A blog about a hike across Scotland (and possibly other things)

The Quincunx

I’m back in Scotland for another running (actually walking) of The Great Outdoors Challenge.

This event is a two-week walk across Scotland that I discovered by chance and did for the first time in May 2014. I can’t say it was life-changing, but it was interesting and enjoyable enough for me to come back and do it three more times.

I was signed up for a fifth crossing in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic forced cancellation of the event. I couldn’t do it last year for various reasons. But I’ve managed to summon the energy to do it again this year. Of course, I’m writing this before I’ve walked the first mile.

I’m going with someone else, a college classmate named Mark Beckwith. He heard me talk about it on a canoe trip another classmate organized a few years ago. We didn’t know each other terribly well at college, but we’ve become friends in recent years (thanks to two more canoe trips.)

Solitude was one of the appeals of Challenge. In the last one, in 2019, I took a route at the southern edge of the allowable territory—there are lots of rules—and didn’t see another Challenger until the last day. I saw lots of other people, of course. But it was a bit more solitude than I was prepared for.

This year will be different.

The route is 178 miles–shorter than some of my previous crossings, but with a lot of elevation gain, especially at the beginning. As a concession to age, and to give Mark a break, we’re going to be staying in B&Bs or hotels a little more than one-third of the nights. Challenge traditionalists would be appalled. Forty years ago, I’m told, the convention was you could only stay indoors one night a week.

There are Challengers from 16 countries outside the United Kingdom—26 percent of the walkers in all. Thirty-five are from the United States. Normally the event is capped at about 300 walkers. This year the field was been opened to about 400, to accommodate people who had to defer because of covid.

You can walk from one of 14 villages on the west coast. Lochailort, mid-latitude, will host 31 people, including Mark and me.

Here’s our route.

I’ve made a concerted attempt to lighten the load this year. I bought a tent that uses trekking poles as tent poles. It’s tiny; it will be interesting to see if I can sit up and type. But it saved 2 1/2 pounds.

I’m carrying a bigger pile of electronics than in the past, about seven pounds in all. This presumably will allow me to write blog posts in real time, and also learn a lot of irrelevant information my Apple watch insists on telling me.

I had foot pain in my last crossing, and put my beautiful Italian hiking boots back into the stream of used footwear at Montrose’s Salvation Army showroom. (They were accepted without hesitation.) This time I’m wearing a new design of flat-bottom, wide-forefoot boots I got at REI that makes me look like the GEICO gecko.

My hat, which I didn’t wear in my last crossing, is back, with its Challenge campaign pins on it. One of them got ripped off bashing through forest-fire regrowth on Parramore Island, in Virginia. I replaced it with a pin of one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s chairs, a nod to a great Scotsman.

The crossing will also have some backward looking. (Anybody surprised?)

Among the events of the past I’m interested in is a bicycle trip my father took through Scotland after his freshman year in college. He went with a friend. Somewhat to my surprise, he also kept a journal. It’s possible to chart where the two teenagers went 86 years ago. That’s the subject of the next post.

As in the past I’ve also done a little exploring before the walk. I want to tell tell you about that too.


  1. Kathy Lally

    Love every word of this. And the Orwell director’s cut is fabulous. Coincidentally, we had a Zoom chat yesterday with David Amory, who happens to be reading 1984 and brought up Jura and Orwell’s love of gardening. Will is sending him a link to the blog. Sending you love and wishes for tough feet. Kathy

  2. Boyce Rensberger

    I am again amazed at your endurance, David. And envious. But I am looking forward to some good reading. May the sky favor your crossing.

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