PLAN THE UL­TI­MATE TRAIL- RUN­NING WEEK­END

The ul­ti­mate two-day Scot­tish ad­ven­ture is yours for the tak­ing. Here’s your es­sen­tial guide…

Trail Running (UK) - - Contents - Words Sean McFar­lane Pho­tos Andy McCan­dlish

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

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