On the path of a meaningful life

Texts, photographs and videos by Claire B.

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3 July 2019

Across the Highlands

Part two on the West Highland Way. The return of the sun, a feeling of accomplishment and the great green mountains.
Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

I open my eyes to the wooden slats on the ceiling. The pale morning light creeps faintly through the window-door curtain. The rain has subsided. The sky is still threatening but more and more clearings seem to definitively repel the bad weather. I watch the rainbows parading over the mountains from my little hobbit hole. The night of sleep in the shelter did me good but I still feel strangely tired. In the distance the obscure Glencoe valley spreads out across the landscape. It seems to deserve its name, Valley of Death (in reference to the bad weather of which the valley seems to be a magnet but also in reference to the many battles between clans having taken place here before).

I wait for the end of the morning and I tear myself away from my immobility to resume walking. A few more drops and the sun appears bathing the wet landscape with its warm rays. I walk in the desolate moor surrounded by mountains with impressive shapes. The place is magnetic, beautiful but difficult to take in picture. How do you capture the desolate beauty of the place and the strange shape of the valleys between each mountain into the frame? One of the valleys seems to form a perfect curve between two mountains. An angle drawn without hesitation, without tremors. Unlike yesterday, I feel good. Or at least, better. The weight of the bag is not felt too much. And it may be the appearance of the sun, although still weak, that cheers me up. After almost four days of rain, the sun acts like a balm on my mind. The path quietly zigzags across the moor and apart from a strange part at the edge of the main road, it is a pleasure. The trail eventually turns and I start to climb the Devil Staircase, not as hard as its name would suggest and easily reach the highest pass of the hike at 550 meters in height. On one side the Glencoe valley, on the other the Mamores mountain range.

I take advantage of the sun to eat a little snack below, with a peaceful mind. This is my penultimate day of walking. And it is one of my favorites. I have been walking for seven days. It is the first time I’ve walked this long. I find it hard to believe that a week has already passed. A sentence that one of the hikers encountered a few days before comes back to my mind: “after all, this is a walking holiday”. Yes, I am here to appreciate and enjoy. Not to make it an ordeal.Confronting physically and mentally, yes but without forgetting to enjoy it!

The descent to Kinlochleven on the other side is a bit long. I have to go down 600m all of a sudden. The sun is here, it is hot and humid. The last kilometer runs along a large pipeline which supplies a small electrical station in the center of the village. Nothing special in Kinlochleven except perhaps the oddly identical houses. A former working-class village, Kinlochleven lives today only on tourism. The weather is nice and I set up my tent in a tiny, very expensive campsite, but by the lake. A real holiday feeling seems to take hold of me. I don’t know if it is the evening in the sun or the fact that tomorrow is the last day of the hike but I am happy. The sun disappears far too quickly for my taste behind the mountains, giving way to clouds of midges. In the small campsite, dozens of birds start a concert to greet the end of the day. My mind wanders, thinking about why I walk. What drives me to put one foot in front of the other despite the difficulty? And why did I choose to go hiking for my vacation? In any case, I cannot imagine doing anything else. Despite the difficulties and doubts, I feel deep inside that I am in the right place. I crush the many midges who have had the audacity or the misfortune to infiltrate my tent. They hurt these little bastards but they are not fast. Easy to kill with a single press of the thumb. The problem is that they are dirtying the inside of my tent. There are dead midges everywhere now. But it is either that or being eaten to death. So I do not hesitate.

The Scottish countryside.

The valley of Glencoe on the left and Lake Kinlochleven on the right.

The singing of the birds gets me out of my sleep. The weather is magnificent but the good weather is fleeting. A large cloud mass quickly covers Kinlochleven. It is the last day of walking. So I start hiking. I hike towards the end of the road with a kind of joy in my heart. I can hardly believe that I have been walking for a week and that today is the end. Without realizing it, time has passed quickly. A few days ago, or was it just a few minutes ago, I was wondering if I was going to be able to do it. And here I am with a view to the finish line. Time fluctuates with the rhythm of my emotions and moods. A small but steep climb to start the morning on the right foot takes me 300 meters higher into the wild valley above Kinlochleven. A few drops escape from a cloud that is a little too full and fall on me, making me think that I will be wet again. But the wind helping, the clouds pass slowly and the sun reappears. Crossing the valley is very pleasant. The path crosses the plateau surrounded by green and desolate mountains. The area is very wild if it wasn’t for the line of hikers doing the WHW. A group overtakes me (or I overtake a group), almost every five minutes. Around 2 p.m., I am overtaken by the first runners of the WHW marathon which takes place this weekend! I will learn later, but the first runner to overtake me is the one who won with a time of around thirteen hours. Thirteen hours to make the all trail! And It just took me eight days to do it!

vI cross the valleys approaching Fort William. Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the United Kingdom, appears in the distance, its summit in the clouds. I can see the ascending path. I was thinking of going up there tomorrow but I hesitate a little now. The fatigue of the accumulated walking days is looming behind my muscles. The green landscape changes to a decapitated fir forest. Remains of trunks whose cutting is more or less recent garnish the landscape making the places sad and desolate. Despite the fact that the Ben Nevis region is a very touristy place and that the WHW passes right in the middle of the forest, private logging has seen fit to destroy the landscape. It is not the only place in Scotland. Many of the fir forests are in fact logging leaving many landscapes devastated. The end of the path to reach Glen Nevis where the campsite is located is in the middle of the desolate landscape making the end of the day a little gloomy.

I arrive at the campsite in wonderful weather almost too hot. Some Highland cows graze in a close range. The first ones I see by the way. They all have very long bangs covering their eyes and I wonder how they manage to see. The official end of the route is at Fort William, some four kilometers away, but I have decided to end here at the foot of Glen Nevis. At the campsite, I meet several of the hikers I have seen throughout the week. Everyone seems to be happy to be arrived. The campsite is a real city compared to those I encountered during the week. A lot of people. The atmosphere is a bit odd or it is me who feel a bit uneasy perhaps. I decide to have fun and opt for a hot dog & onion with chips for dinner, which will turn out to be a bad idea. The sausage is inedible. Better stick to the basic fish & chips. The evening will be short, the call of sleep being felt quickly.

View of Ben Nevis and arrival in the valley of Glen Nevis.

The next day, I reach Ben Nevis Bunkouse just a ten minute walk from the campsite where I booked two nights. Two days of rest. I put my bag down and go for a walk around. I give up on the idea of climbing Ben Nevis and opt for Cow Hill Summit just 260 meters high. On the way I meet Alfa, a Canadian with whom I spoke a little yesterday, also finishing the WHW. He accompanies me for a few minutes and we discuss our respective feedbacks on the trek evoking the heavy weight of our bags. A last nice meeting to end my adventure on the West Highland Way. We separate and I go up on the small hill to have a nice point of view on Fort William and Loch Linnhe below. It is hot and humid and I am having a bit of trouble getting up even though I am not carrying my big bag. The view from above is pretty, but the somewhat industrial aspect of the city spoils the landscape a bit. I go down and go back to the bunkhouse for a quiet evening.

The bunkhouse is a very rustic dormitory which used to be a soldiers dormitory. Bunk beds, two toilets, two showers, a small kitchen, and that’s it. Very simple. I chat with a group of Scots who have run the WHW marathon and retire for the night.

The next day, the rain is back and I take the opportunity to rest, prepare for the rest of the trip and work on my posts. Not many people, the day is calm. Despite the relatively rainy weather, hiking on the West Highland Way was a great experience. It was not what I expected, without being a disappointment on the contrary. The wild and inhospitable aspect of certain regions accentuated by the bad weather left me an impression of greyness counterbalanced by moments of sun making the landscape marvelous. But I have to face it, it was more difficult than I imagined. Carrying a 15-kilos bag on my back for a week confronted me with my physical and mental limits, and many questions regarding my relationship to walking, effort, my expectations and my goals were looping permanently in my mind. And yet, as I rest here, at the foot of Ben Nevis, I realize that walking alone for a week has done me a lot of good.

So I decide to continue. Continue to walk and explore the landscapes of Scotland. I have four weeks ahead of me. A little month to continue learning. The string of islands to the west of Scotland attracts me a lot. These are the Outer Hebrides. This is where the Hebridean Way is located, another two-week trek through the archipelago. Being a little wilder and less crowded, the place seems to me to be the next perfect step. So I quickly plan the ferry and the path and fall asleep with my head filled with wide open spaces and small paths across the moor.

Fort William and its bay.

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Chapter V. Confrontations

Ísafjörður, westfjords, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Iceland

Iceland is a country like nowhere else. Its landscapes are magnificent and inhospitable and its atmosphere is special.

East fjords, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

At the pace of Iceland

Iconic landscapes of Iceland. Landscapes of a rough, inhospitable and beautiful island.

Snaefellsnes, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Driving on my footsteps

End of my trip to Iceland. I travel for the last time the extraordinary landscapes of the island.

Myvatn, North coast, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

The large North

Pedaling around Tröllaskagi peninsula and the Myvatn oasis.

South coast, Iceland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Southern delusions

First week cycling along the south coast of Iceland, from Keflavik to Svinafell.

Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Quick visits

Last days in Scotland. A short tour of Loch Ness following the Great Glen Way and a visit to Inverness.

Skye, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorisation

The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye, located in northwestern Scotland, is the largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago.

South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

The Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides are an archipelago of islands east of Scotland that I crossed on foot following the Hebridean Way.

Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Exploring Harris and Lewis

Last part on the Hebridean Way through Harris and Lewis. An end of a hike full of discoveries and encounters.

South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Windy monotonies

First part of my hike on the Hebridean Way through the Outer Hebrides archipelago.

Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

Across the Highlands

Part two on the West Highland Way. The return of the sun, a feeling of accomplishment and the great green mountains.

Highlands, Scotland © Claire B. - Please do not use without authorization

One foot after the other

A week of hiking on the West Highland Way. First part across the Highlands, in the rain and with a head full of questions.

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