There was still a faint glow of dark blue on the horizon above the hills, but the taxi clock was fast closing on midnight, and the numbers on the meter were clicking even faster.
The driver wasn’t sure of his bearings, and neither was I. All I knew was that the town hotels were full, and my old favourite The Udny Arms in Newburgh was booked out, too. I’d been consigned to a far corner of Aberdeenshire to stay the night.
We pulled up onto the gravel drive, and I fell out of the taxi, suddenly rueing that last farewell port consumed in sumptuous Hazlehead, half an hour ago. I shook my head through the still night air, unpeeled an alarmingly thick roll of Scottish twenties, and headed inside.
The massive gothic oak door creaked open into an ancient hallway, long and chill. High vaulted ceiling, grandfather clock, ceremonial swords fixed to the walls. Somewhere nearby would surely hide a hunting rifle and the head of some unfortunate stag, I thought, as those famous words from Simon Callow sounded to me from somewhere long ago and far away: “It’s bloody Brigadoon !”
Before taking on the four-minute mile, Roger Bannister and his Oxford colleagues most famously abandoned their training to spend three days climbing in Scotland.
Widely considered a reckless decision at the time, in fact that unwise trip unearthed the missing mental sharpness which proved so decisive at Iffley Road in May 1954.
I’m far from certain that the same approach will work for me in the Almería Half Marathon this Sunday, even though I’ve had my own personal kind of mountain to climb this week.
A trip to Scotland with my back firmly against the wall.
An Aberdeenshire dawn. In deep December. At eight o’clock it’s still almost dark here in Northern Scotland, but I’ve been awake for a while.
A gale has been howling across the sand dunes all night, rattling the windows of my hotel room, whilst the branches of the tree outside are still swaying as if in the aftermath of some apocalyptic explosion.
I grab my windjacket, and head downstairs, past the hotel bar and restaurant where we ate so well last night. I nod in deference to this holy shrine – the hallowed tables where they serve the most famous sticky toffee pudding in all the world.
Two thousand miles
Is very far through the snow
I’ll think of you
Wherever you go
The Pretenders – 1995
It wasn’t all of Chrissie Hynde’s two thousand miles, not quite, but it felt like a very long way as I drove back from Pitlochry last week.
Five hundred and eleven miles. An intriguing distance – more or less an entire marathon training programme, packed into eleven hours. And covering a similar range of emotions, perhaps.
This weekend saw me take an hour’s flight north from London to visit relatives in Edinburgh. After heavy rain on Saturday night, the streets were still wet and grey as I set off from Marchmont early the next morning. It was braw and briskly chilly in the Scottish capital for a soft southerner like me, but gradually I warmed up running on a leaf-strewn Jawbone Walk and Meadow Walk into the Old Town.
Some hardy tourists had ventured out onto the Royal Mile and I decided to follow them up Lawnmarket to reach Edinburgh Castle. The effort is rewarded by fantastic views across to Salisbury Crags and Arthur’s Seat, the hill high above the city forever linked with Scottish Olympian Eric Liddell and the film ‘Chariots of Fire’.