Friday, 22 September 2017

TGO Challenge 2018: The problem of team selection...

Ernest Henry Shackleton
Henry Cecil John Hunt
Christian John Storey Bonington

Three generations of inspirational British explorers. For chaps of a certain age, these names conjure up images of heroism and derring-do. Each have their rightful place in history as leaders of men that accomplished extraordinary feats. Whilst their names are part of our vocabulary, the names of their team members are less likely to be on the tip of the tongue. Who now remembers Burley, Wish, Shute, Jungle, Constant and Prone? Quite. Yet without these unsung heroes Shackleton, Hunt and Bonington would be obscure footnotes in the pages of British history.


For each of the last twenty-three years I have been a team member in expeditions to cross, on foot, from the west coast to the east coast of Scotland: The Great Outdoors Challenge. Putting together a team that is able to place a man at the east coast is a tricky affair as I'm sure Ernest and John would testify, if they were still around. 


Every year hordes of hopefuls apply for the limited number of places on the TGO Challenge. And who can blame them when there is the prospect of views like these; see above and below. Some prefer to take the Challenge on alone. Others pair up or travel in threes or fours. I've walked by myself, in pairs, threes and fours. This year we have opted for a tried and tested threesome, but not before a fair amount of soul-searching.


Other people are odd. They are very different indeed. Tiny foibles, that in the Axe and Compass after a few beers appear to be mere trifles, are enough for a fight to the death after two weeks in the empty quarter, as Gary Larson - the sole survivor of the Lewis and Clark expedition, was to discover. 

Once again, we've decided to throw our caps into the ring and have applied for next year's Great Outdoors Challenge. Which brings me neatly to the matter of our own team selection. 

It's important that prospective team members are of good character and sociable. This results in a well functioning team, a cohesive unit. I decided to search my extensive archives, including my little black book of people who have pissed me off, the inter-web and as many Criminal Records Office files that I could hack, until my unfortunate discovery, to track down the sordid details of each our team members. 

The first chap, referred to here as 'me,' appears to be a saintly soul, a Grandfather and all round good egg. An extensive search produced just three photographs that cover this adventurer's lifespan. Yes. He definitely gets a place in the team.




I had a great deal of difficulty tracking down the details of the next member of our team - a certain Lord Elpus of Lord Elpus Hall. He has obviously spent a great deal of time cleaning up his murky presence on the worldwide-web. Just when I thought I had found something this was the usual result:

However, the scoundrel had forgotten about the Wayback Machine which produced these honeys.




From the little detail available it appears the character is ageless. His name has been linked to Brink's-Mat, and the Great Train Robbery. They say the true mastermind of those heists was never found. The only clue to his whereabouts is a ferocious black cat the size of a baby seal, colloquially referred to as 'Doodle.' 

I had, however, no difficulty at all in finding the low-down (and dirty) of our third man on the rope. Stories and images of Mad'n'Bad appear across time and space. It is said his image is being carried on Voyager 1, now some thirteen billion miles from earth. Fortunately NASA declined to take a recording of his electric guitar solos, preferring instead to take Chuck Berry and Bach. 




What can I say? This chap has a record of broken legs, helicopter rescues, walking companions carried away, sobbing or threatening murder. And yet...

And yet we love the rascal to death. He's promised, should we gain a place, to put rubber stoppers on the points of his flailing walking poles and to walk in a polite line on the correct side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. He has promised not to stand with his hands on his hips and harrumph loudly at a distance of a mile further ahead. He has promised to carry a rucsac full of sloe gin and life-saving cans of beer.

There you have it. I give you our team. No one in their right minds would pay for them. We're good to go.    

And if Christian John Storey Bonington is reading this and would like to tag along, I'm sure he would be most welcomeWe could do with a decent leader...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Bracknell Regeneration

Three years ago I posted some pictures of the Bracknell town centre that I grew up with. Here's a few to jog your memory of the place, emptied and waiting for the bulldozers.

Then the bulldozers arrived:

Our new town centre opened its doors a week or so ago. Here's a taste. It seems to be going down very well with the locals.

Friday, 25 August 2017

TGO Challenge 2017: Strathcarron to Red Castle: Index


Good Lord! This year's TGO Challenge blog posts have finally finished. Here's a handy index to sift out the TGO Challenge posts from the rest of the blog. It pulls together all the blog posts for my 2017 TGO Challenge, from sending off the application form, training walks, designing the route to the walk itself.

You can click on each post (it’s in chronological order) and the corresponding blog post will open in a new window.



And for my splendid walking companion's take on our TGO Challenge, here are the links to his excellent account:


Challenging Amnesia
Challenging Obstacles
Challenging Reflections


I’ve had fun putting this together. I hope you enjoy it as well.

NOTE: If you are thinking of applying for the Challenge for the first time and would like to know a little more about it, or have anything you would like to ask, please feel free to get in touch. You can get hold of me by using the Contact Form at the bottom of this blog's right hand column.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

TGOC2017 Days 13 & 14: Airlie Tower to Red Castle

It's a bittersweet start to the day; this morning we are leaving the hills behind, with a thirty mile walk ahead of us across some surprisingly pretty countryside on our quest for the east coast. We're splitting it over two days, with a Bed and Breakfast at Letham tonight.





We make a hash of finding the road through the woods at the bottom of the hill but there's no better way to get the blood pumping than a bit of bushwhacking. It's now a simple matter of putting one foot in front of the other and remembering our lefts and rights. The roads are quiet hereabouts and lined with trees resplendent in their fresh frock coats.

Switching on my autopilot I revert to my old friend, the skull cinema again. I love this Paul Simon song and now, with time on my hands I ponder the poignancy of these particular lines for this year's Challenge.

'And I don't know a soul who's not been battered
I don't have a friend who feels at ease
I don't know a dream that's not been shattered or driven to its knees
But it's alright, it's alright
For we've lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road we're traveling on
I wonder what's gone wrong
I can't help it, I wonder what's gone wrong...'

And with the tune fading away we come across one of the many war memorials scattered throughout the British Isles, and beyond; Each man missed dreadfully by his family for years after. Every year our politicians stand respectfully at the Cenotaph and the very next day continue with their warmongering.

We arrive in Forfar for lunch and on the walk in try to remember Eric Morecambe's dream football result, to have been read out by James Alexander Gordon: "East Fife Four, Forfar Five".

A good lunch just off the High Street followed by cashpoint machines for the B&B and the cafe after our finish. Suitably fettled we're on our way again. Our next stop is a bench, promised to me by Lord Elpus, who has been this way on his long diagonal across Scotland from Torridon to Arbroath back in 2011. The plaque tells of an early Scottish tribal victory over an English tribe. Lord Elpus has more about it on his excellent account HERE. It's well worth reading, by the way.

Nowhere is serving food on a Wednesday night in Letham so after a few quick pints in the pub David magics a takeaway which we have in the kitchen. It's an early night tonight because tomorrow night there's going to be a party and we need to be on top form.


In all my years crossing Scotland I'm ashamed to say I've never eaten a Bridie. This is put right this morning with the purchase of a steak bridie from the Keptie Bakery in Letham. Their bridies have won a gold award at the Scotch Pie Championship in 2014.

I have to say it was bloody wonderful, and I shall be seeking them out for evermore. It fueled me to the brim for the twelve or so miles to the coast.

There's a beautiful churchyard, well worth a stop, at Inverkeilor where the above photograph of Rufty-Tufty Mr Williams is taken. The day has turned out to be a scorcher and the shade is a welcome respite. 

Finally we stroll down the beach to the water's edge. The ruined Red Castle looks down at us as it has done for so many Challengers over the years.

A few words about Mr Williams. Phil returning to Strathcarron on the first day had been one hell of a shock to me. In one stroke the dynamics of the walk had changed. Neither Phil nor I knew David particularly well, and I'm sure David felt the same about Phil and me. We had bumped into him quite a few times over the years and he had always been a bright, smiley chap with a keen wit. We both had him down as made of the right stuff: Perfect Challenger material, in fact.

Over the two weeks of this Challenge and the preceding PreWalkDaunder, which he had organised incredibly well, I think I've only scratched the surface trying to get to know him. From the stories he has shared with me he's a massively principled, bloody hard-working bright guy. He goes out of his way to make everyone around him comfortable - a skill that seems to come effortlessly to him.

He's as tough as old boots typified by our walk to the Airlie Memorial Tower when I was doggedly hanging on. But most of all, he's great fun to walk with.

In his last blog piece on this walk, he says he's unlikely to come back on the Challenge. I wish over the next few weeks he rethinks that. The walk will be a poorer thing without him. The Challenge, as you'll have seen from this blog isn't just about grinding out long days against tight schedules. It can be riotous fun, wonderfully relaxing and a fantastic de-stresser for those who find responsibility thrust their way. Your only responsibility on the Challenge is to yourself, to make sure you have a bloody  good time.

And for that, David is supremely well equipped.

Thanks David, for being a top bloke and making our walk such a success. And please, think again!

Here are some tractors for Alan Rayner, found at Red Castle.

The pictures above are from the Challenge Dinner at the Park Hotel. Every single one of these characters is made of the right stuff.