My previous ten TGO Challenge crossings have all started from different places and this year it was the turn of Shiel Bridge which is, I believe, always the most popular start point …. so way down my preference list (what with me being an anti-social so-and-so). However, having now been there I can understand why so many people choose it for the start of their crossing. It gives immediate access to some wonderful landscape and I wish I could’ve spent a bit longer there. I needn’t have worried about being caught up in the crowds, though, as arriving on the Friday night meant most people had already headed East.
The first couple of days were amazing. After dumping a lot of rain on the Friday starters, the weather cleared up once I started walking and I carried my new Paramo smock for most of the first week.
Unfortunately, on the 3rd or 4th day I caught a cold and this coincided with the general tiredness I always get after a few days of backpacking, and some foot problems. Despite walking in my usual type of shoe (Inov8 Terrocs) with my usual orthotic insoles I was getting bad rubbing on my right foot. I was taping up the affected areas but I could tell that the discomfort was forcing me to “throw” my foot with every step which was changing my gait and putting extra strain on my back.
For a few days I felt really miserable. I wasn’t enjoying the walking at all – although I’ve never really enjoyed walking much; it’s the camping that I like, and walking is just a way of getting to the nice places to camp. I have the experience to know that there are ways of coping with these physical and mental issues. For a start, it’s important to look after myself physically. Rests, plenty of drinks, keeping clean, eating – especially when not feeling hungry – all help the body to overcome the pain, injuries and physical demands of the walk. The mental stresses can be eased with some of the same approaches, ie rest and food, but it was also helpful to feel that my destiny was in my control. I’d planned some Foul Weather Alternatives and I was not too stubborn or proud to use them when the weather was beautiful.
I enjoyed going high up Mam Sodhail on Day 2 (Sunday). The drizzle and low cloud, first thing in the morning, had nearly deterred me but I had a feeling it would clear and it was amazing how far I could see in all directions.
My use of electronic maps on my phone (OSMaps) was a real help. Although I did carry paper maps, this was the first time I’ve mainly navigated using the electronic versions and I’ll definitely be doing it again.
Catching the Tuesday evening boat from Drumnadrochit to Inverfarigaig put an unwanted pressure on me. I arrived at Temple Pier at 4:50pm for the 5pm (ish) crossing of Loch Ness. We didn’t depart until around 5:30pm so I needn’t have rushed but I wasn’t to know that. The climb up to Ault Na Goire was a slog but Janet’s evening meal was very welcome and it was good to start the next day on the ‘right’ side of the Great Glen.
Maybe I should have done better research but I had no idea that there was a new wind farm under construction at Dorenell near Blackwater Forest. Massive new roads; acres of dug up peat and bracken; huge concrete footings for the turbines. It was a mess and the work is due to continue until December 2019 according to the signs.
The last few days took me through Aberdeenshire farmland mainly on roads but with some tracks and using the Formatine and Buchan Way for the last 20km. By now, my cold was much better and I was paying better attention to my dodgy foot and my posture – so I’d cheered up.
Peterhead was as I’d expected. It’s a working port and not a pretty beach like I’ve finished at before, but I was able to dip my toes in the water at the harbour and feel that – once again – I’d managed to walk all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast. Some parts had been difficult but I’d done it and I deserved the couple of pints of local beer I had whilst waiting for the bus South.