A Cairngorms Straight Line Walk

cairngorms straight line walk
Photo - Johny Cook

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

learn about this cairngorms straight line walk

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.

Image credit: Johny Cook