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A couple of weeks ago a *coalition of Harriers packed their waterproof (taped seams) clothing to go north beyond the border, heading for the highlands. Yes, it was the HPH Club trip to the Salomon Skyline Festival in Kinlochleven!
I went last year and enjoyed it so much I persuaded some crazy brave Harriers that it would be a fun thing to do. After all, HPH had done Wales, so in the interests of parity we needed to visit Scotland.
We arrived in Fort William on Friday evening and set up HPH HQ in the Black Isle Brewery (artisan beer and pizzas, seemed the obvious choice). Those who had travelled by car got together in the bar to plan the following day’s parkrun.
The next morning Colin Tranter was up early and off on the shuttle bus to Kinlochleven, for the 8am start of the Ring of Steall. 29Km and 2500m elevation, round the Mamores (a series of Munroes) and the Devil’s Ridge, with spectacular views of Ben Nevis. Including “short sections of easy scrambling”.
The rest of the party headed off to Fort William parkrun. Fort William parkrun is run on Forestry Commission land at the Nevis Range. As you’d expect from the name and location it’s “undulating”. The Harriers did Hyde Park proud and Abdu was first finisher. The course is beautiful, running through pine forest and a wooded valley with a stream – sparkling in the sunlight! Unexpectedly (well by me at any rate) the weather was perfect. After coffee in the cafe, some of us returned to Fort William, whilst others went to cheer Colin on his way round. Later on, Steve and I went over to Kinlochleven to get the atmosphere and to see Colin over the line. I waited a mile from the finish line to grab a photo and as he came out of the trees he greeted me with, ”I suppose I’ll have to run now”. He did run and finished in an amazing 8 hours 26 mins. He even made it out for pizza later looking good for someone who’d spent the day running over Scottish mountains!
The next day was the trail races. The start line in Kinlochleven is unique. How many races have their own piper to set you off! Lou Gardham and Lesley-Ann Donnell led off in the 28km Mamores Stalker, taking in part of the West Highland Way (the Devil’s Staircase) and some boggy paths around lochs and across ridges until dropping back down into Kinlochleven. I (Jane) joined for the 18 km race – The Three Mealls which covered the final two thirds of the longer race (with a different, but equally steep climb to start with). One way or another I think that we all ended up getting a closer acquaintance with the peat bogs than we’d have liked!
Sadly Emma Amor-Johnston who was also going it do the Three Mealls had a nasty fall at parkrun the day before and decided against running. As had Will Dow who had entered the Ring of Steall, but didn’t run on medical advice. Emma and Will both provided brilliant support, cheering everyone in across the line.Last, but definitely not least, the 10k runners set off on Loch Eilde Mor. Sometimes described as Britain’s toughest 10k race, it shares the steep start of the 18km race and has a sharp, zig zagging descent. All of the trail races share steep climbs, technical descents and varied terrain (for which read peat bog). Abdu followed up his parkrun triumph by coming 15th overall and was heard to murmur “If I’d started at the front of the pack I could have made first three” as he crossed the line.
Karly Stringer, Kate Solomon, Rosie Dang, Romina Masood and Ellie Shipp all ran in the 10k and absolutely smashed it! Unfortunately, the weather which had been so warm and sunny the day before turned on Sunday and by the time runners had climbed up out of Kinlochleven we faced gale force winds and heavy rain. In fact, conditions were bad enough that the Ben Nevis Ultra and the Glencoe Skyline were run with shortened courses. Everyone running did very well to cope with the conditions on a challenging course.
We got very excited for while thinking that HPH might be a contender for Club Shield, awarded to the club with most entries across all races, until we found out that the local clubs pack the 5k race to win the Shield. Oh well. There’s always next year……. except the Salomon Skyline festival is moving and taking a year off in 2024 while they organise their next venue. This year’s times will stand forever as the HPH time on the Kinlochleven courses.
Finally, a very big thank-you to Steve Prust for driving us all (and me especially) around the Highlands!