Tayside summit to sea challenge (Jul 2017)

1st July 2017

Ben Lawers to Broughty Ferry Castle running, kayaking and cycling

After picking Paul and the kayaking kit up in Dundee we headed west towards Kenmore where we met Berenice. We left my car parked up and all got into Berenice’s car for the final stretch up to the Lawers nature reserve
car park, dodging herds of sheep sleeping just on the road. It was about
midnight when we got there so a bit dark and very still, so quite
midgy. We hurriedly pitched our tents in the carpark and settled down
for a few hours sleep.

Waking up about 5:15am we were greeted by the sun peeking out over the ridge. It was looking to be a day of fantastic weather! We had some breakfast, packed down the tents and by 6:16am we were ready to set off back to Dundee. It was a lovely morning to be out walking and even wearing shorts I was warm enough. We took the signposted route to Ben Lawers, going along a very good path across the lower slopes and deciding, partly for completeness sake, to take the route up over Beinn Ghlas. As we began to go more steeply up some low cloud built up, but this was mostly below us by the time we got on to the ridge, making for very atmospheric views. We made our way up to the top of Beinn Ghlas and from there ran down to the col with Ben Lawers,
and then we walked up to the summit.

Given it was just before 8am it was slightly surprising to find two other people with their dog already on the summit! We couldn’t have asked for better weather – it was sunny, bright and there were fantastic views. I retrieved a postcard that had been left by my dad and his friends below one of the trig points and we posed for photos with a silky pillowcase that mysteriously gained the DMC logo on it later. As lovely as it was on the top it was time to start the summit to sea challenge proper and begin running along the ridge!

We spread out a bit as we descended down the ridge and I managed to go the wrong way for a short while, waving to Paul as he took the correct route. We gathered together at the col and walked most of the way up An Stùc. The descent off An Stùc was not particularly runnable. Me, Dom and Berenice took one route and Paul another. Paul seemed to have picked the best route, going steeply down a gully, while our way was a bit scrambly – as good as Salomon Speedcross shoes are for running they aren’t made for trying to climb down wet schist. Me and Dom managed to cut across to the other route and Berenice climbed back up again and came to it higher up. Eventually we all made it to where Paul was sitting waiting at the col and then it was time to go up again to the summit of Meall Garbh.

The remainder of the ridge after
Meall Garbh was much less rocky. Berenice said she would be happy for us not to wait for her for the rest of the run, so me, Dom and Paul headed off. It was a bit boggy in places on the way down Meall Garbh and up Meall Greigh but mostly runnable. A quite new lamb decided it preferred Paul to its mother so we had to pick up the pace to avoid the sheep getting too angry. After a while we made it to the summit of Meall Greigh and could see Loch Tay below. We took the NE ridge, running over
tussocky, grassy ground, picking up vague paths occasionally until we reached a good track.

We turned off the ridge and onto the track, making our way down several zig-zags. When we hit the forest a gate barred the way across the track but the fence was easy enough to climb over. A few more sharp zig-zags in the trees later we hit a better quality track, which we followed for a short way before turning off onto a very overgrown track. It was quite useful to have the map on my phone to be sure this was where we wanted to go as it wasn’t very obvious, although it clearly had been a reasonable track, and was probably the best way down through the trees (Berenice ended up cutting down a firebreak). Approaching Fearnan we left the trees and ran along the track through grassy fields, which lead us into the village.

We hadn’t agreed where we were meant to meet Pete here, and we didn’t see him anywhere (we were over an hour late at this point), so we continued down to the main road hoping to intersect him at some point. The A-road was fairly narrow so wasn’t the best place to be running along without a pavement. We agreed for Paul to go at his own pace while me and Dom carried on ahead, taking a grassy, slightly overgrown track though the
trees for a couple of kilometres. This was much nicer than the road, although to get back to the road we did have to go back down through some woodland as the track wasn’t quite as marked on the map. Another short section of the A-road lead us to a carpark about 1km from Kenmore. We stopped there and Dom used the toilets. While I was waiting, Paul went past. It turned out he’d seen Pete on the road and now Pete was heading to pick up Berenice in Fearnan . We continued a short way more on the road then took a woodland path along the banks of Loch Tay, cutting of a corner, which brought us out through the grounds of Kenmore hotel. Then it was across the bridge and to the car with Berenice and Pete cheering us on for the final stretch!

At Kenmore it was time for some food, including the cutting of the Summit to Sea cake, and then a quick change into kayaking kit. We drove the boats around the bridge and then launched into the Tay, watching a wedding taking place at the Inn on the opposite bank. I’d forgotten to make sure the footrests were adjusted correctly so had to fiddle around with those a
bit. The river was quite gentle as we set off, and indeed for most of the way, but with a reasonable amount of flow to keep us going along. As we crossed under ‘Chinky Bridge’ we hit probably the biggest rapids of the paddle but they were good fun rather than scary. About half way to Aberfeldy I decided that I needed to adjust the footrests again so had to get out on a gravel beach to faff around with them. Once back on the river it was generally very pleasant paddling downstream, even seeing a large bird of prey at one point. There were a few people fishing but we went past them on the other bank and there weren’t any ill feelings.

As we got to the bridge in Aberfeldy we saw Berenice and Pete on the bank, which was nice! After a quick hello and some photos we headed off, keen
to continue. Berenice and Pete also continued, albeit more quickly in the cars, down to Grand Tully to meet Hazel, Jon and Baby Amy who’d been waiting for a while. The river between Aberfeldy and Grand Tully continued to be easy and pleasant to paddle. There were some bits that were very flat and in one of those we formed a small raft so Dom could
get some malt loaf out from inside his boat for us all to eat – we were feeling a bit in need of energy at this point! After a while I began to feel quite stiff from being in one position for so long, although I was pleased that my shoulder and wrist were generally okay as they have caused me problems kayaking before. The approach to Grand Tully was a bit more bumpy but still quite easy, and we all made it to the end without swimming.

The others were waiting for us on the banks before Grand Tully rapid and helped me and Paul out with our boats while Dom paddled the rapid, along with quite a few teenagers practicing on the slalom course. When we were all off the river it was time for another quick carpark-change into our cycling gear and some more food. Paul was driving my car back to Dundee and Berenice was driving Pete back up to Kenmore to pick up his car. Hazel was joining us for part of the cycle to Dunkeld but because we were running a couple of hours late her and Jon had to take Amy back after this so she could have her tea and go to bed.

We set off cycling on cycle route 7, first crossing over to the other side of the Tay and then along the quite road paralleling the river. Crossing over the river again, a short stretch on the main road took us to another quiet road which was very pleasant to cycle along. The weather was still good and there was a bit of a wind behind us. After a while we followed signs towards Pitlochry, turning off the road and down a hill to cross the Tay again. We continued on the cycle path over the Tummel and the A9, and then cycled alongside the A9 for a while. This was mainly separated by a verge and trees so it wasn’t too bad. After a while we turned onto a quiet road that climbed up above the road, and then began to descend reasonably steeply into Dunkeld.

Jon picked Hazel up in Dunkeld and me and Dom continued on. Along the quiet A-roads I saw a red squirrel, which made me very happy. We wended our way through the undulating countryside, crossing over the Tay and enjoying the scene of the wind passing through the barley in the fields. We passed through few settlements but in Murthly we stopped at the shop for a bit of a rest and ate an entire giant bag of crisps as well as some other bits of food – it was getting close to tea time but we still had a fair way still to go to get to the sea. Crossing over the Tay again and then the Isla, we began to approach the Sidlaws but road we’d originally planned to use to cross them was closed, so we ended up taking a route that Dave M had recommended. This perhaps not quite as steep as others but I was definitely flagging a bit when I got to the top of the first of the climbs. Revived with a Snickers bar we carried on towards Collace and Dunsinane hill. There was another bit of a climb, but from there onwards it wasn’t too bad, and I realised I’d actually been on this bit of the ride before.

It was a very steep descent down through Abernyte to the Carse which should have been fun, but I’m still a bit too scared about using my brakes on my road bike so I took it quite slowly – Dom got up to 50kph! There was a small section of the road to get across the A90 which was hard into the wind but as we turned to pass Inchture and then along the road to Dundee the wind was at our backs blowing us along! We stopped for some jelly sweets and then pushed on for the final stretch – the oil rigs in the docks coming into view so we knew we were nearly back. Passing through Invergowrie we continued on along Riverside and hit cycle route 1. This took us through the docks (I’d worried about the gates being closed after a certain time but they don’t seem to be) and then right along the Tay into Broughty Ferry.

At the castle we stopped for some celebratory pictures and then headed onto the beach to join the rest of the DMC gang for the BBQ and for a brief paddle in the sea! It was very windy on the beach but thankfully people had been sensible enough to bring wind breaks to shelter us while we enjoyed some slightly sandy veggie sausages, halloumi and prosecco. The BBQ was converted into a fire pit, Bruce using a sledge hammer to break up the wood, and we warmed ourselves by it while having some more summit to sea cake. Eventually, after a long but fantastic day it was time to head home for a well-needed sleep.

  • Report by Amy

Attendees: Dom, Berenice, Paul, Hazel, Pete, Jon, Baby Amy, Jim, Bruce, Mhairi, Andrew, Niall