Dornie to Kinnaber Links (Montrose) 320km
Day -1 The sleepless slog to Scotland
I was dropped off at Derby train station at 9pm Wednesday 11th May to start my first leg of the long journey up to Scotland. From Derby I took the train to Crewe where I boarded the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. The first hiccup to the adventure came in the form of a leaking whisky bag, as I lifted my pack, I noticed a damp shoulder strap and the familiar whiff of “Black bottle”. So my first job was to purchase a suitable vessel to decant my tipple into – a 500ml bottle of SmartWater bought from the local newsagents worked nicely. I was meant to be meeting Dean at midnight at Crewe however his train had been cancelled from Sheffield but in a last-minute panic and weird twist of fate he arrived with 2 mins to spare at Derby station and boarded the same train as me to Crewe. We shared a couple of beers and we relaxed into the lengthy journey to Dornie. We arrived on time at Crewe and met Rob (who I met in Kingussie at the Tipsy Laird in 2017). The sleeper train….where to start? We had seats rather than the posh option of accommodation, this means you can’t use the bar and have to press the call button for someone to take your order, not a huge issue but it meant I couldn’t meet Alan for a beer as we’d planned. The seats do not recline, rather the seat slides forward. Not comfortable for me at ~6’2”, no sleep was had just a tiny selection of cheese finely spread over 3 cardboard crackers for the princely sum of £12.50.
Day 0 – pre-TGO unexpected party
Arriving in Inverness Thursday morning around 9am Dean and I got some breakfast and some much-needed coffee before boarding our final train to the Kyle of Lochalsh. We met a chatty lady who was heading to a festival on the Isle of Skye, she told us about her time over lock down working on a remote farm our train passed by. Arriving at Kyle around 3pm in the rain we hopped off the train in search of somewhere to get out of the weather. The options were limited, a hotel or a café seemed to be the only choice, so we took refuge in the bus shelter while we weighed up the options. Enter OGOB (or something like that) “old guy on bike” I think he said his “handle” was. An eccentric guy in his 70-80’s who was full of stories about the local area, only too pleased to share them with whoever cared to listen. 30 mins and many stories later Dean and I headed for the hotel bar. A couple of beers later we’d made contact via text message with Emelie via her temporary UK mobile. Emelie was due to get into Kyle around 4pm so we agreed to meet her at the bus stop to head to Dornie together. The three of us stood in the rain waiting for the bus again talking (more listening) to OGOB. 15 mins on the bus the three of us finally arrived at Dorne (17 hours after leaving Derby train station). No surprise, Tim was in the pub, so we walked up and had a pint with him before pitching our tents in the campsite. We’d booked a table at the pub for the 5 of us (Pete arriving in Dornie via a flight from Gatwick at 7pm). This table got extended several times as the party grew to include Kevin, Neil, and Jonas. We had a nice meal and enjoyed watching Tim eat his starter. There were a few other challengers at the pub that evening including a group of ~6 from Germany. We had a great evening, everyone excited to be finally setting off from the West coast. Last orders gone we left the warm pub and into the wet and very windy evening to trudge back across the bridge and down to the campsite. It was a very wet and windy night but exhausted from the non-sleeper train I slept very well!
Day 1 Dornie to Loch Gaorsaic
21km – 840m – 8hours 17mins
07:00am alarm went off and I could hear the others slowly moving about. It was still raining outside so via a few shouts and relayed messages back and forth we agreed on a plan. Pete and Tim wanted to get a proper breakfast down at the hotel, Dean, Emelie and I opted for breakfast in tents. 08:30 the three of us set off back across the bridge to meet Pete and Tim at the hotel to sign out and begin the crossing. 09:10am I signed out and we made our way down to the sea for the obligatory toe dip before we set off. We met Kevin, Neil, and Jonas again and started our walk as a group of 8. Heading North from Dornie we took the River Glennan East heading for the Falls of Glomach. Just as we were about to leave the minor road and on the LRT from Dornie I spotted a dog’s name tag on the roadside. Belonged to a dog called Parkes. What seemed extremely spooky was what was on the reverse. The owner’s address was in a Derbyshire village only 5miles down the road from where I live!! Can you believe that?! So I pocketed the dog tag which I carried for the remainder of the crossing to the East coast. I intend on reuniting the dog tag with its owner very soon. Following the river was slow going, the narrow footpath constantly zigzagged the river, through woodland and over marshy land, making the climb up to Camas-Luinie a slog. We briefly stopped by the carpark for a bit of lunch as the rain had finally eased. We followed the River Elchaig on the LRT east for 6km until our route turns SE to the Falls of Glomach. The wind and rain returned at this point to make the intrepid climb to the falls even more exciting. Parts of the narrow path that snakes up the valley are very close to the edge; in some parts the edge is a sheer 100m drop of stomach-turning certain death. We all made it I’m pleased to report. The next stage of the route was to follow the burn (Abhainn Gaorsaic) south until it reached the stepping stones by the Loch Gaorsaic. We left Neil and Kevin behind at this stage, they decided to camp on a small island a few km’s short of the steeping stones. We arrived fairly late around 7pm, pitched the tents on the edge of the loch and had dinner in the ruins. Expedition Foods (1000Kcal) chilli or curry most likely, as this formed the staple for this year’s crossing. Emelie took a bath in the loch, I could barely put my hands in the freezing cold water, let alone get in completely. She’s hard as nails! It was another wet and windy night, Pete had to move his door 180 degrees as the wind changed direction at 3am, not the most pleasant of tasks on a cold, wet and windy night.
Day 2 Loch Gaorsaic to Plodda Falls
34km 658m 11hours 48mins
Bit of a lazy start to the day, breakfast at 7:30am followed by a very slow pack away of tents. By which time Neil and Kevin had joined us again. So once again the 8 of us started the day’s walk, crossing the stepping stones to head for our first stop, Alltbeithe hostel. On the way we saw an Osprey attempt to catch a fish in the loch and fly overhead, massive bird! Alltbeithe had some posh school in so we made our own tea on the grass outside. We took the Affric Kintail Way East to Loch Affric, just short of the loch, Kevin and Neil took the path that goes around the North edge of the Loch, whilst the 6 of us continued the south side. We were treated to a very welcome cup of tea from a group that had rented a holiday cottage just on the Affric Kintail Way. We moved on and followed the very picturesque AKW until we met All Garbh where our route left the path for Cougie. Here Jonas left us, we’d worked out that we wouldn’t see Jonas again from this point on. He was due to finish Friday a day after us and for the rest of his route he was a day behind us at the sections our routes crossed. So we said our goodbyes, Tim filled Jonas’ tinny 15ml hip flask to wish him on his way and we set off towards Cougie. Originally, we’d planned to stay at Cougie, but we’d been told that they weren’t taking TGOers this year due to a family bereavement. As we got closer, we could hear loud music. As we turned the bend we were met with a huge festival, marques, dozens of vehicles and what seemed to be a wedding reception. We passed Cougie and made our way to Plodda Falls. This was a long day, arriving at the Falls just before dark having done 36kms. Nowhere to camp at Plodda Falls, just a few small grassy patches around a carpark but it had to do. On the positive side, we did have a picnic table to eat our evening meal at! The hygiene conscious Emelie had her bath in the river as the rest of us supped whisky into the evening.
Day 3 Plodda Falls to Fort Augustus
26.2km 771m 7hours 30mins
A bright sunny morning, we packed away, had breakfast in the sun on the bench and set off in our t-shirts. Continuing Northeast to Hilton Lodge we turned to head South crossing the Guisachan Forest. This was an uninteresting featureless track that climbs gradually to around 600m and then descends to Torgyle Bridge where we crossed the River Moriston. We took the forest tracks that follow the powerlines and finally to Jenkins Park and into Fort Augustus. We had a room booked at Morag’s Lodge and we all appreciated the chance to wash clothes, have a shower and charge electrical items. I also posted my first resupply parcel here, which I collected and reloaded my food bag with more dehydrated meals, porridge, and chocolate. We also met a load more challengers here, until this point, we’d only met a few, far less than we did in 2017. This was largely down to the staggered start imposed this year which meant the ~400 challengers were spread over 5/6 days. It was great to finally meet others on the challenge. We put a wash on, got showered and headed into town for some food and beer. We stopped at the Chip shop for a few chips as starter before looking to get a table at one of the pubs. Tim had some rather gross looking curry sauce, lovingly prepared out of a huge container….this disagreed with Tim and within record time culminated in an explosive reaction in the Bothy Inn toilets (sorry Tim). Everywhere was full….no room at the inn, our dreams of a slap-up meal were shattered. After a little persuasion we managed to get a table upstairs in the Lock Inn, hooray! We had a nice meal, several beers, and a good laugh! Dean seemed to attract ticks, whilst the rest of us didn’t see any, so the theory began that Dean was our team tick trap taking them all for the team! In the pub he discovered another on his arm which Tim swiftly extracted with his handy wallet tick tool. Last orders rang at the Lock Inn, so I texted Emelie who was back at the hostel to ask if she knew if the bar was still serving, I received a very succinct reply of “No”. We later told Emelie this story and that we all found it funny her answer was brief, not the reply we would expect such as “I’m not sure if the bar is still open, let me check and I’ll be sure to get back to you right away”, she laughed and said we needed to be more specific with our questions in future. Thankfully the bar was indeed still open, we had a few more beers and chatted to the Swedish lads who had a Tuesday finish and some very lengthy days ahead of them. We met a nice chap called Rob, who had some complicated story about road bashing for 2 days then getting a bus back to do it again but via his planned route…or something similar to that.
Day 4 Fort Augustus to Stronelairg Lodge
25.75km 1016m 9 hours 6mins
Showered again, packs fully replenished and batteries charged we left Morag’s and went to get some breakfast at the café. We left Fort Augustus mid-morning and began the trudge up and across the infamous wind farm. A brief road section took us to Glen Doe and the gradual climb up the service road/track where we stopped for some lunch in the tunnel sheltering from strong winds. The final climb is slightly steeper as the road winds its way up to the Lochan at the summit before dropping down to the Reservoir. All the construction equipment and buildings that were there in 2017 have since been removed, leaving just a large concrete open space. We took shelter against a small container, the only building there now, before bashing out the last few boring km’s of wind farm. Dean managed to play a White Stripes number on one of the ratchet straps tethering the container down to the ground. We took one of the service roads to Sidhean Liath where we nipped over a burn to pick up a footpath following Allt Odhar that goes directly to Stronelairg Lodge. Our camp location was perfect, nice short grass next to a river that we could bathe our feet and collect water from. We had a perfect evening where we devised the Jet-speaker (iPhone inside the jetboil to squeeze a couple of extra decibels), and it worked well. I got a little excited and drank all of my 3 day ration of Whisky.
Day 5 Stronelairg Lodge to River Findhorn Ruins
28km 476m 9hours 40mins
Packing the last bits of kit away for a very lazy 9:00am we made our way up Glen Markie which the burn twists and turns more than it appears so on the map. A lot of crossing over the burn which seemed to drag on until the final short climb up to the dilapidated “cowabunga bothy”, named by Juraj while sliding down the hill in the snow on a previous visit. The bothy isn’t in good shape – the door’s missing, a huge hole in the side and the floor is mostly rotted away. Still it has a table, so we made use of it and had some lunch. We followed the River Eskin to Delbeg where we stopped for a short break. While sitting on the grass outside the small building we could see someone high up in the hills in the distance, we joked about it being Jonas. We watched this lone walker slowly getting closer until ‘well bugger me, it is Jonas!’. It was good to see Jonas again, it was totally unexpected as our routes were quite different but also on a different timeline, so it was a combination of us being slow and him being ahead. Jonas debated whether to join us and camp with us further down the river or wait for Heidi (I think her name is), who was a few km behind him. As he’d mentioned he’d camp at Delbeg where Heidi was planning to camp, he decided to stick to that plan, so we once again said our final goodbyes to Jonas. Passing Coignafearn Lodge (a massive poncy eyesore) we caught up with the chatty Germans again who were making camp alongside the river. A few hundred metres later we bumped into Neil who was resting his feet and considering putting his tent up. He decided to join us and walk the additional few km to the ruins on the opposite side of the river, his day was well into the 30’s. The sun was shining for the final stretch as we arrived by the woods, sod’s law it started to rain as we put the tents up. We had dinner (yes Tim, not Tea) in the woods out of the rain, but it began to rain heavily soon after we’d eaten so it ended up being an early night for all and back in tents.
Day 6 Ruins to Aviemore
30km 968m 9hours 24mins
I woke up to hear Neil talking to Tim/Dean, he’d packed up early and was just leaving. He said he’d stop off at one of the bothys for breakfast and we’d probably catch him up, we didn’t. It was a nice bright dry morning, so we “enjoyed” some porridge etc and got walking around 9am. The LRT to Carn nan Luibean Glas has been extended far beyond where it’s marked on the map, you can follow it all the way around the summit and possibly further, but we left the path and took a direct route to the LRT that drops onto the Red Bothy. Along the new track there is a new shooting hut with a very nice veranda, sadly it was locked up, but we made use of the veranda and had a snack in the sunshine. Tim found a stag’s skull and antlers somewhere near here, so he strapped it to his pack to take home as a souvenir. Later, as we left the hut and continued across the Monadhliath open moorland he found a far better stags head and antlers, far more impressive, this was a Royal, 12 spikes! So he discarded the inferior Monarch in favour of the mighty Royal. We named him Kevin Philips. This was the name of the earlier missing TGO’er, or so we incorrectly thought. So for the remaining 200+ km’s Tim lugged Kevin Philips (deceased) to the East coast, while the rest of us doing our best to dodge impalement. I should clarify, there wasn’t anyone called Kevin Philips on the challenge, I’m not sure where this name came from. The actual missing challenger was found and taken to safety. Also along the track we met one of the Iranian lads we saw in Fort Augustus, he was in quite the flap. He’d lost his mate, they’d agreed to meet at the end of the track but somehow lost each other. He asked us if we’d seen his mate before marching off ahead of us, he was very mad! We joked that when he does finally find his mate, he’d probably beat him to a pulp. We arrived at the Red Bothy in time for some lunch, we met Stevie and Scott here. Great to see Stevie again who I met back in 2017 at Lochcallater, don’t think he remembered me though. Also at Red bothy, the reunited Iranian lads, not speaking to each other, had a bit of an atmosphere. From this point we pretty much followed Stevie and Scott to the coast. After spending an hour or so in the bothy out of the strong winds and reading all of the graffiti we made our way to the Burma Road. Many many hours of pounding the dust in pretty much a straight line, it’s a bloody long road! We had a flyby from a single low flying Typhoon mid-way along the never-ending Burma Road. We finally made it into Aviemore around 6pm and made our way to the campsite….Listen here Aviemore, sort your shit out! All the campsites have gone posh and only take campervans, great! All the food places only took bookings and finished serving at 8:30, everywhere was full (not TGO’ers). So our only option was to get a taxi to the campsite that is 2-3miles outside Aviemore to the North. Arriving there we were greeted by a sign in the window of the closed reception saying, “no bookings after 6pm”, again, fuck you Aviemore. We debated what to do for a little while, tempers were now starting to fray. Bollocks to it, Emelie made the executive decision that we would ask for forgiveness in the morning. So we pitched our tents (I bent an Easton peg!!! In a bloody campsite!! I’ve never in all my years bent one of those pegs on the hills let alone in a pay-for campsite, fuck you Aviemore). A kind fellow camper gave us the code for the shower block, so we all got showered and changed, and called another taxi back to Aviemore to get fed. Tim, Emelie and Dean opted for, in my opinion, risky curry. Pete and I played it safe and had fish and chips (once again). We met another challenger and joined him (John?) at his table. Next on the agenda was beer, we happened upon the Skiing Doo pub, a small unassuming place that you’d probably walk past unnoticed. However, downstairs the place is packed with memorabilia and Scottish folk watching the football, great atmosphere. So Pete and I enjoyed a few beers and waited for the others to join us. Tim arrived with another one of his explosive visits to the bogs. We had a couple more beers before calling a taxi back to the campsite. Pete and I bought a couple of take outs from the pub, Sheep Shaggers Gold; a local favourite brewed by the Cairngorm brewery. It was raining so Pete and I drank the beers from my tent before calling it a night (the empty beer bottles got recycled that evening by me, handy!).
Day 7 Aviemore to Glenmore
13.22km 195m 5hours 55mins
There wasn’t any rush today, we all had some admin to do before we could get walking again, so we took the day in its stride. One particularly grumpy campsite member of staff decided not to confront 4 large beardy blokes and instead accosted Emelie. We sorted it out with the very polite and understanding guy at reception and paid for our pitches. I had a resupply parcel to collect from the post office as did Pete. We all had a couple of things to buy from the Nevis Sports shop, for me it was new socks. The Inov8’s I’d taken were too small (worse now my feet had swollen slightly). So I ditched them and bought some Smartwool replacements, a million times better! Fully restocked, we grabbed some breakfast in one of the cafes and enjoyed some proper coffee. Just then, who should appear? Jonas! He’d arrived that morning and checked into his hotel. We chatted with him for a while and exchanged stories of who we’d met again along the way, he’d met Neil again after he left us the morning before. We said our final final goodbyes to Jonas yet again. Even more astonishing was the fact that Jonas still had a full hip flask, that 15ml Tim gifted him was still intact! Emelie had restocked her food bag, it was now a massive sack probably weighing around 4 kgs! I noticed she’s packed a huge glass jar of peanut butter WTF! So I insisted she decant it into a food bag, which was quite the sight on the busy Aviemore high street! The other bit of street entertainment was Tim walking through Aviemore with Kevin Philips (deceased) strapped to his pack. There will be many photos on passing tourists’ mobile phones all over the world by now, I’m sure. We also met Craig at this point, he was a solo TGO’er also heading for Braemar, Craig is from Aberdeen, the Cairngorms very much his back garden. While I was researching the route and planning the various legs, wild camps, and resupply points etc I came across a place called the Pine Marten Bar which is on the edge of Loch Morlich in Glenmore. It wasn’t really in the right direction for Ben MacDui, so I didn’t include it on our route and forgot all about the place. I posted a photo that morning of me in Aviemore on my Facebook blog page (for this site), one of the readers commented saying how I must visit the Pine Marten Bar if I’m so close. So, after a little look at the maps we made the difficult decision to abandon our route and head directly to Glenmore. This added a few extra KM’s to the next day’s saunter over Ben MacDui to Derry Lodge, but we’d set our sights on the Pine Marten Bar now. 13km later we rocked up at the bar, which we were all very pleased we had as it was amazing. We sat out in the sunshine drinking nice beer, eating nice food and to top it off we met up with Stevie and Scott again! All that needed to happen now was for Jonas to pull up, he didn’t sadly.
The bar staff really add to this place, the guy behind the bar is really on the ball with his banter. Asking people “did you want ice in your whisky?”, even though they hadn’t ordered any whisky. He asked us if we were on the “coast-to-coast thingy”, which we confirmed and asked if that meant a free beer. He explained that if he wasn’t on his last warning of course he would have given us a free beer (another one of his quick-witted replies). “Two pints? you guys are crazy!” As the evening drew in, we headed down to the loch and walked a few hundred metres along the shoreline and made camp. An absolutely stunning location, by far the best on the TGO if not in my top 5 of all time wild camp spots. Pete, Dean and Emelie had a swim, Tim and I braved it up to our knees (the water was bloody freezing). We gathered some dead wood; Craig did a sterling job and found some large dry logs and we sat around the fire on the beach (sshhh don’t tell anyone about the fire) until the early hours. What an amazing day, one I will never forget.
Day 8 Glenmore to Derry Lodge
25.7km 1431m 10 hours 53mins
Woken by dog walkers taking their toy pooches for a lap of the Loch we gradually gathered momentum and put a brew on. Heads a little dazed from the over excitement the night before, it was a slow start to the day. We carefully disposed of the left-over wood and cleaned up the ashes from the fire, washing the beach down to ensure there was absolutely no trace of our existence. We headed back to the visitor’s centre to make use of the facilities and bins before plodding up the road towards the Ski Centre. At the carpark at the top of the hill we left the road and joined the footpath that leads to Ben MacDui via Lurcher’s Crag and the Chalamain Gap. Stopping short below Chalamain Gap we had an early lunch as there really isn’t anywhere between here and Derry Lodge to stop out of the strong winds. The Chalamain Gap is a boulder field of very large but unstable boulders, some the size of a Labrador and others the size of a Volvo family estate. We met a young woman midway up, she was doing a 9 day solo circuit of the Cairngorms, I think we all admired her a bit. The climb up to Lurcher’s Crag is steep and unrelenting for 400m, once up to 1000m the going is ok to Ben MacDui, there is some down and up again but not more than 200m overall. We could see the summit for an hour or so before we got there, perfectly clear….sod’s law we arrived in dense cloud. Visibility was down to 20-30m and it was wet and windy again. We carefully navigated a pathless route off the summit towards Sron Riach, made slightly treacherous by the large cornices overhanging a 300+m edge down to Lochan Uaine. But we eventually dropped below the cloud, and we could see the route down and path snaking into the distance some 1000m below us. We took the 2.5km 1000m descent hard on the knees all the way down to Luibeg Bridge. 3-4km later we arrived at Derry Lodge at dusk. Trying not to disturb other TGO’ers we put tents up and had our meals in our own tents and shortly went to bed, it was a long hard day especially off the back of a biggun the night before (what a night though!).
Day 9 Derry Lodge to Braemar
15.26km 156m 4 hours 7mins
We’d camped next to two MSR Hubba Hubba tents at Derry Lodge, that morning as they were packing away, we realised it was Carl and Juraj!! They knew we were planning to camp here as per our route card, so they came to join us. I met Carl on my first TGO in 2017, we walked most of the crossing as a group from about Fort Augustus to the coast, but I’d not seen him since. Juraj is a mate of Carl and Tim’s, he’s Slovakian and living in Manchester. I’d heard a lot about Juraj from Tim, and it was great to meet up with them both finally. A couple of celebratory early morning wee drams and we set off for the walk to Braemar via Mar Lodge. Carl and Juraj set out to break a record for their 2022 crossing, a record unofficially set by the legend that is Chris Townsend several years ago when the TGO was a three-week event. His record was somewhere around 40 Munros in three weeks. Carl and Juraj had a route that aimed for 50 Munros in two weeks!! Bonkers but you’re only here once so why not. By the time they had got to Derry Lodge they’d done around 36 Munros I believe. They play it down when you ask them, but it must have been an enormous effort to get through those 36, especially as the weather was on average, shite or very shite, above 1000m that would equate to fucking shite maybe even towards the fuck this shite level. Hats off to the crazy bastards. Anyway we arrived at Mar Lodge and met a number of familiar faces such as Alan Sloman, Louise, Barry (who I bought my Mariposa off in 2017), Jamie, Peter, and Mario. There were plenty of others whose names I didn’t catch. I met Ben there who has the Benvironment facebook page, which I’ve followed for a number of years. I knew he’d taken a job as a ranger on the Mar Estate, I didn’t expect to meet him though. The walk to Braemar from Mar is long and boring, I’m sure there are nicer routes up through the woods, but by this time you can smell food, beer and hot showers so we were heads down road bashing it. We went to the Invercauld Arms new bar for a few beers where Carl and Juraj stayed most of the evening. Our group went to the Hostel, got showered and put a wash on before heading back into town for food. Again we had the nightmare of Scotland’s lack of enterprise, all the pubs were either “fully booked” or they stopped serving food seconds earlier. The only option we had was to attempt to gain access to The Fife Arms. For those that aren’t familiar with The Fife Arms, it’s a Tweed clad snobs wet dream. No breeks = No beer. However, Pete switched on his very best posh southern charisma and bagged us a table while we hid around the corner (probably all unnecessarily). I was again sporting my pub get up, this is basically the stuff I keep clean so I can wear it in polite company or in bed if I’m cold. This is a pair of leggings (transparent), some shorts to cover my modesty, t-shirt and down jacket, and to put the cherry firmly on the top of this catwalk masterpiece, sock and sandals. Although we were all freshly showered, we were far from unscented and very rough looking, we attracted some attention from the ladies, but not in the way one would hope. Ladies in their floaty dresses and twinsets, gents in their long socks and tweed smoking jackets. Anyway, we had a nice meal and a few drinks before buggering off back to the Invercauld Inn. Fair few challengers were there, Stevie and Scott along with Ian. Another face I met back in 2017, Ian remembered Pete and I, which was a turnup. Carl and Juraj were well oiled by this time, around midnight they left the pub to head for Lochcallater, tomorrow’s destination for us. It was a nice evening in the pub – we had a few drams and chatted to other challengers all evening. Last orders called; last drinks supped we wandered off back to the hostel.
Day 10 Braemar to Lochcallater
9km 198m 2 hour 3mins
The last shower for 5 days, this being the longest stin(k)t between resupplies. We left the Hostel 10am and headed into Braemar for some breakfast at the café. We met Andy Dawkins and his niece here along with Stevie and Scott. After a slap up breakie Pete and I went to the post office to collect our resupply parcels. Once again Royal Mail had triumphed and my parcel was waiting there for me, well done Royal Mail! I’d by this time gathered a bit of a surplus of food, the extra’s I’d put in weren’t needed so I stuck these in a post bag and sent them back to myself.
Fully loaded up we met back up with Dean and started our plod past the golf course to the legendary Lochcallater Lodge, bumping into Alan and Louise as we left Braemar, they had a different route sadly and weren’t joining us for the usual celebrations. Alan offered us a fully paid for hotel room he’d booked a few years ago but wasn’t going to use in Glen Clova, what a kind offer! Tim, Emelie and Andy had decided to stay in Braemar to watch the football and planned to join us later as Lochcallater. Taking the minor road and squeezing through the gap in the fence to cross the river we started the walk down the track to Callater lodge, this track seems far longer than it actually is for some reason.
About half way we saw a familiar face coming towards us, it was Mick Croydon. He was with another gentleman (not on the TGO as far as I know), we stopped to talk to Croydon for a while where we learnt he’d had to retire from the Challenge due to what he thought was possibly some sort of kidney complaint. A passing doctor had apparently recommended he go and get checked out, so Croydon was walking back to Braemar with the help of the kind gent. Huge shame he had to retire, I believe this was his 20th crossing. We didn’t get to hear the famous song which I remember playing a big part in my 2017 crossing. Croydon was walking with his daughter, who had gone on solo, I was half expecting to see her at Callater Lodge and maybe she’d cover the song. As we got closer and could see the flag flying, I spotted Lindsey enjoying the sun outside the lodge. Lindsey was walking with her son Grant; they’d spent a couple of days resting up at Lochcallater as Grant had suffered some foot trouble. A nasty infection had tracked up his leg, thankfully some antibiotics quickly sorted this, so he was able to get going again after putting his feet up for a couple of days. Meeting Bill again was great, I very much doubt he remembered Pete and I from 2017, but he was very chatty and welcoming as always. Due to the staggered starts it was a different format this year. Quite understandably, Bill explained that as there is a constant stream of people coming through Callater it wasn’t possible for him to put on a meal every night. However he looked after us all very well, he cooked Sausage sandwiches that afternoon which was a nice surprise. Carl and Juraj had arrived in the early hours and slept in the bothy, they’d gone off for another mammoth day to tick off a load more Munros and due back later that evening. Pete, Dean, and I took the last three beds in the bothy. For those that aren’t familiar with the bothy, it’s a fairly large building split in half. To the right there is a room with two bunk beds, the usual bothy wooden frames, fairly close together with a narrow strip of floor between them. To the left is a larger room with a table and half a dozen or so chairs and a raised platform that fits two air mats. Juraj had set up his bed on this platform.
During the afternoon we saw a few challengers pass by, others arrived to stay the night such as Scott, Ian, and Rob(?). Mike Glass wasn’t there this year, however Bill had a friend, Craig helping with the bar, which allowed Bill to stay close to his dog. The dog, a huge Ridgeback, had a few age-related health problems, recently having to have his eyes removed and being diagnosed with diabetes, Bill had his hands full taking care of him. Although the dog seemed very content sleeping on the big leather sofa in the kitchen.
Later into the evening the others arrived (Tim, Emelie, Andy (and niece, who I can’t remember her name (sorry))). Shortly followed by Carl and Juraj having smashed a load more Munros. Pete provided the entertainment all evening doing a sterling job on the guitar, playing songs from Siler Lady through to Valerie or ‘Emelie’ as it was adapted to. Much beer and whisky were enjoyed as always. Bill treated us to a few stories and passed around the friendship cup. Helping a few weary heads to their beds we said our good nights and walked over to the bothy. Scott had a little trouble finding his tent, he did eventually find it but unfortunately finding it involved tripping over it and flattening it.
During the time we were in the lodge a woman arrived on her bike to sleep in the bothy, we later found out she was a volunteer helping to improve the footpaths in the area. She apparently set up her bed next to Juraj on the floor of the bothy, but Juraj’s snoring forced her to move into the room with the bunks, squeezing into the gap on the floor between the two bunks. As Carl, Pete and I were going to bed Pete popped his head into the bothy and fortunately spotted the ‘lady’ on the floor between the bunks and came back to us and sang, in the style of David Soul, “don’t step on the lady…”. It was very funny at the time, perhaps one of those ‘be there’ moments. The three of us as quietly as possible crept into our beds, sleeping bag zips going, farting and general commotion, eventually settling down the ‘sleeping lady’ coughed, to which Carl exclaimed “can you keep the bloody noise down”, the sleeping lady chuckled.
Day 11 Loch Callater to Queens Bothy
14.4km 666m 5 hour 34min
Marks the last day of mountains, sad times. I woke to hear the now awake lady packing her bed away and leaving the bothy. Bill was cooking some bacon and had the coffee going which was exactly what I wanted. We’d made one of our phone-ins to Challenge control the day before and told them that we’d had a change of route. In favour of seeking out more socialness we decided not to go to Glen Clova and instead head to Tarfside. We’d heard a rumour that despite what was originally communicated, the Mason’s was in fact opening its doors and putting food and drink on, excellent! So a new route was hatched via the Queens Bothy (Glas-allt Shiel) to Tarfside. Carl and Juraj had another big day planned, ticking off yet more Munros from Callater. Their final and 50th Munro was to be Mount Keen which they planned to do tomorrow before dropping into Tarfside, another big day for them! Before heading off we said our thanks to Bill for once again putting on a truly amazing night that will be with all of us forever, I’m sure.
Climbing up the steady incline to Carn an Sagairt Mor (a Munro) Tim and Andy opted for the low path via Allt an Dubh Loch to Glas-allt-shiel. Emelie, Pete, Dean and I took the high path to Cairn Bannoch (Munro) and Broad Cairn (Munro) before dropping down to Loch Muick from the pony shed where we caught up with Scott taking a break there. That route from Callater is great, the paths are good, and the going is easy. On the way down we were greeted by a very picturesque rainbow that arched perfectly over the Loch! Arriving at the bothy just after Tim and Andy we got a fire going and set up our beds upstairs. Tim and Andy using the new bunks downstairs, Emelie taking the less smelly option and sleeping outside in her tent. Rob(?) arrived a bit later and also opted to sleep outside, as did two University of Dundee lads who arrived at a similar time. We enjoyed a chat and a wee dram by the fire that evening which marks the beginning of the end to the TGO. There is a feeling that civilisation is just around the corner where “real life” is about to slap us in the face. So for me at least, this stage is equal portions of “what a great adventure that was”, “I’m glad I made it”, “I’m looking forward to seeing the wife, kids and dogs”, “back to civilisation”, “FFS, I don’t want to go back to work”, “I want to start again”, “Stop thinking about it, just make the most of the last few days”.
Day 12 Queens bothy to Tarfside
29.71km 554m 9hours 44mins
The last day in the hills, sad times. However, along with the nice sleeping space upstairs in the bothy, the new fireplace and the well-stocked woodstore, there is also a toilet! Known as a “long drop”, a hole in the ground that you must aim (to a good standard of accuracy) and send whatever it is on its merry way. There is a bucket that you can fill up from the nearby burn to swill any misfires, hooks or draws away. So the toilet simply removes the need to find a spot and dig a hole, all other aspects are the same as a wild shit, perhaps without a view.
We made use of the large table in the bothy and had breakfast, more porridge! Emelie had perfected her breakfast now, consisting of three key ingredients, porridge, cheese, and whisky! Bloody gross, not even Tim could be tempted by it, rather the look of despair watching perfectly good whisky get ruined by cheese and porridge. We set off for Tarfside following Loch Muick to the visitor’s centre where Carl and Juraj caught us up coming from Lochcallater!! Their route was also to Tarfside but via Mount Keen, some 6km bog bash to the North. Heading to Shielin of Mark where Carl and Juraj took a b-line North, and we headed East to Glen Lee. Passing Loch Lee we passed what we call JJ’s bench. This was the bench that in 2017 Pete and I found the dead mouse, we later discovered that it arrived there by boot, JJ’s boot. As we got to the House of Mark we bumped into Juraj walking down the path, how’s that for timing. Pete, Dean, and I decided to take the path past the Masons Stone and the others took the road to Tarfside. The three of us dropped into St Drostans and met up with Kevin who we started our TGO with back in Dornie all those days ago. It was a very welcome sight to see the BBQ going and the doors to the Masons Arms open! We stopped for a pint and a burger before going down to the park to put tents up, there was a brief reprieve from the heavy rain, so we quickly put tents up and darted back to the pub. The pub was pretty full, Alan, Emma, Lindsey and Grant, Tim, Emelie, Carl, Juraj, Scott, Ian and Vicky, plus maybe 10 other challengers. We once again enjoyed a few drinks and recalled various funny goings on and who’d we met and where etc. We left the pub around midnight (Pete and I were enjoying a late night curry in my tent) but apparently a few locals kept the place going until sunrise.
Day 13 Tarfside to Edzell
20.40km 223m 6hours 7 mins
The penultimate day and the last day of tracks, sad times. We took a walk back up to St Drostans around 9am to grab a bacon buttie and brew. We’d missed the first wave who had set off for Northwater Bridge earlier. Our group which now consisted of Lindsey, Grant, Carl, Juraj, Tim, Pete, Dean, Andy, Emelie and Vicky set off for Edzell via the Blue Door walk. We had a really nice day, for the most part it was nice and sunny. Following the river for most of the way we retraced our route from 2017 to the Rocks of Solitude. The storms from winter had taken its toll on a lot of the trees on the Eastern Highlands. The paths had been cleared on the Blue Door walk, but the huge amount of destruction was still very much apparent. Once again, we messed up the last 100m and ended up walking past the actual bluedoor, one day I might walk through the door. Final slog along the busy road into Edzell. We’d planned to camp in the park, after dark discreetly, but unfortunately a large group of gipsies had claimed our spot in the park, so we went to the pub to consider our options. A few pizzas and many beers later we opted to camp in the park but on the opposite side to the travelling caravan show, by which time it was fully dark. We sat up for an hour or so listening to music making use of the bandstand shelter, which Emelie and Vicky slept in.
Day 14 Edzell to Kinnaber Links
25.62km 242m 7 hours 11mins
The last day, sad times. Juraj announced it was “naked Thursday”, which I didn’t really know what he was suggesting. Making use of the public toilets and the bandstand as a morning brew shelter (from the sun this time) we walked back into Edzell and up the shop to grab something to eat, chicken curry pie, breakfast of champions! Over the footbridge and past the disused airfield along the very busy road we took a slight detour to get onto a less busy minor road to Northwater Bridge campsite. A short break there and an Ice Cream and we headed off. We called ahead to check if the pub at Marykirk was open, good news it was, so we headed there for a pint. Leaving the pub the final bit of road bashing got us to Kinnaber Links. Due to the storms and fallen trees some of the paths are closed so we had to improvise a little to get to the beach. Up over a sand dune we finally arrived at the East coast! It now became obvious what “naked Thursday” was about, Juraj stripped off completely and bolted off down the beach to the sea. Dean, Pete and I kept our boxers on (not wanting to embarrass Juraj) and waded out for the briefest of brief dunks in the sea and straight back out, it was bloody freezing! The final 4km up the beach and into Montrose to meet all the other Challengers at the Park Hotel. The hotel was busy as expected, full of challengers arriving and signing out, collecting their certificates, mugs and tshirts etc. We had to say goodbye to our fellow teammate Dean at this point, his partner had driven up that day with their dog to meet Dean. Their plan was to spend a few days touring Scotland in their campervan, a nice way to wind down after such an epic adventure. A friend of ours had also travelled up, Faz, he came up to see Andy D complete his 10th! Tim, Emelie, Pete and I went to find the BnB I’d booked and got showered before coming back for the meal and speeches. The meal was a much smaller event than usual, this was due to the staggered starts and therefore staggered finishes. Sue and Ali by Thursday were fairly sick of going through the same routine. There were the usual awards and speeches before people started to disperse through to the bar area. It was great to see some of the people we’d met along the way and people we know from 2017. Scott, Stevie, Ian, Sabine, Croydon (and his daughter), Alan, Louise, Amanda & JM, Lindsey, Grant, Barry, and many others. The Crazy Canadians (aka JM & Amanda) had a hugely troublesome start to their TGO, similar to Pete in 2017, the airline/airport didn’t load their packs so arriving in the UK without packs scuppered their start. It was several days before they finally got reunited with their packs and were able to walk their route albeit a number of days later than planned. Stevie treated us to one final song of the TGO in the bar just as it closed. We said our goodbyes once again and headed off to the BnB.
Day 15 – Home
The three of us headed down to the train station around 8:30am via Gregg’s for a sausage sandwich. Pete and Emelie were on the same train just 20mins before mine. Tim and I waved them off as they boarded their train heading for London. Mine soon followed leaving Tim to catch his train later that day. The train was quiet leaving Montrose, looking out of the window as sunny Scotland went by, I felt proud to have finished another TGO. A huge sense of achievement mixed with sadness that it’s over, but in equal proportions, happiness that I am finally going home to see the family. My journey was far simpler on the return leg, a couple of changes and I rolled into Derby train station about 6 hours later to be greeted by my wife and kids.
TGO 2022 – Reflections
I thought I’d try to summarise my 2022 TGO, no amount of words or reading blogs will give anyone even the slightest sense of what it is actually like to take part in the TGO. It’s not just a coast-to-coast walk, which many people confuse with the flat pathed Hadrian’s Wall saunter. It’s not a pub crawl, it’s not a holiday, it’s not a test of strength and stamina, it’s not a test of character, it’s not a test of outdoor skills and navigation, it’s not a test of endurance and it’s not a social club. What it is, is a perfect mix of all those things in just the right quantities that will make you want to come back again and again.
2022 specifically was slightly different to previous years with some measures to reduce the impact of large numbers descending on towns and villages. The staggered starts certainly achieved this, while it didn’t spoil our experience it did impact the social element to the challenge. We made up for it by having a group of 5 (made up of a team of 3 and team of 2) plus many others that joined us here and there, so we kept the social aspect alive as much as we could. We changed our route midway for this reason. I hope future TGO’s will have perhaps a staggered start but maybe over 3 days.
The weather this year I felt was generally good. However it largely depended on where and when you started, the first week of the event was very wet. As we started at the end of that week, we missed most of the bad weather, only our first 2 days were very wet. Ove 100 didn’t start the TGO, which might be down to the poor forecast. After the first couple of days the rest of our crossing was the usual mixture of all four seasons in a day. Like they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait 10minutes. It wasn’t as warm and dry as 2017, I remember walking in just a t-shirt a fair amount in 2017, this year I was walking in a micro fleece top or wind shirt for most of it. The statistics speak for themselves really, 100 non-starters, around 75 retirements and 3 MRT callouts, clearly it was a tough year.
The route was perfect even if I do say so myself. The days were evenly spaced, it was great having somewhere to recharge, shower and wash clothes every 3 days (5 on the final leg). It was a good mixture of high and low sections, it ticked off some more Munros and visited the areas I enjoyed in 2017. I don’t think I would change anything about this route if I was to walk it again.
Food Supplies worked out perfectly, my calculations on what I needed were spot on (too much hand sanitiser actually). I only had to send a couple of items back due to the change in route from Braemar. In terms of calories my food worked out great, I had plenty of energy throughout my crossing and wasn’t hungry at any point and I only lost 3-4kgs of body weight.
My fitness was better this year than in 2017, my 5:30am spin classes from January through to May 3 times a week paid off. I did get sore legs in the first 3 days, but that quickly went. My cardio fitness was far greater than needed, at no point was I out of breath or struggling with strength. Perhaps if my route was similar to Carl and Juraj’s then things may have been different, but for 320km and 8500m ascent I was in good shape. Unless you pick up an injury, the TGO is about slow but continuous drain on your body, so good stamina and lean muscle is key. Footcare is also critical. I still stand by the fact that trail shoes are a better choice for Scotland in May, so long as you are used to walking in them and you take extra care of your feet. Taking footbeds out of your shoes and washing them and the shoes in clean running water every other day is key to removing the silt. Good quality well fitting thin socks are the best choice. Take Gehwol foot cream and apply that each night to clean (as possible) feet and then dry loose socks (I had a dedicated pair for this purpose that I didn’t walk in). Forget sealskin or similar waterproof socks, these are only any good as tent / bothy socks for night-time toilet trips etc, not for walking in.
My kit choices this year were perfect, I used every piece of kit, and I didn’t feel I needed anything else. The least used bit of kit was my thin liner gloves (the only gloves I took), I only used these once or twice. I could have taken just 2 T-shirts, rather than 3, but I did appreciate a clean T-shirt when washing the other 2. My tent was the TarpTent Stratoshipre Li, perfect for the TGO. Plenty of space for drying kit, getting changed in, moving about, and staying comfortable etc. My sleeping bag was a Cumulus x-Lite 250 rated to 5c and for me this was great, I was at no point cold or too warm, a solid choice for the TGO with a mixture of high and low camps. I also felt that a simple gas stove was a better choice than the alcohol-based burner I took in 2017, whilst slightly heavier it was less faff and far quicker. Finally my footwear choice was a pair of Altra LonePeak 5’s with Black Superfeet inserts, these performed excellently. They felt comfortable throughout my crossing, they dried quickly, they gave me just the right amount of support and flexibility. They only have a small hole in them and in far better condition than my Inov8’s from 2017 which were dead. My only slight complaint is around their grip, I did slip a few times on wet grass and mud, so I would like to see a slightly more aggressive grip on them. I may do a more detailed kit review in the future.
It was an epic adventure, in many ways better than my first TGO in 2017. Which I’m really pleased to be able to say, as that would probably be my biggest fear going into another TGO that it would fail to justify the investment both in terms of the preparation and planning but also the time and time away from family. Thankfully it didn’t and I had a truly amazing time. 2017 was fuelled by the novelty and uniqueness to the challenge. 2022 took all the best bits and refined them. I had 15 brilliant days and nights, every second of my TGO was amazing and at no point did I not want to be there doing exactly what I was doing. It was great to walk with my brother Pete once again, I think we both took this TGO more in our stride and were far more relaxed. I really enjoyed walking with the group we had, Dean, Tim and Emelie really made the whole experience even more fun. I really hope to be back on the TGO sometime in the future. I suspect it might be another 5 years before I get the chance, but every 5 years seems to be the sweet spot anyway, giving other first timers the chance to experience, what is, a one-of-a-kind life changing adventure. The following phrase and photos sum it up nicely,