I surprised myself by finding an even earlier set of digital pictures, from my seventh TGO Challenge, in 2001: The year of the “Mini Challenge”.
There had been a UK wide epidemic of Foot & Mouth and the countryside had been effectively closed to walkers. Around Britain, farmers were seeing their livelihoods going up in the flames of the colossal funeral pyres of their slaughtered animals. It was a desperate situation, but not only for the farmers, but also for the tourist industry throughout Britain. The farmers would eventually receive some sort of compensation for their losses (albeit not covering their losses) but the tourist industry – hotels, B&B’s, pubs and cafes received nothing.
With a few months to go to the start of the Challenge, Foot & Mouth restrictions were still very much in force throughout Britain, although, from memory, Scotland had not suffered as badly as England & Wales. The organisers of the Challenge made a sensible decision to abandon the event to the west of the A9, as sheep and cattle were in abundance in this region, and created a “Mini Challenge” from the A9 to the east coast.
However, with a week or so to go to the original start date, some Highland estates were making it clear that walkers were welcomed back along defined routes. Phil Lambert, Mick Coady & I made a few phone calls and emails with some of the western estates and managed to plot a route from the west coast, starting at Shiel Bridge so that we could join up with the “Mini Challenge” along the A9, which we did, at Newtonmore. We weren’t the only folk who had thought of this – a handful of German Challengers had also come up with a very similar route to ours!
This meant that we actually managed a complete crossing.