So it's Thursday and Graham says (in between intervals) that he is planning a recce of the Arran leg of the Scottish Islands Peaks Race. A one-day scoot across to run (to and) from Lamlash to the top of Goatfell in the daylight, because it may well be done in the dark the following weekend at the SIPR.
Since I have Sunday set aside for another matter I tell Nasher and Jim I probably won't make it as I like to spend at least some of the weekend with Mary. When she hears the proposal she says I've got to do it and that it sounds fab. (It DOES.) Especially given the forecast which only improves on Friday. M is happy to have a weekend of semi-sloth and shopping with a bit of tidying and chilling. (And she fitted in a 20 miler Saturday and 5ish on Sunday.)
Arran has many special memories for me: a childhood holiday there; many cycle trips; kayak across and ascent of Goatfell in one day as a teenager; a flatmate at artschool who came from Arran and a girlfriend from Blackwaterfoot. First ever half marathon. A cycling holiday with Mary when it was so hot the tarmac on the roads melted and bubbled and we climbed Goatfell and dipped in the Sannox Burn with a bottle of Tia Maria back in the tent! (Before I was a runner.) Not to mention a handful of Goatfell Hill Races with Tony the Tiger, Michael, Steve and assorted others.
cycle touring maybe 1976 (pb, Snakey, brother Neil)
Sannox Burn (or Corrie Burn) maybe 1995 or 6
Arran Half Marathon 2000 (first ever running medal)
So going across to Arran is a nearly magical transition. An early start is required (breakfast at 05.30) but we managed to race the train journeys with wall-to-wall running chat and soon we were on the 09.20 ferry heading over the water in glorious sunshine.
Jim has his hood up against the cool sea breeze.
thar she blows
But before climbing Goatfell we make our way south to Lamlash. The SIPR docks at Lamlash Pier and the runners, in pairs, make their way from there to the top of Goatfell and back. It was just over 4 miles to the pier along tracks and trails and through a field or 2. Very pleasant going.
A surprising amount of undulation.
Holy Island sits in Lamlash Bay
Lamlash has a different feel than Brodick.
Very well maintained with lots of tropical looking trees.
The vikings had already arrived.
We turned around at the pier and went back over the same trails which Graham will be doing in the dark (with Olly) this weekend. We offered to blindfold him to simulate running at night.
Originally it was only Graham and Jim signed up for this adventure. Then I was pressganged, and I put a notice on the fbk TB page and Roly and Steve couldn't resist the forecast.
Roly, Graham, Jim, Steve, pb
Now, I have a tradition that I can't go past the crazy golf course on the Brodick main drag without a team photo in front of the Forth Bridge hole. There were a couple of blokes playing a round so we didn't take long to set it up while apologising. (It is well in need of a coat of red lead.) Something of a happy accident to get Goatfell in the background.
Since adopting this tradition I have met the daughter of the guy who welded up the model bridge. She, Diane, is married to Dougie Flett of SRAC. Literally, a small world.
Towards the end of Brodick we left the road and went by the swings. I asked if this was definitely the way, because the Hill Race goes down the main road to the Castle Grounds. The off road version is much better though and after crossing some concrete and wooden bridges, goes along the side of the well manicured golf course. More delightful trails.
Then across the road and into the Castle Grounds and onto dirt and gravel trails that lead gradually upwards to the deer fence. It seemed to be more direct than the Hill Race start although shortly we were on the same tourist trail that leads to the summit.
Things were now properly warming up. We stopped just before the deer fence to drink from and wash our sweating faces in the superbly fresh stream. Graham had run on ahead and seemed to be taking the recce seriously - doing the whole climb in a continuous push as you might in the race. Whereas the rest of us were in holiday mode, stopping for photos and to put on more sunscreen.
We weren't alone on the hill. Although some of the photos look deserted there were a lot of walkers, especially towards the top. Presumably they got a head start as we did the Lamlash section, but we now overhauled many of them making their way up. The first red t-shirt with a logo I mistook for a metal band called Brain Tumour. However after seeing 50 more I realised it was a fundraising t-shirt for the Brain Tumour Charity. Spoke to various of their number on the way up and at the top. We all got an excellent day for it which kept spirits high. Also said hello to this guy (below) who crossed on the same ferry. One of the hill running fraternity, he said hello Peter as he passed.
And this one said she preferred the ups to the down I think.
At last - the top.
Surprisingly long haul to get there.
Surprisingly long haul to get there.
This was just calling out to be walked or climbed.
(in the background)
So, after a sandwich and regroup and a sit around we began the descent. This is always a dangerous game in the hill race so I braced myself for the difficulties. It didn't seem like the same route the race follows (less steep) but maybe it was just being sunny and dry. Last couple of times I've done the race it has been damp / sleety and it definitely adds to the risk factor. Roly really enjoyed the tip-toe dance down the trail. He had not been looking forwards to it but found he managed it fine and enjoyed the complete focus you have to have. There is a real knack to flowing over the high-abrasion granite and it is easy to catch a toe on the blocks if you take your eye off the ball. There have been many casualties over the years. Tony the Tiger, Dougal Ross and Steven Fallon have all ended up in Lamlash hospital being patched up after bad falls and if you go down on these rocks you are going to draw blood.
This was in the forefront of Steve's head. He was having a tough day on the gradient. His recent marathon training has been at the expense of hills and he found the uppy downy bits trashed his legs from halfway up the hill. He soldiered on but was remembering Alex Oliver's prediction that one in five runners come to grief on Goatfell. I don't know where he got that figure but Alex subsequently was that one in five when he jumped over a loose beagle during the race and jiggered his knee leading to a prolonged injury that kept him off running for a year.
- whatever happens don't get the camera out and start taking pics while running!
So Steve, feeling the least comfortable on the steep bits, is back marker and concerned about a potential visit to Lamlash Hospital. Little did he know that further down the trail Roly is taking a dive. Happily we had past the skin shredding granite blocks and were onto the relatively safety of the dirt trails. Roly hit a corner with slightly too much speed and not enough grip on the dusty dry surface and took a sideways slide leaving his left leg and forearm gashed with road rash. He brushed himself down and we ran on to the beer garden where he was bandaged by the staff. And we had the first pint of the day. Quickly followed by the second.
A quick word about the Arran Brewery. Right on the trail it looks like it would be a good place for a drink but turned out to be a shop that sold glasses and bottles of beer but nowhere to pour one into the other and consume them. There is a table outside but it took ages (about thirsty seconds) to get the requisite info out of the blankly unhelpful woman behind the counter who should have said in the first place, ahh you want the beer garden which is 50 yards round the corner. The Brewery shop is for gifts and carry outs, the Wineport Bar and Bistro is for drinks in the beer garden.
Everything from now on gets a bit blurry. We ran or rather floated back through Brodick as the ferry came in to the pier. Jim and Graham disappeared off to the co-op, quickly re-appearing with choco-lollies. I had no idea how much I wanted one till I got one which was a LOT. We then got on the boat and found ourselves in the bar where we had another couple of beers. The boat ride lasted about 10 minutes before we had to get off and onto the train. Graham then revealed the carry out beers and insisted we have one.
When we got into Glasgow moments later, I was half expecting it to be Waverley. It wasn't, but to offset the disappointment Graham passed round another beer. Oh and Roly, being an employee of the train company got us an upgrade to 1st class. Very swish. From what little I remember we weren't so badly behaved that anyone else who had paid for a ticket in 1st to get away from exactly that sort of element, complained. But we can't have been far away.
It was great to go to Arran and take the running at chatting pace. To be able to stop for photos, to enjoy the fabulous scenery, and in excellent company. I can't think of a better way to spend a sunny Saturday; and right enough the weather made it REALLY spectacular. It felt like we had left Scotland and landed on some tropical island, with an ideal running climate - warm but not too hot. I had taken running tights and a long sleeve top to change into later on but never found the need. Days like this are a rare treat and rank right up there in the best ever top ten. Big thanks to Graham and Jim for thinking up such an adventure and buying us choco-lollies. And far too many beers. It was FAB!
ps I am pleased to report Steve and I (eldest and wisest) got the train to Waverley and ran (wobbled) home. The other three got off at Haymarket and rumour has it, went to the pub. Sometimes you have to quit when you're ahead. Also, all that talk of trophies at the Wineport - what goes on in Arran, stays in Arran. What a day!