Heather said: “What a fantastic race. Great course; great views; great company; great event. Well worth the 700 mile round trip drive to Orkney and back for the pleasure – might just have to do it all again next year.
Two ferries, including the excitement of a private charter (after nearly missing the boat as I waved a fond goodbye to Dallas who was nursing a stony-beach-paw injury; it’s not just us runners who nurse limping limbs!).
We started on the road to Rackwick, almost at the end of the road that ended in the sea. The bus dropped us off in drizzling rain and what a sight to behold: the ladies loo on the left of the road (cardboard screens, anyone?); and the gents (a bracken and heather field) on the right. A wee toot of a car horn and the 150 strong field was off. First it was up. Then down a bit. Then more up. Then a bit up and down. Then up and up and up. Then a big down to sea level. Once. Or was it twice. With a few more ups in between for good measure.
As for the humply bit, my Garmin gadget says elevation gained was 258m whilst elevation lost was 261m, with a high point of 110m and a low point of 4m. Whether that means we climbed 519, or more, or less, is too hard for my brain to calculate. But by my reckoning, whilst the net up may have been the same as the Little ERN, I’m sure the total up-down-up-down-up must have netted more overall.
Still it didn’t matter a jot as we had a wonderful run along scenic, coastal, quiet rural roads on the island of Hoy. Splendid home baking, lashings of cups of tea, and a veritable glut of prizes and medals, including two for our very own “2Ms” Murdo Macleod, rounded out a fantastic day. And best of all Aicha’s Granny provided the warmest island hospitality I’ve ever encountered: a wonderful end to a wonderful weekend away.
Murdo said: “Following on from the good experience that everyone had at the Loch Ness Running Festival in October, we looked at having a similar ERN excursion this year. Aicha suggested the Hoy Half marathon in Orkney which looked an interesting event and gave a good excuse to visit Orkney which was a first for a number of people.
Online entry was straight forward with the fee being £12 for SAF members and £14 for non members. This covered registration, transport on the island, drinks en route, trophies, medals and certificates – good value.
We ended up with six runners (me, Fi, Alan, Heather, Elly and Phil) with Karen, Aicha and Nicola (and Dallas the dog) also making the trip. People travelled by a number of different routes and means; Nicola and I flew up to Kirkwall on Friday (with Fi) and hired a car for the weekend. Fi on the other hand hired a bike.
We stayed till Monday with Aicha’s granny, Isabel, at her house on the island of Shapinsay. This is a green and fertile island lying 25 mins north of Kirkwall and reached by a small ferry direct from the harbour. Arriving on Friday evening the weather was a bit wet and windy. Fi being braver than the rest had decided to camp in granny’s garden although she had to get up and re-peg her tent during the night!
As Heather has said, our hosts, Isabel along with Aicha, could not have been more welcoming. The house was beautiful with a big communal table for eating and large garden that led directly down to the sea where there were always big fat seals lazing about at the water’s edge. Saturday was for sightseeing (thanks to Aicha for showing us round Shapinsay) with the rest of the group arriving over the course of the day.
Race day arrived cool and dry. Aicha had hired a motor boat and skipper to take us over to Kirkwall as the ferry didn’t leave early enough. We left the harbour at 0745 and once in Kirkwall, the 8 of us (Karen stayed behind with Dallas who had some sore paws) transferred to two cars for the 20 min drive across mainland Orkney to Houton where we were booked on the 0900 ferry. The sea trip took about 35 mins to Lyness on Hoy where there were buses laid on to take us to the registration and finish point at the North Walls school which was about 1 ½ miles away. After registration and a cup of tea, we boarded the transport which drove us the 13.1 miles to the start point. As we were driving over the route, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t flat. There was a nasty wee climb about a ½ mile from the finish and a number of much higher but thankfully steady climbs all through the course. By the time we got to the start which was on the road just outside Rackwick it had started to drizzle. The loo provision was a scream; basically a couple of signs and some moorland. For modesty, there was a cardboard screen with a couple of bin liners for the women to squat behind! You were given a numbered bin liner to leave clothes etc which were transported back to the finish.
To quote the race blurb “We start with a few hundred yards slightly uphill followed by 3½ miles or so downhill/pleasantly undulating through the desolate Rackwick valley, past the Dwarfie Stane (first drinks in the car park at just under 3 miles) beneath the Ward Hill (Orkney’s highest) then on to the cross roads in Hoy, turn right, a few hundred yards downhill to the bridge, (sea level) and then up and up for 1½ miles. Shortly after the corner at the Bring there’s the second drink station, at 5½ miles, and then about a mile of undulating road with spectacular views over Scapa Flow to the Orkney Mainland and the islands of Graemsay, Cava, Fara, Rysa Little and the Barrel of Butter. Then up again for about ½ mile to the Water of Hoy, 360ft. above sea-level and just over ½ way. Down Lyrawa hill – 1 whole mile coasting down to the sea at Lyrawa Bay and the third drink station at 8 miles. ¾ mile up the other side – it’s tough enough and it keeps climbing around the corner. Then ½ mile downhill to the bridge of Pegal with its native trees. Another mile undulating and drinks again just before 10 miles followed by the sharp right at Rysa Farm – the first inhabited house on the course. A short sharp down and up (avoid the cattle grid at the bottom) and then downhill or flat to Lyness. The last drinks station (about 11½ miles) is just before the wartime cemetery. Turn right just past the electricity sub-station and along the flat past the turning to the ferry terminal. At the end of the straight, with ¾ mile to go there’s Ore Brae, a nasty little hill which gets worse around the corner. At the top it’s ½ mile coasting home to warm drinks, refreshments and a shower.”
As you can gather it wasn’t flat! But it was stunningly scenic; drying out after a mile, drink stations every 3 miles, enough company on the road but no traffic worth mentioning. Nicola and Aicha were at the finish to meet us and we stayed for scoff and tea and were astonished to find that ERN were 3rd place in the men’s team while I got 3rd fastest old man medal! This was put into some perspective by the over 70 year old who was less than a minute slower that I was. By this time the sun was out and we decided to stroll back (downhill!) to the Lyness pier.
In summary, a brilliant break made special by Aicha and Isabel to whom we are so grateful. Orkney was superb; lots to see and do and the Half alone was worth the trip. It’s their 25th anniversary next year and they are looking at increasing the number of entries. If you’re able, I would thoroughly recommend it. Many thanks to all involved with the Hoy Half for making it such a great event.
Fi said: “Hoy-humply++ but not as bad as I worried about. Eleanor revisited Hoy and found the big birds which eat your hair and also a sign about the humples they must remove specially for the race. 25th anniversary running next year – definitely thinking about it.”
Hoy Half Marathon
Some Photos of Orkney to hopefully whet your appetite