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Horrible History in Strath Rory

Rob Howard / 12.08.2019
Hike-a-bike in Srath Rory
Hike-a-bike in Srath Rory / © Rob Howard

Scotland does history very well, it has lots of it, in all varieties, and on the first day of the race teams have been passing through it.  The amazing start at Dunrobin Castle ticked the historic buildings box right off. It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited castles in Scotland, dating back to the 1300’s, though to the racers it was scene setter for the start they’d looked forward to for so long.

The paddled past Dornoch (with its golf course where it’s claimed the game was first played in 1616) and on across the Tain Scalps, historic oyster beds originally gifted to the Royal Burgh of Tain by King James VI of Scotland in 1612.  They were not too bothered as keeping the correct course and getting ashore at Tain were their only concern.

In good conditions the paddle went well (with just a team or two getting separated by more distance than they should have), and some of the more inexperience paddlers struggling to keep the kayaks straight.  SWECO lead the way on this stage, followed by Adventure Life and Columbia Vidaraid.  Kevin Stephens of Team Swiss UK Adventurers told me, “It was a good paddle but the last part seemed to take forever, I don’t know if it was shallow or tidal, but it was a struggle to get in.”  I didn’t tell him about the historic oyster beds.

At Tain the history of whisky distilling was hard to miss as they have the tallest stills of any distillery and have been using them since 1843. The teams came ashore just by the stream outlet for the distillery and found transition against one of the sheds where the whisky is laid down. It was too early for them to lay down, so after a quick change they pushed their bikes through the distillery yard which was full of tourists and were off on stage 3. (Having a paddle transition at a tourist attraction was bit risky, or risqué, but I think they got away with it.)

The first ride of the race is a 110km coast to coaster, with very little road along the way and it started in the Morangie Forest, if  teams took the full course route that is. There was the option of a more direct and easier short course which some teams took, and while it might seem like an early cop out, it’s not. With many short course options on the race, another long overnight paddle ahead tonight, and then the crux trek through Fisherfield it could be a very smart move. Most teams will be on the short course by the finish, and those who do best will have a strategic race plan.

Those who pressed on with the full course found themselves in Strath Rory as they came out of the forest. The is plenty of history there, the valley is a geological melt channel from the last ice age, and a 13 Century cattle drove road as well. CP2 was on Cnoc an Duin, a bronze age hill fort, and CP3 at a Neolithic chambered cairn in Strath Rusdale.

As the teams pushed their bikes through bogs, bracken, gorse and ferns on an unmaintained trail they were not really too bothered by this, just thinking that it was hard going and unrideable a lot of the time! The lead teams must have had to break through on an indistinct and overgrown trail where the old boardwalks were now rotting, and the later teams might have been wondering if the short course option would have been wiser.

Most of the teams I saw in there said it was hike-a-bike much of the way (not always expressed like that) and when I met the OMM team Stuart Hamilton said, “It’s been an education so far! We found it hard to steer on the paddle and for some of the team it was longest they have ever done, and this ‘ride’ has been tough, we’ve pushed a lot of it.” 

Team 31, called ‘Lost but Making Record Time’ went past the checkpoint on the hill fort, not that they realized they were on one, then went back to hunt for it, losing quite a bit of time. They are among the teams at the back end of the long course who will need to plan ahead to reach the cut-offs later on the race. 

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About The Author

Rob Howard
Rob is Editor of He's traveled the world reporting on and photographing adventure races and day-to-day he keeps his finger on the pulse of AR to ensure SleepMonsters is the heartbeat of the sport.

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