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. 


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. 


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:


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.


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. 


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.


  1. Please would you pass on best wishes from me and Sue, to Eddie and Heather. We really do hope to visit them again soon. Maybe we'll contact them anyway and encourage them to stock up...

    1. My wife, Christine and I were fortunate to stay with Eddie & Heather for 5 nights during Easter week. Top guesthouse, top people - such genial hosts. I wish to thank both of you, Messrs Sloman and Banfield, for bringing this place to our attention in past blogs. We told Eddie & Heather that this was how we found out about their lovely place. Good luck Alan for the TGO.

    2. Thank you so much, Cedric. I bought all the provisions for my food parcels today, so that's tomorrow's job to get them sent off. It looks very much like my training for this year's walk will be carrying my pack from Waterloo Station to Euston Station, with lunch at Cafe Boheme in Soho (Never Pass a Cafe) and supper in a pub in Euston. Then there's the bar on the Caledonian Sleeper. That should sort it.

      Eddie and Heather have a lovely spot and they look after their guests handsomely! I shall pass on your regards to them.

  2. It's all about the food. This year I'm departing from my usual home-dehydrated meals policy and opting to buy and cook as I go for the most part. Lugging a huge 1.75L Trangia pan to put on top of my Windmaster. Of course the other motivation is seeing the looks of pure hatred on the faces of my walking companions when I'm knocking up bacon of a morning...

    1. It's all the little details that give so much pleasure. After a tough twenty mile day, a tiny weigh-nothing electric pump spinning away inflating your mattress as you sit and relax into an Ardbeg in the evening sunshine. Over yonder your fellow Challenger collapses, blue-faced and clutching his chest as his mattress shoots crazily into the air like a party balloon.


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