Steph and I arrived back home in Stainforth at the end of May after spending a fortnight on the TGO Challenge, that annual west-to-east crossing of Scotland that is, quite simply, the finest backpacking event in the world.
Chances are that if you read this blog you already know about the Challenge but for latecomers I’ll summarise: every May, over two weeks, around 300 good folk backpack coast-to-coast across Scotland. They start from more than a dozen check out points on the west coast and make their way, via a route of their own devising, through the mountains and glens of the Highlands, to the eastern seaboard, where they finish at a point of their own choosing between Fraserburgh and Arbroath.
Your route can be as sociable or as lonesome as you like: I make no excuses for having taken the sociable option one each of the nine Challenges I’ve completed to date the folk who take part are some of the most friendly types you could wish to meet and stories, advice and beers shared along the 200-and-odd miles that most routes involve shouldn’t be missed.
That said, our route this year was that little bit tougher. Steph did the route planning and managed to squeeze in a few big mountains days, including, on day one, straight out of the trap, the Five Sisters of Kintail and Saileag (pictured above), a monster of a day given the fact that it was scorchio.
Many folk reckoned it was one of the best Challenges there’s been in it’s 29-year history. I’m not being cynical when I point out that they say that every year; in fact, I fully agree with them. T’was a cracker.
T’was also a great pleasure to meet up with some old pals, some not so old pals, and to meet some fresh pals, first-time Challengers who not only entered into the spirit of the Challenge but also seemed to have a belter of a time. TGOC virgins Alistair and Lynsey Pooler were great company on several occasions and have already set their sights on next year’s event, while American Ken Knight, who works for the US lightweight backpacking site Backpackinglight.com, was a delight to walk and chat with and we eventually reached the east coast with him at Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle. Ken’s modesty will probably not thank me for mentioning the fact that his solo crossing impressed a heck of a lot of Challengers, given that his eyesight is on a par with a stereotypical Yorkshireman’s generosity.
That the Challenge is not only the finest backpacking event in the world, but also the most successful and the best organised, is down to one chap, Roger Smith, outdoor writer, consultant, launch editor of TGO Magazine, and regarded by all-and-sundry as the Challenge’s uncle.
While those of us who took part are bursting blisters and nursing pints, while impressing our buddies at home with tales of derring-do and Dennis Pigeon’s hangovers, Roger’s already planning the next event, a very special 30th Challenge with some very special celebrations no doubt during and after.
Without Roger’s wise leadership the Challenge would be a very different affair and at the post-Challenge dinner on Montrose on May 22 the warmth and affection that folk felt for him was tangible. The only place where you’ll find so much love for one man in on room at one time is at a Tom Jones concert!
Any road, that was my 9th TGO Challenge, which makes next year my tenth. All things remaining equal I don’t intend to miss my own tenth, so I’ll be there.
If you’re still a TGO Challenge virgin and fancy taking part in the world’s premier backpacking event you’ll find the entry forms in the October issue of a UK monthly hillwalking and backpacking magazine known as TGO, of which I was formerly deputy editor.
In those days I hiked the Challenge as part of my job, to fly the flag for the magazine, as it were. These days I must do it because I like it.