The Cake Shop Finish

Saturday’s run saw me running from our base in Rothiemurchus, out towards Glen Einich before taking a right turn towards Loch an Eilein, where I knew that the family were all going to be walking.

Harris was yet to fall asleep, preferring instead to play hide and seek with his Granda in the trees, and, as such, I opted to make another loop around Loch an Eilein before then heading towards the Inshriach Nursery Potting Shed Tearoom, where we agreed to meet up for coffee and cake.

The loch was perfectly still, with excellent reflections in the mirror like water, a photographic opportunity too good to miss!

I didn’t have too long to wait before being joined by a newly wakened Harris and the rest of the family, all keen to sample the renowned cakes on offer. As always, the cake didn’t disappoint and we were all able to enjoy our refreshments whilst watching numerous birds feeding on the provided fat balls and nuts.

No squirrels this time, a rare occurrence, but the arrival of a wood pecker made up for this.

What better way to finish a run than at one of the country’s finest cake shops, with surely one of the best & most entertaining views on offer from any cake shop. Plus I had the added bonus of knowing that my cake had been well earned, having covered approx. 9 miles between the trails and road.

Glen Einich Run

I was fortunate enough to be back in the Cairngorms for a few days this weekend just past. More photos to follow but, for now, here’s some of my favourite shots, taken on an early morning run from Rothiemurchus towards Loch Einich.

The sky was gradually lit with a red hue, making for some interesting photographs. The images show the view back towards Aviemore, and the view towards Loch Einich, mostly taken from a high point on the route. I opted to take some panoramas to make the most of the light/scenery combination as standard photos (iPhone 6) just wouldn’t do it justice.

It’s one of my favourite runs when staying in Rothiemurchus, with the option to ‘go long’, running right up to Loch Einich, or, as I did on this occasion, to run approx. 8.5 miles in an out and back with approx 780ft of ascent, to the high point from where I took most of the photos.

Rothiemurchus, Cairngorms, August 2014

Described on www.rothiemurchus.net as “a special place at the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, near Aviemore, in the Scottish Highlands”, Rothiemurchus is, more often than not, our base when in The Cairngorms.

It also happens to be where Team Mac aim to one day move, finances permitting, the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned! There’s nowhere better for mountains, lochs and forests, all well served with a variety of paths, from B roads, to landrover track, to gnarly singletrack, perfect for trail running and biking.

The photos above were taken at various points throughout our August 2014 Cairngorm break, when running, walking or biking on the numerous tracks on offer.

I even enjoyed some evening runs & cycles, making the most of the training opportunities on offer thanks to the excellent Petzl Nao headtorch which ably lit up the path before me.

With so many paths, many leading to other paths, it’s easy to cover considerable distances in and around Rothiemurchus without even heaving to go near a road. It’s taken me a few years to see the bigger picture of interconnected paths, facilitated by a desire to explore and the need to train for various ultramarathon events.

In June 2014, we stayed at the Spey Lodge, just off the B970 Aviemore to Insh road. With a ‘back garden’ that led straight into the forest, onto some excellent trails, I soon discovered another ‘piece of the puzzle’, linking up paths that had, until that point, had no connection that I was aware of.

Rothiemurchus is also home to the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom, described by The Observer’s Dan Lepard as “one of Britain’s best cake shops”, where the choice of quality, home-baked cake is something to behold. Once you have your coffee and cake, you can enjoy it whilst watching hundreds of birds and, more often than not, a squirrel or two, as they feed on the provided nuts, seeds and fat-balls.

Having taken a wrong turn while out on a training run on one of the many paths a couple of years back, I ended up finally popping out of the forest close to Loch Insh Watersports Centre, quite some distance from my intended destination. Fortunately, the Inshriach Nursery & Potting Shed Tearoom just so happened to be on my route home and, fuelled with cake, I finished what ended up being a 20+ mile run.

Note that the final picture in the gallery above shows the sorry state of affairs when my bike came a cropper on an early morning cycle, thankfully no more than 1 to 1.5 miles from our accommodation. Bothy Bikes in Aviemore saved the day, as they had done earlier in the week when one of my pedals came apart. My trusty 2007 Specialized Stumpjumper FSR Comp is starting to show its age!

Craigellachie National Nature Reserve, Cairngorms, August 2014

“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)

Easily accessed from the back of the Macdonald hotel or from a path to the side of the Aviemore Youth Hostel, Craigellachie National Nature Reserve is another favourite walk/run of mine.

On this particular occasion, I opted for an evening run from our accommodation in Rothiemurchus into Aviemore and up to the top of the Craigellachie National Nature Reserve and was well rewarded with a cracking view over Aviemore and the Cairngorms with a sky tinged with red. A perfect end to the day. The run was approx 7.7 miles there and back.

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)

Return Of The Mac’s Mojo

It’s been 21 days since my last post, hardly the scenario I expected when I put all that hard work into the www.pixelscotland.com revamp.

However, it’s not without good reason. For one, Harris has, as always, been keeping us busy, and also entertained. He has also taken to rising around 5am, something which tests even my penchant for early rises!  I’ve had to curtail the late nights just to keep up with him, with an obvious impact on the time available to me when I actually add to and develop this web site.

Secondly, I’ve been a man on a mission, finally getting around to all those jobs that I have put off for years. This weekend, for example, I managed to fit in a complete clear out of the garage, alongside playing dad and head chef at Mac HQ. I’ve finally cleared space to let me get my weights out and once again resume weight training.

As far as exercising is concerned, I have once again found my mojo, and it’s not just the running mojo! It all started with a swim in the newly opened Aberdeen Aquatics Centre, linked to the equally impressive Aberdeen Sports Village. What started out as a single swim is now a 4 times a week regular visit, slotted in to the day in place of taking lunch at my desk.

The overall impact has been huge and I would once again consider myself to be back ‘in training’, albeit still at a lesser rate than pre Harris days, and, of course, all done to fit in with his schedule. I’ve been mixing up swimming, walking, running, the spin bike, treadmill and cross trainer quite happily, with no actual plan, just taking what I feel like at the time, or what best fits the time available.

What’s more, in mixing it up quite so much, I haven’t found myself feeling like a ‘slave to the miles’, as I have done in the past when training specifically for ultras.

Even at this early stage of training, I am already formulating a full on ultra challenge that will see me tackle some of my favourite terrain, outwith an organised event and, with a bit of luck, in the company of a good friend. Hopefully more to follow on that front if things go according to plan.

I’ve also been busy on the review side of things, with a review of the Salomon Sky Tee for The Running Bug, and with reviews to follow of the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, Vivobarefoot Trail Freak, Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and, finally, the long awaited The North Face FL Race Vest that I first spied on the backs of the likes of Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau a couple of years back.

In keeping with the minimal, zero drop, footwear approach, I have also been enjoying feeling slightly smarter than usual in a pair of Vivobarefoot Freud’s. Thanks to Vivobarefoot, I can now maintain my preference for minimalist footwear without having to wear out my trainers.

Finally, I’m feeling decidedly upbeat, despite being a Monday and back in the office, as I have only 4 more working days before we head back to The Cairngorms once again.

I can’t wait to get back on the trails and, this time around, we will be located in Rothiemurchus, close to Loch an Eilein, offering the best possible access to the numerous Cairngorm trails.

Expect loads more photographs, routes and reviews to follow, including a full review of the Croozer, a review of The North Face FL Race Vest, and, again if everything goes to plan, a review of a piece of kit that was recommended to enable me to cut back on the amount of water that I have to carry – a Sawyer Mini Filter.

“At just 65grams, and fitting in the palm of your hand, this is simply the best there is for Weight, Size and Performance. Drink directly as a straw, attach to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches, use inline, or attach to standard threaded bottles. The MINI uses the same exclusive 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane filter used in our other filters. Although not quite as quick as the SP129 version, you will still be bowled over by the flowrate of this amazing little filter. The MINI comes with a 100,000 gallon (378,540 Litre) guarantee which is still the best rating there is ANYWHERE, and will last for anybody’s lifetime.

Simply fill up the pouch at a lake, stream or river, screw the filter directly onto the pouch and: 

  1. Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
  2. Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
  3. Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”

[more information…]

Cairngorms Holiday, May 2014

We were due to arrive in Coylumbridge on Friday 25th April. However, a sickness bug struck myself and then Leanne, rendering us unable to travel until the Sunday. Two days gone out of our seven before we had even arrived! Given how bad we both felt (I lost 1/2 a stone in 24 hours thanks to vomiting alone!), we were happy just to be there and determined to make the most of the remaining 5 days.

I’ve seen us spend 14 days in the Cairngorms in the middle of Summer and have 13 days solid torrential rain so my expectations are never that high when it comes to the weather. Monday started misty but soon gave way to temperatures of 22 degrees, making the Cairngorms the hottest place in the country. Bonus! The rest of the week, although not as hot, ranged from sunny to very occasional rain showers and ended with a beautifully sunny day that saw us delay our planned departure by a good few hours.

Myself and Harris made the most of the trails on our doorstep for our early morning run/walks, with Harris enjoying the comfort of the Croozer. We were then joined by Leanne and various family members for walks throughout the day, enjoying trails both old and new.

The above gallery gives an indication of where we went, exploring the trails of Rothiemurchus, the Uath Lochans & Farleitter Crag, Lochan Uaine – The Green Loch, Revack and Loch an Eilein.

So, back to normality come Monday but I can’t complain too much. We are heading back to the Cairngorms for another week in a months time. Can’t wait :o)

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!