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ACTIVE OUTDOORS: Tasty treats help celebrate 40 years of the Highland Cross


By John Davidson

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John heads past the Kintail Mountain Rescue Team van at the end of Gleann Lichd before the big climb. Picture: Tristan Southall
John heads past the Kintail Mountain Rescue Team van at the end of Gleann Lichd before the big climb. Picture: Tristan Southall

Whoever made the delicious yellow meringue fudge and scrumptious shortbread at the Athnamulloch food station during Saturday’s Highland Cross deserves a medal of their own.

This was my eighth crossing of the event that sees competitors run or walk nearly 20 miles from Kintail to Glen Affric before cycling to the finish at Beauly.

And it was a particularly special year for the Cross, as it celebrated the 40th staging of the fundraising event that has raised more than £5.9 million for Highland charities in the last four decades, with that total likely to rise to well over £6 million when this year’s donations are tallied up.

I’d probably done less training than ever before going into this year’s Cross, but knowing what to expect on the challenging course can be a real advantage – as long as you don’t think too much about the hill or the Yellow Brick Road in Glen Affric!

Having spoken to the founders of the event, Gerry Grant and Calum Munro, ahead of this anniversary year, I was also reminded of the massive community support from across the Highlands. Wherever you turn, there are people with a close connection to the Highland Cross and for the important local causes it has supported over the last 40 years.

John with teammate Graeme Ambrose before the start at Kintail.
John with teammate Graeme Ambrose before the start at Kintail.

This year four charities are set to benefit from new vehicles thanks to the fundraising efforts of the 250 or so teams who took part. Cantraybridge College, L’Arche Highland, Highland Blindcraft and Highland Disability Sport were selected by the independent charity panel and will be presented with their gifts later in the year.

It’s always an inspiring moment to see the charities receive their keys or other significant donations as the impact it has on their ability to provide vital services to communities around the north is vastly enhanced by the existence of the Highland Cross.

In turn, the charities and communities always play their part in ensuring the event goes ahead and is so successful each year, whether by manning checkpoints or baggage areas and a plethora of other jobs and logistics that are needed.

Following the Highland Cross sign towards Athnamulloch. Pictures: John Davidson
Following the Highland Cross sign towards Athnamulloch. Pictures: John Davidson
Finishers cross the line in Beauly.
Finishers cross the line in Beauly.

And that sense of community is felt by those taking part on the day, with participants supporting each other along the tough sections, spectators cheering people on every step and pedal of the way and the residents from the start at Morvich through Cannich, Struy, Strathglass and into Beauly who not only put up with the disruption for the day but openly welcome people into the heart of their own communities.

Even after the finish, as I was taking a breather in the car park in Beauly, a young lad playing shinty with his friends just said “well done” as he and his mates wandered past. For me, that was one of a huge number of little moments that made the 40th anniversary of the Highland Cross such a special day.

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It started on the bus to the start on the way through Glen Shiel, when a quick last-minute social media post led to some great messages of encouragement – not to mention donations to my JustGiving page – from friends and family near and far.

There was a brief bit of rain when we arrived at Kintail, but it was light enough to be refreshing rather than relentless. Actually, conditions were more or less perfect for the event, with a tailwind most of the time and the temperature not rising quite as much as I’d feared.

Runners head past a ruin in Gleann Lichd before the climb to the waterfall.
Runners head past a ruin in Gleann Lichd before the climb to the waterfall.

Having said that, the course was very wet underfoot and I understand there were a number of slips and trips, so I hope those involved didn’t do any serious damage.

After the four-mile “warm-up” through Gleann Lichd, it was time for the start of the climb to the waterfall and beyond. This is always the part of the foot section that sticks in the mind, but even once you’ve got over this bit there’s a long way to go until you reach your bike.

I knew I hadn’t run anywhere near the 20 miles for some time, so once I got to the top I tried just to get my heartbeat down to a sensible level and get into some sort of rhythm for the rest of the run. Not thinking about how far was left to go definitely helped the mental side of things, and I decided to try to just enjoy the opportunity to spend the day running through this beautiful landscape – with a little help and encouragement from friends along the way.

I paused briefly at Camban to refuel then again at Athnamulloch, where I decided to stop and take on some fuel from the excellent food station. I usually keep going here and say “thanks but no thanks” to the tempting food on offer. However, the sight of a chopped-up Mars Bar and half a banana made me stop in my tracks this time!

The very welcome Athnamulloch food station.
The very welcome Athnamulloch food station.
Cupcakes to celebrate 40 years of the Highland Cross.
Cupcakes to celebrate 40 years of the Highland Cross.

After making light work of them, I then scoffed some of the tasty fudge and shortbread, a taste which stayed with me and kept me going for the next few miles of the Yellow Brick Road.

This is always a painful section as you count down the last few miles to the end of the run, but eventually I hit the tarmac for the last mile or so to the changeover.

The bike ride is seen as the easier part of the Highland Cross, until you start trying to pedal, that is! I felt much better in the saddle than I did last time I took part in 2022, though, and I was happy with my run as well, given the amount of training I hadn’t done this year.

More than anything, though, it was a real pleasure to be involved in this celebratory year for an event that has blessed the Highlands with such positivity and togetherness. Long may it continue, and hopefully I’ll be back on the start line in 2025 to do it all again.

The bike changeover at the quarry in Glen Affric.
The bike changeover at the quarry in Glen Affric.

Route details

Highland Cross 40th crossing

Distance 19 miles / 31 km run // 27 miles / 44 km cycle

Terrain 4x4 track followed by mix of stalkers’ paths and estate tracks with river crossings and bog; cycle on tarmac roads

Start/finish Morvich, Kintail / Beauly

Map OS Landranger 25, 26, 33 & 34; OS Explorer 414, 415 & 431; Harvey Ultramap Glen Affric

The unique coast-to-coast duathlon that raises vital funds for Highland charities celebrates its 40th crossing

The Highland Cross route. ©Crown copyright 2024 Ordnance Survey. Media 034/24.
The Highland Cross route. ©Crown copyright 2024 Ordnance Survey. Media 034/24.

Click here to see the route in OS Maps


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