Sunday, 30 January 2011

A 5 trig points challenge

I have always been a big fan of OS maps - sometimes I like to read a Landranger the same way someone else would read a book. I can happily spend an hour or two pouring over a map, planning routes and imagining future adventures. The well known quote "a good map is both a useful tool and a magic carpet to far away places" pretty much sums up the feeling I get from unfolding a new OS map for the first time.

A few months ago I discovered a website that will list all UK trig points in order of how far away they are from any postcode, so yesterday in a homage to the good people of the Ordnance Survey I ran a big loop starting and finishing from my house and visiting the five trig points closest to it. Stirling sits in a wide valley surrounded by hills, with lots of good vantage points in the area, which means that the trig points around here are perhaps more spread out than in other areas. The loop looked good on paper - I'd guessed it was a bit over 30 miles, and three of the trig points I would visit I knew well as they were on some of my favourite running routes. I would be visiting two that I had never been to before, and would be passing through places I had never previously visited.

I left the house about an hour before the sun would come up. It was a cold, frosty morning, which I hoped would mean that most of the boggy ground I would be crossing later would still be frozen. The first trig point was Lewis Hill, about 4 miles away at the top of the crags above North Third Reservoir. I knew this part of the route well so I tried to relax and settle into a nice easy rhythm through the old quarry, watching for rocks in the beam of my headtorch. A forest road then winding path through some old beech woodland led me onto the crags and to the top of Lewis Hill (266m, trig point no. 1 of 5) in a little over 45 minutes. As I approached the top the trig point looked great silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky with the crescent moon hanging above it.

As I dropped down from the crags to the North Third dam it became light enough that I could pack away the headtorch. North Third reservoir looked stunning in the early morning light so I stopped for a couple of minutes to enjoy the moment and eat some chocolate custard.

The next few miles were then across largely trackless moorland. I picked up some sheep tracks and buggy tracks for much of the way, but the short sections of tussocks and heather in between were hard going - it was difficult even to walk through without feeling like I was trying a bit too hard at this early stage in the run. Soon enough I joined up with the track I usually take to run up Carleatheran (485m, trig point no. 2), and I was now on familiar territory until I reached the top having covered 10.5 miles in about 2 hours 15 minutes. Carleatheran has staggering 360 degree views, but just after I reached the summit a snow shower swept in from the North and blocked them out - not such a bad thing as I knew how far away the final trig point of the day looked from here.

I retraced my route back down the grassy buggy tracks heading East from Carleatheran then set off through more heather and tussocks towards Scout Head (215m, trig point no. 3). Again I managed to follow sheep tracks for much of the way - the sheep round here don't have vertigo judging by some of the routes they take along narrow ledges on crags. I was descending all the time and really enjoyed this section as it felt I was running effortlessly through what looked like pretty rough terrain. I entered the forest, where the fallen branches and a small search for the trig point slowed me down. By the time I found it, I'd covered about 14 miles in just under 3 hours.

I sped up as I followed the forest track down to the road, then the road towards Cambusbarron. I kept telling myself to take it easy on this section as it was tempting to push it a bit along the road after the last couple of hours on the rough moorland. I turned off the road about half a mile from my house, resisting the urge to call it a day after 17 miles and head home for a late breakfast, and followed paths and farm tracks to a footbridge over the Forth and along a fishermens' path. This was another of the bits of the route I had never been on before - the thing I was enjoying most about the route was discovering these new paths and link routes, and planning how I would fit them into some new running routes. I started to feel a bit tired and stiff on the short climb up Knock Hill (104m, trig point no. 4) - 21.5 miles covered in 4 hours 15 minutes.

I took the most direct route to Dumyat (418m, the final trig point of the day), following roads for about a mile through Bridge of Allan, then an undulating track along the back of Stirling University. By this point my distance awareness was in ultra mode, and the miles were ticking by at what seemed like a much faster rate than early in the run, even though I was going about the same pace. I tried to conserve energy as best I could, knowing that the climb onto Dumyat was brutally steep at first and that it could easily make me grind to a halt. I walked most of the way up Dumyat, managing a slow jog on a few flatter sections - it's a popular hill and there were plenty of walkers out, slightly bemused as they watched someone dressed like a runner staggering slowly to the top. When I reached it I'd covered 26 miles in 5 hours 20 minutes.

I retraced my steps back down Dumyat, running a bit stiffly down the hill and trying to imagine how much more uncomfortable the descent into Kinlochleven would feel in June. As I passed Logie Kirk I started to feel really tired and the final 5 miles on roads through the centre of Stirling on a Saturday afternoon were so different to most of the rest of my route that I wished I had more energy and could have taken a more interesting, but longer, route home. About three miles from home I passed a runner skipping along in the opposite direction, and I'm sure he must have thought "do you call that running?" as I shuffled past at not quite ten minute mile pace - next time I'm going to get an "I've done 30 miles already" t-shirt to wear in such situations.

I got home after being out for 6 hours 40 minutes, having covered just under 33 miles and having climbed (and descended) a bit over 4000ft. I'd really enjoyed the route, in particular the way that basing it on the 5 trig points meant that I'd had to cover new, and sometimes more difficult, terrain, rather than just run the tracks and trails I know well.

So, if you're looking for inspiration for a new long run route, dig out your local Landranger, get on to, and plan a route round the five trig points closest to your house. My gut feel is that it will be about 30 miles long, will take you to places you haven't been before, and will perhaps remind you how lucky we are to live in such a beautifully mapped country where the inspiration for your next adventure is folded up on your bookshelf.

If you do try it, I'd be interested to hear about your route.


  1. I have a similar passion for maps, and you are right that you cannot beat the OS maps. Since moving to Australia you really appreciate what you don't have, as the maps here are woeful. It make exploring a whole new experience, and a feeling of being a pioneer as you venture into uncharted territory.

    I always remember appreciating each trig point, not just because of the engineering accuracy, but because of the poor sods who had to carry the concrete and water up a mountain for everyone else's benefit.


  2. Sounds like a great idea, and thanks for the website. I'm just learning to read maps, but already loving how accurate they are in the UK, that makes navigation so much easier!

  3. what a top outing ali..good pace too mind. thanks for the link..i'll go trig bagging

  4. I'm with you on the maps and wildlife stuff. What a great sport we've got where we can sit and plan at home then go and live it out there amongst the deer, red kite and buzzard.That looks a great route you've dreamt up there and some lovely pics.