Wednesday, 16 August 2017

CMD Arrete before work

I've had a few good days in the mountains recently.
 Last week I had a day off but was on call during the evening. I spent most of the day getting to work taking in a few hills on the way. The weather was very good and  I had great views throughout. I went  from the Nevis Range up Aonach Mor .From the summit I went south  towards Aonach Beag , dropped down the steep path to the valley then climbed  Carn Mor Dearg . From there a delightfully airy arrete leads on to Ben Nevis itself . The great thing about the arrete is that there is plenty of exposure but no real danger . In good weather one can hop from rock to rock and feel like a real mountaineer, if it is wet or  windy one can take one of the little side paths avoiding any scrambling.
 Once on  the slope of Ben Nevis itself there is a steep rocky climb to the summit.It is good to stop and catch ones breath and take in the amazing view of row upon row of mountains with no sign of civilization - looking towards the south east there are no roads or buildings visible.
In contrast once over the lip of the plateau  any sense of mountain seclusion and wilderness is sadly wiped out by the crowds of people .It always seems that come rain or shine every man,woman, child  and their dog are on the top of Ben Nevis and that the streets of Fort William must be empty. Of course it is really good that so many people make the effort to climb Britain's highest mountain, but it is always a shock after enjoying hours of isolation.
I'm not a great fan of the tourist path . The panorama is spectacular, (if it is clear) Loch Linnhe , Loch Eil shining like mirrors to the west. However one has to spend a lot of time dodging people coming up or slowly descending. It always seems to take an inordinate amount of time to get down, but it is the biggest descent in Britain - from the highest peak down to just above sea level.
Once in the glen it was only a short trot to the office where I had a quick shower and changed. I had a busy evening/ night  at work but my 6 hour commute was great !
Looking back along the Carn Mor Dearg Arrete (painted  from a photo)

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Back Home

Back at home and I seem to have bought the good weather with me. Here is a sketch I did from woodland a mile or so from our house. There was enough of a breeze to keep the midges away. The view is looking towards Aonach Mor which looked magnificent in the late afternoon sunshine.
Here's a picture I've just finished. It is from a photo taken on one of my runs to work showing early morning cloud drifting across Meall an t-Suidhe. I took the photo from Inverlochy and I'm afraid I cheated by missing out a lamp post.

Yesterday I did the sketch below from the Commando Memorial. The grey Corries and Aonach Mor were obscured by cloud so I turned round and painted the view to the west.

Sketch of view from the Commando memorial watercolour plus some  coloured pencil

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Visit to Essex

I'm just back from a visit to Essex to see my parents.
The journey down was a bit different because the train service was canceled due to lack of staff. In place was a minibus which  took me to first to Roy Bridge then Tulloch station then back towards Glasgow ( so I passed my front door for a second time after about half an hour of travelling ) Despite this the driver got me to Glasgow quicker than the train would have done. During all that time I was the only passenger!
From Glasgow I took the overnight bus to London . After a coffee I took the tube all the way out to Epping. My plan was to run to my parents house about thirty miles East of there using the Essex Way footpath and then the St Peter's Way footpath. Unfortunately I was suffering from a flare up of the anterior tibialis tendonitis that started on my West Highland Way race attempt. I enjoyed running through the woodland and  on the footpaths but was forced to walk more and more as the pain and swelling in my leg increased
.I stopped for a while at the ancient Greensted Church. It is the only wooden Saxon church still standing. It was constructed about 1060 replacing an earlier building. The wooden walls are made from grooved vertically placed oak logs .Originally they would have been hammered into the ground but the bottoms have rotted so they are now on a brick plinth. Even so it is very impressive to think of the generations of people who have worshipped, been baptised , married or had funerals there all the way back to the 11th century. I sat in the quiet cool dark church and sketched some of the roof timbers .
From there I walked to Chipping Ongar  and then threw in the towel. I took a bus to Chelmsford then phoned for a lift from my Dad. I was disappointed not to do the run but there was no point in hurting my leg further .
My niece Olivia was staying with my parents as well so it was good to catch up.We spent a lot of time in the garden talking and drinking tea. On the Friday we went to London as my niece was going back to Derbyshire.After we had seen her on the train we went to Dulwich Gallery which had an exhibition of John Singer Sargent's watercolours. This was quite exciting or me as I have admired his watercolours for a long time. It was really good to 'see them in the flesh' and try to work out his technique. It was interesting to see that he used quite a lot of bodycolour for accents and used varied washes and negative shapes very effectively.
As my running was curtailed I was able to do more reading and sketching than is normal . I picked up Alain De Botton's " Status Anxiety" in a charity shop and  found it very readable. I have also been reading  "Tools of Titans" by Tim Ferriss which is a beast of a book filled with inspiration.
I did manage a few slow jogs to some of my favourite haunts at Beeleigh and Purleigh.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

West Highland Way Race

Two weeks ago  the West Highland Way Race took place. On the Friday night.the station car park at Milngavie was jam packed with cars and motorhomes. It was great to meet up with old friends from the West Highland Way family. At 1am  we set through Mugdock Park on the way to Fort William.
 My training has not gone well over the last few months. After the Highland Fling race, I didn't recover and at one point was struggling to run at all.I cut my mileage drastically which helped but as a consequence I didn't do the long runs necessary to get fit for the W.H.W. race. I seriously considered withdrawing  my entry but after a lot of soul searching I decided to give it a try . I was prepared to be slow as long as I got there. Unfortunately to add to my training woes I developed a mild cold a few days before the race - just a runny nose and catarrh, it didn't seem to develop into anything so I decided to start and see how far I could get.
The forecast was fairly grim but actually the weather in the morning was perfect- not too hot nor too cold and with enough of a breeze to keep most of the midges away.The view from Conic Hill was understated and cloudy . I really enjoyed the run along Loch Lomond. I love the views and the varied terrain and I was running quite well.I was much slower than my normal pace but I felt ok despite my cold. This was the first year that I had raced on the low route- the recently upgraded lochside path which is far more scenic than the higher track.
At Beinglas I met Helen at the checkpoint and took on food and drink. I always find the next section past Falls of Falloch quite tough, the track always seems relentless. Beyond Bogle Glen the switchback through the forest never gets any less hilly .I know the forest but there always seems to be one more hill than one expects (or hopes for)
By Auchertyre Farm I was feeling a bit tired. From then on my pace dropped and people started to pass me. My lack off fitness was starting to show and my quads were really sore .At Bridge of Orchy  I was pretty much done in, I took forever to climb the hill behind the hotel and was really pleased to see Murdo at the top and to take a jelly baby. The weather was now as promised, very windy cold with violent squally showers. Murdo must have been frozen standing up there for hour after hour.
My cold which I thought  had dissipated now started to make itself felt , I started to cough up some quite revolting sputum and my throat felt raw. Across Rannoch Moor what had been sporadic showers became a continuous  downpour.I was passed by quite a few people running at an impressive speed up the long climb up onto the Moor. I was only managing a survival shuffle. I did manage to catch one runner who was struggling with the cold, he said that his mate had gone ahead to get some extra clothing. I lingered at the ski centre putting on more clothing and trying to force down more food . Helen ran with me from then on. I tried to keep the pace going but it was very slow especially the climb up The Devil's Staircase. I didn't get much faster on the descent into Kinlochleven my quads made it too painful to run  and I now had a shooting pain in my left shin which turned out to be anteror tibialis tendonitis. On the steepest sections I resorted to walking backwards.
At Kinlochleven the Leisure Centre was warm and dry . Silke the race doctor approached me and said I didn't look too good.I asked her to look at my shin  which she and the physiotherapist strapped up. I was pleased to manage to eat some mashed potato, but then felt very ill . Not sure whether I was going to have diarrhoea or vomit I managed to stagger to the loo ( where fortunately I had neither.) After some time I felt a bit better and after another cup of tea decided to get going. The  climb out of Kinlochleven was painfully slow. I was coughing more and more and felt dreadful.I knew I had plenty of time to get through to Fort William but gradually it began to dawn on me that carrying on might risk damaging my long term health.. So sadly I decided to retire . I think it was the right decision . Other runners said that conditions up on the Lairig Mor were savage with very high winds and heavy rain. I feel it would have been irresponsible to go there in the state I was in.

The prize giving was as emotional and  uplifting as ever. We were all blown away by the new course record set by Rob Sinclair of 13 hours 41 minutes. We had thought that Paul Giblin's successive lowering of the course record to 14 hours 21 minutes was incredible, (Mind you many thought  Jez Bragg's record unbeatable). I really cannot conceive how anybody could run that fast over that terrain;what a tremendous achievement! We also heard lots of other stories of endurance and fortitude. I was very disappointed to pull out but I'm happy that I made the right decision. After a few days suffering from the cold I recovered quite well.  I feel that it might have been very different if I had continued.

Monday, 19 June 2017


Everybody seems to be running races just now. Helen did the Norfolk 100 km ten days ago and had a great time . The race starts at  Castle Acre, follows the Peddars Way to the coast then continues on the  Norfolk coastal footpath all the way to Beeston  near Cromer . The hardest part was the 4 miles of energy sapping shingle  beach near the end. Last weekend my sister did The Wall; a 69 mile race from Carlisle to  Newcastle organised by Ratrace.It is the second time she has completed the race and it is one of her favourites as it is very well organised.
 During both races  it was extremely hot whereas here on the west coast of Scotland it has been uniformly cloudy, drizzly and even chilly. Obviously Scotland has the better climate for long distance running!
Below is a picture of the Buchaillie Etive Mor  (at the start of Glencoe) which I painted last week.
Buchaillie Etive Mor

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Recent Paintings

Sketch of  Loch  Arkaig
I haven't blogged for quite some time so here are some recent paintings. On the right is a quick sketch of Loch Arkaig. Below are two views of Loch Linnhe.We helped out with a race starting from the yacht club in Fort William  involving a sail across the loch and then a run up the hill and back before returning in the boats and across the loch.
Loch Linnhe

Sailing on Loch Linnhe

Sunday, 16 April 2017

WHW training

Last weekend I did the first 60 miles of the West Highland Way. By good fortune the weather was excellent. I started from Milngavie at 1pm on the Saturday. I felt very slow and regretted the weight of my rucksack . In addition to my sleeping bag, bivvy bag, sketching stuff, food, water and spare clothes I had bought along a wood gas stove and a kettle so I could brew up in the morning. There were lots of people ot walking and a few runners , some of whom were WHW race friends. Beyond Drymen the skylarks were singing and there were  primroses beside the path and tadpoles in the pools. It really felt like spring . Conic Hill was gorgeous with Loch Lomond  shimmering  in the sun beyond. I didn't stop for long at Balmaha but I did get a beer at Rowardennan. By then the beautiful evening was coming to an end.
Evening on Loch Lomond- painted from a photo taken last week
I continued on in the dark to the Rowchoish bothy where I decided to stop for the night. It is curious that both bothies on the Lochside are old byres -the adjacent farm houses having long since fallen down.Obviously the houses for the cattle were better constructed than the houses for the people. There was only one other person staying in the bothy and  he was already bedded down so I didn't get to talk to him. It was a cold night and I was glad of the spare clothes I had brought.
 In the morning I tried my woodgas stove which is meant to be able boil a kettle on a handful of twigs or pine cones . The theory is that if wood is heated it produces combustible gases. Once the wood starts burning in the stove the gases are channelled through the hollow walls to the top  where they ignite- it works more like a gas stove than a fire. It did function quite well until my kettle boiled and I managed to knock the whole thing over! Fortunately I had enough water and  fuel to start again .
Sunday started misty and cool but still dry. The kind staff at Inversnaid Hotel refilled my water bottle, they refused any payment saying that they filled about one hundred a day! I stopped at Dario's memorial book and wrote a message.
I always find I am slow starting on the second day and this was no exception . I did pick up after Beinglas Farm though and maintained a reasonable pace until Tyndrum. Here I stopped for a cup of tea before the final section to Bridge of Orchy. After a whole  weekend of fine weather it  started to rain. I was in a good mood from two days on the trail and didn't mind (especially as I was heading to the Brige of Orchy Hotel where the bar is always warm and snug) .
 I had a few hours to kill in the pub before getting the late train home. On the train I met up with Helen who was returning from a visit to see her parents; it was a nice end to great weekend on the West Highland Way.