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Farewell to friends.

One of the great things about Scottish hill running is most people are agreeable and pleasant and many are interesting too. I don’t know what it is but there is a quiet, easy going, welcoming feeling to most races and most people and the diversity is great. Knocking your pan in with someone is a good way to get to know them but the sport feels much more laid back that road running or cross country and much friendlier than Triathlons. Is it the influence of the beauty of the hills?

My life is a lot richer for the hill runners I have met. There is a heck of a cross section. I can think of farmers (Barley, barley, sheep and reindeer), professors, brick layers, sales people, engineers, doctors, lawyers, unemployed (unemployables), council workers, social workers, window cleaners and a gas delivery man, a few geologists, two lags and on and on. It’s interesting, you’ll get to know a hill runner quite well, but that familiarity and enjoyment of each other’s company is just one aspect of their lives. We only see a bit of each other – “I hardly recognise you with your clothes on” I have quipped when meeting a fellow hill runner in other contexts. It’s a cheap joke (I do few others) but hill running seems to bring out the more relaxed and pleasant parts of people.

And with all those folk there are inevitably hatches, matches and despatches.

Today’s post is about two recent losses; Robin Morris and Frank Cation. I’ll talk about them as I knew them from hill running. It’s just one view and not meant to be complete or even accurate in the journalistic sense. Any mistakes are mine. Both were a delight to have known.

Robin Morris was the first Scottish Hill Running Champion ever. A founder of the SHRA and a well-known runner and golfer. He was relatively easy to mock with different and readily shared opinions and the air of a 1950’s squadron leader.

However, he was always kind, friendly, upbeat and worked to support our sport, organising many races and was deeply involved in the creation of the SHRA, the first championships and calendars. It was typical of Robin that he could always be relied upon to help with any races. You could phone him, and he would always be able to help with time, patience, some race numbers, pins or a finish funnel. I rarely if ever saw him angry or downbeat.

Robin, I think, considered himself very fortunate that he was born and raised in Edinburgh and schooled at George Watsons College. As I say, relatively easy to mock but for Robin it was a modest “pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth” that were part of his love of family, town and country.

Robin was a man o pairts.  In addition to running, he was a longtime supporter of devolution. He organised the seven hills of Edinburgh for years after it had first been run to support the early campaign for a Scottish Parliament.  He organised the Glamaig and Tinto for years too. He was active in his local community council and a long time Liberal Democrat, he had been a banker for a while and was also as active and as kenspeckle in golf as he was in hill running. His wife referred to him as the Edinburgh Tattler as he seemed to know everyone and their latest news. That curiosity stretched to every one of his interests. He could always be relied upon for an informed opinion about any of the current or past races. Always a good place to start with any questions or thoughts. Robin loved the hills and like many of us thought the hills of Scotland to be just ideal.

He was a doughty competitor but also a master of the “pre-race blether nerves”. The nervous nonsense we can talk before a race. I remember him being very focussed on the first SHRA Scottish Championship. He turned up at Ben Lomond claiming to be unwell, “a cold this week” and apparently swithering as to whether to run it or not. He won the race.

Robin died in his own bed with his family around – as he wished. He bore his illness with great dignity and a lightness of spirit. Jean and I will miss him.

 

Frank Cation was a man who attracted fun. That is a gift, the result of being a decent and warm human being. I asked a friend about Frank and was asked this question. “were you at the party where he fractured his skull?” Sadly, I wasn’t, but equally I wasn’t surprised. Things happened around Frank. He was a long time Fife runner and I think his friendly inclusive welcoming attitude suited Scotland’s second best running club very well.

Years ago, Frank and I jouked around at the back of the “Angus Munros”. A big old race in August. We started blethering. He had been Colour Sgt in the Scots Guards so we chatted about that. It warmed up and we were down to vests and shorts. I noticed some huge scars on his arm and being the diplomat, I asked him about them. “Oh that’s where Bobby Sands shot me” he said. Frank was the last British Army casualty of 1973. Shot in a house in Belfast on 31st of December 1973. I think it was that date. For the legalistic amongst you I report Frank’s opinion on the perpetrator. He was full of stories about those tours in NI. He had certainly been in the thick of it.

For years Frank was a regular runner along with Tom. The two could generally be relied upon for anything from good craik on up. Like many ex-army it didn’t take much for Frank to tell stories. As a “Brigade of Guards” regiment they had turns at protecting the Queen. I think they might have had the red coats and big black hats. Train carriages to and from their London barracks had the door sign altered by squaddies from “Caution do not lean out of the window” to “Cation do not lean out of the window”. In his later years Frank, now working as a fireman, developed PTSD, because of his service in Northern Ireland. I saw less of Frank as neither of us were attending that many races. The few times I did meet him he was a curious mix of quite unwell with the irresistible sparkle that was Frank, it was still there.

Frank leaves his wife Davina, daughter and son along with a big hole in their lives he’ll leave a big space in Fife AC and the wider hill running community too.

Wherever he is, I like to think that rules will be broken and the pompous mocked. “Cation will be leaning out of the train window”, he’ll be popping bromide in the Sgt Major’s tea and fracturing his skull at parties and always with that sense of mischievous fun.

For both Robin and Frank lets steal this wee poem by Burns;

An honest man here lies at rest,
The friend of man, the friend of truth,
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d;
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.

I’m off to make the best of this!

 

NB. I could not find a photo of Frank. If anyone out there has one they would like to share I’ll add a photo of both friends.
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Carnethy Five

 

Carnethy the final decent
Not on the scree! The heathery decent looking down on the coal lands below. You can see that very public finish towards the tents in the distance.

The second hill race I ever did was the Carnethy 5. I was 28 and had given up smoking a couple of years before. I had tried going back to rugby, but big boys kept hitting me. I loved it… The hill running not the big boys stuff.
I’ve done it quite a few times since. It has now become the heartbeat of my years. If I can get around Carnethy then things ain’t too bad. Sadly, this year spirit was willing and almost all the flesh was too except for a left Achilles tendon that was just being a wee git.
Carnethy was started years ago by Burns Scott. The idea had been to celebrate a battle in yon time, a battle between the English and the Scots. The race used to go from Penicuik to the top of Carnethy and back. A cracking course. Capturing the traditional idea of a Scottish Hill race being from the town or village to the top of the nearest hill. Basically “Race you to the top and back”.
One year there was thick mist and the runners crossing the A702 were really in danger. So, the decision was made to make it round the current course. It is a lovely course. The race also benefits from being at a time of year when there used to be fewer races. Still true but less so.
Burns did a cracking job of organising it. I think an entire room of his home was filing and paper work. At one-point Burns decided that there were plenty of dedicated hill runners from a slew of local clubs, so Carnethy Hill Running Club was formed at a meeting in what was then the Carnethy Pub in Penicuik. Reader I joined! …I subsequently left.
The start of the race really does feel like an infantry charge as several hundred people cross a bog at a fair clip. I’ve run it in sunshine and blizzards and still keep coming back for more. It has a really nice rhythm of climbs, traverses and descents. It crosses the eastern ridge of the Pentlands twice. The ridge is volcanic rocks forming the upside of a geological fault that overlooks “coal measures” below from which the towns of Midlothian dug the coal.
The race itself is just a wee bit too big to bash at unreservedly and demands respect. There is a fantastic decent as you drop down off the hill known as West Kip. This decent is close to perfect for hill runners to catch any road runners near them. Just the ideal slope and surface. Good grips and good knees and you can fly down it. You drop right down to the head of the reservoir and a Heathcliff type setting of a lonely house at The Howe. The last climb can feel considerably longer than it ought, especially if snow is around. The descent off Carnethy is yet another bit-more-than-it-looks element of the race. You must avoid the scree so tired legs have to yomp downhill in heathery pathlessness.
The finish, back across the bog, is also a classic. If you get into a “tussle” there is nowhere to hide; with a largish crowd – for a hill race that’s maybe as many as ten – cheering you really do have slitter and slatter across the bog, to fight hard for the glory of 395th place rather than the total loser, ignominy that is 396th. The finish has tea tents and other stuff that completes the feeling of some sort of rudimentary military affair.
You’ll see lots of people at Carnethy. Folk you don’t see otherwise. Various shops turn up and you get a serious plateful of hot food in the tradition of school dinners. You can join the Scottish Hill Runners and get this year’s calendar. It is an event indeed.
Soon after the formation of the club the race was taken over by the club and after a couple of years away from it I now see Burns there every year smiling not worrying.
The race is a testament to regular and effective organisation. By dint of that regular and effective organisation the race has become oversubscribed and hugely popular.

 

However, one man’s regular and effective organisation is another man’s drab inevitability. There are elements of the race that are a pain. It is pre-entry, on-line only, you are processed like a Staten Island immigrant and you have to get the bus up and down (okay some young, fit and keen folk can jog the 3 or so miles from school to the start/finish.) The prize giving has lost nearly all personality. There is little in this world that is less serious in effect but more disappointing in outcome than the prize giving of the Carnethy Five. It is delivered in a hall with an echo so bad it drowns out the little atmosphere, it’s feels kinda like no-one really cares so it can feel quite anticlimactic.


I keep threatening to organise a ceilidh after it. Any encouragement – and offers of help – in the comments below and I might do it next year with the Am Bodach family’s favourite band.
But still Carnethy 5 is an unmissable race. And I’m really grateful to Olly the organiser for ensuring I get an entry despite my views of the club and my inability to fill in forms right. I missed it this year through injury and I fear it’ll really be old age if I miss a couple of years, so his tolerance is much appreciated.

Coming soon! The love issue!

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Feel the Burns

 

three brethern
Rough Grazing to the top at the three brethren

The Border hills are similar and repeated. Valley after valley, ridge after ridge. They have few cliffs, few roads though they can go almost anywhere so there are some tasty climbs for cyclists. There are huge areas of woodland and muir sheep farming. Philiphaugh is just at a change.  A few miles to the west the land is very different, flat rich farmland with spuds, barley and vegetables and a very sedate wealthy feel. To the south, north and especially to the west are ranks of these hills and valleys. None of the hills make it to 3000ft so tend to be less well visited. The hills are largely made up of shales. They are largely similar because they are what is left of the ooze on the bottom of an old ocean.

 

The ocean that separated Scotland and England 500m years ago closed. The deep ocean bed was pushed under Scotland – part of Laurentia – and as the hard but light basalt of the ocean bottom was pushed down under Scotland to it’s hot, earthquaky, volcanoes inducing disappearance, all the slimy slobber that had fallen onto the ocean floor wrinkled up against the side of Scotland. Like soap and hair gathered by a razorblade. That’s the border hills. Old oceanic slobber and other assorted stuff. Anything that could sink to the ocean floor formed hundreds of meters thick mush. “unconsolidated or semi consolidated sediments”. But do remember Scotland was on top of England!!!

It’s these folded layers that set the grain of the country that we now live in. I’m told that the layers would have created Alpine or even Himalayan size hills and what we are left with is the roots. There were other things that got caught up in this continental car crash; remains of volcanic islands, corals, lumps of the basalts and limestones from warm shallow seas. All bashed and bumped together.

What does it matter? It makes the hills the way they are, rounded, not very high and with broad valleys. So running on these hills is usually lovely transitions from arable farmland – or at least nourishing in-by fields with orderly farm houses cottages and steadings. The in-by fields have fences and dykes and then thick tree plantations as you climb. Towards the top you get onto tracks and ways through what I’ve seen advertised as “rough grazing”. Rough grazing is that horrible tussocky stuff or heather 2 feet deep. It’ll graze Blackface sheep and sometimes if it’s upmarket stuff a few black cattle.

If you are running in rough grazing, then consider the track or the path no matter where it goes. But rough or not you get up onto one of the most beautiful and peaceful landscapes I know.

This race is typical of border hills and with two decent climbs it’ll be fun. You pass the three Brethren, large stone cairns put up in the 16th century to mark the point where three different estates meet at a hill top.

I’m sitting here in my borders home the day before the race with a foot or more of snow so in January there may occasionally have to be a different race I suppose. Check the website.

I would love to encourage you to get up and do the race, but I see entries are electronic and closed. Of course, you could just go for a walk or jog yourself.

The roads to the west and southwest of Philiphaugh are real adventures. The route to Eskdalemuir and Lockerbie is a real belter. It has sheep and hills and cows and paddling and bogs and forests and hills and a Buddhist monastery and a nuclear bomb detector. A great knock on a bike too. The shorter route to Moffat is glorious too. Both take you through the typical border heartlands of valley after valley and ridge after ridge of the wreckage of an old crash of continents

Oh yes! Fair fa’ yer honest sonsie face! Dinny get passed by a pudding in the race!

Race details here and here

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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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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

Featured

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.