Nigel Rose - 1992 Bruce's Crown

 

I first heard of the Bruce's Crown event when Harry sent me an entry form last year. It is a journey of 50 miles and 12500 feet through "rugged and remote country" in the Galloway Hills.  The event is open to both runners and walkers. I was otherwise committed last year, so decided to apply for the event this August.

I began to wonder about the event when the entry acknowledgement arrived. The compulsory kit list included, besides the usual equipment, "a survival bag, a sleeping bag and food for 30 hours".   The race facilities were described rather succinctly ‑ "Facilities - in keeping with the self-sufficient spirit of the Round there are none, apart from frequent burns".   It was with some trepidation that I set off on Friday afternoon for the camp site at Glen Trool.

In the evening we met Glyn Jones, the organiser, and had our kit checked before settling down for a good night's sleep.  The start, at nine o'clock on the Saturday morning was a low key affair.  Sixteen of us were told, "Good luck and off you go", before we set off along a forest path. After about ten minutes we came upon a forest road and the first navigational decision of the day.  I had originally intended to go along the road then cut up through a firebreak towards the top of the first hill.  Several of the other runners had talked earlier about doing previous events in the same area.  The main group crossed the road and plunged into the forest on the other side.  Thinking they knew where they were going I made my first mistake of the day and followed them.  It soon became obvious that all the map and compass waving covered an uncomfortable truth - the followers didn't know where they were and the leader didn't know where he was going.  I'll never follow an orienteer again.

We eventually broke free from the forest, to see runners heading from all directions towards the summit of  Mulldonoch. The route then took us over most of the tops of the Minnigaff Hills, including the intriguingly named Curleywee.  It started as good running on long grassy ridges, but began to get rougher as we headed further east.  Mist was beginning to come and go a bit over the tops.  Coming off Cairnarroch, we had to descend steeply into a valley then cross a bridge over the River Dee.  I set a bearing for an aiming-point on the opposite side of the valley and confidently set off down the hillside.  The terrain soon became rather unpleasant.  It looked like long grass and heather but underneath it was so spongy that it was impossible to run on.  Lower down I had to fight through trees and bracken to reach the forest road.  Several times the bracken seemed to weave itself into an impenetrable barrier before me, bringing me to a complete halt.

Eventually I reached the forest road and went on towards the bridge. The checkpoint at the bridge was manned - and fruit cake was on offer. I was also given water because the river water was of dubious quality - there was a fish farm further upstream.  It was important to get plenty of water because the next section went along a long dry ridge.  As I put white Leppin powder into the water, the marshals raised their eyebrows and made vague references to steroids!  Heading up the next hill, I had the choice of fighting the short way through forest or climbing through what seemed to be a disused quarry - the quarry won.

As I ran on from Little Millyea to Meikle Millyea the mist came down very thickly and the wind got stronger.  Fortunately there was a wall to follow but the checkpoints were tricky to find.  The whole route had 26 checkpoints; most of them were orienteering punches as they were too remote to be manned.  I missed one of the manned checkpoints near Millfire. The summit ridge looked very rough in the mist and I found a good path along the flank of the hill.  By the time I realised that I had passed the checkpoint, I was halfway up Corserine and in no mood for turning back. The wind had increased to gale force.  I remember at one point screaming "Bloody August" into the wind but it didn't seem to do much good. 

 

Coming down off Corserine, the mist suddenly lifted and the wind began to abate. Unfamiliar country opened up all around.  Between the ranges of hills lay many lochs surrounded by vast plains of forest.  Large rivers could be seen winding through the forests and further north Loch Doon appeared huge.  I thought at first that it was a sea loch. The next part of the run was fun.  The long undulating ridge of the Rhinns of Kells was covered with short springy grass - ideal for running.  I made good time along the ridge but towards the end I had to drop down for a while to find a burn as I was running short of water.

From the top of the final hill, Corran of Portmark, I had to drop down to a large forest and go about a mile through it to find a forest road near the shores of Loch Doon.  From the top of the hill I could see broad grassy rides sweeping invitingly through the forest - it looked easy to get through.  Down at the trees it soon became a different story.  The grass was knee deep, full of thistles and hid a continuous variety of ditches, bog and rocks.  Even  worse, the Harvey's map that I was using showed firebreaks but they didn't seem to correspond with the actual forest.  If I headed too far north I would miss the forest road altogether and end up going straight into Loch Doon.  By a bit of judicious guesswork and a chance sighting across the loch I managed to find the forest road.  The next six miles of the route lay along forest roads, around the south end of Loch Doon and across to the north of Loch Riecawr.  It was difficult to keep running as I was beginning to feel a bit tired and the road was very hard. I had been running for about ten hours.

A little further on there was to be a flagged route up through the trees to the overnight bivvy site. I had intended to run the whole race in one go. The rules were that if we reached the bivvy site before 7.00pm we could go on in pairs; otherwise we would have to stop.  I saw Glyn's car parked by the turnoff so I left the road and started to climb up a narrow firebreak between the trees.  The next twenty minutes seemed like a bad joke.  Although the route was well flagged it became a repeat of long grass and boggy ground interspersed with hidden ditches.  The hillside  became ever steeper and in places I had to crawl through bushes to follow the markers.  Some of the markers had words written on them which bore no resemblance to the race and I began to wonder if I was following the right route.  Also it began to rain heavily. Suddenly I came out from the trees just behind Glyn, who was carrying up a box of food.  Round the corner two earlier arrivals, David and Mark, were trying to shelter from the rain under the trees.

There was a half-hearted discussion about going on, but the light was beginning to fade and mist was creeping down from the hilltops.  An overnight bivvy seemed the lesser of two evils.  I chose a spot on a heathery bank under the edge of the trees.  It took a while to struggle with the logistics of getting a wet body and a dry sleeping bag into a survival bag, without knocking more water down off the overhanging trees.  I couldn't get comfortable and seemed to spend most of the night tossing and turning on the lumpy ground.  Later on it seemed to get better although I didn't find out why until the morning.  At some point in the night I had rolled down the bank into the thick grass at the bottom.

I was woken at dawn by the sound of David getting out of his bivvy bag.  Five o'clock in the morning and thick mist everywhere.  It started to rain again so I lay in the bag for a while until it stopped.  Glyn was already up and brewing hot tea on a stove.  One other runner, Chris, had made it to the bivvy site and a few others were reported to be down by the road. Glyn had rigged up an awning under the trees so we ate and chatted for a while.  It was remarkable how cheerful everyone was in the adverse circumstances.  After a breakfast of tea and cakes I set off for the third hill range of the journey the Range of the Awful Hand (I kid you not - check the map).

The whole range was covered in thick mist so it was compass navigation all the way.  Shalloch on Minnoch was awkward as there were two shallow summit plateaux about a quarter mile apart.   I found the trig point without too much difficulty but then somehow set my compass 180 degrees out coming off the hill.  Fortunately I didn't go too far before I realised the error.  Curiously, Chris who was following a little way behind made exactly the same mistake in the same place.  There was a manned checkpoint on the next hill at Tarfessock.  What I didn't know until later was that the marshals had arrived not long before me. They had set off the night before but got lost in the mist.  They  stopped and camped overnight then carried on again at dawn to find the checkpoint.

After Merrick there was a wall to follow to Benyallery and on to the final hill of Bennan.  There was a road most of the way up Bennan to a radio station at the top.  I idly wished that some of the other hills had had a road to the top. Coming off Bennan, I finally dropped below the mist and aimed for another forest firebreak. This led down to a rough forest track to Bruce's Stone.  From there, another track went around the east end of Loch Trool and over the river bridge.  The final two miles of track along the south side of Loch Trool were optimistically described as a forest trail.  Much of it was obstructed by large rocks, tree roots and bog, all made slippery by the steady rain. It seemed to go on for ever through the trees.

Eventually I reached the camp site and the race finish.  I was the second man in, having run a total of eighteen and a half hours.  Glyn had enough food to feed an army at the finish.  What went down best of all was cold custard and jelly.  By the middle of Sunday afternoon, four runners had come in, two walkers were still on the way and all the rest had dropped out.  It was certainly the toughest race I have ever run.  It is a great pity though that the event is not better supported considering all the effort that Glyn and his friends put into the organisation.

Finally, a word for Harry.  If you value our friendship, don't ever send me another entry form for Bruce's Crown.  Well, not this year anyway."

Nigel Rose