TGO Challenge: Considering it for the first time?

In the last couple of weeks – since the 2007 Challenge Journal was uploaded – I’ve had a load of people get in touch, who were thinking about tackling event for the first time.

Most people have the same set of concerns. Am I fit enough? Will I be able to last two weeks? I’m not sure if I can take that much time off work? This last one is a major consideration for many people.

The gist of these conversations is that people seem to want to know more and more about the event, almost as if they want to stack up the ‘benefits’ to help them make a decision. This is understandable, given the nature of the commitment that has to be given to even plan the Challenge, let alone take part in it.

So, over the next week or so I’ll try and add more content that meets some of the more common questions that have been asked. For example, I’m going to talk a bit more about the social side and about some of the characters you meet while you’re walking. This is a little dangerous this, not least because a lot of them read this blog from time to time! Still, let’s see how it goes.

But let’s start with potential first timers.

The first thing to appreciate is just how important first timers are to the whole success of the Challenge. Each year there are around 100 first timers on each event – last year I think it might have been closer to 150. As you walk you will encounter both the legends – those that have done 10 crossings or more, and quite a lot on their first Challenge.

The first timers help to keep the event ‘fresh’. Now I have to be honest here. This isn’t my observation but that of Humphrey Weightman who is on about 8 or 9 crossings so far. Humphrey’s theory is that the influx of first timers keeps the event from being staid and stuck in the past. And – thinking about it – I reckon he’s right.

When you’re walking the Challenge it is quite common to hear old stagers complaining (muttering more like) about the number of new entrants, but Roger Smith (the co-ordinator) must be congratulated for sticking to his policy. As Humphrey pointed out to me, on most Challenges there are 100 or so first timers and then, possibly, another 100 who have done 2 or 3. So, while the legends are very important there are less of them around than most of us.

The big bonus here is that the majority of walkers are not ‘experts’ on Scotland. Meet someone on the trail and they’re just as likely as you are to have made elementary navigational mistakes, had problems crossing rivers or to simply not appreciate what services are available at one place or another. This means that Challengers are particularly supportive of one another and that – in the main – if they’re on your route then they’re on a similar voyage of discovery. After all, if you’ve done 2,3 or 4 Challenges you’re unlikely to have been that way before – especially in the North West.

So, as Humphrey said to me, “the Challenge is an event that refreshes itself every year”.

He’s right. And that’s why your entry is valued and why Roger has this system that comes up with so many new entrants each year.

To everyone who has contacted me recently, I’ve given the same advice. The application forms are out in the October issue of TGO (available in September I guess). If you fancy it don’t worry about logistics just whack your application in. You can always withdraw. Indeed, the event will be 7 or 8 months away and a lot can happen in that time scale. Even ardent Challengers sometimes have to drop out because other interests, and needs, intervene.

Filling in – and sending off – the application is one of the biggest Challenges of the whole event. In the weeks that follow you’ve more time to consider the event, to look around at publications and maps, and to generally learn more.

And when that letter drops on the doormat, to tell you you’re in, a whole new wave of excitement takes over. The planning stage starts immediately. And this is when the Challenge really begins.

So, if you’re not sure whether to do it or not, just put an application in. Simply doing that will make things look a whole lot different!


  1. Greetings Andy!

    I totally agree with you (and Humph) on every point. The only niggle I would have is where you suggest “just whack your application in. You can always withdraw.”

    This does give Roger an enormous headache with people withdrawing at the last moment! I would suggest that “people who would really love to try it” should send an entry form in.

    Even the Challengers who have done loads of Challenges are nervous every year, as they amy be pushing their own comfort envelope as their experience increases, but the greatest pleasure is to meet new Challengers and see the gleam in their eyes as they are bitten by the bug.

    Many thanks for all your support of my walk; it really made a difference.

    All the best to you,

  2. OK, I was a bit loose in what I said – but you know what I mean. I’m just trying to be encouraging. I’m sure there’ll still be room for you Al! I was thinking about those people who’ve been almost posting the entry off for a couple of years!

    Well, done Al. It was great entertainment all of the way.

  3. Just a reminder -prior experience with Scottish walking is required. Thats always kep me out in the past. But not after this month’s little trip north

  4. You’re right to be cautious John. I’m not sure that Scottish experience is altogether necessary, but some backpacking in hills with the kind of weather we get in the UK is probably useful in advance.

  5. not just neccessary andy – part of the 2007 rules i think

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