Saturday, 24 September 2016

in tentsmuir


I was a bit concerned we were zipping through September and I still hadn't thought up a decent route for a Tynecastle Bronze 30miler. A great forecast for Thursday 22nd focussed my mind. A pal of mine Keith from way back had found this excellent spot near Tentsmuir for taking photos of wildlife and birds, notably kingfishers. Bruce the Fat Biker had also been at a group cycle in Tentsmuir, and recommended the trails as user friendly. Ok, just need some fine tuning and I'm there.


I was studying a map of the surrounding area - I didn't want to have to do laps of the nature reserve - and a loose plan was to run from Cupar, where Keith lives, adding a few miles before getting to the coast. The River Eden doesn't have riverside walkways I was told. While poring over the map I saw a place name I recognised: Foodieash. Gaham B is regularly posting beautiful photos from runs around here and I suspected he might have the local knowledge on the best way to get from Cupar to Leuchars. He responded with great kindness sending the above brilliantly detailed route via facebook. (That was him running at the Masters XC last weekend.) Thanks Graham - I hope you heard me singing your praises as I ran through some marvelous scenery I wouldn't have found otherwise. Unfortunately he was off elsewhere (running) and so couldn't come with me in person. Here is his route roughly on the map (not the quickest way to cover the ground but very entertaining)....


I woke up at 7.30am to the sound of rain on the windows. Stuff that. I'll swap the 9am for the 10am train. I was a bit tired and rushing to get everything packed into the Hoka backpack. I ran out the door after 9.35 hoping the station wasn't as mobbed as last weekend when I had to stand in a 10 deep queue for the ticket machine - every machine and counter was mobbed. Haven't the tourists gone home yet? It wasn't too bad although again I was caught out buying tickets on the same day, instead of saving a fiver by booking them the previous evening. On the train I realised I had forgotten to pack my sandwich. Mary texted to say it was still on the counter. Unsmiley face. (There would be shops in Leuchars.)


Keith was waiting at the war memorial to wish me bon voyage. I complained my legs were trashed from the 6 x 1km the night before with the lads at clubbo. Note to self, just DON'T do club before a long run. Still it gave me a disproportionate amount of self esteem to be able to do the last km in 3.30 dead having Blair's footfalls immediately behind as inspiration. But now I was paying the price; running along on a couple of planks of wood.

The wm was surprisingly like the one at Berwick upon Tweed which also features a winged angel but holding a wreath. And very handsome as memorials go. I could have happily stopped for an hour or more to chat with Keith but I had running to do and reluctlantly set off up the first climb of many Graham had in store for me. But the sun was out and it was looking glorious. Off we go!








I zoomed into this distant outcrop and jazzily cut grass field from afar, not realising that some time later I would be running along the track between the hedges at the bottom of the pic.




As I tried to steady the camera to get a decent pic of these chaps they all took off and I was left cursing.



Watch out for cornering. The path up this road was a bit waterlogged and would be worse in Winter but as the track rose it dried out. At the top was the right turn "could be overgrown" and it was, reducing the pace to a walk over v soft ground until it opened out to a rather pleasant trail. I wondered how it would be following instructions blindly but GB had done a great job and I think I only struggled once to get into a field of cows I could see but not access.




On the road into Logie, a picturesque hamlet (not en route), were many Morning Glories and an apple tree absolutely weighed down with fruit.


Past Logie, which was off to the left (slow please, red squirrels sign) and off up yet another hill. The directions were to cross the cow field up to the summit aerials. (Below). The field was bounded by a wall and barbed wire fence and I wasted half a mile running back and forth looking for a snag free entrance. 


Eventually I got past the cows and up to the heathery alpine meadow above. There was an outcrop of rock basking in the sun and I was sure there would be adders and lizards warming themselves on the hot rock. It was almost impossible to access and I had to empty my shoes of bracken and dirt after I had an explore. No wildlife. Very purple heather though. 




this way off the hill

I met old father time up there and we chewed the fat for a while. He suggested routes through woods and places of interest avoiding Leuchars but I was more interested in the shops I might bump into there, so didn't take it on board. You can see Tentsmuir stretching out on the coast as a dark green lump of trees off to the left. It seemed quite far away and I had already run ten tough miles of cross country. I ate a flapjack and drank a lot of fluids, still pining for my sandwich. 

Balmullo

There was a very pretty single track off the top of the hill which I nearly took before I realised it descended way off to the left and I wanted to be heading straight or slightly right. GB's directions end about here just saying make your way into Balmullo. It arrived quicker than I anticipated and I doorstepped a delightful old dude in a smock with an indoor hat - looking like a rambler artist or bohemian possibly late 70s ~ mid 80s. "What is the best way to get to the coast from here?" I enquired. He answered with a wry grin "I should get in my car just there and drive." "Ok, what is the second best way?" I asked. He told me and in no time I was passing (near) Leuchars Station and heading across the main road to the service personnel slip road into Leuchars. I hoped it didn't miss the shops, as this was my last chance to buy some stuff. A lot of Leuchars incl otherwise normal looking council houses and play-parks was fenced off with 12 foot fences with barbed wire on the top. I'm not sure if this is to protect the army/RAF folk from the zombie apocalypse or just a sensible precaution. Kind of marks their turf. I wondered whether I'd have to pretend to be in the services to get served in a shop or if they ask for ID before you buy a sandwich. The RAF left Leuchars a couple of years back and the Army seem to have a smaller presence here. They only left one plane behind, a Tornado.




Okay I may use this for a wm if I come back this way so today's wm is Cupar only. Not this one which I'm keeping spare for later. Ok?


So in the middle of all this military stuff there is this old and quaint church stuck up on a green rise reminiscent of East Linton although different architectural style. What I didn't pay sufficient attention to was the sign below which says 3.5 miles to Tentsmuir. The next 3.5 miles is horribly boring on long flat roads to the coast (a bit like Limetrees Walk). There were a number of similarities of coastal features (sand dunes and marram grass separating planted woods from long white beaches) between here and East Lothian and I felt kind of at home. 

While in Leuchars I stopped for a sandwich. (And 2 paracetamols, naughty naughty!) Not nearly as nice as the one I made earlier. It was called an all day breakfast and had egg and bacon and a third substance that was pretending to be sausage but was more like a rubbery floor covering or thin slice of grey matting from a children's play area. I threw that and half the sandwich in a bin, and bought huge quantities of water and juice, drinking half and then pouring the rest into my reservoir which made a slooshing noise as I ran, impersonating the noise of my stomach, now filled with too much liquid and rubber matting.


After a long drab run on tarmac (and looking at the map to see if I was going wrong more than once) I arrived at Tentsmuir. I was first aware of this lovely wilderness in 2009 when it was one of the venues of the Tour of Fife. I thought at the time it was brilliant place and that we must return. We did a 4 or 5 miler in the woods and then had a dook in the big rollers, with Andrew (gulp) and Julia. Happy memories - although Julia wasn't running as she'd done herself a mischief. Here is my blog from then with pics of Andrew. 

7 years later and I recognised nada. Not a sausage. Except it was still brilliant. Woods very like Binning, with dunes like Gullane and Aberlady, and a beach like St Andrews that stretches forever in either direction. I felt like I was a dog off the leash. Although I had to keep an eye on the time. It was after 3 when I arrived at the car park and I had arranged to meet Keith in a hide at Morton Lochs up the other end of the forest at 4. My plan had been to run north to the top end of the area then along and down. However I had roughly estimated it 20 miles from Cupar to Morton Loch and it was, in reality, 23.5. So I only ran a bit of the way up then headed West directly there. 



But not before the wildlife highlight of the day. It was past the butterfly season (there were a couple of large orange / brown jobs zoomed by but didn't stop to identify themselves, probably painted ladies) but the dragonflies might be out and about. Sure enough over a couple of dank small ponds - large puddles really, between the dunes, there was a buzzing like a small helicopter. I noticed the Common Hawker returning to same area where (a female?) was sat on the water (cooling her tail?) and the one buzzing about eventually landed on top of the one in the reeds. After what looked more like a squabble than foreplay they both buzzed off together making a huge racket. They were so big I followed them easily to where they landed and continued exchanging things or doing what dragonflies do. They were so involved they didn't bother about me sticking my camera (just had the compact today) right in their faces. I also shot some video.

Quick rant: COMMON Hawker. I saw some signs, info panels on local wildlife. It spoke of Emperor Dragonflies. Ahh that'll be the giant ones I was taking photos of. Googled them. Nope. Tried the other one mentioned; a Common Hawker. Dammit, that's the one. (Pic here of one on hand for scale - they are huge!) They may well have been named in the 18th century when every stagnant pond supported thousands of them, but like the Common Blue butterfly these are not common. I'd have seen more of them. I have been looking for them all Summer and they are not flipping common!









I now had even less time to get to the bird hides. I legged it along the beach then through the dunes to the observation hut. This is a green metal box on concrete stilts from WW2 and looks very unlikely without a ladder up to the (padlocked) front door. Very theatrical. I had to stop for more photos. Then the ice house - built in the 19th century to store salmon (with ice from local ponds) caught in the estuary before being sent south.





ice house

I came to a sign saying Morton Loch 2.75 miles. It was 3.45, I was late! After a bit more messing about and a couple of 7 minute miles I got to the car park and Keith's car was there. I followed some other folk and found the hide but no Keith. I asked and was directed to the other hide where I found Keith. I was very pleased after all that hurrying about to sit down and have some sports nutrition bars. (Double Decker, mmmm.) Happily there was nobody else at that hide as I suspect chatting is not the done thing. As we sat chatting there were a succession of visitors on the other side where a tree stump is laden with seedy bribes and there are a couple of feeding boxes. Also the red squirrel on the video appeared. I was still recovering from a few fast miles which is my excuse for Keith's photos being way superior to mine. I have a number of near misses with the birds and squirrel being just out of focus or half out the shot. However it was a very pleasant way to pass the time and if I didn't have so much running to do I'd definitely be doing more sitting around the bird table thing. Before I show you my clumsy efforts here is a kingfisher Keith shot earlier in the month. You can see more of his work on facebook here. Oh and I didn't see any kingfishers.



wrong way, over here!




the kingfisher hide


very relaxing hobby


Eventually I had to get running again. Being up to 23.5 miles I had only another 5 to hit the 28+ required (with additional 2, to and from station) to make 30+. So I just headed back South through the forest and turned right at the bottom of the long straight trail. At junctions there were signs telling you where you were. The sun was going down and it was a nice evening, but I still had those 3 long tarmac miles back to Leuchars and then another mile to the station. Just beyond mile 28 the Garmin ran out of battery power (it had been saying battery low since mile 14) and it flipped off about a mile from the station. So approx 29 miles + 2. I arrived at Leuchars around 6 and there was a train at 6.35, giving me time to to have a wash and change of clothes in the toilet. I suspect it won't be 7 years till I return to Tentsmuir. I feel I only just dipped my toe in the possibilities - there's still plenty of single track to explore and it might be a fun place to bivi or camp nearby. It's a pity it's something of a long drive to get to but I may be able to persuade Mary it would make a worthwhile change from the usual weekend run. And Keith has been very keen we visit.

On the train I was wondering how my return ticket from Cupar would wash, getting on a stop before at Leuchars. Being an express it didn't stop at Cupar so there would be no suggesting I did. As it turned out the train was so busy nobody checked any tickets and the only official I had to deal with was the automatic barrier at Waverley which waved me through like an old friend.

Fantastic day and thanks to all who helped out, especially Keith and Graham.


slaves of the smart phone