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Backpacking Coast-to-Coast Across Scotland

Glen Lee

In 2010, I participated in an annual non-competitive backpacking event called the TGO Challenge, where participants hike across Scotland from the west coast to the east coast over the course of 15 days. At 173 miles, it was the longest backpacking trip I'd ever taken, and proved to be a life-changing experience for me. Held every May since 1980, the event is sponsored by The Great Outdoors (TGO)—the UK equivalent of Backpacker Magazine—and gear manufacturer Rab Outdoors. 

The author's Challenge route

Each year 300 participants—known as challengers—attempt the crossing, which must be done completely on foot. Most of the hikers who participate in the TGO Challenge are from the UK and Europe, but there are a half-dozen hikers each year from the United States. While I'd hiked in the Scottish Highlands before the Challenge, I was inspired to participate by Chris Townsend, a long distance hiker and member of the TGO editorial staff, who befriended me during my planning process. I've read many of Chris' books about hiking and his involvement was a big draw.

All challengers are responsible for planning their own routes. Unlike the United States, there are no continuous trails to follow, and hikers must be experienced navigators to safely hike through unpopulated mountainous terrain. Property access laws in Scotland permit anyone to cross or camp on private property, making true cross-country routes feasible.


As a first time challenger, my route was a low level one for safety reasons, with only about 20,000 feet of elevation change end-to-end. More experienced challengers, who return to participate year after year, take high level routes, often bagging many high peaks, known as munros, that are 1,000 meters or higher in elevation. That might not sound high to U.S. hikers, but the mountain climbing in Scotland is absolutely world class, exceedingly rugged, and not to be underestimated. 

While many challengers hike their routes solo, groups of up to 4 people are permitted. I walked by myself most of the way, but the Challenge is a very social event, and it's not unusual for challengers to run into each other at remote pubs or camp together when their paths cross.

Camping at Shielin of Mark

I spent close to a year preparing for the Challenge, planning different routes, and tweaking my gear list to be as lightweight as possible. In the process, I got a lot of advice from more experienced Challengers, who I subsequently met in person, and with whom I maintain close contact. While the experience of hiking coast to coast across Scotland was magnificent and sublime, the fellowship of those hikers is the first thing I think about when I remember about the Challenge and something I'll treasure the rest of my days.


That looks likes like a whole lot of fun Philip! Were there ample water sources?

ok, It's settled. I am going to have to do this someday. 

Abundant water! Scotland is notorious for it. I was doing at least a half-dozen water crossings a day. In fact, it's so wet, I switched from leather boots to mesh trail runners for this hike because my shoes were always wet and they dry much faster.

Gonzan - I'm entering again in 2013. There are hikers who have done the challenge 20 times or more. It's habit forming and you get to design a different route each time. It really is a blast.

Congrats on the trip.  I have heard of this and I think it sounds like a great deal of fun.

I've read about this and really want to do it as well. Your even allowed to stay at B&Bs during your hike aren't you? Really cool Phillip, do you have more photos?

Congrats on a fascinating backpack.

Jake - you can stay anywhere you want, as long as you don't drive. I have a lot more pictures in the full trip report on my site.

Sounds like a great trip

This is amazing and I certainly think should go immediately on my bucket list! Do you have any plans to do your presentation on this adventure again? I was grievously disappointed that I had to miss the last one at REI.....I like the sound of the low level. On a side note, you mention "Munro's", and that is my birth sure name, Munroe. I was adopted when I was 12, hence, Rayeski. Again, great post!! 

Stay on the path and beware of the moon.

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