Thursday, 21 August 2014

Day 4: Thursday 21 August 2014

Blair Atholl to Dalwhinnie (24 miles cycling)

Woke to torrential downpour. On the positive side there was no wind but I wasn't in the best of moods at Blair Atholl this morning. Mood cleared about 6 miles in and so did the weather at least until just before Dalwhinnie. Cycle route 7 is a curious mixture: all off the A9 which is good but oddly engineered and in places the surface deadly for a road bike. Cattle grids also not much fun. Got decent speeds after the Drumochter summit and Dalwhinnie was treated to my version of “Do you know the way to Dalwhinnie?” as I tore into town. A lovely rest afternoon wandering around Pitlochry.

Day 3: Wednesday 20th August 2014

 Linn of Dee to Blair Atholl (22.5 miles running)

All running today which was a relief. Dropped off at Linn of Dee with my Border Terrier Reiver. I'd been a bit worried about the river levels especially the Geldie Burn Crossing but after discussing the route with our Al our B&B host,whose credits include a number of rounds including the Bob Graham,decided to go for it. In the end the Geldie burn was difficult but OK with care. The rest of that route is a dream. Wet feet all the way as there are a good many fords initially but the rest of it a narrow but very distinct path, gravelly and extremely runnable. Reiver in good form those wee legs eating up the miles. Met a good many folk along the way including a kilted fisherman. Sandra had needed to go to Tillicoultry during the day so I just had time for a pint of Moulin Ale in the Atholl Arms Hotel before she collected us.

Day 2: Tuesday 19th August 2014

Glendoll to Linn of Dee (13.5 miles running, 8.5 bike)

2nd day and my support driver / soignuer (Sandra) had to endure a 130 mile round trip just so that I could run the 13.5 miles between Glendoll and Braemar! Weather was a bit changeable but it was a cracking run up over Jock's Road.  A very runnable climb from the south and a good run our but the path (never mind road) doesn't really exist beyond Davy’s Bourach the shelter at the top of Glendoll. It is beautiful wild running and Kisii, Sandra’s Ridgeback, was most impressed by the variety of wildlife about: Ptarmigan already turning white and masses of hares as well as deer.  Sandra and Reiver walked up the track to meet us. I switched to the bike in the car park and rattled out the eight miles to Linn of Dee to finish off the day.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Coast to Coast Day 1: Monday 18th August 2014

Montrose to Glendoll

Today I began my attempt at a Coast to Coast to mark my 50th birthday and our 25th wedding anniversary. A busy morning (financial affairs in Forfar while I ate a Bridie and watched Guide Dog training) and very strong westerly winds saw me adjusting the route to start on the beach at Montrose rather than in Gourdon. I insisted on actually dipping a toe in the North Sea so we negotiated the dunes at Montrose with the dogs before I turned my bike to the west and set off to Glendoll in the Angus Glens.  From the beginning I was cycling into a strong westerly and even had to pedal the downhills.  The road from Montrose to Brechin was busy but after Brechin the roads were very quiet indeed and the views west across Angus were splendid between rain showers. Met Sandra at the Rottal junction after turning up Glen Clova and took a break before setting off on the last 9 miles up to Glendoll. We are saying overnight in Braemar and although it is only 15 miles or so over the hill we had a 60 mile drive round.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Two Days from Dalwhinnie to Fort William

I turn 50 this year.  I've always wanted to run a Coast to Coast in Scotland but none of the listed ones seemed to fit.  So I've come up with my own.  It starts in Gourdon where my paternal grandfather Charlie Coull came from and ends at Loch Ailort which is on the coast near to where my maternal grandfather Donald Cameron came from. The plan is to cycle the roads and run the hills between the two in August. Sandra's going to be my support team and by doing over seven days it should be very manageable and give us a holiday to celebrate our Silver Wedding as well.  We plan to B&B so it is a very civilised traverse.

In advance I decided to recce two legs of it and have myself a short summer break as well.  Accordingly Wednesday 18th June 2014 saw Sandra and I getting up at six in Tillicoultry where we'd stayed overnight with her Parents. She'd had a course the previous day in Stirling and staying with her folks put us on the right side of the Glasgow rush hour for an early morning start. The morning was grey and misty but forecast to be hot and sunny.

We loaded the dogs into the car and had an easy drive up to Dalwhinnie. By the time we arrived the mist and cloud had cleared and it was set for a scorching day. A bit worrying for 22 plus miles of Highland hills.  Parking up at the crossing at Dalwhinnie, Sandra and her dog Kisii kept us company for the first three miles along Loch Ericht. It is a lovely walk past the slightly odd modern turreted lodges of Alder Estates with enough trees to keep it fairly cool and plenty water for the dogs. When Sandra and Kisii turned back Reiver and I trotted off on our own for another five miles or so along the Loch side. I'd intended to stay on the loch right down to Ben Alder cottage but the direct route up from Alder Lodge, with its unexpectedly grand gardens, through the Bealach Dubh was much more enticing on  what was a glorious day. The estate road was dry and dusty much to Reiver's delight as nothing appeals more to a recently dunked Border Terrier than drying off in gravel and dust! Now that we were out of any tree cover at the loch side it really was very hot indeed with the hills almost shimmering in a great circle around us.  From time to time we'd stop and a pebble tossed into a pool would be followed by an enthusiastic Border Terrier who then cooled off properly.  On the road up to Loch Pattack we met two guys cycling down who'd camped overnight and done a circuit of Munros.  I was glad just to have my light running pack as they looked hot and uncomfortable with full Bergens as they cycled back down to Dalwhinnie. Turning off the road we took the path straight towards Culra Lodge alongside the gently meandering Allt a’ Chaoil-rèidhe.  That was a couple of kilometres of great running on soft but firm path out across the flat riverside.  We stopped at the bridge short of Culra and had lunch and another dip for Reiver.  After lunch we walked for an hour to let his meal go down.  We were now climbing up Caoil Rèidhe on a marrow but beautifully built path with the imposing sharp edge of Sgòr Iutharn high above us on our right. The burn is fast there and had plenty water in it as it jumped and tumbled down through the rocks. The last bit up over the Bealach is steep but on an easily runnable beautifully engineered path and we were rewarded with stunning views to the west with Loch Ossian way down below us and in the far distance the bulk of Leum Uilliem which sits above Corrour Station, our destination for the day. After the Bealach the path begins to curve round to the south skirting the western slopes of Ben Alder and I chose instead of climbing to set off cross country to join the Uisge Labhair as there is a clear path marked on its northern side.  I think on the C2C itself I will stay on the path slightly longer but it was an easy traverse over to the burn and so long as you stuck by the rule that if in doubt the path was along the burnside it was all very runnable.  Reiver was having a ball - although for the health of every rodent and frog between Dalwinnie and Fort William it was a good thing he was on the extending lead the whole way. When you add Wheatears and Stonechats on the high ground and the what seemed like the entire tribe of Hirundinidae in the valleys his joy was complete. We had the place to ourselves or else I would be issuing a general public apology for the din he makes as he sings his battle song. Down at Loch Ossian there is a good deal of work going on to set up three small hydro schemes for the estate.  It is causing some disruption just now but there are plenty explanatory signs about and the guys working on the project were very chatty and all anxious to emphasise that once complete there will only be ATV tracks to each scheme and that every effort has been made to have the schemes blend in and minimise the environmental impact. The run along Loch was very warm and about a third of the way having made very good time in spite plenty of stops along the way we elected to walk the rest of the way in.

Corrour Station House Hotel and Restaurant is a real gem. Opened in August 2012 by Ollie Bennett and Lizzie MacKenzie it occupies the old bunkhouse on the site of the Station at Corrour.  It is spotlessly clean and fresh and they are almost aggressively dog friendly and have a splendid German Wire haired Pointer called Archie who graces the decking and if he’s good the bar too. I've been there before when our club, Ochil Hill Runners, took the Youth Hostel on Loch Ossian last year and we ate in the restaurant on the Saturday night. They now have four very fine rooms available and it was something of a luxury to be shown into an immaculate room all hot, tired and dusty from the run and be able to stretch, shower, administrate and relax. Reiver was happy too with his bed and travel rug supplied by Lizzie and a decent tin bowl to replace the folding one that he usually has to chase around the floor and ends up wearing! When I came out of my powerful and very welcome shower he was firmly colorised down in his bed fast asleep. An hour or so later saw us settled in the deep settees beside the bar Reiver full of his dinner and me pretending to read a book about the Corrour Estates but really fighting to stay awake.  I had a pint of Corrour Gold kindly pulled by Ollie who materialised from his kitchen and spotted my need. Dinner was very good indeed; Red pepper soup, venison burger and then a semi freddo of single malt whisky cream, honey and raspberries as pudding. Extraordinarily good food.  I was went back to the settee for a coffee. After a wander around outside when Reiver expressed his willingness to chase the House Martins as far as they would go we went back into the bar where appropriately, given our day’s journey, I had a glass of Corrour single malt made by Dalwhinnie. Perfect.  A bit of shin cramp and Reiver telling the Red Deer that had gathered below our window in the small hours that they should push off were the only things that came between me and a very fine nights sleep indeed.

Breakfast was at eight and I opted for a very full version indeed.  Modest bill settled and well fed and watered we set off again running north at first before skirting the edge of Loch Treig before turning west and running down the Glen of the Abhainn Rath.  Good if soft running again and a really pretty glen winding its way down to the loch.  Looked in at the MBA bothy at Meannanach which was in really good condition - still glad I stopped at Corrour mind you.  Hard days on the hill followed by fine food and a good bed are my idea of the best of days. Then on and down Glen Nevis.  After we passed An Steall we stopped and I washed some of the grime off both Reiver and I and let my feet dry in the sun.  I'd taken a pair of minimal trail shoes to wear at the hotel and once my feet had dried out it was a relief to change into dry socks and shoes.  My Hill shoes had been wet since early afternoon the day before. Reiver does not like running on roads so we walked the last 7 miles down into Fort William.  Catching the train back down to Glasgow - Reiver's first train journey - we arrived back in Troon just after ten after a quite brilliant two days in the hills.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Post Runners on Loch Maree

"The post-runner came from Dingwall by Strath Braan and Glen Dochatie to the head of Loch Maree, then along the east side of he loch viâ Letterewe to Poolewe, and thence, if necessary, forward to Flowerdale." Chapter X: Posts and Road-making, Gairloch and Guide to Loch Maree. JH Dixon FSA Scot.

The road to Gairloch runs from Achnasheen along the west shore of Loch Maree (formerly Loch Ewe) through Kinlochewe and finally into Gairloch from the south. In the 1700s, before the establishment of the Military Road, the nearest Post Office was at Dingwall on the east coast. Mail for Poolewe and Flowerdale in Gairloch was brought once a week by a runner working for the McKenzies at Gairloch.  The runner took the eastern shore of Loch Maree through Letterewe and Ardlair.  The Loch's level has changed and now the route cannot go beyond Letterewe.

We stay in Gairloch during leave once or twice a year.  A few years ago the journal of Scottish Hill Runners contained an article describing a run on the Postie's route.  I've meant for a few years to run an adaptation of the route by climbing up from Letterewe north and then coming down into Poolewe from the east.

On Wednesday 17th July, while the rest of the country sweltered in a heat wave, Sandra and Becca dropped me and my Border Terrier, Reiver, off at Incheril just outside Kinlochewe in a fine drizzle and low cloud. We set off down the path to Slioch at a reasonable clip.  The path is broad and easy to the bridge below Slioch and we made good time.  Once over the bridge the path becomes rougher and climbs high above the loch on Màm Smiorasair.  The views are amazing but quite soon the bracken becomes incredible.  I managed to run most of the way but Reiver had to work very hard and at one point I thought I'd lost him only to turn and find him sitting by me as I called him in bracken well above my head.  Approaching Letterewe the path goes into old woods which are beautiful.  The route is clearly very old as many of the bridges are overgrown to the extent at they have blended into the landscape.

Letterewe is very attractive and after the bracken It was a relief to run on estate roads.  The path north from there up  Bealach nan Sac is beautifully engineered and very runnable.  Once we'd got some height away from the flies we stopped to eat.  I walked Reiver for half an hour after that to let his food digest.  By that time we were well into the high country and running easily on a narrow but well defined path.  Up past a series of Lochans and turning west to wonderful views west to Poolewe and the sea.

A fast run down through a forestry plantation and a dip in the river to clean off a very muddy terrier and we met Sandra and Alan with the dogs who had walked out to meet us.  A brilliant days running and Reiver still as bouncy as when we'd left despite running the best part of 21 miles.  I only hope there was less bracken when Ian Mor am Post did the running.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Well that is day two of Marcothon 2012 done and dusted.  Second day of running my 3.2 mile Royal Troon circuit before the rain (and snow) set in. Tomorrow London. This is the 3rd year and it comes at just the right time to kick start my training again. I was down to 8 miles a couple of times a week and a 9 or 12 mile circuit of Glen Afton with Reiver every other weekend.