For the first time pictures are embedded from an album on Flikr. Is this good? I'm not sure. If you double-click on a picture suddenly you are on the Flikr website scrolling through a photo album that contains a lot more pictures than shown here. Equally disconcerting is the Youtube video which starts with a mountain scene from my panorama movie and after playing leaves a picture of Frank Zappa in the middle of the blog.
Push and pull the map in the window below to see the route in blue.
How to choose out of the 14 start points for the TGO Challenge? Oban is the southernmost and perhaps one of the most accessible, and so one of the most popular start points. For me, there was unfinished business in Iona - just 2 ferries and a bus ride away from Oban - which was pleasantly dispensed with prior to the start of the big walk.
This small port on the west coast of Scotland is easily reached by a 3 hour train ride from Glasgow. Early May seems to be very much 'in season' for tourists of Western Scotland with a kaleidoscope of nations at the very serious shellfish stall on the quay.
On Thursday 10th of May there was a palpable change in the atmosphere around the town as more and more people arrived of a certain age and demeanour marching here and there with large packs on their backs. And on Friday morning I followed after the throng heading along the seafront to furthest ferry terminal which would take us to island of Lismore and the start of my walk.
It is always a relief to move onto a softer surface and despite some gentle rain I was happy to be heading into the hills to look for my first campsite.
The spot I found on the map was a bit rougher than expected and I travelled on and up towards the bealach over towards Glen Creran.
From the top there is a good view to the hills on the other side of Glen Etive - the target for the next couple of days. In fact the views are terrific in all directions, and I take a 360 degree movie in an attempt to capture the memory.
Down below dark scars on the ground converge on a forest track which leads through Etive forest to the valley bottom. Vast swathes of trees have been felled on such a scale that the gang of men spraying the remaining undergrowth are almost invisible (reminder to self - don't drink from streams passing through forest enclosures!).
Eventually I come to the road and, to my suprise there's quite a few cars. As I round a bend there, sitting on a wall, with a giant pack on the ground beside him is Ian lamenting how Glen Shiel has changed since he last visited it on the TGO 20 years previously. Down the valley he just passed 'lots of party animals with their pop-up tents and loud music', and around the next corner I pass Matt another TGOer who confirms the story and can't understand how I can be going the opposite direction to him.
Before long I turn off, finding my bridge across the River Etive and passing an unfriendly (but absent) resident who has blocked the public track and tried to send walkers around their plot on a wet and muddy diversion with a notice "please respect our privacy" - I resolve next time to bring wire cutters and a notice "please respect our public right of way". A little further there's a camp spot next to the river and near the bottom of the ridge stretching down from Ben Starav. It is weekend and despite my late pitch there are still a few walkers returning down the path from the hills, the last rushing by at about 10pm.
I rested well in the knowledge I was on schedule and the weather set fair for one of the highlights of the trip the following morning.