Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 4)

Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 4)

This is Part-4 of a trip report from my very first TGO Challenge, a walk across the Scottish Highlands. If you missed the first parts, you can find them here:
Planning for the TGO
Part-1: Torridon to Orrin River
Part-2: Orrin River to Loch Ness
Part-3: Loch Ness to Braemar

Cutting down on my weight
Cutting down on my weight

Day 10 – A Challenge Party
Braemar to Lochcallater Lodge
12:30-14:30 (2 hours), 9 km

I left Braemar after enjoying a tasty breakfast at Gordon’s Tearoom. Nothing like bacon and black pudding to fuel a day’s walk. Two hours later I arrived at Lochcallater Lodge. A few other Challengers had already set up tents just outside and more were inside enjoying hot tea. I was really excited to be at Lochcallater, perhaps one of the most prominent landmarks in TGO Challenge history. Every year Challengers gather here to celebrate, sing songs, and eat and drink late into the night.

Setting up camp at Lochcallater Lodge
Setting up camp at Lochcallater Lodge

The atmosphere was wonderful. Seeing so many friends re-unite after a year apart was touching. And how can you not be in a good mood when you’re in a warm cozy room full of like-minded walkers as cold rain falls outside?
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Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 3)

Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 3)

This is Part-3 of a trip report from my very first TGO Challenge, a walk across the Scottish Highlands. If you missed the first parts, you can find them here:
Planning for the TGO
Part-1: Torridon to Orrin River
Part-2: Orrin River to Loch Ness

Day 5 – Crossing the Monadhliath
Ault-na-Goire to River Findhorn
09:50-17:20 (7.5 hours), 26 km

It was hard to say goodbye to Ault na Goire and the warm hospitality of Janet and Alec Sutherland. After a very filling breakfast I took my tent down and set off toward the Monadhliath Mountains. Not so much mountains as long, rolling hills, this was perhaps the area that I was most excited to see and also most anxious to get across. In bad weather with rain and fog, navigating through these indistinguishable hills can be notoriously difficult. But what I really wanted to see was the impact of rapidly expanding wind turbine developments. Wind power is a controversial topic in Scotland. In most places it’s thought of as a clean form of power. But in the Monadhliath you can see first-hand how it’s rapidly changing the face of the landscape. Construction and access roads criss-cross the land and heavy machinery thunders by. What’s left of this wilderness is fast disappearing.

Wind-farm construction roads wind their way through the Monadhliath
Wind-farm construction roads wind their way through the Monadhliath

About as soon as I could I left the wind turbine roads and started walking across the boggy, wet moor. At times I had to make large diversions to avoid steep muddy drops into ravines. I counted at least a dozen stream crossings on the ascent, each feeling colder than the last, as I approached freshly melting snow. Yet, it felt good to walk through wilderness, away from the roads and to follow the tracks of deer and rabbit. While it did rain off and on, there was little fog and I found the navigation within my capabilities. In heavy fog it would be quite the challenge!
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Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 2)

Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge (part 2)

This is Part-2 of a trip report from my very first TGO Challenge, a walk across the Scottish Highlands. If you missed the first part, you can find it here:
Planning for the TGO
Part-1: Torridon to Orrin River

Day 3 – The Weather Turns
Orrin River to Kiltarlity
07:15-19:15 (12 hours), 33 km

The first two days of my walk across Scotland were sunny, warm, calm, and really just perfect. It was hard to believe I was actually walking in a place renowned for its heavy rains and violent winds. When I woke up on the third morning of my journey, Scotland decided to give me a taste of the weather it’s famous for.

I awake to cold mist and drizzle
I awake to cold mist and drizzle

Rain, mist, wind, more rain. This change in the weather coincided with my first true track-less walking of the trip. As I followed the Orrin River downstream to the Orrin Reservoir, I enjoyed taking out the map and practising my navigation skills. The Scottish Highlands are a great place to sharpen your navigation capabilities. Features such as hills are often rounded without distinct points, making them difficult to distinguish from one another. Often, the best way to navigate is to follow waterways (burns, creeks, rivers, etc.) up over the hills then connect with a new waterway to find your way down the other side.
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Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge

Walking across Scotland – the TGO Challenge

I love long walks, especially when they take you right across a country from one coast or border to another. That’s the idea behind the TGO Challenge. Design your own route starting on the west coast and finishing at the North Sea, get advice from experienced Scottish hill walkers, and start walking. This isn’t my first country-crossing journey on foot but it is my first time hiking in Scotland and I was very grateful for the wise advice on such things as where to find beautiful camp spots and where I might want to avoid wind-farm construction.
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Scotland’s TGO Challenge

Scotland’s TGO Challenge

In just a few days I’m heading to Scotland to participate in an annual event where some 300 challengers attempt to cross the country on foot, each following a route they’ve designed themselves.

Each year The Great Outdoors Challenge is hosted by The Great Outdoors Magazine. It is a challenge, rather than a race. The goal for each participant is to walk from the west coast to the east coast across northern Scotland on foot in two weeks. No motorized transport is allowed, with the exception of taking a ferry across large lakes such as the famous Loch Ness. What makes this event especially interesting is that there’s no one defined route. There are many possible starting and ending points and you can choose any combination of trails, jeep tracks, forested glens, boggy moors, and remote highlands that you like.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness Photo credit: wikimedia.org
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness.   Photo credit: wikimedia.org

Scotland is notorious for cold, wet weather, especially in May. This year is shaping up to be quite a challenging one with heavy snow still falling and steep icy snowfields remaining on the high peaks. At the moment, the forecast for Lochnagar, one of the high points on my route, is “snow turning to rain” with “severe gales”.
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