482miles / 770 km
119hours of running
18 different days over 11 Months
21000m of ascent.
Running the length of Scotland.
Little did I know that when I signed up to run the Cape Wrath Ultra that it would lead to many more adventures and personal challenges. I met some wonderful people, made lasting friendships with some and gave me a new outlook on my ability. One thing that came out of it was a challenge to run the length of Scotland and join up the far North of Scotland to the border with England. Cape Wrath is a huge part of Scotland, and also the wildest. It runs from Fort William to Cape Wrath, the most North Westerly point in Scotland.
Inspired by other people’s journeys, like Elise Downing who ran around the whole coastline of Britain, Sean Conway’s Triathlon of Britain and the 401 challenge and many many more! I thought I needed my own challenge.
I got focussed mid August ‘18 after a few months of rehab post Cape Wrath. The Dream Team’s adventures through Cairngorms gave me the confidence to get back to running long. I was ready for the next section of the journey.
I started to plan running the West Highland Way and if I had any chance of completing this journey across Scotland within a year, I needed to do the WHW before the end of that year. I chose November and ran it over 3.5 days from South to North, linking Milgavne to Fort William and thus joining onto the Cape Wrath trail.
That was the easy part. The next section, Glasgow to England would have me pouring over maps which as it happens gives me almost as much joy as running these sections. I dreamt up a route to England that had me running on trails I’d not done before. The easier option (part of Cameron Mcneishs Scotland’s National Trail) would have been to take in the John Muir Way but alas I’d already done that one.
I chose to take a different route, the urban section of Clyde Walkway to Lanark. This is where the national trails seem to be unlinked. I had to make my own route to get to the next long distance path, the John Buchan Way.
I joined up trails between Lanark and Biggar using google / OS maps/ Open Street Map and over Tinto Hill to join me up to the John Buchan Way to Peebles. From here I took the Cross Border Drove route South East to join me up to the Southern Upland Way to Melrose.
This is where I finished on Saturday past (12th April).
My last section last weekend (19th April) I took the Borders Abbey Way to Kelso and then South from there using the core path network to Kirk Yetholm. I could have chosen the St Cuthbert’s way but I’d already done that too so I chose the way I’d not run before.
It was one of my most challenging days. The day was hot, there was no breeze. I reached Kelso overheating and dehydrated. I managed to eat and drink and replenish my water. I should have carried more than just 1litre. I’d ran out after 10kms, the undulating landscape and lack of shade was exhausting. I asked a lady in her garden if she’d fill my water bottles up, she did and I was thankful. I arrived into Kirk Yetholm with a banging headache and feeling sick. I stopped at the pub for a can of juice and to refill my bottles. The last section was a 3km stint on the Pennine Way. It unhelpfully goes over a hill on tarmac before heading off up a grass hill and cutting around a hill side to eventually reach the border at the wall. Andy had joined me at this stage, I was exhausted and my watch battery was running low adding to my stress.
I launched myself across the border through the gate and fell on the floor. The beating sun was shining down on me and all around me was views of hills and hazy horizons. I’d finished. I’d made it to England.
Reflecting back on this journey I have noticed the ever changing landscapes, all different, all beautiful in their own ways. Most of my routes have been on well trodden routes, few have been on areas where no paths exist to get from A-B. Those did tend to be the shortest route but perhaps not the easiest. Testament to the human ability to desire to travel with the least resistance these long distance paths forge a groove in the landscape, typically following mountain passes, rivers, and plateaus.
One thing that I’ve noticed on this journey is that maps only tell one story. I love maps. I like how they’re the comfort of knowing an area before getting there. Harvey Maps did a great job of charting the Cape Wrath Ultra along with their course creator they had us covering trackless ground, linking paths together, mostly not signposted, over bealachs, across bog and heather and rough ground. Comfort was there that the route was waymarked even if you couldn’t see a defined route in real life.
Some paths I travelled weren’t paths marked on the OS maps, but using satellite views I could see marks on the ground, perhaps only used by animals. Never trust a gap in a plantation to offer a safe passage, but choose it anyway and expect a slower journey.
Sometimes you just have to trust that humans will have travelled this way before as mentioned above, and if not then deer will have made a track. Animals are canny in finding the path of least resistance too. The easier way to cover ground. However they’re often helped by their 4 legs and hoofs. That sometimes doesn’t translate to our two legged feet version. But usually these routes are more fun as it’s off the track and it’s an adventure.
One thing that I’ve got out of this adventure, is the urge to return and explore off my route.
I missed great swathes of Scotland by choosing a linear route, passing through and not exploring any paths. I do plan on returning and exploring the nooks and crannies.
I also have people to thank as I wouldn’t have done this without help. Obviously the team at Cape Wrath for putting on the logistics and the race that ultimately inspired this journey.
The dream team for their suggestions and support at Cape Wrath who are of course Owain, Nikki and Ian and for them joining me on some of my other legs.
Brian for his support on a rather winters day in Lanarkshire for the Motherwell to Lanark leg making logistics easier and getting me through that day!
Friends for their encouragement as always and reminded me of my idiotic behaviour.
The parents for logistics in the Biggar leg, the Borders buses are useful but not frequent!
And finally Andy for his super support. He really is a seasoned support crew member.
Also, my route just cannily joins up with the Pennine Way. One of England’s most famed long distance paths. It would be rude not to explore further South too, no?