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Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

A Weekend in the Highlands

With a Friday off work to add to the three day Bank Holiday, last weekend presented a great opportunity to get a bit further afield so I decided to head up to the Highlands for a solid few days of UTMB training. Having missed this year’s Fling and being injury-restricted during a week long holiday on Skye in late April, I was chomping at the bit to get out there on the Highland trails, undoubtedly one my favourite places to run.

One of the things I like best about running in Scotland is the true sense of isolation and wilderness. Whilst I didn’t get up into the really wild places of northern Scotland, there were still plenty of views which had zero signs of human intervention; these being the bits I like best. It’s fair to say you simply don’t get the same on any significant scale in England and Wales, perhaps only in parts of Northumberland and mid-Wales.

An early start on Friday got me to Milngavie (north of Glasgow) by mid-morning and after a quick stop-off for supplies, at the foot of Ben Lomond for midday. Now I know it’s a honey pot and it completely contradicts what I’ve just said, but the aim was to get an afternoon run in on accessible and well formed trails, without too much hassle. It was also a Munro I had yet to climb. I got up and down in around 1hour 40mins following the Ptarmigan trail up and the main track down – all in all a nice little loop. The views down Loch Lomond were superb.
Loch Lomond looking south from Ben Lomond

Next I headed up the other side of Lomond to the Arrochar Alps, setting off from the Inveruglas car park to firstly pick off Ben Vorlich, and then Ben Vane. I did have ambitious plans to also take in Beinn Ime and Beinn Narnain but time got the better of me, and it was only intended to be a wee afternoon jaunt after a long drive.

So I continued my journey north on the A82, feeling nicely mellow after a reasonable bit of exercise, heading for my base for the weekend, the brilliant By The Way hostel in Tyndrum which I’d stayed at a couple of times previously. It’s a great little setup they’ve got going, always full of friendly folk to chat to and with great facilities for meals/ chilling out.
Saturday’s planned schedule was for seven Munros – Ben Lui and Beinn a’ Chleibh in the Tyndrum hills, and all five of the Bridge of Orchy Hills. The first pair were straight forward navigationally however visibility was poor above about 700m reducing the enjoyment factor somewhat. The weather did however improve as the day went on, and the cloud level just remained above tops of the Bridge of Orchy Hills making for a better afternoon – what a difference having the views makes. I parked at Bridge of Orchy station and hiked up to the ridge via Coire an Dothaidh. Ben Dorain was a great hill to be at the top of, I had seen it some many times on the drive up to the Highlands on the A82 and always admired it’s beautifully symmetrical shape. Four of the five hills linked together well but of course I had to complicate things and also pick off the outlier which was Beinn Mhanach. This certainly pushed it to a full-on afternoon, and I didn’t make it back to the car via Achallader Farm until 7.45pm ish. I had to push the pace even to meet that schedule, perhaps not a bad thing given the training aim.

Sunday’s weather was better still; cloudy with sunny intervals and a brisk breeze on the tops which created an exciting, fast-moving sky, adding another dimension to the views from the hills. I had planned another seven Munros, this time the full set of the Crianlarich hills, starting with Ben More from Benmore Farm. Whilst they are talked about as a set, the Munros actually group themselves into three sets - two pairs and a three. Of course the challenge is to link them which involves big descents and re-ascents across untracked terrain, again turning it into a significant day out. The telltale sign that it had pushed me quite hard was that I took the more direct route to get back to the car having come down off the hills - along the A82 from Derrydarroch to Benmore (via Crianlarich) - when I could have followed the longer but legendary WHW trail!

View towards Crianlarich from Ben More

Stob Binnein from Ben More

And for the finale on Monday? Well it wasn’t really. I wanted to check my legs could actually still run after all that climbing so I hit the WHW for an out-and-back from Tyndrum to Victoria Bridge - 20 miles exactly. It was a fabulous day, not a cloud in the sky. Running my favourite trail in such perfect conditions had me grinning from ear-to-ear. And reading the Metro paper this morning, it was warmer in the Highlands than Bournemouth on Bank Holiday Monday – perfect!OK, so the drive back down the M6 was a hard slog, but it was certainly one of those great weekends which you really struggle to describe (or don’t know where to begin) when you get the ‘how was your weekend’ question in the office the next day. Happy days.

Beinn Dorain, view north from the WHW


Mark Barnes said...

Hi Jez
Good to see you back out there enjoying yourself again

Keith Hughes said...

Nice one Jez - glad you had a good time. Great pics !