Accessing the most remote surf locations on the planet has become a deep seated passion for myself and my brother George. Whether that’s from the desolate dredging rights of Mauritania to the cold frustrating deadly slabs of the north passage.
I guess you could say the pandemic has grounded our dreams of remote sandy beaches and the force of the roaring 40s singing under our boards. It has certainly given me time to consider the environmental impact of my aerospace heavy lifestyle.
What with being stuck in the UK and a passion for adventure, naturally it wasn’t long before George and I were looking at remote beaches and their accessibility. Can I pull off a trip like this without using helicopters and 4x4s tearing a hole in my carbon footprint? A footprint that I so carefully try to reduce with wooden toothbrushes and cycling to work.
The trip sounds simple, drive north. So far north that you can see John O Groats pointing toward the Faroe Islands and beyond, then the hiking begins. I'll leave you, the reader, to find your own trip. Google Earth, a basic understanding of swell direction and a fundamental knowledge of wilderness first aid will go a long way when surfing waves that aren't next to a car park.
The topography of Scotland is unlike any other. Tucked behind the sprawling tundra like moorland there is an endless skyline of Munro’s begging to be bagged. The only way to access them is by strapping on your boots and hiking.
Staying in Bothies has always been my preference over tenting, it gets you out of the elements and a tent is one extra thing to be lugging through the hills.
With heavy bags and light hearts we set off from the van along a winding track on to the moors.
Despite the gruelling 11km, walking on sand to get to the reef, we managed to score some 2ft mini kegs. I guess that’s the glorious thing about a Paipo, it doesn’t matter how bad the conditions are, you’re always going to get tunnel vision.
When you find yourself packing Paipo boards (check out owensurfcraft), 5mm wetsuits and swim fins, all the meaning of our ultralight hiking gear goes out of the window. Heavy, heavy packs. Even in the summer, the top of Scotland can be cold. Hiking coal into remote locations to warm emergency shelters is imperative.
As the sun basically never sets this far north, we had plenty of time to hike back up the cliffs and over the boggy hills to a carefully pinpointed mountain shelter. Previously inhabited by a hermit in the 90s, the bothy was rustic to say the least...but perfectly positioned for our purposes.
We sat enjoying the warm rays dip below the horizon and shortly after back up again while sipping on a wee dram.
Day two was another dirty hike out to an even more remote potential surf spot. To be honest, there wasn't much to tell. We walked all day, got destroyed by midges (aptly named 'Clegs' by the locals), got to the cove and got skunked; turns out that spot needs a different swell to what we had.
While I could complain about the lack of waves all day it was something we could live with, it was nice and warm and yet again we were seated with a stunning backdrop watching the sun do its down and up thing while chomping on some delicious freeze dried food. I'll take that and a good night's sleep.
Day three was long. We walked too much for my liking, but the beach we got to did have a whale skeleton to look at. Really made me think how small we are compared to the rest of the world.
We scored a few nuggets, got frightfully cold and cheerfully walked the final few miles back to the van thinking about the two beers we had in the back. The scenery was mind blowing and it stayed sunny all day.
At this point we were now heading inland. Our middle brother was getting married in a few days and we really really couldn’t be late. But there was just one more bothy we really couldn’t drive past without hiking in for the night. Fortunately it was on the drive home and would play as an ideal stop and stretch in the middle of a very long drive to Surrey!
Parking at Coulags we took a stalkers path up into the hills and through a beautiful glen, climbing with every step. It wasn’t a mission so we had piled the bags with coal and a beer each for victory.
Coire Fionnarich, striking against the backdrop of the ever steep Sgorr Ruadh, cloaked in low lying clouds. This bothy used to be a hunting lodge and was maintained by the estate into the early 19th century. It was luxurious as far as bothys go. Equipped with a stove and maintaining its original wood panelling, we settled down to gaze at the skyline and watch the fire crackle.
The night turned to day and at 4am we were hiking back out. I wish I could tell you we got home in good time for the wedding but the reality is we ended up exiting our hiking boots in the carpark of the wedding venue. We all applied aftershave generously to hide the smell of a week's worth of sweat and peat smoke.
So after not leaving the UK since getting stranded in Sri Lanka, I am still managing to find new challenges and save a bunch of cash for the day the borders open.
So where to next? Probably to have a pint with the boys at dewerstone rock.