Heart of Scotland 100 – Marshals’ Walk 2010

Ken’s posting in “Events” says it all really (see 3rd May 2010 [here]), so I’ll just add my own perspective. I started with a chesty cough and sore throat, and a hot-spot on my left sole, so I knew I was going to suffer at some point. But the early stages of forest roads passed easily and I felt fine at Dunkeld. The pace had been quick thus far, but by the start of the climb to Loch Ordie the 27 starters had fanned out into more-or-less the order they would eventually finish in. A short heather tramp, a long soggy descent into Kirchmichael, and a third of the event was over. I patched-up my hot-spot and set-off on the long, long road to Daldhu. Leaving Daldhu you are surrounded by tall snow-capped mountains and the feeling of isolation is wonderful. As expected, the track gets rougher, ducks, dives, disappears and reappears and in the dark I needed to keep a sharp eye on bearings. But I made the broken bridge spot on, and was soon at Shinagag. The miles were now getting longer, my throat had closed-up and most areas of my left foot sore or blistered. Considering I finished the Wessex without a blemish, I was puzzled by the degree of blistering. I pulled into Blair Atholl and submitted myself to the charms and ministrations of the ladies in Room 36 of the Bridge of Tilt hotel. Then it was the Bruar estate, imagining the falls through the darkness, and down to Calvine and the cycle track. Now, this is a flat, tarmacced 5-mile stretch – time to motor and pick up the pace. But not for me. I felt tired and drowsy and looked for a suitable haystack or shelter to just enable me to close my eyes. I gradually pulled through this, and Sunday dawned bright and and sunny. My wife, Helen, and her friend Fionnuala were running the next checkpoint, at the fabulously located Errochty Dam. The temptation to stay there was strong, but after a ten-minute shut-eye I was off down the side of the loch. The route now changes character and enters a couple of rough stages. The first involves some steep heather-bashing for around 800ft in total; nothing untowards but after 75 miles I found this really hard work. An easy descent into the beautiful Kinloch Rannoch was followed by a long pull up through 1500 ft over the shoulder of Schiehallion. This good track takes you to the Tempar Bothy, after which a thin track clings precariously to the edge of the heather banks. I’ve no idea if I took the right line of descent, but the track alongside the burn is easy to follow and I was soon at the waters-meet. More prolonged heather-bashing takes you to the track to Pheiginn Bothy, but there is still more climbing before you reach it. The remaining 19 miles or so were straightforward. The descent to Keltneyburn seemed to take forever though, and then there is a 3-mile road walk to Fortingall. At 92 miles I knew I would finish the remaining 13 miles, but it was still painful work. Fortingall, however, is a fascinating place. A wonderful village hall, an ancient Yew Tree, a stone circle and all manner of oddities in the church yard. A place to return to. By the time I reached the Tay Forest Car Park checkpoint it was dark again, and the final miles to Aberfeldy were just the worst. I played all kinds of mental games to keep my mind off the walking. I usually sing, but my throat was too sore. Probably as well. Soon the lights of Aberfeldy were upon me, and I walked into the Scout Hut 40 hours after leaving it. This was a walk that was, in my mind, dominated by the staff. At every checkpoint I was looked after so well, and had such friendly discussions that I overstayed my allotted time at each one. Every person deserves praise and grateful thanks. Perhaps I can single just a few out, though? Tony Rowley and his good lady who sat in their car on the cycle track at Calvine for 17 hours!! Or maybe Helen and Fionnuala in their tent covered in ice, for 16+ hours? Or Mavis who, at Kinloch Rannoch, persuaded me to carry on when my feet and throat were screaming “No More!”? Thanks to you all. The route has been assembled with care and is full of the character of Scotland I love and miss – remote, wild, stunning views, chattering burns, and characterful wildlife. The distances are governed by the lengths of the Glens and Lochs, and the terrain by the mountains and moors. Man feels insignificant here.

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