Mark H asked me a while back if I would lead a run as part of the Carnethy Ultra series he was putting together. He initially suggested the Herring Road but I proposed the route I did as a recce for the Tweed Valley Ultra at the end of last year, as it had been a good day out and had more points of access for people to join and leave if they didn't want the full 30 miles. And cafe stops. It was settled and Saturday 24th was the date set.
out through Gala
Setting dates a long time in advance of a run makes me nervous. Since July 2014 I have run a 30+miler (Tynecastle Bronze) once a month and the fact that only 2 of the 43 have been done in shitty weather is down to planning them around the forecast, which you can't do a month in advance. So it was fingers crossed and be prepared to cancel if there are blizzards on the way. However the forecast was very promising and it looked like we were in luck.
We caught the 08.25 out of Waverley for Gala. I think there was around 10 on the train. Sarah and Andrew met us off the train and there were others (Kate J, Digby and Neil B) joined at Yair taking the max number to 16. Some were running only to the cafe at Walkerburn and back, and some doing the middle section of around 20 miles. The only instructions I gave were to stick in a reasonably close group as there were parts of the route that weren't very instinctive and I'd have missed those turn-offs last time had I not had the Suunto set to sat-nav mode. Surprisingly everyone behaved remarkably well and we regularly re-grouped at junctions if the spread was becoming too extended. Again the excellent weather helped - it was no great hardship standing in the sunshine chatting.
There was hardly any tarmac before we were out onto the Southern Upland Way, through a small wood and up to a cairn on a high point for a quick team photo. Then it was along and down to Yair where we met Kate and Digby and Neil and crossed the Tweed, just under 5 miles.
Kate coming up the path to meet us.
I'm resisting any shortarse comments. (Almost.)
The next 20 miles form the mid-section of the Tweed Valley Ultra Race. I am in debt to them for making me aware of this route, although this is by far the best section of it and if they wanted to really improve their event they would start and finish it in Gala as that would remove the tedious tarmac cyclepath they use at the start and finish. Nobody I have spoken to thought the 5 miles of tarmac at 33 miles was a good idea. However they would have to change their base from Glentress to Gala, but I really think they would end up with a better course and event.
There is a mix of hard pack trails and tarmac running alongside the River Tweed. It goes past a few hamlets and is pleasant running. I asked if people could re-group about 8.5miles in as there is a turn off I worried we'd miss around 9. Point A on the map at the bottom After taking a smaller trail up into the forest we then take another turn-off through the trees coming out onto a forestry trail that winds and turns and takes another couple of unlikely turns before descending into Glenbenna and Walkerburn. I phoned ahead to warn the Caberston Cafe we were on our way. I had to update them that it was not "around 8" but 16 runners to cater for. It helped that we arrived in 2s and 3s and not all at once although they were totally accommodating, letting us push tables together and not objecting to filthy shoes.
descending towards Walkerburn
Caberston Cafe - highly recommended (under a fiver for bacon roll and pot of tea)
We got there (13.75miles) ahead of schedule (2hrs45)
After the cafe some left to catch a bus back to Gala and Digby and Nicola decided to head South from Glenbenna up a steep track that would miss a couple of miles and bring them out ahead of the main group - about 8 now - halfway along the second half of the SUW. Auren, Graeme and Kate headed towards Traquair to make enquires in the brewery. We had a loose plan to meet but didn't really expect that to happen.
The last time I did this route as a recce for the Ultra, I continued along the riverside paths and road towards Innerleithen and then continued on the main road to Traquair. Mark shouted us back at Innerleithen (Point B on map) and suggested we take the off-road path which cuts more directly onto the hill and meets the SUW above Traquair. I took some reassuring but in fact it was one of the best suggestions of the day as it was far more pleasant than a mile of tarmac along to Traquair and climbed gradually (therefore more runnable) than the really steep hike out of Traquair. And who should we meet at the junction of the SUW? It was as if we had meticulously planned it! Graeme said they had had a fair bit of luck as well. The brewery had been closed but as they arrived at the same time as a customer who was staying there, one of the staff happened to be there and opened the bar for them.
quite a lot of uphill to the Point of Resolution
a passing walker took this pic on Aisling's camera
approaching Feel the Burns territory
I saw photos from someone who was here just a couple of days prior and there were large patches of snow. Most of that had gone by the time we got there and it was really dry with just small patches of ice and snow. Perfect timing between quite hazardous conditions. The views improve as you climb higher. And in the distance ahead I saw 2 tiny figures. Nicola and Digby waited for us on top of Brown Knowe and then we all descended together as a group.
Just before the 3 Brethren there was an alley of snow. This was about the hardest going of the day as it had frozen quite solid and was rutted. It didn't last long and I was pleased it wasn't like that over the whole hilly section, which it could easily have been. We sat around by the cairns enjoying the views and warm sun. What a great day!
Auren sent me this photo which is a splendid record of the scenery.
Aisling took this photo.
when Digby hits the ground too hard his airbags go off
After the 3 Brethren there is a long descent back down on winding forestry trails to Yair. Mark had been struggling with injuries - he wasn't sure whether he would manage the run or not, and he was now paying the price for braving it. However he ran on to Yair and then got a very welcome lift back to Edinburgh from Neil. It was fortunate he wasn't forced to cover the last 5 back to Gala. I think he still covered more than marathon distance. And Digby also did more than his usual - about 21miles, and he was looking glad to be stopping at that point too. So we waved goodbye and about 8 of us set off over the last hill, hoping to get to a pub in Gala in time for the rugby.
Nicola (above) had insisted we were not to wait for her. Waiting would oblige her to hurry, doing it at her own speed was preferable. Since we had already covered the ground at the start of the run we trusted her to find her own way back. And we saw her following from a distance. The rest of us enjoyed the lengthening shadows of a perfect day and jogged back into Gala. We went all the way to the station and while some were keen to catch the next train others were thinking more along the lines of pub and rugby.
I felt I couldn't quite relax until all of the team were back. We hadn't arranged what pub to meet in so after seeing the troops head for the Station Inn I went back up the trail to meet Nicola. (I was indifferent about the rugby, but I was very much looking forward to a pint.) I ran back to the corner of the wall where you could get a decent view up to the woods and there was no sign of Nicola. Timewise she hadn't been that far behind so I knew she must have gone another way. Sure enough she had done some individual navigating but rescued herself and was at the station by the time I tracked her down. (All good practice, working with a tired brain, for her whw race later this year!) We went to join the others but one step inside the heaving pub and I knew I couldn't hack it. We went to the one round the corner where there were 3 other folk. MUCH better. It had the rugby on so I texted Graeme and we all had a few drinks at the Glue Pot, only just managing to extricate ourselves in time for the next train (but one) while Scotland held onto their lead. Perfect finish to a perfect day out. Great route and really great company. The whole thing had so many opportunities to go off the rails and yet everything went along without a hitch. And the weather made it amazing. Top day out! This would never have happened if it hadn't been for Mark and his enthusiasm! Big thanks to him.
30miles in total over 7hrs 2mins
Though I prob did another 2 looking for Nicola
and another 2 up and down from Waverley
Digby and Mark have put their words and photos on the Carnethy site along with an excellent zoomable map you can find here. If anyone (High Terrain Events?!) wants a gpx file just shout. This IS a better route than the Tweed Valley Ultra.