TGO Challenge 2017: Days -1 and 0 – Getting to the Start

Three attempts at packing have been made. The first in my ULA Circuit, then I deliberately unpack everything and try it in the Mariposa. I think I prefer the Circuit on this occasion and restore the kit to the original bag. There’s not much in it, but the carry in the Circuit feels a bit better. I go with my original plan. The pack has four days food in it – sufficient to get me from the start at Dornie all the way to Aviemore at the end of day 7. This is achievable because I can eat out in Cannich and Drumnadrochit and only need four dinners and four breakfasts. Similarly four days food are winging their way to Aviemore, and a separate parcel of clean clothes to the end in Montrose. I hope I get to collect both parcels.

Packing (not all of this stuff made the final cut)

Unusually for a major walking trip, nerves/excitement are minimal. Even a few days trip to the Lakes brings a feeling of excitement for the adventure ahead, cut with a streak of nerves that all of the arrangements and plans will work out. Today, there’s none of this: this is a trip that’s been planned like no other, and for those parts that can’t be planned, I’m prepared for the decision-making that will be needed. For me planning equals confidence – confidence that the trip is doable, confidence that I’m taking the right stuff, confidence that I know what my options are if I have to change things partway. Equally I know that what will be will be and there’s nothing I can do about it. This feeling of sereneness lasts all the way to the start line.

The train ride into London is a joy, going against the peak time flow of commuters. My Twitter and Facebook timelines start to fill with pictures of merriment in the Bree Louise. I head for the rendezvous point and find myself in a crowded pub, putting a few faces to names, a few introductions being made. The pile of rucksacks contains all sorts, large and small, fancy and the not so fancy. There’s not too much cuben fibre on display at this stage. The group’s attire is similarly varied – the TGOC clan represents a wide variety of types. Whatever the backgrounds, we all have things in common to discuss – gear, recent trips and, of course, what is to come in the next fortnight.

The time slips away and soon it is time to walk to the station and board the sleeper. Most have opted for the posh option of a cabin with an actual bed. I find myself with Mick (Croydon) and soon-to-be ten timer Rob Slade in the cheap seats. My Circuit nestles gently in the luggage rack alongside Rob’s new bright orange Tramplite pack. As I will discover later on, the man’s a walking advert for Colin Ibbotson’s products.

On the train, people gradually subside into slumber, but the carriage is too hot for me. People are fanning themselves. I ask for the heating to be turned down and it makes a noticeable difference. Even so, I toss and turn, or whatever the equivalent is in a chair, the whole night through.

Light finds the train, and all hope of sleep has dissipated. I sit transfixed by the scenery unfolding on each side of the train. This continues on the bus from Inverness, taking the Shiel Bridge and Dornie crowd to their starts. Rooms are ready at the Dornie Hotel and the group set about whiling away the hours until tomorrow’s start.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie
At the start

I sit on a rock looking across to Eilean Donan Castle, the periodic skirl of the pipes welcoming each new batch of visitors. Seaweed clings to the rocks at my feet and trails through the water, disappearing below the faint blur of Skye’s distant mountains.The castle is the symbolic start point of my Crossing, and I take my leave of it now, as tomorrow I’ll be heading straight up the back roads to get on with the walk proper. Another castle awaits me on the opposite North Sea coast.

Dinner is taken in the Dornie Hotel with Mike, Darren and Scott: we all go for the Cullen Skink. None of the 4 of us are disappointed. Andy Walker comes in muttering something about an early start, and moreover skipping breakfast in order to do so. Psychiatric help is administered. Eventually my suggestion that we do an early breakfast and then set off, thereby giving both of us some company, is accepted. Little did I know what I’d be letting myself in for…

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