Becoming a TGO Challenge Leg-End

TGO Challenge vid 1 from John Manning on Vimeo.

At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I’ve just become a Leg-End.

Not a legend, like Robin Hood, Billy Shears or Alastair Hunt, rather, a Leg-End: I’ve just entered that decreasingly elite bunch of TGO Challengers who have completed ten or more coast-to-coast crossings of Scotland, on what is rightly billed as the world’s biggest (and best) backpacking event.

This year being the 30th TGO Challenge, I couldn’t have chosen a better year from the point of view of celebrating my tenth (though there were those whose eyebrows were raised at the fact that to do so meant I’d had to leave Steph and eight-week old Sierra at home in order that I could play out. But as I keep having to remind people, this is how I make my living… work, will it never end?).

My crossing began at Torridon with two days of cruel weather which saw me and most other Challengers take to our foul weather alternative routes from the word “go”, especially after big Bob Ward had been blown in through the hostel door the previous night looking like he’d done three rounds with Mike Tyson (bloody nose, black eye, running mascara…), after having been thrown off his feet by the wind while walking over from Strathcarron station.

Two days later, once the foul weather had passed, I came a cropper myself by managing to lose my maps and snapping a trekking pole within the space of a single hour while descending into Strathfarrar. To cap that, after I’d pitched my tent out of the way by the river, I was slightly perturbed to find the biggest tick I’d ever seen crawling up my trouser leg. If you want an idea of size, look at your thumb nail – and that was before the blighter was engorged. I flicked the tick off into the grass but was more than a little worried that if the area I’d pitched in was infested with these monster ticks then I’d awake to find myself drained of blood, whisky and anything else that flows around my veins.

Anyway, enough of this rambling. I’ll be writing up a little more detail of my crossing for the October issue of TGO Magazine, focusing primarily on the gear I used on this crossing. A right mish-mash that was, as having Steph at home as quartermaster meant I could switch gear when necessary, which I did in while pitched at Rothiemurchus campground in Coylumbridge, near Aviemore, roughly the half-way stage.

Those who remember Coylumbridge as a midge-infested site might be pleased to hear that those of us camped there encountered not of the little biter-blighters – the estate has installed three Midgeater machines which seem to be doing the business. Whether this will lead to instances of starving bats nicking your Mountain House meals remains to be seen.

Worth mentioning that Coylumbridge marked the re-appearance of bad weather; I crossed the Lairig Ghru-some on Friday, May 15 with Alastair and Lynsey Pooler – friends met for the first time on last year’s Challenge – in dire conditions: Lynsey was swept off her feet, not by Alastair’s suggestive smiles but by the wind, and near the top of the pass we met four reindeer presumably driven from the tops by the bad weather, to search for shelter.


The video that accompanies this blog entry was shot a few days later during a lull in that day’s rain – who’d want to get a camera wet? – while crossing the the path I for some reason know as the Brandy Pad, between the Clova Hotel and Tarfside. Four Challengers emerge from the cloud, battling against the winds, while behind them, the Big Grey Man of Ben MacDui struggles to stay upright. Or is it yet another Challenger?

As always happens, by the time I reached the coast the sun had returned; Kim Hardy, Mick Blackburn & Gayle Faulkner and I nipped into the St Cyrus tearooms for a brew before heading down the steep cliff path to the beach, where we shared the last of the ten-year-old Ardbeg Whisky I carried across Scotland (yes Dennis, it was in a Lucozade bottle! Missed you this year by the way.).


Due to personal reasons (Steph wasn’t well but is 100% now) I couldn’t stay in Montrose for the traditional Thursday night liver-flagellation at the Park Hotel and instead attended a far more restrained, mature gathering on the Wednesday…


… at which Kim Hardy and myself received our tenth crossing gongs from Roger Smith himself. Roger, to myself and many if not all other Challengers, is the living embodiment of everything that is right and good about the Challenge and it was a genuine honour to receive the plaque from him.

Next year? I suspect I’ll be on nappy changing duties.

John Manning

Freelance outdoor writer John Manning and his family are based in the Yorkshire Dales

4 thoughts on “Becoming a TGO Challenge Leg-End

  • 28/05/2009 at 9:34 pm

    ZOMG???? Que?

    I forget that houses have to be sold before they can be bought… comes from having lived in rented flats & rooms for too long, then finding this place under very different circs.

    I missed Humphrey this year, and many others I’d hope to meet up with. Suffice to say though if Humph ran into something big, scary and “Outer Limits”-y, he’d out-Outer Limits it!

  • 28/05/2009 at 4:35 pm

    ZOMG… don’t say that! The house is still on the market, and I pray that somebody will buy the bleeping thing daily! Gotta get out and do some weeding in the front tomorrow, as it’s looking rather run down since I’ve been away. (Okay, maybe even before I left…)

    I am sorry to say that I saw no ghosties, but Humphrey had an odd experience outside Charr bothy… Eep! I reckon I started too far away from the Cairngorms to make my haunted bothy hop a comfortable reality this year, so I already have my excuse and motivation for planning next year’s trip (if I get in, of course).


  • 28/05/2009 at 2:59 pm

    Shirl, I suspect you’ll have passed that tenth TGOC landmark long before you’ve got yer hass in gear and bought a place in the country!!!!! Hope you managed to find a haunted bothy or two, and maybe even a close encounter!

  • 27/05/2009 at 7:06 pm

    Wonderful stuff! I thought from what Rog said on Thursday that you’d not been able to finish!! Many congratulations on your tenth crossing 🙂 *genuflects*

    I love that video with the bloke at the back. Actually, I do think it prolly was the BGM masquerading as a Challenger, but stopping when he realised you had him on video.

    As for Roger, if I ever manage to complete 10 crossings I would love to receive my gong from him 🙂

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