Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 19, May 29, 2022
Kingussie to Laggan
An inauspicious morning became a highlight of the trip thus far. The Duke of Gordon Hotel serves a big breakfast spread, so I delayed departure to get my dose of bacon, sausage, blood pudding, haggis, beans and eggs. The hike out of Kingussie was delightful, some well-laid and well-marked trails up and over a ridge and down to a Loch made for a good morning. Of course that set off an alarm bell or two as I’m learning you always have to pay for a good trail with something pretty close to a no trail (which is just what happened).
Soon I was striding over one of those strange treeless landscapes that seem absent of all life except heather, cotton grass, and the occasional grouse. Later the path took me to the edge of the river Allt a Chaorainn. The well-made tracks for the tourists at the mid- point soon gave way to mud, then bog, and finally no trail at all. I navigated by keeping the river to my left, occasionally crossing what seemed a path that was soon swallowed in the mire. In the distance I passed a number of derelict buildings as the sky clouded over (for the tenth time that day). The bog was becoming frustrating as there was no clear end point, though I could see in the distance what I took to be yet another derelict building. As I approached I kept hearing, cut by the wind, what was either a bird I’d never heard or people laughing loudly. The latter proved to be true as a fairly tumbled down bothy was occupied by four local men who were at the time entertaining a man and two women hikers who had just joined them. It was only midday, but most of them were clearly in their cups. Ian, one of the Bothy men invited me in, soon Michael pressed a pint of Tennents in my hand, and, as the rain opened up, we all adjourned to the bothy drawing room.
We sat on ragged couches, everyone talking at once. They were curious about me and the National Trail, but everyone was talking and asking about the area, the local people, and of course land politics. Present were gamekeepers, loggers, and an academic closely involved with government land policy. Soon a wee dram of whiskey (not so wee) was pressed into my hand, and we all settled into an afternoon of intense but disparate conversation. Although most were definitely not clear headed, the talk was clear, each bringing both their personal expertise linked with their longstanding friendship. And as I’ve heard from everyone thus far, there is no place they’d rather be than in the Highlands.
Talk turned explicitly to land ownership, specifically the now-large holdings by the Emir of Qater. Apparently some lax rules regarding ownership enable wealthy people to buy large parcels in Scotland, and he owns much of the land I am currently walking. The special story though is that one of my new-found friend’s grandmother, who is 92, bakes the best scones in the Highlands, and they are particularly favored by the Emir. Her secret is rancid milk, but she also bakes with a Rayburn oven, a device I encountered before in the northern part of the Pennine Way. I stayed in a farmhouse with a kitchen dominated by a Rayburn oil stove— it both made a wonderful breakfast and dried my soaking clothes. As temperatures don’t remain constant, baking on a Rayburn requires vigilance, touch, and deep understanding. Miracle of miracles, Ian produced one of her scones, buttered and ready for my enjoyment. I’ll not even try to contest their assessment, best scone I ever tasted.
In the midst of an incoherent shuffle, Michael left in his truck with the man and two women, apparently taking them back to their car. I was hoping to catch a ride down the hill to shorten my already long day. Steve assured me he would give me a ride on his return, and they all insisted on another Tennets and wee dram. Soon Ian was putting into my bag a full liter of Whyte MacKay whiskey—not taking no for an answer. My pack is now significantly heavier, but my heart lighter, just knowing these fine people.
Good to his word, Michael soon returned and I got to yellow blaze a short portion of the day’s trek, still having to make my way to the BnB that I had booked. I needed a good night’s sleep as tomorrow I’m scheduled to walk 25 miles up and over Corrieyairack Pass.
T. Hugh Crawford