Thursday, 31 July 2014

Running Islay (2): Bowmore to Gartbreck (8k)

This is a run along the coast to the south west of Bowmore, about 8k (5 miles) there and back - though it might feel like longer as you have to watch your footing for rocks and pebbles.

Starting off in the centre of Bowmore, head up School Street alongside the distillery (the road to the left in picture below).

As you pass the distillery buildings you will see a patch of grass on the right, head diagonally across it and you will join the path along the coast. Just outside Bowmore you will come to what is known as the Battery (below) so called because it was once the site of an armed lookout point to defend Islay from seaborne attack. It is said that John Paul Jones, the Scottish-born American Revolutionary War sailor, menaced the seas around Islay in 1778.

Following the track beyond here there is a narrow section (watch out for brambles etc.) which brings you out at the edge of a pebble beach:

The rest of the outward run consists of following the shore, in most cases on the edges of the beach but on occasions following the trail over grass toward the next bit of shoreline. 

There is lots of wildlife to see, including geese and oyster catchers galore and on the rocks off the coast you may spot seals (I did).

Keep following the coast until you come close to Gartbreck Farm, there is a path leading up from the shore to the buildings.

Head through the gate at the side of Gartbreck and follow the track from there. Gartbreck is currently quiet with some derelict buildings, but planning permission has been granted to develop a new whisky distillery on site

After a while the track becomes a narrow road all the way back to Bowmore, though I didn't see any vehicles on it on my run.

Map of route with KM markers - for zoomable map go of route go to mapmyrun

When I finished my run I put my feet up and watched the Commonwealth Games marathons from Glasgow, including a good performance from Susan Partridge (6th in the women's race). Susan started out running on similar terrain to Islay around Oban on the mainland.

Running Islay (1) - Bridgend Woods (6.5k)

The Isle of Islay, if you don't know it, is the southernmost of the Hebrides islands in Scotland. My dad came from there, so I have been going there regularly since I was a baby. It is most famous for its whisky (with eight distilleries currently in operation, and two more planned to open) and for its bird life. It is also a good place for walking and running. Unfortunately my holiday on Islay this year narrowly misses the Islay Half Marathon, which has been happening since 1986 and takes place this year on Saturday 2 August. But I have managed to get in some good runs in which I will share here.

There's not a lot written about running on Islay, but there's plenty on walking including a couple of free 'Explore Islay' leaflets with details and basic maps of walks which you can pick up from the Tourist Information centre in Bowmore. There are also maps and books available, best place to go is The Celtic House/Roy's in Bowmore which has pretty much everything in print on Islay. So a starting point for running is to follow the walking routes and move a bit quicker!

Just a few safety points which apply to runners as well as walkers:

- if you are running on the roads, many are single lane. There is often a limited verge - suitable for standing on but not always for running on. So be aware of vehicles (including some big lorries), they may not have room to pass you on the road and you might need to step on the verge. Don't listen to music, listen out for traffic, and in the long quiet periods between vehicles, listen to the birds!

- if you are running off road, be aware that the terrain can be unpredictable. What looks on the map like a short, straightforward cross country trail can end up in boggy ground, hitting a fence and surrounded by head high bracken. It can be disorientating, especially when you realize that you have no phone signal either. I have got lost in the hills before - low point was stumbling across a dead cow in the path. So be cautious, if you are running in a remote area take a map and compass.

- the weather too is unpredictable. You can head out in sunshine and then see a cloud of rain coming towards you. On a more positive note, a quick shower may be followed by a burst of sun to dry you out!

Bridgend Woods

The first run is around Bridgend Woods. At some point in the distant past, Islay would have been covered in trees, but today there is only limited woodland. One of the most substantial areas of woodland is around the River Sorn near Bridgend, where many trees were planted as part a desgined landscape in the early 19th century linked to the nearby Islay House - then the home of the  island's principal landowners.

If you are driving/cycling, park in the car park next to the Spar shop (the only shop) in Bridgend. If you want to add 3 miles to the run, start in Bowmore and run along the road to Bridgend. Opposite the car park, start the run by following the track to the right of the memorial:

1. start of the run

As you go up this track into the woods, the path splits. I took the right hand fork, marked 'Claggan Strip', a narrow strip of woodland that joins the main body of the woods further up (if you want a shorter, simple, mud-free run you could take the left fork and follow main track).

2. The first junction

Keep to this path, it is fairly easy to follow through the woods.

3. The path through the woods.

The path can get muddy/boggy in places when it has been wet. Tread carefully and tie your laces tight - I had the full 'shoe came off in the mud' scenario.

4. The going gets muddy

Keep straight on, including climbing over/opening a gate. Eventually the track comes to an end at a T-junction, with a sign pointing back where you came from marked 'Bridgend'. Turn right and you soon come to another junction (pictured below) where the trail forks. Take the left hand fork, marked 'Waulk Mill'.

5. Junction - left fork to Waulk Mill

Run up a long, fairly gentle uphill slope. Towards the top, on the left, a sign points to 'waulk mill'. As you run down this narrow path you will see that you are above and descending towards the Islay Woollen Mill (on the road between Port Askaig and Bridgend). 

6. Signpost to waulk mill path

I stopped on the bridge over the River Sorn, which has been powering the mill on and off since 1883. 

7. Islay Woollen Mill

From there you can then retrace your steps up the path that you came down or you can go up the broader path next to it:

8. Back up from the Mill

These two paths soon join at the top of the slope either way and then you are running back down the broad path you ran up previously. When you come to the junction (picture 5 above), turn right, run straight on past the Bridgend sign at the  next T-junction and instead of turning left and going back the same way you came, go straight on towards this bridge and cross it.

9. Bridge over the Sorn

10. View from Bridge

After the bridge keep straight on that track, the river and a field beyond it on your left for most of the route though not always visible. Eventually you will see another bridge on your left, cross it.

11. Another bridge over the Sorn

On the other side of the bridge, turn right. You will be tempted, as I was, to take the path on the riverbank. It has great views, but runs out after a few hundred metres so you then have to run back towards the bridge. To save yourself this trouble take the next, more worn path to the left (to the left of the big tree behind the bench below)

12. After the bridge

13. View of bridge from river bank - if you can see this view,
you've taken the wrong path and need to head back to the bridge!

You will soon come back to the original junction (picture 2 above), a short run to your right and you're back where you started. Obviously there are many other possible routes through the woods, but this worked for me as a 6.5k run and I didn't get too lost despite having to double back on myself a couple of times. 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Running Barmore Island, Loch Fyne

I stayed in Tarbert, Loch Fyne, earlier this week waiting to get the ferry to Islay next day, and managed to get in a short early morning run around Barmore Island. 

Barmore Island

It's not strictly an island, as its joined by a causeway to the land, but apart from that it is surrounded by the Loch.

Causeway from the Island, with Stonefield Castle Hotel in the woods

A track runs all the way round the island, which makes it ideal for running, though you really need to pause to admire some of the views and perhaps observe the wildlife, such as gannets diving into the Loch.

sunrise from Barmore Island

The trail is mainly flat with a short hilly section. I just turned left when I got on to the island, and followed the track round. There is a short rocky section that involves cutting across the shore that looks like it might be more difficult at high tide.

hilly bit of the trail

 The distance round the island is probably about 1200m, you could run as many laps as you like or extend the run as I did by taking in the wooded grounds of the adjacent Stonefield Castle Hotel.If you were staying in Tarbert you could add in a run from the town turning off the main road where the Hotel is signposted and heading down to the Loch (see Walkhighlands for map)

The snooker table in the Stonefield Castle Hotel, made by H.Nelmes & Co. of Glasgow
(the food at the Hotel restaurant is excellent by the way)

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A Quick Run in Suffolk: Minsmere Sluice

Pretty much wherever you are in the world, you can put on your shoes and  head out for a run. I had to drive to Suffolk and back from London today, so to reward myself when I got there I squeezed in a quick 6k trail run in the midday sun. I parked in the car park of the Eels Foot Inn in Eastbridge, and then found the start of a public footpath to Minsmere Sluice (come out of car park, turn right, path sign is on left just down the road). 

It was a very pleasant summer run accompanied by multicoloured dragonflies and the odd swallow. The only hazards were some brambles and gorse on the narrow path at the start of the run.

The outward run finished for me on the pebble beach by Minsmere Sluice. If I'd had time I would have explored the wider area, which includes the RSPB's Minsmere wildlife reserve, but I had to turn round and run back.

Sizewell Power Station.

'I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that  takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work. And in fact my hope was realized, up to a point; for I have seldom felt so carefree as I did then, walking for hours in the day through the thinly populated countryside, which stretches inland from the coast... in retrospect I became preoccupied not only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had come over me at various times when confronted with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place' (W G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, 1995)

On the way back I drove past the London Olympic Stadium, came home and watched the excellent David Rudisha documentary, 100 Seconds to Beat the World, and I am now settled in front of the Commonwealth Games opening on TV with glass of wine. I am now officially on holiday.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

100th parkrun in Hilly Fields

It was the 100th parkrun in Hilly Fields today. Since September 2012, people have been meeting at 9 am every Saturday morning in all weathers for a 5k run up and down the slopes of this South London park (see previous post for more on the history of the park). 

Last push to the finish at Hilly Fields today  - note 100 balloons
(photo from Hilly Fields parkrun flickr pool)

110 runners took part this morning, ignoring the fluctuations of the English summer climate. I left the house in a thunderstorm, but by the time the run started the parkrun weather fairies had arranged a dry but humid spell. To celebrate at the end there were parkrun cakes galore.

The great event was also commemorated in a Lego model of the infamous hill tackled by runners at the end of each lap, complete with cones, a marshal and dogs.

photo by @adeleprince, with some help from her son Hector's lego.

First finishers today were Steve Canwell for the men and Laura McCrave for the women. The course record of 15:39 set last month by Shaun Dixon (Highgate Harriers) remains intact - Shaun runs for GB in international mountain running championships, so presumably our little Lewisham hill didn't seem such a big deal to him!

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Viv Albertine on running

Viv Albertine has a new autobiography out - Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. At its core is the punk period of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when Albertine was the guitarist with The Slits, but the book goes on to describe her battle with cancer and a period of domesticity in Hastings after which she re-emerged in recent years as a solo recording artist and performer.

Viv Albertine playing with The Slits at the Alexandra Palace, London, in 1980 at the Morning Star's 'Beat the Blues' festival. I was at that gig, one of the best I've ever been to, The Pop Group, The Raincoats, Essential Logic and John Copper Clarke were also on the bill.
As she sets out in the book, she started running in Hastings to help her daughter train for cross country, but soon came to love it as a practice that helped her get her head and body together:

'I start to love running. It's like a meditation to me, I have to do it; I don't even notice the effort any more. I run in all weathers at all times of day; rain, cold, dark, hot. On one side of the sea wall is a road and flat fields of tall grass. I watch the swans gliding along a little canal...

After so long worrying and being fearful, living by the sea and running is giving me the mental space to think creatively for the first time in years. With the salty wind on my face, feet pounding on the shingle, Kate Bush, The Hounds of Love on my iPod, new thoughts enter my head...

Running also helps me accept my body After all the years of medical intervention, I feel violated. All those unknown men's hands up for years. To cope, I reacted like a rape victim, disowning my body, floating above it, not in it whilst it was happening... At last my body is beginning to feel like it belongs to me again and it's strong and healthy, serving me well instead of constantly letting me down'

Viv Albertine breaks into a run on the cover of her 2012 debut solo album, The Vermillion Border.
I saw here supporting Siouxsie at the Royal Festival Hall last year (part of Yoko Ono's Meltdown festival), and she was great.

Other musicians in motion:

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Runner - W.H. Auden (1960)

The Runner

All visible visibly
Moving things
Spin or swing,
One of the two,
Move, as the limbs
Of a runner do,
To and fro,
Forward and back,
Or, as they swiftly
Carry him
In orbit go
Round an endless track:
So, everywhere, every
Creature disporting
Itself according
To the law of its making
In the rivals’ dance
Of a balanced pair
Or the ring-dance
Round a common centre,
Delights the eye
By its symmetry
As it changes place
Blessing the unchangeable
Absolute rest
Of the space all share

The camera’s eye
Does not lie
But it cannot show
The life within,
The life of a runner,
Of yours or mine,
That race which is neither
Fast nor slow,
For nothing can ever
Happen twice,
That story which moves
Like music when
Begotten notes
New notes beget
Making the flowing
Of time a growing
Till what it could be
At last it is,
Where Fate is Freedom,
Grace, and Surprise.

Wilma Rudolph (USA) wins the 100 m at the 1960 Olympics

In 1960 W.H. Auden was commissioned to write a poem for a BBC programme about athletics - presumably tied in with the Olympic Games which were held that year in Rome.  My favourite section of 'The Runner' is the opening of the second stanza: 'The camera’s eye, Does not lie, But it cannot show, The life within,  The life of a runner' . A reminder that we can never see the interior life of the athlete - or anybody else.

More running related literature: