Andy Neil from Middlesbrough, representing Ultralight Outdoor Gear
As a complete novice to the TGO, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d completed several long-distance walks so understood what I was getting myself into physically, but I had never planned my own route. It’s a daunting thing, to sit at a map and plot your own crossing – after all, if things go wrong, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Thank heavens for the gentle guidance of the route vetters.
I began on Knoydart peninsula, straight off the boat from Mallaig, and was on my own for the first three days. But as the days and miles passed, inevitably my path crossed with other Challengers, like-minded individuals who all wanted to know; “Where did you start?” “Where are you finishing?” and “How many crossings have you completed?”
With so much in common, you instantly become friends with everyone on the trail. Sore feet, an aching back or a pulled muscle seem insignificant when bolstered by good company and conversation. I myself suffered a swollen Achilles heel and was forced to walk 20 or so miles in a pair of Crocs – but I was in high spirits all day thanks to good comradeship.
By the time I reached the Cairngorms, I had joined a party of eight others: Swedes, Americans, French, Australians and myself, the only Brit made up our multinational group. The trail had taken on a festival- like quality – Glastonbury in Gore-Tex.
We spent one night in a bothy, 15 miles from the nearest shop. Whisky, wine and a full roast chicken dinner were produced by the custodian of the place, followed the next morning by fresh coffee and hot croissants.
What makes the TGO so special is that each and every crossing is unique, and with 14 different starting locations and a finish line anywhere on the North Sea between Arbroath and Fraserburgh, the sheer number of ways in which you can cross is almost unlimited.
But, really, I think it’s the sense of community that keeps people coming back year after year. You could walk all day with a new friend, then your paths will split, and you will bid each other farewell, possibly not seeing each other for years.
Should you bump into each other again, halfway up a mountain or taking shelter in a bothy, undoubtedly, you’d pick up the conversation where you left off: “Where did you start?” “Where are you finishing?” and “How many crossings have you completed?”