The David Shepherd Memorial Glamaig Hill Race

“To the west, the black spiry serrated peaks of the Cuillins, rising out of the green, terraced basalt-table-land, cast their shadows over the sea lochs at their base, while eastwards a group of reddish or yellowish, smooth, blunted cones and rounded domes of granite likewise rise out of the sea”

Archibald Geikie

“Bidh an t-ubhal as fheàrr air a’mheangan as àirde” [1]

(Gaelic Saying)


From the steps of the famous Sligachan Inn I look at the smooth, rounded domes of Brian Marshall, Alan Smith and Willie Gibson, then look back to the blunted cone of Glamaig and wonder again at Mark Rigby’s record of 44 minutes 41 seconds … but I was there then too and witnessed the deed, so know it was done and how...

…but quickly I turn back to the runners and the deeds about to be done as the final seconds elapse and I blow the hooter to start the race and watch the sea of runners sweep out from the front of the hotel and on, until at the start of the moor what looks like Alan, Alec, Brian and Ronnie rise out of that sea to push for an early lead.

A glance at recent year’s race results will mostly find the same mix of names in the winning men—Brian Marshall, Alec Keith, Alan Smith, Ronnie Gallagher and Steven Fallon to name but a few. Maybe it is due to the nature of the race, maybe it is due to the nature of the men, maybe it is that strange dichotomy of, in part, the desire to win balanced against the part dread of the toughness of the race. Who knows but the winning women don’t return to Glamaig as often and as zealously as the men. There’s an irony there perhaps given that Glamaig means “greedy woman”. It remains pleasing though that out of this year’s field of 82 runners there was a good mix of old hands and new bloods (aye and some bloody hands too when they return from the screes).

One new blood is ex-marine Monty Halls being filmed for the BBC for the documentary Beachcomber Cottage. As I watch, he’s on the screes now (and on the screen in January) going slower I think, than he should be to make his hoped for time of around seventy five minutes. Before the race, he’d asked me what sort of people took part … “lunatics”, I’d said without hesitation but watching, still felt the draw to be out there with them and wondered what the term is for someone nominally in charge of the asylum but who is one of the lunatics himself …

Whilst there’s pretty much only one quick way up the hill, there are many and myriad schools of thought as to which is the best way back down—straight back, long or short scree; and then once down, which way over the moor—straight back, hit the track, hit the road, follow the river? It’s a moot point but Brian Marshall pursuing a straight six in a row win opted for the short scree as did Alec Keith—though after the race, Alec said he’d no idea which way Brian took over the moor as by then, he bemoaned, Brian was already out of his sight.

So, once more, Brian romped home some 2 minutes ahead of Alec, despite Alec being ahead a couple of times on the ascent. 3 minutes later, Highland Hillrunners’ Kenny Riddell took third place. Prior to the race Carnethy’s Steven Fallon and I discussed his chances and noting that Brian, Alec and Alan were running Steven predicted he’d be 4th. Aye, am fear nach cuir a shnaidhm, caillidh e chiad ghrèim [2] as they say on Skye and he was right, as that’s where he finished. Alan from Deeside and Ronnie from Carnethy finished 5th and 6th.

Thereafter, they came in groups, some reddish and some yellowish too it must be said. Monty finished in 1:23 just between the 3rd and 4th women. Had he hit his 75 minute target, he might just have beaten Louse Noble who was first woman home. Had he been less than a minute later than when he actually finished, he’d have been beaten by Elaine Stewart who was first woman over 50 to finish.

The fantastic sunny—midge free—weather brought out a huge crowd to cheer in all but the last of the runners yet only the marshals stuck it out to see local man Michael Tough home when he finished in just less than 5 hours.

As usual, the Sligachan Hotel as race sponsors did the runners proud with both a free meal and drink at the bar and superb ceilidh in the evening and it so was well into the wee, sma’ hours when most people repaired to bed, bothy or bunk.

The following (well actually later that same) morning, some runner’s theories and hopes of a long lie were both figuratively and literally debunked as clear skies and at least some clear heads combined to accompany Anne and Ian Nimmo up their last Munro—Sgurr nan Gillean. With a collective age of some 400 years plus amongst the 8 of us and a dog and a woman in the party, I’m not sure if the “peak of the young men” was apt for the choice of mountain but Skye and the Cuillin were on splendid display and the ascent was wonderful, especially the “airy, hairy and scary” bits, so a classic completion. Air cruas nan craig, tha eagar smuaine air lom nam beann tha ‘n rann gu chluaine [3]… as Sorley MacLean would have it and he was right as some gave great precision to their thoughts and movements as they closed upon the summit whilst others (aye, ok just me, were lost in the poetry of the landscape).

Anne and Ian said they couldn’t have done it without the right support and of course the same applies to the race. Without the help of family, and friends, and the continued support of Carnethy, Sandy and the Sligachan Hotel this small but beautifully formed race wouldn’t have happened either. My heartfelt thanks to everyone who helped.

Nick Macdonald

[1] The best apple is on the highest bough.
[2] The man who puts a knot on his thread loses the first stitch.
[3] On the hardness of the crags there is precision of thought; on the bareness of the mountains there is an undeviating verse.

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