“I’ve put a few flags out”, explained Lawrie, “ the route’s obvious, just follow the red dots along the main tourist path”. However, the main tourist path was supplemented by numerous other trods and more than one runner took wayward routes in the thick mist. Even Lawrie himself, flying down the moors towards the last mile on the track, found himself off route. Despite the navigational incidents the race route was a big hit with the runners. A race with everything but a view... track, moor, bog, rock...and beer. The cafe at the harbour serves butties, cakes, teas and coffees...and Guinness. Marvellous.
Mandy and myself, and another running couple, were picked up by Stuart “Scruff” Miller in his old land rover and taken the four miles across the island on the single track road (the only road on the island) to his croft and newly opened B&B. Howlin Croft House sits in a stunning spot under the Quirang like cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe and overlooks the pristine white beaches of Laig Bay and Camas Sgiotaig - the Singing Sands. The stunning backdrop is the Cuillin Hills of the Isle of Rum. Probably one of the best views in Scotland, but today it was invisible. Scruff, raconteur extaordinaire, regaled us with tales of the island. As a farmer, builder, coastguard and ex lobster fisherman he seems to have his fingers in many pies on the island. Those fingers he has left that is. In his most gruesome tale he explained how he got three of his fingers trapped in the creel winch on his boat and had to cut them off with his bait knife to get free!
If you want to stay somewhere unique, friendly and informal you must visit Howlin Croft House. http://www.spanglefish.com/howlinhouse/ Before we’d even sat down a large dram was thrust in our hands. We were given a guided tour of the chickens, ducks, goats, pig and polytunnel. Scruff’s wife Kathleen cooked up a wonderful home-made and locally sourced meal and we were entertained by endless stories. The Easter Ceilidh was to be held in the community centre near the harbour. Scruff volunteered to give us a lift. He was soon cursing when we were held up by the local bus, an old white minibus, crawling along at 10mph. “The bloody driver’s always pissed” Scruff explained, “but nay bother, I know a short cut”. He steered the land rover off the road and accelerated across a bumpy field before cutting back onto the road in front of the van. “Did you like that?” he asked. Before we had time to reply, “I know an even better one”. We plunged over an edge and plummeted down a steep grassy bank cutting out a hairpin on the road. “My brother’s still got a neck brace from last time I did that” he shouted gleefully. Nerves were calmed by one or three guinesses at the ceilidh. Scruff had promised to pick us up at 1am warning us not to walk home as the road was full of drunken drivers. We wondered whether we’d be better taking our chances with the drunks!
The Ceilidh apparently starts at 9pm, and finishes at 9am! One obvious reason for this was that each dance seems to last forever due to the large number of dancers – all having to execute the particular highlight of the dance at least once. We started stripping the willow just after midnight...by quarter past one we’d stripped it three times and the band was still going strong. We retired, dripping with sweat. I’m sure it was the dancing that caused my calf strain rather than the fell running.
Sunday saw us lined up on Laig Beach ready for Race 2. Lawrie, having lost one young lady in yesterday’s race (she was eventually found wandering the misty moors in tears several hours after everyone else had finished), had revised today’s route as he didn’t want to lose anyone over the precipitous drops of the Beinn Bhuidhe ridge in today’s thick clag. Along the beach, along a track, up an outrageously steep climb to Beinn Bhuidhe trig, back down vertical heather before flying down a wonderful grassy ridge to finish on the Singing Sands. Another top 8km route. No prizes for our racing prowess but we did win a spot prize each. As we were strolling back towards Glamisdale in the rain a rusty old pick-up with no rear lights and the widows held in place with gaffa tape pulled up. Scruff leaned out, “You wanna lift?”. We nodded. “You’ll have to jump on the back then”. We perched on a pallet as the pick-up negotiated the narrow winding road waving at the other runners as we passed them. An Isle of Eigg white knuckle ride. “Great pick-up this” Scruff told us, “I once had 18 passengers on the way back from a ceilidh, four of ‘em were on the bonnet!”
So, if its ever on again (Lawrie’s still deciding whether to repeat it), put the Easter Eigg races in your diary. Or, just visit the island anyway. It’s a magical, friendly and wild island with great walks and runs, fascinating geology and archaeology, and extraordinary Scottish island hospitality. We’re already looking forward to going back.
Slainte Mandy & Phil
I heard some voices. “Psssstt”, I said to Dave, “someone’s coming”. Dave continued his nonchalant rod waving in the branches of the tree. I saw a couple with a dog approaching. “It looks like the fishing warden”, I joked, “he’ll probably want to see your “tree trout” licence”. The couple were obviously perplexed by our activities. “What are you doing?” the lady asked. Somewhat sheepishly we explained our predicament. They looked at each other and quickly hurried away. Dave’s continuing fishy probing dislodged only the odd pinecone.
“Hang on”, I said, “I’ve got an extending decorating pole in the back of the van, “let’s attach that to the big rod”. Not questioning why anyone would take such an item camping, (I use it to wedge open the tailgate), Dave started to try and unstick the very sticky gaffa tape attaching the flimsy rod to the bigger one. Then, in a sudden flash of unusual genius, Dave jumped up, “I’ve got a tow rope in the van”. He grabbed it and, having attached a large twig to it, tossed it up towards the offending branch. It pulled up short. “Ahaaa!” I shouted, “if we fasten it to the end of the big rod with its pine branch and decorating pole extensions it should do the trick”. Our team effort, Dave throwing while I handled the rod with all the skill expected of an expert fisherman, at first provided disappointing results, (my fishing skills are renowned – having only managed to catch one decent fish in several years of trying). The rope now reached easily but Dave’s throwing prowess was a little off the mark. Then...another throw; the rope and stick glided through the air and wrapped neatly round the branch. “Smashing!” said Dave. We could now shake the ball on a string thing off the branch. “Give it a pull” I said, passing on the rod. He shook the branch, gently at first and then more violently. The ball thing didn’t budge. He pulled harder. We heard a distinctive “Ploooopp” noise. We looked up. The ball was still hanging from the branch and next to it now dangled a rope with the end section of a fishing rod attached...way too high for us to reach.
As our hysterical laughter subsided we considered how we might recover the stranded items. It was too steep to drive the van closer. The tree trunk was too smooth to climb and, despite having a decorators pole I didn’t have any decorators ladders hidden in my van. “We need a noose”, Dave exclaimed. Wondering why the loss of a ball was such a life or death event I watched as he fashioned a gaffa tape loop and attached it to the decorators pole. “Loop it round the end of the hanging rod” he explained. I hoped I could reach. I reached up on tiptoes and tried to snag the rod as it swayed around in the wind. Suddenly we both jumped. “Kerrplop”. The ball on a string thing had suddenly fallen at our feet having detached itself with little help from us. “Whey hey”, we shouted, but, we still had to save Dave’s embarrassment next time he went fishing. You can imagine the comments: “Hey mister, have you lost your rod end?”, or “Your rods a bit small mate, tee hee”.
The loop finally caught. I pulled it delicately. Nothing budged. I pulled harder and suddenly the stick and rope and rod end plunged down from above. “Yippee” , we cried, “we’ve invented a new sport”. So , give it a go: Fishing in trees...it’s the new fishing, it’s fish friendly...and even I can catch something.
The Peleton: Dave Makin, Chris Lloyd, Dave Reynolds, Brian Hodgkinson, Peter, Martin, Emma Osenton, Ali Mills, Mick McGovern, Trevor, John, Phil Hodgson
Unusually for us, we actually set off at the time agreed the night before – except John who, departing an hour before us obviously had a cunning plan to get back first and make a good start on the barrel of beer.
This was the weekend when summer briefly returned from its even briefer appearance in the summer. We were already drenched with sweat by the top of Red Bank. We swooped into Grasmere and dodged the traffic on the road to Ambleside. Then... the biggest climb of the day. Whoever named the Struggle hit the nail right on the head. What a beast of a climb. The ascent strung us out so we regrouped opposite the Kirkstone Inn, panting from the extreme exertion.
Our top speed down from Kirkstone hit 48mph. As it flattened out a small breakaway pulled away from the main peleton, hanging on the back wheel of young Martin (is his last name Schleck?). We were nearly mown down by the secretary of the FRA when, unsuspecting of our ridiculous speed, he manouevered his camper van into our path . Suitable abuse was exchanged!
With Martin and Dave R racing each other up most significant hills (I think it was 29 – 0 to Martin) we regrouped at regular intervals, occasionally wondering where our more leisurely riders had got to. Dave was heard to comment to one back marker, “We’ve been waiting so long we’ve all grown beards”. However, the waiting didn’t matter, it was warm with occasional sunshine, the scenery was stunning, the company entertaining...and we had time for a shave!
Team captain Chris Lloyd, by right of his committee membership, proceeded to whittle down our merry band. First to take a wrong turn were Emma and Ali – next time we saw them was at the top of Whinlatter. Then Mick opted for a short cut, no doubt also lured by the thought of the full barrel of ale back at the hut.
Arthur & Sheila’s Mobile Tea Emporium was always parked in a strategic spot by the side of the road just when we needed our carbo levels topping up. Butties, cake, flapjack, biscuits, hot tea and cold juice. “Yummy” said Dave M as he washed it down with lashings of tea.
We meandered (at not far off race pace!)along the quiet country lanes round the back of Skiddaw losing yet another three riders as Martin, Dave R, and Peter raced ahead and missed the turning to Lorton. (Obviously an excuse to miss out the second big climb of the day over Whinlatter). Thinking that Red Bank was the only steep bit left between us and Langdale we hammered up and over the pass to meet up with the walkers, and the Mobile Tea Emporium at Braithwaite. However, we’d reckoned without the sadistic intentions of course designer Brian. The ride up to Castlerigg stone circle is a killer when you’ve got 70+ miles in your legs.
Our three missing riders eventually caught up with us having circumnavigated Cockermouth at least three times. By now we were at the end of what must be the flattest six mile length of road in the Lakes; round the back of Thirlmere. What a lovely ribbon of tarmac, it’s crying out for a Ratti Time Trial (watch this space!). Dunmail succumbed with ease and we raced down to Grasmere. Red Bank now loomed before us, the last climb and the one we’d all been dreading, particularly as the road was wet. This nasty bit of road soon claimed a few victims with Martin’s sideways nosedive being the most spectacular when he got terminal wheel spin on the steepest bit.No regrouping at the top of this climb... the next stop was the Wainwright. Dave M and myself were first out of the blocks but I hate to admit that Dave beat me there (a good job really as I’d forgotten to take any moneyJ). He did however take a dubious short cut. Those drinking outside must have wondered what was happening when Dave M, aka the Red Rock Ramrod, screaming down the road towards the pub, gave the finishing salute more closely associated with the Manx Missile!
If I can do it – so can you! I remember my first forays in Tod pool after I’d foolishly signed up for my Ironman. I was advised by JP to buy a pair of roller castors, “To help your toes roll along the bottom of the pool”, such was my non-streamlined profile as I ploughed through the water rather than gliding over it. Over a year later I still haven’t got my legs up, so to speak but ... I can now swim 2.2 miles. Skinz was very impressed that I was now able to swim like a fish and described me as “just like a pilchard”, if I recall correctly.
Front crawl has to be the most technical sport ever devised. It’s not really about strength, it’s much more about technique. (For technical guidance you should visit swimsmooth.com). I got, and am still getting, a great buzz out of learning a new skill, and an even bigger buzz from wild swimming in the tarns and meres of the Lake District (although perhaps slightly less from the peat water reservoirs of the West Yorkshire moors, but they’re still worth a visit to get a fish’s eye view of the Pennines)
The pool is the place to start, but wild swimming has to be your aspiration. Did you see Robson Green swim the coldest lake in Wales, and the Corryvrechan whirlpool off Jura, and out to Holy Island ... wild swimming opens up new horizons, and new challenges: the Frog Graham, the Fish Witton... to name but a couple. The world’s your paddling pool. No more moaning, “What can we do”, when it’s raining. So what’s stopping you? Dig out your goggles, wriggle into your cossies and budgie smugglers, and get down to the pool.
Why do it? – the benefits of swimming :
Something to do on a rainy day
Low impact – you can still swim when the running injury plays up
Improves your breath holding prowess
You’ll acquire an even more sports jargon filled vocabulary
You can buy lots of pool toys and gadgets
You too can enter crazy events involving near drowning experiences
Another reason for needing 8 days in a week
Impress the boys/girls with your fish impressions (including bulging eyes from excessive goggle wear)
You can compete in the Krypton Challenge (as long as you own a spacehopper)
Food for free – all you need is a speargun
You can join in the arm waving gesticulations down the pub there’s swimtalk
No more expensive ferry fares
You’ll look great in a rubber suit