I think I may have mentioned elsewhere, that I’m planning on walking the Affric Kintail Way in a few weeks. It’s something I’m looking forward to immensely and the way I felt in the second half of last year, after I dropped out of the Southern Upland Way, I’m both surprised and pleased that I harbour anything like this level of anticipation for a walking holiday. I think there are a number of reasons for this, so I’ll try and explain.
First of all, I’m walking the route with my very good friend Pilgrim Chris. I really enjoy walking with Chris; he’s great company, we can chat all day and yet we don’t feel the need to be constantly talking – there can be hours where we barely utter a word to each other, even walking yards apart, just enjoying the peace and quiet, knowing that a few steps are all it will take to join up again and re-connect. Chris is an ‘old-school’ backpacker – he doesn’t care how much his gear weighs, he just knows he needs it all and therefore has to carry it (you can read some of his thoughts on this here), which is the polar opposite of me, who could tell you the exact weight of everything in my pack. We are alike in so many ways and yet chalk-and-cheese in so many others – his enthusiasm for being out in the hills is contagious and his energy when we’re out there is boundless, so I’m looking forward to spending some time on the trail with him. Neither of us is gay, by the way!
The second reason is probably Scotland. I love Scotland, but I don’t spend anything like enough time there. My dad was a Scot, born in Fife, but lived most of his years in England after he met my mum in Manchester. Our holidays north of the border are dim memories, most of which are damp and cold, so I don’t think my love of the place stems from that. It comes from much more recent walking trips on Skye and along the West Highland Way and long drives, down lonely, single-track roads all across the northern reaches. I can’t wait to walk down Glen Affric, feel the hills surround me and follow the river looking for a suitable pitch. I harbour no misconceptions about sitting in the sun at the end of the day, feet cooling in the stream – it will be cold at the end of March, probably damp, cloudy and windy too – but I’m still looking forward to it.
I love planning a trip (something that Chris and I disagree on); the travel logistics, the accommodation, the walk stages, the facilities available on route, village amenities, pub and shop opening times and so many more. I’ve never really had to plan a four day backpacking trip before (most of my trips are 2-3 days at most), so this is something new. As this trip is really just a leg-stretcher and proving ground for the Cape Wrath Trail, it brings a whole new set of planning challenges. I need to review all my kit, identify items that can be improved on, weedle out the bits that are failing and replace them and try new approaches to things like my sleep system. I need to think about the food I’ll be taking, how much will it weigh, how many calories will it deliver, will it satisfy me? Anything I do for the Affric Kintail Way will need to be scaled up to support me on the Cape Wrath Trail a few weeks later, so it needs to be right.
If I’m backpacking for four days on the Affric Kintail and then another 9-10 days on the northern section of the Cape Wrath, then I need to be much fitter than I was last year. On my last couple of long distance paths I’ve carried all my gear, as there was no suitable baggage courier for the Southern Upland Way. My pack wasn’t weighed down with tent, sleeping bag, stove and all the other backpacking equipment though, it weighed no more than about 7-8kg. If I’m going to be carrying a heavier pack I need to get fit. I did next to no walking after May last year and my waist line reflects that. At 1st January 2016 I weighed more than I have in the last 10 years, so I’ve been using the AKW and CWT as motivation for losing all the weight I gained last year, and then some.
I’m focussed on doing at least 10,000 steps per day and cutting back on my food intake – the two combined should help to get me back up the hills. If I can plan in some additional trips later in the year, then perhaps I can stay focussed long enough to continue the weight loss and the fitness gains. So far, I’ve done as many steps in the first six weeks of 2016 as I did in the last 5 months of 2015. The weight is coming off slowly but surely and as part of the backpacking preparations, any weight I lose goes into a pack that I carry with me on my evening training walks. There’s no better way to train for carrying a heavy pack, than to carry a heavy pack.
The two trips I have planned so far, the AKW and the CWT, feel like actual adventures (the latter more so than the former admittedly) rather than just walks. With the exception of the Skye Trail, I don’t think any walk I’ve done previously actually felt like an adventure. The remoteness of the CWT, the nature of the path, the terrain it traverse and the faint whiff of danger associated with walking it, all combine to making this a very special walking holiday. If I could spare the time off work I’d beg Chris to join him from the start.
I’m not sure I should actually publish this post; perhaps my new found enthusiasm will die as quickly as it did last year on the Southern Upland Way, but right now I feel invigorated and although I still don’t feel the same passion as I used to for day walking, I think this could be a year of adventures for me.