When did you last see a hitch hiker? And if you do see one do you stop and give them a lift? We recently tried our hand at hitch hiking for the first time for many years. We had perfect weather while we were in Glencoe, sunny with pretty much wall-to-wall blue skies. We were camping at The Glencoe Mountain Resort and I was keen to walk the section of the West Highland Way from Kingshouse to Kinlochleven that goes over the dramatically named Devil’s Staircase. This is a steep section of one of General Wade’s military roads and it was the soldiers who built it who gave the path this dark name. This was continued by the workers from Blackwater Dam who used it to reach the hotel at Kingshouse for a pay-day drink and unfortunately some of them never made it back.
We planned a linear walk, starting from our campsite, we suffered no mishaps and enjoyed a fantastic 16 km walk up Devil’s Staircase and along the high path that rewards walkers with tremendous mountain views. We could see Ben Nevis in the distance and looked down on the expanse of Blackwater Reservoir, built for Kinlochleven’s aluminium smelter.
In Kinlochleven we had time for drinks in the climbing centre before catching the bus to Glencoe. We then had a four hour wait for a bus to take us back the 20 km to our campervan. Unbelievably there is no regular bus service through Glencoe, one of Scotland’s most popular walking areas. Linear walkers just have to wait for one of the infrequent buses linking Skye and Fort William with Glasgow.
We considered sitting the wait out in The Glencoe Inn (not a dreadful way to spend a few hours) or ringing for a taxi but decided to firstly try the frugal option and stuck out our thumbs without much hope of success. ‘No one hitch hikes these days and anyway who would pick up two folk loaded up with rucksacks and walking poles,’ I said as another car sped by. Then, a miracle happened, after just 15 minutes of hitching a car slowed down and pulled in.
As every hitch hiker knows chatting to people on the road is a big part of the enjoyment of hitch hiking. Our knight in shining armour was on a solo road trip and welcomed some company. He not only took us right up to our van, he also told us all about his plans to plant thousands of trees on the farm land that had belonged to his parents, shared his thoughts on the short comings of tourism services in Scotland (Glencoe’s lack of bus service giving us a good starting point for that topic) and told us about the ailing aunt in the south he was on his way to visit.
Of course, there were two of us and we felt safe. As a teenager with little money I did hitch hike alone and without a thought. These days although the risk is low I would think carefully before hitching on my own. We do pick up hitch hikers when we can, although only having one travel seat in our campervan limits us. Every time we have picked up a hitch hiker we have met interesting people with a story to share.
I’m pleased to report that hitch hiking isn’t quite dead in the UK, although since our own experience in Glencoe we’ve not seen another hitch hiker to have the chance to help keep frugal travelling alive.