Monday, 21 December 2015


shortest day, longest run.
Actually neither, but right next door to both. When I saw Willie G was planning this run I put my name down for it knowing it nearly filled the December Tynecastle Bronze brief. It is not easy to match a short day at this time of the year with the obligatory 30miles and (unused) war memorial, so this outing looked an ideal starting point.

I have been in a filthy mood for most of December and find as the days shorten so does my temper. It's like there has been a shower of meteorites and the majority have been blinded to the perfume ad banality and low-brow blanket of shite that has settled on the country, except for a chosen few. The only eskape from this money and drink fuelled tawdry telly spectacle of tinselly fucktard-nation is to go running. And this, from before sun-up till after sun-down, was what we did. I encouraged Nick to get himself on the guest list. 

everything I touch turns to bah-humbug.
Is this homebaked loaf really scowling?

outdoors before dawn

I thought it might be magical and special in the moments between the last of the party people staggering home and the first of the early morning people rising to meet the day. It wasn't really though. However a mild day with cloudless start was cheering.

Fiona saw me jogging across the Links as she waited for the bus to Musselburgh. I didn't see her; probably because I was fine tuning the Salomon backpack which was crammed full with stuff and shoogling about as I ran. I was running, rather than catching the bus, because I wanted to increase the Eskape's 25 miles (24 on my Garmin) to 30+ in order to qualify it as a Tynecastle Bronze run. I reckoned the 6+ miles from home to the estuary of the Esk would take an hour including a whistle stop tour of Milton Rd cemetery where Nick had seen there were Commonwealth War Graves. Tick them off and we would be well on our way. He was leaving his car at his folk's in Porty but I had arranged only to meet him at the Esk because he likes to arrive (far too) early for things and I like to arrive (at the last possible minute) on time. I didn't want to run 6 miles and hang around for 30 mins getting cold in damp gear. However along the prom I bumped into (an unusually laid back) Nick and we headed up to Milton Road where we searched for war graves in a cemetery at 8.15 in the morning dressed in shorts. Below is a photo of a plan B I found in Rosebank Cemetery off Pilrig St. the day before, and we anticipated something similar off Milton Rd. I am saving the Rosebank WM for back up as it is 200yrds from home and can be incorporated into any future TB.

After running round unable to find the war graves we legged it to the Esk suspecting we would probably pass something on the way. 30 miles is a long way and you'd probably be hard pressed to travel that far without coming across something that would pass muster. By the time we got to the estuary the troops were coming down the road. And no waiting! The first few miles zipped by catching up with folk and saying good morning!

I have been on this run (previously masquerading as the Eskapade) a couple of times and so was aware of it's Esk-centricities. If there is a dead end with a high-ish wall then that is preferred to 400yards of tarmac that would avoid a shin scraping climb. There are a couple of these walls and I never meet them except on this run. Also this year we had the prospect of crossing the new Borders Railway line. 

Good to see ex-Porty Neil and his missus both experienced ultra runners.
Spent a lot of the run chatting away to them.

I spent most the first half blethering and towards the back end of the pack. There seemed to be about 30 of us (noticibly more than had appeared on Willie's emails,) and being in last place made the journey fly by. Or maybe it was the company? The weather was mild but windy and flirting with squally showers, none worth digging out the waterproof. It was very relaxing and a superb antidote to the seasonal madness.

D of Bs

Under the Borders line

I'm sure this was unnecessary. Nick and I discussed just crossing the tracks but felt that would be unsporting. When Graham and Olly later appeared they were surprised to hear of us hunkering under this culvert. Until that point feet were dry but I reckoned missing the drainage tunnel would just be putting off the inevitable.

This point usually marks a snack break and rest room stop. I unpacked a sandwich and rested it on the ground while I replaced my backpack. I had been warned not to let Neil see it as he can wrestle for food with the best of them. However I was unprepared for the quick moves of Florence the black lab who had my sandwich in her slobbering chops quicker than you could say that bastarding dog has nicked my sandwich. I grabbed a fair bit back, though was quite annoyed. I couldn't really blame the owner who apologised profusely; I couldn't really blame Florence and her machine-like instincts; which meant it was almost entirely my fault (talk about victim blaming) for being a twat and putting down my sandwich. I certainly felt something should be put down, but maybe not the sandwich. Smiley winky face.

Then the sun came out.

This was like an ecstatic calling towards the boundaries of a higher plane.
(Except it was the outskirts of Dalkeith)

Of course you've brought your shades, it's December!

Well that has to be a war memorial? However on closer inspection it is the Baird Smith memorial. (Google at your leisure.) Nearby there is a plaque with a few thousand words which I haven't yet read. Bottom line: not a war memorial.

If you paid attention Willie G was a very good tour guide and would recite facts and figures about the buildings of interest we passed. You should ask him for notes as I was not paying attention in class and only caught half the chat. The ruin above was an interesting sounding tale involving fire insurance, a field of vintage scrap cars and some other stuff.

Can you see how pleased Nick is at finding a REAL war memorial for the day.
Poulton: a modest cross and some names of soldiers who lost their lives in the '14~'18 war. A reminder yet again of the real tragedy and loss from every small hamlet throughout the land.

I always enjoy the visual spectacle of this raised trail which I only ever see on the Esk run. Not sure where it is - upstream from Poulton.

We enjoyed the heightened illustrations for the riverside, in comparison to the reality of the barren sodden winter landscape. I have yet to see a kingfisher in this country on any riverside paths, though I hear they are there. Not sure about the giant, otter-sized dippers though.

More chat from Willie about this building. Didn't catch any of it.

I was surprised this discouraged the route finders.

Rosslyn Chapel.
I heard Willie say something about Templars and same team of architects who did Kirkwall Cathedral. (I think.) It was such an erudite group virtually nobody said Dan Brown.

more old stuff

More giant voles and bats the size of otters. Maybe it's the otters that are small, which would account for them being hard to spot?

Nick on either end of this panorama

This was a weir last time we came past.
You can see the high tide mark in black, to where the dammed water rose.

It was after midday by now and we could just about smell the hot bacon rolls in the Royal Hotel. Nick and I stepped it up and there wasn't anything deemed worthy of a photo until after lunch. Or maybe the drizzle put me off getting out the camera. The Royal is sufficiently downbeat that 30 muddy footed runners don't lower the tone too much and the tea, coffee and hot rolls are very welcome. 2 rolls each, plenty hot drinks and all for £5.50: superb. Another big thanks to Willie for organising this. Graham and Olly appeared which was strange as neither had appeared on email lists. They had started later and caught up, perhaps taking a more direct less culvert-ed route. They left first and Nick and I and Jason made a team of five pressing on ahead of the main peloton, partly because Graham and Olly had plans to run on from Carlops to the Bore Stane and across the Pentlands. Nick and I planned to catch a bus from Carlops.

After the indoor delights of the Royal it was a bit cold and dreich returning to running up muddy riverside paths again, but we quickly warmed up and the speed wasn't as fast as I thought it might be. Still pleasant chatting pace, and with walking at the difficult ground. Of which there turned out to be plenty. Deep mud which I failed to photograph and quite a lot of marching up hill through dead bracken. Tricky but not spectacular enough to make decent photos.

I remembered the pathless wilderness at this point from previous years.

Things improve from the pipe crossing (before getting worse again later.)

bit tussocky

There's always one! Olly made an elegant job of bouldering up this pillar. From experience I know it's never getting up there but getting back down proves the tricky bit. I failed to photograph Olly's unexpected dismount from quite high up, all of us speculating whether we'd be carrying him on a homemade stretcher the last 5 miles, as he floated through the air. Happily he landed with both ankles intact.

Jason was in charge of navigation taking us over fields in a very direct line, right to the pub door in Carlops. His inside knowledge? He lives directly opposite.

So where has Nick gone? He has run up the high street. Graham rightly guesses he is making up the last fractions of a mile to go over 30. He is also checking the bus timetable. Bad news. There was one 30 mins ago and the next is about 3.5 hrs. What to do? Have a pint and consider the options. We won't be staying for several hours that's for sure (and Nick isn't even drinking as he has to drive later.) I had a delicious pint of Belhaven Best and have to remind myself that although I'm in Nick's company I don't have to down it in ten seconds, unlike the last 7 pints I had with him.

We decide to run to the other end of the Pentlands and catch a bus from there. Graham took a particularly testing route last time so has a more sedate option for us this year - one we've been on before with Mr. Henry. Man he would have enjoyed this outing, it's a real shame he isn't here to enjoy the sploshy ground and general dark endeavour, the high mileage and the occasional filthy conversation. Jason came with us for a while then turned back. Hang on wasn't his house back there at the pub? We are now 4 and the ground does not get any easier. I only brought my third best headtorch (least weight in the pack) and it is not really up to the task. Some helpful soul has lined the path with slippery planks of wood and then greased them with goose fat. They are now soaking wet and more slippy than an ice rink. We tip-toe along them often running to the side to avoid going arse over elbow. Being a great sport Nick does somersaults every 5 minutes to keep us entertained. Seems he has run the grips off his Hokas (3 out of 4 wearing Hokas!) and is now ski-ing down these planks without sticks or a headtorch. If conversation flags he does another whoops! and throws his feet in the air rolling on the ground again. Just before we come off the trail at Balerno (many long dreamlike miles later) and are in sight of the tarmac he is break dancing once again. I am about to remark on his last effort of the evening when he is on the ground yet again gloves up to his wrists in filthy mud and smearing it all over his legs! He is now so comprehensively mud covered I wonder if the bus driver will let us on.

At last the lights of Edinburgh below.
Graham and Olly peel off at Threipmuir and we descend the last mile of road.

There was no bus at the terminal. Which is probably just as well: Nick had a hot date with the coop. I had packed away my waterproof when we came off the hill - still remarkably warm for December - and unpacked a couple of energy bars. This had taken the edge off and I couldn't work out what to get to eat on the bus. Until I spotted HOT Macaroni Pies. Recently discontinued from Greggs I believe. Stodge upon stodge I could hardly get it out the shop before biting into it. Warm and cheesy treat! And after immersing the feet in cold puddles a hundred times this was the fabulous reward. That and the bus 2 minutes after arriving at the stop.

Many thanks to Willie Gibson spiritual leader and excellent tour guide!
(39 miles or so)

Nick's blog here

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