Sunday, 29 May 2011

The Final Leg And 258.3 Miles Complete!

With the wind and rain being a major factor, I new today would be tough to reach my final destination which was only 42 mile south of Tongue on the No1 cycle route, although the cyclists I would pass would have the wind behind them and only me would cycle into the head wind, but I had a destination to reach and one I would be determined to reach and true, the whole journey would be a battle with head winds and driving rain, and occasionally the warmth of the sun would shine through and again reveal how beautiful the North of Scotland really is.......

 Above, the threat of what was to come, the heavy persistent rain.

Along the A836, the road continued to twist and turn with plenty of up hills to contend with, but with the wilds of nature to view, it was journey that was sadly coming to an end and one I would miss...
 Along the way abandoned houses stood and bridges that were once used as the route to Tongue or the South grassed over after "the new road" was put in.
Altnaharrha in full splendour though 10 minutes before this picture was taken a complete deluge descended from the heavens!

 With raging rivers and magnificient  views to watching the next storm take shape ahead, the travelling was anything but boring!

I could see why many a poet took to the mountains or the seaside for inspiration, it has a profound effect of a long lasting calming that fills you quite uncharacteristically and you can just daydream along without a care in the world!

With water cascading down the mountainsides, it wouldn`t be long before the final deluge and I took refuge in the only Inn along the route to which I was truly thankful.

The Crask Inn has always been a travellers inn and was built in 1815, although it has changed hands many times, it is as warm and welcoming as public house I have been to.
The landlady bought me a pot of tea and a slice of cake and this oldie worldie Inn had a lovely warmth that modernisation would ruin.
If ever your along this way, pop in to the only Inn that time forgot and enjoy a good old fashioned pint or cup of tea, your guaranteed a warm welcome and as it is only 12.5 miles from Lairg your not far from civilisation.

The final leg of my journey was in torrential rain and peddling downhill! 
I was too busy singing to notice the rain, I had completed the gruelling journey I had set out to do, all 258.3 miles of it and chuffed as punch I had achieved alot of sponsorship from people north, south and on-line, I now just needed to get back to Rutland and start collecting!

Thankyou to everyone who sponsored me and believed in me I`ve raised around £3,000 for Children With Leukaemia, Thankyou again, Now to collect it!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Durness To Tongue

It was time to say goodbye to Durness and the Keoldale Bungalow Bed and Breakfast that had been my home for the last week.
I was actually going to miss this place.
The high I had had and like so many of us here, a place in my heart and a longing to quickly return.
Maybe I should move up here?
But for now, it was time to return to Rutland.

Like the previous week, the nature would throw the ultimate twist in my return to the south.
High winds and heavy rain was forecast, along with the ash from the Icelandic  volcano that had erupted a few days before.
I was still due to complete my challenge, on the bike, down to Inverness.
Back on the bike after a week, I was a little apprehensive on the journey, safety being paramount, but Tongue was only 32 miles away and the sun was out, though that didn`t matter, the weather could change at the drop of a hat..... and it did.
The route to Tongue would take me along the A838 and then A836 a busy route and hilly along moorland and mountains, but I relished the challenge.

The ride started well enough, bright sunshine and some wind and following the half marathon route.
It wouldn`t be long before the change in weather was about to get worse.....
The rain started at a drizzle then the high winds began to push me about to the point I was riding like I was going round corners! 
Leaning at angles I thought I could never do and cycling downhill aswell as up was certainly a challenge!
I kept getting blown about and nearly into vehicles, having to stop, it was getting dangerous, but I persevered, I don`t know how to quit.
Occasionally the rain would subside to reveal the softer side of the mountains and magnificent views.
 The road twisted this way and that and with the hills getting steeper, and the wind against me, I had to get of and push! 
 Not embarrassed to push and some of the hills with the steepness, would I have got up them without the wind?
 Eventually the pouring rain and harsh wind would continue all the way to Tongue, but I had made it, some 6hrs after starting of, slower than anticipated, but at least I was in one piece and even though I couldn`t see alot for the last 5 miles, when I reached Tongue and The Ben Loyal Hotel, yep you guessed it, the sun came out to reveal a wilderness that had the wow factor!

Tongue`s Norman outlook post and The Mountain Ben Loyal.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Marathon And The Farewell Do......

 As with the rest of the week, the weather was not great, but it was perfect for running a marathon!
Wind and driving rain!
We stood indoors before venturing out into the weather that had been with us throughout our fantastic week and this would be our final day - and test or endurance.
I like so many people didn`t want it to end.
We had made so many good friends and faced all the challenges together, we just wanted it to carry on and never end!
Sadly, However, all good things must come to an end.

Our challenge had another twist.
We were not able to get over to the Cape for the marathon, this time it would start at the village hall and follow the A838 towards Kinlochbervie (although not that far) and return.

The anticipation was high and with teams and individuals running, suddenly we were off......
Some would run it in 3hrs, others 6, but the winner would complete it in 2hrs 59mins and 16 seconds, a new record.
My team called Bang tidy (which apparantly means good looking!) came in in 4hrs and 02 mins.
The only problem with the route were the vehicles that whizz passed people without a thought as to whether they would hit anyone or not.
Vans and motorhomes seemed to be the main culprits, but at least no one got knocked over this time.
After the marathon came a couple of hours respite and then the evenings farewell dinner and entertainment and boy what an evening!
 With a banquet fit for a King or Queen, it was quite astounding what effort had gone into the catering and the food was unbelievably fantastic!
Words fail me I`m afraid because I have never been to an event where you are put first and all your needs and help are given and taken care of.
Nothing was to much trouble.
The staff, marshalls, villagers and sponsors all came together to provide a week of outstanding value and long lasting friendship that I never imagined.
From start to finish, everything for the Cape Wrath Challenge was extremley well organised and nothing taken for chance or granted.
The evenings dinner presentation of prizes and fond farewells was quite sad as one of the sponsors John Walker was stepping down and also a couple of the others who had helped over the last 10 years were also stepping down.

 And so it came to pass, that after a hearty feast (I was contemplating putting the menu on here, but I think the pictures will tell the story!) and a few merry drams, it was time in the Scottish tradition to take part in a little highland dancing and then so to bed!
Yes Jim, it was a truly magnificent week and one I shall treasure and look forward to taking part in next year.
Why had I not done this challenge before?
To all those who organised the event,the Sponsors, those unsung heroes who marshalled, volunteered, fed and watered us, cheered us and just spent time with us,To those that looked after us in the B&B`s, Hotels,Youth Hostels or Camp Sites, I`m sure that I will speak for many when I say THANKYOU for giving the time of my life in being a part of such a wonderful event.
I hope the Cape Wrath Challenge continues for many more years yet.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Target Zero And The BBQ

 Every Year it raises hundreds of pounds for Marie Curie Cancer Trust.
The beach run is about 3 miles long and you have to determine what time you finish in, although you really don`t know how far your`e actually running, we say 3 miles, but like all the other runs, distance can be an educated guess, unless properly measured out, like the half marathon!
So on a sunny windy afternoon on Balnakiel Beach some 200+ runners of adults and local school children, take part in running across the two beaches (so long as the tides are out!) and coming back along the golden sandy beaches, covered in sand and costumes of every sort flowing around!
I went as Miss Messy (couldn`t find a Mr Men costume for adults!) made out of a sleeping bag liner and remnants of my tent, made with the help of the children from the B&B I stayed in. 

So, with Bumble Bees, cops and robbers, Batman, dalmations, devils, royalty, butterflies and many other costumes on display made there way to the gateway to the beach and with no watches and clocks or phones, off they all went and to see how far out people were with their estimated times!

With the tide not fully out, everybody decided to wade around the rocks and still carry on with the beach run, a fun time was had by all and the children enjoyed it too.
The venue for the BBQ had to be changed due to, yep, high winds and some rain, so instead of being on the beach it went indoors.
The proceeds of the BBQ went in aid of the local school.
The burgers, venison, chicken, salad, sausages and cauliflower fritters were a huge hit with everyone.
The hot chocolate and Banana`s were also a huge hit and they had to go to the local shop to try and get some oversubscribed banana`s!

A great time was had by all!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The 10 Miler(ish) And The Great Train Race!

Everybody is feeling the strain!
All the running has been virtually uphill, but remarkably records are being broken and times improved. Mine for one! Gould knows what`ll happen when I run on a straight bit, it`ll be record breaking!
But the day would be the one, the 10 mile (ish) of uphill course with one mile of down hill!
We (those who had not done this before) were blissfully unaware (or like me, pleading ignorance!) what the true course entailed, but it had been changed from last year and was longer, a good 2 or 3 mile(ish) longer!
Alot of it though was off road and went into the hills and through the golf course, I waited for someone to shout FOUR! but luckily it never came, on a day like today, it would have been a missile in 30 - 40mph winds and on one section, we were all getting blown up the hills and then down the hills, but our feet couldn`t keep up!
I completed it in 2hrs 06 mins - if it had been on a straight and out of the wind, probably would`ve done it in about an hour!
It was a good course, I think we all felt for the marshalls who were out in the elements, exposed, well done! 
After a shower and brief rest in bed, we went for the evening entertainment of connexions with the locals.
It was a little less energetic than the previous evening of learning Scottish Dancing, which was terrific and the lady teacher was phenomenal and one I would love to listen to again - she was the best teacher I had ever known, who held the class together and kept everybody enthralled and wanting more.
The idea of last nights entertainment was to make a train out of Konnex and make it run down a small track.
The team I was in (called Misfits!) was made up of 3 youngsters and an old fart! (me!)

With my little helpers and the finished train, we finished in a time of 36 seconds, which was good enough for third!
Well done guys! We`ll do it faster next year!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The 5.5(ish) And Durness

The morning started brightly enough.
With a hundred runners anticipating this mornings run, a hill circuit of 5.5(ish) miles with some astonishing views and the wind seems to have died down a little too!
From the village Hall we would turn left onto the road, then left onto the moorlands and hills, before dropping back down and to the village Hall where we would finish.
I had a respectable time of 58mins 25seconds, though the winner completed it in a record 29mins (I think he`s an Olympian!)

With some outstanding views around, Durness is one of the most North Westerly places in Scotland, before hitting the islands of the Outer Hebrides and Shetland Islands.
Its population is small, but was once huge centuries ago and the archaeological proof surrounding these claims is immense. 
With shops, gifts and places of interest to visit, Durness stands on its own in the art of survival.
Although The Cape Wrath Challenge has now being going 10 years, the people who organise it and the locals that welcome us, shows tolerance! We do quite literally take over this quiet, rugged and beautiful part of the world.
The weather here can change dramatically and the BBC weather reports have not been right here yet!
In December last year, the lady from the lighthouse at Cape Wrath went out to get the Christmas turkey and didn`t get back until February!
The weather being unpredictable.
But Durness`s history goes back further to Neolithic man making a town here and Iron age man etc.
One of the strangest facts is the fossilised dunes here that are no longer near the sea and now collapsing are revealing remnants of days gone by.

Bones have been found and some Jacobite materials and pottery parts aswell as musket shots, giving a wide array of dates in the history of time.

Remnants of burial mounds, both open and enclosed are all around and some have been found with the casks still inside, though they have, over time, been heavily robbed and trashed. 
People say you can`t grow trees in Durness, yes you can, but you have to plant them first!
The highlands and Lowlands of Scotland were once covered in trees and during the clearance periods made by early man, burnt the forests and with the high winds they get here, it wouldn`t take long to burn thousands of acres of forest.
Evidence of sawing down a forest is around and one peat bog is full of these, but this has left a dilemma..
The evidence shows that it wasn`t modern man who made the saw cuts and if it was early man, it throws the theory of just the axe being invented to chop down the trees as many "experts" believe it took a few thousand years to develop the saw, here, it shows otherwise and shows that early man was more capable of adapting and improving his life more quickly.

You wouldn`t know they were there unless you knew what you were looking for and here is a roundhouse! 
With the heather and grass in a rounded shape, the area would have been cleared and the houses would mainly have been made up of rocks and grass - like the mud huts - with a fire in the centre.

On the hills are other "buildings" but no - one seems to know what the purpose of them were........
The fields around this area extremely furtile and many of the hills actually show huge square green patches and was once a major area for vegetable growing, but during the 1800`s when people were cleared from these areas and put to the coast, the fertile ground changed as more sheep were moved into the area.
This proved to be disastrous as sheep droppings do absolutely nothing for the ground, where as cattle poo does alot more and helps with fertilisation.

The Limestone rocks that are here just stick out and when it rains they do start to disappear.
There are plenty of sink holes around where water once stood and disappeared underground.

Smoo Cave is one of the best caves around to show the water coming from above.

With Wild Orchids, Mountain Avion and other flora and fauna growing in abundance here, it goes to show how nature has adapted over the 1000`s of year and it has taken decades for the build up of peat to form.

  1. So, if your interested in seeing something different and sharing your experiences of the ultimate  in nature and adventure, then visit Durness and its surrounding area, you will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

The Start Of The Cape Wrath Challenge - The Half Marathon And The Sun


We are a happy, hardy breed!
After a briefing we went via minibuses to Loch Eriboll with high winds and yep, pouring rain!
We all met up at the village Hall and today there would be 50 Cape Wrath Half Marathon Runners and 42 10k Runners.
The route for the half marathon was from just passed Souterrain, the other side of Loch Eriboll and would follow the Loch along the A838 (from tongue and John O`Groats) passing some of the most spectacular views of this North West Scotland, all the way to Durness and finish at the village hall.
The run would start as I had encountered, head winds and driving rain, there was no way I would finish this in under 4hrs, I was aiming for 3!
But as we started and battled the elements to one of the toughest and most North westerly runs  in the u.k, this would be a severe test for me.
Had my training of running and cycling to/from work been enough?
Off we went and cursing the head wind, I ran and then a glimmer of sunshine came through, maybe to reveal the secrets of what I would have enjoyed on my bike ride.
In the distance, cloud began to recede and the mountains revealed themselves with sharp and jagged edges and pools of peat water seemed to have diamonds dancing in the sun....

Another side to the weather is that it helped put out the fires that raged here recently, like the rest of the uk the hot weather was here and so were the forest fires and the remnants that now remain, blackened land on a beautiful landscape.

The weather was forever improving and the headwind had disappeared and the running was easier too though uphill but at least the wind had eased and the warmth of the day and in Scotland was very welcome!

 Leaving the terrible weather behind, it was a relief to see the sun and surrounding countryside.
With each pounding step, I felt free and higher than the soaring guillemot above me, I felt at one with nature, looking, exploring and appreciating the most natural surroundings afforded to me and the warm welcome I now felt.
Someone once said to me that people who run or walk (like me) are running away from things, like responsibilities etc, that is a very negative attitude to have.
Most runners and walkers, like myself, feel the freedom and positive energy of long runs and walks, the beauty of the outdoors and what it has to offer, a challenge to get somewhere, to learn and enhance your knowledge. 
Would you rather be stuck in one place doing the same thing day in, day out not going anywhere not gaining any substantial knowledge?
Here,or anywhere else you choose, you can listen to the birds and watch their flight, what sort are they?
What type  of heather is on the ground?
Who lived here before?
Yes you can get these answers of the internet, but go and find out yourself, find that bit of freedom you desire, walk, take in the fresh air and feel the freedom so many people want, but you have to want it to get it.
You also have to look after it.
Would you really want to miss this experience?
The effort was well and truly worth it! And, once completed I had accomplished the most uphill route I think I had ever done and in a respectable time of just over 2hrs, quicker than anticipated and once finished a welcome bowl of soup, sandwiches, cake and a warm welcome cup of tea awaited us from the volunteers who had helped and cheered us on.

We all received comemorative certificates for completing the course and Myself and two others were also given spot prizes, which was fantastic!
It would soon be time to shower feet up for a while and the evening quiz!