It’s a quiet morning in early June and I’m sat, coffee in hand, back in Brighton. My kids are at school and my better half has popped out. I’m finally shaved, truly clean for the first time in days and my (overly sweaty) sleeping bag is airing on the line. There’s some antihistamine-dulled itching in my legs but I’m calm, relaxed and happily tired.
Last night I returned from the west coast of Scotland, from four nights camping in the Knoydart Peninsula, one of the most remote and wildest parts of the UK.
As a group of four friends we had signed up for the “Wild Pilgrim” adventure, based on a 40th birthday gift to one of us. We grabbed the opportunity to spend real time together and put some miles in our legs in a place we’d never even heard of.
But we didn’t really have a sense of what we were signing up for. Four other folks joined as individuals and with Em and Josh as “trail Mum and Dad” we made ten.
I could recount the details of our trip but yours will be different. Our difficulties would be different from yours, the individual struggles within our group were varied despite all walking the same hills. My highlights will be different from yours, but no less spectacular.
Our days were unusually hot and our evenings midge-laden, even above and beyond the usual expected nibbles. You’d share our magnificent views, but even your route through the wilderness might be different.
For our walk as a relatively fit 40-something, I found the place-to-place, even with a heavy pack, to be within my physical capabilities but that meant I could delight in the path, the journey and appreciating the extraordinary environment.
Safe in the knowledge my feet and back could support me (and the wider group) to get to where we needed to be.
"What I can guarantee for you is that you will be led, encouraged, put up with and held by Josh & Emily both as individuals and a collective. They had an uncanny ability to delight in both the pre-existing dynamics amongst my particular group of mates and also deftly manage the wider spread of ambition and ability in the larger team."
You might not get caught in a thunderstorm. You might get a chance to swim in a waterfall that Josh has never seen before.
You will eat food from your packs that is surprisingly delicious and not just because you’ve earned the sustenance.
You just won’t know until you are on the trail.
"It feels quite extreme to walk into a landscape with just sustenance and shelter on your back, with a group of (not yet) friends and no way to contact home in anything other than the most extreme emergency. My guess is that this sort of experience does often attract folks who are looking for a fulcrum around which they’re looking to bend their life. I wasn’t at a turning point, in a moment of crisis or looking for a revelation... but I am still changed by the trip."
It’s rare, for me, to not have responsibility and thus an internally (and externally) imposed schedule, it was a salve to not have anything to do other than exist and subsist in a spectacular environment of which I had never really conceived.
When we returned to Mallaig, after those four nights under canvas, I could actually hear the under-hum of humanity beneath the pleasant nature noise of birds and sea.
That audible buzz has dissipated as I headed home by train, coach, plane and foot. Despite the filtered hum I know is there and the sharper sounds of the city this morning, I can still hold a deeper quietness and I feel a greater peace that I found on the trails and hope to retain in the months to come.
"The main emotion I have is gratitude. For the warm earth beneath, the sound of running stream water and the epic sweep of mountains and hills revealing themselves."
It needed nothing other than the will to hoist a heavy bag, tighten the straps and put one foot in front of the other. All undergirded by the support and reassurance of Josh and Emily, however much any of us needed.
And Irn Bru sweets.
Huge thanks to Andy for sharing his Wild Pilgrim experience with us. What an honour it was to share the adventure with you and all our 2023 Wild Pilgrims.
You can find out more about our 2024 Wild Pilgrim adventure here: