Just getting to the start proved a challenge for many TGO Challengers travelling from or via England this year, as train strikes hit several key services. You Challengers are a resourceful lot, and we’re pleased to say that not a single Challenger withdrew pre-start due to the strikes: thank you from all at Challenge Control for your perseverance!

Photo: Dominque Drewe-Martin

For the second year running we had a hot one! For those Challengers who started on the Thursday, many would have been wearing full wet weather gear and hoping that it wasn’t going to be a repeat of the thoroughly miserable weather of 2022. However, Challenge Control performed a little weather dance and asked the sun gods to help out – and for the next 13 days we had beautiful weather with almost no rain (what did fall was local and short-lived, but heavy). This did bring its own problems, as the heat, and in some areas the lack of water, no doubt contributed to a high retirement rate.

Driech high camp.
Photo: Charles MacManaway

This year we had 316 Challengers set out from the west coast between 9th and 13th May, 106 of whom were on their first Challenge – almost exactly a third of the field. We are always pleased to see new Challengers start out on their first crossing, having traversed the TGOC application, planning and documentation processes. You should rest assured that the experienced Challengers can find this a testing time too: getting the details right, meeting the deadlines and clearing the various hurdles before receiving that ‘Your Route Sheet is approved’ email from the Coordinators. It’s not an easy thing to do on your first TGOC, but now you know the ropes, you’ll find it easier next time and we look forward to familiar names popping up amongst the new ones when applications open for 2025.

Katy Domingues from Mexico and her walking companions from USA

Of the 316 starters, 70 haled from overseas (over 22% of the field): from Australia to Iceland; Malawi to Mexico; and many more locations – it’s a truly international event. It was great to see and talk to you – we hope to see you again and that you’ll spread the word when you get home.

For the experienced Challengers – welcome back. Thank you sincerely for your continued support over what has been a difficult few years for the event, and the kindness that you show to our first-timers. You are the backbone of this event and without you, it would not exist.

We tried this year to make the application, payment, and emergency details form processes a bit slicker by doing this online. It certainly allowed us to manage the large volume of data more easily, and feedback was that the new systems were user-friendly. These processes will be the same (or similar) for 2025 and we may be trialling an online Route Sheet with a few, selected Challengers– if we can get it ready in time.

Photo – Matthew King

It was a pleasure to be on Challenge Control to provide help and encouragement to Challengers where needed, but also to hear the absolute enjoyment of Challengers finding out that the event was more than they had imagined; moreover, their realisation that this isn’t just about the challenge of the walk itself, but about meeting people along the way, be they fellow Challengers or local folk offering assistance. It is the camaraderie of the event that makes it so special.

Beinn Liath Mhor
Photo: John Sanderson

Many Challengers reported to us the great help that they received from local people, from simple things like a few words of encouragement, to offers of water, tea, cakes and advice on the best trails to use. One Challenger, taken unwell whilst in a remote area with no phone signal, asked Challenge Control for assistance via Garmin Inreach messages. After a couple of phone calls, we were talking to the local ghillie who was prepared to go by boat to effect an extraction, if necessary. As it was late in the day, the Challenger opted to camp for the night and make a decision in the morning, reassured that assistance was available. The fact that someone was at hand to help out had reduced the stress levels and by the following morning felt well enough to continue– and completed the event as planned. This success was down to not only the communication technology, but also the preparedness of local people to go out of their way to assist.

Brian & Jackie by the Glas Allt waterfall Photo: Andy Neil

Once again, there was some romance on the Challenge: part way across, Brain Bell proposed to his walking partner, Jackie Beauchesne, … and was accepted! Should we start offering wedding services as part of the Coordinator’s role? Congratulations to you both and we hope that you will soon be back on the Challenge, but this time as husband and wife.

A few facts and figures for you:

Freya & Jean at Cougie
Photo: Noah Tranmer

Of the 316 starters around 25% were female; the age range was between 26 and 84 for the ladies (Freya Edwards and Jean Turner), and 18 to 85 for the gentlemen (Samuel Jossinet and John Burt). One returning couple, Garry and Katherine Marsden, came back to the event after a 29-year hiatus! The age range of the first timers was between 18 (the aforementioned Samuel Jossinet) and two Challengers aged 70 (Richard Anderson and Malcolm Holloway) – very impressive.

Our first to sign in at Montrose were Bob Weir and Brian Forbes (for the second year running), who managed to arrive in Montrose ahead of Challenge Control on the first Wednesday of the event, after only 7 walking days. Our last to cross the line was John Sanderson at 1630 on the final day, having taken another of his trademark monster routes. The majority of Challengers arrived, as usual, in Montrose on the final Wednesday and Thursday, with a goodly proportion taking their time and finishing on the Friday.

We were delighted to welcome to the celebratory dinners both Hamish Brown and Roger Smith, the inventors of the Challenge, as well as Dan Pearson from our main sponsor Ultralight Outdoor Gear. We had 8 Challengers who achieved ‘Legend’ status, having completed their 10th successful crossing, and were presented with their commemorative plaques: Iain Buchanan, Paul D’Ambrogio, Jayme Morgan, Marian Parsons, Simon Sawers, John Woolston, Ian Wright and Bob Weir.

Bert Hendrikse receiving his plaque from Hamis Brown
Photo: Ian Cotterill

Also, after a few false starts due to COVID restrictions and injury, Bert Hendrikse, one of our stalwart Vetters, finally completed his 20th successful crossing. This was tinged with sadness as Bert subsequently informed us that this would be his last year as a Challenger and he would also be hanging up his Vetter’s cap after 17 years of volunteering. Enjoy your retirement Bert and we hope that you will continue to grace the event with your presence in future years.

At the end of TGOC 2023, it was calculated that 9,993 successful crossings had been completed, which meant that the seventh person to sign in at Challenge Control on TGOC 2024 would complete our 10,000 successful crossing! We kept that number (7) secret as we didn’t want to influence the outcome, and on the Sunday afternoon, having already had 5 Challengers sign in, John Ambrose and his walking partner, Elaine Beattie, strode into Challenge Control having completed their crossing. The Challenge Control team, instead of the usual welcome, stood there in silence waiting to find out who between them would sign in second – John and Elaine probably thought our actions quite strange. John, being a gentleman, let Elaine go first, thus accidentally securing his place in TGOC history as the 10,000th crosser and was greeted with cheers from us and given a commemorative stone, etched with the TGOC 2024 logo. We wonder who will be the 20,000th successful crosser, probably around the year 2050?

John Sanderson looking after his feet . . .

This year’s event also saw a high level of retirements by Challengers: 55 of the field (17%), with a further 5 who completed partial crossings; giving us an overall 81% completion rate. This appears to have been driven mainly by the high temperatures, which seems to have contributed to the blisters, sore feet and fatigue experienced by a lot of Challengers (30 retirees).

. . . and Jonathan Binny giving his a break too.

There were also a significant number of Challengers reporting stomach upsets which caused many retirements (around 10) and also quite a few pauses in their crossings. We will be trying to establish if there is any causal link between them; however, at this stage, it doesn’t seem to be one particular location of water or food, as they were reported from disparate locations such as Cannich, Rannoch, Fort Augustus, Inverness and in the Monadhliath.

An oft asked question is “do the older, generally more experienced, Challengers cope better than the younger, less experienced, Challengers”? The following table would suggest that this isn’t necessarily the case, but the 40s and 50s do seem a hardy bunch.

Also frequently asked is: “do more first timers retire than those who have completed the Challenger previously”? The following table suggests that the retirement rate is level across the board until Challengers have done over 10 Challenges, when the rate increases; however, as to be expected, the age bracket does appear to come into play. In addition, the fact that there are far fewer Challengers taking part who have completed more than 10 Challenges, means a small number of retirees from this group equates to a larger percentage.

Anyway, enough of statistics. Regardless of whether you completed or retired, were on your first or 31st Challenge, were aged 18 or 85 or anywhere in between, we sincerely hope that you enjoyed what you achieved and are looking forward to taking part again. To make this happen, the event relies very heavily on the goodwill of our many volunteers and supporters.

The joys of Highland bogs!
Photo: Jayme Morgan

From a Coordinator’s point of view, our first line of defence are the Vetters who give a huge amount of their time and effort, and deal with the enormous task of reviewing the route sheets, and providing advice and guidance to Challengers as well as to us: it is very much appreciated.

Ann & Alvar Thorn at Tarfside with Gerena Sumen

Almost 50% of Challengers went through Tarfside this year and will no doubt have met Ann & Alvar Thorn, as well Gus & Rita McKinnon, serving tea, coffee, cake, bacon butties and no doubt a large amount of sympathy at St Drostan’s. They were also supported by Pauline Marshall, who spent the first week or so on Challenge Control and then went to Tarfside as a reinforcement for the team there, before returning to Challenge Control. Through their efforts and the Challengers’ generosity, they managed to raise a £380 donation for the Great North Air Ambulance service. Thank you all!

Elli Schneider

The first week of Challenge Control was at Newtonmore and saw Mick and Ali at the helm, ably assisted by Pauline Marshall and Gayle Faulkner. Fellow Coordinator Sue Oxley along with Di Gerrard were able to join us for a few days answering the phones. It was a chance for those who were not at TGOC23 Control to get acquainted with the electronic version of the previously manual TGO ledger. The team worked well together with Pauline now a MS Excel expert and Mick now knowing his place in an otherwise female team. Martin & Sue Banfield called in for a couple of days and provided us all with good company and an excellent fish pie.

Lindsay Jones

The Challenge Control team started the move over to Montrose on the second Thursday of the Challenge, narrowly missing the early finishers. We were assisted there by Mike Glass, who was in charge of the most important job: the supply of teas, coffees and biscuits to the finishers. Once again, for the hectic days, Martin and Sue Banfield helped out with refreshments, as well as Sue Oxley who looked after the TGOC certificates.

Due to the diligence of Challengers making their Phone-Ins (mostly) on time (or very soon after a reminder message), we had no late nights worrying about the whereabouts of our Challengers. Thanks to you all, it made the life of the Coordinators reasonably stress free.

Loch Ness Ferry
Photo: Carolina Szczerkowska

We also have longstanding support in the form of hospitality and services: Melanie Strang at Cougie, Gordon Menzies for the Loch Ness ferry service, Alex & Janet Sutherland at Ault na Goire, the staff of Mar Lodge, and Bill Duncan & Mike Glass at Callater. Our thanks, as ever, 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 again to Dan Pearson and his team from Ultralight Outdoor Gear for, amongst other things, providing the Montane  Challenge T-shirts, which we are sure will be put to good use; Anquet for providing free access to digital mapping for both Challengers and Vetters; and Darn Tough socks for their excellent contribution.

Shielin of Mark sunrise Photo: Gerena Sumen

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. Francesca Donovan, TGO magazine editor, continues to support the event and is interested in articles of around 400 words and photos for their November issue of the magazine. Please send them to us at tgochallenge@gmail.com by the mid July and we will forward them on. Ultralight Outdoor Gear are once again offering a £50 voucher to anyone who has an article published.

Summit camp on Mount Keen Photo: Tim Day

If you want to catch up with Challengers before TGOC25, why not come to one of the Reunions?  Kirsten Paterson runs the Scottish Reunion, which will take place from the 4th to 6th October 2024 in Newtonmore. The Spring Gathering will once again be held in the Peak District in March/April, organised by David and Alan Hardy, with details to be circulated later in the year. Finally, The Hill and Mountain Walking Club was formed by Challengers and meets regularly throughout the year. For more information on any of these and to book click here.

And finally, with thanks from the whole of the support team, a few Challenger quotes from the TGO Challenge Comments Book:

“… what a great family this is”
“… it’s about the journey, not the destination.”
Strathcarron to Kinnaber Links – sun, sun, sun, fun, fun, fun.”
“It was and amazing experience, the views, the animals, the birdsong, burns etc – it was great.”
“… never underestimate the regenerative effects of a cup of tea!”
“… to bump into a TGOer in the middle of nowhere… before you speak you have so much in common… it’s a family like no other.”

We think they got it!

Thinking about next year yet?! TGOC25 will take place between Thursday 8th and Friday 23rd May 2025, and we will be poised, ready and open for entries on Saturday 5 Oct 2024 at 1200 (noon) BST. 

Photos: Andras Csisari, Ian Cotterill, Elli Schneider, Adam Brown, Andrew Walker & John Sanderson