In August/September 2004 I walked the Pennine Way, and by a stroke of almost unbelievable good luck I returned to find the October issue of TGO Magazine in WHS on the day I got home, filled with exciting details about a walk I'd never heard of - the TGO Challenge. Two Challenges later I reckon it must have been fate :-)
The Challenge has been running for 27 years, and, in the words of the TGO Challenge website, it's:
"...an annual self-supported walking event across the Highlands of Scotland, west coast to east coast. It started in 1980 and was the brainchild of the well-known writer and mountaineer, Hamish Brown. The Challenge is held every May and is sponsored by TGO, the walkers' magazine."
The first part of the Challenge is to work out a route, which involves signing out from any one of 12 permitted start points on the west coast and eventually finishing - anything up to 15 days later - somewhere between Fraserburgh and Arbroath in the east. Routes are submitted for consideration by experienced and helpful vetters, and once a route has been approved then the challenger can go away and make detailed plans for accommodation - people can camp, enjoy B&B or take in a mixture of both - re-supply points and other such interesting matters.
I was thrilled at the possibility of taking part, so I bought the magazine and dashed home to read all about it. A couple of weeks later I sent off an application form - inscribed at the bottom with what essentially amounted to a desperate begging letter to the organisers for a place - and a couple of months later I was in! I did it in May 2005, and had a wonderful time. At the post-walk bash in Montrose I gazed in awe at challengers who'd done the walk 10 times and even more, and was completely hooked. When the October edition of TGO came round some months later I applied again, and now I'm just back from the 2006 walk :-)
Last year I took a pretty conservative, low-level route, never having planned such a long walk for myself before and not having done a great deal of walking in Scottish mountains. This year, though, I wanted to take a more exciting and higher route. I was inspired by stories I'd heard of people camping (or even tarping!) in snow in high places, and I was particularly keen to walk through the Lairig Ghru, the home of the fabled Big Grey Man of Ben Macdui... as long as I could con someone into walking through it with me!
Some time in September I heard I was in - celebrate! - and in October I was lucky enough to have a few weeks stuck here at home recovering from whiplash sustained in a car crash, and that gave me an opportunity to map out my route. I decided to start at the beautiful Mallaig, since I've been dying to go there since seeing Bob Cartwright's photos of his boat journey over to Knoydart in glorious sunshine back on his May 2004 Challenge, and to finish at Dunnottar Castle. Along the way I hoped to take in some Munros, and to visit some of the amazing places I'd heard Challengers talking about when I got to Montrose last year.
The route I planned was due to last 14 days - I wanted to make the most of the walking opportunities, whilst naturally attending the unmissable post-walk bash in Montrose on the final Thursday - and to cover approximately 194 miles (about 312km for any metric types out there). In the event my plans changed on a number of occasions, and generally (though not always) for the better, but for the grisly details you'll have to read on :-)
I've set out below links to descriptions of what I did from day to day, and details of the kit I carried, along with a broad outline of the route I took and the places I stayed. I hope there might be something here of interest to those who might like to do this sort of walk in the future, and perhaps some parts of it may ring a bell with some who've already done it :-)
I'd like to say thank you very much indeed to the brilliant Roger Smith at TGO who organises this walk on an annual basis, and has done for an amazing 27 years now! Walking in the hills is always exciting and worthwhile, and many of us like to get out and do it on our own from time to time, but taking part in a Challenge really is a uniquely special and life-enhancing experience, and it wouldn't happen every year without the organisers, the vetters (thanks once again to Mr Grumpy for vetting this year's route for me, and also to Colleen (TBVITW) Tock for guidance and tips at the whiplash stage) and the kind volunteers at Challenge Control who look out for us as we progress, slug-like, across the country, so sincere thanks to Roger, to all the vetters and to Alan, Robin and Sheila for kindness, information and reassurance from Challenge Control.
Most of all, though, heart-felt thanks, warm hugs and kisses go out from me to the great family of Challengers out there whom I met along the way: on the train and on the hills, in the bothies and the wild camps, and in the hotels, the B&Bs and the occasional pub! - some already friends from last year, and others new friends made for the future. Thanks for friendship, fellowship, memories and rescue, and for showing me beautiful, remote places I wouldn't have seen on my own, and certainly wouldn't have enjoyed nearly as much without you. Here's to next time :-)
- Sgurr na Ciche
- Garbh Chioch Mhor
- Sgurr nan Goireachan
- Carn an Sagairt Mor
- Carn a Choire Bhoidheach (White Mounth)
- Cairn Bannoch
- Broad Cairn