Step onto the Scottish National Trail

Presentation of the SNT

If you’ve never heard of the Scottish National Trail, I’m not surprised. Few people have it, as its 864 km (537 miles) length is dwarfed by its more famous and much older relatives like the West Highland Way and the Cape Wrath Trail, with which the SNT shares some distance.

According to Walk Highlands, which is the extensive primary database of Scotland’s vast network of trails (indeed, the country is a walking paradise), the SNT was designed by outdoor writer and animator Cameron McNeish. It is a challenging route stretching from Kirk Yethom on the Anglo-Scottish border to the northwestern tip of Scotland at Cape Wrath. The trail uses sections of smaller Scottish Long Trails, including the previously mentioned West Highland Way and Cape Wrath Trail, while also using the Saint Cuthbert’s Way, Rob Roy Way and Southern Upland Way. Due to the populated nature of Scotland, there is little or no hitchhiking necessary as settlements will be encountered quite frequently, making resupply easy, except in the Highlands where civilization can be more difficult to to find. Scottish public transport is generally quite good.

What does the trail look like

Most if not all people hike the Scottish National Trail heading north, probably because of its easy access at the start. You can literally take a public bus from the Scottish capital of Edinburgh to get there. (The logistics of getting to the northern terminus, meanwhile, are much trickier.) The trail first passes through pastoral borderlands and then, after brushing past the beautiful city of Edinburgh, it traces towpaths of historic canals (which include walking on a 250 meter / 820 foot long course). aqueduct and through a 630 meter long tunnel) before cutting north into the famous Scottish Highlands at Milngavie, near Glasgow. There it follows a single section of the West Highland Way before heading east on the Rob Roy Way, then taking the intrepid hiker to the Great Glen, home of legendary Loch Ness. From there it travels north into the often trackless mountainous landscape beyond where route-finding skills are a must. The SNT takes you through two national parks along its length, Cairngorms National Park as well as Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. (Unfortunately, you can’t see Loch Lomond.) It’s an adventure full of history, rugged terrain, potentially treacherous river crossings and, apparently, solitude, just what this crazy Canuck needs.

Jump through hoops

I was supposed to start SNT at the end of April 2020, but as even aliens on other planets probably know by now, COVID-19 has happened to us and as a result my flights have now been changed five times. The simple fact is that I will not be able to place a single Altra coated foot on British soil let alone walk the length of Scotland until certain government things happen. The good news is that much of this possesses come. The UK opened to international travel on June 8, leisure travel reopens in Scotland on July 3 and the Scottish tourism industry officially reopens on July 15, which will be half a month before my due date. current departure of August 5th. Unlike trails in the United States, there is no specific government authority for the Scottish National Trail.

The only thing I’m waiting for at this point is for my flights to be cleared through. I made the mistake (unbeknownst to me) of booking with the wrong airline. Canada basically has only two major airlines — WestJet and Air Canada — and only the latter, for some reason, currently flies intercontinental. Once I can fly (which will be conditional on me not having symptoms of COVID), I will be required to wear a mask from the time I enter my local airport here in BC until the time where I leave in England several hours later. I will also wear a mask whenever I am in a populated area in public in the UK, while using a generous amount of hand sanitizer at all times, which I do on my hikes anyway, because , well, Giardia.

This is my home, ooooh Canadaa

As I write this I will be forced to undertake a 14 day quarantine, but it is a mark of my determination to walk this path that I am willing to voluntarily be a true prisoner for two weeks. I will only be allowed to leave my place of quarantine for food and medicine – no walkies, not even around the block, and there’s a good chance the UK authorities will check me to make sure I’m complying their rules.

Luckily, we live in the age of Netflix, and being a creative guy, I’m pretty fun most of the time, so as long as I have Wi-Fi, I’ll be a pretty happy camper. I’m also going to try yoga and maybe learn to dance through the magic of YouTube, because I don’t know of any other way to do indoor cardio! Once I’m through the test of quarantine I’ll take some undecided mode of transport to Scotland and spend a few days day hiking to get some leg fun back before starting my hike through the SNT to Kirk Yethom.

Aww my first hike

Not new to Scotland

There are a lot of things I look forward to on this trail, so much in fact that it’s hard to pick anything specific (although being able to gorge on cheese and onion pastries at Gregg’s is closer again). While I don’t really have any long rides to my name to help me complete this course, this isn’t my first rodeo as Scotland has already called me. In 2018, I completed a trek through the West Highland Way in seven days and came face to face with earth’s favorite pastime: bad weather. I took to calling Scotland The Land of Rain (you won’t suffer from lack of water there) and became deeply suspicious of weather forecasters. I was excited just to see the smallest blue speck above my head, and almost every night there was a crazy wind unless I camped somewhere well sheltered. The placement of the tent (as well as the waterproof equipment) is essential!

Why I hike the SNT

I hike the Scottish National Trail to fix my mind; for me there is no better time to hike than now. If I have to rebook my flights, I will, and I’m even prepared to postpone until April 2021 if I have to. This last game of 2020 I became a mentally ill 30 year old my mind was sick after a traumatic year caring for a gravely ill mother and half a decade in a low paying retail job that got me nowhere go. Last fall I felt myself slipping into dark places I didn’t want to go, so on the advice of my doctor I started taking antidepressants which I believe saved my life, du less for now. I believe this solo hike will help my confidence grow and help me find the courage to succeed not only professionally, but in life. I hope this hike will help eliminate my need for medication as a safety crutch. Social anxiety is a dragon I’m determined to slay, and I don’t think there’s a better way to do that than to hunt a unicorn (which is Scotland’s awesome national animal).

And in case you were wondering how the sad story of my 2019 ended, well it ended with my beloved mother coming home for Christmas thanks to an amazing general surgeon and his team that saved his life. She has now returned to avid hiking, video games, gardening and being a real dynamo working on the cabin she has been building with my dad for five years. She’s a badass and I couldn’t be more proud of her. Despite the many daunting obstacles she faced, she rides and her trials are another inspiration for my ride. I want to enjoy my sound body while I still have it, so that when I’m old, and maybe a little grumpy, I can say in my coaxing old lady’s voice, “When I was young, I traveled the vertical length of Scotland.”

Hopefully a few other long trails too.

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