Monday, 28 September 2009

The Postscript

I think I've done some stupid things in my time. Everything from marathons, to the Ben Nevis Race, to 24 hour endurance rides. But, in retrospect, the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race could quite well have topped the list.

Finish line and still smiling - must have been good!

I mean, just where is the sense in carrying a bike up 3 dirty great big hills and then trying to ride down them, especially when the bike is lacking all those modern luxuries such as suspension and disc brakes to make riding back down again comfortable, and perhaps even safe?

About 500 riders lined up in a tiny Dales village yesterday morning, all dressed in lycra and wearing nervous grins and deep heat in abundance. The start is like a road race, with the bunch moving fast & furious through to Horton in Ribblesdale. After a very quick few road miles the route then turns uphill, on rough farm tracks and then out onto the fell. Last time I was here was about 25 years ago and I was disappearing underground down Long Churn Cave. This time we were pushing, sweating grunting over the top of it, bound for Simon Fell and the summit of Ingleborough.

The climb was purgatory. I was drowning in snot, not having much fun and ready to pack it all in. But then came the descent to Cold Cotes. Oh yes! Back in business and smiling again!

Back on tar again and heading round towards Whernside, came the most bizarre moment of the race. A small group of riders, all huddled together in a little chain gang, lead out by some chap with a babyseat complete with 2 year old on the back. No one saw how he got on carrying it up Whernside!

By comparison to Ingleborough, the ascent of Whernside was a doddle. Well, easier anyway. The descent off the other side slightly more interesting. I passed a fair few punctures, broken bits of bike and at least one broken collar bone.

Nearing the road again at Ribble Head

Then the home run. From the iconic Ribble Head viaduct there's another blisteringly fast road section back to Horton. And then it all goes horribly wrong again. A left turn up a narrow cobbled lane and a 450m climb upwards, ever upwards to the summit of Pen-y-ghent. I quickly rang out of gears but somehow managed to keep on turning the pedals to the final steepening. All the while, far more able riders than I were hurtling back at us at ridiculous speeds over the cobbles - this was an out and back section.

The summit came and went. All there was to do now was finish. Back down that track, hanging on for dear life all the while, memories of a recent trip over the handle bars trying to break the concentration, and then a quick road sprint.

Crossing the line - an emotional experience!

4 hours, 45 minutes after starting, came the joy of crossing the finish line. Mission accomplished. Race finished. And completed in under 5 hours. You beauty!

A few more pics here, courtesy of my support crew!

Friday, 25 September 2009

A little bit of madness for the weekend?

So, how would you like your madness served this weekend?

Me, I'll be heading off to the Yorkshire Dales to compete in THE event in the annual Cyclocross calendar. Anyone know anything about cyclocross? No, me either. All I know is that I've got an entry for the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross race and that I'll have to bike / run with bike on shoulder up / down Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent covering 38 miles in the process. And I've got a lurgie which I'm struggling to shake off.

But still, how hard can 38 miles be. T'is but a short training ride. And 5000ft of uphill. Well, they're more molehills than they are mountains! The Ben Nevis Race must be 4500ft and I did that no bother. So, sounds like its going to be a walk in the park, then!

Closer to home, the madness this weekend will be of the WET variety, with the Glen Etive River Race. Yes, I pinched the photo from their web site but if this is anything to go by I'm a little disappointed that I won't be around as it looks like some excellent spectator sport action.

See the web site for details and catch anyone who competes and lives to tell the tale at Clachaig Inn afterwards for the prize giving.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Silent Night

I wish! At the risk of sounding like a whinging Bill Oddie, I'd say that there's not much silent about the nights here in the glen at the moment.

First there's the screeching of the owls as they come out to hunt at night. They obviously think its a good idea to sit on trees at opposite ends of the garden and have a screeching conversation till the small hours!

Then there's these fellas. The rut must be on given the barks echoing across the lower glen in the twilight hours. And to top it all, the local pine marten now thinks its funny to come round during the night and leave a poo on the doorstep.

And if Bill Oddie turns up then that really will be the last straw. Kate Humble on the other hand is more than welcome...

P.S. Thanks to Alex at Lochaber Light for continued use of the photos. He has a fantastic collection.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Late Availability Glencoe Accommodation

Have you found yourself with time on your hands, the desire to get away for a few days and that nagging feeling that you could have done so much more if only you'd planned a little better? Well, if this is you, perhaps you should be checking the new late availability pages on the Carefree Self Catering Holidays, Glencoe web site.

Come home to a real fire at Arvonie - Lochside Cottage

The new page is designed to offer an indication of the self catering properties available in the next 2 weeks, and may (or may not) also offer some excellent late availability discounts on specific dates, whether it be a 3 night short break or a full weeks self catering holiday.

Worth creating a bookmark for!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Why does my pint cost so much?

So why does your pint cost so much these days? Well, here's just one of any number of costs arising out of the the so called 'red tape' that is slowly but surely trying to strangle the life out of small businesses.

Free Beer? Responsible?!

We've just paid our annual license fee, the first under the new Act, which took effect from 1st September. Cost? £700. How much did it cost under the old regime? £86 - and that was for 3 years. And that's not to mention the cost of the premises license application - about £5000 when we added it all up. And then there's the cost of training. Several personal licenses, including re-training for both Clachaig directors after nearly 20 years each as licencees. £125 per course (and must be retrained every 5 years). And on it goes.

And judging by this little promotion we came across last week, it seems that some have different interpretations of what 'responsible' alcohol retailing actually means!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Munro: Mountain Man

If mountains are your thing then perhaps you might want to reach for the Sky Plus remote and set record for this coming Sunday night, 20th September, BBC 4.

Stob Coire nan Lochan, Glencoe

Our man at the Beeb advises that Munro: Mountain Man will be screened this weekend. Look out for bearded, bobble hat wearing, map case swinging Munro baggers being interviewed in the Boots Bar at Clachaig Inn, Glencoe.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Above the clouds

See when you throw back those curtains in the morning, when you unzip that tent, and you see the cloud down low blocking out any view of the mountains, and think I'll just have another 40 winks, no point getting going too early this morning...?

Looking up the glen towards Buachaille Etive Mor & Rannoch Moor
Image Copyright James Roddie

Well think again! Be inspired by our staff here at Clachaig who work tirelessly through into the wee small hours, keeping your glasses topped up, and then rise again at the crack of dawn to go and back a hill or 3 before we've even popped the first paracetamol.

Early morning sunlight on Sgorr Dhearg above Ballachulish
Image copyright James Roddie

With a change in the weather from the August monsoons, the cabin fever has been kicked, and one of our number at least has been out with his camera taking some fantastic photos of Glencoe in all its glory.


Monday, 14 September 2009

National Cycle Route No. 7

At long last, some cracking weather. The word about some big blue skies and some glorious sunshine must have got out as it looked like every available parking space in the glen was full this weekend.

In search of some family friendly biking, we found ourselves a bit off the patch, down the A82 & A84 towards Stirling, in the small village of Strathyre.

Here you can pick up the National Cycle Route No. 7 and follow relatively low gradient and easy trails all the way into Callander. Well away from the traffic, its a scenic ride round the far side of Loch Lubnaig and then down past the Falls of Leny.

The Cycle Route continues on through the Trossachs to the south, or through Glen Ogle and to Killin to the north, and I can see us coming back to explore some of these other sections in due course. Stopping off at the top of Glen Ogle and then riding down the old railway line, bypassing Lochearnhead and then heading on the Balquidder looks a favourite for the next visit.

The only problem with the plan is getting back to the car once you've reached your destination. However, for me its a chance to get the legs working again with a sprint back along the track. And with a play park by the river in Callander, and sweet shops that sell huge gobstoppers, it wasn't really an issue for us!

Friday, 11 September 2009

All who wander...

Finally, after weeks of unrelenting bad weather, the sun has come out. The glen looks magnificent again. Time to clear a space in the diary and go wander.

Its taken a few days to start feeling human again. The Ben Race and then the rescue call out on Sunday really took it out of me. But with another big event on the horizon, I was keen to get back to the training as soon as my aching body would allow. And what better way than to head over Corran Ferry with the cross bike and ride the Liddesdale & Kingairloch Loop. 40 miles of some of the best countryside and cycling that the west coast can throw at you.

The ride starts off with a good warm up along the main road to Strontian (I say main road, but the only traffic that passes you is the half dozen cars every hour when the ferry comes in.) Its a good spin round to Glen Tarbert and then the work starts as you climb, invariably into a westerly headwind through some typically remote and rugged and Highland scenery. But its short lived and you're soon spinning out in top gear heading down to the junction to Lochaline.

The real killer on this loop is Liddesdale. A long and not insubstantial climb that really builds stamina and gets your heart rate high. Once at the summit its big gear again. Look out for the left turn down the minor road (at this point you might wonder how much more minor it can get) to Kingairloch.

By the time you've covered the 4 miles to Kingairloch you'll be picking the flies out of your teeth. To my mind its one of the best bits of road riding in Scotland. Dipping, swooping, turning and all generally heading back to sea level. The first house you pass definitely leaves you with the impression that you're in banjo plucking country. And as you descend, the scenery softens, until finally you're down by the water in an idyllic sheltered bay, amidst the few houses and one church that is Kingairloch.

Sensible folk will of course plan their visit to tie in with opening hours at the Kingairloch Boathouse Restaurant run by former Glencoe residents Kurt & Susan.

From here on you're in the home straight. Although its not straight. It twists and turns, hugging the coast as it goes. On this trip I saw porpoises rising, herons galore, skuas (at least I think they were skuas), wild goats (they look pretty angry anyway) and a buzzard. On previous trips I've come across deer blocking my path and even watched otters playing in the sea.

So, while ever Corran Ferry is free to foot passengers and bikes, take your car and park at the slip, and take half an hour or a full day to explore the other side. You don't have to go beyond Argour, but the further you go, the more hooked you'll become.

All who wander are not lost!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The Glen of Weeping

The Glen of Weeping is weeping today!

The white streaks down the hill sides are not so much down to the fact that its been raining so much, as the fact that the wind whips the water straight back up the mountains as soon as it pours over a waterfall!

Still, there's a real sense of hope amongst the locals just now. After weeks and weeks of rain there's just a chance that we might see a few dry, even bright, days after this particularly storm passes by later today.

Can't wait till the summer comes!

Monday, 7 September 2009

Perfect Recovery

The perfect recovery to soothe those aches and pains after running up and down Ben Nevis? Go on, what do you think?

A nice relaxing evening; cold bottle of Heather Ale from the fridge, a big bag of Kettle chips, another log on the fire and a cracking bit of drama on the telly? Sounds good?

I could have done with one of these last night - just to get down the hill!

How about being called out to search for a missing walker in the Mamores, wandering around in the dark on a wind blown hillside in yet more pouring rain, only to hit the 'wall' at about 650m realising that the tank is in fact still empty and then taking twice as long to get back down the hill.

Why do these things to myself?!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

9 down, 12 to go

It had to happen really. Although we've had a few cloudy and even slightly damp Ben Nevis Races in the last 10 years, none of them have been particularly bad. Time then for a truly foul one perhaps? (Though it has to be said that my first run in 1988 was pretty horrendous!)

A quarter of a century of stupidity!?
Glasgow Marathon 1985. It rained all day then, too!

As ever, its the getting going that takes the greatest effort. But once you're wet, your wet and from that point on its easy. With the rain unrelenting, and the wind building, the park at Claggan was a quagmire from the outset. Marching out behind the pipe band brought a bit of a snigger, Not too clever walking through ankle deep puddly mud in a pair of brogues whilst playing a drum. Good on 'em!

News at the start line was of 30 mph winds on the summit, visibility down to 50 feet and a wind chill of -3 degrees. And 475 foolish runners all lined up ready to go and get first hand experience of it.

And so round the park, out of the gate and up the tarmac towards Achtintee, then the start of the climb up the summit of Britain's highest. All felt good and the decision not to wear a jacket for fear of overheating lower down was the right one. At Windy Corner, the true nature of the weather began to show. Water was streaming down everywhere. The burns were full. The wind began to feel a bit cold. But as my problem tends to be overheating and dehydration, this suited me just fine, and the rest of the climb felt good. Crossing the summit plateau was entertaining. Just like running into a hosepipe in a wind tunnel.

Wee Willie was in position at the top of Gardyloo Gully and I duly handed over my little gift of a whisky miniature. Seems I wasn't the only one marking 40 years of Gardyloo service and Willie received a fair collection of whisky.

At the turn all was still going well. With 1 hr 40 minutes gone I felt my target of under 2.5hrs was still possible. And the run down felt good too. The water flowing down the slopes by the Red Burn make the hard pack surface softer and easier to move on. I'd been concerned that the grassy bank might get the better of me with steep slippy slopes and tired legs. With other runners sliding down the grass on either side of me, I found a line straight down the flowing water and this proved to be a grippy if rather messy means of getting the best descent.

Then the home stretch. Tired legs started to make themselves known. Hitting the tarmac again at Achintee is never funny and this year was no exception. Purgatory! Just how slow can a run get before its officially classed a walk?!

All in all, despite some of the most filthy mountain weather September can muster, this year went well. And the only disappointment was my time. Still can't work out where the minutes went, but at 2hr 33 mins Iwas 5 minutes slower than I thought I was on for and than I would have preferred. But hey, there's always next year!

Sorry, no photos. Spectators were mysteriously a little thin on the ground. So in the meantime I thought I'd inlcude this one just to demostrate that I've been doing stupid things and suffering for it for at least 24 years. (Notice how I out sprint Mickey Mouse to the line!)

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Today's the day

I don't like blogging without adding in at least one photo. Its the images that do the talking. You jsut scan over the text, right? Well, this morning it would be hard to take a photo that wasn't damaging to the local tourist industry. I could be living in the flat lands for all the view of the surrounding mountains will show. And that's assuming that you can keep the lashing rain off the lens.

A grand day for the Ben Nevis Race then!

In an hour or so I'll be heading off to the Fort. The race starts at 1pm from the Claggan Park, so now's about the time to be eating those slow release oats and topping up the hydration levels. And perhaps one last peak at the Mountain Weather Forecast to see if this is all going to pass by noon, revealing a showery, yet bright, early afternoon.

Oh dear! Showers merging to give periods of continuous rain, especially across the mountains of Lochaber. Wind increasing to 60mph over the highest tops. Not much chance of a sun tan today! Oh, what to wear?!

I've got a miniature of whisky for wee Willie Anderson who has, for the last 40 years, stood at the top of Gardyloo Gully, ensuring a safe passage for the runners. He was certainly there when I first ran Ben Nevis in 1988. But today is his last I'm now wondering whether my fingers will be capable of extracting the gift from my bum bag. Or whether I'll be crawling at that point.

So, final preparations... Into the zone... I am a machine, I am a machine, I am a machine,...

Catch you later!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

$outhpaw no more

Hot news just in for you Clachaig Boots Bar music fans...

$outhpaw, the Perthite Country and Western band who have become massive favourites with the Clachaig faithful are no more. Their front man, Donny has left the band to pursue a new career in the states with his new act. Their performances have wowed us here at Clachaig for the last few years and will be sorely missed. We had them booked for the closing gig of the Octoberfest on Halloween, hope we haven’t upset too many people planning on coming up for it with this news.

Hopefully the band we have to play Halloween will prove as popular as the 'Paw. The Circle is a group from the West Coast fronted by Liam Lynch, formerly of other Clachaig favourites the Marauders.

The only pic we could find of The Circle

Their set is described as uncompromising Britpop (...right, sorted) and will bombard you with hit after hit in an electrifying show that’s definitely not to be missed. Sounds interesting! Hope to see you there folks!!