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.
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.
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.
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.
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!