Here’s one from the Archives. An abbreviated account of my solo TGO Challenge crossing in 2004. It was the 25th year of the event and everyone who applied to come was invited! There were about 450 of us in all, split into two waves of Challengers crossing Scotland, a week apart. I was in the first wave.
With a week to go, the weather forecast was not looking promising for the first wave - A deep low over the highlands for the first week. The Challenge message board was full of cheery second wave walkers’ posts wishing the first wave the very best of luck on what was shaping up to be a very cold and very wet walk.
I had chosen a longer and wilder walk than ever before for my ninth crossing, with quite a few high and long sections in trackless terrain. On the train journey to Lochailort there were spectacular thunderstorms and torrential rain. There was the usual buzz of excitement from Challengers throughout the train but looking out of the window at the monsoon conditions out there in the hills, I felt a creeping sense of unease that this crossing might just prove to be an epic.
I woke up with a bit of a headache on Friday morning after a particularly good session on the train with Peter Lumley the previous afternoon and a pretty fair evening in the bar downstairs sampling the top shelf with Mike Osborn. Still, I was in time for breakfast and the head would clear in time. I threw open the curtains and then could not believe my eyes! The West coast of Scotland was bathed in warm sunshine and there was not a cloud in the perfect blue sky. So much for the Second Wavers’ taunting!
I left the hotel with Mike and headed west, down to Loch Ailort to dip our boots in the sea before heading off east and into the hills.
MIKE OSBORN & THE ATLANTIC OCEAN
That morning we found a steep little gorge – the Black Hole of Beoraid - choked with huge mossy boulders and fallen trees that took a good while to escape from. Interestingly I had been warned by my vetter, Pete Goddard (aka Mr Grumpy) about it, but had still ended up there!
After lunch we were back on track and spent a wonderful afternoon sauntering up Allt Slaite Coire peering into the deep crystal clear pools at the sparkling ‘fools gold’ at the bottom. Mike is a bit of a naturalist and at all our lazy stops in the afternoon he would point out all the tiny little flowers amongst the grasses and heather. This was a revelation to me – I just wish I had written it all down in my notebook – as their names have all escaped me now.
MIKE OSBORN & LOCH MORAR
We sat outside the bothy that evening drinking tea, watching the sun slip behind North Morar, with Rum framed between the hills far away to the east. Oban is a magical place.
OBAN, LOCH MORAR & RUM
MORNING, LOCH MORAR
My plan had been for three easy days to get warmed up. It had rained for two weeks solid prior to our arrival so the ground was saturated and a lot of my walk was off-track, and consequently quite tough going in the boggy conditions coupled with the amazing heat we were experiencing.
A couple of hours into the day and we had to cross the river in a very boggy spot, so I gave the far bank a good prod with a pole – it seemed fine – took a small run up and leaped. Straight in, up to my thighs. Mike thanked me, found a nice dry place to cross and only then pulled me out. Green slime had seeped into every fibre of my Polartec tights. I smelled absolutely foul! Still, after a nice cup of coffee and a fresh set of socks in Glen Pean bothy I felt a million dollars again.
However, after the climb up Dearg Allt and with Kinbreack within eyeshot, disaster struck! One leg slid about four feet down the slithery oozing hillside while one trekking pole planted itself firmly in the one solid bit of land in the whole of Scotland. With my arm caught in the wrist loop, the rest of me plummeted ground-wards, twisting under the weight of my pack. Explosions seemed to go off in my arm on the way down until I ended up face down in the bog. I lay there for a moment checking myself over. Mike unfastened my pack and I sat there, my mind totally numb as my arm screamed at me. I had no idea what I had done but I could not move it. After a while I limped into Kinbreack, one of my titanium poles completely buckled.
Mike, Roy, Trevor & Bill decided how they were going to get me out of there. They were to split my pack up between them and get me to the Tomdoun. With thoughts of early retirement, in my despair I gave up my bottle of Ardbeg to the boys, as I was on Distalgesics and anti-inflammatory pills. Still - a little slug before bedtime wouldn’t hurt so I drifted into delirium propped against my rucksack so I couldn’t roll over onto my arm. I was sure that it was all over.
DAMAGE (Phil Lambert’s Picture)
I woke in the morning, popped a cocktail of pills and stumbled down the ladder for a look outside. It was a beautiful morning with mist hanging head height across the glen. It was peaceful, still and quite a million miles from anywhere.
This is why I come back every year, and yesterday’s despair was transformed into renewed hope.
MORNING @ KINBREACK
I walked straight back into the bothy, sorted out a one-armed cheese & crackers, coffee and fruit breakfast and spent a good while stuffing a sleeping bag one handed into a stuff sac. Tricky, but okay. Packed the rucksack – okay. Mike lifted it onto me and we were off! All thoughts of giving up had evaporated.
LOOKING BACK TO KINBREACK
The Tomdoun passed in a blur of wonderful hospitality and top shelf challenges. I then had four fabulous days, passing through the Monadhliath, calling in on secret bothies, traversing the length of the A’ Chraidhleag and then on to Kincraig for another wonderful evening at the Ossian.
A’ CHRAIDHLEAG (NOW SADLY BENEATH A HUGE RESERVOIR)
EARLY MORNING, MONADHLIATH
This last section had been a complete change for me. I was alone in wild, trackless, empty landscapes that rolled inexorably beneath me as though I was on a moving pavement. As long as you stayed upright and kept the legs moving, the scenery would just roll towards you.
RICK & SUE ENROUTE TO WATER OF CAIPLICH
RICK & SUE, BYNACK MORE
I had bumped into Rick Smith & Sue Graeme in the Monadhliath and so it was good to team up with them for a wild walk through the back end of the Cairngorms with substantial chunks in wild & trackless country with huge open vistas.
RICK & SUE IN GLEN LOIN WITH BEN AVON
One of my most complete days of the walk started at Dinnet and followed the Firnmounth Road to Tarfside. You start by climbing through the exquisitely scented Forest of Glen Tanar, then a high level bimble over Craigmahandle, Gannoch and Tampie, from where you see the afternoon’s walk straight as an arrow all the way down to Tarfside. Once out of the protection of the forest I had to fight every mile against strong blustery winds. Water was a bit of a problem as St Colm’s Well was just a muddy pool. Exhilarated and exhausted, I fell into St Drostan’s hostel for a bacon sandwich and a few life-saving beers.
PETE SHEPHERD & A CHALLENGE BREW
I spent a quiet night in at the Mason’s then wandered happily down the North Esk with the usual suspects to have a paddle in the North Sea to complete a wonderful walk. After climbing back up the cliff at St Cyrus, we sat on the bench taking it all in, when a few spots of rain spattered against my jacket. That was the first rain I had been in on the entire walk. So much for the weather forecast!
ME, MORPETH & CROYDON, ST CYRUS
ST CYRUS NATURE RESERVE