Day 1: Cape Wrath – Strathchailleach Bothy

10 miles – cloudy, wet, and windy, occasional sunshine

Kyle of Durness – waiting for the ferry
Before the Start

Wednesday 25th May 2022 dawned bright and clear.

I knew to get to the ferry early to ensure myself a place, as it only went once a day, at 9:00 a.m., and it wasn’t going again until the day after tomorrow. I lost one of my gaiters on the way to the ferry and didn’t dare go back to find it in case I arrived at the jetty too late. So instead, I abandoned my other one and hoped someone might find both and benefit from them. So I have still never worn gaiters in my life… Do they serve any practical purpose?

In fact, I was the first to arrive.

The ferry across the Kyle of Durness. We were taken across in two boatloads.

We were taken in a minibus from the other side of the loch to the Cape. The bus journey takes an hour at a top speed of 15 mph along a narrow, disintegrating road, with a humorous commentary on our surroundings too keep spirits up. I have to say that my heart leapt when I finally saw the Cape Wrath Lighthouse before me. It was for me a beacon of my wildest dreams, dreams which were about to turn into a reality.

Cape Wrath

Cape Wrath is a spectacular place to start a walk from. Its cliffs are incredibly impressive, plunging vertically to the Atlantic Ocean 922 feet below.

The cliffs at Cape Wrath. This picture is looking almost vertically downwards.
Cape Wrath Lighthouse – view from almost as far north as one can get. Against a backdrop of these grey skies is how it must appear to the two or three people who live here, and for the vast majority of visitors. Sunshine is a rare treat.
The far northern tip of the cape lies 700 feet below – impossible for the heavily back-packed walker to get any nearer
The mighty foghorn at Cape Wrath.

Rule 5, requiring me to leave a pebble here from Rock-a-Nore Beach and take a Cape Wrath pebble back to Rock-a-Nore, was most important, and I spent some time picking up a selection of suitable stones. I finally chose five, which I put in the left-hand rucksack belt pocket, there to remain until I reach my destination.

The pebbles. The pebble form Cape Wrath (just picked up) is on the left, the one from Hastings Rock-a-Nore Beach is on the right. The Hastings Pebble was left behind, the Cape Wrath one was taken in the front pouch of my rucksack to be deposited on the beach, thus joining the two places for all time.
The Starting Point

I had a cheery start, with the passengers and driver of the bus from the Durness Ferry all wishing me well. One of them, Megan, a bright and spirited young woman, bothying alone, took the photos of me (below) and accompanied me on my first two miles.

Megan (with Cape Wrath Lighthouse behind her), who took the video of me leaving Cape Wrath and who accompanied me the first two miles.

And so, at 11:39 on 25th Maya 2022, I set off from Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly tip of the British mainland towards Hastings, my home, on the southeast coast of England. It’s a journey I anticipated to be 1,230 miles.

The first problem was that my GPS unit wasn’t able to load my route; this was potentially disastrous, although just today I could manage to navigate to the bothy quite easily, by aiming in approximately the right direction and compensating where necessary.

Toby at Cape Wrath about to place the Hastings Pebble on the cape and set off

Here is the video of e first 45 seconds of my walk, filmed by Megan…

Cape Wrath to HASTINGS…

And so the journey began…

Milestone showing I’ve walked 1 mile from the lighthouse. 1 down, 1,229 to go! The landscape in the top two-thirds of the shot shows already, quite clearly, what I was in for!

…And then wilderness…

Heading into the Wilderness I
Heading into the Wilderness II
Heading into the Wilderness III
Heading into the Wilderness IV It was about here that I realised that I would make no further progress without using my trekking poles. So out they came!

There was nothing between me and it but eight miles of peat bog, so, without a route on my GPS, I just had to head into peaty wilderness.

Peat bog comes in different deepnesses and different wetnesses, but it’s generally OK, so long as you look before you step – mostly. As the day wore on, I was blessed with a strong headwind and driving rain.

I have made disparaging remarks about trekking poles, but thank heavens I had them. Without them, this walk would have been much more difficult, decidedly dangerous, and in several places absolutely absolutely impossible with a heavy pack.

I felt neither overwhelmed, nor one manfully striding forth; I was neither optimistic nor pessimistic: I just put one foot in front of another.

First Images of the Wilderness
My first photo of emptiness. The landscape at this northwestern tip of Scotland is flattish, wettish, and quite barren.
The landscape is dotted with these ‘lochans’, where water collects as there’s nowhere for it to flow.
It was often quite a fiddle to find a solid pathway between the lochans and amidst the sodden peat.
An orchid, common around Cape Wrath.
Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris, is a carnivorous plant, which feeds on midges: “Not nearly enough of them!” insisted the commentator on the bus.
Plants inhabit the water too.
More sodden wilderness!

I managed to navigate to Strathchailleach Bothy, a short first day at less than ten miles. There was no fuel for a fire, but it was warmed with the good cheer of other hikers.

Strathchailleach Bothy

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