From the experience the previous year, when I walked a coast to coast route, I knew that I was fairly comfortable with a daily average of 24/25 kms, although I did realise that the Cape Wrath route was over much more difficult and hostile terrain than the 2003 walk. Nevertheless I still reckoned on that sort of daily distance when I roughly tried to gauge where the overnights would be, although I did not have enough confidence in keeping to this to book a ticket in advance for my return home.
The re-supply conundrum
The main logistical problem on an expedition like this is that of re-supply. Its o.k. if there is a third party, such as wife or friend who will wait at predetermined points to hand over food parcels. If not, then the only way I could see to solve this conundrum was to use the Poste Restante service offered by Royal Mail. This allows you to post yourself a parcel to any post office in the country, which you then collect in due course, (sometimes having to produce some sort of identification). So, the first task was to identify all post offices between Fort William and Cape Wrath. A search of the O.S. maps for the PO symbol revealed a distinct shortage of PO’s in rural NW Scotland, in fact the only two that would be of use were Kinlochewe and Ullapool. This meant in real terms that pick ups would probably be on days 6 and 8, not an ideal split because it would mean carrying 6 days provisions from the start and from Ullapool, but there was no alternative.
The next detail to check was the opening times and any early closing day of the post offices in question. This would then dictate the options for the starting day of the walk, there would be nothing worse than an enforced delay somewhere en route to wait for a PO to open. I found that our local sub post office, opposite our business in Budleigh Salterton (East Devon) was very helpful in providing contact details, phone numbers etc.. There is a national call centre though that does dispense all this information.
With regard to this parcel system I have found that it is useful to include in the parcel some adhesive tape, a label and pen so that any surplus gear, maps and so forth can be returned to HQ in the same box, (which has been carefully opened in order not to render it useless!)
Where does it all end?
Another particular problem with this expedition is that the end of the walk is a remote, uninhabited place on the wrong side of an MOD firing range 15 kms from a fairly large estuary and river, the other side of which is civilisation, in the form of Durness. I knew that there was a mini-bus service which, in conjunction with a ferry across the estuary took sightseers from Durness to Cape Wrath and thus by implication could take Cape Wrath Trail walkers to Durness, where such pleasures of the flesh as a shower, a square meal, a couple of beers and a comfortable bed, could be enjoyed.
In pre-internet days it would have taken a determined effort to find answers to all the questions concerning this relatively short journey. I think I spent about an hour searching various web sites and found all necessary information and contact phone numbers for the mini-bus operator and ferryman, I also found out that there is a regular daily bus service from Inverness to Durness, the return service leaving Durness around 15.00 getting to Inverness mid evening. This meant that as long as I could get to Cape Wrath by about 11.00 I would have time for a quick look round, catch the mini-bus and be in Durness before 15.00. A B&B in Inverness and I could be on a train south the following morning.
The mini-bus only runs from May to September and the MOD firing range is not in frequent use, the bus operator would generally know when the range is in operation. On the Cape Wrath website there are two words at the end of the detail about the mini-bus, Weather Permitting. Little was I to know then, the relevance of that codicil.
A slightly less important detail of planning, but one that does make the return journey more comfortable, is to have a parcel to pick up at the end of the walk containing trainers, clean trousers and tee shirt. This at least obviates the problem of sitting on a train for 12 hours in the same kit that one has lived and sweated in for the last 2 weeks!
The Right Kit
Gathering the right kit is essential for a successful trip, clothes of course are of prime importance, life can be miserable if clothing does not do the job it should. I enjoy the comforts of life and memories of ill equipped backpacking trips of my youth, gave me the incentive to kit myself out with clothes that would not let me down in extreme conditions. I get on very well with Paramo waterproofs, I do appreciate the comfort of the fabric which I find superior to the rather ‘hard’ feel of Gore-tex. The new fabrics which have natural anti-bacterial properties are so useful for base layer garments, giving two terrific advantages, firstly you can wear pants and vest for 3 or 4 days without becoming unsocial, secondly the fabric dries much quicker than cotton, I have often put on damp underwear, it dries easily with ones body heat and does not stay cold and clinging like cotton.
The experience of my previous long trip meant that I had sorted out a workable daily ration of food. With just a few slight changes I decided on a similar diet as before. The internet had proved invaluable in searching for suppliers of expedition foods; with a few clicks problems were solved. There must be a compromise between weight and calories, so it is essential to choose foods that give you the best ratio of calories to grams. This is the main reason why on a trip like this, it is not realistic to rely on buying food from local shops, because one would end up with two or three times the bulk, or a fraction of the necessary intake of calories.
As far as kit was concerned the only item I had considered replacing was the tent but because I could not really decide on its successor I choose to give it one more trip. In hindsight if I had taken on that trip the 1 man Vaude tent I subsequently bought, I would not have had the problems with pitching on unsuitable sites that the single hoop tent presented.
The question of my safety on a walk like this is a thorny one. Quite a few people have been critical of my decision to go on my own. I fully accept that the risks for my safety are much greater than if I were travelling with say two others, however there is much to be said for going alone and Ali was happy to accept the situation. I tried as well as I could to leave Ali as much information as possible in the form of copies of all the maps with my proposed route marked and also the approximate areas where I hoped to camp each night. Mobile phone use is very limited in that area of Scotland, very often there is no hope of a signal unless one is on top of a mountain. There are quite a number of public phones shown on the O.S. maps so we knew roughly when I could be able to make contact. Each time I phoned I would give my grid reference, so she could plot my progress.
- 2 pairs Smart wool socks
- 2 pairs Smart wool extra thick socks
- 2 pairs Smart wool liner socks
- Zip-off trousers
- 2 Merino wool short sleeved vests
- 2 pairs Lowe Alpine pants
- Thin Pertex windproof jacket
- Paramo Viento jacket
- Paramo Alta jacket
- Paramo waterproof trousers
- Teva slip-on shoes – designed for use in water
- Brasher boots (leather) + spare laces
- Lowe Alpine hat – with fold down ear flaps
- Gore-tex gloves and liners
- Gore-tex gaiters
- Baseball cap
- Sleeping Bag – Softie 12 Osprey + silk liner
- Tent – 1 man Single hoop (£50)
- Thermarest mat full length medium weight
- MSR Dragonfly stove + fuel bottle + 2 x 500ml Coleman fuel
- 3 boxes matches + 2 lighters
- Whisky flask + malt whisky
- Plastic mug + teaspoon + desert spoon
- 2 x compasses Silva
- 2 x whistles
- ½ litre stainless steel billy
- 35mm Nikon idiot proof camera
- Karrimor 100L Independence rucksack + 2L hydration system
- Large waterproof liner
- 2L Platypus water bladder
- Aqua Mira water purifier
- Foil emergency blanket
- Mobile phone
- Note book + pencil + pen
- O.S. 1:50000 maps – 33,25,19,15,9, + photocopies of bits from 41,34,20
- Torch/emergency beacon light
- Tissues + toilet paper
- Mountain Suds liquid soap
- Leki pole (knob type which doubles as camera stand)
- Antiseptic handrub
- P60 sun cream
- E45 sunblock
- Lip salve
- Ortleib bowl + Paramo towel
- First-aid kit :- tick twister, antiseptic wipes, antistan cream, compeed blister plasters, savlon, plasters and lint, nailclippers, file.
- Swiss Army knife + nylon cord + approx 1 metre gaffer tape (wound round soap bottle)
- Sundry different size sealable poly bags
Food – approximate daily ration
- 60/70grams Oatsosimple with muscavado sugar and milk powder
- 25grams beef jerky
- 100grams PSP22 soluble energy powder
- 1 x 500gram Real freeze dried meal
- 2 x tea bags + powder milk
- 80grams 70% chocolate
- 40/50grams cous-cous
- Mueslibar / sesame seed snap
- 1 portion dried soup powder
- 100grams mixed nuts and dried fruit
- 100grams dry roasted pumpkin seeds
Reflections on the food!
This is a very limited diet but reasonably well balanced and all the various foods are high in calorie content. I think weight and other factors determine that there is little opportunity for very much else. The oats mixture for breakfast did not work well I always seemed to end up with lumps. The Real meals are very tasty and filling, the cous-cous and soup mix worked well. The snack foods had enough variety not to get too monotonous. I never felt hungry but did loose quite a lot of weight over the walk!