Sunday 25 May 2014

TGOC 2014 Day 1: Boring Challengers

Route, Day 1

Friday 9 May, 21.1km, 706 metres height gain, 8 hours 25 minutes

Weather:  A bit of inconsequential drizzle, some sunshine, clag on the tops
The cliche photograph
 And then they were off! I dipped my toes in the Loch at 9.05am and set off for Glen Affric.  Despite the fact that there were over 50 people due to start from Shiel Bridge over the Friday and Saturday I only actually saw about 10 Challengers all in whilst walking on Day 1.

Leaving Shiel Bridge

Happy chappy in Gleann Lichd

I took the ‘trade route’ up Gleann Lichd, then over to Alltbeithe, and on to just over the bridge beyond Athnamulloch.  The old building here, I was to learn from more experienced Challengers is also known as Strawberry Cottage.  The way is very beautiful, which was unsurprising, but no less wonderful for that.  This is especially so as the path pulls up out of the Glen and heads over towards Alltbeithe.  As has often been the case for me on Challenge days I fell into the small scale OS map trap.  Almost every walk I do normally is with a 1:25000 map.  Whenever I then use a 1:50000 everything seems so much further! You can walk off the edge of a 1:25k much more quickly than a 1:50k.  Well I know what I’m talking about.

Retrosopective on the way to the waterfalls

Approaching the waterfalls

The waterfalls

I’d learnt from my first Challenge last year, though.  More rests (hence note above the time it took me for this day), more water to drink, and more snacks. Works a treat.

One of the delights of the Challenge is to be able to walk alone or to walk with others, with companions constantly changing along the way. You make new friends and come across, with delight, old ones. The latter may be from previous years, or just people you met a couple of days earlier.  The shared experiences of such a walk create a bond.  For me, today was one of lovely new acquaintances.  Having set off alone I caught up with Hugh and Barbara Emsley and Andy Williams.  They were to be my delightful companions for much of the day, and I was to walk far more with Hugh and Barbara on subsequent days.  I left them as they stopped for a break at Camban Bothy, and later met up with Allen and Fran Mellors, and walked with them to our wild camping spot near the river beyond Strawberry Bridge.  They are both very experienced long distance backpackers, and a lovely couple. Fran was showing incredible gutsiness, determination and cheerfulness in adversity.  The sole of her boot had come away as she was leaving Shiel Bridge.  They were having to stop every few minutes to carry out running repairs using various bits of string and spare boot laces to tie it together.  Fran actually walked for three days like this, all the way to Fort Augustus, and whenever I saw her she was smiling away.   Allen and Fran are tough.  Allen refers to their walking style as ‘bimbling’.  I would describe it more as a fast jog.  Allen is also a great one for saying “”we’ll just push on a bit” which in my language translates to “we may as well do most of tomorrow’s route as well as today’s”. 
Andy and Hugh approaching the day's literal highpoint

Heading towards Alltbeithe Hostel

Meeting so many different Challengers over the fortnight, and repeatedly bumping into those who share parts of your route has a downside, that of ‘Boring Challengers’.  Now this might appear as if I am suggesting that some Challengers bored me.  Far be it for me to pass such a judgement!   No, I am referring to the complex I suffer from of not remembering what I have said to whom, and what has been said to me by others.  You talk to so many people in the course of a few days.  Challenger talk always starts off on the same topics.  Your respective routes, the weather, gear carried, bogs you have crossed, before it ventures to wider information such as where you are from, family, work and anecdotes.  This gives me a terrible complex.  What was this chap’s name?  Did I meet him on the coach coming up? I’m sure he told me where he was heading tomorrow, is it the same route as me?  And so on.  Thus, I have this constant, nagging fear that I am boring everybody silly, repeating stuff and so on.  Not that I let that stop me!

Rob Jones arrived.  I happened to mention I snore badly. He pitched his tent about 400 metres upwind from me.  Wise man.  Andy Williams pitched up too.  We were joined much later at our camp spot by Keith Leonard and Charlie Ngumo. They looked done in.  I handed Keith my hip flask. Twice. Big mistake.  Keith is not a man to sip from a hip flask.

Camp at Athnamulloch


  1. I have the opposite map-scale problem to you. I almost always use 1:50k, so when I find myself with a 1:25k in hand I find myself constantly surprised by how fast we're covering the ground. Mick's suggestion that I just need to look at the size of the grid squares may appear helpful, but it seems that I cannot override my inbuilt by-eye distance calculator, which is (apparently) set at the 1:50k scale.

  2. takes all sorts :-).

    I'm having deja vue. I think we might have had this same discussion last year too!!!!

  3. Never give Mr Leonard your hip flask if you are NOT about to refill it in a shop....
    Ask Stormin.....

    1. But nobody warned me. He looked all done in and I felt sorry for him. Then he had a good couple of slugs and next moment was bouncing around like a smirking space hopper

  4. you gave keith your hip flask twice??? are you mad .