On the Cairngorm Plateau - piccy by Colin Ibbotson
In August/September 2004 I walked the Pennine Way, and on the day of my return, by dint of great good luck, I happened to browse across a copy of the October issue of TGO Magazine in WHS. The magazine was filled with exciting details about a walk I'd never heard of - the TGO Challenge - and I immediately carried it home and devoured the information hungrily in the garden. Shortly afterwards I sent off an application, and I was excited and delighted a couple of months later to get a letter confirming that I had a place.
I walked from Shiel Bridge to St. Cyrus on TGO Challenge 2005, and then from Mallaig to Dunnottar Castle on TGO Challenge 2006. I'd hoped to return in 2007, but although I had a place I was unwell, and wasn't able to start. In 2008 I was confused about the submission date for applications, and only realised a month too late that I'd missed the deadline. Doh... Last September, though, I was determined that nothing would prevent me from submitting an application on time, and in due course I was lucky enough to get a place for 2009, which was the 30th Anniversary of the event.
In the words of the TGO Challenge website, the walk constitutes:
"...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. After much anxious studying of maps, and the completion of a detailed Route Sheet, proposed routes are submitted for consideration by experienced and helpful vetters. 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.
The organisers suggest that first-time Challengers should follow a low-level route, and I was happy to do that in 2005. In 2006, though, I was keen to visit some of the exciting places I'd heard about from the Challengers I'd met first time round, and in particular to fulfil my ambition of walking through the fabled Lairig Ghru; the lair of the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui.
This time round I hoped to cross Loch Ness and the Monadliaths, and to take a closer look at the Cairngorms, and to combine all of those with some nights in a number of allegedly haunted bothies... eek! I also hoped to spend a fair amount of time catching up with Challenge pals and making new ones, because, although the walking and scenery are magnificent, the thing I enjoy most about the Challenge is the chance to spend a fortnight, once a year, with a hugely diverse group of people, many of whom appear to have little in common outside their shared love of wild places, but who are drawn together more closely than those who have never experienced it can possibly imagine by the very real challenges involved in completing the walk. Finally, I hoped to make some recordings for Bob, who with Andy has made a series of podcasts over the last few years, which have helped to share the experience of the Challenge with those who haven't had an opportunity to complete it.
Things change, though; and in January a significant and unanticipated potential spanner fell into the works, when I acquired a wee Border Terrier puppy: Piglet. For a while I thought I'd have to withdraw from the event, because I couldn't face the prospect of placing little Piglet in kennels, particularly when she'd be only 6 months old at the time of the walk. My great pal Dee stepped into the breach, though, and offered to take care of Piglet for me. Dee has two Cairn terrorists of her own--Blink and Buster--and an exploratory trip to Birmingham confirmed that Blink, Buster and Piglet were likely to get along fine. There's nobody else in the world I'd have trusted to take care of my wee baby Piglet, and I'll be eternally grateful to Dee (and her poor, long-suffering husband John) for looking after her for me. The fact that Piglet fell in love with Buster, and begged on my return to remain in Birmingham, was a little awkward at the time, and maybe even a little hurtful... *g* But we're over it now. More-or-less... :) Many thanks to Dee and John! ♥ ♥ ♥
So! May eventually arrived and I set off for Torridon, and had a wonderful time. As is usually the case, not everything went according to plan; but if you want further and better particulars then you'll have to read on :) I've set it all out in the usual grisly detail, and hopefully there'll be something here that people might enjoy, or find useful for planning a Challenge of their own.
Thank you, once again, to the great and true family of Challengers I encountered along the way. I've made friends on the Challenge who've pulled me out of bogs, or guided me down hills when I've injured myself. Others have shared their food (and drink and cigarettes) with me, and cheered me up when I was down. Some contacted me before the walk, to offer welcome expertise on how best to tweak my fledgling route. (TBVITW and T2BVITW: you know who you are... *g*) Others have helped and supported me with other walks, or become friends I now see regularly at home. This year one Challenge pal was even responsible for introducing me to somebody who became the newest member of my family: Philomena the piglet! They've invited me to stay in their houses, and visited me in mine, and every single one of them has made me laugh. Along with Roger, whose flawless organisation of the event constitutes a miracle of grace under pressure every year, and the vetters, who give up their time and expertise freely to help the rest of us get safely across, you really are the greatest bunch of
Once again; here's to next time!
On the beach at Nether Warburton with John Hesp (and Little Peewiglet)