Day 1 of the TGO Challenge 2022 was finally upon me. It had taken a large amount of travel to arrive here today. My original more direct travel itinerary had been cancelled back in January by American Airlines in favor of routing all travel to Scotland through London again, a move clearly designed to bolster themselves despite being a great disservice to the flying public. So now, a flight from St. Louis to Philadelphia, then a flight from Philly to London Heathrow and finally Heathrow to Glasgow, but that wasn't the end of it by far. I needed to get from the Glasgow airport to the bus station in downtown Glasgow for a 5 hours bus ride, deep into the Scottish Highlands, to my start point of Shiel Bridge, but before that I still needed to take my one resupply package to the post office and get it mailed to the Clova Hotel, that I would reach in 11 days and also my duffle bag and clean clothes for my finish point, the Park Hotel in Montrose, hopefully in 14 days from now. I also needed a canister of cooking stove gas at the local outdoor shop and then return to the bus station in time.
No problem right?
Truth be told it had actually taken three years to get here. Travel to Scotland had be prohibited from the US since late 2019, because of COVID. That Challenge was originally going to be me taking 3 friends who had never been on the Challenge. When that original year was cancelled, it became walking again with Vicky, but that also changed as Vicky's mother's health changed. So, I find myself here alone with that original route modified twice. This year lets me explore some longer days and higher points without the normal natural worry I get when I am organizing a group trip. For better or worse, I have "Mother Hen" syndrome.
My starting point, The Kintail Lodge in Shiel Bridge, is a bit of an enigma. Essential a very expensive, albeit newly expanded and well appointment "Scottish" hotel, set in the middle of nowhere. Shiel Bridge is on the edge of some of the best walking and scenery in all of the Highlands. There is a campsite down the road, but few other buildings. Shiel Bridge is definitely a destination location!
It is not an easy place to get to, without your own vehicle. The bus ride up here was exciting. We had several close calls with other large vehicles on roads designed for only a single vehicle and relying on intervals that have been widened for "passing points." Meet another vehicle, especially one as large as another bus, outside those areas and it then becomes the skill of the driver and sometimes nerves of steel. We also made a short scheduled stop in Ft William to change some passengers. Despite all this we arrived on time. Which I have to say is not unusual for Scottish transportation, whether train or bus, in my experience it is excellent!
Upon arrival I was reminded of another not so excellent Scottish business trait. We arrived at 8:20pm, exactly when we were scheduled, however the first words from our hostess when we entered the lodge was, we stopped serving dinner at 8 pm!
Despite the increased business the Challenge brings to the west coast of Scotland (300-400 participants each year) and other places we will pass through, it is fairly certain that a Scottish business owner will NOT alter their schedules or standard practices. Always carry a snack......
My room was in the original part of the lodge and was basic but very nice and comfortable. The shower was fantastic! Lots of hot water, which I have commented on before, being that the food in Scotland is the hottest thing up here, with showers a distant third to fourth, but not this year. Lots of hot water everywhere, a definite upgrade. Nothing to do but shower and finally relax.
This time of year in Scotland it gets light around 4:30 in the morning and doesn't get dark until around 10:00 pm. It means for the next two weeks you will be getting up and going to sleep with the same light level. The weather for the trip up to Shiel Bridge yesterday and waking up on Friday the 13th today was stormy and rainy. I would find out in a few days that Challengers that started earlier in the week had even worse weather and while forecasted to not be good today, was not the worst of the weather this week.
After breakfast, which was excellent, The traditional full Scottish breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, sausages, blood pudding, baked beans, tomatoes, scones and sometimes even haggis! I pass on the pudding and haggis.
It was fantastic but you will immediately recognize the bacon as what we refer to as "Canadian Bacon." Our familiar bacon in the US is called "streaky bacon" and you will not find it in most places in Scotland.
After breakfast it was finally time to go. Challengers must sign out from their start points in each town or village and the Kintail Lodge happens to be the sign out point for Shiel Bridge.
9:16 am on Friday May 13th.
You will see on the sign out sheet that tomorrow will also have Challengers starting. This year in order to accommodate all the Challenges that have been deferred through all the years of COVID, the start was spread over 5 days. You could start between Tuesday and Saturday. This took the pressure off all the small towns and villages, like Shiel Bridge, that could never handle, in a single day, the amount of people that started here this year. Unfortunately it means that friends you have met on previous Challenges and potential new friends might start before or after you and you will never see them. Overall I think with was very good and safe way to handle the number of people that were scheduled to start (~480)
The tradition is to walk to the water on the West coast (Atlantic) and dip in your feet before setting off
So having signed out, it was down the jetty, slippery with sea weed and officially start.
A final selfie before setting off
Down the road toward Morvich, is a shop called Kintail Crafts. This shop is stocked head to toe with everything you might want. It is a mini grocery store, hardware store, outdoor store and mostly a craft shop. If you need some food, an ice cream, a canister of gas and some highland souvenirs, this is the place and the lady that runs it, Carol, is super nice and helpful. I stopped in to buy a couple of pasties. I might do a separate blog on my food, gear and pre and post travel this year and I will talk more about this then.
Make a right turn at Morvich and head toward the Affric Kintail Way (trail/path). Glen Affric is one of the two most famous Glen's (Valleys) in Scotland, but it was not my original destination today. In the photo below you can see the massive hill on the left, Beinn Fhada, this was my planned route. The morning weather report called for 55-60 mph winds and a Munro (hill above 3000') is not where you want to be in that kind of wind. Also as you can see, the views from up there would not be great. So on my first day, it seemed sensible to stay low and enjoy one of the "Great" glens of Scotland as best I could.
Technically you start the AKW in Glen Lichd below
A little taste of the rain and wind starting out my 2022 Challenge.
Looking up into the hills and the large amount of water streaming off the hills from the previous days of rain.
The first of the three Bothies (shelters, huts) that are on this route today. Glenlicht House come at about 5.5 miles from the start. You can actually book this one for a stay.
Old ruin building next to Glenlicht House
Above and Below, the path leads from the Glenlicht House to a bridge over the River Croe. The amount of water in the rivers and streams is impressive and I am thankful here to have a bridge.
You can see a large waterfall in the distance as I climb up from the bridge. This is the big climb for today, about 1000' in 2 miles (~10% grade)
Reaching the waterfall in the rain and wind. At this point of the day the wind is high enough to blow the water back up the smaller waterfall that crosses the path. As I climb up and away from the waterfall the wind will blow me from one side of the path to the other a couple of times. This makes it around 60 mph gusts.
Today there are three waterfalls cascading down into the same point.
Leaving the Waterfalls you level out and are in the tail end of the Kintail Valley. You want to keep your head down because of the rain, but you can't as the scenery is all encompassing and spectacular even, if not more so, in this weather.
The next bothy you reach in about 4 miles is Canban. not somewhere you would want to stay, although it did have two working fireplaces, but good enough to get out of the wind for lunch. I did not get any pictures, as it was raining and chilly so my phone stayed in my pocket. I did make a hot cup of soup. (Thanks Louise for talking me into taking my stove). The pasties did not work out so well, but that is a story for another time. Coming in just after me for lunch was Charles and Duncan Smith. I had met them on the bus ride up to Shiel Bridge and we started out from the Kintail Lodge about the same time this morning. It would turn out that we connected many times on our entire crossing of Scotland. They both are truly great people with lots of outdoor experience and became good friends along the way. Charles and I especially bonded over his love of coffee and that he was carrying an Aeropress coffee maker in his kit. A truly civilized and outstanding way to make coffee in the backcountry.
As you move up the Glen the scenery gets more dramatic and spectacular, but so did the storm clouds
The last bothy in this section is Alltbeithe. This one is actually a Youth Hostel that you can book a room for the night. It is very nice and has staff that will make you a cup of tea if you call in, even if you are not staying there. On my original plan I was going to camp near here for the end of my day, however, at this point in the day I was on a mission, I had about 4.5 miles left to get to Loch Affric proper, I was in Glen Affric now, the walking was flat and the scenery stunning.
Reaching the bridge at the beginning of Loch Affric and Athnamulloch (the building with the gray roof). I am done for the day. 18 miles.
Looking for a spot out of the wind, I pick one of the old barn buildings and pitch my tent as close to the lee side of the building as possible. The wind had been at my back the entire day, which made it very bearable, but now I needed to just shelter myself from the westerly wind. Even pitched so close to the building, you can still see it moving in the strong winds.
Later that evening, around 8 pm, after I had eaten and was just resting in my tent, I might have gotten into a fight with a guy driving a Range Rover like a maniac on the path you can see just beside my tent. He sped past me coming in, splashing mud up on my tent and then turned around, as it is a dead end at the bridge, and sped out, splashing my tent a second time. I got out of my tent after the second time and shouted at him, as he had stopped just up the road to get out and pee! Probably drunk, he did not notice me waving at him and couldn't hear me over the wind. This is a long private and gated path owned by the Glen Affric Estate, so I doubt it was a case of going down the wrong road even if he was drunk. So ends my first day of the Challenge.
Below is the map, stats for elevation gain, and an elevation chart by mileage of Day 1
Hey Craig, Duncan here - excellent article - really gives a good illustration of that first day out. Great to meet you and spend time together on the TGO :-)ReplyDelete
Thanks Duncan, the pleasure was mineDelete
In my experience, there will definitely be times when I cannot be bothered to get my stove out, or if the weather is bad and I can't use it safely (except to get outside in my waterproofs, which is unlikely to happen...) but I would always carry a stove, gas and pot. For the sake of a couple hundred grams, I can have a hot drink, soup or a meal if I choose too. It would be miserable to want a hot drink and not have the means to make one. As for the pasties, they can be eaten cold, but are definitely an acquired taste 🤣ReplyDelete
The stove was a good idea for sure. The Pasties would have worked it was just the meat versions had gravy that was congealed when cold and that was just gross! Onion and cheese and those types would have been great, but I could never find them in the shops, only the meat versions. I went for meats and cheeses on rolls and that is always great, I do that here on trail a lot.Delete
I enjoyed this report. That was a pretty big first day!ReplyDelete
your blogs are always what I wait for!! very interesting with some wonderful pictures!! Waiting for more and better weather which I know you had.ReplyDelete
Was it you that left a pie in the bothy where Duncan & Charles had stopped for a brew.
If it was then thank you.
Duncan said it had only been there a short while.
Grant & I enjoyed it.
Yes sir it was, I didn't think it would last long, I am glad you enjoyed itDelete
A great read, Craig, and droolingly good photographs, Sir! You had the wind with you all day? I spent the first four days battling against the wind the whole time! I suppose it's down to the orientation of each glen. I'm really looking forward to the rest of your write-up. Love to Vicky. ☺️ReplyDelete
No one deserves more kudos for a completed Challenge this year than you!Delete
Sounds good: that Challenge thing. Considering to give it a go and doing the complete crossing instead of one third of it……ReplyDelete