TGOC2016 – A quick reflection

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I usually write up a quick summary of my TGO Challenge experience soon after the event.  Time has flown since I arrived home but I think I can rummage up a few fading memories to give an overall impression of this year’s crossing.

This year was my tenth crossing and I admit that I’d been quite nervous whilst planning it.  I wanted everything to go well and for there to be little chance of me not completing the walk.  I, therefore, planned a route which was maybe a little shorter than usual [I suspect that an Oban start gives the opportunity of a shorter crossing] and I had several Foul Weather Alternatives which I was more than happy to use even if the weather was glorious – which it was for the first couple of days.

This year’s crossing seemed a lot easier than previous ones and I think the weather probably played a big part in that.  Yes, I had quite a lot of drizzle but it never really developed into persistent heavy rain.  I noticed that I seemed to relax once the sun had been replaced with rain and I was back in my Challenge comfort zone.

There were a couple of days when I wore myself out but nowhere near as bad as other years when I’ve been completely exhausted.  I think I’ve matured as a walker since my first TGO Challenge in 2006 and now know a couple of simple but important tips:- don’t rush …. and eat often.

Food was a worry during my planning.  In order to cover new ground and avoid visiting places I’d already been too, I had few resupply stops in the first week.  If they had let me down then I’d have been eking out some oatcakes and soup for a few days.  As it turned out, I ate well.  My (1st) Monday and Friday hotels not only fed me a huge breakfast but made me an ample packed lunch which augmented my food supplies for the next few days.  Although the hotel meals were good and welcome, my favourite meal of the whole fortnight was leek and potato soup, in my tent, with a stale bread roll mushed up in it.  Hot, tasty and filling and just what I needed.

I had no accommodation booked for the second week so camped for 5 consecutive days from the Saturday to Wednesday – which included a campsite on the Monday.  I would usually look for a bed or room after 3 or 4 days of wildcamping but the weather was so good I had no need to seek a bit of shelter and dry all of my clothes.  Something I had failed to anticipate was that I’d have nowhere to charge my mobile phone but I found that pubs and cafes were quite happy for me to charge it while I was giving them my custom.

I didn’t have much company this year and only bumped into my first Challenger on the second Wednesday but I was following various people on Twitter and, despite walking on my own, felt like part of the Challenge family.

My finish didn’t go quite to plan as I’d not checked the bus times back to Montrose and had to walk an extra 6 or 7 miles from the South end of Lunan Bay all the way to the Park Hotel – thus eating into the time that I’d planned to relax and chat to people before the dinner… but booking a room at the hotel meant there wasn’t really any rush even though I didn’t get there until after 5pm.

So…. what now for this Ten Timer?  Part of me says that I ought to take a break from the event.  I’ve been looking at long distance trails to do instead – like Offa’s Dyke, or Cape Wrath, or maybe Hadrian’s Wall.  I’d also like to give something back to the event, so maybe I’ll be serving tea at Tarfside next year? But there’s also the chance that I just won’t be able to resist filling in the application form in September’s The Great Outdoors magazine.  We’ll see.

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TGOC16 – Day 13 – The End – Ethie Haven

Today did not quite go to plan as I got lost twice; on the way into and out of Inverkeilor. This has happened before on my final day. I smell the sea air and lose all sense of direction.

Ethie Haven is a special place, nestled in the cliff. The photo is the view of Lunan Bay from just above Ethie Haven.

I am now at the Park Hotel preparing to dress for dinner. I hope nobody is wearing the same as me.

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TGOC16 – Day 12 – Lunanhead and Friockheim

I’d hoped for a shop in Lunanhead but all I got was a park bench and a good enough phone signal to call Challenge Control.

It was good to walk with Markus for a couple of hours. Last time I saw him was last year when he wasn’t on the Challenge and he was going the wrong way out of Tomich. We walked into Friockheim together and had a beer before Markus pushed on to the coast.

I’m in another stealthy camp with a view of a barbed wire fence and two roads. The wind is the strongest I’ve had all crossing.

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TGOC16 – Day 11 – Kirriemuir

23km of road walking was quite tough on the feet but the day was broken up with a second breakfast at Peel Farm and a resupply and short pub visit to Kirriemuir. Unfortunately none of the pubs served food on a Tuesday afternoon and I didn’t fancy hanging around until 5 pm, so I made myself a cheese roll whilst sitting next to Peter Pan.

I’m in a stealthy pitch tonight. Within yards of a road and within earshot of the A90. Nearly at the East Coast.

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TGOC16 – Day 10 – Kirkton of Glenisla and Nether Craig

The thunder faded away without incident. It was a warm, sunny morning and I didn’t need to put on my waterproofs until early afternoon.

Whilst doing the final planning for today, I had realised that a slight diversion would take me to the Glenisla Hotel for lunch. However, I did not know if they served food all day – so I felt under a little pressure to get a move on and had resigned myself to being too late. But not to worry – they were still serving when I got there at 2:30 ish. I made sure I had all of the essential food types: egg mayo, ciabatta, veggie broth, beer, scone & jam, and coffee.

Well refreshed and satisfied, I then lost the Cateran Trail and had an unfortunate episode with a knee-deep bog.

I’m now tucked up in my tent on a campsite after a very nice shower. Shame I can’t get the peat out of my socks no matter how many times I rinse them!

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TGOC16 – Day 9 – Kirkmichael

Thankfully, there was no rain in the night and my little patch of not-as-wet-as-everywhere-else remained dry until the morning. Of course, there were some much better pitches 10 minutes further on, but sometimes you just have to make do with what you can find at the time.

Cross country for half of today’s route then roads to Kirkmichael. Coffee and cake at the village shop, although I was disappointed not to be able to get a sandwich or a veggie pie to take out. Tonight’s tea was soup and bread followed by cheese and biscuits.

I walked on 2 or 3 miles after Kirkmichael and hastily put up my tent when I could hear the thunder circling. The rain is gentle at the moment but I think there’s some weather brewing.

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TGOC16 – Days 7 & 8 – Struan, Killiecrankie and Ben Vrackie

The walk along Loch Errochty and the minor roads to Struan was pleasant and after 3 nights wild camping it was good to have a little luxury (like hot water and crockery) in the Inn.

I could have followed a minor road all the way to Killiecrankie but did a 5km x-country stretch with a bit of road walking at either end instead.

The route out of Killiecrankie to Ben Vrackie is well signposted so the navigation was easy. Of course, I’d never intended to go up the hill – I just wanted to camp at the bottom.

I’ve gone on about 1km to try to find a midge-free dry bit of ground. I’m camped between two raging torrents; so fingers crossed for no rain overnight!

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