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?