Thursday, 9 November 2017

Running the Pentland Skyline

In the Pentlands:


I think of myself as a hillwalker. Others may be fell runners, climbers, or ramblers - but I am a hillwalker.

Sure, I run down hills of a certain angle - it's only common sense to let gravity to the work. In fact it is easier than walking.

And I take advantage of the lightweight gear that has been popularised by fell running - shoes especially. It's the sensible thing to do.

So I wear lightweight gear and run down hills. But I'm still a hillwalker.

Or so I thought until recently in the Pentlands, when I overtook a group of fell runners going up Carnethy Hill.

At the start of the day:


As I waited at the top for them to ask to get my photo taken, my photographer asked "what route are you doing?" Down to the Kips then back to Flotterstone via Allermuir. "Enjoy your run!" she said cheerily. My run! Maybe I am a fell runner!

Not a fell runner:


"We're only doing 18km," she confessed. Only 18km! That's how a fell runner thinks. My own walk was not much longer and I considered it to be a big outing. So maybe I'm not a fell runner after all... I stood at the top to chat with a man with a collie dog and watched the cheerful mixed-sex group in their twenties jog onwards. Seeing them move easily across the terrain brought joy in their grace and gratefulness that I could do it too.

Fell runners:


The Pentlands are hills for fell runners. Of middling altitude, with long rolling ridges and clear paths, it is possible to eat up the miles, gain fresh air with views across the Borders, Ochils, Fife, Highlands and Edinburgh. And there is one route I have wanted to do for a long time - the circuit of all the hills in the northern half of the range, from Flotterstone over Carnethy to the Kips, down to the pass of Green Cleugh and back over Black Hill and Allermuir.

And there were plenty fell runners up here on a glorious autumn Sunday. With Edinburgh so close, it is inevitable there are crowds. “It's like Princes St up here!” announced a woman to me on West Kip. Princes St? You mean Sauchiehall St! Perhaps I live on the east coast now but my roots were showing.

On West Kip:


So far I had been having a lovely time. But I expected the fun to stop on Black Hill, and was right. The hills bordering the A702 were busy. But Black Hill is deserted, for good reason. It is a great awkward-angled heathery lump that I cursed as I bashed through the heather, progress slowed. The sun went. Does it ever shine on Black Hill? The last time I was here we found a mouse, frozen to death. Allermuir and Carnethy are thronged highways in the sky, Bell’s Hill, Capelaw and Harbour Hill the haunt of the occasional fell runner, but Black Hill stands alone and unvisited. I ran down it and found the way back up Bell’s Hill hard going. What is it the gambling authorities say? ‘When the fun stops, stop’? Does the same approach hold with hillwalking?

Looking back to Black Hill:


But after that I enjoyed the rest. The crowds returned on Allermuir Hill, familiar from scores of visits. I finished on Castlelaw Hill and jogged down the path to bump into old friends I hadn’t seen since 4 Reasons You Must Climb a Scottish Hill for New Year. We made a tryst to climb a hill in the crisp winter weather that we are now on the cusp of experiencing.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

At the North End of Gigha

Halfway to Ireland, lying between Kintyre and Islay, Gigha is a small, unprepossessing island. It is 10km long and 3km at its widest - half the size of Colonsay, for example. Its highest point is only 100m high. My Scottish Mountaineering Club Guide to the Islands of Scotland has this faintest of praise for Gigha:
though the coastal crags attain a maximum height of only 20m, they provide good bouldering for the frustrated climber on a family holiday.
You don't come to Gigha for an outdoor walking holiday. It is famous instead for its gardens of Achamore. Yet even these are past their glory at this time of year. So why would you come to Gigha? Let me rephrase that. Why would you not?



Gigha is a Hebridean island, lush, temperate, small, albeit a little too large to be comfortably explored just on foot.

It has fine sandy beaches:


Views of Islay, Jura, Knapdale, Kintyre and Ireland:


And rugged headlands.

We went to the north end of Gigha to watch the waves and the Islay ferry steaming to and fro, cows browsing amongst the bracken and occasional eruption of rocks.

And went to Eilean Garbh, on an entertaining route that included a step ladder to surmount a small cliff:


This former island is now connected to Gigha by a machairy tombola, a beach at either end, cormorants and divers off the northern beach and a heron patiently stalking fish at the southern beach. But no otters, even though we know they haunt these shores.

We enjoyed our short visit to Gigha. As we left, Storm Ophelia approached. The waves grew higher and the sun turned dull orange, reflected in the shallow seas of Ardminish Bay. It was time to leave before we became stranded.

Ardminish Bay: