Up eh Road

Before setting out on my long-suffering Cannondale bicycle last week I first delved into my inconsistent Strava history. Strava for those unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately out of the loop, is an app which provides a relatively detailed account of how far or fast you have gone on a ride or a run.

According to my run-dominated profile, my lonely steed hadn’t been ridden for at least seven months, which is likely a long time in bike years. So, when considering how to keep my restless legs entertained during lockdown I decided to boldly go where my legs hadn’t been for a while.

The first two ventures on my bike didn’t take me far from home. This was partly due to the lockdown restrictions, but mostly because my runner legs weren’t pleased with this foreign activity. My backside was also displeased at taking an unacquainted battering from a hard road bike saddle.

Pressing on from unfortunate innuendos however, and I want to put a positive spin (see what I did there) on these two 30-mile cycles. Despite some unfortunate gearing issues and the incessant wind which seemingly blows down the two valleys which define Braemar’s environs, I could still ride a bike. That in itself was pleasing.

Next on the agenda was to discover whether yours truly and a mistreated 2014 Cannondale could tackle a good old-fashioned hill. Setting out on another planned local ride to Fraser’s Bridge and around to the Linn of Quoich, I climbed carefully out of the village and towards Glenshee Ski Centre. My unambitious plan was to turn off well before the climb at the top of the valley, taking a U-turn along the rough and bumpy golf course road and back into the village.

After riding for ten minutes into a slight headwind, the crossing over the 18th century crossing over the River Clunie came into sight. I looked up from my unprofessional position on my bike and caught a glimpse of wild lands which lay beyond. It was mild yet dull morning and low cloud enveloped the summits of munros such as Cairn an Tuirc, amongst others which I knew surrounded the nearby ski centre.

The right turn never came, and I could almost hear my brain arguing with my legs. If I wanted an insight into any leftover climbing resolve from last summer this was a primary opportunity. Though in all honesty, the climb up to the popular snow sports destination wasn’t actually that steep. I reckon it must average a 5-6% gradient from the Sean Spittal Bridge and its non-descript layby.

That is where I’d argue the climb begins good and proper for just over two kilometres. This is where you say goodbye to the valley floor and your hopes and dreams. It is a lesser climb from Fraser’s Bridge up until that point and can be a struggle in the prevailing south-westerly which consistently blows down Glen Clunie.

Passing through the barren landscape of very few trees and an occasional uninterested sheep, I finally reached the bottom of the climb. The wind dropped as a shifted down the gears. This was the moment of truth. Could I still climb?

The answer is complicated. Breathlessly slugging my way past the desolate ski centre with its deserted café and chairlifts, I eventually reached the ‘Welcome to Perth & Kinross’ sign (pictured).

The last stretch of the hill had been the most challenging, as I struggled to find a suitable gear on my worn-out chain set. Perhaps its worth pointing out here there often isn’t a correct gear. Climbing in granny gear is still unlikely to be an enjoyable affair for the mere cider guzzling student amateur.

I had however, survived the dreaded climb, also avoiding any serious incident on the steep descent back into the valley. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to tackle the other side as well. But’s that can be for another week…or month.

An Irish Guinness Please

With a sense of intrepidation, I climbed the narrow steps leading to the small Aer Lingus flight which would be taking my Dad and I to Dublin. I’d describe it as smaller than a small plane. The mini bus of planes if you like.

Boarding the propeller plane, I rembered I’d previously convinced myself that it’s important to feel at least a little nervous about flying. It’s almost as if I feel I’ll be tempting fate if I fly with stonewall confidence. A confidence that this miraculous and almost non-sensical invention with all its intricate moving parts will actually work.

The take-off was most likely textbook and I still found myself worrying, becoming increasingly nervous as the prop launched itself into the skies above Aberdeen at an astonishing rate. It was a beautiful winter morning and we got a good view of the Granite City as we turned to go inland.

Carefully combining an uncomfortable nap with unnecessary worrying about normal inflight sounds meant the journey  went quickly and it wasn’t long before we were lining up with the runway at Dublin International. While we descended, a flat calm Irish Sea glistened in the sunshine below and the pilot was able to make a smoother than smooth landing.

Arriving in the Irish capital I was struck by how much larger Dublin is than I thought it would be. Stepping of the bus in the city centre, I was greeted by the sights and sounds of O’Connell Street. A seemingly less miserable version of Aberdeen’s Union Street if you will.

From there we strolled down the street to the rather peculiar Spire. An 120 metre steel monument which towers over the surrounding buildings. Alongside its slightly absurd location and shape, it is unusual that there are little to no information boards at the base of the structure.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals it is also referred to as the Monument of Life or the An Tur Salais in Gaelic. I thought it resembled the top of Thunderbird One, but that’s probably just my left of field imagination. Judgements on its aesthetics aside, standing at the bottom of the Spire and looking up certainly made me feel rather dizzy.

It being a Sunday morning, I was slightly disappointed to not see the inside of the renowned General Post Office. Remaining as the Irish Postal Service’s headquarters, it is known for the significant role it played in the Easter Rising of 1916. To this day bullet holes remain in its impressive, but weathered columns.

Wondering away from the city’s main drag and we came across the grounds of Ireland’s oldest university, Trinity College. From there was decided an open bus tour was in order, forgetting to account for the cold breeze which would accompany this activity on an already chilly January day.

Managing about halfway around the bus tour, the old man and myself both simultaneously succumbed to the cold and hopped off when the bus returned to near the city centre. It was insightful yet delivered in a downbeat and slightly dutiful fashion. Though I’m quick to admit I would find it near impossible to juggle dozens of historic accuracies while attempting to navigate Dublin’s busy streets with a bus.

From the driver’s commentary I learned that around three million litres of Guinness are produced at the 64 acre brewery in the city. On several occasions we travelled past the famous black gates associated with the dark stout.

The bus also took us through the vast Phoenix Park which is home to Viceregal Lodge. This grande building set off Chesterfield Avenue being the Irish President’s house.

Passing the large brewery again, I was reminded of the only time I’d tried Guinness previously. It was at a summer test at Murrayfield on a warm Edinburgh day. The drink was presented in a plastic cup and was overpriced and warm.

However, following the tour we decided to warm up in a sports bar which was showing European Champions Cup rugby action. A half-pint later and I’d changed my mind about Guinness.

My girlfriend suggested I’m a changed man when I broke this news to her later that day, though the more realistic theory is that Guinness does really taste better in Ireland. It was also refreshing to see the rugby given priority over the football. This would be a rare occurrence in Scotland.

After enjoying Dublin’s fair city where I’m not at liberty to describe whether the girls are pretty, we set off into the countryside on the bus. Our destination was the midsts of County Wicklow and into Baltinglass.

Travelling through darkness for the best part of two hours, we were eventually dropped off in the small town where we’d be staying for the next couple of days.

The next morning we arose to a hard frost, wrapping off before driving into the Wicklow mountains to find the roads slick with ice. Experiencing some hairy moments on slippy roads, we arrived at the Glendalough Visitor Centre and the starting point of our planned walk shaken but not stirred.

Walking along the Upper Lake we made our way uphill and out of the cooling shade at the floor of the valley. For around 125 years the Glendalough valley was home to the a lead mine and this is indicated by the old ruins of a miner’s village. I can imagine this would be quite a haunting spot at night and this is furthered by the old graveyard we passed at the beginning of the hike.

Lunch at the head of the valley was followed by an often stomach churning walk alongside a ridge with steep drops to one side. This trail on the southern side of the lake amazingly encompasses around 600 railways sleepers ending in steep steps when it eventually descends to the valley floor.

Following this stunning walk we made our way to Dublin again, taking the coastal route to hopefully avoid anymore sketchy roads. The seaside town of Bray provided a pleasant place for us to stop-off for a hot drink. Although it was surprising to see ice creams being consumed in temperatures little over 5c.

We didn’t spend long in Dublin this time and experienced the city’s rush hour. This proved equally insightful as witnessed countless risky manoeuvres and several kamikaze cyclists on their commute home. I’m glad I wasn’t driving or worse, cycling.

Soon our last day on the Emerald Isle came around and I awoke this time to discover a thick mist blanketing the surrounding landscape. We had a relatively quiet day, travelling to nearby Carlow, a larger town of around 24,000 residents.

A brief tour of the town was carried out in less than ideal weather and if pushed I’d compare it to an Irish Inverurie. A place where your Grandmother likes to go shopping, but not somewhere that might be at the top of your destination list.

Poorly grounded judgements aside and the next day was our cue to travel back to sunny Scotland. Surviving the plane journey again through distracting myself from thinking about the physics of flight, I was pleased I’d visited Eire proper and pledged to return.

I had only visited a small part of this island nation, but would like to see more of the country in the summer when it will surely be warmer. Three days well spent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Away Days – Taking the Ferry to Shetland

As I left my flat on a grey Aberdeen afternoon, my legs decided they wanted to take me on a long, winding route to the harbour. It was a Thursday and I should have been attending a lecture like a good student does. However, there was a good reason for my absence as the time had finally arrived to go and visit my girlfriend.

Usually it would have taken me 20 minutes or less to walk to Leah’s flat which is ironically located near the ferry terminal. On this day, however, it was going to take slightly longer and was going to involve a huge test of my pretty non-existent sea legs.
My lack of sea legs had let me down when travelling to the Hebrides in the past and when boarding the Yasawa Flyer to the Fijian islands among other boat-related experiences. I didn’t entrust a huge amount of confidence in them at this point in time, realising it would be an even longer journey if I couldn’t stomach the often unpredictable North Sea waters.

You see Leah is on placement in the Shetland Isles, but more specifically she is on placement in Lerwick, the isles’ largest settlement and a town which is home to the northernmost Tesco in the British Isles. Obviously, this was slightly less exciting than the chance to see Leah again, but it’s a fact worth noting in my opinion.

I boarded the boat a good hour before she was set to leave on her 14-hour voyage. I was very excited, but also hugely nervous. Nervous because I had no sea legs. Nervous because I didn’t know how I was going to keep my ever-restless body entertained for 14-hours. And nervous because I had stupidly been reading up on the shipping forecast and it said it was going to be a little rough.

Just before 5pm the large roll-off role-on ferry left its berth and I was able to take some good photos of the old pilot’s house, my late grandfather’s former place of work. As we left the harbour’s sea wall behind, I realised I wasn’t too displeased at all to be leaving Aberdeen behind for a few days. The Granite City was looking as grey as ever and my mind needed sometime away from the urban sprawl.

Not long after passing the new and more modern pilot house I wondered if my grandfather would have thought I was pathetic for feeling slightly seasick already as we encountered the first North Sea breakers. Having approached my reserved reclining seat nearer the bow of the ship, I quickly realised I wouldn’t be able to stay there for long as a staggered around helplessly, suddenly feeling sick to the gills.

Eventually I was able to steady myself as I became more in tune with the motion of the boat, plonking myself down in the dining area, located near the vessel’s stern.

Occasionally I would step out onto the back deck, the fresh breeze helping as I watched the coastline north of Aberdeen in the fading light. I have no doubt it could have been a lot rougher, but the occasional larger swell would sometimes result in other passengers losing their footing to the cacophony of crashing silverware in the nearby kitchen.

As the Northlink ferry steamed away from the coastline, I was even able to eat something as I gradually began to feel less queasy. My concerns where transferred from my stomach to the adventures of Winston Smith as I dived into reading ‘1984’. I haven’t read many novels in recent years but had completed 200 pages of George Orwell’s terrifying dystopian masterpiece by the time we reached Lerwick.

More importantly, it kept me busy during a long sleepless night in the dining area. I had again attempted to no avail to return to my reclining seat, but despite the calming seas, I was unable to stomach any significant time spent away from my camp out near the vessel’s stern.

At around midnight the MV Hrossey had reached Orkney. I watched the lights of Kirkwall flickering from out on the deck as a sniffer dog smelled me curiously. I wondered how easy it would be to smuggle illegal substances into the Northern Isles, though this dog was more interested in my polos in my pocket.

After departing Kirkwall, the remainder of the journey was punctuated by short cold and uncomfortable bouts of sleep and reading. Unsurprisingly, ‘1984’ wasn’t doing much to lighten the mood as I sat alone, trying to ignore the noticable motion of the boat.
Throughout the night, I often wondered out onto the back deck, shivering uncontrollably as I watched the slight outline of the vessel’s wake as it cut through the icy cold North Sea waters. There was very little else to see except the frequent emergence of the stars in the night sky when the clouds would temporarily clear.

However, I found peace in looking out into the dark abyss as I searched for any distant lights of other boats, land or oil platforms in a natural darkness unlike any other I had ever experienced. There was something mysterious and slightly magical about it all as I looked out into the seemingly never-ending darkness. I almost felt like the world was my oyster, a feeling which had escaped me in recent months.

Eventually, the darkness faded into light as we passed the southern tip of the Shetland mainland, before Lerwick came into view on the starboard side of the boat. My poor stomach was finally able to relax as the Captain skilfully manoeuvred his boat into its berthing spot in the town’s harbour. I had somehow survived the journey without throwing my guts up. Perhaps I do have some sea legs after all.

Before I knew it I was on dry land again and with Leah, having experienced what getting the boat to Shetland is like. It had been a long, tiring journey while being an adventure which had reminded me about how exciting travelling can truly be. It was also worth every second as Leah reminded me when she gave me a big hug in the ferry terminal.

Race Report – Highland Cross 2019

The word ouch can be used to describe any race which I have previously taken part in. The Lumphanan Detox. Ouch. In fact it could be used in many different contexts in my day to day life.

Going over the handlebars on my bike and hitting my head. Ouch. Having my homework thrown into the bin by my IT teacher in a very public display when I was 15. Not forgiven or forgotten Mrs R. Ouch.

Even my easy run today in the sun was pretty sore at some points. However, there is no other word that so aptly sums up this year’s Highland Cross. It hurt. A lot.

My preparations for my third crossing hadn’t been ideal ( getting the excuses in early). I had struggled to train consistently and was gutted that I had decided to sit out the Edinburgh Marathon in May due to a lack of miles in the legs.

In the weeks leading up to the 50 mile duathalon I’d also struggled with the old foot injury which has occasionaly caused some bother for me since running became a hobby. It was touch and go as to whether I would be on the start line in Morvich, but luckily I recovered in the few days before the event. Phew.

This year the set up was different. Our team was composed of My Mum, Auntie Marie and yours truly. It was an absolute family affair and we were all staying in Inverness on the Friday night before.

As usual I didn’t sleep. The seagulls seemingly circled my Holiday Express room window as I tossed and turned throughout the mild summer solstice night.

I wasn’t however, anywhere near as anxious as I had felt before the Cross during the previous two years. I knew what to expect. I knew it was going to be tough.

The next morning I managed to  bypass the usual sickness which made eating difficult and had some porridge around 6.30am after seeing Mum off. She would be walking the route before hopping on her bike for the last 30 miles. This had been tempting as I stressed about my (lack of) fitness in the seven days previous.

Travelling with Marie and Stuart, who was participating as part of another team, we hopped on a bus at Beauly bound for the West Coast.

The journey lasted around two hours as we arrived near Morvich after travelling through some stunning scenery on the road to Kyle of Lochalsh. The rugged mountains, lochs and glorious sunshine acted as a good distraction from thinking about the pain which was now just around the corner.

At 11:00am a gunshot sent us off in a mad scramble for position during the first few miles of double track before the climbs started in earnest. I took it fairly easy, knowing I didn’t have the endurance to sustain such a fast pace that early on.

The heroics could be saved for the last few miles of the run when I thought it likely I’d have to dig deep. And man did I have to dig deep.

After 15 miles of endulating and challenging running I set foot on the Yellow Brick Road. A section of track which is always a struggle as I carried my tired body over seemingly endless track and then tarmac. I was desperate for the transition point to come into view.

I was desperate to get on my bike as my legs tried to convince me to stop. This Yellow Brick Road may not lead to the Emerald City, but it does provide the 700+ runners and walkers with a certain degree of courage.

Knowing the course relatively well this year was both a bonus and a curse as I found myself getting ahead of myself at some points. This meant some sections felt like a drag, albeit through some stunning Highland scenery. I shouldn’t complain really but the run was tough.

Eventually the transition point came into view as I uttered a celebratory “thank f***”. It sounds weird, but I just needed a seat. Even if that seat would be on an uncompromising bike saddle for nearly 30 miles. I don’t just wear lycra shorts to be fashionable you know.

At the transition point the staff, as always, were amazingly helpful as an older man held my bike as I changed my shoes and put my helmet on. He said some encouraging words as I set off down the twisty descent which begins the second leg of the crossing.

It was on this technical descent that I lost concentration and nearly came off on a nasty corner. That had been the second squeaky bum time moment of the day after I stumbled during the run.

Fortunately I was able to correct before I landed in a ditch at speeds in excess of 30mph. Once again, I’d been lucky.

Carrying on towards Beauly I was able to slipstream for a while before riding away from the competitors I had been working with in a short lived chaingang. My legs started to fail me on the last few short climbs as I struggled to stay focused on completing the last few miles towards the finish line.

My motivation wasn’t to beat my best time as by this point I was pretty sure this was now unattainable. Instead, my main motivation was finishing.

The extra motivation being that my girlfriend had travelled to Beauly especially to see me. Even after  had warned her about the lycra. Ultimately, this kept me going as waves of low blood sugar infused nausea and pain washed over me. Ouch.

As I tentatively rounded the last bend into Beauly my main concern was an unusual one. I knew I’d now finish and hopefully in a decent enough time.

Instead, I was concerned I would throw up the content of my breakfast when I arrived in the square. For this reason I was really hoping Leah wasn’t standing beside the finish line.

Fantastically my wish wasn’t granted and I was welcomed across the line by a beaming Leah who gave me a big hug before I wondered through the crowds to receive my medal. I had survived another year and hadn’t thrown up in front of my girlfriend and the other spectators. Life was good.

A flat coca cola later, and my nausea was gone as I watched Marie finishing in a decent time. Our team had done well as I unfortunately missed Mum coming in.

Mum had also done brilliantly as I met her after the event, interrupting her from a very messy but well deserved chocolate eating session. There must be something good in Granny Helen’s soup.

All in all it was another great crossing and I would love to return next year, perhaps with the same team if they can convince themselves to face the tough challenge which is the Highland Cross. Ouch.

Distance: 48 miles (77 km)

Time: 4:33:07

 

 

 

 

 

That Road Trip Kind of Weekend

Last weekend was both enjoyable and surreal in equal measure. Over two days my girlfriend and I spent a huge amount of time traversing the North-East. We were able to show each other our local haunts from before we moved to the big city in search of fame of fortune. Well, to the moderately sized Aberdeen in search of a university degree actually but you get the idea.

The weekend, as it usually does, started on Friday evening when I picked Leah up from the slightly underwhelming student halls which we both stay in. Located quite near the city centre, I was pretty nervous at the idea of driving in the city, becoming even more of a country bumpkin when it comes to driving.

However, this part of the journey went relatively well as I carefully negotiated my way through countless traffic lights and lane changes before eventually reaching a nervous looking Leah at the entrance to the halls. I couldn’t tell if it was either getting in a car with me or the looming first meeting with my mum that was making her more anxious. I decided it was a likely a good mix of the two and I didn’t blame her.

Luckily, I was able to put her mind to rest (I think) as we reached my home village of sorts in good time. In fact, Braemar was looking very bonny in the fading light as the sun struggled to stay above the still snow covered Cairngorms mountains. We had made it in one piece.

The next morning the weather had changed drastically as even the smallest of local hills disappeared in low cloud, as heavy rain welcomed anyone who was brave enough to go outside. The next journey was to Banchory, my brother’s cricket being cancelled for obvious reasons. These reasons being weather related and not in relation to how dull cricket is (please write in).

Driving to Banchory involved some aqua planning at first, but the weather improved slightly as we travelled further down the Deeside Valley. I enjoyed pointing out the places I had worked along with both my primary and secondary schools to Leah. This in itself felt pretty bizarre as there had been a sudden blurring between my life in town at university, and my life at home.

Picking up my brother from my dad’s flat, I decided to give my poor girlfriend a more detailed tour of the Deeside Valley. If travelling through the rain soaked villages of Torphins, Lumphanan,Tarland and Ballater wasn’t exciting enough, the usually stunning views from the subtly named Queens View (near Tarland) weren’t at all visible.

Again, we made it back to Braemar in one piece, my driving duties for the weekend finished already. The only hiccup being an unfortunate change into third instead of fifth gear followed by a slight panic. My two unsympathetic passengers enjoyed this greatly, as my ego, bolstered by some good recent driving, was significantly deflated.

That evening we left Braemar for Huntly, my mum driving as she insisted it was the only way she would be able to stay awake. Are my only one who’s always found that logic slightly concerning? Anyway, we travelled the long road to Huntly to a party as I tried to convince myself I wasn’t feeling car sick. Nothing to do with mum’s driving of course.

So far, I’ve made it sound like we were forever on the move last weekend and although this isn’t totally accurate, we found ourselves awaiting a train to take us from Huntly to Keith later that night. Ourselves being my girlfriend and I, as my mum and brother made the winding journey back to Braemar. Their only company the darkness of the night and Magnus’s likely below par chat and tunes.

Arriving in Keith at just after 11 pm, I struggled to gather my bearings as Leah’s grandmother kindly gave us a lift back to her home village. Keith and its surrounds aren’t an area I know well at all, although all became clear the next morning as I peeked a look out an easterly facing window.

I could see the railway and many distillery barrels piled high beside the Inverness-Aberdeen line. There were some hills, but in comparison to Braemar the surrounding area was relatively flat. I found the fact you could see for a further distance quite refreshing. There’s something comforting about an open sky, even if the dull weather had continued from the day before.

It was after a lovely meal in Keith that we hit the road again. My girlfriend (not Jesus) taking the wheel for the second part of the road trip. We decided to go north towards the coast, with the small village of Sandend being the designated destination. After maybe ten minutes on the beach, with the wind blowing a hooley, we made the executive decision to return to the car. You wouldn’t have thought we were both raised in the North-east of Scotland.

After some thought we continued east along the coast, driving through Portsoy before I sent Leah along a nightmarish back road that I seemed to remember led to Whitehills. The road was winding, with little passing places but I was able to relax the driver with some well-timed Mcfly. While on the subject I feel pretty guilty I had control of the music, realising afterwards that someone controlling my music while I drove would likely be classed as a cardinal sin in my car.

Anyway, I wanted to show Leah Whitehills because that’s where I had spent the fist year of my life, in a house supposedly so close to the sea that the sea spray used to collect in the window frames on a stormy day. The only issue being that I hadn’t been to the small picturesque village in about ten years. So unable to identify where my old house was, we continued to the nearby Banff Links.

This is a place which has an equal amount of resonance for me as I remember spending many a happy day with my parents and grandparents here on family day trips back in my heyday (circa. 2006 maybe). My late grandfather pushing my brother and I on the swings. In those days I was a lot younger and I actually get motion sickness when going on a swing nowadays. I live a very crazy lifestyle.

We also managed to fit in a short trip across the bridge to Macduff, before heading back. My girlfriend wanted to show me the school she had attended and I was surprised to discover it has a smaller enrolment than Aboyne Academy (my school). I guess Aboyne must have a much larger catchment area.

Leah was even good enough to give me a lift back to Aberdeen that evening as a hugely enjoyable weekend came to a close. For the first time I had brought my life at university home and she had done the same. Surreal perhaps, yet there was a level of comfort in it. I think it was interesting for us to be able to pinpoint where some of our past individual memories were made. The places which likely shaped our two different backgrounds.

 

Race Report: Kinloss to Lossiemouth HM

Location: Kinloss & Lossiemouth, Moray

Time: 11:00, 17 February 2019

Distance: 13 miles (approx. 21km)

On Sunday I ran my second half marathon race and was pleased to come away with a Personal Best, running the 13 mile road race in 1:32:35. Achieving this time was especially pleasing because I had failed to PB in the Lumphanan Detox 10K in January.

This was predominantly down to an alcohol fuelled Hogmanay and a lacklustre sleeping schedule in the days before that race. Gladly much less alcohol was consumed in the days leading up to this race, although my sleeping schedule was again slightly out of whack.

On the Saturday night I didn’t sleep very well, though I usually don’t the night before a race. However, I still managed to crawl out of bed at 6.15 am, which was good because race registration closed in Lossiemouth at 9.45 am.

Having this event marked in the calendar in advance, the car, which is owned in my absence by my Mum, was available. As expected the roads were quiet at that time on a Sunday morning and I made good time, arriving in less than two hours.

After registering I joined the other athletes as we were whisked away on buses to the start line in Kinloss. Surprisingly I wasn’t too nervous at the start line, having plenty of time to make the customary pre-race toilet trip.

I hadn’t put too much pressure on myself, as the Edinburgh Marathon is dominating most of my training plans at the moment. Put simply I just wanted to enjoy the race, which was taking place in a nice part of the world.

I often find the first part of the race the most difficult, as it includes a chaotic struggle for positioning and an attempt to find a comfortable pace. Finding a comfortable pace meant I ended up on my own, occasionally being overtaken by faster runners.

The first few miles of the race were ran along quite congested roads, as vehicles struggled to get past the 280 odd competitors. Although breathing in exhaust fumes wasn’t ideal, this is perhaps a sacrifice of designing a course which is fast and flat.

Happily the roads became quieter after Burghead, as the route started to follow the coast line, giving good views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle. After Burghead, which lay near the halfway point, it wasn’t too long before RAF Lossiemouth and the sprawling town beside it came into view from the top of a slight incline.

After a long final few miles I crossed the finish line. During the race I hadn’t recorded my progress so had no idea which time I had run. I was more glad to have reached the finish than concerned about whether I had achieved a Personal Best.

I had a feeling I had ran a slow time, so was pleasantly surprised when I learnt that had been my fastest half marathon. A big thanks has to go to Moray Road Runners for organising and I would definitely be keen to return next year.

 

 

 

 

Away Days – NE England

Having been working (and cycling) away since I came home from my Fijian adventure, I was keen to get away for a while. A change of scene was needed and just about anywhere would do. I had thought about going abroad, but decided to leave that until the end of the month instead – I’ll write about where I went soon!

No instead I decided to stay in the sunny UK, taking my long suffering Dad along with me. He did the driving so he actually kind of took me with him.

Anyway we ended up deciding to go to Northumberland for no good reason whatsoever, apart from having never really been there before. Maybe that is a good reason for going somewhere.

Early on a Tuesday morning we set of on our perilous voyage down the East Coast of Scotland to Englandshire, stopping first just across the border in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I had only ever viewed this town from the window of a London bound train so it was nice to explore the old town walls which had protected the town from the English, the Scots, the English, and then… I could go on. Basically for a period in Berwick’s history it was difficult to figure out which nation the town belonged to.

Picking up a cycle map, I studied some of the local routes, looking for one which would be suitable for me to test my legs on, as we headed towards our campsite for the next two nights. We camped on the outskirts of a small town called Wooler, 13 miles south-west of Berwick.

Taken aback by how quiet the roads seemed, I hopped on my bike as soon as we had set up camp. I soon found myself heading north up traffic free, dusty roads, meeting nothing but the odd combine.

If you know me at all you’ll have realised riding a bike is something I already find immensely fun (mostly!). However, there is something about riding on new unknown roads which adds to this sense of enjoyment. Using my phone as a map I flew down small country lanes and soon realised I was heading back towards the mother nation.

With around an hour’s riding done I decided to make crossing the border into Scotland by bike today’s target, only slightly concerned about the dark clouds forming to the west. Several miles and much (phone) map reading later, I came across a pedestrianised bridge with a plaque reading “ENGLAND” stuck to one of the archways. I had found the border!

On the other side of this picturesque bridge (picture below) across the River Tweed, I was welcomed to Scotland. For some reason it felt more special to be riding across the border which holds much less importance than it once did many years ago.

Changing direction once I was in Scotland, I headed towards Kelso, before swinging south across the border again towards Wooler, using my phone to navigate the peaceful country lanes. Although there were no particularly long climbs, the roads were undualting, with fun to be had on the steep short climbs and the technical descents which followed.

That evening I compared notes with Dad about the local roads. He had gone for a shorter cycle, something which was encouraging as health issues had often meant he couldn’t enjoy exercise as much as he sometimes wanted to. And the next day we dicided to cycle across the causeway to the Holy Island, an island only accessible by roads for 12 hours a day. Spinning across the slippery seaweed soaken tarmac was a somewhat surreal experience as small lakes of water surrounded us.

After crossing we didn’t stay around for too long. A hot drink and a short look around and we set of across the causeway and back to the car. It was a cold day and the clouds looked full of rain. Yesterday I had managed to stay dry but today the heavens opened after we had returned to the campsite.

Sitting in the car I suggested we go to Newcastle or “N,Castle” as locals like to call it. The city seemed a sensible idea when the weather was this vile. Again I had only ever passed through this city on the train and was impressed but what I saw. During a break in the weather we wandered down to the river, where there was bridges galore.

Having enjoyed my first “Nandos” ever (shock horror) and many a “geordie” voice in Newcastle we overheard many more broad accents in the pub that night back in Wooler. That night my mattress deflated so I got up at first light. First priority was water followed by getting my lycra on and hopping on my bike again. It being 6 am the roads were empty, though it was very cold.

It quickly warmed though and I did a similar route to the one two days previous, adding some miles to make it a 50 mile effort. Not a bad mornings work. With the sun on my back and my legs taking me were I needed to go I felt lucky to be alive. Sometimes getting up so early can be of significant benefit and I felt set up for the rest of the day.

It may have been a short trip but it was definetly an enjoyable one and worth it to explore a new place.