A logbook in a remote Scottish hostel records a long list of visitors. Yet this is no ordinary guest book.
The dog-eared, black folder holds a catalogue of all the people who have risen to the challenge to run around a nearby loch in less than an hour.
As strange as this might seem, the log kept at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, in the Highland wilderness near Corrour, has been going for more than 40 years – and continues to grow.
The first record of the Run Around Loch Ossian Challenge was made on June 20, 1977, by Englishman Tom Rigg, then the manager of the eco-hostel, run by the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (now Hostelling Scotland).
His note was neatly written in black pen and reveals he took 49 minutes to complete the 7.5-mile circuit of Loch Ossian.
His rate was 6.5 minutes per mile, very respectable given that he was in his late-40s at the time.
Five days later, the next name is Hans V Kregten, who ran a slightly slower time of 52.5 minutes to claim the title as the first Dutch runner to complete the challenge.
The first Scot is fifth in the list. On June 27 of the same year, Michael Pearson completed the challenge with a time of 56 minutes. In 1977, a teenage John Stevenson, of Larbert, completed his sub-hour run of Loch Ossian.
“I was about 16 or 17,” John, now 58, says, “and only a few had done it. Tom Rigg ran round with me and opened four locked gates in the deer fences ahead of me.”
And so it continues, with name after name, year after year. Occasionally there are comments such as “the first American”, “the youngest so far”, “far harder than I imagined”, and “mother of four aged 46”.
The criteria for joining the list is a complete circuit, clockwise or anti-clockwise, touching the hostel’s front door at the start and finish, in less than an hour.
In times past, the hostel manager was required to record your time, although now it is more a question of individual honesty.
Tom, who passed away in 2015 aged 85, spent 23 years at Loch Ossian Youth Hostel, and his ashes were scattered at the hostel. A plaque on the wall today recalls, “Remembered with a smile”.
After Tom came Alan Mawson then Thomas Janzen and his wife, before Jan Robinson started eight years ago.
Jan reports that runners do still ask about the logbook. “I have a mix of requests,” she says, “some from runners who have done the route before and are keen to see the logbook for nostalgia’s sake, and from others who want to do the circuit for the first time.
“There are also groups that book in each year and repeat the run as a group every time.”
John Hamer, of Glasgow, has run the loch every year since 2008 as part of an annual Westerlands Hill Running Club, or Westies, trip. It took three years before he could record his name in the logbook.
John says: “On my first two attempts I ran just outside the hour. By my third time in 2010 it was a bit of a will-he-won’t-he thing. With a crowd of Westies cheering me on at the hostel I finally did it. I managed it again the following year to less fanfare.
“I still enjoy running this beautiful route each November with the club.”
The Loch Ossian route is easy to follow and is described as “flat to undulating”. The north-westerly side of the loch is a little hillier than the opposite bank. The gates have been replaced by cattle grids.
There are plenty of rewards for your running efforts. The views are stunning, especially on a calm day when the surrounding landscape is reflected in the calm waters of the loch.
At the far end of the loch you might also glimpse the unusually-modern granite, steel and glass architecture of Corrour estate lodge, built in the early-2000s.
Perhaps, if your running steps are quiet enough, you will spot some of the abundant wildlife of Corrour, including deer, pine martens and mountain hare, as well as a huge variety of birds.
The hostel is also famous for its friendly stag. One runner, Sandy Borthwick, of Edinburgh, recalls: “I was at Loch Ossian many years ago and there was a red deer stag actually inside the hostel.
“I confess I didn’t manage to beat the one-hour loch run that time – actually I tried twice more and I was still just outside the time. However, that stag and the amazing landscapes made up for the disappointment. It is such a great place to visit.”
Another runner, Maggie Creber, agrees. A multiple visitor to Corrour, Maggie, of Kirkliston, near Edinburgh, decided to complete a family hiking day with a run around the loch in the summer of 1999. She says: “My husband Chris and I and our two young boys had walked the Munro next to the hostel, Beinn na Lap. While Chris cooked dinner I headed out to do the circuit.
“It was a lovely run and I was reasonably fit so I managed it in 50 minutes.”
Although Jan admits she has never herself attempted a sub-hour run of the loch, she loves the area and is quite philosophical about the tradition of the Run Around Loch Ossian Challenge.
“People come to Corrour for all sorts of reasons,” she says. “Some will hike, mountain bike or swim in the loch. Meanwhile, others simply enjoy the wildlife and the incredible quiet. And, of course, there are runners…”