Feb 13

Tarvit Street carrom rules I

Mike and I came up with our own rules for two different games of carrom. This post covers the most traditional carrom-like game. It doesn’t have a name. When playing, the rules feel really nicely fleshed out and we think it’s a lot more fun than traditional carrom. I’ve probably missed some notes that cover odd corner cases here – I’ll add them as I remember them.

Aim and rules

The aim is to pot all pieces of your colour, followed by the red.

Set the pieces up in the standard layout. The player who breaks is always white. Two pieces must fully exit the centre circle or it is a foul.

You play most shots from your baseline, with the striker touching both lines and within the bounds of the diagonals. Unlike some Carrom rules, there is no foul for parts of your body being out with the bounds of the diagonals.

You can strike a piece of any colour at any time. However, you can only play up the table. Specifically, you cannot directly strike a piece that is touching or behind your own baseline. Potting a piece of your own colour means that you play again. Potting the red too early, means that you lose the game.

When all of the pieces of your own colour are down, you play every shot (unless your opponent fouls) from where your opponent’s striker comes to rest.


If a player commits a foul, the opponent is always awarded a vortex. A vortex gives you the option of playing a shot from either your own baseline or one of the four circles on the board (the vortexes). If playing from a vortex, the striker must fit entirely inside the vortex and you can play in any direction.

Missing all pieces on the board is a soft foul, meaning that only a vortex is awarded. All other fouls are hard fouls where a vortex is awarded and your opponent also gets to place one of your potted pieces anywhere in the centre circle. If, while committing a foul, you also potted one of your pieces, it is also removed and placed by your opponent in the centre circle. Hard fouls:

  • Potting a piece of the wrong colour
  • Potting the striker (other than the bonus below)
  • Playing backwards


When striking the red piece first, some bonuses are available:

  • Potting a piece of your own colour (via planting, cannons…) earns a vortex
  • Potting the striker earns a vortex and allows you to remove a piece from the board

Happy pinging!

Nov 08

And so it begins again…

I spent a lot of my youth biking in the Garleton Hills. The Gallies are where I cut my off-road teeth, as well as having all sorts of other little adventures. So, while I was visiting my Mum, I decided to get out up to the Gallies to bed in some new parts for a few hours.

Aside from the simple pleasure of riding my newly cleaned mountain bike with a brand new transmission in lovely weather, I wasn’t having a great ride. Having not ridden off-road since my trip to Italy and France with Dave made me quite amazed how my youthful enthusiasm had kept me biking so much, with only East Lothian as my playground.

I decided to head round to the Monument to get a few runs in, figuring that I’ll at least enjoy some road miles, if nothing else. As I was climbing, nearly at the top, a young lad in a full face helmet started heading down. He stopped to let me past, before shouting to his dad, who was filming from the top of the monument, and shooting off down. I immediately thought of my Mum and some of our antics.

One freezing and howling mid-winter day I dragged her up Traprain Law. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to convince her to abseil with me, but she did a magnificent job of belaying me, while I played around with some tricky moves on the micro-cliffs at the top of the law.

Back at the Monument, I went a different way and then headed back up, about the same sort of time as my armoured compadre. He came over and we had a chat about the trails. He’d just ridden the trail that Karl and I built about twelve years ago and we drifted onto the topic of trail building – he’s spotted the same lines we had and is thinking of building them up. He’s from Haddington too and was bemaoning the lack of good biking in East Lothian. I considered telling him about one or two of the good lines in the Lammermuirs, but decided not to. They’re easy enough to sniff out and finding things like that yourself always seems to give a little more pleasure, I think.

So, it seems like the cycle is complete. The next generation are there and getting in about it and all on the same day that I realised just how desperate the situation is. That rather appeals to me and I’ll be strangely happy if that’s the last time I ride there.

Jul 08

Rannoch to Fort William

I rode from Rannoch to Fort William at the weekend and caught the train back at the end of the day. It was a magic day out and I can totally recommend it. I crossed over the bog to Loch Treig and went up the river to the base of the Grey Corries before heading along the fireroad past Loch Eilde Mor to finish on the final section of the West Highland Way.

It took me 7.5 hours with pretty wet conditions underfoot and with a very noticable headwind all the way. Next time I would probably leave myself more time and head along the Ciaran Path, which I haven’t ridden, to Blackwater Reseviour (taking in the technical downhill to Kinlockleven) instead of going up the Abhainn Rath.

Wow – check out all the links in this post! I’m starting to get to know the area pretty well.

Jul 08

Potter’s birthday and Glen Kinglass

I’ve had a pretty rubbish start to the summer overall. Some annoying niggly injuries and then shingles. On top of that, the weather has been pretty crap. I seem to be coming out of the other side of it now though, which is great, so it’s time to make the most of what’s left of the summer.

Bananas at noon

Stuart called on Friday night and wanted to get out on the bike for his birthday. Nice timing Potter – a great way to begin getting a little fitness back. He’s described the ride, which turned out a bit longer than expected, on his blog. I had a top weekend, just what I needed – a nice long ride (but not very hilly) in a new place, top company and some lovely whisky too. Magic.

Happy birthday Stuart!

Jun 08

An interesting week

Last week was a varied one. Last weekend (Sat 14th), I headed up to the Angus Glens for my first proper mountain bike ride this year. I’ve been plauged this spring by some niggly injuries (hip and knee) that have been so frustrating and have stopped me running and cycling. Last Saturday was great though – I squeezed in 31km in the southern Cairngorms (Glen Doll to Loch Muick, up to Dubh Loch and back over Capel Mounth) with plenty of physical singletrack and some pushing thrown in. That was a little more like it and fired me up for some solid riding for the rest of the season.

Then on the 19th Sarah and I got the keys to our excellent new flat. It’s right in the middle of town and we love it to bits – woohoo! Dealing with the bank and all the associated crap that goes with buying a house was rubbish, but the end result was worth it. The next day I went to the doctors to ask about the rash that had appeared on my armpit and chest during the week and was diagnosed with shingles. Fuck. It didn’t stop me moving our stuff in the next day (massive thanks to all our friends who helped out – you made life much easier), but that evening I suddenly felt pretty crap. It was really sore, hot, itchy and stingy and I felt wasted. Yuck!

A couple of days on and the pain has subsided a fair bit – I’m even sleeping pretty well. My rashes are blistering and it’s as itchy as it is sore now, but the worst part is the weakness – I’m shattered all the time! From what I’ve read been reading, this can last for quite a while and is what worries me the most. Bleh – surely after this I can get mountain biking done?

Jul 07

Rules of climbing hills

I love climbing hills on a mountain bike. It ranks as highly as awesome twisty singletrack in Spain. I especially enjoy climbs that feel right at my limit. It’s all pretty obvious, but just so that there are no disputes, here are my rules for going up hills:

  • If you dab (put a foot down), you’ve failed
  • If you grab the scenery, you’ve failed
  • If you trackstand, you’ve failed – I really mean trackstands to make up for not enough fitness; brief pauses on steep and technical hills aren’t always trackstands!

May 07

Some running in the coe

I got out and about on the hills at the weekend. Buachaille Etive Mòr is really a ridge of four tops and Buachaille Etive Beag, the smaller twin, is a couple of tops. They are probably normally tackled as two day walks, but they aren’t too savage and fit quite nicely together.

Since this was one of my first days out this year I was keen to make sure I felt strong, so I took it pretty easy up the tourist path. A few weeks ago I felt awful on an abortive Arrochar run and I wasn’t keen for that again. It’s pretty straightforward, if rocky, climbing which pops you out just below the top of Stob Dearg. Feeling fit, I cruised along the tops on the ridge (more likely because there’s hardly any ascent…) and back again to the Allt Coire Altruim for dropping down to the Lairig Gartain.

From here, I headed up on some wetter ground to get the Wee Buachaille’s tops. My lazy winter legs were feeling tired, but some food sorted that out and I was soon enjoying the awesome views to the north, taking in the Ben, the Grey Corries and the Mamores which are all part of a big day out I’m wanting to do later this year: Tranter’s Round. More on that later, but for now – see the note.

After absorbing the views for a while (and a few Penguin bars), I had a nice cruise back down to the Lairig and then more gently back to the car, all the while feeling like a fit mountain machine. I can’t kid myself, this was a pretty easy paced and gentle run, but that was point after the dismal attempt in Arrochar and things just felt right. In fact, I was totally psyched all the way home, marred only by getting yet more tick bites – I hate those little bastards.

Note: I’ve shelved plans to run Ramsay’s Round this year. I could say that since I’ve started going out with my totally snazzy new girlfriend, I haven’t been out as much, and I guess that is true, but to be honest I think realism has taken hold. Or is this all just a handy excuse to be soft?

Sep 06

Loch Treig hills

Another weekend, another day in the hills. The weather was awesome for a round of the Loch Treig munros – I got a suntan while my friends in Edinburgh were contending with fog. Wicked.

Looking down Lock Treig

The second third of Ramsay’s Round was a total contrast to last weekend. Setting off from Fersit, I trudged up the pathless, boggy and heather covered Stob Coire Sgriodain (which has lovely views to Loch Treig, once you get to the top), then nipped over to Chno Dearg. I descended by the stream near Meall Garbh, but I think I will try just dropping down the ridge, or maybe the stream, from the top of Chno Dearg next time – it would probably be about the same and would shave a little off the distance. Climbing to Beinn na Lap was gentle and straightforward and I expected to have the top to myself. Instead, I arrived at the same time as a party of about fifteen who went on to celerbrate someone’s last munro. I politely declined the champagne and headed down through more bog towards the fireroad and rail tracks below.

From there, a lovely few kilometres of scenic track got me to the bottom of the vague ridge that climbs Stob Coire Easain. Really, I was a bit dumb – I should have carried on along the track until I got to the bottom of the Stob Ban descent, so that I could have climbed the same route as when running the whole round, but I was starting to feel it a bit and I just wanted to get back to the car. As it turned out, I was hit with a severe bout of tiredness on the climb, like I experienced on Ben Macdui a few months ago. After some food and five minutes off (and some digestion time) I felt a bit better, but it felt like a long climb up into the clouds. Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin, the final hill, was nice and easy but the descent was not. It involved far too much traversing for my liking, which game me a really sore ankle. Eventually, enough was enough and I dropped down to the east and ran round the dismantled tramway back to the carpark.

So, mixed reactions to the day but generally all positive – made me realise that I really, really need to sort out the eating/food situation for longer runs and I would like to work out a better descent route to Fersit too. On the other hand, I wasn’t that tired when I got back to the car, having done a little over twenty miles and about 7500 feet of ascent, so I’m definitely getting fitter. Which is just aswell, because I’m starting to realise that this Ramsay’s Round thing, even without a time limit, is an absolute monster!

Route profile

I suspect the distance is over-estimated. I should really be using an SVG here, but some folks use IE (and I doubt they’d want to install the plugin).

Sep 06

Ben Nevis to the Grey Corries

Last weekend was glorious weather so I dodged home early from the pub and went running in Lochaber on Saturday. The plan was to run about a third of the Ramsay Round as a recce for next summer and just a good day in the hills.

I woke later than planned (didn’t dodge away that early) and only managed to start running from the Ben Nevis car park around 11am. The Ben seemed even busier than usual, with around a hundred people on the summit who were hip-hip-hooraying about something, so I was really glad to start dropping down to Carn Mor Dearg. After going off in a spak direction, I got to the arete which was rocky so I took it easy (I’m a bit soft when it comes to running on rocks). Steeper terrain leads down and then back up to Aonach Mor and Aonach Beag (water available at the bealach), which provided a great view of the approaching Grey Corries and the Mamores, which are the final stage of the round. Descending from Aonach Beag provided a bit of steepness and could perhaps be tricky to find in poor weather, but the Grey Corries involved less vertical action and were straightforward, despite the rockier ground and me feeling tired, until coming down from Stob Choire Claurigh when I got lost on a grim boulder field. Climbing Stob Ban was short but a three steps forward, two steps back affair and I was very glad it was the last hill. On the home stretch now, dropping down to the lairig was a complete joy – soft earth and heather made for a fast and delightful contrast to the rocks from the rest of the day, which just left the 7km downhill firetrack to the road.

As I approached the road, the light was fading fast and my plan to hitch back to the Fort (and the car!) was looking dubious. I was especially concerned as I realised I had left all my money in the car and that my phone had no battery left. I wasn’t really looking forward to having another ten miles to cover. Fortunately, I spied some walkers just getting in their car.

“I wouldn’t normally do this” I lied, “but I was wondering if you can give me a lift to Fort William.”

They were a little taken aback, but fortunately they were cool and had recognised me from the ridge (they were going the other way and had decended from Stob Coire Easain). After a decent chat about hills, I was back at the car and went direct to the chippy then necked a can of Red Bull for the drive home. Forty-five minutes later I was asleep in a lay-by. I woke up at 2am, headed home and sunk into my bed – I was knackered.

Aug 06

Cairgorm 4000ers

I ran the 4000 foot hills in the Cairngorms yesterday (Braeriach, Cairn Toul, Ben Macdui and Cairn Gorm). It’s the classic and most obvious round in the Cairngorms and was one of the best days I’ve ever had in the mountains. Brilliant running and definitely recommended.

Although it’s far from being a properly long run, it was a spot on introduction to longer distances in the mountains for me. I took it steady, but felt pretty good and definitely had some more miles in my legs (although maybe not too much more ascending…). I’m totally hyped for this stuff and I’ve got some cracking monster days out in the works for next summer.

The Scottish Hill Runners website reckons it is 25 miles and 7600 feet of ascent, but I parked a bit closer and so probably did a couple less (but I also took in Sgor an Lochan Uaine, which I don’t think they counted).

What an excellent day out.

Aug 06

Arkle and Achnashellach

Stuart and I headed up to the north-west for couple of days biking at the weekend. We made good time to Ullapool on Friday night but then arsed around so much looking for somewhere to sleep that it was 2am before we parked the van on a little pier near Achiltibuie and drank some of Stuart’s very nice, posh whisky. There were some spooky noises coming from below the pier when we were bivvi-ing, which I swear weren’t because of the whisky. As expected, it was a brilliant place to wake up and we were hyped.

We’ve had a route up that way on the hit-list for more than a year and were super excited. It comes recommended on a website as well as a bunch of forums and we also had a personal recommendation. So it was a real pity that it was totally shite. The views were moderate and the trails were dull. And, no, I don’t mind hiking with my bike. Admittedly, I’m a self-confessed mountain bike snob, but I couldn’t really recommend it. Perhaps worth doing if you’re in the area and can’t get to Torridon, but definitely not worth the drive. Still, it was another day in the hills, which is never a bad thing.

In case anyone’s interested (but more importantly, because I’ve got a cool new toy!), here are some files from the route. This sort of stuff would be much cooler if Scotland had decent aerial photos:

I’ve left the section where we missed a turn in there – it’s tricky to spot (or at least it was for us) and it might help someone.

On the way out we found a large shed/barn which was clean, sheltered from the ever worsening weather and accomodated us, the van and two cheery, chirping birds with acres to spare. After a wash in the river, we managed a quarter of the monster tin of 100 hot-dogs (thank you Phil sandwich!) and a plate of pasta before crashing out. Stuart liked his bivock (bivvi-hammock thing).

On Sunday we headed down to Achnashellach for a route that I had spotted on the map on my last trip up there – Gleann Fhiodhaig, west to east. It’s a nicer route than Arkle – a little climb, then ever so slightly downhill singletrack with just a little too much lumpy grass to have to contend with to be really good. Not as good as some of the other rides up there, but probably still worthwhile and with some fun, muddy singletrack to get you back to the road. No GPS data for that one, I’m afraid – managed to run out of phone battery half-way round.

I felt like I hadn’t been up north for ages and it was a great weekend. I need to see about getting a couple of long weeknds away before the summer is out – this recent rain has got me all keen to squeeze what I can out of the rest of the summer.

Jul 06

Les Arcs

Giving Dave a singletrack lesson

Dave, Karl and I went mountain biking in the Alps. It rocked. Here are some photos.


  • Big hills.
  • Sore fingers.
  • Everything’s expensive.
  • When there’s a storm it really goes for it – take a jacket!
  • Don’t need full suspension (although everyone has it, except me).
  • Nobody rides up the hills (except me).
  • The best trails are unmarked. Spot them from the lifts, then find ‘em.
  • French girls are lovely.
  • The French are lovely.
  • Riding singletrack is still brilliant.

Jun 06

Ring of Steall

Mike coming up An Gearanach

Ran the excellent Ring of Steall with Tweedley yesterday. It starts from Glen Nevis, goes through Steall Meadow and up onto the ridge behind the waterfall, taking in a bunch of tops before dropping back down into the Glen. It’s been on my hit list since last year so it was extra-great to get it done. We both felt OK fitness wise, but the start the ridge was a bit too rocky for decent running (although Mike seemed to manage to float over the rocks on the descents pretty well).

The only real let down was that Mike’s knee started playing up on Sgurr a Mhaim, so he dropped back down to the glen early (or not as it turns out). I necked an energy spunk and went up Stob Ban and down that ridge instead, mistakenly taking in an extra munro. If I’d bothered to look at the map, I would have realised there was only one more on that side of the ridge and headed over that way while I was up there (shrug).

It was a quality run though and I’m pretty psyched for more.

Here’s a Flickr set for some photos. Mike has a few words and few more photos too.

Apr 06

The Lake District

My Mum and I have just returned from an excellent couple of days in the Lake District. Mum decided to come at the last minute when she heard Stuart had battered his leg again and she realised she wanted to get away from home for a while.

We had just arrived and were eating a pub dinner in Ambleside on our first night when, completely randomly, in walked my Mum’s brother, his wife, their two children and their families. A brilliant, once in a lifetime coincidence. I hadn’t seen my cousins for twelve years! It gave us some company that night and it also gave Mum people to hang about with while I went off biking on Saturday. It was an OK loop that the guys from Biketreks (good shop) had shown me on the map – 50km, a little too rocky in places for my tastes but it was excellent getting out on my first decent ride of the season.

Today my seatpost bolt snapped while I was going along the road no-handed. I was really lucky – it was only 500m into the ride, I was only going about 10mph and I only got a bit of road rash on my bum. I’ve been going through a real no-handed phase recently and it could have been so much worse. I headed back to Biketreks, bodged a replacement and went off to do the little 25km loop with my hands firmly on the bars. It was wicked – hardly any wind, the sun was out and the trails were really nice.

What a great trip to start the season – top weather, enough miles to satisfy, met some of my family and had loads of laughs hanging about and drinking coffee with my Mum for a few days. Magic.

Mar 06

The rest of Spain

Singletrack at El Chorro

You might want to read part one too.

Since getting back work has been good but really busy and it’s making me not want to use a computer at home. Which means I can’t really be arsed writing anything too worthwhile about Spain and I certainly can’t be arsed integrating Flickr, which I’ve started to use for all my photos, to my own gallery for a while. So, for now, there are a couple of photos here and you can see the rest in the Flickr set.

Basic gist of the rest of the trip is that while the first week was pretty uneventful, the second was totally radge – drove over Sierra Nevada in a crazy storm; lost the hire car key (doh!); ate pasta; got bitten by some super nasty bugs when we bivvied; got pissed one night and wound up Dave’s brother on the phone (heehee); discussed the “top 5”s at great length; had an exciting ‘incident’; rode our bikes at nearly 80kmph in the wind; ate tuna; sat about in the roasting heat; got humped at table football by the cool Germans; saw a viper; finally got to ride in the Alpujarras (epic place); got big-time lost in Granada; ate peppers; cursed the roads, the maps and the signs many times; knackered my suspension forks and went for a little run or two. Dave will probably have some to add.

Dave at La Negras

I don’t think we’ll go back to Spain for a while. It was great, but we both feel that we’re running out of easily accessible quality trails to ride. Next trip will be somewhere where we don’t have to drive but do have miles of awesome trails right out of the house. So, with a total u-turn of opinion (for me, at least), look out French Alps!

Mar 06

Spain so far

I had funny stories to tell, but seem to have forgotten them. Have to make do with this:

After a few days in Andalucia, staying at Finca la Campana, hanging out with some really cool Swedish folk and riding some of the excellent trails that we had done last year, we made the drive north to Finestrat (near Benidorm). Although El Chorro to Finestrat looked like a long way on the map, we had been told that it was only a four hour drive. Let me assure you it is not – although there was some serious weather passing over the Sierra Nevada, we spent a considerable amount of time at 150kmph and the journey still took us seven hours.

We’ve been staying at The Orange House which is similar to, but a little smaller than, Finca la Campana. We don’t think it’s as quite as good though. The owners are nice, but the clientelle seem to be mostly the usual up themselves puke inducingly wanky Sheffield climbers that I had quite enough of on my occasional trips to the Peak District. Maybe we were just unlucky, but I prefer the more multi-cultural vibe at El Chorro. Still, Finestrat is a neat little place – miles better than the shithole that is Benidorm, just 10km to the south – and the mountains here are amazing. At both places we’ve been messing about on a slackline a little. We’re both still crap, but it’s amazing how much better you get with just an hour of practice. We’re also starting to wonder if it’s good for our knees though, so might stop playing with them.

The other day we rode a bunch of trails at Castell de Castells, a village over the mountains from here which is reputed to have the best biking in the area. The scenery was excellent, but I didn’t think the trails lived up to some of the others we’ve ridden (although the descent into the back of the free campsite was really good fun) and we’re not going to drive back over there again this trip (longer trip than usual as one of the roads is closed). Yesterday we went exploring locally but Dave managed to snap his super-pricey rear mech riding gently up a hill, so after I got the car to rescue him we went to find a Sram rear mech, which was easier said than done. We were lucky though and, after a few tries, managed to find our first reasonable bike shop in Spain just before they closed – enough time to buy their last(!) Sram mech. Notch that up as another reason to buy Shimano gear… ;)

We’re driving back down south tomorrow and are going to break the journey up with a stop at Cabo de Gata, seemingly the driest place in Europe, for some flat-ish singletrack. The forecast looks pretty promising (I hear it’s snowing in Britain, shame) and we’re hoping to ride in the Alpujarras if we get a chance – it’s the area we’re most excited about, but it’s high so we need to catch it with good weather.

Some stuff learned/remembered in Spain:

  • The maps are shit. I mean, all the maps are really shit.
  • There don’t appear to be any rules at roundabouts, at least none that make any sense.
  • Spain is really, really hilly.
  • The Siesta sucks (we lost a whole afternoon waiting for the map shop to open…). Sometimes (…but the shop stayed open late enough to get Dave a new mech!).
  • All this hanging about climbers has made me want to go climbing again.
  • Spain is lovely, but scaffy and they don’t seem to care nearly as much as they should about their countryside.
  • Carrefours are HHHUUUGGGEEE.

Feb 06

Are you going to Spain tomorrow? Ah, must be me then!

It’s amazing what £100 and a couple of hours work on your bike can do. I’ve got gears again, I’ve got brakes and I can pedal without feeling like my bottom bracket bearings are shaking the earth’s core.

Dave and I are off to Spain tomorrow for seventeen days of riding dry, dusty singletrack, just like last year. As soon as we land we’re heading straight for the Jesus Trail, then off to El Chorro for a few days. After that we’re going to drive north and explore some of the amazing looking trails up there. Nobody deserves a holiday more than me. I’m all excited now and cannae wait. Wheeeeeeee!

Dec 05

Wales and some more hill running

I went down to Wales for a few days to visit my very good friend Kate the weekend before last and had a wicked time. She was at work on Friday which gave me a chance to get out on the bike. Unfortunately, Thursday night saw a dump of snow that was heavy enough to prevent me getting anywhere other than Penmachno, a purpose built 22km loop. It was a warm day so, although there was fair bit of snow, it was melting and the views were great but the trails managed the remarkable task of being like Glentress red but even more boring. In the evening we went to a Chinese for a meal with some of Kate’s pals who all seemed pretty cool. Much cooler than me: being the food hoover that I am, I managed to eat something with nuts in it which made me go home and feel ill for a few hours – boo.

Kate and me on Llandudno pier

Saturday and Sunday we hung about, drove round Snowdonia, looked at cool castles, watched the whole of Family Guy season one in one sitting, drank wine and ate nice food. Ace. Kate’s posh new house made me quite jealous though.

Kate was back to work on Monday and I managed to sneak a run in before my train back up north. Snowdon lived up to its name, but was still do-able in running gear despite pish visibility and me not having a map… Got some pretty strange looks from ice-axe and crampon equiped hill-walkers on the summit and then met another runner, as surprised to see me as I was to see him, who turned out to be a local policeman and general nice guy called Tom. If you’re going to get into crime, probably don’t do it in Wales – they have police hill-running teams and races down there! He was going back via a different, slightly longer route (we both came up the Llanberis path – but hadn’t seen each other!), so I decided to join him. Running downhill on snow was a pleasure and Tom gave me some useful hill running advice. Tom got a couple of cracking looking photos on the way down, which I’m hoping he’ll e-mail me. I got back to the car feeling pretty fresh, although it was a fairly relaxed pace. Guess not drinking vodka and Red Bull until 3am the night before (like the last time I went hill running) really does help.

Last weekend, Mike Tweedley and I went running up Schiehallion. The surprisingly steep ascent was over pretty quick. There was the expected snow and mist at the top, which made running over the jagged rocks of the summit ridge a hit and miss broken ankle affair, so we didn’t. Then we dropped down the (steep) back side of the ridge aiming for the summit of Geal Charn. After ages of squelching through bog in the mist we gave up, declared the map “pish” (although I’m sure we were to blame) and headed into Gleann Mor for the tough heathery run back to the car. Hard work, much harder than the 15km suggests, and not a recommended run, but we learned a fair bit and I’m super-psyched for some more running in the mountains. I really want to do some longer runs, but I don’t think this is the time of year to start pushing myself like that.

Oct 05

Ben Cruachan

Running on Ben Cruachan

Life has been even more busy than usual for the last couple of months. Way too much to talk about here (and some stuff I don’t want to) which is a shame, but it’s been great – I’ve been out partying loads and made some really cool new friends and the latest couple of things we’ve worked on at work have been really satisfying. I haven’t biked as much as earlier in the summer, but I have started to get more into running and I’m hyped for some hardcore swim-bike-run action this winter.

Turns out I’m not the only climber getting into running recently – I met Mike T and Tom from SC on their way back from a run in the Pentlands the other day. Mike L has been getting out too and we decided to go for a quick traverse of the Aonach Eagach last weekend as a nice introduction to scampering about in the hills (we’ve got a half baked plan to go for the Cuillin Ridge in a day next year). Unfortunately the weather forecast wasn’t playing ball and, since 40mph winds and skinny ridges aren’t the best bedfellows, we decided to go for Ben Cruachan instead. More like fast and light mountaineering than full on fell-running, but it felt wicked. Any big hills I’ve been up recently have been with a bike on my shoulder and in previous years a sack full of climbing gear. With a little Camelbak and running shoes it was bouncy, it felt like dancing up the hill. Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games – on the summit ridge we got the full brunt of the wind and the snow was really stinging our faces. It got pretty damn cold and did a good job of highlighting the chinks in my clothing armour! Despite the hour of grim cold, we had a good time. We felt like we’d stepped straight out of a North Face catalogue and I think we’re both pretty inspired for getting more done.

Lessons learned:

  • Fast and light is a great feeling in the hills
  • Running with a Camelbak is surprisingly good
  • Decade old pertex tops with the windproof properties of a tea bag don’t cut it
  • Neither do the wooly gloves Gran knitted when I was wee

Aug 05

Ten year anniversary of JMCs death

JMC died ten years ago. I remember when it I first read about it. This isn’t really a post about him – it’s more about me wondering how ten years have gone past since then. I mean… wow, ten years!

For those who don’t know, Jason McRoy was a leading UK downhill racer at the time and general handy lad on a bike. Most notably, for me at least, he was in the Dirt video (came out about the time he died if I remember correctly) which is probably the most inspirational video I’ve seen. Sure, being fifteen and highly impressionable definitely helped, but this thing was special. It just summed up pretty much everything biking was about at the time for me. Obviously they were stacks better than us, but they weren’t really doing anything we weren’t doing every night after school. There wasn’t any triple backflip 360 superman crap, just a bunch of guys going out and messing about on their bikes on some pretty ordinary looking trails. Stonking stuff. Ten years since that video. Crazy.

But, of course, it’s not that crazy really – more stuff has happened since then than I could ever remember, nevermind write down. Life has been full to the brim and then some. I’ve changed, my friends and family have changed, in fact everything seems to have changed so much. But I think back over the last ten years and have very few regrets. My life has been brilliant so far. Not always good, but brilliant nontheless. And that’s important. Maybe I’ll read this post in ten years and think the same thing. I hope so.

Note to self in 2015: presumably life still consists of running about doing cool stuff. If so, there’s a chance you’ve been too busy to do all those cool things you dreamt about. You’re running out of time. Quit work and spend all your money if you have to, but get them done.

Jun 05

West Highland Way in a day

I did one of the most memorable rides of my life last week – the West Highland Way in a day. While this is hardly a ground-breaking achievement, it meant a lot to me on a few different levels. When I was fifteen, I read an article in a bike magazine about three folk who rode the Way in a day and I instantly wanted to do it. Actually, I wanted to do it solo and unsupported because, like ascents in climbing, I think bike rides can be done in varying levels of style and on your own is definitely ‘good style’. I also really wanted to see how I dealt with doing big rides on my own. Although I was probably fit enough back then, I didn’t get round to doing it but it managed to lodge itself deep in my head, surfacing every chance it got. After falling out of biking and through climbing, I crashed into kiting and stopped hard. Last year I found myself back on a bike and trying to get some general fitness together when a familiar old thought made its presence felt. What better target to aim for than the West Highland Way? The route I’ve thought about more than any other just happened to be a perfect test of my general recovery and fitness.

I really started to get hyped a day or two before and didn’t really get much sleep. On the day I got up at 02:15 and drove to Milngavie. After scoffing some cereal in the carpark I got cracking at 04:30. I had read a few bits and pieces about bikes on the first half of the way that varied from “pointless” to “You will have major problems on a bike.”. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was mostly quite good fun and involved none of the anti-bike gates that I had expected (there were gates, but they were all just normal gates!). I love riding my bike early in the morning and the empty fast tracks for the first fifteen miles were a great warm-up. After not too long I came to Conic Hill, the first climb of the ride. There was a little light rain and a bit of walking involved (it would be an extremely tough climb even if I wasn’t trying to save my legs), but I still got to Balmaha way faster than I expected. The speed wasn’t to last much longer though and I soon started to find some pokey bits of singletrack on the way to Rowardennan, which were easy enough since I was fresh but they all ate away energy and time. It would be easy to skip these parts and just head along the lochside road, but that would be a bit lame and some of them are nice riding. After a puncture and a break for some more food, I made a charge for the north end of Loch Lomond, desperate to get that section over with.

It started off well enough, with easy fireroad and some fun cruising on singletrack until the posh looking Inversnaid Hotel. After the hotel, things started to get tougher. There were some big boulders to carry over at Rob Roy’s Cave, but they were simple enough and I started to think this entire section of path was going to be easy. But I was wrong. The next few miles are the hardest of the Way – the trail is much too technical to ride, with lots of carrying over annoying boulders and roots. I actually didn’t find it as irritating as it could have been and I was probably better prepared for it than most people (I’ve done plenty of long carrys – like along Loch Maree – and this one is pretty short in comparison), but it sapped a lot of energy and really slowed me down – definitely not one for the Glentress generation! I also got ‘The Scrunch’ on my bad ankle twice in just 500m, which was damn sore. The whole section along Loch Lomondside would be much faster to run and I was glad to get onto rideable trail again on the way to Tyndrum.

From here the ride started to get much more interesting to me as I started to explore the psychology of long rides. I began to feel some tiredness, the whole thing seemed like a bit of a mission and I still wasn’t even halfway. Getting to Tyndrum was further than I expected. Although the trail was good and I managed to find some legs, I hadn’t looked at the map very much and had assumed that it was just a few miles past the end of the loch. I arrived at Tyndrum tired and feeling like the end was far away, even though I was now on familiar ground. Although the first half hadn’t involved as much nastiness as I was expecting, it had still taken a fair bit longer than I had hoped and with hindsight I realise that it is harder than the top half. It’s amazing what a quarter of an hour off, a can of coke, a pork pie, a Mars bar and phone call to your parents can do for your spirits though and I headed off into the headwind towards Bridge of Orchy with renewed confidence, enthusiasm and legs.

I motored past Bridge of Orchy and was soon onto ‘the cobbles’, which were much smoother than I remembered, but went on for longer. Out on the moor I got hit suddenly with a bout of tiredness and my morale soon dropped. I still felt positive enough, but there were still thirty hilly miles to go and this was the first place that I realised the route wasn’t going to give up without a fight. It dawned on me that success on longer routes depends on a bunch of things. Firstly you need to realise that there are highs and lows for a ride, periods where confidence and legs are strong even when you feel tired and times where you can’t seem to pedal and the end seems far away. Once you’ve accepted this, the trick lies in keeping the highs going as long as possible and trying to minimise the lows. It becomes a bit of a game and working out what works is great fun in a kind of introspective way.

I forced some more food down my throat and decided to push on to Glencoe and past the Kingshouse to the bottom of the Devil’s staircase. I found it a tough few miles – sore legs, sore knees, sore back – and arrived at the bottom of the climb feeling knackered. The sun was just dropping behind the hills but I took ten minutes to put on some more clothes, sit down and scoff as much food as I could. The little break had done the trick again and I set off up Devil’s staircase like a man possessed. At the top I reminded myself to take it easy on the downhill, but that didn’t last long. The track to Kinlochleven is still one of the best downhills I have ridden in Scotland, even when tired. Although there are a couple of very short ups, it’s an excellent long downhill, with contrasting rocky and mental fast halves, that spits you out right in the town. I didn’t really stop and decided just to batter on and finish the job. I pushed up the steep hill to the Lairig and got myself back on the bike. The last fifteen miles were some of the most rewarding I have done. I was very tired, but consistently surprised myself by finding the legs and motivation to keep going at (what felt like) a reasonable pace. I had been dreading this section before the day and even up until I got there but once I got on it, it wasn’t scary or hard and although I was completely wasted, I felt good (in a first three gears only sort of way!). I knew it was nearly over and I hit the final section of woods with a burst of energy. Although pedalling uphills felt desperate, I found I was somehow able to nearly run up them (!) and decided to try to hammer the last few miles as best I could in the failing light. After a decent burst and with just a few hundred metres of singletrack left it all started falling down! I felt the start of a bonk and I cursed myself for not eating since Glen Coe. I found a couple of eccles cakes and a Mars bar in my bag, which barely touched the sides and I carried on at a much more sensible pace.

Arriving at the end of the singletrack was a magical experience. The woods cleared, the lights of Fort William were not far away and Ben Nevis suddenly came into view on the right, looking beautiful in the dusk light. I took a moment to savour the situation and felt quite emotional. I’d just ridden the best part of a hundred miles off-road, a route I had dreamt of doing for the last ten years. I’d had a pretty shitty time with my back less than two years before and this was a major milestone in my recovery. I felt great – I had been riding my bike for 18.5 hours and I had made it – but I felt even greater because I had made it feeling so good. Not in the legs, they were blasted, but in the head. I had pushed myself much further than I had before and learnt so much about myself on the way. I was ecstatic, exhausted and hyper at the same time. I wanted to stay there forever, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the last special moment that I was going to get from sport so shot off down the fireroad, feeling every bit the smug bastard. I tried to let out a victory scream, but only managed a feeble squawk and decided just to leave it at that. I checked into a youth hostel and was mid-shower when I caught myself smiling broadly. Life can be so rewarding sometimes.

I woke surprisingly early and with a satisfyingly sore full body ache. I had time to kill and wandered Fort William in the sun, drank coffee, ate sausage rolls and caught myself doing that grinning thing a few times. I felt wasted like I had been clubbing, but had a brilliant warm glow rather than a sore head. The train ride back to Glasgow must be one of the best in the country and I was able to let my mind wander and daydream. I craftily managed to escape the conversation of some crazy old guy who was saying things like “Well, you know my views on the Jerry’s – bastards!” (No, I dont, and I don’t particuarly want to) and spent the rest of the journey looking at the lovely views of the hills and the girl at the other side of the carriage.

It’s been a week since that ride and I’m sort of sad that it’s over. I have already forgotten my ‘never again!’ vows and am starting to look for a new mission. I feel like I have some good base fitness now (which was the plan for all of this) and think that I’m ready to train properly, which is something I’m really excited about – riding fast is so much more fun! It feels so good to have some confidence in my fitness again and I can’t wait to improve it some more. Maybe I’ll go get involved in some chain-ganging or something…

Wow, what a long post – I guess it was a pretty long ride though!

Final note: if you’re going to ride the Way, try to pick a day where you haven’t got the runs. Parp!

May 05

Some biking up north

Hanging out at Loch Maree

Dave and I had a great trip up north for a few days last weekend. Dave was on good form, as usual, and the only real complaint was that a long weekend just isn’t long enough. Despite a wet looking weather forecast mid-week, it sorted itself nicely so we didn’t get wet at all and even came back with suntans! Thanks to a complete lack of proper decision making we spent quite a bit of time in the car. After some time chatting to the boys in Square Wheels in Strathpeffer (very cool folk – if you’re wanting to start an outdoor sports shop, this is the attitude to aim for), we found out that the locals have been building some neat little trails and so we rode around the woods at Contin on Friday (there is some fun technical singletrack by the river too). After that we headed over to Gairloch, found an excellent bivvi spot and had a meal and some beers before crashing out.

Dave's an arse. Sorry, Dave's arse (in Skye).

The next day we went to Kinlochewe and headed off around Loch Maree. Basically the north side is all singletrack and takes you into Poolewe, then there is a short 7km singletrack section (which I completely dismissed as “trivial” when looking at the map) before joining the road and blasting down the other side. It was an excellent route, but pretty hard work since there was quite a bit of carrying (OK, a lot of carrying) along the north side of the loch and we arrived in Poolewe tired and much later than planned. After a couple of km climbing we were glad that there was only 4 or 5km of downhill and flat trails left before we hit the road. But we hadn’t banked on the trail being so flippin’ rocky – we were tired and had been riding rocky technical singletrack all day and started to get pissed off. The rocks just kept on coming and the trail required full concentration all the time. We walked downhill sections because we were bored and tired of riding, then we rode, then we walked, then we rode until we didn’t want to see any more rocks again. Finally, we were spat out at the road. It’s hard to communicate what a bastard this section was, made all the worse because we knew if it wasn’t so long and wasn’t after a lot of hard riding that it would be superb.

“How the fuck was that trivial?” Dave asked.

Why would you not live in Scotland? Dave, before the midge season.

Back on the road Dave got one of the worst bonks I’ve seen. I had to feel a bit guilty since he had given me half of his last roll back in Poolewe – thanks mate! Back at the car I started picking some ticks out – 19 of the little buggers. For some reason Dave only had one. I really hate those things. I found one on my foot that refused to come out so we went hunting for tweezers in Kinlochewe and Torridon only to be confronted with a bizare woman and a most unhelpful/dumb man respectively. It was late, so we bivvied at Torridon and slept well.

Woke up to glorious sunshine, ate breakfast at 8 in shorts with our tops off – a perfect day. Dave really fancied a route on Skye so we hot footed it down to Glen Sligachan and, after Dave managed to get the damn tick out of my foot, did the obvious loop there. It was lovely too (and complete piss after the day before) and it was a great time to do it, since there weren’t too many walkers getting in the way. Note to self – must run Glen Sligachan some day.

Loch Maree singletrack

I had a great laugh and am really looking forward to more like it. Hope your eye heals quickly after the operation Dave.

May 05

Aviemore riding

I’m writing this while sitting in my car (the first part only, so some of it may read strangely), killing time before I have to go to bed. I’ve come up to Aviemore for a couple of days biking and to get away from the Central Belt. It’s great to get away, but not nearly as warm as it was when I left Edinburgh (at least I’ve found a bivviers wet dream of a place to sleep – Brendan, this place is five star :)).

There’s something special about mountain biking on your own sometimes. You get to ride at your own pace all the time and have loads of time to chill and daydream. Today I rode a nice loop around Rothiemurchas, around some wee lochs on singletrack and then round to mess about up at the cross country race course, which is excellent. The 7Stanes trailbuilders should be made to go for lessons from these guys. It was good, despite being woefully – stupidly – short of food and my legs feel pretty wobbly just now because of that (and I’m a bit annoyed with myself).

I slept really well thanks to the luxurious bivvi, but my planned Cairngorms route was looking uninviting. The hills were shrouded in rain and I would almost certainly be walking in the wind through snow, alone, a long way from the road and with unsatisfactorily sore legs. I retreated to the backup plan, a shorter ride around Glen Feshie, “The sheltering glen” that felt anything but.

I hadn’t been to Glen Feshie before and I was impressed – it’s a lovely place. I left the car and rode a few kms of perfect riverside singletrack, the type of riding that is so good it can never last long enough. After a while I crossed the river, onto the firetrack that turned right and climbed steeply for quite a long time. At the end of this, the trail turned right and as the hills opened out I felt the full force of the wind and the place took on a completely different feel. I hid in some trees and poured over the map while a nasty storm blew over. The path had turned into an infamous “single-dotty”, the quality of which are always impossible to judge until you’re there, and the headwind was bringing in more stormy weather. I um-ed and ah-ed and generally ponced about for quarter of an hour before deciding just to get on with it. After less than a km, I bailed. It was a scene I had seen too many times before and something didn’t feel right. There was a track, but it was vague and alarmingly wet and the route ahead looked like a prime candidate for a boggy hell. Sure, if it was bad it was only a 5km walk, but if I missed the firetrack that it met up with, things would be much worse than that, so I bottled it and turned around. Some more sleet and a puncture ten minutes later confirmed that I’d made the right choice.

I sometimes think that people, especially kiters, think that I’m some crazed gung-ho fool with no care for self-preservation (OK, so certain photos don’t help). Really though, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m not a bold climber or biker and I like to think that all of the risks are carefully measured. To be honest, I don’t even think I was a particularly crazy kiter, although that point is harder to argue. Kiting is really unique to me because, more than any other sport I’ve done, it’s all about confidence and experience. Basically all I did was go mountain boarding a whole lot and fly kites as much as I could (taking six months out of my life to fly kites full-time definitely helped!) and it’s amazing how consistent and confident you can become at kiting with time. I think this is very different to boldness. I don’t find bailing out of routes all that easy, I really don’t like not getting round something, but I’m pretty proud of my decision yesterday. Something hadn’t felt right and I’m glad I was able to back off.

Apr 05

The West highland Way (well, the top half)

Stuart and I had a cool mountain bike ride on Saturday – we rode the West Highland Way north from Crianlarich to Fort William, about 50 odd miles. We had ridden very little of the track before and it was partly a scoping mission for my half-baked plan to ride all of the Way in a day this summer (only two and a half months to the longest day – I should get training!). There was plenty of good singletrack and I thoroughly enjoyed this ride through a great part of the country. If you’re going to do it though, be warned – after a lovely singletrack climb and short fast descent after Bridge of Orchy, there is a section of trail which gently climbs on military road for a few miles. It’s a nasty kind of cobbled affair that gave us both seriously sore arses. The Devil’s Staircase is a nice bit of path. Despite my best efforts, I was reduced to walking about half way up (unless you count a couple of ditches low down and a sneaky dab). I actually think all of the sections are rideable, but getting up that thing would be an amazing endurance effort and well out of my league. After a cracking long, rocky descent there was some more walking after Kinlochleven and I think if I’m to do the whole thing, this final section may be a grim battle to the death.

We arrived in Fort William just after 18:00, half an hour after a train back to the van at Crianlarich had left. So we chilled out, drank coffee, ate horrible greasy chips from that shite chippy that I always seem to end up at and got onto the train for the 20:05 train. Feeling quite smug about life, I happily told the approaching guard that we were going to Crianlarich. “Not tonight you’re not – this train doesn’t run on a Saturday.” was his equally smug reply. Note to self: don’t let Stuart do anything (like check train times) on his own ever again. I decide we should hot-foot it to the other side of town and start hitching, despite the fading light, because a night in a hostel doesn’t appeal. We don’t even get half way when we bump into John Birnie who is up here for a kayaking event and is, happily, going back down south that night! Excellent – all we had to do was survive the next few hours in a pub and at a ceilidh in cycling shoes and lycra. Ya, we’re lucky bastards.

Mar 05

Spain photos

Haliborange charging

I’ve finally got round to cropping some of the Spanish photos from January. I haven’t got enough time to write anything worth reading about it though, which is a shame as there are many good stories. Needless to say, the biking was amazing and Dave, Peter and I spent most of the week laughing (usually at each other). An absolutely top class holiday, just a shame it was over so fast. Same sort of time next year I reckon – Spain is a great place for winter biking. Here are a couple of photos. The others can be seen on my Flickr account.

Near the top of the Jesus Trail