A 10 Day Journey

After getting home from Scotland in April of 2023, I was left with a good problem – I had way too many images that I loved. A month before, I had taken my Fuji TX1 panoramic camera, and a bag full of ILFORD Delta 400 and 3200, and walked from Milngavie to Loch Ness, a roughly 156 mile route using the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way. Nights were spent in tents, days were long and energizing, and photographic scenes seemed to be in no short supply at every bend in the trail. Distilling a 10 day journey into a short story is certainly a personal challenge, but I'll do my best to take you on a walk through my words and work.

Laura Partain

Camp on the flank of Conic Hill | Delta 400

I Loved That Spot

On day one, we walked 18 miles or so and made camp on a flank of Conic Hill. A scenic spot, certainly. In practice, the oppressive winds made for a very loud night of sleep! I loved that spot though. Eating a dinner of mac n cheese out of a bag the night before, I studied the hills and considered the fault line that separates the lowlands (left frame) from the highlands (right frame). Taking a camera backpacking is an added challenge and responsibility. It's heavy, expensive, and often precious gear that's put to the test daily with dirt, dust, and a cornucopia of weather conditions. However I've never been of the belief of letting most cameras sit pretty on a shelf. I enjoy putting mine to work in the field (with insurance of course). On cold nights, I'd sleep with the camera in my sleeping bag to keep the electronics from below freezing temps. I think mine slept with me on this night.

Laura Partain

Ben Lomond | Delta 400

New Possibilities

Two days into the journey, the munros (mountains) were becoming ever taller and mighty. Getting a good view of Ben Lomond, I took my camera out of my camera pod and got a nice vertical shot of the trail and the ben. I longed to hill walk up there, but I was trying to hike much further that day. Besides, I had another munro to look forward to – Ben Nevis. I had been planning for the CMD route, weather pending. There wasn't a minute of that walk I didn't think about it or obsess over what the weather may or may not do. Ben Nevis was days away though, and in the present I was surrounded by ancient Atlantic Oaks, a massive loch, wildlife and feral goats, and the unique peace one gets on these long walks. Every morning, I woke to new possibilities.

Laura Partain

Breakfast on the Bridge in Rannoch Moor | Delta 3200

Wild Lands

The last two days on the trail were perhaps the most dynamic, though every step was beautiful. Rain turned to sleet and winds picked up as we walked through Rannoch Moor, a wild and desolate stretch of wild lands. My friend and hiking partner Kat and I stopped by an old bridge and made coffee with our camp stoves, and took in the pristine nature around us. The further north we walked, the taller the mountains, and the colder and windier it was. Despite weather some may avoid, we embraced what nature threw at us, and on we went, until we finally made it to Fort William.

Laura Partain

Walking through Rannoch Moor | Delta 3200

The West Highland Way was done

If you walk long enough, you will have difficult moments. It's not if, but when. Walk just long enough with your house on your back, and your camera at your front, you'll see. Blisters, fatigue, moments of general grumpiness, eating oatmeal that smells and tastes like the pack of raman noodles it sat by for 5 days straight. Running out of daylight and coming to terms with the fact that the only flat ground for camping you see has used toilet paper scattered everywhere, packing up a wet tent, fighting the embarrassing idea that staring at leafless trees for two days straight may be making you a bit bored. That's just a handful of little things you can experience in even a week's time. But if I didn't get something transformative out of these walks, I wouldn't do it. It's the feeling of sleeping in your tent and falling asleep to the sound of the creek. It's the way instant coffee tastes while crisp air hits your nose. It's the rapturous feeling of sunlight, plant life, and exercise giving you endorphins out of this world. It's the strange and elusive mental space caught somewhere between thinking, and letting your mind drift. Rebecca Solnit once described this corner of our mind as an uncultivated field; a place where you go to for play. In this proverbial field I enter as I walk, I come up with ideas, resolves, and ultimately, begin to better understand my own self. After 96 miles, The West Highland Way was done.

Laura Partain

Buachaille Etive Mor

Ben Nevis

The following day was a hill walk and scramble up Ben Nevis via the CMD route. It's hard to put this day into words for an audience, though I know everyone is responsible for their own safety. I had experience climbing routes like this before so I felt good, but I wouldn't recommend it to just anyone. Ultimately, it was a long but rewarding day. I spent much of it carting my feet over rocks and scree, watching for any loose or precarious ground. Eventually I tucked my camera into my backpack and found myself on all fours going up on the final push to the summit. When I got there, it felt like a difference planet. A soft blanket of snow, quiet, and the occasional voice of another person (most people take the tourist track up). The sky was so incredibly clear, I could see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean; a rare day indeed.

Laura Partain

Carn Mor Dearg Arete, Ben Nevis | Delta 400

Laura Partain

Ben Nevis Summit, auto timer self portrait | Delta 400

Great Glen Way

My days of walking Scotland were nearing their end. I had two more days of walking, and began down the Great Glen Way. The Way was beautiful and followed an old canal and the mighty Great Glen fault line. It was also gentle on my body, which I was grateful for. This trail meandered through glacial lochs and towering hills, roads and villages, farms and forestry plantations. For this trail, I was mostly alone; I savored the solitude.

Laura Partain

A Walk Along the Great Glen Way | Delta 400

Loch Ness

I decided my stopping point would be Loch Ness. I somehow managed 46 miles over two days, but I was compelled to at least get to the Loch. After a quick meal in Ft Augustus, I began my ascent up into the woods. After a long walk up, the trees faded into a Montane-esque biome. A light rain began. It was quiet. Eventually, I crested a hill and saw her – Loch Ness. For this American, it was quite a sight to see. I sat and relished the journey's end, and counted my blessings. I was so grateful my body carried me as far as it did, and that I had my camera along for the ride. I parted ways with the Loch and hiked to the nearest village, and from there joined back to the rest of society. As I reflect on this trek and think on the future, I'm glad I had 10 days to work with this camera and these film stocks. In March of 2024, I'll begin a thru hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. This time, it will be a 2,200 mile long walk. Once again, I'll be taking my camera, and a bag of Delta 400 and 3200.

Laura Partain

Loch Ness | Delta 400

Images ©Laura Partain