Snowy Scotland 2

Day 4. Meall Tionail

On day 4, we went fellrunning from Glen Feshie with Katy and Jamie. It was Jamie’s first ever fell run and the 2 hour run quadrupled the amount of time that Jamie had ever spent running! From Glen Feshie we ran up to Meall Tionail, affectionately renamed ‘Black Toenail’ by Richard.

Walking up the mountains from Glen Feshie
Walking up the mountains from Glen Feshie

At the top it was rather windy, so we hurriedly made our way through the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn, and then around the back of Geal-charn. The footpath along this stretch was rather good fun as it was covered in snow of differing thicknesses. We then descended down Allt nan Cuileach and ran back to the car through the forest. A great time was had by all and we even spied a load of ptarmigans and a herd of deer from the top.

On top of Black Toenail
On top of Black Toenail
Running across the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn
Running across the col between Meall Buidhe and Geal-charn

Day 5 Lochan a Choire

On day 5, we walked from Aberarder, near Laggan, up to Lochan a Choire. We were going to try and summit Creag Meagaidh, but the snow was deep and we were all feeling a bit knackered!

View from Lochan a Choire
View from Lochan a Choire
A pause at our halfway point
A pause at our halfway point

Day 6 On the farm

On day 6 we visited our friends, Tilly and Alan, who run the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre. We visited them at their farm where they keep red deer, fallow deer, wild boar, belted galloway cows, highland cattle, various sheep including soays and chickens, turkeys and ducks! We stayed over in their wonderful old farmhouse and so were ready to report for work on the farm at 8.30 sharp. First, we headed off on the quadbike to feed the deer, pigs and cows. The deer were amazing; they’re really tame and having a deer running next to the moving quadbike was fantastic. The pigs were less angelic, but once Alex (Tilly and Alan’s son) had got the big pig’s attention with food, we crept across the field to see the piglets :-).

Once the feeding at the farm was complete, we headed off to herd the sheep in nearby fields. The task of the day was to tag all the lambs. We soon learnt how high sheep can jump and the advice not to bend down was useful! Wrangling the sheep was energetic to say the least, but their horns were nice and warm :-).

Tagging the lambs
Tagging the lambs

Once the lamb tagging was complete, our next task was to chase some wild roe deer out of the newly planted plantation. This area was surrounded by deer fence, but somehow the deer had entered and not been able to escape. Meanwhile they were nibbling the tops off all the young trees. So, we traipsed through the rough plantation through bogs and streams and forced the deer to think about finding a way out. This didn’t work, so we opened a gate at one end of the enclosure and chased the deer in that direction. Unfortunately this only partially went to plan. Deer aren’t very bright and so when one was almost at the gate, it decided to change it’s mind and run back through the plantation. Everyone tried to scare it to turn around, but instead of turning around, it decided to jump in the pond and then swim to the other side to avoid us. Second time around, we managed to chase all the deer out of the enclosure.

Chasing deer out the tree plantation
Chasing deer out the tree plantation

After delicious wildboar sandwiches, Alan provided us with the treat of the day by taking us up to see the reindeer in the hills. This entailed another quadbike ride, which was considerably bumpier on the moorland, and rather steep at times. The front-wheels did come off the floor a couple of times, but Alan reassuringly said “things happen relatively slowly on the quadbike, so there will be time to jump off if anything happens”. Eventually we made it to the top of the hill and from there we spied the reindeer on the other side of the glen. Alan called them over and 10 minutes later we were surrounded by velvet noses, clicking back legs and big feet. They really are wonderful wonderful creatures and it was great to be re-acquainted with the fantastic summer I spent as a reindeer herder :-). Just before it got really dark, we set off back down the hill on the bike, although Richard decided that running in wellies would be faster, so he ran.

On the hill to see the reindeer
On the hill to see the reindeer
One of the swedes
One of the swedes
A calfy
A calfy
:-)
🙂

And that was the end of our Scottish adventure, but not the end of our holiday. There was one more day left and so we spent that running the Cannock Trigs fell race. Richard won a barley wine and I was fairly slow, but it was fun and a great way to end the Christmas break.

Björkliden Arctic Mountain Marathon

We’ve always fancied doing the BAMM. It’s 200km North of the Arctic circle, and has always sounded like the greatest adventure of all the mountain marathons. This year we decided we had to do it, even though Björkliden is a full day of travel each way from Stockholm, and the whole trip ends up being rather an expensive proposition.

The race has a few quirks compared with British mountain marathons – it runs Friday to Saturday, features a mass start on the first day (with a prize for the first team to the top of the first hill), and the short course runners (30km) had their tents and sleeping bags transported to the mid-camp by helicopter! We chose the 50km version, so had no such luxury – in fact our bags were heavier than usual as the required kit includes a sleeping pad, and balloon beds, our usual, are expressly not allowed.

Björkliden itself is in a lovely location, on a hill above a lake, with fantastic views of the mountains around. We shared a cabin with Peter and Johan, a couple of friendly Swedes who were doing their first ever MM – I think they were hoping for people who had done it before so they could get some tips! So were we!

Peter, Johan and Rachel at the entrance to our cabin.
Peter, Johan and Rachel on the steps of our cabin.

The start was straight up a ski slope for around 700m, and with the mass start, was pretty crazy, made even worse by the large number of people using Nordic walking poles, and a few teams that were bungied together! After that it settled down to being pretty much like a UK event, until we rounded a saddle and met our first glacier, complete with a herd of reindeer galloping across it! Needless to say, we slowed down to watch!

Running up the first hill.
Running up the first hill.

The terrain was a lot different to UK events, with much more running over glacial moraine and broken rock. There was virtually no vegetation taller than a few centimetres, so footing wasn’t too bad, and it was surprisingly dry – we’d been expecting mile after mile of bogs! The tricky part was the map – with 20m contours, quite large cliffs would often not be shown at all, so we got a few surprises in picking our route. At one point we got to the top of a steep descent to a col only to watch some teams in front turning back from a cliff, so we climbed an extra 80m over a peak to avoid the steep ground, only to then see other teams going down it.

Reindeer on the ice.
Reindeer on the ice [picture: Stuart Fludger].
The foot of the big glacier.
The foot of the big glacier.
Running past glaciers! We were forbidden to run on them!
Running past glaciers! We were forbidden to run on them!

Overall, the first day went very well for us, we were just behind the leading group for the last long leg, and cut through a saddle while they went around the hill to the last control, gaining us just enough time to be first team on our course overnight. Our triumph was only tempered by the ice cold river crossing right at the finish, and the fact that Rachel fell just after we took the lead, and took a big chunk out of her knee!

Rachel at the mid-camp.
Rachel at the mid-camp.
Sunset over the mid-camp.
Sunset over the mid-camp.

The mid-camp was in a brilliant location, with no access except on foot, and even better, featured cinnamon pastries at the finish!

Pastries at the halfway camp!
Pastries at the halfway camp!

Day two featured a wade back across the river to the start, and a chasing start 15 minutes after the mass start for the slower teams, so we had a huge crocodile of teams to follow up the big climb to the first checkpoint. The men’s teams quickly sped away from us, but we had a 5 minute lead over the next mixed team, so were hoping that would be enough. Unfortunately, they came striding past looking very strong on the way to the fourth control, and from there it was neck and neck, with first them, and then us getting a small lead, with the race made all the more difficult by low cloud making route choice harder.

The first hill on day 2. We didn't have time for pictures after this.
The first hill on day 2. We didn’t have time for pictures after this.

The last long leg featured a steep descent, short climb and then a long descending traverse. We chose to climb more, while the other mixed team took a lower but longer route. Ours turned out to be very slightly quicker, and we started up the last hill with perhaps a minute’s lead. Fortunately, we’d spotted the control as the cloud had momentarily lifted earlier, so we were able to go straight to it, and then we had a frantic dash down to the finish, all the way expecting the other team to appear behind us at any second. Happily they didn’t, and we managed to hold on to 5th place overall and first mixed team.

Our GPS tracks are below. They are a little ‘bumpy’ in places, but they suggest that we travelled around 42 km on day 1 and a further 31 km of day 2… so significantly more distance than the straight line 50 km! We certainly deserved a beer afterwards!

day 1 bamm

bamm-day2

Enjoying the finish BAMMburger!
Enjoying the finish BAMMburger!

Unlike British mountain marathons, the distance to get to Björkliden is so huge that the organisers plan for everyone to stay overnight afterwards. We had a huge banquet in the evening, and loads of prizes, with a proper podium for class winners! As well as our class prize, we also won for being the team from furthest away, the prize for which was a whole leg of dried reindeer meat! Definitely the most interesting thing we’ve ever won!

Overall, we had a brilliant time. The other competitors were really friendly, and we’ve made plenty of new friends. The organisation was also excellent, and we particularly liked the prize-giving and banquet. We weren’t the only British team there – there was a team on the 30km race men’s podium, and one on the 70km men’s as well! We’d recommend the race to anyone – the terrain is really different from the UK, and it really feels like you’re out in the wilds.

Prize-giving!
Prize-giving!
Alastair and Jonathan take third in the men's BAMM30.
Alastair and Jonathan take third in the men’s BAMM30.
Chris and Frances take third on the men's BAMM70.
Chris and Frances take third on the men’s BAMM70.

Our prize included a free entry for next year, so hopefully we’ll be back for another go at it! Next time in the 70km race!

Reindeer, Skiing, Marathons + Chocolate

p2232737.JPG

A cheeky Friday off allowed us to start our weekend a day earlier than usual. Although, strangely enough, I feel no more awake than usual this Monday morning considering the extra days rest. We drove up to Scotland on Thursday night, hoping to camp near the border on Friday night, so that we could reach Cairngorm early on Friday to go skiing.

Reaching Stirling at about half past midnight we realised that it was a little too late to book into a campsite. We also noted that it was raining pretty heavily and that we were rather tired. Therefore we took the decision to drive up an isolated country lane and sleep in the car. Now, we have a Renault Clio, which was packed full of stuff, including a tent, two pairs of skis, poles and boots, walking boots, clothes, running shoes … There wasn’t a lot of space and we made quite a good effort of removing stuff from the boot and from the back seats, putting the seats down, spreading out the thermarests and sleeping bags, almost without getting out of the car. To be honest I have never slept in a car, in this way before, but I was surprised how comfortable it was. Richard was less comfy, being a bit taller than me and wanting to stretch out, especially when he felt like he was going to get cramp in the morning! It was a bit odd though waking up in the middle of the night, opening your eyes and seeing the parcel shelf. Nevertheless, we made it through the very wet night and when we awoke, at 6:30, the stream next to the car was almost a river. Nevertheless, after spending the next 15 mins trying to rid the car of condensation we restarted our journey. It was soon interrupted by a ford, which was rather swollen. We both looked on at the torrent and also some strange white things in the water. I volunteered to go out and paddle, knowing that Richard would instantly oblige, which he did. Seeing him at 6.45 in the morning, paddling in a river with his trousers rolled up was quite a sight. We survived and carried on our journey.

It turned out to be very windy at Cairngorm and so the lifts weren’t working. Nevertheless we went for a walk and then hiked up the mountain with our skis and Richard taught me to snow plough and fall over.

p2242769.JPG

p2232740.JPG

p2232736.JPG

Saturday night was spent much more comfortably in the warmth of a lovely farmhouse set deep in the Glenlivet countryside. I was lucky enough, in 2002 to work for the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd and still keep in contact with the owners, Alan and Tilly, with whom we stayed this weekend. Their lifestyle is really quite amazing, and going back there is a wonderful reminder of happy summer holidays. Alan, is a top class fell runner and on Saturday morning he took Richard for a run, he was bemused to find Richard beating him on the uphill, but Alan’s flying legs caught him up on the downhill. This was ok for Alan, he had the day to recover, however as the ski lifts were closed again and the wind was really bad, Richard and I decided to go running for the day (or perhaps that was me who decided). We ran through the Chalamain Gap and into the Lharig Ghru, the former of which was exceedingly windy! Our run then took us down to Loch Morlich (partly because we’d forgotten to take the map out of the car) and back to the car. A lovely 4 hours after which I think Richard was truly worn out.

p2242763.JPG

On Sunday, we managed a spot of reindeer herding on the way to Cairngorm as the reindeer were near the road (where they shouldn’t be) … the memories 🙂 . The ski lifts were again closed, but the weather was much less windy, so we headed out higher on the mountain and found a nice bit of groomed snow, with no-one around. Richard taught me to turn right and then he taught me how to turn left, although then I forgot how to turn right… and so it continued! Richard enjoyed a few runs down the hill, with me wondering how many years it would take me to learn how to do a similar run… No pictures, we forgot to carry the camera. 🙁

We headed back, via a few browsing reindeer, a snowy stream and hot chocolate at the Cairngorm funicular railway cafe, which is exceptionally good.

Richard requested a quiet weekend next weekend. I suggested a 3 hr run on the Long Mynd, he said yes.