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A Ramble before the Challenge: Strathcarron to Torridon

Maol Chean-deag
Maol Chean-deag

One of the most time consuming parts of the TGO Challenge, a 15 day coast-to-coast backpacking event held every May, is getting to the one’s start point on the west coast of Scotland. Challengers are required to start at one of 12 absurdly remote but picturesque inns and hostels at the start of their coast-to-coast hikes, and although adequate medication and sustenance is usually available upon arrival, they are still damned inconvenient to get to.

The journey is particularly hard on Challengers coming from overseas, since we arrive jet-lagged in London, Edinburgh, or Glasgow, and then have to take multiple trains, buses, or taxi cabs to get to our final destination. It is an exhausting trip that can take several days.

My Challenge start point this year is the Torridon Youth Hostel, located in a small coastal village 227 miles northwest of Glasgow. To get there, I need to fly from Boston to New York, from New York to Dublin, and from Dublin to Glasgow.. Then I need to take a train to Inverness, and another train from Inverness to the a tiny village called Strathcarron, before getting out and walking the final 19 kilometers to Torridon.

Technically speaking I could take the train past Strathcarron to a town further north where I could hire a taxi to take me into Torridon. But after all those trains and planes, I’d rather sleep in the hills on my first night in Scotland, stretch my legs the following day or two, and adjust to the time zone difference between Boston and the UK.

Strathcarron to Torridon
Strathcarron to Torridon

The inspiration for this hair-brained scheme is Alan Sloman, a friend and fellow hiker from the UK. Alan walked a similar route on day 98 if his LEJOG in 2007. LEJOG stands for Lands End to John O’Groats, a hike from the the southernmost point of the UK to the northernmost that’s roughly 1200 miles long by foot, although there’s no set route and people can hike, cycle, or run the distance by any route they choose.

Besides shadowing most of Alan’s route, I’m also looking forward to climbing a munro named Maol Chean-dearg (pictured above), which Alan skipped because he’s not a peak bagger.  Maol Chean-Derag (pronounced something like “mole chan derag”) stands for bald red head in Gaelic on account of its red sandstone summit and lower band of white quartzite. It’s also a relatively easy climb and distinctive looking peak that will be easy to spot for a jet-lagged yank, making it a good warm up for the my subsequent cross-country hike.

Beinn Damh from Maol Ceann Dearg
Beinn Damh from Maol Chean-Derag

After Moal Chean-Derag, I will leave Alan’s route to walk past Beinn Damh. I don’t think I’ll climb this one, but it should make for an awesome finish to this short ramble into Torridon.

If you’ve ever wondered why I’m so smitten by hiking in Scotland, the reason should be apparent.


  1. AMAZING!! There are no words to express my admiration!! What a thrill to have your experience right at the click of a mouse!! Best wishes on this breath taking adventure! You are a die hard!!

  2. One hell of a trek; and that’s before you start walking! Can’t u fly Boston to Glasgow? Good luck

  3. There are 12 start points:

    Shiel Bridge

    Ours is remote in relation to easy transport. But most are easy to get to. Trains run to many or there are bus links.

    Good warm up for you. Easy walking but I would keep to the ridge and pick my way between the crags and link the tops up till Torridon and avoid dropping of the tops. Just a thought.

  4. On your way to MC-D you’ll pass one of Scotland’s most beautiful little bothies. A lovely little place in a stunning location. Be sure to stop off for a rest and some coffee to soak up the beauty of the Highlands.
    Good luck with your walk Phillip.

    • I had planned to have a cafe there. Probably won’t make it from the station to the bothy before I am overcome by the need to sleep, but our Challenge route has us passing right by it too. Of course Martin probably has us scheduled for a 30 km day to start out. Slavedriver!

  5. In case you don’t know there’s a small shop down the road from the hostel with a decent stock of food, drink and basic kit – midge nets, hats, toiletries etc. Its not exactly 24/7 though – more like 5/4. It was there last year,anyway. It’s also very easy to wild camp in the valley if you suddenly feel the need for fresh Scottish air and there’s a camp site too – no charge with decent showers – right next to the hostel. You probably know this stuff.

  6. Looks brilliant. You are starting further north than me 9i’m heading out from Mallaig. May see you in Montrose on the Thursday though.

    Good luck! Enjoy.

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