What a difference a year makes! This time last year we were reporting on a Challenge beset by high winds, horizontal rain and rivers in spate leaving us hoping for some sunshine. It was a case of “be careful what you wish for” as whilst most enjoyed the relatively settled and often sunny conditions those setting out from more northerly start points found burns had run dry and the main complaint to Challenge Control in the first few days was that it was rather too hot. . .
338 Challengers set out from the west coast between 11th and 14th May. For 130 of them this was their first experience of the TGO Challenge and at 38% of TGOC23 Challengers this was the highest for several decades. Like all the regulars before them, they will have started a little uncertain, despite the months of planning, as to what this rather unusual and indescribable Event is really all about. It was a pleasure and privilege at Challenge Control to hear their stories, feel their excitement and sometimes their pain too. Whilst some needed support as they realised it was harder than they expected with most, we could feel their confidence building and as ever the stories of kindness and support from both locals and other Challengers shone though. If you are one of 2023’s first timers – thank-you. Your energy, enthusiasm and ideas are what keep the TGO Challenge, so treasured by many regulars, going. We hope to see you back again!
Every Challenger creates their own story with moments that are special to them, times of quiet reflection and in some very special places unique to Scotland mixed with less contemplative moments in the company of other Challengers. The Challenge camaraderie really came to the fore this year and though there were many other less well-known publicised examples the stories of two, and particularly those who supported them, will live long in the memories.
Arie Fishler and Yael Bruchim came across Caburn Chamberlain immobile and in agony with a dislocated hip in a remote glen. Not only did they effect his rescue via their GPS tracker’s emergency button, but they looked after him, until the helicopter arrived some 4 hours later. After his hip was put back in place and a few days rest Caburn picked up his route and walked, very carefully, to the East Coast. He sent a bottle of whisky to his rescuers and when receiving it Yael said: “he’s part of our family now” and they most definitely are part of the Challenge family too!
The support of other Challengers was also essential to Pierre de Greef. Following a climbing accident which shattered his leg and left him in hospital for many months he had given up hope of crossing Scotland this year. On the spur of the moment, he decided just maybe he could give it a go and headed to Shiel Bridge. He was supported by so many along the way, far too many to name, but Sir Dave the Beaver (if you want an explanation look in the Facebook group!) deserves a mention for his constant though silent support as does his human assistant and interpreter Lindsay Jones. After meeting him by chance they stayed with him through to the East Coast. Pierre did the physical work but has said himself it was the often unexpected friendship of others that gave him the mental strength to get to Montrose. It was a very emotional moment when he walked into Challenge Control.
We like a bit of romance on the Challenge. Hats off this year to first timer Matt Berry for carrying an extra few but extremely precious grams across Scotland in order to propose to, now, fiancée Sally Phillips on the East Coast. Congratulations to them both – we can recommend Montrose as a wedding venue . . !
Despite the generally decent weather there were a relatively high number of retirements and partial crossings – 61 (18%) in total. Unusually foot problems were not the commonest reason for retiring. This year 21 retired with injuries and 19 with fatigue or illness – many of these were related to the effects of heat and difficult access to drinkable water – whilst only 8 quoted foot problems as their reason for stopping.
The first of the 277 finishers almost beat Challenge Control to Montrose! Following an early morning dash from Newtonmore we were still busy setting up and folding T-shirts when Bob Weir and Brian Forbes walked in, well ahead of schedule, on Saturday 19th May. The beauty of the Challenge is you set your own parameters and every crossing is equally valued. For some the aim is to spend as long in the hills as possible and we were not at all surprised that last to arrive around 4:30pm on Friday was Richard Flint having completed a beautifully crafted and gloriously indirect crossing to become one of the youngest Challengers at 39 to complete 10Challenges just after our senior Challenger John Burt completed his 21st crossing at the age of 84.
It was notable that all four of our octogenarians completed their Challenge and all wandered into Control looking like they had just been out for a bit of a stroll. . . Our younger Challengers didn’t fair quite so well with two of our three 22 years olds having to retire but Titoun Domenech-Cabauld arrived safely in Montrose looking almost as fresh as John – a mere 62yrs his senior.
The Challenge has become over the years an international Event with 71 (21%) of participants living outside of the UK including Sam Forbes and Joshua Turnbull who had the longest of journeys to Scotland travelling from Australia having first hoped to join us in 2020. They spent a little longer in the air than Jotaro Yoshida from Japan. In all we had representatives from 11 countries.
We were delighted to welcome to the celebration dinners Hamish Brown and Roger Smith, who between them invented the Challenge, as well Dan Pearson, Andy Neil and Chris Futers from our sponsors Ultralight Outdoors Gear. All of them are Challengers themselves and know what it takes to walk across Scotland. At the dinners commemorative plaques were presented to most of those who had completed their 10th and 20th crossings. Congratulations to Martin Buchan, David Cowan, Richard Flint, Bernard Forrester, Lindy Griffiths, Sandy Millar, Nicole Morschett, Colin Somerville and Emma Warbrick for completing their tenth Challenges and Humphrey Weightman for becoming the 30th person to complete 20 crossings. There will have been some howls of delight in the Upper Dulnain . . .
Once again Challengers were excellent ambassadors for the Event helping to maintain its good reputation amongst the local communities of the Highlands. There was just one incident that we heard of which risks marring this record. We would like to get to the bottom of it so if anyone has knowledge of how damage was caused at Braemar campsite please ring or email us.
A thank-you simply doesn’t seem an adequate way to acknowledge those who support the Event and us. Whilst we coordinate the Event there are many others who contribute their time and expertise, quite often on a voluntary basis so quite a few than-yous are in order
First of all, our vetters who not only spend many, many hours of their own time on your routes but offer support and advice to us as Coordinators.
At Challenge Control Gayle Faulkner and Mick Blackburn were calm, efficient, warm and full of useful information but most of all provided a fortnight long “comfort blanket” to us as Coordinators turning what can be a highly stressful experience to an enjoyable one and offering huge support during some difficult moments. We didn’t have to call Mountain Rescue ourselves but came quite close on a couple of occasions. We are also grateful for the help and support offered by Ant Cathcart who served up more cups of tea and coffee than anyone could count, Sue & Martin Banfield for looking after the Control staff especially in Newtonmore and Laurence & Lesley Dark, Colin Bennett and David Pickles for helping out despite having just walked across Scotland.
Many of you will have met Ann & Alvar Thorn and Rita & Gus McKinnon working tirelessly at St Drostan’s in Tarfside whilst raising funds for both the church and the British Heart Foundation – the latter in memory of both Les Silkowski and Ian Shiel who both passed away unexpectedly from heart related problems in the last 12 months.
Then there are all those places that offer hospitality or services above and beyond any expectations – Melanie Strang at Cougie, Gordon Menzies for the Loch Ness ferry service (despite trying to retire!) Alec & Janet Sutherland at Ault na Goire, the staff of Mar Lodge, Ballater Hostel for the well placed goodies and Bill Duncan & Mike Glass at Callater. Our thanks also to The Park Hotel for hosting us and dealing with the ever-changing needs of Challenge Control and arriving Challengers with such good grace.
Our sponsors offer us invaluable support throughout the year. Special thanks go to Dan Pearson from Ultralight Outdoors Gear for, amongst other things, providing the long sleeve Montane base layers as Challenge T-shirts which we are sure will be seen on many hills over the coming months and years. Thanks also to TGO Magazine for their continued support and Anquet OMN for providing free access to digital mapping for both Challengers and vetters.
We’d also like to say a big thank-you to our husbands and families for their support and patience throughout the year. Finally, a big thank-you to the kind Challenger who left a significant donation at Challenge Control for us to enjoy ourselves once we’d seen the final Challenger in. In the melee we didn’t catch your name but would really like to say thank-you properly if you can make yourself known. You can rest assured it was put to good use!
We’d love to hear your Challenge stories. If your blog, vlog or photo collection isn’t already in the TGO Challenge blogroll and you would like it to be added please email us a link. Carey Davies, TGO magazine editor, is interested in articles of around 400 words and photos for the October issue of TGO. Please send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will forward them to him. Ultralight Outdoor Gear are once again offering a £50 voucher to anyone who has an article published.
If you want to catch up with Challengers before TGOC24 why not come to one of the Reunions. Kirsten Paterson runs the Scottish Reunion which will take place 6th to 8th October 2023 in Newtonmore. For more information and to book click here. Following a great couple of days in glorious Derbyshire sunshine the Spring Gathering will once again be held in Hayfield with details circulated later in the year. Finally, The Hill and Mountain Walking Club was formed by Challengers and meets regularly throughout the year. If you are interested in joining, click here.
Thinking about next year yet?! TGOC24 will take place between 9th and 24th May 2024, and we will be open for entries in the Autumn. See you next year!