This site originally bought together a number of entries that followed my experience of planning and preparing for my TGO Challenge crossing. I’ve only one crossing behind me and so can’t claim in any way to be an expert. But the memory of starting from scratch is still fresh in the mind, and so I’ve decided to try and re-create some of these entries (in the wake of the server crash) in the hope that they will be useful to other first timers.
Thinking About Routes
Scotland is a very big place. For me, one of the attractions of the Challenge was to jump in at the deep end and get to know an area that I hadn’t really explored properly. I knew the mountains of western Europe better than I did the mountains north of Gretna. On the Challenge I met a number of other first timers and many seemed to have the same objective. I realised that the Challenge would provide a unique opportunity to walk across a number of areas and distinct mountain ranges. But it wasn’t easy to start planning.
A good resource to first-time Challengers is provide by the Challenge Notice Board. As I got more into my planning I found the noticeboard increasingly helpful. But you do kind of need to know what questions to ask before you can expect answers. And it takes a while to get used to the rather Pythonish humour that dominates the board at times. So, books and guides are the best places to start with.
Scottish Hill Tracks
Chris Townsend recommended I start planning my route with this book and – without any shadow of a doubt – this was by far the best advice I was given in six months of planning. This is an absolute gem of a book.
‘Hill Tracks’ is published by the Scottish Mountaineering Council and is simple and effective to use. Inside of the back cover is an envelope that holds a two-sided map. Pull out the map and you’ll see a small-scale map of Scotland on which all of the major rights of way, ancient drover routes and military roads are indicated. There are about 250 routes featured in all. It is very easy to start thinking about a general route. I started from Mallaig and Hilltracks made it very easy to see what options there were in creating a general line in the direction of Montrose the finishing point for the walk. To create the walk you simply join up the routes. Each route is numbered and the book itself will give you a description of the route and its variations. Often the book will tell you if there is a bothy on route and will give you an idea of how far the start and end might be from the nearest town or village. The routes are clustered together making it easy to compare alternative routes to and from start and finish areas.
To be honest I’m not sure what I would have done without ‘Hill Tracks’. I’m sure that the planning would have taken considerably longer without it. What I ended up with was a good through-route, low-level in the main but one which moved through and over some well defined passes and cols. For my second phase of route planing I studied the OS maps for the walk, and consulted various Munro guides, to see where I might go higher. I then marked the routes up to and down from the higher hills on my OS maps. That way I had the confidence of knowing that I’d planned for both high routes and a safer and lower alternative if the weather was poor. I was walking on my own and, because of the weather, I didn’t go – or stay – as I as I’d planned – the mountains will still be there next time.
I’d certainly strongly recommend you getting hold of a copy of ‘Hill Tracks’. You can often find the book in good booksellers but it is easily available, over the net, from Stanfords.
Lonely Planet Walking in Scotland
This may seem a strange choice for a must-have book but I found this indispensable. I already had this book and didn’t think about looking at during my first phase of planning but I’m glad that I eventually studied it carefully.
One of the early challenges of route planning is to consider where you might stay in the various key towns and villages. These days there is a lot of information on the web but it isn’t always helpful. And I found that when booking accommodation – over the net – many of those I contacted simply didn’t reply; I’m just not sure how effective the tourist booking systems are.
The Lonely Planet guide is as comprehensive as you would expect. Many of the routes listed in the guide will cover ground that you have mapped out using Hill Tracks. But here the route descriptions are more detailed and give you a better feel for degrees of difficulty. But perhaps most useful are the descriptions of the key gateway towns and villages. Here you find local amenities, hotels, guest houses and campsites listed with the usual efficiency of LP Guides.
Buy and study these two guides and you will have made a good start – they’ll provide you with the right kind of questions to unlock the wealth of experience that is available on the message board.
Once you’ve established your basic route there are a number of other great books that will help you tackle Munros and that will provide you with a great photographic insight into the types of terrain that you will be working through. I’ll deal with these ‘secondary’ sources in another post.