The breakdown of each race stage is as follows:
- Day 1 – Fort William to Glenfinnan. 37km (23 miles) with 500m elevation
- Day 2 – Glenfinnan to Kinlock Hourn. 57km (35 miles) with 1,800m elevation.
- Day 3 – Kinlock Hourn to Achnashellach. 68km (42 miles) with 2,400m elevation.
- Day 4 – Achnashellach to Kinlockewe. 35km (22 miles) with 1,400m elevation.
- Day 5 – Kinlockewe to Inverlael. 44km (27 miles) with 1,400m elevation.
- Day 6 – Inverlael to Inchnadamph. 72km (44 miles) with 1,400m elevation.
- Day 7 – Inchnadamph to Kinlockbervie. 61km (38 miles) with 1,600m elevation.
- Day 8 – Kinlockbervie to Cape Wrath. 26km (16 miles) with 700m elevation.
Totals: 400km (248 miles) with 11,200m elevation.
The terrain type was broken down for us as:
- 20% Trackless
- 38% Single Track
- 30% Double Track
- 12% Tarmac Road
The multi-day format was as follows: run from the start with all your race food and water following the route supplied by the organisers until you reached the end of the stage. The organisers provided food and tents at each campsite where you could rest and recover before setting off the next day. Repeat until you arrive at Cape Wrath!
The organisers provided us with a custom made Harveys map of the route, on a single sheet of waterproof paper. They had worked with Harveys to add the trail for us to follow and extra bits of valuable information regarding the route. The 1:40,000 map was a fine piece of work!
In addition to the map the organisers provided us with a .GPX file of each stage. I loaded this onto my Garmin Fenix 3 HR which I intended to use for GPS navigation throughout the race.
The idea of the race was that we followed the route provided, rather than decide we knew a better route. We all carried trackers that would be sending our location to the race organisers every few seconds so they if we deviated and had the ability via the tracker to tell us we had gone off course.
There were usually 1 or 2 checkpoints along the way which may or may not be manned. We “dibbed” in at the start, each checkpoint and the finish. There was a mass start on Day 1. Thereafter each day’s start was between 7am and 9am at the discretion of each runner; although we were given a recommended start time each day based on how quickly we had completed the previous day’s stage.
In addition to checkpoints which we dibbed into, there were also “Passage Points”, e.g. PP1 which we could not dib into, but which had a “recommended time” before which we had to be past them. The idea being if the checkpoints were far apart, which they were, then you could get an idea of whether you would make the next cutoff by where you were in time when you reached the PP, compared to its recommended time.
There was a kit list supplied to us by the organisers with both mandatory and recommended items. This split into sections: race kit that we would carry with us whilst running and camp kit that we would use in camp and would be transported by the organisers from one camp to the next whilst we were running.
There were no drop bags, so we had to take all food for the day with us, and forage for water in the streams as we went.
Here is my spreadsheet plan for the race:
- Tab 1 summarises the stage details
- Tab 2 is my equipment both for running and for camp
- Tab 3 is my hill food broken down each day
Day Zero – Saturday 21st May, 2016
The first task was to get to Fort William which, from South Wales, took most of the day. I drove to Cardiff airpot and took a flight to Edinburgh. From there it was quite a long bus ride to Fort William.
Registration at the Ben Nevis Centre was quite thorough as we went through a kit check and received our map of the route, race number, tracker and a small bottle of whiskey! Did the organisers know something we didn’t? Then, we all had the “before” photo.
After that I checked into the hotel in Fort William before returning for the race briefing and the evening meal.
The briefing got us all excited about the race, but got a bit bogged down on the subject of ticks, with lots of questions and chatter about them.
Anyway, we were all set for tomorrow and the start of the adventure!
Day 1: Fort William to Glenfinnan
It was an early start on Sunday 22nd May. I had arranged to leave the suitcase I had flown up with, at the hotel for the duration of the race. At breakfast I met Marcus, another runner, and we chatted about the race. After breakfast we headed down to the Ben Nevis Centre where we handed in our camp bags and had a final briefing.
The start was on the other side of Loch Linnie so we walked from the Centre to the edge of the Loch and caught a boat across, where a piper was waiting to greet us.
After the boat ride we gathered at the start line and had a few more photos.
The sun was out and it was warming up. Then we were off!
Day 1 was one of the shorter days and as we were all pumped up we set off too fast… as usual. We started south along the edge of Loch Linnie on a quiet road. It was a relatively easy start.
The one and only checkpoint of the day was after about 6 miles as we turned west, away from the loch and moved off road onto trail. This was to be a feature of checkpoint placement; they were placed in positions of access, typically roads, rather than at prescribed distances. We were going into the wilds!
There was a steady climb upto the high point of the day, with some stunning views along the way. It was near the top that I came across Darren who I knew from previous races so we had a good chat. He isn’t so good on the hills living in East Anglia, but he soon sped off when we reached a downhill !
As I was reaching the high point the weather took a turn for the worse and we had some rain. It had been raining hard the previous day so the ground was quite wet and a bit muddy. As it turned out, this was the muddiest part of the whole course, as after today we had spectacular weather for the rest of the race!
The descent was a little tricky in places but I managed to negotiate it quite well. We headed north now, to the finish which was in a field next to the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct (famous for the Hogwarts Express in Harry Potter).
Day 1 was done!
Stats: 21.8 miles, 1,834ft elevation, 3:34:32 for 19th place out of 95 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 2:46:08. I was 32% over the winning time.
I collected my bag and headed off to find my tent and say hello to my tent mates. I knew a few from other events and a few were new faces. Overall it was a good tent with positive, like-minded people. I took my shoes off, had a recovery shake and went to get some food in the food tent.
Day 2: Glenfinnan to Kinlock Hourn
Day 2 was going to be a lot more challenging than Day 1. We woke early and I planned to set off fairly promptly. The first thing was to get some breakfast at the food tent and then to pack up and hand in our camp bag. We were then ready to set off at our leisure. I started at about 7:15am.
From Glenfinnan we headed north through Glen Finnan along a river. Today was going to be our first voyage into very remote Scotland, through Knoydart. There would be three climbs today.
At the end of the glen we swung slightly to the east and the path became less distinct as we climbed. We reached the peak at about 5 miles and then descended along a river valley to CP 1 at about 8 miles. It had taken about 2 hours.
It also became clear that this was going to be a wet-feet race. We were forever crossing streams and small rivers.
From here we swung west and started a more gradual climb which peaked at about 15 miles. Then we continued east along a river which passed a couple of inland lochs before we eventually came the edge of a sea loch. The map said we could use the beach “if tide permits” which it did. I swung round to the north before entering a piece of trackless ground. The aim was to cross a water plain to CP2 at Carnock.
I was about halfway across when the tussock I stepped on gave way and I found myself over my waist in water. After managing to scramble out by lying flat on the moving tussock-fest, I checked I had not lost anything and continued on to the checkpoint at about 20 miles.
From here we continued north, to the final climb of the day. The last couple of miles of it were quite steep, so it was good to get to the top of it at 25 miles. From here we descended again, making our way to the next sea loch.
From here we continued along the edge of the loch to Kinlock Hourn and the finish.
Day 2 had been truly spectacular. It was also clear just how remote this part of Scotland really is. Not only did we rarely see any houses, we also rarely saw any farms or farm animals. The land is sometimes fenced off for deer but in general it is wild and as natural as the day nature made it.
The campsites were in great locations as well.
Stats: 35.3 miles, 6,188ft elevation, 9:34:44 for 24th place / 94 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotty in 6:22:49. I was 50% over the winning time.
Day 3: Kinlock Hourn to Achnashellach
Day 3 was badged as the most difficult, but not the longest day. Starting in Knoydart we were to traverse Kintail before finishing in Wester Ross. It was over 40 miles with the high point of the day, the first climb out of camp. So we were off to a slow start. I started just after 7am.
We got to the first peak at about 6 miles and from there descended back down to another sea loch and CP1 at the Kintail Lodge Hotel at about 11 miles. After CP1 we started to climb to the second peak of the day. As we started to descend we swung around from north east to north west past the Falls of Glomach.
We followed a fairly tricky path along the gorge north west and crossed over to the western edge of Loch na Leitreach. Following along the edge of the loch we came to CP2 on a bridge at about 22 miles, or slightly over halfway. This was going to be a long day!
We continued north east along a river for a couple of miles before heading due north and starting the third climb of the day.
Eventually we reached Loch Cruoshie.
There was then a longish section of uphill, trackless, tussocky ground. I was beginning to realise what the event website meant by “this is not a trail race”!
Eventually we reached Loch Calavia and swung round to the west, tracking along the northern edge of the loch. There was a path there which made things a bit easier. Past the loch we continued west for a couple of miles before heading north once more.
We passed another loch and continued north as the path turned east. Back onto trackless, tussocky ground as we began the final climb of the day. I was pretty tired by now.
I reached the peak at about 37 miles. There was a three mile descent down into the valley and the finish at Achnashellach.
It had been another stunning day! But I was pretty tired and glad to get to the finish.
Stats: 40.9 miles, 8,842ft elevation, 12:34:48 for 33rd place / 73 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 7:49:09. I was 61% over the winning time.
Fatigue was taking its toll now and I think everyone in camp was feeling it. With multi-stage races you start the race with a full tank and finish near to empty, but overnight you replenish reserves and start the next day with more energy; but not a full tank. This process repeats so you start each day with less in the tank than when you started the previous day. So it gets harder and harder.
Day 4: Achnashellach to Kinlockewe
Day 4 was a shorter day; it fitted into 1 section of the map. It was a horseshoe shape going south to north, around to the west. We were in the Torridon area. There were two climbs today.
As usual, the first climb came right at the start and we kept ascending for the first 5 miles. From there we descended down into a valley and crossed the road to Torridon where today’s only checkpoint was located.
From the CP we climbed again, between high peaks, looping around to the high Loch Coire Mhic Fhearchair. We ascended on a good path. The wind began to pick up and it got quite cold.
At the corrie we left the path for a long section of trackless ground. I think its fair to say most of us had some difficulty here; I certainly did. The ground was very rough, tussocky and covered with boulders. Marcus, the race leader, came gliding past me here and was moving fast considering the terrain. He was soon out of sight!
This was one of the toughest sections of the race. Eventually we picked up a path as we began descending off the hill. The finish was in the valley in Kinlockewe.
Another tough day, but shorter.
Stats: 21.2 miles, 5,098ft elevation, 6:20:29 for 20th place / 69 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 7:03:26. I was 55% over the winning time.
When I got back to camp I learned that there had been some epic navigational errors made today. Even though the weather had been very clear, it is still possible to get it wrong and shows you need to concentrate all the time.
Apart from being tired, I noticed I was getting some pain in the front of my right shin. It was not too bad but something was not right so I went to see the doctor. He told me it was a ligament overuse injury due to the nature of the race with the tussocky ground. There was not anything to be done; only rest would cure it. He said it would probably get worse.
As it turned out, this was one of the more popular injuries participants in the Cape Wrath Ultra were having to endure.
Day 5: Kinlockewe to Inverlael
The morning routine was by now quite familiar. We got up early and had breakfast. Our bags were getting lighter as we ate through the hill food day by day. Also, our tent was getting roomier as the days went on; the race was taking its toll and people were pulling out. Some decided to continue on if they did not make the cut-off on a particular day, whilst others decided to call it a day and go home.
I set off just after 7am as usual. There was a gentle rise for a couple of miles before the ground kicked up to the first proper climb of the day. Today was going to be another remote day, this time through Fisherfield, with no villages or settlements until we reached the campsite at the end of the day. The only checkpoint of the day was where the route crossed a road at about the 20 mile mark.
I reached the first peak of the day just after 8 miles after which there was a few miles of descent.
I continued up to the second peak of the day and the morning clouds eventually dispersed and the sun was out making it quite warm.
From the peak of the second climb of the day at 17 miles, it was a 3 mile descent into the next valley which crossed a road where the day’s only checkpoint was located. As I got near to the road I seemed to loose the path and ended up going parallel to the road for a bit before crossing onto the road. I had to go back a couple of hundred metres to find the checkpoint which was in a small lay-by.
Both my shins were starting to hurt a little now, but not enough to inconvenience me at this point. After the checkpoint, the route turned east and I started the last climb of the day. After 3 miles or so, I reached the peak and then had just over 2 miles of descent to the finish.
The descent was fun and we were greeted with more stunning views and blue skies. The weather really was being very kind to us!
My shins were getting painful by now. It was only a couple of miles to the finish so I pushed on and did not really loose any time, but I was getting worried about the remaining three days. Days 6 and 7 were back-to-back long days and I was concerned about not finishing; so this was something to think about when I reached camp.
After descending off the hill we had a short run in to the finish on a road. The campsite at Inverlael was bathed in sunlight. As today was a relatively short day I had the afternoon to relax and enjoy some lunch!
As usual the campsite was located near a river, which was our washing facility. I sat in the cold water to soak my aching shins.
Stats: 26.3 miles, 4,531ft elevation, 6:38:06 for 25th place / 80 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 4:08:45. I was 60% over the winning time.
Day 6: Inverlael to Inchnadamph
Camp was looking decidedly haggard by now and plenty of people, myself included, were suffering. At breakfast everyone had quite puffy faces, especially around the eyes. It was as though the Cape Wrath Ultra had sneaked into each tent overnight and pummelled us all in the face.
We had done five days, and although, the last day was comparatively easy, today was going to be the longest day with tomorrow (Day 7) only slightly shorter. So surviving Days 6 and 7 became the priority.
My shins had not improved overnight and were hot to the touch. They felt a little creaky, and were painful to walk on. The right was worse but the left was not far behind. As predicted a couple of days earlier by the doctor they were getting worse. I made the decision that I would walk the remaining three days (walking was less painful than running) in an effort to maximise my chances of finishing.
For me, the Cape Wrath Ultra had become a race of two halves; Days 1 to 5 were the enjoyable, run when you can, do you best, half of the race whilst Days 6 to 8 were all about survival.
So, I was up early and set off just after 7am (as usual). It was going to be a long day! There were two climbs today; the first at the start, and the second at the end.
It was another stunning day with plenty of sunshine; Scotland was doing us proud!
After the first hill the initial descent was quite steep, then some undulating, but quite runnable ground to the only checkpoint of the day just over halfway, where we crossed over the River Oykel.
My shins were holding up at this point, the right had not got any worse but the left had caught it up.
The second half of the day, was a little like the first half in reverse. The undulating ground although rising would have been quite runnable for those, unlike me, still able to run. As we climbed into Assynt, my shins got more and more painful.
I finally made it to the top of the second peak at about 38 miles, from where we had a 4 mile descent to the finish. We picked up the River Traligill and followed it all the way down to Inchnadamph on the shore of Loch Assynt.
It had been a long walk and my shins were not in good condition but I was pleased to have completed Stage 6.
Stats: 42.4 miles, 5,459ft elevation, 14:09:38 for 64th place / 68 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 7:08:34. I was 98% over the winning time.
Day 7: Inchnadamph to Kinlockbervie
So it was the same morning routine again, up early, breakfast and pack up kit before setting off shortly after 7am. My shins had not improved overnight so even walking to and from breakfast was painful.
So I set off into the first climb of the day out of Inchnadamph. We were leaving Assynt today and the sea lochs were back.
After the first climb I descended to Loch Glencoul. We should have passed the Was a Chual Aluinn Waterfall which is supposed to be the highest in the UK but I was not paying attention and do not remember it at all! We passed a bothy at Glencoul and then had a shorter climb over a spur of land to Loch Glendhu and another bothy. We followed Loch Glendhu round to the west until we reached the Maldie Burn and then turned north upto Loch an Leathaid Bhuain.
There was some good runnable terrain here, for those that still could. At about 15 miles I started the climb for the second peak of the day, Ben Dreavie. At the top we the path ran out and we had trackless terrain for a few miles as we descended. I eventually picked up a path as I descended to the A838 on the shore of Loch Stack at the first checkpoint at mile 25.
Both shins were now screaming after the trackless, tussocky ground. After the checkpoint, I headed north east for a few miles, before swinging north west. The terrain was a mixture of some path and some trackless sections. I was not relishing the tussocks in the trackless sections.
Eventually, I came to the edge of the long thin Loch a’ Garbh-bhaid Mor which I followed until it turned into the River Rhiconich. At 33 miles this came out to the A838 on the shore of Loch Inchard and the second and final checkpoint of the day. The section had been extremely difficult partly due to exhaustion but mainly due to shin pain. I definitely needed stronger drugs at this stage, but I didn’t have any!
I had been walking with a few people during the last section, Jenny, Luke and Hazel and occasionally Ian which had helped to pass the time. After CP2 it was 3 miles on the road along Loch Inchard to the finish. The others got a second wind and disappeared. Dusk was beginning to fall and it was starting to rain.
The last 3 miles were miserable; each step burningly painful. The CP staff passed me on the road in their 4×4 heading back to the campsite at the finish. I think I was the last person on the course. If there had been another CP to stop at I think I might have done that, but since there wasn’t, the only thing to do was to plod on to the finish.
I remember climbing a small hill and seeing in the gloom the outline of the camp with the blue tents in the distance to the right.
I was very relieved to finish Stage 7! I am sure it was another stunning day, but in truth I don’t remember much about it.
Stats: 36.3 miles, 6,660ft elevation, 14:31:57 for 61st place / 64 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 7:08:34. I was 117% over the winning time.
Day 8: Kinlockbervie to Cape Wrath
We were all very weary when we got up for Stage 8. This was the shortest stage of the race and probably the easiest. I had decided to walk it with Graham from my tent which made for a good day. Graham had flown in from Australia for the event, but had timed out on one of the earlier stages but was soldering on to the end anyway.
Stage 8 winds along the north west coast towards Cape Wrath. First up was to walk around Loch Innis na Ba Buidhe and rejoin a small road upto the day’s only checkpoint at Blairmore. This was relatively fast going.
From there we turned north along a reasonable path that came out on Sandwood Bay and the North Atlantic Ocean at about 8 miles, the halfway point of the day.
The second half of the route was more to less trackless across a military firing range (not active today, we were told!). This was quite undulating and in our depleted state took us quite a while. Eventually, we reached the high point of the day at 12 miles.
From there we had another 2 miles of tussocky, trackless terrain to cross before joining onto a small road which we followed round a small hill and then we could see down to the northern coast and the Cape Wrath Lighthouse.
It was a short walk down to the lighthouse and the finish!
Time for the “after” photo:
Stats: 15.4 miles, 2,789ft elevation, 6:08:46 for 70th place / 78 finishers.
The winner was Marcus Scotney in 2:37:28. I was 134% over the winning time.
The final campsite was a little way away from Cape Wrath and it required a bus followed by boat and then another bus to get there. I had just missed a bus of people so had a reasonably long wait for the next one. There was a little shop in the lighthouse that we ransacked (in a nice way). The shopkeeper was doing more business today than for the rest of the year, but he didn’t seem very happy about it !
Once the logistics had worked out I got back to camp which was a proper campsite this time with showers and another shop. The first thing to do was get changed and get my calf guards over my swollen shins! Hanging around in wet shoes had started a bit of trench foot as well, but that would soon fix itself.
We had a finishers and organisers group photo. The organisers had also laid on an evening presentation and meal for us so everyone was happy about that. The winners got presented with their awards; those that finished the race got their medal and we all had a slap-up meal!
One last night in the tents before we had a long bus ride, south to Fort William. When we arrived I went back to the hotel I had stayed in before the race to collect my suitcase, before heading back to the bus station to get a bus to Glasgow. I had arranged to stay at the airport overnight before flying back to Wales in the morning.
When I awoke the following morning I noticed that I was still sweating profusely overnight; and yes it was sweat! I had noticed it started a few days into the race, in the tents, where I seemed to have an elevated core temperature that whole time. It wore off after a few days at home.
Overall Race Analysis
|Stage||Distance (M)||Elevation (ft)||Time||Position||% Time Above Winner|
It was very much a race of two halves for me as I have already remarked. The first 5 days were great fun and a real challenge. The last 3 days were just survival. Overall, it was a great experience and a fantastic adventure!
Looking at the route on a single map shows just what an epic race the Cape Wrath Ultra is!
How did the Kit Perform?
Here is my spreadsheet plan for the race. Tab 2 summarises the kit and Tab 3 the hill food.
- Navigation. The organiser supplied map was excellent and having the route on my Garmin Fenix 3 HR worked fine. We had great weather all week so navigation was relatively OK I thought, although a few people did manage to make big errors.
- Shoe choice of Scott Kinabalus was good. You need strong mountain shoes for this race. Ideally they need to drain well as your feet will be continually wet from river crossings even if it does not rain!
- Injinji mid-level toe socks were fine. I’ve used these many times.
- Hat. I had a standard baseball style hat with peak. Worth having in case its very sunny. I also had a warmer, bad weather hat and gloves that I did not use.
- Waterproofs. I used my Montane Minimus jacket which was fine. I did not use my overtrousers.
- UD race pack. 2 x 500ml bottles at the front and 1,500ml bladder in the back and snacks in the side pockets. All worked fine. There is plenty of water about in the hills with many streams and few farm animals so water really was not a problem.
- Camp kit. T-shirt, shorts, puffer jacket and waterproof trousers. Bear in mind it gets cool in the evenings.
- Sleeping bag / mat. I have quite a warm sleeping bag and an inflatable mat. It was fine but I did get hot overnight. Still its easy to throw it off and cool down.
- Tent. Supplied by the organisers – very good.
- Trail food. See the spreadsheet plan for more details. All worked well.
- Blister treatment pack. I bought the event organisers pack and it seemed pretty comprehensive to me.
- Midge net. The 2016 race escaped the worst of the midges but a couple of the camps had a few about so I did wear my head net.
- Tick key – still waiting to use it!
What Training would I Recommend?
Here are a few points:
- 8 days seemed considerably harder than the typical 5 to 6 days for a multi-stage race. Quite a few people, including myself, were picking up injuries.
- Tussocks. I had underestimated the impact of moving across significant sections of trackless, very rough, ground and did not do significant training on this type of terrain. This was a mistake and was, I believe, responsible for my shin problem.
- Navigation. You need to be able to navigate. The usual combo is GPS and map. We had great weather for the race so navigation was relatively straightforward as we were generally staying on lower ground. However, you do need to be used to navigating and used to continually paying attention otherwise you will get lost.
- The route has a lot of climbing so practice climbs and descents. Nothing too steep though and most of the route is runnable.
- Wet ground and river crossings. You will have wet feet for long period. We had good weather in 2016 but if its wet, you will have wet feet all day every day so that is worth practising.
- Self-sufficiency. The ethos of this race is that you are on your own on the hill. The checkpoints are just to dib-in to record the time you were there. They provide no food or drink. This is one of the remotest parts of the UK so you could well not see anyone other than fellow competitors whilst you are out on the course so get used to being on your own and fixing anything that needs fixing yourself.
Why do The Cape Wrath Ultra?
The race is well organised. The team are very experienced and know how to put these types of event on. The logistics ran smoothly and camp is well organised, plenty of food, etc.
Great opportunity to spend a week in the company of like minded people from around the world. Many have different skills and backgrounds so there is always plenty to learn.
The Cape Wrath Trail is a truly stunning route through one of the most remote parts of Scotland. To do this trail on your own you would need to carry several days’ food, a tent, sleeping bag, etc. so would have too much equipment with you to run it. I think this race is the only way to run the Cape Wrath Trail and do it in less than 3 weeks.
The Cape Wrath Ultra is an epic adventure and a life event you will not forget!