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TGO Challenge 2009 - A Third Walk Across Scotland

Thursday 8th May
Home to Torridon

I normally find myself eagerly counting down the days to the commencement of the Challenge, but things were a little different this year.

The preceding few months had been absolutely chaotic on the personal front, and--added to that--I'd acquired both a puppy and an elderly cat since my Challenge in 2006. The last couple of weeks simply shot past in a blur of disorganisation, last-minute preparations and increasingly desperate attempts at house-training, and most of the Wednesday was taken up with journeys to and from Birmingham to drop off puppy Piglet with friends, and then a drive to the cattery to deposit Puss-Puss in a place of safety. By the time I got home I believed I had everything I needed in various places around the house, but I wasn't absolutely sure where I'd concealed them all from Piglet, and her sharp little teeth, and I hadn't even started my packing. Uh-oh...

On previous occasions I've been able to walk to the train station not far from my house and jump on an early train for Glasgow. This time, though, I'd been unable to find a way to get to Torridon within the day without flying, and so I'd ordered a taxi for 0630 to take me to Manchester airport, for an 0850 flight to Inverness.

I had hoped to get to bed at some stage, but, as the unearthing of gear from around the house, the weighing and packing of food and the loading up of the MP3 player dragged on and on into the night, it began to seem clear that I wasn't going to get much sleep. At around 0200 I finally gave up on the idea of bed, afraid that if I went to sleep I wouldn't hear the alarm in time to get up for the taxi. My movements gradually slowed to something approaching a crawl, and by 0530 I was relieved to be able to get into the shower in the hope that it might wake me up a bit!

As always seems to be the case, though, the time needed to complete my preparations expanded to fill the time available, and so on emerging from the shower I rang the taxi firm and asked if they could put the taxi off to 0645. They did, but still I was only just ready when the bloke eventually arrived.

I jumped in and we set off. Five minutes later, though, I realised I'd left my bag of sandwiches on the kitchen table, and so we had to make a detour to go back and collect them. I thought we were finally on our way, but a few minutes after that I had a crisis of confidence about whether or not I'd packed my purse. Doh... Another quick stop and a check in the rucksack confirmed that I had it with me, and so finally we were away.

The taxi driver was very chatty, and I did my best to join in, but I kept waking up to find that I'd dropped off in the middle of a sentence, which is always embarrassing...

During those times when I was actually awake I couldn't help noticing that the driver was adopting what seemed to me to be an overly cautious approach to the speed limits. We drove through 30 zones at about 20mph, and through 60 zones at 45. I attempted to conceal my mounting anxiety about the time, and hoped that things would improve when we got to the motorway, but when we eventually settled to a steady 55mph in the inside lane of the M6 I asked the driver through clenched teeth how long he thought it would take us to get to the airport. At that stage he asked what time my flight was. When I told him his face assumed a thoughtful expression, and he made a couple of references to the possibility of congestion on the M56. He did speed up a little, though, and in the event we arrived at the airport with time to spare.

Check-in went without a hitch, and I made my way through to the scanner thingies on the way to the Departure Lounge. I'd been a little worried that they might object to my Primus Micron stove, but either they didn't spot it or they didn't regard it as a threat, and I was allowed through without incident.

I didn't need a book, because I had with me a copy of Isolation Shepherd by Iain R. Thomson, as recommended to me by fellow Challenger, Streapadair. Streapadair has by far the finest selection of backpacking photographs I've ever seen. If you've not already seen them, grab a hot (or even cold) beverage of your choice and run over to his pages right now! I therefore settled down in a seat, got out my book and began to investigate my sandwiches.

It became clear after a while that the flight had been a little delayed, and as I was waiting for it I fell into conversation with two Americans from Seattle, who turned out to be first time Challengers, starting from Dorney. Eventually the flight was called, though, and I settled into my seat and fell rapidly asleep.

At the other end, who should I spot but Terry Leyland at the baggage carousel! I've not seen Terry since the bash at Montrose in 2006, so it was a thrill to see him again :) We waited with the two American walkers (whose names I've forgotten! Doh...) for our packs, and then we shared a taxi into town and headed for the nearest walking shop. What a nice shop it was, and we each bought some bits and pieces. I bought two canisters of gas, a mini karibiner that I needed to complete the modifications to the pole sleeve on my Laser Competition in accordance with Robin's suggestions, and a small light to hang inside the tent in the hope of conserving torch batteries.

After that, and in traditional English style, Terry and I were anxious to check out the pub. I had to visit the Post Office first, in order to send home the bag in which I'd packed my rucksack, but soon after that we set off in search of a drink. Keen to make sure we went to the best place, Terry had made telephone enquiries, whilst I'd been in the queue, of a friend familiar with Inverness, and so we headed for the place that was serving up the real ale. Very nice it was too, and we spent a happy hour or so there, waiting for the train.

Terry and Shirl in pub -- Inverness

Terry Leyland and Moi

As often happens, time got away from us a little as we sat in the pub, and so, having left at the last minute, we arrived at the station just in time to buy tickets and get on. Phew! Almost immediately I ran into my old pal Andy Howell, though, and his partner, Kate, whom I'd not met before. They kindly allowed me to grab a seat at their table, and we all settled in for the journey up to Strathcarron.

There were lots of Challengers on the train, most of whom I hadn't met before. Some of those I knew came up to say "Hello!", which was lovely :)

Andy's been recording podcasts for Bobs for a few years now, and this year Bob had lent me a really brilliant little recording device that he won in the European Podcast Awards, so that I could make some recordings on the way across. Andy and I now produced our little devices and attempted to record mutual interviews, simultaneously :) I think Andy got by far the better of it, though, and it was when he asked about Little Peewiglet that I realised, with a sense of profound shock and horror, that I'd left the poor creature at home! Alone!! With nothing to eat!!! Aaagh... I attempted to conceal my alarm, but I'm not sure I did a very good job of it, and I immediately began to make a plan to get him to post himself up to Aviemore for collection the following week.

After that Andy went off to interview some other people, and Kate and I chatted away for a while. At one stage I approached Andy with the recorder to see whether I could record him making a recording, but he calmly stared me down, and so I gave up and returned to Kate with my tail between my legs *g*

Eventually the train arrived at Strathcarron, and we were all decanted. Roger had kindly put me in touch with Doug Cockburn a week or so earlier, because Doug had organised a taxi from Strathcarron to Torridon and was looking for somebody to fill a spare seat. I'd been delighted to hear that, since it had never been entirely clear to me since deciding in October to start at Torridon precisely how I was going to get there. I met up now with Doug and his walking partner, Howard, and a short time later we set off in the extremely sophisticated taxi for the Youth Hostel.

The weather had unfortunately taken a bit of a turn for the worse, and by the time we got to Torridon it was raining. We weren't sure that the hostel would be open, but it was, and shortly afterwards I made my way along to a room where I was able to put down my rucksack and unpack my bedding. After that I went to lounge around in the reception area, and not an awfully long time afterwards John Manning arrived, with his partner, Steph, and their wee baby, Sierra. Sierra was beautiful, and very patiently put up with quite a quantity of cooing and gurgling from her admiring onlookers.

Doug, Howard and I had agreed to make our way over to the Torridon Inn for dinner, and an hour or so later we set off. By now the weather was even worse, with persistent rain and very gusty winds. The tops of the surrounding mountains were shrouded in cloud, and in chatting with Doug and Howard it became clear to me that what I'd thought were little patches of snow on some of the surrounding slopes were actually streams in spate. Uh-oh!

The walk to the pub took about 15 minutes, and on arrival I was delighted to find my old pal Alan Sloman in the bar. Alan was accompanied by Colin Ibbotson, whose pages on ultra-lightweight backpacking have been a source of interest to me for quite some time now. Colin had also given me some very welcome advice on washing my tent a few days earlier, and so I was very happy to meet him. Not only were Alan and Colin there but all of a sudden there was Caburn too! I walked for several days with Caburn and others in 2006, and a picture taken during a particularly lovely lunch stop on the way to the Lairig Ghru heads the pages of my 2006 write-up, so I was delighted to find Caburn in the pub.

We all grabbed a table and began to order something to eat.

Howard and Caburn (and a bit of a fish)

I had mussels followed by some of the very best fish and chips I've ever eaten...

...and the hotpot thingy that some of the others had looked pretty good too...

...as did Caburn's cheese after the main courses were over.

After we'd eaten we were joined by a couple of other Challengers from around the corner in the bar, and pretty soon the buzz of animated conversation began to lull me to sleep. I experienced a repeat of the horrendous experience I'd had in the taxi, in which I kept falling asleep in the middle of sentences, and eventually I had to confess my exhaustion and make plans for a return to the Youth Hostel.

Shortly afterwards Doug, Howard, Caburn and I got our things together and set off into what was by now very heavy rain. For some reason I began to develop a chocolate craving, and on arrival at the YH I was delighted to find that the reception desk was open, and the Warden was keen to sell me several bars of Dairy Milk. I flopped down into a chair and ate two of them almost without drawing breath, and then I fell asleep. I don't think I slept for long, but on waking I scoffed the remaining bar of chocolate and staggered off down the corridor towards my room. It was only 10pm when I got to bed but I fell immediately into a deep, deep sleep from which I didn't wake until 6am the following morning.

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