An inspired idea or complete madness? Time will tell.
But when Neil was unexpectedly released from his work contract a month early through no fault of his own, it seemed like a good opportunity to go hiking. The fact that we are both somewhat broke dictated that it would be in the UK, and the fact that it’s the middle of winter means that we know we’re in for a challenge!
The Highland and Grampian Coast to Coast across Scotland (which I’ll refer to as the HGC2C from now on) is a hike which I had mapped out four years ago, intending to do it on my own in November 2014. But then I wimped out of it, choosing instead to do an English coast to coast walk from Ravenglass in Cumbria to Lindisfarne in Northumberland – a less wild route with a better chance of cafes and pubs along the way.
But we kept the route data for the HGC2C, and four weeks ago we were idly watching an undemanding BBC Scotland programme about the west of Scotland – more specifically, the Jacobite steam train which runs from Fort William to Mallaig – and it reminded me that I had planned a hike which involved using this train to get to the start line. Less than a week later Neil was given his notice, and the challenge was on to make the most of a less-than-ideal situation. I suggested the HGC2C, Neil was up for it, and now we are planning on setting off from Kendal on Friday (1st February) to hike 200 miles west to east across Scotland.
Sadly, taking the steam train won’t be part of the plan as it only starts running at Easter. So the plan is to drive to Crianlarich, just beyond Loch Lomond, leave the car there then hitch 94 miles to Mallaig. From there we’ll take the small ferry across to Knoydart, head east to the Great Glen, south through Fort William, then east again through the Cairngorms to Braemar, then onwards to Stonehaven on the North Sea coast, finally finishing at Dunnottar Castle south of Stonehaven. Then we’ll hitch 120 miles or so back to the car and drive home, probably promising ourselves never to hike in the Scottish winter ever again!
The route is 200 miles long, with resupply points at Fort William and Braemar. The route mostly follows glens, with twelve high passes on the way. The highest point is at 970m above sea level, near Lochnagar. But as anyone who’s been winter walking in Scotland will know, 970m is high enough to feel pretty serious if the weather is bad!
Luckily there are a lot of bothies along the way. They are the most basic accommodation available, generally just a freezing cold cottage in the middle of nowhere with a sleeping platform, a table and maybe some chairs, and a fireplace if you’re lucky. But if the weather is bad they at least offer a solid shelter from the wind and rain and snow. We’ll be taking our lightweight tarp tent as well, and it will be interesting to see which is the preferred option by the end of our hike!