Sunday 2 October 2022

2022 TGO Torridon to Arbroath


The Great Outdoor Challenge 2022

Torridon to Arbroath.

My last three TGO's have been more across the middle of Scotland, so this time I thought I would go from the most northerly start point to the most southerly finish point. 

I had a high mileage start to the year managing to win the RigRun walking competition covering 734 Miles in 6 weeks, in pretty poor weather. It runs from the end of January until early March. I pumped in 492 miles for February, which was mostly walked in typical Shetland rain and gales. In hindsight this was maybe a little too much preparation for the TGO. See walk final summary at the end of this Blog.

I left Shetland on the 12th of May on the overnight ferry from Lerwick to Aberdeen. I took the train next morning to Inverness, where I stayed a night in the "Torridon" Guest House. I picked it as it had the same name as my start point. An American and his Scottish wife own it and they were welcoming hosts

I had an afternoon walking around Inverness, I had planned to leave a supply parcel at the Railway Station but realised that it was really just priced for people leaving their suitcases for a few hours. If I had left my small parcel, it would cost me more than the value of the contents.

I visited Craigdon Mountain Sports Shop, which was just outside the railway station, and asked the lady if she could recommend any other places that would keep my food parcel.  She asked about my trip and insisted that she would hold it for no charge. What a lovely soul! I picked it up a few days later and gave her a selection of goodies from a bakery for their staff tea break as a thank you. 

After a pleasant stay at my B&B and a big breakfast, I caught the train through to Strathcarron. There I experienced the tail end of the dreadful weather that the early starters had to endure, luckly I had opted for a Saturday start. I had pre-booked the mini-bus and it was there as promised. We went on a magical mystery tour eventually reaching the Youth Hostel in Torridon, where I had booked a room. When the rain eased I visited the remarkable open-air Kirk (Am Ploc). 

There were no other TGO Challengers there so I would be starting myself on Saturday.

I met a Minister the Rev Patrick who was walking from Cape Wrath to Dover following in the footsteps of Hector Kyme Author of "A million and More Strides". He was drenched from his days walking and was having a rest day at the Hostel tomorrow. I was able to tell him about the open-air Kirk and he hoped to visit it the next day.

After 1129 Miles he successfully completed the walk on the 29th of July.

The open-air Kirk 

I set off on Saturday morning, then had to do an about turn after about a half mile, as I had forgotten to hand my room key in.
With another goodbye I walked the short section of road to Annat.

I pass deer grazing beside the road.

And a small house built into the hillside

My route into the hills is well sign posted

Looking back at the Torridon Youth Hostel

Falls in full flow after the heavy rain

I am glad to have my Pacer Poles, to aid my balance, as I cross the steppingstones.

More Deer

I passed 4 Day walkers a mile or two before crossing the Bellach and dropping into Coire Lair

Above me, through the clouds I see some braver souls walking the ridge towards Sgorr Ruadh

View down into Coire Lair

Looking back at the path I have come down.

The weather turns poorer with some rain as I reach Loch Coire Lair

I reach the road at Achnashellach and follow it East past the Hostel in heavy rain. I cross the bridge and follow the track up through the forest, speaking briefly to a couple on bikes who have been walking some peaks further up the burn. They said that they might enter the TGO as they are now retired. A mile further on I start looking for a camp site, the best one is taken near this wire bridge after Ardach, maybe a Challenger? The tent was buttoned up and no one in sight. I walk on and find a spot at the edge of the burn after the small tree plantation before Glenuaig Lodge

 Daily Mileage 21.3 Miles
Ascent 3369 ft
All my walks were recorded on Outdooractive. It isn't quite as good yet as Viewranger, but has some advantages when mapping your course. The biggest disadvantage is that it measures height and ascent by Satellite, as I think every other App does. This is far less accurate than the unique way Viewranger did it. 
(They say their aim is to adopt Viewrangers technology. Please do it soon.)
All ascent that I refer to was recorded on Outdooractive.

I bought a Notch Li for this year's trip and its smaller footprint lets me camp where my Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 wouldn't have comfortable fitted.
I have a good night's sleep and when I awake find the weather has improved greatly with blue skies above.

My original plan was to cross the burn lower down, but John Plume my Vetter advised that I consider crossing nearer the watershed as it would be easier if the burn was in spate. 
Thanks John, reading other challengers reports prove this was wise advice as rather than having to wade over I was able to step across and then work my way around the ridge to start following the Ann Crom Allt burn up the hill.

Looking back at the Lodge before I round the ridge.
The ground was very wet here but my boots kept my feet dry.

A bonny burn with small waterfalls all the way up. I manage to cross the burn about halfway up and briefly find a path to follow.

At Coire Dearg Mor I admire the view of Sgurra a Chaorachain and realise it would have been a relatively easy Munro to have bagged on a day like this. I am glad I came this route though as the view is superb. I stop briefly to eat then head over the Bellach towards Loch Mhuilich

Looking back at Loch Mhuilich.

After reaching Loch Monar I follow the faint path towards the Dam.

Foot Bridge crossing the Toll Breac Odhar.

Loch Monar

Heading down towards Monar Lodge

I meet Deer on the road at the Dam.

I camp at my planned site at the entrance to an old quarry below Torr a Chlarsair, the view is lovely up the valley.

Daily Mileage 15.8 Miles
Ascent 1568ft.

In the morning the wind picks up I manage to get everything packed away and my waterproofs on before the rain starts.
This is a planned day of 16 miles of road walking, I intend to camp behind a church at Eskadale.

Struy Church

The rain is heavy the whole day. I reach Eskadale church early, my planned camp site would have been fine if I had arrived later in the day, but I decide to push on as the heavy rain is no incentive to stop.
I catch a shop as it is closing in Kiltarlity and grab some Chocolate and Lucozade. I join the A833 South then take a minor road past Foxhole farm. The road rises 780 ft in the next 2 miles. As the rain eventually eases I join the Great Glen Way. The signs for the Abriachan cafe camp site is too tempting to bypass, so I swing in there.

Mad Hatters Tea party

What a find!
It is a cross between a Mad Max Movie set and the Garden of Eden, brilliantly eccentric and somewhere I would definitely stop at again. I ordered soup, oatcakes, cheese, tea and a cake which had been newly baked by the Orkney born host, superb!
After my 5th cup of tea, I set up my tent and slept like a log.

Daily Mileage 25.3 Miles
Ascent 1375 ft

The weather the next day was bright and sunny, the following breeze help push me along the great Glen way into Inverness. A couple of miles from Inverness I called the Torridon Guest House and struck it lucky they had one room left.
There is a laundry 100m from the guest house, so I got everything washed and ready for the next morning. I had a feed of Fish and Chips for tea and a saunter around the town Centre. 

Footbridge across to the Ness Islands.

Faith Hope and Charity Statue.

Daily Mileage 12.2 Miles
Ascent 203 ft.

Weather the next morning was bright and breezy, I quickly got out of Inverness and headed out the General wade road intending to wild camp at Tomatin.

General Wade road.

Us Frasers are a fly bunch!

I passed under the A9 to walk along the very quiet B9154.

I stop here and have my lunch.

I cross the A9 again and follow a path parallel to it. 

I pass under this fantastic Railway Viaduct.

I stop at the Cafe, to get Chocolate Bars and some milk. They had just closed for meals so I also took some prepacked sandwiches. 
From their window I could see the other two of their famous 3 Bridges.

There were no obvious spots to camp and it still felt a little early to stop, so I crossed the Findhorn bridge and pushed on taking a minor road, then a hill track up over Carn Na Lair, eventually stopping to camp beside the forest just before Insharn Farm. 

I briefly, meet my first challengers who were camped here and stopped for a word, but they seemed tired, I think they were foreign, their English was no better than mine, so I camped on the other side of a knowe and left them in peace. This was the first Challengers I had met in 5 days having covered 96 miles. At last, I was starting to catch them up.

Daily Mileage 22.2 Miles
Ascent 2572 ft

The next day was a relatively short walk in nice bright weather, following the river up to the bridge after Caggan, then the Burma Road into Aviemore.

An interesting Memorial


The Bridge Across River Dulnain.

The Burma Road

I hadn't booked any accommodation but found this B&B with a vacancy, it was excellent!
If I ever walk through Aviemore again I won't look anywhere else, it was perfect!

I feasted on Pizza at a local Restaurant and felt ready for tommorows walk.

Daily Mileage 13.8 Miles
Ascent 1385 ft

My plan had been to head high and after Ben Macdui camp at Loch Etchachan, the BBC Forecast was wind, so I phoned Control in the morning to check what they thought. They advised that unless I was nearly there already it may be best to stay lower as it looked like the wind was picking up. As I was still in Aviemore I decided to just head through the Lairig Ghru. I had been this way before and knew I would be OK passing through.

The path through the forest

The Cairngorm Club Footbridge.

A distinctive tree I photographed in 2017. 
I was impressed then how it had struggled to survive, with its branches grown upwards like separate trees after it has fallen over. 
I couldn't believe someone had chosen to build a fire next to it and badly damage its bark.

First sight of the Lairig Ghru

Looking back at Aviemore from the Lairig Ghru

I pass quite a few walkers as I head through, it is nice to see it again. There is no snow at the top of the pass this time. Last time there was still quite a bit lying underfoot.

I chat to a local elderly father and his daughter who had walked up and were resting and taking in the view before heading back down. Nice, really nice, building memories.

The Corrour Bothy 

The Devils Point towers over the Bothy

Looking Back up the Lairig Ghru

Shortly after passing the Bothy, I take the track to Derry Lodge where I camp for the night.

Daily Mileage 18.7 Miles.
Ascent 2457 ft

The next morning, I set off to Callater Lodge passing a couple of challengers who I show the way to Mar Lodge, we have some tea and the biscuits that the estate kindly provided. Luckily, I have some real money in my Rucksack that I can put in the donations tin.

The couple move on shortly after, but I stay for about an hour to meet some more Challengers, as I have seen very few this trip.

It has to be Tim :) 

It is!
I am Delighted to meet my old friend and meet some new ones.
Rich, Peter, Dean and Emelie are there.

Carl and Juraj turn up too, they have been doing an outrageous amount of Munros I think they had done over thirty before reaching Mar Lodge and went on to complete at least 50. 


After Mar Lodge, I eat in Braemar then head up to Loch Callater Lodge to camp.

I pass Braemar War memorial

This is the first time I have stayed the night here, and now understand why it holds such an important place in the TGO Challengers hearts. 

Many, many thanks To Bill and his helpers.

Croydon leads of the singing

Some kent (known) faces from previous Challenges and some new

It's good to see Brian again with fellow American walkers Rita and Mark. I walked a couple of days with Brian in 2017. I speak to Lindsay and her son Grant on his first challenge. He completes this year's TGO bravely with mince in his shoes rather than feet. Tough Lad, a chip of his mother's Block. He will be back!

Bill gets his Hat on. 
The party has started!

Three pals enjoying each other's company, TGO legends to a man!

It is great night; I can see why this an obligatory stop for many Challengers.
I retire to my tent early about midnight and know nothing until at least 7 o'clock.

Daily Mileage 13.4 Miles
Ascent 748 ft

I get ready and head off, the weather isn't great with very low clouds. Once I reach about 600m there is really no visibility, I pack my camera in the rucksack to protect it from the wet, it won't get used today.
  The path leads up through thick wet clouds, visibility is just a few metres, I go past Carn an Tuirc without summiting, as there will be no view and it's not worth walking the extra few hundred metres to say "I got the Summit" with nothing to see. I am not a Munro Bagger as its not practical living in Shetland, I have enough other tick lists that I am doing to keep me annoyed for years 😀
The path goes over the summit of Cairn of Claise. My planned route takes me over Glas Maol then on to Creag Leacach. I attempt to bail-out towards the Ski Centre, but the visibility is so poor and the route too steep to chance, that I revert to my planned route and push on to Greag Leacach. I meet the first walkers of today, coming in the opposite direction, who say they have just come up from the car park and are doing a circular route back to their car. They don't believe me when I say I have come from Torridon and will finish in Arbroath. Just before the summit of Carn Ait I use a fence as a handrail towards Mallrenheskein. I Drop down about 120 Metres and it takes me below the cloud layer, So I change direction and head down quickly another 250M to join a track leading eventually West of Loch Beanie, to join the Cateran Trail near the outdoor centre. 
The weather is completely different here. On the hill my hands were seizing up with the cold due to wet gloves, as I walk along the Cateran trail I take off my waterproofs to cool down, and wring out the water from my gloves (Note to self, Take waterproof gloves next year). 
I was on this trail last year and realise that if I pick the pace up I could get last meal orders at the Glanisla Hotel. I phone them, book a room for the night and a table then push the last 9 miles quite hard. Success! I get there early and have time to get a shower and a pint before my meal. 

Dalnaglar Castle

Forter Castle

The wonderful Glenisla Hotel

Daily Mileage 24 Miles
Ascent 2963 ft

My route today follows the Cateran Trail South to Alyth

Foot Bridge across the River Isla.

Loan Head Farm, Cateran Trail junction with the Coffin Road.

It is raining again as I pass through Alyth. I am about a day ahead of Schedule, and not sure where I will stop today, so I wander on to Meigle following the B954. I get a sandwich and juice from a small shop there then back track out to follow a minor road towards Forfar. The area is extensively farmed, and I start to wonder if I will get a decent pitch for the night. After a couple of miles, I find the ideal spot up a side road in "Boat Wood". 

I have had a sore scalp all day and feel that I have burned my head, which I am surprised about as I still have a good head of hair and the weather hasn't been particularly sunny, I also have had some earache, so I have been taken Paracetamol and Brufen.

Daily Miles 16.4 Miles
Ascent 1007 ft

I walk into Forfar the next morning and still feeling some earache decide to spend the night at a Hotel.
I don't feel tired, only a bit sore in the head. 

Daily Mileage 12.4 Miles
Ascent 213 ft

After a good breakfast, I head out from Forfar, following minor roads, I take a small detour to look at a Roman camp, where the walls/ditches are still vaguely visible. I then try to go through Crombie Country Park but eventually have to backtrack due to fallen trees. I had intended to go through Pitlivie Wood but there were signs up closed for shooting, so I carried on to Muirdrum. I contemplated walking directly in on the A92, but it didn't look either a safe or interesting way to finish my walk, so I went back up to the other side of Pitlivie Woods to join my planned route. I then followed it in to Arbirlot then down Hill to join the A92 for the last mile to finish on the west links Beach Arbroath.
I phoned Control to say I had finished then nipped up to the railway station and caught a train to visit my daughter Sanna who is doing her Masters in Dundee. 
I stay a night and then come back to sign out and attend the meal at the Park Hotel. 

Fallen trees in Crombie Country Park 

Hagri (Heron)

The Arbroath Light House

The route over the railway line to the beach

Toe dipping in the North Sea

Daily Mileage 24.7 Miles
Ascent 1030 ft.

A peerie wander around the Montrose Beach before the meal at night.

The Scurdie Ness Light House Where I finished last years Challenge.

Walk Final Summary

I walked a total of 220 miles over 12 Days giving an average of 18.3 Miles per day with a total Ascent of 18890 ft.

My head still felt a bit burned, but I enjoy the meal and meeting up with other Challengers. 
the next day I catch the bus to Aberdeen then the ferry to Shetland.
My wife suggests I see my doctor about my head, it turns out that I had got shingles in the head.
After a course of tablets its sorted and I start to think of what route I should take for the 2023 walk.
Overall, I felt the walk went well, there were no upsets. My equipment worked well, but I will continue to look to improve it. Possibly the mileage I did prior to the TGO contributed to the shingles; I have no need to do so much next year and will skip the RigRun, if I am accepted for the TGO Challenge.

My new tent, a Tarptent Notch Li, was as good as I had hoped. I have been contemplating buying one for 2-3 years now, and finally took the plunge. It is perfect for this type of walk.
There is still a role for my Big Agnes 2 though, probably more for shorter walks where I may be spending more time in the tent and want the luxury of more room, or for using as a base camp.

Last year I wore Inov-8 Roclite pro g 400 Gtx boots and was disappointed in them. They just couldn't do the job. This year I changed to Salomon x ultra 4 gtx Boots and the difference was huge.
There were many wet days, and the hills were usually soaking. I suffered no leaks and only slight dampness came from sweat. They were noticeably more stable when traversing unpathed slopes.
 I recently got slight dampness walking in the hills in rain, on one boot that has a slight fabric tear across the toe box and that is after 500 miles plus, with no boot cleaning, or treatment applied in the life of the boot.

My Sleeping Mat, a Sea to Summit Ether Light XT was bought because, although it is a couple of oz heavier than the lightest mats, it has the reputation of being the comfiest and most stable mat around. It is a keeper; I will not be looking for anything different. 

 My Rucksack is getting a little tired, and that may be my next Christmas or Birthday present to myself.
Current one is the previous styled Osprey Exos 58. 
Possible change to a Gossamer Gear Marriposa if the wife doesn't see the price!