Lad hikes 15 miles in heatwave just for pint at Britain’s most remote pub
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They say the best things in life are free – and free beer really is the Crème de la crème. But they also say nothing worth having in life comes easy – which is where this 15-mile Highlands hike comes in.
The Old Forge is a pub like no other. Situated in Knoydart, Scotland, it serves an isolated community of around 130 locals and is Britain’s most remote pub. If you’re not from Knoydart, there are only two ways you can get your hands on a pint at the boozer: a seven-mile (11km) sea crossing, or a 15-mile (24km) hike.
Naturally, there’s no free beer if you get the boat – you've got to complete the big old mooch through the mountains. Sports retailer Wiggle has teamed up with Knoydart Brewery to launch limited-edition golden ale Trale, and only those brave enough to take on the trek are able to get a taste of the tipple. And so, knowing that there’s no taste sweeter than a sup of hard-earned beer, I embarked on this most epic of quests. Picture Frodo’s mission to Mordor to throw The One Ring in Mount Doom, except I'm Frodo, Mordor is Knoydart, The One Ring is the Trale beer, and Mount Doom is my stomach.
Anyway, said quest didn’t get off to the best of starts. It turns out at this time of year it doesn’t get properly dark until about 11pm in the Highlands, and I had to be up at 5am to get a two-hour taxi from my hotel in Banavie to the starting point in Kinloch Hourn. It was also scorching in a kind of way it basically never is in that part of the world, and so my air-conless room was like a barely dark oven. As such, I was absolutely knackered before the day had even begun, which is less than ideal when your day entails trekking 15 miles through the mountains.
Things got worse upon leaving the hotel, as I was immediately swarmed with the dreaded midges I’d been warned about. My repellent was not enough to repel the clouds of nuisance insects, so I hastily climbed into the taxi, only to find they had infiltrated the vehicle. I urged the driver to ‘Go, go, go!’ like a bank robber in a Highlands-based heist movie, and as he put the pedal to the metal I wound down my window and enjoyed a reprieve from the bugging flies.
To my horror, upon winding my window back up, I found the creatures clinging to the window, and they resumed their swarming rampage once again. Honestly, getting outsmarted by a bunch of midges was hardly the confidence boost I needed at this point.
With the journey over (but only really beginning), I donned a midge-proof net thing over my head, which did the job but made me look daft – a small price to pay when there is just you and millions of midges for miles around.
Well, that’s not technically true. There are also ticks (which like to latch on to d*cks), and snakes. Still, better than having a bunch of Nazgûls on your ass (that’s another Lord of the Rings reference, by the way - I might stop soon).
The first 10km or so follows a rough path, but to be honest after just a couple of miles I was a bit concerned I’d bitten off more than I could chew. There was a sharp, rocky climb about two miles in, and as we got higher I began to feel the outrageously hot morning sun beating on my back. I felt my light t-shirt turn dark with perspiration as I cursed the unheard of Highland heat.
But while it may have made the hiking harder, it was worth it for the stunning vistas, the golden rays on my arms, and the to-die-for refreshment from the streams. However, I knew this freshest of water could only be topped by the refreshment of a golden ale at the finish line, and so onwards I went, spurred on by the quaffing that was in the offing.
Typically, the hike is taken on across two days, but because I love beer (and am well ‘ard) I set out to make it in a day and catch the boat back at 8pm. Of course, I needed to get to the pub in good time to reap the well-earned rewards, which meant rest stops only offered brief relief.
At around the halfway point I treated myself to my meal deal (pre-purchased, obviously), though it wasn’t much of a treat truth be told; it had become mangled in my bag, oozing vinegary pasta over my unneeded fleece.
Still, a plate of scrambled dog vomit would have been palatable at this point, and with Mam Barrisdale ahead, I needed all the energy I could get. Mam’s 440m climb was very much unwelcome at this point, but with a Scotch Egg in my hand and Trale in my mind, I marched on and braced myself for a fresh deluge of sweat.
I won’t lie to you, this climb felt somewhat never-ending. I trudged up and up, meandered left and right, and every five minutes or so I would conclude that this would be the last bit – but it never was. I believe hiking boffins call this a ‘false summit’; I call it a pain in the arse (feet/gooch/nips/knees).
When it was over though, damn was it stunning. Seriously, it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings (sorry). And from here on out, I actually really enjoyed it – and I’m no hiking boffin.
The final 10km was largely flat or downhill, a gentle breeze wicked away my sweat, and Highland cows took the stunning scenery to silly levels. It also helped that with every step I knew I was edging in on a beer I’d been keenly craving since 5am.
Twelve hours on, and I had made it to the promised land, though it was so idyllic I did wonder if I was hallucinating for a while there. But no, there sat The Old Forge in all its glory... closed. That’s right, it was closed.
The pub was bought under community ownership last March and is currently undergoing refurbishment. Fear not though, for the pub’s business development manager, Steph Harris, was on hand with the ice-cold Trale, and out the front by Loch Nevis was a bench with my name on it.
I kicked off my boots, slumped myself down, and threw the ring (beer) into Mount Doom (my stomach). Dear lord, saving Middle Earth never felt so good (I’m really sorry if you haven’t watched Lord of the Rings).
The pleasure of it is hard to express it in words, but luckily I don’t really have to, because you can see for yourself. You’ll need courage, midge spray, water, patience, walking boots, more water and patience, Scotch eggs and an unwavering appetite for beer – and if you’ve got all of that, then you too are in with a chance of enjoying the sweet, sweet taste of free beer at Britain’s most remote pub.
You’ll even get to see the inside of the pub too, which is just as well, ‘cause I can’t guarantee you’ll get beer garden weather.
Wiggle’s free Trales will be given away at The Old Forge from July 1st, limited to two per person, while stocks last. A limited number of non-alcoholic alternatives will also be available over the summer. Find out more at www.wiggle.com