Monday, 4 June 2018

Scotland holiday

I have seen so many photos of the idyllic Scotland I wished to visit - blue skies, white sandy beaches and enticing blue sea to swim in, plus the desire of all....midge-free hills to explore. I reckoned we would need to be very lucky to tick all those boxes. But we did!!

The main aim of the trip was for Tim to race the Jura Fell Race, which he did and has written all about it over on his blog, TestedToDestruction.

Our journey up was good and we found a lovely hotel in Crinan to stay on the Thursday night with splendid views across to Duntrune Castle across Loch Crinan, and off to the west we could see the very north of Jura.

Crinan Hotel and Jura in the distance

view from Crinan to Duntrune Castle across Loch Crinan

Friday morning and the final leg of the journey to Jura. First an early start to grab a parking spot at Kennacraig ferry port, then the wait for the CalMac ferry to Port Askaig on Islay. Familiar faces and other runners steadily started to arrive and soon enough we were boarding. This was the first time we've bike-packed  so it was the start of a big adventure for us.

bikes loaded up and ready to board the CalMac to Islay

Safely on board, along with 40+ other cyclists

leaving Kennacraig

A few hours later and we are in Port Askaig on Islay, quickly followed by the small Jura ferry across the Sound of Islay to Feolin on Jura. Due to capacity on the small ferry I was split up from Tim and  the others and landed on Jura first. Gladly I only had to wait 20mins for the ferry to nip back for the next load of passengers - which consisted entirely of cyclists!

The Port Askaig, Islay to Feolin, Jura ferry

All set for the 8 mile ride

Once Tim was over on Jura we set off on our first proper ride with luggage strapped to the bikes. We'd been warned of the road condition over the island to Craighouse - lots of potholes. And there were. Along with several patches of gravel and roughness generally that made me feel like my body was being shaken apart. It was a very steady and enjoyable pace, mingling with the other cyclists all bound for the fell race. With the sun beating down and the amazing views wherever you looked I could forgive the potholes (almost...there were a few where I thought I was on a bucking bronco about to get thrown off). 

An hour or so later we arrived in Craighouse, found where we were staying and got settled in to life on the island. 

Craighouse from outside the cottage we stayed in

Looking the other way up Small Isles Bay

In the evening I went to a briefing for the race marshals along with Julie. We were to be stationed at checkpoint 1 on the Jura Fell Race, a 1 hour walk up to Dubh Bheinn at 530m. Not to be taken lightly though since we only had a short drive to the parking spot so still had nigh on 500m to climb up. 

Race Day - Saturday 26th May 2018
Up bright and early for Tim to register and me to get up the hill ready for the runners. The walk in was glorious. So much solitude and space. The pace was gentle and without rush. All the others in the checkpoint team had been at previous races so it was just a matter of following them to the cairn.

Hot on the walk up and super sunny, just on our approach to Market Loch - a slightly different route to the racers so we avoid the bogs!

Market Loch

View down to Small Isles Bay from just below the checkpoint

At Dubh Bheinn summit, 530m, more cloud cover and the wind had picked up meaning spare clothes were put on immediately!

We'd arrived early but it didn't seem too long until we could see the first runners approaching us....then all hands on deck. My job was to call out the racers number so someone else could write them down, and a double check of numbers simultaneously happened as they were ticked off a grid.

We had 239 runners to come, so while the initial pace of the first 20 or so runners was relaxed it soon became frantic calling out numbers accurately. Not all race numbers were easily visible either which added to the challenge shouting out "show me your your number" and after 2 attempts at that I'd have to shout "I can't see your number, I must see your number". Safety is paramount. Early in the race the runners were keen to move through quickly so we had our hands full to get all runners safely checked off. As a final back up the runners drop a token with their number on in a bag...our job then is to cross reference everyone, call in to race HQ and then wait to be given the all clear to return to Craighouse.

some of the first runners approaching CP1

Tim at CP1

Julie on number writing down duty

more runners

JoBo enjoying a long drink on her 8th time round the Jura fell race

It probably took about 1hr30 or so for all runners to get through CP1 and it was 12ish when we set off back down the hill. I took in the view for a while before we left - the Paps looked incredibly daunting and I have the highest respect for all the runners getting over all the hills in the race, whether the front runners in sub 3:30 this year or the final ones over 7hrs. Respect to all.

The Paps of Jura in the distance

all my layers on in the blustery wind!

Down we went back over the same ground we'd climbed up, then back along to Craighouse. I hot-footed it back to the cottage to change from walker/marshal to cyclist and support crew for Tim. I picked up the bike, water and a gel then rode the bumpy pot-holed road down to 3 arch bridge at the start of the final stretch of the fell race - a painstaking 5.3km of tarmac to finish off the runners in style.

It was only about 5 or 10mins later that Tim came into view. His running gait looked tired and hot. Over the stile he went in tandem with Matt Huxford, also a Glossopdale Harrier and through the final checkpoint. Matt looked worse than Tim - the gel was downed and water handed out. They were now on the final push to the finish line. Along the way I helped give them water, racing ahead on the bike to fill the soft bottle and hand it back as they passed. It was painful to watch them eeek out the strides, both looking like they'd rather be sitting in the sea just metres to our left than running.

Just coming into view....behind is the final hill....the 'other one' after they have been over the 3 pips and 3 paps

handing in their tokens at the final checkpoint

the final push along the tarmac

With a mile to go I pushed on to drop the bike at the cottage and get to the finish line a few 100m's further along and see them run in.  Only a few minutes later and they're over the line. The usual post-race relief took over, they were handed t-shirts only Matt had disappeared to find shade and lay down. I grabbed them ice-pops from the shop to help recover!

Later on, after showers, food, a sleep and more food we all wandered down for the prize giving. It was a sea of orange t-shirts. It was such a wonderful atmosphere, clearly helped by the glorious sunshine and a fabulous location. 

Glorious setting for the prize giving

So with the race over, prize giving done it was back to the cottage for the traditional group feast and recovery drinks over a delightful evening. 

Sunday was a beautiful and sombre day as a group of us gathered on a beach at the far end of Small Isles Bay to say farewell to John Hewitt. The gathering was tranquil, moving and peaceful. We paddled (some swam), devoured a picnic under the expansive scorching blue skies, and as we toasted a wonderful man and fell runner we scattered his ashes. Words don't do such an event justice. 

The Paps of Jura

I hesitated to write about this day, but it is a memory I cherish and was glad I could share the grief and joy of remembering John.

Our final full day dawned early on Monday. With bikes ready for a trip to Islay myself, Tim and Hux set off early to make full use of the long day. The plan was to visit all the distilleries (8 active and a few others not). Tim and Matt are seasoned cyclists so they pushed on out of Port Askaig while I enquired about ferry times for another trip. 

My day consisted of a trip to the distilleries at Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila with a good few stops for photos and a coffee thrown in for good measure. The day was hot and on top of a few steep climbs I managed to clock up my longest ever day in the saddle at just short of 50 miles.  A distance I am very proud of, especially when several sections of road (16 on Jura and the 8 mile side trip to Bunnahabhain) were on very dodgy tarmac with potholes and gravel. 

At Feolin waiting for the ferry to Pork Askaig on Islay

Bowmore Distillery

Bunnahabhain Distillery

View from Bunnahabhain to two of the Paps of Jura

On the road to Bunnahabhain

Descending down to Caol Ila Distillery

Caol Ila Distillery where the festival was on for the day

I returned back to Craighouse alone with the guys still somewhere heading back to Port Askaig a few hours after me. Luckily I was in time for the shop to still be open so an icecream and fizzy drink did wonders to refresh my tired state. 

Our final evening and group dinner was wonderful, lots of chat about running and some of the group heading to Harris for the LAMM. 

Our final ferry arriving into Port Askaig....the Paps of Jura behind and our journey homeward about to begin

I honestly can't remember which days now, but on two days I swam in the sea. My recently purchased Alpkit wetsuit was definitely needed in the cold Scottish sea but I'm glad I took it and got myself out in the water.

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