TGOC 2024 – Starting from Lochailort

One of the big attractions of the TGO Challenge is planning the route.

In many places a backpacking route is made already; the challenge is to follow it day after day. Wandering away from the path may lead onto private land. In some cases this can lead to confrontation with the owners, and in some countries guns maybe used! Scotland on the other hand has enshrined in law the ‘right to roam’ across open countryside – public land or private. This is similar to parts of Scandinavia, but different from many other places including England where only 8% of land is accessible to the public.

So TGO challengers have wide scope to plot individual routes from the west coast of Scotland to the East. There are 14 start places to choose from and anywhere between Fraserburgh and Arbroath on the east side can be the finish point. In between everyone plans their own path. This freedom brings many Challengers from the US and Canada and continental Europe.

Lochailort is one of the 14 start points. Today it is rather different from when the TGO Challenge began in the 1980s. There is almost nothing here:- a road junction, a small church out of corrugated iron, a very ordinary Inn with expensive rooms recently reopened after a long closure, and a semi-derelict mansion. Trains stop at the nearby station on request only.

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Lochailort Church

The local land owner was an Irish lady (see below) and supported the renovation of another church ‘The Lady of the Braes’. This catholic church is now renovated as an impressive private home, while this modest little hut opposite the Inn serves the Church of Scotland.

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Inverailort House

The large mansion at Lochailort looked unoccupied in May 2024. It was used for SAS / SBS training during the war and was returned to the owner ‘Putchie’ Cameron-Head in 1945. She lived here until 1994. Her husband died in 1957. She continued to live in the house with a companion and upto 60 cats, dogs, geese and guinea pigs. It is said there were rarely less than 20 guests staying at a time; they had to follow old-fashioned standards with a black tie dinner in the evening.

She led a very busy life. She and her husband started the Glenfinnan Highland Games. Her hospitality tent was famous for “‘hangman’s blood’ – a dangerous cocktail which as many as 400 people might sample in a day”. When the local post office closed down she opened a sub- Post Office in one of her front rooms. This operated until her death, and for a time she delivered mail herself. She supported many charities, she was a JP and a Chair of Inverness Social Services. She is credited with bringing fish farming to the Highlands. She was appointed OBE in 1971.

She died several years after the start of the TGO Challenge and, I am sure, Lochailort is now a different place without the presence of such a live-wire.

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Lochailort jetty is little more than a ramp for launching a small dingy.

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Loch Ailort from Bealach Breac – an afternoon recce on arrival day

The A830 road follows the railway from Fort William all the way to Mallaig. It first touches the west coast at Lochailort. This is a place name. But it is also a loch! The side road alongside Loch Ailort leads to the peninsula of Ardnamurchan where the most remote TGOC start point can be found. Loch Ailort itself skirts a wide promontory on its north side called Ardnish with hills and lakes and ruins and tidal beaches.

I had arrived a day early and planned an ‘acclimatisation’ day with a walk to the ruins of Peanmeanach on Ardnish. En route I needed to find the path which was to start my TGOC on the next morning.

This is shown very clearly on the OS map. It heads west and starts on the far side of the station. The platform on that side is unused and next to it is a steep bank with undergrowth. No path. I asked local people but they could not help. Eventually I found a passage under the railway and by heading north I could see a break across the side of the hill above which marked the line of the path. This is one of those Scottish paths which in parts can be seen out of the corner of the eye but disappear when looked at directly.

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Although not clear on the ground, from below the line of a path is visible across the hillside
Download file for GPS

When I thought I was level with Schoolhouse Burn I headed south to cross the main road and to find the footbridge over the railway at the end of Loch Dubh. A clear path leads from the bridge across the escarpment above the north side of the peninsula eventually dropping down south to Peanmeanach. One building here is occupied. It had previously been used as a bothy, but now it is only available for rent. The other buildings are empty shells.

On the way out there I met a returning school party. They had camped overnight and the teacher recommended a longer stay. “There was once a community of more that 200 people there. It had been occupied from Viking times until the end of the WW1. You can see the marks in the ground where Viking boats were drawn up from the sea”.

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Peanmeanach from the heights of Ardnish

My time was limited unfortunately, but I would relish spending a few days exploring the area. There are several abandoned settlements, and on the small nearby island of Eilean nan Gobhar there’s a pair of vitrified ‘forts’. These rock constructions have walls fused by extreme heat – to date it is not known how this was done, or why. Someone has researched the history of the area and put it on a website here.

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The beach at Peanmeanach with the ‘bothy’ behind
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from Ardnish to the mainland looking over Polnish towards Glean Mama – my route for tomorrow

On my return I wanted to see if there was any sign of the path to the station. A faint and intermittent line continued on the ground until I reached a very well made cairn.

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A cairn marks the (almost invisible) path

At this point the path heads down to a stream and a collection of water pipes which supplied some of houses nearby the station. The OS map is good for showing detail and I could see the hint of a way under the railway by the houses, but nothing that headed towards the station. The small stream went under a bridge, and I followed. On the other side I found I was in a chicken coup. The obliging occupants headed into their shed so I could escape through a gate. This brought me into someone’s back garden. I headed towards the road passing a window into the kitchen where a person was busy preparing food. I think she received quite a shock seeing me walk past, but she returned my wave.

So I won’t be coming this way in the morning!

1 thought on “TGOC 2024 – Starting from Lochailort”

  1. Pingback: Lochailort start Day 1 TGO Challenge 2024 - MPAULM

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