Toby Sims is walking from Cape Wrath (the north-west tip of Scotland) home to Hastings, for the joy of it and to bring the spirit of the wilderness home. 

STAGE 2:  ULLAPOOL TO FORT WILLIAM

I decided to give up this walk – or at least that that decision was inevitable – on Days 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 13 and 14. So why am I still here? Firstly, sheer belligerence: it’s not determination, strength of character, or anything worthy like that, just grinding dog-with-a-bone-ish-ness. Secondly, the enthusiasm of friends who have sent me messages of support and as-yet-undeserved congratulation and have helped keep my website up to date. And thirdly because I am walking home to someone. I phoned Rachel when I was feeling most dispirited at my lack of progress, and she said gently: “It’s OK. Come home whenever you like – or do part of the walk now and part another time – but don’t force yourself to do a certain mileage because you feel you have to; it’s your walk.” I felt released from obligation and I felt loved. There is no homecoming without love, and this journey is about my coming home in its deepest sense, to Sussex, to Rachel, and to myself.

Joy in the Morning

Following that phone call I reset my expectations – and immediately exceeded them! The next two days were in glorious sunshine, I felt bright and positive; I came upon the most beautiful deep blue lochs in remote moorland and ancient birch, alder, and pine forest, with boulders and tree stumps swathed in moss, which felt like a remnant of prehistory.

Birch and Pine Forest on the Coulin Estate

The following two days took me into complete wilderness: for 48 hours I saw not a single road, and only passed three habitable buildings. I was walking through bleak, deer-denuded glens and peat bogs (the deer eat the young tree shoots, so the forest which should cover Scotland can’t get started). I found this too empty for comfort; I feel at peace in mysterious woodland.

My rucksack was still far too heavy, but a kindly lady in Shiel Bridge offered to post a parcel for me, and I sent 2.5 Kg of things I thought I needed but didn’t home. Now I was beginning to cope.

I set off the next day to cross the wildest, remotest and most rugged part of Scotland, the Knoydart Peninsula. I knew there would be no phone signal for four days, and I had been told that there was a tropical storm about to hit. I pressed on.

Gleann Chaorainn – the hardest walking in my life

I’d like to give you some idea of what this, the hardest walking I have ever done, was like. The winds were gale force to storm force, and they drove heavy rain right into my face. I could look ahead for perhaps one second at a time, then head down to avoid the icicle-sharp raindrops. The ground, which two days earlier would have been normal peat bog, was now a flood plain, my boots sinking in ankle-deep every step. Add to this that I had to ascend steeply through a pathless glen, and cross a river, a raging torrent, knee-deep, wedging my feet against boulders to stop them and the rest of me being swept downstream, and you will see that this was no longer about hiking or walking home to Hastings, but about endurance and survival. There was no going back and no possibility of pitching my tent in a flood, so I went on to the bothy I knew to be ahead, where I found a fireplace, dry wood, and the most magical evening of the walk.

The next day I got phone signal, told my loved ones I had survived, and made it on to Fort William and civilisation.

THE WORST IS NOW OVER.

Follow Toby on www.walkhometohastings.net


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