Looking Ahead to 2016

After my change of heart last year on the Southern Upland Way and what has become a distinct lack of interest in walking long distances on my own, I’m looking to change things a bit in 2016. I still want to walk, however, and the call of distant hills still tugs at me, just more gently and in a different way. So my plans this year have been modelled on these factors.

January step count (logged with FitBit)

I’m not normally one to lay out a whole year’s strategy, as I typically only have one goal; that being the long distance route I’m planning to do, so this post is unusual in that way. For 2016 I have two or three, smaller projects in mind, which I present to you here, at the same time laying down a gauntlet to myself not to let them slip or pass me by.

My first goal is to get fit again. I’ve spent too long on the couch and I’ve gained weight at a prolific rate. The result is no hill legs and extra weight to carry – I’m heavier now than I have been for about 5 years and that’s something I need to address quickly. I’ve started walking my local paths again, trying to do at least 5 miles, and averaging 10,000 steps per day. The first week was hard – having to stop twice on the first day just to rest. The second week was tough in a different way, I increased my speed and found that my shins and ankles got painful very quickly and stayed that way for the first 3-4 miles of my 5 mile circuit. This week has been easier, my stamina is better, aches and pains are fewer and my times are starting to drop.

From February I plan to add some weight to the daily walk – I’ll add water bottles to a day pack and begin to increase the weight I carry over the course of the month – this will hopefully help to increase my backpacking strength, as well as my overall stamina. If I can build up to 10-12 Kg over the course of February and March I will be happy. With a bit of luck I’ll be carrying on my back the same as I’ve lost from my stomach!

This is all in preparation for my next goal, which is to backpack the Affric Kintail Way on the four days prior to Easter Sunday, with my good friend @PilgrimChris. This is a fairly short path, running from Loch Duich in Kintail, through Glen Affric to Drumnadrochit on the shores of Loch Ness. It’s a mostly low-level route of around 45 miles and we have about 3-4 days to complete it, so it should be a good test of fitness, without completely breaking me. This route is normally walked east to west, but it feels more natural to do it the way we are planning and it’s easier logistically.

Path off the Great Glen Way above Drumnadrochit
Path off the Great Glen Way above Drumnadrochit

Both Chris and I had expressed an interest in spending more time walking in Scotland and this is our first step. Although I’ve walked the West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and some of the Southern Upland Way, these are fairly ‘sanitised’ trails (the SUW much less so than the other two) and I want to recapture the sort of scenery and walking experience I had on the Skye Trail. This means going off-track more, finding the paths less-trod, the quiet glens, and the open moors. Which leads nicely into goal number three.

Chris has been trying to walk the Cape Wrath Trail for a couple of years now, but never found the time. I had planned to use it on my LEJOG which I had to cancel in 2014; so it’s been a goal for both of us for a while. This year Chris has booked the time in his diary and I’m going to join him for the last section of the walk from Ullapool to the Cape. That’s about 90-100 miles of some of the most remote walking in the UK. Chris is starting from Fort William, but I can’t really afford the time to do the whole walk in one go, so we’ll meet on the trail and continue together.

© Copyright Gary Dickson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Loch Lòn Mhurchaidh on the Cape Wrath Trail
© Copyright Gary Dickson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Even though I’m only doing part of the route, I have no doubts that this will be a tough walk and a huge test of fitness, will power and experience. It’s great to have a goal like this to aim for and it focuses my mind on what needs to be done over the next few months. I meet Chris on the 29th April and then I have 10 days to complete the route and travel home. That’s plenty of time, and allows for a couple of ‘tent days’ in case of bad weather, either on the trail or while waiting for the ferry from the Cape across to Durness. If the weather is good it allows us time to stroll and take in the scenery.

Later, in June, I have an invitation to join another friend, Tim, who is also planning on doing the Cape Wrath Trail. This time I’ll take the opportunity to walk from the start and continue for at least a few days – not enough to join my two sections together, so I won’t be able to ‘complete’ it, but I should experience two very different parts of the walk.

A wildcamp on the Pennine Way
A wildcamp on the Pennine Way

Unlike previous years, these are all backpacking trips. I’m abandoning my traditional, comfortable B&B approach to long distance paths and relying on the tent and any bothies we can take advantage of. My strength and stamina training become all the more important because of this. I’ve typically only ever done 2 or 3 day backpacking trips, so my ability to carry a large pack over many days is pretty much untested. Carrying 10 days of food from the start will make for a large load, so I need to be ready.

It should be an interesting year!

9 thoughts on “Looking Ahead to 2016”

  1. Ok Stuart my PW is planned and i am ready to rumble. I look forward to the 20+ days of solitude but i also am a bit scared of the huge amounts of hills i have to climb. I can not train for that here in the Netherlands. I will start 12th April in Edale.

    Dag 1 Wo 13 April
    – Upperbooth naar Crowden 14.5 mile 23.3 Km SK 07102 99320
    Dag 2 Do 14 April
    – Crowden naar Standedge 11 mile 17.7 Km SE 00928 08046
    Dag 3 Vr 15 April
    – Standedge naar Hebden/Jack Bridge 14.5 mile 23.3 Km SD 96214 28186
    Dag 4 Za 16 April
    – Jack Bridge naar Ponden 10.5 mile 16.9 Km SD 99058 37082
    Dag 5 Zo 17 April
    – Ponden naar Earby – 7.5 mile 12 Km SD 907 505
    Dag 6 Ma 18 April
    – Earby naar Malhalm 14 mile 22.5 Km SD 91514 64007
    Dag 7 Di 19 April
    – Malhalm naar Horton in Ribsdale 15.5 mile 24.9 Km SD 80967 72106
    Dag 8 Wo 20 April
    – Horton in Ribsdale naar Hawes 13.5 mile 21.7 Km SD 87067 89865
    Dag 9 Do 21 April
    – Hawes naar Keld 12.5 mile 20.1 Km NY 88996 01216
    Dag 10 Vr 22 April
    – Keld naar Baldersdale 14 mile 22.5 Km NY 93516 17766
    Dag 11 Za 23 April
    – Bowes to Middelton in Teesdale 6.6 mile 10.6 Km NY 94692 25597
    Dag 12 Zo 24 April
    – Middelton in Teesdale to Langdon Beck 5 mile 8 Km NY 86281 36544
    Dag 13 Ma 25 April
    – Langdon Beck to Dufton 14.5 mile 23.3 Km NY 69352 24879
    Dag 14 Di 26 April
    – Dufton to Garrigill 15.5 mile 24.9 Km NY 74484 41553
    dag 15 Wo 27 April
    – Garrigill to Greenhead 20.5 mile 33 Km NY 65958 66061
    Dag 16 Do 28 April
    – Greenhead naar Once Brewed 6.5 mile 10 Km NY 79302 76073 of NY 78813 71264
    Dag 17 Vr 29 April
    – Once Brewed naar Bellingham 15 mile 24.1 Km NY 83972 83305
    Dag 18 Za 30 April
    – Bellingham naar Byrness Refuge hut 18 mile 29 Km NT 80314 12892
    Dag 19 Zo 1 Mei
    Byrness refuge hut naar KIRK YETHOLM 22.5 MILE 36 KM NT 82542 28030
    Dag 21 Ma 2 Mei
    Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh to Amsterdam

  2. Some good plans Stuart, and specially that you intent to use the tent and backpack.
    And you are also invited to join me for a day or more on the PW in April if you have the time and feel the need to walk.

  3. Good to see your plans and preparations are well laid, Stuart. Actually, the pains and fitness problems you mention certainly sound more than familiar. I’ve been shamefully dormant this winter, walk-wise, and my first walk this year came as a shock to the system. Still, your training schedule has given me some ideas (and inspiration!) to get moving again. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about the Cape Wrath Trail – it’s on my ‘wish list’, certainly, but for the moment at least seems a forlorn hope. Good luck with yours.

    1. Thanks Stuart, the noticeable improvement in fitness in just 3 weeks is a huge boost, even if I’m only getting out for an hour or so each day. I remember certain day walks in the past where fitness was poor and the walk was torture – I have to aim to avoid that at all costs. The CWT is going to be tough and I don’t want to spend the whole trip wishing I was somewhere less hurty! I also don’t have the option to bale if things don’t feel right, which is probably the biggest motivational factor of them all 🙂

      Hope you manage to make time for the CWT at some point!

  4. The Cape Wrath Trail is a superb walk and hard in places. The first two days out of Ullapool, however, are largely on estate tracks which give relatively easy miles until Ben More Lodge. After some hard going via Glen Coul, things ease off again for most of the route to Kinlochbervie, which has a good supermarket. I camped or bothied for five nights between Ullapool and Kinlochbervie. Although I was quite fit at the time, I doubt if you would need ten days food for this stretch. I picked up three days of food in the supermarket at Kinlochbervie as I thought foul weather might stop the ferry – and it did!

    Good luck with your hike. It will be tough but really rewarding.

    1. Thanks for the first hand knowledge John, if I can rely on being able to pick up supplies at Kinlochbervie that should reduce the start weight. ‘Tough but rewarding’ pretty much sums up the CWT I think 🙂

  5. Glad to see you’ve got some motivation back Stuart was an inspiration used many of your routes , don’t slip back into those old ways take a look back at those 40 birthday pictures regards peakhiker

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