LDWA 100 – Jenni Coelho (the Story of the 100)

As I’ve mentioned on previous updates, I’m so pleased to read the accounts of entrants to the LDWA 100 last week. It’s a reminder of just how many people took part in the event in so many delightful parts of the UK and how different people took to walking their 100 miles.

This is the walk of Jenni Coelho, who is from the very exciting North of Scotland group (formerly the North West Grampian group) which is also the home group of LDWA chair Julie Cribb. I love the distractions of food and drink in this account, and I suspect I would have stopped for an ice cream if the opportunity had arisen later on during the walk. Although Jenni didn’t quite finish this one, I’m sure she’ll be back for more and I’m impressed she went out running the next day. How very brave  🙂

Anyway, before I get distracted with food again (Julie does that to me), here’s Jenni’s account of the Moray Meander in her own words.

I was a relatively late sign up to the Virtual 100. My original plans for the Bank Holiday Weekend were taking part in the Cairngorm to Coast Challenge (a hike and bike event). Unfortunately, due to covid restrictions this had been postponed.

Since the end of January I had been putting in plenty of miles doing another virtual event, the GB Ultras Race Across the Alps, which was finishing on the Bank Holiday Weekend. So I needed to find something else for a grand finish. My mind had already started ticking away on possibly doing the LDWA 100 and whilst out for a run mid April I came across Bea from my local group (North of Scotland) who encouraged me to enter, as she, Julie, Rikky and a couple of others were planning on doing the Loch Ness 360. Duly persuaded, I entered that evening!

Covid of course, had to throw a spanner in the works. In the week before the whole of Scotland was supposed to be moving down a level, there was a spike in cases in Moray and we remained in Level 3. This meant that I potentially wouldn’t be able to travel to do the Loch Ness 360 (and neither importantly would my Other Half be able to support us).

So, back to the drawing board for Plan B, a route within Moray.

First choice, the obvious one, was two laps of our own 50 mile Challenge walk, the Laich o’Moray 50. The route almost passes my front door, so chance for a middle of the walk shower and snooze. The danger with this one was I might not easily awake from the snooze. Bea decided on an out and back along the Dava Way, a rest at her house and then a loop of the Laich o’Moray.

I eventually decided on a route taking me from my home in Elgin, out to Lossie Woods, leading to the coastal path taking me all the way along to Cullen (for an ice-cream!) then back to Buckie. From here I would come inland, over the hill to Keith following the Fisherwives Trail, then from Keith picking up the Isla Way to Dufftown. Then I would join the Speyside Way, passing through Craigellachie, up over Ben Aigen for a lovely sunrise, up to Spey Bay, where I would rejoin the Coastal Path heading west to Hopeman, then finishing inland at the historic Duffus Castle. A fabulous route (if I do say so myself!).

I decided to make virtual checkpoints around every five miles, ensuring that I would eat and drink at regular intervals and have five minutes with the weight off my feet. I would be mostly self supported, with my OH meeting me at three points: 47 miles for a change of clothes and coffee; 72 miles, again for a change of clothes and a flask of coffee and of course 100 miles at the finish. And so, the Moray Meander 100 was born.

The following weeks were spent recceing parts of the route which I hadn’t done before and with a warm and dry forecast for the Bank Holiday weekend everything was looking positive. I was loving all the pre-event chat on the Facebook page with all the people all over the country preparing for the weekend. It was suggested to post updates on the day to the Facebook page, so I decided to do this.

The Start

The actual day arrived.  I was up nice and early, my plan was to leave about 5am and I left at 5.30 am (very good for the Queen of Faff).  The weather was perfect for walking, the haar was hanging about and didn’t lift properly until it was nearly lunchtime.  This meant a lot of the coastal walking which could have been quite brutal in the heat was undertaken in cool conditions.

Checkpoint 1 – Lossie Woods
Checkpoint 2 – Kingston
Checkpoint 3 – Spooky Woods Bench
Checkpoint 4 – Portessie
Checkpoint 5 – Portknockie View

The coastal path into Cullen involves a wee section over rocks, which when I arrived was a little challenging due to an incoming and high tide.  I decided to take the alternative route back to Portknockie along the old railway line.  However, the route onto the iconic viaduct was not obvious  to someone who had been on the go for ten hours.  So I lost an additional 15 minutes or so getting myself onto the viaduct (without going through someone’s garden!!).

Checkpoint 6 – Cullen

Progress was pretty good, with my overall timings only slipping about 15 minutes – but with the 30 minutes added on for late departure, I possibly shouldn’t have sat down for quite so long in Cullen eating a very large and very delicious rum and raisin ice-cream.

Checkpoint 7 – Strathlene

Coming down into Findochty, clouds were beginning to darken and it began to rain. Humph. Fortunately, there was a public convenience, so I took advantage of it and when I came back out, the rain was easing off. Looking at my timings I realised I wasn’t going to make it to my first support visit without my headtorch, so I phoned my long suffering OH to meet me in Buckie. I definitely lost some pace on this section and I was aware of some pain on my right heel. On arrival in Strathlene, which was my teatime stop, I arranged for my OH to come to me there instead.  After I’d had something to eat, I braved having a look under my sock and found a fairly large double bubbly blister lurking there. So, it had to be dealt with and then some plasters stuck on top.  Paracetamols popped and off I went again with my next meeting with the OH to be in Keith for a change of clothes before the proper night-time section.

As I arrived into Buckie I sensed that I needed to go to a proper toilet, so kept my fingers crossed that the harbour toilets might still be open as it was after 8pm. Hooray, Brucie Bonus, the door was open. Hallelujah.

Job done, and I strode up through Buckie, a new woman.

On my way out of Buckie, I was aware of a large group of boozy teenagers gathered in a park I had to walk past – fortunately, they were all having far too good a time to be bothered about the crazy walking lady. However, it did strike a note of unease into my mind.

The end is nigh – Drybridge Hill

I headed up the hill after Drybridge looking back to the absolutely stunning sunset over the Moray Firth. There were deer in the field beside me. These are moments that make these challenges all worth it.

The weird noises in the hills and woods I was heading into mind you were making my mind ever more uneasy and after about another ten minutes of hearing sounds like people were being murdered, I stopped and considered my situation. The next section was remote and I had hoped to be over it before dusk, which was not now going to happen. The following section after my support stop was not an area I wanted to be walking through in the dark either.

So, I made the decision to call it a day and retraced my footsteps back to where I could be rescued.

A smidgeon over 40 miles in the end in 16¾ hours.

Had I had a companion for the dark hours I definitely would have kept going, but I just didn’t feel safe, so I don’t regret the decision. I don’t know if I would have completed the 100, but I reckon I could’ve gotten 60-70 miles before my feet would’ve stopped in protest. If I’d realised how distracting the Facebook posts would have been, I wouldn’t have done them either, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I definitely lost five minutes here and there which all added up.

Next time..… well, I don’t know if there will be a next time. Our local group are holding the Speyside 100 in a couple of years’ time so maybe I’ll do the marshals walk. Or I might try doing my Moray Meander later in the summer, perhaps with company …

What I did have to do was finish off my Race Across the Alps challenge – by only walking 40 miles, this still left me with another 15 miles required by close of play on the Sunday. Aaaargh.

The next day

On the Sunday, off I went (with my running shoes on this time) and covered what would have been the end of my Moray Meander, finishing at the Duffus Castle with a smile and a well-deserved Moretti.

All’s well that ends well.