Day 13 – 26 Kilometres with 300 metres ascent
One peculiar aspect of the Challenge is that most participants are always eager to pack and set off super early. I could hear the occupants of nearby tents packing at some ungodly hour, concerned they would not be first in queue for breakfast at the nearby Retreat . By the time I had enjoyed lazing in a warm tent, had breakfast and started to pack the campsite at Tarfside was almost empty.
Dave Pickles was also in no particular hurry either so we decided to join forces for the day for the long walk to the campsite at North Water Bridge. I had initially planned to immediately cross the river on the rickety bridge and follow the path on the south side of the North Esk. Dave however persuaded me to have a second breakfast at the Retreat so we set off down the road instead.
The early wave of Challengers had already passed on by the time we sat down and ordered breakfast. After an earlier bowl of super noodles I was not that hungry but still managed a large fry-up. My rucksack hip belt was on the tight side when we set off once more. The walk along the road was pleasant in the sunshine with good views across the Wirren hills. However it was tarmac and tarmac is never much fun.
I was pleased when we took the first vehicle bridge across the river, hard tarmac giving way to a nice soft grassy track. A succession of heavy squally showers meant that I was constantly stopping to put on and take off my waterproofs. In the end we both gave up and kept them on even during the sunny interludes. With the wind being so strong, even with blue sky overhead there was always the risk that within minutes it would be hammering it down.
Track soon turned to tarmac once more, the hills left behind. The rest of the challenge to the coast would be through an agricultural landscape.
The Tuck Inn at Edzell let me indulge in another plate of fried food and it was good to get my pack off and sit on a proper chair. A quick visit to the shop and then it was head down for one of the worst sections of walking on this years Challenge. An arrow straight road filled with lorries and fast moving traffic means a demoralising walk. There is nothing to do but get your head down and get on with it whilst trying to avoid getting run over. David took me along a pleasant alternative track for the last mile or so, a relief to escape the speeding traffic.
The campsite was filled with an array of lightweight tents. The grass is flat and the facilities ok but I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to go there for a holiday. For a start it’s right next door to a dual carriageway, not the best neighbour when sleeping in a tent!
A mighty downpour had everyone hiding in their tents for a while. It would have been a wild evening to be camping in the hills, even in this sheltered spot the wind was rocking my tent. Once the rain had passed through it was surprisingly cold so I headed to the reception area with Dave and had a few games of pool until we were kicked out.
Fully wrapped in all my clothes I sat on the benches with a few others celebrating the last night of the Challenge. The cold soon had me heading to my tent and a warm sleeping bag.
Day 14 – 14 kilometres with 270 metres ascent
Once again I was one of the last to pack up in the morning. Dave had originally planned to walk directly to Montrose. However my company must be fantastic as at the last minute he decided to accompany me to the coast at St Cyrus.
The dual carriageway of the A90 was a frightening barrier to cross, its hard to judge timings when everything is moving so fast. Once safely on the other side a collection of minor roads took us in an easterly direction. The final climb over the hill of Morphie feeling like a bit of a slog.
The wind throughout the day was exceptionally strong when exposed to it. Heavy showers were blown through with a violent intensity. On the hill of Morhie we took a right old battering. The hills in the distance had once again turned white. We later learned that the road above Braemar had been shut due to snow. The only photo I took of this section manages to make it look all warm and spring like though. It was actually the coldest day of the whole two weeks.
Walking into St Cyrus a car slowed down and we were told well done, we were nearly there. Though the village, past the church and we were at the top of the cliffs. The view from the top is stunning, the sea and sandy beach below looking inviting. We set off down the steep path to dip our toes in the sea.
As a small wave dampened my shoe I’m not really sure how I felt to be honest. A week ago I would have simply been relieved, the fear of failure was the only thing driving me on. Now along with the sense of achievement I felt a bit sad that the walk had finished. A few days and I would be back at work. The simple pleasure of getting up day after day and walking was now over.
St Cyrus is a fantastic place to finish a coast to coast walk, the sandy beach backed by dunes and gorse covered cliffs.
After the obligatory posing for photos by the water’s edge it was back up the cliff path. This really is hard work considering that the walk is officially over. It was the thought of a good lunch before the bus to Montrose that spurred us back up. The village cafe was full of familiar happy faces, all with the satisfied glow of reaching the east coast.
The bus dropped us off in Montrose where there was a short walk to the Park Hotel to sign in. The place was buzzing with Challengers and it was good to meet with familiar faces once again. I walked to the campsite, pitched, showered, dozed and then returned to the Park later that evening for the Challenge dinner. A great end to my second TGO Challenge.
Reflecting on the Challenge
It’s easy to have a romantic vision of a backpacking trip before setting off. For the TGO Challenge I imagined myself following a high level route each day, camping on the summits with fantastic views. I would be climbing the peaks with little effort and spending long lunch breaks brewing up in the sun, a gentle breeze cooling me down.
Obviously I’m no fool and did not really imagine that I would spend two weeks like that, but it would be nice! The realities of Scotland in May is a certain amount of bad weather, ticks and the fact that you are nowhere near as fit as you had hoped. This year I had to add into the mix a foot injury, which was very painful and put a big black cloud over a few days, along with doubts I would finish.
I have wondered how my enjoyment of the Challenge could be represented in graphical form. Therefore I have carefully constructed the following bit of art just for you (just to prove that my Humanities Degree did not go to waste).
As you can see, it started off very well. There was a slight dip in the enjoyability factor due to the first weeks weather but I perked up after a comfy bed for the night. It then went a bit wrong which culminated in me standing near Kingussie station thinking about catching a train home. During the final week things got better and better and better.
I’m not a naturally outgoing or particularly social person. However I found that the more I made an effort (which can be difficult after a 16 mile day) when in civilisation the more I enjoyed myself. It has now dawned on me that I could go and walk across Scotland at any time I please. It is the social side of the Challenge that makes it much more than just a walk.
Will I do it again? Yes. Will I do it next year? Undecided, there are so many things I want to do!