Diary of a hiker in training, starting with Scotland
Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Yes I’ve hiked before, those 2 day things you do when you’re in Asia or a long day hike you do with your mates or maybe I could include my girl guide days. I’ve even had 20 mile days walking a Spanish Camino for a weekend sleeping in bunks. I felt well prepared and experienced enough to competently proceed with the 6 days of solo hiking and wild camping in Scotland I had planned. I was going to prove to myself I could do those 20 mile days over mountains with all my food and stuff on my back. PCT 2021, here I come, Scotland is just a playground for something bigger.
People continued to remind me of the rain and the cold before I left but I took my own advise and refused to invest in any kind of good waterproof clothes. If I can’t handle a bit of rain over 6 days, how will I handle the PCT?
So it's October in Scotland, most days have constant rain, temperatures range from 6 to 12°C and there is often a good strong wind blowing the rain around. Day 1 I got lucky with the weather, I pitched my tent on Ben Lomond and settled myself in. My clothes soaked in sweat from the climb up, hung up inside my tent using the rope from my compass. My compass I was using as a makeshift spoon as I’d left my spork behind somewhere (note to self to take better care of my spork and maybe some rope might be handy in the future).
That night I was kept awake by the ongoing sounds of animals around my tent, I reminded myself there are no dangerous animals in Scotland and that I need to just deal with it if I’m to survive the PCT. Turns out it was some sheep with interesting horns but imaginations can run wild in the dark.
The next day the cloudy mist had settled everywhere on the mountain as I made my way to the summit. I’d skipped on breakfast because I couldn’t be bothered which I ended up regretting when I was cold, wet and shivering with a heavy backpack in-between some rocks for shelter trying to feed myself cold rehydrated porridge (with my compass).
Anyway I made it to the top and benefited from zero views due to the mist but proceeded to take about 5 hours to descend due to my heavy back pack and lack of energy, watching most people overtake me. Later that day I came upon a campsite on Loch Lomand and fortunately bumped into a girl who had bounded past me so energetically about 8 hours before. She was going to teach me allot.
I’m a London girl, with my fancy tent and all my dreams. I’d read allot of blogs, spent hours researching camping gear, read a few hiking related novels and chatted to many a thru-hiker on social media, but I hadn’t really given much thought to the challenges Scotland might present. Turns out waterproof trousers, poncho and a decent tent in Scotland are essential. I had none.
I’d bought myself the Big Agnes Tiger Wall, lovely and lightweight, well made and compact but not designed for the constant Scottish battering of rain. The rain was day and night, pitch up, pitch down and nearly all day walking on the trails. The second night I was kept awake by drips landing on my face coming through the tent seams. I’m grateful my sleeping bag fared much better and kept me warm as promised, even with the small puddles developing in my tent. My new mountain friend took some fun in educating me on how to determine if materials have a good waterproof coating. Mine we decided, did not.
Day 3 I found myself plodding along with a new poncho that broke as soon as I bought it, some lovely new waterproof trousers and a feeling of satisfaction that I had walked more miles than the previous day. The only concrete plans I had made for this trip was to walk all day and find somewhere scenic to wild camp. Easier to think about than to actually fulfil. My ability to walk long distances with my reasonably heavy back pack had been overestimated and my map reading skills to identify good wild camping spots needed some serious improvement. Muddy lake side forests do not equal good places to pitch a tent, so I head to a campsite. Unsurprisingly I’m the only person who has chosen to pay to camp in the mud and the rain so the site is empty. I pitch up, put some newspapers down inside my tent to absorb the puddles and mentally prepare for another wet night.
It’s not all rain in Scotland though, the misty mountains are something quite special. Ben A’an was next on my list to summit and I made better progress on this climb. Likely due to my cold rehydrated porridge eaten in a dry public toilet at the campsite with a newly purchased folding cutlery set which broke while eating the porridge.
At this stage in my trip I was getting quite demotivated with everything being damp (or dripping in rain). My hands suffer from raynauds condition and my expensive “waterproof” gloves were not waterproof making me reasonably uncomfortable. My feet were damp with no promise of drying out anytime soon. I took the guilty decision to book a hotel midway through my trip to have a hot meal and dry myself and my gear. The next day, completely refreshed I headed out onto a new trail.
On this day I was determined to find a good wild camping spot, not a campsite. My trip was coming to an end and my feet and ankles were very aware of this. Speed was not an option for my painful ankles but I had to make it to the next town the following evening to get the bus. I saw many good spots but this would mean the next day I would have to cover more miles, so I pushed on but started to see less wilderness and more country estates with gated entrances. As darkness crept in, around 6pm at this time of year, my desperation to find a camping spot was increasing. Around the next bend I found a make shift ladder over a fence into a forest, I took this and made camp on a slight hill in the forest. Sleeping on hills is horrible, I had to deflate my sleeping pad to get some friction on the ground which meant a cold nights sleep on the floor slowly slipping down my tent.
On the final day, afraid of camping on private land I packed up camp in the dark. I discovered that not far from my hill forest camping spot, there was a beautiful flat area, incredible views, sheltered from rain. If only I’d walked a little bit further the night before!
I made it on time for the bus I wanted after a long day of walking and reflected on how much I’d learnt on this trip; mainly that my 1 merino base layer that I’d worn every day didn’t smell as bad as I would have expected given the lack of deodorant and that I needed to rethink my food plan because cold porridge just didn’t do it for me in the rain. There is always next time......
I'm going to hike 2,600 miles for charity in 2021, these little adventures are just the start.