We are on the cusp of the high season for TGO Challenge route-planning so, like addicts around the world, I’m surrounded by maps and gear spreadsheets. It’s a time-consuming task but bound by a deadline …. which means I will eventually say “Oh that’ll do” and send it in for vetting. Something which is not time-bound is writing up my adventures on my blog and I seem to leave it later and later each year. To cut down on the delay I’ve decided to write next year’s now. I mean, the same stuff always happens so why not get it done while I’ve got a few spare minutes. Assuming that I get a place [fingers crossed], I suspect my trip will go something like this.
Travel to the start
The journey to my start point takes 3 buses and 4 trains over 13 hours. I’d chosen the Quiet Carriage as I enjoy sitting in the midst of a crisp crunching convention whilst hoping that none of the drunk buffoons stand on my rucksack clips.
Arriving on the Friday night I check the signing out list and notice that out of the 65 people setting out from here, only 5 very strange people and 1 person who has blocked me on twitter are still to sign out. I spend the evening hiding in my tent.
A beautiful clear morning, I pack up early then unpack and repack when I realise the only place my lost mobile phone could possibly be is in my sleeping bag at the bottom of my pack. It starts raining while I’m repacking.
My shoulders are starting to hurt but I’m already out in the wilds and I’m loving it. Have identified a perfect spot for the tent on the map. When I get there, I spend 20 minutes trying to find a flat, rock-free, tent-sized space in a midgy swamp. Too knackered to go on, I filter some water from the film-covered quagmire.
After 5 minutes walking I find an acre of flat, dry, sheep-nibbled grass next to a babbling brook with Unicorns gambolling in the neighbouring meadow. I try to laugh sardonically but, instead, wince at the pain in my knee.
Later I phone Control. “Yeah, having a GREAT time. Best pitches ever. Could be my best crossing yet.”
My first proper hill day. I curse every step of the climb then wander round giggling at the sheer glory of being up there. How lucky am I!
Still drunk on the majesty of the hilly wild places, I slip on some wet grass and get a huge bruise on my backside which I can only see by taking a photograph. Note to self: filter photographs before blogging.
A bit of a trek on the road along the loch today but I think about the history of the place. I see only 2 or 3 people all day but there are dozens in the Kirkyard.
I enter civilisation for a resupply, a shower and a bed. Have a coffee after my dinner and can’t get to sleep til 3 in the morning.
Walking through the pleasant broadleaf woods I see a beautiful deer only metres away. I take a perfect photograph of the fence between us.
Emerging from the forest I call in at the Visitor Centre and a complete stranger says “You’re on the Challenge, aren’t you!? You’ll be needing these!” whilst giving me a Mars Bar and a can of pop.
A bleak, wild day just how I like it. The peat is tiring to cross – up and down all day – but this is possibly my best day yet. In warm sun but with a gentle breeze I’ve kept dry and had a great time. I see a perfect pitch just on the other side of a small burn. I leap across, choose the wrong bit of bank to land on and end up with stinky wet shoes and socks just as the sun drops behind the mountain.
A wet day. A VERY wet day. My Paramo keeps me warm and wet while I toil up the hill. I was looking forward to today but the weather was supposed to be better. They say the views are wonderful from up here.
After a failed attempt at wading across the thigh-deep river I go the long way round and reach the bothy at just after 8pm. The bothy book reports last night’s merriment around the roaring fire. I hang my dripping clothes over the bare fireplace whilst attempting to wring out some logs.
I’ve got a room booked tonight and after three tough days I am looking forward to a shower and Big Eats. I trample my clothes clean in the shower-tray then go downstairs for my tea.
I have garlic bread as a starter; Veggie lasagne with boiled spuds, veg and an extra portion of chips for my main; cheesecake with double-cream for afters; then a bag of nuts with my beer while I catch up with twitter on the pub wifi. Later, in bed, I find some cheese in my rucksack and eat it with some smashed up oatcakes.
I get up early having had a terrible night’s sleep with indigestion. I go down for an early breakfast and find 4 Challengers already tucking in. We know we’ve got the hard part out of the way. You can nearly see the coast from here. They tell me about 2 tearooms. Wise people; I note their advice.
I’m now joining up farm tracks and a few lone hills. The wilderness is behind me but I find a stealthy pitch near the crematorium and have 3 cups of tea as I know I can spare the gas now.
More roads today. I sing One Man Went to Mow to keep me occupied. Then Ten Green Bottles.
Glimpsing behind me, I see someone with a huge pack catching me up. I can’t quite see who it is. This could go one of several ways. I start practising my excuses: “No, you go on; you’re obviously much fitter than me”. He’s getting closer. Yay! No need for excuses….. we last met in the café two years ago and it’s great to see him again. The miles fly by as we plod up the road.
I can’t get lost today. Only 11 km of quiet roads to the coast. I get lost and have to walk along the verge of the A92 for 3km…… twice.
The bus comes at last and, at each stop, more weather-beaten tramps climb aboard. It’s so nice to be amongst my own folk.