Sunday 26 May 2013

TGOC 2013 Day 1: Excitement

I rarely sleep beyond 4.00am these days so after the obligatory cups of tea whilst lying in bed I was out for an early morning wander around Mallaig.  The weather was perfect.  Sun, a few fluffy clouds and no more than a slight breath of wind.  The harbour was still.  The water flat calm.  The gulls cried.  There was a smell of saIt, seaweed and diesel oil, so evocative of fishing ports.  It was serene.  For the first time in weeks my nerves vanished.  Just vanished.  And also for the first time in weeks I sensed a different emotion.  Excitement.  I could feel a silly grin appearing on my face.  Now just to digress from the Challenge tale for a moment, I must acknowledge the superfluous nature of the phrase “on my face” in the previous sentence, for where else can a grin appear but on the face?

Anyway, grinning like the Cheshire Cat I popped down to the Co-op and bought a sandwich for my lunch.  Good move, as over the coming days I was to became profoundly bored with trail mix and cereal bars.  Then back to the B and B.  Full Scottish.  Re-sort pack (again).  Up to the West Highland Hotel to sign out at 9.10am, meaning my Challenge formally started with a sit down, as I then had to wait until Bruce Watts weighed anchor at 10.15pm.
Mike Knipe contemplates a 45 minute boat trip before he can get to the pub
As a whole big bunch of Challengers waited for Bruce’s boat it started to rain lightly and intermittently.  Wanting not to risk having wet clothing earlier than necessary, I pulled on cag and overtrousers.  These were to remain on until I was finally in my tent several hours later.  I spotted a ULA Catalyst pack on another Challenger, and thus I met “Reuben’s Dad”, James Boulter, for the first time outside cyber space.  I have a bad habit of “knowing” if I like someone instantly, and I did.  Thoroughly nice guy.  Also on the boat was another person known, until then, only through the medium of wireless and fibre optics (although us country dwellers should be so lucky to ever get fibre optics).  This was Superdawg’s Dad, Mike Knipe, him of the driest sense of humour outside the Sahara.  And our new Dutch friends, Chaz and Dave were there too.

Crossing Loch Nevis on the way to Inverie
 45 minutes later we arrived at Inverie to the organised chaos of packs being removed from the hold (I am making this up as I go along, as the hold was just a blue tarpaulin on the deck) and passed up on to the bustling quayside.  Ok, this wasn’t Rotterdam but there was a bit of bustle.  Whilst James and I faffed around taking photos and getting our Pacer Poles out, Mike Knipe and various other old hands headed off at a speed of knots.  Not to walk, of course, but to get to the bar of the pub in Inverie before a queue built up.  That was my last view of Mike on the Challenge.
I walked with James for the first 45 minutes or so until our routes diverged.  I then headed off the LR track to get my first minor taste (I was only in it for 15 minutes) of Scottish bog as I cut across to Gleann Meadall and then started the gentle climb up to the col at the top of the Glen.  I walked this section alone, although I was aware of Chaz and Dave someway behind me.  The rain came on properly and its intensity increased steadily.  There were a group of Challengers resting at the Col when I arrived.  I believe some had left their packs there and had just “popped up” a nearby hill.
I had no intentions at any time on this Challenge of doing anything like that on my walk.  I had one aspiration and one aspiration only.  To get to the east coast.  Hills could wait for another time and another crossing.  Later in the Challenge, by the time I reached Braemar, this aspiration had actually turned into a specific, well thought out and simple strategy, which I shall elaborate on in a later post for anyone sad enough still to be reading by then.
The path down to Sourlies was far easier than I had anticipated; less steep than the impression I had gained from previous Challengers.  I walked across the bog and salt marshes, admiring a few grazing deer, with two others – I think it was Matt Little and Ian Somerville and the tide was low enough to allow us to walk round to the bothy on the beach and so avoid a final stiff pull up over the headland.

That's my little Akto near the Sourlies Bothy
 There is some lovely turf for camping on just before the bothy.  I decided to avoid this and save later arrivals the horror of my snoring by going on just beyond the bothy to a smaller patch of turf near a stream.  The Akto was up by 4.45pm.  The rain hammered down.  I hunkered down in the warmth of my tent and sleeping bag and brewed up.  Dave and Chaz went passed (should that be past?) at 5.30pm planning to walk to a bothy beyond Glen Dessarry (I later heard they walked until 11.00pm).
After my first dehydrated meal of the walk I thought that was me for the day.  Then I looked out of my tent.  The stream was well up.  The tide was in and the loch was high.  Pools of water were developing all around my tent.  I packed most of my stuff in case I had to bail out.  The rain continued.  At 8.00pm I was taking the tent down and moving to the turf the other side of the bothy which was on slightly higher ground.  Ian’s Duomid had been near mine.  He decided to risk staying put.  I had half an hour by the fire in the bothy before bed back in the tent.  Ian was moving his Duomid in the dark at 11.00pm as the rain kept falling….
After the move: this was a far drier spot




  1. The next pub after Inverie was in Spean Bridge, seevral weeks later. Nuff said, I think....

  2. Good stuff...keep it coming!


  3. Liking this look forward to next instalment.

  4. Good first day that David! Sourlies is a cracking place - fond memories of sitting outside the bothy last August watching a sailing ship weigh anchor in the loch! Having to move the tent is never much fun but that second pitch does look an improvement. Looking forward to following the rest of the journey across!

  5. Enjoying these write-ups David, engagingly writen. Keeps me wanting more.

  6. Enjoying your report very much. Your writing style brings it to life so much I almost felt the rain on my back!

  7. Thanks for the positive comments folks. Ali, we definitely felt the rain on our backs. Mike your temporal and spatial awareness seems to be somewhat skewed when it comes to the availability of alcohol :)

  8. I have started from Mallaig twice, and failed twice.
    But that involved being plastered and not in the Denis manner.
    I will try there again one day, just to break the Voodoo.

  9. Andy

    It is a wonderful place to start, especially with the ferry to Inverie which seems a special way to start a walk across Scotland.


    1. Couldn't sleep and stumbled on your blog again.
      Just as good a read second time through.

      And guess what.

      We are starting in Mallaig this year.
      I am reserving Torridon for my 10th. Started there in 2007. Twas superb.

      See you in t'North :-)