Cateran recce runs #2
May 9, 2010, 5:55 pm
Filed under: running

Bill came up with Brenda, Elli and me on Easter Sunday for a second run on the Cateran trail. This one was going to mean even more driving around for Brenda but we would get to see the higher up parts of the route and it looked like a good run. We started at Kirkmichael and set off to Enochdhu. This first bit is only 2.5 miles and it’s relatively flat, on good track, with a pleasant stretch through woodland. When we reached Enochdhu, we passed a little row of cottages, reached the main road and then started to head uphill on the track before I realised that we must have passed the car park without seeing it. We backtracked,much to Brenda’s confusion because we shouldn’t have been coming from that direction. The obvious route would have been in front of the cottages but neither of us had seen a waymarker.

Above Enochdhu the track climbed… then climbed… and climbed. Now, I can read an OS map, and the contours made it plain that it was uphill but I don’t think I expected it to climb as quickly, as steeply or as relentlessly. Especially since this will be that last 5 miles of the 55-mile ultra. Someone’s having a laugh, surely.

We met a couple of dogs at Dirnanean Farm, an elderly-looking collie and a younger nervous-seeming terrier, but they were noisy rather than anything else and after following us up as far as Home Farm they abandoned us. Maybe they were trying to warn us of the hill ahead and gave up when we didn’t heed their warnings.

Once we entered Calamanach Wood, there were a couple of interesting stiles with gates at the top, and while the path continued to climb there were long runnable sections and we made decent progress (though my legs were still tired from Friday’s run). We had to cross a burn where I went hunting for a decent crossing point to the left while Bill stood on the wooden bridge (off the path to the right) laughing at me, but there were no places where the route was really in doubt.

When we reached Upper Lunch Hut, there were a couple of walkers lying sunning themselves – it was beautiful weather for walking or running, bright and sunny but not too warm. Above this point there was still some snow lying on the path and our progress slowed down due both to the steepness of the slope and picking our way across the patches of snow. For once, what looked to be the highest point of the path actually was the bealach and it looked like a quick jaunt down to Spittal.

We didn’t get quite such a free run due to the drifting snow on the lower bits of the path, but as we got near to the Spittal Hotel, Elli came bounding up to meet us. I threw a snowball to her which broke up on a drift and she spent ages looking for it which would have been funny, but she looked really reproachful when I laughed.

After a picnic lunch we crossed the A93 and started up the farm track on what will be the first section of the ultra. Karen D had issued a warning on the race site about watching out for a waymarker about a mile into the trail, but I’m afraid that even with the warning, we only realised we were on the wrong side of the deer fence when we saw a marker on the other side of it. In my defence, there was a fair amount of snow on the ground here and no clear path, so we were probably both looking at the ground when we passed the gate. We tracked along to the next corner where we managed to get over the deer fence and it wasn’t actually worse than some of the ladder stiles but we started paying more attention. I found that on my own, I had been highly alert to waymarkers but I was far less attentive now there were two of us.

The track here meanders around various farms, never going in a straight or obvious line for long. There were muddy stretches and a lot of sheep and cattle, and just enough waymarkers to be sure we were still on the trail but not quite enough to avoid having to look ahead for them constantly. Finally the trail headed up a rough but dry track that skirts the Dalnaglar Estate and eventally overlooks Dalnaglar Castle. It was back on metalled road after this for a bit, but Brenda and Elli were waiting here and Elli had made friends with a couple of horses.

Brenda offered to drive us te next bit to avoid us having to run on the tarmac but this was Bill’s long run and he didn’t want to cut it short. My off-road shoes were a bit less enthusiastic but it was an easy run over an undulating road to Little Forter where we stopped to take some photos of Forter Castle.

The route went back off-road after crossing the River Isla and also back uphill, giving beautiful views back up to the snowy Cairngorms. The trail was quite obvious but it became wilder as it climbed and we saw only sheep, no humans. At the top of the climb, the path overlooks Auchintaple Loch but turns away from it and enters dense plantation forest with a glorious downhill section on soft, pungent, pine-carpeted path. It then passes close to the loch again, with a view across to a very photogenic boathouse. It would be a lovely place for a picnic on a summer’s day.

It seems to happen that when you’re getting tired, no matter that you know how far your journey is and your Garmin or the map or milemarkers tell you how far you’ve come, your mind still keeps asking if you’re nearly there yet, and you keep hoping to see your destination round the next corner though you know that’s impossible. I was tired at this point and I kept trying to remember whether we had passed Loch Shandra yet. We hadn’t, it was still at least a mile away, but then we found ourselves on open moorland again and it was fabulous just to be there, without another soul in sight. Before the trail opened up, this countryside can only have seen shepherds and the occasional walker. We were only a few miles from the A93 yet it felt very remote, in a way that you don’t find on the West Highland Way, even over Rannoch Moor. I was quite glad I had company though.

Loch Shandra did appear soon enough and after that the trail follows a good track through a plantation of Scots pines. It was here that the sky went black and we were pelted with hailstones. We barely managed to get our waterproofs on before it turned to heavy, sleety rain but we were no distance at all from Kirkton of Glenisla where my ever-patient sister and Elli were waiting in the car with IrnBru32, coffee and picnic.

That leaves only two sections of the route to recce – Alyth to Blairgowrie and Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally. I wondered whether it might be better not to know what’s coming on the actual race, but on balance I think I would rather be prepared, and I did get two days of fabulous running over the Easter weekend without going over the well-travelled Pentlands paths (which incidentally had a much heavier snow covering than the Cateran).

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