Great Scottish Bike Climbs – Lowther Hill

Wanlockhead is Scotland’s highest village. The area has Scotland’s highest hotel, Scotland’s highest pub, Scotland’s highest…you get the idea. The pub should sell its beer with the tagline “beer with altitude”

Above Wanlokhead there is a prominent golf-ball like structure on the summit of Lowther Hil. It is a radar station used by NATS (National Air Traffic Services).

The radar is known locally as “The Golf Ball” due to the ball shaped covering that protects the large rotating radar dish inside from wind and ice. It sits on a tee-like concrete structure.

I first attempted the climb in 2008. It was supposed to be the finish line of a bike sportive but the weather was so bad the road to the top was closed. Since then I’ve done it regulalry as a race against my brother. We call it the Tour De Golf Ball.

Check out the video to see what the route looks like

Here’s some images from the route

Video

Climb Review

Difficulty:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It can be brutal on a bad weather day. I wouldn’t advise doing it if its windy. The climb is 2.6miles long and there are a number of steep sections.

Views:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great views across the Lowther hills On a clear day you can see for miles around.

Traffic: 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Its normally a quiet road and I hardly see a car but this time (Sep 2020) it was a a bit busier. I’m assuming more people are visiting now that lockdown has eased.

Parking

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There is a big area to park on the edge of Wanlokhead. Don’t park in the Lead mining museum. That’s for people visiting the museum.

Toilets

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There are toilets in the Museum but they were closed when I visited. Usually they are open and available

Cafe

Rating: 1 out of 5.

No Café stops on the route as Drumlanrig castle is currently closed to visitors. Normally you could stop there for a snack. They used to do excellent Scones.

Route

Running the Lairig Ghru – Part 1 (Iain)

The Lairig Ghru race route is 43 kilometres through the Cairngorms, from Braemar police station to Aviemore police station. The race has been held annually for over 40 years.

This year the race took place on Sunday 6th Septemeber. I ran it the day before, which confused one man, who was dues to race it, and when I told him I was running it on the Saturday he said:

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’m definitely doing it on Saturday.”

“Oh God! I thought it was the Sunday. I’ve booked the wrong day!” He panicked.

He thought I was doing the race too. He was very relieved when I told him I was just running it for fun the day before the race.

I judge the posh-ness of a town by how many black Range Rovers are parked at the town’s supermarket. There was about 20 parked outside Braemar Co-Op but the drivers weren’t shoppers looking for a bargain. They were staying at the hotel next door – The Fife Arms ( https://thefifearms.com/) One of Scotland’s most opulent hotels.

The cheapest room is £400 a night. They look nice though. Definitely a step up from a Travel Lodge

I didn’t stay there. I stayed at a local B+B http://www.cranfordbraemar.co.uk/. It was great. The room was quiet and the owners were friendly. They served up a great breakfast.

A town must be posh when the answer to the question: “Have you had any covid cases here?” is “none in Braemar but there was one down the road in Balmoral – Prince Charles!”

At town is posh when your neighbours are the Royal Family.

Rugged Run – Lairig Ghru (Iain)

The Lairig Ghru is one of the best-known mountain passes in Scotland. The only pass I’m familiar with is a bus pass. So I must admit I wasn’t aware of the Lairig Ghru until a couple of years ago. It featured on the BBC’s The Adventure Show.

The show covered the Lairig Ghru race. A mainly off road run which goes from the police station in Braemar to the police Station in Aviemore via the Lairig Ghru pass.

The race has been run annually for 40+ years but I can’t find any info on why the race starts and ends at a police station. Maybe race rules were officiated more strictly in those days.

The official route begins at the site of the old police station in Braemar. I got that slightly wrong. I started at the new police station. Thankfully, it only added on an extra 400m of running.

You can see what the route is like in the video below.

VIDEO

MAPS

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Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An interesting route. Varied running surfaces but it is very,very long so its not going to suit most people. The weather wasn’t great when i did it so I missed out on seeing some of the amazing scenery at its best.

Parking

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Logistically the run is a pain in the a$%e! I had to leave a car in Aviemore the day before the run, get a lift to Braemar (a 90 min journey). I then stayed in Braemar overnight before running the race and then driving back to Braemar to get my stuff.

Facilities

Rating: 2 out of 5.

There is a bothy half way along the route. There are streams to get water but don’t expect to get any provisions until you are back in Aviemore.

Nearest cafe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There are plenty of options for food and drink in Aviemore. My dinner in Braemar was excellent (https://braemarlodge.co.uk/)

Run Surface

80% off road, 20% concrete,

Dog Friendly

Yes – if your dog likes doing marathons.

Rugged Run – Campsie Marathon (Iain)

During Lockdown my employer made Friday’s a rest day. The idea being that having one day off a week during a pandemic is good for the mental well being and happiness of staff.

It was a great idea. I back any idea which means I work less but get paid the same! I’m not sure it was such a good idea for my productivity….

I used my Friday freedom to explore my local hills. I discovered miles of routes I’d never been on before. I wondered if it was possible to link up the best routes to make an interesting challenge. I mapped it out and the distance was 26 miles. Perfect for a marathon. Once I knew that I had to run it!

As the run is self supported I made it a figure of eight loop. This meant I could return to my car at the half way point and refuel and resupply.

The first loop of cort-ma-law is the easier loop. Its is very runnable and easy to work out a track. The second loop is harder at the beginning. The climb of Finglen is not on a clear track and encompasses a fair section of bog and heather.

The video will show you what to expect bu I don’t want to give a big description of the rout. The joy I had in running it was discovering new places. Hopefully if you try it you’ll get that thrill too.

VIDEO

MAPS

Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Its my own race so of course I’d rate it 5 stars!

Parking

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is a car park in Clachan of Campsie.

Facilities

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There is a cafe next to the car park and there are pay toilets.

Nearest cafe

Rating: 5 out of 5.

https://www.facebook.com/sonascafe/

Run Surface

80% off road, 20% concrete,

Dog Friendly

Mostly – but there is sections next to sheep fields.

Outdoor Swim Review: Loch Ard (Iain)

Route map for Loch Ard by Iain Todd on plotaroute.com

Loch Ard is the most common answer I hear when I ask the question “Where is your favorite place to swim?”

Which is due to:

a) Most people I ask live around Glasgow and can easily get to Loch Ard; and

b) it’s a great place to swim.

The loch is referred to in Wikipedia as “one of the smallest lochs in Scotland” which does not sound correct to me as its not even the smallest loch near Aberfoyle: Loch Chon and Loch Achray are smaller than Loch Ard.

In fact I can prove it’s not the smallest. This week I discovered a website that lists everything you ever want to know about a loch but are too afraid to ask.

https://maps.nls.uk/bathymetric/loch_order.html is a bathymetrical survey of the fresh-water lochs of Scotland, 1897-1909. Batymetic means the measurement of the depths of the sea.

It is basically depth maps of lochs and a link to a loch guide. The guide is a very dry read. It makes the brexit trade negotiation documents seem like a barrel of laughs.

What’s interesting is seeing where lochs are shallow and where they are deep. It answers the question: why did I get cold in that bit of the loch but not this other part?

REVIEW

Ease of Access:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Park at Kinlochard village hall. The start of the swim is beside the jetty.

Water quality:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The water quality is clear and perfect for swimming. The loch is sheltered so the water is usually very calm.

Swim Quality:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Excellent. There is a 2KM loop around an island or you can just potter about and admire the views of the hills and trees.

Other People:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Very busy! There are also boats occasionally on the loch.

Would I go back: Yes although its not a very wild place to swim. Good for beginners and people who like having other folk near by.

Fastest Known Time – Fife Coastal Path (Iain)

There is an acronym in running called FKT – Fastest Known Time. It basically is exactly what it says. It is the fastest known time for a route.

https://fastestknowntime.com/ states a route qualifies for a FKT if

The route is notable and distinct enough so that others will be interested in repeating it.

The route may be of any distance or time duration

The route must not be used for a race.

https://fastestknowntime.com/fkt-guidelines

Scotland has a few FKT’s, mostly on long distance walking routes or high level routes. For example, the John Muir Way is 215 km and it is recommended you takes 8-9 days to walk it. The FKT for the route is 21 hours 53 minutes. John Muir is famous for his quote: “The mountains are calling and I must go”. I feel that should be changed to: “The mountains are calling and I must go… at full speed whilst being tracked by GPS and two witnesses otherwise it won’t count as an FKT.”

The Fife Coastal Path is 187 km and the FKT is just over 14 hours. I started walking the Fife Coastal path in 2011. In the nine years since then I have only walked half of it. I’m on course for a WKT – worst known time!

Maybe I’d be quicker if I did not stop in St Andrews for a fudge Donut.

I’d much rather have a WKT than a FKT. A WKT says that I took my time and enjoyed a run. I savored every view, I walked or stopped when I felt like it. A WKT is a sign I enjoy running for what it really is – time outside. It is nothing more than that. So, forget records, speed and distance and just enjoy the outdoors.

Addendum – I will one day finish the Fife Coastal path but at my current rate of progress it looks like it will be in the year 2035.

Rugged Run – Elie Chain Walk (Iain)

No one really knows who was behind the idea of putting chains into the cliffs that stretch from Elie to Shell Bay. My guess is that alcohol was involved. All great but pointless plans start in a bar.

The route involves using eight chains to help you up and over or along stretches of the cliff. Step are cut into the rock to aid your climbing. It is claimed that it takes 90 minutes to do it but anyone of reasonable fitness can do it in 30 minutes.

Obviously do not do it during high tide. It’s a chain walk not a chain swim!

I prefer to start from Elie and then walk back along the coast top. This gives great views across Elie golf club.

On the way down from the cliffs look out for the bench designed by Andy Scott – the sculptor of the Kelpies statues in Falkirk.

VIDEO

MAPS

Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Parking

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Parking in Elie is very difficult in summer. Come in autumn or spring once the crowds have left.

Facilities

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A cafe, three pubs, ice cram parlor and deli are all in Elie. Expect high prices. Nothing in Elie is cheap, The residents are wealthy and the shops charge accordingly.

Nearest cafe

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Pavillion cafe at the golf club is good value for money.

Run Surface

30% beach, 30% rock, 40% grass/tarmac.

Dog Friendly

No – unless your dog can rock climb.

Time on Feet (Video) – Running 100 Miles in Seven Days (Iain)

One of my goals when running 100 miles in seven days was to make it a mental as well as a physical challenge. I call this “the distraction technique”. If I distract myself with a mental focus on something other then the physical challenge then the task becomes easier.

So, I decided my mental challenge would be to learn how to shoot/edit video. And armed with just an iPhone and a tripod I recorded all my runs and this is the result….

SPOILER ALERT – there is no big emotional journey or life lessons or anything particularly meaningful in the films. It is just a man running in some nice places 🙂

Outdoor Swim Review: Butt Of Lewis (Iain)

Is there a minimum distance I have to swim before I can say I went for a swim?

Usain Bolt does 100m and I bet he says he went for a run.

The olympics has a 50M freestyle event so I will declare that the minimum distance required. In that case, I can say I went for a swim at Port Stoth Beach. It is the most northerly beach in the Western Isles.

And the day I visited it was also the beach the beach with most Jellyfish! There was hundreds of them. I don’t know much about jellyfish other than what Andrew wrote here https://twinbikerun.com/2016/12/01/the-one-with-jellyfish-in-it/

But I do know not to mess with things I don’t know about so as soon as I spotted them I turned around and I swam back to the beach.

REVIEW

Ease of Access:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ness is 45 minutes from Stornoway. There is a parking spot beside the beach. It is a 2 minute walk from there to the sea.

Water quality:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The water quality is crustal clear and perfect for swimming (if there was no jelly fish)

Swim Quality:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Hard to tell. I didn’t swim for long enough.

Other People:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Not a soul

Would I go back: Yes. I’d like to try swimming further than 50m

Rugged Run – Carron Valley

Meikle Bin is a popular hill for runners and walkers. Understandably so because of the great views you get from the top. But its popularity means a lot of people don’t explore the other routes nearby. So, instead of following the crowds, try Cairnoch Hill.

Cairnoch Hill is a couple of miles down the road from Meikle Bin. I park here https://goo.gl/maps/AqwzhYnbHd4uFi29A and there is a gate and enough room for three cars to park.

I parked here because it’s next to the reservoir. I went for a swim straight after the run. If you do not want to swim then drive further along. There is parking at the start of the trail.

The video below will show you what the route is like. There was one off road section but it wasn’t very long. Although it was pretty wet underfoot!

VIDEO

MAPS

Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Quiet, good surfaces and easy to navigate.

Parking

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Three car parking spaces next to carron valley reservoir. If you do not want to swim then you can park at the start of the trail.

Facilities

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

None

Nearest cafe

Rating: 3 out of 5.

There is nothing close but there’s two good options a short drive away. The Fintry Inn is great for beer and hot food and on the outskirts of Fintry the Cafe in the Courtyard is great for for soup and treats.

Run Surface

95% fire road. 5% off road (through trees)

Dog Friendly

Yes – no sheep or animals spotted on route.

Elevation

338M of elevation.