History of the event

The story behind the The Great Outdoors Challenge


The idea for the Challenge came from the writer and mountaineer Hamish Brown. Having crossed Scotland coast-to-coast on foot himself, he felt that this was a trek that could be accomplished and enjoyed by others within the framework of an organised non-competitive event. Hamish presented the idea to Roger Smith, then editor of The Great Outdoors magazine, in autumn 1979, and it was agreed that the first event would be held in May 1980.

The event has undergone a number of name changes. It was originally called the Ultimate Challenge after the event’s co-sponsors, Ultimate Equipment Ltd. Following Ultimate’s withdrawal in 1992 it became the Great Outdoors Challenge and then, with the magazine having shortened its name to TGO, it was called the TGO Challenge. The magazine has now reverted to its full title so the event is back to being the Great Outdoors Challenge again! The Great Outdoors has sponsored the event from the outset.

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The Challenge has been held every May since 1980 and it is a tribute to Hamish’s original concept that the format of the event has not been altered in all that time. The organisation has become more sophisticated, and technology such as email, mobile phones and GPS systems has arrived, but the basic framework remains the same. Hamish himself was one of five people who completed all of the first ten Challenges. The others were Bill Robertson, Bob Dawes, Ron Reynolds and Dave MacArthur. Bill has so far completed 33 crossings, the most of anyone, an incredible achievement. Sixteen people have completed 20 or more crossings.

The only year in which a full Challenge was not held was 2001, when the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease led to severe access restrictions. A part crossing from Strathspey to the east coast was arranged.

The limit on numbers taking part has been raised several times Currently 400 places are offered but each year around 50 withdraw before the Event so approximately 350 set off from the west coast.  In 2004, to mark the 25th Challenge, the event was held over three weeks with two waves of walkers starting a week apart. There were 395 starters in total. Up to 2019, a total of 10013 crossing have been attempted with 8851 being completed – a remarkable achievement for a remarkable event.

The oldest person to achieve a crossing is Jim Taylor, who completed his 20th crossing in 2014 when he was 91. Sadly, Jim died the following year. There have been a number of 18-year-olds (the lower age limit). We have welcomed nearly 250 overseas Challengers, from 21 countries including Australia, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Nigeria and Barbados.

The enduring appeal of the Challenge is a tribute not only to the vision of its originator, Hamish Brown, but to the remarkable camaraderie that exists between Challengers and also to the splendour of the Scottish landscape which provides endlessly memorable walking experiences at both high and low level.

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