Every Challenge participant has different goals. For me, when I planned my route, I had a number of parameters in my mind:
1) I wanted to do a more challenging route with some ridges and Munros. My focus on 2014 was for an interesting, low route, which I could be confident of completing. In 2015, I will be more dependent on good conditions to complete my intended route.
2) I wanted to spend at least three days in the mountainous west. For me, too many of the routes I’ve seen rush through the west, where the scenery is simply stunning. One reason for starting at Dornie rather than Shiel Bridge is to give me a gentle first day to soak up the scenery.
3) I’m not a “bagger”, but I wanted to do some more Munros. My count at the moment stands at three. If all goes to plan, I will more than treble the count.
4) I wanted to go through Stronelairg before any more damage is done to the area. The reservoir is bad enough but the wind farm will be the end if built. I also wanted to walk along the Dulnain again for similar reasons.
5) I’ve not been to one of the famous Cheese and Wine parties, so, if possible, I wanted to include it in my plans. If the Cheese and Wine hadn’t been at the Water of Caiplich, I would have taken a different route through the Cairngorms.
6) The Cheese and Wine location dictated that the next day had to be over Beinn a’ Bhuird and Ben Avon. It also meant that the following day is basically the same as I did this year to Ballater.
7) I’m going to Ballater on the Sunday because I like it and and I wanted to avoid the crowds in Braemar.
8) After Ballater, Dinnet and the Firnmouth to Tarfside means I do a different route than this year, even though the Mount Keen walk is probably better.
9) I enjoyed Tarfside this year, so going back was an easy decision. Hopefully I’ll bump into a good number of people that I already know. I really couldn’t be bothered to plot a ritzy route to the coast from Tarfside, so I’m happy to follow the trade route to the coast. My one concession is to finish at Tangleha’, rather than St Cyrus. Tangleha’ is not very picturesque, but it’s only a short walk back to the tea shop in St Cyrus.
That was the thought processes behind my route. One of the enjoyable things about the Challenge is the mixture of solo walking and walking in company. For the first four days, I will probably be on my own. Through the Monadhliath and up Beinn a’ Bhuird, I will be walking with Andy Walker.
I’m guessing that I will be meeting others along the way. This year, quite unintentionally, I walked three days with David Hale, which was an unanticipated pleasure. Thanks, Dave. The unexpected friendships that are formed on the Challenge make it something special. I’m looking forward both to meeting new people and seeing those that I’ve met before.