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hill walking

I’ve been hiking hills for a long time but the exploration of the Scottish hills is taking new twists and turns all the time. This weekend we thought we would leave our beloved Ochils behind and try something a little further afield. With going further afield though came the question of how early a start we would need. And this is where the twist comes in – let’s get Rona out and we can head up the day before and have an easier start to our hiking.

It was an undoubtedly good idea.

We looked at several Corbetts and Munros including Ben Lui, Ben Cruachan, Scheihaillon, Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn) and Ben Vrackie. However, we are still relatively green to the whole motorhome, ‘off grid camping’ experience so feel the need to go softly, softly into it rather than headfirst and this would have an effect on our decision making.

Additionally with the weather seemingly going to be a bit rubbish we immediately discounted Ben Lui because nobody fancied a river crossing followed by a boggy hike and anything up near Tyndrum ruled itself out as having limited indoor activities available (just in case it was too grim to hike). I’d already run Ben Vorlich and while happy to do it again will always favour something new and so it came down to Ben Vrackie and Scheihaillon.

And so the research began as to were we could park comfortably for the night before, and go to after the hike, to take in a bit more of Scotland. The more we looked at Ben Vrackie the more enthused I became because there were both campsites and simple overnight parking options. Both of these were relatively close to the start of the hike and more importantly Pitlochry (the nearest town) seemed well endowed with pre and post hike entertainment.

Ferry Road Car Park
Parking: £4.20 per day (Free Sunday & free overnight for motorhomes)
More information: Search for Sites

The Ferry Road car park behind the Main Street in Pitlochry is a very simple affair with no facilities but it’s spacious and surprisingly quiet given it’s centre of the town location. When we arrived there were half a dozen motorhomes and there was room for more but it would quickly become crowded at about 20 reasonable sized motorhomes. The overnight cost is free but during the day you need to feed £4.20 worth of coins into the machine and Sunday is free all day – it’s good value if all you require is the parking.

The parking is mostly flat and requires no levelling and once you’re set up then you’re fine and there was very little disturbance, though to be fair I was exhausted and passed out pretty early and would have struggled to hear the sound of stampeding elephants.

The walk into the town was just two minutes and if you cut through under the railway bridge there’s a lovely looking coffee shop right on the street corner!

Near the railway bridge there are public toilets although we found these closed, whether due to Covid 19 or other reasons so this parking option definitely relies on you having on board facilities – it’s also worth noting that it does say that caravans and tents are not permitted.

All in all a perfectly good stop for a night or two if you’re not planning on staying in Pitlochry or it’s surrounds for a long period. For longer stays there are campsites and the like nearby but this was perfect for us as we were there less than 12hrs.

Ben Vrackie Car Park
Parking: Free

Ben Vrackie is the local hill hike from Pitlochry and comes with a small but perfectly useful parking facility at the foot of the hike. We had walked up there from the town and through Moulin to check it out when we arrived and realised that we could probably bring Rona up here in the morning.

There were a couple of smaller vans parked up here but the angle of the car park was such that levelling would be very challenging and you risk annoying the locals should it become an extension of the excellent parking facility provided by the town. However, upon leaving the town I was perfectly happy to park up here as we went hiking. Rona at 6.6 metres isn’t a massive motorhome but we could use the grass verge for our rear overhang and therefore took up no more space than a car.

There is a second car park further up and as we hiked beyond it we noted a couple of campervans but this was a small car park and unsuited to motorhomes or caravans. You might find yourself in a world of tight turning and excessive swearing if you head up there.

Should you be inclined to hike Ben Vrackie and fancy a little celebratory beer there was the delightful looking pub in Moulin that certainly looked cosy and comfy and on another day we might have stopped there for food as it’s a mere two minute walk from the lower Ben Vrackie car park.

Ben Vrackie
Cost: Free
Maps: OS Landranger 43 – Braemar & Blair Atholl / OS Explorer 49 – Pitlochry & Loch Tummel
Route Information: Visit Walkhighlands

The reason we went to Pitlochry was to hike up Ben Vrackie and so on the Sunday morning with the rain pouring down we left Rona behind in the lower car park. With a full set of waterproofs on we started a slow but steady ascent through a delightfully varied terrain. Tree lined paths open out to sloping open landscapes with beautiful peaks all around us. There is an excellent path that makes for mostly easy navigation and the route is dry and lacking things like bogs and river crossings – Ben Vrackie is a nice hike. The first half is pretty gentle but as you reach the second half of the 5 or so kilometres to the top you’ll note that the gradient of the climb becomes tougher and the stone stepped path is more of a challenge. However this should be no deterrent as it remains eminently climbable for even the least fit amongst us.

We were incredibly fortunate the large lurking grey clouds cleared briefly for our reaching of the summit and there were gloriously spectacular views in all directions across Scotland. Outstanding. That being said the conditions at the top were incredibly chilly and windy and even in the springtime the right kit is required for making such efforts. Much as I admired my fellow hikers who decided to take a little dip in the loch just below the summit I would suggest that Rhi is only for those brave, foolhardy or very experienced to risk. I’ll admit had the family not been with me then maybe I’d have stripped off and joined them!

Ben Vrackie is well worth the effort if you are in the area and if you’re interested in hiking and collecting summits then there are others in close proximity (not for the Munro baggers necessarily but just for the joy of the hike) and many of them offer stunning views and challenging walks.

Ben Vrackie at 841 metres is a descent sized Corbett and may well serve as a wonderful introduction to those slightly higher climbs, just be prepared for any and all weather conditions and take a sandwich for the little bench on the lochside about 650 metres up!

Pitlochry

Upon completing our hiking we returned to the Ferry Road car park with Rona and headed off into the town.

Pitlochry looks like a very small place, smaller than Moffat that we visited on our last trip but appearances can be deceiving. The town has the Pitlochry Hydro Electric dam with its brand spanking new visitor centre which sits beside the River Tummel and holds back the beautiful Loch Faskally. The dam is also home to the huge fish ladder which helps the spawning of the fish that pass through the local waters and fascinated both myself and my 6 year old.

There is also the fantastic Pitlochry Festival Theatre with a wide range of shows for those looking for some indoor culture after hiking, eating and shopping, I have no doubt we will be back once the theatre reopens properly and welcomes back theatregoers!

With the river running through it there are a series of very beautiful riverside walks that will take you as far as you wish to go and you really aren’t far from places like Loch Rannoch and Loch Tummel.

The town itself has one of the best kept train stations I’ve ever seen and the town itself is full of those little independent shops that I love so much. We decided to get some take-out cakes from Hetties Tea Rooms (Chocolate, Crunchie Cheesecake & Lemon) which were absolutely delicious, the lemon cake for me was the winner but the family might have different opinions – big slices and full of flavour. We washed all that down with some motorhome made tea and hot chocolate and all in all it was a lovely time indeed.

With the lockdown starting to open things up a little bit the tourists had clearly started to return and there was a visible life to some of the bars and restaurants – all of which looked lovely and delicious. There was a decent mix of shops including some tourist type shopping, a John Muir Trust Information Centre & Shop, a Christmas Emporium and a really good looking second hand bookshop that we arrived too late for me to look around. Covid 19 rules means that numbers in shops and the like can cause a few delays but all the businesses are working incredibly hard to ensure that this is minimised and for the most part it all felt very conventional and tourist friendly.

You could easily pass a very happy afternoon here.

For key supplies that town has a good sized Co-op and that has pretty much anything you are likely to need in terms of keeping your motorhome topped up and there is a BP petrol station not too far outside the town.

For me places like Pitlochry are best visited during just outside the busier summer period or even the winter months because I think you’ll get a really relaxed and enjoyable experience. Summer I suspect is busy, though that shouldn’t stop you going, just something to think about if you are planning on going – especially with your motorhome.

Scotland really does have something for everyone and the thing I have discovered is that it refuses to hand it to you on a plate – you have to look for it and seek out those little rewards and perhaps that is what has made coming here and places like this so wonderful – I feel I am earning my joy.

So, whatever you’re doing in Scotland, enjoy it.

To note this overview is NOT a recommendationendorsement or paid for advert for any of the parking, facilities, tourist destinations, motorhomes or anything else this is just my experience of them. There is no commercial benefit to this blog post.

I was hiking up a glacier in Iceland some years ago when I asked the guide, ‘why do you give the kids ice axes?’ He explained that an ice axe gives the less hiking inclined children something to do.

I could see his logic.

No such thought entered my head when I bought ASK adventurer a child specific hiking pole from Decathlon. I bought a child sized hiking pole for her because I figured at some point the child was likely to run out puff going up one of these hills and I did not want to have to carry her.

I’m still waiting for the end of puff.

The MH500 Junior Hiking Pole
The junior hiking pole is much like its budget adult variant, it is simple, lightweight and effective.

The sizing moves between 75 and 100cm and is suited for children between about 100 and 145cm. There are a series of small metal holes on the pole that serve as height points and so although not completely adjustable as a more expensive option would be, there are enough height options for all within the range offered.

There is a simple and yet surprisingly comfortable soft foam, ergonomic grip along with a strap to keep it connected to the junior hiker and the pole has an optional basket for the bottom to stop mud and/or snow collecting around the spike. Weighing in at just 170g and a folded length of 58cm this also makes only the smallest of dents in the parents hiking bag when the child has had enough of the pole. On the rare occasions I find myself being handed ASKs pole I will usually store it the side pocket of my OMM Classic 25 and it sits there rather nicely.

Practical use
ASK has been using the junior hiking pole for about a year now and although she rarely actually needs it for the uphill hiking it has allowed her to become more skilled in good pole etiquette and use for when she faces the more testing challenges to come. Where it does come into its own is on the downhills, as we hike my partner tends to zig-zag a little bit to reduce the impact on her knees and back and ASK likes to join in with this and so she uses to poles to steady herself as she goes. I also find the pole useful for where loose stones or heavy mud are all around and I can have ASK use her pole to work with me to get the pair of us through to safer ground (yes in difficult situations I do keep my daughter close to hand).

More recently and with a frosty Scottish winter upon us we have seen that the pole has been as valuable in the ice as it has been on climbing hills, ASK has successfully used the pole as much on icy streets and paths as on the hills in recent weeks.

When not in use ASK has also been known to use a bungee cord or two and add the hiking pole to the Universal Gear Rail of her OMM Ultra 8 and this has not impeded her hiking at all. Given her size I would not let her carry the pole in her side pockets for fear of injury during a fall but as she gets older, taller and more secure I am sure this will become an option.

Being so lightweight we find that ASK is more than willing to carry her kit up and down and mountain without complaint whether it is attached to her or whether she is carrying it. Don’t get me wrong she isn’t weighted down with gear but she might carry her own snack and small drink (150ml) and perhaps some gloves or a spare set of buffs for the whole family.

In terms of durability we have had zero issues, over the year we have had it the pole has hiked lots of Scottish hills and many icy trails, there has been no sign of damage, bending and thankfully due to it’s aluminium construction no sign of rusting. Will it last forever? Probably not but it’s not likely to fall apart either, the chances you aren’t planning on climbing Mount Everest with something like this (or your 6 year old for that matter). It is designed for the rough and tumble that a child will subject it to but perhaps without some of the pressures that an adult will exert and to be fair if a child did in some way manage to break this would you really begrudge paying another £5.99 for a replacement?

What does ASK say?
Perhaps the best reviewer is my daughter who says, ‘I like it, it helps me up the mountains in Scotland and I use it pull myself along in the deep mud or put it in the river to help me jump over the water. The best thing though is when I dig it in the ice and it helps keeps my feet on the ground’.

Conclusion
Cheap, simple, effective. The phrase, ‘you get what you pay for’ doesn’t always apply and when it comes to decathlon gear I feel this very keenly. I opened my conclusion with the word ‘cheap‘ but that is inaccurate I should have said, ‘outstandingly good value’ because as well as being cheap it is well constructed and durable. If you have an adventurously spirited child that looks at mountains and hills and says, ‘let’s go up there today fellow adventurer‘ then this might be an essential purchase for you.

You can have a look here at their website and just to be clear, I’m just a happy customer and have nothing whatsoever to with Decathlon.

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

About half a dozen years ago I bought a Montane Prism gilet, I’ve worn that gilet thousands of times during my ownership, I’ve used it in every condition, races, hiking, shopping and everything in between. It has been (and remains) one of my all time favourite pieces of kit that I own. It’s never failed me and it endures.

But this isn’t a review of my six year old Montane Prism gilet – this is a review of the latest edition of the Montane Prism jacket which I bought recently. Could this jacket be anywhere as good as the gilet it was brought in to support? The very simple answer is, ‘yes’.

I’m a self confessed Montane fan but that doesn’t mean that I love everything they do, there’s some of their kit that simply isn’t right for me but the Prism is not one of these things – the Prism jacket fits me like the proverbial glove. So what do Montane say are the features of the Prism;

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

CHEST POCKET
External chest pocket with YKK zip.
UB says: The chest pocket is a small easy accessible place to store your phone, snack or train ticket that won’t be impeded by your rucksack or bag. It’s large enough to be useful but not large enough to allow you to overfill. The angle that it is set at also means that you’ll find access even easier when you are on the move. The addition of the YKK zip is welcome too, at least for me, having used some of lightweight zips I find them to be much more easily broken, I’d rather have the miniscule extra grammage to ensure I’ve got a zip that works and will last.

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

ELASTICATED CUFFS
Low bulk elasticated cuffs to reduce heat loss.
UB says: Nice and simple close fitting elasticated cuffs, your gloves will go beneath if they need to and the cuffs will move around with you if you’re doing something active. Adjustable cuffs are a good but for something that you might throw on when it cools down a bit and your hands are already chilly this is ready to go the moment you put it on.

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

HELMET COMPATIBLE HOOD
Fully adjustable roll-away insulated climbing helmet-compatible hood with stiffened peak.
UB says: Montane are correct in saying this is a fully adjustable hood, I have tested it with my kayaking helmet and can confirm it is helmet compatible and the adjustability is excellent for both those foul days where you need your face protected but also those dog walking days where you just fancy keeping your ears warm and you’ve forgotten your Big Bobble Hat.

STUFFS INTO OWN RIGHT POCKET
Stuffs into the right-hand pocket with internal carabiner loop.
UB says: One of the things I love about the gilet was that it stuffed inside itself and was further compressible to make a very small little package indeed. The jacket is equally impressive in its self stuffing pocket and although it doesn’t compress down as far as the gilet (more fabric to stuff) it remains a very tight and compact unit. Additionally the overall weight (around 390g) of the jacket means that carrying it in your rucksack is no chore as it is neither heavy nor bulky unlike say my Montane Extreme Smock.

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

PERTEX® QUANTUM
30 Denier PERTEX® QUANTUM outer with Durable water repellency.
UB says: You assume they aren’t lying about the material it’s made from but the water repellency is rather good, yes eventually it’ll take a soaking but for the most part its good in a heavy shower or a lighter shower for a long time. I normally team my Prism with my Montane Neo Further Faster which is one of their heavier duty waterproofs and this provides an excellent layering of insultation and waterproofness from the Scottish mountain environments.

INSULATION
40g/m2 PrimaLoft® Silver 100% recycled insulation.
UB says: I use this jacket up mountains and while shopping, its got a versatility to it that other jackets simply don’t. The level of warmth isn’t so much that you can’t use on a chilly summer evening but it will also help protect you in the middle of winter. The level of insulation means that it works perfectly in a layering system – so a base layer and mid layer will easily fit beneath it and it can be combined with any number of layers over it such as a waterproof. I’ve never been cold in my Prism jacket and my Prism gilet saw me through multiple winters in the South East of England – I never wore a coat I would just chuck my gilet over my running gear and stand on freezing cold train platforms and never be bothered by a chill. The jacket does the same job just that bit more all encompassing.

RIP-STOP LINING
FEATHERLITE™ Mini Rip-stop 20D nylon lining.
UB says: Soft to the touch and durable – the Prism is made to last and the lining is lovely.

ARTICULATED ARMS
Articulated arms for high reach movement.
UB says: Does the Prism jacket ride up when you raise your arms? No. The freedom of movement provided by a jacket that retails for around £120 is fantastic. The articulated arms are perfect for giving you the ability to make the moves you want to without letting the cold air in from underneath.

YKK VISLON & ZIP
Full-length YKK VISLON® front zip with internal storm flap.
UB says: Two way zip only on alpine red? Meh, fine – it is certainly no deal breaker. The YKK zip is again worth the few extra grams and the storm flap keeps everything cosy, I’ve never had a problem with it and I doubt you will either.

Montane Prism Jacket and Ultraboyruns

MAP-SIZED HAND POCKETS
Two insulated map-sized hand pockets with YKK zips
UB says: I have dozens of Harvey and OS maps and I prefer not to use a map holder therefore having map sized pockets is actually quite important to me. The thing you can say about these pockets is that they provide an excellent roast- toasty location for your digits. Even when weighed down by gloves, technology or Mars Bars I find the pockets remain comfortable and don’t make me look too much like a man with a massive beer gut.

CONCLUSIONS
My experience with the Montane Prism jacket has been exceptional, I’ve already said that I use it both on mountains and also while shopping. It is comfortable, the new styling is fantastically attractive and it does exactly what it supposed to. Traversing the Ochils or climbing up mountains in Glencoe this jacket, in the short time it has been with me, has done it all and I feel like it will be around for a long time.

Can I find fault with the Montane Prism jacket after 6 months of ownership through the Scottish autumn and early winter? The easy to answer to this is, No. I usually like to find something I dislike about a product but it’s hard to find anything bad to say. Customer service from Montane is exceptional, colourways are excellent and the product performs as expected and beyond.

In harsh conditions I could easily use this for running, although obviously that is not its primary function, but on a harsh multi-day running event then this would be first to make my kit list. Overnight wild camping this jacket would be right at home and would be perfect for those nights you’re wanting to sit out under the stars before you retire to your bothy, tent or motorhome (yes I said motorhome).

Yes you could pay a lot more and get a jacket with features that you don’t need but why bother? The Montane Prism gives you so much for your money and perhaps that is why is one of my favourite pieces of kit, it offers exceptional value from a trusted brand. Of course there are excellent alternatives out there and Montane might not suit your frame or might not be to your aesthetic tastes but this Update is certainly worth considering if you need a new ‘catch-all’ jacket.

The Ochils are full of little surprises – it might be a little shy on Munro’s but it is full of brilliant hiking that go from a couple of hours to a whole day – more if you really wanted to. It is a place that I can see from my house and it is place that at the weekends my family and I call, ‘the playground’.

Innerdownie is an absolute favourite and can be done in a number of ways but in my opinion there are two really wonderful ways to see it with your little adventurer in tow. If you’re super fit and your little one is super keen then you can traverse the width of the Ochils and cross the hills with either an ascent or descent of Innerdownie, this is a good solid days hiking as a point to point (or a circular route could be figured out).

The alternative is you travel to Glen Sherup (Glen Devon Woodlands) and blast your way up to the top and back down again in a lovely 90 minute leg stretcher. I tend to prefer the blast up and down – it’s enough for the family to feel like they’ve earned a hit chocolate and on a good day gives great views of the Ochils.

Glen Sherup (Glen Devon Woodlands) is a great starting point for many great walks in the Ochils, especially for a northern start or hiking that heads up into the less well travelled sections near Ben Thrush or Steele’s Knowe.

For me it’s a beautiful spot to start a hike or run up Innerdownie – the car park is large enough for 20 cars at least – though the little stream crossing and the path to car park has seen better days and would benefit from repair.

When hiking it rather than running it we usually get into our hiking kit at the car and start by making our way up the short ascent alongside the fast flowing stream. We’ll always stop to let the dog do a dump here (so we can clear it up and leave it at the car for disposal later on, no point carrying a shit with you if you don’t need to). Post dump we’ll hurl the hound into the water whatever the weather and this gets him ready for adventure.

The climb moves swiftly through a lovely evergreen woodland and the sides are littered with mushrooms in the autumn and the path here is excellent and wends it’s way around the landscape. After a few minutes you’re presented with the option of either heading down towards the reservoir and a hike up and over Ben Shee or to continue upwards to Innerdownie. Both routes are lovely but for me the Innerdownie route is a great one to get the heart pumping.

If you choose Innerdownie then the ascent gets a little steeper for a while but the path remains well made and infinitely hike-able. The path is clearly designed for use by the timber trade or large vehicles and the Ochils but in all the time I’ve hiked there I’ve never come across any traffic.

Not long into the hike you’ll leave the protective cover of the forest and into the open air. Despite leaving the protection of the forest though you’re still well guarded by the rising landscape of Innerdownie and this is part of the reason this hike is an excellent choice for hiking with younger adventurers. Even as the route slopes round ever upward you wouldn’t be enormously concerned that you’re going to take a soaking.

However, as the route winds and wends its way round you feel like it’s taking you on a bit of mystery tour as you know you’re heading away from the summit and it isn’t until you reach the little secret turning on the path that you realise you’re being redirected back to the summit climb.

The secret tunnel of trees to the summit climb is spongy and steep and can be boggy if it’s been raining heavily but it’s a relatively short blast upwards and my favourite bit of the route. Everything about this little bit from the occasional howling wind to the tree needles on the floor make me feel most at home, it’s also where little adventurers can do a bit of adventuring amongst the trees either side, playing hide and seek, leaping into the mud or jumping from fallen tree trunks

You pass through the secret tunnel to a gate and into the wide open space of the Ochils once more and from here you can see the finally ascent up to the peak of Innerdownie. We tend to take the path nearest the fenced wall as ASK and I enjoy the adventure of the undergrowth but there is a more defined path a hundred metres away. Regardless the paths meet at a viewpoint over the northern Ochils and you are rewarded with nothing but beautiful Scotland.

We often find that being able to see the summit is the worst thing possible because you know how far away you are and Innerdownie always seems so near and always so far. If the wind is whipping around at this point or the rain has come over then you’ll want to be suitably dressed for it because it can be very exposed and despite being a relatively small climb (611 metres) once you are at the top it can be as dangerous as any thousand metre plus hill.

The peak has a small stone cairn to mark the occasion of you having arrived and in the distance you can see the ridge line that, if you were to travel it, would bring you down on the south side of the Ochils. However, if like us you’ve got lunch waiting in the car then you’ll want to head back down the way you came and the good news is that the downhill is fast. Innerdownie is blessed with the kind of downhill that won’t ruin your feet and hips if you go that little bit quicker and within a few minutes you’ll find yourself hammering down towards the secret tunnel and the winding path back towards Glen Sherup.

It’s fast, furious and fun but importantly it’s good at any time of year – the photographs from this blog post were taken on Boxing Day 2019 and we had a cool, crisp day for it mostly. This route as far as we are aware is pretty dog friendly, whereas the Pentlands have lots of free roaming livestock the Ochils, although not without livestock, is less inhabited by sheep and cows and therefore a great place for your four legged friend.

The Ochils are an absolute gem and I believe much missed by visitors to Scotland who travel further north for spectacular views. In my opinion the Ochils are a pretty spectacular place too. Innerdownie though is family favourite and ASK and the GingaNinja love the pace of this hike along with the clear views and the challenge.

Further information on routes around the Ochils can be found on the OS maps app/website (I have a subscription for this which is highly recommended). The Harvey Maps of the Ochils is a must have if you plan on exploring the hills around here (you can find it here or go and visit the shop in Doune a few miles further north). There are additional resources such as Fife Walking and Walk Highlands both of which will give detailed routes and options about excellent hiking and walking in your area.

Details

  • Location: Innerdownie, Ochils (map)
  • Height: 621 metres
  • Distance: 10km
  • Route Type: Out & Back
  • Map: Harvey Maps
  • Young Adventurer Suitable: Yes
  • Parking: Glen Devon Woodlands
  • Difficulty: 3/10
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