… but how my Harry Potter fangirling was satisfied anyway.
I prepared extensively for the Scottish trip. I’d read tons of trail descriptions and copied multiple ones to my kindle. I was planning on completing the West Highland Way, which I did, and then hoped to do parts of the extremely difficult Cape Wrath Trail. The idea was to hike up from Glenfinnan to Morvich and then take a bus to Portree through Kyle of Lochalsh. It actually wasn’t a bad plan! Watching photos from the trail was additional motivation, as the landscape was simply stunning. But instead of the rough northern terrain, I ended up on the mild and kind of boring Great Glen Way.
So how did the Cape Wrath not happen?
First of all, plans are not the same as reality. I know that’s truism, but one we learn best through experience. West Highland Way hit me harder than I thought it would. When I arrived at Fort William, I was tired and nursing two nasty blisters on my feet. I was thinking about conquering Ben Nevis, but the weather was dreadful and I don’t like to climb high mountains to just make a “check” next to their names. I want to see far and wide! But when the air is milky white, what’s the point?
I spent two days in Fort William, resting, washing my clothes and checking out the town. The second day I climbed the small Cow Hill which provided nice views over the town and Loch Linnhe. All that time I was thinking hard and long what to do next. I was looking into all possible directions, checking buses, ferries and trains.
Why would I want to do the Cape Wrath Trail alone at all?
It leads through the harshest and barren areas. It’s not marked and requires very good navigational skills. In bad weather, it can be unforgiving. But I was tempted; I thought I could do it. I kind of forgot the last time I was using a compass was in scouts… like thirty years before. But the photos I’d seen were just magical… I wanted to see it all so much!
So, after I completed the West Highland Way (which was great) it was time to ask myself the hard questions: Was I really up to it? Did I feel I needed to prove anything to anyone? Why did I really want to do the trail? Even if it was supposed to be just a few days on the southern part of it as a link to Skye, getting myself lost somewhere there was not the smartest thing to do. And I needed to be smart and realistic, as that’s the most important thing for a woman hiking alone.
So I compromised.
My geeky trip to Glenfinnan
The walk from Fort William to Glenfinnan is the first stage of Cape Wrath Trail. A long part of it leads next to a road. I wasn’t really keen on doing that, so I decided to skip the first part and see what it’s all about around Glenfinnan. You might be wondering: why is she so obsessed to go there? Well, it’s the Hogwarts Express of course. Duh.
The Jacobite train goes to Mallaig twice a day. It’s cute as a button and has a tiny Harry Potter shop on board. I’ve seen it multiple times and there were crowds waiting for it each day! I was considering feeding my geeky nature, but the tickets were just beyond my budget. I took an ordinary train, though (just about £7). It was very difficult to see the Glenfinnan viaduct, and I almost missed it!
The weather was still pretty awful, but I did my trek from the Glenfinnan station to the view point to see the viaduct. And it truly is something to be seen. It’s a rare moment when the human-made structure does not take away from the natural beauty but seems to enhance it. I was lucky that the next day the weather was superbly sunny and could see it in full glory.
I moved on to walk to the Corryhully bothy. This one is an estate bothy and not run by MBA volunteers. It had electricity (a rarity!) and a fireplace. Great place to stop on your hike in the area.
Up and up I went! To get completely soaked at Bealach a’Chaorainn
I dropped my heavy backpack in the bothy (it was still an early afternoon) and decided to do a bit of a walk along the Cape Wrath Trail, just to see what’s there. I still had some tiny thoughts about maybe doing it. After a mile or so it started raining more and more. The trail narrows and crosses multiple burns. Some were pretty easy to cross jumping over stones, some much less. At that point, it had been raining for four days straight and the streams were in spate. But I pushed on – I wanted to get to a higher point to just see “what’s beyond”.
I reached the highest point – the 471m spot at Bealach a’Chaorainn between two mountains. The climb seemed unending, the weather worsening… The wind was so strong the rain felt falling horizontally and at some gusts, it was hard for me to keep vertical.
If you think “that’s not too bad” wait, there is more.
When climbing higher, against all logic the ground was getting soggier and soggier. At the top of the Bealach it was simply a huge pool hidden beneath the grass. I tried stepping on big stones or rocks, but there weren’t all that many of them. What seemed to be a hard grass step was just a nice sponge filled with water.
So, what did I see “beyond”? Nothing, but the milky fog and more rain. I hoped for some breath-taking views into the valley… nope. Talk about an anti-climax…
The funny thing was – at the top, there was an iron gate connected to the non-existing fence. It looked pretty eerie, especially with all that milky fog and horizontal rain.
I was completely soaked; my boots were filled with water from all the missteps I took right into bogs. The way down was no easy thing as well. Coming back to a bothy with a fire going on was just such a nice thing. I changed into dry clothes and tried to warm up. It was hard to believe it was August! I was sitting right next to the fire and was cold! My boots got soaked because the water went over the top in bogs and trickled down my completely soaked legs. I might have also miscalculated a few steps when crossing streams 😉
The next day I decided to stay in the bothy. I had to dry my boots and clothes. I was lucky – the day was beautiful and sunny. And hot. And the only dry pants I could wear were my black sweat-inducing rain pants. Oh, well, just my luck.
The big Harry Potter fangirling day
I went to the Glenfinnan station, checked out all the Harry Potter souvenirs (got myself a Ministry of Magic pendant!) and went up to the viewing point to join about two dozen of other people with cameras in hands. The view was just wonderful. I wish I could have run fast and taken photos of
the Hogwarts Express the Jacobite from other vantage points, but I was happy anyway. Now that I look at the photos, I wish I climbed a bit higher – to have a better angle of the viaduct… Another reason to come back 🙂
I adore Harry Potter and was happy like a kid to be there when the train went by.
The viaduct was not the only thing worth seeing around Glenfinnan. There are the war memorial and lovely church as well. It is generally a beautiful area for walking.
The bothy encounters
I spent two nights in the bothy. More is not encouraged. A gentleman who takes care of the area came by a few times bringing firewood and checking that everything was fine. During that stay, I met four different guys. Two stayed the night (each separate night) and two just stopped by for some rest on their trails.
One was Czech, one Polish (but not living in Poland for more than 15 years or so), one English and one Scottish. It was fun to chat a bit, exchange experiences or fun stories. One of the lads actually slept on the bogs the night before, in the pouring rain. Poor him!
The great thing was, even though it was far from any civilization, I felt safe. None of those men made any gestures or suggestions that would make me feel uncomfortable and I am still really grateful for that. Every woman hiking alone understands well how important it is.
The great adventure from the day before convinced me to leave the Cape Wrath Trail for another time.
I had to decide what to do next: go to Skye right away or do something else first? Read on to find out!