Rothiemurchus Holiday, June 2014

We’ve been back from our Rothiemurchus holiday a few weeks and are already eagerly anticipating our next stay there at the beginning of August but here, finally, are some of the highlights of our week away.

We added a couple of days on to the beginning of the holiday with a stopover in Elgin, making the most of the sunny weather at the lovely Silver Sands Beach in Lossiemouth, before travelling through to Inverness and on to Urquhart Castle, Harris’s first visit to Loch Ness and the Castle.

From there, we headed on to Aviemore and on to our final destination in Rothiemurchus, where we met up with Leanne’s family.

Location wise, this has to be one of my favourites. Staying in the Spey Lodge, just off the B970 Aviemore to Insh road, our ‘back garden’ led straight on to some awesome forest trails – rocky and rooty, just the way I like it!

We soon had a swing and slackline set up in the ‘garden’, making the most of these throughout our stay. Harris in particular spent a lot of time on his woodland swing.

The main seating and dining area of the Spey Lodge, located in an almost circular element of the building, looked out over the forest, challenging the enormous projector/tv for attention of an evening. It’s certainly one of the best views I’ve had from accommodation before.

Approx 1/2 mile of trail took us out onto the main Rothiemurchus to Milton Cottage route, opening up a number of different walk/run options. Taking a right immediately took us out at Lochan Mor, also known as ‘the Lily Loch’, and a further 1/2 mile walk/run led to Milton Cottage, itself approx 1/2 mile from the entrance to Loch an Eilein. As you can imagine, Loch an Eilein became our ‘local’, hosting a number of runs and walks.

I’ve often wondered where some of the small trails that lead off from the main Loch an Eilein circular lead to and took the opportunity to explore, ending up off in the hills above the loch. On our final day, we walked to Loch an Eilein and followed the unmaintained path around Loch Gamhna. It’s arguably got a better view than Loch an Eilein and the path is mostly ok. It’s a shame that it isn’t maintained, to avoid those few occasions where you do find yourself ankle deep in mud lol!

By the end of the week, I had taken a number of new trails that, in turn, led on to old favourites, adding to my local trail knowledge and coming together nicely to form longer walk/run options.

We also did a number of our regular walks, including The Green Loch, Lochan Uaine, which we extended to include a visit to the Ryvoan Bothy, our regular circuit of Loch an Eilein, and Farleitter Crag and Uath Lochans.

For all the years we have been coming to the Cairngorms, I can’t recall having seen so much pollen pooled loch side before, adding a colourful yellow element to the photographs.

Having long admired the Duke of Gordon’s Monument (erected in 1840 in memory of the 5th Duke of Gordon), we finally ascended Torr Alvie, passing the amazing Waterloo Cairn en route. Definitely a walk we will be doing again and well worth it for a stunning view of the Cairngorms.

I’ve seen us spending 14 days in the Cairngorms and get 13 days of torrential rain so we were really lucky to have decent weather, occasionally very hot, with very little rain. Our final day saw us blessed with temperatures in the 20s, leading to a busy Loch Morlich that started to resemble the Mediterranean as people flocked to the ‘beach’!

Finally, if you are a fan of real ales, the Cairngorm Brewery, located in the Dalfaber Industrial Estate, is well worth a visit, to sample the lovely ales, to purchase supplies of your favourites, and to take the tour (2.30pm daily – book before going).

Counting down the days until our next visit – only 6 weeks to go :o)

Craigellachie Nature Reserve, Cairngorms

“A perfect destination for a stroll from Aviemore, the woodland of this reserve brings together the gentle motion of silver birch trees with the constant activity of countless insects in summer. In spring and summer the woodland floor bursts into a blaze of colour as flowers like tormentil and foxglove take hold. The crags loom above the woodland like sleeping grey giants and provide a home for peregrines, who quarter the sky in search of prey below.” (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves)

Aviemore is a great base for exploring Rothiemurchus and the Cairngorms. There are some excellent routes right on the doorstep, including the Craigellachie Nature Reserve. Access to the Reserve comes in the shape of a corrugated iron tunnel that runs under the A9. This can be accessed from the back of the Macdonald hotel or from a path to the side of the Aviemore Youth Hostel. Look out for signs next to the hostel that direct you to the Reserve entrance.

Once through the tunnel you are presented with several woodland trails and a couple of picturesque lochans. Take the high route up to the peak of Craigellachie (490m) for extensive views over Aviemore, the Cairngorms and Kincardine Ridge.

Whilst the run itself is only 1.5 miles approx to the top, it offers a steep, technical trail perfect for hill training. It is possible to extend the run slightly at the top but the path soon gives way to boggy terrain underfoot. Any speed lost on the ascent is more than made up for on the descent as you are literally ‘thrown’ back down the trail, providing an overall run distance of approx. 3 miles.


Cairngorm Running

Now this is a running club I would love to be in a position to join – the Cairngorm Runners. Unfortunately, I am a long way off retiring and moving to the Cairngorms permanently so will have to make do with a long weekend in the Cairngorms, making the most of the scenic trails. Will hopefully get the opportunity to run the Craigellachie Nature Reserve route amongst others, which reminds me that there are countless other Cairngorm based routes that I need to add to the new Routes section of the website.

I have the Merrell Mix Master Tuff trainers, Montane Minimus jacket and Helly Hansen Dry Revolution base layer with me to test out this weekend in what could potentially be fairly miserable weather conditions. Reviews of all three to follow soon.

Mix Master Tuff: “Designed for the toughest conditions you’ll encounter on the trail, the Mix Master Tuff is a beefed up version of the Men’s Mix Master 2, with additional overlays and a gusseted tongue up top along with a shock absorption plate and more aggressive lug pattern for the platform. This trail beast arrives February 2013.”

Counting down the final hours of the working week before heading to the Coylumbridge Hilton, situated perfectly for access to some of my favourite routes. It’s Mrs Macs birthday on Monday and most likely the last opportunity we will have to get away before the arrival of Bubbs (due 6 weeks this Wednesday past). So, a long weekend of early morning runs, shortish walks, and even some relaxing lies ahead. Roll on 4pm and the beginning of the weekend :o)

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside‘.

Standing high above the beach in the sand dunes, enjoying the scenic view with the sands beautifully lit up, I savoured the feeling of satisfaction. I had run 30 miles for this view, and whilst not altogether an easy 30 miles, it had certainly felt better than the 27 mile run the previous weekend which had seen me literally grind out those last miles. After the effort of the run, I quite literally did like to be beside the seaside! (I can only apologise if that song sticks in your head for the rest of the day!)

Arriving in Fraserburgh shortly before dinner time on Saturday was quite an occasion for me as it meant that I had finally covered the entire length of The Formartine & Buchan way, the former railway line that connects Dyce to Fraserburgh or Peterhead.

I have run from Ellon to Dyce (and sometimes even back again) more times than I can remember and, those of you who regularly read my blog, will know that it is the route that I run home whenever the wife heads off abroad with work.

With family in both Mintlaw and Peterhead these too are familiar parts of The Formartine & Buchan Way, as I often set off on early runs, timing my arrival to coincide with that of the wife. As I write this, it has just occurred to me that I have never considered how those family members actually feel about me arriving at their doorsteps a sweaty mess! It’s not exactly the ‘done thing’ when it comes to visiting relatives now is it?

On Saturday I finally ran the Ellon to Fraserburgh section of the route.

Often exposed, as the occasionally fierce headwind testified, I found the route to be mostly scenic although there was the occasional section where you could see for miles and miles along the route… but then, what else would you expect of a former railway line!

I was on familiar territory up until Maud, where the line splits and where you must choose to head for Fraserburgh or Peterhead.

At this point I usually take the turn to Mintlaw but, on Saturday, I headed off to Strichen and, ultimately, to Fraserburgh.

It was late Thursday when I came up with the plan to run to Fraserburgh and, at that time, running up Mormond Hill seemed like a great idea.

Mormond Hill (from the Gaelic ‘mor’ meaning big and ‘monadh’ meaning hill) is a large hill just past Strichen.

I have been driven past the hill numerous times and have often noted the satellite dishes and masts on the top of the hill, remnants from Cold War NATO communications. I have also noticed the white horse on the side of the hill, made from white quartz that has been placed into position to make the shape.

“It is a war memorial to a Sergeant who gave up his horse for his Captain in battle. The white deer (also known as ‘The white stag’) was created in a similar way, with quartz on the side of the hill but was made as a wedding present rather than as a memorial. Unusually, these are the only two hill figures located in Scotland. There are three more in Wales and roughly 50 more in England. The White Horse is one of sixteen horses in the United Kingdom, whilst the stag is one of two stags in the United Kingdom, although the other is more of a natural figure which simply looks like one.” (Wikipedia – Mormond Hill)

Often intrigued by the masts and figures, I decided that I would run up Mormond Hill and that this would be perfect training for forthcoming ultramarathons, and specifically for the Highland Fling where, after approx 20 miles of running, you have to run up and over Conic Hill.

Now, had I left earlier, I might well have stuck to this plan. On Saturday however, I decided to leave Mormond Hill for another day. Despite running alongside the hill, there appeared to be no obvious way off the line and up the hill, or at least, no obvious way that didn’t require leaving the line at Strichen and then taking what looked like becoming a considerable detour just to get to the hill, never mind run up and down it! As such, I admired the hill from the viewpoint of The Formartine & Buchan Way and kept on running.

On the long run in to Fraserburgh itself I could see the glistening sands of the coastal beaches, bathed in sunshine which, funnily enough, was somewhat absent directly above me. The effect off the dunes was almost mesmerising, willing me on towards my final destination. I wanted so badly to be there, out of the wind, enjoying the sun and the golden sand.

Arriving in Fraserburgh my route ran alongside the dunes. By this point I was actually in two minds whether to make the effort to run up and over the dunes (I still can’t believe that this was even an option in my head – looking back I could kick myself!). Fortunately, sensible thoughts prevailed and I headed up into the dunes. I stood for a few minutes, savouring the view with Fraserburgh to my left and miles of beach to my right.

As I ran back down off of the dunes I quickly checked MotionX GPS to get my bearings and some idea as to where in Fraserburgh I might find a bus station. However, there was no need. Spotting a bus arriving in the town I chased after it, arriving at the bus station just in time to hop on a bus bound for home. I couldn’t have timed it any better.

It was a relief to finally get a seat and I enjoyed the return leg as the bus wound so effortlessly around the villages that only hours earlier had seen me toiling along.

Another weekend, another run.

This coming weekend I am heading off to one of my favourite ‘stomping grounds’ – the Cairngorms. I have a few route potentials mapped out already but there’s a whole week ahead in which to do some homework and decide on the best options.

These past two weekends, my first really long runs of the year, have provided my first opportunity to truly test my Hoka One One Mafate shoes and it has to be said that they have passed with flying colours.

Normally, after a run of 30 miles, I would be stricken with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) in the days after the run and, certainly where I am concerned, it is the second day after the run that is usually the worst. However, I would go so far as to say that I felt quite sprightly on the Monday at work. I had decided in advance that I would take the Monday and probably the Tuesday as rest days to let the legs recover fully. Arriving home last night, it was all I could do NOT to run! I was definitely tired but not at all sore. As for tonight… well let’s just see how the working day goes… But it’s safe to say that a run is at least on the cards!

The first race of the year, The D33 is fast approaching (17th March). I will hopefully see some of you there. I hope that everyone is remaining injury free and that training is going to plan.

Happy Running!

January 2012 Summary

After 61 consecutive days of running throughout November and December (Movember & The Marcothon), I could have been forgiven for taking more than a few days off. However, I was back running by 3rd January, and, despite the lack of a long run since 6th January, I have clocked up a total of 160 miles for the month.

This exactly doubles what I ran in January 2011 and exceeds the combined mileage of January 2010 and January 2011. My new monthly mileage PB (personal best) is only 5 miles more than my previous monthly PB but, given the lack of long runs, I am delighted with it. Further, I have only run 155 mile months twice previously.

I have run in the Cairngorms, in the Quarrel Wood on the outskirts of Elgin, in and around Ellon itself and even on the treadmill! It has to be said that the mild winter weather has contributed significantly to the mileage as there have been no impediments to getting out there and clocking up the miles.

I have also had some great runs with the Ellon Running Group and have found these beneficial in terms of pushing myself that bit extra when, normally, I might still just be getting in to my stride.

Finally, after years of running ‘single speed’, I have now made progress in terms of speed work and am starting to see some improvements on my times at last. Whether this will translate into faster ultra times is anyone’s guess but, with the first ultra coming up mid-March, I will soon find out!

Run highlights of the month most definitely centre around the ‘accidental’ 21 mile run I did in the Cairngorms, from Glenmore, past the Ryvoan Bothy and Abernethy Forest, to Nethy Bridge and then back to Aviemore via Boat of Garten on the lower part of The Speyside Way. This was uncharted territory for me in fairly difficult conditions underfoot and came only 2 days after my first long run of the year, an 18 mile run from Ellon to Dyce. Overall, it was a great start to my 2012 training and I will definitely be looking to retrace this route.

Another highlight was my 10 mile run in the Quarrel Wood on the outskirts of Elgin. An undulating run on a very cold but sunny morning and with already tight calf muscles from a minimalist run 2 nights previously. Again, I will be looking to return to the Quarrel Woods with a view to putting in some longer runs.

Kit wise, I have been battering the HOKAs on my trail runs, and alternating between Merrell and New Balance trainers on the road and the treadmill. I am also looking forward to receiving Brooks and Pearl Izumi trainers as a result of competition wins towards the end of 2011.

Finally, I have also added 4 new posts to The Running Bug web site:
All in all, a positive start to the year and, hopefully, a solid start to my training for the 95 mile West Highland Way Race that awaits me in June!

Escape To The Cairngorms

New post at The Running Bug, ‘Escape to the Cairngorms‘.

There is nothing better than a change of scenery to freshen up your running schedule and this is especially true when it involves time away in the Cairngorms National Park where I was fortunate enough to find myself last week. Staying in Aviemore with my wife and her family, we were blessed with the kind of weather that you cannot even guarantee mid-summer in the Cairngorms and, looking at the Cairngorm Mountain web cams this week, it would appear that we timed our stay to perfection, leaving just as the weather turned and the snow arrived! It beggars belief that the same mountain we all sat atop of last week for a lunchtime picnic now has a good dusting of snow.

For anyone who has yet to sample the Cairngorms, I strongly recommend a visit. There are miles and miles of trails, from low level forest routes through to mountain routes and, of course, these all provide great opportunities when it comes to training. I was determined to make the most of my time there and to focus especially on hill work which will be a factor in my as yet to be revealed ‘greater goal’ for 2012.

I set the alarm to wake me at 6 a.m. on that first morning there so that I could get out and make the most of the running opportunities before then heading back to participate in whatever walks and/or bike rides the family had planned. Thankfully I had the foresight to take a head torch with me as it was sorely needed in the chilly darkness of the morning. One thing in particular that I have noted since my return is just how difficult it is to get up at 6 a.m. when you are heading to work and not out on the trails!

At the south end of the main street next to the entrance to the youth hostel, there is a path which takes you underneath the A9 road at the back of Aviemore and on to the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve. There are a number of different walk/run options but I headed for the top at approx 496m/1627ft. The route up is steep and on occasion technical. However, the punishment of running up is well rewarded with an excellent view over Aviemore itself towards the Cairngorms, and, in the other direction, of the various mountains, lochs and lochans of the Reserve.

Once at the top, there is the opportunity to venture further though I did find that the pathways petered out and I was left running in the kind of mud and bog that tries to rip the trainers from your feet.

For every up, there is generally a down, and the return down in to Aviemore was a fast paced affair. At times I found myself having to reign in my speed for fear of tripping and ending up crashing down the pathway, such was the steepness of the route.

Repeatedly running this route was excellent training but brutal at the same time and, by the end of the week, my quads in particular were longing for a rest. However, this was not to be. A friend with whom I ran most of the 55 miles of the Cateran Trail Ultra was in town for the Aviemore Half Marathon on the Sunday. We agreed to meet for a slow few miles on Saturday evening but it ended up as a fast paced 8 mile out and back route that took us along the excellent Rothiemurchus pathway and in to the forests.

My legs on the Sunday were glad to be heading for home instead of running the half marathon but despite this, I feel like I could have picked up a half marathon PB. With my continued weight loss my speed seems to be coming on no end and, as such, 10ks and Half Marathons are once again starting to appeal to me, especially now that they may hold PB potential.

I can’t wait to return once again to the Cairngorms. Given half a chance I would be out running, walking and biking the trails from dawn till dusk! However, if the weather continues as it has been this week, then there is a lot more chance that the next visit there will involve skiing!