There are 282 munros in Scotland. I hiked two. So…280 more to go?
Three of the most important things I learned while ‘hillwalking’ (the British version of ‘hiking’) in Scotland:
1. Scots don’t meander up hills and mountains. They attack them. If the path is up at a 45-degree angle, then by God, they’ll go up it.
2. Some basic British-English vs. American-English words can cause a five minute debate over the name of an insect.
3. One can, indeed, put on their big girl britches and make it over the munros even as the reality of the situation slaps you in the face.
Those of you who read my Impulsive Decision post know that I ‘trained’ for my 30th birthday vacation (aka: holiday) after having signed up on a whim to hike in the highlands of Scotland.
Well…that training wasn’t for much. Nothing I did properly prepared me for the insanity that is hillwalking in the UK. With the exception of The Bruce’s guerrilla warfare tactics: Scots attack things head on. I learned this the hard way.
1. I spent a half day in Mallaig (pronounced Mal-lig) killing time before meeting up with a group of fellow hillwalkers courtesy of Steven Fallon Mountain Guides.
2. While hanging out in the lovely little seaside town of Mallaig, I walked around, snapped some photos, and met a truly wonderful lady named Hilary at a local restaurant while fulfilling my craving for ice cream.
a. Hilary was an absolute gem! We were the only two patrons inside the restaurant and I decided to impose upon her by asking if I could sit at her table; she obliged and two-hours later we parted ways. There is nothing better than getting to chat with the locals, especially one in her early 70’s.
3. Met up with the other hillwalkers at the parking lot around 2pm and hopped on a Western Isles Ferry to Inverie.
4. Offloaded our packs; again, with me lugging along the massive duffle… I need to take a photo of the beast at some point for reference. Popped into The Old Forge pub – the most westerly pub on mainland Britain – to make reservations (yes, you need reservations and they are well worth it), then continued on a short mile-long walk to the Knoydart Foundation Bunkhouse where beds were decided upon and items were dumped.
5. Martin, our wicked-awesome guide who is also a full-time paramedic and volunteer mountain rescuer (handy) made us all a spot of tea while we congregated in the common room to go over route options. Having little knowledge of the area we were in, I pretty much defaulted to their choices and learned yet another lesson: Trails aren’t marked in the UK – you actually need to know how to read a map. Some of the obvious landmarks make it easier, things such as old stalker paths and some natural deviations/changes in landscape.
a. Sea level to above 900m (that’s a little over 3,000ft); that’s what we’d be doing the next day. Luinne Bheinn’s (pr. Luna Ben or some call it Looney Bin) summit is 939 meters and Meall Buidhe (pr. Mal Buoy) is 942m
b. After agreeing on the course of action, a smaller group decided to go scout the trail a bit before we made our way to the pub for reservations.
b. Holy Mother, that food was delicious! I sat with Lynn – the woman is a beast on the hills and twice my age – we chatted about everything from family to politics to travel.
6. Woke up to heavy rains outside which, luckily, subsided 15 minutes prior to our departure; however, having rained all night, we were in for a slick hike.
7. Let’s just make this easy…
a. I was Tail End Charlie, along with George (who, by the by, is in his latter 60s, coming off some foot injuries, and was knocking off his 200-somethingth munros).
b. You really can experience all four seasons in Scotland over the course of a day, to include gale force winds which only seem to flare up on the more difficult portions of maneuver.
c. The mud in Scotland is different than the mud in the States; or at least the mud I’ve experienced across our great land. You sink or slide – and yes, slide I most certainly did. Thankfully, not while we were climbing at a 45-degree angle. George had a frightening encounter on our descent “trail” – two more feet down and he would have rolled “like an Easter egg.”
d. I have never been more proud of myself. Halfway up Luinne Bheinn I’d begun questioning my senses:
(1) What the devil had I signed up for? Why did I do this to myself? Am I really going to make this?
(2) The answer to those questions: Adventure and trial. Because I wanted a challenge. Yes, I did.
e. By the second summit at Meall Buidhe, I felt like a beast! And then I looked at the descent and my soul wanted to cry just a little – good thing I had been working my stabilizer muscles… It might have been easier to just roll down the dang thing.
f. Every single person I walked with made me rethink what the word “fitness” really means. I’m young. I’m active. I’m fairly healthy. And yet, everyone in the group was at least 12 years older than me, and every single one made me feel like I was on my way into renting a walker from the local drugstore. They were beasts, I tell you!
g. Bogs… Well, they could swallow a man whole as far as I’m concerned. Thank goodness for Martin teaching me the ropes of bog hopping (that’s what I’m calling it). I only had a few misses – the best/worst of which was landing mid-thigh in water; at least it was at the end of the hike and not the beginning; how miserable would that have been?
h. Inverie is stunning. The sunsets witnessed on that remote peninsula were breathtaking; the sounds of birds, waves, and the wind rustling through the trees without the added noise of vehicles made for a true sense of serenity; the people were amazing. Visit. Go. Now.
Without further ado – photos!
Day 2: A beautiful day spent roaming Inverie. I skipped the hike up Ladhar Bheinn as I’d be in walking through Edinburgh the next day.
Photo snapped on our last night in Inverie at the Old Forge pub
Next week… back to Mallaig and on to Morar and Edinburgh, Scotland!
Note: this post is from the trip I took to Scotland in April 2014