Cross the UK: Trail Running in the Cairngorms Part One – Lairig an Laoigh

It took me absolutely ages to convince Stoney to run a distance over 10km.  Being a lean speed machine in his youth he dominated the cross country circuit at regional level but rarely went further than three miles so when I suggested that we train to take on some long distance trail runs on a path to the OMM Lite he took some time to yes.  Luckily he made me a deal.  “So long as I get to have a trail run or two in Scotland” he said.  Deal!

The Cairngorms is such a beautiful part of Scotland covering more than 4000 square kilometres and including some of the most spectacular natural beauty spots there is.  Having spied a two day trail run in Trail Running Magazine, Stoney was keen to take on the famous Lairig Ghru route and the Lairig an Laoigh.  Each day was billed as 29km with more than 600 meters of climb.  We were staying overnight at the Glenmore Lodge for the first time so we would have chance to recuperate overnight before attempting day two.  We left Braemar in sunshine heading for the Linn of Dee car park where would park overnight.  The car park is a pay and display car park and we’d read some reviews of the car park suggesting that if you were parking overnight you should leave a note to explain your route in case a ranger fears you are missing and pop two one-day parking tickets in your car.  We felt that was polite to do so and complied.

High spirits at the start

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We travelled light with our respective packs on trial with all that we would need for two days and one night at the Glenmore Lodge. Our run was to take us through the Lairig an Laoigh which means “pass of Lui”.  I followed the Walk Highland’s guide to pronunciation but I still could not repeat it confidently for fear of offending the locals!

The run starts with a steady meander through the woods behind the car park the path joins a wide track on the road to Derry Lodge which runs alongside Lui Water, the river running through the glen.  Stoney got all of 100m before he noticed some rub on his toe.  This was to be the start of his first lesson… don’t break in your new Inov-8’s on day one of a 29km trail run through the Cairngorms.  The glen was stunning and although the clouds seemed to be thickening we were treated to good visibility as we continued to Derry Lodge.  The lodge is a 19th Century shooting lodge which is now boarded up and you can’t help but that it would be a superb bunk house or bothy.

Beyond the lodge is where the ascent really begins.  We began a steady but noticeable climb through the valley.

The route continues on rocky paths which were difficult to run on in places due to very uneven ground and loose rocks.  The ascent takes you further up the Lairig an Laoigh to the Fords of Avon Refuge.

The refuge is exactly that, a refuge.  Whilst numerous people will have stayed the night it is difficult to fit more than a few people in and its in it’s most basic form a shed protected by a stone wall.  You can see how it would be a very welcome stop during bad weather and could be a life saver for those in dire need of shelter.  It has unfortunately become a popular stop of for those wishing to leave a reminder of their visit and the refuge is heavily covered in graffiti and burn marks where simple folk have set candles to close to a wooden beam or roof.  What’s the worst that could happen with wood and a naked flame hey? Despite our general disapproval of graffiti in these facilities there were a few poignant pieces of art work which had appeared after the Manchester bombings and some very blunt ones like the D of E tick tally below which (as D of E leaders) made us laugh but disappointed us in equal measure.  It’s definitely character building but humorous graffiti isn’t the way forward kids!

The final stretch took us a while to complete and the weather came in which meant I took a few less pictures.  This was also the point where Stoney’s toe started to give in.  Like a brave war hero he had soldiered on for 22km’s but his toe rub was now impeding his progress and speed.  I’d like to tell you I was really supportive … of his toe rub … from his new shoes … on the first day … with a second to go … and no change of shoes … you get the idea!

Luckily for Stoney, my sympathy is as abundant as my good looks and we were soon making progress together on the way down to the Glenmore Lodge.

The Glenmore Lodge was a welcome sight and our watches put us at just over 30km or 18.6 miles.  We knew we had a gruelling day ahead as we took on the Lairig Ghru so we ensured we were well fed and watered (and by water I mean Whisky) in preparation for the next day.  Day two is coming soon!

Oh and as I can tell you’re really keen to know… we managed to save his toe!

Mick Fenwick

Mountain Leader, D of E Co-Ordinator, Deputy Headteacher

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