If I ever write a book, ‘Return To Quarrel Wood’ will most definitely be a contender for the title. It just has such a cool ring to it.
Sticking with the book analogy, my return to Quarrel Wood made for a perfect finale to a weekend in which I was subjected to the worst of the elements.
Arriving late in Elgin on the Friday evening, I was aware that the forecast for the North of Scotland promised snow.
I woke early on the Saturday morning to the sound of hailstones bouncing somewhat viciously off of the roof and, looking out, tried not to get too despondent at the sight in front of me. I could barely see the end of the garden thanks to the wall of hail that was thundering down.
Not quite the start to the day that I had planned. However, by the time I had worked my way through a super-sized mug of coffee and a banana, nut and honey filled bowl of porridge, things were looking up. The sky was filled with blue and I spotted my window of opportunity.
I headed out of Elgin along the reverse of the 10k route, along quiet roads that had, at one point, contained a railway line between Elgin and Lossiemouth. Following a trail alongside the cemetery, I soon arrived in Lossiemouth itself and set out across the distinctive bridge that connects the East Beach. From here I ran along the beach and then along The Moray Coast Trail along by the remains of war time defences. I had come across the monolithic structures before on other beaches but had never encountered anything like this before. The structures, erected during World War II give an idea into just how seriously the threat of a seaborne invasion was taken. Lines of solid concrete blocks, the anti-tank defences, were interspersed with pillboxes, 6 sided shelters with narrow windows, no doubt designed to aid efforts to both spot and repel any incoming invasion. Further along the path I encountered some really imposing gun emplacements, now providing a canvas for varying degrees of ‘artwork’.
The extent of the defences prompted me to find out a bit more about the route upon my return:
“It had been noted that during 1938, the Graf Zepplin photographed the North East Scottish coast in great detail in preparation for a possible future invasion. Other German aircraft had also been seen photographing the coast around north east Scotland.”
I was also surprised to find out that the dunes of the East Beach were not quite as ‘natural’ as they appeared:
“The dunes here were created by using old railway carriages from the, now closed, railway line that used to bring day trippers to the town. The carriages trapped the sand which built up to form the high dunes which protect Seatown from storms.”
Continuing along the trail I passed a firing range. A quick check assured me that I was not about to become today’s target and I pressed on, towards the half way point of my journey, the mouth of the Spey River. At Kingston, I left the path and headed along the shingle beach to the furthest point that I could reach. The shingle was almost impossible to run on and I frequently found myself sliding down towards the debris brought in by the last tide.
Up until this point I had been fairly fortunate weather wise with only occasional flurries of snow.
After a quick check for dolphins (there were none!) I turned back to retrace my route back to Lossiemouth. The clouds ahead looked ominous and this gave an idea of what lay in store for me.
Not long after I started my return, it began to snow. Initially the snow was not too bad. However, by the time I turned back on to the road for the final 6 miles of my run, snow and hail was taking turns at testing me. The snow was coming from my right side, ‘falling’ horizontally in such a way that my entire right side felt like it was turning to ice. I tried hard not to move my arm as any movement only served to remind me just how wet and cold the limb was. When the snow was replaced by hail, I found myself running with my right ear pressed against my shoulder, trying to shelter as much of my face as I could from the needle like hail. I can only imagine that this is what getting shot by a nail gun feels like. With no desire to test this theory, I shall hopefully never know!
I arrived back in Elgin having covered just over 27 miles, my longest run of the year so far.
I have to admit to feeling quite ‘broken’. I don’t know if it was down to the length of the run, or to the running on sand and/or shingle but, overall, the feeling was quite disheartening and my plans for the coming weekend have already been shaped by this. I will be looking to complete another long run of between 25 to 30 miles, this time completely on trail.
Waking on the Sunday, the first thing that struck me was my body’s anticipation of my intentions for the day. Before I had even moved a muscle I could feel my body begging for mercy, sore from the aches and pains in the aftermath of the years first ultra distance run (though admittedly at 27 miles, only just ultra distance and no more).
It would have been far too easy to curl up in a ball and neglect what essentially had been my reason for coming through in the first place – a shot at the Quarrel Woods with their many paths and hills.
The weather couldn’t have been further removed from that of the day before and, while the ground was speckled white there was no repeat of Saturday’s snow showers.
I completed a 9 mile run, not exactly an easy 9 miles and most definitely not a graceful 9 miles, but 9 miles nonetheless and completed in the aftermath of the year’s longest run.
What strikes me is that, even in my sore and fatigued state, I still enjoyed running the 9 miles in the Quarrel Woods. Some of the trails I recognised from my last visit whilst others were altogether new. I often found myself aquaplaning on mud, or slipping on ice but at no point did the enjoyment subside. My approach was simple… run and when you come to a junction, choose whichever path looks most interesting. In following this approach I touched on every corner of the woods, found a large former quarry and happened upon 3 deer, who promptly gave me a lesson in graceful running as they took flight.
There was no consideration to getting lost. I knew the borders of the woods and what they overlooked and, thus, was always certain to be able to get my bearings. When the opportunity presented itself and I wanted to know exactly where within the woods my exact location was, I made use of Motion-X GPS on my iPhone.
It was the perfect end to the weekend and, without a doubt, I will again return to Quarrel Wood. My only issue then will be the title for my third instalment!