It came quite suddenly. The first sight of the lighthouse was about 20 min ago and here I was at Scurdie Ness. Twelve days of walking across Scotland were over. There was a day ahead to celebrate with fellow challengers, which was great, but the walk was done – there and then. A mixed affair between ‘I did it – no more walking!’ and ‘But this is great, I want to keep going!’
The last four days of the Challenge really emphasized one of the most appealing sides of the event: People. Braemar, Ballater, Tarfside and finally Montrose are some of the spots where many individual routes come together. It was nice to not only walk with new people throughout the day but also sit together and have a drink. Being on my first Challenge, I enjoyed the welcoming and supportive atmosphere among challengers. The non-competitive aspect of the event was important to me. Meeting so many people with the same mindset – while having individual goals for their walk – was a good experience.
The walking highlight of the last four days was the Firmounth Road. A historic route that leads across the hills from Deeside to Glen Esk.
To get to the start of the Firmounth Road, I took the Deeside Way from Ballater on the route of the former railroad. Two days before arriving in Ballater, I heard that the historic station burned down. Having a weakness for railroads, the station was on my list for the Challenge and it was somewhat of a blow to see it destroyed.
About an hour out of Ballater the rain started and it was nice to have an easy path on the Deeside Way for some time before turning south to the start of the Firmouth Road. The track leads through a nice pine forest before entering the moor higher up and becoming boggy in places. The dark rain clouds above the open moor added to feeling of being in a remote place out in the hills.
In the climb to the summit of the Firmounth Road the rain turned into snow. The snow was wet and sticky and I had to shake it off every couple of minutes. It was quite an experience. After about an hour of walking in the snow, the Firmounth Road led down towards Tarfside. The snow did not just turn back into rain but stopped completely and the sun came out. A fantastic walk.
The evening was just as nice and sunny and ended in the ‘Mason’s Arms’ in Tarfside. A bar that just opens during the TGO Challenge. Together with the temporary hostel at St Drostan’s Church it is a great volunteer service at Tarfside and it is enjoyed by many challengers.
With the Firmounth Road, the remote part of the TGO Challenge ended for me. The last two days to Scurdie Ness via Brechin were on modern vehicle tracks across the last hills and mostly on tarmac roads.
It was great to run into Gerard again in Brechin. We first met in Newtonmore, which seemed so long ago. It turned out that we both planned to finish at Scurdie Ness and walked the last day together. With the sunny day and the dinner at the Park Hotel this made the finish a great end to a two week adventure and a memorable experience.
The plan to choose my route based on historic roads in the Highlands turned out to be great.
Being on the TGO Challenge for the first time with limited experience of the Highlands, it was a good starting point. Historic roads obviously have somewhat of a track to follow and are mostly in the glens. I did not have pathless terrain to cross and not too much high altitude.
Having learned a great deal about the terrain, weather and supply options on the way, my next route would be more remote I guess.
There was a bit too much tarmac involved, however. On the final dash to the East Coast it might be difficult to avoid. I had two additional days on tarmac in between, though and would try to limit those in the future.
For me, having the additional context of the history of a road adds to the experience of the landscape and settlements along the way. I think it is great way to learn about how the route and the communities came about.
If you think about trying to walk a historic road yourself in Scotland, have a look at the Heritage Paths website. I’ve mentioned it before, but it’s a great website.
The Whole TGO Challenge 2015:
You can find the other two parts of my TGO Challenge 2015 here:
Part 1: St Duthac’s Way
Part 2: The Road to Ruthven Barracks