Posted by: intrepidjane | August 9, 2010

A Very Moving Experience!

Day 6 : A wee jaunt up to Ardlussa (picture courtesy of Konrad Borkowski)

This post is a record of my very recent  9-day 203- mile running odyssey across the wild and beautiful Scottish islands of Islay and Jura. It was a human-powered journey undertaken as part of my challenge to raise £100k for Help For Heroes by November 2011. Feel free to make a donation here if this story inspires you to give 😉

If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know that my Islay-Jura trip was really a very last-minute idea. I had the notion of doing it on Thursday 22nd July and 3 days later, I found myself driving down to overnight at my friend Oona’s family summer house on the shores of Loch Fyne, ready to catch the ferry to Islay from Kennacraig at 7am the next morning.

Oona's summer house was soothing to the soul

The back of my Berlingo was as unkempt as Russell Brand’s hair when I arrived at Oona’s – I had just chucked everything in I thought I might need. I hadn’t even checked if it would all fit in my friend Tricia’s 35-litre rucksack, let alone ensured that I was capable of carrying the weight! The prospect of 200 miles hadn’t sunk in either.

As I hauled in my kit and laid it all out to pack, it suddenly dawned on me how far 200 miles actually is and how much kit I might actually have to carry. I slumped into a big brown chair facing a huge picture window, watched the birds catching the fish and sighed a “what were you thinking of?!” sigh. It was looking like it could be quite a long 200 miles….

I left Oona’s at 6am. I was very excited because I just didn’t know what was going to happen. What would the terrain be like (I hadn’t checked, of course)? Would my body hold out? Would my plan hold together?

Waiting for the boat to Islay

And there she was right in front of me – as huge as a Munro… the MV Arran, the boat that would take me to the start line in Port Ellen.

The 2 or so hour crossing passed quickly as I chatted to 2 French travellers Juliette (from Paris) and Vincent (from Nantes). Vincent picked up my rucksack to feel the weight and gave a confident nod to me.

Juliette et Vincent

“Not so bad”, he said . As bad as what? He was probably right – it couldn’t be as bad as man-hauling the kind of bulk that Fiennes and Stroud would pull across the Antartic. Or could it? My rucksack seemed to grow right in front of my eyes… bulging at the seams with my sleeping bag, bivvy bag, thermarest, wash bag,waterproofs, 1 set of dry clothes, 1 day of food rations and (of course) my lipstick (because you just never know ;-)). Actually, I thought I had been pretty ruthless ; I thought I was approaching the whole project like a commando (in fact, I didn’t take any underwear with me, so actually went commando for the full 9 days! Hard core, eh??!!)

And she's off!

MV Arran docked at Port Ellen. The foot passengers waited to be let off. The brooding slate skies sprayed rain at us. My (bloody heavy) rucksack was on my back. My heart was pounding : my whole body drenched in adrenaline (or was it the Calmac coffee?!). My legs started to twitch as my inner Collie dog strained to be let off the lease (I should mention at this point that my inner Collie dog is pretty “mature” and usually likes a long nap pretty much anywhere, which accounts for the record-breaking low speeds I managed to achieve over the 9 days of loping ;-))

So at 9.30am I got off the boat and started to run.

Day 1 : Port Ellen – Ardtalla- Port Ellen – Port Ellen Lighthouse (22 miles)

Within 5 minutes of starting to run I was speaking fluent French (in a swearing and very loud kind of way). How the f*%k was I going to manage this rucksack for more than 200 miles? I told myself to pull myself together, to get on with it, to enjoy it and to remember that my first distillery stop was only 17 miles away at Ardbeg (on my return journey to Port Ellen).

I thought about putting myself in the mindset of Ripley,the character Sigourney Weaver played in “Alien”. I was less than successful at this. Instead, in the swathes of land-hugging sea haar, I looked more like a Gorilla in the Mist (close though, right?).

My spirits raised (by about 48% ;-)) as I passed the Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg distilleries (I would be popping in for a wee dram on the way back) and soon, surprisingly enough, I had found my rhythm. Totally absorbed by the sight of the sea, dazzling pink fuschias and the soothing coolness of the rain on my bare legs, arms and face, I began my inevitable metamorphosis into Forrest Gump. 😉

A mile from the turning point at Ardtalla

And not a soul did I see until I reached the 10 mile turning point at Ardtalla. The friendly farmer gave me permission to run on his land to the very end of the track and then I was running (almost) swiftly back in the direction of locally- made refreshments!

By 2pm I was breaking into a sprint (old runner’s trick : just look good when people are watching ;-)) as I reached the doors of the Ardbeg distillery, my nose following the (probably- hallucinated- by -this -stage!) intoxicating smell of whisky as eagerly as Dorothy had skipped down the yellow brick road towards Emerald City .

Clare at Ardbeg

Clare served me the first dram of the trip. I sat in the restaurant, soaked to the bone, clutching my delicate glass. I looked around at all the groups of people tucking into plates of hot food, surrounded by family and friends. I was on my own. And I liked it. I liked knowing that the experience I was having was going to be life-changing and that to get the most out of the experience, I’d have to put everything I had both mentally and physically into it. The adventure had started  ;-)!!

My first Islay malt!

As I pulled my rucksack back on, my shoulders smarted with the pain. My  spine and shoulders were bruised; sores at my bra line and the top of my shorts were beginning to bleed. I was going to have to toughen up!

Me and George at Laphroaig

Adopting the soon-to-be-trademark John Wayne gait, I moved “swiftly” on.. to the next distillery : Lagavulin (who were most welcoming but I couldn’t handle another dram and their miniatures were not exactly miniature so I couldn’t carry one with me ).. and onto the next : Laphroaig. Here I was met warmly by a fellow runner , Caroline Morris. She organised for me to have a miniature to take away with me so I could savour it after the first day. Vicky Stevens in the Visitor Centre cheerily pushed the bottle into my hands and the lovely George let me step behind the bar for a photo. I look remarkably fresh in the picture (which must have been the Ardbeg-afterglow!).

Port Ellen Lighthouse

Now, with only 5 miles to go, I was on the home stretch to the Port Ellen Lighthouse and the Carraig Fhada Farmhouse where Sally and Harry were letting me use their caravan for the first and last night of the trip. Sally was extremely kind to me : welcoming me into her kitchen for strong hot coffee and introducing me to her extended family who had come from  England to celebrate her birthday. I was even invited to share her celebratory meal (and Allan’s seafood pizza creation was delicious ;-)!)

Sally's extended family

Day 1 ended with the Laphroaig and a view out onto Port Ellen harbour. I was already looking forward to day 2 (such is the positive- and yet mind-altering- effect of a beautiful peaty Islay malt! It seems to bring on a mild yet wonderful insanity that can last up to 9 days…)

Day 2 : Port Ellen Lighthouse – Lower Killeyan – Kintra- Bowmore (25.3)

I slept like a log – an actual log. I couldn’t move, I was so stiff from the neck down. When I got up, I had to lift my legs out of bed – which wasn’t easy because I had to lift my right arm with my left before I could manoeuvre my legs (my arms had seized at the shoulder joint because of the weight of the rucksack). My inner Collie dog was not wagging its tail.

Hmmm..Eddie Izzard did it. That’s what I kept telling myself. If Eddie Izzard could do it – so could I. So I hobbled to the farmhouse and wolfed down my baked beans (I found that I could run on a plate of baked beans on toast almost instantly – no digestion time required…and I am pleased to report that the whole 9-day run took place with remarkably little “wind assistance”.)

The lovely Willie Currie

And so I was off. I had keft my sleeping bag at Sally’s but the rucksack was still incredibly heavy. Willy Currie passed me in his big blue and yellow lorry (I was to “run into” him again on Jura and on the Glen Road back down to Port Ellen later in the week) and stopped for a chat. I was glad of the rest.

After he had gone, I gasped out loud “I need to get rid of more weight” and what do you know? Louise from the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart (where I would be staying on Thursday evening) pulled up in her blue van and offered to take the rest of my camping kit. I couldn’t believe my luck. I was JUBILANT!

Lunch-time at Kintra

And on I cracked – meeting April and Lawrence at Lower Killeyan (who later spurred me on just past Port Charlotte on Day 3), having a gloriously sunny lunch at Kintra beach and lurching into the Bowmore distillery at about 4.30pm.

Lindsay at Bowmore

Running 200 miles makes a girl thirsty!

Lindsay immediately served me my wee dram. The Malt Men’s – a limited edition (only 3000 bottles have been made of this). It was as exquisite as stroking a fine Persian cat 😉

I reached Kate’s (who is involved with the organisation of the increasingly popular Islay Half Marathon) at the Meadowside B&B a little weary. She immediately offered to transport my remaining overnight kit onto Octofad Farm the next day. That really was an incredible weight off my shoulders – it was a very kind thing of her to do for me.

Supper was succulently tender Islay lamb in the Bowmore Hotel, where I met Peter Maclellan (who runs 10 miles every day – and is a former Airdrie FC player) and his son, also Peter, (who told me the most interesting thing I learned on the whole trip : all first-borns on Islay are born in Paisley or Glasgow!).

Day 3 : Bowmore – Bruichladdich- Port Charlotte – Portnahaven- Kilchiaran – Port Charlotte (26.8 miles) DOOMSDAY 1

I slunk out of Bowmore at about 8.15am on Day 3. A sky full of the promise of rain above and the gruelling ,unforgiving hardness of grey tarmac below. Even though my rucksack now only contained my waterproofs, 1.5 litres of water, my camera, phone and my food – it still felt incredibly heavy. I jolted every time I felt it bump into my lower spine. I could feel a wee tearsy coming on. And then the water came from the sky. And then the water came from my eyes. There was water everywhere.

A warm Bruichladdich welcome!

Everything changed at 10.40am when I swerved (yes, I was going at some speed, spurred on by the site of the Bruichladdich distillery– by this stage  I had become a dab-hand at scanning the horizon for a distinctive pagoda that indicated the site of a distillery and I could have rented out my nose to the local constabulary if they needed the services of a sniffer dog who could pick up the scent of some of the finest malts on earth) into the gates of the Bruichladdich distillery.

Dripping with sweat, I blew into the distillery like a gust of Islay wind. “I know who you are,” chirped Mary. She had been expecting me and supplied me with a wee bottle of the finest 😉 Mary told me that the Bruichladdich distillery was already involved with another charity called “Spirit Aid” and that they had already raised over £1000 since May. I have to say that Mary and the other folk at Bruichladdich were as warm and as welcoming to me as the fist sip of “the Laddie” himself 😉 I felt spurred on by their kindness and trotted (in an older horse kind of way) back out into the hammering rain.

Another brief swerve into the Post Office at Port Charlotte (a purveyor of the finest and sweetest flapjacks I have ever tasted), was followed by another gust of my own tears. I was carrying more rations (I’d need these for my trip to the RSPB Reserve), I was cold, the rain was stinging my legs, blood was now trickling from the sores on my back, my collar-bones felt like they were about to snap….when, shimmering like a mirage in the desert (albeit a very wet desert indeed), I saw the bright and cheerful contours of the building of Octofad Farm I would be staying that evening. Kathy welcomed me in – I dropped off the heavy load of food, topped up my water bottles and drudged on.. and on.. and on…the sky like a creased black blanket and the wind like a howling, tormented demon (yes folks, you’ve probably worked out that I wasn’t having a very good day at all!).

As I tumbled into Portnahaven, looking for the “OK bend” that would let me know that I was on-track, I spied a wee tea room. I decided not to go in there but my legs decided otherwise and before I knew it, I was sat down, rucksack on the floor and ordering coffee.

Flora gave me coffee and sat down to chat. It was so kind of her to take the time to talk. I was exhausted..totally spent.. not knowing if I could make the remaining 10 miles. She told me that one of her sons is in the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, about to be sent to Afghanistan. Hearing that, and listening to her as a mother, was far more powerful than any caffeine. When my cup was empty, I got up and ran and ran and ran…the Collie dog was back!

Putting my feet up with a Lagavulin

Kilchiaran Bay was wild and brooding: I stopped to soak up its raw beauty. And then on I ran and ran and ran..until I pelted like Highland hailstones into Port Charlotte. It felt exhilarating. 26.8 miles done. I ran into the Post Office just after 5pm to get more supplies (thank you Sharon for your kindness. It really was very much appreciated) and then jogged into the Port Charlotte Hotel to put my feet up with a celebratory Lagavulin and GORGEOUS

The wild and beautiful Kilchiaran Bay

chicken curry (I think I must hold the local record for the speediest consumption of a curry!)

The Vancouver girls

In the hotel I met Sylvia Sorenson and Norma Barkhouse from North Vancouver. Originally from Edinburgh, they were friendly and chatty and very interested in what I was doing.It was great to share my adventure with them – 2 very adventurous women themselves! I was to see them and their family several times over the next couple of days : they would wind down the window of their car and offer their support in a way that really made me smile.

I slept like a log after this!

Kathy picked me up from the hotel and took me and my rucksack to he farm. I retired to bed with a bottle of Islay Black Rock Ale ..oooh ..a treacly elixir for the long-distance runner. I slept deeply. I didn’t move an inch all night.

Day 4 : Port Charlotte – Kilchoman-Sanaigmore-Ardnave- Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve (27.5 miles) After my regular plate of beans on toast, taping up my toes and annointing my back with a range of Compede pads (which are brilliant ,by the way, and regular little limpets…their remains are still on my back!), I set off from Port Charlotte (Liz Hathaway from the Bird Reserve was ferrying my overnight kit to Loch Gruinart and dropped me to the start point).

Everything felt different. My legs were loose and relaxed. My rucksack felt like part of me – and it felt very odd without it. I had learned to love the sound of the rhythmic thud of my own feet; I had learned to welcome and smile at the rain; I had learned to be part of the environment in which I was running and to give myself to the wind, the rain and the sea… and I was beginning to learn some important things that I will remind myself of whenever the going gets tough – whatever I am doing :

  1. When life is simple it can be joyful. (My days were gruelling and yet fulfilling. All I had to do put one foot in front of the other for hours on end. But those days of hard labour were always rewarding.)
  2. There is nothing better for the soul than food in an empty belly, washing the grime of the day away and the warmth of human kindness.
  3. One of the greatest gifts that people can give is time for another person (all those who stopped to talk to me made such a difference).
  4. Being outdoors all day makes you feel alive.

Kilchoman distillery

I glided (yes, I actually did) into the Kilchoman distillery, enjoyed a rest and a hot coffee, packed my wee dram into the top of my rucksack and pushed on round Loch Gorm and up to Sanaigmore. I stopped  at the art gallery/café there and spoke to Sarah, a talented jewellery maker (see her stuff here ) who was mulling over the notion of adventure and when it was best to have one.. now or later?

The adventurous Sarah Brown

My words came before I could consciously mediate them.”I think you should have one now. And have one later. In fact, if your whole life isn’t the adventure you’d dreamed it could be, you’re not living your life as fully as you might”.

I listened to my own words. I had just given myself some good advice. I thought about the next few days to come and the rest of my Help For Heroes challenges. I decided to make every second count. To live it all adventurously. Go the whole hog.

So I got up and ran and ran and ran..popping into see Liz at the Reserve on my way up to Ardnave point .. singing Cara Dillon songs out loud to the rhythm of my feet… shouting to everyone I saw at Ardnave about how far I’d run (this was the longest day so far). I felt great. Full of “it”. And I think I was beginning to see what “it” actually was. And I was beginning to see that all of us have “it”. And it can make a body sing. It can actually make a body run. For miles. And miles. And miles.

A slap-up meal for 1!

I swooped into the bothy at the Bird Reserve like a young velociraptor (very common in Perthshire but not so common here..more likely to find a chough…and corncrakes at other times of

Freshly flown in!

year). I was STARVING and elated…but the birders were all out doing I had a quiet celebration with the Kilchoman, oatcakes and some Nutella ( a classic combination for the well-developed palate).

Beth at the Bird Reserve

I spent my evening talking to Beth and Linda while devouring (in a very Jurassic Park kind of way) a plate of rice, tuna and vegetables – and working myself up to laying out my bivvy bag in the back garden. It was going to be a first. An adventure.

My bivvy bag from Cotswolds in Glasgow

If Rosie Swale-Pope could manage 5 years in a small tent..I could manage a night in a bivvy bag. And out I strode into the wilds of a well-mown back garden. I lay down. I got into the bag. I zipped it up and the heavens opened (as they often do in this part of the world 😉

Hmmm…would it keep me dry? More importantly, would my running shoes keep dry? I made an emergency call to my adventure consultant in County Antrim from deep inside my bivvy bag. He told me to relax and enjoy the experience and that the bag would hold but I was so hot I could hardly breathe and the bag kept enveloping my face in a Burke and Hare body-snatching kind of way. So I decided to sleep with my head out of the bag…well, I didn’t expect that much sleep as the dragon flies were busy out on night-time bombing raids but I thought I’d give it a go.

I opened the bag. I stuck my head out to enjoy the stars and whoooooooshhhh …a plague of midges covered me in a way only Indiana Jones would understand…feasting on my uncovered flesh (and they said there were no velociraptors in these parts!!). That was the end of my bivvy bag experience. I got up. I went in. I slept on the sofa.

Day 5 : Loch Gruinart Reserve – Bridgend- Ballygrant- Port Askaig – Ballygrant (18 miles) DOOMSDAY 2 I didn’t get that much sleep on the sofa but I wasn’t too concerned. It was only going to be an 18-miler, after all!

Well..just how wrong can a girl be? The run to Bridgend went smoothly. I stopped at the shop there to get provisions for my 3-day Jura run. Now my bag felt like a tonne – the tins of mackeral (my omega 3 intake rocketed during this 9-day trip!) cutting into my weary back – and I still didn’t have everything I needed. I trotted on further, popping into the “Square” to say hello to Liz Hathaway’s husband who runs the Islay Ale brewery and then going into the Islay Community Garden to pick up some vegetables.

And the rain just kept falling. And my backpack just got heavier and heavier. My spirits were falling a damn sight faster than I was running. I began to slow right down – the road to Ballygrant seemed endless and I couldn’t see the sea. I had lost my only companion and I felt totally alone.

Cars and lorries splashed by as I crept through the miles, finally reaching the milestone that indicated that Ballygrant (where I could drop off my food before continuing to Port Askaig) was only 1 mile away…but what an interminable mile that was.

On the verge of ending it all by throwing myself into a hedge (it’s a little- known fact that the preferred way of leaving the planet for most ultra-runners is by diving into a convenient hedge ;-)) I found myself being stared at by a man in a white van.

Islay McEachern : the man who stopped me from diving into a hedge 😉

His eyebrows were raised, humour creasing the corners of his mouth, as he observed my stagger. ” Are you mad?” he enquired. I replied that I had just realised that I was way back on the road from Bridgend (I kept the hedge-diving thoughts to myself though).

We talked for a while about my fund-raising challenge. He was very supportive (he actually transported my overnight kit from the Ballygrant Inn to the Port Ellen lighthouse on the final day of my trip- very kind of him indeed).

Day 5 : blisters, sweat rash and bruised toenails

Again, my spirits raised by human contact, I upped the pace and stormed in to the Ballygrant Inn David Graham welcomed me in and I dropped off my Jura supplies, running on to Port Askaig and back to Ballygrant to finish the 18-mile day. Louise from the RSPB Reserve dropped in my overnight kit – I bathed, tended my bruised toe-nails and then went to eat.

Ewen Graham at the Ballygrant Inn

My malt of the day was to be a Caol Ila – the distillery being very close to Port Askaig (so it was local to my stopping point for the night).  I spent the evening in the good company of  William (who had seen active service in  the military himself) and Catriona from Falkirk.

William and Catriona

The venison steak, cooked by David, was the tenderest piece of meat I have ever eaten; the red wine sauce a perfect foil to the earthiness of the venison and the vegetables “al dente”. I ate it all. I slept deeply that night.

Day 6 : Port Askaig – Feolin – Craighouse – Ardlussa (25 miles) David served a plate of perfect baked beans on toast (I don’t think he could actually believe that’s what I would run 25 miles on up to Ardlussa on Jura that day) and then drove me to Port Askaig where I waited for the 9.30 boat to Jura.

Waiting for the wee ferry to Jura

It was raining (actually David Graham told me how to forecast the weather on Islay in a very reliable way. He said, if you can’t see the Paps then it’s raining. If you can see the Paps, then it’s about to rain ;-)) and I was really excited about the next 3 days.

I had the feeling that it was going to get a bit wilder and a bit more remote. Konrad Borkowski (check out his photographic genius here ) who drives the bus on Jura had kindly offered to pick up my bags from the waiting room at Feolin and drive them up to the Ardlussa Estate where I would be staying for 2 nights (Andrew and Claire Fletcher were so generous in offering me the use of a cottage for the duration of my Jura run).

Only 25 miles to go to Ardlussa!

Again, my heart beat hard with excitement as I told the ferry man what I was doing. The 5-minute crossing was over in a flash. I dropped my bulging rucksack liner into the waiting room and set off towards Craighouse, keeping an eye out for Konrad and his white bus.

I ran cautiously through a herd of long-horn cattle (I was getting used to this – and had even taken up cow whispering by this stage) and then relaxed into my pace. It was misty and atmospheric – again I was alone with the thud of my own feet.

As promised, Konrad and his bus appeared on the horizon a little after 10am. I waved him down for a chat – it was so good to meet him.

The distillery on Jura

On I pounded to Craighouse where I popped into the Jura distillery and then on up north.. the traffic thinned and again I was on my own. For miles and miles and miles…on past the Paps of Jura, down into shore-hugging Lagg, then onto Tarbert with beautiful views of the Loch.

A while later, a car stopped and wound down its windows. It was Claire Fletcher. She said I still had a few miles to go (the hedge-diving thought entered my mind again) and it was getting late.

Konrad and the Jura bus

On I went, totally taken up by my own thoughts of hedges (and other ways to abandon ship) when the roar of the Jura bus glided into my consciousness. The ever-cheerful Konrad offered me hot tea and told me I only had a few

A rare surge (picture by Konrad)

miles to go. About 3 or so… only 3 or so… I could feel a surge coming on!

So surge I did.. and my left quadricep screamed with agony ..and I shouted out the immortal words “get me a hedge”!

DISASTER.This could be a disaster. I’d need ice as soon as possible. I’d need to get my leg up and get some anti-inflammatories. I hobbled across the cattle grid that marks the entrance to the Ardlussa Estate. It was beautiful: a sparkling white house shimmering in the evening sun – the sea at its majestic feet. I felt grim. My feet were far from majestic. I wondered if I’d manage this feat now.

The ultimate leg-icing experience!

Andrew showed me to the cottage which had everything I needed for my 2-night stay : very hot water, a firm bed and bags of peace and quiet. I dug out my 2 Ibrufrofen tablets I had brought with me (I had been very optimistic ;-)) and opened the fridge door to check if the freezer compartment had ice in it. It had the perfect thing in it : a bottle of Jameson’s Irish whisky shaped perfectly to match my quadricep. I lay down and took my daily dram : this time externally ;-). I took a hot bath, shovelled in a plateful of rice and then went to bed – a little anxious about how my quadricep would be for the

Gamekeepers Cottage, Ardlussa Estate

next day. I decided an early start would esure that I made it up to Kinuachdrachd and back – whatever state my leg was in.

Day 7 : Ardlussa- Kinuachdrachd- Ardlussa (16.5) TOUCHING THE VOID A driech day beckoned me out of the door at 8am. My left leg was rigid and painful but as I pulled on my rucksack, I could feel it loosening. I felt hopeful.. and so I hobbled…and hobbled and

The harbour at Kinuachdrachd

hobbled…herded a few cows at Lealt… went by Barnhill (where George Orwell wrote 1984) and before I knew it I was at Kinuachdrachd ,”the end of the road”, and my turning point for the day.

I went to the harbour and sat down. A searing pain shot from my left knee to my groin. I squealed. I had an urge to vomit. My leg went rigid. I imagined that this is what it must have been like for Joe Simpson (the author of the very popular true climbing story “Touching The Void”) when he realised that his climbing partner had cut the rope on him. I dialled the hot-line to my adventure consultant in County Antrim . “Who has cut the

My leg injury might well have meant the end of the road....

f!*king rope?” I screeched down the phone. He knew what I meant straight away. “I am drawing out a big circle at the harbour here with an H in it for the helicopter. How long will you be?”

It was good to get the frustration out and laugh. No-one was there to witness my predicament. I put the phone down, stared at the sea and comforted myself with yet another tinned mackeral sandwich.

By this stage I was used to talking out loud to myself. “Just get up Jane and get on with it.” The voice was particularly strict that day – so I did just that.

As soon as I realised that there seemed to be a distinct lack of hedges of a suitable quality in which to dive, my mood changed. The Jura sun grew warm and cast splinters of glitter into the super-blue sea. I was almost enjoying the hobbling now!

A victorious re-entry into the Gamekeeper’s  Cottage at Ardlussa took place at 2.30pm. I slept. I iced my leg. I bathed. I ate. I slept. Ready for a 6am start in the morning.

Day 8 : Ardlussa- Feolin-Port Askaig (25miles) HOW TO BE A PIRATE I woke at 5.15am and carried out an initial leg check. It wasn’t looking that great : it was swollen and very stiff but it would have to do its job. Today’s mileage would be done by brute force – I braced myself for what was ahead (25 miles and a cheese and marmalade sandwich… I didn’t know which to be the most concerned about ;-))

I opened the door to the cottage and morning crept in like a stray cat. The sky was splashed with swathes of fuschia-pink; the shrinking canopy of night still holding the hush so that sleep could drowse on for the other islanders. I tip-toed (in only the way that Long John Silver might) down the lane and left my green rucksack liner at the cattlegrid for Konrad to pick up on his morning run.

The effect of keeping to Jack Sparrow's beauty regime 😉

The image of a pirate seemed very fitting. It was  just a question of finding the right pirate to be that day. I was looking like a bit of a ocean-scoured wreck : my all-black  salt-marked running kit had already seen 7 days of hard action; my face looked bitten by the wind ; my hair had become as wild as the winter seas ; my rucksack the trusty parrot on my shoulders. As I am writing this, a big smile is creeping across my heavily-moisturised face. Day 8 was Captain Jack Sparrow’s day (Pirates of the Carribean) – a most resilient pirate, equipped with a sense of humour that always sees him through. In the words of the great Jack Sparrow : “When you marooned me on that spit of land, you forgot one very important thing, mate: I’m Captain Jack Sparrow.”

We're all alot stronger than we think we are

So there I was at one end of the spit of land that is the wildy beautiful Jura (with one good leg) and I just had to remember that very important thing. I was going to make it to the ferry because today I would mostly be being Captain Jack Sparrow, mate!

The Paps (taken from the rise before Tarbert)

I hobbled and hobbled and hobbled, enjoying the isolation, enjoying having the vast panorama of the morning all to myself. The Paps were breath-taking, their peaks dipped in raspberry-coulis light (you can probably tell that I was already starving at this stage!).

Everything looked perfect. I felt very emotional : I was moving through perfection. Not just a glimpse of perfection either. No. I moved through perfection for hours and hours, mesmerised by the changing colours in the sky, the warmth of the sun like a supportive arm around my sore shoulders, the sparkling water weaving magic in the early light.

The hours came and went. A brief interlude at Lagg when Konrad and his bus passed, furnishing me with much-needed Ibruprofen. Before I knew it I was in Craighouse ordering a scone in the bistro there : it was only 11.15am!

So used to being outdoors had I become that the prospect of sitting indoors to eat my scone never crossed my mind. It felt so warm inside ; I couldn’t breath properly. Instinctively, I found myself a place outside.

By 2pm I was at Feolin. Willie Currie and his lorry turned up. Konrad and Dorota turned up in their green car. I sat with my final cheese and marmelade sandwich (which was delicious, by the way!) and waited for the ferry. In spite of my leg, 25 miles had been a joyful experience.

The Bunnahabhain - marking my crossing back to Islay

Konrad and Dorota dropped me at the Ballygrant Inn. I celebrated with an 18-year old dram of Bunnahabhain(thanks to Lillian at Bunnahabhain for offering a dram at the distillery – unfortunately, it would have added 8 miles to the day and I just couldn’t manage another step!) and re-plotted my final route for Day 9. David had suggested taking the Glen Road to the High Road rather than the previously planned Bridgend route. It was perfect – my miles would be done by the end of the following day.

Another luxurious plateful of venison replenished my energy stores. As I waited for my food, I looked out onto the Paps of Jura. An intense wave of emotion, rippled through my body – I can only compare it to the power of some of the final contractions I experienced when my son was born. I had no control over the feeling but I knew it meant something significant. Tears came to my eyes. I was surprised at how emotional I was feeling.

This had become a way of life – and I was really going to miss it. I was going to miss this place too.

I sat with a cyclist and talked about life on the move. It was good to bring the last 8 days back to life. It was good to talk about adventure.

Again, I slept deeply.

Day 9 : Ballygrant – Glen Road – High Road – Port Ellen – Port Ellen Lighthouse (17 miles) BORN TO RUN By 8am I was at the breakfast table. Beans on toast were delivered by David as I watched the rain falling outside. I smiled at the rain. A perfect day for the last leg.

This man knows how to cook!

After managing to get David to reveal his red wine sauce recipe (go to the end of this post to read it!), I left my green rucksack liner for Islay M to pick up later and secured my rucksack on my back.

Today was about savouring every last moment of this experience. Today I would keep my eyes wide open to everything. Today I would welcome the rain on my face. Today I would hope for cattle in the road. I wanted “today” to last. I knew with every step I took, I was creating a memory that would keep me going for far longer than 2o3 miles.

I opened the door of the Ballygrant Inn and started to run. My leg felt good. My heart welcomed the increasing demand on it. The beads of sweat formed eagerly. My rucksack felt like it was part of my body. I felt like I was born to run. I ran quickly. I ran joyfully. For this moment, I felt like part of everything.I had my place .I was content.

Whilst my body felt fully alive, my mind was becoming increasingly fatigued. I lost track of where I was : I had to call David for instructions. A friendly man from Ballygrant stopped in his van to chat on the Glen Road. I could hardly string a sentence together but I was very glad of his company for a few short moments. He had seen me all over the island over the past 9 days : I knew practically every inch of that island now. It was beginning to feel like home.

And then..just as everything was going so well…suddenly it wasn’t! Just as I hit the High Road, it felt like my left quadricep was ripped out of my groin. I yelped.I’d just have to hobble into Port Ellen.

Willie Currie passed me in his lorry. He stopped for a chat and offered me a lift.He made me giggle and it felt good to be distracted from the pain. My leg begged to climb inside the cab. I must have looked in a bit of a state. But I had to hobble on. I had to do it on my own 2 legs. There was no other way.

I've just finished!

And hobble I did..into Port Ellen and then onto the lighthouse, back to Sally’s. I had done it. I sat on the beach with a hot coffee to allow the experience to settle. All done by mid-afternoon.

A wee dram of my local brew, the Famous Grouse, marked the end of the adventure. Islay delivered my kit to me .”You’ll be back, won’t you?” he asked. “Oh, I definitely will!”

I ate alone in the caravan, savouring my memories more than the rice and tuna. I watched the sun set. I watched the lights in Port Ellen harbour. I didn’t want the day to end. I set my alarm early so I could have the start of the next morning to myself. Just me and the sea.

Day 10 : Homeward Bound Shortly after 7am I found myself perched on the steps to the lighthouse, a plate of peanut butter on toast on my knees. I

Breakfast time at the lighthouse

listened to the lapping lullaby of the waves. My body was still asleep – it knew I had stopped. The collie dog was in its basket.

I said my good-byes to Sally and to the caravan (which I had really enjoyed).

Sally's caravan is behind me

The taxi took me to the harbour – the MV Arran already docked. I got on her. I slept deeply. And I dreamed of running.

The collie dog was wagging its tail and had its lead in its mouth. It was ready to go again.



Me and my faithful collie dog say goodbye to Islay

1. Number of pairs of socks for the 203 mile run : 3.

2. Number of sets of running kit run in : 1.

3. Number of tins of mackeral eaten : enough to lengthen my life by 300 years (at least).

4.Favourite places : Ardtalla, Kilchiaran and Kinuachdrachd (for the sense of isolation and peace).

Oh….and I must give you David Graham’s recipe for venison steak in a red wine sauce :

1.Flash fry the venison for 2-3 minutes on each side.

2.Once that’s done, deglaze the pan with a glass of red wine. Add in a tbsp of red currant or branble jelly, a little beefstock (2-3 tbsp – this is optional but does add a little depth).

3.Stir in a couple of knobs of cold butter to make the sauce glossy.

My mouth is watering at the thought of it!

How could a girl resist those hills?

MY THANKS GO TO : the people of Islay and Jura who showed me nothing but kindness and generosity. To the folk who fed and watered me, to the folk who gave me somewhere to sleep, to the folk who transported my overnight kit, to the folk at the distilleries, to the folk who made donations to the H4H pot : my heartfelt thanks. To all of those who took the time to talk to me : thankyou (you kept me going!)

It really was a very moving experience. I hope my story moves you enough to give to the Help For Heroes charity here :

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