Monday, 21 August 2017

The Faroe Islands, June 2017


Monday 26 June 2017

My flight to the Faroe Islands was via Copenhagen, so I spent the night reading a guide book and looking at the big map I had bought.

How did I end up on this far flung cluster of islands?  Well, it started in early January 2017, I was looking for somewhere to go on holiday where I could climb alot of mountains in the run up to the Lakeland 100 I had entered.  I started at the Western Isles, moved to St Kilda, then a little further north and west and found the Faroe Islands....  a cluster of 18 rocky, volcanic islands, stunning landscapes, mountains and coastlines.... checking of flight prices and before I know it I am booked on a 10 day trip in June.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

When I landed at Vagur I walked to Sorvagur to buy some food and drink in the supermarket, then back to the airport and took a bus to Torshavn, the capital, where I found the shop that sold maps, I bought the maps I wanted and sped back to catch the next bus to Klaksvik, a town on Bordoy.

Arriving at Klaksvik I walked to the campsite which was a small patch of scrub land near the school with a portakabin kitchen and another portakabin toilet and showers.  Toilet roll provided by a fellow camper who carried her own supply.  

Wednesday 28 June 2017

I went to pay for the campsite, at Tourist Information, where the friendly staff treated me to a coffee and biscuits and lent me a desk.  After some map fondling I set off on a walk, from Klaksvik to Arnafjordur, and back.  It was a nice climb, following a route description in the guidebook, a climb, a descent and a little township at the bottom.






I returned to Klaksvik, then after some coffee and use of wifi I caught a bus to Fuglafjordur on Eysturoy.  From there I walked to Hellurnar along an old track which is littered with old stories of giants and milkmaids.






From Hellurnar I make my way to Oyndarfjordur and from there along the old village path to Elduvik and I find a nice spot to wild camp looking out to sea.  Elduvik is an ancient settlement, there are lots of old houses with turfed roofs.










Thursday 29 June 2017

After visiting the local gorge I take the path along the valley.







I follow a river, climb up the side of a waterfall, then descend to Funningsfjordur.  From there I walk firstly along the road then across boggy hills to Skalabotnur.  Here I stock up on food and drink at the petrol station, and set off to cross the ridge to Selatrad.   The climb is way marked with cairns, the land at the top is flat and stony, and as usual from the top the views are amazing.




I descend and follow the road to Selatrad, where I camp for the night on the scout campsite; the scouts were building a big camp for the weekend and helped me plan my exit the next day.  They rang the bus to ask it to come for me.

Friday 30 June 2017

The bus arrived at the stop on time and took me to Torshavn, then I took a bus to Sorvagur. I am booked on a boat from Sorvagur to Mykines, the small, most westerly of the Faroe Isles.





I help Johan, who is moving to Mykines, unload boxes onto the boat, then arriving on the island, climb up to the cluster of houses.





The weather is hot and sunny, I pitched my tent and walked up to the top of Knukkur and ran down.  There is just a Danish war ship at sea coasting along as I climb and descend.

On this walk I have my first encounter with the Great Skua.  I saw a pair circling above me for quite a while, and as I continued my ascent, as I approached their territory, they started an impressive air display, literally coming at you out of nowhere!   You sort of hear a short sharp whistle, look round and this massive winged predator is coming straight at your face!  I ducked and fell over, a few times, I was quite scared as they were clearly very protective and seemed to be going for my eyes.  As I only have one good one I am quite protective of it.




The views from the top of Knukkur were breathtaking.  I could see to the islands I had just left a few hours previously.  On reaching my tent, I bump into a man who says he is a farmer.  We talk about the Great Skua, he knows where they are, and then he says, entirely unprompted: "And those fucking hippies from San Franciso, they can fuck off.  Who the fuck are they to tell me what to do?  These are my islands and we have been here thousands of years.  And guess what, I just had some blubber!"  I just look at him, confused and don't think there is much point saying anything.

Strava

Saturday 1 July 2017

I spend the day in my tent as it's raining and windy and I didn't see any point in getting cold and wet, I read a book.

Sunday 2 July 2017

I walked up Knukkur again, and said farewell to the Great Skua, as the protective pair came at me again.  I came upon the plaque to the airplane that crashed on the side of the mountain and thought of the families affected.





I then walked to Mykinesholmur, the westernmost tip of the island, crossing a bridge across the Atlantic.  There were thousands of puffins flying around me as I walked and further on there was a gannet colony.







I flew by helicopter to Torshavn, and from there I took a boat to Tvoroyri on Suduroy, where I caught a bus to Hvalba and camped there overnight next to a massive anchor.

Monday 3 July 2017

This was an exciting walk, the plan was to walk from Hvalba in the north of Suduroy to the southernmost tip of the island.  I made it as far as Sumba covering around 25 miles, passing Nes, the Turkish Graves, Trongisvagur, Ordavik and Vagur.  There was alot of ascent, magnificent views and and I met one person on the way who said he was a farmer having a walk up a hill.






I finished in Sumba, where I knew there was a campsite, but I couldn't see one.  Some people I asked took me in a car to the campsite which was a disused football club, about a mile out of the town.  The manager of the campsite came to let me  in to the club house and assured me no one would come, as I planned to sleep on the floor of the clubhouse rather than pitch my tent.  I was tired!  Tumas assured me no one would come.

Shortly after midnight I awoke to the sound of the door to the clubhouse opening.  I was a little worried at this development and announced my presence, to the camper who had just arrived and was looking for the bathroom.  This turned out to be James, who expressed his embarrassment at being a US citizen and said he didn't identify with most of his countrymen.





Strava link Hvalba to Vagur

Strava link Vagur to Sumba

Tuesday 4 July 2017

I woke up and took a quick trip from the campsite at Sumba to Akraberg and back, had a coffee on a bench with James who was setting off heading north; then the bus took me to Tvoroyri where I caught the ferry to Torshavn.  From there I caught a bus to Giljanes on Vagar, where there was a hostel and campsite.

Wednesday 5 July 2017

I set off on a long walk without my usual rucksack and tent.  I headed for a deserted village, Slaettanes.  This walk is an opportunity for me to get some miles and ascent in.  I chat to a friendly Danish couple of walkers and then hap upon a pair of Great Skua, equally scary as the previous pair on Mykines.  I fall over ducking, and take some photos, they are extremely impressive, aggressive, protective and majestic.






As I approach the deserted village I am targetted by a hundred or so Arctic Terns, these birds don't like me being there and make sure I know it.  I spend about 15 minutes worrying about what they might do, and they only turn back and leave me alone as I reach the village where I sit on a bench and look at the sea.




Knowing that I have to get past the colony of  Arctic Terns, and then past the pair of Great Skua, I am a little anxious and manage to take a wrong line on my return from Slaettanes.  I realise I have made an error, then I have to work hard to find out my way back to where I should be, which I manage with just a little elevated heart rate.  The lost art of reorienting oneself, I understand.  It is quite an exciting hobby to have.

I arrived at the campsite at Giljanes having had a fairly long day out, the last few miles I was escorted by some whimbrels who were far more friendly than the other birds I met further out that day.

Link to Strava

Thursday 6 July 2017

I flew home.

Oh dear.  I realise soon after booking my trip that this is where the pilot whales are slaughtered, in a cruel and now unnecessary hunt, the Grindadrap.  The Faroese say this practice is not cruel, and is part of their culture.  Maybe prior to the second world war, the consumption of whale meat and blubber contributed to the economy of such an isolated community.  The islanders don't need the meat of the whales they kill, any more, but they do consider this traditional hunt is an ancient right.

The Faroe Islands are a principality of Denmark and self governing.  They are not part of the European Union and therefore the slaughter of whales is not illegal.

Heri Joensen argues that the Grindadrap is no worse than a slaughterhouse.

Sea Shepherd Global has submitted a request to the EC to launch infringement proceedings against Denmark for facilitating the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.

Some animal welfare activists think that instead of direct action, a different approach to the slaughter of the Grindadrap will produce results, pointing to evidence that contaminants in pilot whales and blubber indicate that there are significant health risks arising from consumption of whale meat and blubber.

In November 2008, Høgni Debes Joensen, the chief medical officer of the Faroe Islands and Pál Weihe, scientist, recommended in a letter to the Faroese government that pilot whales should no longer be considered fit for human consumption because of the high level of mercury PCB and DDT derivatives. 

I didn't want to go.  On reflection, as the weeks and months went by, I decided that most countries have poor records on animal rights and human rights abuses, why boycott these islands, when at home we are not much better, our cruelty to both humans and animals takes place usually in private, behind closed doors rather than on the beaches for the world to see and judge.

Game bird shooting for example in the UK: animal cruelty which is not prosecuted as the industry exploits loopholes in animal welfare legislation.  The slaughter of animals for sport takes place in the county in which I live.

The Western Isles also face allegations of animal cruelty, the history and practice of killing gannet chicks is no longer necessary, although there is resistance from some islanders who maintain the specific skill may become necessary in the future.

How the pilot whales are ushered into the shallow bays and killed in the Grind makes harrowing reading.

I travel to the Faroe Islands, despite all this, feeling ashamed and depressed that I am going to such a place....  I chose this holiday for the mountains but I really don't want to go.

I chatted to a few people on buses but didn't really get to know any Faroese people.  I don't think I would go back.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

The Lakeland 100, 28 29 & 30 July 2017


Thursday 27th July.  After a day packing and working, I drove 92 miles to Coniston and slept in my car as the campsite was closed by the time I arrived.  

Friday 28th July.  I registered early at race HQ, the race started at 6 pm, I would be travelling further on foot than I had driven to get here unless disaster struck.  

Registration and kitcheck was the usual well oiled machine.  I didn’t weigh as much as I thought I might but I was still overweight.  After lunch there was an hour or so of more kit faff, then a truly deep sleep in my tent, thanks to ear plugs, until it was time for the race briefing, followed by another 45 minutes faffing before I set off to be dibbed into the start pen.  Halfway there I turned and ran back to the tent and ditched the OMM waist pack.  Good move. 

Nessun Dorma  resounded as we stood in silence, courtesy of Chris Lafferty, then finally, just 3 days short of 11 months since clicking “submit”, and paying my entry fee, the race began.  Relieved and overwhelmed in equal measure I set off on the journey, through Coniston and up the miner's track. 

   


  

I had reccied most of the route, of the 105 miles there was only one 10 mile section I had never been to and that looked straightforward on the map.     

Out of Coniston, over the miner’s bridge and up the Walna Scar Road, it started spitting then raining.  I hoped that this wasn’t the backdrop for the next 105 miles.  Once we reached Brown Pike the rain stopped and ahead it was clear, check point 1 at Seathwaite came fairly quickly. 

Seathwaite behind us, the route to Boot along Grassguards Gill and Harter Fell was straightforward, a few midges could not dampen my spirit. 

At checkpoint 2 (Boot) I put my head torch on to be ready when darkness came; I felt excited to be heading out towards Burnmoor Tarn as the sky darkened, Raven Crag was invisible but I knew it was there.  

Although there were people around we moved mostly in silence.  The tarn was still and quiet and from there it was a deep and wet path to Wasdale Head where the Sunderland Strollers roller disco checkpoint was a welcome break, the dolphin basking in the river made me smile.

Again, leaving the checkpoint all I could feel was excitement.  Contouring round Kirk Fell and then up Black Sail Pass, I kept an eye on the path, to be sure I didn't take the one that went to the bottom of the valley, then I was following a train of head torches up to Black Sail Pass and over the top and down and across the River Liza; past the YHA Black Sail, and up Scarth Gap Pass. 

Saturday 29 July 

On the descent towards Buttermere, I left the rocky path and found myself scrambling across until I found the path again, by chance.  The check point at Buttermere was the first time I sat down, mainly to get stones out of my shoes; the soup and hot dog were delicious and I set off towards Braithwaite feeling good.

The long climb up to Sail Pass I found myself on another silent train; I was on familiar territory due to a recent reccie.   I liked the silence, there was a common acceptance we had to get our heads down and get on with making our way.  

Descending from Sail Pass to Braithwaite dark blue bruises appeared in the black sky which became larger as they lightened and before I reached Braithwaite I turned my head torch off.  I was in good spirits at the check pint and enjoyed pasta and snacks, I ran back to take a handful of nuts and raisins for my journey from there.  The next section was easy; I set out along the A66 then found the hidden footpath towards Keswick.  The path round Latrigg was straightforward, on to the self clip checkpoint then down to and across Glenderaterra Beck, Blencathra Visitor Centre soon came along, where the welcome and chocolate cake provided a boost after a cold and windy few hours. 

From there it was a trot down through Wescoe, underneath the A66 and along the Old Coach Road where instead of putting on a waterproof and layers when the wind and the rain came I decided I would manage until I reached Dockray, by which time I was cold, miserable and about to throw in the towel.  Other runners around me were smiling and I had no idea why or how they were so happy. 

From Dockray I was guessing the way; a mix of using the map and road book and sneaky peeks at others.  Sometimes just blank which way? at gates, then I found myself in the middle of a band of runners, we trudged up the side of a hill, around muddy tracks and along then through fields and eventually reached Dalemain where Amanda and Andreas are smiling and taking my picture and talking to me while I work out what to ditch, and what to take from my drop bag.  











  





Antiseptic wipes were great to clean my macerated feet, which I then dried out for 25 minutes.  Foot cream applied and clean socks on, even in my wet but dried out a little trainers I felt like I had put my fur boots on, I set off happier and warmer across the green fields in sunshine.  My earlier thoughts of pulling the plug on this, were dashed here.  I felt much better having seen Andreas and Amanda - how would I tell people I ditched this race because I couldn't be bothered?

I know the route from here and apart from struggling to find the way from Dalemain to Pooley Bridge I enjoy chatting to Michelle then Jon as we make our way towards Howtown. 

Howtown Bobbin Mill checkpoint is always a rowdy affair, I load up with snacks and set off on the long slow climb up Fusedale.  I was surprised how easy the ascent was and was pleased at my newfound levels of fitness; until I turned a corner and realised I was only half way up and had entirely forgotten about this next stretch.  Up towards High Kop, a lovely run across soft bouncy bogs, down to Low Kop, and then down to Haweswater.  The trap trap trap along the nasty little lakeside path went on, but there’s nothing you can do but peer through the fern and hope the path below is not a big bog or puddle or rock which will snap your ankle.

Finally we are at Mardale check point and if I can make the climb from there up Gatescarth Pass I know I will make it to the end.  That much is certain.  Luckily for me I am eating a sandwich from the checkpoint and a bag of crisps whilst chatting to Michelle and being hugged by a turtle in orange Crocs.  The top of the pass arrives in no time and I know the end is in sight.





The descent is messy and never good to run; once near the bottom I  jog along to Sadgill and up the hen across some fields, along a little track and down to Kentmere Village Hall.  My disappointment at finding no smoothies here however was softened, as I was spoiled by the kindness of someone in sheep’s clothing who helped me by emptying my rucksack which was full of Red Bull.  My brilliant idea to carry a can of Red Bull [acknowledging my main fear, that I would be too tired to finish the race] backfired as my can exploded as my rucksack caught on a wall. The lady sheep was very kind and told me we were Facebook friends.  Someone else came to check I knew my name and what I was doing before they let me loose - I must have looked like I was unhappy but I was.

I climbed up out of Kentmere and my wet sticky clothes bothered me less; I was jogging along the track when it became less stony, down to the road and up to Troutbeck, along Robin Lane to Ambleside.  

Sunday 30 July 2017

Me and the two others I am with agreed to dib and go, and off we went, up across the stepping stones, round Loughrigg Fell, down to Skelwith Bridge then over to Chapel Stile via Elterwater.  Our group became bigger, I was tired and the route I knew looked different.  Annette kindly offered to lead our rag  tag and bobtail group out of Chapel Stile and she nimbly led us along the paths through fields of fluffy white fluorescent sheep which looked like they were brand new and full of kapok to me. 

When we reached the top of Side Pike Annette checked we’d be ok if she disappeared, we would and then we just saw her head torch from time to time bouncing around in the distance.  We made it without ending up in the bogs, to the self clip at Wrynose as dawn broke and we  strolled past the Highland cattle who sat at the side of the path, looking ultra cool, till we reached Tilberthwaite.

I had expected to hear Led Zeppelin playing when I arrived at the Tilberthwaite Check Point, and had to compensate by playing Stairway to Heaven in my head. Here I sent Amanda and Izabella messages to say I would be back at 7.30 am and we strolled  up the stairway to heaven in glorious sunshine.  The darkness and the rain were behind us; looking round a cloud inversion bathed the valley in luminous mist and I could have sat down and gazed at that sight all day. 




By this point, around 6.30 am on Sunday morning it felt normal to be ascending, the difference being this final ascent gilded with bright sunlight, sleep deprivation and a little hunger just intensifying the feeling… I had been moving now for just over 36 hours.  Climbing up, the first time I had been here in daylight in a few years, was pretty surreal.  

Reaching the top I paused before the descent and was in no hurry to start the descent on the tricky rocky path.  I made my way down and upon reaching the track John shook my hand and hugged me, then disappeared off sprinting back to Coniston with me close behind.   

I ran to the finish and any pain I had felt in my feet disappeared - the end was in sight, it's not finished until it's done.  This was such an unforeseen finish for me, I had not dared to dream I could manage this.  You never do know what you are capable of. 
  



So 105 miles after I left, I now returned to the John Ruskin school, 37 hours and 23 minutes later, I had been away for what felt a lifetime, in fact it was just a working week for some.  

I had been to some amazing places and met some incredible people.  And now to be welcomed home by my friends who had come to greet me was almost overwhelming. 

The support of the race organisers, marshalls and all involved in this event, throughout the year and most of all on the race weekend, means that these journeys are possible.  I felt proud to be on the start and at the finish.   












First male: Michael Jones 20h 22m 19s
First female Sabrina Verjee 23h 15m 22s [6th overall]
155th Sarah Smith 37h 23m 10s

223 finished of 360 starters 

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Isle of Jura Fell Race, 27 May 2017


For four years now, I have been trying to rearrange my life in order to make it to the start line of the Isle of Jura Fell Race, ever since I had to forego my place in 2013.  I had not run much in the months prior to the race, and I knew I was doomed to being timed out.  Instead of setting off with the runners, I had marshalled at check point 7, Corra Bheinn, which role in fairness I had felt quite proud to fulfil. Being on the Isle of Jura, being part of this incredible event, handing a cup of water to the runners, all felt like a privilege.

Three days before the race in 2013, I had reccied the section of the race that took in the three Paps of Jura with Steve, Andreas and Amanda, my fellow club members who were running in the race.  I had never been in such an exposed place in my life, and could not believe where I found myself, this was the stuff of dreams. The weather that week was extreme.  Tropical temperatures, clear skies, no clouds for multiple horizons.  The views from the peaks of the Paps were breathtaking; the colours of the sky and the sea were the richest, deepest, brightest throbbing turquoise and whatever other hue you can pin on blue that exist in the palette.  This riot of nature, the mountains and the sea, was verging on painful it was so beautiful.

I had never been to such a place on earth, and these were the conditions.  Good luck or fortune, no matter how, I was there and this was just magical.  I had not run much that year, due to various reasons, being timed out at an early stage of the race was inevitable so I didn't see the point in wasting anyone's time by setting off, let alone mine.

Finally, four years later, I rearranged my life.  I booked the train to Ardrossan Harbour three months before the race, and managed to secure a late entry on 1 May.  I had been lucky enough to maintain sufficient fitness to complete the Lakes Mountains 42 and the Fellsman, this was enough to secure me a place.  I am no athlete, I am way at the back, in most of the races I enter, I usually find myself with no one to follow and I need the reccies to give me both confidence and practice at finding my way using map and compass.  With good visibility I am good.  When the clag is down I can follow a bearing and get to the right place sometimes, but not always.

Arriving on the Isle of Arran the bike ride from Brodick to Lochranza was hard on my old and heavy Trek tourer, which is good for resistance training, but not great three days before a race, laden with four panniers.  I hadn't ridden this bike before with panniers, and found that I had to push up part of the hill on Arran, which worried me.  Was I really so unfit?

After the ferry to Claonaig, cycling to Kennacraig I nodded at a cyclist going the other way, who not long after must have turned round and then caught me up.  He escorted me along the quiet lane to Kennacraig, having asked if I was heading for the fell race.  The third time he offered to carry my rucksack, I allowed him to help.  I was pushing the bike up the hills by this point, not a good look for a fell runner.

Yes, of course, everything depends on where you land at birth and into whose arms you fall.  From that day on, if cared for and hopefully loved enough, at some point in life you have to make your own luck, use what you have and find a way to make your way the best you can.  Chance encounters alter lives, in a certain place, at that exact moment...  Well, dear reader, this is a chance encounter and you will see what it led to.

Meet Laurie.  Laurie Anderson, Scottish Hill runner, race organiser and all round mountain man and good egg.  He carried my rucksack which was heavy, containing four baked potatoes along with mandatory kit and a copy of 1984.  It was hot and the cup of tea in his camper van which was in the queue for the ferry at Kennacraig was perfect.   I slept on the ferry to Islay and when we arrived at Port Askaig on Islay, Laurie told me there was in fact a ferry this evening to Feolin, the Isle of Jura.  He had also heard that Wendy Dodds was going to the Jura fell race.

About to get onto the small Port Askaig Feolin ferry, I saw Wendy and in one of those What would you say if you bumped into Bob Dylan moments I compulsively offered her my hand to shake, saying "hello, are you Wendy?" and I introduced myself, adding "oh, no, you don't know me" but meeting a legend I felt obliged to shake her hand.   As the small ferry moved towards the Isle of Jura I became less nervous, and was overjoyed as we chatted as we cycled along the single track road that led to Craighouse.

As Wendy and I arrive at Craighouse, here's Laurie, outside the pub, at the Jura Hotel, we agreed to meet tomorrow for a reccie of the three Paps.  Tent pitched at Craighouse, some quaffing in the pub, a glass too many and let's just say an incident which could have ended far worse than it actually did.  I slept well and woke up excited but worried in equal measure.  I am now on the Isle of Jura, with a place in the fell race, not feeling particularly fit, nor proficient at navigation especially when the clag is down.  My last reccie of the Paps, four years ago, confirmed my fears and doubts as to my ability and here I am, again, alone.




I cycled to Laurie's camper van and we chatted to the neighbours who were also map fondling and planning their reccie.  Luckily for me, Laurie was happy to walk the reccie and led me along the trod and up the side of Beinn a'Chaolais; we chatted as we went and the ascent was made easy with rests where we exchanged tales of gnarly races and family histories with their twists old and new.

When we reached the top and looked out across the sea, once more I could not believe I was on top of a mountain with such beautiful views; this was truly for me a once or twice in a lifetime experience.





We walked along a little, Laurie turned to face what looked like a vertical drop and said "Are you ready? Let's go".  After a few seconds when I think my heart stopped, I realised he wasn't joking and this was not only the way down, but he seriously considered I would be going down that way with him.  I followed him over the ridge.




The scree was moving not only in front of, beneath me but also behind me and the bigger stones were following me down and banging into and around my ankles; I fell a few times and slowly tried to get the hang of this descending.  Laurie had been chatting to a group of Americans who were ascending in kilts, by the time I made it down; they wished me luck in the race and carried on climbing.

We then headed up Beinn an Oir and sat a while on top, looking out to sea, and then Laurie showed me a route which would be good on the day, along a track, right at the ruin, down the grassy track and the way down from there.




From the bottom, we went up Beinn Shiantaidh and from the checkpoint made our way along to the re-entrant, where we spotted Jim Smith's Bowling Green.   Laurie pointed out to me the line to follow down; how will I remember all this on the day?  He reminded me that if I followed the wrong bearing, even if I was only a degree or two out at the top by the time I got to the bottom that I would be a long way off from where I should be, and it would take me a long time to get round to where I needed to be.  Striking a chord with my belief that if you can make just a small change or minor adjustment in your life, over time the difference it can make can be great.

And so the reccie was over.  We had had a lovely day and I thought that if I didn't start or finish the race for any reason, I didn't really care, it had been such an amazing day out there on the Paps of Jura. Part of me was ready to withdraw from the race and marshall, because if I made an error I would be a liability to the organiser and the marshalls.  I would see how I felt as race day loomed.

The next day we went on a bike ride to Ardlussa where a flask of hot water and some home made cakes were taken in exchange for a donation to an honesty box in a horse box by a beach; coming back Laurie pushed my bike up the hills so I could walk and he laughingly asked me not to blame him if I didn't complete the race, I said of course I wouldn't blame him, it was my fault for going on the reccie and the bike ride, it was all my fault!

Race day came the next day.  I followed Laurie's advice, registered early and relaxed in my tent, looking at my maps, wondering if I would remember the advice about the routes down from each of the paps, if I wasn't timed out before then anyway.   Laurie came to say hello and I showed him my home made debris gaiters, socks I had cut up.  He looked a little troubled and hid what I felt was his sorrow at such a waste of good socks.  Wendy looked like a machine and wished me luck when I saw her.

Due to a risk of lightning and the risk to the marshalls on tops of the paps, the race organiser announced that the course may change mid way through the race to the bad weather route.  I entered the race start pen, and Laurie put his arm on my shoulder and said he would see me at the end.   Yes, I said.   Ok.  I am going to do everything in my power to get through the cut offs and make it to the end.  So far Laurie had done all the hard work getting me to this point, it was up to me now.

And so we're off and I am following a few hundred people along a trod through bogs.  I make it through the first checkpoint on top of Dubh Bheinn, without any risk of being timed out.  The second and third checkpoints, Glas Beinn and Aonach Bheinn, amazingly, I am through.  This is it, I have not been timed out and no one has notified me that the route has been changed to the bad weather route. Yet.  I am heading for the Paps of Jura.

From the top of Aonach Bheinn I look across to Beinn a Chaolais.  I take a deep breath and I am ready.  I pick my way down Aonach Bheinn and make my way across to the bottom of the first Pap.  The first and longest climb begins.  At the top of Beinn a Chaolais the marshalls tell me I am a minute outside the cut off and they will have to obtain permission from the race organiser for me to proceed.

I wait whilst they radio the race organiser who says he will check who number 9 is and reply shortly. He radios back.  I am allowed to proceed and inwardly, maybe outwardly also, celebrate what has to be one of the biggest achievements of my life as I leave the checkpoint and head in the direction of a descent which fills me with some fear.  I manage to find a good line down and it wasn't half as difficult as I feared it would be; I can see a rough direction to head for as visibility is good and before long I am making my way up Beinn a Chaolais.  Here I am overtaken for the last time, and I am now the last person in the race.  The few people I can see in front of me disappear and apart from the occasional glimpse of a red vest I am on my own.

At the top the marshalls are friendly and give me a drink and some jelly babies; they ask me if I want to continue and I say I would love to, if they will let me.  They do and I go and I am finding the good route again off the top and my way down is as smooth as can be and better than feared.

Up to the top of the final Pap, and the marshalls ask me how I am, do I want to continue, you do know this descent is the hardest?  Yes I do!, I nod and grin as I fall over as I try to escape before they stop me leaving.   I can see where I am heading but I keep checking my compass to be sure, I am so worried about ending up on the wrong side of the island.  I find a good line down and meet the path and contour round to approach the final climb, Corra Bheinn.

I am heading up Corra Bheinn and it does feel I am making slow progress up what should be the easiest ascent, I turn and sit on the side of the mountain and look back at where I have been a few moments.  A thick white mist is moving in from the west at the bottom of the valley and I hope I can remain above it long enough to find my way down.  I return to the climb and looking up I can see silhouettes of runners, the closest I have been to others, apart from marshalls, for a few hours.

At the checkpoint, I assure the marshall I am fine and warm enough and follow the trod the other runners have taken.  Now I am on a grassy trod with a fantastic moorland descent, I overtake two or three who are struggling with cramp.   Shortly after wading through the clear refreshing river I fall into a bog up to my knees then shortly after, again, I drop into a bog up to my waist.  I lever myself out using my arms and once I reach the bridge, I use the scissors kindly supplied by Mountain Rescue to cut my laces and put on my road shoes which I hung from a nearby tree the previous evening.

The run along the road is quiet and still.  I am concentrating hard, I am nearly there but it's not done yet.  I overtake two or three runners along the road and finish the race by hurling myself into the bear hug of Ruth who is as pleased for me as I am to be at the finish, a warm hand shake from Laurie who seats me and gets me a drink whilst Alison who lives on Jura, whose brother Alun is in my club, comes and congratulates me.  I kiss the t-shirt which is handed to me.  My work is done.  

My proudest race finish although this is not my best result.  A finish which deep down I was not sure I could manage.  I went to the Isle of Jura with the desire in my heart, yet steadfastly ignoring the doubt in my mind I could do this race.  A chance encounter with someone who showed me the way and made me believe I could do it was the vital and pivotal ingredient.

[The following day, Laurie did confess with a glint in his eye that he had doubted I would finish, and I said I thought so but didn't blame him for doubting me as I wasn't looking good at the start and I didn't actually think I would finish either!]

1      First male     Finlay Wild    3h 05m 14s   [course record]
25    First female  Jill Stephen    4h 05m 18s
236  Sarah Smith                        7h 12m 25s

241 runners completed the race

Full results can be found in the results section of the Scottish Hill Racing website

Sunday, 22 May 2016

The Cape Wrath Trail, from Glenfinnan to Cape Wrath, 9 - 18 May 2016

Monday 9 May 2016 Glenfinnan to Sourlies

I woke up in the car at Glenfinnan and after a few hours of packing, repacking and checking I had everything I thought I would need, I set off mid morning and headed along the path under the viaduct. For route finding I had my compass attached to my rucksack on a long piece of elastic; my Garmin GPS 64S was secured to an over the shoulder bag by another long piece of elastic.  I took the OS Explorer maps (1:25,000) as far as Kinlochewe with me, the Cape Wrath Trail Guide by Iain Harper, the OS Locate app on my iPhone and two compasses. It would be an achievement if I got lost.


Me outside St Mary and St Finnan's Catholic Church, Glenfinnan


I was excited and apprehensive.  I did not know if I was capable of reaching the end of the trail, nor how far I would manage to go.  The river crossings were my biggest worry, there were more than a handful of references to crossings which would be "tricky if in spate".

It was a hot day and after I passed under the viaduct I sheltered from the sun in the Corryhully bothy and continued along the path which went up to the Bealach a' Chaorainn between Streap and Sgurr Thuilm.  The descent into Gleann Cuirnean was steep and slippery and I slid and fell a few times.  I saw smoke in the distance and as I approached I realised that the heather to the west of the river was on fire, the flames were leaping up the hill, and higher up grass was on fire.  The wind was blowing thick smoke along the glen towards me.  I climbed up the hill to the east of the river and when I had passed the fire I descended, crossed the river and walked through the woods to Glen Dessarry.
















A'chuil bothy 

After the shade of the A'chuil bothy I headed for the woods halted briefly by a waist deep bog which was difficult to get out of.  I learnt fairly quickly which colour vegetation to avoid, one bright yellow plant being deceptively attractive.  Leaving the forest, I was immersed in a spectacular landscape surrounded by giant mountains, making my way along a path which was boggy at times, past silent and still lochans.





Loch Nevis

Following the Finiskaig river I think I may have lost the path as I seemed to be scrambling along the banks of the river hopping from side to side in places.  When I reached a point where it was impossible to continue in this way, I scrambled up and found a path above the river where I was met with sweeping views of Loch Nevis and made my way down to Sourlies bothy which was pretty congested with a number of tents already pitched.  I pitched mine at the edge of the loch, had a paddle and washed my feet and legs and had an early night.

Tuesday 10 May 2016 Sourlies to Kinloch Hourn

I set off fairly early, and was joined by Mairi and Chris and another  of their crew.  Mairi and Chris had worked together on a research station in the Antarctic.  We picked our way along rocks on the edge of the shoreline, across marsh flats to a bridge, and from there I followed the river Carnach until a climb up Mam Unndalain led to a path to the bealach, and a descent to Barisdale where I sheltered from the sun in the bothy.









Barrisdale Bay 

Leaving Barisdale

The path to Kinloch Hourn

From there, a long stretch along Loch Hourn led to Kinloch Hourn Farm where I had a pot of tea and chatted to Wolfgang and his brother who were carrying very heavy rucksacks filled with alot of food.  I returned to the farm for soup and risotto later having paid the stalker to camp by the river further along. We were joined for tea by Mairi and Chris and a couple from Colne.  I cycled back to my tent as a friendly camper had offered to let me borrow his Brompton to cycle to the farm for tea.  When I returned his bike he showed me the Marilyn Hall of Fame and told me about the plans he had to climb sea stacks, I was amazed to discover I was speaking to Alan Whatley who is joint third in the Marilyn Hall of Fame December 2015, being one of 4 people to have climbed 1556 Marilyns.

Wednesday 11 May   Kinloch Hourn to the Falls of Glomach

I set off early and before long was in rapture at the majestic mountains surrounding me.  I crossed the river Allt a Choire Reidh, which was not in spate and therefore not tricky.



In joy at my good fortune I started singing this song here, sung to the tune of The Trout by Schubert:

I've come across a river
I hope it's not in spate
I want to cross this river
And I can't wait.

The little fishies are laughing and dancing
In the river deep,
Singing "hop across, Sarah, it's only a little leap",
Singing "hop across, lassie, its only a little leap."

This verse was perfected later that day, and other variations of the same song accompanied most river stretches and crossings.  The great thing about being in remote areas is you can sing loudly and other than startle some birds and animals no one can ask you to turn the music down.  Sheep seem particularly interested in my singing!

I contoured Sgurr na Sgine and ascended to the Bealach Coire Malagain, in the shadow of the Forcan Ridge.  I then made a terrible nav error and found myself in difficulties on the edge of Faochag.  With the wind whipping my OS map around while I crouched under a rock I worked out my error and contoured my way back to the right path, and over to Meallan Odhar.  From here a long descent then along Allt a' Choire Chaoil led to the beautiful sight of Shiel Bridge where I treated myself to a Magnum from the petrol station.  I stocked up on bread and cheese and had soup and chips at the Kintail Lodge Hotel where it was too hot to eat outside.  Continuing on my way in blistering heat, I wild camped at the top of the Falls of Glomach hoping that no freak gust of wind would lift my tent with me in it and deposit me in the river.

The Forcan Ridge

Heading to Meallan Odhar after my error

The Falls of Glomach

Camping at the top of the Falls of Glomach 

Thursday 12 May 2016  The Falls of Glomach to Craig

Leaving the Falls of Glomach and taking care to take the right path (not the lower path to the viewing platform which was far too scary to tempt me) I made my way down to the stepping stones at the end of Loch na Leitreach, and from there along the loch, past Carnach and the Iron Lodge, up An Crom-Allt, until I was treated to the wonderful sight of Maol-bhuidhe bothy on the shore of Loch Cruoshie.

 
Stepping stones, Loch na Leitreach

First sight of the bothy at Maol-bhuidhe

From here I made my way to the Bendronaig bothy and from there to Bearneas, where I made my way to the Bealach Bhearnais, having descended I crossed the river and followed the track to Craig.  Arriving at Gerry's hostel I was greeted by Simon who handed me over to a Swiss assistant who complimented me on my light pack.  I bought a tin of salmon and a tin of potatoes and had half for tea.

Friday 13 May 2016 Craig to Kinlochewe

After eating the remaing salmon and potatoes for breakfast I made an early start around 7 am as I had to arrive the Post Office at Kinlochewe before it closed at 11 am.  I arrived shortly before 11 am and collected my parcels, which contained maps from there to Cape Wrath, some Chia Charge bars, a mixture of seeds and nuts, some warm clothes and a spare pair of trainers a size larger than usual.  I wore those whilst I did some washing and let my trainers dry; then I posted them home as they were not needed, along with the extra warm clothes which I gambled were also not needed and the maps which covered the route from Glenfinnan to Kinlochewe.

I pitched my tent at the camp site, had a meal at the Kinlochewe Hotel, and called in at the Whistle Stop cafe for a coffee. When I returned to the camp site another tent was next to mine.  Upon explaining to my neighbour what Nicky Spinks would be attempting starting at midnight tonight Eric told me he knew the record holder, Roger Baumeister, as he used to work with him.

Eric and his friends Carol and Phil invited me to join them for a meal at the Whistle Stop cafe and it emerged that Phil also appeared in the Marilyn Hall of Fame 2015.  I had a fabulous evening listening to their tales of Marilyn and Corbett bagging and being air lifted off mountains; and Phil's plans to complete the Corbetts - all such lovely people and a fantastic place, but an early night was needed as I had a long day planned for tomorrow after my rest day in Kinlochewe.

Saturday 14 May 2016  Kinlochewe to Inverlael

I said goodbye to Eric and set off at 6.30 am for the Heights of Kinlochewe, from there to Lochan Fada, from where I climbed to be treated to amazing views; crossed Coire Mhic Fhearchair, and descended to Bealach na Croise.  From here I descended along a wide valley to Abhainn Loch an Nid, and followed the river surrounded by mountains.  This was a day of spectacle and dramatic landscapes



At Strath na Sealga I headed north, climbed and then descended to Corrie Hallie, crossed the Dundonnell river and made my way across sweeping moors to be greeted with a view of Inverlael at the end of Loch Broom. A man sat on a rock surveying this panorama, and cut off the call when he saw me.  He told me he had had to abort the trip last year as the rivers had been waist deep and became impassable.  He had come back to finish the trail, then he would go to the Western Isles to do the Timeless Way.



I descended and spent the night in the hostel a few miles down the road; I did not want to make the trip to Ullapool, I needed nothing.  I bought 6 eggs at the hostel, and ate 3 for tea.

Sunday 15 May 2016  Inverlael to Oykel Bridge.

After 2 eggs for breakfast I walked along the road for a couple of miles from the hostel, and turned into the forest and made my way across moors, contoured and then descended into Glen Douchary, passing through some ruins before I crossed the river.






From there I followed the east bank past a waterfalll to a ravine, crossed the river, climbed up and headed for Loch an Daimh.  A track along the north side of the loch led me past Knockdamph bothy, and onwards to the School House Bothy which had just been visited by a maintenance team and smelt of paint.  Children used to cross the rivers on stilts to come to school here.




The Schoolhouse bothy 

I followed a track to Oykel Bridge and decided to have a night of luxury as I was on holiday; I made myself consecutive cups of tea in my room while I got ready for dinner, I was treated to a 6 course meal, which was washed down with some Tempranillo.

Monday 16 May 2016 Oykel Bridge to Inchnadamph

I woke up after a good sleep.  Breakfast was equally luxurious with choices of porridge, fresh berries, yoghurt, and a full Scottish.  I was given a generous packed lunch to take away and set off after two power showers and a night in a clean bed, feeling grand.  In retrospect it was probably very helpful that I set out today feeling totally recharged and fresh.

A river walk is always a treat and the River Oykel is so.  I was having so much fun singing as I walked along the river I missed a turn at Salachy, the ruin, so I just carried on along the river when I realised.  Eventually blue stones marked the way from the river back on to the trail; I passed Benmore Lodge and made my way into Glen Oykel, following a path which climbed then contoured I was flanked on both sides by majestic mountains in the Benmore forest, and felt humbled to be in such an awe inspiring place.  I turned and descended when I reached the waterfall, with Ben More and Conival ahead; I saw two walkers with big packs continue along the path but they were too far away for me to call and them to hear.

I need to climb up past Am Bealach into Bealach Trallgil, beneath Breabagg Tarsainn.  The wind had whipped up and was blowing me back, the rain had started, had failed to stop, and I began to get cold.  I was scrambling over rocks making my way up to the bealach and decided I had to put extra layers on, in this precarious position, before I continued to make my way.   I had to crouch forward to resist the force of the wind and visibility reduced significantly.  I realised I needed to be extra careful and concentrate.  I was relieved to reach the bealach and followed the advice in the guide book to head for the path which ascended rather than take the path by the river.  I climbed down a few scary steps on the rocky path which went round what looked like a canyon and made my way to the river around and over massive peat hags.  Crossing the river I followed the path to Inchnadamph and the hostel although closed let me have a room in the annex where I met up with the walkers from Stirling, Linlithgow and Edinburgh I had seen at Craig and Kinlochewe and joined them for a meal at the Inchnadamph Hotel.












The hostel at Inchnadamph

Tuesday 17 May  2016    Inchnadamph to Rhiconich

I set off fairly early and headed up the path into a place of extreme wilderness and beauty.  I climbed to the Bealach na h-Uidhe pass below Glas Bheinn and then headed down past a lochan to the river, which I followed past a waterfall to the bothy at Glencoul, and paused at the war memorial before heading to the bothy at Glendhu.  From there I made my way to Rhiconich although as it was getting late, and I was tired and it was raining I chose the route along the road from Loch Stack to Rhiconich as I just wanted to pitch my tent at the end of a long day.  A passing driver offered to turn round and take me to Kinlochbervie but I explained I was walking to Cape Wrath and he called me a tough cookie walking in this, but I felt like a fraud taking this road option instead of a loch side path.  I was pleased to reach the hotel at Rhiconich where I pitched my tent in a walled garden which was unfortunately despite being walled full of sheep poo.  In the bar I chatted with Linden who had made it this far since I saw him above Inverlael and slept well.


A map in a case in a shelter



River crossing near Eas a Chual Aluinn waterfall

Glencoul bothy on the edge of Loch Glencoul

The war memorial to two brothers



Looking back at the bothy and the war memorial

Glendhu bothy

Wednesday 18 May 2016 Rhiconich to Cape Wrath

I set off around 8.30 am with Linden telling me to go slower and enjoy myself and also wishing me well. Popping into London Stores at Badcall I was greeted by a friendly shop keeper, and he provided me with breakfast of apple, a yoghurt and chicken sandwiches; I met Kirsty and Will from North Wales who were heading for Cape Wrath and I set off as they chose their breakfast from the shop.



A coffee at Kinlochbervie Hotel and a chat with a Dutch couple who were on a rest day, then off I went, heading for Sandwood Bay.  When I saw the beach my heart nearly burst, I had looked at pictures of this beach for many months and never imagined I would make it this far.  I walked along the beach until I could look back and see the sea stack Am Buachaille and my heart swelled once more at the sight.  I have seen this tattooed on people and thought of Alan Whatley (joint 3rd, Marilyn Hall of Fame 2015) and wondered if he had climbed it.

Sandwood Bay




Sandwood Bay and Am Buachaille 

From the beach I climbed and headed for Strathchailleach bothy.  When I saw the smoke coming out of the chimney (sigh of contentment) I quickened my pace to arrive and see who was stoking such a fire.  There were 3 men and 3 women, they were going to spend the night there, I crossed the river and forged on into the wind heading north.  As I was leaving I saw Will and Kirsty approaching the bothy.

Eventually I found myself with great views of the northern tip of the mainland but still no sight of the lighthouse; I descended and followed a river, climbed a hill and came to a track sooner than I expected.  I followed the track and came to the lighthouse, took a photo and called into the Ozone cafe.  It was open but no one was there, so I waited until I heard dogs barking and the shutter opened and John appeared and made me two cups of tea, followed by tomato and vegetable soup.  Kirsty and Will arrived a short while later and we all had spaghetti on toast, and chatted until it was time to sleep, they were the perfect companions at the end of my journey.  They were seasoned travellers and they had tales to tell which made me want to plan more trips.



Strathchailleach bothy





Kirsty and Will the following morning

The next day John told us the ferry was cancelled and he took us in the mini bus to a path from where we walked for a couple of hours to the road.  Hitching proved successful as the first vehicle stopped and we climbed into the motor home of a very kind touring couple.   We were told in Durness the next bus leaving Durness was tomorrow; we then saw a bike bus arrive and the driver told us he would be coming back and leaving at 3.40 pm and today was in fact the first day it was running this year.  We had a pint and caught the bus to Inverness, then one to Fort William and then Kirsty very kindly gave me a lift to my car at Glenfinnan.

Thoughts on the trip

I had walked over 200 miles, in ten days, through the most beautiful and remote wilderness.  I had started with blisters from wearing blood red shoes to the Town Hall on the Saturday night before I set off on the trail. I would have liked to have run but due to blisters which developed I did not manage to run.

I had dreamt of attempting the Cape Wrath Trail since I first heard of it about 3 years ago.  I bought the Cicerone guide and all the OS maps and planned to start in May 2015; I changed my plans and walked/ran from the Northern point to the southern tip of the inhabited islands of the Western Isles instead as I realised I did not have the experience to take on the Cape Wrath trail.  My friends gave me the second edition of the Cicerone guide for my birthday in October 2015 and I decided to start in May 2016 before the midgies appeared.

I worked on navigation and learnt from my experience in the Spine Challenger (dnf after 55 miles) and preparing for and reccying the Fellsman.  I learnt about kit and safety in the hills from other entrants in these events and from preparing for them.  Nicky Spinks' training event for rounds and long events was helpful, luckily there was a session on walking poles, I don't think I could have finished this trail without them.  I had lightweight clothes, trainers and kit.  I took what I felt was necessary and ditched what was not.  I think my rucksack probably weighed in the region of 10kg and I didn't see anyone on the trail with a pack as small as mine.  I posted spare trainers, walking poles, warm clothes and snacks to Kinlochewe but posted most of that home as it was not needed.

Packing

I missed out the first section of the trail, from Fort William to Glenfinnan as I thought it looked a little dull.  Also I would have had to get up around 5 am to pack and be ready for the 7.45 am ferry and I was tired after a long day driving from Leeds to Fort William via Dundee.  I think I made the right decision.  It would take me 32 minute and cost £6.40 to catch a train from Fort William to Glenfinnan when I finished the walk, why walk along a road and a track for 21 miles?

Why go as quickly as I did?  Because I am an ultra runner and I like moving across large tracts of land as quickly as I can.  Not being able to run due to a combination of blisters and pack weight was frustrating, but I like walking fast.  I wasn't caning it, I had a rest day in Kinlochewe, and enjoyed spending time with some great people.  Towards the end I wanted to reach the lighthouse at Cape Wrath more than I wanted to walk round boggy lochsides.  If I didn't have to return to Leeds to work I would take longer and stop more.

I was really lucky with the weather.  Little rain before and during the trip meant the river crossings were not tricky and the summer temperatures at the start gave me a real boost.  I do not know if I would have finished if the weather had been worse.  The one day the weather was gnarly (albeit it briefly) I felt I was in a risky situation and had to focus on staying safe.  I met some great people and had a fantastic time, in fact I feel totally spoiled!