Highland Fling!


Today I just want to say a massive CONGRATULATIONS to Tom and his pal Ivor, who yesterday completed The Highland Fling: a 53-mile “ultra” race along the first half of the West Highland Way. The race starts in Milngavie, and passes through Drymen and Balmaha, before traversing the East shore of Loch Lomond, moving up through Crianlarich, and finishing at the By The Way hostel in Tyndrum (a familiar landmark to anyone who knows the West Highlands). It took me three and a half days to walk that distance . . . they were hoping to cover it in less than eleven hours.


Tom and Ivor have been training for this epic undertaking for months now, running long stretches of the Way every weekend, in all weathers. It was Tom’s first “ultra” run, and also the first time that he has been involved with a race where I could literally walk out of the front door to cheer him on, which in itself was quite exciting. There was a small supporting crowd outside our house at the crack of dawn, complete with a fiddler who played strathspeys and hornpipes as the runners went by.


The weather was kind and the going was good. Taking it slowly, and consuming large quantities of gels, energy drinks and malt loaf as they went, they did really well. Tom completed the race in 9 hours 45 minutes, and Ivor in 10 hours 30 minutes, both of which are terrific times. And after a few beers, a fish supper, and a good night’s sleep, they are both in remarkably good shape.


Congratulations, Tom and Ivor!

Jim’s running (and knitting) for Refuge


Who is this man? Well, some of you may know him as Veuf Tricot, author of the scabrous and witty column in UK magazine Simply Knitting. But I know him as Jim, husband of my good friend and colleague Jen. As well as being a teacher, writer, and all-round good egg, Jim is currently in training to run his first marathon in London on April 21st in support of Refuge — a UK charity which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence. Not content with predictable methods of seeking sponsorship through through direct donations, Jim whipped out his needles and yarn and got to work to raise some cash. With the assistance of three great independent yarn dyers and, of course, the inimitable Jen, Jim has created a collection of three marathon-themed accessories, with all sales going towards his fundraising efforts. I recently caught up with Jim to hear more about the project.

Tell us about your three designs, and the inspiration behind them. 

It started off with an email from Sarah at Babylonglegs offering to do a special colourway to help with my fundraising efforts. We then both wondered about doing a pattern as well. This was on a weekend when I spent a lot of time waiting at traffic lights driving up to Manchester. I can’t imagine where the colour choices came from! . . .

ready2(The Ready Mitts will keep your hands warm during Winter training, and are knitted up in Fyberspates MCN sport)

. . .The choice of accessories was quite straightforward. Fingerless gloves are a must for winter running, so they are as much practical as decorative. Similarly, the hat had to serve the purpose of having a thicker brim than crown to keep my Prince Charles ears warm without running the risk of overheating. I also had visions of knitters cheering me along the marathon route in London swinging their scarves around their heads like continental football fans as I serenely loped past.

(Jim’s ears are cosy in his Steady hat, knitted up in in Skein Queen’s beautifully rich and vibrant Saffron ‘Desire’ yarn)

This is your first marathon. What has been the most challenging aspect of the training?

The training itself is generally fine. It’s the worrying when I miss a session due to work, injury, illness, or simple exhaustion that’s the hard part. My real fear is that I won’t be sufficiently prepared. That and getting up on a Sunday morning to leave the comfort of a warm bed to pound the streets in the pouring rain.

Can you turn a heel?

I’ve turned my ankle on many occasions and turned stomachs, but I don’t think I’ve ever turned heads and never a heel.


Some adventurous marathon runners, like Susie Hewer, have found ways to knit and run simultaneously. Will you be attempting to combine these two activities?

No. I can’t do more than one thing at once. Before Christmas, I couldn’t run and look where I was going at the same time, so I found myself landing face-first onto the pavement. In my defence, it was dark and the recycling box I’d tripped over was black.

Veuf Tricot had a lot to say about the penchant for pompoms this past Winter. What is your knitting-trend forecast for the Spring? 

Cabled onesies inspired by Aran jumpers. Infantile, but traditional.

You have documented Jen’s focused obsession with all things teal-hued . . . but is there a particular shade of yarn that floats your boat? 

My appreciation of all things knitted for me is well documented. I don’t think there’s a particular single colour that I must have absolutely everything in. Having said that, I do like my green Fyberspates Gloucester Tweed socks and the Skein Queen Steady Saffron for the Steady Hat in particular.


Veuf Tricot documents the world of knitting with a certain amused detachment .  . . and yet you are a knitter and designer yourself, who is completely implicated in that world. What I am saying is that despite your occasionally scabrous remarks you clearly love knitting really. What’s your response? 

I am a knitter and designer, not a Knitter and Designer. While I’ve been satisfied with the outcomes thus far, I’ve no great affection for knitting itself. My being part of Knitterworld is probably more about my marriage than for knitting. I think that the columns I’ve done for Simply Knitting are a kind of alternative to love letters or poetry, neither of which are really me. Despite my antipathy towards Knitting, I still pay attention, take it all in and support her in her incoherent gibbering.

(Jen will be supporting Jim wearing her Go! scarf, knitted up in Babylonglegs ‘semi-precious’ in a specially-dyed colourway)

Finally, tell us why you are running for Refuge?

Domestic violence is more prevalent within our society than most people realise. It’s not something you often see out in public, but something you learn about long afterwards. We have friends who have suffered domestic violence, or lived in fear of violence, and we simply haven’t known about it until much later on. Refuge work with mostly women and children to help them to escape from their abusive relationships and move on. Some funding for the services provided by Refuge comes from the public purse, but with budgets being cut, fundraising is becoming ever more important. I could have set up a monthly direct debit and been a supporter of the charity, but felt that I could do more.
The second reason is that Refuge has become a family charity. Both my sister and one of my brothers have run the London Marathon to raise awareness of Refuge and my sister-in-law has worked for them. Last summer there was a bit of an awkward family dinner with fingers pointed at both me and my other brother with cries of, “Who’s next?”
Of course, the main reason is that I have tried to escape from having to model for Jen’s blog. Unfortunately, it has all gone a bit wrong as I’ve had to model my own designs. Still, it will be worth it if I hit my fundraising target.

Thankyou, Jim!

Running a marathon is no small feat — living with another runner I know what a gargantuan emotional and physical effort the training takes and what a massive achievement it is to run that distance on the day. Jim’s fundraising target is £2,000. He has currently raised just over half that sum. Please support him and Refuge by purchasing the Ready, Steady, Go! ebook via Ravelry. For just five pounds you’ll receive three great patterns and help him reach his goal. If you prefer to make a direct donation, you can do so here.


Refuge help run the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 08082000247. Call if you are worried yourself or about someone you know.

Lauder morning

We got up early, and drove down to the Borders. It was a beautiful crisp morning.

When we arrived in Lauder, the sun was already turning the frost into a magical, dewy haze.

Today, the Autumn colours seemed even more deeply saturated. I want to knit everything in these tapestry blues and golds.

While Bruce and I were enjoying our morning walk, Tom was making preparations. . .

Today was the first race in this series. A hand-knitted running vest is, of course, obligatory on such occasions . . .

Off he goes!

Ah, Cross Country season . . .

Islay half marathon

We have been away, enjoying a long weekend on Islay. The Islay half marathon is one of Tom’s favourite races (mine too, for that matter) — not only does it take place in a wonderful location, but the local support is tremendous — every year the folk of Bowmore put on a marvelous post-race spread for the runners (whisky included), and the race sponsors, Ardbeg, offer a dizzying number and variety of prizes. Ardbeg also happens to be one of Tom’s favourite tipples — the prize of a bonus dram or two is not to be sniffed at, and he was taking this race quite seriously.

The runners assembled at the start line:

And set off, up the hill and out of Bowmore.

It was a warm day, and I was particularly impressed with the efforts of the chap in the giant pink costume, who was running in support of a Parkinson’s charity.

Bruce and I went for a walk . . .

(Bowmore harbour, with the Paps of Jura in the distance)

. . . and timed things to return to the finish line before Tom came in. . .

. . . in a very creditable sixth place!

The pink-costumed chap rolled in, still in good spirits, a bit later.

Being sixth, Tom just made the prizes – the first time he’s done so. There was much whooping and cheering from me later on in the village hall.

He was pleased too . . .

. . . and a few drams went down later in celebration, as you might imagine.

Well done, Tom – Slainte!

Stuc a’Chroin

We’ve spent the weekend in the Highlands, where Tom has been running a race – the Stuc a’Chroin 5000

While he was away up the hill, Bruce and I went for a walk. . .

We were lucky with the weather (later we saw hail and snow!)

Bruce was very suspicious of this wee suspension bridge and teetered over, bandy-legged.

After 13.5 miles, 5000 feet of ascent, 2 hours and 51 minutes, the wanderer returned . . .

The running vest I knitted him 5 years ago (sheesh!) is still holding up to its job remarkably well.

It is a good, warm vest for a chilly mountain top. The yarn I used was Rowan “Calmer”, for those who like to know these things.

We went out for a nice meal to celebrate . . .

. . . and camped in one of our favourite spots.

Tom’s next race is on Jura – in just a few weeks time, we’ll be off to the islands . . .

Hope you’ve enjoyed your weekend too!

Inveraray Jail Break

After our Schiehallion walk, we travelled on to Inveraray yesterday, so that Tom could take part in the Jail Break (which is a hill race, in case you were concerned). Have you ever been to Inveraray? It is a sort of eighteenth-century equivalent of Milton Keynes or Livingston – a Georgian new town whose “improvements” include a carefully laid out main street and waterside front (which maximised the picturesque potential of the town’s natural situation at the head of Loch Fyne), good access to the loch’s lucrative and famous fisheries, and a woollen mill (no evidence of which can unfortunately be found in the present-day “mill”, which is of the cashmere-sweater-vending variety). Inveraray’s pretty “new” town has been an attraction in its own right since the closing decades of the Eighteenth Century — and, despite the busloads of tourist-buddies, and the relentless tartan tat, I am very fond of its location, and of the neat restraint of its whitewashed Georgian buildings — a restraint emphatically not matched by the architecture the eighteenth-century Dukes of Argyll chose for their seat, which they built on the site of the ‘old’ town.

As Samuel Johnson put it when visiting in 1773: “what I admire here is the total defiance of expense.”

As its name would suggest, the race began at Inveraray Jail (now a popular visitor attraction). The chap in uniform behind the runners is the inscrutable ‘jailer’. He blew a klaxon, and started proceedings.

The runners dashed through the town centre and headed toward Dun-na-Cuaiche, a densely-wooded hill above the castle, which is topped by a monument commemorating seventeen prominent members of Clan Campbell, who were executed in 1685 for the part they played in Monmouth’s Rebellion.

At a much more leisurely pace, Bruce and I meandered through the castle grounds toward the finish line.


The escaped inmate flew toward the finish line. . .

. . .in a very respectable sixth place. Then, after a couple of photographs in the rain. . .

. . . he disappeared in search of suitable refreshment.

Just in case you were in any doubt at all, it was an excellent weekend.

see them shufflin along. . .

There is not much I can say, except that this lopsided shuffle SEEMS LIKE SOME SORTA BLOODY MIRACLE. It feels especially good for me to pootle past the lamp-post that you can see in the final moments of this clip, as I saw it from a very different perspective just under a year ago – viz, lying on the ground, freaked out and fookin freezin, with one side of my body completely paralysed. It really is incredibly hard for me to run at all – my brain has to ‘tell’ my left leg and arm exactly what to do as I am making each step; I can only move like this on entirely flat ground; I have to wear giant boots and orthotics; and I can only keep it up for about 30 seconds at a time. Still, it is improving every day, and it seems to help my walking, too (over the past months, I have often found that trying to do things that are physically difficult seems to really help me to accomplish movements that are slightly ‘easier’). I must stick at it, and buy some new running gear (this gnome-outfit is clearly not activity-appropriate, but I chucked all my running stuff away in one of my recent purges). Anyway, can I also say that I am feeling damned proud of myself? And that it has taken some BLOODY HARD WORK to get here? I think a celebratory ale may be in order. . . CIN CIN!


(Paps of Jura from Bowmore harbour)

The Paps of Jura dominate the horizon all over the inner Hebrides and look spectacular from any direction. They are fabulous but quite challenging hills – steep, rocky and boulder-covered, rising out of Jura’s rough, boggy landscape. I climbed them on a misty day in 2005, but there’s absolutely no way I could imagine running around them during the infamous Jura Fell Race, even if my circumstances were different. It is a tough race, taking in seven summits and sixteen miles (or considerably more, if your navigational skills aren’t up to much). Tom managed the race last year in truly appalling conditions, completing the course in 5 hours 6 minutes. He was determined this year to improve his time, and, like the other 210 hardy souls in the field, was really hoping for better weather. All day on Friday, the view to the Paps was clear, with very little cloud. But the weather gods were not smiling, and by Saturday morning, the Jura hills were once again swathed in grey. Visibility was going to be poor, and the difficulty of navigating one’s way about the paps would be considerably increased..

At Craighouse on Saturday morning I heard many dark mutterings of the third pap, which, with a sheer precipice on one side, poses particular navigational challenges on descent. We were all hoping that the participants didn’t take this advice literally.

Despite the weather, both runners and supporters seemed upbeat. . . .

and then they were off!

According to Tom, he was making good going, until he made the fatal mistake of following a local boy, who had chosen a particularly bizarre boulder-strewn route for one descent. Tom tripped and gashed his shin, and then lost time correcting the navigational error. From this point on, things got rather grueling, but he still did great. Here he comes, approaching the finish line 4 hours 48 minutes later!

18 minutes better than last year! Huzzah!

These are the tags that the runners hand in at each navigational checkpoint and, as you can see, Tom’s race number was 98. This is the number he chose for the winner in the Mini-Manu draw, who, after eliminating my own comments, those who had left more than one, and those who did not wish to be entered, is Margaret. Well done Margaret! I have sent you an email asking for your address. Yarn and pattern are now Yours! And the Mini-Manu pattern is now available, from ravelry or the designs page. By the time you read this, I’ll be off down the hospital. Thanks for all your support and kind wishes, as always.


Chesley asked after Jesus the other day . . . let me assure you that the wee man is doing just fine and is full of the joys of Spring. I think he missed me when I was away . . or perhaps just felt the loss of his Primary Snack Provider. I am enjoying his restorative company, anyway. Here he is about to make his usual daring entrance through the bathroom window.

Meanwhile, in physioworld, things are going well. Very well in fact – the dorsiflexion has seen some dramatic improvements over the past few days. I can now tell my foot to shift upwards or over to the side, and it does so with relative ease. Given how little action there has been at the end of my leg and how difficult it’s been trying to “find” the foot in recent weeks, this seems quite remarkable. My physiotherapist speculates that Sunday’s long, fast walk might have had something to do with it. Now I’ve just got to sort out the calf . . .and the hip . . . and the hamstring . . .and the ankle . . . and the shoulder . . . I keep working on it.

In other exciting news, Tom has received a prestigious award from his running club. The Golden Trotter is selected annually for her or his commitment to the club, and for being a general all- round good egg. While this framed delight will hang on our kitchen wall, Tom must now run for the rest of the year in the “true” Golden Trotter vest which has been worn continually by the Chosen One for over a decade and which is looking more than a little worse for wear. Said garment is covered in holes, held together with safety pins, and decorated with some sad remnants of appliqué which once spelt out “Golden Trotter”. I have offered to darn the many holes, fix the appliqué or, indeed, embroider a new vest, but this is apparently, sacrilege. On Sunday, Tom will run the Blackpool half marathon clad in this sinister brown rag. . .

I shall be there cheering on the Golden Trotter as he runs down the Golden Mile and intend to attempt my own marathon of sorts along the sea front between Lytham and St Annes. More anon!

mead mountain x2

A White Christmas! And time, once again, to ascend mead mountain. Does doing this more than once make it a ritual or tradition? Whatever it is, the excitement of uncovering a bottle of home-brewed mead, buried at the top of a mountain, really never goes away. This bottle had a full twelve months to mature in its trusted site . . .

. . . and if possible, it tasted even better than last year’s vintage. Slainte!

To add even more fun to the mix, we had brought our fell shoes along with the idea of having a reviving Christmas run in the snow. So I took off my boots and donned my trusty Walshes (thanks once again for the super socks, Viv!) . . .

I can assure you that mead plus fell shoes is quite a heady combination. The feet securely grip the ice; the body glows with the power of delicious home-brewed fuel; one generally feels quite invincible. It was an exhilarating descent.

Phew! After a crazy snowy hurtle, we made our way homeward, stopping off at the allotment to collect the finishing touches for dinner.

It was very satisfying indeed to pull something we’d grown out of the cold ground. And one of my favourite gardening buddies stopped by to say Merry Christmas.

The allotments looked beautiful in the snow.

We are having a lovely holiday, and I hope you are too, however you like to spend it. Thanks so much for being with me throughout December, and particularly for all your comments, which I always appreciate and love to read. Seasonal joy to you, till we meet again in 2010!


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