Bruce's Crown 2024

April 5th & 6th


Friday morning was so stressful with Storm Kathleen coming in on Saturday. While Mountain Rescue out up the borrowed Gala marquee I was inside my small Gala tent getting Registration ready as although there were only eight teams this was a practice for when we had more. I was helped by Teresa Wall and when the first team wanted to Register (Steve's team) we had a procedure in place. We registered the other six teams smoothly and everyone was very pleased with the BCR mugs and miniature bottle of gin. These were supposed to be finishers mugs but for this first year I was so very grateful to all the teams that entered and the weather was so foul that I thought they deserved the mugs for starting, that we gave them out! Steve's team were ready for starting at 4pm and so with the Opentracking PDA we started them off. There was a bit more stress when it didn't record their start time however a quick email to Daniel soon sorted that and all was great from then on. My team wanted to start at 6.30pm. Everyone wanted to start as soon as possible to get more done in daylight (for 2025 Walkers will start from 2pm, Runners from 4pm). This did mean that two Ladies teams would start behind us. Lisa Watson's team would soon catch us but I felt a bit guilty about the other ladies team however one of their team members said it was ok.

So four more teams set off at 15 minute intervals and it wasn't raining but it was obviously claggy from about 400m and getting dreary when we set off at 6.30pm. We had had the "What are you wearing?" discussions and I was happy with my Inov-8 winter tights, the  Inov8 thermal base layer and  Performance jacket with the Inov8 Venturelite jacket  over the top. In my Racepac 20 litre bag I had the Alpkit Filoment vest and also the Alpkit heiko jacket  along with Inov waterproof bottoms, gloves and two sets of mitts. I wore on my feet the brilliant new Inov8 Mudtalon Speed  I led the way over to the river and up the side of it, just glad to be off. I wasn't sure what pace we wanted but I knew it was a long climb. We started chatting about the forest and the paths and then crossed the bridge and I saw Eric Murphy's Instagram sign. I was so pleased that he was there. Eric took some amazing photos of me at the Cheviot Goat.

We headed up into the clag and followed the wall to the summit cairn. There was a team off to one side and I hoped they were ok. Obviously not got my racing head on! We ran off down the old fence posts and it was nice to be running. It was so claggy that I debated doing the contour but I would kick myself if I didn't so I took it and the other team didn't follow us which I was surprised at. Along towards Curleywee and I was looking for the contouring path on the left but not wanting to mess it up I was cautious. We found it although the girls I could tell were a little dubious as my "path" was no more than a faint sheep trod. Arriving at the wall we started the climb up. This is steep but short and I thought it would be windy at the top so my bearing was ready. Another summit down and it was now dark. I hadn't really got a good line off to the fence and we dodn't find a good way either. It was ok but this is where we were finding out what terrain each of us liked and didn't like as we all headed down what we preferred from rock to grass (little bits of it) to rocks in tussocks to tussocks. None of it is good there is just some that is less man eating than others. I fell and put my hand on a rock which opened up the graze that I made a couple of weeks ago on the forest track. Natalie found a compeed and I stuck that on it.

We saw lights in the col and headed for them. It was James and Ross tucked away in some sheltered'ish spot. As we spoke to them the ladies team "Girls Night Out" shot past and James said "Team number?" I knew them all so told him!! We followed them up but I was trying to do my own line but in the clag it was hard to follow anything. Natalie and Emma corrected me and I realised I had the map wrong. I was glad that they were on my case! We tramped across to Millfore and touched the trig. Now came the 2km of on a bearing tramping acrtoss fairly featureless moor. There is a fence that catches you but as we found out you don't know where on the fence you are if you're not at the stile. A little bit of compass and trying to ascertain whether the ground was going up or down and we hit the path. I knew that the top of Cairngarroch was a cairn at the end of a lot of small basins with rocks all around. Quite tricky and I'm impressed that all the teams found it (for 2025 - not obvious tops will have tape on them)!

And now the worse descent of the whole race - down to CP5. In daylight I have found non tussocky ground but we found very tussocky ground. I remember once trying to follow Yiannis Tridimas across the Rhinoggs and he kept saying "this is better ground over here". None of it was better - it was all awful and I floundered down, hitting my knees on rocks, nearly face planting in the heather and couldn't understand how he could think any of it was good. Since I have been in Galloway I think your expectations change. I was getting on what I thought was reasonable ground and calling the same thing back to my team on;y to see them floundering around on it. It was quite painful to watch and obviously very slow. I thought they would all hate me at the bottom and there were two comments of "Is there anymore ground like that?" as we hit the track and trotted down to the checkpoint. I could honestly say there wasn't.

The checkpoint wasn't where I had located it on OpenTracking as the MRT had found a better spot just over the bridge. They had set a tent up and two tables underneath with all the food on. There was my Carrot curry soup and cakes all opened out as well as all the other goodies that we have bought and had donated to us. I was offered soup and took it. Kirsty Bryan Jones (The Ladies from the Dark Side) was discussing escape routes off the next leg with MRT and Helen, Pippa and Alison didn't look too happy either. They had all got cold on the first leg but I was impressed that we had only just caught them.I turned my attentions back to my team as we were discussing the weather and rain coming in. Almost as soon as MRT said it was going to start anytime now and continue for six hours we heard rain on the tent roof. Extra layers and waterproof bottom on we decided. Kirsty, Natalie and Emma all looked happy and I was sorry that the other team wasn't. I finished my soup, ate some chocolate cake, took some more for the road and we set off. It was longer than we usually spend at a checkpoint but with a long leg ahead of us and the rain arriving it was worth the extra minutes.

We set off along the track and the clag was now down to base level as I said we will see the trees but we couldn't and nearly missed the little track leading into the woods. I hadn't done this ascent before but I had come down it once. I hope it wasn't horrid ground as I thought the team needed a bit of nicer ground for a bit. We stayed to the left of the woods and then climbed the open ground. It wasn't great and I knew Kirsty and Natalie (and probably Emma) were all cursing me but outwardly they were agreeable and we ploughed on through bracken, heather, rocks and general undergrowth. Eventually we reached the sort of ridge and climbed up that. I knew the summit was three big rocks and then a cairn further on so just kept climbing and then we found both tops. Darrou done!

The rain was really coming down now but the wind wasn't too bad. We headed across down and then up Little Millyea. It would be foolish to contour this and we reached the top quickly and I said the line on the map wasn't great from here to Meikle Millyea and we should head down to the wall. This we did on two compass bearings but it was felt weirdly like we were climbing all the time. We hit the wall bang on the corner though and started to climb up it. The wind was picking up and I think all of us were getting a little wet. I realised that in my hasty packing I had put in the oldest, baggyist pair of Inov-8 bottoms that I must own. Or maybe they were Steve's. Either way they just kept falling down. I left it for a while but then my back was getting cold and my tops were getting wet and I was treading on the bottom of the leggings too. So began the first of many legging pulling up routines where I would tuck all my layers into one another, pull the bottoms up and the waterproof jacket over the top. Surprisingly my hands and feet were warm and I only had the thin gloves and mitts on. They were soaked but still keeping my hands warm. On and on the wall goes slowly climbing and it leads you right over the first summit and onto the trig point at the end. It was windy and cold up there. The trig was lit with glow sticks and we saw a lit up tent a bit further on in which were two MRT. We didn't stay long and headed back to the wall, and then over the right wall to follow that. I had kept promising the team runnable ground and at last we had some. We all kept going at a good pace. The quad tracks were full of water but it was so good to be moving at last. Somewhere we came across Steve's team (Apocalypse Now). Steve and Steve were at the back and looked really cheery when we stopped briefly. We then passed Andrew and Marianne and Andrew said "This isn't much fun, is it?" which we had to agree it wasn't. But on we went. There wasn't any talking now apart from navigation speak. The wind was behind us but the rain just kept hammering it down. The combination of rain sodden ground, thick clag and dark meant the usually clear quad track path kept disappearing. I knew the tops we went over that weren't checkpoints and I knew it was a long way so I just kept pushing and making sure we were on the track as much as we could be. It was a relief to be climbing Corserine as that's the highest point on this ridge. Running off that Emma asked about Carlins Cairn and I said I had tried contouring it and it just didn't work (and that was in clear conditions!). So over that we went and then onto Meaul which we bypassed by 20m but realised as we were dropping and so did a U-turn into wind and found it. Turing into wind was a shock and I then got a bit worried about how wet I was. I thought "Am I wet though? Or is is the wind blowing the clothes next to me?" It was a weird feeling not knowing but I also came to the conclusion that I wasn't cold and I had another layer in my bag. It was a bit concerning though that Leg 3 would be all into wind and it would be horrendous. Oh well - we just need to keep going and have a good stop to get us over that next leg. Coran of Portmark is not far and only a little top. I was happy that we could then fly down the quad track to the shelter of the forest. We found two more MRT huddled behind the summit so had a few words with them before heading back to the fence.

I was determined not to lose the quad track path and followed it down. It was great to feel the temperature rise a bit and be moving. Natalie was in trail shoes which when dry I have worn on the route, but not in pouring rain, so she was doing well as it was pretty lethal. Getting into the woods we had a little break by a stream as it was the first time we could talk to each other and fill up with water. We also ate something as the CP was still a couple of miles away. Hitting the track everyone was glad to be on solid ground but it still wasn't sheltered. The wind seemed to be funneled between the trees. We ran all the way to the checkpoint, all of us glad to be able to get some hot food.

The checkpoint was set up with a gazebo and a trailer. We were bundled into the trailer which had a heater in it. Rus (my neighbour) was there serving soup and once he'd done that he left us. We sat and ate food, warmed up and prepared ourselves for the next section. The track to CP12 wasn't the worry it was going back up on to the mountains but into wind with the rain. After a while we decided we had to go and dived out and got off quickly before getting too cold. It was good that we could run straight away - Emma was loving what she calls "Free Running" and we soon warmed up. I had eaten loads (well soup, two rolls, two pieces of cake, a banana and my stomach was rebelling a bit so I was at the back and the others waited for me every now and again. Usually the track goes on and on but this time it seemed to go quickly. Soon we were at Loch Riecawr and I could see the skyline of Sheil Hill. It was getting light and we exclaimed that the clag was going! This was uplifting as was the prospect of some daylight. We got to Checkpoint 12 and there was Charlie Elliot sat in his van. He offered us tea which we all took. And I took banana and cake too. We asked about the Low level route decision and were told that it hadn't been made yet and if we had to do it then MRT would be at the point we had to drop off. That was pleasing as was the fact that it seemed to have stopped raining!

We headed off up Sheil Hill and I followed the usual route. I'm not sure what the others thought of weaving in and out of trees and how wet it was. Emerging out of the trees we could see lights ahead of us and this would be the Men's team we thought. They had been leaving CP11 when we got there. By the Trig we could see that the clag had lifted on our ridge and was lifting across the Corserine ridge too. I kept promising better ground and paths after Craigmasheenie and once on the top I could see the little trod weaving it's way across to Shallock on the Minnoch. We headed off, but the winds had got up so we had to watch out for gusts. Sometimes it was better to be in the wind knowing where it was coming from. Than in shelter and not knowing which direction it would come from next.

We contoured across to Shallock in the Minnock trig, passing the Men's Team Seaforth, as we went. It was quite sheltered but as we came over the crest the wind hit us. It was difficult to stand upright, let alone walk into it. But one by one we all made it to the summit shelter cairn, made a plan of attack for the way off and set off. At least it's an open hillside, with short grass so being blown about wasn't dangerous just hard work to make any progress. I tried to spot the contour path but missed it and didn't want to turn into wind so kept going to the main path down the flank. We got this spot on but it was difficult into wind. Running was out of the question. We all made it down to the col and regrouped to eat etc. At the back of our minds was the high level route - how would it be across Merrick if this was the wind at a lower level. I was pretty confident that it would be ok. I've been on these hills in high winds before and you can be blown about one minute then all calm on the summits the next.

Carrying on we headed over Tarfessock with no problem and just before summiting I asked the team what they wanted to do if we were given the option of dropping or high level. They all immediately said "High level". I had explained before how awful and slow the low level route was but also to do the proper route just felt so right. I was really happy. The views were amazing and Emma was happy, taking photos and being really excited about how lovely the Galloway hills were. I was really pleased that my team were getting a reward for all the battering and soaking we had endured over night. Even though it was windy it wasn't cold and we were now blown dry. We summited and I couldn't see any red jackets in the valley below. We ran across to the cairn as we were in the shelter of Kierrieoch and had a stop at the base of the steep climb to eat and get water. I now quite like this climb - it looks worse than it is and I know a few routes up it. Wisp had found a good line when we supported Phil a few weeks ago on Ring of Fire and I followed that thinking of her. The wind was strong on the summit and two hats were lost off! One was recovered but one is still up here! Now just Little Spur and Merrick! I contoured a bit round Little Spur and headed up to the summit of Merrick, where not surprisingly we could stand about, hardly any wind and we had a group hug. All of us so happy and me especially.

We ran off and met James and Ross (although I didn't know it was Ross at the time as he was so wrapped up) - I gave James a big thank you grin. And off we went down, down to the Gate in the Wall. The wind was awful again. Not quite as bad as Shallock on the Minnoch but pushing us all over and making it hard to run downhill. We passed MRT just after the gate and got some water, all of us really thirsty now. Following the Merrick race route down the wind made it impossible to run the downs, let alone the ups. And there were more ups than I remembered. I could feel my teams eyes boring into my back as the route just went on and on. Next year the tourist path will be an option but I know it's just as awful underfoot. Eventually we dropped steeply but the wind just wouldn't abate. Down the tussocks to the track. All the ladies exclaimed "Are we going on that?" hopefully. And not pleased when I said No! We crossed the track and heading across more ridgeline and steep tussocky drops until we rounded the corner onto the bracken and saw the carpark. Emma exclaimed "Is that Bruce's Stone?" and I said Yes!

I didn't see Eric Murphy in the carpark and we all look more bedraggled than I thought! We ran over the to Stone and Glyn Jones was there (the originator of the Ring of Fire Round and the Bruce's Crown race). I spoke to him and he took our photo before seeing us on our way to the finish. We derobed a few layers and ran down the road meeting Kirsty, Helen, Pippa and Alison from "Ladies from the Dark Side". They looked refreshed and congratulated us. There was a choice between trail and road and even I was happy with the road. It was ok and soon we were heading into the Finish with big smiles on our faces. We were 2nd Overall, 2nd Ladies Team in a time of 15 hours and 55 minutes.Results -

A massive thank you to Kirsty Hewitson, Emma Stuart and Natalie Hawkrigg for agreeing to be in my team, sticking with the awful terrain and the even worse weather.

I have been dreaming of doing this race since 2004 and 2006 when I came to Galloway to complete the Heart of Granite. Back then the longer route was above me and I planned to do it in 2008 when it wasn't ran anymore. I contacted Colin Butler years ago and he has been very helpful in setting up Bruce's Crown race. I loved the race and the concept of the teams of four. Storm Kathleen proved that this works even in the worst of the weather. Thank you James, Karen and Ross and all the Galloway Mountain Rescue team for making it happen.