Famously my journeys up to Scotland are always disastrous. Last time it was my ferry to Aaron cancelling, resulting in a bus trip around the entire Kintyre peninsula to catch a different one. So, I wasn’t shocked when sitting in Middlesbrough train station awaiting my 6.30 am train to Glasgow, I received an email informing me, that my 12.30 train from Glasgow to Mallaig, had been cancelled.
What should have been a relaxing train ride north to Glasgow, turned into a manic few hours, scanning bus timetables, phoning train companies, and frantically conversing with fellow TGO’ers who’d also had their plans scuppered.
By the time my train pulled into Glasgow, I had a plan. Faced with the prospect of arriving in Mallaig at midnight, finding a wild camping spot on what promised to be an incredibly wet and windy night, or forking over the cash to stay in a hotel in Glasgow…I hopped on a bus to Fort William, planning to bed down in a hostel and then catch the 8.30 train to Mallaig in the morning.
I arrived in Fort William, in, what would turn out to be the worst of the weather I would see for the next 2 weeks, the hostel was only half a mile from the station but I was well and truly soaked when I arrived.
A hostel in Fort William is a splendid place to while away a few hours, it's full of people who are either heading out on some grand adventure, in the middle of one or who have just completed one. So, there are always like-minded people to chat to. I talked to 2 French girls who had just completed the west highland way, a few Germans who had just been up Ben Nevis, in what must have been atrocious weather, and a nice chap who was off on the infamous Cape Wrath trail, it all felt very cosmopolitan. We all drifted off to bed at around 9 pm and I’m glad to say I slept well, despite sharing a room with 6 strangers. Thankfully all of them seemed as keen to get as good a night's sleep as I was.
I woke early and made the short journey down to the station with time to spare. So, I was able to get myself a bacon bun and a hot cup of coffee before my train arrived. Waiting for my train was when I met my first fellow TGO’ers, a group setting off on their 4th “crossing”. We discussed our routes and how the recent spell of bad weather had already caused some “challengers” to drop out. It had rained solidly for 3 days on the west coast of Scotland, and thanks to the TGO Facebook group, we had all been kept up to date with the challenges the weather had provided.
The train journey from Fort William to Mallaig is stunning, hugging the shore of Loch Eil, it then passes over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous for its use in four of the Harry Potter films. The journey takes about an hour and a half, which got me into Mallaig at 10 am. My ferry didn't set off till 10.15. Unfortunately, I still had to officially start my TGO challenge which meant I had to make the short, uphill run to the Marine Hotel, find my name and challenge number on the sign-out register, sign my name, and note the start time and officially start my TGO challenge. In a bit of a panic that I would miss my ferry, I ran back down the hill and frantically scoured the harbour, looking for the correct ferry, however, I needn’t have worried, a large group of people bedecked in Gore-Tex, carrying walking poles, encumbered with huge backpacks, all with map pouches around their necks was all the confirmation I needed. I joined the orderly queue, beaming at my fellow challengers, and once all the bags had safely been stowed under a tarpaulin, we were off, heading for Inverie and the Knoydart.
Andy has been a keen long-distance hiker and wild camping enthusiast since he completed the Cleveland Way in 2015. Since then, he has walked thousands of trail miles all over the UK and is an active member of the Wild Camping UK community, being an admin of the largest wild camping community on Facebook. He strongly advocates for responsible wild camping and believes it is important to leave no trace when camping in the wilderness. He joined the UOG team in 2021 and works as a website developer and content creator.