Thursday, 23 May 2013

The FBW.

The Annandale Way adventure a couple of weeks back whetted my appetite for exploring more long distance paths, partly out of curiosity and partly for research purposes for future Mules adventures. A few days before the Annandale Way run I was reading a copy of Trail magazine which contained a leaflet detailing Scotland’s long distance footpaths and I found that there was one quite close to home – The Formartine and Buchan Way (FBW)

The FBW actually has two start points - one in Peterhead and one in Fraserburgh
I quite like doing long runs as “point to points” so the plan was to get the bus to Strichen with intention of running back to Dyce along the Formartine and Buchan Way, a distance of 31 miles.
I got off the bus at Strichen and climbed up on to the embankment to start my run. Looking across the village to the hillside I was astonished to see something looking like a white horse carved out on the hillside so I pulled out my camera and….disaster!....the battery was flat! So all of the pictures in this blog posting have been “borrowed” from random sources after all, it might be an extremely dull story without at least a few pictures!
The White Horse.
  The Formartine and Buchan way was opened in the early 1990s and runs along the route of the former railway line that was abandoned during the Beeching cuts in the 1960s. The footpath is flat gravel or earth track, easy running and, most importantly, well signposted. Over 31 miles there was barely a 1000ft of climbing. The route takes through railway cuttings, over embankments, road bridges and past old railway station buildings and structures left over from the golden age of the railways – I wonder how many hotels there are in Britain called “The Station hotel”?

The village of Maud is 5 miles on from Strichen and I reached it quite quickly, maybe too quickly given the distance that I still had to run but it felt easy. There is a railway museum in Maud (it was shut) and, in a clearing in the trees, something that looked like a train or an engine hiding under a tarpaulin. Unfortunately as I was relying on getting the train home from Dyce at the end of my run and it being a Sunday I was on a bit of a tight time schedule and so couldn’t investigate further.

Much of the route is on tracks like this (c random website on internet!)
The weather forecast had been for cool still misty conditions but as the temperature rose my running pace slackened and by about 22 miles the wheels had started to come off. By then I had already drunk 2 litres of water and had ran out of fluid and I was carrying the usual array of sweet carb filled snacks but found I couldn’t stomach them. Dehydration was making me feel nauseous and I needed salt. By the time I had reached Udny station I was considering giving up on the whole enterprise. I climbed up to the main road and wandered into the pub. A packet of crisps and a pint of coke later I felt a bit more lively and carried on although not quickly. I guess I have spent so many months worrying about staying warm and dry the change in conditions caught me by surprise – Simon reckoned it had got to a tropical 18 deg C in Aberdeen during the day. The primroses growing along the embankments made it really feel like summer had started – as did the cracking sunburn that I got for my efforts.

The pleasant rolling countryside eventually gave way to the busy roads, factory units, low flying helicopters and planes taking off from the airport. Quite an assault on the senses compared with the peace of the previous 30 miles filled with birdsong and the buzz of insects in the sunshine. There were some good wildlife watching opportunities too, the tally including deer and buzzards and a little shrew that shot across the path in front of me and proceeded to run round in frantic circles shrieking loudly – (why o why didn’t I check my camera battery before I set off?)
A shrew (c good ol' wikipedia...)
Given that both my fitness and nutrition strategy were really not up the task I felt reasonably pleased when my slow shuffle got me Dyce just in time for my train.
After the run my arms were more sore than my legs...

Monday, 13 May 2013

A New World Record!



The official start of the Annandale Way
The Annandale way is a new long distance foot path running from the source of the tributary rivers that feed the Rivers Tweed and Annan and finishing on the banks of the Solway Firth where the river Annan meets the sea.

It was an inauspicious start to the Mainland Mule’s world record attempt on the Annandale way. Two weeks before the run Simon was struck down with the dreaded Noroviris/winter vomiting bug and promptly passed it on to me. Being the kind generous soul that I am I really didn’t think I could keep it all to myself and gave it to Bert. Four days before “D-Day” it looked as though we had all just about recovered when disaster struck. Simon was out for a run and was crossing the road when he got his feet tangled up in the wire rim from a hub cap sending him sprawling but most worryingly his knee had swollen up like a balloon. By the time we arrived at the start of the run we found Davie complaining of painful hamstring problems. It was going to be a race of attrition – nearly 50% of the team were on the start line at less than their racing best! Would the world record for the Annandale way be set or was this just a run too far?
The Moffat Ram


Fudge the dog was the team's reserve runner
Moffat
We started our run in Moffat, which has a large statue of a Ram in the centre of the town that apparently dates from 1875 and commemorates the wool trade which was of importance to the town in years gone by.
And they're off...

Heading towards the Devil's Beef Tub

Leg 1 – 5.5 miles


The actual start of the Annandale way is located in the hills to the north of Moffat up above the Devil's Beef Tub so from the start line in Moffat the leg one runners, Davie, Bert and myself, followed the river and small tarmac road northwards before following a trail that gradually climbed upwards, all the time giving stunning views of the Devils Beef Tub. A big concern for the weekend had been the weather but we needn’t have worried, it was a beautiful morning, chilly but sunny and the wind pushing the clouds across the sky cast dark shadows over the Beef Tub and gave an ever changing view of the hills in front of us. Bert had set the pace for this leg and I drifted along behind as Davie sprinted up and down the track in front of us to get the best photographic opportunities. Finally the path climbed up to meet the main road leading to Edinburgh and we crossed the road to tackle the final climb on the other side over the long tussocky grass and bog before descending to meet the road again at the leg 1 & 2 change over point. It was here that disaster struck again and Davie pulled up, his hamstring having given way. With the finish in sight Davie made his own way down the hill as Bert and I ran on to the changeover point but unfortunately that was Davie's world record attempt over today.

The Devils Beef tub

The Devils Beef tub is a deep valley surrounded by hills. It was named the Devils beef tub as its dark and uninviting interior was used as a place to hide stolen cattle.

“It looks as if four hills were laying their heads together to shut out daylight from the dark hollow space between them. A damned deep, black, blackguard looking abyss of a hole it is” Sir Walter Scott
The Devil's Beef Tub
The start of leg 2
 Leg 2 – 8.2 miles 

I assume from the quote above that Sir Walter Scott didn’t like the Devils beef tub – obviously he wasn’t a hill runner!

I was running with Cath for this leg and from the changeover in the layby it was a steep climb up in to the hills above the Devils Beef Tub. It was still sunny but being on higher ground meant that you were more exposed and I did feel a bit chilly in the cold wind. The course was undulating but on pretty good soft runnable ground although it has got to be said that Finlay’s description of “a little bit uphill then mostly downhill” was a tad sketchy…

The uphill bit of the run!

The Annandale way website does describe how you will “squelch across the watershed of the tributaries” and indeed you do squelch. Cath let out little shrieks every time her feet plunged into one of the mossy boggy pools much to my amusement. 

Just as we were getting concerned that we had climbed too many hills and maybe missed the turn off we spotted the little Annandale way marker leading us down on to a well trodden track and a nice not too steep decent through farmland. We went past a very impressive sheepfold but unfortunately, maybe distracted by the sheepfold, we must have missed a marker or left the track as it wasn’t obvious what route we were supposed to take through the farmland. We ran through a couple of fields and eventually found the small farm tracks and farm road leading back to Moffat.  As we passed the pens containing some very large bulls I did voice my concerns to Cath that we were wearing red t-shirts but she assured me that bulls were colour blind….I was keen not to have to put this to the test though.
A sheepfold
Leg 2 -3 changeover

Finishing Leg 2

Leg 3 – 4.4 miles

This was Simon’s leg. Due to doubts over his fitness the idea was suggested that I would continue running with him so that if he had to stop then I would carry on and finish the run however at the handover he shot off with such speed I had no chance of catching him or staying with him so I didn’t bother….I wasn’t that disappointed either as I really just wanted a cup of tea and a biscuit. Fortunately Eric and Lynda had arrived with a car stacked with flasks of tea tea and goodies – a mobile canteen to keep the hungry Mules fuelled up for their epic run.
Race official Finlay - will the record be ratified by the Guinness Book of Records...?
Simon finishing Leg 3
The mobile canteen
 The big unknown about this leg was how to cross the A74(M) but fortunately there was a route underneath the road meaning that dodging vehicles going at 90mph would not be required. Simon’s gammy knee didn’t seem to affect his running and despite complaining about a “huge hill” he finished his leg very quickly – I barely had time to finish my cup of tea!

Leg 4 – 3.1 miles

Allan was on this leg and so we hurried off to the next changeover. By now we were travelling in convoy and I was completely disorientated and I actually had to look at my compass to work out from which direction Allan would be appearing. Again it didn’t seem long before the red t shirt clad figure of Allan could be spotted trotting up through the golf course to handover to Robin and Bert.

Leg 4 -5 Changeover
Robin and Bert

The dynamic duo
Finished!
Leg 5 and 6 – 6.1 miles and 5.5 miles

Robin and Bert were on leg 5 and disappeared quickly into the woodlands so off we headed in convoy again. I was so glad of this as by now I had not got the faintest idea where we were going and I hoped the runners did – a glance at the map showed a distinct lack of footpaths just the arrows that Finlay had put on the maps indicating forests to be negotiated and open farmland to be crossed. Another cup of tea later and our bold lads appeared. Bert was only supposed to do leg 5 but decided to run on with Robin and do leg 6 too. As they set off at great pace Bert was heard to mutter something about “getting in more miles than Louise…”

By the end of leg 6 we were just outside Lockerbie and suddenly Robin and Bert appeared through the forest and it was time for myself and Cath to go again.

Leg 7 – 4.7 miles
 
The first part of this leg was simple and pleasant enough through forests and tracks across farmland. Some slight confusion with signs pointing in two different directions at the edge of another wood land was swiftly resolved and although it was getting noticeably chillier and cloudy things were still going well as we made it to the road junction. It was here that we made our big navigational error and I’m still not sure how. I’m sure we followed the arrows in the right direction. Anyway, after a bit of backtracking and turning the map to various orientations we concluded that we were indeed lost and asked the owner of a farmhouse for directions. Somewhat worryingly she didn’t seem particularly clued up either but we took a chance and ran in the vague direction that she had pointed. Luckily this led in the right direction and we were back on track. Mule Meister Eric had ran out along the track to meet us by the magnificent and eerie ruins of Milkbank house about which I have been able to find out very little. Records show that it was demolished in the 1960s which is clearly not the case and one website suggests that it was the ancestoral home of the Bell Irving family and was used as a serviceman’s hospital during the war although it does not specify if this was in a similar vein to Craiglockhart hospital in Edinburgh. Either way there was something very atmospheric about the place as well as downright creepy although it must have been an extremely grand house in its heyday.
The team seemed rather relieved to see us back although there were one or two dark mutterings about pubs being shut by the time we got to Annan. I suppose we had taken quite a long time to complete the run and I did wonder if I could get away with a more interesting excuse for our delay involving ghosts at the old ruins rather than simple navigational incompetence.

The end of leg 7...and Finlay is off...!!
Leg 8 - 6.4 miles

Finlay was on this leg from Pathhead to Brydekirk. This seemed to be the first time that the path really did follow the river properly which was something I was quite surprised about, I had expected there to be more in the way of riverside paths. The Mules convoy made its way round to Brydekirk and sat outside the pub by the river to wait and I decided that a pint was in order. By now the “who can do the most miles” contest was hotting up big style and Bert and I were keeping a very close eye on each other. As Finlay appeared on the other side of the river Bert started to get ready to run again. I shot him a furious glance, necked my pint and started to get ready to run….but he was bluffing. 
At the pub
Finlay storms to the finish

 While this was going on Heather and Eric set off on the glory leg for the Mules.

Annan – some facts
1     The most famous resident of the town of Annan was Robert the Bruce although his residency, Annan castle no longer exists.
2     Annan Bridge was built in 1827 by Robert Stevenson (of lighthouse fame)
3     Robert Burns worked as an exciseman at the port in 1790’s
4     Annan used to have shipbuilding yards – many photos on the wall of our hotel were devoted to     Annan’s maritime history. 

Leg 9 – 5.7 miles
The official finish point of the Annandale way

Ghostly radio antennae signalling to submarines in the Solway Firth

We did it!!!

Eric and Heather followed the footpaths alongside the river past the town of Annan to the river estuary and finally round to the cairn marking the official end point of the Annandale way. A new Mules world record had been set. There was nothing more to do other than open up the champagne and celebrate!! The evening was spent at the hotel in Annan eating and drinking and enjoying Cath’s amazing Mules cake.

Celebration!!
The dream team

And who won the most miles competition? Well, who do you think ….?  

What a fantastic weekend - how can such an activity packed weekend be so relaxing at the same time? Saturday was scarcely over when plans were being hatched for some new epic adventure, "world record" attempt or beautiful island race - roll on next year! (Do we really have to wait that long..??)


Footnote
For the most part the Annandale way is reasonably well marked and is on little country roads and forestry and farmland tracks but as Cath and I found its worth checking the arrows carefully as I suspect sometimes there are a choice of routes. The Annandale way website suggests public transport and accommodation options for anyone wanting to do this over a few days as I guess the norm for a long distance footpath. Obviously the downside about doing this as a run as opposed to a walk is that it leaves less time for exploring the many places of interest to be found en route.
The fascinating thing about the Annandale Way, as is the case with many long distance footpaths, is the way the countryside and character of the countryside, the character of the towns and the buildings subtly change as you move across the land, something that you are markedly less aware of if you travel by car or bus. Starting on the high fells above Moffat with the sheep grazing on the open grassland, you go past the couthy cottages and farmsteads of the borders, until the rolling farmland then gives way to the great and bleak river estuaries. Of course there is also a corresponding change in wildlife to be spotted as you pass through these different environments and the lack of spring buds and new leaves on the trees in Moffat compared against the full leaf growth of the trees on the banks of the river in Annan showed up a unexpected differences in climate even in the space of just 50 or so miles.