So after I completed the West Highland Way in May 2018, I felt a yearning for an annual pilgrimage to the motherland, my beautiful Scotland. I do visit home often, but my trips are city based and my time is almost exclusively spent with family, not out in the wilds where my heart truly lies. I work for South Downs National Park Authority, in the South of England, and while it has its own beauty, its chalk downlands and rolling hills simply do not compare with the rugged, wild, mountainous Highlands. (Sorry boss!)
On my return home from the West Highland Way, my partner was astonished at how she had never before seen me so content, so chilled out. I told her it was like hitting a big reset button, 7 days to walk in the place that will always be home, and reflect on my life, where I was, where I had been, and where I was going. It had been over 20 years since I had attempted such a trip, and I had never before done it solo, so I learned a lot about myself in that time. She recognised that it had done me some good and less reluctantly than I expected, agreed to let me go off on a solo again for 2019, my year of turning 50. I was all geared up to start planning for a trip to Inverness to Walk the Great Glen Way through to Fort William. Until someone recommended The Great Outdoors Challenge….
This was a no brainer, nothing to lose, so I applied. 400 entrants permitted, each vetted at application process, then drawn in a ballot. In October 2018, I received notification that I was successful.
I got busy route planning.
Left to right:
Where’s the path – a page that compares open source mapping and satellite imagery so you can see the lay of the land and footpath routes on the ground. Google occasionally limit access on this page due to their acceptable use policy, so if you do use it, please donate to Bill so he can pay to keep the page alive. Top resource.
My preferred route planning software:
Where better to look for old drove routes and search for paths by map:
I submitted my route a few days ahead of the deadline, and a few days later, I received comments back from my vetter saying largely things were fine, but made recommendations for some tweaking based on the tendency for some areas to be wet, and provided intelligence on bridges down which would make some parts of my planned route impossible. Options considered, and amendments made, my resubmitted route was approved, and then efforts turned to logistics.
Having done the WHW, I knew pretty much that I was going to be Ok, but with 14 days rather than 7, and my picking an extremely remote route, I needed to send provisions ahead so I wasn’t carrying 14 days worth of food, equivalent to 14kg in weight. I’ll post pics of ration packs in another post.
All in all, over 14 days, 2 nights will be at organised sites, 2 nights in youth hostels, and the rest….. well that’s wild camping. I’m a true believer in leave no trace. And also a believer in considering the cumulative effect of camping in spots that seem to be heavily tramped already. You need to give land time to recover. Take only pictures, leave only footprints. No fires. I hate seeing the remnants of fires.
I’m also considering tranquility. And my effect on wildlife. If it’s tranquil enough for me, then it must also remain tranquil for wildlife. No noise from me, care with tent guy lines, low level lighting.
And yes, I have a shovel.
I’m at the airport now, waiting for a delayed flight to Glasgow. I have some bits and bobs to collect tomorrow before I get the train to Oban, and I set off on Friday morning. For now, for the first time in about a fortnight, I’m chilled.
If it’s not in this bag, it doesn’t matter….
Bring it on.
Every step this year is for Bracken. If you would like to support Search Dogs Sussex, text SEARCH to 70085 to donate a fiver.