We spent last Friday and Saturday on the wonderful island of Jura — one of our very favourite places. The island was as beautiful and warmly-welcoming as ever (though we were very sad to note the closure of the beautiful gardens at Ardfin after their recent purchase by an absentee hedge fund manager). Our pricipal reason for visiting at this time of year is that Tom likes to run the Jura Fell Race (you can read earlier accounts of this race here and here)
To those of you who aren’t hill runners, this event will probably seem pretty bonkers. It involves seven hills, eight thousand feet of ascent, and sixteen miles over some really challenging terrain – bog, boulder fields and rough quartzite scree. But if you have been to Jura, you’ll see why Tom and so many other runners return year after year: the Paps are truly fabulous hills – the sort that demand you to get out and about in them (I climbed them once myself 6 or 7 years ago, but they would definitely be too much for me in my present circumstances). They dominate the landscape of this part of the Hebrides to the extent that it is hard to take a photograph without them looming large and pap-like somewhere on the horizon.
Here they are from Port Charlotte:
And from below on the Sound of Jura, where you can really get a sense of how these giant quartzite cones seem to rise spontaneously out of the water.
Like many other places in the UK, the Hebrides have recently been enjoying some glorious weather. At 9am on race day, it was already extremely warm. Warnings about dehydration and heatstroke were added to the usual comforting remarks about the dangers of the race.
And then they were OFF!
While Tom was away facing the Paps, I had my own (small) challenge to complete. For the past month or so, I have been practising my tricycling with the aim of being strong (and safe) enough to pootle on the road up to Three-Arch Bridge to see Tom come down from the hills toward the end of the race, and then cycle back with him to the finish line at Craighouse. This is a round trip of six and a half miles on three wheels – nothing in comparison to the task Tom was engaged upon, but certainly an undertaking for someone whose wonky left side is still suffering the after-effects of a stroke and hemiplegia.
I practised my ride the day before the race and reckoned I’d be fine.
On race day, I timed my tricycling to Tom’s predicted finishing time, and happily made it to the bridge just a few minutes before he appeared off the last hill. You’ll have to take my word for it that the tiny dot in the centre of the picture is Tom (the slightly larger figure to the left is a race marshall).
And here he is coming over the stile just before the bridge.
Obviously there are no pictures of our joint journey back into Craighouse, as we were both otherwise engaged (he on foot, me on wheels). The race was really tough in the heat, but Tom completed it in 4 hours 28 minutes – his best time yet! I was also very happy to complete my own mini-challenge, and happily without attendant bog-water, blood, and bruises.
The third element of our Jura triathlon was, of course . . . swimming! It is not often that one gets a chance to do this in the sea off the Hebrides, and for me it was an opportunity not to be missed, even without a proper costume.
This was the first time I’d swum in the sea since my stroke.
And it was my first time ever swimming with a dog.
The water was clean and clear and cold and full of fish. It was really pretty amazing.
To anyone who has survived a stroke, can I say: though we may never be able to undertake a feat of endurance anything like the Jura Fell Race, small physical goals that make our wonky bodies work just a little bit harder are just as important and certainly as satisfying. Try riding a trike! Swim in the sea! I know that I feel a joy at being able to complete these physical challenges that is more intense than any sense of accomplishment I felt before my stroke. These small things — like being able to take to the water, or accompany one’s partner in the final stage of an epic race — remind me just how grateful I am to still be alive.