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



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.



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