On to Cape Wrath (1)

Moving North

Moving north we hoped the spring would progress ahead of us. But with late snowfall and night temperatures below zero, tree buds remained tightly closed and it looked like we had started too early, in late April.

The Cape Wrath Trail runs from Fort William some 350 km to the North-West tip of Scotland, the cape with the ominous name. Even if in Old Norse this just means “turning point”, it seems appropriately alluring to those who seek a bit of wilderness experience (and maybe a turning point, too).

350 km – and much of it is boot sucking bog. On the CWT every mile counts double and progress can be excruciatingly slow.

On day 6 the cold wind, with a little wet snow, was getting to our bones. We made it to the wooden shed at Coire Reidh – nothing but a crate of loosely fitted planks, we had been warned, but at least a leaky shelter from the wind, a roof over our gear, and a tiny patch of gravelly ground to pitch our tent.

Shed at Coire Reidh © Lodewijk Muns 2016

The next morning the soaked moorland was covered in white, and the sensation of suddenly being in the midst of winter stirred in us a nostalgic childhood excitement. It kept growing while we struggled over trackless ground up to the Bealach Coire Mhàlagain, a mountain pass below the famous (but invisible) Forcan Ridge. A childhood feeling – that of having an “adventure”, or rather,  being in an adventure: like being a character in a story, a story told and controlled by an unknown and unknowable authorial subject or power.

When by map, compass and guesswork we had made it to the bealach, the gentle starry snow had turned into a fierce blizzard. An adventure alright, but one that demanded well-considered action. Rather than wandering on into the featureless whiteness, we decided to pitch our tent on the spot and sit it out. With plenty of food, gas and an SOS device what could go wrong? – after all, it was just a spring blizzard.

Just before we put the last tent peg into the ground four shapes – male, female, and canine – emerged from the opposite direction, and waving my arms I ran towards them. No doubt my gestures, shouts and frozen glasses made me look a little more desperate than I really was. But then, theirs was the hero’s part to play, and our hardy male rescuer energetically took the lead, not only pointing us the way but making sure we would leave a notice of safe arrival at the Shiel Bridge hotel. As we gratefully did.

When later that day, lying on my bunkhouse bed, I looked at our itinerary, I laughed: such a small fraction of the trail we had covered, that it seemed we could never make it to the Cape. A few days later it looked different. Halfway through, the trail started to look doable. And by then the weather was changing too. Spring was catching up.

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