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"You'll never walk alone…aye…right!"

(The EFM team's Caledonian Challenge Walk Report)

We made it! More than 54 miles in just under 18-21 hours. I don't think any of us would describe it as fun, and immediately after doing it, we all swore blind "Never again!" . But now.....just maybe?!?

The walkers (Cameron Glasgow, George Renouf, Jim Strang and myself) set off from Edinburgh for Fort William on Friday night, arriving at our B&B around 9.30pm. A brief walk up Fort William's High Street that evening was as much training as Cameron or Jim had done for the event, and was our first and last opportunity to train together and discover our natural pace. I had approached the event with more respect, hiking up Arthur's Seat the previous Sunday. "Hah!" noted Cameron, "Tomorrow will make that seem like a walk in the park!" How true. We terminated our short training walk when we found the Highland Star Chinese Restaurant, and fuelled-up on a couple of pints each and a chow mein. Bed just after midnight, and up at 6.30 am for a quick cookie before checking in for the start of the Walk.

The Walk began on Saturday morning at 8am from Fort William and the first 12 miles were a breeze. However, our dismally minimal team training began to show after two or three hundred yards...roughly equal to the distance from the east end of Fort William's High Street to the Highland Star. The team split into two, the hastily developed theory being that it would be folly not to walk at your own pace. We regrouped at Kinlochleven, the first checkpoint. Wendy Cochran and her friend Pamela, had kindly offered to support us through the event and supplied us with copious rolls, cakes, drinks and sweets, and morale boosting chat.

The next ten miles, up and down the Devil's Staircase and part way through Glencoe, was much harder than the first section. Jim tore his knee ligaments and hamstrings coming down the Devil's staircase. By now our team training regime was even more evident and Cameron and I had disappeared out of sight. It was left to George to single-handedly help Jim down the mountain. He managed to call Wendy and Pam on the mobile. Fortunately, at this point the West Highland Way is close to the main road, and Wendy and Pam were able to cart Jim off to First Aid. Sadly he had to retire although played an invaluable role later in the day as Chief Car Mechanic.

After a short debate, Cameron and I decided that the least we could do under the circumstances was to wait for George at Checkpoint Two (the Glencoe Ski Centre Car Park). Worn out by his efforts with Jim, George and Naver, George's trusty black lab (see, he wasn't really on his own!) appeared 45 minutes later. Cameron had developed awful blisters and had to have his feet patched before we could embark on Section 3 so we all got a welcome rest and a chance to catch our breath.

Section 3 began well, with George, Cameron, Naver and I walking together. However, after a couple of miles, Cameron discovered that jogging was much less painful than walking, since it changed the pressure points on his feet. Naver also liked the new pace so Cameron and Naver disappeared over the horizon.

I felt bad for George that Cameron had stolen his dog, and was fleetingly struck by a rare surge of team spirit. Consequently George and I walked together for most of this section. Our blisters began to worsen towards the end of this stage, but we were past the half-way point which psychologically gave us a lift. George stopped ahead of the last hill climb of the section, to have his feet seen to at a first aid point. George urged to me to "Carry on" at this point, and and after half-heartedly protesting, I set off. If we'd been in an old war movie, it would have been at this point that I'd have handed George my Webley revolver.

I reached Checkpoint 3 at Bridge of Orchy, only to discover that Cameron had not only set off ten minutes earlier without George or me, he'd left poor old Naver! To be fair, dogs weren't allowed on the next section of the walk. It's worth noting too that thanks to their jogging tactics, Cameron and Naver managed to win the "Fastest Team with a Dog Prize", and established a new category for "Fastest Man with another Man's Dog!"

George and I regrouped at Bridge of Orchy and after scoffing a few rolls, bananas and Snicker bars, he and I marched off on the penultimate stretch. This was 10 miles and we covered it in 2 1/2 hours, which was great going. We overtook a lot of walking wounded and it was very noticeable how much fatigue had set in all round. By the time we reached the final checkpoint at the Auchtertyre Wigwams, we just wanted to get the whole thing over with.

I grabbed some soup, a roll and a banana. I stuck on a few more plasters and changed my socks for the last time. George went straight for a massage. A bit of executive relief was probably just what he needed, because when he pitched up at the checkpoint car park, Wendy had to tell him that his new Merc had broken down and been abandoned at the last checkpoint. It turned out that Jim had turned the ignition on to listen to the England game on the radio, but had turned the key too far and had flattened the battery!

Still reeling from the news (and his sauna....sorry, massage) George was very keen for a bit more of a lie-down before the last stage. With impeccable logic he'd also decided that after his rest, if he could get up and walk round the car, he'd be able to do the final 12.5 mile stretch! Wendy tried to distract him in conversation..."so, what are you planning to do with the rest of the weekend etc.?".

I was eager to end the ordeal, and with George's blessing ("Oh f*** off then!") I headed out into the darkness. It was 11pm and cloudy so the full moon was hardly to be seen. I teamed up with two HSBC people we'd met earlier in the walk.

Oh, I forgot to mention, Cameron had left Checkpoint 4 about an hour before George and I arrived, but then you probably figured that out by now!

Not far into the last section, my two new walking companions were beginning to toil. I bade them (and their head torches and map...crucial point this) farewell and carried on up the hill. I passed the 10 miles to go marker, 9 miles, 8 miles, and at this point the track was smooth so I broke into a jog and kept this up for a couple of miles. However, the 6 mile marker never came, and the track seemed to peter out. Eventually, I saw the two other walkers up ahead. "Thank goodness, are we heading the right way then?" I asked. Sadly it turned out that we were all lost; no head torches, no map (I'd dropped mine earlier).

We hunted up and down for the trail but it was nowhere to be seen. Eventually, we heard a river that we figured would lead to Loch Lomond (which was where we were to finish) and that in turn led us to a road. I walked and jogged in on that, no longer caring about the state of my feet. I passed a drunk sitting bent-double outside the Drovers Arms being sick and nearly joined him. With considerable relief, I finished, two minutes before 3am, 18hours and 58minutes later. Technically, I was on the wrong side of the loch, having missed a turning but did I care! Cameron had finished about an hour earlier and George, against the medical advice that he received at the final checkpoint, finished the course at around 5am.

It was hellish, but I'm glad I did it and the others feel the same. Jim was genuinely very unfortunate. Other colleagues are already talking about getting teams together for next year and are debating who's up to it. Are YOU?

Thank you very much for your sponsorship - cash/cheques to The Scottish Community Foundation please.




A Highland Hell

by Angus MacDonald of The Kilted Foursome

(printed in The Scotsman 26th June 1999)

It was never going to be pleasant, a twenty mile stroll is exhausting, double that and you are in real pain with the last 12 taking you into the realms of something you intend never to repeat. The literature showed a kilted fellow with two mates smiling as they strolled along in the sun. That picture was taken last year after the first 17 miles, and will probably be used next year too. The Caledonian Challenge is billed as a 52 mile sponsored walk down the West Highland Way from Fort William to Loch Lomond non stop. It didn't mention the fact that the weather might be more a combination of a tropical storm and a west coast gale. Before we had even started we were drenched, and 10 teams didn't even cross the start line. A rousing send-off by Clanranald, the chieftain of the Macdonald clan, with extensive safety brief by the exhausting organiser David Fox-Pitt saw the 517 starters strike off up Glen Nevis. 17 miles later we reached Kinlochleven, our first checkpoint, where the beloved soldiers and even more beloved support teams plied us with tea.

My portable came in useful on the Devil's Staircase above Kinlochleven, when we had to summon the army helicopter to rescue a fellow with cramp. We had already lost at least a dozen walkers who felt it was all too much. The arrival at Kingshouse at the entrance to Glencoe was like a scene from a horror film. Acres of cars with valiant support teams trying to drape plastic sheeting over weary walkers, with over 30 miles to go. Of the 4 members of parliament only John McAllion was still hoofing it. Walkers were falling like flies. Apparently, as the founder, participants had placed a couple of contracts on my life, an incentive to move on quickly.

Rannoch Moor was next, a section during which 15 individuals were picked up by the motorcycle dispatch riders and carted off the hillside. It was now dark but still bucketing it down. The Merrill Lynch team from Edinburgh, booked in as the “hobbling herd” was going strong, as were the 11 walkers from Stewart Ivory, the fund management company, led by the well-known John Thomson, who along with Angus Tulloch, both aged 49, were to finish.

Cazenove, the blue-blooded bankers, from London were 3 hours behind us as their plane had been delayed. The American Factset team had got off the sleeper at Fort William, turned up in good time to register but were tempted away by McDonald’s hamburgers, to reappear 30 minutes after we had all set off.

The fourth checkpoint beyond Tyndrum, Auchtertyre farm, saw everyone absolutely exhausted. Our wives valiantly served us up lashings of bacon and eggs before pushing us on for the last 14 miles. Lord Aberdour told us that one member of his team had dropped out and hitched a lift at 2 am, to be dropped off at Crianlarich. Unable to persuade anyone at a B&B to take him in he curled his soaked body into a ball in a church and dropped off to sleep.

At 11.59, Drew Mackin of the Clydesdale Bank had run in to the finish, 52 miles in 11 hours made us all feel very humble. Compaq Computers were in a 4.15 am, and then came the Edinburgh bankers Noble & Co, led by the obnoxiously fit Henry Chaplain.

My own team, the Kilted Foursome, limped in complete at 8 am, with the backs of my legs lacerated by the swing of the wet tartan. Heroic walkers staggered in throughout the day, with the last at 5 pm. 67% of the starters completed and we believe some £300,000 will have been raised for small needy causes throughout Scotland. Some big amounts were raised, notably by Andrew Gobourn of Reuters and the teams from Kenmore Group and Stewart Ivory. I said to Alastair Dempster who runs The Scottish Community Foundation, the charity who distributes the money we raise, “Never, ever again”, “you said that last year” he said, “and the year before that”.


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