The Sea 2 Summits idea came about in 2016 as a novel way to link to the coast to tops of the hills. In February 2017 a group of us tried it, but heavy rain from the start dampened our enthusiasm and we cut short to Balerno. Heavy snow and frost were the challenge this year but Saturday’s forecast was for another ‘best day of the year’ day. The second challenge of the day was how to feed along the way since the route avoided refuel stops on a run whose length and commitment in the second half really needed a café. Jeff Roberts came up trumps with the Park View Café in Mid Calder.
A group of 9 Carnethys set off from under the Forth Road Bridge with toes in the Sea at 0930, and headed down the old railway line towards Kirkliston at a fairly leisurely pace enjoying the fresh morning air. Icy paths and snow from the start made for careful footwork being needed. From Kirkliston we joined the River Almond which remained our partner for the next 7 miles by the odd bit of bundu bashing, graffiti bridges with apt slogans, swing parks and frozen ploughed fields. The stunning West Lothian Viaduct and various arched bridges and the canal aqueduct make this section really interesting and worthy of a run on its own, since Almondale Country Park shows more delights than you expect. After 10 miles we made it to the excellent Park View Café in Mid Calder for welcome bacon butties, coffee and cakes. Nicola Dunn left us here (recovering from flu), Sarah Robertson headed for the gym and a 48 mile race in Suffolk next weekend, and Mary Lye tag-teamed with Matt Jones and we were down to seven. The food was great and a second butty ordered – which we were glad of later.
The second half of the run turned out to be long and hard and nowhere near a half, more a first third and second 2/3rds. We followed the river further upstream before cutting up to Selm Wood and joined the Scottish National Trail past the Hilly Cow Wigwams where Lucas Lefevre enjoyed a cuddle with my shadow. From here the snow started to get tricky and energy sapping with drifts and knee deep powder-fluff over heather. We weren’t halfway till we crossed the A70 at 1400 onto Thieves Road, but East Cairn Hill was in sight, even if maybe 2hrs away yet in the conditions. In 2017, the Thieves Road path was flooded in ankle deep water and shin deep bog. We still had shin deep bog, but today it was hidden by knee deep snow. Joy.
East Cairn Hill succumbed to brute force and the bonus of a youthfully energetic Auren Clarke breaking trail with Alan, Jeff and Lucas, while Lee Murphy, Matt Jones and I brought up the rear. But my god, was it worth it at the top for the views and ambience of the scenes around us. Cloud inversion, snow crystals in the air, pink mountain tops in the evening glow. We could just make out the FRB in the distance and Pentlandia around us through breaks in the mist. Jeff broke out the Drambuie and we celebrated his birthday and contemplated a viable route to Allermuir, maybe 10 miles away still. We set off, flogging our way through more drifts of varying depths and even broke out Matt’s compass to get to the Borestane safely. Snow gaiters helped some of us along with Micro Spikes, while others’ shoes looked like frozen sheep with pom-pom attachments. The direct shorter route over Kitchen Moss to the Howe was de-selected as an option and we headed North down the Drove Road in the sunset then turned right towards Bravelaw Castle making use of the track for faster travel. Alan Hogg and Jeff had a momentary wobble thinking of heading for Balerno since time was marching on and it was dark, but we dissuaded them from being big Jessies.
Familiar trails had us running to Glencorse by starlight and a crescent moon. We donned head torches, jumped the wall and cut up across the field to the metal sign and the bottom of Castlelaw Hill and walked / bobbed up the reverse Boghall route to the col and up onto Allermuir. We were later than planned, but who cares, apart from Jeff who was late for his birthday party. Epic trips deserve relishing the finish, and the lights of Edinburgh had us all smiling, and imagining the beer in the Steading. We jogged down the Swanston path then cut across to the ski slope, avoiding the road by cutting further across to the Skyline start, where we got the last few shots, and then down the trail to the pub, finishing at 1910 with beer and medals.
Leg 1 – South Queensferry to Mid Calder – 16.5km, 220m ascent, 2hrs 20mins
Leg 2 – Mid Calder to The Steading – 32km, 1020m ascent, 6hrs 20 mins
Café Stop – 40 mins
Total run – 48.5km, 1240m ascent, 8hrs 40 mins
We commend this Ultra to Carnethy. It is a cracking route. I could be done quicker, but may never be better.