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The Cape Wrath Trail

The Cape Wrath Trail is considered one of the UK's toughest long-distance trails. It spans roughly 230 miles along the western coast of Scotland, crossing dramatic wilderness and formidable terrain. 


The trail — which isn’t officially recognised as a national route — was pioneered in the early 1990s by long-distance hiker David Paterson. He combined existing paths, tracks, and off-trail routes to piece together a continuous trail from Fort William to the remote Cape Wrath lighthouse on Scotland’s northern tip.


Carrying essential provisions and camping gear is a must, and to help shortlist the best advice for first-timers in this challenging adventure, we spoke to four recent Cape Wrath Trail hikers: Ailsa Graham, Boaz Pauw, Andy Wasley and Loz Wong.  Here is what they said:

What made you take on the Cape Wrath Trail?


Ailsa: In April 2014 I was diagnosed with diabetes. Ten years later, in April 2024, I walked the Cape Wrath Trail. This was the first long distance walk I had done since my diagnosis — apart from four days of the Affric Kintail Way in the summer which I undertook as training.. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take on challenges like this with insulin-dependent diabetes and look after my blood sugars throughout.


Boaz: I’d done several long-distance hikes before, including two in Scotland. I was looking for 'the next thing'; something that would challenge me. When I saw that the Cape Wrath Trail is regarded as one of the toughest long-distance hikes in the UK, I was sold.


Andy:  It's an exceptionally tough hike, but there’s no feeling you’ll ever experience quite like reaching Cape Wrath, knowing how hard you’ve worked to get there — that feeling is what drives me to do it.


Loz: I was drawn to the idea of an extended trip in nature with friends, I love the idea of thru-hiking, and I hadn't spent much time in the Highlands. This seemed like a perfect way to experience all three. The friends I hiked with had previously walked  the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way, and thought Cape Wrath Trail sounded like an adventure — they were right!


What was the most challenging part? 


Ailsa: I started the Cape Wrath Trail trail in the pouring rain and it continued to rain for the first week of my walk. This made the section over Knoydart particularly challenging as it was so wet! I was determined to enjoy myself no matter what and this positive outlook meant I was able to marvel in the stunning landscapes before me even as the heavens opened and I got soaked through! The walking in Knoydart also has some river crossing that can become difficult when the rivers are in spate, so despite the shorter distances and the fact I was staying in bothies most night this was by far the hardest part of the walk.

Boaz: The most challenging part of the Cape Wrath Trail for me was when I departed Kinlochewe. That morning, the weather was quite warm and extremely humid, with absolutely no wind at all and thousands of midges. The physical aspect of the route was not the hardest for me — it was the unfortunate (and a little bit naïve) decision to go in August, which is midge season.


Andy: I had an accident on Bealach Coire na Mhalagain on my way to Shiel Bridge in 2019. I knew the Knoydart stretch of the trail would be tough, but I hadn’t prepared myself for the effect sheer exhaustion would have on my decision-making. When I hit the trail again in 2022 I was much better prepared, but it’s still fair to say the trail can be extremely wearying —  mentally and physically. That’s absolutely the toughest thing about it.


Loz: We were unbelievably lucky with the weather and conditions for our Cape Wrath expedition. Out of 18 days (17 days of hiking with one rest day in Kinlochewe), it was sunny or dry for 15! This meant that stream and river crossings were all very easy and most of our kit remained mostly dry throughout. One of our rainy days was one of our longest days, and this gave us a small taste of how hard the route could be in wet conditions. But for us,  the most challenging parts were more about keeping energy and morale high in the group, especially on the longer days.


How much food did you carry, and if you used food drops, how did you plan these?


Ailsa: My food for the trip was very carefully planned to make sure I was getting enough carbs and calories each day. Although this meant my diet was the same every day, it did make keeping on top of my diabetes easier. My diabetes also meant I needed to have my food dropped to me at points during the walk. I was lucky enough to have support, so was able to get resupplied easily. If I was going without the support, I would have sorted out food drops and parcels to be picked up from B&Bs and hotels along the route — a lot of places are more than happy to take a parcel for you.

Boaz: I went with a group, planning for a three-week hike in total, carrying enough food for about a week at a time. We used food drops. That meant when we were planning our route, we looked for places where we might be able to send packages ahead of us, with a rough date for when we'd pick it up. People responded very kindly and were willing to help. We got all of our food together at home, split it into three separate weeks’ worth, and then sent two packages ahead, keeping one week’s worth of food to get us started.


Andy: I sent parcels ahead to the youth hostels in Ratagan and Ullapool, as well as the Kinlochbervie Hotel. I planned to carry progressively less weight with each parcel drop, so my pack was never heavier than it was when I left Fort William with seven days’ supply of food. I also made sure I packed the most calorific meals for the most demanding days  — it makes a massive difference to be able to start and finish a hard day with really good food. 


Loz: We sent some food ahead to Kinlochewe, which is where we had our rest day. We also had some hotel stays along the way, where we knew we would be able to treat ourselves to hot, fresh food. This meant that we didn't have to carry more than one week's worth of food at a time.


What food did you plan to eat?


Ailsa: I live and work in the Scottish mountains as a Mountain Leader and so I’m used to being out in the hills for long days and balancing my energy needs to that of my blood sugars. I also knew that as a diabetic what I ate and when I ate it was particularly important for me, in order to manage my blood sugar successfully. On the walk I wanted to eat as close to my normal diet as possible —  something I would recommend to everyone, particularly other diabetics. I typically eat low carb breakfasts and dinners and eat the majority of my carbs in the middle of the day. Finding low carb evening meals was a challenge but luckily Firepot was able to make me a selection of three low-carb evening meals, all containing less than 20g of carbohydrates per portion, much the same as I would have at home. 


Boaz: Back then, I didn’t really calculate kcals or anything — although I would now. My group and I planned to have a home-made muesli mix with whey powder in the morning, snacks (nuts, dried fruits and bars) and some canned fish throughout the day, and Firepot in the evenings. I would skip the canned fish now. The taste is good but the cans are terrible to carry to the next bin, as the sharp edges cut the garbage bags.


Andy: I wasn’t too scientific about it. I was hiking some big days, and made sure any day that stretched out to more than 18 miles or so had higher-calorie rations for breakfast and dinner. I focused on complex carbohydrates for breakfast – Firepot’s Baked Apple Porridge is a personal favourite – and kept plenty of protein in my evening meal to help with recovery. Then I made sure I had lots of snacks to keep me going during the day (not that hiking is just an excuse to eat chocolate and trail mix from morning to night, but it helps!) Having a really tasty meal after putting up camp is a huge morale boost, so I also made sure I treated myself to favourites on the tougher days. Firepot’s Mac ’n’ Greens at Cape Wrath was well worth waiting for.


Loz: My food options needed to be vegan, taste good, and provide enough calories and protein to keep me going throughout the expedition. Firepot have the best-tasting vegan options that I've tried, so I stuck with them. I also had plenty of snacks such as Lenny & Larry’s cookies, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and sports drinks. Breakfast was porridge, and lunches were unusual wrap or sandwich combinations featuring peanut butter, jam, crisps, nuts, and more.


What did you not take with you that you wished you had? And what would you leave behind next time, if anything?


Ailsa: I was a little over-optimistic at the start of the walk and didn’t dry bag everything. This meant after the week of rain around Knoydart I was literally pouring water out of the bottom of my backpack. And I even had one night with a wet sleeping bag liner. I got myself some more drybags and put absolutely everything in one after that incident, but I do wish I had been slightly more circumspect at the start! Apart from the lack of dry bags I was pretty happy with how I packed. The only thing that didn’t end up getting used was my emergency diabetes stuff — (I carry a spare Dexcom sensor, a finger prick metre and glucose gel just in case anything breaks or I have a severe hypo).


Boaz: One thing I think I would get more of is fresh fruit, whenever passing a town. We always passed through towns quite quickly as we liked the idea of being remote, but hopping in and out of the shop and buying some fresh berries would’ve been great. An item I would leave behind the next time would be my fly fishing rod. I had the idea that I’d be fishing in all these beautiful remote places, only to find out that almost all places are privately owned and you are not allowed to fish.


Andy: I wish I’d had my binoculars with me – I love birds, and would have had some brilliant experiences getting better views of golden eagles and white-tailed eagles. If I could bear the extra weight, I’d have carried my wildlife photography lens too, but I’m not a glutton for punishment. I didn’t carry anything I’d have preferred to leave behind, other than mental baggage!


Loz: The bulk of my weight was definitely food, and I took some extra meals in case the hotels and restaurants we planned to eat at didn't have vegan options. But the hotels and restaurants we found in the Highlands were incredibly vegan-friendly, so these extra meals weren't necessary. The one thing I’d have added to my packing is  a better set of earplugs for those nights  staying in bothies.


What would your advice to future trail walkers be?


Ailsa: My best advice for other walkers with diabetes would be to try to eat in the way you normally do. Also you should make sure you have spent plenty of time in the mountains and know how your body reacts to big hill days before setting off on a walk like this. I carried loads of spare carbs with me including an evening meal with more carbs in it just in case my body ran out of sugar reserves. Luckily I didn’t need it, but it was a good thing to have with me.


Boaz: Firstly, avoid the midge season on the trail. I’d heard stories of how bad it was, but thought they must be exaggerated. But it really was that bad. Besides that, I think it is important to have your basics up to speed. Navigation skills (including map and compass), emergency communication and proper planning in terms of gear. Oh and, of course, bring great food i.e. Firepot.


Andy: For me, preparation was essential. Have a clear plan, don’t underestimate the terrain, and allow yourself time to rest – there are plenty of bothies to use en route, and hostels and B&Bs can give you a valuable chance to recharge your batteries (and spend money in the local economy). 


Loz: If you're going in a group, train together and plan your route together. I'd also recommend building in contingency and flexibility to any planning to increase chances of completing the trail and having fun while doing it. We needed to make some adjustments to avoid live firing days (part of the route is in a military zone), for example, and the weather can massively influence how long certain sections take. My final advice would be to take plenty of snacks and enjoy the journey!


Pictures kindly provided by the hikers.