Friday, 15 December 2017

The Bealach Path

I spent a small fortune in Pitlochry yesterday. I was concluding my  two day winter fitness camp and was mooching around the town waiting for the late train. A pub lunch here, a new jumper and scarf there and before you can say 'that'll do nicely', I was overloaded with luggage I hadn't anticipated 3 hours earlier.

On Tuesday afternoon, I was in two minds to go, but work has quietened off and no one was chasing me on the phone. I scrutinized the forecast in some detail, before looking at hotel and train prices. Good discounts available. There was also a good chance of snow (Wunderground is a good site when looking for future snow). When I called the hotel, they said there was some lying on the hill. So, with train tickets reduced for 1st class and the hotel room and breakfast at a bargain rate, I went for it.
Taking the early train up, I changed in Edinburgh. On the way up, however, things were still very green as I scoured the hills. No matter, it would be good change of scene.
I arrived in the town mid-morning to be greeted with black ice and the hangover of a hard overnight frost. Old folk were clinging to each other like their lives depended on it. It was dicey on the icey.
I sat in the hotel until lunchtime after a slow tea and an even slower bowl of soup. Too early to check in, see.  However, I didn't want to run in the dark, so changed in the toilets and left my gear with reception and off I went up Ben Vrackie and then not quite getting to the top, cut down and followed the Bealach Path over the mountain before the grey clouds began turning purple blue and the snow arrived. There was around two or three inches of snow on the hill and it was just me, a handful of Ptarmigans and late in the run, some deer. They were high up and wary of some muffled nutter aimlessly tramping along in the snow; and rightly so. It was a slow affair with 10 miles covered by the time I got back, nearly 3000ft of climbing and 2 hours of snowy Scotland all to myself. I resisted the siren call, the temptation of the Moulin Inn; next time, I promised myself.

To make the most of the next day (Thursday), I needed to be out the door by 7:30am. Breakfast was served until 10:30am and as it was in with the deal, I needed to be back in time. So, eating early on Wednesday evening, I retired shortly after port and cigars and it was lights out at 8:30pm. Slept well until 2:30am and was wide awake. Got back to slumberland sometime later and was up and out the door sure enough at crack of 7:30am. It was cold and dark and icy, so I ran round the town and over the bridge under the orange gaze of the streetlights and then along the north of the river picking up to river path to Killicrankie. As dawn broke, the run developed into a thing of beauty and the camera came out here and there. Frozen lakes, dangling icicles as long as your posh aunts finger nails and plenty of grouse and a few grey squirrels foraging under the copper beach leaves strewn liberally across the forest track. It was plenty icy in places, but mostly all runnable. No one around. Solitary bliss.

As I neared Killiecrankie, I could feel the draw of the old soldiers lament and by the time I had reached the Battle of Killiecrankie Visitors Centre and the Soldiers Leap, it was well after nine, and with seven miles under my belt, it was time to turn back. I got up the bank and onto the old road between Pitlochry and Blair Atholl and headed back on the tarmac just as the snow began. At first it was light and the flakes quite icy, but as I arrived back into Town just before ten, the flakes were huge, cold and floaty. They filled the sky. I expected Mrs Deagle to come out of McNaughtons drapery or catch Gizmo's huge doe eyes peeping out from under some wifeys shopping bag.
Shower, breakies and lashings of hot coffee.  Spent the rest of the day wandering and parked up close to the fires in the Old Mill and McKays , which I returned to for a wee ploughmans. Once I'd read the paper I reverted to Somerset Maugham's Mrs Craddock. Dated, but I'm halfway through now.

If you get the chance to get to Pitlochry for a day or two, there are some great off road runs around the place. Some good deals on as well with the hotels. I stayed at McKays. Terrific value. 22 good miles over 2 days.
Next time; soon; maybe early next year I am going to go all the way along the path and road  to Blair Atholl: should be a great run.

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