Across the Scottish Highlands

At the beginning of 2016, after an extensive application and interview with the award trustees, I was lucky enough to be granted the Tony Balthasar Achievement Award. But the hard work did not stop there. It was now my task to plan my adventure – a whopping 391km solo hike across Scotland in June 2017. Standing in the shadow of previous expeditions, I proposed an adventure that I knew would be challenging and push me both physically and mentally.

The hike was composed of three of the main trails through Scotland. The first leg was the West Highland Way, from Milngavie to Fort William. This trail was 153km long and involved eight days of walking with a rest day in the middle. I discovered when I arrived that the West Highland Way is quite a popular trek, and had a lot of people walking on it during June. This meant I had to do a bit more planning in terms of campsites along the way, but also meant there were plenty of people to walk with and chat to during the hike. The hike itself had all types of terrain, from scrambling over boulders, to hiking up mountains, which added a good challenge. There were so many beautiful views of lochs and rolling Scottish hills, even through the rain, fog and midges, and every day lent another pleasant surprise.

After resting for a couple of days in Fort William, with the towering Ben Nevis in my backyard, I set out on the second leg of the hike. The East Highland Way, a 132km long hike stretching from Fort William to Aviemore. I knew setting out that I was embarking on a more isolated and lonely section of hike. The Way was a relatively new trail and has not yet gained the notoriety of its surrounding trails. This meant that it was challenging in a different way to the West Highland Way. Whilst the terrain was slightly flatter and travelling through more forests and farmlands, the small towns I had become used to were fewer and farther between, and during my seven days of hiking, I only saw three other people walking along the Way.

It was during this leg that I really became comfortable walking solo and navigating when I needed. Both the most challenging, and the most exciting section had to be the two nights of wild camping followed by a stay in a mountain bothy. This section was the most isolated of the entire journey, with the occasional farmhouse being the only sign of civilisation. However, disconnecting from the rest of the world was a welcome relief, and the stay at the little mountain bothy, a small hut that is open to hikers, was definitely the highlight of my walk.

The third and final leg of the hike was the Speyside Way from Aviemore to Buckie for 106km. As in the name, the walk followed the River Spey from Aviemore all the way to the north coast of Scotland, as well as following the distillery trail. This meant these hiking days were filled with the rich smell of another distillery around every corner. The hike was five days, and it was on the fourth day that I learnt the true generosity Scouting has to offer. Through a friend, I managed to connect online with a Scout Leader from Fochabers, the penultimate town in my hike. This Scout Leader, Dougie, opened up his home to me on the final night. Dougie then offered to pick me up at the end of the following day in Buckie, stay at his home as long as I liked, as well as ask his daughter to drive me to Aberdeen a few days later. This generosity was incredible and it was a perfect way to end such a long journey. I know of many Leaders throughout my time in Scouting that would not hesitate to do the same for international travellers, but it was amazing to see that it is no different on the other side of the world.

in total, I travelled through Europe for three and a half months, visited a dozen countries, the Kandersteg International Scout Centre in Switzerland, two local Scout camps in England, the 15th World Moot in Iceland, a Rover pre-tour through Norway and Finland and so much more. Yet when I look back on my entire trip and I am asked “what was the highlight” or “what was your favourite country”, I say Scotland. It was my home for a whole month, it challenged me tremendously, I met so many great people along the way and I got to experience the outdoors in a way I never have.

I’d like to thank the Tony Balthasar Award Trustees for giving me such an incredible opportunity and encourage any fellow Rovers to apply for the award. No challenge is too great and if you set your mind to it, you can achieve it. Before the hike, I had never hiked more than three days in a row, but I challenged myself to do more and have no regrets.

The video from my hike can be viewed here

Linda Mitchell
Epping Rover Crew