|Early Morning Reflections in the River Findhorn|
And then it was over.
|The Beach at Redcastle|
|Paddling in the North Sea at Redcastle|
|Alan Sloman at Redcastle|
We arrived at the wonderful beach at Redcastle in beautiful sunshine, I pouted for the last time as Al pointed his camera, then mine, to capture the moments, and after that we walked to the Lunan Bay Café to eat cake and ice cream and phone a taxi to get us to Montrose.
It was lovely to get to The Park Hotel. It was heaving with Thursday finishers and too many old friends to mention. Robin Evans, Johnboy Sanderson, John Woolston, Andy “Mad ‘n’ Bad” Walker, Crocodile Dundee from Croydon with his new hat, Hugh and Barbara Emsley oozing their loveliness, Mick and Gayle, Humphrey Weightman and many, many others. Happy, smiley fit people. People who, as Al says, are made of “the right stuff”. The people who make the Challenge what it is, and why so many come back year after year. People were already discussing where they would start from in 2018.
As for me, I know I shall not be back (what I should write really is “I do not think I will be back”).
My 2017 Challenge was a very different experience to those I did in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The weather, in the main, was better for a start. And I climbed more hills on the way across, including five Munros, and generally walked longer days, with longer stops and pitched camp later.
Oh! Another difference! I bought an excellent cap, in which, at a hundred metres or so, I could be taken for Field Marshal Rommel. Yes that cap. Hideously overpriced at £20 in Braemar Mountain Sports when it is on sale for £19.99 in at least one online retailer. Al loved it so much he got one as well, but in a different colour. Mine is a steely grey, which will nicely set off my eyes when I wear it in the early evening sunshine. I later found that Johnboy also has one that is identical and, to quote him, “it’s essential backpacker apparel to engender fearlessness and occasional foolhardy actions. People will look at you in a way which says there goes a man who embodies the very essence of an outdoors expert”. How right he is. I shall wear it on all future backpacks.
|Field Marshal Rommel of the Africa Corps in a bunker on Driesh|
The main difference, though, was the fact that I had a walking companion for the entire crossing. This did not, of course, make the Challenge any less demanding physically. I was still exhausted at the end of most days. But it made an enormous difference. For me, without a shadow of a doubt, it is far easier to successfully complete the Challenge if walking with someone rather than going solo. It’s all in the mind you see. The extra sense of reassurance, especially for a born worrier, of having someone with whom to share (or indeed take on) most of the decision making does make the event that much less daunting. The companionship goes without saying, although say it I just did.
It seems to me that there are three wonderful things about the TGO Challenge. Firstly, the sense of achievement it provides. I know that my crossings are something that I will always be proud of. That's always and for ever. Right to the end when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Secondly, the Challenge has a spirit of its own, especially of commaraderie. The people you meet, the friendships you form are what make it so special. This has to be so as we could all go off and do long backpacks anytime and anyplace rather than stumping up our £50 entry fee to the publishers of the TGO magazine. And thirdly, there is a wonderful, liberating simplicity in the rhythm and routine of a long walk. You get up, you walk, you cook dinner, you go to bed. Only if you have experienced this day after day can you understand, and the Challenge, at two weeks, starts to provide a little understanding of the motivations of those who through hike the much, much longer trails of the USA and Europe.
But I will not be there next May or in subsequent Mays. I think not. You see I did not relish the Challenge of the walk. I'm not made of the right stuff. On too many mornings I woke thinking more of the difficulty of walking up to 30 km in a mountain environment, knowing for much of that time I would be shattered. Too often I did not appreciate the magnificence of my surroundings, but rather wondered how much further I had to go to our chosen camp spot or B and B. I don’t think there was a single day when I was not thankful when it was over. For me, as I approach 60 years of age, walking for up to ten or more hours with a large backpack starts to make each day a chore rather than a joy, in a way in which a four or five hour walk does not. I am not made of stern enough stuff.
Then there is what is happening to Scotland. The wild landscape is being trashed with the connivance of rich landowners and the government. Wind turbines and massive electricity pylons blight extensive parts of the Challenge area. And the massive and numerous new hill tracks. I need to be clear that I don’t think on the Challenge I have ever not thought 'thank goodness' on getting on to one of these and being able to walk on it after being on rough or boggy ground. But they are despoiling the landscape in the most appalling way. Any mountain lover must weep, at least metaphorically, when they they see what has happened to large parts of the Highlands. Again, you have to see and experience these to understand the point. Those that run elevated over the the summit plateaus are perhaps the worst of all. I do not understand how the nation of Scotland, so proud of its Highland heritage, can have allowed this to happen.
And finally, when I am away I miss my family and I miss my dog and it puts additional burdens on them, even though they are able to eat salad every day and can skip meat and starch and puddings and stuff (not the dog obviously, as he shares my attitude to salad, which is distinctly hostile).
|The TGO Challenge: In the words of Scotland's finest, The Proclaimers, it's Over and Done With|
Despite the paragraph above I hope I will do more longish backpacks before I hang up my boots and bin the sleeping mat, and not just of the overnight variety. But it will not be on the Challenge.
I am almost sure
And my final words on my 2017 are simply this. Thanks, Al. It was a privilege to walk with you. Only eight more to go and you'll have done thirty. And you mind what you write about me when you get your own blog written.
|Alan Sloman: A True Gentleman of the Road|