View from Oban Bothy

View from Oban Bothy

Tuesday 6 June 2017

TGO Challenge 2017, Pt1. May 2017

Thursday 11th May. Home to Mallaig

It started well and just got better. Mostly. Unless you’re a mouse.

A Stupid O’clock taxi ride to Manchester Piccadilly was a pleasant affair – the roads were virtually deserted. The sun was rising, illuminating the city quite beautifully. The light in the early morning really is a gift to photographers…..those fortunates that know what they’re doing anyway. Unlike me.


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Manchester Piccadilly in the early morning

My First Class journey to Glasgow was a rare luxury…they call you ‘sir’ and give you lots of tea, coffee and snacks. No breakfast though, this was Transpennine Express – Virgin East Coast were to do a far better job of catering on the return leg.

As always, it was lovely to catch up with Challengers at Glasgow, there were far too many names to mention, but some of the first to see were Martin, the very fine Russ Manion, Colin, the lovely Brocklehursts, Denis & Mary, and Lou & Phyl who aren’t Challenging this year….they reckon that they’re too old. So they backpacked the Great Glen Way instead. There were a number of unfamiliar faces wandering around the station, many of them were Challenge virgins and wondering what the hell they’d let themselves in for.

I didn’t take any photographs in Glasgow, I was too busy meeting my fellow walkers…..but not THAT Walker, he’d travelled via Inverness I think. Martin had a look at my camera and took this snap of me, if you look carefully you might spot some of the usual suspects lurking in the background.

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The final leg of the journey to Mallaig was a jolly affair, the train was rammed with Challengers all heading to their respective sign-out points. It was a long journey but quite probably the most scenic rail route in the UK. We didn’t arrive in Mallaig until around 6pm but time passed quickly, such was the good company on the train – and the tremendous views of course.

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View from the Glasgow to Mallaig train

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Over the sea to Skye

The weather had been excellent all day, pleasantly warm and sunny, with a few clouds scudding across the sky. Ideal walking weather.

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After an excellent meal with the Pigeons of Glasgow the process of essential hydration began, the Skye Gold was particularly nice. I slept rather well.

Cuckoo Count: 0

Friday 12th May, Mallaig to Runival

The following morning was predictably dull and a bit damp, this was Scotland after all. If you don’t like the weather here just hang around for a couple of hours and it will surely change. I did and it did.

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The 10am(ish ferry over to Inverey was quite full. Denis and Mary were onboard, they’d booked themselves on a tour around some of the islands – a nice trip but I’m sure Denis would much rather have been joining the throng heading to Montrose.

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Not our ferry. Skye in the background.

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The Madonna, erected in 1946 by Sir O. Crosthwaite-Eyre. 
And a fishing boat.

The boat journey soon passed and once on t’other side Challengers duly lined up on the slip to wet their boots and pose:

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L>R: Tim, Denis, T’other Lindsay, Mary (the lovely Mrs Denis)

Tea, coffee, cakes, bacon butties (and lots more besides) were consumed as a sort of Last Supper ritual before the throng headed off to enjoy endure two weeks of dehydrated meals, rain, wind, sun, bogs, ticks, clegs, midges and other delights that only the TGO Challenge can provide. What’s not to like, eh?

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L>R: Denis, T’other Lindsay, Me, Paula

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For Alan R

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The Brocket Monument, erected 1937, marks the family’s ownership (of Knoydart?)

The weather was fine as the crowd dispersed in a generally easterly direction, some were headed to Sourlies whilst I took a more northerly route up Mam Barrisdale and over to Loch Hourne – duplicating my 2004 route, my very first TGO Challenge.


Gleann an Dubh-Lochain

It was a long but quite straightforward climb on good paths up Mam Barrisdale. There were other Challengers following the same route but most of them were well out of sight….apart from Brian & Leslie from Florida. We teamed up and I was to enjoy their good company for the next couple of days.

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Loch Hourne and Barrisdale Bay coming into view

The descent from Mam Barrisdale wasn’t quite as pleasurable as the ascent. Despite Shockstopper Footbeds and a support my L knee was objecting to downhill impact. Ibruprofen, a knee support and rest came to the rescue. I like rest. Rest is good. I’m not so keen on taking pills to mask the pain though. For all that, the views on the descent were grand.

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Barrisdale Bay

It was a relief (to my L knee) to get onto flat ground once again. Brian & Leslie were doing brilliantly – especially considering that they’d not long since arrived in Scotland, their body clocks must have been grumbling at the time difference.

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I’d considered camping at Barrisdale Bothy but the area was quite crowded and I prefered a slightly quieter place to spend the night. Happily both Brian & Leslie were in agreement. My second choice of pitch, where I camped in 2004, was badly overgrown and the stream that was quite full back in 2004 was now quite low. There was one tent there but the site didn’t look at all inviting. My final choice, close to Runival, was to prove the best. Others were also camping in the area but It was flat(ish) and there was running water close by. A good choice.

A good meal of home-dehydrated curry & rice followed by fruit & custard and lashing of tea sorted the inner man. It was a still and quite warm evening, added to which there was lots of water close by. And I didn’t bother packing insect repellant. Idiot.

The views at dusk were quite lovely, if it hadn’t been for the midges I’d have slept with the tent door open.

Cuckoo Count: 2

Saturday 13th May, Runival to somewhere near Kingie. I think.

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Brian & Leslie

Next morning, after a breakfast of muesli and lots of coffee, we were away. My Plan was to follow the mostly very good path along the s shore of Loch Hourne.

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My Plan was to stop at the cafe at Kinloch Hourne for tea & cake. I wasn’t able to stop here in 2004 but this time around I was in charge of where I wanted to go……tea & cake it was. It’s good to backpack solo…..although it’s also good to backpack with others.


Kinloch Hourne Tea Room

The cafe was an unlikely looking place, but the tea & cake were just the job. Others came and went as we slurped and guzzled – a couple of Challengers plus a few ‘tourists’. One elderly backpacker who joined us in the cafe but who wasn’t on the Challenge, proved to be very interesting. He’d been doing some serious walking in Knoydart and, like us, had called in for tea and cake. He was well retired, but in his working life had been responsible for overseeing the building and commissioning of power stations all over the world. He was a fascinating character and I would have liked to have spent more time chatting with him.

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Don’t even think about leaving the cafe without paying

The weather so far had been fine, dry and overcast. As we left the plush cafe it was clear that the clouds were considering an early dumping of their contents.

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Neil in foot maintenance mode

My Plan to head north up Allt Coire Sgoireadail was abandoned, it looked horribly claggy and murky up there so we marched purposefully eastwards. I was now in the very excellent company of first-time Challenger Neil from Shetland who had also been troughing in the cafe. Neil had once toured on a CX500 so he was clearly made of the right stuff.

Our lower level route proved a good choice: easy walking and lovely views towards Loch Quoich. The tops were well hidden by thick cloud but as the day wore on the mizzle began mizzling on us.

And then we got hungry.

Everything came together just at the right time: a flowing stream, some nice grass to sit on, a dry spell in the afternoon….and rumbling, grumbling stomachs. Lunch time. All manner of goodies were revealed – I ended up with a cheese butty washed down with a cupasoup and a mug of tea. There may have been an Eccles Cake involved, but I wouldn’t want to admit that – I’d reserved it for my tea. But I was very hungry.

Brian and Leslie soon shot off ahead of us. They were a little (!) younger than us and wanted to get a move on.

The rain got rainier but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits. Good conversation ensured that we didn’t get bored with our FWA.

The familar faces of The Kinks (Ray & Dave) appeared out of the murk, Dave was on his 10th Challenge so he HAD to complete.


Ray (Left) making sure that Dave (Right) gets to Montrose in one piece

(Photo c/o Neil)

They’re both very experienced so I had full confidence in their ability to finish successfully….and have a great deal of fun on the way. They headed north, we continued east.

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Glen Quoich in the pouring rain

As we marched on we hit a problem that we really weren’t expecting, almost unheard of in Scotland: a lack of water. The recent dry spell resulted in some normally gushing streams to be virtually dry. Not good, I was glad to have packed my Sawyer Water Filter.

We began searching for a suitable pitch. It wasn’t easy, the ground wasn’t good at all – and we were still searching out sources of good, flowing water.

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As if by magic a bit of flattish ground, married to a nice flowing stream, presented itself. Brian & Leslie were already in residence. The weather still wasn’t marvellous and we were glad to get our tents up, collect water and get under cover. Oh, and eat. home dehydrated bolognese seeing as you were asking. No pudding though.

A wet night followed but my poorly L knee was much less painful.

Cuckoo Count: 3

Sunday 14th May, To Invergarry

Brian & Leslie left early, the rain had stopped and the day was looking quite promising. Neil and I dragged ourselves away at around 9.30am. Our route took us past what was the Tomdoun Hotel, it was now a rather grand private house.

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The former Tomdoun Hotel, once a magnet for Challengers

We soon turned south and crossed the bridge over Loch Garry to follow forest tracks to Invergarry. The bridge area had been my intended pitch for the previous night – that’s the thing with the Challenge, you can fly by the seat of your pants when you want to – flexibility is the name of the game.

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Another one for Alan R

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Mummy Coo & Baby Coo

The weather was mixed: very hot sunny intervals interspersed with very heavy rain showers. The walking was easy and we arrived in Invergarry at 3.30pm. Invergarry hadn’t seen any of the rain that we’d endured over the previous 2 days, just blue skies.

Neil needed a proper bed for the night and he managed to get into the Invergarry Hotel. Wild camping in the area was difficult so I turned to Stealth Mode, filling my water carrier at the hotel.

We arranged to meet up in the hotel early evening for a meal. The place was playing host to a myriad of Challengers: The Pieman & Son, Bert (suffering with very sore feet) and many others. We enjoyed a good meal, good beer (Skye Gold) and good company.


My Stealth Pitch for the night

I slunk off to pitch my tent as the light faded, rolling into bed at 11pm. My L knee was ok, just a bit tender.

It was a very warm, windy but dry night.

Cuckoo count: 3

Monday 15th May. Invergarry to Fort Aggie

I awoke at 5am but stayed put until 6am. A breakfast of muesli set me up for the morning. The dry and windy night ensured I was able to pack a bone dry tent. I met up with Neil at 8.30am, and after I’d managed a stealth wash-down using the hotel’s facilities we wandered off along the Great Glen Way (made famous by Lou & Phyllis) in the direction of Fort Augustus.

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Caledonian Canal

We were now in the company of Pieman & Son who were intending to continue a bit further than F.A.

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The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant, waterproofs were needed. Probably.

The walking was very easy indeed, hardly any up & downery. It was also a short day too, we arrived in F.A. at lunchtime, just in time for a pretty awful chippy lunch. The town was heaving with tourists of all nationalities. The difference between them and the Challengers in town was that they probably didn’t pong as much as us.

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Challengers enduring an awful chippy lunch

I checked into Morag’s Lodge Bunkhouse whilst Neil found himself a hotel in town. We arranged to meet up in the evening for a beer.


Other Challengers were staying at Morag’s Lodge, notably Chrissie, Rupert, Colin and Dave…and a couple of others who’s names I don’t know.


The pub meeting was a jolly affair. Amongst others, Jayme & Co were in residence. Arrangements were made for a cocktail party to take place the following evening at Chalybeate Spring. This was on my route anyway and it promised to be a quiet, select affair.

At 11.30pm it was a later night than I’d intended, but a nice bunkhouse bed ensured a good night’s sleep.

Cuckoo Count: 2


  1. Hey John! Great write-up so far! Glad you enjoyed your crossing!

    1. Thanks Brian! I hope you enjoyed your crossing too - and that you got back home safely. Please say hello to Leslie for me.
      See you next year?

  2. Nice easy stuff so far. Runival used to be owned by a friend of mine and I have stayed there a number of times. It's got an outside loo too.
    Your first tractor pic is not easy, I'm a bit stuck. If I had to guess it would be a Kramer but I hope you know.
    The 2nd one is a lovely Ferguson 35. Unmistakable.

  3. Cracking write up John. That is a lovely route, superb photos. Was wondering why Mike was standing in the road with a pair of trousers around his ankles! Looking forward to part two of your trip.

    1. Thanks Dawn.
      I was wondering why Mike had dropped his drawers too.
      Maybe he's just an exhibitionist.


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