Inspirational Trails 11: Creag Bheag
Written By: SportsShoes
Here, in part eleven of a series featuring inspirational trails, Merrell athlete and GB mountain runner, Georgia Tindley, describes her favourite local trails around Creag Bheag in Kingussie, Scotland.
For me running is all about freedom. The freedom to lace up, head out, and go wherever your feet choose. It’s not just physical freedom though, it’s the freedom that comes with shedding the day’s worries and living in the moment. That’s why my favourite trail is right on my doorstep. I’ve been lucky enough to run in spectacular locations all over the world but it is my local trails, that I run day in and day out, that bring me the most joy. These are the trails where I fall in love with running, time and time again.
I live in the highlands and my favourite route has a bit of everything: it takes me through forests, over a small hill, and alongside an isolated loch. From my back door I head through the forest on a windy track. In Autumn the trail is buried in an orange carpet, in Spring fresh shoots peek out of the black earth. In Summer it is dry and fast and I skip over rocks and leap round tight corners. In winter it is totally saturated; heavy rainfall or snow melt turns the trail to black mud that sucks you down. This is the season for slow, squelchy runs, where the enjoyment comes from moving and surviving rather than quality training sessions. Last year I joined a team that rebuilt sections of the path. We dug drainage channels, laid foundations and cleared the autumn sludge, but in the months that have passed the soil has already begun to reclaim our efforts.
After a while the trail begins to climb gently and the trees start to thin. I emerge into a clearing at a junction of four trails, before me the ground drops sharply to the loch. In warm weather this is an idyllic spot for a mid-run dip and when the snow comes and ice grips the landscape it is possible to ski right over to the far shore. Perched on a rock to catch my breath, facing west down the loch, spectacular sunsets reflect in the still waters.
I take the left turn which heads sharply up the hill. As the gradient steepens boulders have been stacked into a stairway through a tunnel of trees, until I eventually emerge onto the barren slope. Exposed rock slabs make the running joyful in the dry and treacherous in the wet. In late Summer the slopes glow purple but in the darker months my headtorch only illuminates shades of brown and grey.
Once on top of the hill the path follows a gentle ridge, following cairns towards the eventual summit. I pause amongst the peat bogs and heather, looking down onto the village and picking out my house. Lights twinkle in the winter mornings, drifting in and out of patches of thick fog. The night train rattles through the valley transporting slumbering Londoners north, tooting as it passes through the station. Commuters journey up and down the A9 and the red exterior of the school calls me back to the day’s responsibilities.
I fling myself down the hill over smooth gravel and exposed earth, I splash across streams and swing through the gate, slippery roots skid beneath me as I enter the forest. Sometimes I choose the walkers’ path, and sometimes the mountain bike trails tempt me into their swooping turns and sudden drops. Tired legs carry me home and gratefully stretch out on the final section of tarmac. I check my watch, fling open the front door, and collapse into the warmth.
This is a route I have run hundreds of times, and different memories are layered upon the landscape. That’s the spot where my headtorch died, where my hill reps finish, where I hear the stags rutting. That’s where I got lost in the mist, where I fell and cut my knee, where I bumped into friends. That’s where my brother fell in the snow, where I take students to train, where the red squirrels play. I’ve run this route as a training session, as a hill race, as a recovery loop, with friends, alone, with family - and it is different every day. This is where I escape the mundanity of everyday life and feel my body burn. This is where I fall in love with running, time and time again.
Photos: Credit to Ed Smith