Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 25, June 4, 2022

June 5th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 25, June 4, 2022

I stopped briefly at a bothy this afternoon and had a conversation with Simon, a man walking part of the Cape Wrath Trail. He had settled in for the day while I was planning to push ahead to the next bothy about 8 km further on. A hot day tempted me to stay, but I want to get used to much longer days as the last week will be full of them. We talked about stopping in towns, and he took the familiar line used by most trekkers— a certain contempt for “civilization” as trekking takes you out in the wild and keeps you there.

That narrative thread is strong in most of the Cape Wrath Trail discourse— its draw is the wild. Of course I’m all for the wild— I relish the solitude of wandering in what seem to be empty spaces (one of the reasons I almost always trek alone see https://walkinghome.lmc.gatech.edu/pointless-essays/solitude/). And, for example, today I saw almost no one except Simon over a 30 km walk which took me via very steep and narrow paths down the side of one of the tallest waterfall in UK, Falls of Glomach measuring in at 113 meters. I walked around lochs, slogged through more bogs, and crossed several high ridges. In other words, I got the full wild experience.

But I also want to say a word for towns. I’ve had to coordinate maps, websites and guidebooks to see just how close the SNT comes to various towns— many it deliberately misses— in order to have the chance to visit them. For me, towns (crossroads, villages, hamlets— the maps have the full gamut of place names) can be every bit as interesting as an isolated mountaintop.

The Appalachian trail only passes directly through a few towns along its 2000 mile + corridor. Resupply usually involves hitchhiking down off the ridge to towns at some distance. Towards the end of my trek, I realized how much I enjoyed staying in decrepit motels near the trail. Mattresses lumpy, television often limited, the rooms had no real appeal except there was always an old lawn chair on the walk in front of the room, facing the parking lot, where in the evening you could sit, read, and talk to the people arriving. Hardly “exciting” but a real pleasure nevertheless. Since then I’ve hiked many trails, most with a similarly fraught relationship to towns. Of course there are exceptions— the Camino de Santiago winds its way through the main street of every town it approaches (primarily to afford pilgrims the chance to pray in each of the churches on the way). But by and large on most long trails, towns are viewed as infrastructure— a place to support the wilderness seekers— and not as another sight to be seen. Just a word for towns— they can bring such pleasure.

Today no town for me. I’m sleeping in the Bendronaig Lodge bothy— a comfortable estate bothy with a flushing toilet! (Of course you have to bring buckets of water from the spring). And tomorrow I will wild camp somewhere past Craig, a crossroads I should pass mid day.  But the following day brings the village of Kinlochewe, and another place to explore—a town.

T. Hugh Crawford