May 2017. One of the Frisian bastards hiked the Cape Wrath Trail. A hike of about 300 kilometers through the remote Northwest Highlands of Scotland. Starting at Inbhir Garadh (Invergarry) all the way to the isolated lighthouse on the cliffs of Cape Wrath, and its café The Ozone. One might say, at the end of the Universe. The fourth day hiking was both hell and heaven. A day of miscalculation, wrong turns, overconfidence, and of dumb decisions. But, in the evening, after the bastard had walked for thirteen hours straight, help came from a horse rider from his own hometown on the Wadden Sea coast.
The Cape Wrath Trail has no official directions or fixed route, and thus no markings either. The only ‘rule’ is that you start at the town of Fort William and finish at the lighthouse of Cape Wrath. That day, May 10th, the bastard decided to walk from A’Mhormhaich (Morvich) to Strath Carran (Strathcarron) in one day. About 35 kilometers. Up early on a mission.
Unfortunately, things went wrong right away. After several kilometers of hard climbing, the bastard arrived at a waterfall that did not match the description with the Falls of Glomach. So, a lot of backtracking, and again a climb of 700 meters up Bealach na Sróine. At the top, it was windy and cold, and it started to drizzle. The little path along the Falls of Glomach was truly scarry. The guide book advises to be careful on this track in wet and windy weather. It is the highest falling waterfall in the UK. One hundred meters of free fall. The muddy path, just about 10 centimeters wide, clings to the slope above the waterfall, was eerie and barely visible. No possibilities to hold on to anything either. Only grass. A path and risk you only take when the alternative is backtracking many kilometers.
After leaving the gorge and crossing River Elchaig, the bastard took his only short break that day. Some food and cold instant coffee. Knowing it was going to be quite a march if he wanted to make it to Strath Carran. He had to pick up his pace to make up for the time lost that morning. The road westward went through the beautiful Glen Elchaig. Full of wild deer and semi-tame Highland cattle and, of course, sheep. A sign warned for Highland cattle when they have calves. Plenty of calves everywhere.
By midday it was clear and obvious to the bastard: it would be nearly impossible to make it all the way to Strath Carran in time. He got tired, stressed, and made another wrong decision. For some reason he dreaded turning north into the mountains, Glen Ling, and kept walking west along the road instead. Many kilometers he walked along the near empty highway going through the mountains. Nowhere water to obtain, either. So, no spot to pitch his tent and to end all this agony. The bastard got exhausted. Only cigarettes kept him going.
On a levelled stretch near Achmore close to Loch Carron, a horse with a blonde-haired rider approached the bastard. The bastard was happy to see a living soul after hours of walking. The horse was skittish. Maybe not used to people walking along the roadside on this late hour. It was a huge horse, and the bastard was a bit nervous too. During this status quo between horse and hiker how to pass each other, bastard and horsewoman came into conversation with each other. She heard where he still had to go and said it was almost another 15 kilometers to Strath Carran. Not an easy walk. Easily another three hours. “I can give you a lift,” she added. But first had to go to her house to stable the horse. This would take at least an hour, she explained. The bastard sensed some hesitation in her voice. “It’s okay. I’ll manage,” he lied. Words he only could produce with great effort. Of course, he wanted her to bring him. And so, they said goodbye. “Aye,” she said. “Aij,” the bastard replied (Aij or ay is, also, ‘yes’ in Old Frisian, Vries 2022).
Soon after, the bastard passed the settlement of Stromeferry. Again, just like the village of Achmore, there was nothing here too. No hotel, no pub, no restaurant. No nothing. So, he kept walking. He tried to hitchhike where the road narrowed, but it was now almost 7:00 PM and there was even less traffic than before. Moreover, drivers probably did not feel like bringing along a smelly hiker when dusk falls. The bastard soon dropped the idea, and continued walking. Until a white pick-up car stopped on the middle of the road and its left door was flung open. Behind the wheel sat the blonde long-haired horse rider! He could not believe his eyes. At once, his ordeal that day had come to an end.
During the short ride of about twelve kilometers along the loch, she told she originally came from Newcastle. She had followed her husband to the countryside, to the Highlands. Subsequently, her husband followed another woman. But she stayed and had “a better life than in Newcastle” with her horses. She told the bastard she had been to the Netherlands a lot, after he had told where he came from. The horsewoman had worked at sea, based at the port town of Harlingen in province Friesland. Something with measuring the seabed. Amazingly, the port of Harlingen. “My hometown,” the bastard replied. He imagined how the peoples of the North Sea were still inter-connected via the sea. And, of course, as a rider she knew the Friesians, the black horses with long manes. “Sometimes I miss the sea,” she said. He complimented the Scots and Scotland. Without a moment of thought, she answered:
“Ah, all that nationalism. Everyone is a half-breed.”
She is right, the Frisian bastard thought.
On arrival at Strath Carran, the horse rider from Harlingen accepted no compensation for the petrol, only requested that if anyone would be in need, he would help out too. “Can I keep that promise?” he asked himself.
The damp bastard stumbled into the only hotel annex pub of Strath Carran and asked the staff if they had a room available. The place was fully booked because sheep shearers were at work in the area. Check our post Rescuing Rolling Sheep and discover why these fluffy animals bind the peoples of the North Sea too. No vacancy, but the bastard was allowed to pitch his tent on the field opposite the pub. “Till what time can I order a meal?” the bastard asked next. “Until 7:30,” the bartender said and pointed at a sign on the wall. It was 7:20 PM. “Then I eat first,” the bastard replied, sat down at a table, and took off his shoes and wet down jacket. The sheep shearers, mostly friendly young guys, were eating, drinking, and playing darts. The meal was a herring salad as a starter and a superb steak, weighing almost a kilo, as a main course. Everything well prepared. Two pints of Guinness with it, and two drums Laphroaig whisky with espressos. The horse rider had taken the bastard to the banquets of Walhalla.
Slightly intoxicated, shivering all over for being fatigue, the bastard pitched his tent on the shores of Loch Carron. That is not a lake but the sea. The North Atlantic Ocean even. Falling asleep with the familiar smell of the salty sea so close. It was done, and what a day it was. “Saved by a Valkyrie, for sure. I should have asked for its name,” he said to himself, and immediately his dreams took over.
Note – For more hiking stories on other trails, read our posts Frisian support for the Corsican Cause in jeopardy hiking the GR20 at Corsica, Croeso i Gerddwyr hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales, and, of course, “My God, the Germans bought all the bread!” cried Moira hiking the Cape Wrath Trail.
- Allan, G., The Scottish Bothy Bible. The complete guide to Scotland’s bothies and how to reach them (2017)
- Atkinson, T., The Northern Highlands. The Empty Lands (1986)
- Harper, I., Walking the Cape Wrath Trail. Through the Scottish Highlands from Fort William to Cape Wrath (2015)
- Murphy, A., Schotland Highlands & Islands, Footprint (2011)
- Page, O. et al, Schotland, Trotter (2009)
- Schroor, M., Harlingen. Geschiedenis van de Friese havenstad (2015)
- Visser, A.F. (ed), Harlingers bij-naam (2004)
- Vries, O., Instances of direct speech, authentic and imaginary, in Old Frisian (2022)
- Wilson, N., Scotland’s Highlands & Islands, Lonely Planet (2012)
- Wright, P., Walking with Wildness. Experiencing the Watershed of Scotland (2012)