After a few months of meaning to get round to writing up my full report from the 2016 TGO Challenge I have finally started to put fingers to keyboard. I kept a diary at the time and wrote up some notes shortly afterwards, so most of this tale probably has some basis in truth.
I’d had Oban pencilled in for my tenth TGO Challenge for several years. Having chosen a different start point for the previous nine crossings, I now had a choice of Kilchoan, Mallaig, Shiel Bridge or Oban. Kilchoan looked tricky to get to; Shiel Bridge and Mallaig were too popular; but Oban had good transport links, a Youth Hostel, touristy things, and – maybe most important for my Tenth – a relatively short crossing allowing plenty of flexibility in case of Foul Weather, Foul Temper, or Plain Laziness.
As I wanted to have enough time to enjoy Oban before starting my walk, I caught the earliest suitable local train at 7:29 via Liverpool and Wigan to Glasgow. I walked from Glasgow Central to Queen Street knowing that there was major refurbishment work underway. There were staff on hand to make sure passengers found the right platform so, having checked that I knew where to go, I nipped to Wetherspoons for a Veggie wrap and a pint of beer. It was almost 12 noon – so Beer-o-Clock in my book.
Back on the Queen Street platform in plenty of time, I noticed a couple of probable Challengers but I didn’t speak to any. I did go and speak to a couple of men with rucksacks and Packrafts. I was curious to know how heavy their boats were. Heavy! I suppose it’s a bit like lugging coal to a Bothy; it’s a slow trudge while you’re carrying it but you’re glad you made the effort when you get there.
By now the platform was getting really crowded. Two station staff members were shouting instructions about which end of the train was for Oban and which for Fort William. They were also trying to get passengers with large luggage to use one door of the train – because that’s where the large luggage rack was, although it was already full. Most people either didn’t understand or paid no heed to the instructions and I decided to wait back until the pushing and shoving had stopped. There was no way I was going to allow my precious rucksack to get squashed or damaged in the rack, so I was pleased (and surprised) that I was able to slot my pack into the overhead rack. Usually there’s either not enough space or I’m not strong enough to lift it above my head!
I didn’t enjoy the train journey. The train was packed and I felt quite stressed. I’m sure I’d have been OK on the same sort of rush hour commuter train on a work day – but I was heading for two weeks of peace and solitude, and this train journey was like a form of torture I had to endure before I could have my peaceful reward.
Oban was bigger than I was expecting. After dropping my stuff off at the SYHA, and checking the names of the Challengers who’d already signed out earlier that day, I went for a wander around the town and to dip my toes in the West Coast sea. Despite having burned off no calories so far, I forced down some chips and, later, an ice cream whilst looking out across the harbour. I was a bit worried that my right knee was sore already, but I convinced myself that it’d be OK once I got walking.
The Oban Music Festival started that day and my SYHA dormitory was full of festival goers. As I turned in for an early night I hoped they weren’t going to be too raucous when they got back.
Today’s beer: Harviestoun Shiehallion; Oban Bay Kiltlifter.