages. I started in Aberfeldy, wandering along the River Tay to Grandtully (where regrettably the Chocolatier shop had not yet opened). There I crossed a “weakened” bridge (there are plenty of those in the area, but apparently my crossing is not their concern) and headed up over a ridge, then down the other side to the River Tummel where I wandered Pitlochry a bit. In preparation for a couple of days in the wilds, I bought supplies at the coop, picked up some extra gear at the Hawkshead equipment shop, and had a full Scottish breakfast at the Cafe Biba. A bit weighed down—both pack and belly— I made my way out of town, down along what became the River Garry, passing through Killicrankie, ultimately arriving at Blair Atholl.
The day was full of encounters: runners on the river path out of Aberfeldy, dog walkers most everywhere, and on the streets of Pitlochry and Blair Atholl there were many serious trekkers. Outside the pub in the evening, there was a pile of well-worn fairly large Osprey packs, signaling some serious trekkers I’m surmising. The most pleasant social encounter was up on a forest road above Pitlochry. As I descended I heard many loud, talkative voices, something I’ve not encountered all this trip. On breaking for the forest, I walked into a group portrait of more than a dozen women from Canada on a town-to-town trek. Of course I volunteered to take the picture so they could all be in it. We talked a bit—they were hiking this area town to town,— fairly short days— in the highest of spirits. Given how slipping in the mud on a long grade up can be discouraging, I was happy to see their good-natured enthusiasm, something rare on tough trails.
The latter part of the day bounced from trail to minor road, to well-graded path, past farms— including a horse training facility where I stopped a bit to watch someone training to jump horses. Blair Atholl was a pleasant surprise— such beautiful stone homes with distinctive architecture. It appears much of the early part of the village was built by the same architect, probably at the behest of the Laird. The people at the campground were kind as all Scots seem to be, I took a quick turn around the castle before settling into the Bothy Bar for a heavy meal in preparation for the next few day’s privations.
T. Hugh Crawford