hiking

The Ultimate Scottish Road Trip

With the help of a Lonely Planet Guide, my friend Alex and I planned the Ultimate Scottish road trip over an amazing coffee at my favourite cafe one afternoon in Cambridge.

I was already going to be in Edinburgh for work. So our trip began from the Scottish capital, and this is the route we took:

Edinburgh -> St Andrews -> Perth -> Glencoe -> Fort William (Ben Nevis) -> Oban -> Isle of Barra -> Eriskay -> South Uist -> Isle Benbecula -> North Uist -> Isle of Berneray -> Isle of Harris -> Isle of Skye -> Glenfinnan Viaduct -> England (around Penrith) -> Cambridge

Click here to see the route on a map.

We wanted to make the most of Scotland’s “wild camping”, so we pitched our tent whilst on the Outer Hebrides. We stayed on a campsite whenever we were on mainland Scotland. The network coverage is close to non-existent on the Outer Hebrides, so be prepared and don’t rely on Google Maps on your smart phone. Luckily, my friend Alex decided to go “old school” and brought an actual detailed map of Scotland which also had campsites labelled (just in case we couldn’t find anywhere “wild”).

My favourite place that we pitched up was on the Isle of Berneray which over looked a beautiful beach with white sand and turquoise water. We had an amazing sunset and sunrise here also – the epitome of wild camping in Scotland.

In terms of logistics: we bought all our ferry tickets on the day. However, in preparation we had taken notes of the times of the ferry departures, but thought we should just go with the flow and see how we felt like on the day. If we were in a spectacular place, we didn’t want to leave in a hurry. Buying ferry tickets on the day didn’t change the price and for us it worked out well. We managed to get on all the ferries that we wanted to, although the ferry from the Isle of Harris to the Isle of Skye was a close call, we almost didn’t get on because nearly all the spots were all pre-sold. But luckily we had gotten to the port early enough where they allowed a few spontaneous cars on…

If you love seals: make sure you go to Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. For only a fiver, you get to go out on a small boat and see the seals – there were so many of them! I’m a little in love with these creatures as you can tell from the number of shots I took…

Climbing Ben Nevis was an absolute delight. For those of you who aren’t from the UK, it Scotland’s highest mountain standing at 1344m. It was a relatively easy climb, but be sure to bring walking poles for the way down (your knees will thank you!). It took us about 3.5hrs to go up and only 2hrs or so to come down. We hiked at a very leisurely pace, where we stopped quite often for photo opportunities.

All I can say is that I definitely recommend road tripping through Scotland. I’ll leave you to decide while you browse through some of the shots I captured while on this epic experience. Ultimate road trips are “ultimate” because of the amazing things you get to see and experience as well as the person/people you get to do this with – so make sure your buddy is as awesome as mine (Alex my friend, you are AWESOME!!)

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Day 4 Inca Trail – The Summit on my 30th!

The guides had woken us up well and truly before sunrise, in order to get seats at the final gate (just in case it rained…). I was feeling horrible – I couldn’t even put breakfast down my throat. I could barely walk… at least we got to the gate early so we did manage to get seats. An Irish couple gave me some tablets for my upset tummy – I wished so bad that the drugs would kick in immediately… the Turtles stuck with me as I was walking very very slowly… I simply didn’t have the energy to walk at all. They force fed me an energy bar and juice. A friend carried my day pack for me, which helped me immensely – total lifesaver!! Just as we got to the base of the “sun gate” I was faced with the worlds most steepest stairs – which didn’t even look safe. I don’t know how I managed to get up without cracking my head, but I managed YAAY!

The rest of the group had managed to secure a good vantage point to see the sunrise above Macchu Picchu, so we joined them. I simply wanted to sit down. To everyone’s disappointment, the clouds did not part. The “faster” portion of the group continued to walk to Macchu Picchu, whereas I needed some more time, so the Turtles waited with me. We were somewhat lucky, the clouds parted for about 5 minutes and we saw Macchu Picchu in all its glory – but it wasn’t long enough. We decided to continue our walk and we made it to Macchu Picchu. Close up it was far more amazing. To be honest, the view from the Sun Gate was abit of an anti-climax. But seeing it up close, was AMAZING!

Our guide took us to a few sites and explained the importance. After this, we had free time to explore the Incan site ourselves. It was really cool to be wandering around and taking in our surroundings…

All in all, wandering around Macchu Picchu was truly SPECTACULAR!

We then made our way to Aguas Calientes to catch up with our group. (NOTE: do not spend a lot of time here, it isn’t a very nice place, all the prices are severely inflated).

We bid our farewells to our Inca Trail guides: Angel and Clisor, then caught the train and bus back to Cusco.

We spent one final night in Cusco, where we went for wood fire pizza in celebration of my 30th. The group had even chipped in to buy me a gift – which was very very thoughtful. Our night of fun continued at karaoke – this was sooo much fun! One of the guys even sung “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, which brought the house down!!! I had a very enjoyable and memorable 30th =)

Day 3 Inca Trail – Cloud Forest & Incan Sites

This was my absolute favourite day of the hike! The cloud forest was AMAZING!!! The slower group, mind you, by this stage we had named ourselves “The Turtles”, were taking our time, enjoying the moment and taking photos. We even stopped at one stage for about half an hour to listen to the birds – we saw woodpeckers, they were amazing! The fauna was spectacular – due to the moisture, all the leaves and petals had droplets of water, which made it all the more magical…

We reached the lunch stop and were treated to a nice surprise – the cooks had backed us a cake and had even piped “SEXY LAMAS” on it!!! How amazing?!?!?! The lunch itself was also very tasty. I ate a lot more than what I ate on previous days (which panned out to be a very bad idea…). After full tummy’s we continued on our trek.

The trek was not difficult – in fact it was enjoyable. Again, the Turtles had fallen behind, in fact so behind, that Clisor (the apprentice guide) stayed behind and hiked with us. He was a character – he had a portable speaker connected to his phone with awesome dance beats. So walking next to him – no one could simply walk normally. We all were busting out a groove. We reached an Incan site which we had all to ourselves – it was probably one of the best parts of the trek. Who can say that they were atop an Incan site with a great bunch of friends, dancing to awesome tunes…? We all agreed that this was simply awesome!

We reached camp, and I bee-lined it to the showers. It was still freezing cold water, but it just felt so good to be clean. After dinner, the porters had come into the tent and we thanked them all. We also gave them our tips – which they completely deserved!

We then settled in for sleep. After an hour or two of sleep, I woke up feeling very sick – I had only just realised that I had eaten way too much and that I had a severely upset stomach (digestion takes twice as long when you are at higher altitude). I was drifting in and out of sleep…. I had a very rough night….

Day 2 Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass is Deadly!

We got woken up quite early – but Clisor had come to each of our tents with a mug of cocoa tea, which was very nice. After a nice breakfast (we had pancakes!) we all filled up our hydration bladders and set off. (NOTE: even though the water was boiled, I still used the water purification tablets). The first segment was medium-not too easy yet not too hard. The group still got separated into two, I was in the slower group… This section was like a rainforest with lots of butterflies and caterpillars hanging from webs, which I nearly walked into multiple times. There was also a stream – the fauna and flora was simply amazing. We all enjoyed this part and took it easy as well as taking photos every now and again. We reached the “top” where we met up with the rest of the group and had a little snack. As we joined the others, Anger and Clisor high-fived us – little things like this just gave you the motivation to keep on going… The view was spectacular, so we got some good shots here. It was a little windy so I put on the fleece, but it was still sunny! After a nice little break, we set off again.

This is where it got REALLY hard!

The incline was so steep, plus the altitude was making it hard to breathe. To make matters worse, there was a very very loud Spanish group who were so annoying – they somehow were keeping up with us (unfortunately!!). By this stage the group had completely split up. I could see a few members of the group in the distance in front. When I turned around I could see 2 members of the group not far behind me – whereas I walked solo. This section really tested my will power. Even though I kept going, in my mind I was strategising escape plan routes – I really did not want to go up the stupid mountain… I could see the woman’s face in the mountain (hence the name – Dead Woman’s Pass), yet all I wanted to do was to stop for long periods. I finally could see the first 3 people from my group on the summit in the distance. My friend gave me a wave – which motivated me to keep on going. I finally reached the summit of 4215m and I needed to lie down for about 10mins. The altitude had gotten to me and I wasn’t breathing easily. Sibylle, who is a nurse, told me to have my Snickers bar – my body needed sugar. After I had the bar, I felt normal again, YAAAY! So I began to take in my surroundings – and oh my word, it was such a beautiful view! After a few minutes snapping away, Angel called out to the “sexy lamas” (our group name) to get a shot of us altogether at 4215m.

We then started the descent. As I hadn’t ever using hiking poles, the guide instructed that the poles should be lengthened to about shoulder height when descending. The hiking poles where very very helpful. The descent was much much much better – I was even jolly and began to joke around with the other “slow” hikers from my group. It was actually quite enjoyable.

There was a stream by the camp site – a few members of the group had a “stream shower” – however, I did not. Instead, I braved the ultra cold water in the showers – it was definitely worth it. It felt so good to be clean!

Day 1 Inca Trail – Training Day

In the morning, everyone was slightly panicked at what they could take as we were only allowed to take 6kg including the air mattress, sleeping bag plus clothes and accessories. After packing, unpacking and repacking, we all managed to get to about 6kg in our duffel bags. We were also told to put all our stuff into plastic bags – so if it did rain, our things wouldn’t get wet (also many blogs that I read said the same thing). We met our trail guides Angel and the trainee guide Clisor – both of who were very awesome lads. We got transferred to kilometer 82 and handed over our duffel bags to the porters. We then made our way to the trail “gate” and lined up with all the other trekkers. Passports ready in hand, the officer was checking if the trail permit matched the passport details. So Angel told us all to check to see if all the details were correct. My eyeballs nearly popped out of my head as my passport number was clearly made up – it was written as 123456789! As I called out to Angel and explained that obviously STA Travel had screwed up – he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, and right he was! The officer simply said – look I trust that you are indeed this person – and simply allowed me to cross the bridge and “officially” enter the trail! After a group photo at the km82 sign we began the trek.

The terrain was mostly flat and the scenery was nice. I think we were all excited by the fact that we were actually here! As we continued the hike, Angel explained to us what “Andean flat” was (slight incline) and that it was going to be mostly like this for today. The sun was out – and it was a gorgeous day for hiking! We made it to the “stop” where the porters had already set up a “dining tent” which had tables and chairs – we were all amazed! As we all took our seats, lunch was served. For the starter we had a soup of some sort – which was delicious. For the main we had rice molded in a dome-like shape served with fish! Truly scrumptious! We even had dessert! All the food was very yummy and impressive. After a little rest, we continued on our hike.

We arrived at camp way before Angel had anticipated – which made us all very proud. He had told us that the first day was the training day, so it was good that we all had done so well. After a little break after tea and popcorn for afternoon tea, dinner was served. Again this was a set of yummy meals, leaving us all satiated! NOTE: I had requested vegetarian meals throughout the hike and boy did the chefs deliver – truly awesome! Also, on the first day we had the option for paying for toilets or using the free ones. Angel told us that we should use the paid toilets (only 1 sole) as these were clean. I’m so glad that we opted for these ones as the toilets on the rest of the hike were dreadful drop toilets – very smelly!

The porters had also put up all our tents and showed us how to inflate the air mattress. Mind you they were uber thin but I’m sure they were in part useful… the first night was actually quite warm, so I had a good sleep.