Glencoe Wild Camping – Day One
On March 26th, 2015 my aunt hesitantly dropped me off at the Buchanan Bus Terminal and I boarded the bus bursting with excitement about my Glencoe wild camping trip. All my relatives that know I am headed to Glencoe alone to wild camp think I am pure crazy. I have been in Scotland for 25 days but this is my first time wild camping. I have planned to stay in the Highlands for 5.5 days. I’ve done lots of planning and nothing about the trip terrifies me. Why should it? All I’m doing is going to a small Scottish town to hike around and camp. Most people would be afraid just at the fact of doing it alone. Yet, I had taken off to Scotland alone and all I had been doing for the last month was exploring the Glasgow streets.
I grew nervous of the snow capped hills that began to emerge more constantly as the 2.5-hour bus trip continued. Was I really prepared and knowledgeable enough to stroll into Glencoe wild camping alone? The bus doesn’t actually stop in Glencoe and goes on past to Ballachulish. When the bus started to slow just after passing signs for the Glencoe town centre I took the opportunity to jump off. The fish and chip restaurant just across the street helped in making the quick decision. I hoped I made the right one. The next 5.5 days I would have my feet as my only transport. I downed my delicious fish and chips and headed towards the Pap of Glencoe.
I felt a little lost on the journey there but thankfully I still had phone service so I had more than my paper map for help. I had to find a dirt road behind some homes that eventually became a trail. As I continued on the trail up to the Pap of Glencoe I saw the classic Scottish sight of storm clouds rolling in. With my 40 pound pack, I hiked as fast as I could in hopes of reaching the summit. The drops began to fall so I retrieved my rain gear from my pack and moved ahead. The limited breathability of the gear and the speed in which I was trying to climb created an uncomfortable humidity.
So close… it seemed so close by the time the wind and rain started to whip my face. The first tastes of what this trip would turn out to be like making a very early appearance. The higher I rose above the town the harder the Munros fought against their conquering. After a few more minutes I deemed it too risky to continue in the weather. I made my way back down to the sheep pasture that I had spotted on the way up. There was a small grouping of trees with a small creek and stone home ruins. It would be my camp for the night.
Wild camping is completely legal in Scotland but I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something wrong. I was on someone’s private property with the plan of basically squatting. Or at least that’s how it would be seen in my home country, Canada. Wild camping in a publicly owned conservation area is considered trespassing there. In Scotland, the only place that you aren’t allowed to set your tent in on a sports field or near schools. I couldn’t shake the nervous feeling even knowing the laws. I filtered water from the stream, boiled it on my stove and then prepared dinner before I wrote in my journal and called it a night.
I woke at 7am feeling exhausted, I had been chilled awake during the night so I let myself fall back to sleep for a few more hours. When I started my day I took in my surroundings, feeling so free and happy as the sound of the water in the stream danced past me. I decided to walk the 2 km back to the restaurant so that I could charge my phone. I bought tea as an excuse to be there. Wrapping up my experience back in the real world I headed down the A82 towards the Lost Valley Trailhead that would be another 8km of hiking away. Of course, it was raining throughout the first 3.5 km’s of my journey. I have to say that rain really gets to me which is funny to think as I sit by the side of the highway eating some snacks. I’ve decided to come to one of the most dreary and rainy countries in the world for who knows how long. I’m Scottish why is this even getting to me? Canada winters don’t seem to annoy me this much but I guess I don’t decide to camp outside for 5 days during them.
The next 3.5 my right foot began to have pain from all the rubbing. I passed it off as normal and didn’t let it try and stop me. I came to a small underpass in the highway that I could snuggly fit into if I stayed in my sleeping bag. I didn’t want to be stopping but I wanted shelter from the rain. I pondered it for a while longer and made the decision that laying underneath a tiny underpass (literally only 3 feet tall) was too sketchy. I packed up the stuff I had taken out of my pack and continued. At the time I was passed by two older male hikers. I felt like they were judging me. They probably were. I was starting to feel like a noob. Was I just some girl that came for Glencoe wild camping but was totally out of her element?
I continued on and at 4:30pm I called it, I couldn’t find any Glencoe wild camping spots and I didn’t want to walk any further. My phone had no service. I crossed the highway into a parking lot by Loch Achtriochtan. I had reached service and started looking up local taxis. I was lucky to be near the lake and have my map to identify its name. I don’t know how else I would have described to the taxi driver where I was. All that surrounded me were Munros and highway. I told him to take me to a hostel. In the shelter of the car, it felt great to escape the rain. I thought to myself even though the day had been hard I had seen some incredible views that made it all worth it. Especially that I was able to capture them.
I checked into the hostel and immediately removed my boots. I was shocked to find a twoonie-sized blister on the right side. How could this have happened? My backpacking hiking boots are the highest quality you can buy. That’s when it hit me.The Achilles protector had flipped down into my boot while putting it on. It created tightness and friction which completely demolished my skin. Had I just listened to my feet when they first started complaining I could have removed my boot and found the problem. However, I saw doing that as weakness and didn’t want to be defeated on this Glencoe wild camping adventure. I had a very long, hot shower. Oh, the amazing taken for granted perks of civilised life. This green hostel’s lights were on a timer which left me happily in complete darkness. Hot shower and darkness, nothing is more calming. I made my dinner in the common area and sat by the fire as I updated my journal of the day’s happenings. Mike called me when he got out of work (5 hour time difference) but the call came at a time when I had already reached some feeling of happiness again.
I planned on sleeping in and relaxing before recollecting my thoughts and facing the outdoors again. However, that’s not what the hostel had in mind for me. They enforced a strict get out at 10 am while we “clean” rule, even if you were planning on staying another night. I found myself in another stressful situation. I had 15 minutes to gather my things and get out and into the pouring rain. I sat outside their front doors stunned and not sure of what to do next. A Texan guy a few years older than me did the same thing. We chatted for a few moments about the bullshit hostel rules before he decided to walk off into the rain. They would not let anyone in for another 5 hours.
Sitting there in front of the hostel alone with an empty stomach, a dying cell phone and a massive aching blister I decided it was a fail. I had to make a decision. My decision was that I was done with the rain and my 40-pound pack. I called the taxi guy again and booked a new earlier bus ticket back to Glasgow. I was two hours early at the Ballachulish Tourist Office. I was glad they had a cute little cafe and I comforted my defeated heart with food.
The bus ride back to the city seemed 3 times as long as the ride up. Maybe it was the embarrassment I knew I would feel when I got back to my aunt and uncle’s house. I would be met with mouths that so desperately wanted to say “I told you so.” When I finally arrived I went straight into the shower. I sat and let the hot water spill over my sore body. Kenny and Gay ordered pizza which I happily engulfed and profusely thanked them for. After that, I receded to my temporary bedroom and into the warm encompassing sea of blankets. I waited until 10:30 pm when I knew Mike would be out of work to tell him I was back in Glasgow. He was sad for me and how my Glencoe wild camping trip had turned out.
The Next Day
The next say I stayed in bed reading and looking through my Glencoe wild camping photos. The funny thing about photography is the viewer never really knows the circumstances in which happened in order to capture that image. They don’t know if there’s a massive production team or single artist. They don’t feel the pounding rain or the chill in the air. They see what the photographer wants them to see. At the end of the day, I had captured great images. None of my viewers would have to know the embarrassing adventure I had endeavoured on to capture them. But I guess know they do.
Two Years Later
All this time later I see the mistakes I made and hope that I would have handled the situation better if given another chance. However, not all adventures have to go perfectly for them to be valuable in the long run. This was a big factor in the confidence I had gained once returning to Canada. How many people let alone women can say they travelled to a foreign country and took a bus to their highlands to live in the outdoors alone for almost a week. Deciding on taking that trip and following through even though I only made it 3 days, took true courage. I value this Glencoe wild camping experience no matter what. I wear my toonie sized heel scar with pride. Pursue the adventures that scare you, always. It’s always the imperfect that strikes you.
Read more about my travel adventures here.