Beinn Dubh – Loch Lomond
During the weekend of the 14/15th October 2016 I headed off up North – as in, further North than we already are! – for my first ever fell racing event close to the shores of Loch Lomond…
(I can already hear the tittering of those who know me, but it’s true, I did go and I did ermmm ‘watch’ the race! – LOL)
Why did I go and watch a fell relay race in Scotland? Well, primarily because Jen was competing, but as a close second because there were hills to be climbed, albeit at a more leisurely pace than that of the competitors.
Jen and I arrived on a beautiful autumnal day, in fact with the exception of the organisers I think we were the first to arrive at the venue, and as such had first dibs on where to pitch our mighty fine and well-travelled Berghaus tent. We claimed a quiet spot close to the river and a fairly well-concealed stand-pipe which turned out to be the only one in the field! We didn’t want to be too close to it and thus hounded by loud and thirsty campers all night, but still needed to be close enough that we ourselves would not go thirsty! There was plenty of space for the other Dallam club members to pitch, and of course room to raise the Dallam flag. Incidentally, by the end of the weekend the field was starting to remind me of a medieval contest about to take place… who’d have thought running clubs would be so tied to their flags and regalia? Anyway, I digress.
Once the bulk of the team had arrived I was informed that some members would be going out on a recce, to try and get a feel for the hills before having to navigate under race conditions. It sounded rather fun and I thought it would be interesting to see the fells from the road… the road, Jen. Jen, aren’t we looking at it from the road? And so the hike began! Who would have thought that runners actually do the race twice: once the day before and then again on the day. But hey ho, it’s all about joining in – errr, Jen, why has everybody else gone back to the campsite? Jen? Never mind… onwards and upwards…
So, as various members decided they had seen enough when it began to rain after a few kilometres, and turned back towards
the bar *ahem* campsite, Jen and I made our way towards Mid Hill in search of a tiny flag. It would be, for Jen and her running partner, the most difficult point to find as they would be heading down towards it from the opposite side of Mid Hill having run up the north-eastern ridge of Beinn Dubh (657m) and down around the horseshoe to Mid Hill. But for me this was a good afternoon’s walking and so, even with the weather closing in, we left the very undulating road that had brought us to the foot of Mid Hill and headed upwards through a rather wet, and in places very boggy mountain.
The further up we ventured the more the cloud moved in, the wind speed rose and then to top it all, once we were beyond any sensible point of no return the heavens opened. However, at the same moment as I stumbled across the flag – which I admit I thought was very tiny given the boggy area in which it had been planted – the weather briefly subsided, giving me enough time to smoke a celebratory pipe.
We had seen enough and headed back
to the bar …ermmm to the tent.
Jen and I are fairly used to camping, and we managed to get a reasonable night’s sleep. Being beside a river can be something of a hypnotic experience. Although for those on the beer it may be more of a bladder-inflaming experience!
Breakfast in the morning was in the team tent, a quite lovely gazebo with side panels to stop the wind intruding. The weather at camp was quite mild but once I was up and about, looking up into the hills, I could see that the runners were going to have a challenging time of it: it looked like the top 200 metres or so of all the summits were shrouded in thick cloud.
My plan for the day was to hike up the north-east side Beinn Dubh and wait at the summit to cheer on Jen and her running partner Jess. I figured they may appreciate a friendly face at the top of that tough climb, cheering them on. The race on this day was a relay consisting of four successive legs, and I headed off about 20 minutes before the start of the first leg thinking I might reach my summit before the lead racer guys… To be fair, fell runners don’t carry rucksacks up the hills for ‘short’ outings like this, nor indeed a belly as well-stocked as mine (!), so I figured my handicap was fair and warranted such a head start.
The hill was gruelling, and past the first runners’ checkpoint I very quickly found myself in dense cloud. I was happy to be equipped with a compass, although the marker flags for the race were pitched just about right to guide my way upwards. I must admit it was a lonely place to be, and the wind was quite savage. I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth people stay motivated, scantily-clad in light running gear whilst braving these elements…
It wasn’t much later that the first of the runners approached – the guy leading the field. He was sprinting up the boggy mountainside as though it was a seaside promenade! Being the gentleman I am assumed to be, I pushed aside my desire to stick out my leg as he glided by, and instead clapped my hands and told him how well he was doing. But from here on up, my own climb became that much more awkward as approaching runners assumed I knew the way and headed straight at me through the fog. My attempts at staying off the main drag to keep out of their way were rather in vain, and by this time I had begun clapping my hands in an attempt to warm them up, as I felt unable to move on whilst the main field of runners were still streaming past. Finally, there came a break in the field and I began moving again until I eventually reached the cairn at the peak of Beinn Dubh (657m) where a Scottish lady stood ahead of me cheering folk on. One of the marshals, she would be standing up here for four hours, and fortunately she had a tent to dive into if things became too cold. As for how I was coping… well, with the first female runner still nowhere in sight I was beginning to wonder how long I could stick it out!
About 5 minutes later the first of the ladies flew past, so I figured I would hang on as planned to welcome both Jen and Jess through the checkpoint… Ladies came and ladies went until my body’s safety mechanisms informed me that I needed to move. But as if it had been timed to perfection, at that moment two familiar ladies emerged from the mist, and there was time for a brief cheer, a delighted kiss from Jen and a hug, before Jen and Jess darted off into the cloud to rediscover the marker she and I had found the previous evening. Job done, I had said my goodbyes to the girls and the marshal and made haste back down the mountain to the campsite, where a change into dry clothes and a mug of hot coffee were urgently required!
I’m glad I’m not a fell runner, but proud to be the partner of one!
Simon Duringer is an award-winning blogger, interviewer and author. His own books can be found on Amazon too by clicking any of the following icons…