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About the TGO Challenge

The TGO Challenge is not a race, but a challenge to plan and walk your own coast-to-coast route across Scotland. It was set up 40 years ago to promote fellowship amongst those participating, and to encourage people to experience the remoter parts of Scotland. Many challengers come back year after year because of the camaraderie.

You are required to send in your planned route to the organisers, and the vetting team advise you on the viability of your plan, and highlight possible issues you may have.

I chose a very remote route for my challenge in 2018, and had only met two other challengers by the time I reached the halfway point. However, after that I joined a more popular route and I then started to experience the great atmosphere that the challenge is famous for. Arriving at a cafe or pub meant you could instantly strike up a conversation with complete strangers as if they were old friends. True to my philosophy, I wild camped every night on my challenge and absolutely loved it. I was totally alone most of the time, but the friendships I made and respect I got from completing it were also special.

It is possible to drop resupply parcels off at certain points along the way. I dropped my one and only resupply parcel at the cafe in Dalwhinnie – and by the time I walked in to collect it, they had 40 parcels waiting for their respective owners! It is possible to plan a route where you can resupply in shops along the way, avoiding the need for a parcel, but I preferred to do it this way as I couldn’t guarantee that the smaller local shops would stock what I needed (or be open when I passed them). My resupply parcel weighed 6kg and contained enough dehydrated meals, snacks, fuel, soap and loo roll to get me to the east coast.

Day -4 (pre-TGO): Dog Falls to head of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin (Glen Affric). 7th May 2018

7 miles

I decided to walk in to my start point of Glenelg as a warm-up, and because it was an excuse to spend an extra three days in Scotland. My wife dropped me off at Dog Falls and I set off alone along the Glen in the late afternoon sunshine. I camped at the far end of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Idyllic camping spot on the shores of Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin

Day -3 (pre-TGO): Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin to Kintail Forest. 8th May 2018

16+ miles

Track through Glen Affric

It felt great to be back in real Scotland: the remoteness, solitude and dramatic scenery. I woke at 5am and was packed up and away 30 minutes later, with a nice walk to the Camban Bothy. I stopped here for lunch. The path had been boggy in places, but it was mostly a good track or path and then a dramatic descent past Allt Grannda Waterfalls.

Unfortunately it rained the whole time, so I didn’t see the falls at their best through the gap in my waterproof jacket.

Allt Grannda Waterfalls

The wind had got up a bit by now, so I stopped and put my tent up in the ruins of Glenlicht House. My thinking was that this would be out of the wind, but actually the wind just blew in through all the gaps in the walls, doors and windows, and then got funnelled around. It made the tent flap in all directions – not bad enough to move the tent, but definitely a lesson learned. The wind did mean that once the rain stopped, I could hang all my wet gear out to dry.

Sheltering in the ruins of Glenlicht House

It looked like rain again at about 5pm, so I cleared up my things and got into bed, listening to music on my iPod. This also gave me some time to think about my choice of footwear for the challenge. For the last thirty years or so, I’ve always walked in leather boots. On the Cape Wrath Trail I tried La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX boots, and had dry feet the whole way, but once I got home the boots started leaking. The Gore-tex lining had failed after about 300 miles, so they were effectively useless. This would be the first long walk I had done in trainers (Inov8 Roclite 325s), and so far they felt great to walk in. I definitely felt more agile and energetic given the weight difference compared to normal walking boots. However, it did feel strange to have wet feet all day. The point of not having a waterproof lining is that when your feet get hot they breathe rather than sweat, and it does seem to work. I’ll reflect on this further once I’ve finished the walk.

The threatened rain never arrived, and by 7pm the sun came back out – but that’s Scotland all over!

Day -2 (pre-TGO): Kintail Forest to Loch Alsh 

16+ miles

I woke again at 5am, and was away by 5.20am. I enjoyed a lovely early morning walk down the valley with Munros all around me. Once I reached Morvic it was a bit of a slog along the road to Shiel Bridge, and then I had to face the disappointment of being so early the cafe wasn’t open.

I turned off onto the small loch-side road to Ratagan and Totaig, which was a nicer walk than I expected.

View over Loch Duich

At Totaig, the road ended and I got a view across the loch to one of the most photographed castles in Scotland – Eilean Donan. I’m sure it’s great from the other side, but my view of it was rubbish. Concrete and more concrete.

Trying to entertain myself on the long road walk at Totaig

I then had an interesting but boggy walk up through the woods and around the headland to Ardintoul, where I got some good views of Loch Alsh to the Isle of Skye and the road bridge.

Heading into the woods from Totaig

I camped in a nice grassy field behind a wall, trying to protect myself from the wind which had got quite strong again by this point. I put the tent up, then realised I had forgotten to collect water to rehydrate my meal for tea. This meant I had to walk a fair way to find a stream to filter some water from.

Camping on the shores of Loch Alsh, at camas nan Gall

Day -1 (pre-TGO): Loch Alsh to Glenelg (slowly…)

7 miles

It had been raining and very windy overnight but I was very cosy in my Terra Nova Photon tent (you can read about my full gear list here). There wasn’t too much space, but the tent was extremely lightweight and fairly quick to pitch. It stood up to the wind with no problems.

Looking back at Loch Alsh

It was a late start this morning as I didn’t have far to walk to Glenelg. I got up at 8.30am and was away by about 9am. The walk to the Skye ferry was lovely, and I stopped for breakfast in a little gully so I could watch the ferry coming and going for a while. I was surprised how many vehicles crossed here, as it’s not an easy place to drive to.

Watching the Isle of Skye ferry

The sun came out as I turned to walk across Glenelg Bay, and it was absolutely stunning – one of the prettiest places I have been to. The tide was out, so I had a lovely walk along the beach and over the rocks, where I sat and took in the views for an hour or so.

I managed to time walking into Glenelg perfectly for lunch and a pint. I was booked in to stay at the Glenelg Inn for the night, and I was glad I’d made the booking early as it’s a popular place. My room was great, so much so that I felt a bit guilty washing my filthy clothes in the spotlessly clean sink!

The view from my lovely B&B – the Glenelg Inn

I really appreciated my bath here, and lay in it until the water had turned stone cold. It was good to be able to spread out, air everything, dry my washing on the radiator and sort myself out ready for the challenge proper to start at 9am tomorrow.

Glenelg Inn

I headed back downstairs for a nice meal, a few pints and a listen to the live band they had in that evening. There were no other challengers there, which I was surprised about, as there should have been five others. Perhaps they were staying in the local bed and breakfasts.

TGO Challenge Day 1: Glenelg to Kinloch Hourn (11th May 2018)

I was first down in the morning, and sat waiting for the hotel staff to start serving breakfast. I spent the time chatting to the very interesting landlady.

The sign-out book for the TGO Challenge was in a nearby bed and breakfast, and I signed out at 9.50am. I read that one challenger had already pulled out, and three were ahead of me – signed out at 9am and 9.01am. They’re keen!

I followed a nice quiet road for a few miles, stopping along the way to look around a very well-preserved broch. This was really interesting.

Broch at Gleann Beag

The road then became a track which I left, crossing a river to join a path which basically followed the electricity pylons all the way to Kinloch Hourn. This was a reasonably nice walk considering the rain had started. It wasn’t heavy enough for my waterproofs and my windproof jacket was just about handling it – at least I wasn’t sweating in my waterproofs.

Following the pylons that take power over to the Isle of Skye

The path was rough in places, and sometimes boggy, but it was enjoyable. The woods were nice and sheltered so I stopped here and made some tea. I have been to Kinloch Hourn on the Cape Wrath Trail before and liked it, so I had planned on camping here. However, it was windy and exposed when I arrived, and still raining, so I carried on up the road for a little longer. I eventually camped just off the road, out of the wind by the river.

Camping just off the road at Kinloch Hourn

It was still raining so I just crawled into my sleeping bag and went to sleep.

Day 2: Kinloch Hourn to Allt Ailein (12th May 2018)

There had been a cold wind all night and I woke at 5am feeling freezing, so I got going. It was too windy to light the meths stove and still raining, so I packed up everything inside the tent – now there’s a challenge. Luckily the tent itself fits into an outside pocket of my rucksack, as it was absolutely soaking.

I descended to the edge of Loch Cuaich on the road, and then followed the loch edge for 7 miles or so.

Loch Cuaich…

I realised I had slowed to a snail’s pace so decided it was probably time to stop for breakfast. It was 8am, and I stopped at the bridge and track you would use if you were coming this way from Shiel Bridge (one of the most popular start points for the TGO Challenge). I had just lit my stove when a chap stopped and asked if I was a coast to coaster. He was on his sixth crossing, so we chatted for a while before he carried on along the road.

After breakfast the wind disappeared and the sun came out, turning it into an awesome day. This made the road walking a lot easier, helped by the fact that it is a dead end road so there’s not much traffic on it.

…still Loch Cuaich…

The day became so warm that I had my shirt off for some of the way, then I stopped and laid in the sun, airing my tent and sleeping bag. Neither took very long to dry. I couldn’t help thinking that this is the life, but I’d better not tell my wife that, who was hard at work back home!

Reaching Poulary I turned south on to a track, then a path. On the map it looked like I had a fairly serious river crossing to contend with, but when I got there, there was a welcome bridge. A much easier crossing than I expected! This section felt remote and it was great to be in the hills again, even though the path was intermittent and boggy in places.

I thought I already was remote!

My route plan had me camping at the loch I had passed, but it was such a nice day that I didn’t want to stop. I just kept climbing with great views all around me – snow-capped mountains set off by the deep blue sky. I had to stop eventually and I passed the perfect spot in a gully, about 500m from Allt Ailein.

Camping spot by Allt Ailein

Once I’d pitched my tent, I sat in the sun with my shirt off writing this diary. I filtered some water, washed myself and then made up one of my dehydrated meals for tea. I also finished off a whole chocolate bar, with the excuse that it might melt in this heat. Thank goodness the midges hadn’t arrived yet, as they would have been horrid in this spot.

Day 3: Allt Ailein to Creaguaineach Lodge (13th May 2018)

A wet start again this morning, so I packed up inside the tent. I was getting good at it…

I walked over Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire at 650m, through patches of snow. My GPS was essential for navigation here, as there was no path on the ground. It was still drizzling as I descended to pick up a path the other side.

Snow on Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire

The weather dried out just in time for breakfast which I was well ready for. It drizzled on and off, though, as I walked along the road and track past Anchnacarry, and then the path beside Loch Lochy.

View from Bealach Carn na h-Urchaire

The sun came out just as I got to Loch Lochy so I just had to stop. I sat on an old boat beside the loch for a snack and a quick phone call home, feeling wonderfully contented.

Stopped to phone home at Loch Lochy

My path took me on to the Great Glen Way for a few miles, before I left it to cross the Caledonian Canal and join the road to Spean Bridge. I passed the famous memorial and there were coachloads of tourists there.

I got my timing spot on today, and managed to arrive in Spean Bridge just as the chip shop was opening. The place wasn’t busy, so the chap came out for a chat about Scotland, the TGO Challenge and fish and chips. A very pleasant hour in the sun!

View from the road, walking into Spean Bridge

I stocked up on chocolate bars as I left town, and then it was quite a climb by the Allt Leachdach. The day had become pretty hot by this stage, so I had to stop and lay in the sun for a while. I took the opportunity to dry all my gear, too. Continuing on through the glen, the path became a track, which ended at a bothy. I stopped for tea here and needed to add some layers – the temperature was cooling off fast as the sun started to drop.

Bothy at Lairig Leacach

Leaving the bothy, the path was initially boggy and rough, and it felt like I was in real wilderness again. The path got more and more interesting as it descended to Creaguaineoch Lodge and I really enjoyed it.

A forever changing walk beside Allt na Lairige

The lodge itself was all boarded up when I got there, so I camped in the front lawn overlooking Loch Treig – a real treat. It was getting dark by the time I had the tent up (obviously this was all in my plan!) It meant I had to go straight to bed, and I fell asleep after a short time listening to my iPod.

The view from my lovely tent… Loch Treig

Day 4: Creaguaineach Lodge to Culra Lodge (14th May 2018)

Whilst looking at my route plan that Challenge Control had a copy of, I realised that I was supposed to be having a rest day in Spean Bridge today. I wasn’t supposed to be at Creaguaineach Lodge until the 16th, so somehow I had got four days into the Challenge and already two days ahead of schedule. I made a note to phone in as soon as possible and let them know, just in case.

Idyllic camping beside the closed Creaguaineach Lodge

It had been a stunning sunrise this morning, which I was able to watch from the door of my tent, still warm in my sleeping bag. My legs were aching, probably due to the high mileage each day. It has been just too tempting to make the most of the amazing weather!

Eventually I got up and sat on a rock nearby, eating breakfast, feeling extremely lucky to be in such amazing scenery and perfect weather. By the time I took my tent down, it was completely dry for the first time on the trip – it felt great to know I would be putting it up dry that night!

I starting walking at around 9am (I know – lazy git), but hadn’t been walking more than half an hour when I had to stop for a toilet break. This is always my trouble when I start walking later, and I hate stopping so early when I’ve just got my rucksack comfortable. I had to drop my pack and climb up a way behind some planting to dig a hole.

Back on the track, and eventually getting my pack comfortable again, I passed a chap working on his boat by the loch. I didn’t know how far he’d driven on this track, or where he’d come from, as there were no roads for miles.

Corrour Railway Station is definitely there…

I passed under the main railway line and got views of Corrour Station in the middle of nowhere. My question of why you would get off the train here was soon answered, however, as I headed towards Loch Ossian. I met a number of people who had got off the train to walk around the loch, or to visit the Youth Hostel on the other side. Yes, it is worth it – what a lovely loch to walk around.

Loch Ossian Youth Hostel

Corrour Shooting Lodge was an interesting-looking place here, a very modern building in amongst the trees. They were busy re-routing the path away from the house, though, so I couldn’t really get a good look at it. It was in an idyllic position overlooking Loch Ossian.

Loch Ossain – and the start of my beard

It was a good walk, but it would have been even nicer if it wasn’t on a new track running up the valley to service a new hydro generating dam, and next to newly-buried pipes. Hopefully this area will regrow and return to heather and grass, but the track itself is always going to be an eyesore.

The tracks leading to these hydro schemes are ruining the landscape

Once past the new hydro dam, it was on to a nice path and pristine Scottish wilderness again. It was lovely walking by the Uisage Labhair, although it did get a little hard crossing some pathless ground. It was a stiff climb to join a path coming around Ben Alder, but great walking over Bealach Dubh where I stopped for tea in the sunshine. There was a little stream, patches of snow and awesome views back down the glen to Loch Ossian and Corrour Station.

Heading towards Bealach Dubh

The path was well walked, easy to follow and in great condition, which made it even easier to take in the incredible views down to Ben Alder forest, with broken cloud, blue skies and mountains in every direction.

Snow at Bealach Dubh, even in May

I walked past a number of waterfalls worth photographing (but didn’t, for some reason) and passed Cultra Lodge Bothy, which turned out to be closed due to asbestos. There were a number of people camped in the area – actually, the most I’ve seen so far on the Challenge. It was late in the day and most were settled in for the night or camped away from the path, so I was unable to speak to any of them. I am sure some were Challengers, though!

I crossed the river and walked for another mile or so before the light dropped, so I stopped on a lovely bit of ground with awesome views over to Loch Pattack. I could have camped anywhere in this glen, though, as the ground was so good.

Camped near Culra Lodge, looking back at the Bealach I’d walked through

Day 5: Culra Lodge to Gaick Lodge (15th May 2018)

The day dawned sunny and warm again, with little cloud. I set off early, joining the track to Ben Alder Lodge which I couldn’t get a view of. The gatehouse was an incredible piece of fairy-tale architecture, though!

Deer crossing the track in the morning
This is just the gatehouse for Ben Alder Lodge!

It was a long but pleasant walk next to the loch all the way to Dalwhinnie, where I stopped to pick up my resupply parcel. I also treated myself to coffee and a full cooked breakfast for £7 – thank you, Snack Shack!

I chatted to a few other Challengers whilst I was there, and as I left I met John, walking in a kilt. It was his 9th Challenge aged 71. I was seriously impressed.

It felt good to be fully resupplied again to get to the coast, especially the sloe gin that I now had in the wine platypus. The only down side was that it had added about 6kgs to my pack, and my route this afternoon was all uphill.

Resupply awaits at Dalwhinnie

It was slow going leaving Dalwhinnie and I had a number of rest stops, struggling with the extra weight. I could now see the sense of more frequent resupply points, but I couldn’t have done this route if I wanted that, so I didn’t feel down for too long.

After a few miles I was back in the wilderness again, and I pulled myself together. Perhaps I did this too successfully, as I was supposed to camp near Loch Cuaich (albeit on the 17th, according to my route sheet). There were plenty of good spots, too, but no – I had to carry on climbing a seriously steep path up on to Bogha-cloiche.

Looking back at Dalwhinnie while climbing Bogha-cloiche

Here, the path disappeared. I had to cross patches of snow and find my way around a lot of peat bogs. I stayed high enough that the path was mainly rocks and short grass which made it easier going. However, it suddenly got stressful when I could see the clouds rolling in (possibly carrying rain) which obliterated my views and exit route from the top.

I knew from the map that there was only one way down, because it was too steep to descend anywhere else. Thanks to my phone / GPS, I found it without too much trouble. The path was possibly the steepest I have ever used – a real thrill.

Pleased to find this path – the only way down to Gaick Lodge

As I dropped out of clouds, I got my first views of Gaick Lodge, a deserted lodge in the middle of the remotest-feeling location I have ever been. Fully loaded, my muscles complained loudly all the way down!

I knew there was no bridge over the river at the bottom, and it seemed to get bigger and bigger as I descended. Luckily, when I reached it, it was wide but shallow due to the recent lack of rain. It still required boots off and a paddle, though. Annoyingly, as soon as I had dried my feet and got my boots back on, I realised I had another river to cross. I just couldn’t be bothered to take them off again, so I balanced on an RSJ that was across the river. This was harder than it sounds with a heavy pack – I very nearly lost my balance and fell in! Thank goodness for walking poles.

Looking back at the steep descent from the safety of my tent

I walked another mile or so and camped on lovely grass near a small wood beside Allt Gharbh Ghaig. I had the glens to myself as far as I could see, so I stripped off and had a good wash in the river. It was chilly, though! It makes me appreciate my nice warm shower at home every time I use it.

The wind had got up by this point, so I had to cook my 1000 calorie meal in the porch of my tent – another challenge. I also started on the sloe gin – obviously just to save weight in my pack! By 8pm I had also polished off a whole chocolate bar!

Day 6: Gaick Lodge to Glen Tilt (16th May 2018)

Allt Gharbh Ghaig

I woke this morning to over 20 deer grazing around the tent. By 7am I was away, and walked up past a waterfall. My route led me to a short, dangerous section where the cliff had given way and taken the path with it. I just about managed to scramble over the landslide without falling to my death!

Landslide made the path very difficult to follow

I stopped for breakfast in another idyllic spot by the river, before crossing an area marked as ‘rough ground’ on my map. It turned out to be one of the nicest high-level crossings I’ve done.

Breakfast stop by Allt Gharbh Ghaig

I followed the river until it completely disappeared, then immediately found the source of the river I needed to follow down to a track by Bruar Water.

Following Allt Gharbh Ghaig right to its source

Once I reached Bruar Lodge, I climbed and contoured around to join a track at Allt Sheicheachan. This was harder than I had expected, as I couldn’t follow the path all the way. I kept losing it and struggling through the heather, but eventually I joined the track. This was good walking with views all the way down to Blair Atholl.

Drying my clothes in the sunshine…I’d only got one pair of trousers…enough said!

I was surprised that I had a mobile phone signal here, and it was great to pick up texts from home. It was also an opportunity to phone Challenge Control and update them on my progress. I took advantage of the sunny weather to dry all my kit too!

I had enough supplies with me, so I didn’t need to go into Blair Atholl itself. This saved me about seven miles and I was grateful for it.

Track descending into Glen Tilt

As soon as I reached Glen Tilt, I started looking for a place to camp. It didn’t take long and I got another good spot next to the river. However, once I was in my sleeping bag, I realised that I was on a slope, but I was too tired to bother moving my tent.

A sloping pitch by the River Tilt – I didn’t sleep well that night

Today had been a strange day of euphoria crossing over Glen Bruar and laying in the sun drinking sloe gin, then fear after nearly stepping on an adder. I also went from happiness at an unexpected phone signal giving me contact with my children and Challenge Control, to disappointment at losing the signal just as I was able to phone my wife (once she was home from work). Now here I was laying in an uneven tent, missing home. It was 8pm so I decided to have tea, more sloe gin and a sleep, and I was sure that all will be well again. The sloe gin was looking a bit light, though…

Inside my home

Day 7: Glen Tilt to Loch nan Eun (17th May 2018)

I spent all of last night sliding off my air mattress. I know this wouldn’t have happened on my old closed-cell mat, but I wouldn’t swap this air mattress for anything. It’s far too comfortable and much warmer.

Glen Tilt

Glen Tilt was very mice, but it was a long slog on a good track, passing the occasional residence or farm. I only had a couple of vehicles pass me all morning, and I had an interesting chat with a couple who were heading down the glen for a couple of nights.

I left the track and joined a nice path, closer to the river. This led me right to the amazing Falls of Tarf, blazed in sunshine.

Falls of Tarf

I crossed the river (easy in this dry weather) to join another path, and then stopped for a long lunch in the sunshine, with all my kit laid out in the sun to dry.

Time for lunch – my trusty meths stove heating the water for another dehydrated meal

The path to Fealar Lodge was small, but I was able to follow it without too much difficulty. However, after the lodge, the path was non-existent. This made it slow-going, but it was great to be back in wild, remote countryside again.

As I rounded Beinn Lutharn Mhor I picked up a faint path which climbed fairly high. So instead of contouring round to my destination, I left my planned route and climbed to the summit at 986m. There were incredible views of summits all around, hardly any wind and bright sunshine.

Top of Mam nan Carn

I walked over the top and descended the other side to my intended destination for the night, the stunning Loch nan Eun. There were a number of possible camping spots here, and I put my tent up on a small peninsula stuck out into the loch. I think this might be my best ever wild camp.

Camping at Loch nan Eun – you can just see my tent on the shoreline

As I was setting up camp, I found a tick on the air mattress, but I couldn’t find any others anywhere (including on myself). These are definitely something to look out for as they can carry disease, and I often check myself for them.

I sat outside my tent on the loch-side, drinking sloe gin and watching the sun set. Awesome. However, it was chilly once the sun went down, so I ended up sleeping in my fleece to stay warm for the first time on the trip.

Day 8: Loch nan Eun to Glen Doll (18th May 2018)

Early morning at Loch nan Eun

The sun hit my tent at about 5am this morning. Because I was so high, I wasn’t in a shadow. There was hardly a ripple on the loch or a single cloud in the sky.

I was straight up, packed up and away, wanting to make the most of the stunning weather. I walked uphill to my first top of the day. There were no paths here but the walking wasn’t too bad, a bit rough but mostly grass and short heather.

Carn a Gheooidh, looking towards the Cairnwell

This was a crazy day of summits. My diary notes are “871m, 975m, 920m, 933m, Cairnwell, 922m, 1068m, Glas Maol, 1064m, Cairn of Claise, 958m, Tolmount, 920m, Cragies. Great weather, no wind on top and mostly no pths. Knackered!”

The Cairnwell

The weather and scenery today were just amazing so I didn’t stop where I had planned to after the Cairnwell descent. I had a nice surprise when I found the ski centre cafe open, and it was good to have a meal with a knife and fork and a comfortable seat! There were a lot of tourists climbing the Cairnwell, perhaps explaining the open cafe.

The weather was still perfect so it wasn’t a difficult decision to carry on past here, even though I knew that it meant I would be high up all afternoon and would probably have to camp in an exposed location.

Feeling very lucky with great weather again

So I set off up the ski track to Mealll Odhar, leaving that on good ground, short grass and stone to climb Glas Maol, joining another path to Cairn of Claisie then cross-country to Tolmount. I picked up Jock’s Road here, which is not a road at all but a fairly rough, small path.

One of the many summits done today

It was getting a bit late in the day so I started to think about possible camping spots. I had no water left though, so it would mean no tea if I stopped before I had a chance to filter some more. A mountain biker came past me at this point, and I was a bit jealous as they were heading downhill.

Path down into Glen Doll

Luckily I found a stream, so I stopped and filtered water for my bottles and heated up my tea. I sat with a lovely view down Glen Doll, which I eventually reached after eating. I put my tent up on the first piece of flat ground I could find, washed up and fell asleep.

Glen Doll

Day 9: Glen Doll to Glen Quharity (19th May 2018)

I woke to five deer grazing near my tent, and another dry, sunny day. I could hardly believe my luck!

By this stage, I was nearly four days ahead of my route plan and if I carried on at this rate, I might even get to the Park House Hotel in Montrose before they open for signing out. I therefore decided to add an extra 35 miles or so backtracking to pick up my foul weather alternative route, as this had looked really good in the planning stages.

So I headed down to Acharn car park, and this seemed a very popular glen with people everywhere. I re-traced my steps a mile or so to pick up the Kilbo path and climbing over Shank of Drumfollow. I met some path builders here, and I chatted to them for ages. Some of them knew the Glenelg landlady, and had had some fairly rowdy nights drinking with her, it seemed!

Craig of Balloch

Once I was over the top and descending into Glen Prosen, all the day trippers disappeared. From there I climbed straight up out of the valley to Glen Flinlet. This was little-walked with no path on the ground, and it took some skill to find the track into Glen Finlet. When I eventually did find it, it was overgrown and boggy for a while until I reached a more used track. Suddenly I spotted a pine marten crossing the track, the first one I have ever seen.

I lost my way in the woods and had to back track a bit to find my exit and the non-existent path to Glendamff Burn. Once here, the path turned into a farm track, then the road around Backwater Reservoir. This was such a quiet glen that even the track marked on the map to Lev was not on the ground, and I had to trust my map-reading skills and GPS to get me through Craig of Balloch to Glen Quharity.

Glen Quharity

I was very glad I did it , though, as this was a very interesting place and a side of Scotland I had not seen before. I followed a little-used track through the glen, feeling jealous as I passed the remotest house I have seen for a while. What a peaceful place to live. I camped a few miles past the house, and had a good night’s sleep.

Day 10: Glen Quharity to Loch Brandy (20th May 2018)

I woke up to rain on the tent, so I laid in until it had stopped (around 8am ish). The track continued through the remote glen until it joined a road, which I followed for about three miles to Glen Prosen village. I didn’t see a single car or person all the way.

Glen Prosen is a pretty village, and I sat by the lovely church and river enjoying a snack. A chap soon turned up to do the same, and after chatting to him for a while I discovered that he volunteers with the bothies. He had done repair work on two of the bothies I stayed in on the Cape Wrath Trail, and it was great to be able to thank him personally for his efforts.

Lovely and peaceful Glen Prosen Village

I then set off on the Ministers Road to Glen Clova, which was a lovely grassy track. This seemed little-used too, just like the paths in the last glen.

A few possible camping spots tempted me as I descended into Glen Clova, but I had thoughts of a meal in the Glen Clova Hotel so I continued on and it was well worth it. A nice pint and a venison burger, and given the number of deer I had seen on the walk I didn’t feel too guilty. It was delicious and great to get a signal so I could talk to my wife.

Glen Clova

It was too busy to camp in Glen Clova, so I climbed steeply up to Loch Brandy to camp. There were three other Challengers camped in the area, and I chatted to a couple of them about their route and trip so far. The rain finally arrived just as I put my tent up, and I finally finished the last of the sloe gin.

Loch Brandy camp

Day 11: Loch Brandy to River North Esk (21st May 2018)

The day dawned clear and sunny again, with no wind. I had camped high, so the sun hit my tent at 4am. My early start was rewarded with a stunning view of Loch Brandy and Glen Clova behind me.

Well worth getting up early for the view over Loch Brandy and Glen Clova

I had breakfast and climbed the rest of the way to the top of The Snub, which gave me amazing views without a cloud to be seen. It was a lovely walk around the top and across to Muckle Cairn (826m) where the path vanished. I tried to stay high to Cairn Caidloch (647m) where I picked up a path down.

This walk has been very rough and demanding. Without regularly checking my GPS I think I would still be lost up there!

View of today’s walk to Glen Esk

I later discovered that most people coming this way dropped down and walked around Loch Lee. I had no regrets, though – I enjoyed the challenge and the views. I also found out that many don’t climb up to the Hill of Rowan monument, either. It looks as though I am mountain fit, or maybe just burning off the last of the sloe gin…

Monument on the Hill of Rowan

I stopped, as most Challengers coming this way do, at Tarfside. There were some volunteers making bacon sandwiches and coffee for Challengers, which was greatly appreciated – thank you! It was a good opportunity to chat to the other Challengers and the volunteers, which I enjoyed.

After leaving Tarfside, I came across the Glenesk Retreat cafe and museum, so I had to stop there too. I had a pot of tea and a chicken salad, but the waitress pointed out that as I’d ordered bread with it, it was basically a sandwich. I explained that as I had been camping for so long, I needed practice with a knife and fork, so I was happy. I received very friendly service here and the museum was interesting, too.

Camp by the lovely River North Esk

I followed the road from here and eventually stopped to camp in a gorgeous spot next to flowering gorse and the River North Esk. I washed myself and my clothes, and cooked tea in the sunshine. A great day.

Day 12: River North Esk to St. Cyrus (22nd May 2018)

I had a really nice walk this morning, following the river to the Rocks of Solitude, where a great path continued along the river bank to Edzell. Lucky for me it was nice, as I had to do part of it twice as I forgot to cross the river at the bridge.

Enjoyable walk

There were a number of salmon in the river (obviously) and red squirrels in the trees (equally obviously). I took the obligatory photo at the blue door in the wall….

Blue door in the wall

…then treated myself to a full Scottish breakfast in the Edzell ‘Tuck Inn‘ cafe, which I highly recommend. I had a chat and a laugh with a number of Challengers coming and going from here, all heading for North Water Bridge camp site.

River North Esk

I arrived at the campsite after a long road walk, but I just couldn’t bring myself to stay on a commercial site after so many amazing wild camps. Although I definitely would have liked a shower, it just wasn’t the same as my beautiful isolated spots. So, perhaps stupidly, I carried on towards the coast and the finish – knowing full well it was road walking all the way.

Long road walk past North Water Bridge

After an hour or two I felt exhausted and had slowed to about one mile an hour, as I was stopping so often for a rest or a snack just to keep going.

Still a long way to the sea

Somehow I managed to drag myself into the Village Inn in St Cyrus – I must have walked 25 miles today. I had a couple of pints and lovely fish and chips, giving me an opportunity for a long rest. A chat to my wife also gave me some energy and motivation to make it the last mile to the beach, and what a finish it was. The view down to the beach from the top of the cliffs was stunning.

The perfect finish to a great walk. Camped at St Cyrus

I don’t quite know how I managed to make it here, but I was glad I had. I pitched the tent on the sand before it got dark, and I had been walking since 5am. I went to sleep with the sound of the sea, hoping I’d camped far enough above the high tide line – I was too tired to really check properly!

It had been a big mileage day but worth it

Day 13: St Cyrus to Montrose (23rd May 2018)

When I woke up this morning, I unzipped the tent door and just lay for an hour or so, looking out over the sea and enjoying the achievement of walking across Scotland in 12 days. All I had to do now was walk along the beach to Montrose to sign out.

The view in the morning at St Cyrus of Montrose Bay

The walk to Montrose was lovely, and I met a few other Challengers finishing their crossings. I was made very welcome by Challenge Control, where I stopped for a coffee and a chat.

I ended up finishing two days earlier than my route plan, so after signing out I did some shopping in Montrose and walked back to St Cyrus. I had a caravan booked for a few days, as my family were due to join me for half term.

Looking back

I would recommend the TGO Challenge to any keen walker, as it was a great experience. My route took me to places I would never have thought of going, and I’m very glad I did.

All the kit worked as intended and I wouldn’t change or add anything. However, due to the weather being a lot warmer and drier than usual for this time of year, I didn’t end up using some items. I would still take them though, as this is Scotland!

The route I created was perfect; I wouldn’t change any of it. In fact, I am planning to walk it again with my family (with a few more re-supply points to keep my pack lighter!)

I can’t wait for my next opportunity to take part in the TGO Challenge. My next challenge was to walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats, wild camping all the way, which I did from February to April 2019. You can read about that here.

My 11 wild camping rules.

Update Note: I used the Inov-8 325 boots for this walk and highly recommend them but Inov-8 are updating their range all the time and adding Graphene soles to more and more of their shoes, so check the Inov-8 website for the best choice of foot wear for you. Since completing this walk, I have found the Graphene soled shoes and boots are just as comfortable and last a lot longer. Inov-8 website.

My Inov-8 Rocklite 345 Graphene boot review

TGO Challenge website

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