n 10th May, Ullapool-based Will Copestake completed a truly monumental solo journey. For the trip, which he's dubbed Machair to Munro, he first kayaked right around the coastline of Scotland over four months. Back on dry land Will then knocked off a continuous round of all 282 Munros on foot and by bike. Much of it was done in winter, which just happened to be one of the windiest and snowiest seasons in living memory. No wonder the whole thing took him just one day short of a full year. We first interviewed Will back in March, when he still had over 80 summits to go (see here). So how did he get on with the final couple of months; and now it's all done what are his thoughts on the trip? UKH caught up with Will receuperating at home to find out.
"From November to January a constant procession of depressions brought horrendous gales in the uplands"
You chose a hell of a winter to do the bulk of the walking – how did all the high winds and deep snow affect your progress?
‘It’s really windy’ became something of a catchphrase on my Punkt video diary this year. From november until January a constant procession of depressions brought horrendous gales in the uplands. The first gale hit as I descended from the Grey Corries and headed to Roy Bridge.
At the start I set a rule that 60mph was the limit to going out, by the end of the Cairngorms 60mph was relatively ‘good’ conditions with the limit being pushed to between 80-90mph. Over Christmas the winds in the Cairngorms were so high that I was virtually stormbound. It made a great excuse to head north for Christmas day in Ullapool, where I set about tackling the Dearg ranges in the meantime.
The conditions also meant that very few people were in the hills, I went between Ben Nevis and Glen Shee without seeing a single other person during the day on the hillside.
I had planned the journey to last approximately 10 months and not the 12 it took me; the extra time was largely due to the unexpectedly hard weather but also to a small part an error in planning in terms of biking. Having never cycled a loaded bicycle before starting my route choices required some adjusting.
"I went between Ben Nevis and Glen Shee without seeing a single other person on the hill"
Which did you find harder, paddling or walking?
It is strange to look back and compare the two journeys. Both were wonderful and also extremely challenging. There was always a greater sense of commitment during the kayaking as I was often literally immersed in the moment and unable to stop; the knowledge that in the hiking stage that I could always stop and pitch tent helped make it easier.
On the whole however the hiking was far tougher than the journey at sea. This was largely due to the added (and regular) factor of horrendous winds, whiteouts and damp snow. At sea I woke up knowing that I would get wet no matter what, but on land there was a hope that I may stay dry which made those times of dampness seem all the harder.
Your knowledge of Scotland’s coastline and mountains must have expanded enormously over the trip – did the amphibious nature of the journey give you a more ‘complete’ feel for the country than a trip based solely on walking, or restricted to a boat?
I certainly feel I know Scotland far better than I did when I started. Had I completed just one or the other I would have missed the different landscapes which were equally beautiful but very different from one another. The kayaking which revolved around the tides often allowed far more ‘down time’ in the evenings to wander and explore the features and communities where this would have been missed in the mountains. The walking however helped to push into a new season, and to an extent a whole different chapter of Scotland. Journeying from spring to summer all the way through to winter and back was as special in terms of experiencing the country as travel through the landscape itself.
I had summited approximately 90 munros before the journey began, some multiple times. These were all repeated as part of the trip although often seemed very different in the changing conditions. Kayak wise I had relatively little repeated ground, a short stretch near Glenuig and of course the Summer Isles in my home inlet Loch Broom. The rest was new ground [or sea, Ed.].
Any newfound favourite bits of coast or upland?
I was often surprised by places I had predicted to be a bit of a slog. There is a common preconception in the Scottish kayaking community that ‘West is Best’ in terms of interesting landscape to pass by. Although largely true it was great to discover some hidden wonders in the East; I would recommend the journey between Wick and Lybster above almost any other stretch on the trip.
I have always considered An Teallach to be my favourite hill and it remains so. In addition to this ‘perfect’ mountain I really enjoyed the Kintail hills which were close enough to access without the normal bog trot and superbly challenging with delightful exposure in places. Glen Monar also became a favourite in terms of just feeling really remote.
Were there any particular episodes that you're likely to look back on in years to come?
An entire year on the move is the perfect recipe to concoct both memories of happiness and hardness. There were silent nights spent watching seagulls glide in graceful evolutions against the sunset sky, spent listening to the gentle flap of canvas through the wind drowned to the nearby rumble of surf which tumbled to the shore in mesmerising rhythm. There were noisy nights where cold and damp I buried deep into my sleeping bag to clutch at what warmth was there, the roar of blizzards lashing across the guy lines and midnight fears that the tent may fail.
Those memories will stay forever and although I try in writing and in photographs will remain something I and I alone can reflect upon. I think the best times I had throughout the trip were when I was joined by friends, family and strangers to share some of the fun: the Cullin ridge at sunset, Sailing by umbrella across Applecross bay or even ‘side trips’ such as the Skiff Rowing World Cup and Canyon swings. Not to mention all those social nights by the fires of bothies where memories were erased with an ample dose of whisky.
The weather played a huge part in the journey. It brought fear in the north coast where the exposure was committing and seas often terrifying to set upon, it brought days in winter so clear and snowy that I could see Ben Nevis all the way from Glen Monar in the north. Those months spent in howling winds navigating a whiteout like being in a ‘ping pong ball’ were dreadful at the time but now I look back and wonder how on earth I did it with a sense of personal pride that nothing can take away.
When we last spoke you were planning to finish on Ben Wyvis, and admitted that despite bieng based in Ullapool you'd never actually climbed it [me neither]. So what did you think of it: a worthy mountain to end on?
Ben Wyvis was yet another mountain in a long list. Shrouded in cloud with a stiff cold wind upon the summit cairn it would have been a touch and go summit had it not meant so much to reach it at long last. Of course the mountain itself didn’t really matter, it was the people who joined and the final stretch that felt most important.
It was a strange feeling reaching the end and one I can only compare to finally submitting a long piece of coursework at university or leaving an exam once and for all. There was a tremendous feeling of victory yet a slight emptiness and the question of ‘what now?’ lurking in the back of my mind.
It was humbling how many of my friends and family arrived in the morning to join me to the top, some had travelled far and wide even with the onset of exams looming. Without them the day would have been just another tramp up the hill, instead it was a wonderful celebration. We even had a few young kids to bag their very first Munro on the top…
First and foremost I feel I need to thank my parents, I am sure I am responsible for a few grey hairs. Although a solo trip, without their support and help I am sure I would not have finished. I would also like to thank those who sponsored gear on this trip: Rab, Dhu, Overboard, System X and Hilleberg. I also owe a lot to those friends and strangers alike who made the trip so special.
Finally a huge thank you to the team at Luxson for the use of the PUNKT video tracker that allowed me to share my adventure with whoever was interested to follow.
And now it's all over, what are you going to fill your time with?
That is something I'm asking myself too. I am now entering ‘what next?’ dilemma that many of my friends felt last year at the end of university. For the meantime I am looking at a few jobs which I have already lined up in terms of guiding and am keen to work on pushing a career in photography and writing. Watch this space for a future book about the trip.
For more on Machair to Munro, and whatever Will gets up to next, see his website