You shouldn’t believe everything you see on the internet. Still, not that long ago I saw a gif that showed Vladimir Putin wave at a pigeon, and the pigeon wave back. Since then, I’ve found myself waving at birds. To date, none of them have waved back. I started to wonder then about how I should get their attention, since if they don’t see me waving, or don’t realise it’s for them, then obviously that’s not going to work. Making eye contact with a bird is surprisingly difficult. It then occurred to me that maybe the type of wave is important. As a bird, if I were to see a standard human wave, I might not be able to equate that to lifting a wing, so I’ve adopted a sort of wave that I hope is more bird appropriate. I’m basically lifting my hand and lower arm up from my body about 30 degrees, a bit like a wing. I wasted an entire month doing it completely wrong, like some sort of complete idiot.
I remember last year when Alness was announced. I had only one other parkrun left to run before the tour was complete, and I was a member of club Alba. I had no idea where Alness was, and a quick look on the map showed that it would be the furthest north I had ever been on the UK mainland. 6 hours on the train, and my word that’s a long way. Simpler times. Since then, in 2018, Scotland’s parkrun roster has really pulled on its big trousers, and in April things ramped up a notch. Thurso you say? Oh. Wow. Gulp.
Looking into the logistics of getting to Thurso from Edinburgh was seriously quite intimidating. By train, around 10 hours. By aeroplane it is possible to fly to Wick, however it won’t surprise you to find that this is not a cheap option. By car, 6-7 hours. In short, it really is quite a long way. I eventually chose to drive, but take a long weekend in doing so. This way we could stop off to see some sights on the way, and also do some exploring of the northern coast while we were there. After all, were I to drive 600miles just to do a 5km run, that would be silly, wouldn’t it? Hotel booked, we were set to go.
In the run up to the trip, something miraculous happened. The weather started to look good. Even in the far north of Scotland, the forecast was looking really very positive. Off we went, and as usual the pattern for the radio was Kingdom FM as far as it will hold out, then whatever we can find after that. On this trip we’ve discovered MFR (Moray Firth Radio, rather than my initial guess which was slightly more crude). All your favourite local adverts, cheesy pop and some excellent patter.
“…aye, I like his songs but I dinnae want to talk to him.”
We’ve also decided that we need a car CD for the bit in the Cairngorms where no radio exists. We’re thinking on going to a charity shop and buying the first NOW compilation or similar we find.
Past Inverness and we think to stop off to see some sights. High up on my personal agenda for this is Harry Gow the bakers. I find that there are LOADS of them in the north, including a roadside services style option just north of Inverness. We eventually pitch up in Brora and luckily we have arrived just 15 minutes before closing. There’s not much left, but more than enough to keep me happy.
Into Thurso around 5pm, we found our hotel and got ourselves settled. We got ourselves acquainted with the incredible northern coast line, then headed out into town along the river to find something for dinner. What started as a reasonably OK evening has turned into a glorious one whilst we’ve been eating, and returning to the hotel we’re treated to a stunning view from the harbour, of which I’ve taken many disappointing photographs. It suddenly dawned on me that the land I could see in the distance wasn’t the mainland at all, but instead Hoy, one of the Orkney isles. When we visited Orkney we stayed in Houton, and one of my favourite things was the looming dark sillohette of Hoy on the horizon. Now we were treated to that view from the other aspect. I had thought before the trip that we might catch a glimpse of Orkney in the far distance, but I had no idea they would be so close.
Saturday arrives, I chance a look round the curtain and the forecast has come true. Now I’d say I lucked out here, but in 2017 I had a string of scenic parkruns obscured by Scottish weather, so I’m thinking of this one much like a completed coffee shop stamp card. I slather on the nearest thing I have to suncream (moisturiser with spf15) and we’re off up the road to find the start line.
Finding the usual day-glo horde, we settle in and I’m bowled over by the setting. I’ve no doubt that this could be quite different on other days of the year, but today it’s t-shirt weather and the view of the river park is glorious.
Off we go! A sharp right turn and onto the the path leading round the top side of the pond. Little bit gravelly in places, but mainly good and in a pack of people which is rapidly thinning out. We pass a couple of big tree stumps which are taller than me, the pond comes to an end and we start doubling back on ourselves. We go through the finish line in reverse and as the pond runs out we’re chaperoned by some blue cones toward the bridge at the river, then diverted down a path to the left side. As we go down this green corridor, I can see dock leaves, a big favourite from my childhood, and spots of colour everywhere. Over the past year I’ve started to love dandelions which are everywhere. There’s a small curve in the path before it opens out and in the far distance I see a meccano bridge (other children’s building materials are available) plonked in the middle of a wild setting, with a back drop of a hill covered in yellow gorse flowers. It’s beautiful. On the other side of the river, there are tall trees which are filled with crows. As we get nearer I hear them in full voice, cheering us on, though probably not waving.
I’m starting to feel I may have set off a little too quickly, and as we reach the bridge I am starting to catch up with the lady in front. There’s a short ramp up to the bridge, a sharp right hand bend, over the bridge and down the other side. On this side we’re now more sheltered, and I see bluebells under the trees to my left. I’m now concerned that my wheezing is getting annoying for the poor lady in front of me, so I figure the only thing I can do is try to go past and get off her back. I find probably the worst possible moment to do this as we go through a short section of water, where I really hope didn’t splash her. Mile #1: 6.59
It’s around this stage that I took my foot off the pedal. Whether it was the heat, or fatigue from a few tough-ish races lately, or from a 7 hour drive the day before I’m not sure. Today though, it just wasn’t going my way. I decided instead that this was one to enjoy, so I pulled the pace back a bit and continued up along the river. Before I know it, I’m back at the bridge near the start line, a quick shimmy through what looks a bit like a queuing system they might have at Alton Towers (other theme parks are available) and I’m up on the bridge and onto lap 2. Down through the leafy lane again and as the path opens up we’re greeted by a headwind I’m sure wasn’t there a lap ago. I’ve no time to be distracted by this since the crows are now shouting for my attention and flying around over the trees. Just get a barcode lads, it’s free, then you can come and join in. A quick hop over the bridge and back down the other side. In the distance I see a dog is in the river and is splashing around having a brilliant time. Maybe that’s what I do later on? Mile #2: 7.18
Onto the chicane over the bridge, and it’s off down the leafy lane for lap 3. I’m now starting to catch people up. I try to give everyone a well done as I go past, and I’m really impressed with the number of young parkrunners out today. Nearly everyone I see is child parent combo which is brilliant to see. I wonder if anyone out there has a stat on age group percentages at parkruns. There’s the meccano bridge and the lovely marshall stood by it who has had a great big smile every time I’ve seen her. One last time over this bridge, a big smile at the yellow vista of gorse flowers, and it’s back down the river to home. One last time over the final bridge, and this time it’s a left turn back over toward the pond and over the finishing line.
Chatting with the run director in the cafe afterwards, we got some great tips for other things to see and do. I’m really glad we made this a longer trip and got to see some of the sights while we were in this part of the world. It really is a beautiful part of the country.
Scores! 7th place, 22.44