This summer is a summer of trekking for me. After two days on the West Island Way and a week on the Speyside Way, I’m off to the Outer Hebrides in July. For two weeks I will be traveling around the islands to the far west of Scotland – but unlike many visitors, I will be taking it very slowly. I’m walking the Hebridean Way!
Whoever I tell that I’m planning to walk the Hebridean Way, looks surprised at first. In fact, I don’t think that many people even know that it’s possible. The Hebrides are a popular holiday destination, and the Hebridean Way is first and foremost known as a cycle trail. But in 2017 the Way was developed for long-distance hikers and additional paths and infrastructure were built. Now trekkers can hit the trail for 150 miles on foot, all the way from Vatersay in the south to Stornoway and the Butt of Lewis in the north.
Once people have understood that I’m actually walking the Hebridean Way, and not cycling, their surprise turns into admiration.
“Wow, what a great adventure – and what a crazy endeavor! Whose coming with you?”, they’ll say.
That’s when I throw the second eye-brow-raising fact at them: “I’m doing it on my own.”
And here are a few reasons why I’m solo-hiking the Hebridean Way.
To advocate for slow travel
I have never been to the Outer Hebrides before. They are some of the most remote Scottish islands and can only be reached after several hours on the ferry. Yet, they are a popular road trip destination, and I read more and more often that people plan to include them in their 10- or 14-day itineraries around Scotland. 10 or 14 days? That’s what I’d like to spend in the Outer Hebrides alone, just to scratch the surface.
Needless to say, I want to raise awareness for slow travel in Scotland – with any of my hikes, not just this one. Slow travel is better for the environment, especially when you walk, cycle, kayak or use public transport. Slow travel gives you more time to explore a destination in detail and to have more local encounters. Slow travel means you go off the beaten track, not just ticking off the major attractions.
To promote travel off the beaten track
The Outer Hebrides are becoming more and more popular. Just like Skye and Orkney, they are moving up on many visitors’ bucket lists and with that comes the risk of straining a region with modest infrastructure.
The problem with over-tourism in my eyes is not that a region witnesses more visitors – done sustainably, this can bring a lot of benefit to the remote island communities of the Outer Hebrides. The problem is that many people come with limited time, a bucket list of 3-5 “must see” items and little awareness for what else is out there.
By walking the Hebridean Way I hope to highlight some of the lesser-known corners of the Outer Hebrides and encourage my readers to go off the beaten track.
To encourage women to go outdoors
I don’t think women in the outdoor sports are visible enough. When you type the word ‘adventurer’ into an image database, the vast majority of images displayed for this keyword, shows men.
There are lots of inspiring women in the outdoors; climbing mountains, surfing waves, trail-running across entire countries. The She Explores podcast is a huge source of inspiration for me, as it introduced another female explorer (or several) each week. Yet, women in outdoor sports are still underrepresented.
With my solo hike on the Hebridean Way, I hope to reach other women and inspire them to dare something big in the outdoors. It does not have to be a 2-week solo hike; a 2-hour trail run will do!
To disconnect and reconnect
To me, walking is like cleansing my mind and my body. When I walk, I can disconnect from what usually keeps me busy. I can switch off and focus on setting one foot in front of the other, and nothing else. I can pay more attention to the environment around me, the sun on my back, the wind in my face, or the rain falling on the top of my head.
Hiking and wild-camping mean that I will inevitably run out of battery at some point. I aim to document my trip of course, but I might put my phone on airplane mode to save battery for emergencies – and photos. I might only take photos of the things that truly touch me along the way. I might pack my devices away for a whole day, and just focus on walking. It will be my chance to disconnect.
To increase my count of Scottish Islands
In the almost 5 years I’ve lived in Scotland, I have only been to 16 islands – out of 790+! I made it my goal, to increase this number – not by jumping from island to island in a crazy rush, but slowly, by visiting more islands in depth.
The Hebridean Way is an easy way to combine visiting lots of islands, with slow travel. In those two weeks, I will pass through 10 islands, bringing my tally up to 26 in no time.
To expand my knowledge about Scotland
There are so many regions of Scotland that I still don’t know. One side effect of slowly traveling across the Outer Hebrides is of course also, that I will get to know them very well. I love helping people to plan their Scotland holidays, and after this trip, I will finally feel comfortable enough to make recommendations and suggestions for the Outer Hebrides too.
To learn about my limits
There is no better way to learn about your limits than testing them. Solo-hiking the Hebridean Way is going to be the ultimate test for my limits. How much time can I spend by myself? How many kilometres can I walk with a full backpack on my back? How many days can I go without a shower?
I’m sure that across those two weeks on the trail, I will learn about many more limits I have; and if I reach one, I will find a way to work through it, or figure out how to extract myself from the given situation. I’m not walking the Hebridean Way, to finish it no matter what; I’m walking the Hebridean Way to see how far I can make it and feel proud about this accomplishment regardless.
To gain trust in my abilities
Luckily, my previous long-distance hikes have proved one thing to me: my body and mind are stronger than I think.
I’m excited to see how far my feet will be able to carry me; how fast I will be able to pitch my tent or take down camp by the end of the trip; how easily I will sleep through the noises of the Hebridean wilderness at night.
The Hebridean Way will not only test my limits; it will also show me my abilities.
To take a break before the storm
As you might know, I’m in the final year of my PhD studies and I’m hoping to submit my doctoral thesis by the end of the year. This solo trip is my last big break before the storm. I’m more or less done with a first draft of the thesis and I think the best thing I can do before completing it, is to let it rest for a couple of weeks.
I know that I need to get away to clear my head and then come back with fresh eyes, a new-found trust in my abilities and plenty of inspiration to write the best thesis I can.
To raise money for our oceans
Finally, I am not just solo-hiking the Hebridean Way for myself; I also want to give back for the privilege of being able to walk through such pristine nature. One way, I’m doing this, is by taking the Marine Conversations Society’s plastic challenge. The goal is to #GoPlasticFree in July.
Ironically, I already know that this will be extra hard while walking the Hebridean Way. Even though I walk the trail to promote sustainable tourism, I won’t be able to cut out all plastic from my hike. Buying food that I can carry with me for days, that is easy to prepare on a camping stove and that is vegan will require me to buy things wrapped in plastic. Carrying my own trash with me (even though I have a reusable trash bag) will require me to use a plastic bag to line my trash bag if I want to avoid a mess.
To counteract this irony, I have decided to start a fundraiser for the Marine Conversation Society (MCS). MCS is the UK’s leading marine charity; I first heard about them when Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland organised a big beach-clean to support their work. Their campaigns span from educating people about the pollution caused by single-use plastics or common household items, to campaigning for the environment at local governments. In Scotland, they have contributed to the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 which requires the country to take care, enhance and protect its precious coastlines and marine life.
want to help me support the marine conservation society?
Donate to my cause here.
I will be hiking the Hebridean Way in July 2018 and I hope you will follow me on Facebook, Instagram and of course on my blog for updates. If you want and can support my cause, I’d appreciate your donation, and if you have any tips for plastic-free trekking alternatives, please do get in touch!
If you happen to be in the Outer Hebrides in late July and would like to connect, feel free to reach out!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.