The Alternative John Muir Way majors on scenic value and a variety of obstacles to keep you alert through dunes, beach, cliffs, boulders, barbed wire and electric fence crossings, a fortified castle to storm, breaking wave-leaping and a long dark spiral staircase to climb. A big anticyclone provided perfect conditions with sunshine and a light sea breeze to start. 21 appeared for around 55km of running and/ or cycling with the usual off/ on road variations for the cyclists. Patricia and Richard swopped very attentive sag wagon services throughout the route, Mark James having collected the van for us before rushing off to Norway. Read more…
If there's no races on or you're all raced out. If the weather's bad and you need an incentive to get out, or if it's great and you fancy somewhere a bit different, there's often a run to join in led by a Carnethy member.
Some are long standing institutions such as Nigel Rose's journey runs, Keith Burn's alternative John Muir Way and the Circumnavigation of Edinburgh. Others are more ephemeral; but they are characterised by encompassing all abilities of running and being very relaxed, the more alcoholic ones (like the Whisky Chaser) extremely so.
The Autumn Equinox Run is well established now (and what a hoot it is!), so I thought it would be nice if its young upstart the Vernal Equinox could get in on the act. So I organised a run. My thoughts when doing this were that by the time it came around on Monday, 20th March, we would be looking at warm sunlight uplands, possibly going topless and sipping sparkling mead (that did happen) under birdsong. However the weather was Baltic (but it stayed dry, to be fair) and the next day saw snow blanket much of the north of Britain, so maybe we angered the Gods somehow. Digby had also pointed out (in his imitable style) that the clocks weren’t going to change until this Sunday, so we’d be better to delay it a week. But I was keen to make it on the day of the Equinox.
I decided on Cairnpapple, as it one of the most important Druidic sites in Scotland, and has an impressive structure on its top to prove it. More of that later. My only experience of the hill was running to its (almost) summit with Neil B when we did the comically-named Bathgate Highland Games Hill Race. I remembered it as basically a road race that had a bit of a climb. However, run leader Lisa assured me we’d be getting all down and dirty through woods and stuff, and so it proved.
I had hoped that someone from the Druid community in Scotland might come out to the hill to meet us, but they seemed very shy, but Jean, a lovely lady from the Pagan Network Scotland got in touch and sent me some words, which I read out on the run:
Most if not all of these belief systems celebrate the “ Wheel of the Year” which encompasses 8 festivals beginning on 31st October with Samhain/Halloween and ending with the Autumnal Equinox around 21st September.
The significance of Cairnpapple to most Pagans is that it is a burial mound. As modern day paganism is based on pre-christian beliefs, most Pagans would view Cairnpapple as perhaps a place to commune with the spirits of the pre-christian peoples whose remains are buried there. It was obviously a special place where the ancient people of Scotland may have held celebratory or funerary rituals. Pagans cannot and do not claim to know the exact format of these rituals, they can only guess. However the site has quite clearly been a fairly important one in pre-historic times.
And so to the run.
Lisa led the way up the hill from the Station into the wilds of the Linlithgow suburbs. We came to the edge of Beecraigs Country Park, where things got more interesting. There was lots of (gradual) climbing and it wasn’t long before we stopped to regroup and found ourselves pretty high, with good views over West Lothian.
Given the distance and time involved we were swithering at this point abut actually making it to Cairnpapple, as it’s a fair stretch from the start, but Jeff had stashed some sparkling mead in the gorse bushes near the summit that lunchtime, so that clinched it. In the end we adjusted our route to take in Witchcraig and Cairnpapple and we missed out Cockleroy.
The running was a mix of hard-packed trails through the woods, country roads, but also some minor hill climbs and mud. A good mix and Lisa kept the pace high. I think we all felt that we’d had a good workout by the time we sat down to eat. The Star & Garter were very accommodating and the food and service was good. A great evening and it’s been suggested we re-run the route in the summer again, perhaps taking in Cockleroy this time.
Some notes on Cairnpapple: Read more…
A quick scramble up next to a waterfall brought us out on a small rocky ridge on the lower slopes of Mount Maw. After a pathless trudge up the surprisingly dry hillside we hit the track leading to the summit trig where we regrouped and looked over one of the less viewed vistas of the Pentlands back towards the Kips and west towards the Cairns and West Lothian. The drop from Mount Maw to the dam at Baddinsgill is one of my favourite descents in the Pentlands, the dry, grassy trail at a perfect angle makes for speedy running right down to the reservoir.
We raced up the grassy embankment to the waterline and trotted over the dam to the road leading back to West Linton. We made a quick stop for food orders before following the Cross Borders Drove Road all the way back to the Village with a speedy last kilometer on a dirt road right to the door of the pub. Great food and beer at The Gordon Arms, I think the pate with tattie scones was the highlight of the night for more than a few people!
Thanks to everyone who made it down. There is one more night run to go, Cairnpapple Equinox on Monday at 7pm – see you there!
There were initially fourteen volunteers for the run but by the time running day arrived our number had been whittled down to seven by injury, illness and a reluctance to brave the bad weather. Our logistics were delightfully simple – drive to Brig O’Turk, run round the route then drive home again although this didn’t stop Alan from making an interesting detour near the end. By the time we arrived at the start the rain had lightened up and soon fizzled out once we got going. We quite quickly split up into a fast group and a slow one and the two groups weren’t to meet much on the way round.
Once we had climbed out the head of Gleann nam Meann some slushy snow began to appear on the track. Further on there were a number of deeper snow drifts but they did little to slow our progress. What we hadn’t anticipated was that most of the burns running across the track were in spate so our leaping muscles were well exercised. We all regrouped by the cairn at the highest point of the track for a supposed lunch stop. It was agreed that walking and eating would be better than sitting & eating in the cold wind. There must have been some gobbling going on in front as the leading group soon disappeared from view.
Soon afterwards the sun came out but I couldn’t find anyone to photograph – the fast ones were mere specks ahead in the distance and the slower ones were way behind so I just took a few photos to show you what the terrain was like (plus a couple of photos from Alan). I was on my own for a long way down to the loch; as I got lower the sun grew ever warmer and I began to wonder if my face was going to get sunburned. We eventually all regrouped at the car park then stopped off for refreshment at the Lade Inn on the way home. A good day was had by all.
When your phone buzzes early on a morning and high winds and heavy rain is forecast, it is bound to be someone deciding they have better things to do than run a 30 mile route dreamt up in drier times. Quite understandable. Still, seven Carnethies made the 0744 train from Haymarket to Dalmeny for the inaugural Carnethy Sea to Summit as part of the winter 2016/2017 Ultra Series.
We got it bad. From stepping onto the platform to 20mins from the end, we were wet and battered by the rain-filled wind. Storm Doris may have passed but her tail was long. Why is it the day before is always nice than the actual day? Our route went down to under the FRB and dip our toes in the River Forth (the Sea bit) then followed the old railway line towards Newbridge, quite nice on puddle strewn trails. A fortunate wrong turn took us along the River Almond on a vague trail and a bit of bondoo bashing to hit a building site that looked like a battlefield. This was bypassed on account of an angry guy in high vis, past car salerooms and ways found to continue following the muddy torrent of a river, a bit of canal, then a lovely canal feeder stream till exiting the Almondvale Country Park to a great wee café at Almondell Garden Centre that Jeff Roberts had sweet-talked the owner to open on her birthday for us. He even took a present for her, nice touch Jeff, and we sang her Happy Birthday.
The next leg headed via tracks, waterlogged fields, woods, lots of gate hopping into quagmire, and the odd farmyard, wigwams and steadings out to Selm Muir Wood to pick up the Scottish National Trail to cross the A70 at Little Vantage where the Thieves Road starts. Graham Nash was struggling to keep up since he is not too fit (oh, tell I lie, that was me….!), and he decided to head for Listonsheils and back home to watch the Rugby. The remaining five thought ‘What a total lightweight, Nash can’t hack it’. After 100m along the Thieves Road the remaining five thought ‘What a git, he knew what was coming and didn’t fancy 4km wading through rivers and bog’. The wind was blowing, the rain not far from horizontal, I was weary and using poles to protect the odd niggle. Jim Hardie and Viv Busby were in shorts so wanted to push-on to keep warm. Wet slushy snow from the recent storms made the water very cold with regular wading through long sections cooled the toes till they were numb.
Then relief, or was it? The path climbing up East Cairn Hill was a waterfall. The wind did not relent. We ground it out and thankfully the cairn at the top gave shelter (the Summit bit). Jeff Roberts and Rachel has put their waterproof trousers on while waiting for me. Jim and Viv shivered in their shorts. A Summit piccy then off through wet snow and sphagnum moss holes and peat bog for the Borestane. I found it hard to run the tussocks and being so wet with the wind so chilling and decided to stop and put my Montane Primus (hollofil) jacket. Joy, some warmth.
Our route from the Borestane intended to drop North then head for Bavelaw Castle. We were going to turn right to head down the Cleuch, past the 2 reservoirs then up over Allermuir to the Steading. A team decision agreed to hit Bavelaw and turn left, not right, and head for Balerno. After 5½ hrs being wet and the pub closer that way, with the 44 bus back to town beckoning, we headed down Exponential Hill and on to the Grey Horse Pub in Balerno to dry out. A photo of a local outside is because the passer-by who I asked to get a team shot couldn’t press a button hard enough!
This route ended up about a marathon distance and just under 1000m ascent finishing in Balerno. The trails and paths are great and the scenery really nice with some great bridge architecture. It would be nice in the dry, or in summer, and of course various options from the Borestane to Hillend could add distance and add ascent by doing the the first or second half of the Pentland Skyline….if you want to make it ‘harder’.
Well done to the team for turning up and waiting for me.
Culter Fell is steeped in mystery. Some years ago a Carnethy runner became totally disorientated during the Culter Fell Horseshoe; I was always sceptical of these Culter stories about local magnetic anomalies and petrifying wells that disappear. Yet the same person succumbed again during the circumnavigation of Culter at the weekend. This time, like the Pied Piper, he led a group of younger members astray as well, all to disappear in the quiet mysterious hills of Know Kniffling, Trebetha, Gawky and Scawdman’s.
The weather forecast was wrong from the start, but it was at least an improvement on the previous Saturday at the Carnethy 5 – just cold, wettish and windy. We had hardly accelerated to cruising speed when Mike bust his chain, leaving the rider and Mechanic to freeze during roadside repairs as most of the 17 strong group buggered off up the glen to stave off hypothermia, with Hilary and Jane overtaking us on their alternative pedestrian ascent of Culter Fell.
The bikers regrouped at the Culter dam before continuing on the rough track towards the Holme Nick bealach, one or two already going into “are we nearly there” mode, “there” being variously the halfway, half effort, or half total height point. The rain and headwind was having a damaging psychological impact. The Mechanic made reassuring noises about the cold front passing through, the forthcoming turn downwind and the interesting technical descent from Holm Nick. Someone said it was already an hour longer than he’d ever been on a bike before and we weren’t any kind of halfway.
The leaders going for their Navigator’s badge pressed on to the bealach as the Mechanic boosted flagging moral fibre at the rear. The Navigators were so enthused by the steep climb that to the bealach that they turned right to continue up Glenwhappen Rig heading for the cloud base before a real navigator with a map called them back to what, after all, was the scheduled bealach and highest point of the day. The initial descent towards Glenkirk was trackless, muddy and steep enough to provide various methods of falling off a bike if you were still bold enough to be on it, – bar vaults, cartwheels, lateral slides and most variations except back flips were demonstrated. A peaceful lunch spot out of the wind caused dissent from the Navigators, who were eager to find opportunities to test their skills at navigating by maps they had mentally filed away, but otherwise left at home. So we had lunch instead at a wind blasted sheep fank another 2km down the glen where we could practice hypothermia survival more effectively. Meanwhile the Mechanic and his companion performed perfect somersaults and measured their lengths in the same ditch and swamp hazard only seconds apart from each other. There was a return to rideable terrain at the circular sheep fank and we recovered body heat as we sped down the track to Glenkirk and 3km of welcome smooth tarmac to the start of the pleasant forest climb up Swines Hope.
There’s a great open view at the top of this hill where you emerge from the trees between the hill forts of Knowe Kniffling and Mill Rings. The track sweeps down around the open flank of Trebetha Hill to old KIlbucho House and its impressive new timber lodge. The speed merchants couldn’t resist this fast descent, ignoring cautions from the Mechanic to re-group at the first ambiguous junction. Three ambiguous junctions later the group was fragmented into at least three parts, some of which were not to regroup until the pub at Culter. A range of random route variations followed, involving near full and superfluous circumnavigation around White Hill and other permutations to the direct and trackless muddy passage to Cow Castle Hill and a final swoop down to the pub.
A rinse in the river for bikes and bodies was necessary to make the team presentable for an excellent pub feed at the friendly Mill Inn. The chastened Navigators arrived shortly after at intervals from most points of the compass. These local Culter hills are well worth exploring for their wealth of hill forts and old hamlets.
27km + 715m ascent/ descent + random variations. Video clip here
Typical, weeks of still weather and some of the most glorious days recently but the Circo 2017 managed to get a wet and manky day. Good news though, no wind, or we would have been Les Miserables. Twelve runners and 4 on bikes hopped up and down to keep warm in the carpark as the Leaders Jim Hardie and Mark Hartree arrived promptly – a bit late. The first leg to Portobello followed a tested route. The junk filled railway section near Drum has been cleaned up but we faced an medical emergency when Jim H got a large thorn in his pinky. Amputation was avoided and a plaster put on to stop him trying to gnaw it out with his teeth. The Beach House café in Porty was great but despite booking and sending orders in advance, still slow.
It did stop raining a bit, then started again on the run to Cramond. A couple of guys – Pete and Nick, had joined us, then we lost a Lee and Lucas Lefevre who ducked out on the way to Cramond. Flat tarmac is not my favourite surface and various pains grew so the pub was a welcome stop and a chance to dry off. The bikers left as we arrived and we left not long after for the final longest leg leaving Nicola Dunn and Neil Rutherford at the 20 mile point. Matt Jones and Jeff Roberts joined us here. It was now trying to snow and the paths very wet and slippery on the mud. The wooden steps along the River Almond were fenced off so we ignored the barriers and used them anyway to avoid a detour. A few piccies in the Cammo estate and on past the airport and tram depot to the Gyle. I dropped out here with Sarah Robertson and got a pick-up from Neil Rutherford who had retired at Cramond after having completed The Spine Race a few weeks ago, so was no doubt a bit weary still.
Without Mark and Sarah, the remaining few made their way into the Industrial Estate of the South Gyle. The final stage of the Circo has always been the best – the gradual climb to the Pentlands. From South Gyle we pottered over the canal, shimmied through Heriot Watt Campus, over the train tracks and up Donkey Brae into Currie. It seemed only right and sensible to stop for a swift half to brace ourselves for the climbs ahead, so we popped into the Kinleith Arms for cola and beer. Time was against us though, sunset was coming and not all of us had headtorches, so we needed to get back out there pronto! Over the Water Of Leith, past the new Horse place, up towards Torphin, round the old golf course and over the Torduff dam. Looking towards the hills ahead we could see that snow would feature heavily.
At Bonaly we said our goodbyes to Nick and Peter who were taking a faster route down to Leith, and then goodbye to Andy as he didn’t fancy the hills. White Hill was the first proper climb into the snow, and on the track there were the tyre treads from the Circo cyclists – a clear sign that they were near…and crazy for shoving their bikes into the snowy Pentlands! By this point the world was white, everything covered in snow. It was glorious! Up Capelaw, and finally Allermuir into whiteout conditions, with no view and driving snow. We agreed that Allermuir would be the final hill, a quick photo, and then slip, slid and skidded our way down to The Steading. I took a tumble, bruising some ribs, but recovered enough to complain about it for the remaining run. A good run, made all the better by great company!
34.4miles in total, nearly 3,000ft ascent.
Thanks to all those that joined (Peter, Nick, Matt and Jeff)!
Well done to all those that done most of it (Lee, Lucas, Nicola, Neil, Sarah, Mark and Andy)!
Fantastic work by the cyclists (Keith, Nick, Jonathan and Eric)!
And finally well done to those that done the full Circo (John, Jeremy, Dougie, Alan and me)!
Massive thanks to Mark for organising all the hard stuff!
The Cyclists report:
The 24-hour ahead weather forecast is not often as badly wrong in the wrong direction as it was for Saturday. We cyclists were down to a hard core of five, but not all at the same time. The opening leg to Portobello prom set a new record for discomfort from rain, mud and high wind chill, causing complaints of frozen fingers and toes; some would say appropriate conditions for this tour of Edinburgh’s unloved badlands which only the connoisseur appreciates. The Beach Café (a name inducing childhood memories of sunshine, ice cream and candy floss) provided us with life saving bacon and egg rolls and tea, but at an eye watering price. As usual, the runners appeared not long after. It’s much easier to keep warm on foot than on a bike; there was even plenty of exposed flesh being flashed. The bikers left early for Cramond. The cold was moderating from desperate to mildly uncomfortable. The beach refugee camp at the sewage treatment plant was gone. There was a welcome absence of the usual nuisance of dog walkers with telescopic leads on the Granton – Cramond prom. Hospitality at the Cramond Inn was excellent for a relaxing long lunch – until the runners burst in, reminding us that we needed to start building our lead before the trials of the Pentlands foothills and the White Hill crux. The Almond riverside path presented the unusual challenge of an impenetrable council safety fence protecting the perilous decaying Salveson steps overhanging the river. Combined tactics got the bikes safely around the fence overhang, down the rickety steps and a repeat across the fence at the bottom. Back on the bikes for the rest of the riverside path, finishing with the Fat Man’s Agony taking us to the Cammo estate entrance. The rough path to the rubbish dump wasn’t too muddy. I noted more interesting stuff to collect later at the rubbish dump, then a straightforward passage to the tram depot and new Gyle railway station interchange. A new underpass took us across the A8 into the Gyle commercial utopia with its landscaped tumbling burn between a million executive desks and glowing screens. Who would swop those for the bracing arctic downpour we were enjoying in the sweet fresh air? Next under the city bypass culvert alongside a suspiciously whiffy ditch to join the long road climb to Haston’s Currie Wa’s and his new memorial. Now falling snow prompted a final hot brew before tackling the Pentlands closing stage. We were down to two to finish the end game. The Currie Brae was despatched with gusto as a re-warmer, thankfully turning downwind for a fast passage past the reservoirs to Bonaly car park. No sign of snowy footprints or screams to the rear so we were clear for the White Hill climb ahead of the runners. The snow made pushing the bikes a battle for traction to the top. During the swampy struggle we heard screams from behind – they were closing on us. A couple of over-the-bars face plants cleared us down to the burn with only the traverse across past the horse depot to finish in the failing light. The runners had pressed on over Allermuir to find deeper snowdrifts in the dark. Just under 8 hours including relaxation stops. The longest continuous rain and snow session I can remember for some time. The first pint and fish and chips went down very well. And we finished without losing any toes or fingers. Herman Buhl would have approved. Much thanks to Mark for the excellent catering arrangements.
The bikers, variously: Jonathon Whitehead, Shane Bouchier, Eric Brown, Nick Macdonald, Keith Burns
7 o’clock on Wednesday night saw some 26 runners shivering outside Clippers in Penicuik where we were destined to eat later, but at that time we were waiting for the off to do the Cuckoo Waltz. No, not to play Jonasson’s Swedish accordion tune but a designed Willie waltz (ooer) around the designed landscape of the Clerk’s Penicuik estate.
Penicuik means the hill of the cuckoo but in the early stages it was more hills of the suckoo as gripping mud sucked at our shoes. As the estate covers some 500 acres but the run was 5 miles only (food was awaiting at Clippers remember), we clipped along a somewhat concentrated but enjoyable route firstly following the south bank of the Esk, ascending steadily through the aforementioned delightfully splashy mud to the remains of Ravensneuk Castle. As is often the way with old buildings this 16th century castle was robbed out in the 18th century to provide stone for the Bastion Wall bolstering Penicuik House – amongst others. Read more…