Saturday, 30 August 2014

The sky of a Saturday morning

'Today is Saturday, and the sky has that broad bright blunt Saturday quality Rabbit remembers from boyhood, when the sky of a Saturday morning was the blank scoreboard of a long game about to begin' (John Updike, 'Rabbit, Run', 1961)

photo by tpsdave on pixabay

Friday, 22 August 2014

Running Islay (4): The Big Strand

The Big Strand on the Isle of Islay is just what it says - a continous sandy beach stretching for six miles from Laggan to Kintra, with the sea on one side and sand dunes, then peat bog, on the other.

There are several places from where you can readily access the beach - from Kintra at its southern end, via Laggan Estate at its north (as explained at Islay Info), or by the airport. I did the latter - heading south on the main road from Bowmore to Port Ellen there's a track immediately before the airport on the right. If you go down to the end you come to grassy dunes and the beach beyond (if driving go slow, the surface is very uneven but passable).

I ran south (left) from this point, down to the end of the bay at Kintra and back - a 5 mile run. Apart from one dog walker I didn't see another soul until I got to Kintra where some children were playing on the beach by the campsite there.

It's a great place for a beach run, with the sand generally fairly firm. There are a few points where shallow streams run in to sea, so you will need to get your feet wet  - I ran barefoot for a while.

There was one hazard I hadn't expected - being dive bombed by terns! Like other birds they nest on the shore and they clearly don't like you getting too near. None of them actually made physical contact with me, though they came close, but I did hear that a walker recently received a head cut from terns on that stretch.

This house is at the southern end of the bay at Kintra. I think this is where my grandad Neil Orr was born in 1906. That's me and him at the bottom.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Art of Athletics (5): Malevich and Matisse

I went to the Matisse and Malevich exhibitions at Tate Modern in London last weekend, both well worth seeing before they close. A number of great paintings related to running, sport and swimming too.

Kazmir Malevich, Running Man (1932)
 'The subject of the painting is often taken to be the murderous persecution of peasants by the Soviet government. Its mood is panic, desolation. (An alternative title is Feeling of Fear.) The man is racing across strips of ground. Abstract symbols abut him: two houses of red and white, between them the bloodied sword of violence. His face and hands are blackened. He flees towards or past a tall cross which is burnt, rotten.

This is all quite likely. But we should not gauge a picture just by its subject or its symbols. A figure has its own gist. If we look at the man in the Running Man – at its form, its action – we find another sense, less fearful. This is a light figure, light-footed. It does not make firm contact with the ground. It is not under gravity. It is held up mid-air, supported from above, as if by invisible strings. Or it is held up in mid-picture, supported simply by the fact that it is an image painted on a canvas.

It is a human form without weight. It is also a human anatomy without its leadership structure. A normal body has a nerve centre: the head is in command, the limbs its strenuous instruments. With the Running Man, the action is spread out, distributed equally throughout the figure. There is no trying. The body acts without strain.

But it still has energy. It is not a pinned-down pattern or a static diagram. It floats within the pictorial field but in its outflung limbs it has a wild, free momentum. At the same time, its head and torso stay quite upright, right in the middle of the picture, maintaining the figure's equilibrium. So within this image of terror, there is another ideal model of the human: weightless, strainless, flying, balanced. It shows a lifeform delivered from all pressures or inertia, external or internal – a scarecrow-marionette-immortal'

Malevich, Sportsmen

Malevich, Girl with a red pole

Malevich, Bather (1911)

Matisse, The Swimmer in the Tank (La Nageuse dans l'aquarium) 1947

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Running Islay (3) : Bowmore to Cruach and beyond (12k)

This road run follows the beginning of the Islay half marathon course, but instead of heading  on down towards the airport it loops back to Bowmore with a distance of just over 12k (7.5 miles).

The run starts off in the centre of Bowmore, heading up Main Street, and then following the road round to the right as it passes the famous round church on the left. But immediately past the church, instead of continuing on the main road, there is a road on the left signposted to Cruach. Takes this undulating road as it passes the cemetery and heads out into open country.

The first four and a half km follows this quiet single track road, passing just a few houses and farm buildings at Cruach. I couldn't resist briefly coming off my route to run to the top of this little hill which you pass on your left as you come up to the 3 km mark - the hill is marked on the detailed OS map as 'Sithean Mor' ('the big fairy knoll'). I just ran up the track pictured and then back down again on to the road.

Sithean Mor

The road continues past Loch Tallant on the left (pictured below), before coming to an end where it meets the high road from Bowmore to Port Ellen (B8016). This single lane road is nowhere near as busy as the main road (the A486) but it has been resurfaced in recent years so does attract some traffic. As elsewhere on Islay narrow roads, keep your wits about you and your headphones off if you don't want to have to jump out of the way of a distillery lorry or other vehicle. At the junction turn left (as opposed to the Islay half marathon route which turns right here).

Loch Tallant
Stay on this road for another 4 km or so, until it meets the main road between Bowmore and Bridgend. At this point turn left and follow the road back into Bowmore, with Lochindaal on your right.

Back in Bowmore, if you are in need of post-run refreshment I recommend the excellent coffee and cake upstairs in the Celtic House on the corner of Shore Street and Main Street.

For zoomable map, see this route at mapmyrun

Saturday, 9 August 2014


It is twenty years ago today that Blur recorded their video for Parklife on the Greenwich peninsula (Darryl at the excellent 853 blog has the low down on the all the locations). Among other things, the video features Alex James as a hapless runner - 'it's not about you joggers who go round and round and round'.

After a couple of weekends away in Scotland I got my usual Saturday slice of parklife this morning not far away in Hilly Fields, where Natalie brought some cakes to celebrate her 50th parkrun.

'All the people, so many people,
they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their... PARKRUN!'