Monday, 10 April 2017

Alternative John Muir Way 2017

The forecast was modest so it was something of a tremendous surprise when an absolute cracker of a day burst forth and we ran in sunshine and blue skies from 9.30am till 6pm. Keith B of Carnethy organises this event and every one I have been on (this is my third) has been excellent. Much the same formula: folk meet at Aberlady and run or cycle down the coast to Tyninghame where (after a brief dip for the brave) we head inland to Keith's house in East Linton for lunch. Afterwards we follow the riverside trails up the Tyne, duck under the A1 and across the Garleton Hills to the Hopetoun Monument, then drop back down to Aberlady. About 34miles of the finest East Lothian countryside, with the traditional obstacles and mandatory trespassing expected of a Carnethy outing.

The day was so beautiful even Lochend Park looked attractive!
(once I let the attack dogs & owners walk out the picture.)

9.30am at Aberlady

I jogged a mile and half to Meadowbank where Gio picked me up and drove us to Aberlady. I hadn't had a good chinwag with Gio in ages (possibly since last year's AJMW) and tried not to distract him too much with my jibber-jabber. 

my camera chose to focus on the rock,
Mark's, the yellow one there, gave a better result, below...

photo Mark H

over the bridge to enchantment

Nicola, Nicky, Nick and me

The 9 miles of beaches and trails to North Berwick passed quickly in the company of the Nics. (This will make Ms Duncan simmer as she refuses to be abreviated to a Nicky etc!) Lots of chat and banter and about 11am we were regrouping near the seabird centre where the van was parked. Because we were a bit ahead Nick and I went in search of war memorials to make this April's Tynecastle Bronze, a monthly 30miler we are doing for the duration (a hundred years on) of the 14~18 war. I found one just inside the big church on the main street. There are several more prominent wms in NB but we have used those in past runs and the rules insist on a different memorial for each run. Nick spotted an RAF one near the bird centre. 

When running for long distances it is important to fuel up properly. I was tiring of the usual gels and sports bars so decided to make some savoury snacks to carry and share with the troops. A fusion of Indian and Italian foods - Bollytalian - I used Mrs. Unis garlic and coriander nan breads spread with tomato, chilli and ginger sauce, topped with mozzarella and cheddar cheese, toasted in the oven. When cold, cut into slices and freezer bagged. The troops were cautious but the reception was ok. I also baked a loaf to share at lunch. Nick had also been thinking savoury snacks and trumped my exotic cuisinery with cold chicken kievs. Were the middles runny or solid? I asked (at 11am) almost not wanting to know the answer. Solid. Urk. 

regroup at NB
photo Gordon E

After skirting round the golf course you have to climb up the headland (unless tide is right out) before Gin Head and Tantallon. Technically there is a £6 entry fee at Tantallon, so much malarky ensues as we scamper (un-entered) through the ground trying not to draw attention to ourselves. 

regroup before assault on the castle

Keith relating tales of races, caves, deep water and dead cormorants.
photo Gordon E

virtually invisible,
on count of 3, runnnnnn...

best use of the moat since 1651

The tide looked too high for the ramp down to the shoreline.

Round the next corner Seacliff harbour and beach.

Most opted for the shoreline at the end of the beach but I led the dry-footed rebels up onto the high ground and along the edge of the fields which misses the brick-hopping from Seacliff to Peffer Burn. The above photo (my camera volunteered to take this in retro mode with sickly colours, a mode I would happily wipe from it's repertoire) shows us descending to the beach having missed all the opportunities to slip on seaweedy rocks and crack teeth, wrists and sunglasses on that deadly assault course.

photo Gordon 

Gordon produced this landscape with Jeff enigmatically looking out to sea. Which reminded me of a musical poster from Heathcliffe (the Cliff Richard musical) from the 90s(?). The poster is indelibly stuck in my mind because I had to paint it 10' x 5' for the Playhouse Theatre back in the day before one-off digital prints robbed me of a career in poster painting. Apologies to Jeff.

Just round the corner is the Peffer Burn. Sometimes this flows broad and shallow and can be crossed with pretty dry shoes. Today, we had to take shoes and socks off. Unless you take the Williamson option and jump it. Left heel in the water but otherwise impressively unscathed. Nicola took her shoes off and reported the water was cold and not inviting. I also de-shoed as I try to keep them dry for as long as possible on a long day out. However the water was considerably warmer than 2 weeks previously when I nearly got frostbite paddling here. I kept my shoes off and ran the length of the beach barefoot. The waves were up against the peninsula of rock towards the East end of the beach and while some runners went up and over, I enjoyed a paddle round the front. Where we were met by the Beltane drummers enjoying the freedom to practise outwith civilisation's earshot. It was very lively and I couldn't help but dad-dance round the beach in a manner that may have looked a bit sarcastic. 

The secret to cliff diving is timing the waves just right.

Jeff thinks better of it while the drummers beat out a rhythm below.

photo: Gordon

On my first AJMW, Gio stripped down to his shorts and went in for a swim. Subsequently I have carried extra shorts and a tiny camping towel and done an immersion. Head under and 2 or 3 strokes could NOT be called a swim but it refreshes your legs before heading inland through Binning Woods for lunch at East Linton. It was interesting to see who braved the water and who said they were going to go in, but somehow forgot. Less interesting was Mark, who felt modesty only required him to face out to sea while disrobing without the use of towel or screens and we were 'treated' to the sight of hairy hole and scrotum pointed at us, while alarmed mums rushed to turn their children's traumatised heads

If there is one part of the route that could be refined it might be to follow some of the more involving paths through Binning Woods - there are many. However it is more straightforward to belt down the long straight perimeter track and this we did. Lunch is spectacular and the great weather means sprawling out in Keith's garden, with a choice of soups and breads and cakes. Big thanks to Barbel, Kara and Heidi for looking after us so well. I changed into a vest and fresh socks after brushing the sand off my toes. I also refilled my drink reservoir with the can of caffeine juice I bought in NB, a litre of water or more and a sachet of Tailwind. In the photo below Nick is pointing in the direction we set off although I quickly realised it was the wrong way and had to redirect us down the road and across to the left where we go past the charming Preston Mill before crossing the river, skirting East Linton and dropping down onto the riverside trails (as featured in the Traprain Law Hill Race.) 

yes, not that way!
photo Gordon

The trails here are fabulous with all the buds on the trees coming out, the birds singing and the floor awash with new growth, wild garlic and flowers. The only downside was Nicola was storming along at a pace I was having trouble sustaining while lunch was shoogling around on a fast rinse and spin cycle. It was great seeing Nicola back running properly for the first time in what has been three years of nearly constant injury. She is now favouring trails and softer ground over racing on tarmac in an effort to avoid further injury. 

Mark managed to steal a bike for the second half.

Some of the hazards were not that bike friendly.
Photo: Mark

After leaving the Tyne at Sandy Mill and crossing the A1 there is a stomp along a deteriorating path that ends up skirting a field and then through a hedge out onto the road. We saw the other runners had gained a bit of ground so reckon the road might be the faster option. We had seen a number of butterflies round the trails, but were moving too fast to consider stopping and chasing them for pics. After a short distance on the road we take a left up a grassy ridge near Athelstaneford heading towards the Garleton Hills. The 2 Nics easily pulled away from the rest of us.

Barney Mains

Jim just behind, and Chris

Nicola and Nick already up Hopetoun Monument.

Last couple of times I had forgotten to bring a headtorch. Why a headtorch on a run that finishes about 6pm? Anyone who has climbed the steep spiral staircase of the monument knows the sloping worn steps in near pitch black are tricky. Finally I remembered a bike light. Result!

there are some windows to lighten the ascent

the view from the top is amazing - you could even see the distance back to where Mark was cycling :-)

There is no easy way from the tower to Aberlady. The road is quite busy and the verges are not great for running. The usual option is to cross paths and field perimeters in a more or less direct line and although this starts well on decent trails it quickly deteriorates. And as you look behind and see Mark riding across a field of grass, you worry it will only be minutes till you meet the farmer with a shotgun on his arm asking if he can help you. I pointed us in a similar line to last year and it was going well until Nick took a left edge of field when I felt we should have gone more right. It was late in the day and maybe it would work out fine. It wasn't that bad, but there were a couple of ditches and some bushwacking through the rhododendrons before Nick gave a thumbs up signal, perhaps the most optimistic thumbs up of the day, and we exited the jungle via an avenue of beeches. Or limes. Or whatever. Very glad to get to the Luffness road and crank up the pace for the last mile, inspired by the sight of the others coming down the road at the next junction, having made up a good bit of ground.

This would be the result if you tried to Danny MacAskill the top the tower.

bombing it to the finish line at 6.30 pace

Nick is in great form currently, smashing the marathon training. Next day following on from this 34 miles he ran Grangemouth 10k under 37mins! Looking good for London. 


Photo Mark

Huge thanks to Keith for organising this, and also to the sag wagon drivers. And Barbel and Kara and Heidi for having us all back to their lovely house and garden. It was a tremendous day out in fab company and the miles flew by. Highly recommended.
Thanks to Mark Hartree and Gordon Eadie for use of their photos.

photo Mark

34 miles

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