A Freshman's Challenge – Steve Smith’s 2004 TGO Account
(An abridged version of this appeared in The Great Outdoors Magazine and won a competition)
The TGO is an annual self supported coast to coast across Scotland walk
This is the journal of my cross Scotland walk made in May 2004. It is made up from diary notes that I kept at the time interspersed with memories and thoughts added later. Consequently the style and the tense are, shall we say, variable in places. I apologise for this.
The dates on the maps mark the end of the days; the full stop next to each date matches the location.
Thursday May 13th 2004
Alison Ashton and I arrived in Oban on the afternoon train. Travelling up from Doncaster, passing the east coast of England and the stunning castle of Lindesfarne. We passed through Edinburgh then had two hours to change trains at Glasgow where, in the sun of early summer, I acted as a tour guide showing Alison some of my old haunts. Then the train trip through the Southern Highlands, branching west through Tyndrum to Oban. Stunning scenery was on view - as only Scotland can offer. I feel a mix of excitement and apprehension about the walk.
I’m reminded of Oban. It’s lovely port, old buildings and folly looking down over the town. The Ferry goes out to the islands, fishing still appears to be an occupation. An imposing cathedral hangs heavy at one end. In the distance is the Isle of Mull with its mighty Ben More. Oban is now the discovery of tourists, once the discovery of survival.
Friday May 14th 2004
And we are off! Signing the register to mark our start we are walking by 0915 but are soon halted by my desire to purchase new insoles for my boots. My right heel is feeling heavy, hot and complaining. The new insoles lift my feet, I’m now in danger of blistering as my feet now touch previously unreachable leather. But my soles are comfortable and I follow Alison as she guides us along the 19KM of roads to Taynuilt. We pick up other TGO people. My joke on Geoff Yarnell, resembling a little of Michael Palin, about shouldn’t he be walking the other way to get to Montrose is lost. I must make a note not to be so obscure in my humour. Or at the very least make an attempt at being funny. Geoff, like me a first time challenger, is a friendly chap and is soon very much part of our day. We reacquaint our breakfast meet with John Jordan who is walking despite having seven tumours and no bladder. He was on the bunk above me during the night at Oban Youth Hostel. Thank the lord for modern sealing mechanisms. My sore knee and breathing suddenly fall into perspective. Then there is Penny and Bernie Roberts who we criss-cross throughout our day. Another walking couple are Stuart and Maria Scott who met on the challenge two years ago and were married within months and are still smitten with each other. I’m reminded that I am not so good with new people. It often takes me a day or so to bond, this will be another challenge.
From a welcome meal, rest and bonding at the pub in Taynuilt we take the forestry track to Glennoe where we pitch our three tents. I wander back and wait for Kate and Amanda, joining us for the weekend. I wait just north of some farm buildings where a dog with more bark than bite warns me of their arrival. We all huddle into one tent for food, completing the day of low cloud and a little rain.
Glennoe with, from foreground to rear, the tents of Alison; Geoff; my own; Kate and Amanda.
I’m in conversation with John Jordan.
Saturday May 15th 2004
Today was wilder Scotland. Alison, Kate and Amanda were going to do a high route but the cloud was low so they accompanied me from camping in Glennoe around to where the Allt Hallater stream meets the River Kinglass. I found it very tough going and was very slow with my pack. The weather was okay and we pitched the three tents facing each other, Geoff has left us. I grab an hours sleep before 1700. The evening brings joyous game of guess the OS map from the map number. We became a little risqué and confessed the OS maps where poignant memories were abound. We took a short walk to a bridge across a stream, disturbing deer to be greeted by their graceful bounding off.
Sunday May 16th 2004
Alison, Kate and Amanda took a high route today. I took the low route around to Bridge of Orchy. If they decide to stay high I'll be a day ahead and will be on my own from now on.
At nearly noon I'm sat on a rock, overlooking Loch Dochard. The cloud is broken, high. The hills are alive with patches of sun, shadow, snow, heather and rock. An underground stream is running its echoing way down towards the loch. I'm surrounded by mountains, some Munros. Conquered with a lighter pack. I've been struggling today. It was to be a day of going into the hills, leaving my tent for a whole day. But I need to get a day ahead as I'm painfully slow. I'm due to meet with Adrian for a re-supply either today or tomorrow. It looks like today now, but late in the evening. I plod on and meet challenger 326, Brian Hill. I take his number as I promise to phone in for him at Bridge of Orchy. He plans to walk on beyond Bridge of Orchy, perhaps as far as the bothy at Gorton.
The tar sealed road from Victoria Bridge to Bridge of Orchy was hard and painful. It’s taking me awhile to settle into the challenge. For ‘challenge’ is what it is generally termed. “Are you doing the challenge?” you enquire of fellow walkers. No need to mention TGO, just ‘challenge’ is the currency of comradeship.
I arrive at the Bridge Of Orchy at 1700. I’m not sure what time Adrian is due, with baby Ellen, for my re-supply. I phone into ‘challenge control’ and speak with Roger Smith. He congratulates me on getting so quickly involved as I mention the legends of Brian Hill and John Jordan. I really have Alison to thank, she warned me what to expect so I was able to speak with Roger in a knowledgeable way. Waiting on I eat then check into the hotel bunkhouse and rejoice in the luxury of a twin room, all to myself for the mere sum of £10.
Adrian left a message of his later arrival and was there at 2100. After I showered and changed (Adrian had my wash kit and spare clothes) , we had a couple of hours in the non smoking end of the bar. Baby Ellen, eleven months, was into everything, including a passion for Adrian's pint of beer. It started with a curiosity that Adrian attempted to satisfy by allowing the beer to touch her lips. Like some Microsoft product there was a delay in response greeted by a wide grin and two outstretched arms to begin her drinking career. I’ll remind her of this when she is older. It was a good couple of hours chat with Adrian. Being a Doctor I showed him the pack rash on my shoulders. He winced. It must have looked bad. I took the glory of revelling in injury to bed with me.
Monday May 17th 2004
Well they say that the early bird catches the worm. I've long held the view that life is down to timing and indeed an early bird could be full of disappointment if the worm chose to have a lie in. So my being an early bird got me very wet. I set off at 0700 and reached Gorton Bothy for 1100. The first section was along the A82 road and I was glad to turn off it and across the glen towards Gorton. The weather turned wet and unfortunately my jacket let water. All the time I could just dream of soup at the bothy. I sang and whistled as I walked in the rain. I’m glad that nobody else was around, I'm of no doubt that it sounded awful. I passed a tent, I guessed it to be that of Brian Hill. I considered etching 326 and an arrow into the dirt track but thought better of it.
The weather perked up but I was delighted to be inside Gorton Bothy, sipping soup. It’s a classic bothy, two rooms and that's it. I read in the log book that it was once a shepherds cottage. As many of the bothies once were. This morning I passed the ruin of Barravourich, unroofed - falling down. Due to the rates owners of unused cottages remove the roofs to avoid paying tax on unused properties. The Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) agrees with the owners to re-roof the odd ones as mountain shelters. Due to a quirk in the law they remain free of the rates tax because the owner does not own the roof! Long may this quirk last!
Brian Hill joins me, I should have carved his number into the ground, he’d have enjoyed the joke. After leaving Gorton I realised I'd lost the clip for my drinks tube. I back tracked and could not find it. Brian was able to make me one from a piece of string and a slipknot, I think I enjoyed accepting his help and he enjoyed helping me. I later found the real clip in my pack. I later discover that Brian was seventy-five, like most challengers he looked ten years younger than his true age. The afternoon's walk was over wet ground, tough going with no track. I camp at 1500ft above Rannoch Forest. I am a little worried. The tent is taking a bashing in the wind. I'm in for a rough night. I hope all will be well but I feel snug.
Tuesday May 18th 2004
It was a rough night. I woke many a time with the tent being pounded, though only a bit of rain a couple of hours ago. At 0700 I stick my head out and the sky is every conceivable shade of colour. Light, dark, angry, enticing! A call of nature requires me to get up. I don't feel like it and it’s painful to break camp. My biggest fear being getting the tent down without it taking off so I wait for a break in the wind and manage it before setting off on a ten hour walk.
I continued to follow the tall deer fence (though I saw no tall deer), which I'd followed for an hour the last evening, to the south of Rannoch Forest, looking for the route through to Bridge of Gaur. I had little luck and followed the deer tracks running parallel to the fence. At one point I paused to take in the view right up Glen Coe, in the distance. Stunning. Eventually I realised that the fence was new and the forest had changed against the map. I went through on a stream and picked my way down. There was a faint deer track (a victory against the dear fence!). It was hard, with ups and downs and continual re-crossings of the stream to get myself down. Then where? The tracks on the map were not there and in the end I picked a new track out which was a lucky guess. I was not a happy person as for over two hours I was very uncertain. I then crossed civilisation, at Bridge of Gaur, and was hoping for a tearoom or pub. No luck. So then it was a long haul to Ben Alder Cottage, a bothy. Haunted by all accounts. Last occupied, as a home, by Mrs McCook. It rained and was tough going. My energy was poor and with 1km to go I just sat down willing myself to get moving again. I kept chanting "Come on Steve, just 1KM more". On arrival I make soup and am grateful for the dry pair of socks in my pack. Feeling lonely though, this could be the low point of the crossing. I realise that it's 29 hours since I last spoke to anybody.
Wednesday May 19th 2004
I woke at 0430. I'd lit a fire last night, it brought cheer and my socks steamed away! No disturbances from the ghost, just two mice rustling in the night. It being raining last night I’d held off the call of nature so this morning there was an urgent need that required the use of the bothy spade. A sign up gave guidance to where one might crap (their words not mine). It pleaded that using the outhouse, open ground, the bothy wall or porch, covering over with a mole hill or building a nice little rockery over ones steaming achievements was not on. I had to grab walking boots and spade and make my way to the recommended turd graveyard some two hundred meters from the bothy.
I then set off at 0700 and found it very tough going. There were places where the path met the shore of Loch Ericht and I had to scramble around rocks and avoid an icy plunge. The going was tough, my body was complaining. The weather varied, I could not get comfortable with my kit. Passing the shore in one place an Oyster Catcher decided I was too near its nest. I had to pull my hood up and attach the mouth protector as it continually dive bombed me to see me off. It took me six hours to get to Ben Alder Lodge and I was disappointed that the estate had, with consent, moved the path around the lodge. This made a full pass up the side of the loch impossible and added considerable height to the walk. Somehow the planners who agreed to this, along with permitting a series of buildings with every conceivable piece of Scottish architecture crammed into a building too small to accept it, must have missed the point somewhere.
From there I had a three and a half hour further trudge to Dalwhinnie, stopping to speak to a mountain biker - my first human contact in 49 hours! I almost pulled him off his bike to have a conversation with me. I was low, down and convinced that everybody else was ahead of me on the challenge. The one high point was stopping to look back down the loch as the sun hit it. Trees, mountains, water and the shades of light conspired to lift my spirits and remind me of why I do this. The castles from a Scooby-Do story were the ‘face lift too far’ of the Scottish hills.
I continue to the sounds of a cuckoo. A solitary bird that I am convinced is doing the TGO also. I kept myself going by daft things entering my head for processing. Like is this ‘The TGO’ or just ‘TGO’ as TGO stands for The Great Outdoors. ‘The TGO’ would imply a stutter as it expands to The, The Great Outdoors. It used to be called The Ultimate Challenge, which never, to my knowledge, got the acronym of TUC. You could imagine it in its early days.
“Now brothers we are on TUC. We’ve made it half way and now we propose to strike out…”
“Right, strike. Everybody out.”
I’ll spare you the rest, it was all tripe coming into my mind to keep me company. You poor reader are in fact lucky as you only have a snippet of the constant crap that churns inside my head.
A shot of Loch Ericht (I took no camera with me so this is nicked off the WEB)
I'd arranged to send a parcel to the only hotel in Dalwhinnie. When I called a few weeks back they said they'd be full this night but could hold a parcel for me. It rained as I approached and feeling desperate for a bed and a bath I tried the railway station to see if I could get a train to the next town where there are lots of hotels (I'd then get the first train back in the morning to pick up where I left off). But as I was reading the timetable a train came in and set off, I quickly realised that there would be no more trains for over six hours. So I trudged to the local hotel, to collect my package and convinced I'd have to camp in the rain. I half-heartedly enquired of a room, keeping the hope in my heart in check. The manager checked his books and said “we’ve one left.” I asked him the price. I’d have taken it at any price, but £25.50 was a bargain. He led me to it and I followed as a gibbering pathetic moron of gratitude. As he opened the room and showed me around I spouted the most painful series of words of praise, gratitude and gratefulness ever to have passed my lips (well apart from to the girl on OS sheet 198 some twenty years previous). The bath was the most pleasurable of my life as I lowered my aching limbs bit by bit into the pool of warm water.
When I eventually extracted myself from the bath, believe me this was along while later, I made my way to the restaurant for a meal. Settling into my seat it did not cross my mind that I might not be the only TGO participant taking refuge in the hotel that night.
I looked up to an enquiring face.
“How did you know?”
"Tanned, tired, unshaven and no shoes!"
Yup, that about summed me up and I shook hands with John Hooper as I contemplated how dumb my question must have sounded. John went to fetch another TGO and I was introduced to the infamous Di Gerrard. Soon we were joined by John Jocys. From 49 hours alone, which shocked them, I was suddenly buzzing, alive and starting to feel part of something. All the pain suddenly felt worthwhile as we shared stories and adventures. The struggles make the journey even more satisfying in the end when the discomforts are replaced by ease.
Thursday May 20th 2004
I woke feeling a little ill, my stomach had been churned up. A voice came into my head as to what was wrong. Vitamin C! Okay scurvy had not yet kicked in but, whenever the waiting staff were not looking, I took another glass of breakfast orange juice. Eight in all with the last one being sank with my rucksack on my back ready for the off.
As I made to leave I spied a familiar figure alighting from a car. At first glance it looked like Geoff Yarnell. At second glance I noticed the odd handles on the trekking poles and realised that it was indeed Geoff. I shot out to humiliate him, whatever the excuse, over the use of a vehicle. Of course it was innocent, a train trip to Newtonmore the night before and a lift back to restart his walk. I think we were both pleased to see each other, it had been five days. I was able to introduce him to John and they set off together. I walked with Di after briefly meeting Val Hadden and Mary Brook. Walking with Di was fun, and we made good progress alongside the aqueduct with various connections with Val and Mary. There was a parting of the ways near Coire Chuaich and I was alone again to walk down the Allt na Fearna before the cut across the lower reaches of Maol an t-Seilch and a cut down to the bridge at the dam on the loch north of Gaick Lodge. Approaching the dam I saw two figures pause and wait for me. It was Geoff and John, having taken the longer route via Gaick Lodge. We made good progress and my original plan to camp was slowly replaced by the possibility that Ruighteachain Bothy might be within reach. I lost John and Geoff on the lower slopes of Can Dearg. My breathing not allowing me to keep a pace. I think I realised today that with my breathing, on ascents, that I can only walk a few yards before I need to pause and allow my breathing to catch up. Of course I've always known this but it hit me today that doing ten yards up hill sometimes feels like doing a 100m dash, all can do is then rest. I can never find a maintainable pace.
Some of the views today were stunning and I recalled why Scotland is so beautiful. The Alps, for sure, are beautiful yet it's every persons ideal image of mountain scenery. Only viewable from certain angles and often in nice weather. Scotland has the moods of much weather added to it and unlike an artists canvas you can be amongst it, part of it, embracing it not just looking on.
Cutting through the forest above Allt na Cuilce, picking between the fallen tress on a track, I met with John again. We kept each other going and shared the pain of the track down into Glen Feshie. Although the decent breakfast and the vitamin C had caused me to fly during early parts of the day I was now beginning to lag. My quick fire appalling jokes kept John’s minds from the pain of the walk. Crossing the River Feshie took careful picking of the way. With John just behind me I realised that I was showing him the way. It had started to rain and I could not really make out the bothy in the poor light. Eventually my nose picked up the scent of a fire. It felt warm, welcoming. Bursting through the door, after over ten hours walking, I was met by a huge array of people. A hearty log fire and John and Geoff ready to spring up and shake my hand. A chair opened up for me. The comradeship struck me. We were all, as individuals, trying to get across Scotland but to each one of us the success of each others crossing was just as important as the success of ones own. The Munros are about the mountains you climb, the TGO about the people you meet. Yet in both cases the soul is worked upon. Both offer hard, tough, gruelling days yet when rest comes a satisfaction descends that words can barely express.
Also in the bothy were Maggie Hems, a retired teacher, who’d I’d met when in this very same bothy two years previously; Alan Hardy, a well known walker who had vetted my route and Bob Lees who fell pray to my bad jokes. He had bought some super glue to mend his boots and the chap in the shop reluctantly sold it to him, saying he doubted it would solve the problem. I said he should go back and say that it had fixed the problem, but now how does he get the boot off? The evening passed by with good stories of the hills, simmering hot drinks and simmering socks.
Friday May 21st 2004
I was given a cracking pace this morning by tailgating Alan Hardy. He was interesting to talk to, very knowledgeable about the hills. I also liked the way he engaged in conversation and was interested in my tales too. I have met some other well known walkers in the past and have been disappointed by the self interest. After an hour or so I lost Alan, he was just too quick though I was grateful for him having got me started in what is normally the slowest part of my day. I soon was walking with John and Mike Fallon. We got a thing going about craving for fried eggs, beans and chips. Every excuse we could we got it into the conversation. Continually adding to our fantasy meal. We saw an aerial in the distance and even fantasised that it was on top of a café, selling fried eggs, beans and chips.
We lost John and then I lost Mike so I walked on my own towards the Linn of Dee. Mike was heading for Braemar with John planning to camp at White Bridge. Though other people would pass and through these I heard stories of a couple MA and Mike (female and male). They were obviously even paced to me, as they never caught me up but by various people passing me I built up a picture of this couple.
I camped just short, avoiding hitting the road into Braemar. On the bend in the river I sat with the tent open looking back towards some of today's walk. A wide river gently passed within a few feet. Some snow-capped mountains framed the horizon. Heathers, trees and grass pick out contours, gullies. Rock marks the crags. The weather has been all sorts today. I stopped short of the road walk in to Braemar as it would be too hard on my feet. Laid in the tent I drew a compass onto my TGO cap with the peak facing East. A few people would later comment that I’d drawn it wrong before they realised the joke.
After eating I spied a fellow challenger descending the path. I wandered up to meet and greet him. It was John Dodd from Liverpool. A short chap, full of personality. Bubble and enthusiastic. It was great to meet him
Saturday May 22nd 2004
It was just a three hour walk to Braemar in the morning sunshine. The day turned out beautifully and the Fife Arms Hotel had a single room for me. Though I arrived at 1000 and could not have it until 1500 I was happy to stroll around Braemar, eating in cafes (especially enjoying a fried egg and chips) and generally chilling with fellow TGO participants. The atmosphere was there to just be soaked up.
Bernie and Penny approached me. “We are having a small gas problem,” she said. I was about to reply “Oh please,” when I realised that it was not dehydrated meals that were the problem but a lack of camping gas on which to cook them. I was able to donate a half used cartridge and promised more when Adrian arrived with my re-supply. Scotland never ceases to amaze me when such basic supplies as gas cartridges are not available in the shops.
A good evening was had in the Fife Arms. Plenty of atmosphere with a jamming session having Steve Wagstaff and John Jocys on squeeze boxes with a superb rogue fiddle player playing the most amazing music. His pace and Steve’s alcohol consumption made an amusing contrast with Steve often left with swinging arms trying to regain a hold on the proceedings. Adrian arrived, and enjoyed the music, with baby Ellen. She recognised me! It was very sweet.
I eventually met MA and Mike and watched MA’s mouth drop as I filled her in with the life history I’d heard of her from people feeding the information forward down the line of TGO challengers.
Sunday May 23rd 2004
Alison arrived at lunchtime, she'd called Adrian and we both, in the wonderful sun, walked up to meet her at the view point overlooking Braemar. As we approached her I could see her on her mobile. “She’s on the phone,” I said.
“To me,” replied Adrian as he lifted his mobile to ear. Alison’s request for our progress was met with a more primitive form of communication in the form of hand waving to identify ourselves. I'd not seen her for a week and a few hours. It was good to catch up. I thanked her for the dehydrated food she’d made me and the maps she’d laminated for me. Later she told me that I was animated and enthusiastic, a far cry from how I appeared when she last saw me. We lunched and I then set off and walked into the mountains, as far as the bothy at Lochcallater Lodge. I soon bumped into Val and Mary and was embarrassed as I could not recall when I saw them last. They soon filled me in and we were able to fill each other in on our progress so far.
It was a lovely walk up the side of the Callater Burn in the beautiful sunshine. The actual lodge custodians, Stan and Bill, were inviting TGO participants in and I had tea. Sat on one of an array of odd matching chairs I surveyed the kitchen. Wood clad walls, papered with photographs and newspaper cuttings. A fire did its bit, drawing a focus, warming the room and heating two blackened kettles with water for tea.
I had been warned of their hearty greetings and that a bed for the night would often then be offered. I was one of the lucky ones, having a room on the first floor, high in the mountains, with an original Victorian bed (iron framed and not moved from this room for over 100 years) and gaslight. No electricity here. Stan and Bill who look after the place (owned by the Invercauld Estate and Stan and Bill get the use of it if they maintain it and keep it available for the odd needs of the estate, including royal visits) are kindly chaps in their 60s who take in TGO people in this remote mountain location. As I settled down for the night there were a number in downstairs enjoying drams. Including the larger than life Denis Pigeon who let me know that my night might be disturbed by some internationally recognised award he had for snoring. I stuffed ear plugs in and very uncharitably hoped I got the room to myself. Given Bill and Stan’s hospitality this was very unfair of me.
Monday May 24th 2004
I woke early, 0500, and snuck downstairs, passing Alan Fox in an adjoining room, to make my breakfast. Denis stirred and came into the kitchen, I think he’d passed out in the lounge, on route to going to the loo (pee on the grass). He said something about it being the middle of the night and wished me luck for my day ahead. So I was off at 0545, my earliest start of the challenge. I realise how unlucky I can be with the weather. Yesterday and the day before were the best two of the challenge and were my two half days. My route today was very high (1100m), to cross the Lochnagar, and I was hoping it would be wonderful views - like it would have been for the previous two days. Nothing like it! It rained and I had to use map and compass all the way but still got lost twice over Lochnagar. At one point I saw a metal object and descended to it. Part of a Wellington Bomber that crashed on Carn an t-Sagairt Mor during the war. One of the engines is on display in Braemar, it held my fascination whilst I was there. A memorial to the British, Commonwealth and USA mixed crew. The damage to the lower cylinders, the elongated hole where the propeller shaft was mounted gave forensic clues that the plan crashed into the mountains nose first, with the engines running. After passing over Lochnagar I looked back to see it out of the cloud, so much for the early bird.
I made it through to the bothy at Shielin of Mark at 1500 after nearly nine and a half hours of walking and barely a rest. Two other TGO participants, Myra Watson and Terri Lane, were heading off as I arrived. In fact I caught Terri with her pants down as she was answering a call of nature. I immediately averted my eyes. Val and Mary passed through but headed off to camp a little further on.
The bothy is a dingy small place, I missed the bed of Lochcallater Lodge. In all seven tents appeared, its small confines encouraged most to camp and I got the bothy to myself. Alan Fox lit the fire in the evening and I drifted off to sleep to the fire blazing. I can't remember him leaving, just remember being cosy in my sleeping bag.
Tuesday May 25th 2004
Starting at 0655 it was a walk over Muckle Cairn and the drop down into Tarfside, about 6 hours in all. The top was heathery and I had to pick my way down to avoid turning an ankle on the uneven ground. My right leg slipped into a hole and I buckled over, a disturbed grouse launched into the air with its familiar squawk. Though I’m sure it was laughing this time.
On the shores of Loch Lee I bumped into Val and Mary, now for the fourth time of the walk. We watched an old tractor go by and Mary remarked on its age.
“Nineteen eighty one,” I said. They looked at me, curious.
Val and I then had a flowing conversation reminiscing the various years and the registration letters for them. How 1967 was cut short as they only ran an ‘E’ plate for seven months. Mary listened with a bemused interest of witnessing two people with such a weird interest connecting in such scenery. I recounted one of first holidays to Scotland when ‘T’ registration had just come out. Being in the region of ‘SH’ to my parents dismay I spent a week desperately looking for car number plate ‘OSH1T’ whilst ignoring all pleas of my parents to enjoy the fantastic scenery that they’d brought me to see.
It was great to walk with Val and Mary. I enjoyed their company so much. We were dreaming of the hostel in Tarfside. With so many people heading that way we picked up the pace to ensure we beat off the opposition for beds! At one stage we thought the people ahead of us were racing us too and we struck a deal if there were two beds Val and Mary would get them, just one and it would be mine. Anyhow we all got single rooms which is really good. Indeed my socks could have done with a single room of their own, having not changed them since the start (12 days worth). An Austrian chap was also staying, enjoying the TGO. He did not get my joke of asking if Austria had a coast to coast walk! Ah, some jokes fail!
The hostel was lovely. Cheap at £8 for my own room. Belonging to the church it is opened to the TGO and staffed by lady volunteers. They were so kind and welcoming. It was another one of the treasures of the TGO. Alison arrived and we will now finish the TGO together. The TGO does get me talking to people, this is good.
The hostel has showers and in it I noticed that my right hand is getting much browner than my left. This is an incredible effect of walking West to East. If I get lost I should just check which side of me the moss has grown on and navigate from that. I could imagine a Sherlock Holmes story called ‘The brown sided man.’
“This man was not killed in London, Watson.”
“By Jove Holmes! What makes you say such a thing?”
“Elementary. You’ll observe my dear Watson that the poor wretches right hand is browner than his left. Clearly he was on the TGO challenge when he met his fateful end.”
“Great Scott Holmes!”
“He could be but it has been noted that many of the TGO participants are from England.”
“What about those tartan underpants then Holmes?”
“That could be the clue we’ve been looking for.”
Wednesday May 26th 2004
Sat in a cafe in Edzel with Alison and Adrian and baby Ellen I reflect on the days four hour walk so far. Walking with Alison along much flatter terrain I realised the walk was starting to come to and end. The mountains behind us, the coast will be with us tomorrow. I’m feeling very fit, my pace is good and I could do it all over again. Two hours of further walking took Alison, myself and Ros Stokes to the North Water Bridge camping site. Passing along the way the disused air base that had recently been rejected as a centre for asylum seekers. Hopefully the noise of passing trekking poles did not alarm the locals. Passing a beautiful house with perfectly kept lawns I posed the idea of knocking their door and asking, “We are doing the TGO and you either allow us to use your loo or we cut little holes in your lawn. And by the way can we camp?”
In a lovely summers evening twenty tents filled part of the official site, a party atmosphere ensued with people strolling and chatting. I met Sue Oxley, her and Alison had connected earlier in the walk.
Alison took this of me having a sleep at North Water Bridge
Thursday May 27th 2004
On a beautiful clear sunny day Alison, Sue and I walked from North Water Bridge to the beach at St. Cyrus. I think the three of us felt very close as we shared the experience of finishing. We chatted freely, openly. Enjoyed the views of the countryside, the wheat shimmering in the gentle wind like a sea. On the real beach I stripped to my undies and charged straight in the sea - it was mighty cold. Both Alison and Sue said they were impressed. Ah, at the age of thirty-eight I eventually impress some girls on a beach.
Adrian joined us and we chilled. The lovely sand and sun warming our bodies. We shared handshakes and claps with other finishers. Laid on the beach we all agreed that this was one of the most relaxed and chilled moments of our lives. Neither Sue, Alison or I wanted to leave so we stayed for quite awhile. We went for a lovely meal where Adrian bought us champagne.
We reported into the Park Hotel and went to Challenge Control to sign in, receive certificate, badge and handshakes. The obligatory T-shirt was handed to each person perhaps, to the delight of the waiting staff, in an attempt to ensure that each participant had a fresh top to wear for the meal. I sensed some sadness in me now that the walk was over. I slipped off to the room to shower and returned to Challenge Control to be warmly shaken by the hand by Denis Pigeon. It was then I realised that the question of was I smelly when I arrived was given an overwhelming affirmation. Now being washed and fresh my bodies own odour was not able to mask that of the others. As Denis pumped me warmly by the hand I was gripped in embrace that even an arms length away led me to say “Aye Denis, aye so nice to finish. Must dash, catch you later.”
The evening of festivities included the meal with speeches etc. It was quite a grand occasion with over 200 people there. Also some famous British hill walkers were there, names I'd just read about suddenly all in one place. It was good to sit with John, Alison, Adrian, Sue and John Jordan. Good to chat with Val, Mary, Geoff, the Johns, Brian Hill, Di Gerrard and everybody else I’d connected with on route.
Friday May 28th 2004
It was sad to leave, sad to say goodbye to so many people that had rapidly become friends. Friendships are made through time or by sharing adversity. Going into a cafe for lunch on the way home I looked to see if there were any fellow challengers. Of course there were none, but I had got used to being on the look out for fellow challengers. Having my car keys in my pocket, a reminder of home, work and responsibilities. Only fifty weeks to go before the challenge starts again.
© Steve Smith