Posted by: intrepidjane | October 13, 2010

Going All The (West Highland) Way!

1 mare v 6 men : who would win the 24-mile race from Kingshouse to Fortwilliam?

On Monday 4th October 2010, Tricia and I got onto the train at Dunblane with our very heavy rucksacks, clutching our single tickets to Bearsden (Glasgow). This was it : the start of another adventure! But this time it was going to be different ~ I was not going to be on my own .This time there would be a team; this time there would be people joining at different parts of the adventure, this time there would be a race that we had made up for ourselves – all in the pursuit of fund-raising for Help For Heroes.

Starting on Tuesday the 5th October from Milngavie, Tricia Stewart, Marina Ramsden and I would set out on the West Highland Way : a 94- ish (it depends on your guidebook how long it actually is !! 😉 mile stroll from Glasgow up to Fortwilliam. The aim was to cover the ground over 5 days with various people joining us en route. On the 5th day, I would run the Man V Mare race – the final stretch from Kingshouse to Fortwilliam.

You can read about team members and the Man V Mare race concept by clicking onto the relevant buttons on the menu. In all, 14 people participated in this event : 4 women completed the West Highland Way in its entirety, 7 of us took part in the Man Versus Mare race and 4 others joined the journey for part of the way. The women’s team (The Wild Women) and the men’s team (the Mad Men) between them raised a further  £2000 by undertaking this challenge (bringing the current donation total to Help For Heroes to £8259.50!)  You can still give here :

The Night Before

Tricia and I stayed the night at Madaline’s so we could get an early walk-off on Tuesday. Madaline and Caroline had walked the WHW in stages and would be completing the final two legs of the walk on Friday and Saturday – finishing in FW with me and the running men.

Madaline and Caroline shared every step of the way!

There was a hearty heap of pasta on offer (and much restraint practised in the red grape juice department.. ;-)) as we talked kit, weather, maps (you wouldn’t believe how many maps and guidebooks we took .. and you wouldn’t believe how seldom we had to use them.. you can see the WHW markers from space!) and waited for the arrival of Marina from the Lake District.

By 10.30 it was lights out. I was sharing with Tricia whom I have known for about 8 years. She was to be my walking buddy for the trek.. and I was surprised to find out something new about Tricia that very night. SHE SNORES. Fortunately, I’ve watched enough of Ray Mears to know how to deal with this common wilderness hazard (I had a 5- day supply of the finest wax ear plugs money can buy and had read up on Ray’s “How To Make A Poison Dart Out Of Socks, An Empty Mars Bar Wrapper And Rosehips”. You’ll be pleased to hear that I never had to make the dart – and that it turned out that I SNORE TOO and, thankfully, Tricia is not a Ray Mears fan, so I didn’t get the dart either 😉

Day 1 : Milngavie – Balmaha (c 20 miles)

Caroline arrived at about 7.30am to join us for breakfast. Scrambled eggs and baked beans eaten, Marina, Tricia and I were driven to Milngavie station to start the walk. It was an unusual feeling to be starting something AGAIN… the 203-miles of the Islay-Jura run were still carried in my body… my achilles tendons and calf muscles were still very painful, damaged by running with a heavy load.. Pamela had given me a sports massage (not exactly the most relaxing massage I’d ever had!) when I went to pick up my shoes at Run 4 It in Glasgowshe made it clear that my body needed looking after if I was going to ask more of  it. This time, carrying heavy weight – and even running the Man V Mare race – was not going to be an option. It weighed heavy on my mind. I’d have to walk all the way – even the race at the end. I had 4 days to make peace with myself.

Only 95 miles to go!

So – here I was at the start of something again, at the point of fruition of an idea I had in May when summer was beginning to blossom. Now it was October, the leaves falling off the trees,waiting for the blanket of winter to fall. We said good-bye to Caroline and Madaline who we would not see again until Saturday. We marched off…. 9am Tuesday 5th October.

The view from Conic Hill

Miles passed quickly. Before we knew it, we were out of the city and into peaceful countryside. Pit-stops were made here and there until we reached Conic Hill. One hill stood between us and Balmaha – with the wind in our faces we pushed on until the work was done. Balmaha for afternoon tea : 4pm. Job done 😉

Tricia and I repaired to our accommodation We were most impressed that our bags had arrived safely (AMS were BRILLIANT by the way ), that the water in the shower was HOT, that we had been supplied with ear-plugs (had they heard about Tricia’s snoring?…) and that they were totally geared up for walkers (with special drying areas for our boots and clothes). Marina pushed onto her campsite as Tricia and I eyed -up the menu : the meatballs were delicious!

Bellies full, ear-plugs in, lights out at 8.15pm!

Day 2 : Balmaha – Inversnaid (c 14 miles)

8am breakfast of beans on toast (with lashings of brown sauce – obviously) was wolfed down, our daysacks (crammed with peanut butter sandwiches) were hauled on and we were ready for the off at 8.45am. We would scoop up Marina and the new arrival, Eileen, on our way to Inversnaid.

Jane and Tricia pushing on to Rowardennan

Soon we were into our rhythm, a consistent 3.5 miles an hour : fast enough for the body to feel and slow enough to take in the sights. We reached Marina and Eileen and decided to press on and meet them at the bunkhouse at Inversnaid.

Coffee at the very friendly Rowardennan Hotel was taken in the garden in gleaming sunshine ..sunshine that, unfortunately, wasn’t set to last. The trek from Rowardennan to Inversnaid proved itself to be a very wet affair indeed – and the going became increasingly challenging as we began to negotiate tree roots and rocks and man-made steps (which Tricia did not like at all 😉 I should mention at this stage  that Tricia is an ex-RAF PTIand even she thought that Stannah stairlifts would have been far more sensible than the steps that had been created for leg-weary walkers!)

The friendly and atmospheric bunkhouse at Inversnaid

Fortunately, for Tricia, my own favourite saying is “when the going gets tough, SPEED UP!”  So we did 😉,cruising into the Inversnaid Hotel, drenched to the bone at 2.20pm. Coffees all round before we hiked up to the hill to the bunkhouse to wait for Marina and Eileen.

Warm showers were followed by comfy sofas upstairs. Eileen and Marina soon showed up and we tucked into very delicious chillis and curries ..oooh and a wee drop

At the Rowardennan end of Loch Lomond

of red grape juice (for the anti-oxidants). Lights out by 9pm (wild by name, wild by nature ;-))

Day 3 : Inversnaid – Tyndrum (c 20 miles)

Although the weather forecast had promised blue skies and sunshine, we were woken by the hammering of rain on the bunkhouse window. By 8 o’clock we were all crammed around the breakfast table awaiting the arrival of our fuel for the day. We all knew that today was going to be the toughie. The guidebooks talked about the tricky section between Inversnaid and Inverarnan (including smelly feral goats – although I’m the proud owner of  a very insensitive nose, so would have to rely on Tricia’s black-belt senses to alert us to the presence of these wild beats ;-)) – a 7-mile stretch characterised by slippy rocks and gnarly tree-roots. And it was going to be a long day too – about 20 miles. And it looked like rain would be our companion for the whole day . The deck was not exactly stacked in our favour!

Marina and Eileen couldn't have got any wetter!

Marina’s feet had become badly blistered and, although she was patched up with Kompede,  it just wasn’t looking good. She decided she would give it a go anyway : she had trained hard for the last couple of months and was determined to give it her best shot.

Tricia and I set off with military determination in our stride at 8.45. Marina and Eileen would follow shortly afterwards with the aim of  rendez-vousing in Tyndrum at supper time. This day was about getting it done.

The goats came and went (according to Tricia they smelled like goats cheese and had her nose not picked up the scent, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all!). We stormed by the back-door of Rob Roy’s cave

The famous goats

(we didn’t think Kirsty and Phil would have bothered paying a visit, so we didn’t either 😉 and then hugged the dank and dim banks of Loch Lomond for what seemed like an eternity.The rain continued to lash down ; we were walking hard but I was getting cold.

We were both pleased to leave Loch Lomond behind. There had been something very constricting about walking between the trees and the water with the heavens pressing down on us. Now the land opened out a little and we could breath.. on past Ardlui…and eventually into Inverarnan.

Hot drinks were gulped at the campsite bar and then we forged on, stopping for a brief cuppa at the wigwam place just outside Tyndrum. 4.45pm – home (and not exactly dry) at the airy Tigh Na Fraoch guesthouse

A team-meeting was called as we’d received a message from Marina and Eileen that they’d had to bail out due to the terrible state of Marina’s feet. They’d caught a ferry and a train to Tyndrum – Marina decided it was best for her to make a halt at Tyndrum. Her walk was over.

This was quite a blow for the team – we all knew how important it was for Marina to do the walk. But she had to make the right call for her.

Tricia and I toasted Marina with a glass of red wine in our room. Lights out by 9 – a big day was awaiting us.

Day 4 : Tyndrum – Kingshouse (c 19 miles)

We’d arranged for a 7.30 breakfast so we could ensure an early finish at Kingshouse (I’d need to get my feet up and ice my tendons in preparation for the Man Versus Mare race on day 5). The first stretch to Bridge of Orchy was an easy stride ; we met Eileen (who had caught the train from Tyndrum) in the Bridge of Orchy Hotel for coffee.

Eileen and Tricia would continue for the rest of the day together across the wild and beautiful Rannoch Moor. Meanwhile, I would push on ahead, letting my inner collie dog off the lease for a well-earned bit of wildness 😉

Wild and beautiful Rannoch Moor

The route out of Bridge of Orchy was a fairly steep climb through forest and then out onto open hillside. It was great to be sweating, to be working hard .. everything felt loose.. I  to overtook a  group of women.. they asked if I was in a hurry . To be honest, this wasn’t about hurrying at all, it was about letting the dog off the lead, letting it do its natural thing… before I knew it I was running.. even bounding.. the Autumn light hardly cutting through the black skies .. greens and golds of the moor swirled like wild winter sea currents. Whilst I’d actually packed a heavier-than-usual rucksack to stop me from running, once the collie dog was off the lead it was too late!

The sweat was dripping from me, I enjoyed having to pay attention to where I placed me feet (the ground was rough and cobbly), I enjoyed the wind rushing past my ears.. every now and then checking that my tendons were holding up. I gave the dog a 20 minute run and then put the lead back on. I began to wonder whether I could run the race on Saturday. Could I take the risk?

Tricia at the beginning of the cobbly section over Rannoch Moor

I pushed on over the Moor, my feet teased and prodded by the cobbles. The wind blew harder – so hard I needed to pull up my buff to protect my ears. I began singing to myself : that might sound very strange but I noticed that I did the same on my big 203-mile run over Islay and Jura. When I am in a rhythm, in a world of my own, eyes fixed on the horizon.. I just start to sing.. and if my feet slow..I sing faster and my feet follow the song.

As the path raised to herald my entry into Glencoe, I was singing full-out (Cara Dillon seems to hit the spot in such situations) but could hear nothing, so hard was the wind blowing. Head down, I forced my way down to the Kingshouse Hotel : 2.20pm

I unpacked my rucksack (the process of taking everything out to dry and hanging up my sweaty kit had been something I’d perfected on my Islay-Jura run – I had it down to a rapid and fine art now) and then made straight for the shower .. the collie dog still wagging its tail.. it’s lead in its mouth.. those puppy dog eyes yearning for a long run…

At about 5.30 I met up with Eileen and Tricia in the bar. Mike, Tricia’s husband, would be coming up to join Tricia for the Saturday walk to Kinlochleven. Oona and Steff would be arriving first thing on Saturday to head for Kinlochleven too. Whilst Eileen, Tricia and I had covered the ground from Tyndrum to Kingshouse today, Madaline and Caroline had completed the Kingshouse to Kinlochleven section, ready for the final push into FW on Saturday.

I sat with my venison casserole in front of me – a Drambuie aperitif had whetted my appetite for something robust. Tricia looked at me and said “you’re not goingto run it tomorrow.” It wasn’t a question. It was a command.  She sensed the dog at my feet. I couldn’t argue with her logic – and logically I had thought the same thing. My tendons were wrecked from running with a 35 litre rucksack for over 200 miles. If I ran tomorrow, I could injure myself and not be able to run for months – it could jeopardise the ultra in Mongolia.

And logically that was right. My inner collie dog bowed its head and gave me those eyes again. I’d just have to walk hard. I’d just have to race myself – push myself as safely as I could. To be on the safe side, I packed a really heavy rucksack for the next day – this way, it should reduce the temptation to run. well – that was the plan….

Day 5 : RACE DAY Kingshouse – Fortwilliam  (c 24 miles)

The breakfast room was packed with walkers by 8am. Chaos ensued as staff took and delivered orders. Most of the boys were already at the hotel and were tucking into hearty breakfasts. Their captain, Iain, was on his way up from Ayrshire.

Steff and Oona on teir way to Kinlochleven

Steff and Oona on their way to Kinlochleven

I felt pre-race nerves in my body. I liked it. The collie dog liked it. My sensible head was hoping that the heavy-rucksack plan would work ;-). Photo shoot complete, we were off!

I strode out bang on 9am. The guys took a little while to muster themselves but soon I was overtaken by the lead runner, Sean .. and then by Dean and John. Mikey, Ian and Chris caught up with me at the bottom of the Devil’s Staircase.. and I managed to keep on their tail all the way up..

It was glorious. Big blue skies, a nip in the air and wild beauty winking at me from every angle.

Eileen on her way to Kinlochleven

As we reached the top, ahead lay a beautiful descent into Kinlochleven. The boys widened their stride and I watched them disappear into the horizon.

The wind was blowing hard. I was getting cold. I found myself uttering the immortal line spoken by Maverick in Top Gun “I feel the need, the need for speed!” (and nobody was looking, so would it really hurt?…) So I decided to trot.. it seemed okay.. my tendons were shortened for the downhill section… I took it easy.. that rucksack was HEAVY!!!

As I prepared to put down my landing gear for the final stretch into Kinlochleven I met 2 runners coming up hill. They were from Lochaber Athletic Club and knew of my run. They stopped to shake hands and wish me luck – telling me the boys weren’t that far ahead. It spurred me on..

By 11am, I was in Kinlochleven .. 9 miles into the race.. I started to walk again, mindful of preserving my tendons. Mikey, Chris and Ian were in sight! I overtook them (Ian was having to stop to tend to blisters) and pushed on, the sun beginning to burn higher in the sky, the blustery autumn wind blowing hard.

Morning mists accompany Caroline's climb out of Kinlichleven

I zig-zagged up and out of Kinlochleven, soon faced with the majestic Pap of Glencoe and soon faced by the sight of Dean and John. They didn’t look good – they were tired and sore. I overtook them as politely as I could. 5 down – 1 to go. Would I be able to catch up Sean, even though I would have to walk most of the way? Would I be able to keep ahead of the others?

I decided to go for it. I ate on the hoof. I kept well hydrated. I marched. I sang. Soon I met Caroline (who had accidentally put on the wrong boots at breakfast and was walking in someone else.s size 11s!) and Madaline – the Ben was dead ahead.

The majestic Pap

“You’ll never catch Sean. He’s too far ahead,” they told me. I pushed on, welcoming the respite from the heat in the shadow of the trees. The ground was soft underfoot, the light dappled and mesmerising. And the voice came “run this bit. Go on – run it!”..So I did.

I started to smile. The ground felt springy underfoot. Soon the forest trail broke out onto an open track – Fortwilliam was in sight. The ground was hard : eventually I knew it was time to walk. Even the collie dog barked at me to stop.

Madaline and the Ben

On the outskirts of Fortwilliam I met Lee and Willy – the husbands of Caroline and Madaline. They told me I had a good mile and a half to go before the “new end” of the WHW. I really wanted to make it in before 3 and it was already past 1o to. I ran a little more but the road was hard and my tendons hurt.

Just past the old end of the WHW, I met Sean. He was on his way back from the finish line. He walked me in. He’d finished at 2.25. I finished at 3.12. We sat down and waited for the others : for the rest of the runners, for Madaline and Caroline. News came in from Kinlochleven that Tricia and Mike were going to go the whole hog and walk into FW that day too.

We did it!

Chris and Iain came in at 3.35; Mikey at 3.38; John at 3.50 amd Dean at 4.40pm. Caroline and Madaline crossed the line shortly before 6, with friends, family and fellow runners waiting to greet them.

We all went our separate ways : me to meet my bike for the long ride home on my own the next day. At 7pm I received a text from Tricia to say she’d made it.

It was a good feeling to know how many of us had crossed the line. Even though we had all undertaken the challenge in our own way – it felt like we’d done it as a team.

I pumped up my tires, checked my lights, made up my sandwiches and got ready for the 7.30 start the next day. 86 miles between me and home.

In The Wind Tunnel : Fortwilliam To Crieff on A Bike

The first cyclist to be visible from space 😉

The blush of dawn was only just starting when I left Fortwilliam on Sunday morning. It was good to feel my legs being lulled into relaxation by the rhythmic whir of my wheels.

Everything was looking good.

Everything WAS looking good until I got through Onich and then had to cycle over the big metal bridge that joins old and new Ballachulish. WOW… I could hardly stay on my bike, so wild was the wind. It pushed me from one side of the road to the other as I willed myself to stay upright.

Safely on the other side, I was met head-on by the monster’s roar again. Whirling past my ears, my head right down, hands on the drop-bars, I pushed and pushed.. making very little headway.

A car stopped and advised me to get off the road.

I inched onwards. Inch by inch I clawed my way into the glen. Exhaustion was burning my legs, my wrists aching from the tight grip on the bars. I let up for a second.. and whoosh… the tip came.

I was close to the turn for the Clachaig Inn, only 20 miles into the 86-mile ride. The wind was roaring down the glen like frozen fireball. I had to make a call.

I opened my rucksack. Dialled the number and waited for my voice to make the call. It did. It said “it’s unsafe to continue. The ride is over”.

I took shelter in the Clachaig Inn whilst awaiting rescue. I felt separate from everything going on around me. It was too quiet without the wind and my thoughts had stopped thinking. I sat with my buff in the Mother Theresa position and waited.

During the wait, I decided the only way I could complete the challenge was in safer conditions – and in chunks (I had to go back to work).

So far, I have completed 62 miles of the 86.. the wheels of this adventure are still turning ….. 😉

The Winner’s Race Report – Sean Ginnitty

1st place in the Man V Mare Mountain Marathon

“I’d just like to start by saying what a great run and a great achievement for everyone involved. At times it was very hard going but we all made it in the end and it could not be for a better cause! Congratulations and well done to everybody! I was amazed at coming in first as due to various problems I was unable to train as much as I would have liked. However on the day, I felt fit and was eager to go! I kept a constant pace throughout most of the race, pushing myself hard up the Devil’s Staircase and back down in to Kinlochleven then back up in to the mountain trail once again for the last 16 mile stretch. As I approached Glen Nevis both my legs cramped up badly but I continued to make my way in to Fort William under the shadow of Ben Nevis, the sight of which amazed me and helped me focus on finishing the race. After five hours and twenty five minutes I arrived at the end of the West Highland Way, exhausted and in pain but extremely happy that I had accomplished something great for an extremely great cause! Once again a big hands up to everyone involved! I’d like to add that I’ve certainly much more confidence now to go out there and try for great thngs : I know that with enough effort anything is possible! ;)” Sean Ginnitty

The Wild Women’s Team Captain’s Report – Caroline Johnstone

Caroline hosted a Wild West bbq to raise funds for H4H!

“Well, I completed the West Highland Way for Help for Heroes, one step at a time.  I was part of a group of women who declared an aim to complete this challenge, and we were helpfully called the Wild Women by Jane Talbot, who organised it all!

The original idea had been to do the walk over a set number of days, camping or staying in bed and breakfasts as we went, but like all plans, this changed.  I had wanted a challenge to help me get fit again after a number of sports injuries and after being diagnosed with arthritis in several joints and with fibromyalgia.  In fact, having the latter prompted a number of friends to tell me I was mad to even try it as the challenge would exacerbate everything, but I figured if these guys who came home with terrible injuries could complete challenges, then so could I.  I worked with an NHS physiotherapist every week, a personal trainer at the gym, a private sports physiotherapist and a chiropracter, faithfully following their advice.  And there is no doubt I’m much fitter now than I was then; but after completing a particularly hard part, where I honestly thought I would have to call for mountain rescue to come and get me as I couldn’t walk any further, I decided to pull out of the challenge. This was my lowest point in a long time –  I felt I was letting everyone down and went through a couple of difficult weeks berating myself.  And then along came another of the Wild Women, Madaline Alexander – who suggested alternative ways of doing the walk.  Instead of being a daunting challenge, it became an adventure in friendship, discovering Scotland and in fundraising as we organised a raffle and were delighted at some of the amazing prizes people were prepared to donate to us, one of the highlights being a Welcome Home Reception at Dumfries House in Auchinleck.
So we did it stage by stage, a week at a time, with very early starts and very late finishes, doing the last two stages in two days so we could finish the same day as the Mad Men completed their challenge of racing Jane for the last 27 miles! We met a lot of lovely people along the way, took a few interesting taxi rides, managed to do it in mostly great weather, learned a lot of lessons along the way, had a lot of laughs and really deepened our friendship through it all.  And yes, the last few miles of the last day were a struggle, so I was so glad to have Lee and Willie to help us walk in, and though I didn’t sleep well the night after with the pain, I woke up on Sunday morning knowing I had completed it and helped raise at least another £2000 for the Help For Heroes pot!” Caroline Johnstone
A Message To The WHW Adventure Challenge Team & All Its Supporters – Jane Talbot

Jane thanks you for going the extra mile with her 😉

To all of those who participated in this event, my heartfelt thanks and respect. I thank you for taking the time not only to take part but to train AND raise money. A special thankyou goes to Caroline who is a fund-raising DYNAMO (and who is one of the few women I know who can look alluring in a sqaw outfit and face paint ;-))

To those of you who drove up to Fortwillian to support the event (Willie, Lee, Emma, Claire and Mikey’s parents) thanks for being part of this too.

If you have been generous enough to give to the fundraising pot, the WHW adventure challenge team salutes you : you’re a hero 😉

Gotta be part of something!

JT 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: