Bruce's Crown

16th August 2023

Since I did the Heart of Granite(20 miles about 1800m) in 2004 and 2006 and then learnt of it's demise I have often wanted to resurrect the race and its bigger brother called Bruce's Crown (46 miles 4200m). I even contacted the organisor, Colin Butler about ten years ago and he was keen for someone to take it over. So having moved to Galloway I have seriously been considering the prospect of putting on Bruce's Crown as a team race. I have been on most of the course and I have tried to take out some of the rougher sections and make the race slightly quicker I hoped because although I estimated the winners would do 10/12 hours I wanted the mid and end pack runners to have 24 hours and be able to enjoy it. Galloway has a well deserved reputation for being "rough" and the lower level access routes on to the ridges are all like that. It can't be helped as there just isn't the walker's traffic to keep the paths well trodden. I have contacted Scottish Hill Runners for insurance, Galloway Mountain Rescue Team for support along with Land and Forestry Scotland for permissions. My idea was a March race to avoid vegetation, midges and bird breeding season. This does mean less daylight and worse weather potentially.

So not having done much since May I decided to run the route to test the timings and Steve was keen on doing a Two Thirds version. The grand plan involved me running faster than him back to the van and then driving round to pick him and Paddy up from Stinchar Bridge at the top NW corner. The weather was looking good. Quite warm but with some clouds and no rain all day. A bit of a north wind to keep the midges at bay we hoped. At 7am we all set off from Caldons carpark - me, Steve, Wisp, Paddy and Joss. It's a steady pull up to the first hill Lamarchan and took us nearly two hours which was concerning as it looked a long day already! As usual the bracken, brambles and undergrowth for the first 1km was awful but after that it was just grass that covered the little, intermittent trod. The clag cleared on the top and I set off running while Steve followed with Paddy on the lead.

There are 21 tops on the route at the moment and the first five are a mixture of little paths and rougher but shorter grass ascents. It seems that on every ridge there is a trod which disappears on the descents and ascents. I kept looking back and Steve was making good progress - a bit too good as I wasn't gaining much time advantage on him! I have done many reccies on my own and long days out but this felt like my first self supported attempt on anything. I have a great deal of respect for runners that do self supported attempts and it's something that I've thought of doing on and off. On the other hand I do like running with friends and spending a full day out in the company of like minded runners so I've been a bit undecided. The wonder about what it would feel like though has always been there. 

Dropping into the valley off Cairngarroch I reccied the direct line a few years ago and it was horrendous so I had chosen a route that took me down to the right off the hill and steeply down to an old house. I explained the route to Steve beforehand and I was texting him back notes as I went! It was predictably overgrown with bracken but not too bad and I was pleased. Wisp managed to get herself the wrong side of the sheep fence and was stressing about this but I extracted her and we bashed our way down the tussocks to the forest track. We had been going  3.30 hours and I was feeling very happy with progress. Wisp and Joss were happy if a bit hot in the valley but I gave them some dog biscuits and had a dry sausage sandwich and ran along the track looking back up at the hill, wondering if there was a nicer direct line. The next hill Darrou I knew was one of the worse terrain climbs as I had done it a couple of times and again the direct line was blocked by forestry when I had been here before so I had found a longer route round. Initially this was good and not overgrown but after the stream the going was horrendous. I remembered it being difficult but soon getting onto harder ground underfoot (rather than soft) and finding solid routes up rocks. Not this time. There was nothing but deep tussocks whichever way you went. Even Joss couldn't climb with the tussocks pushing him back. I was swearing and pushing down on my poles, which were disappearing into squelch. Up and up we slowly climbed in the heat. Eventually we reached the top and a 270m climb had taken me 30 minutes. It was now  4.15 hours in and the terrain, although slightly better was still very slow. I text back to Steve and told him "It's deep and awful. I'm at 400m and its a bit better. Think it gets better after this one". I hoped he survived it as I did know that once on the proper ridge it was nicer and worth (hopefully) the torment of getting there! Steve had never been on this range of hills and the Southern Upland Way back to Glen Trool would now be looking extremely tempting, I imagined.

I dug some cheese wraps out and some sweets to replace the energy used and carried on along and up. The path is strangely marked by old marking flags here and one day I hope to find out whether there was a race run along this ridge once upon a time. Annoyingly I kept loosing the path and having to flounder. The ridge slowly climbs up hill from Darrou at 479m to Little Millyea at 578m and onto Meikle Millyea at 746m. Then I knew we came onto better paths and short grass as I had been here for the Twelve Trigs of Christmas challenge in 2022! The weather was perfect and although it was dawning on me that a 14 hour finish was looking improbable I was happy to be doing a full day out with the dogs and I still had a bag of food left and was feeling good. I kept texting back to Steve with my progress and he did say "Fuming orendous, still in it" about Darrou and then I didn't hear anything for an hour! I was trotting along the ridge now which was lovely really and with views out to the left and right. It's a great round in that you can see all the route while you're on the route. The Merrick ridge looked good and not too far away although as you head north it gets further away and the track of six miles looms nearer. The descent off the last hill Coran of Portmark into the valley I knew there was a quad track and to me it was a good path but Steve later described it as "floundering". It's amazing how your perspective changes and how bad paths become good paths because they are at least "a path"!! Just before I dropped I text Steve to say "Bow No 14 at 15.21. U might have to walk towards home. I'll keep posting times but I'm not sure I'm far enough ahead of you" He replied to say "OK approach No 10" and then I didn't get anymore texts as I lost signal and then so would Steve when he dropped into the valley.

The "Track" - is six miles of Forest road which is unavoidable across the top of the route map. Initially it's nice to be trotting but after 30 minutes its not. A big logging truck came along fast and I called the dogs. He slowed down and waved. I carried on - too hot and dehydrated - the streams under the road looking brown and yukky until at last, after an hour we found one. The dogs dived in and I filled my bottles up. I was feeling the pace now and slowed to a walk to eat wraps, and sort my rucksack out. I fed the dogs the rest of their biscuits with lamb mince. The midges had come out so I couldn't stop for long. I scoffed the last two wraps, chocolate bars and a few sweets and felt better. The next hill Sheil Hill was approaching and I knew from reccies that the initial part out the valley was another shocker. Leaving the track I sent Steve a message even though I had no signal "Left main track 17.40 Wish me luck. No signal but it will send when I'm higher up" And off we went. Initially a good little track and then just into the forest. It was so much more overgrown than when I was last there (2021) and impossible to go up the stream bed. I wandered left and right, nearly losing my cap and having to push through sharp tree branches. This is where I seriously thought "If I put this on as a race no-one would do it more than once!". But then I thought "I could cut the undergrowth back" and so on I went eventually crawling on my hands and knees (do you get my thinking now?) and following the dogs. It wasn't long before we emerged out of the woods and amazingly Wisp seemed to remember the way. It was good going then (it's all relative!) and I climbed strongly to the top. As it's not a high one at 508m the summit was reached quickly then. I was chuffed and stopped for a photo. The midges were out in force and so I sent a quick text "18.05 Shiel bloody awful hill No 16" and received one from Steve "Floundering towards track" Oh I thought maybe if he walks the forest track I will get back to Glentrool and be able to drive the van to pick him up without him having to walk too far".

I was feeling the climb and tucked into more sweets wondering whether I should have left some food for Steve as I had way too much. I still had gels, a lot of sweets and about 4 bars left for about 10 miles. I knew the later hills on this ridge to Merrick and was looking forward to some of them. The sun was setting over Arran and I took photos and sent texts when I could. There were a lot of sheep and I'm glad that my dogs are good around sheep. They scattered no matter how slowly we walked as they aren't used to seeing many people. Just as I was getting very thirsty we found a perfect stream and lowering my head into the midges I quickly filled up and moved on. Shalloch on the Minnoch was a hot, steep climb and the midges loved it as I was going too slowly and they could keep up. I headed into the breeze and swore a lot. Getting to the summit was good as now I knew the way and hoped I could stay on the little paths there were. The dogs kept following the path and then leading me off to eat sheep poo they had found. I explained to them that I was much faster on a path and it wasn't helpful at all but they didn't seem fazed! Overall I was really enjoying it and Merrick was approaching. On the final climb I saw a red thing climbing Merrick and wondered if it was a person with a huge red rucksack but moving very fast. As it reached the summit and turned I realised it was a stag and he stayed there while I got the camera out to take photos.

I had decided a while back that since I was trying to get back to the van as fast as possible for Steve that the main tourist path off Merrick would be the quickest way down, especially in the dark. I text Steve this as we're both careful to let each other know our routes. If I fell and didn't turn up he would be sending Mountain Rescue up the wrong route looking for me. I think I would have done the proposed route if I hadn't been in a hurry but it was now 9.30pm. I had been pondering the route though and thinking that to end this race it would be nice to descend by the Merrick Hill race route which is a good path and more direct way off Merrick. I always like a race which has a pleasant last few miles running into the finish.

 I touched Merrick trig and ran off the summit. The dogs knowing that this way led to the carpark were also happy. I ran as much as I could and enjoyed having the last hill to myself at sunset. The path is pretty awful lower down where the forestry have felled trees and then where path improvements have been neglected for years. Still we were descending and now it looked like I might finish in 15 hours or so. Getting to the car park I turned right and ran down the road. I wasn't sure where to turn off and I wasn't really convinced that the path would be quicker than the road as these "path making" people seem to enjoy meandering around aimlessly through the woods which adds miles and no more pleasure as there are no views anyway! Wisp and Joss seemed to get a new lease of life sniffing and weeing on everything. Wisp looked back whenever I walked as if to say "Come on, run!". We ran on and round in circles it seemed and then there was was the carpark and the van! It was 22.24 and I'd been out 15.26 hours for 46 miles and 4200m of ascent

I looked at my phone and Steve had sent a message "21.32 marching along track and hit the Straiton road. Going to keep going down to Glentrool" I quickly replied that I was on my way and I changed into sandals as my feet were battered. Opening a non alcoholic beer to drink on route to refresh me I set off in the van to find him. I had driven about five miles and reached the main road where I saw a couple of cars and someone walking their dog so I just went to turn right. Suddenly there was Steve in the middle of the road waving.! He explained that a lovely man in a car had driven passed him walking on the Stinchar road, and had turned round to come back to him to offer Steve a lift even though he wasn't going the way Steve was going. They had just stopped at the junction so Steve called Paddy out of the man's car where Paddy was happily asleep and got him into our van.

We drove home eating and drinking the contents of the van! Steve had down 36 miles in total and his feet were battered mainly from the track (which he ran - the blighter!). We were both very happy with our days and very tired. It was great for us both to have a wonderful long day out in the mountains and swop stories and experiences.

I'll keep you posted as to my progress with getting Bruce's Crown up and running as a race! Photos in the Gallery