I’ve always started my TGO Challenge walks on the Saturday, not the Friday, so always have a bit of of catching-up to do. Some of this year’s days were looking unappealingly long – until I hit upon the idea of travelling up on the Thursday night on the sleeper train and getting a few miles under my belt on the Friday afternoon. I’d last used the sleeper in 2011 for my Torridon start but, having come off the standby list, was not prepared to pay the price of a sleeping berth so ended up in an uncomfortable seat until the Scottish borders when some people got off and I could lay my sleeping bag across the empty seats and get some kip. This year, by booking early, I got a sleeping berth at a very reasonable price and (I have to admit) I was looking forward to the train journey almost as much as the Challenge!
Joining the train at Crewe, the steward greeted me by name and took me to my cabin. She explained that I’d been allocated to a different berth to the one I’d been expecting and would now have the cabin to myself. Bargain! I expect this may be fairly standard practice if the train is not full and they do not want to disturb sleepers who joined the train in London and have already retired to bed.
The cabin was cosy for two, just right for one. Not needing to worry about disturbing a room-mate, I dropped my pack on the cabin floor and headed to the lounge for a beer and a snack. My holiday had started and I wanted the whole sleeper experience.
It was General Election night and, whilst sitting in Crewe Station (supping a gift of a whisky miniature…. did I mention I was on my holidays?), I’d been listening to the exit poll results suggesting that Mr Miliband was going to get a kicking. I hadn’t really intended to stay up all night listening to the results …… but this was exciting stuff and I couldn’t help myself. In my diary I wrote “Clegg, Balls, Miliband, Cable. LOL!”
Eventually I turned off my radio and tried to go to sleep, but every jolt or gentle turn of the train made me wonder where we were …. and I realised that if I folded down the sink cover I could open the blind and watch the world go by, so that’s how I spent my night…. watching towns, stations and countryside go past like in a black and white movie whilst listening to the election results on the wireless. It was a timeless, placeless experience.
The steward brought me my tea and shortbread in the morning and I had just enough time to buy some breakfast in Inverness before catching the Kyle of Lochalsh train. I shared that journey with two Challengers (whose names I have forgotten, unfortunately). I was starting in Dornie and they from Shiel Bridge so we were all hoping that there’d be a connecting bus going our way, but there wasn’t. They booked a taxi but I’d already planned to walk – partly as I don’t regard Dornie as being on the West Coast – so I went for a wander round the Kyle of Lochalsh and had something to eat before dipping my toes and heading East.
Not long after reaching Dornie (and eating the caramel shortbread kindly left at the signing out register by Sue Banfield), I saw a bus arriving and I couldn’t help but watch to see if any rucksack-laden passengers got out. Yes, just one….. Stevie – so, in true Challenger style, we carried on our previous conversation from whatever year we’d last met as if it had only been a couple of days.
Being late afternoon there was nowhere serving sit-down food, so we bought a few things from the shop and sat on a bench and ate our tea; Stevie brewing up whilst I seem to recall supping from a can of beer. (Oh dear, I appear to have been boozing non-stop since leaving home).
Eventually I felt that I ought to show some sort of commitment to walking across the country so, at about 5pm, I set off along Loch Long and the River Glennan, sometimes walking with Stevie and sometimes alone.
I camped not far after Camas Luinie, roughly where I had planned. I camped near a mere trickle of a stream so used my new Sawyer mini water filter. It was getting dark by the time I’d pitched my tent and had my tea. I’d walked about 14 miles in total today but was only 5 miles into my route but nonetheless felt that I’d made a good start to my Challenge.