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My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Hi everyone

Here is my Challenge Diary for 2018.

This is the first time I have ever shared one of my holiday diaries online for people to read. It feels very strange allowing my own personal thoughts to be released onto total strangers, but I have made the decision. I have just re-read my holiday diary from 21 years ago when I was a student and I did a National Trust working holiday on Fair Isle followed by a visit to the Shetlands, Orkneys and John O'Groats. It's an extraordinary record and I laughed out loud at some of the things I recorded.

Most of these diary entriies were made whilst lying in my one-man Blacks £150 tent. I was tired, sleepy and recording the first thing that came to my head and I can't say anything more than that.

The 2018 TGO Challenge

Kilchoan – St Cyrus

Thursday 10th May
After work I made my way to Euston where I met up with Bart a Dutch chap who was also on the challenge. Over a couple of beers we talked about cycling as he is an activist in the Netherlands. After a few pints I bought a small bottle of wine for the sleeper and got on board.

Friday 11th May
The sleeper train arrived right time and I asked at the ticket office in Fort William for a key and got entry to the shower. I had filled in a card the previous night saying I wanted one and a towel was neatly folded ready for me to use. I showered, returned the key and went for a stroll around Fort William. I had almost four hours to wait until my bus so I mooched about, bought some extra supplies and had a lunch of beef lasagne in Weatherspoon’s.

I caught the 1350 bus to Kilchoan which took 2.5 hours and involved a short ferry crossing. At the same time a motorbike event was taking place and there were hundreds of motorbikes coming the other way down a narrow single track road. I chatted to another bus passenger and at Kilchoan I got off in pouring rain and went to the Kilchoan Hotel to sign out. I had a coke and a bag of crisps and put my waterproofs on. As I did so I chatted to two locals in the bar who both advised me not to take my proposed route over the hills and to follow the road to the lighthouse instead. The rain was stair-rods and the tops of the hills had disappeared under the clouds so I took the advice and took the road to the lighthouse. Despite wearing my waterproofs I got drenched but when I got to the lighthouse. I could see blue sky ahead and it gradually stopped raining. I walked all the way to the lighthouse, around it and then took a coastal path to a small settlement called Portuairk. I asked a local walking her dog where I could camp and she told me to ask at a house. I asked and was pointed to a spot one hundred yards away almost on the beach. They also said it would be ok to fill up my bottle from an outside tap.

I pitched my tent and the sun came out. Another local walking his dog stopped and chatted and took some photographs and took a picture of me on the beach. Although the sun was out the temperature was dropping and I got into my sleeping bag at 9.30pm to keep warm.

Saturday 12th May
It got very cold during the night but fortunately I have a very good sleeping bag and was able to wrap myself up in it. At 5.30am I was woken by the sun slowly warming my tent up. I was away by 6.45am and filled my water bottle up at the house before heading off.
I walked round Sanna Bay to the village of Sanna and then across to the abandoned village of Plocaig. The buildings still stand albeit without roofs and windows and you can only imagine what used to be here and what a bustling little village is used to be. It was here I met my first challenger, an American from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I looked at him and said “like the Glen miller song?” and he seemed a little surprised and said that most people don’t know about it now. He was already 4-5 miles behind schedule and he was due to finish a day before me so I’m not sure he’ll make it. From Plocaig I was on pathless terrain but I followed sheep and deer tracks until I picked up a path east to the farm at Fascadale. The weather was warm with cotton wool clouds and on a number of occasions I stopped to experience almost total silence. I picked up a road and headed east then over some farmland to avoid a minor detour on the road and east again towards Ockle. I took a land rover track and then I took a path east that was a very old purpose built one probably 2-300 years old. I came to the head of what could have been glaciation and down the side to pick up a rarely used land rover track to the Singing Sands which make a noise when you drag your feet through them. From here it was an easy walk to Acharacle where I camped beside the loch and ate dinner at the Shiel Hotel. Dinner was pasta and lightly spiced sauce (it was very spicy!) followed by sticky toffee pudding.

In the evening back at my tent I watched brown trout leaping out of the water and four local lads who were trying to catch them. You would have thought that camping next to Loch Shiel would be amazing but it was quite noisy due to all the birds and ducks making a noise.

Sunday 13th May
I saw few people today but had a walk of real contrasts. First up I walked through a forest to the SE of Acharacle making good progress on forestry tracks. I walked through a partially collapsed deer fence and then followed a track NE to Sunart Forest and then round the side of Claish Bog which was very wet. Back in the forest again I went to the side of Loch Shiel and along to the farm at Achnallan where I was unable to find the land rover track to Polloch. I knocked on the door of the only house there and pushed the door to. A friendly chap directed me to the track which obviously hadn’t been used since it was put in 30-40 years ago and was in a terrible state. I followed it with some difficulty to a clearing which I suddenly realised I had been to before. It was where I had done my 24 hour solo whilst on the three week Outward Bound Highland Rover 20 years ago. It was quite a feeling to be stood there again.

I made it to a road which rose steeply to the top of a hill. I went off east here down towards Glen Gour. Whilst walking I noticed someone catching me up. It was another Challenger and we camped 100 yards apart. I had current buns for breakfast and lunch today.

Monday 14th May
I was woken by a Welsh accent saying “Sorry boyo you can’t camp here this is private property”. I poked my head out of my tent to see the challenger from yesterday who I now know comes from Crook in county Durham but I can’t remember his name. We chatted for about 20 minutes and he got going and I followed half an hour later.

An easy day today with just 7 miles to the Corran ferry which I had done by 11am. I caught the bus into Fort William where I bought further provisions to see me through to Pitlochry and had a cheese and ham panini in Weatherspoon’s. I caught the bus back to Corran ferry and walked into Inchree where I sat on my rucksack for over an hour until check in at my B&B at 5pm. My host Claire wasn’t quite ready for me so she directed me to the pub 50 yards away for a pint and I returned half an hour later to a lovely room. Dinner was two starters – cream of mushroom soup and pate which filled me up.

Tuesday 15th May
Breakfast was cereal and toast and I was away by 7.45am. I went NE up towards the West Highland Way (WHW) then along the way to Kinlochleven. During the 8 miles I met loads of people and at one point sighed with frustration as I came to the top of a rise and looked down and saw 50 people heading towards me and I realised I would have to say hello to every single one of them. At one point I chatted to a man who had stopped for a break. I explained the Challenge and what we were doing and he snorted rather disapprovingly “TGO Challenge? Isn’t that McNeish’s lot?” I rolled my eyes and walked on. In Kinlochleven I stopped for a hot meal in the pub (macaroni cheese) and I also bought a lump of stilton and a small bottle of red wine for the next day’s cheese and wine party.

The seven miles to the Blackwater reservoir were slow and I had a bit of rain which apart from Friday was the only rain on the challenge. I was disappointed with the Blackwater dam which I had expected to be very tall but was actually wide and not very high. I pushed on to Chiarain bothy and joined two Germans who had been there since 2pm. I introduced myself and they said “Hi Paul, would you like some broccoli? It’s just boiled”. I declined their kind offer and stuck to my camp food. Later a couple from Bavaria turned up but they camped. After chatting to the Germans I turned in at 9.30pm for a good night’s sleep.

Wednesday 16th May
My longest day on the Challenge saw me leave at 6.45am and I began with a splendid climb to the summit of Beinn a Bhric. The climb to the summit took 1hr 45mins and I got some sensational views from the summit. This has to be one of the finest views in Scotland. I took a track down to Corrour station where I had a huge breakfast of burger, black pudding, egg, bacon, sausage, beans and fresh tomato all for just £10.50. It was here I met another Challenger who told me he had walked across the middle of Claish Bog which I couldn’t quite believe.

From Corrour I went east past Loch Ossian youth hostel then south past Corrour Old Lodge experiencing incredible views. I went east past Lochan Sron Smeur and had problems with boggy land which meant a back-track and then a different way across. Up at Loch Ericht I met another two Challengers having dinner but I pushed on to the cheese and wine party and got there just in time. There were only seven of us but it was good fun. The location was marvellous, by a river with a ruin opposite drinking wine and beer with some cheese and chocolate.

Thursday 17th May
I left with Lindsay and Craig at 7am to walk directly east from the site of the cheese and wine. To begin with we were all going in the same direction but we had different opinions on which way to go. As Craig said, navigation by committee, you can’t beat it! We were going over pathless, boggy ground but we were all experts in bog hopping by now. After two hours we said goodbye to Craig as he veered off to the north and an hour later I said goodbye to Lindsay as I had to go south to Kinloch Rannoch.

In Kinloch Rannoch I had a cheese and tomato omelette in a café that had been recommended by my vettor. The food was ok but I really just wanted a fry-up which they didn’t do. I the left by going south and round the southern side of Schiehallion. If I had stayed on the road it would have been 4.5 miles and two hours. Going the route I took it was 5 miles and took 4.5 hours and quite a bit of scrambling. But I saw two challengers and I met a couple who had just ascended Schiehallion and as we walked to where they had left their car I explained the challenge to them. I turned east and after two miles found a superb camping spot next to an anglers hut at Loch Kinardochy. Inside the hut I could see that someone had been fishing here today and they had recorded their catch as 13 caught, 4 kept weighing 3.5 pounds.

Friday 18th May
A heavy dew and a damp start but it was the beginning of a lovely warm day. I tackled the first ascent of the day with gusto and climbed over 1,000ft to the site of Foss Mine, during which an ex-army lorry made its way very slowly along the track delivering supplies to the mine. I took a picture of the mine entrance and got a bit of a shock when someone walked out of it a few moments later. I followed the track round the mine but that soon ran out and I was forced to make my way through thick heather. I made my way down to a forest, across a road and over a bridge into Pitlochry. In Pitlochry I couldn’t find anywhere that sells camp food but I found a butchers that sells meat pies for a good price that would last a day or two. Evening meal was a meat pizza with two glasses of white wine and a couple of beers afterwards. I was asleep by 9.30pm and slept like a log.

Saturday 19th May
Pitlochry was preparing for a cycle race so cones and barriers were out everywhere. I had breakfast in Greggs and then got my some gala meat pie for lunch and dinner. It’s not that I’ve run out of camp food, I just prefer to have a couple of packets spare for an emergency.

I walked two miles down the road and then left and into a huge plantation that went on for ages. I followed a good forestry track and took a turn off and ended up at a fence where miraculously a stile had been put in. Then it was heather and slow going for the next two miles as there were no paths to take me to the next forest. I entered the forest via what I thought was a path but I had to climb a 10ft deer fence first. The path soon ran out and I was forced to make my way through the dense forest tripping over tree roots and going over boggy ground until eventually I landed on a forest track and I turned east to get out. It was the right way and the right track but it took over an hour until I was out of that cursed forest.

The next six miles to Spittal of Glenshee was on a superb track with easy gradients and great views and was accompanied by runners doing the 55 mile Cateran Trail in just one day! At Glenshee I enquired about food and the organisers of the race charged me £5 for soup, a huge plate of pesto and pasta and a filled roll which I saved for later. I walked north-west from Glenshee past Dalmunzie House Hotel for six miles to where the land-rover track ran out. Here I camped at 1,800ft after a long day.

Sunday 20th May
Up and away by 7.30am. It took me about an hour to climb to Loch nan Eun where I saw four challengers tents dotted around the loch. I was due to walk the watershed across to Braemar but the cloud was down so I took the path down to the land rover track and walked out that way. It was an uneventful walk and when I reached the road I stopped for some lunch. Whilst eating my egg and meat pie I began to wonder whether I could make these at home and difficult it would be. As I finished my pie two challengers appeared on the road and we walked the next few miles together.

In Braemar I got some food and headed to the youth hostel getting there at 3pm. Reception didn’t open until 5pm so I put my washing on whilst I waited. I was the first into my dormitory so I bagged the bottom bunk next to the plug and then went for dinner. Braemar is a bit expensive so I had sausage and chips with a can of beer sat in the middle of the square. Asleep by 9.30.

Monday 21st May
In the middle of Braemar a café was offering a “Challenge Breakfast” which delivered a full English and a pot of tea. I sat with two others and chatted and then got going. As I was leaving Braemar I met a woman called Heather at the gate and we walked together for the next hour or so until she went left across a bridge and I went right into Ballochbuie Forest. It was here I made my only navigational error of the Challenge and instead of going east through a gap in the hills I ended up going south up the Feindallacher Burn. In my defence it was caused when going from one map to another and when I spotted I was on the track it would only have been a 20 minute walk back to where I should have been. But the lure of the hills got to me and I continued up and round the side of Carn t-Sagairt Mor and then across to Cairn Bannoch and Broad Cairn bagging a munro in the process. I walked with another Challenger for a short while and then took the watershed round to pick up the infant Water of Mark down to Shielin of Mark bothy, arriving as the clouds started to come in. There were six tents and two people in the tiny bothy.

I pitched my tent and then went into the bothy and found William and Dave in there with a bog wood fire going. The bothy soon lost its chill and I produced a bottle of whisky which I shared out between the three of us. No-one from the tents came in.

Tuesday 22nd May
I was up early and left with William and Dave for Tarfside. Dave was originally from Brentwood and William was from Bromley. We left in mist, fine rain, waterproofs and an annoying wind. We followed a compass bearing directly east to the summit of Muckle Cairn and picked up a path down into Glen Lee and then to the castle at Invermark. From here it was a three mile walk to Tarfside which we got to at 12.45pm. At Tarfside we had a bacon roll and cup of tea. They took our challenge numbers from us to pass to control and then I asked if they had any rooms left. They a few left so I took the single room and for £22 I had a bed, a chair, a room and somewhere to rest. I also had a shave and shower.

It was good to see loads of challengers and the state they were in. A few were as fresh as a daisy but most were tired with some carrying injuries and other applying ointments, creams, plasters and bandages. I seem to have got through relatively unscathed just general tiredness was affecting me now. Dinner was served in sittings of 12 and I was in the first one. We had vegetable soup followed by baked potato and chilli with tea and cake to finish. I had a few pints in the freemasons lodge across the road, and went to bed at 9.30pm. As I did so people were still turning up to camp.

Wednesday 23rd May
After a marvellous night’s sleep I was in the kitchen for two bacon rolls in the first sitting. I decided not to take my hilly route as planned and instead took the low road past The Retreat and down the valley. I switched to the west side of the river at the first bridge and then back onto the east side a bit further down. I saw a sign for the Rocks of Solitude and followed the path off the road and alongside the river for a few miles. I knew this was called The Blue Door route as that is how you access the path, but nobody thought to tell me that this is true only if you approach from the south and not the north! The path was nice and eerie at times with rocks lining the bottom of the river bed having come all the way down the gorge sides and underneath the river in one fell swoop. I bumped into Sue from Newtonmore and we walked together into Edzell.

Lunch in Edzell was a brie and bacon sandwich, crisps and salad. Then I had a long boring 1.5 hour walk down a very straight road to Northwater Bridge campsite. I pitched at 3.30pm but got the 4.25pm bus back to Edzell and sat in the pub for a few pints. I bought some beers and caught the bus back to the campsite. Then it turned cold.

Thursday 24th May
Last day and I strode out alone for St Cyrus. It took me 2.5 hours to reach the sea and I walked with a challenger for the last 30 minutes. At St Cyrus we walked to the grassy cliffs and then descended 250ft so we could wet our boots in the sea. The haul back was easier than expected, large leg and calf muscles - built up over the previous 200+ miles - saw us swiftly to the top. We went to a tearoom for a pot of tea and a piece of cake and then we caught the bus into Montrose. At the Park Hotel I signed in and spent the next couple of hours catching up with people, swapping stories and talking about route and kit. I went to Greggs for lunch, had a couple of pints in the Park Hotel and went to the campsite to pitch my tent. I had booked in advance but the office was closed and in the end they charged no-one.

The dinner was at 7.30pm so at 6.30 I walked over with another Challenger and we chatted and ending up sitting next to each other and sharing a bottle of wine. Dinner was lentil soup, roast beef and pudding interspersed with speeches, anecdotes, presentations and lots of laughter. I made my way back to my tent at 10pm.

Friday 25th May
Today has a definite feeling of after the Lord Mayor’s show. After spending so long planning my route, making changes and walking it, it was now finally over. I had my tent down by 6.30am but there had been a heavy dew so it was soaking. I caught the train to Aberdeen with another challenger from the USA. We got the bus to the airport and the same flight to Heathrow where we bade farewell next to the luggage carousel. I slowly made my way across London on the underground, onto a train at Fenchurch Street and back home to sunny Southend after another fantastic walk.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Great stuff Paul, I enjoyed reading that....all we need now are some photgraphs!

JJ (the one in the kilt)

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Enjoyed reading your account, Paul, I've walked most of those places myself so it brought back happy memories. Sorry to miss you at the dinner, so many people and you just don't find everyone.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

You did a massive day to get to the cheese & wine, Paul - and wine in a glass bottle too!

RESPECT :wine_glass: :+1:

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

It was a big day Phil, I was exhausted by the end of it but wouldn't have missed it for anything!

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Good to read about your trip Paul.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Hi Paul excellent read. I was the guy you met who walked through the South side of Claish Bog, then followed the coast, from Tom Liath, to the Bridge across the river Polloch. Not something I would recommend {impossible without poles}. Very muddy, wet and Hags like walking over 3 miles of dead cows! Still it made the rest of the Challenge seem comparatively easy.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Neil, that was an extraordinary achievement walking through Claish Bog I genuinely felt in awe of you for doing that, but like you said not something you would recommend. As an alternative, what about walking along the sides of the loch all the way from Acharacle? I don't know how firm that shoreline would be, but it could be a viable alternative.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

I'm not sure what the coast is like from Acharacle, I joined the coast North of Tom Liath and followed it to camp at the derelict pier after Achnanellan. and that worked fine it was on Stoney beaches. About 1 mile after the Jetty the beach disappeared and I had to climb inland and dodge between trees on the slopes for a mile until the beach reappeared at Camas Bhalthain for 3/4 of a mile. After that there was no beach so I followed a deer fence inland through the trees to the marsh where the River Pulloch joins Loch Schiel. It was then very hard going from there to reach the bridge. After that I dried my feet changed my socks and walked on to camp at the car park a mile east of Glenfinnan.

Re: My challenge diary: Kilchoan - St Cyrus

Good to read about your Challenge, Paul! And congrats for the first one you completed!

Your account brings back happy memories, for instance about a wonderful camp at the lighthouse on Point of Ardnamurchan.

Strange that you could not find the forest paths from Achnanellan to Polloch, despite the map that I posted on this thread: http://pub9.bravenet.com/forum/static/show.php?usernum=757451871&frmid=14&msgid=792983&cmd=show

It was nice meeting you at Euston and sharing a pint with me.

...still have to write up my Challenge...