Wednesday, October 14, 2015


It's been an ambition of mine to complete the 100miles of The West Highland Way in a day by mountain bike for some years now and with two failed attempts under my belt and approaching 63 years of age I felt that one final try was in order before I could throw in the towel in and not feel too bad about it
My two previous attempts, one north to south and the other in the more usual south to north direction had both ground to a halt about 19 miles short. Both had been done on a relatively heavy Full Suspension bike which made the carrying or 'Hikeabike' sections very tiring, especially as the day wore on. So the strategy on this occasion was to use a much lighter Hardtail bike which,while sacrificing a degree of comfort would undoubtedly make the carrying sections much easier and thus, so my theory went, provide the extra energy to enable me to complete the job.
There is a well recognised key section of 'The Way' which is generally accepted as being the toughest for walkers and even more so for bikers and that is the seven mile stretch along the south shore of Loch Lomond between Inversnaid Hotel and Beinn Ghlas farm. The path is so rough here that it is fair to say that there is little more than half a mile of biking in the whole thing
I left Milngavie, the south terminus of 'TheWay' at 8.00am and was enjoying the ride in good weather. The first big obstacle of the route, the ascent of Conic Hill had gone easily enough and as I approached Inversnaid I was feeling good and was well on schedule. I would have to admit though that the thought of taking the hotel ferry over the loch and rejoining the route again at Beinn Ghlas, thus surpassing the difficulties was very appealing. However on inspecting the timetable I found that this would entail a wait of over two hours and so I took the fateful decision to push on.

I was about 2 hours into it and was coping well with what is basically rock scrambling with the added hindrance of lugging a bike along with you. To be fair, there were some short sections that I could have ridden but I had decided to err on the side of safety, realising that being alone, a simple fall might mean a twisted ankle or the like and the project being abandoned all together.
What happened next all went very quickly and is pieced together in retrospect but I do believe it to be a fairly accurate account of events (A subsequent visit to the site on foot proved this to be the case)
I was on a very steep scrambling section of the path and was aware that there was a long drop to the rocky shore below me on my immediate left. Having said that, I couldn't see the shore as the rocky, root strewn path overhung it. In skiing and mountaineering one often hears the term ' No Fall Zone' being used to describe an area where the results of a fall at that point would be disastrous. This was a 'No Fall Zone'.
I was on foot, the bike in front of me and above to my right and I was pushing forward and up to clear this particularly tricky section. I was nearing level ground when either my back foot slipped or the edge of the rough path gave way and I was immediately airborne with no introductory slope to roll down with the hope of stopping, just straight into freefall. I recall thinking 'This is going to be bad' and I think I let out an involuntary shout. My next recollection was coming to face down on the jagged rocks of the shoreline some 20feet below my take off point.
I've no idea how long I was unconscious and only know that I was because I came to in extreme pain thinking ' Please let me go back to where I was' meaning, not the path above but to the place with no pain - unconsciousness.
Any attempt to change my facedown position was painful in the extreme but, almost instinctively, I checked for feeling in my feet, arms and legs and was somewhat relieved to find that I could register movement in all extremities. My next thought was the possibility of internal bleeding and that scared me. I have to take ant-coagulant drugs as a result of having an artificial heart valve and that makes me more prone to such bleeding than the average person. But there was nothing I could do about that. I just had to hope.
On realising that I was unable to move and was out of sight of anyone who might be on the path above I began shouting for help. After half an hour or so I was very relieved to hear voices. Shortly thereafter a man who was walking 'The Way' and as it turned out, who I had passed earlier in the afternoon,was at my side. After assessing the situation he climbed back up to the path where he was able to contact the Emergency Services by phone and get the evacuation process underway. He informed me that it was likely that I would be taken by the Loch Lomond Rescue launch to Inversnaid and thereafter by helicopter to Glasgow's Southern General Hospital. I was extremely relieved to get this information but the wait of an hour or more seemed very daunting because of the pain I was experiencing.
Sometime later and after a lot of moaning and groaning on my part I heard the rescue boat and crew manoeuvring into the small area of rock strewn shoreline where I was lying. I was glad to see them and so grateful when they placed a breathing mask over my face giving a mixture of oxygen and whatever else which immediately reduced my pain and induced an immediate calming effect.
It was a difficult evacuation for them given the limited access and a painful one for me, even with the help of the Magic Mask but their empathy and professionalism was second to none and very reassuring. I knew as we moved away from the shore and through the bumpy waters of the loch that I was in good hands
Whenever the boat landed in front of the Inversnaid Hotel I was carried ashore where medics examined me further and administered the morphine shots which made me more comfortable before I was loaded into the helicopter for the half hour trip to Glasgow. Buoyed up by the morphine I remember thinking as we flew down the loch 'It's a pity I can't see out of the Windows'.
The outcome - 1 x broken scapula 5x broken ribs 1 x punctured lung and 2 x fractured vertebrae resulting in a two week hospital stay and many sleepless nights. Now, three months on with the help of family, friends and physiotherapy and a bit of perseverance I have shed the body brace and the walking stick and am managing to do some short bike rides again. I am in no doubt that I was very very fortunate to come away from this experience with no major lasting consequences.
Once I return to full fitness it's my intention to do some fundraising for the volunteers of the Loch Lomond Rescue and Helimed - Quite what that will entail I've not yet decided but I think it is safe to say it will involve a lot of cycling - but not on the south shore of Loch Lomond!

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

                                     THE CAPITAL TRAIL - A JOURNEY

I first learned of The Capital Trail through the posts of its creator Marcus Stitz on social media. At that time, early this year, TheTrail was in fact still in embryo form and not yet a completed entity. I was immediately taken with the idea of this long distance Bikepacking route based on Scotland's capital and so I started out doing bits and pieces of it in the Pentland Hills and around East Lothian, mainly on my CX bike and was delighted to be exploring some areas and trails that were new to me.

When the Capital trail was completed by Marcus I was faced with, what was for me, the daunting task of learning about GPS technology, not so simple in your sixties, which finally enabled me to transfer the GPX route map onto my newly acquired Garmin device. I would not go as far as saying I had mastered this because I was still experiencing some glitches, more of which later!

Marcus, on learning of my interest, invited me to take part in the inaugural event on 13th - 14th June. I told him that, after reading his description,I was very keen but at 63 I was a bit concerned about whether or not I was being realistic. At this point he kindly offered to keep a place open for me until I had done a bit more of a recce.

The next day I realised that I would be  involved at the POC Scottish Enduro Series at Glenlivet that weekend with my son and so would not be able to ride the inaugural event whatever the outcome of my further route explorations. It was that very clash of interests however, combined with a settled spell of weather, which led to me deciding to just get out of the door and give it a go.

The trail began gently enough as I rolled away from the starting point at The Tide Cafe along the promenade at Portobello 

towards Musselburgh with views out over the Firth of Forth. Then it was down to following the little arrow on my handlebars as I cut to and fro through backstreets and woodland paths to Wallyford. The first steep rutted climb of the day followed what was basically a rutted trench brought about by water flow and illicit motor cycle use however, this section has thankfully now been superseded by a pleasant riverside path along the River Esk and a pleasant loop through the grounds of Carberry Estate.

A fast singletrack descent from the village of Elphinstone leads to the Old Pencaitland Railway path associated with mining in the area (pic) but instead of following the path to its end a turn is taken into the Winton Estate and onto the banks of the Tyne. There are not too many road sections on 'The Trail' but what there are are mainly on quiet roads and lanes, many of the - grass growing in the middle - variety. After a woodland track through the grounds of Saltoun Hall one such section follows, up through the village of West Saltoun and in short course back on to a single track climb through Saltoun Big Wood after which a long fast descent on farm tracks leads by way of traffic free -apart from the odd tractor- lanes to the hamlet of Longyester.

Longyester marks a distinct change in the terrain to be traversed, an antiquated signpost gives the clue, 'Impassable for motors' warns the pointing finger.

 I've realised that if I continue to give a blow by blow account this article will a) Become a bit boring and b) I might not live long enough to finish it! - So, suffice to say that the departure from Longyester heralds the first of many up and downy bumpy bits over hillside and open moor with a couple of burn fordings thrown in for good measure. I was lucky in that I was able to choose a fairly settled spell of weather for my attempt unlike participants on the inaugural ride who will just have to take what the weather Gods provide - Let Us Pray! - The hills in the Border country, while being nowhere near as high as those in the Highlands are, nonetheless, very exposed in places.

Skirting the town of Lauder, giving the opportunity to refuel, hill tracks lead on towards Melrose and the banks of the River Tweed and so it goes rolling on, taking in parts of The Borders Abbey Way St Cuthberts Way and of course, a feature of much of the route, The Southern Upland Way.

The first Hikeabike section I encountered was a steep forest track after the Trail passes near the town of Selkirk and as darkness was beginning to fall I chose to bivi there on a very comfy bed of pine needles. That said, as most of the Capital Trail participants will probably be half my age and, having the additional benefit of the extra daylight available to them in June, most will choose to press on to the high moors past the Three Brethern leading by The Southern Upland Way and the Minch Moor road to the first of the two 7 Stanes Mountain Bike loops to be encountered, this one above the town of Innerleithen. The more suitably sited, at least in terms of The Trail event, Minch Moor Bothy is to be found on the descent off these trails towards Traquair and I'm sure this will prove to be an overnighting target for many as the next section, the ascent up to Dun Rig and onwards to Peebles, involves rather more in the way of routefinding/hiking, is very exposed and would not be the most pleasant of prospects in the dark.

The second Trail Centre Loop is taken at Glentress on the outskirts of Peebles and at this stage I still had a fond notion of completing the whole route without a second bivi. However some steep climbing and an incident involving a  Carradice saddlebag (Now replaced with Apidura) a favourite Gillet and the drive side of a Hope Hub put paid to that and found me once again bedding down for the night in the lee of a stone wall on the Old Drove Road through the Meldons. I was in the open this time and although comfortable on a bed of moss rather than pine needles, even the canopy of stars did not quite make up for the drop in temperature from my previous abode. 

Onwards now by way of mostly grassy tracks with the odd bit of hiking towards West Linton. There is a remoteness to these hills that surprises given their proximity to Edinburgh and the only person I encountered was a shepherd on foot with his dogs.

A welcome coffee and Bacon rolls, taken Al fresco on the pavement outside the Deli in West Linton, revived me before the final push through and then over The Pentland Hills and on towards the finish.

Descending to the col below West Kip, it was  a welcome sight to get a glimpse of Edinburgh in the distance and finally feel able to be pretty sure I was going to complete this wonderful and challenging journey. All that remained was the gently downward trending Water of Leith and the Union Canal , a trip through the city, including a final climb round Arthur's Seat and the last singletrack descent of the Brunstane Path to take me back to my starting point at The Tide cafe.

There is much variation in the territory traversed on this memorable journey, from railway paths and canal banks, through woodland singletrack, quiet lanes and historic drove roads to the wildest of heathery hike a bike hills. In its span of 150 miles or so, for those of you dealing in old money, you will ford streams, pass or visit bothies or perhaps bivi under the stars on wooded hillsides. It is without doubt a challenging ride, where head will be just as important as legs, and one not to be undertaken lightly - I packed my Bus Pass just in case :-) - Enjoy.


Thursday, January 09, 2014



It was the stocky fame and the cheeky smile that registered first as he jogged past me in running gear. He was bursting with fitness after eight years with plenty of time for gym work.

The last time I had seen Alex Reilly was on July 12th, 1988 as he was being led out of the High Court in Edinburgh to start a 12 year sentence for armed robbery at a branch of the Bank of Scotland on the west side of the city. I got the same cheeky smile that day, accompanied by a resigned shrug of the shoulders. '' That's the game," he said as he passed me in the corridor. His co-accused, going down for 10years, was less sociable in his comments but then he was not the 'professional' that Alex was.
 It may seem strange to a public and a media obsessed by the 'scourge of crime' but that's how I saw it; as a game. At the end of the day I have a grudging respect for him as I know he does for me, both 'professionals' in our own fields.
 In 16 years of criminal investigation work, Alex was one of the few, 'professionals' I came across. He got caught, I hear you say, - Couldn't have been that much of a professional, - but you miss my point; Alex was not simply a criminal - he was a Bank Robber. Now I appreciate that for most that will be a very hard distinction to make, not only for Joe Public but for the vast majority of my former colleagues as well. It is however a distinction which Alex himself acknowledges and which will be acknowledged by many CID officers of the 'old school' who have experienced the 'high' of successfully pitting their wits and their cunning against an adversary like Alex. This 'high' is a personal thing and has little to do with the noble pursuit of upholding the law of the land. This is the preserve of the hunter and the hunted. 

Alex says his 'highs' came from the planning, the scheming, the adrenaline rush of masking up, going in and leaping onto the bank counter, controlling gun in hand. Then the sprint to the get away car and the final 'YES' as, hours later, he walked home just like any other night, having lived out on the edge. The fact that he was several thousand ponds to the good was, for Alex, a nice bonus but as nothing compared to these hours of sharpened senses, minutes of heightened experience -  the 'Rush'. For Alex, these were the principal motivations. 
As to whether or not Alex would have shot anyone who thwarted him that day, I cannot say; nor can I say whether or not the guns were loaded. These are hard questions on which only Alex himself can comment and which to date remain unresolved.
What, then were my 'highs'? - Hitting the right track weeks after the enquiry had been virtually closed down, getting a sniff of who might be responsible. Matching information with hard facts. Recovering a cache of guns in another city which I connected to Alex. And eventually arresting him in his own livingroom as he returned from a shopping trip wearing a distinctive jacket very similar to that described by witnesses as having been worn by one of the robbers. And of course my final 'Rush',my final 'YES' when the foreman of the jury said, 'Guilty'.
I reminded Alex of the jacket when I met him recently. He laughed, denying that he would be so silly, but then he would, wouldn't he?
It might seem strange that Alex and I can communicate on relatively friendly terms given that I could be seen as responsible for depriving him of 8 years of his life, but he says that he doesn't see it that way. He lays the blame fairly and squarely on bad associations involving him in an enterprise which, for one reason and another, used "ordinary criminals" in what was a professional venture. Knowing the ins and outs of the enquiry that led to his arrest, I would have to agree.
Without wishing in any way to glamourise Alex's crime, I see him as a modern day Jesse James, a man who would no more think of breaking into a house or robbing an old lady than would you or I. He tells me that the banks can afford it and who can argue with that.

Before being jailed for the robbery Alex had a responsible job in community work and since his release he has returned to similar work on a voluntary basis. If you were to ask me if he will ever do another bank, I would have to say that I don't know. In his forties now he says that he can't see himself doing another sentence, which he knows would undoubtedly be a long one "If you're going to play the game you've got to know the rules" he says.

Alex has done his time and whether or not he can come off this particular drug remains to be seen.   The last time I met him he was standing on a street corner opposite a bank on the south side of the city. "Only waiting on the wife" he assured me, the cheeky grin still evident - I wonder?

                                                                           *   *   *
(This piece was written nearly twenty years ago and my sentiments remain the same. I can't say for certain that Alex managed to kick the habit only that if he didn't he's never been caught!)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heart Problems - It's not only for Couch Potatoes

I have always been fit whether through running, cycling, mountaineering, skiing, kayaking whatever and for years I was under the impression that my life style made me immune from any possibility of heart problems. After all I was regularly Mountainbiking at a high level and holding my own with youngsters half my age. 

Our usual testing ground, Innerleithen a well known centre in the Scottish Borders, begins with an unrelenting hour long climb, for many a lot longer, to high on the Minch Moor before the downhill fun starts. This climb is unavoidable and for years I had relished it because my light build and cardiovascular system were suited to that kind of effort. However, for some months I had been enjoying it less and less, often trying to get a head start on the climb so I could take things easier. At 59 years of age the obvious answer was I was getting older and, disappointing as it was, I should expect this drop off in performance

On 3rd April this year I started up the climb having managed to sneak away while the rest of the
group were still in the carpark and pretty soon I felt things even harder than was becoming usual, so much so that I stopped and sat down at the side of the track. My hands and forearms had started to feel a bit numb and my breathing had become laboured but by the time the others caught up I was recovered enough to continue. I did note how surprised they were to see that I had stopped to sit down. I was soon forced to have another stop which I attempted to disguise as a requirement to remove a rain jacket as I was too warm but by this time my pals were beginning to suggest that I call it a day.

To cut along story short I stubbornly persisted in going to the top and continued for another 2 hours doing the normal descents. However in response to the concerns of the rest of the group, I agreed to visit my Doctor the following day.

I made an appointment and was delighted to be seen by someone who has been involved in hill running for many years and who might be more open to the idea of someone of my age performing at these levels. I was expecting to be told that I might have to get used to reduced performance as I aged and was surprised when the Dr told me she could detect a heart murmmer. This resulted in a same day admission to the Chest Pain Clinic at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary quickly followed by the news that I was suffering from Aortic Stenosis and would require Open Heart Surgery to replace the much narrowed valve. I was also informed I may well require a bypass graft.

Stunned I think is the only way to describe how I felt and then sorry for myself and then angry, a whole gamut of emotions as I begun the journey of coming to terms with my new reality.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Mountainbiking - The West Highland Way In a Day

I cycled the West Highland Way with my teenage son James many years ago - He now runs Scotland's main MTB suspension servicing company www.flotecsuspension in Edinburgh, so it's more years than I care to think about. On that occasion we did it over three days and had a great time.

More recently I read of a completion of The Way In a Day by I guess that's when the idea lodged in my brain.

So up to the present day, or nearly. On a week-day in mid September this year I took the last train from Edinburgh to Fort William arriving at 11.00pm. I had pre-booked into the Wild Goose Hostel in Banavie two miles outside the town although I knew I wouldn't get much sleep as a 4.00am start was planned.

4.30am saw me climbing up the first singletrack of the day onto the fire road towards Kinlochleven then single track and droveroad before a great technical descent into the village.

The track then rises steeply out of Kinlochleven and there was a fair bit of 'hike a bike' before the top of The Devil's Staircase followed by another great technical descent down to the Glencoe Road. I had breakfast at The Kingshouse Hotel at 10.00am before heading over The Wade Road to Bridge of Orchy. This involved a fair bit of climbing/walking but was rewarded again by a sweet long descent to the hotel after which a straightforward gently undulating trail led to the tourist honeypot that is now Tyndrum - Green Welly Shop and all! It was now 12.30pm and, 8hrs in, I was surprised at how fresh I felt.

A nice bit of single track, then across the main road and Drove Road through Strath Fillan led to recrossing the road and this is where the surprise came for me, a surprise that cost me a lot of energy! Travelling by road from Tyndrum to Crianlarich is, in the main level and downhill however what I hadn't realised, and what memory had obviously erased, was that the WHW cut a corner here with a sucession of steep hard climbs which took a toll on my legs. I had had it in mind to take a ferry over Loch Lomond thus bypasssing the notorious section between Bienglass and Inversnaid but as it was now 2.00pm, I realised I wasn't going to make the last ferry. Oh well, how bad can it be? Answer - bad.

Anyway a really nice descent saw the miles to Bienglass pass relatively pleasantly as the track ran alongside the River Falloch and on arriving at the farm at 4.00pm I decided on a sit down refuel. I had largely been using gels and energy drink and the lure of some solid food was too great to resist.

What can I say about the next 7miles - well firstly, they took me the best part of three hours the majority of which involved pushing,lifting,pulling and carrying a 30lb mountainbike. I recall a couple of sections where I was climbing a crag with one hand on a rock hold and the other either hoisting the bike up in front of me or pulling it up behind me! Enough said, although I do think given the topography of this section things might be marginally easier in the usual direction south to north.

Still feeling reasonble I arrived at Inversnaid at 8.00pm and as the daylight was beginning to fade, I set off for Rowardennan.To cut the story short, the Loch section had taken it's toll and by the time I reached Balmaha it was dark, my batteries had run out - no not my lamp batteries - (Think Duracell Bunny!) and with 19 miles still to go, including Conic Hill, I decided to call it a day.

Too late to find accommodation, I bedded down on a pile of sand on a building site wrapped in polythene - slept like a baby and finished into Glasgow the next day.

My initial reaction was Never Again but after a few days, the Unfinished Business feeling kicked in so back for another Way In a Day attempt in June 20012 - same year as I collect my Bus Pass!

Info: Lapierre Zesty 714 - Tubeless Tyres- I rode Spd's but will use Flats next time because of the walking/scrambling involved - Plenty of gels and energy bars - took energy drink powder and filled up from crystal clear streams. I had thought of using my Stumpjumper hardtail which would have been an advantage on the carrying sections but in retrospect I'm glad I didnt because I think the general body battering of a hardtail would have made things less enjoyable and might well have stopped me earlier.

PS. Unfortunately I won't be making the second attempt in June as I will be undergoing heart surgery to replace a valve and graft a bypass - I knew these hills at Crialarich shouldn't have felt as hard as that! - Next Year.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I worked for many years as a Detective with Lothian and Borders Police and it is perhaps that background that has caused a certain degree of cynicism to remain in the system, but surely I can't be the only one to have doubts about the recent treasure trove found in a field near Stirling. The circumstances are as follows M'laud:-

' Guy buys metal detector on e-bay. It arrives in the post, he unwraps it and doubtless, after the usual struggle with the instructions, he gets it to look something like the picture on the box. Then, after a few preliminary tests in the backgarden, successfully locating bits of the family cutlery,he gets in his car, drives to a random field near his house and, after 5mins and within a few yards of his parked car, he comes across a priceless hoard of jewellery of some 2,500 years vintage which stands to make him a man of independent means for the rest of his natural life.'

Now ladies and gentlemen of the Jury I ask you 'How F-----g likely is this? What are the odds?

So where did it come from? I'm afraid I can't answer that one and it is, I would submit, beyond my present remit to attempt to do so, however what I can say is, if one were to apply the degree of proof required in civil actions to this amazing set of circumstances, 'On The Balance Of Probabilities' then I would have to ask you to return a verdict of Guilty As Charged.'


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

At Night OnThe Trails

Now that the 'nights are drawing in' as King Henry said before the Battle of Agincourt, I find myself a bit limited as to when I can get out running so, last night, for the first time I experimented with running in the dark on the forest trails above where I work at Castle Craig.

I must say, it took a bit of getting used to with your world effectively narrowed down to a pool of light about three feet in front of you. However after about 20mins or so I got quite comfortable with it and was out for about an hour and a half. This was roughly 10-15mins longer than I would take in the day time due to the fact that one has to be a bit more careful about even the smallest obstacles - sticks, potholes etc.

I was using a Petzl Tika headtorch that I use for climbing and would have to say that it felt like the minimum output possible for safety. I am awaiting delivery of a more powerful rechargeable LED system for mountainbiking and I'm sure this will make things a lot easier and more enjoyable.

One outing and I am hooked and I must say I'm really looking forward to some clear, frosty and starry nights on the trails.