Some folk were there and they know, others listen to tittle-tattle and just *think* they know:
Arriving late at The Retreat because of a fellow Challenger’s blister problem which had slowed progress quite considerably, I received a less than friendly welcome when I asked for breakfast; ‘No Bacon left’, okay I’ll have egg, bacon & sausage - minus the bacon. ‘No sausage’, okay – minus the sausage too. It was at this point the lovely lady who was trying to help whispered that the chef just couldn’t be arsed cooking up breakfast.
We settled on a pot of tea, a sandwich and a scone - £18!! Bearing in mind this was nearly a decade ago, that’s bloody expensive.
The Tuck Inn however, did us proud: fish & chips, a pot of tea….and a most enormous ice-cream sundae.
The boring road route to NWB was made less tedious by using the track running parallel to it. It still seems to be a long way…..that’s ‘cos it IS a long way.
The campsite at NWB was, as always, a bit of a shock: having to pay real money to camp (although they have nice showers!), and the constant sound of traffic from the busy A90.
This last fact was an unpleasant heads-up that we were re-entering ‘civilisation’….well we were on the boundary of the modern, bustling world.
A swift road yomp to enjoy strawberries, a wonderful bacon butty and some very nice coffee signalled that the end of this particular Challenge was so very close at hand.
I wandered down to the sea to wet my boots and chuck the west coast pebble into the briny, and then followed the lovely flat beach to get to Montrose.
The feeling was quite strange – I felt almost light-headed. Two weeks of walking in the mountains – and then walking in a huge, flat, wide-open space felt really odd.
On my very first Challenge whilst signing out at the Park Hotel, I was greeted by Roger: ‘Congratulations John – will you be back?’ How the hell did he know who I was?? Anyway, I remember clearly my reply: ‘Just try to keep me away!’
Of course I’ve been back since – nearly every year actually.
An evening of great revelry, eating, maybe the odd drink....and an enormous amount of fun and great pleasantness followed.
That really WAS the end, for that particular year anyway.
A truly wonderful evening followed. Tales were told, stories exchanged, songs sung…and maybe the odd beer was quaffed. Next morning there was joy, sadness, tears even - quite a few actually….oh, and egg & bacon. And then it was time for my train home.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every Challenge I’ve done. It’s not just a two week backpack in Scotland, it’s so much more – it’s the Challengers themselves, those stalwarts who take part in this wonderful annual event.
I regard it as a great privilege to be able to call myself a Challenger.
I’ve been helped by fellow Challengers, helped other Challengers, sometimes in a very big way, but with no expectation of reward – that just isn’t in the spirit of the event, nor is it in my nature. I’ve enjoyed some excellent company, made some very good friends, I’ve also been very seriously pissed-off / upset / badly let-down, but in spite of all of that I remain a Challenger.
When I started doing the Challenge in 2004 I looked in awe at those who had done 5, 10, even more Challenges – they were just SO experienced. Having just completed my virtually Virtual 2020 Challenge I STILL regard myself as the new boy, a mere beginner!
I’ll continue to do the Challenge as long as my little legs will carry me – and as long as the event continues.
Please join me in raising a toast to Sue & Ali, Roger, John - and everyone else who makes this wonderful event happen, including ALL Challengers, whoever they are: LONG LIVE THE CHALLENGE!