On November 9, 2013, Appalachian long-distance hiker Cotton Joe Norman from North Carolina, U.S.A. became the first person to complete IAT Scotland, from the Mull of Galloway in the south to Cape Wrath in the north.
It was the continuation of an 800 mile (1,280 km) journey that began at Slieve League on the west coast of Ireland on September 2. (See related story.)
Joe's IAT experience began at Mount Katahdin, Maine where on August 13, 2005, he completed a 2,200 mile (3,500 km) trek of the U.S. Appalachian Trail that began March 13. From there he walked 750 miles (1,200 kms) through northern Maine and New Brunswick to Cap Gaspé, Quebec (October 8, 2005), completing the final 600 miles (1000 kms) to the IAT North America terminus near the Norse landfall at L'Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland on September 29, 2006.
Joe's 430 mile (688 km) IAT Scotland trek began October 1, 2013 at the Mull of Galloway
where he was driven by Tom Stevenson of the Rotary Club of Stranraer, who met him at the ferry terminal in Cairnryan after his arrival from Ireland.
From there he set out on the 35 mile (56 km) Mull of Galloway Trail, which extends from the Mull to Stranraer and continues north as the Loch Ryan Coastal Path to Glenapp, where it links with the Ayrshire Coastal Path.
There he met Ayr Rotarian Jimmy Begg who walked with him for 12 miles (19 kms) and showed him some of the nearby sites, including Robert Burns birthplace cottage and the 600 year-old Auld Brig o Doon, across which Tam o Shanter fled from the witches in Burns’ most famous poem.
Continuing north, Joe followed Scotland's scenic western coastline with its sand
to the 14th century royal castle of Portencross, built to control shipping access to the Firth of Clyde and departure point for royal funeral processions of ancient Scottish kings en route by sea to burial on the holy western isle of Iona.
But for Joe, Portencross was the departure point for the Clyde Coastal Path, the third leg of the Firth o Clyde Rotary Trail (FoCRT). The Path runs north then east towards Glasgow, before turning northeast and crossing Erkine Bridge over the River Clyde and heading inland to the town of Milngavie.
Here a granite obelisk at the center of town marks the beginning of the West Highland Way, completed and opened in 1980 as the first official long-distance footpath in Scotland.
The 96 mile (154 km) path leaves Milngavie and soon enters Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, where it follows the shores of Loch Lomond
and passes Ben Lomond, which at 3,196 ft (974 meters) is one of Scotland's most popular "Munros." These 3,000+ mountains are named after Sir Hugh Munro (1856–1919), who in 1891 produced the first list, known as Munros Tables.
From there, Cotton Joe continued on to Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, before crossing Rannoch Moor and eventually arriving at Glencoe.
Soon Joe was descending to sea level to cross the River Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis, the beautiful tree-lined valley at the foot of mighty Ben Nevis, which at 4,409 ft (1,344 meters) is the highest mountain in the British Isles.
Ben Nevis overlooks the town of Fort William which is the second largest settlement in the Scottish Highlands (second only to the city of Inverness). Located on Loch Linnhe, it marks the end of the West Highland Way and beginning of the Cape Wrath Trail.
For Joe, Fort William also marked the end of well-developed and clearly marked trails and the beginning of a wilderness adventure over and around across and through less-traveled - and rarely marked - Highland mountains, moors and glens.
The Cape Wrath Trail is the sort of long distance route that most daring walkers dream of - a long tough trek through one of the most majestic, remote and stunningly beautiful landscapes in Western Europe.
At 200 miles (320 kms) long, it can be described as the hardest and most challenging long-distance backpacking route in the UK.
In addition to the terrain, Cotton Joe had to contend with cooler temperatures and shorter days. Nevertheless by early November Joe had reached Scotland's northwest coast
where he continued to Cape Wrath
possibly lured by the hot coffee and home-cooked food of the Ozone Café.
On November 9, Cotton Joe finished the second leg of his first long-distance trek in Western Europe. His combined Appalachian trail pedometer now stands - or is that walks? - at over 4,350 miles (6,960 kms), with an estimated boot count of 8 pairs, 16 insoles, 32 laces, 48 socks ... and one pair of crocs!
Said Cotton Joe,
Hiking across Scotland from the Mull of Galloway to Cape Wrath was an amazing experience and a memorable way to discover Scotland. From the coastline, moors and towns, to the windy wilds of the Highlands, it was - along with Ireland - one of the most powerful hikes I have ever done! The lowland Firth o Clyde Rotary Trail was a great way to experience the culture and hospitality of the people in a beautiful seaside setting, while the West Highland Way was a great introduction to the majestic highlands, from the idyllic shores of Loch Lomond to the towering peaks of Glencoe. I can see why it is such a popular trail for beginners and novices who like easy access to the mountains. And in the north, the wild and remote Cape Wrath Trail offers deep solitude for those who dare to seek it. It is a truly magical section of the IAT in Europe!
Said Richard "Dick" Anderson, Founder of the IAT,
All of the people involved in the development of the IAT are thrilled by Cotton Joe’s historic milestone. It is not only an incredible feat of long-distance hiking, but serves as the embodiment of the common values of the International Appalachian Trail, proving again that Nature Knows No Boundaries. It inspires us to continue to bring together all of the diverse landscapes and cultures of our shared geological heritage in a spirit of exploration and cooperation that serves as our guiding force.
Said Jimmy Begg, on behalf of IAT Scotland,
Stouthearted Cotton Joe has described his epic, groundbreaking trek along IAT Scotland as one of the highlights of his life. And this from a man who has walked the AT in the United States and the IAT in Canada. We’re all immensely proud that oor ain bonny wee country merits this accolade. From all along IAT Scotland, "Weel dune Joe! Rest up now and take it easy for a wee while, an Haste ye Back tae Scotland!"