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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 31, June 10, 2022

June 10th, 2022

Walking to Cape Wrath, Day 31, June 10, 2022

Loosing track of the days of the week is definitely a phenomenon up here. The midday isolation is always total, so it’s hard to get a sense of where the people living here are in their week. The main cue of course is trying to book a room or a table in a restaurant. So I count myself lucky as Liz, the proprietor of the Oykel Bridge Hotel not only made space for me in the restaurant, she also had a room in “The Bothy”— a sort of bunk house with very comfortable rooms, beds, etc. As my hiking friend Adrian said, they are the perfect trekkers rooms— everything you need, but nothing more.

My time in Ullapool made me a bit anxious as the next four hiking days are long (most more than 30 km) and listed as 4-boot rugged on the chart. Today was actually the longest, but assuredly the easiest as I walked up the glen out of Ullapool, by late morning I crossed a low bealach and descended into the Oykel river valley, all on land-river tracks (except a couple miles when I walked the shore of Loch an Daimh). Weather called for rain, but there were only sporadic quick showers. Most of day was hot sun— glad I got a new neck cloth to replace my old bandana which must be on the trail behind me somewhere.

The Oykel Bridge Hotel caters to fishermen— two types: trout and salmon. So tonight, unlike earlier nights where I was in the company of long-distance walkers, or mountain bikers, or Munro baggers, tonight the lobby was full of fishing talk. What was fascinating is that they were all old-school fisherman, belonging to a club that has been around for 100 years. Some have been coming to this river and the lochs nearby since the sixties. You could hear the history, the tacit knowledge, the sheer being-at-home in the world in their every move. Today’s crew were trout fishers— happy with their day’s sport. Apparently the salmon fishers have abandoned for now because its been a couple of weeks with no significant rain (something I am grateful for) so the rivers are too shallow for the salmon to run.

The lobby talk tonight prompted reflection on just how many pretty strenuous sports the Scots of all ages participate in. Not only do they require skill, physical stamina, and will, but they also reflect a deep historical, local connection to place. You can see that connection in their faces and hear it in their voices— it’s uncanny but also gratifying.

T. Hugh Crawford