TGO Challenge 2021 – it finally happened!

There have been many anxious moments since TGOC20 was cancelled. We wondered, despite our efforts and the loyalty of Challengers if TGOC21 would go the same way but a second cancellation didn’t bear thinking about.   We had many concerns including the impact of the Event on small towns and villages emerging from lockdown and whether Challengers would enjoy a slimmed down smaller Event.  Our nightmares were filled with midge bitten Challengers phoning in their droves to retire and never come back again . . .

Turns out we need not have worried!   Yes, the midges had their moments, but Challengers are a resilient bunch and pretty much every face we saw in Montrose was a happy one.  Even the weather generally played ball excepting a couple of November like days that made walking the Lairig Ghru rather interesting.  A few Challengers found out just why it needs a FWA!   So as Challenge Control closed on the final Friday when Jon Beckett and Sue Foss finally tore themselves away from the delights of the Charlton Strawberry Farm and wandered down the beach to Montrose we breathed the biggest sigh of relief of the six Challenges we have now coordinated. Somehow, though there are far more important things in life, it mattered that the Challenge happened this year – not just to those who were able to participate but to everyone who loves this unique and quirky Event.  Neither Covid-19 or the midges could beat us!

My first Challenge and what an experience.  Met some wonderful people, saw some gorgeous sights, got soaking wet, re-learned some useful navigation lessons, contemplated how I could do it better next time – and had a fantastic time!  – Gordon Fraser

125 Challengers set off from the west coast of whom 108 finished.  Remarkably, though Challenge Control heard quite a few foot related grumbles, only one person retired this year with sore feet.  Fatigue, minor injuries and illnesses accounted for most of the rest. The general consensus amongst regular Challengers was that it seemed harder than usual, no doubt because we haven’t had as much chance to be in the hills with our tents on our backs.  One of our more senior Challengers commented she was two years older and two years less fit!

Found it tough but I suppose the clue is in the name!  – Dave Clark

After 18 months when the only communication we had with Challengers was by email it was so good to see familiar faces walking into Challenge Control but even more special to meet 2021’s crop of new Challengers. As ever it is the enthusiasm of first timers that is the lifeblood of the Event and we were glad to hear most of this fantastic bunch are already talking about their second crossings.

Thank-you so much for making this happen and for all the fantastic support before and during.  I had an amazing time and everyone I met was so friendly and kind.  Loads of ideas for places I’d love to walk in the future!                       Innes McKendrick

First into Challenge Control on Monday 28th June was 2021’s youngest Challenger 20 year old Bradley Jordan on his first crossing closely followed by his grandfather Alan on his 19th crossing.  At the other end of the age scale our three octogenarians all looked remarkably fresh as they rolled into Control on successive days in age order!  Alan Kay arrived on the second Wednesday, senior lady Jean Turner on Thursday, and senior man, 82 year old John Burt, on Friday.  Both Alan and John were celebrating their 20th crossings and were presented with commemorative plaques as were, Jim Davidson, Derek Hopkins and Kirsten Paterson who all completed their 10th crossings.

Mountains, midges, moments and memories!   –  Alan Jordan

A special mention should go to two other Challengers.  Saskia Siemensma became the entirety of our overseas contingent a few days before the Event.  Travel restrictions made it impossible for most, but she was willing to quarantine in London prior to the Event and will now be quarantining again at home in the Netherlands. Having represented the Rest of the World this year we hope she will be one of many again in 2022.

Paul D’Ambrogio showed just how adaptable Challengers can be.  A member of his family tested positive for Covid- 19 the week before the Event meaning his self-isolation period extended well into the first week.  Realising his original Plockton route couldn’t be significantly shortened he planned a completely new route in just two days which Ali, Gayle and Mick vetted in between phone calls at Challenge Control.  He started from Oban on the first Thursday almost a week behind most Challengers and finished his 7th crossing on Friday afternoon.

First Challenge and overwhelmed by the experience.  The good weather really helped make life simple.  The control team were excellent – even if the Met Office got the two wet days very wrong! As someone who is in the mountains 5 days a week the different perspective of the west-east through walking is a revelation.  Alan Dorward

This year Challenge Control was in Newtonmore for the first week.  A bonus of this was getting to see some Challengers as they picked up supply parcels from the hostel.  John Enoch brought in a wallet to us that he had found with a significant amount of cash in it.  Social media showed it’s good side as we managed to locate the owner, a GBR seniors triathlete, on Facebook and reunite him with it before he had to explain its loss to his spouse!

We have a lot of people to thank.  Gordon Menzies for helping Challengers to cross Loch Ness and the Sutherland’s at Ault-na-Goire for their usual fabulous welcome.  This year David at The Burn stepped in to offer hospitality to Challengers when it became evident we could not use St Drostan’s in Tarfside.  It appears everyone who stayed thoroughly enjoyed themselves with excellent food, a good bar, acres of comfortable pitches and beds too.   We very much hope this will be available next year and wish to thank David and his team for offering Challengers the chance to finish their crossing in style!

A different but equally great Challenge.  Thanks so much everyone for keeping it going. – Kirsten Paterson

The Park Hotel, especially Grace, Alan, Emma and Mike have as ever been wonderfully supportive helping us to navigate the minefield that is Covid-19 hospitality regulations so that we could welcome Challengers in person in Montrose.  The three evening dinners were a great way to celebrate everyone’s achievements and the glorious weather allowed us to do our presentations in the garden.

Thanks to Ultralight Outdoors Gear for supporting the Event and providing this year’s T-shirts.  We knew these ones were going to be a rarity and our punt with the unusual colour seemed to go down well.

The Challenge couldn’t run without our volunteers.  Gayle Faulkner and Mick Blackburn, as well as being at Control for two weeks have put many hours into helping us with the transfer of ownership to us, producing all our health and safety documents and the Challengers map.  As well as putting three decades of Challenge experience into use again as a vetter, Alan Hardy also used it during the second week at Control and thanks too to his wife Cindy for her support and skills with the kettle!  Our thanks as well to another Challenger who prefers to remain anonymous but whose design skills are huge amounts of their time have become invaluable to us.

An enjoyable but unusual Challenge in so many ways.  Looking forward to next year already! – Mike Gibson

And then of course we have our vetters.  What can we say except thank-you from not just us but all your vettees?   Sadly, we said a final good-bye to Peter Goddard with a toast in his memory on the first Thursday.

After more than three decades Roger Smith has decided to retire his vetting pencil.  Having made the Event happen with Hamish Brown in 1980 he then agreed to help out temporarily with vetting in 1986 and was immediately handed an envelope with 17 routes in it. He hasn’t stopped since, continuing to vet routes when he took over as Coordinator in 1992 and he has been our most prolific vetter during our tenure.  He has often vetted over 40 routes in a year sometimes turning round routes in a single day.  We might need more than one new vetter to replace him!    He is very much not leaving the TGO Challenge as he will continue to advise us and will of course always be welcome in Montrose and at the Reunions.  Thank-you Roger from us and all those you have guided across Scotland as coordinator and vetter.

So what next?    Firstly please tell us about your crossing.  Carey Davies, Editor of The Great Outdoors Magazine is seeking 300-400 word accounts and photos for the October issue of TGO. Please submit them to us at and we will collate them for him.   If you have written a blog or recorded a vlog we would love to add it to our collection which can be found here.

Next, we very much hope to see some of you at one of the Reunions.  Kirsten Paterson is now taking bookings for the Scottish Reunion which will be held in Newtonmore at the Balavil Hotel on 1st – 3rd October.  The booking form can be found here. We hope to be able to have a Spring Gathering next year too.

It was alright, I suppose – Mike Knipe

And then of course we very much hope to see you on another Challenge. We hope TGOC22 will be less hindered by Covid-19 and all the regulations that go with it.  Our aim is to accommodate everyone who wants a 2022 place that had one in 2020 and 2021 whether or not they managed to cross this year and those who missed out in the 2020 draw too. That may mean expanding the Event (for one year only) in some way.  We will look at the logistics over the summer but to do this we need to know who is interested in participating next year and who wants to defer their guarenteed place to 2023.  So, whilst we are not asking you to commit quite yet, a simple yes, maybe or no via email to would be very helpful.  The main dates for TGOC22 will be 13th-27th May 2022 with the possibility of some additional days before these dates if we need to stagger the start or consider a two-wave event.   We will circulate details of how TGOC22 will work in late August or early September and take entries from mid September as usual.

Honoured to be the joint last finisher.  TGOC21 was so much better for taking the full 15 days – Jon Beckett

Finally – the Challenge can’t be a Challenge without Challengers. Thank-you so much to everyone.  Not just those who were able to stick by us and participate this year but also to those who would have joined us if they could.  We are humbled by the magnitude of your support.

See you next year!

Sue & Ali

Photos: Ian Cotterill, Graeme Currie, Paul D’Ambrogio, John Jocys, Darren Long, Richard Maxey, Ali Ogden, Richard Pace, Heidi Waters, Brian Whiteman