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04 May 2022

Peter Shepherd

 

Ask any TGO Challenger and they'll tell you they'll never forget their first Challenge. And so it was with Peter Shepherd and me. We started this madness in 1995. I had lost my walking partner at Blair Atholl and had bumped into Peter at the Fife Arms in Braemar and then again at Tarfside, from where we walked together to the coast at St Cyrus.


There was some awful news this morning on the TGO Challenge Facebook Group:

It is with great sadness we pass on news that Peter Shepherd has died. Known to many simply as "Morpeth" Pete was one of life's gentle and kind people - always willing to listen but more than capable of telling some good tales too! He completed 16 crossings between 1995 and 2013. The first eight were solo but then teaming up with Mick Hopkins aka "Croydon".

He will be much missed. Our thoughts are with Diana and his family.

I've lost too many friends, and a sister recently and I've become more positive about their passing. I now focus on all the good times we have shared and learn from them so I can have a better time in what remains of my own life. 

I've loads of stories I could tell about Peter but I'll leave you with just the one:

*****

Phil and I were on our way from the River Loyne and heading to the Tomdoun Hotel. We'd just hit the tarmac and found Peter camped up at the side of the road with barely three or four miles to the oasis that was the hotel, with its excellent food, beer and a magnificent top shelf. Peter was adamant. He was knackered and wasn't moving an inch further.

Three hours later and Phil and I were still in the bar, not having made it to our rooms, when Morpeth burst through the door, with a thirst on. We were the last in the bar as he left into the pitch black of the night headed back up the road to his Akto.

Next morning as we were tucking into our breakfast in the faded grandeur of the dining room, in walked Peter. Before he had even sat down he exclaimed "A seagull has stolen my teeth!"

He went on to explain that before crashing out he had tucked his false teeth by the door of his inner tent, then first thing in the morning as he was 'stretching his legs' he heard a commotion at his tent and watched in horror as a seagull picked up his teeth and flew off into the Highlands.

Every year since, Phil & I took a keen interest in every gull we spotted to see if they sported Peter's gleaming smile.

*****

Here are some pictures of Peter in his pomp on the Challenge and on a few PreWalkDaunders. 

Cheers Peter. I'll miss you.





















PETER IS ON THE WALL


PERHAPS MY FAVOURITE: ME, MORPETH & CROYDON AT ST CYRUS


27 April 2022

TGO Challenge 2022: An army marches on its stomach

 

You're somewhere in the Scottish Highlands, miles from anywhere. It's MAMBA country: Miles And Miles of Bugger All. It's three o'clock and it's been pissing down all day, with a buffeting cold wind coming right at you. Earlier, you managed a surprise dunking in the raging torrent that had barely warranted a second glance when you planned your route. Even your shreddies are soaking. A glance at the map reveals it's at least another couple of hours of sploshing uphill against this stream that identifies as a path until you reach your campsite, that at the time you had thought could be a bit tight, but at least it's close to the burn... Okay then, it might be more than a couple of hours. In your mind's eye you visualise four hundred other lost souls, all equally battered, soaked and demoralised heading in an easterly direction

Now is the time for everyone to banish all negative thoughts and think about your wonderfully squidgy sleeping bag and a hissing stove boiling up the water for soup and a tasty evening meal. Your mind slips into your happy place as the external slog continues seemingly elsewhere.

Welcome to the TGO Challenge. 

A BREAK IN THE WEATHER: CLICK TO ENLARGE

I don't know how other Challengers feel about it but food is important. To me it's not just fuel; I can't abide the idea of stuffing energy bars, over-sweetened drinks and other such crap down my throat. There's no pleasure to be found there. I need to have something I can look forward to, with a bit of texture, taste and colour, that smells like you want to climb inside the packet and roll around in its glorious contents, gurgling with happiness like a child.

No? That is not weird! It's my happiness, not yours. But let's go back to the middle of that cold, rain and windswept misery in the middle of the Highlands. In order to be able to look forward to your upcoming feast you need to have it all arranged beforehand. Organisation is important. This is how I've been doing it for the last twenty five years or so:


I walked from Land's End to John o' Groats fifteen years ago and decided to ignore the expense and bought my favourite dehydrated main meals made by Real Turmat for every night spent outdoors. It was a massive walk of some 1,700 miles in just shy of four months; and that decision was absolutely spot on. For reasons already discussed in the previous blog posts, this year might well be a physical struggle and so I'm going with Real Turmat once more, as I may well need a bit of cheering up come the evening. The hand drawn page above let me know that I needed to buy six of the little darlings. 

I can become a little tired of breakfast bars and so occasionally swap them out for puddings which can be an excellent start to the day. So my order went off to Basecamp Food for six Real Turmat Mains and three puddings which arrived in the post today. The're a very efficient outfit who offer TGO Challengers a decent discount to support the event.

*****

Since my first Challenge in 1995 with my schoolmate Bob Butler, I've done quite a few solo TGO Challenges and of course my solo LEJOG - which I suppose can be looked at as eight or so TGOs done back to back, in terms of time spent walking. I'm happy in my own skin and see any company I bump into along the way as a bonus. However, when you're walking on your own it's all too easy to whizz along and not take rest stops. This results in a very tired bunny come the evening. An excellent way to avoid this, weather permitting, is to promise yourself a brew stop and a good lunch stop each day. This ensures you get a couple of decent breaks and some proper rehydration, with time to actually let your surroundings sink in and to enjoy your holiday.

I started backpacking when I was around twelve years old, sent on small expeditions in the Scouts with a tiny canvas Rover Hike Tent. By the time I was fourteen, I was tackling the Pennine Way (my brother Dave was twelve) in a Blacks of Greenock Good Companions 'A' tent, in Egyptian Cotton. Our stove was a one pint Primus paraffin pressure stove. As long as you looked after it, it would never let you down and was virtually impervious to the wind. I still have the beast, and it still works. But time moves on and better stoves came on the market which I adopted readily. 

I'm not a great fan of windshields around canister-top stoves as I find them clumsy affairs and consequently leave them at home on long trips. This does mean that making a brew during the day takes quite a bit longer and uses up considerably more fuel. When walking with Phil, I invariably ponce hot water from his much quicker set-up. 

MARKILL STOVE ( FIFTEEN YEARS OLD) & MSR TITANIUM KETTLE (26 YEARS OLD): CLICK TO ENLARGE 

In the picture above, you can see the set-up I've used since 1996. It worked well in the porch of my Hilleberg Akto and also, with a little care, inside Wanda Warmilte. Obviously it was splendid beneath Trinnie Trailstar, as shown above, as there is loads of space and excellent ventilation.

Bearing in mind that I wanted daytime brews, for my 2019 Challenge I bought, at conspicuous expense, an MSR Windburner. This boiled water at an amazing speed and seemed impervious to almost howling gales. Here it is below:

MSR WINDBURNER STOVE, 3 YEARS OLD: CLICK TO ENLARGE

I was very impressed with the build quality and the engineering behind this little darling but was very conscious of its very high centre of gravity. In short, I was concerned that on anything other than almost level ground the beast might topple over with the slightest knock, as it's a rigid monolith. With my original set up, knocking the kettle might tip the kettle, with the possibility of either spilling the kettle or it settling back in place on the stove. It's a far more stable system. The old system was also a fair bit lighter.

This left me unsatisfied. Unsatisfied, that is, until I found a far more wind resistant canister-top stove, that had the advantage over my old stove of a superior pressure system device that provides a constant flow of gas, irrespective of how much is in the canister or the ambient temperature.

I placed an order for a new Soto Windmaster with micro regulator & protected igniter with the awfully nice Mark at Valley and Peak, who I've known through the blogosphere for far too many years to mention, and he very kindly despatched it in a very speedy fashion.

SOTO WINDMASTER

It fits perfectly inside my MSR titanium mug, that fits inside the MSR titanium kettle, along with an emergency lighter to be a very light compact unit. 

MY PRECIOUS THINGS... CLICK TO ENLARGE

All that remains to be done on the food front for the Challenge is to buy the necessaries for breakfasts, lunches and trail snacks and parcel them up to send off to the various B&B's on the route.

I may not be an army marching on its stomach but I'll be well fed without carrying too much excess, apart from that of my burgeoning belly, but that's been a problem for too many years and is getting more difficult to shift as age marches on relentlessly.



22 April 2022

TGO Challenge 2022: Acharacle to St Cyrus, Solo



PHIL, AKA LORD ELPUS: CLICK TO ENLARGE

As you will have noticed from the TGO Challenge Countdown Clock to the right, there are not many days now - just twenty as I type this on the laptop - before I hoist my pack and leave Acharacle on the west coast for a two week walk across Scotland to the east coast. 

Whenever I wrote that in the past on this blog, it always induced a frisson of excitement, wondering what each day would bring, wondering how the weather would affect each day, and wondering who I would bump into enroute. For the last twenty or so years I would invariably share these experiences with a man who I could totally rely on to be there, whatever misfortune befell us. I've known Phil for well over thirty years. We have a lot in common; we walk at a similar pace and have similar views on a great deal in life. Whenever we reach a difficult spot on a walk, whether through tiredness or difficult terrain or the old unexpected, we understand implicitly how the other is likely to be feeling and make allowances and adjustments without ever having to think about it. In short, he's my perfect walking companion. 

Don't get me wrong. I've walked with others and have had a wonderful time, but there has never been that automatic, unthinking understanding.

This year I am having to readjust psychologically in a pretty major way, as it's doubtful that Phil will ever walk another TGO Challenge. I'm going to miss him like hell; it will be like having my right arm cut off. However, I won't be able to shake the old bastard off quite yet as he has been the principal architect of this year's route. He has also organised the transport to Scotland and back and the accommodation along the walk. I'll be walking his route and hopefully through the blog and the occasional social media post, he'll enjoy the inevitable moments of schadenfreude as things go tits-up. We do enjoy another's misfortune from the comparative comfort of a safe spot, preferably with a glass of the good stuff at hand.

If that wasn't enough, to add a little extra excitement this year, over the last seven weeks I've had three different surgeons correcting various anomalies that have cropped up with my health that were a direct consequence of having two kidney transplants over the last nine years. Consequently I've not been out for a single training walk this year, and it's unlikely that I will before the Challenge. This also meant that I had to miss out on the annual PreWalkDaunder, that took place in the Yorkshire Dales, that I had organised myself before the required trips into the body shop were on the horizon. I did manage a two mile shuffle around town yesterday to test out various meshes, stitches and my balance. It went okay and upon returning home I slumped on my sofa with a decent measure in a glass to celebrate. 

I was celebrating, right enough, as after the second operation it had felt like the Challenge would be impossible, yet four weeks later I was out and about. Another twenty days? Pah! A doddle! I'm going to have a go at four miles tomorrow. I'll just have to get fit on the Challenge.

So with the comfort of Phil looking over my shoulder this year, here's a peek at our route:

ACHARACLE TO ST CYRUS - ROUTE OVERVIEW: CLICK TO ENLARGE

And here it is at a Road Atlas scale, in three chunks with overlaps. The days alternate in red and black.

DAYS 1 - 5: CLICK TO ENLARGE

The observant amongst the congregation will notice that on Day One there's gap - that's a ferry crossing of Loch Shiel, which reminds me, that's another job for tomorrow's list. There's also another ferry to be taken, at the start of the third day, across the Corran Narrows. From there it's terra firma all the way to St Cyrus on the east coast. From Lundavra through to Glen Nevis with a little piece of route magic from Phil, then a good walk through to Corrour and onwards to Loch Rannoch.

DAYS 5 - 10: CLICK TO ENLARGE

A nice twist after the loch and then onwards to Blair Atholl. I'm really looking forward to the next two day section to Braemar. I doubt I'll be bumping into too many here. I've booked a table at a good restaurant in Braemar to celebrate.

DAYS 9 - 14: CLICK TO ENLARGE

I'll be visiting Bill and Michael at Lochcallater Lodge for the first time in a number of years. Visiting the lodge always feels like going home, sitting in front of the fire with the very best of like-minded people. It's been too long. Then it's a nice walk over the tops to Glen Clova and up and over to Tarfside  to join the Challenge trade route to the coast.

This is one of Phil's masterpieces - a sensible first couple of days through some new territory for us, followed by some longer walks through spectacular mountain landscapes and then wild walking amongst Cairngorm giants. 

Yes I'll be walking solo but Phil will be with me every step of the way.

*****

And still, in the Spirit of Old Mortality, still sadly missed, are two of my favourites:





18 April 2022

TGO Challenge 2021: Shiel Bridge to Lunan Bay: Index


Here's a handy index to sift out the TGO Challenge posts from the rest of the blog. It pulls together all the posts for my 2021 crossing. You can click on each post - they're in chronological order - and the corresponding blog post will open in a new window.


THE PROLOGUE

DAYS ZERO

DAY ONE: TO GLEN AFFRIC

DAY TWO: TO ALLT A' CHROINN

DAY THREE: TO FT AUGUSTUS

DAY FOUR: TO THE RIVER SPEY

DAY FIVE: TO GLEN BANCHOR

DAY SIX: TO KINGUSSIE

DAY SEVEN: TO GLEN FESHIE

DAY EIGHT: TO TOMNAMOINE

DAY NINE: TO BRAEMAR

DAY TEN: TO LOCH CALLATER

DAY ELEVEN: TO CLOVA HOTEL

DAY TWELVE: TO CONLAWER HILL

DAYS THIRTEEN & FOURTEN: TO LUNAN BAY


It's taken me quite a while to get all 2021's posts put together and it's been fun. I hope you enjoy it as well.

If you're thinking of applying for the TGO Challenge for the first time and you have any questions you'd like to ask please feel free to get in touch. You can get hold of me by using the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog's right hand column. I'm always glad to help.