Scottish summer?

Now that the rain is lashing on my windows again it is time to reflect on the past few hectic weeks of sunny weather, sort through hundreds of photos and finally get round to writing up all the routes. Instead, I’m off to Norway tomorrow as there is still powder to be skied at 70 degrees north.

Over the past few weeks I’ve had loads of help with route hunting. I’ve even been lucky enough to have had personal guided tours of a few runs which has made my research much more fun. In Moray I was shown round a couple of routes by Nick, Marie and Angela of Walk, Jog, Run Moray. On my way back south I detoured via Deeside to run a route suggested by Neil Stewart of Running The Highlands. Before heading to the north east I took trains, ferries and buses to get to a place I’ve wanted to go to for years – the Mull of Kintyre. The Kintyre Way Relay will be held this coming weekend (7th May) and I really hope that the sunny weather returns in time! The organiser, Rob, and his wife Isla were extremely welcoming during my short stay with them. It has been a real pleasure to meet so many great people during my research trips! Here are a few photos from those trips…

The Speyside Way long distance walking route follows an old disused railway line.

Artwork on the Kintyre Way

Looking towards Arran from the Lochranza-Claonaig ferry

From one end of the country to the other

I’ve just spent a fantastic, if tiring, couple of weeks travelling to all sorts of different places. For anyone considering a similar project I strongly recommend that they take the tick/midge/mosquito season into account during the planning stage. For me right now, heaven is an indoor kitchen!

The Font Stone on Monk's Rig in the Pentlands

It all began in the Pentland Hills where I met up with Iain, a Harmeny club runner, who knows those hills like the back of his hand. When I arrived at his house I could see why as the Pentlands are pretty much his back garden. It was an incredibly hot, hazy day and perhaps running at midday was not the best plan – I certainly struggled! The effort was totally worth it though as Iain showed me the western end of the Pentlands. My day trips from Edinburgh as a student never quite managed to make it this far and judging by the small number of people we met on our run it seems that most walkers and bikers stay east of the Kips too. All the better for running in my opinion!

When I got back to Glasgow from the Pentlands my new camera battery had arrived. This was something of a mixed blessing. Having become accustomed to carrying a teeny tiny compact I was not particularly enthused by the prospect of returning to lugging around an SLR and 3 lenses. My camera strategy definitely needs a rethink. Although the camera was back in action, running was not on the agenda for over a week thanks to social weekends in London and the North West Highlands as well as a whole week of paid employment near BraemarĀ  I am definitely covering the country!

Four of us spent a drizzly weekend at a new campsite next to the Am Fuaran pub at Altandhu near Reiff where we hoped to go climbing. Enormous waves crashing on the belay ledges soon put paid to that daft notion. Instead we scrambled up a wet ridge on Cul Beag enjoying the occasional break in the clouds and views of Stac Pollaidh and blue, blue sea in the distance. Luckily for me, but very unfortunately for my friends, the weather cleared after they left to drive home. I went for an incredible wilderness run near Inchnadamph and didn’t see a soul. The Assynt landscape is phenomenal. Bare rock and boulders, with vegetation just about managing to maintain a thin skimming over the top. At least, that is how it looks from a distance. Once on the ground that thin skimming is deeper and boggier than one might hope!

The Stack of Glencoul should bring back memories for anyone who ran the 2007 LAMM. For many of us this summit was the last checkpoint before the midway camp.

It took me a few days to drive back to Glasgow as I followed up several suggestions of routes around Inverness and Nairn. On my way past I decided to pop up Ben Wyvis as unlike most Scottish hills its top is covered in moss and offers excellent running terrain. Continuing along the ridge and taking in a northern top was great especially as I found a well made zig zag path on the far side. From that point on it all went a bit horribly wrong. One direction led to a boulder field and the other to bog. I also had a close encounter with a female ptarmigan who was determined to lead me as far as possible away from her nest. She didn’t quite understand that I was trying to do the same thing so I basically ended up chasing her down the path. Every time I tried to head in a different direction or get past her she put on a burst of speed to make sure that she stayed ahead. Eventually she judged that I was far enough away and could be trusted to keep going all by myself. As I watched her scuttle back up the hill I devoutly hoped that her eggs or chicks would still be ok.

Ptarmigan on Ben Wyvis

In complete contrast to my lonely experiences in Assynt and Wyvis (apart from the ptarmigan obviously) I drove to Loch Ness and inadvertently headed straight into the aftermath of the RockNess music festival. It was quite transparently the morning after the night before. Lots of bedraggled and blatantly hungover people were picking up litter and taking down tents. I decided that I’d be best to get out of their way and so headed to the next place on my list, Culbin Forest near Nairn. Several people had suggested this to me so I was quite optimistic that it would turn out to be somewhere special. I was right. The area is a massive complex of forested sand dunes criss-crossed by trails. Navigationally it’s a nightmare which makes it a perfect venue for world class orienteering. For those of us who are slightly more navigationally challenged the Forestry Commission have numbered the junctions and provide map leaflets at the car park. The normal grassy and herbaceous forest undergrowth hasn’t managed to establish itself here. Instead, the ground is covered in many-coloured lichens. At the edge of the sand dunes the sea has cut a small cliff and revealed the tenuous hold of the vegetation. There is no real soil, just sand. Where sea and wind have eroded the cliff edge skinny roots dangle lifelessly and trees list dangerously or have already fallen, betrayed by their poor foundations. In contrast, the little town of Findhorn and the boats moored in the river were vibrant with life and colour. The beaches here are well nigh perfect arcs of golden sand. On the Findhorn side there were plenty of people walking dogs, playing frisbee and enjoying the evening sun. The beach on the Culbin side of the River Findhorn is a bit more exclusive as it’s not possible to drive there. Boat, cycle, walk or run are your options – all of them good and well worth the effort.

Looking across the river to Findhorn Marina

After all this activity I’m appreciating a few admin and writing days. Looking outside I can see that that sun is shining so I just hope the weather holds into next week when I’ll be spending a few days in Perthshire.

Making tracks in Aberdeenshire and Deeside

The last week has been gloriously sunny in Aberdeenshire. I drove up from Glasgow to run on the Hill of Fare with the Cosmic Hillbashers. They turned out to be an extraordinarily friendly running club who were completely happy for a total stranger to turn up for a run. Starting from the Raemoir Hotel we followed good tracks that climbed gradually up to the top of the hill. We had wonderful views all around before descending down to the rather fancy hotel for a quick drink. After spending a couple of amazingly sunny days inside the Aberdeen Exhibition Centre listening it was time to do some running. Stopping to take photos in a Forestry Commission woodland I attracted a new friend in the shape of this horse who was convinced my camera bag must contain something edible.

Hungry horse, or just curious?

After leaving Aberdeen I drove down to Banchory to spend the night with parents of a good friend. That was three nights ago. They’ve been so welcoming that I’ve really struggled to pack my bags and leave. One night very easily extended to two, and now three. It’s been brilliant fun exploring the area around Banchory. In terms of running trails my experiences have been quite mixed. There are lots of amazing Landrover tracks which are much more extensive than the OS maps suggest. I’d be quite happy not to explore them on foot again though! Next time I’ll be bringing a bike. I spent a hot day exhaustively exploring Clachnaben and the ridge to a Corbett called Mount Battock. I’m supposed to be discovering trails – so how did I end up cutting cross-country across charred heather and arriving back at the car with charcoal streaked legs? Hmm, I wonder why I won’t be recommending that particular route to anyone! On the other hand I have discovered lots of lovely paths weaving though beautiful woodland that are just perfect for running.

Woodland paths near Aberdeen

Unlike most people, I’m quite glad that the weather is set to get cooler. Running in the sun is hard work! This next week I’m looking forward to exploring further north as I head into distillery country and the Moray coast.