History of the Clearances — In Our Time

I think that if you walk in the Highlands the experience is heightened my a knowledge of local history and culture.

The wonderful In Our Time programme (BBC Radio 4) has this morning broadcast a programme which talks about the history of the Highlands, the clans and the clearances. Fascinating stuff.

Those of you walking the TGO Challenge for the first time will be walking through a landscape that can tell many, many, stories. 

You can hear the programme here:

The Highland Clearances

In a day or two this will be listed in all of the popular podcast aggregators as well.

Well worth listening to.

Those TGO Route Vetters ….

A few days ago I got my TGO route notes back from the TGO Vetters. These are the folks who review each route, suggest modifications, route alternatives and make sure you know about things like disappearing bridges and so on.

It is always fascinating to see what the betters say about your route. This route is very similar to the I put in last year and it came back with a no changes necessary tag. So, far so good — until you start reading the vetter notes.

My vetter this year is the legendary Bernie Marshall, or ‘Super Legend’ as some of us know him (see the journal of my first TGO challenge).  It is, of course, the job of the vetter to put the fear of God into you. What seems like an innocuous route — or a stroll around the park — suddenly becomes a great challenge, which I suppose is what it should be!

Now, as this is my tenth crossing I have put together a route of my ‘favourite bits’. So I’ve walked this route before either on the Challenge or on other trips to the Highlands. Memory is an odd thing. You think you remember things well but seen through the eyes of the letters you begin to wonder whether this is completely different country!

A particular speciality of Super Legend is to point out dangerous streams tat have to be crossed, when you can’t remember streams at all!  He gets you pouring over the maps. Oh, yes, there’s a stream!  And be careful of the snow and ice on routes where you haven’t previous encountered such hazards.

It is another reminder that in Scotland you can have four seasons in one day. ‘This group can be very difficult to cross in wet conditions’. Well, surely it was wet last time I was there? Surely, it can’t get wetter or boggier than that?

If nothing else the letters do make you think again and to be aware of the alternative routes available to you even if they have not been used for a Foul Weather Alternative.

It is a reminder that in the Scottish Highlands nothing is as it seems or nothing is necessarily how it was.

I’m reminded of a walk down Glen Affric a couple of summers ago. I had spent a couple of nights at theatric hostel Munro bagging with a mate. On our last evening a storm came in. The wind and rain lashed the little wooden hostel all through the night. Surely, the rain would let up? Well, no it didn’t. In the morning we looked you of the windows and our gloom and depression returned as the rain kept falling. In the hostel were a few walkers who were going our way, walking down the glen to the car park. The warden was a little worried about a couple of these folks and said he would come with us, at least until the head of the Loch where he kept his car parked. I appreciated his concerns for his walkers but thought it was a bit overkill as we were just to walk along a good path.

How wrong I was. Each little channel of water that flowed across or under the path had become a torrent. On a couple of occasions we simply couldn’t get across the flow of water to reach the rest of the path. We had to splash uphill along the water flow until we found a safe place to cross. One or two of the other walkers looked pretty terrified. A journey that is usual straightforward, even in bad weather, suddenly became long and very hard.

So, thanks to Super Legend I’m looking again at those streams. You know n certain conditions, he might right!

Scottish Highlands on the BBC

This has become something of a dead week for the flu virus has hit the household hard. Still, it has offered the opportunity to catch up on some TV stuff that I’d missed. If you are currently planning your TGO Challenge route, or Munro bagging trip, there’s quite a lot to inspire.

Grand Tour of Scottish Lochs

This series follows Paul Murton travelling by canoe around the Highlands. There are four in the series so far which look at Knoydart, The Rough Bounds and some other great places.  Each of these programmes mixes local history, interesting interviews and stunning photography. If your planning a TGO crossing from Malaig seeing the walk up and through to barrisdale looks rather dramatic when seen from the air!


Highlands — Scotland’s Wild Heart

Another series (though I have only watched one episode). Highlanders, looks at how humans are now working to protect and to re-introduce wildlife. I really enjoyed this. beware, this features an interview with Paul Lister!



Both of these series will help you get in the mood for walking in the Highlands!

TGO Planning: The Importance of Sleep

Today I am pondering the importance of sleep. I’ve not thought much about this before but this came up in a conversation with a walker who hopes to enter the TGO Challenge next year.

We know that —  for a number of new entrants to the challenge — this walk will be their first multi-day trek or hike. While folks are planning routes and thinking about transport to their starting point it is worth them thinking of sleep.

This may be just me but I really hate walking long distances when I am tired and haven’t had enough sleep. Of course, there is often no way of avoiding this. Lie in your tent at night and a gentle pattering of rain can be a lovely thing; it seems to rock you to sleep. But a night in a full on gale is not a pleasant thing. It’s even worse if this is followed by a horrible day’s weather and more high winds the next night.

So, I like to consider sleep as part of my event and route planning!

It’s worth thinking hard and long about your accommodation just prior to the Challenge. Expense allowing, book yourself into a decent hotel or B&B the night before walking and also consider if that might be needed on the journey up to your starting point. I have traditionally used the Caledonian Sleeper Train to journey up to Scotland — on the Challenge and off. But this isn’t always the best preparation. The motion of the train can every pleasant. But other journeys can be less so, especially if you are sharing a berth! On my off Challenge trips up North I like to start walking the moment I have got off the train and all too often I’m walking when miserable. I’ve learnt that, for example, it is best to have a leisurely breakfast in Aviemore than to simply set out immediately into the Cairngorms.

Some people cope with these problems, let’s be honest, through drink. That doesn’t always work for me, especially waling the next day.

If sleep is important to you consider options before you start talking and also, perhaps, options for a proper bed along the way. Otherwise experiment with earplugs and sleep masks before you leave for Scotland!

TGO Planning: Q & A Session 1

The first TGO Planning Q & A covers more on route planning, carry food and resupply strategies.

The TGO Song can be downloaded here.

TGO Planning Videos: Q & A

Thanks of the emails and comments about this short series of videos. Many of you have given me ideas for new subjects that you would like to see discussed. I am going to produce a series of Q & A videos and will have the help of four experienced Challengers.  Feel free to send your questions to:

andy.howell AT me DOT com

TGO Planning Guide: Internet Resources

In this video I take a look at how to get the best out of the Challenge Message Board,  take a look at TGO challenge diaries and journals and also look at community websites and how they can help us plan.

Websites mentioned during the video:

The TGO Challenge Message Board

Phil Lambert — Doodlecat

The Outdoors Station — TGO Challenge Podcasts

Traveline Scotland

TGO Planning Guide: Navigation II

In this video we play a route through the open country of the Balmacaan Forest, breaking the walk down into sections that can be fixed using features of the landscape.

TGO Planning Guide: Navigation Across Open Ground

The first version of this had it’s sound mangled on upload to YOuTube — this version is OK!  Apologies if you watched first time around.

In this first of two videos about navigation I look at how we can use water to guide us on our way!


TGO Planning Guide: Start Points and Planning On

The third video in the series looks at the various start points of the Challenge and considers their relative merits? Which are the most popular for first time Challengers?

In addition, I take a look at how — once we have chosen our start point —we can move on and plan our route East.

The video mentions a number of books to help you plan. Here are the listings for Amazon (but of course you can buy from anywhere).