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Callander Craigs

 

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The view south from Callander Craigs – Photo from Trossachs Trail Runner

 

Bill Shankly reckoned that 3 Scotsmen in a football team was the most you could have.  Get four or more and instead of being a disciplined unit that sticks together at the core of your team, you would end up with any of the well-known Scottish divides creating cliques. East vs West, Orange vs Green, Highlander vs Lowlander, rural vs urban.

The Highlander vs Lowlander divide is very old. Culloden was not England vs Scotland. Most of Edinburgh and Glasgow folk saw the Jacobites as a step backwards towards a more feudal society. I’m told that most of the redcoats were lowlanders. Think of the attitude you see at a football match with a local Derby and then give both sides guns and swords. It was pretty much a settling of a local feud as much as England vs. Scotland.

After Culloden the clearances were often driven by lowlanders and their sheep, their racist disdain for the uncivilised, “Irish” tongue and culture. When the Campbells were sent to punish the MacDonalds, the Scottish Secretary, The Earl of Stair was quite specific about ridding the country of this “Catholic Sept”.  McIain of McIain, (There’s a name eh? I’ll maybe become Dick of Dick?) the MacDonald leader was a Paris educated Catholic, and an arsey, disobedient highlander to boot. For Stair that was three good reasons to teach him a lesson. It was just an upmarket life or death version of the visceral hatreds you can see at that local derby.

That north south divide, Lowlander vs Highlander is a strong reflection of the physical countryside and in this race you run on the very geological divide. The geography really did drive the culture quite a bit. The Highlands were mountainous, isolated communities with few roads and  with very poor, infertile soil. It was subsistence farming and sustained the clan culture. Feels like the Tribal areas are in Pakistan today just no Kalashnikovs and no Toyota Hiluxes, but all the smuggling and other activities that would annoy the hell out of a central government. In the south, a new system could be sustained. Modern “Improved” agriculture and industry changed the lifestyle forever. The Lowlanders and Borderers either joined in or emigrated. They adopted the new “early-capitalist” model and ideas that drove the American constitution and changes across Europe.

Callander Craigs is the exact southern edge of the narrow belt, about a kilometre wide, where the geography changes. You are on a physical divide that drove the Glencoe massacre, the 1715, the 1745, the clearances and much of our current culture. Drive north and it’s glens, lochs and mountains. South and it’s rich agriculture, mining and industry.

As a hill race, this looks like a lovey wee outing and clearly it is aimed at fun and inclusivity. I might say the “pursuit of happiness” to quote the Declaration of Independence’s idea taken from the lowland Scot Francis Hutcheson.  After pursuing your happiness with a road finish take a hurl up the road past Braklinn Falls and turn and look. There is a lovely run from Callander to Comrie right along the divide if you can organise the transport. But at the high point of the road stop and look. To the south rich farmland that could sustain lords and dukes becoming mega landowners running agricultural businesses (Some still remain today) and allowing a thriving, more modern economy where what you did became relatively more important than who your parents were. To the North very, very different. Poor, scary, cold and wet, stick together in a clan or die. Economically it’s a divide that still shapes the economy and culture of today.

Shankly was right. We have a real talent to argue, driven by our rich history or indeed geology. And when you go for a warm-down you’ll see one of the real causes of one of those divides beneath your very feet.

Saturday 6th January 13:00 at Callander.

Race details here

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El-Brim-Ick

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It’s Brim up North. Runners enjoying the ascent up the Brim part between the El and Rick. See the “Big Empty” just peeping over the hill. – Photo stolen from Cosmics.

When you were learning your mother tongue – English for me- you just had to suck up all the words. It’s a stunning feat that children manage and it still perplexes science how we did it. But anyway there always seem to be words left over that you kinda thought you knew but you suspected you didn’t really. Like a slight itch they never quite bug you enough to scratch it and ask “What does that mean?” or sometimes  you just plough on feeling a bit embarrassed. Is it “effect” or “affect”, “specific” or “Pacific”. Or the hymn my sister liked had the line about Jesus loving the “hollow little children”. Mary’s lamb’s “fleas were white as snow”; a logical piece of evolutionary camouflage there, but WRONG. Some gadgey on the radio calls them Mondegreens because as a youngster he thought the song was about Lady Modegreen. Actually they “laid him on the green”. I could go on… I frequently do.

So, writing this up about El-Brim-Ick has been just such a scratch of a very long term but slight itch. The Spanish sounding name is just one wee itch. The race starts at Tyrebagger, what’s that? It all sounds like an the start of a Christmas family argument in Scrabble. The Cosmic website doesn’t do much to help, nor indeed could the organiser. But all of that sense of doubt and uncertainty is just added to by the history of the area. All of what follows is to the “best of my knowledge and belief” – as accountants say when they really mean “not a 100% sure mate but it looks plausible”. Here follows plausible.

Let’s get the name out of the way. It goes up Elrick hill, Brimond Hill and back to Elrick hill. Is it the case that Elrick with a shortened Brim in the middle gives you “scratch one itch” El-Brim-Ick. But the Ick is done the opposite direction and we lost the “R”! So why not El-Brim-Kir? Next up is WTF is Tyrebagger? Well it’s apparently from the Gaelic Tìr a’ bhalgaire which is “land of the fox” but it’s been  “Mondegreened” into English as Tyrebagger. Great. Scratch a second itch.

The whole area is just on the edge of Aberdeen city. In fact, Brimmond Hill is the highest point of the Silver City… and being edgy is pretty interesting. For hundreds of years the area has been just at the edge and the high point; where you might banish people or hide your dosh out of the way. And it also shows how we value hills both in our culture and in our everyday technology. And it’s becoming more edgy again as the new by-pass snakes between Brimmond and the city.

Brimmond hill was first settled, at least, 6000 years ago and cists, burial mounds and later stashes of coins been found. There are large “consumption walls” that were just repositories for stones manually dug out of the fields, very much a poor man’s job in more recent times. And being outside the city it was used for the slightly “dodgy”. The first Quakers lived there, had their meeting house and burial ground too as they were not really trusted as they were neither Presbyterian or Episcopalian. The coin stash may have been someone getting ready before the Battle of Justice Mills (Presbyterians vs Episcopalians) in September 1644. Presumably the owners didn’t make it back and the stashes remained hidden for centuries.

I guess every hill runner senses the importance of high ground. I suspect it is a pretty deep human sense. Those 6000 year ago farmers had a wee hill fort. Stay in control, see what’s going on, makes you feel safer.  But in 1917 in response to the loss of life in the Great War that same feeling of respect and awe led Stoneywood Literary Guild to place a memorial mountain guide on the hill. That same fascination with the highest point has seen Brimmond hill used as a beacon to warn of Spanish invasion in 1627 or for Queen Vic’s Jubilee and then George IV’s  in 1934. And now Brimmond Hill acts as a modern beacon with radio masts for comms to the rigs and other distant places. For a wee hill there’s a lot going on.

Being on the east coast Brimmond also offers that very distinct view that you get on the East coast. The feeling of a big sky and the wide, wide sea. On the west coast the sea is almost like the fancy stuff, the visual icing on the cake that accentuates the hills and lochs. But here on the East the view from St Abbs to John O’ Groats keeps coming back to the big empty, to thoughts of bigger, lonelier things.

But still Brimmond is what it has been for thousands of years, the place you come to see everywhere and get that sense of control or understanding or awe.  Like Calton Hill in Edinburgh, Dundee Law, Kinnoul in Perth or the Kilpatricks to Glasgow, some of us humans like to be able to take the high view. To see it all but be apart from it. That also feels a bit like hill runners especially but plenty of walkers and dog owners use it too.

As for the race, I’m told that actual event is short and sharp and that you really should check out the turning point. It is not the trig point.  Overall, it’s a Cosmic event so will be relaxed and fun when you are not knocking your pan in trying to get up and down as fast as you can.

So why not get there early, check the turn point and take a moment to reflect on why the view has been so important for over 6000 years?  Take a look at the view those guys who left the coin hoards saw. Pause and think what in us humans makes being on top of a hill feel special and in some way sanctified?  Or maybe also on the edge looking in.

And have a good race but don’t expect a offers of tyres or much Spanish influence.

 

El-Brim-Ick

Saturday 6th January 2018, Start 11.00am, registration from 10.30am

Online registration.

Tyrebagger by Aberdeen, Parking at OS 38 NJ 848109

Entry fee: GBP2

Distance 3miles, Height 800ft Category (AS)

+ shorter race for U16s – entry on the day

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Starting with Resolution

 

Greenmantle
Photo stolen from CAAC website by Dean Carr.

The Scottish Hill Runners web site is coy about 2018 so links to the Hill racing web site.

1st January Aonach Mor Uphill (New Year) Remember it’s pre-entry only so needs preparation and resolution.

1st January Muckle Toon whisky run – Start when you want to finish at 11:00 on Ne’er Day… a wee hidden gem.

2nd January Greenmantle New Year Dash – Fun run and a great wee hill race; soup and refreshment is the hall afterwards.

The festive season continues with a load of interesting wee races and some not so wee races. Like a left-over fragment of the original Caledonian forest some of the races on offer at New Year vary quite considerably from “the very model of a modern Cat A hill race”.

That said, simplest of all is the eyeballs-out-all-the-way Anoch Mor Gondola Race on New Year’s Day. 610 meters of climb over a distance of 4Km says the blurb. 1 meter up for every 6 and half on average. I measure it (yes on my rear end at a desk) as only 2.85k with 560m of climb. An even more beastly/tasty 1 in 5 climb.

The views from the top station are stunning and you can get the Gondola down and any friends or family with you can get the Gondola both ways to still enjoy the views. The North slope varies from beautiful snowscape to something a little more post-industrial. The race is £15, pre-entry only and is understandably strict about full body cover and also a different course if the Gondola is closed because of the weather.

Now here’s one I’ve done a couple of times and to be fair it’s not much climb but a novel and “free and easy” approach. Langholm’s “Muckle Toon whisky run” is great. It’s on New Year’s Day. The idea is you turn up and select your own start time to run the 8 miles trail so that you finish just as the Langholm Town Band strike up a selection of seasonal tunes at 11:00. Shortest time gets a bottle of whisky and at £2 per entry it’s a wee gem. Langholm is a treat, set in the hills and resolutely independent. It still carries the air of a traditional borders mill town. That is partly because it’s not the easiest place in the word to get to. For me it’s the furthest point from home on a 100-mile cycle so I have, erm, “ambivalent” feelings about the area. The road out towards Eskdalemuir is a revelation. Getting there is a heck of a schlepp from most population centres so check out your travel times and pack a flask, warm blankets, a snow shovel and a pack of huskies.

Then we come to a wee race I’ve now organised for over 30 years always on the 2nd of January.  The “Greenmantle Dash” was started by Frank Smith and myself way back when. Initially it started at the Brewery and finished at the pub and the idea was a short “clean out the cobwebs” race. Very much aimed at participation for all but plenty of features; walls, fences, rivers, bogs, fields, hills and road.The principle has stayed the same but the pub is now a housing estate. So, the course has morphed over the years as our village has changed.

We’ve had broken ankles and broken hearts but as a race, it is still (in my biased opinion) a cracker. It’s got tarmac, rivers, bogs and a brutal wee hill. The hill has thin soil and grows a particularly mushy and sloppy moss so the descent is far from simple. The original course record was interesting. It was set on a relatively mild day with a south westerly gale that was almost gathered in by the hills around. It blew the runners up the hill and then you could run down faster because it helped you stay up better. The wind had also dried the usual slithery muck too. That flat funnelled valley towards Biggar also used to flood when the Clyde burst its banks at Wolfclyde emptying its waters into the boggy ground and eventually draining into the Tweed; demonstrating that even water knows the east is the best!

There is also a fun run to the bottom of the hill and for a fiver you get soup rolls and a gift for every child. The nice thing is there have been a real range of people over the years who have discovered that Yes! They can get to the top of the hill and Yes indeed the views are fantastic. I think there are also several hill runners for who this was their first hill race.

So whatever type of run you fancy there are plenty on the go. Not sure my Achilles is up to it but do your best to start the year with resolution.

The Scottish Hill Runners web site is coy about 2018 so links to the Hill racing web site.

1st January Aonach Mor Uphill (New Year) Remember it’s pre-entry only so needs preparation and resolution.

1st January Muckle Toon whisky run – Start when you want to finish at 11:00 on Ne’er Day.

2nd January Greenmantle New Year Dash – Fun run and a great wee hill race soup and refreshment is the hall afterwards.

Bread and Butter Pudding.

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Lochaber’s got Talent! Martin Mertens striking the pose that got him lead in the Sugar Plum Fairy- 2016

Cruim Leacainn Hill Race, Nr Fort William

Lothian Running Club Festive Frolics, Beecraigs, Linlithgow, West Lothian – {Up and down Cockleroy.}

Boxing Day , 2017

I really like bread and butter pudding; some of you might have spotted the evidence!

With the right custard, it’s brilliant. A bit chewy if there is a good crust on the bread, maybe some of it just a wee touch charred and the warmed taste bombs of raisins bring flavour and texture to contrast with the granular sugar. It is made to use up leftover dried out, maybe even a wee bit mouldy crusts, and that’s what boxing day races feel like. A few left over tracks and hills that you probably wouldn’t use for a race at another time of year.

If you want a hill that is just a leftover mouldy bread crust then it would be difficult to find a better candidate than Cruim Leacainn . “A mubbe it is! Mubbe it isnae!” marginal Marilyn, it’s kinda made up of the geological leftovers of the Great Glen Fault and humans haven’t given it any special love and care either. It hosts some ugly masts and is covered in plantations of fir. It is near some impressive competitors and it’s not where you would normally stop.

If Simon Cowel starts “Britain’s got Hills” then Cruim Leacainn is probably going to be Susan Boyle but with laryngitis.

But the masts are also a clue; you’ll probably get a good view of where people live. Oh a social aspect! Some familiar Landscape. That might be nice. That might create memories for a youngster.

Cockleroy – the central climb of the Beecraigs event- is wee. It is small but perfectly formed. But it is small. It’s also not somewhere you would travel to. Unless you were interested in the Devonian volcanics that made the hill out of old hot slobber from the bowels of the earth that was allowed to cool and set on the surface before another differently composed set of hot slobbers was pushed into it.  [basaltic lava flows, later intrusions formed tougher dolerite]. Those harder bits resist the scubbing down by frost and weathering so as the land is worn away the hill is born, like the way the a well rubbed old wooden bannister has mountains and valleys if you look closely. It was home to four pre-historic houses and a wall around them. It has Wallace’s Bed. And not far away there is a geological wall, and then when you are done the race, scrounge a lift down to Linlithgow, nip into the Four Mary’s and the job, as they say is good ‘un.

I’ll bet it’ll be the same for the Lochaber clan’s event too. I can’t imagine the entire lot are off home after their wee race to have warm sweet tea and an early night.

And here is the serious point. Wee hill races or runs, up not very famous places can be real eye openers. The whole area around Cruim Leacainn is quite beautiful, very quiet and it avoids all the “gimme the money” tourism a few miles south. I’ve cycled round the road there on a late spring evening and it’s just fine and dandy. It’s the same with Cockleroy and ten thousand other little sites around Scotland. That’s where lots of the locals and lots of the wildlife and the flowers are.

Ronald McHillrunner.

Maybe our sport has gone all “McDonalds”. Go large with this! And a meal with that? “Maybe a large ascent with that sir?” “How would madam like a bone crunching bald rock descent? I hear they are all the rage.” And so, some races have swollen like testosterone fuelled body builders. Fascinating to look at in a rather “Well I never!” kind of way.

Wee hill races give more fun, they are less inhibiting, very much more welcoming and allow the very demographic who need some training to join in. And frequently you’ll find that demographic is family based and brings warmth, husbands, wives, partners, friends and children as well as puddings.  Both races are also part of the landscape. You can say “I ran from the road to the top and back”. “We went round the loch and up the hill.”

I suspect that it’s not a coincidence that both races are run by clubs with a delightfully strong ethic of “welcome and include everyone”, So whether you fancy Turkey curry, Bread and Butter Pudding or the inevitable Mince Pies get yer rear end out the door if you can. Oh! and YOU could maybe take a friend or two.  Just as someone’s pouring the whisky no one needs the night before say “Tell ya what …”

You might be as surprised and delighted as the world was when Susan Boyle belted out her number! Or you might find that hidden ballet talent.

A Merry Christmas to my wife and both my other readers!

Details;

Cruim Leacainn 11:00 AM.

Festive Frolics, Beecraigs 11:00 AM.

 

 

 

 

The Nights are fair drawin oot! – Kirk Craig on Saturday 23rd.

When I was a wee boy we used to drive from Edinburgh up to Balquhidder for weekends. In the late 50’s, before the M9 my Dad would drive up the road just south of the river Forth, past the Pineapple, Airth, Throsk and Fallin with the dark Polmaisie mine and bing. Across the river, you could see the stunning hills rising, as you still can from the M9. Even as a three or four-year-old I thought the hills looked great, inviting and beautiful and the mining looked scary and dark.
Those stunning Ochils are a “fault”. The road we drove on is 5000 m above the land that used to be at the same height as the top of the Ochils. As continents drift things go up and things go down. Look at Everest or the rift valley in Kenya. 300 million years ago what is now the Forth &Clyde valleys dropped into a gap. It did it slowly over millions of years whilst to the north the volcanoes caused by the molten rock that leaked up the cracks in the crust had covered the land with a hard rock that would wear down more slowly. As the valley land sunk down it flooded, creating freshwater swamps with trees that fell and built up layers of peat. These were then covered by sandy bays as the sea flooded in. The seas retreated and this cycle repeated. So more peaty swamps creating strips of coal, sandstone and other stuff, altogether known as the coal measures. The miners at Polmadie were extracting only the higher coal measures from the same depth down as this race goes up. And still they were 4.6Km above the old volcanic lavas that sunk down.
The durable volcanic rock that wears down more slowly and the fault are what gives the brilliant climbs and the beautiful views of the southern flank of the Ochils. It has steep sides to the south and water cascades down. Ideal for water mills, breweries and mining.

This is a recently started race that I’ve never run but aim to, if the old tendons and joints don’t protest.
The mining and the mills of the valley created a very traditional taste in dining. It’s a tradition upheld by the Broons and by the race with clootie dumpling, pies and tea. Those of you looking for grog can nip into the Harviestoun Brewery for your Christmas rations. Grandpa Broon never got that nose from sniffing roses!
The race itself looks like a typical Ochils affair. They don’t do wee races at Ochils maybe it’s a “Wee County” chip on the shoulder. “Maybe a wee county pal but we are tough!”
Everything is a minimum of cruiser weight and this one managed to keep Al Anthony busy for 38 minutes while setting the record. Just to make sure no one suspects them of being softies they’ve added to the top a 150m of descent down a tough old path that takes you to within 600m of the finish but then, alas, you must turn and go back up.
However, after you turn to descend from your second visit to the top remember you’re as high above the valley as the miners were below it. Possibly at the second visit to the top, the sky will be clear, the December greys, the wind and the cold will be complemented by those stunning views to the south. The mines, the refineries, the cities and towns all grey but perhaps with midday touches of blues and sunlight. Hopefully you’ll get a view that’ll lift your heart and remind you what hill running is about. The Scottish hills can look great at any time of year but maybe you’ll also reflect that the solstice is past and the warmth of spring is heading towards us even if it is some months away. And even closer are those pies, clootie dumplings, tea or indeed the brewery.
Even sixty years on those hills still look great and inviting. Are you joining us?

Details here and here