The TGO Challenge is a demanding self supported event where participants hike from the West Coast to the East Coast of Scotland and are responsible for carrying their own tent, sleeping bag and food.
The Great Outdoor Magazine and RAB, an outdoor clothing supplier sponsored the event in previous years. Every solo hiker or group (maximum of 4) is responsible for choosing their start and finishing point, plotting their own route and making their way across entirely on foot. There are 12 start points to select from, and the finish is anywhere between Frasebugh and Arbroath on the East Coast.
The routes are submitted months in advance and vetted by those knowledgeable of the area. These must show the distance; height climbed, river crossings, and for any high level sections a “foul weather alternative” for each day. This is especially important as bad weather can make some trails impassable.
Participants have to phone in every few days, when you can get a signal, to assure the organizers that all is well. Good plotting and checking of the route is essential for a safe and successful crossing. Ordinance Survey 1:50000 maps are used. Most of the route is open country with very few villages, roads or other man-made landmarks. You have to be able to navigate using map and compass. It is important to know how to choose a camp site, prepare camp food using limited utensils and food and still eat enough to make the trip.
I did the TGO in 2012 and 2013 starting at Lochilort and Dornie, and finishing at Luan Bay and Frasebourgh respectively. Both years the weather was terrible for the first week, and for 2013 just regular bad for the second. Winds of 100MPH were recorded on the third day of the 2012 event. A month’s average rain fell in 24 hours. Luckily I was able to reroute and walk on tarmac along Loch Leven. By 5pm I made it to Kinlochleven and found a hotel. Other challengers headed there to escape the hurricane like weather. The few that came over the Devils Staircase had a very hard time. We met in the bar and after a good meal and a few drams of single malt decided that tomorrow would be a better day!
In 2013 I started at Dornie and went to the Falls of Glomach. By evening the weather had deteriorated and it was snowing and raining. I had to settle for an exposed camp site, as the weather was getting worse and cold. If there were a bus or train station nearby I would have abandoned the event. Next morning was better and I headed into Morvich to dry out. The day after the weather had improved and I continued on to Alitbeithe Hostel in Glen Affric and three days later to Loch Ness, through great, unspoiled hiking country.
Both years I walked solo but met other challengers every day. There are points where routes tend to converge, usually mountain passes, river crossings, sheltered camp sites or small towns with good pubs and restaurants. Here you can be sure to meet other challengers and exchange information and encouragement.
On the TGO there is a very strong camaraderie among the hikers. When we meet in a pub or mountain Bothy you can be sure that a few drinks will appear and the problems of the world are sorted out! Walking alone without the modern necessities of Cell phones, computers or deadlines is, for me, the most relaxing thing I can think of.
On reaching the East Coast you take a bus or train to the control at Montrose where every finisher gets a T-shirt, clean socks, a medal and a cup of tea. There are no prizes for the fastest, oldest or any other category, only the personal satisfaction of knowing that you have completed one of the world’s most challenging hiking events.
I have entered the 2015 TGO Challenge. I will start at Llocairort and this time go further North through Glen Garry, Feshie and Bremar and finish at Stonehaven. Watch this space for further update!
Jan 15th 2015 :- My route has been submitted and approved by the Vetter without any changes required. Good to GO! Training with a backpack will start after the Great Train Hike.
For details on my May 2015 crossing click here.
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