My TGO challenge 2011 route

by backpackingbongos

Well after what feels like months sitting in front of my computer playing with Anquet maps, my TGO challenge route is completed.  It is on its virtual way now to one of the TGO veters to pull a fine tooth comb over it.  This is what it looks like in all its 172 mile glory.

It can be a little daunting at the start planning such a long walk.  Not because it is difficult but because there is simply so much choice within the Challenge boundaries.  By planning this challenge I now have several rough routes set aside for any future challenges that I may do.  So what were my criteria for planning this route?  A crossing of the Monadhliath mountains were the initial foundations I put in place.  Their huge open spaces have always appealed to me and I have wanted to backpack across them for years.  I therefore planned a route across them first.  As I am a bit of a slackpacker rather than hardcore backpacker I also wanted as short a crossing as possible, Shiel bridge was therefore selected as a starting point.

I then approached the planning by breaking down my route into four separate backpacks.  This being Shiel bridge to the Great Glen, across the Monadhliath to the A9, through the Cairngorms to Ballater, finally Ballater to the coast.  This makes the task less daunting as you only need to plan 3 or 4 days at a time.  This then gives natural breaks and places to restock supplies, meaning that no more than 4 days food needs to be carried at any one time.

I am aware that I have picked what many would consider ‘trade’ routes from west to east and I have generally stuck to the glens, with a few exceptions (the Monadhliath!).  There are only two Munros on my route.  My daily mileage is pretty conservative with most days averaging out at around 14 miles.  My longest day is 17 miles and the shortest is 10.  So what is my route like in more detail?

Section 1 – 47 miles over 4 days

Experience has taught me to take it easy over the first few days of a long backpack, so this is what I plan to do.  Plus it’s a holiday remember!

Starting in Shiel bridge I hope to climb the Munro A Glas-bhein from the Bealach an Sgairne before heading down to Alltbeithe hostel for the night.  A low level day through Glen Affric follows with a night booked at Cougie and a home cooked meal!  Then I have given my self two days to get to Drumnadrochit via the Balmacaan forest.  This is a rough area of low craggy hills, numerous lochs, streams and bogs.  On my map it looks a bit like a heathery version of the Moelwyns in Wales.  My first wild camp of the trip will be next to a high and remote loch, it better be good!

Section 2 – 44 miles over 3 days

After a boat crossing of Loch Ness I plan to have three days of glorious isolation whilst crossing the Monadhliath.  I can’t wait for this section and it looks like there should be lots of spots inviting me to pitch my tent.  Most people crossing these hills appear to head for Aviemore via the Burma road, I plan to head north into Bridge of Garten where a booked B&B awaits!

Section 3 – 43 miles over 3 days

This section will take me into completely new territory as I skirt the main Cairngorm massif to the north, crossing some wild and lonely countryside.  After easy tracks through the Abernethy forest I will climb a heathery ridge before dropping down into the middle of glorious no-where to the Water of Caiplich.  This I will follow downstream to what promises to be a spectacular gorge, then head to Glen Avon via Glen Loin.  Glen Builg will follow before a long tramp alongside the river Gairn into Ballater and a hot shower at the campsite!

Section 4 – 42 miles over 3 days

The eastern most Munro of Mount Keen will be firmly in my sights as I head towards Tarfside.  There then follows a pleasant walk through Glen Esk before being deposited in Edzell.  Sadly my final day will be on tarmac as I head to the coast at St Cyrus.

From Boat of Garten onwards I have not booked any accommodation, I though that I would see how I feel as I go along.  Many challengers gravitate towards Braemar for the second Saturday night, something I have chosen to avoid on my challenge.  From reading other blogs and the challenge forum this appears to be the highlight of the entire challenge.  I came this way on the ‘Mini’ challenge during the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001, it was nice but not something to plan a 2 week backpack around.  I got the impression that Braemar is not the most welcoming of villages, this was especially the case in the Fife arms!  That was ten years ago however, so I would hope that the vibe there has improved!  Anyway my route will give me the opportunity to meet plenty of other challengers along the way.

I aim to finish my route on the Wednesday, whilst most aim for the Thursday and the challenge meal.  I need to get back home on Thursday as it is my partners 40th birthday the following day.  It’s probably for the best that I don’t miss that!

Now that my route is planned I have turned my attention to maps.  Frustratingly my route hardly ever seems to cross the middle of one before seamlessly winding its way onto another.  It will wiggle from one to another before leading me to the corner of another then deserting that one!  To get from one coast to another I would need a stack of the damn things.  I therefore plan to carry a combination of home printed maps with three Landrangers to supplement them.  The Landrangers will cover the Monadhliath, the Cairngorms and the area around Mount Keen.  These are areas where I am most likely to do detours from my planned route.  I have brought some waterproof paper to print out my own maps.

With the route planned I just need to sort out my body!


14 Comments to “My TGO challenge 2011 route”

  1. Looks great!

    With good weather you’ll love the Balmacaan – a close second to the Monadhliath as my favourite backpacking location.

    Enjoy yourself.

  2. Arrr, James! After a week on Rum with writesofway, you’ll be hard as nails!

  3. That looks brilliant. Can I come? 😉

    Drumnadrochit is up there with Badachro in my favourite place names, they just roll off the tongue.

  4. Hi James

    NIce route you have there.

    Rather than stop at Edzell on your penultimate day, you could push on to North Water Bridge (and get some of that tarmac out of the way). The caravan park there welcomes people with tents, and has washing machines and dryers which can be handy before you re-enter the civilised world.

    Mind you, a warm bed in the Panmure Arms at Edzell, and a bar, and TV and … mmmmm … OK, OK forget the camp site 🙂

    From Tarfside to Edzell an alternative to the track and little road to Dalbog is described here. I liked it anyway.

  5. Thanks Phil. They both look like cracking locations, lets hope that the weather plays ball and I get to see more than mist and bog!

    Hopefully you will toughen me up Pete. A bit saggy round the middle at the moment.

    I can always sneak you across Fraser, do you fit in a rucksack side pocket?

    Hi Phil (doodlecat) thanks for the info. I thought that I would decide when I got to Edzell whether the Hotel would be tempting or to have one last night under nylon. The call of a real bed may be too much to resist! I will check out your link. Cheers.

  6. Seems to be an interesting route – a few bits of trade route and a few bits of not trade route…. I can’t imagine the vetter being too concerned about ti. Lets hope for 2010-style weather….

  7. Looks good. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

  8. I agree with (the much more experienced) Mr Knipe. It’s a shame, you’ll be a day ahead of my route at Ballater so we won’t meet. I’d strongly recommend an earlyish start from Tarfside, a leisurely breakfast at the Retreat, lunch at the Tuck Inn at Edzell (reached via the riverside walk from Gannochy), then press on for a sociable evening on the camp site at North Water Bridge. That’ll leave an easy walk/bus to get to Montrose, where both the hotel and the camp site will be buzzing with Challengers. St Cyrus has an excellent cafe for lunch.
    You may find an A4 Ortlieb mapcase useful, just in case the ink on the waterproof paper runs. I take a 1:250000 map of the whole route, annotated, double sided on one sheet of A4 waterproof. This stays in the (missing on the NF!) top pocket of the Rab fleece and helps to explain what I’m doing to others, as well as being useful for identifying distant landmarks (hills).
    I think you’ll meet lots of people, with just a few quieter (‘not trade route’) episodes.
    Good luck

  9. Sorry James – that was a bit prescriptive! You may of course prefer to stay late in the Masons Arms at Tarfside, rise late, and wobble down to a comfortable hostelry in Edzell….
    Do it how you want to, not like others prescribe to you!
    Apologies for that.

  10. Looks good to me. Enjoy. I am south. Very south. I doubt many folks will be south? We will see. Either way I will see you on the Wednesday night.

  11. James – have you noticed from Roger’s newsletter that you may have to re-book Cougie.

  12. Mike I have my fingers crossed for excellent weather. The veters comments have come back and there is nothing that needs changing, just some good info about bridges and stuff.

    Thanks Robin.

    No problem Martin B, its always good to receive advice from those that have trod before me. I will probably see how the last couple of days pan out, luxury may well be needed! I only just booked Cougie at the weekend, so hopefully all sorted. Bed, breakfast and dinner – should be a treat!

    I will see you Wednesday night Martin all being well. I think that a fair few start from Oban so you should have plenty of company.

  13. That’s a splendid route, James.

    I hope you like the Balmacaan – a favourite of mine along with the Eskdale triangle. It’s getting quite popular now so you might bump into a few folk.
    When are you crossing Loch Ness? I aim to catch the Monday afternoon boat. There will be a lot more shortly on my blog about Tuesday’s Event in the Monadhliath.

  14. Thanks Alan. I am crossing Loch Ness first thing on the Tuesday morning so hopefully will be with you in time for the ‘event’ will keep checking your blog for details.

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