What could be simpler than walking in a straight line? A great many things, according to Jenny Graham and Calum Maclean, who hiked 49 miles across the Cairngorms as the crow flies.
WFA: Where did the idea come from to do a straight-line challenge? Calum: I saw it on the Ordnance Survey blog in response to a question someone had posted: ‘What’s the longest straight line you can walk without crossing a paved road?’
WFA: What was your reaction, Jenny, when Calum asked you to join him? Jenny: I thought it sounded really cool. It took me until midday on day one to realise what walking in a straight line is all about! I definitely wasn’t conditioned to be hill walking on such rough ground.
WFA: You’re very familiar with the Cairngorms, though? J: It’s one of my favorite spots to go running, skiing, biking, swimming… It’s a place I felt I knew really well, but this challenge was great because we went places we wouldn’t have otherwise.
WFA: What was involved in the planning stage of your walk? C: We didn’t do a whole lot of planning. I did one practice straight-line walk in the hills near me here, through a field and through a forest. But my approach was, ‘it’s four days walking, how hard can it be?’
WFA: What kit did you take? C: I was so glad that we had lightweight gear to carry in terms of tent and sleeping bag and sleeping mat. And walking poles. They were a total game-changer for going uphill. It was a full-body workout.
WFA: How did you make sure you stayed on track? C: For the first hour we had the map and compass out. But it was so slow. Jenny had a GPS watch with the route planned in, and we also had a handheld Garmin inReach.
WFA: How did the experience on the ground compare to what you anticipated? C: It was much more physically draining than I expected. When you’re going uphill, you can usually follow a contour or something. It was hard work all the time unless you were on the flat.
WFA: What kind of terrain were you dealing with? J: Loads of heather bashing! Contouring around steep gullies and hillsides and then through mundane, flat boggy land. We had some rocky sections we were picking our way down, too.
WFA: What distances were you covering in a day? C: On average, 20k – so around 13 miles? J: But it was 11 hour days, because it was just so slow going
WFA: What was the most difficult section you tackled? J: Mentally, day two, because there was nothing stimulating our minds. We weren’t in the mountains yet, we didn’t have amazing views. For me, that was the toughest point.
WFA: What were the highlights? C: Going into some of the gullies – there were a couple of them that you would just never go into unless you were on this line – and it turned out they were really beautiful little spots. J: It’s that thing of exploring locally and looking at what you’ve got on your doorstep. We don’t have to make these huge journeys.
WFA: Did it feel like an adventure? C: It was a really cool way to see places that I’d seen before, but from a different angle. That felt good. Taking it in a different way felt like an adventure.
WFA: What did you learn from the experience? J: There’s this whole straight-line and community that I knew nothing about – it’s really cool! This is their sport, and they spend their lives doing it.
WFA: Would you do another straight-line challenge? C: I would do a straight-line walk again. It would have to be shorter, though. That’s for sure. J: I’d like to do one that moves a little bit faster. I guess I learned that about myself: I hate going slow.
For any straight-line challenge, you need lightweight gear and kit that’s up to the task. So, Calum and Jenny teamed up with leading outdoor specialists Montane to complete their 49-mile hike across the Cairngorms. See the gear and kit they used here.