This year’s TGO Challenge will be my tenth. Having done my first in 2006, I’ve only missed one year and have come off the standby list twice. I’ve had a different start and end point every year, have generally walked on my own and have never been to St Cyrus.
A Tenth crossing should be special. The achievement is recognised by the awarding of a plaque and the congratulations of one’s peers – although, to be fair, everyone deserves and gains congratulations after every crossing; the encouragement and respect of fellow Challengers is an important part of the camaraderie of the event.
So how does one go about planning a route that meets the requirements of a special crossing? The advice I got from Challenge LegEnds was “Don’t change what’s worked well for you …. but maybe do a bit more of the bits you’ve enjoyed most”.
I thought about what’s gone well …. and not so well …. over my first nine crossings. I like a bit of wilderness and I like being alone but I do like to bump into people occasionally. I’ve grown to love being high but I don’t like having to rush down from the hills in order to press on and get some miles behind me. I like camping in wild places but I do like the occasional night of luxury with a bath and a pint of beer. Of course, I have to start and finish somewhere new …. although some links with my first crossing would be satisfying. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy being exhausted after a day of climbing up and down peat hags, but I do like to feel that I’ve earned my dinner and a good night’s sleep. I hope that my planned route will give me everything I want.
I’m starting in Oban as that should give me the shortest route across the country. I always start walking on the Saturday (apart from 2015 when I started at 1700 on the Friday) and I never have the opportunity for a rest day. I regard a rest day as any day shorter than 12 miles. As my route started to take shape I realised that I was at risk of reaching the East coast on the Tuesday(!) so I built in some detours and gratuitous hills to fill up the time. This means that I have some sections that I could drop due to foul weather or just because I fancy staying a little longer in one place. On so many crossings I’ve had no flexibility at all and have had to push myself to the point of mental and physical exhaustion just to stay on track.
But don’t be thinking that I’m going to have an easy, lazy crossing. Oh, no! I have HILLS. In fact, I have MOUNTAINS! Munros and Corbetts (whatever they are). Not many, admittedly, but I have the freedom this year to go high and take the time to enjoy myself. Of course, it could rain and blow a hoolie …. but I’m hoping for clear skies, a gentle breeze and beautiful views.
I go North out of Oban and cross the Connel bridge then take a hilly route to Glenetive Forest. If the weather’s bad I’ll follow the West shore of Loch Etive. Then a night at the Kings House Hotel via the Lairig Gartain. I’ve had mixed experiences of the Kings House but it’ll be a welcome respite if the weather has been bad. I’ve just learned that the hotel has new owners with ambitious redevelopment plans so I hope the hotel has neither closed (nor burnt) down by May.
I’m hoping for a nice bit of bleak nothingness whilst crossing the Black Corries to Rannoch Station tearoom, then I’ll head up to Loch Ericht. Cross-country to Loch Errochty then an easy morning to Struan where I have a room (and evening meal / breakfast / packed lunch) booked. Cross-country to Killiecrankie and Ben Vrackie – although the summit is not actually listed on my route-sheet; I’ll make my mind up when I get there. A mix of cross-country and tracks/roads to Kirkmichael, where I will probably book a room, then East and South through the Forest of Alyth to the campsite at Nether Craig. From here it will mainly be minor roads with whatever tracks and paths I can find. I’ll pass through Kirriemuir, keep North of Forfar, pass through Friockheim and Inverkeilor then finish at Ethie Haven at the South End of Lunan Bay. Lunan Bay was my first finish in 2006, so there’s a link to my first Challenge, but Ethie Haven is a discrete settlement which looks like a pretty place to finish.
Food resupply won’t be easy this year and I’ll need to carry 4 days food when I leave Oban. If the Kings House House or Rannoch Station tearoom can’t feed me then I’ll be living on soup and nuts until I can divert to Kinloch Rannoch or Tummel Bridge. There’s no shop at Struan or Calvine so I am planning to visit the local House of Bruar which doesn’t look like the sort of place I would usually take a detour to visit, but it does have a restaurant and a food hall. I wouldn’t be surprised if I am living on organic polenta and extra virgin aubergine & mango chutney for the next few days.
I’m really looking forward to this crossing. There are going to be some wild, remote parts and, fingers crossed, some wonderful camping spots. I’m not going through any of the Challenge hotspots, like Braemar, and I’m not sure how many Challengers I’m likely to bump into but hopefully there’ll be a few. I’m going through several areas I’ve never been to before but there are some more familiar parts, too.
I just wish I didn’t have so long to wait until the off…..