In 2011, Berlin-born Ben Mueller gathered everything he owned and set out in his father’s car searching for a new homeland. The journey took him to Edinburgh, where he stayed for seven years before he and his girlfriend Rosie moved to the northwest of Scotland, where they still live and work today. Ben has been a professional mountain hiking guide and has been with ASI Reisen since 2016. He is looking forward to leading hiking groups along the Wolftrail through some of Scotland’s most breathtaking terrain, starting in summer 2021.
The six-day walking tour starts in Inverness and leads through the varied landscape of the northwest over to the coastal town of Ullapool. It is a smorgasbord of unique experiences in unspoiled natural landscapes over remote and wild terrain.
How did you get into hiking?
I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child. In the summers, I would often visit my grandparents in the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern countryside surrounded by land and with a lake. They’d send me out of the house after breakfast, and I wasn’t expected back until dinner time. These were the first experiences that made me discover nature as an infinite playground.
When I got older, I didn’t do that much hiking. I played football and motorbiked for twenty years, but I still spent a lot of time outside. When I was 21, I became more interested in hiking, but hardly any of my friends in Berlin were into that. That’s why I was mostly on my own or with Martin, my hiking buddy. In 2011, we decided to walk the West Highland Way in Scotland.
Did you fall in love with the country and its people right away?
I stopped in a pub after one exhausting day on the hiking trail. That’s where I met Rosie. We were both out with friends and got to talking about the day and the hike. We stayed in touch after that – and my life took a different course. Rosie hiked a lot even then. I often went to see her afterward, and, with her, I summited my first Scottish mountain.
That October, we decided we wanted to live together, so I swapped Germany for Scotland. Since then, our everyday life has revolved around hiking. It is not just a job for us. It’s something we live and breathe every day. Quite simply, it is our passion. Even when we go on holiday, we prefer to go hiking.
Have you ever been in any really dangerous situations?
Not yet – knock on wood! Neither my guests nor I have ever had any serious injuries during a hike I have led. The worst thing that’s happened is a sprained wrist. Thunderstorms are a big problem, though.
You want to avoid thunderstorms at all costs, but in Scotland, that’s easier said than done because the weather can change on a dime. One time, we started out on a hike in fine weather, then we heard an unexpected thunderstorm approaching. We turned back straight away but didn’t manage to get off the mountain quickly enough. I had nine guests under my care, and I knew that we were actually far too close to the storm.
Everything went well, but those twenty minutes were pretty intense. I had to simultaneously keep everyone together, keep calm and get the group down the mountain safely. Luckily, nothing happened to us, and we ended up in the pub afterward, soaked, and celebrated with a very welcome drink. All my “precious flock” were warm and safe, so we could relax.
What feeling do you most associate with hiking?
It depends on my mood. The conditions vary when you are hiking. When I walk relatively standard paths that suit my experience and walking tempo, I get into a kind of meditative state. I am entirely focused yet creative, and I sort of switch to autopilot.
If a path gets more demanding, it demands my total concentration, which is more challenging. Then the priority is to use your hands more and take the right steps. When I observe my guests in these environments, I always notice that they seem so much more at ease.
Seeing how hiking affects the way people connect with each other is also wonderful. Walking, relaxed, side by side, focused, yet not facing each other breaks down inhibitions much faster. So you often have very open and profound conversations while hiking.
What makes the Wolftrail so unique?
Well, the name, for starters. The name actually has nothing to do with wolves; it comes more from the connection to the Jack Wolfskin brand. But guests will spot other exciting animals in the remote Scottish wilderness. The trail passes through the northern Highlands, home of Scotland’s Big Five (golden eagle, otter, seal, red deer, and red squirrel).
The trail achieves two main goals: We want to show Scotland as most people imagine it – many shades of green and with the lushest mountain ranges – but there is also an area in the northwest that hardly anyone knows about, which is entirely barren. Hardly any trees there, but the most incredible old rocks. One of our specials is a hike connecting these two contrasting areas in the south and west.
We also walk through the Alladale Wilderness Reserve, which actively promotes forest and wolf conservation. The reserve is a large estate that has taken up the challenge of restoring this piece of Scotland to the state it once was in – 500 or 600 years ago. Back then, Scotland also had wolves, moose, and bears. Sadly, a lot of animals that existed throughout Europe were wiped out here.
At the end of the walk, we enter the North West Highlands Geopark, a very alpine area with the highest waterfall in Britain. It is 656 feet high and somewhat secluded. It’s the highlight of our last day and also the most challenging hike. Everyone has to give their all to conquer this one.
How difficult is the Wolftrail?
We rate the trail a 3 on a difficulty scale of 0 to 5. It’s an easy route for advanced hikers. It’s not for beginners, but great for people with a bit of experience and who are fit. We always have a guide with us as well and transport any luggage. This means that a vehicle takes the bulk of your luggage, and you only have to carry your day pack. This also makes the hike much easier.
There is one long day’s hike of more than 15 miles, but this is relatively flat. The other days are between 6 and 10 miles, with between 1300 and 2500 feet difference in altitudes.
How large are the hiking groups?
The tour is advertised for a minimum of three people and a maximum of seven. There are several reasons for this. First, we work on a 1 to 7 ratio (guide/guests). But it’s also about transport with our nine-seater van. We have a driver, me as a guide, and seven guests. Because we hike so far away, we sometimes have to drive another fifteen minutes to get to the accommodation.
Where are the overnight stays?
The accommodation is very comfortable with great food – a bit different from the Wolftrail in Romania, where you sleep in traditional mountain huts. We try to capture the wildness and ruggedness during our walks while enjoying a very comfortable bed and a hearty breakfast each day. There is hot food, hot showers, and everyone has their own room.
What do you like most about Scotland?
Everything really, but I think what always stands out is the weather. A nice day in Scotland depends on the weather – in both a positive and negative sense. In any case, there will always be something spectacular to see. It’s usually windy here, which means the weather changes quickly, something most continental Europeans don’t realize. No matter where we are, the weather has a strong influence. When the conditions get harsh, though, the challenge is simply to make the best of it. So, even when the day has been wet, guests love it and share their impressions around the fire in the evening.
What should you always take with you on a hike?
In Scotland, the Jack Wolfskin rain jacket is a must-have. Apart from that, I always have a small multi-tool with me in case a shoe or walking stick breaks. I can carry out any minor repairs on the spot, although that rarely happens.
The Wolftrail offers a unique opportunity to share an adventure in the Scottish wilderness with others and discover remote areas that are otherwise well off the tourist trail. It is a personal journey that offers a sense of community and a unique encounter with nature.