TGO Challenge Planning: Narrowing Options

I’ve not been very well the past week or so with a summer cold. To relieve the boredom, I’ve started to think about the 2018 TGO Challenge. I’m not 100% certain that I will apply, but I thought I’d start thinking about a route.

My last three Challenges have all started in roughly the same area: Strathcarron, Dornie and Plockton. My first attempt at a Challenge started in Oban. The two start points that appeal to me  are Mallaig and Lochailort. Now, none of this is set in stone and I may change my mind, but I’ve plotted a route from Lochailort to Lunan Bay, perhaps saving Mallaig for another time.

In the process of thinking about a Challenge route and the various options, it struck me how route options are being diminished by the industrialisation of the Highlands. One of the challenges of the Challenge for northerly routes is crossing or getting around Loch Ness. Essentially there are three options: Inverness, Drumnadrochit (using Gordon Menzies excellent boat service) or Fort Augustus.

The Inverness option is not hugely attractive as it is a large conurbation and takes any route quite far north. Getting down to the Cairngorms is a bit of a trek.  An increasing number of Challengers are doing the coastal route, but that doesn’t appeal to me.

At the southern end of Loch Ness, Fort Augustus is a pretty place to stay with excellent accommodation options and has a good campsite. However, the exit routes from Fort Augustus have become decidedly unattractive. I’ve not done the Corrieyairack, but a number of people have said it’s not very good with large power lines intruding most of the way.

The other option from Fort Augustus has been the Glen Doe reservoir road. As I experienced this year, this has become a total wreck with the building of the Stronelairg wind “farm”. Even when the construction has finished, it will be a monstrous intrusion into a wonderful area of wild land. I can’t think many will take that route in future.

Stronelairg sub-station construction

You could go up the Tarff and follow the ridge north of the Corrieyairack, but the wind farm will still be in evidence. You could follow the B862 to just before Whitebridge and take the road and track to Stronelairg Lodge, but it’s a lot of road walking. All in all, Fort Augustus as a crossing point for the Great Glen has become a lot less attractive.

This leaves you with the boat from Drumnadrochit to Inverfarigaig. I took this in 2014 and loved it. Unfortunately, when you look at the options of getting across the Loch Ness flank of the Monadhliath, nearly every route is spoilt by wind farms.

Working north from Stronelairg, the River E is blighted by the Corriegarth wind farm. Further north, you get Dunmaglass/Aberader. You can use a good track up the Allt Mor and over to Glen Mazeran. Even there, you are squeezed between Dunmaglass and the Farr/Kyllachy wind farms. Basically, nearly the whole of the north-western flank of the Monadhliath is off-limits if you want to avoid the intrusion of wind farms into your Challenge experience.

Monadhliath wind farms (courtesy of Alan Sloman)

What this means is that if you want to avoid being plagued by wind farms, Loch Ness and the Monadhliath ceases to be a route option. It’s such a crying shame that a wonderful backpacking area has been sacrificed on the altar of “renewable” energy and political expediency. There’s no doubt that wind farms are a major intrusion into the wilderness experience of backpacking in Scotland and it is becoming increasingly difficult to plot routes that minimise or avoid encountering them.

However, it’s not just wind farms, small hydro schemes and hill tracks for “sports” have proliferated in recent years. I was shocked at the mess caused by the Glen Affric and Glen Doe schemes. I’ve seen pictures of the wreck around Bendronaig Lodge. There are also schemes along Mullardoch and Loch Quoich, amongst others. Of themselves, they are smaller than wind farms and hopefully there will be remedial work after the construction is finished, but they do give the impression that the Highlands is being industrialised.

Glen Affric

The proliferation of hill tracks is another blot on the landscape especially for shooting. Quite frankly, this is not sport. Driving up a massive track in a 4×4, blasting a few hundred birds out of the sky and quaffing a few bottles of champagne is not sport in my book. I’ve more sympathy with deer stalking, but grouse shooting, it seems to me, is one of the worst field “sports”.

Anyway, back to Challenge planning, all of the above leads to thinking about routes which are a bit more southerly and cross the Great Glen south of Fort Augustus. There do seem to be less issues with wind farms with routes that go through the middle of the Challenge area (routes starting further south are not great either). It is surprisingly difficult to get decent up to date information on wind farms but here’s a post by Alan Sloman from last year.

In many ways, Scotland ought to be a backpacker’s paradise. The Highlands is not a spine of mountains but an area. It’s large enough for good multi-day trips, yet small enough that lines of communication and habitation are never too far away. There is a genuine feeling of remoteness in many places yet they are not too isolated. The mountains are high enough to be challenging and give good views but low enough to be tackled by most people. Very few require true mountaineering skills to climb. Access legislation gives a wonderful freedom for walkers and campers (sadly abused in some places by a moronic minority).

It’s difficult to think of a better area to backpack, certainly in Europe and possibly the world. However, this is in danger of being destroyed by mindless development. What is especially ironic is that this is being pushed through by the SNP which is supposed to look after the interests of Scotland, yet time and again it overrides local wishes and railroads through these developments.

It’s very disappointing that some outdoors journalists (with honourable exceptions) who are close to the SNP have been virtually mute on this subject while at the same pontificating on other issues where they have no apparent competence. It’s shameful that they haven’t used their public profile to oppose these abominations to greater effect. The same could be said for some charities and NGO’s.

The upshot of all this musing is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to plan pleasing and rewarding TGO Challenge routes. While I will still do some more Challenges, I’m increasingly drawn to considering doing trips to areas where I’m less likely to encounter industrial development. That might mean confining myself to just an area of Scotland or somewhere else in the UK or maybe even abroad. On the other hand, there is an urgency to see the unspoilt areas before they are wrecked. What a world we are bequeathing to the next generation!

I’m happy to accept comments as long as they are polite and constructive. Any abusive or inappropriate comments will be deleted.

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21 thoughts on “TGO Challenge Planning: Narrowing Options”

  1. I’ll add to your list of ugly scars in wild places caused by Hydro projects with the River Taodhail just above Strathcarron, and another capturing the Neaty Burn above Glen Strathfarrar.
    Both tracks penetrate deeply into wild land and both have obliterated the old stalkers paths.
    And all in the name of renewables, to ‘save the planet’…

  2. Robin article is spot on, went over Corriaryarick this year because of issues mentioned, path had been renewed in area of washout and the industrial track used for pylon work looked to have been reseeded and hopefully will disappear in a few years but no nav required just follow the wires😤

  3. Couldn’t agree more with your point of view. As for the Corrieyairack, I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand. Yes there are pylons but it’s not a bad walk. If you’ve never done it then give it a go.

  4. I completely agree with you about the dreadful industrialisation of the Highlands but the problem that we face is that both the UK and the Scottish Government have democratic legitimacy for their ‘green’ energy policies. Our largely urbanised population simply do not care about rural development unless it happens to affect them personally.

    People on the edge of cities may object to a local wind farm development that spoils their view but will not object to development on ‘wild land’. Outdoor folks may complain all they wish but many more people holiday in the sun rather than in the Monadliaths so it’s just not an issue to them.

    I have quite a lot more to say on this but I won’t clutter up your blog with comments. It’s a complex topic that I’ve thought quite a lot about on my recent wanderings and I’ll write a blog post about when I get a chance.

    1. Sadly, both the argument and battle was lost some time ago. Avoidance has become the name of the game for walkers. Areas where that is impossible will be increasingly shunned.

    1. As you pointed out, the politicians are unanimously for this policy. The Scottish government has generally ignored local objections. Once wind farms are built, extensions seem to be easy to get. The damage is done and irreversible in our lifetimes. The vast majority of the electorate don’t really understand or care about wild land. Why should they? Most of them will never have been out on the hills. Many probably like wind turbines as long as they are not in their backyard. I’d like to think the JMT could influence the Scot Gov, but Stronelairg was the killer blow IMO. There may be some small victories but the battle has been largely lost in many areas.

      The irony is that overall, wind turbines save little or no CO2 and certainly won’t offset the massive coal power station building programs in China and India.

  5. I did TGOs from Mallaig in 2011 and Lochailort in 2014.
    The former, I went to top of Corryairack pass, then onto the hills all the way to Kingussie. Should still miss most of the development that way?
    The latter TGO I avoided new development almost entirely except the ugly but useful LRT down Cona Glen on day 2. I went via Kinlochewe, Loch Ossian, Ben Alder, Dalwhinnie. Then onwards to Gaick Lodge then up Bruar to the watershed ridge/Munros between Feshie/Geldie and upper Tarf Water to Loch Tilt – fantastically remote and unspoiled.

    1. The latter route is similar to the one I’m considering but I’d go a bit further north around Loch Ossian as I’ve been along Ossian before. As I said, the middle of the Challenge area is less affected by developments.

      On the Corrieyairack, while that is an option, you’d still have a view of the wind farm to the north. It is massive!

      1. Fair enough. Didn’t realize how visible it is now.

        I didn’t walk up loch Ossian very far – up to Peters Rock, then walked the Munros/tops south of it, before dropping down and back up to Ben Alder. If weather/my fitness/mood is good I prefer it high.

      2. It fills virtually the whole basin east of the reservoir. I think it will be visible from that ridge although it will be mainly behind you. ☹️

        I’m contemplating Aonach Beag and Carn Deag.

  6. Well written and hard to disagree with, your last paragraph especially struck home. A large part of the draw of the Challenge for many hikers is the route-finding, the ability to sit down for many hours looking at topo maps and plot a route through beautiful new places – not trying to avoid minefield areas for the ‘least bad option. If you consider there are many more in planning/construction, it is a bleak situation for those who love wild spaces.

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