The Highlands of Scotland is (or should that be “are”?) a pretty big place. Stand on a top somewhere in the middle and the hills just roll away in every direction for ever and ever. Occasionally a hill stands apart (and to sort out all the arguments, the pointy one is always Schiehallion) but generally the scene is a vast sea of rolling waves and breakers. The size of the place is truly magnificent.
Somehow, when plotting a route for the TGO Challenge, you need to find a way through this ocean of mountains. The first time you try this, you begin to realise that there are a few corridors handily placed to help the walker wander in generally an easterly direction. And splendid routes they are too. Glen Nevis, the Corrieyairack, the Feshie/Geldie, Glen Tilt.. You soon realise that these are the superhighways of the Challenge. When you walk your route, you bump into loads of other Challengers, all of whom have discovered these routes for themselves.
Keeping the Challenge fresh shouldn’t be that difficult: There are a dozen or so start points on the west coast and you can finish more or less anywhere on the east coast, leaving the choice of routes seemingly limitless.
I have been across quite a lot of times now and have found the trick to keep it ‘challenging’ is to search out new ways of threading your way across in new territory - new places to discover, new places to stand and goggle at the vastness of it all.
For me, planning the route is usually shared with my mate Phil but this year I have been playing about with the route earlier than usual. I start by planning little bits of interesting threads through the hills – often having some twenty or thirty little strings of ‘routelets’. Then the fun part comes in trying to link them all up in a fresh and interesting way.
For what its worth, here is a routelet for next year, should I get a place.
It’s through the Forest of Atholl, a few miles to the west of Glen Tilt. As usual, its my Foul Weather Route – the fine weather route is immediately obvious, taking in Beinn Dearg. It should be wonderful wild stuff. So – Please, Uncle Roger – Can I have a place? Pretty please?