On the final day of the Cape Wrath Ultra 2021, I decided to run the same route as the participants. There were a few differences:
- I had not completed the previous seven days of running from Fort William.
- I drove the first few miles on roads and did 19km of the 26km route.
- I set off before the ultra runners to make sure I was at the end of the race at the Cape Wrath lighthouse before them.
I confess I was expecting the route to be easier than it was. Day eight of the Cape Wrath Ultra is “just” 24km. It is the shortest of all the days with the least elevation.
I knew there would be a well-made trail from the car park at Blairmore to Sandwood Bay and I was expecting a fairly tough run along the beach. Running on sand is never easy.
But, for some reason, I thought the next section, over the hilly headland above the Atlantic Ocean would be fairly easy going.
There was a total ascent of 750m to climb (685m for my shorter section), but, even so, I was expecting paths and obvious trods.
In reality, the run was hard. There were many hills and the terrain was heather covered, boggy and wet. Trods were hard to find or non-existent.
Navigation was required and thankfully I had a GPX route to follow. I had the route loaded on my phone’s OS app.
We were all thankful that we had set off early. Progress was nowhere near as fast as I’d expected and while I had thought we would run the 19km in two to 2.5 hours, it took longer. Matt and Calum were faster than me, but even they were surprised by the rough terrain and unforgiving route.
Of course, this is a wild and remote area of Scotland. Most people who visit the lighthouse will ride a bus, or cycle or walk along a Landrover track. There are few people who walk or run the route of the Cape Wrath Ultra.
But that actually makes it a very special place to be.
What I learned about the run
- It was wonderfully remote with no other people
- The views are well worth the effort of the running
- Sandwood Bay might be more popular these days but it is still breathtakingly beautiful
- Running A to B gives a great sense of purpose
- There is a great motivation that comes from the aim of reaching the lighthouse
- The Atlantic provides and amazing backdrop
- A sunrise run is one of the best times to get out for a urn
- A haar (sea mist) at Cape Wrath Lighthouse is eerie, but also very atmospheric.
- It might be the shortest day of the Cape Wrath Ultra route but it was still a challenging outing.
As we ran and walked the route, Matt, Calum and I commented on how it would be for the race competitors. I could imagine the mixture of emotions of the final kilometres of what had been an epic journey north. They would be feeling exhausted and sore, yet also determined and elated.
The tears and smiles of triumph as the runners reached the finish line was very moving to see that day.
Thoughts after a week on the Cape Wrath Ultra
I feel lucky to be able to report on races such as the Cape Wrath Ultra. It is a privilege to get to know some of the runners and to witness the challenging journey on foot from Fort William to Cape Wrath.
I see some of the Cape Wrath Ultra route as I go about my race reporting but I do not complete any of the days; nor any of the same days that these extraordinary runners do day-after-day for eight days in a row.
To run a 19km section of the shortest and “easiest” day of the week gave me a great insight into what they achieve.
I have long been impressed by the runners who complete the Cape Wrath Ultra – and the sister race, the Montane Dragon’s Back Race – but now I have a tiny inkling of just how tough this route is.
If you are looking for an amazing challenge and on a superb trail route in north-west Scotland, I recommend you enter the Cape Wrath Ultra for May 2020.
Also read: 19 things to know about the Cape Wrath Ultra.