When I think of Skye, I never imagine it is that far away. It’s up there on the north left of Scotland, romantically, little more than a Flora MacDonald - powered boat ride from the mainland.
Not so, it would seem – Portree it is in fact a five and a half hour trip from Peebles, covering 258 miles. With this in mind, drinks and snacks are stockpiled and the Ipod loaded up before the off.
It’s a fine afternoon and I am soon on the way through Perth and heading for Dalwhinne for my turn off on the A9. I make good time getting over to Spean Bridge, past Loch Lochy to Invergarry. Soon, I have Loch Cluanie on my left and then I drop in to Glen Shiel. I travelled this route many years ago but not on such a clear day and have no recollection of just how massive the hills are on either side. I imagine someone must have glued the boulders to the hillside, so that they don’t roll down and crush gobsmacked drivers on their way through the glen!
The Ipod has gone from AC/DC to Aerosmith and the Allman Brothers play me in to Kyle of Lochalsh. I realise now that I didn’t hit the ‘shuffle’ button!
It’s a fine night and the Cuillins are vast and menacing in the distance. 32 miles of island later and I am in Torvaig Campsite a mile out of Portree. Tent up, bed inflated, I head back to town to load up with the ‘Mallaig Fish and Chips Special’. Not completely as described, however, I have had some carbs and head back to my pitch. I watch a little of Gran Torino with lights out around midnight.
Ten minutes to five and the dawn chorus kicks off with versus one to six thrown in for good measure!
Registration is in Portrree High School between nine, and ten and after a form of porridge, I am there, numbered and kit checked. Kit includes additional food, a survival bag (Ta Pete H) and an extra running top. With that and the fluid, the rucksack (kindly borrowed from Andy C) is a bit weighty. As this is a Scottish Championship Long Classic counter, the limit has been raised to 150 runners. So, quite a buzz around check in.
Pre-race talk is at 9.45 and buses are thereafter loaded with runners and after a spell (some of it spent captivated by the scale of the ridge and some of it trying to recall what it was that I was doing here in the first place) we are all at Flodigarry for the start.
The ridge resembles series of waves, frozen in motion. Geologically, a very long landslip of basalt lavas sitting on softer Jurassic shales – sliding slowly towards the sea. It is dark, wild and vastly foreboding – decidedly Tolkienesque. Here be Hobbitses!
|Jasper Jansen (checkpoints on most prominences)|
It’s 17 miles start to finish with 6000ft (1828 m) of ascent in between. Seven check points to be covered with seven tags to be dropped into seven little orienteering Bagginses. There’s a chill wind blowing and we all courie around an imaginary start line. A casual countdown and we are off.
Checkpoint 1 is a manageable run up onto Meall na Suiramach (531m). Findlay Wild and Andy Fallas are already heading away from the pack.
From this point, there is an exciting descent down to Checkpoint 2 (Quiraing car park) where I manage to make up a handful of places. Some water here and off on mainly moor for a 5 mile tussocky trek to Checkpoint 3 on Beinn Edra (611m). Good visibility here and it is possible to see the hills of the Outer Hebrides.
|Walkhighlands - Beinn Edra|
Checkpoint 4, at Beallach na Leacaich, is a 3 mile jaunt from 3 and another welcome water stop. I’m not feeling too bad at this point and munch an energy bar on the ascent. More featureless moor and Checkpoint 5, Sgurr a’ Mhadaidh Ruaidh, (593m) appears. Tag dropped and onwards.
Over the next two hills, I start to lose my drive and feel generally dehydrated. I have been taking in fluid from my rucksack but am losing much more in salt than the fluid contains.
Hartaval (668m) is a large wedge of hill but I manage to get up and over it. There is some tricky navigating down through some steep, rocky terrain – but following the experience runner in front, I manage to weave a way through. From the top of Hartaval, the climb to The Storr (719m) looks outrageous – but once at the base – the hill seems to shrink a little. I am passed here by an HBT lady who is gliding up the slope.
With some effort, I am over the Storr and heading down the steep hillside to the precarious Bealach Beag. Following some clambering there is a marked route down to the road. I can see the HBT lady and catch her on the road.
Within a mile, I am on the final dash across the bridge at Storr Lochs Dam.
I had set myself a target of 4.30 (don’t really know why) and managed to finish in 4.33. Not far off target! With this being a championship counter – all the big boys and girls were out to play so I finished a way down the pecking order – Interestingly, if I had run in 2013, I would have been 3rd !
Race over, Tent down and into the car for the 5 hour trip back to Peebles. A long drive but I return to some chilled Guinness.......My Preshuuuusssssss!
Quiraing behind, The Storr ahead,
And there are many paths to tread,
By the bealach, corrie and col,
Where glassy, snaking rillettes fall,
The horde is loose, the quarry known,
Remove the one upon the throne,
But to his heels, no one can cling,
And Wild is crowned the mountain king.
Brand new 'his and her' records set.