Sunday, 10 July 2016

Creag Choinnich Hill Race

Creag Choinnich Hill

 “Britain’s oldest hill race returns to its roots at Braemar Castle on the 22nd June. The Creag Choinnich Hill Race was first recorded in 1064 when King Malcolm II used it to find the fastest man to deliver dispatches from Kindrochit Castle, his hunting lodge in the village. The first home was the younger of two MacGregor brothers who received 'a handsome sword, a baldric and a purseful of gold' (a baldric is a belt worn like a sash to support a sword). In Victorian times, the hill race was included in the Braemar Highland Games which was then held in the grounds of Braemar Castle that is until Queen Victoria witnessed her ghillie spitting blood after winning the 1850 race. In deference to her sensibilities, the race was suspended thereafter. The race returned about ten years ago being run from the Highland Games Park as part of the annual Junior Highland Games. This month, the race returns to its former location at Braemar Castle in the evening, close to the longest day. Unlike the original, there will be a prize for first female home as well as the first male.”
Braemar Castle was the event centre
Piper on the roof of the castle
Looking over Braemar

This was the race description that lured me to Braemar on a lovely summer’s night close to midsummer. A quick “Google” had revealed the race to be about 3 miles starting and finishing in Braemar but the reality was that it was a short brutal 2.4 miles starting and finishing on the slopes of Creag Choinnich without any run in to help you get warmed up before tackling the ascent. Consequently 5 minutes into the race I was in severe danger of coughing up a lung.
Hanging out with metro hill runners
Bob and Dennis warming up
I had travelled through to Braemar with Bob, Liz and Dennis to this friendly little hill race and its dramatic race HQ of Braemar castle. Its history was obviously a bit of an attraction as there were certainly a lot of cameras around recording the race and it’s got to be said a couple of the metro runners were lapping up the attention especially when word went round that the event was being recorded for BBC Scotland! I did my best to avoid the cameras to start with but that soon seemed to be futile as the guy with the big video camera seemed to appear everywhere which is understandable with TV friendly attractions such as Alan Smith running in his kilt making an appearance. 
That explains it. Sort of.
 It was a small but enthusiastic bunch of runners who tackled the hill. The course climbed up to the summit, did a wee loop and then followed the trail back down, short sharp and brutal and my legs were most definitely doing that muscle twitch thing once I had finished. The “oldest hill race in Scotland” theme was continued throughout as the summit marshalls were all dressed up and I had to do a “double take” at the top as one of them was a dead ringer for Billy Connelly in full Jacobite dress. After seeing these apparitions at the top of the hill it was time to tackle the rocky descent back down where surprisingly I was not passed by too many folk even though I was aware that I had slowed dramatically. HBT’s very own Al Simpson was a marshall on the course so I managed a wave at him despite my inability to speak at that point. 
Lovin' the descent!
The race finished where it started, just by the road and I hung around as long as I could stand the sustained midgie attack before retreating back to race HQ at Braemar castle. The highlight was the great post-race tea which actually served in the castle in one of the rooms complete with stag’s heads on the wall and gilt framed pictures of ancient departed lairds and mountainous landscapes. I did wonder a little if the race organisers had thought this one through as a heap of runners traipsed in across the thick deep red carpets but fortunately it was a very dry night so no mud was involved. 
A cut above your usual race venue
Happy runners
A very good post race tea. And lets face it, thats what really matters!
The prize giving
The post-race tea was excellent but for a minute I thought that we had taken a step back into the middle ages when there were prizes of bottles of wine for the first three men but not the first three women, but no, all that happened was someone had mislaid the women’s prizes. Good thing they sorted that one as I was busy eyeing up some of the bigger than usual wine bottles that were adorning the room amongst the silverware.

After the prizes it was time for a photo shoot in front of the castle before heading back home and stopping in Aboyne for a much needed fish supper. Thanks to Bob for suggesting this race and for the lift and thanks to the race organisers. It was a good fun event and the post-race tea was fab, especially the scones. This is definitely one I would recommend for next year.
Race prize winners in front of the castle

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