Roving in Scotland

After spending my time as a younger Scout dreaming about a week or more long expedition, I eventually became a Rover. Here I heard about these people who went overseas to do long and amazing and crazy adventures.

I was prompted and encouraged by a fellow Rover early on in my Rover career that I could also do something like this. After a few years, I felt that I was ready and so began a sudden frantic full-time project of creating a worthy adventure – a penultimate Scouting expedition.

In 2018, I was (much to my surprise) granted the Tony Balthasar Achievement Award to undertake a track I had picked, thinking it was a linking of cycling and cyclable routes – the Highland Trail 550 in Scotland, usually done as a crazy ultra-endurance race. This is made even more unbelievable when you realise that the 550 is in miles, so the metric conversion is very scary.

In May 2019, I finally arrived in Fort William, Scotland, thinking I was somewhat ready to undertake the Highland 550 Trail. However, after spending most of the day at the bike shop discussing the intended route, my gear, and what bike was going to work for me, it was decided that I needed to deviate from my plans, or else I wouldn’t finish, nor enjoy it. This was a big upset to me, as I had psyched myself up to reach 500 miles and to complete this route. However, I had to make the tough decision to change my plans (and create new ones).

In the end, however, this freed me up to see other things that turned out to be amazing.

I began my ride the next day, following the original HT550 route for the first couple of days. This involved riding the “wrong way” down an extremely busy hiking trail – the West Highland Way. After my first ever night away from any campsite, I found myself slowly creeping down a tough section of the West Highland Way known as “Devil’s Staircase”. While trying to avoid everyone walking up, I managed to get down, however, I soon discovered that I had broken something on my bike and had to make a call to get assistance and have my bike rescued. Just like in Le Tour, I was provided with a spare bike to continue my trip with.

The following few days involved a stay in a boothy, a rough shepherd’s hut, plus my GPS stopped working. This was quite a nerve-wracking day, realising that I had no proper navigation for that day.

I then spent some time with my Sydney neighbour, who was over in the village of Drumnadrochit, on his gap year, and joined him in his search for the Loch Ness Monster.

Following this, I took a side trip to Glen Affric and the “UK’s most isolated youth hostel”. This turned out to be a very cold, wet and gruelling ride into the middle of nowhere. However, the trip was well worth it.

While there, I was invited to join some others who had planned a day walk, summiting three “Munros” – the term used in Scotland for any mountain over 3,000 feet. While the morning was wet and cloudy, in the afternoon the clouds parted, and we were rewarded with some spectacular views.

After returning from my side-trip, I continued my circumnavigation of Loch Ness, passing through the busy locks of Fort Augustus and back to Fort William, along the Great Glen Way.

Following on from a quick pit stop for both myself and my bike in Fort William, the bike shop had me off, out the other side of Fort William, heading not to the mountains, but to the sea. I reached Oban, just in time to buy a ferry ticket and get on. They held back the cars, while myself and another cyclist walked our bikes down the car ramp, before letting the cars follow us onto the ferry.

After arriving on the island of Mull, I was told I could visit a castle on my route. After the standard exhibits of family history and wars, the last room held a surprise – a Scouting exhibit. It turned out that a member of the family who owned the castle was the UK’s Chief Scout in the 1960’s. I continued on to the end of the island, and spent a day on the small island of Iona, birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, camping right next to the coastline.

After many more ferries, I was back on the mainland and furiously trying to make my way back to Fort William in time, which was made difficult with some strong headwinds. On one day, I ended up eating three lunches to keep myself going! This was a tough time because I knew that I could stop early, but I had to push myself to keep going at the end of each day, to ensure that I arrived back at Fort William on time. The strong headwinds also didn’t make things easier.

After passing through Strontian (from where the element Strontium was first extracted from its ore), I had my final night camping at Glenfinnan – home to an important war monument, and, the bridge that the Hogwarts Express travels across. That night was my first full-on experience of midges, which was a very painful conclusion to three weeks of cycling and camping.

After returning to Fort William, I enjoyed a day at the world championship mountain biking track before parting ways with my trusty steed and finding myself in Edinburgh, where I saw many of the sights, including some personal family history.

I then headed over to London, staying in Baden-Powell House and meeting up with a couple of Rover expats.

Highlights from London included walking along the top of the White Cliffs of Dover, meeting some newly-found relatives and, what turned into a 17 hour adventure to Brownsea Island, via Stonehenge.

I then spent a week volunteering at Gilwell Scout Park, which is run similarly to Kandersteg, with a group of long-term volunteers who live onsite and run activities for Scouts and school groups. I was made to feel very welcome, with a diverse range of Rovers, from all around the world.

I then returned home via the 17 hour London to Perth flight.

While there were some days when I thought I wasn’t going to make it, and where I was wondering why I had signed myself up for this, in the end, I think it has been a great ending to my time in Rovers.

I cannot express my gratitude to all the people who supported me in this journey enough: my Crew, the Balthasar Trustees, and my family.

Sam Robinson
Epping Rover Crew