Kintail and the Knoydart

I was in Scotland after a board meeting with three days to spare and an acceptable weather window, so I decided to utilise the services of the wonderful Rory (Scotland’s best cabbie) to drop me off at Glen Affric so I could walk 100km over to Glen Dessary. I love Scotland but she sure does make you work for her affections – it was a classic Scottish walk – tonnes of midges, ticks, cleggs, bog, butt sliding, and rain. But it was still lovely!

Day 0 – Glen Affric car park to Loch an Fheadain 9.8k, 190m ascent

Rory dropped me off at the Glen Affric carpark at 8pm, and I figured I had a couple of hours of daylight to get a start on the Affric Kintail trail. As it turns out, the bulk of the trail is well groomed 4wd estate tracks, so I managed 10k before pitching my tent on some soft but uneven bog at a tiny loch with lots of midges for company. I managed to get about 100 bites in five minutes, so cooked dinner in my tent at 10pm, holding the stove between my feet, amused by the big label inside the tent saying – ‘do not EVER burn fuel inside this tent’

Day 1 – Finish the Affric Kintail trail to Morvich……

Scottish daylight is an excellent alarm clock. I was up at 5am and wandering by 6am. It was a ovely easy walk mostly on estate tracks past the UK’s most remote youth hostel at Alltbeithe. The path got more interesting heading through Fionnglean as it dropped to a foot trail, and I stopped for a coffee at the cute bothy at Camban. The last 7k (of the 22k) to Morvich were an easy stroll along another farm track, where I finally passed two humans after a very quiet morning

Day 1 (cont’d)…. and then over to the ford at allt a choire reidh  (total 38k, 1020m ascent)

I arrived at Shiel around 12.30, visiting the excellent Kintail crafts for some supplies, and then going to the bun shop for some carrot cake. I also checked the news – as it was the only 30 mins of 3g signal I would get all weekend. The sun was shining so I began the hard , hot and slow boggy grunt on the pathless climb up the Meallan Odhar – which was worth it for the views. Absolutely stunning. The rain came in as i was navigating the rocky Forcan Ridge up to the Bealach Coire Mhalagain, and I had a slippery slide (with some butt to ground moments) down the Allt Coire Mhalagain. I hit the ford at Allt a Choire Reidh at 8pm and decided to call it a day as I knew where were no good camp sites for another couple of hours of walking. The rain stopped, the breeze picked up and kept the midges away, so I enjoyed the view while drinking tea and eating a substantial supper (i love dehydrated meals with doritos sprinkled in).

Day 2 – Down to Sourlies via Barrisdale (31.5k, 1120m ascent)

I slept in this morning until 6am and read my book before a slow start at 8am. I didn’t think it would be a long day. The meander down to Kinlochhourn was easy – it is a tiny settlement with a few houses on the estate and a tea room which was closed when I passed at 9am. Then began the undulating trail along the stunning sea loch to Barrisdale. It looks kinda flat on the map, but was 500m of ascent and relatively sweaty – so I stopped for a cup of tea at a stream.

I stopped again for lunch around 12.30 at the bothy at Barrisdale and had a lovely chat to a man who had kayaked in there with some family. They were exceptionally well supplied, so I was the lucky recipient of an excellent flapjack. Three sodden hikers rolled in aroudn 2pm, knackered and soggy from the walk over from Sourlies, and they looked surprised that I was headed that way for the evening. I roused myself and headed out in the rain which didn’t stop for the rest of the day.

The path up to Mam Underlain was excellent – a glorious glen with a steady ascent (no photos as too rainy). However the route down the other sdie to the River Carnoch was a pathless bum slide with sketchy rock sidles to avoid some of the bluffs. I reminded myself that I had broken my wrist on terrain like this in Wales, so I was being careful.

I was relieved to hit the river, hoping for a better path. It was a false hope….. my feet were under water for the final 6km slog to Sourlies bothy – dodging waist deep bogs. Sourlies was a lovely sight – the most remote Bothy in Scotland. It was worth it – even in the rain. The bothy had four inhabitants, so I pitched my tent, but cooked in the bothy and had a chat. And then I drank hot chocolate in my tent, watching the slugs try and climb the outside of my tent, and watching the deer wander along the shoreline. It was worth the boggy rainy slog.

Day 3 – Out to Glendessary (23km, 780m)

It rained all night – beating like a drum on the tent, but I was very dry and cosy inside. I had arranged for Rory to pick me up at 4pm, so I didn’t leave Sourlies until 8am figuring the 15km (which turned out to be longer) wouldn’t take too long.

There was bog, soggy path, mud, and a bit more bog. And the rain did not let up the entire day. The view down the Finiskaig river to Sourlies is amazing on a clear day, but was still pretty lovely on a rainy day. I cheered myself up by having some instant hot mash at the lovely loch at Mam na Cloich Airde. And then I got lost as my phone wasn’t working well in the damp, and ended up doing a 2km boggy pathless traverse when I could have exited Glen Dessary on a perfectly good 4wd track – oh well, best study the maps in advance next time.

I arrived at the road end at around 14.30 – the bog, rain and navigation had slowed me down. Three lovely yorkshire train drivers arrived on very nice motorbikes and we had a chat – and they gave me some shortbread (advice to hikers – always take treats from strange men in remote locations ;-)) which I ate with the rest of the leftovers in my pack. They headed off, and as I was still early for Rory, I started walking down the road to civilisation at 3pm, and met Rory on the road at 3.45pm. I was soaking wet…. but happy.

I love Scotland, and love that I can get a proper wilderness weekend in without too much effort. Rory (whatsapp +44 7525 234471) is terrific as he will drop me off, and I know he will be at whatever random coordinates I have given him at the specified time for a pick up. I had no signal outside of Shiel bridge, but did carry a Garmin inreach in case of emergencies. The route was a combo of the Affric Kintail trail and part of the Cape Wrath route from Shiel to Glenfinnan – all easily followed on OS maps. Don’t forget smidge and skinsosoft. I also took a midge headnet which I didn’t use. Lots of other hikers had problems with ticks but I didn’t see any.

24 July 2022, Inverness

Finishing the GR131 in Fuerteventura

Fuerteventura is the last of the Canary Islands on my list to do the cross island GR131 trail. I did my homework, and most hikers who blog about the route detested significant chunks of this walk – as it goes on tarmac through resorts. Doing a bit more homework yielded some excellent alternative routes around the mountains so I came up with a route that joined the parts of the GR131 I wanted to do and some excellent side hikes. The original route was 150km, mine was 130km but with a lot more ascent

Accommodation in the mountains is a bit tricky, and there is a network of trail shelters in which it is illegal but tolerated to camp, as the locals understand it is impossible to hike across the island without having to wild camp somewhere.

Day 1 – tour of Mt Cardon and then onward to Pajara (18km and 800m of ascent)

I stayed at the premier inn at Gatwick as there is nothing worse than a 4am wake up call. At 5.45 I woke up, had my coffee and breakfast in hand after security at 6.15 and was in the lounge at 6.30 ready to board the 7.15 flight. I was even organised enough to fill up all my water bottles at Gatwick after security. The flight was packed with British package tourists like normal and I suspected I was the only one who didn’t have any accommodation booked for the duration of my stay and was planning on bivouacking where I could

On landing, my only shopping requirement was to get some fuel for my stove (I bought an alcohol stove as there are few stockists of gas canisters on the island), so I got my taxi to stop at the hardware store to buy ‘alcohol de quemar’ and I was set

The nice taxi driver dropped me 50 km from the airport in a deserted parking area near mt Cardon and asked me if I was sure….. and was surprised when I told him I was planning to walk more than 150km to corralejo.

The 7km return trip up the mountain was delightful, with nice views down to La Pared and the ocean. The mountain is a pilgrim route with a lovely cave church at the top.

I returned to Cardon ‘town’ after the mountain hoping the bar I had passed would still be open at 2.30. Alas it was not to be – so no lunch apart from a protein bar, and some rationing required on the water to last until the next morning

The 3km after Cardon seemed very hard – it was hot, the wind had dropped, so I was sweaty, thirsty and hungry as I climbed a steep hill. I stopped near Morro de Moralito at 420m for a coffee and a protein bar and stuck my sun hat on

After that the trail did take a while, but it was mostly easy walking, albeit with quite a lot of ascent and descent rolling along the ridgelines. The views out to both sides of the island were spectacular.

The sun started to noticeably drop at 5pm so I hoped I would make a good campsite by nightfall. There weren’t obvious pitches en route and I knew there was a shelter near Pajara – which would have the bonus of a table so I could cook sitting up (handy with an alcohol stove) and sleep out of the wind

I got to the shelter at 6pm and it was situated on a gravel road I had seen three cars drive down and it was only 1.5km from Pajara – so hardly off the beaten track. However I would be entirely hidden from view sleeping on the bench behind the big stone table and it was wonderfully sheltered. I needed the shelter as the winds were 30kph and it would be a bugger to pitch a tent. I reckon I ruined one hikers day though – as a young guy strolled to the shelter with a full pack and a bag of food, clearly hoping to stay, and he kept walking when he saw me (thank goodness, I don’t like strangers).

I had a lovely beef stew for dinner, a lot of rehydration salts and a hot chocolate and hit the hay at 7pm. Or I tried to. I couldn’t quite get comfy but I reckon I finally fell asleep at 10pm. Amusingly the rubbish bin in the shelter which I was happy to see (saves carrying rubbish), seemed like less of a good idea during the night as the loud rustling from said bin confirmed the existence of a rat or a mouse – but I wasn’t inclined the leave my sleeping bag to check. The stars were lovely and it is quite nice sleeping in the open air, although with 35k winds I was pretty happy to have the thick rock walls of the open sided shelter keeping the worst of the wind away

Day 2 to Degollada Marrubio via Ermita de Penitas and Gran Montana (28km and 1700m ascent)

I was awake at 6, but as the sun doesn’t come up until 7.35, I made a coffee and read the newspapers on my phone in my sleeping bag. I was surprised by a passerby and his dog out for a stroll around 7am – they didn’t see me fortunately as no doubt they weren’t expecting to.

I packed up my bed roll, finished my muesli and headed into Pajara, hoping that somewhere would be open to buy water. Fortune smiled on me and a tiny shop was open. And then I got even luckier as one of the cafes was open for coffee – and full of old Spanish men chatting with vim and vigour at 7.45 on a Sunday morning

From Pajara it was a couple of km gentle stroll along a dry river bed then a lovely manageable climb up through agave and tabaibal to the Degollada los Granadillos. The winds were fierce (40km an hour) and heading towards me verses aiding me up the mountain but it was still a nice walk. After the pass (degollada), it was an easy meander down to Vega de los Palmas, where I did a detour off the GR131 to head down to the Ermita de los Penitas (a worthy 3.5km detour). The damn was lovely and the views down the ravine to the tiny church were gorgeous.

After that I was in need of sustenance and more water. The first three establishments I passed were all closed, so I was delighted to see the Don Antonio open. The fed me like royalty and let me charge my battery – heaven

After lunch I took another detour off the trail – 7km and 500m of ascent to climb Gran Montana at 670m for fantastic 360 views across the island. The trail was straight up but I didn’t go too fast as I had a full tummy from lunch

The route detoured back close to Vega where I rejoined the GR131 and headed towards betancuria – stopping for a cup of tea at the sheltered and deserted Castillo de Lara (a recr

After that it was a hard grunt up to the degollada de marubio at 60where there was a trail shelter that was home for the night. The wind was up and the roof was made of branches, so I tried to see if I could get my tent up within the confines of the shelter for more cover but there was no room and the picnic tables were fixed firmly to the ground. And it was too windy to pitch outside. So I did what previous hikers had done and slept on the picnic table after a dinner of soup and a hot chocolate.

I prepared for a windy night – put my dry night clothes on, made sure the quilt was well secured to the Therm-a-Rest and slept with hat, gloves and my down jacket. What I wasn’t prepared for was lifting my head in the middle of the night and the pillow blowing down the mountain. I was well secured in the quilt so it took me a moment to get out of bed and start chasing. The pillow was restored and I weighted it down by putting it in a dry bag with my clothes to keep it from blowing away again

Day 3 to Sargento 29k and 975m of ascent

I woke up at 6 and stayed in my sleeping bag until the caffeine cravings forced me to move. After breakfast of muesli, I headed down the hill to the village of Betancuria. It is clearly a village for day trippers as there were tonnes of restaurants (all closed at 7.45 this Monday morning) and no hotels. With no coffee in sight, I continued up over the pass at Corral De Guise (past a bizarre statue) and down to Valle de St Innes to pick up supplies and have two excellent cafe con leches

From St Ines it was a hot flat walk through Llanos all the way to Tefia – mostly on roads. Not my favourite walking but at least there were few cars. I stopped at 11.30 for lunch after 15km at the trail shelter under the lovely Mt Bermeja – the highlight of the morning

Then it was a more entertaining 9km walk through Tefia to the town to Casillas de Angelos (a gr131 detour), which had nicer views back to the mountain ridge line I had left this morning

I arrived at Casillas at 13.35 to find all the restaurants closed and the minimart had shut at 13.30 and wouldn’t reopen until 6pm. Fortunately there was a gas station so I bought more water and had an icecrean

Leaving Casillas I headed up a grey rocky hill side with steep steps and rubbly ground to reach the degollada de La sargenta at 479m which had lovely views out of Tetir and a nice view of the trail shelter which was my home for the night 200m below

I arrived at the shelter earlier than I normally stop – at 4pm – but with the wind forecast I decided to stay here for the night as the next shelter was 20k away. I dried my sweaty clothes in the sun and pitched my tent (there was room in this shelter). I typically only pitch my tent 20 mins before sunset in case of passerbys (wild camping is illegal in Spain although tolerated apparently in some places). I didn’t think I would be disturbed so pitched at 5pm and then was promptly surprised by two trail runners charging by. I suspected they wouldn’t call the rangers on me, and was right, I had a very peaceful night with my head down by 8pm (which did lead to a 4am wake up but no matter)

Day 4 to La Oliva 31k and 1300m of ascent

After the 4am wake up and two coffees, I was packed and ready to go at the first inkling of light. It was a lovely stroll up the valley passing over the degollada de facay and then a good mountain path back down to tefia. Sadly I was too early for the cafe so I kept going to the village of La Matilla – where the cafe was also closed. I was fantasising about a bocadillo.

I kept going to Vallebron over an excellent rugged pass where the winds were so strong I was getting buffeted sideways but I managed to keep my feet and eventually made it down to Vallebron where the only shop was also closed

It was another 6k to Tindaya and the winds were howling and the air was very hazy (normally it is dust coming in the storms from Africa), and I was super excited after 22km to make it to bar Maria at noon for two Coke zeros, a large bottle of fizzy water, an omelette sandwich and some chicken wings (they had a very limited menu).

I headed back out into the storm and had hoped to climb Mt Tindaya but the sign said the path was closed. So I continued the 8km to La Oliva, walking on a sideways slant to the wind, keeping my glasses on to keep the dust out, and trying to keep my spirits up by singing cheesy songs at loud volume (no one can hear you in the wind, and I hadn’t seen anyone on the trails for days).

I finally made it to La oliva around 2.30 and decided to find a b&b as pitching a tent in the winds would have been near impossible. There was nothing available in town so I hopped on the hourly bus for the 30min ride to Corralejo and stayed at a package tour hotel (full of pensioners sitting on their balconies drinking and doing crosswords). The bath was excellent and I managed to get some fresh vegetables and fish from the local supermarket. All clean and I had a good night sleep (once I put ear plugs in to drown out the loud British teenagers next door)

Day 5 La oliva to Corralejo – 23km and 850m ascent

I was up early so rather than wait for the bus I took a cab back to La oliva and started walking. The ‘badlands’ or ‘mal pais’ area was stunning in the morning light and there were lots of good camp spots if I ever come back

I got to Lajares in under two hours and it was a bizarre surfer hippy town but not on a beach. I detoured off route for an excellent coffee and sat and listened tot wh aging French hippies around me complain about covid

Heading out of town I took the choice to detour off route to visit the Calderon hondo (a huge crater). The winds were up and there were moments as I walked around the crater that I was buffeted sideways and I wondered how embarrassed I would be if Canarian mountain rescue had to come bail me out if I fell in. This are always quite busy – the first time I had seen any people on the trails for days (the only time since ermita las penitas). It was worth the detour

From there the trail was essentially a flat gravel road into Corralejo, so I took another detour to go up Bayuyo (278m) which had stunning views down to the sea, but there were moments were I was less than comfortable on the ridge line with the high winds.

I stumbled down the hill hanging on to the sides to rejoin the gravel road. From there it was an uneventful few kilometres to town. I went to the beach to do my customary feet dip in the sea, to find a sign advising against bathing due to water contamination – blech. Instead I made do with rinsing my toes under the public shower (if there had been less of a crowd I might have had an actual shower)

I had a yummy lunch of squid, canary potatoes and melon, and then as I had time to kill took the bus to the airport (I do quite like buses, there are always interesting people on them). While not my favourite hike of the canaries it was worth doing. Taking the late flight back to Luton and then to work in the morning

Puerto del Rosario, February 9, 2022

Additional notes

The government has an excellent website that has maps gpx and trail notes to download. They have the shelters marked on each of the maps. I also used the cicerone guide to walking in Lanzarote and Fuerteventura.

Gambolling around Gran Canaria

I have completed the GR131 (cross island trails) on four of the Canary Islands – Lanzarote, Tenerife, La Palma and La Gomera, still three more to go ……, and this weekend my buddy Lucy and I are headed to Gran Canaria to knock off no. 5.

Day 1 – Agaete to Tamadaba – 1200m up, 12km

We arrived in Gran Canaria at lunchtime after a long flight from London. We took a cab to Agaete to get started. There were 40kph winds but the sun was shining. The paths were lovely and relentlessly uphill, zigzagging up through the scrub and cactus on a rocky slope. The views down the sea on the South Coast were stunning.

The path meandered around some vertigo-ing paths along the sides of steep hills, and then up a very long and beautifully maintained set of mules paths to enter the forest at about 1100m. It is a kind of odd feeling climbing out of the desert to enter the pine forest, I am used to climbing through the forest and then out of the tree line.

The path got a little more gentle in the forest and we meandered through lovely trees, which seem to be recovering from the 2019 fire, and passed the Camping ground.

Eventually we hit the road and we arrived at our pick up spot for the taxi 1h45m early. We called Carlos the cabby and he said he was en route. Unfortunately we didn’t realise he was coming from San Mateo – 45 mins away. Unfortunate as we were in 40kph winds with zero shelter. It was bloody freezing. I have never been happier to see a taxi.

Waiting for Carlos

It was a 30 minute ride on windy mountain roads to arrive at the lovely and warm Parador de Cruz de Tejeda where Lucy and I both had long showers to thaw out. And then we hit the restaurant to load up on calories :-).

Day 2 – Tamadaba to Cruz de Tejeda – 1000m up, 15km

We had arranged for Carlos’s buddy to come and get us at the hotel and take us back to yesterday’s end point. She was due at 8am and we had prepaid for breakfast which started at 7.45, so Lucy and I made a valiant effort to eat a lot of bacon and down a lot of coffee and also added some extra treats to the backpacks for later (donuts omelette and banana for me, Frosties donuts and Nesquik for Lucy). It was tough to leave the hotel as it was pissing with rain with zero visibility

When we arrived back at Tamadaba after the cab ride, I was reminded of yesterday’s wind as was almost blown off my feet when I exited the cab. Lucy and I swiftly got under the trees and from there it was a pretty lovely up and down stroll through the trees to the mountain village of Artenara

We luckily found a cafe that was open and ducked in out of the wind for a quick cafe con leche

From artenara to Cruz it was an amazing hike up and along the edge of a steep cliff. The views over Roque Nubio were spectacular when the clouds lifted from time to time.

We made it up to about 1600m before the rain really started again in earnest and there were a few gusty moments hanging on to the path around the cliffs

We had some lovely fall foliage at the top of the hill. The most remarkable thing about these islands is how much variety there is in the terrain

We arrived back at the hotel in just under four hours, cold and wet and with no views. I persuaded Lucy to abandon our plan to walk further and instead enjoy a longer day 3 with the sun out (the forecast was good).

We had a lazy afternoon reading and watching mountaineering movies and then a light dinner (as we were still stuffed from last night.

Day 3 – Cruz de Tejeda to Ayagaures – 800m up, 28km

We were up at 6.45 and on the way out the door with headtorches on. It was freezing and there were still 40kph winds but we could see the views. The first grunt up to Morro de la Armonia more than woke us up, and we enjoyed the views out to Roque Nubio for about an hour and a half including fro the lovely Degollada Becerra – at that point the sun was hiting the top of the rock.

Freezing dawn start

From there we meandered through the forest down to Llanos de Garanon, past some keen campers in their tents and then we headed up to Degollada de Hornos at 1730m where we had a break for a coffee and breakfast (banana and hot cross buns for me, frosties for lucy).

Heading up to Degollada de Hornos
Degollada de Hornos

From the Degollada we transitioned from stunning high pine forests out into red rock wild west. The descent down to Cruz Grande was an epic well engineered mule path. There must have been a hiking outing, as after seeing noone all morning, we passed c. 100 people of all shapes, ages and sizes grunting up the hill and they were all super friendly and saying ‘buen camino’ as they walked past. It was a truly stunning walk down the hill with amazing views down to Tunte.

The mule path down to Cruz Grande
The roads near Tunte

We reached Tunte after 4 hours (the guide book said 6 so we were happy), and we stopped in the town square for a hot dog, a spanish omelette and some fish croquettes. I turned down (but kinda wanted) the local coffee – made with licor 43, coffee, milk and condensed milk – it looked yum

‘Light’ lunch in Tunte

After that we headed out of Tunte on some not lovely roads for c. 4km, and then we grunted up another epic mule path to the stunning Degollada de la Manzanilla which was absolutely stunning

Winding mule path up to Degollada de la Manzanilla

From the Degollada it was a long and rocky trail along vertiginous paths that towered above the forest with amazing views until we hit Ayagaures – which did take longer than we thought. The book said 5 hours, it took us a little over 3 but we were pretty tired when we got there.

We scarffed an icecream and waited for our taxi to take us down to Maspalomas – not a place I wanted to go but there was nowhere to stay in Ayagaures so off we went. Maspalomas is overrun with british packaged tourists, and Lucy and I were in a hilarious but cheap holiday village for the night

Day 4 Ayagaures to Maspalomas – 18km

I read the description of the today’s route and was pretty uninspired.  It was all on the road, and the last 6km were though busy town roads.  Hmmmm.  To be honest I was only doing it as I am too much of a ‘completer’ to not finish the coast to coast trail 

We got a taxi at 7am back to the church in Ayagaures and started the steep walk up the hill.  The sun was coming up and our calves were creaking.    The views were nice but the road was hard.  

Looking down to Ayagaures
Sunrise over the hill
Letterboxes at Pedro Gonzalez

After about 8km we reached Montana de dato and stopped to make a coffee beside the road.   It was sunny and lovely but the car traffic had increased and it was slightly hairy with the cars narrowly missing our butts (there were no footpaths.)  

We were both dreading the hot dusty road walk from aqua land into town so after 12km we flagged down a taxi for the last 6km stretch into town.   We were glad we did, and celebrated with a coffee and a Coke and ham and omelette on the sea front

To make up for the lost miles we instead strolled through the dunes at Maspalomas – which turned out to be more brutal than the road – the wind was up and we took a sand hammering.  There was a fair amount of rubbish too, and more than a smattering of aging nudists.  Not the visual highlights I was going for.    

I wouldn’t recommend today’s hike, next time I would probably do three days overall – day 1 from agaete to Cruz de tejeda, day 2 looping around tejeda to Roque nubio, day 3 to ayagaures. 

Next stop Fuerteventura 

Maspalomas, December 5, 2021


Border crossings of the Balkans

The Peaks of the Balkans trail has been on my wish list for a while. It is a cross border trail which links Montenegro, Kosovo and Albania – all countries I have visited before and very much enjoyed.

It’s been a busy year, so I haven’t had much time to plan, so I lazily outsourced all the planning (including guest houses, private transfers, and border permits) to the excellent team at BN adventures. So I just had to roll up to Pristina airport, walk to the Best Western next door for the night, and then get picked up for the transfer to Kuqishte

Day 1 Kuqishte (Kosovo) to Babino Polje (Montenegro) – 17km 1150m ascent

The 2 hour ride to the trail head at 7.30 was in a very authentic Kosovan car with one wobbly wheel and a driver who texted and drove at the same time.   We stopped in a bar half way for an espresso that put hairs on my chest, and he dropped me at the restaurant Te liqeni at 9.30 at 1400m

I am very unfit and I realised I hadn’t hiked at altitude for a good 12 months. I was completely out of breath in about five minutes.  But I’m stubborn so I aimed to walk slowly enough that I could keep going without stopping.  (That was very slow).  I reached Liqeni I Kuqishtes (the lake) after about an hour and c. 450m of straight up and disturbed a handful of local skinny dippers and sat in the sun and ate my breakfast sandwich.  

Liqeni i Kuqishtes

They were my last humans for several hours as I climbed further up to the second lake – Madhe- which had dried up.   From there it was more straight uppedness to the high pass at 2250m at Qala e Jelenkut.  I confess I ran out oxygen about 70m from the top so collapsed on the ground and made a coffee and had a muesli bar

The pass was stunning and it was followed by a stunning ridge walk along the Montenegrin and Kosovan borders through red autumn foliage and some lovely fluffy white plants passing under Maja e Bajrakut .

Love these fluffy cotton things

After a few more hours I passed over Zavoj pass.  There were five soldiers having a nap at the pass so I kept going and stopped for a snack a bit further on.  Later down I took a wrong turn and met them as I was doubling back and they directed me to the right path and stayed with me chatting to me in odd English for 20 minutes.   Ten years ago I would have been slightly put off by having five armed me with guns escorting me down a hill, but these days I put it down as free entertainment

Near the Zavoj Pass

I made it down to the valley where I had the misfortune to run into to sheepdog bringing his sheep in and I was firmly shepherded with barks at my bum off the path so I had to take a detour. I arrived in Babino to the lovely Eco Lodge Hrid where they shepherded me into the kitchen and installed me next to the fire with a cup of tea. I had the whole place to myself and was in a bunk room for 4 with a private bathroom. Dinner was an excellent soup, chicken, loads of veg and lots of bread, with homemade lemonade. I was finished by 7pm and in bed asleep by 8pm

Day 2 – Babino Polje to Plav (Montenegro) – 20km 720m ascent

Eco had asked if I could sort my own breakfast this morning, as I was the only resident and he was a bit ill.  So I had the run of the kitchen and had egg sandwiches and two coffees.  I had made myself lunch out of my leftover dinner last night (with Eco’s blessing as I didn’t want to waste the food).  I hid the keys as I left, and marvelled at how kiwi things were here.  There aren’t many places in the world someone would leave you with keys to their restaurant.

Today’s climb up to Hridsko Jezero (the deepest lake on the trail) started nice and gently with a forested 4wd track up to the tiny village at Katun Bajrovic.  I was passed by an elderly couple who stopped and tried to give me a lift (I love locals who wonder why anyone would hike up a hill if they could afford a car) 

Katun Barjovic

From Katun Barjovic it was a stunning hike up the hill to the Jezero lake with the early morning frost cracking under my shoes and the sunlight flickering through the red and yellow autumn leaves.   

Jezero Lake

I had morning tea at the lake and took loads of photos and then clambered over the rocks to climb up to the pass at Veliki Grid.   From there it was an easy meander down another 4wd track to a mountain hut, and then a short hop up to a grassy saddle with views over to Visitor.   I sat in the sun, had a coffee and a sandwich and cleared my messages as I had my first signal in two days.

It was a lovely forested path if a bit steep, rooty and pine needly in places down past several farm houses in Katun Treskavicka.  From there it was an easy stroll on a 4wd path for a couple of hours into Plav.  The farms are immaculately kept, and I love the Montenegrin hay bales. 

I reached Plav in the hot sun at 2.30pm.  It was very sunny, and I was in shorts.  I remembered as I arrived in town that no-one in Montenegro wears shorts, especially not in conservative Muslim villages.  Oh well.  I stopped by the Franca supermarket for some supplies (as this is the last place on the trail with a shop) and then headed to the Hana Guest-house.  Hana is a character and forced her kids to speak English with me.  The house is spotless and I had a wonderful hot shower.  Dinner was another enormous meal so I used some of it to make lunch for tomorrow (i hate wasting food). And in bed by 9pm.

Day 3 – Plav to Vusanje (Montenegro) – 21km 840m ascent

Hana made me an awesome breakfast, including fried bread (which is one of my favourite Māori foods, which I wasn’t expecting in Montenegro – delicious) and homemade bread, fried peppers and cheese, homemade jams, two eggs, bread, and a few varieties of cheese and some turkish coffee. I hitched a ride to the end of the asphalt road which saved me about 5km of walking and 300m of ascent, staring at 1300m. 

From there it was a long steady climb up 4wd tracks to warm my legs up for the first few km until we hit 1600m and then a nice path weaved through the forest for another few km until arriving at a lovely meadow where I stopped for some lemon squash and a bit of fried bread with jam and local cheese.   

Then it was a pretty hairy and unpleasant steep scramble up the side of Bajrak peak which was poorly marked and very slippery.  I did a lot of it with both hands on the ground. I stopped a few times to cling to the side of a tree to catch my breath, but then had to force myself to restart – I really hate heights. 

Vrh Bora summit at 2106m

The views at the top of Bajrak (2047m) were stunning over to the Borit pass and down the Grbaja and Ropojana valleys, with stunning mountains.   Then there was a lovely ridge stroll for a few km through red foliage, and I disturbed a young deer.  I arrived at Vrh Bora (2106m) for even better views at noon, with a stunning view to the Prosllopit Pass.   It was very sunny, so I took my sweaty shirt off to dry and had a sandwich and a coffee.   A couple of hikers surprised me after about 20 mins, but I heard them coming in time to put my shirt on. 

Views up to Prosllopit pass

I then meandered down through rocky karst, passing dry lakes and walking through forest so yellow and red it was like it was on fire.  The trails were lovely and well marked (although I did fall and skin my knee).   I stopped at the spring for a while to let some sheep get ahead of me, I wasn’t too keen to run into another sheep dog. 

I arrived at Vusanje around 3pm to be met by an elderly Montenegrin gent on horseback who chatted to me for a while (didn’t understand a word), and then I found the wonderful Vucetaj guest-house – the best one yet – with a little chalet and a double bed (luxury after two days of single bunk beds).  I took advantage of the sun and washed my stinky kit. 

The views from my room down the valley are stunning and I can hear gunshots ringing out – so someone must be hunting. The family cooked me another epic dinner – lamb chops, paprika potatoes and peppers and veg, all grown and raised by them, and they lit me a fire as the dining room was outside. The hospitality here is immense, it isn’t fancy but the people are lovely, hard working and wonderfully warm. I was in bed by 8pm after my late 6.30pm dinner 🙂

Day 4 – Vusanje (Montenegro) to Theth (Albania) – 21km 1110m ascent

My lovely hosts had lit me a fire for my solitary breakfast with grilled peppers, fried eggs, sheeps cheese, fresh bread, homemade jam and turkish coffee. What an excellent way to start the day. The weather was forecast to turn but I was hopeful that the ominous grey clouds would stay just cloudy rather than dump rain on my head.

The trail starts gently, meandering up through the Ropojana valley. The views were stunning with vast karst cliffs on either side of the valley – it is apparently the craggiest part of the Accursed mountains. I stopped to look at the famous Oko eye spring but it had dried up.

Ropojana Valley

After about an hour, the trail left the 4wd track and meandered up to the forest to a dried up seasonal lake with more stunning rock faces on either side. After the lake, the trail meanders up a mule track and enters into Albanian territory – you can tell as there are lots of Hoxha bunkers beside the trail. This entire zone was a no go area during communist times, so it is nice to be able to hike it now

I had my wildlife encounter of the day – almost standing on a 50cm long black snake until I realised what it was, and swerved. The rain came and went, and I did stop a couple of times under the trees for some coffee.

Seasonal Lake

I ran into a young Albanian and his mule after the Fusha meadow, who was ferrying hiker bags from the road end at Ropojana to the other side of the pass near Theth. At least that gave me confidence that the apparently steep and hairy path down the other side of the pass was traversable by a mule, so I should be fine.

After a couple of false summits, and passing the stunning valley with the Liquni i Pejes lake, I made it to Qafa e Pejes at 12.15. The views down to Theth were spectacular in spite of the rain

View down to Liqeni i Pejes lake from Qafa e Pejes

Dropping down from the pass was a gruelling 700m drop on a steep gravelly (if mule approved) trail. I met Steve and Simona on their way up from Theth on a day hike – Steve was a kiwi so we had a chat for 15 minutes (his brother was born in the town where my parents ran a pub – only in NZ).

I eventually made it down to the teahouse at the valley head after about 90 minutes so I stopped for some chips and Lemon soda and a chat with some german hikers. The rain picked up, but I couldn’t be bothered putting my rain poncho on, so I just put some music on and walked fast for the final 5km (overtaking some bedraggled twenty something hikers with umbrellas and plastic sacks over their packs).

I arrived at the Bujtina Polia guesthouse (somewhat inconveniently 1.5km on the other side of the village but next to the famous church) and sat by the fire for a few hours catching up on email.

Dinner was another epic feast – a tureen of cauliflower soup, bread for four, a platter of hot and cold salads (three types of cheese, and a cheese pie, and three types of beetroot and fried potatoes, peppers and aubergines, and some chicken), and then fruit. It would be impossible to eat half of what they give you

Day 5 – Theth to Valbone (Albania) – 20km 1070m

Day 5 take one I actually spent watching movies, drinking tea, reading books and looking out the window at the rain torrenting down. I was up, packed and ready to go at 7.30 and downstairs for breakfast, and it was pissing down with rain with limited visibility. The hike to Valbone is apparently the best on the trail, so I decided to wait out a day in the hope of better weather.

So, Day 5 take 2 – There was reasonably visibility but quite a lot of cloud cover, so I wasn’t optimistic about seeing anything from the pass. But my legs and lungs are in much better shape than Day 1, so I enjoyed the climb up to the pass. Two dogs accompanied me from the hotel (my fault for nicking sausages from the breakfast buffet and sticking them in my bag for lunch later). Another dog joined about 3km from Theth. And then I picked up a fourth dog about 20 mins below the pass. I was quite a sight trailing up the hill with my entourage. I met a few Albanian’s hiking and they were most amused.

It was bloody freezing at the pass, so I rugged up and hoofed down the hill to Simon’s cafe, where I sat by the outside fire and had an excellent Albanian coffee. Hauling myself away from the fire was quite challenging, especially as the rain started.

The final few kms into town were still lovely if a bit soggy and viewless. The trees were nice to look at and I arrived at the lovely Kol Gjoni Guesthouse around 2.30pm. The nice man asked if I wanted a single room rather than sharing, and I said ‘yes please’. He showed me a room, and I asked if he had another one with it’s own bathroom (I am so high maintenance). He umm-ed and ahh-ed, and seemed embarrassed to let me know i could have the more spendy room, but it would cost me a princely 40 euros (including dinner and breakfast). I must look quite cheap. The room was fine, if a bit chilly

Day 6/7 – wandering around Pristina

Day 6 I was supposed to hike over the hill from Valbona to Cerem. When I went down for breakfast at 7am it was so foggy you couldn’t see the gate of the house 20m away. Oh well, I had seen the pass I was planning to go over a few days earlier on the way to Vusanje. I sat by the fire and arranged for my driver to come get me from where I was (versus Cerem in the afternoon).

My driver was the same guy who had taken me to the trailhead at the start. Unfortunately he was quite tired, and his driving was a bit dodgy. He had two near misses when he was on the wrong side of the road and he went into the gravel three times when he wasn’t paying attention. The trip should have taken three hours but took four as we stopped for him to eat and then once more for coffee (a good idea, as he was close to falling asleep.

I arrived in pristina at the lux Swiss Diamond hotel, and discovered my 90 euro room had no bath. I really wanted a bath. I asked reception if I could have a room with a bath, and the nice man explained to me it would be too expensive, an extra 40 euros for the upgrade. I do appreciate all these kind hearted men looking after my finances, but I was happy to invest for the bath

I had a wee stroll around town and then dinner in the posh hotel restaurant (definitely the worst meal I had in the whole trip).

After a big sleep I did some more wandering around town in the rain. The best thing to see is the bizarre national library – which now looks abandoned. I retreated from the rain to the Liburna restaurant for a very good local meal of eggplant, chicken, homemade bread and pastry. Then I rolled back to the hotel for an afternoon massage and a lazy evening

Pristina, October 10, 2021

Additional info

In the end I missed doing three stages, one as I stayed an extra day in Theth, and the other two as I headed back to Pristina early. The visibility on all of those days was basically zero, and on the bright side I have a reason to go back. I would definitely like to go back to do the Valbona and the Prosllopit Passes.

I booked with BN adventures and everything worked really well. You pay them a 200 euro arrangement fee and the sort permits, transport and then I paid everyone direct. Most guesthouses were Euro25-30 for dinner, bed and breakfast. They also arranged private transfers from and to the trailhead (60 euros from Pristina to Kuqishte – about 90 minutes, and 110 euros from Valbone to Pristina – about three hours).

I carried very little, just hiking clothes and evening clothes. I also took a really good sleeping bag as I expected it to be cold – and it was. There was very little water in the lakes and many of the springs were dry, so if you are going at the end of summer

Would recommend buying the Cicerone Guide to the Peaks of the Balkans

Meandering along the Cape wrath trail

I haven’t managed a night in my tent since last October (in Zagori) and I have been desperate to get off grid for a few days.  Covid rules scuppered my plans to go to Corsica so I instead I headed to Fort William to start the Cape wrath trail – an epic and unsignposted trail that goes through 320km of spectacular wilderness to Cape Wrath at the top of Scotland, passing very few signs of human habitation 

I have no plan except to see how far my current (atrocious) level of fitness will take me, so I set off from Fort William a tent, bedroll and seven days of food and an emergency beacon in case of trouble

Day 1 Fort William to Cona Glen – 21k

I arrived along fort William in time for the chugging ‘ferry’ to Camusnagaul which is the traditional start for the CW trail.  From there it was a scenic if monotonous tarmac stroll to the entry of the Cona Glen estate with nice salty breezes coming up from Loch Linnhe.   

Once in the estate, it is a lovely stroll along the river and I stopped for my first brewed up cuppa along the river, liberally applying smidge to protect myself from the ferocious highland midges which overwhelm you when you stop walking.   I sat in the breeze next to the river enjoying my coffee and the lack of phone signal.  I did see two hikers go by, the only people I saw all day, they were out for the weekend. 

I continued on to the ford at Tom na h- eilde and found a flattish small site next to the river that was already trampled and pitched my tent.  I am travelling in style with a 600 g zpacks triplex which is twice the size of my normal summer tent but I decided to bring a bigger tent in case of lots of rain – it’s good to be able to spread out inside and sit up 

I had a glorious evening drinking tea and reading a book.  It was light until 10.30 pm and I went to sleep listening to the river 

Day 2 Cona Glenn  to somewhere on the Chaorainn river 25km

It was bright daylight again at 4am but I managed to say cosy in my quilt until 7am when I slowly rowsed myself for breakfast.  I waited until a break in the morning rain and meandered up to Meall na Damh, and enjoyed the lovely foggy views down Cona Glen.   The top was boggy, foggy and with plentiful leaches and frogs, but a forestry trail eventually appeared and it was about another 8km to Glenfinnan

Glenfinnan was a shock after 24 hours with no people.  It is home to the famous train viaduct in the Harry Potter movies and there were hundreds of people.  I queued for a hot dog and chips and enjoyed the sun for half an hour before finding it all too much

I then headed up the road to the Glenfinnan estate.  The first 6k was easy forest roads and then it climbed steadily up to the lovely Beaulach between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm.   

The way down the other side was a steep descent alternating between slippery rocks and knee deep bogs but the view down the Chaorainn was lovely.   I found a lovely dry spot on the river bend with enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay and pitched the tent 

It was a quiet night though two hikers did stroll by about 8pm, and there was a surprisingly loud moo or two in the late evening which did give me a momentary panic that I had camped near bulls – which would have been surprising as I hadn’t seen any livestock all day

I woke up at 4 again with the sun and then managed to sleep until 7.30