The Highland Cross

A charity event that crosses Scotland at (thankfully) one of the narrow points and one that had escaped my notice until Nick brought it up. He, being 50 this year, thought entering might be a way of marking the passing years as there are 20 miles of running and 30 miles of cycling from one side of the country to the other.

We had to register an interest in September 2014, before Scotland had decided whether it wanted to be independent or not. From the success of this event and the tremendous local support it enjoys I reckon the charitable work at least will be safe if Scotland were a separate country.

The day started in Beauly where bicycles were loaded onto wagons in the market square ready to be transported to the transition site near Cannich. Runners got on the buses and were transported to Morvich on the West coast while the wagons negotiated the narrow road to Cannich with their precious cargo.

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Thankfully Morvich wasn’t the midge-breakfast site it might have been so waiting for the start wasn’t too painful. Eventually we were off and soon the few hundred runners strung out along the track leading up the valley towards Glen Licht house. Nick demonstrated his physiological techno-geekery by shouting out advice on what heart rate zone I should be in (high 3s worth occasional low 4s apparently) and soon we reached the climb over the top to Glen Affric, past the waterfalls on the Allt Grannda. A single track path caused some jostling for position then we crossed some undulating terrain before dropping back down steadily to the Youth Hostel at Alltbeithe. I remembered staying here years ago with my dad – unlike a ‘normal’ youth hostel the whisky fueled conversation had drifted into the late night as the disparate visitors with different political viewpoints left me wondering what ‘sedition’ meant!

Alltbeithe marked the half way point of the run and so we shed a wrist band. I’d lost a shoe in a bog earlier so Nick had got ahead but in truth he was much fitter than me and although I could still see him for the next few miles I knew I’d never catch him. My heart rate monitor had packed up too so instead of thinking about zones I concentrated on making progress and enjoying the view. At about 15 miles I started to feel it and the view became more important as a distraction from the aches and pains I was feeling. A sign telling me there were 2.5 miles to go was welcome and the sight of the fluorescent yellow of the marshals and bibs at the transition even more so.

Here the efficiency of the Highland Cross was demonstrated. My wrist band was removed and the marshal shouted out my number. By the time I’d walked to the bicycle compound another marshal had my bike ready for me and the bag with clothes to change into. “Go and get changed over there and the ladies will bring you a cup of tea and some cake”. And so it was!

The cycling section started easily on a quiet road alongside the loch. Quiet, except for all the Highland Crossers, some of them walkers who hadn’t been caught on the run. Down the infamous Fasnakyle Brae I passed two other riders who then promptly flew past me on the flat at the bottom. Once I’d passed them again and then been caught and passed myself by one of them I suggested we do something about it and so one of them and I settled into taking turns on the front to share the effort of the ride. Mostly downhill and with a slight following wind it was easy enough really and with the supporting cheers of the people in the villages en-route we were soon being waved into Beauly by a kind policeman who had stopped the traffic for us. Here the true level of support became clear – Beauly is taken over by this event and the local people obviously make a day of clapping and cheering the contestants in to the finish, and much appreciated it was.

My new Scottish friend was an old hand at the ‘Cross and thought it had gone well this time. When he asked where I’d come from he thought he’d heard of Northumberland but wasn’t sure where it was. I told him it was nearly in Scotland! The Beauly ladies provide a buffet lunch for all the competitors then it was back to the caravan site to soak up the beauty of the Beauly Firth and some much needed re-hydration.

Happy Birthday Nick – a great way to mark it finishing 81st out of 740!

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