Exam stress. Flat moving. Crazy politics. End of a semester. Goodbyes. My mind a whir – so many things I want to do but no space in my mind to really do or think about anything. This was the state I was in when leaving for the West Highland Way. I couldn’t have made a better decision than hiking for six days to clear my mind, go back to the basics and challenge myself in a more fundamental way than university or city life ever could.
Two days after my last exam I walked out of my flat with a bag loaded with only the bare necessities: a tent, sleeping bag and mat, one change of clothes, food and water. And, of course, somebody to keep me sane, singing (literally) and smiling by my side. After leading a full-chocked, typically busy university lifestyle for a semester it seemed ridiculous that this was all I would need to survive for a week. But it proved that you really can live on only the essentials. In fact, if they are all you have, you learn to enjoy them as you never would before. Suddenly a day-old slice of bread or cold, tinned lentil soup seems delicious, a spoonful of chunky peanut butter becomes a heavenly delight, and a fresh, crunchy apple a pure luxury.
I no longer took my body for granted. It became something powerful, the ideal vehicle to experience the world we are in. I learned how much it could do. It could clamber up rocks after an 8-hour hike, it could carry a heavy, burdensome rucksack on its back all day, its feet managed to carry me over 170km in just 6 days. And above all, it enabled me to enjoy it. Sure, there was pain (in my feet, my back, my legs) but you learn to deal with that to take pleasure in the awe-inspiring nature of Scotland.
Not only did I come to appreciate the things I carried with me or my body from a new perspective, but also the nature we inhabit and lies so close to us. We decided to add a short distance to our journey in order to set off right outside my door. Rather than taking a bus to Milngavie where the hike officially began, we took to Kelvin Walkway and started from Glasgow. This was one of the best choices we made, because it showed me the remarkable way in which a cityscape becomes a landscape.
Yet this wasn’t just a trend on that first day, but something which accompanied us throughout the journey. Each day I found myself noticing the hills turning into mountains, the cities into towns then villages, then merely a lone hotel or nothing at all. This was marked by an incredible variation in different landscapes – peacefully grazing sheep and cows, rolling fields of bluebells, dense lush forests, ancient pine trees, the tranquility of Loch Lomond, the wide sweeping highland mountain-scape that doesn’t ever seem to end.
Seeing as I was still in Scotland, it was no surprise that the weather decided to change things up a little. Thus on several days I was baking in incredible sunshine, some days were grey and cloudy with a smattering of rain, whilst one day decided to remind me that nature is, after all, King. Finding myself on the top of a mountain, in the middle of a cloud barely seeing five meters ahead of me, surrounded by the sound of crashing water from the new-forged streams, drenched to the bone (despite three layers and a sturdy rain jacket), and facing a three-hour hike down a slippery mountain, I learned that despite the innumerable means humans try to limit and control nature we are ultimately powerless. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life.
The West Highland Way became a path of rediscovery and appreciation for me. By going back to the essentials, I learned new things about myself, and the world I inhabit. I became aware of the countless things I had taken for granted, whether it was the luxuries that surround me in the city, or the many things my body can do. Above all, I became aware of the beauty of Scotland’s multi-faceted and breathtaking nature. There is so much to discover in and take pleasure from the myriad landscapes that are so close at hand to us, but rarely do we take the time to appreciate them. The West Highland Way enabled me to do just that, whilst finding a way to re-balance my mind and challenge my body.