Thursday, 2 November 2006


The start of 1993: Not a great new year for me. Going for a medical in aid of higher life insurance, I was told I had suicidally high blood pressure and gout. At the time I was 37 years old, was running sixty miles a week and only just holding down a pretty stressful job.

So at least losing my job a few months later was one less thing to worry about...

I needed to get away for a while. I went out the next day, and bought Roger Smith's guide to the West Highland Way. Two days later I was at Milngavie and setting off in the evening on my own little bit of personal therapy.

It was pretty horrible weather and the gear was heavy. But it was like heaven to put Cambridge behind me and just put one foot in front of the other and slowly work my way north, slowly jettisoning the misery of the last few months.

Lots of hardened, rufty-tufty walkers turn their noses up at the waymarked national trails, but for me it was a wonderful way back into walking again. I met quite a few characters on the walk but none stuck in my mind more than a chap I met at the foot of the Devil's Staircase.

I was feeling a bit groggy after a particularly good night aggravating the gout in the back bar at the Kingshouse Hotel on Rannoch Moor. As usual it was cold and raining hard.

Parked just below the start of the staircase was a camper van. A cheery voice from within hailed me: 'Are you on the walk?' I clambered in, and was offered hot soup by this charming gentleman. He asked me where I had started from - seemed an odd question - Milngavie - I replied. He looked puzzled. 'Not on the Challenge, then?'

I had never heard of the Great Outdoors Magazine, let alone the Challenge, but Derek certainly had. He had completed TEN of them - and this was his compulsory year off. Not wishing to miss his annual fix he was travelling around the Highlands offering soup and succour to floundering Challengers. A true hero.

When I got back from Scotland to Cambridge I started taking the magazine.

I was hooked. From 1995 I have walked across Scotland every year on the Challenge. This might seem obsessive, but it does get to you. A chap only gets so much holiday a year and to take half of it not with his wife might seem odd to those not connected with this walk. What makes it worse is that it always clashes with my wife's birthday. One year I did actually manage to persuade Lynnie to come with me - with my friend Phil and his wife Tini - We all got across with not a single blister between us. As the girls walked into the sea at St Cyrus, they burst into tears. Now at least, they understood how it feels every year - so every year Phil & I get our passes to two weeks of Binge Walking.

I say 'Binge' because there is no way I would get away more often - so that is it for the year, apart from the Sunday afternoon pub walks in Suffolk from October, when the application form for the Challenge goes in, to April to try & ease the flabby bodies back into something like shape.

It takes the first week of the walk to get back to walking fitness and then it's almost over!

So - At least with a four month walk I might have fifteen weeks to enjoy it to the maximum. That's if I am not crippled by the effort!

On the two week TGO Challenge I always plan to have a day off halfway through the walk, to recharge the batteries, have a bit of a social (usually in the Fife Arms, Braemar) and to scrub myself clean in as many baths as possible.

Over the last few months, I have been trawling my way through as many Lejog accounts as possible - What strikes me is that the successful Groatsers (Ali Ashton's wonderful expression) all take regular days off to pamper themselves. After all - this will be 16 weeks of my life - 16 weeks of hard earned holiday and I want to enjoy it! So I shall have 16 or so days off, lying in my bed dozing, getting up to wash the smalls and just generally having a holiday.

I am looking forward to them already!


  1. I take it the gout has gone!

  2. Well, Sort of! The wonders of the modern pharmaceutical industry keep me staggering on with Allopurinol. However, Saturday mornings can still be a bit of a struggle.

  3. Those rest days were vital - and not just from a physical point of view. I found I needed them to reflect on the previous 10 days or so, particularly if I had had a hard time, and then look forward to the next section. It also had the effect of breaking the walk into chunks. Thinking of JOG in Cornwall seemed rather overwhelming. Likewize at the top end the thought of finishing makes you want to hurry. If you do you'll miss out on a lot of experiences. I missed a few rest days in Scotland and regretted it.
    On a practical note I sought out accommodation that would take a supply parcel and promised to stop if they had a room free. That way I was never too tied to a timetable. I usually phoned a couple of days ahead to confirm a booking and never had a problem.


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