Strathcarron to Iron Lodge (‘ish) : 29 km
Not to put too fine a point on it, my first day of the TGO involved me wetting myself from the inside out.
In anticipation of a bog trot I’d spent the last few evenings before the TGO impregnating my boots with an entire tin of Grangers wax, brutally forcing in each application with my wife’s turbo hairdryer until they were screaming for mercy. I don’t care how hard Scottish water thinks it is, it wasn’t getting through my boot leather.
However to anybody planning to apply similarly liberal quantities of wax to your boots, be careful what you wish for!
The first section of my crossing would take me SSE from Strathcarron for five days as far as Spean Bridge, having a brief acquaintance with Glen Elchaig, Glen Affric, Glen Shiel, Glen Loyne and Glen Garry, crossing each rather than following along their length.
My vetters had painted a grim picture of the chosen route making it sound like I’d have more chance keeping dry on a cross channel swim. And expectations were given a further drenching when I described my route to another challenger on the train journey up. He’d followed a similar route a couple of years previously and had no wish to repeat the horrible experience. I can still hear his mocking laughter as I set out on Day 1 from the Strathcarron hotel.
Well I set out from the signing out point into a damp drizzling morning and for the first few hours there was no competition. The ground was absolutely saturated from the first step and at times it was more like wading along a bubbling stream bed, but that wax just laughed it off.
What amazed me was how quickly 26 people setting out from a single point can be swallowed up by the Scottish countryside. I set off at my usual roadrunner pace, forgetting all the advice to take it steady on the first day, and by lunch at Bendronaig lodge there was virtually nobody to be seen. Except thankfully for Ian Somerville who, as I left the lodge, advised me not to head SE across the flood plain beyond Loch Calavie, but instead to skirt around it via Maol-bhuidhe.
So off I trot, round Loch Calavie and over the wire bridge, and started circumnavigating the flood plain via Loch Cruoshie. Round about the point the back of my mind was thanking Ian for his sound advice, a wave of cockiness came over me and, feeling full off the joys of spring, I decided that the next ditch was well within my standing long jump capability. Having not had an eye test recently, it turned out my capability was a good 12″ short of the opposite bank, something I had cause to contemplate from the supine position in the bottom of the ditch after a poorly executed triple salco .
So there I was after only 3 hours on the TGO, lying on my back slowly sinking into the bog, legs and back plastered in rancid peat, with water streaming into my boots….from the top. I can tell you now that G Wax does a tremendous job of not letting water back out of your boots, indeed the blasted things didn’t dry for a further 3 days.
Looking more like some dishevelled challenger who’d just finished the TGO, I was quietly relieved that my route would now swing south for a few days saving me the humiliation of explaining why I looked like a soiled tramp. But I do recall a feeling of loneliness as I watched people in the distance heading east along what looked like a good track to Loch Monar as I headed off up Allt Coire nan Each for further bog trotting.
I’d planned to camp for the night at the head of the valley at Loch Mhoicean but, as so many people found in those first few days, the ground was completely sodden and I ended up walking on a further 4 km down and past Iron Lodge before finding somewhere remotely dry enough to pitch. In fact it became a repeated theme over the first few days, eating into subsequent days mileage in an effort to find somewhere dry to camp.
But as I sat in my Trailstar that evening with the rain lashing down, watching deer from the coziness of my sleeping bag, I convinced myself that the wet bit was behind me. Tomorrow, I resolved, I’d keep my feet dry and not try to emulate Robin Cousins.