PLAN THE ULTIMATE TRAIL- RUNNING WEEKEND
The ultimate two-day Scottish adventure is yours for the taking. Here’s your essential guide…
Enjoy an epic two-day adventure
Running up from the stunning village of Carradale on the Kintyre peninsula, Scotland, the grassy single-track rises through the Scots pine. Behind us is the spectacular island of Arran, with seriously impressive mountains pinned all over it. Up ahead, I can see the forest parting. A couple of walkers give us runners the customary “Oh to be that fit” call. As we run past them we climb steadily up to the viewpoint. Now, the famous Paps of Jura, alongside its fellow Inner Hebridean island of Islay, comes into view. From our lofty position we regroup and, one by one, gaze on the shimmering Atlantic water. Horizons, mountains and sea seem to all merge into one glorious tapestry of landscape. It’s still early spring, there’s not a midge in sight and, with the schools not yet on holiday, we seem to be part of a very select few people privileged enough to be experiencing this truly wonderful environment. I can think of nothing I’d rather be doing than immersing myself in this view by running off-road over, through and around it. This was the perfect trail-running weekend.
So how did we find ourselves here? Well, planning the ultimate trail-running
weekend in Scotland is easier than you might think if you opt for a well-signposted, waymarked trail like this one. In search of an island adventure, we chose the relatively new, 100-mile Kintyre Way on the peninsula of Kintyre, from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish in the south. No doubt, like many other readers, the three of us had been planning the ultimate trail-running weekend for a long time. Plenty of coffee and traybakes had been consumed along the way. The key ingredient was an established trail to form the backbone, yet we were also keen to explore a part of the country we were not familiar with. This second requirement was going to be tough for our welltravelled crew. However, for most of us, the only thing we knew about the Mull of Kintyre was Paul McCartney’s attempt to sing about it.
Our base for the weekend was all-important. The inevitable onslaught that mother nature would throw at us each day in a variety of guises would undoubtedly be easier to cope with if we knew we had hot showers, warm beds and altogether cosy lodgings to return to at the end of it all. Torrisdale Castle, handily situated on the Kintyre Way itself, ticked each of those boxes. Plus, there seemed to be all-round and very understandable happiness at the prospect of staying in a castle. Both planned routes were out out-and-back affairs so as to really maximise the Kintyre W Way and, if I’m being honest honest, to minimise the chances of getting lost, with a loop at the far end of each. So, two classic ‘lollipop lollipop’ routes. Saturday’s route also had a significant detour on the way back and the added bonus of a coffee stop just after afterwards. Saturdayaturday morning dawned dry dry, though as we put on our shoes in the castle porch, we couldc see plenty of pockets of low-lyinglow cloud – it had all the hallmarks of a classic Scottish June day. It was sure to add atmospherically to a brilliant day’s s running. Day one’s s route headed southwards on the Kintyre Way, initially climbing through a farm then via some newly cut single-track. track. As we gradually gained height, the horizon shrouded in mist, the awe-awe inspiring Paps of Jura appeared to the west. Jura’s s island neighbour of Islay was there
too. It was a lovely start to any day. Then it was back into the forest, partly being felled but still perfectly runnable. Forestry is big business all over this area and it was great to see such clear diversionary signage everywhere it was needed. I was beginning to lose my sense of direction, but with the reassurance of the ever- present way markers, I just allowed myself to descend into the unknown. Down below, through the odd patch of static mist, was the picturesque farm and house of Ifferdale. As we steeply descended the Way, through the tree saplings, I felt as if I could have stayed there
for a week. There’s a cracking hostel there, too, so we might just do that soon. Rising out of the valley, we climbed once again. The legs began to struggle, so we focused on finding that all-important rhythm, breathing well and relaxing all the body parts we could. It worked and, with heart rates settled, we eventually reached our high point of the day at 350 metres. In the distance we could now see the magnificent southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula spread out in front of us, with Ireland looking remarkably close behind it – because it was. Up ahead, Loch Lussa signalled our turn-around point. It was a sizeable body of water, though, and our circumnavigation of it would take some time. That was fine, however, as never before had there been any less of a reason to rush. The odd fisherman waved at us in what seemed like a mutual acknowledgement of the other’s activity, each of us undoubtedly assured we were doing the perfect pursuit that day. On reaching the southern edge of Loch Lussa, we began to circle around it, eventually retracing our steps. Ascents now became descents and vice versa. We’d paid particular attention on that front to the now-climb out of Ifferdale. Walking was the preferred and sensible mode of travel, albeit briefly. Then it was down into the next valley and
‘The odd fisherman waved, in mutual acknowledgement of the other’s activity, each assured that we were doing the perfect pursuit that day.’
‘Arran seems like the proverbial stone’s throw away; its magnificently mountainous and rugged skyline dominates the view.’
back to the splendid Torrisdale Estate. What a glorious day’s running; a well-earned beer and dinner awaited.
A superior night’s sleep set us up perfectly for day two. Our route headed northeastward on a lovely meandering trail through the splendid and immaculately kept estate. Dropping down to the shore and onto the gorgeous Carradale Bay, Arran seems like the proverbial stone’s throw away; its magnificently mountainous and rugged skyline dominates the view. Straightaway we all burst into excited chatter about how we must return here soon, next time for longer. With horses running on the golden sands in the distance, this truly was idyllic stuff. As the trail wound round the west side of the village, we passed and duly noted our coffee stop for the return.
The forest trail then climbed, turning to single-track. At the viewpoint the bynow-familiar views of Jura and Islay reappeared. We ran towards them, descending onto a wider track. A quick 50-metre blast of tarmac reminded us how little of the hard stuff there had been all weekend.
Back into the forest, the track widened and the soft yet firm surface felt nice. With almost 30 miles of running over the course of the weekend now under our belts, feet preservation was most welcome. We had a slightly rising three-mile section, with spectacular Atlantic views. After a brief loop at Auchinbreck farm, we started our return. As we did, we detoured to take the perfectly maintained singletrack up to the summit of Cnoc nan Gabhar. At a mere 230 metres, its views made it feel so much more than that. A deliciously soft grass descent to Carradale and the promised coffee stop was next. With a suitable caffeine and chocolate injection, we ran back along the beach and eventually to Torrisdale Castle. Tired, smiling and in full plot mode for our return.
Above: Taking on 100 idyllic miles, along the Kintyre Way, Scotland
Top left: Becs McFarlane, Dougie Vipond (of The Adventure Show), and Sean make the great escape – a weekend of trailrunning bliss
Below: A rare stretch of hard-packed track provides a change of pace
Left: Horizons, mountains and lochs merge in this breathtaking landscape