Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Great Glen East Highland Way Relay

A snow covered Ben Nevis
Some people were taking this relay very seriously...

Carb loading
It is the 1st of May, the May bank holiday, summer is just around the corner. Repeat ad infinitum to improve general mood and positivity. And it still didn’t work as I sunk knee deep into the snow, shivering as any sense of feeling rapidly departed from my fingers and I surveyed the wide panorama of a winter landscape with snow topped mountains while being buffeted by a bitterly cold wind. At least I only went knee deep into the snow, Robin was attempting full body submersion at that point. Still it could be worse, we consoled ourselves as we watched a group of mountain bikers pushing their bikes through the snow. I was very thankful that I hadn’t been too complacent with regard to the amount of kit that I was carrying as the dark clouds were gathering ominously overhead.
Setting off

The Corrieyairack

It is a long winding track that gradually climbs
Dark clouds gathering

The view from the top of the pass
This leg of the GGEHW relay started at the official start point of the Corrieyairack pass just outside Fort Augustus and we followed the relentlessly climbing track for 8 or 9 miles with little incident despite Bert’s desperate attempts to find a shortcut on what is a point to point course. On the face of it navigation was going to be a piece of cake, just follow the wide track as it criss-crossed under a line of large electricity pylons making its way South East to Garva Bridge. All well and good – except there was a distinct lack of any pylons apart from the ones in the distance. My anxious glances at the map increased in frequency to approximately one every thirty seconds as the pylons seemed to stretch further and further away in the other direction, however the geographical features all fitted what was on the map. Turning a bend in the path we came upon a digger with a pile of twisted metal lying it front of it – Our missing pylons! The moral of the story being that swish new OS mapping software that you only purchased last week does not necessarily equate to the latest most up to date maps. Oh well, long sigh of relief, at least I wasn’t being a navigational numpty.
Our missing pylons
The descent was uneventful but, cold and tired, Robin and I made the decision to stop at the first car park and Bert didn’t seem massively inclined to carry on alone. The cold had got to all three of us, in fact Bert didn’t seem to manage to warm up until the following morning and I hadn’t been feeling too good all day, even before the run, so the cold nearly finished me off and I certainly didn’t feel human again until a copious amount of whisky had been poured down my throat later that night.

This year’s Mules World Record attempt followed the Great Glen way and then loosely followed the route of the East Highland way starting in Fort William and finishing in Newtonmore, as to our exact route chief Mule Allan has forbidden me from revealing the details – I could tell you but then I would have to kill you. This way it will remain a world record on this route lasting from now until eternity which, as we all know, is a very long time.
Mules role of honour
The compulsory startline photo shoot
And that was before the start!

Don't get too comfy now, theres some running to be done
So to cut a long story short after the compulsory photo shoot in Fort William, Bert and Mule Meister Eric set off on the longest 3 mile route in history. After a few worried glances between the waiting Mules they appeared at the changeover point on the canal to hand over to leg 2 runners Ali and Cath. Apparently Eric knew a short cut they had followed.
And they're off
The Caledonian canal

Ben Nevis in the distance

You don't need the map, just follow the canal!
And eventually they appeared
 I liked the look of the second leg along the canal, very scenic, although by all accounts the gravelly paths are a bit of a nightmare to run on. I contented myself with watching the boats pass through the system of lock gates while I waited and drinking tea and eating cake provided by Eric and Lynda. 
A triumph of engineering
The tuck wagon
Just what what I needed
Ali and Cath handed over to Robin and Geoff and they took off into the trees. After another wee scenic drive we met at the next changeover point while Simon warmed up nervously. I had previously done this next stretch as part of the old Great Glen relay and I remembered it being quite flat. I was reliably informed by Simon when he finished that it was most certainly not flat….funny how the memory plays tricks like that. Ho Hum. 
Leg 2/3 changeover
Leg 3/4 changeover
Well it seemed to be flat at the start, dont know what he was complaining about...
Happy Mules
By now it had got a little bit warmer and the sun was out so I was still hopeful that the weekend would miraculously metamorphose into one of the gorgeous hot sunny weekends of previous Mules relays rather than the sleet and snow of the previous week and the during the drive to Fort William the previous evening.
Karen waiting for Simon
A floating pub! Result!
Movie Memorabilia
Simon was handing over to Karen at Laggan Locks and at one point it looked as though the lock keeper was going to be opening the gates to let a boat through which may have added a little bit to Simon’s time but the boat moored up on a pontoon a few yards from the lock. Disaster was averted and the threat to the Mules record attempt passed. At Laggan Locks Bert and I made the fantastic discovery of a bar and coffee shop on a boat and decided it would be a shame not to make use of it. The boat was full of memorabilia such as swords used in Hollywood films and model boats and I sized up the range of beers somewhat mournfully while making a mental note that this is a place that I need to go back to.
I think he enjoyed his run
Are you sure you know which way to go Karen?
Simon finished his leg very speedily, running alone as the rest of us didn’t fancy an 8 mile burn up Alf Tupper style, and handed over to Karen who promptly headed off in the wrong direction. Swiftly retrieved and re-directed and Karen was on her way and we started the drive to the next checkpoint. And promptly headed off in the wrong direction. Despite being “temporarily mislocated” we reached the next checkpoint in time to see Karen hand over to Geoff.
Memorising the map
Chief Mule and timekeeper
Karen was very quick on her leg...
and handed over to Geoff
 Chief Mule Allan had decided that it would be a good idea to give us a little history lesson and as we were heading in the vicinity of the old and now sadly defunct Invergarry - Fort Augustus railway line this was topic number one.
The route of the old Invergarry - Fort Augustus railway line
History lesson number two was imparted at the next checkpoint, the start of the Corrieyairack pass otherwise known as General Wade’s military road. Wade was appointed Governor of Fort William, Fort George and Fort Augustus in 1733 after a programme of building work he carried out as Commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces, castles, forts and Barracks in North Britain. Some 240 miles of roads and 30 bridges were constructed as part of this programme to link the military garrisons at Ruthven, Fort George, Fort William and Fort Augustus. After about the 8th mile of steady ascent I was feeling very sorry that he hadn’t had a bulldozer or JCB digger available.
It really isn't that warm Geoff!
The start of the Corrieyairack
and the climbing begins
After the Corrieyairack leg of the relay it was Eric’s turn on the biking leg, following the little roads over Garva Bridge, through the wide valley of the Sherramore Forest, Garvamore, Spey Dam and Laggan. This is all still part of General Wade’s military road but they have tarmacked it along this part….at least I’m fairly sure that the council have and General Wade didn’t. 
Garva Bridge
Mule Meister Eric turns the relay into a duathlon
A scenic route
undulating and into a strong cold headwind

Making new friends
By now it was getting pretty chilly
Eric arrives
and sends them on their way
The next changeover was at a mystery location near Laggan (details not revealed as per Chief Mule Allan's orders) and by now the temperature had dropped and there were some very cold looking Mules hanging around. I wasn’t envious of Eric at all as he was pedalling straight into a head wind the whole way and a cold headwind to boot. Cath and Karen were down to do this next leg and were joined by Bert and Geoff who had decided to do it on his bike which sounded like a way of making life quite difficult for yourself. After they had all set off up the hill Allan, Simon and I went round to Eric and Linda’s house to attempt to warm up slightly before heading down the Glen Road to the car park to await their return. Simon wandered off along the Glen to see if he could spot them while I remained in the car still shivering. After a wee wait Geoff appeared first and carried on to Newtonmore and eventually the others appeared with stories of their adventures including Bert’s failed attempt to stay on his feet while making a river crossing. I wish I’d been there. With my camera. 
Glen Banchor
Geoff was first to appear
shortly followed by everyone else
nearly there

Simon enjoyed his stroll
A bit soggy are we, Bert?
The final Mules charge into Newtonmore
Ali jumped out of the car to join them for the final Mules charge back to Newtonmore and the rest of us scurried back to Eric and Lynda’s in the hope of hot showers as Robin and I had yet to stop shivering after our Corrieyairack adventure. Eric and Lynda provided the cold and hungry mules with an enormous spread of food and wine. Originally it was to have been a BBQ but I can't say I was heart broken not to have to go back outside into the cold and instead enjoyed being curled up on the sofa nursing a wee dram. Anyone would think it was still winter.
Recovery was swift
Compliments to the chef
Personalised pudding!
True to form by next morning a plan had been hatched for next year’s Mules world record attempt but I can’t say any more. I could tell you but then I would have to kill you.

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