The essence of the Frisia Coast Trail is hiking through the heartland of (former) Frisia and to taste the landscape, its history, its culture and to meet its people. Every now and then the Frisian bastards hike trails that cut through heartlands of other minority cultures. Hiking the illustrious Cape Wrath Trail in the upper north-east of Scotland was one of those. A two-weeks, fairly challenging trek with no fixed route and, thus, no path directions whatsoever either. Very often not even paths you can follow, just crossing through the empty glenns. The only requirement is you start at Fort William and end at the isolated lighthouse at Cape Wrath. It took this bastard fourteen days, including one resting day. That was at KLB.
Ceann Loch Biorbhaidh (or Kinlochbervie in English and KLB for locals) has that frontier feeling. It’s a harbour in the almost extreme north-west of Scotland. The look and feel it can be rough. Strong winds and horizontal rain straight from the Atlantic. The town has no clear structure and houses seemingly scattered randomly. A store annex post office. A SPAR supermarket in an old, converted hangar at the quays. A gas station, consisting of only one rusted pump and without further facilities. It’s also where a half-rusted, purple abri stands with a bus-stop sign. Here and there houses that have fallen into ruins. An old church in disuse. And then small-scale industry at the port, with rusted chains and pale crates, the smell of fish and diesel. A large sign at the port advertises that the expansion of the port has been made possible by the European Union. But for how much longer before the UK exits? Anyway, KLB is at the frontier where beauty doesn't count and, therefore, is beautiful.
It was a tough day to get to KLB. The Frisian bastard started early at the town Kylesku, at 5:00 am. Getting up early wasn't very difficult. As usual, birds began to sing -or quarrel- around at 4:30 am. It was still dry weather and the bastard could have breakfast in the open air and pack his bag and tent dry. Slugs were everywhere, so carefull he folded his tent not to miss one. Via the huge Kylesku bridge, which separates Loch Gleann Dubh from Loch a 'Chàirn Bhàin, the path climbed the Ben Strome. Reasonable climb, but gradually. Loch an Leathiad Bhuain is located on the east side of Ben Strome. After summiting Ben Strome the path descends to Loch More and the little village of Achfary. It's no more than a few houses and a church. The narrow secondary road through Achfary leads past the beautiful Loch Stack. You can't help but think that the creators of Game of Thrones have made abundant use of the mystically sounding names of this region.
Loch Stack - Highlands
After having walked along the southern shores of Loch Stack in western direction, in the rain, the path went north again into the mountains, towards Ben Arkle. Almost eight hundred meters high. At the foot of Ben Arkle, the path winds off to the north-west and drops you off at the narrow but long Loch a 'Garbh-bhaid. Then about seven difficult kilometres follow without a path through the usual bog, swamp and peat bog. Navigating the first part from the end of the path to the loch is quite complicated. Really a swamp of 1,5km, but the bastard managed to get through it without being trapped and preserved as a bog body. After crossing this swamp, it became endless ploughing through bog and high grassy vegetation along the north bank of the loch. Of course, no path. Perhaps one of the most tiring parts of the whole CWT. Halfway through this disaster you arrive at the River Garbh that you have to cross. You have to walk quite a bit upstream to find a ford. With a lot of rain this river could well be a showstopper. Shoes and socks off and with feet in the cold, refreshing water. Carefully, because the current was strong and the algae-covered stones slippery.
Loch a 'Garbh-bhaid ends in the short river, or better stream, named Rhiconich. In turn this river ends abruptly near the hamlet of Rhiconich. The road isn't visible from the river and vice versa. Due to a small forest. So, when you arrive Rhiconich it's as if you step out of the wings and suddenly stand on the stage of civilization. Bit of a Steppenwolf feeling. It was 2:00 pm. Meanwhile, nine hours of constant walking. No breaks yet. Hotel Rhiconich was closed and would not open until 3:00 pm. The setting was sad, and the hotel looked a bit shabby. In the distance at the end of Loch Inchard you could see KLB. A magnet for the bastard. A seaport. The Ocean. But the bastard’s feet hurt, and he doubted. After some cold instant coffee, a few cigarettes and some chocolate, the energy flowed back in his mind. And so, inevitably, he decided to finish 'the bitch' and move on to KLB. That would be a two-day stretch in one day. But this last stretch would be on asphalt and therefore painful to the feet.
the post office annex shop annex gas station, Ceann Loch Biorbhaidh, KLB
But it went well. The skies cleared until the sun just shone brightly and it became hot while walking. That helped. There was a blister that bothered the bastard, but that was all. After an hour and a half, the bastard arrived at the London Store. Famous spot, according to the guides. The owner sat outside in the sun. An old man over 70 years, probably. "Ye're doin' well," he threw at the bastard in a hard-to-understand Scottish accent. "Saw ye comin'," he added. "Thanks," said the Frisian bastard and he put down his walking poles and backpack. The man's store was packed to the ceiling with anything and everything. The bastard bought an apple, two packs of cigarettes, a bottle of coke and some candy. After another half an hour the bastard was in KLB. It was around 4:00 pm. A hike of ten hours and about thirty-five kilometres. Through mountains and bog, with a pack. That's ok.
The bastard tried the only hotel in town near the harbour: Hotel Kinlochbervie. An original name and it was in a decaying state. Bit smudgy too. The aquarium in the hall was covered with algae, although the fish were still alive. The big woman behind the desk barked without making eye contact: "No, we are full." "Oh, that's a pity, but can I make a reservation for dinner tonight?" the bastard asked. "No, full too," she barked again. No progress in the conversation. The bastard played the desperate hiker: Sigh. No food either. Sigh. Do you know where I can get food now? Until what time is that store open? Closed already too? Sigh etc. The bastard remained friendly and cheerful. His only chance. And yes, she lifted her body and walked slowly to the back and returned. If the bastard came early tonight, around 6:00 pm, he could still have a meal. He thanked her at lenght, promised to eat quickly and asked where he could set up his tent at a sheltered spot. Or maybe that she might still have addresses for bed & breakfasts. He dared to ask this after the dinner was fixed. She actually started calling for a B&B. After the fourth call she had a hit. Abruptly she handed over the wired phone to the bastard with a: "you make the deal" It was 35 pounds. The bastard told the owner of B&B Buzzy Bee, because that was the name of the place, he would come right away.
The bastard opened the door of the hotel to rush off to Buzzy Bee, when standing in front of him the Manchester Man. Incomprehensible! The bastard had last seen this fellow hiker, whose name he had forgotten, two days ago in the village of Inchnadamph. The bastard couldn't imagine that the Manchester Man had travelled the same distance. The Manchester Man knew that his deception was clear and immediately started telling a story that he couldn't be in Durness (near the end of the trail) in time and so he had taken the bus from Kylesku to KLB. The bastard wondered how many times more he had used public transport. Anyway, the Manchester Man needed to find accommodation and followed the bastard to Buzzy Bee. When the bastard opened the squeaky fence, Moira, the owner, was already outside. "Gosh, it's two of you!" she shouted from afar. The bastard explained who the Manchester Man was. Eventually, he too could get a bed. Owner Moira moved from her own bedroom to the little house in the garden.
Moira was pleasant and energetic. End 50s, very talkative, bit of a hippie. Just like her house. Full of frills. And she grows her own vegetables. It was a typical old Scottish house. Door in the middle, left and right one window. White. Very cosy. Moira explained never to make reservations. Not her style. "I am too chaotic for that," she said. Proud of what she had achieved. She also originally came from Manchester. Moved here with her little, barking dog after her divorce. Her children studied elsewhere in the UK. The bastard had to end the conversation and freshen up quickly, because he didn't dare arrive a minute late at the hotel for his dinner. Moira confirmed that. The big lady turned out to be the owner. Moira was surprised that she, her name was Mrs Tower, had taken the trouble to phone for accomodation.
The restaurant was huge. Almost nobody was there. In total ten guests. Big windows. Very surreal almost. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The bastard had two entrees, pea soup and salmon salad. Main course, a steak and for desert an apple pie with custard. And the necessary alcohol, of course. Beer and Laphroaig whisky. Next to the bastards sat two tall, strong guys. First thought they were soldiers. When the bastard ordered his Laphroaig whisky with the Irish waitress, both burst out laughing. The bastard inquired why. "You only drink Laphroaig as punishment when you lose a round in a card game," was their response. The bastard immediately called after the waitress: "make it a double!" That made them laugh again and a conversation started. They turned out to be anglers, but then at the ocean. The bastard said they looked 'different' than the river trout fishers he dined with in the fancy Oykel Bridge hotel a week earlier.' They laughed a lot again and said, "yeah, they're more traditional, ye mean." Trout fishers are rich men, driving big cars, wear stockings and talk like British nobility, and you do not associate them with soldiers.
The food was average but not bad either. Mrs. Tower served the food, breathing heavily and in silence, while the cheerful Irish woman in dito accent took the orders. She addressed the Frisian bastard emphatically with both 'Mister Faber' (pronounced as Veebur) and with informal 'love'. The Irish took care of the bar in the pub next to the restaurant at the same time. Something she had become too old for, she explained. But since her years in Switzerland, she could no longer pursue a profession other than this. The view from the big windows while eating was grandiose. The hotel is high above the fishing port and the weather was beautiful. Especially in the evening sun. After dinner the bastard made a detour through the village and across the port area especially.
Back in B&B Buzzy Bee the bastard drank coffee with Moira and he met the third guest, Joshua. Joshua was a Kenyan in his mid-30's and since three months in Scotland. Joshua was a math teacher and taught at the local secondary school. After two years, he and the school finally had succeeded in getting visas for Joshua to come the UK and to become the new maths teacher in KLB. The school hadn't had a maths teacher these two years. No Brit or any other European for that matter was interested. "Great how Western immigration procedures prioritize the future of children in the already empty and aging countrysides," the Frisian bastard couldn't help thinking. Now Joshua was waiting for a better, more private accommodation. It would probably be a residential caravan. Predictable for a Kenyan, Joshua ran fast each morning. That must be a special sight in this environment. This fishing port in the northern Scotish Highlands. But more people from far away came to KLB. More and more tourists especially, according to Moira. Sometimes even tour buses instead of the usual campers. Recently, a coach full of Germans. They had entered the small SPAR supermarket on a Thursday and had bought all the bread. That led to panic in the village. "My God, the Germans bought all the bread!" yelled Moira. KLB, namely, is only supplied with fresh bread once a week, every Thursday. With the departure of the German tour bus, the village had suddenly ran out of bread for almost a week.
After some more gossip about the locals, the bastard smoked a sigarette outside and went to bed. Tired and satisfied. A wonderfully soft bed with duvet. For two nights even!
The bastard made the following comparison between Scots and (Mid-) Frisians:
10 things they have in common and 10 things they don't.
Scots and Frisians have in common:
both suffer from predominant western winds and lots of rain;
both have lots of sheep;
both still carry the original tribe name after more than 2,000 years: Scoti and Frisi;
both distillate whisky (yes, Frisians too);
both excessively use their national flags;
both have no real independent country;
both value the concept freedom highly;
both are capable of self-reflection;
both favourite pastime is building things (Frisians terps, Scots castles);
both have the skill to recognize beauty.
Scots and Frisians have not in common:
the Scots still wear skirts, the Frisians do not;
the Scots destilate good whisky, the Frisians do not;
the Frisians destilate Beerenburg, the Scots do not;
Scotland has 5,3 mln inhabitants, Friesland 0,6 mln;
60,000 Scots speak Gaelic, 400,000 Frisians speak Mid-Frisian;
the Frisians are scattered over countries and area's, the Scots are not (both diasporas not included);
consensus about Scottish identity, about Frisian identity not;
the Frisians remember battles they won, the Scots remember those they lost;
the Scots have wet bog, the Frisians have wet clay;
strong sentiments among the Scots for independence, among the Frisians marginal.
Note 1. Read our blog post Frisian support for the Corsican Cause in jeopardy hiking the GR 20 in Corsica and our post Croeso i Gerddwyr hiking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales.
Note 2. If interested in the complete blog post of the author about his solo hike of the Cape Wrath Trail, check this link (in Dutch), and this link for his pictures of the Cape Wrath Trail.
Note 3. SPAR supermarktes are a Dutch invention founded in 1932. A multinational franchise that manages independently owned and operated food retail stores. Originally the name was DESPAR (The Spar) which stands for Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig, which freely translates as 'By Unitedly Working-together Profit All Regulary'.
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Atkinson, T., The Northern Highlands. The Empty Lands (1986)
Harper, I., Walking the Cape Wrath Trail. Through the Scottish Highlands from Fort William to Cape Wrath (2015)
Murphy, A., Schotland Highlands & Islands, Footprint (2011)
Page, O. et al, Schotland, Trotter (2009)
Wilson, N., Scotland's Highlands & Islands, Lonely Planet (2012)
Wright, P., Walking with Wildness. Experiencing the Watershed of Scotland (2012)