Monday, June 3, 2013

Stile Styles, Munros and Some Last Thoughts


A walk in the UK usually means entering and departing private land at some point, often land on which there is livestock, so there are a lot of gates. During the first couple of days of my walk on the West Highland Way most of these were regular farmers' gates, some small, some large, one in particular I had trouble with until a German couple came along to help me open it, otherwise there would have been an older lady scrambling ungracefully over top of it.

The thing about these gates, which were common throughout the WHW, is that the walker must be careful to close them again, making sure the latches engage. Success in keeping livestock where they belong is dependent on people who have no ownership of the problem.

Stiles, on the other hand, ask a bit more, physically, of the walker, but guarantee more security for the animals.

I didn't bother to photograph any metal gates, since there was nothing interesting or appealing about them. What I enjoyed were the stiles, so many different types.

This kind of style is very common around where I live in Ontario - there's one just down the road from where I live.

These stiles are common in the UK. Sometimes there are more steps, sometimes the steps are much farther apart.
I believe the following style of stile is called a "kissing gate". The walker has to squeeze into a small space while the gate swings back and forth. So much the better if someone you adore is in that space with you! Mind you, I found that often there was barely room just for me and my knapsack.
Munros, Corbetts and Grahams
Mountaineering - rock and ice climbing, hill walking, summiting -  are all popular activities around the world in the 21st Century. It seems many people really love a difficult physical challenge.
Back in Victorian times activities were more sedate for the most part, although there were a few intrepid souls who enjoyed the challenge of scaling a mountain. Hugh Thomas Munro was one of them and he spent many years climbing and listing the Scottish mountains he climbed. At the time, people thought there were only about 30 peaks in Scotland that were over 3000 ft. but Munro was able to compile a table that he published in 1891 that listed 218 such peaks and he was still adding to it when he died*.
In honour of Munro, an original member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club, any peak of 3000 ft. or more was listed as a Munro. If seen as a subsidiary of  Munro, a 3000 ft. high point is classed as a Top, a distinction which can be controversial. The SMC currently recognizes 283 Munros and 511 Tops. Munro-bagging has become a popular sport.
A Corbett is smaller than a Munro: over 2500 ft., with a drop of at least 500 ft. all around.
A Graham is smaller still: defined in metric units, it is over 610 metres (2001 ft), with a drop of at least 150 metres (492 ft.) all around.
None of them look small, especially when the peaks are snow-covered.
The West Highland Way passes Ben Lomond, the most southerly Munro and ends near Ben Nevis, the highest, in the north. It passes a dozen other Munros, mainly in the north section, and also many Corbetts and Grahams.
*No, he didn't die in a climbing accident. What took him, at age 63, in 1919, was the influenza epidemic that followed WWI.
Last Thoughts
A few people wondered why I wanted to do this walk. Was it a spiritual quest? A fundraiser?
Not really - I just enjoy active holidays.
When I was very young, as a camper in Muskoka, one of the activities was for our cabin group to take a picnic dinner on a Sunday (when the kitchen/dining room staff had a well-earned day off) either by canoe or on the road and it always felt like such an adventure to me. I think that's where it all started.
Then when I was 18 (so young!!) my friend, Moira, whom I had lived just down the hall from in residence at Victoria College suggested that her dad might have some influence in getting us jobs at Chateau Lake Louise. That summer was unforgettable. Moira and I happily traipsed around the trails in the mountains of Alberta - some hikes were quite long -  and even did some hitch-hiking.  It was a blast!
I loved the downhill skiing vacations in the Eastern Townships, France, Mont Tremblant and Whistler that I was able to take when I was much younger, but wasn't doing much walking.
Then came some articles about long distance walks in the travel sections of newspapers that rekindled my interest, so 10 years ago I took a short walk (65+ miles) on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in Wales and was hooked. Nothing beats the elation of setting off in the morning with map and knapsack and walking a new path for a whole day. 6 days in a row.
For some reason I decided I could cope with the real challenge of Scotland's most difficult long distance walk and I trained for a year to be ready. It was just enough. More would have been better. The walk was very difficult in many places - many long ascents and descents with tricky footing and lots of scrambling around on rocks and leaping across streams, all with 10 - 12 lbs. on my back. Often the passage of a certain section would remind me of a puzzle that needed to be solved.
As great as it was, I wouldn't repeat my walk on the West Highland Way. There were too many other people on the trail (mind you, the dates that I chose are the busiest, being ice free and just prior to midge season) and it was often too close to a busy highway. In fact the Way crosses many roads and busy highways. If I were to choose between Pembrokeshire and West Highland Way, I'd choose Pembrokeshire. The path is just as interesting, elevation-wise, the scenery is also stunning, there are fewer walkers and the only roads you need to cope with are those between the Path and the B & B's. In addition, the accommodations are mostly B & B's that are quieter than those on the WHW.
What's next? Who knows! What I do know is that I need to concentrate on keeping up my fitness level so I can be ready to take another long walk at a moment's notice.