It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who think that walking in the Highlands of Scotland will be a ‘walk in the park’! On Saturday my husband was walking with our Vizsla Lila on the Quiraing, a rugged and dramatic area at the north end the Trotternish Ridge on Skye, when he was approached by a man who wanted to know if you could get to the top of the Quiraing by following the path he was on. All he had with him was a small map (A4 print off from some website) with a blue line marked on it. No rucksack, no water, and wearing just shorts and a shirt. Stuart didn’t mention what sort of shoes he was wearing – but I somehow imagine they were not proper walking boots, more likely they were trainers, or even as has been frequently observed – especially in the summer months – soft shoes or even flip flops. This particular walk takes over three hours all told, and Saturday was a hot one. Without water he was in real danger of dehydrating. What was the man thinking? Oh that’s OK there’ll be a cafe at the top! Ummm! No there won’t! There is plenty of spring water on the Quiraing from several waterfalls, but to benefit from that you need an empty bottle, he had none. I ask myself ‘do people not value their lives?’ Clearly not! It’s a worry and one of the reasons Mountain Rescue teams often end up rescuing dehydrated walkers who walk in the dramatic Highlands and on Skye without even the basic equipment for such a task.
Then there’s those who ‘Have all the gear, but no idea’. You know who I’m talking about; they have the t-shirt – with the right brand – Hagloff or The North Face (sounds impressive). They have expensive walking boots, rucksacks, binoculars, a map, a hat – usually one that makes them look like Indiana Jones, sunglasses and a hiking stick. They ask a barman at the local Inn if he knows how far it is to some popular destination in the hills and ask how long it will take to get there. How many summer-time barmen do you know who know the local terrain?
‘Excuse me, do you know how long it will take to get to the Fairy Pools from here?’ a “walker” asked my husband Sunday morning. ‘I asked the guy at the hotel (The Sligachan Hotel this was) and he said it would take half an hour’. After Stuart took a deep breath, noting the toffs accent, new gear and lack of … shall we politely say -inability to read the map he had in his hand – he calmly stated that it would take about two hours to get there, up that path over the bealach and down the other side, just to get to the Fairy Pools and then the same amount of time to walk back. Face drops – clearly not the answer he was looking for. Never mind there’s always the walkers bar at the Sligachan, he can always pretend he walked to the Fairy Pools ……. in half an hour.
But this is the silly season, the time when foreign tourists flock to our shores, drive at 40mph on our main roads but speed through our townships, stumble all over our hills, cliffs and mountains and generally manage to get lost just 500 yards from their destination. But hey ho! It’s only for six months of the year so we grit our teeth and bear it – it certainly gives us something to laugh about during the dreich winter months in the local Inn with a roaring fire and a pint in hand, don’t you think?