Last Autumn I hiked the length of Scotland on the Scottish National Trail. Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.
Day 24: Fort Augustus -> Mandally (18km)
It is, of course, pouring down when we begin the trail again. The SNT joins the Great Glen Way at section 26, following the Caledonian canal, before turning up into pine forestry at Loch Oich.
We find a lovely camping spot on a mossy track in some forestry, right by the tiny hamlet of Mandally. Here, section 27 of the SNT joins the infamous Cape Wrath Trail. We will now be following the CWT all the way to the top of Scotland. There is no indication that we’re now on the UK’s most difficult hike: the CWT is an unmarked trail, and is only for experienced hikers.
Last Autumn I hiked the length of Scotland on the Scottish National Trail. See part 1 here.
I take a week off of hiking to go and help shut down an opencast coal mine in the north of England. By the time I’m back in Scotland, my feet are finally no longer sore!
Day 7: Edinburgh -> near Philipstoun (12km)
I take a train out of the centre of Edinburgh and join the trail at Edinburgh Park station. This is because I want to go to Decathlon to pick up some gear. The irony isn’t lost on me, buying cheap petro-chemical gear to go and hike in nature.
Today marks the first of a few long days of canal walking, following the Union canal and then the Forth and Clyde canal. I’m a bit wary about walking along canals for days. “Where will I camp?” is my main concern, followed by, “it’s going to be so boring!”
The Cape to Cape is a week-long 135km hike on the south-west coast of Australia.
The trail is really stunning. We hike over cliff tops (take sun cream!) with spectacular views of the turquoise sea. We walk through native forest, up and down sand dunes and along beaches. We pass stunning rock formations and hop over terrifying blowholes. We walk past a memorial for dead surfers, and then watch surfers tackling massive waves.
The Cape to Cape is an exhausting slog. Although not a technically difficult trail in any way, every step is through sand. Even when you’re not walking on the beach, you’re walking on sand. A week of hiking on this terrain is difficult! I think, “this is more exhausting than the Larapinta Trail!” a number of times.
Hitchhiking Australia is pretty easy and is a really memorable experience. Our waiting times ranged from a couple of minutes to 24 hours!
Many Australians are some of the open, friendliest people we’ve met in the world, so if you’re hitchhiking, expect to be invited in and welcomed wherever you go. And it’s not just drivers who host you. We met people in supermarkets, on local transport, and on the street, who invited us into their homes. And these people contacted their friends in other towns, telling them to host us, so we experienced hospitality everywhere.
The best rides are worth waiting for. After my longest wait in ten years of hitchhiking, we meet Joel, Bekk and Tillie the dog at a roadhouse in the north west of Australia.
They’re from the east coast, and they’ve quit their jobs and bought a van. They’ve taken a similar route to us, all the way from the east.
Gone are debates about racism, politics and animal rights. We’ve met our kindred travelling spirits!
“WHY WON’T YOU LET ME SPEAK???” I scream at Gus – our driver – as we hitchhike through the far north of Western Australia. Gus has been yelling at me for the last five minutes.
Gus, like a number of people who give us lifts in Australia, turns out to be a massive racist. He’s a doctor in an Aboriginal town, and he is one angry man. “I thought I could help Aboriginal people because I’m black, because I’m from Zimbabwe,” he says. “But they don’t want to help themselves.”
He goes on a racist rant, not letting us speak. The final straw comes when he spouts government propaganda: “they’re abusing their kids. Sexual abuse is everywhere.”
I start screaming at him that the best thing he can do is to leave the community that he says he’s “helping”. He yells abuse back at me.
I’m always a little bit nervous when hitchhiking in a new country, especially where there’s a language barrier. But Japan is great to hitchhike! People know the concept (pronouncing it ‘hitch hike’, emphasising the space between the two syallables). We also saw some Japanese hitchhikers.
To hitchhike, you do the same as you would in western Europe, and stand with your thumb out. Sometimes we used a sign, sometimes we didn’t.
Waiting times were similar to in Europe, ranging from three minutes to three hours.
Hitchhiking at the exit of a rest area. We have a sign which may or may not say ‘west’!
“You can’t hike any more. You have to change your plans,” the doctor says sympathetically. “Was it your dream to tramp across New Zealand? Had you been planning it for years?”
“Well, no,” I reply, “but it’s really disappointing. How long will I take to heal?”
“Three more months, maybe…or keyhole surgery.”
I have torn a cartilage in my knee just 160km into the Te Araroa hike across New Zealand. It’s now very clear that I won’t be able to hike the whole trail. But because I can stay in the country for six months, it’s possible that I’ll recover in time to walk half of it.
“What is he doing with his arm?”
We travel from Malaysia to Sumatra, Indonesia, on the Vomit Boat. Its real name is the Star Express. But throughout the four hour journey we listen to everyone on board throw their dinners up into plastic bags (ironically, before this, the staff give everyone a meal of chicken and rice when the boat is still on deceptively calm waters). The boat sways roughly from side to side, and there’s no access to a deck or any fresh air.
If you want to find out how it feels to be famous (and I mean really famous like a Hollywood actor) then head to the town of Tanjungbalai. Everyone we pass says hello to us. Everyone wants photos with us. And this sets the tone for our month hitchhiking through Sumatra and Aceh.
Map of our route from my diary
“Aaaaggghhhh! You fucking wankerrrrrr!” I scream at a young guy as I chase after him on my scooter. He has just grabbed my breast, whilst driving at 60kmph on his scooter, and now I’m on a high speed chase.
But after just half a minute I wonder what I would actually do if I caught him. Ask him to pull over so that I can have a polite word with him about his misogynist ways? More likely the chase would end with me having a serious scooter accident. So I stop driving and cry instead.