Inverness Half Marathon 2014

John at the finish of the half marathon. Picture courtesy SPP, by Alison Gilbert

I have been steadily improving my times at the Inverness Half over the last few years so I was pleased to continue that trend at the weekend with a 1:41.55 – even though I was hoping to break 1:40 for the first time in a long time! I felt pretty wrecked at the finish having managed to run sub-8 minute miles for all but two of the 13.2 miles. That was some achievement for me and shows that my training is starting to pay off.

That’s good news because on Friday I received confirmation that my team has been accepted for the Highland Cross again this year – so the half marathon is now just a stepping stone on the way to that much bigger challenge. Last year I ended up walking a bit of the last five or six miles of the ‘foot’ section so my aim this year is to keep running to the transition and see where that takes me!

I had family up at the weekend looking after the kids while I ran – and my wife Meg ran the 5k, the first race she’s done since we were married in 2009! I can’t believe it’s been that long as we actually met at a 10k race so running has always been a big part of our lives. She ran a fantastic 25 minutes and just maybe caught the running bug again!

My time saw me finish 419th out of 1703 finishers – see the full results here: http://www.invernesshalfmarathon.co.uk/result/36/2014-half-marathon-results/

Here’s a snippet of video my dad took as I shuffled my way to the finish line:

Revealed: the cover of my new book!

The cover of my new book, Walking and Cycling in the Highlands, which is due out at the end of March


This is the cover of my new walking and cycling guide to the Highlands. Thanks to my brother Iain for the great design! The book is due out at the end of March and will be available to pre-order via my website very soon, as well as be available in the usual shops from April. Watch this space for further details!

On the run with Roddy

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The man in the yellow jacket in this classic running ’selfie’ is Roddy Riddle – a man who has inspired thousands of people with diabetes (and many others besides) with his determination to show how exercise can help the condition. Last year he became the first person with type 1 diabetes to complete the Marathon des Sables, the toughest foot race on earth.

I was doing an on-the-run interview with Roddy for our spring Active Outdoors magazine, largely talking about his next big challenge, the Ice Ultra, in 2015.

We had a really interesting chat, so much so that I came home and wrote a fair chunk of the feature immediately! And it was great to be out in good company on a proper winter’s morning on the Caledonian Canal towpath in Inverness, where we saw loads of other runners out enjoying the fresh, crisp air.

These boots were made for walking…

My trusty boots enjoy their final outing - with crampons for good measure!

It’s been a long relationship but it had to end sometime. This weekend I gave my trusty Scarpa Manta’s one last outing on the hills. My new three-season boots won’t take a crampon so I had to revert to my winter boots until I can afford a new pair. Their soles may have gone almost bare and there may be a hole or two in the outer fabric but they still did a job. However, I wouldn’t want to trust them to a full winter’s outing on the Scottish mountains, so it’s time to say goodbye.

The parting made me think about how long I’ve had the boots. It turns out that I’ve had them since 2005 – and thank goodness for digital cameras for recording for posterity the dates of all my walks since the early noughties! I think I must have bought them, along with my Grivel G12s, for a trip to Chamonix to do some glacier walking and get some Alpine experience with my brother and sister-in-law.

In them, I’ve climbed a few hills in that time, mainly in Scotland. We used to travel north to Arrochar when I lived in Glasgow and since moving to Inverness they’ve travelled far and wide to trek on the hills, moors and forests of the Highlands.

Saturday’s walk took us up Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine, a Corbett in betwen Loch Clair, in Glen Torridon, and Achnashellach. The boots proved their worth when we had to don the crampons for the final ascent on the hard snow, almost perfect for walking the last steep section to the summit shelter – which was filled with snow upon our arrival.

At the summit of Sgorr nan Lochan Uaine above Glen Torridon.

It was an unexpectedly perfect day as far as the weather was concerned and we enjoyed fine views over Liathach and Beinn Eighe from this fine vantage point.



A long descent via Coulin Lodge and finally back along the Glen Torridon road after dark meant I was glad to finally take the boots off… for one last time. Thank you Scarpa’s, you’ve been a fine companion on the fells. Now it’s onwards and upwards to find a new pair of boots for a new era of hillwalking

Rights and responsibilities at Ledgowan

Scotland enjoys some of the best access laws in the world, rightly based on a right to roam idea tied to responsibilities that respect land management and the environment. In my view it is among the best laws passed since the inception of the Scottish Parliament. Along with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, it outlines how access takers are expected to behave as well as ways land owners can work to integrate access and land management activities.

I’m regularly out and about across Scotland – particularly in the Highlands – and relationships between land owners and access takers are generally very good. Personally, in the last decade I’ve only been challenged once for asserting my right to access, and I quickly reported the incident to the local access authority.

But when I heard about Ken Brown’s experience at Achnasheen on the Ledgowan Estate, I was shocked and appalled. This is the same estate that has ploughed great tracks up the hills on their land, which – as I discovered today – go only to a lochan used for fishing, hardly the sort of place you need to take heavy vehicles. I wonder what these tracks could really be for…?

That’s the background to why I decided to join others today – St Andrew’s Day – to assert my right of responsible access on Ledgowan Estate, and to see if those in charge of this land in our beautiful country were taking their share of responsibility. We decided on a route up a nice little Graham called Beinn na Feusaige.

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This picture is from the start of our walk, where a sign stated: “Working with the environment, please do not disturb it.” We met others walking here and chatted as we climbed the ugly track that ascends the hillside…

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If that’s not disturbing the environment, I’m not sure what is.

This is our nice day out in the countryside…

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…Not much to see beyond the track that dissects the peat bog up here.

We also noticed a number of gates that were locked with no styles or pedestrian gates to allow access for non-motorised access (as required by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code). The tracks and paths beyond them were accessible by climbing over ’slatted’ fences alongside. The only sign regarding estate management was this rather vague sign that pointed out that stalking takes place during the stalking season (rather than the on-the-day information which is required by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code – ie where shooting is taking place on that day and alternative routes available to walkers).

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Once we’d got off the track and onto the hill proper, we enjoyed a fabulous walk, climbing through the mist to the summit of Beinn na Feusaige then descending to the glen west-south-west and down the track into Glen Carron (over a couple more locked gates of course).

Here we are on the summit:

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All that was left was to see the estate staff driving up and down the glen to see what cars were parked there… I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to achieve by this. But I came away from Ledgowan with the feeling that the estate still has a lot to learn about the Land Reform Act 2003 and how to welcome access takers on its land, as well as how to manage its land without major disruption to the environment. I hope they can work with Highland Council to improve the situation here before more of this country is damaged or destroyed. Surely that’s in all our interests.