An epic adventure just to get to the start of a walk?

Published 12 September 2021

A few months ago I walked the Northumberland Coast Path.  And on our final night we stayed at the lovely Fenham Farm B&B, near Lindesfarne.  After a hearty evening meal, we sat upstairs in the large lounge, having a chat with two walkers from Scotland who were doing the St Cuthbert’s Way. 

Now I promised one of them that I wouldn’t write about anything that happened that night.  And as she’s a lawyer, I take that request very seriously.  But I hope she won’t mind me talking about this snippet of conversation we had.

It turned out that the St Cuthbert’s Way wasn’t quite her cup of tea.  Bit too populated.  No, she preferred something that spent more time in the wilderness, and gave an example of it.  A walk that seemed to be her favourite, even if she didn’t quite say that. 

That was the Sutherland Trail, a seventy mile walk in the Scottish highlands created by Scottish outdoors writer, Cameron McNeish.  She described it wonderfully, although I’m afraid my beer consumption that evening prevents me from remembering exactly what she said.  But her lyrical waxing of it was enough to make me want to head to the far north west of Scotland as soon as possible.

Looking at the map when I got back home, it looked a wonderful adventure.  Few villages or houses.  For a lot of the trail you’re on your own.  I started doing a bit more research into how it could be done.

As part of that I checked out how you actually would start and end the trail.  And then my eyes really opened wide.

One end of the trail is in a village called Lochinver on the west coast.  The other, in a village called Tongue on the north coast.  And to get to and from either of them, from my base in the edge of Greater Manchester, would be pretty much an adventure in itself.

Firing up Google Maps, the fastest time it could quote me to get to Lochinver was 16 hours 16 minutes.  This would include:

  • Walking to my local station (fair enough)
  • A train from there to Manchester Piccadilly (ditto)
  • A train to Wigan
  • A train to Glasgow Central
  • A walk or a bus to Glasgow Queen Street
  • A train to Perth.
  • Sitting around from 1am to 5am on Perth station’s platform
  • A train to Inverness
  • The 961 bus to Ullapool
  • The 809 bus to Lochinver

So that’s five trains, two buses (maybe three), and hanging around for four hours on a station platform overnight. 

Now there’s direct trains between Manchester and Glasgow so we can reduce that to four trains.  And there’s probably hotels in Perth I could stay in.  But that increases our travelling time, and Google Maps is here trying to give us the fastest route.  Which is why it thinks I might want to kip on Perth station.  Perth station looks very nice, but I don’t so.

Realistically to start walking on (say) a Tuesday morning, I’d have to set off on Sunday.

Returning home from Tongue, well that’s even more fun.  It would take 19 hours.  And thanks to the local buses, I’d only be able to return on a Tuesday, a Thursday or a Saturday morning.  On the other hand, Google Maps recommends an overnight bus arriving in Manchester at 4am.  Oh yes.

I reckon for six or seven days walking, I’d need to pencil in 4 days of travelling.

True, I could drive to one end, but non-stop that’s roughly ten hours each way.  Also the fastest Google Maps could give me to get between both ends of the trail for me to get back to my car after walking would involve a day of travelling, involving an overnight stay at Inverness.

I don’t know about you but I often think of Great Britain (the island) as being quite small.  Generally it doesn’t take much time to get anywhere, especially when – like me – you’re in the middle of England.  All this was a huge reminder though that there are some very remote parts to this island.  Places where even getting to a major city is a big adventure in itself.

Which I will be willing to put money on being a big attraction to some walkers, like the woman I was talking to.  Would it be worth it?  Quite probably.  For me, well there’s a question I won’t know until the day I actually try. 

And truthfully, I’m still tempted.



6 November 2022 at 7:38 pm

I completely agree – having travelled to the start and end of my Dales Way walk by public transport last year I now find this is as much of the adventure as the walk itself. OK, maybe not quite as much as the walk, but certainly an important part of it.

Currently staring at the 2 trains and the 4 buses over 11 hours I will need for the trip from my home in Sheffield to Portpatrick and the start of the Southern Upland Way and dreaming…….

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