Tuesday 7 June 2011

My 2011 TGO Challenge - from Oban to St Cyrus

Thursday 12 May 2011 - Getting to the start.

There is something about anticipation. It makes me just a little bit nervous.

Will I get my train connections?
Will I get my ferry connections?
Will I manage to get from the West coast to the East Coast?
Well, I got my train connections and made it to Glasgow in time for the 1222 to Oban.
I'd already met Andy and Kate at Crewe.... and Sue and others on the Glasgow train.
In Glasgow I met more Challenge folk.

At Queen Street, I met Roger Smith. I'd not been to Queen Street last time, in 2009.
Apparently Roger is at Queen Street every year to see the Challenge folk all board the 1222 to Mallaig and Oban (it splits at Crianlarich).

Nigel and Lynn were on the platform, loads of folk were in the train and the journey to Oban was just fantastic. I spoke to so many - some new to the Challenge, but most well seasoned veterans! Des, Martin, Barbara, Susan, Mick, Peter, Sue, Ali, Lou and Phylis and more - wow!

The day was well finished with a curry at the Light of India - about 10 of us got there. Then to the Corran House Hostel for my last night of luxury for a while.

Oban - with me heading West!

Friday 13 May - and it will rain for ever.....

Well, it rained!
Just getting to the cafe for a panini - it rained!
My windshirt and trousers were soaked.
Still, I had a good breakfast and made my way to the ferry.
Last night I checked the departure point and met Caburn, who was off to start - I forget where.
On the ferry to Lismore were Gus, Simon, David, Bernie, Keith and Charles. This almost seems like train spotting - Challenge style!

Lismore was a great start - a few showers - and a pretty straightforward walk to Point to catch the ferry to Port Appin. The Pierhouse did some fantastic food - and a couple of pints helped us all on our way.

Simon and David eventually went one way and Bernie, Keith and Charles camped by the river. I went on by myself to find a camp spot at the start of the way up to Beinn Fhionnlaidh.

I found a well sheltered rise by the trees and made myself comfortable for the night. It rained! And, it rained heavily! But, after my meal and a time taking in the solitude and views I got a good warm, dry nights sleep.

My first night below Beinn Fhoinnlaidh

Saturday 14 May - On course - for the last day!

All went to plan. I took the vague path up to Beinn Fhoinnlaidh and down to Glen Etive. Here I had lunch and, after starting off again, turned to notice Bernie, Keith and Charles coming towards me. They left to find a low camp. I took the path by the Allt Mheuran to the bealach to the SW of Stob Coir'an Albannaich - then up to it and down to the bealach just below - en route for Meall nan Eun the next day - or, so I thought.

The pitch I chose was flattish, but waterlogged! The Trailstar was staked with triple stakes on the 3 staking points to the wind. (Thats 6 inch "X" section stakes, titanium nails and titanium pins). They were in wet, loose ground!

That night it was stromy - very stormy. The Trailstar stayed up - but, so did I!

The rain was heavy and the wind was swirling round. I had the Trailstar pitched low. It kept being blown in from all directions and my fear was that the stakes would come out - and bye Trailstar! But despite all this and no sleep, the shelter stayed up and I remained in good spirits.

Sunday 15 May - FWA (first of many!)

I had to pack up in the storm! Visibility was not good and there was no way I was going to get to take the ridge walking to Kingshouse. There was wet snow lying around the Trailstar. It was not pleasant!

So, FWA. Down to Loch Dochart and then on to Victoria bridge before the multi-national walk to Kingshouse. I thought that I'd check out the chances of a room at the Kingshouse - it was Sunday. No chance. The weather was foul and there were loads of folk doing the West Highland Way.

Here, I pitched on a sodden bit of ground near the river and triple staked as the wind was pretty strong - and remained so all night. I met some folk walking their horses North. Not sure where from or where to, but they were good to chat to. Then Ron came in. Ron had done 23 crossings! And, he ran marathons.... and, he was older than me... hope.

I heard that Lou and Phylis were due at Kingshouse. But, I didn't see them. Got to bed at 2100. It was a very wet and windy night, but, I slept well - dry and warm and comfortable.

My sodden camp by the river at Kingshouse

Monday 16 May - FWR to Glen Nevis

I woke up to ..... rain and wind. I packed up and continued on to Kinlochleven.

To my (misguided) amazement I met other TGO Challengers going the other way out of Kinlochleven!

It was Bernard Fowkes and family - the second three generation crossing. After a brief chat and good luck I continued. George and Doreen Stewart also had a brief chat before I continued on to the MacDonald Hotel for lunch.

It did not stop being wet and windy! After a liquid and solid lunch I took the ultra- FWR to get me to Meanach bothy. All this entailed was a wet, wet trudge up to Glen Nevis, a 2k walk upstream to find a crossing point, a knee deep crossing ( my feet were so wet, I couldn't be bothered to take off my boots!) and then a 2k walk back down to the bothy.

I saw some walking poles outside. Inside were Dave Skipp and Caburn. They were well equiped with music and speakers. What could have been a cold lonely evening turned out to be a great night with music and chat. I ate well and we all had our individual supplies of whisky. Early to bed and a really good night's sleep. 

Coming up to Meanach bothy - the dot about 2.5 cms from the trees!

Tuesday 17 May - the weather remained .... as before.

Dave set off like a hare. Caburn and I took the winding river route. We all got to a point near Loch Trieg where we took a break. We passed 2 people getting water and said hello, but did not chat to them (they were Challenge folk!). We went under the railway bridge and then went naughty! Up to the railway line and down to Corrour Station. An Oasis! Great food, bottled beer -very good and respite.

Dave and Caburn went off to do the easy Munro while I continued past Loch Ossian. The rain started around 1700. I passed Scott and Lawrie camped up towards the bealach (Scott was walking with a busted ankle! - and had to eventually pull out). The walk down to the bothy seemed never ending. I got there at 2020. There were 5 Challenge folk in the main room - names?...... I forget. I went to the back room where Jeff was. Jeff wasn't on the Challenge. He proved good company and stayed up past 2200.

After eating and getting ready for bed, I went round to the main room to be sociable. It was 2200 and they were all in bed. This is what the Challenge does to you!

The night remained wet and windy.

Wednesday 18 May - on to Dalwhinnie - the very easy way

Corrour bothy and Ben Alder

It was windy and wet in the morning. I took the easy way to Dalwhinnie. All attempts at my route plan were being thwarted. I was more concerned about staying in one piece and happy (I was!).
The Dalwhinnie Hotel is a great place - correction: was. It was closed. I camped behind in a sheltered spot as the wind was still bad. Then I went across to the garage. Two parcels were due to arrive there. One, my food and whisky. The other, my boots.
I had a sore right little toe. And... a bruised second toe on my left foot. For me, these were major casualties! No blisters.... just sore toes. I knew the boots would be ok - I used them in 2009. But!!.... would they be there?

When two parcels came out I was delighted ( I got a day ahead and the boots were a maybe... as they were posted late).

I was soon joined by others. Caburn, Dave, Ian, Jane and Terry and Dave Wood.
It rained - heavily. Then the security guys came round. They asked what was happening. They were ok. All they did say was watch out for rats!!
I can't remember who had the idea, but, minicab to Newtonmore - £8 return: transformed a night next to the hotel into a great night with loads of other Challenge folk. Too many to train spot.
There were no rats and sleep came easily!

Dalwhinnie Hotel - campsite

Thursday 19 May - On to Gaick Forest and more rain (and snow).

The day started ok. A coffee and some breakfast bars in the garage. Then along the aqueduct to Loch Cuaich. Last night loads of folk had chosen to camp here. There were none to be seen now.

The route over to Gaick Lodge was clear and this made it more enjoyable. Visablity was clear - tracks were not. Once up to the top of Coire Chuaich I decided to keep high to the left-ish and ended up going a long way round over pathless heather and peat bog. I eventually got to Sgor Dearg and the steep path down to Gaick Lodge. Others who were behind me caught me up (because of my longer route, and, my overshooting the turn-off to Sgor Dearg).

The crossing of the river was easy. Crocs on, Crocs off. Terry and Jane headed off up the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. I chose to camp near the small clump of trees just a way up from Gaick Lodge. Mistake!

The soil was poor. The winds were swirling round, so that the trees provided no real shelter and the stakes kept pulling out - because the winds were stronger that they were. After moving around and trying and re-trying to pitch, I gave up and decided to also head further up the Allt Gharbh Ghaig. About a kilometre up the way I saw a reasonably sheltered (or, so I thought) spot not far from where Terry and Jane had their tents.

Rain soon got it's act together and I settled down to my evening meal. The heavy rain and gusting wind kept changing direction. I ended up putting my waterproof over the end of my bivvy bag to combat the rain that was otherwise going to wet up to 1.5m of my bivvy bag! (I was sharing the inner with a huge lump of grassy stuff and had to lay with my feet to the entrance as there was no other way to fit in).

During a lull in the rain I popped my head out to see a couple of figures coming towards the area from Gaick. I went back inside to look after the stove. Next was a hello from my one of my new neighbours: Bob. We had a brief chat before he headed back to join Rose. I didn't meet Rose: it was getting late and the weather  was getting aweful.

That night it rained, it snowed and the waterproof performed it's unusual task very well. I was warm, comfortable and dry.

Camp near Allt Gharbh Ghaig
Friday 20 May - Snow and heather bashing

While Terry, Jane and Bob and Rose were still in their tents I got up and packed up in heavy wet snow. It was 0700. The wet snow continued off and on for some time. It was easy to follow the Allt Gharbh Ghaig - albeit on a higher path. And, there were two Croc crossings in quick succesion. Then it got to be fun time. Getting to the Allt a' Chuil and on to the start of Tarf Water involved: numerous compass checks, a few GPS checks and miles and miles of heather and peat and potholes and ....... tired feet.

After what seemed like ages I got to the Tarf Water and followed the river downstream. This in itself was not easy: and, of course I had wet feet too. I did not like this day. The only consolation was that the rain did stop in the afternoon.

Then I saw what looked like a mirage! Tarf Hotel! But, it disappeared from sight for quite a few minutes. Was I going bonkers? No - thank goodness. It was 1745.... I was knackered!

There was someone trying to put up a Laser Comp. Only he was having difficulty in the wind. Oh no - why was he putting a tent up? Was the bothy closed? Thankfully not - he was trying to dry it out. I said hello to Stevie who had a room to himself. he was also a Challenger. He was meeting a friend at the bothy later. Meantime, I went round to the main "Hotel" entrance and found myself a room. I was tired and after making a meal and having  a brief chat with Stevie and Co, I retired to my sleeping bag and sat up sipping whisky and reflecting on the trip over from Gaick. It was good to have done it, but great not to have to do it again!

Tarf Hotel

Saturday 21 May - Up to the bealach of doom and the Loch of despair

It was not raining as I started out from Tarf Hotel. I didn't see Stevie at first but he soon caught me up just after I had waded across the Tarf and was putting my boots on.

I must admit, bruised toes and tired feet do slow you down. Within no time Stevie was almost out of sight. Getting to the Tilt was fairly easy - more pathless stuff but not too bad. Then a well defined track up to Fealar Lodge. About 1k from the farm I noticed a lamb on the wrong side of the fence from it's mum. Poor thing was going bonkers. I carried on to the farmhouse, where I knocked on the door. I explained about the lamb to the shepherd's mum - who was house sitting. She said she would ring her son for advice. Of course the lamb could have got back? But, as I walked past on the other side of the ravine I could see it hadn't.

I trudged along the track eating some beef jerky and listening to my feet complain. Then I thought....... umm..... track? No! Out came the GPS. I was 2k away from the track!

Compass bearing across.... more bloody heather. Then as I rejoined the faintest of paths it rained. Then it rained harder and harder. Visability decreased. Eventually I saw the path going up to Carn an Righ: not today. It was aweful weather in desolate landscape (what could be seen).

The path-ish up to Loch nan Eun seemed to go on forever. The Loch eventually showed itself to be grey and desolate, with swirling cloud, heavy rain and wet footfalls. I sat down, took off my boots and socks - twisted the water out of my socks and put them on again.

The path from the Loch down by the Allt Ghlinn Thaitneich was long and full of potential trips and falls. I was tired and didn't like the fact that it went on and on. Then I saw a big house, but realised there was a long way still to go to the hotel. Maybe I could get a room?

So, there goes a complete looney tunes singing 10 green bottles. I was actually in very good spirits! Luckily no one was there to see or hear! The rain did not let up - if anything it got harder.

Then the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel: venue for the finish of the Cateran Trail 56m run - and fully booked. It was 2015 and I was directed to the grass at the back of the car park. It was sheltered and the soil was good and the grass was soft and level - and camping was free.

After putting up my Trailstar, I put my Crocs on and made my way to the packed hotel to eat and be moved by the spectacle of folk still arriving well after 2030 having started at 0700. They were wet. I still had my waterproofs on. After a good meal and a few pints I put gear around the chairs to dry off a little. The place was heaving; but no Challengers....

Then I saw "the fleece" - TGO!  David Albon had a chat and offered to take my boots back to his room to dry them off. David also had experienced the Loch's gloomy atmosphere.

Next morning - after a comfortable night's sleep - I went in for breakfast: £7.50. Here I met David and Kathy. We tackled the buffet, but found it somewhat lacking in essentials - like food. However enough was consumed and I left the Hotel at 0930 to continue on to Glen Clova.

My morning view near Gaick

Sunday 21 May - Glen Clova Hotel - after more hard heather bashing

I left at 0930 and took the Cateran trail heading for Loch Beanie. Much to my surprise I caught up with Julie and David. Julie was from Hove, via the USA and David was from the USA and on his first TGO Challenge. We walked together for a while; until I decided to go one way and Julie and David another: we were all heading for Loch Beanie, I thought my way was better - wrong!

I had to confirm my route with a local farmer and then follow a fence until I hit .... more heather to cross. Then I saw Julie and David way in the distance, in front of me. And I saw the farmer again. he and loads of others were also congregating near Loch Beanie: I don't know why.

Julie and David were to prove good company as we made our way via Fergus towards the start of the Kilbo Path. There was a good track up from Fergus before we decided to go overland to Glack of Balquhader. Over more pathless heather: my poor feet were getting a right kicking!

Down and over to the Kilbo Path, then up, and up and up to the top of the path. Very, very windy place to have a quick break. We talked about going to Driesh and along to eventually drop down to the Glen Clova Hotel, but, the wind was fearsome and so a quick-ish steep drop down off Shank of Drumfollow; in stronger winds! But, we made it down to the forest where I left Julie and David behind  - to continue on to the Hotel.

The road walk from Glen Doll to the Hotel ensured that I rolled in totally wacked at 2015! The bunkhouse place, that I had already booked, was swapped for a room in the Hotel. I wanted a bath and comfort. I asked at what time food was being served to? It was Sunday and they had stopped serving food! But, I could have fish and chips! Well, a quick dumping of my gear and down for food!

I was near exhaustion and I looked it too - to those Challengers who were already there. Chris, Alan, Bill. Koos, Nicole, Caburn and others were there. Julie and David joined the numbers.

It was a good night and I slept well after a bath and comfort.

Did someone mention the weather forecast?

Monday 23 May - No distance covered at all - The Storm

I'd heard, on Saturday, that Monday was going to be bad - 120mph winds!!

We got a taste of that yesterday and I still remember being lifted off my hands and knees on Ben More Assynt!

Challenge Control were advising - stay put!

And, yes, that morning I opened the blind to see cloud and rain and high winds catching the trees. Breakfast was very good. I also booked a second night in the Hotel.

I rang Challenge Control to explain that a number of us had decided to stay put for the day (I gave their numbers). Sensible, I was told. Caburn, Julie and David did decide to go over the top! Caburn had camped outside overnight and had a reputation for being pretty hard - swimming in burns etc., The view was that the morning would not be quite so bad.

They got over ok. Also, two bedraggled Challengers eventually came over from Jocks Road. It was a bit windy they said... and they were being blown around quite a lot!

The day went very well. Lots of chat in the morning, a snooze in the afternoon and a fine evening of food beer and conversation.

Tuesday 24 May - After the storm

The morning news was of storms and train and plain disruption and 2 deaths - because of the storm (and that was in the lower parts of the country). That morning there was heavy rain for about an hour. Then although it was still very windy, the visability was good and the walk over to Loch Lee, via Loch brandy was good.

Tarfside was eventually host to around 40 tents. The Refuge food run took forever, but gave me a chance to chat with Jim and others in the waiting area.

There was a story about a petrol stove at Gelder Sheil - which I heard from 3 different folk. There was lots of hellos and chat and then into the Masons. Here was a motly crew of folk and I chatted to Tim and Jerry for a while before joining Chris, Alan and Tom (father - Alan -  and sons).

I retired early. The reputation of the Masons..... ultra late nights .... not a good idea for surviving the next day.

Wednesday 25 May - Head East young man

I think a lot of folk had the same idea about finishing. Get to the coast. My route was to have been to Stonehaven. But, the experience of the crossing to date dictated a more straightforward, pragmatic route. I set off with Koos and Bill (Bill had the maps) to North Water Bridge, via Edzell.

The Tuck Inn was a great place, as usual, and talk was of how to get over the footbridge. Some had already been turned back and made to walk the long road way round. Council workfolk were doing some work on the bridge and it was closed. What to do? Rush it? Plead?

Bill set off and Koos and I followed. Then Bill came back and explained that the workfolk had just left. The bridge was secure for crossing. Koos and Bill then tried to avoid the road, while I just took the shortest route.

There was a large gathering at NWB. In between the rain we celebrated Stephan's birthday and downed some wine and whisky. Jim was marking folk out of 10 for limping skills. I got a 6.... but, I'd like to think this may have risen to 8 as the night went on. There was very heavy rain that night, but, I slept well.

Thursday 26 May - Montrose ......and a fantastic surprise at St Cyrus!

It was still raining very heavily as I packed up in he morning. This soon stopped to allow at least a dry finish.

There is nothing special about the route from NWB to St Cyrus. It gets you there.

I forgot how high the cliff was. I even said to Jim, at the bus stop, that I'd catch the 1130 bus ok. Wrong. It's a long way down, just to put your feet in the sea. But that's the end, so that's what has to be done.

Then the walk back up. Peter (Morpeth) was just behind me as I reached the top. Here I was surprised to be offered a cup of tea or coffee from a man in a small white van. My response was - yes please: oh, but I need to rush to catch a bus to Montrose. Don't worry, I'll give you a lift - came the response. So, Peter and I finished our Coffees and I discovered that the man's name was Hamish. He explained that he had done a few Challenges and knew what it was like. I was bundled into the back of the van and Peter sat in the front.

Sure enough we were dropped right inside the Park Hotel car park. Hamish also went into the Hotel.

There were loads of folk to chat too. And the evening went very well. Later Peter came up to me and asked if I knew who the man was - who gave us a lift? No.

It was Hamish Brown.

I was almost moved to tears!

I met and chatted to loads of folk that night. Jon Hancock made a point of saying hello. We met in 2009. And Frank came over to remember the night we were the only ones to go to the real ale pub in Montrose in 2009. Others, too many to mention, made it a great evening.

Then the dinner ..... and praise and tributes to Roger Smith. A fantastic man who was seeing his last Challenge folk in on his last Challenge as the main man.

Friday 27 May - Home

Breakfast in the Park after the dinner is weird. I don't like goodbyes - I'm just not good at it.

So I sat with John and Peter (Lilo) and watched loads of folk I would like to have said goodbye to come in to the breakfast room.

I didn't come over and say goodbye. So, if you were in the breakfast room that morning.


The 1032 to York, the train to Derby and the train to Tamworth got me home at 1733.

Another great experience and definately one to be repeated - only, pehaps in better weather.


My aim was 19 Munros - I did 2.
My finishing point was Stonehaven - I did St Cyrus.
My aim was to enjoy this Challenge - I DID!!

All the moans about sore toes, all the knackered arrivals, all the endless lumps of heather etc., could not dampen (nor could the rain) my enthusiasium for and pleasure in doing such a great event. The people I met made it special.

Thanks especially to Barbara, my wife, who puts up with me going off to Scotland and whose voice on not so good days was especially good to hear.

Will I be back next year?

Definately......If John Manning will accept a small bribe to ensure I get pulled out of the draw.

After the storm heading up from Clova


  1. So the weather wasn't so good then, Gordon?

    What a great report. I thoroughly enjoyed that from my office desk, in the warm & dry!

  2. In the previous message you complained about the lack of rain and not being able to test the PHD Alpamayo. You expected rain during the Challenge (so it's your fault ;-), how did the PHD perform ?


  3. Hi Theo,

    You are right: it was my fault for all the rain on this years TGOC!

    I loved the Alpamayo which finally got a real test as it rained every day!

    It's an awesome smock and I liked it so much I put a testamonial on the PHD website.



  4. Nice one Gordon. Any Munro was a bonus this year. I liked the report and I missed you by a day at the Spittal of Glenshee Hotel. Rolled in Sunday afternoon. David Albon was still there.

    Why not sleep as I do sometimes side ways in the Trailstar deep back in it. No rain will reach you there far from the opening.

  5. Nice one, Gordon. You seem to have chosen a very wet and windy route - you must be a glutton for punishment!

  6. A great read Gordon, I could feel the wet feet and the relief of a hot bath and a comfy bed!