Blue-sky winter days and a spot of off-road running
When winter arrives in Scotland I prefer to run off-road. I still ride my road bike and swim indoors, and I have recently discovered the thrills of cyclocross and mountain biking, but running is just so suited to Scottish wintertime.
This winter I am determined to make the most of all blue-sky days. Perhaps it is my imagination but this winter has started well with lots of clear but cold and not too wet wintry days.
Running on a work day
I need to keep my workday runs to around an hour. So I might head to Mugdock Country Park, near Milngavie, for an undulating trail run. I have several routes that offer some five to seven miles of fantastic running with all the right ingredients, including a few ups and downs, mud and beautiful scenery.
The Kilpatrick Hills, especially Cochno Hill, or the Campsie Fells, including the summits of Earl’s Seat and Dumgoyne, are also close enough to my home for a speedy hill run. I try to choose sheep-less routes so I can take Wispa the Wonder Whippet for a sprint off the lead.
Running at the weekend
With more time for an adventure I try to plan a longer off-road run most weekends. Something that is either hilly or longer and flatter. And sometimes I combine both in a run that pushes me way out of my comfort zone.
Two great hill run routes close to Glasgow
Dumbarton to Milngavie over the Kilpatrick Hills:
I had heard that it was possible to access the Kilpatricks via Overtoun House, where I would discover an off-road route along the top of the hills and via a number of lochs and back towards Milngavie.
This is a useful walks link although I did not summit Doughnot hill, but simply skirted around it and I continued past Loch Humphrey rather than turning back.
The adventure began by taking the train from Milngavie to Dumbarton East. Leaving the busy roads of Dumbarton behind, I quickly found myself heading uphill on a long but not too severe ascent towards the Overtoun estate and into Lang Craigs Wood. The crags of Lang Craigs formed a stunning backdrop to the east, while the views over to the west and back down towards Dumbarton were beautiful.
The route continued on muddy and undulating paths and trails towards Loch Humphrey, which could not have been stiller or more picturesque even on a summer’s day. I wished I’d visited the loch a few weeks before when the trees boasted their fuller autumnal foliage but there was still enough colour to paint a very pretty picture.
Two reservoirs, Greenside and Jaw, are visited, as well as Cochno Loch before the route becomes a little more difficult to find. When running Cochno Hill I would normally descend back to my car parked at Cochno Road, but this time my car was still at Milngavie Train Station so it was a make-it-up-and-see-where-you-get-to end of the run.
I think I probably descended too soon and I found myself – and the skinny whippet – trying to run across boggy and icy fields. The aim was to reach the top end of Milngavie and while I ended up a bit lost I did finally get there. The final two or three miles of the 15 or so mile run were on off road trails in the Craigdhu area of Milngavie. I didn’t realise these existed despite living only a couple of miles away! I think that next time I will stay higher on the Kilpatricks to see if there is an easier end to this run.
This could be another idea for an off road run in the area.
Braeval to Braeval via the Mentieth Hills:
Starting at the Forestry Commission’s Braeval car park near Aberfoyle this 13-mile run includes a lot of hills but the views and ever-changing countryside offer great rewards. Braeval is in Achray Forest, which is part of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.
The route heads up and up right from the start before reaching a fairly level route. Then there is much more up and up before a lot of downhill and then something more undulating!
The landscape includes gorgeous forestry and atmospheric moorland, as well as several lochs, including Achray and Drunkie, which are so beautiful they take your breath away.
Having cycled the nearby Duke’s Pass many times before (if you haven’t cycled this pass you won’t know just how steep and challenging it can be!), it was amazing to find myself running on forest trails close enough to hear the traffic yet far enough away to feel like I was in splendid isolation.
So by this point I had run the uphill, sauntered along a flatter section, run along a handy length of mostly tarmacked trail and then I came to more up. I hadn’t been expecting this so I felt like I was running uphill for hours! Ah, but there are the views including iconic Ben Venue to take your mind off the sore legs. And then comes the downhill, which might have been ok if it wasn’t for my exhausted legs.
I tried to make the most of longer strides on the downhill but my legs felt like lead. The final section of this route passes by Go Ape, a forest adventure centre, and then turns back towards the car park. The road here, lower down the valley, always seems so flat, yet the trail that runs parallel is a beast of an uphill. Well, that’s how it seemed after 13 miles of leg punishing running.
Thankfully the weather was fabulous yet again. I ran beneath a bright blue sky, with clear views and in amazingly warm conditions for December. I will be back to do this run again, and hopefully with less fatigue.