I had my route pretty well planned out before The Envelope arrived. I was looking for a good intro walk that included some celebrated Challenge highlights, a chance for plenty of social interaction, and the possibility of frequent company along the way. I’m not averse to steep climbs or rough terrain (that’s pretty much what there is in the Whites), but I’m not especially interested in Munros. I read all the diaries and journals I could (many of them collected by Phil Lambert at Doodlecat), and listened to Bob Cartwright’s top-notch TGOC podcasts and all the interviews he (and Andy Howell) did along the way. I read lots of blogs and other journals (which will be the subjects of a future post). I talked with my wonderfully enthusiastic and tremendously helpful countrymen Lou and Phyl LaBorwit, who were just about to head for Scotland, the West Highland Way, and the Challenge Reunion in Ft. William. I dove into Scottish Hill Tracks, ordered a set of OS maps, changed my mind and ordered the second set that will do the trick. (We all agree, don’t we, that you can never have too many maps, no matter how battered, arcane, or outdated?)

What I settled on is the opposite of original, but I think it’s just right for me on a first crossing: Mallaig to St. Cyrus, by way of Knoydart, the Corrieyairick Pass, the Lairig Ghru, Jock’s Road (which I learned without much surprise is NOT a road), and all the slogs and beauties in between. A little under 190 miles, not counting side trips to the pub (including the first one, “the remotest pub on mainland Britain”).

Challenge coordinator Roger Smith, who has been remarkably kind and helpful, vetted my route sheet in the blink of an eye, made a couple of recommendations that I’m certainly going to take, gently suggested that my “elevations gained” were a little off on two of the steepest days (which I’m still trying to figure out, not that I entertain the slightest doubt that he’s right), and told me I needed to work out a Foul Weather Alternative (FWA) not just for Jock’s Road but for the Lairig Ghru as well. So that’s what I’ll be amusing myself with as time allows over the next few weeks. I know my route is standard stuff, but researching it, working it out, and planning it have been great fun and deeply satisfying to a map-lover and all-purpose obsessive like me. Getting to “know” various posters, voices, and correspondents has been terrific, too, and I’m looking forward to meeting as many as possible of my benefactors in the goose-bumped flesh. (In one of his posts or podcasts, Bob tossed off the comment that “it’s always about the cold wind in Scotland,” which was a relief, because I’d been afraid I might get wet.)


Route — 4 Comments

  1. Mark can I suggest you leave your options open for finishing at St Cyrus, as the last 2 day slog is along the roads and can be a bit of a depressing end. We finished through the Fetteresso Forest to Stonehaven last 2 trips, which have been much more enjoyable (alright challenging) but it keeps you off the main roads for longer, and makes the experience last. You’ve listened to the podcasts, so you won’t make the same mistake we did and you’ll keep to the forestry tracks! (Don’t forget you can change your route at anytime, and only have to let Roger know with a call from Tarfside)

    As for FWA through the Larig Ghru, you don’t have much choice but to go through Glen Feshie, past the beautiful bothy and along the Valley to White Bridge, where most people camp before the yomp into Braemar.

    The LG isn’t as hairy as Roger makes out, although on a bad weather day (windy and wet!) if you were unsure for any reason, best to leave it out. The boulder field can be very slippy underfoot, if you go over snow. We did in 2006!

    And yes, the biting wind is always down your neck when going W to E, and can be so much fun that you forget its raining!

  2. Thanks for the info, Bob. I really enjoy this process of picking peoples’ brains and working things out. Why is there a place in Scotland named the Fetteresso Forest?

    Thanks also for the strapamaptome idea. I don’t carry a map case here, but I’ll be carrying one there, and this looks like a great way to do it.

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