Think of a rough edged rock the size of a large water melon..
then think of thousands of them stuck on the side of a hill…
now imagine running / sliding over them… down a slope at a 45 degree angle .. ok?
now imagine you had already run over 16km of uneven ground and 1500m of climbing.. got it?
now imagine you have fallen in a bog, twice .. ok maybe 3 times, half twisted you ankle and cut your leg.. right …
oh and it is 23 degrees ..
Well that is the Isle of Jura Fell Race! … on a good day.
When you stack all that together – you would think I was crazy
but it was one of the best weekends I have had.
Super tough race, amazing scenery and just one of those experiences you will remember for a lifetime.
So How do we get there and what is it all about
The Isle of Jura is part of the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, located off the west coast of the Scottish Kintyre Peninsula.
To get to there you need to take the ferry from the mainland and for many like us on foot we travelled from Tayvalich over with the charismatic Nicol to the Isle.
It was the calm before the storm as we set sail across to Jura. Full of anticipation and a fair bit of banter.
Reality kicks in when our first look at the Paps of Jura come in the view.
The Paps are three of the seven climbs of the Isle of Jura Fell race.
They may fall shy of Munro status but what the lack in stature they make up in technically difficulty, with their steep faces, boulders and scree.
Graham: Beinn a’ Chaolais – 734 metres
Corbett: Beinn an Oir – 785 metres
Graham: Beinn Shiantaidh – 757 metres
Where it all began
Since 1973 fell runners have been congregating in May outside the Jura distillery in Craighhouse and taking on, what some say, is one of the true tests of Fell running in the UK.
The founder was George Broderick and the inaugural race was called the Bens of Jura Fell Race.
The event was held again in both 1974 and 1975 but then went on hiatus until being resetablsied in May 1983, being then organised by Donald Booth with sponsorship from the local distillery.
Booth continued as organiser until Andy and Ann Curtis took over in 1993 until 2005 and were followed as organisers by Phil Hodgson and Mandy Goth for five years until Graham Arthur took on the race management until 2017.
And now Emily Greaves and Family have taken over the reigns with this years event being their first at the helm.
Even getting to the start line is an absolute honour, as places are vetted and only 1 out of 2 runners that enter gain a place on the start line.
Starting and finishing at sea level the race is 28 km,
7 mountain summits (including the Paps of Jura) with 2370 m. of climbing.
This is not a marked course, you must carry map and compass, navigate you own route while carrying the mandatory Scottish hill runner gear
and 10 tags, which you give to the 10 checkpoints along the course.
With perfect conditions to start with light cloud cover for what would be a hot day.
The race was started by the inaugural winner of the race back in 1973, Bobby Shields.
Bobby a man with many trophies to his name, including the famed Ben Nevis hill race also created the West Highland Way Race when challenging Duncan Watson to a race along the WHW back in 1985.
image: Bobby and Emily at the start line
image: Us Pre race with Race Director ( and fellow Strathearn Harrier) Emily Greaves
And we are off
Once you climb out of town you head up on a gradually diminishing path up to Dubh Chreag via the first of the races challenges .. the Bog!
One wrong step and you will be knee deep in the brown stuff to the delight of your fellow runners.
Not many survive un dooked!
Then there is your first climb up to Dubh Bheinn – This climb should not be underestimated as from a sea level start you climb 530m. to the first checkpoint.
From there its a fast downhill and quick traverse to the next climb up to checkpoint 2 at Glas Bheinn.
There you can open up along the ridge to checkpoint 3 at Aonach bheinn.
At this point your 8.5 km in and face your first big descent (350m) into Glean Astaile that will start to smash up your legs.
Then 10 km in facing you is a pretty formidable climb up to Pap 1 Beinn a’ Chaolais – 734 metres
This images roughly shows the path from Aonach bheinn up to Beinn a’Chaolais and then the decent and ascents onto the highest part of the race at Beinn an Oir at 763m.
As you start the climb to Beinn a’ Chaolais you grab as much water as possible from the stream you pass as from there its going to be an hour or so before another stream.
The paps are quite unique and a serious grunt up and a test of nerves going down.
Each has its unique challenges and formation that either allow the high winds to buffet you or shield you from the wind completely as you slowly start to simmer in the mid afternoon sun.
Image below taken by Harsharn Gill shows me climbing up to the summit of Beinn an Oir
I was really impressed by the downhill skills of many of the competitors young and old and even though I am a strong climber I was shadowed into significance compared to many on the technical descents.
The Key I was told later on that you need to “Just disconnect your fear and go for it!”
Image taken by Harsharn Gill from Pap 2 looking out to Pap 3 Beinn Shiantaidh and Corra Bheinn (The final climb) in the distance
From Pap 2 and 3 onwards the race really starts
It is past mid day now and the suns up.
The winds is erratic. Sometimes pushing you over and other times silent.
And the legs are beat up with all the climbing and the tough decents.
The hearts pumping and the landscape is unforgiving and spectacular at the same time.
As you choose you own line up the climbs you cant help but appreciate the uniqueness of the hills of Jura
Their connical shape give way to false summits and steepening decents down sliding scree as they jutt out of the landscape.
We had picture perfect conditions but as this is a pure naviagtion race, if the weather was bad this race would become a completley different beast!
Once you complete your final climb up Corra Bheinn you think it’s all down hill from there.
And it is ..
but is downhill into the Bog of Doom!
This uneven tricky section is devilish on beat up legs.
On the race map it reads ” Awful Trod across desperate Bogs- but the 3 Arch Bridge is in sight”
The Road Home
And after 3.5 km of the boggy road your feet finally make the bridge, hit solid ground and its just over 5km or 3.3 miles back to the finish along the road.
Some change shoes but for me I dugged out the stones and made a final dash back to the finish.
Along the way the support was great, the sun shone and with every step the Distillery moved ever closer.
Soon enough the township came into sight and my first Isle of Jura Fell Race was complete!
This is an inspiring race for so many reasons.
Firstly the Isle of Jura is beautiful, remote and welcoming.
As an island race most camp and so the race becomes a weekend to meet old friends and make new ones.
The locals put on a Ceileigh at night, the pub is rammed and the support throughout the race is fantastic
with many perching up on a summit or valley to cheer on the runners and in our case enjoy the beautifull day out on the hill.
Emily Greaves did a fantastic job on organsing an amazing event, that is steeped in history.
Assisted by a hilarious bunch of vounteers, marshels and moutain rescue teams.
This event brings all that is good with running together in one amazing location.
It is inspring to see so many people passionate about the outdoors, creating a real community for adventure and showing that age is not a barrier to exploration.
I’m thankfull for this oppertunity and let me tell you this, I will be back!
You can find out more about the race at : http://www.jurafellrace.org.uk
Until Next Time
Douglas is a mountain runner, commercial drone pilot & founder of Full Course Trails
You can find out more about his work @
My Videos https://www.youtube.com/fullcoursetrails