Do you think about crossing the Scottish Highlands as part of the TGO Challenge and you come from outside the UK? Have a look at this post for some tips that might help you to plan the TGO Challenge from abroad.
I took part in the TGO Challenge in 2015 and enjoyed it a lot (you can find my report here). It is a great way to experience the spectacular landscape of the Scottish Highlands and meet people along the way.
Planning and organizing your walk is a big part of it and coming to the TGO Challenge from abroad can make it a bit more difficult.
As an overseas first-timer myself, I would like to share some of my experiences here.
TGO Challenge timeline
While the event is held in May, you might find that taking part will be an – enjoyable – year-round project. And furthermore, it is time to get started soon.
The following dates give you an idea about what to expect:
- The application form for next year’s event is published in the October edition of the TGO Magazine, which is published in mid-September.
- The application deadline is around end of October.
- Since there are typically more applicants than open slots in the event (around 300), you don’t have a guaranteed spot. The first draw is done in early November and a waiting list system runs into Spring.
- You have to prepare a detailed plan of your route and submit it by mid-February for review and approval.
- By early March you probably have your route confirmed and can make final arrangements.
Planning the TGO Challenge from Abroad
There are a lot of aspects to planning a two week backpacking trip and I would like to focus on some of the logistics.
Philip Werner wrote a very helpful article in SectionHiker for overseas participants, where he talks more about the gear aspect.
First thing to do is buying the October edition of the TGO Magazine.
It is available as an online version from PocketsMags: TGO Magazine on Pocketmags.
The application form is part of that issue and needs to be filled in and send back (by email or regular mail).
While the application is underway you might want to do some planning.
Maps are a central part of the route planning. Online map services can help you with the initial route planning, while you only might want to purchase paper maps for the final route.
When it comes to choosing potential routes, I find the website at walkhighlands very helpful. They cover walks all across the Highlands and provide detailed route descriptions, maps, profiles and assessments of difficulty and bogginess. Especially the bog factor is useful to get a feeling for the area, something that is not easy if you have not been there before.
Getting there and around
Yes, public transport is part of the TGO Challenge, but only to get you to your starting point and to Montrose, once you finished on the East Coast.
When you enter into the TGO Challenge from abroad, you will most likely fly into Glasgow or Edinburgh airport. Maybe even to Inverness like I did in 2015.
From there you will need to get to your start by bus or train. Traveline offers a journey planner that should help you to get the connections you need.
If you have done backpacking trips overseas before, you know that sourcing the fuel for your stove always need some consideration. It is obviously not allowed on a plane and once you are at your destination, you want to get going without delay.
Outdoor sports shops are only available in the bigger towns in Scotland and you might need to pick up your fuel en route from the airport to your sign off point.
Fort William, Inverness and Aviemore also have places to buy fuel, but you should plan ahead and don’t rely on restocking along the way. Make also sure that you will get the right fuel canisters for your stove.
Let the Royal Mail carry your stuff
Weight is always a topic for backpackers. In order to make the TGO Challenge as enjoyable as possible, try to keep your pack weight down. One option I have not used on my first crossing but will make use of in the future, is to send parcels ahead.
While posting from overseas is generally rather costly, posting your gear or supplies from Scotland directly, is a good option. Since you are sourcing your fuel anyways, you might want to drop of a parcel at a post office in town.
Things to send ahead can include:
- clean and dry clothes and shoes to the finish at Montrose.
- food supplies (if you want to use your own food) to stops along the route
- gear that you only need for the flight. (I had a transport bag for my lightweight backpack for handling it on the plane. Next time I would not carry these 300 g across Scotland.)
While sending parcels to the Challenge Control in Montrose is a fairly common thing to do, you should always ask before sending parcels. This is especially true for hostels or Bed and Breakfast places along the way.
If the idea of walking across the Scottish Highlands sounds good to you, you should consider to do it as part of the TGO Challenge. It is a great combination between doing your own adventure and being part of a friendly community.
If you have questions on how to plan your TGO Challenge from abroad, you can post them on the message board or you can certainly send me a note as well.