Sidemount – The Trim Awakens

Posted by Mark Lyons in diving, Fun, Motoviation, Training | 5 Comments


Mark, Steve and James ….. Sidemount divers !

my research led me here …  “Sidemount is a scuba diving equipment configuration which has diving cylinders mounted alongside the diver, below the shoulders and along the hips, instead of on the back of the diver” …….    I was to find out that Side-mount was that and much MUCH more.



Sidemount – The Trim Awakens

Good times in Egypt
Good times in Egypt

It seems like a hundred years ago now that I actually started to dive and indeed I got off to a flying start. I did my Divemaster out in Egypt and was very lucky to be mentored by Hicham Ayad a fantastic Lebanese technical instructor and all round cool dude. I was also ear bashed into good diving habits by a stickler of a Russian ex Spetsnaz commando and Tech instructor by the name of Artur Zaloga . Drinking Vodka with him, watching old climbing movies and listening to his stories was always the highlight . And all this immersed in the diving culture of the top Red Sea school the Divers Lodge , belonging at the time to Karim Helal of TDI fame . Still , I eventually moved on , gained a little more experience elsewhere and for a while considered making diving my life .  I had been dealt a good hand of cards and I was having a great time … but life had other plans and with the birth of my daughter instead I began a new amazing chapter back home.

Destination Japan , Nakajima and I floating around in the pacific ..
Destination Japan , Nakajima and I floating around in the pacific ..

Since then I had been a “destination Diver” only pulling the fins on  during trips abroad. Recently I was finally forced to give up hope of ever kayaking again due to my shoulder, and being now unable to find the time for ultra-running I decided a new direction was needed. My old friend and kayaker Neil Farmer, a person with whom I have shared many an adventure had himself  become an accomplished UK diver. He had on occasion tried to cajole me into joining the UK scene as a replacement for our kayak adventures but I had up until then remained unconvinced.Maybe it was time, so I kitted up to go “cold” and dived right in so to speak! Since then the diving lust has returned with a vengeance and I feel the passion building every time I jump into the freezing cold foreboding  UK sea. So much so that I now have an uncontrollable compulsion to see all those wrecks and caves hidden beneath and to learn the art of diving to its fullest extent.

Enjoying the North sea off St Abbs
Enjoying the North sea off St Abbs

After “getting my feet wet” for a while (literally) I had arrived at the conclusion that If I was to make a return to any form of technical diving it could not be done safely in the classic backmount style due to my shoulder injury (3 operations after a white water kayaking accident abroad has left it seriously lacking in mobility and strength). Not only was backmounted twins and their weight causing me a lot of discomfort but my inability to reach my valves was a serious safety concern and one I would need to solve if I was to venture further.  I had read about a style of diving called “sidemount” and all its benefits , one of which was the ease of safety shut-downs. So I decided to look further and finally to book a sidemount course to see what it was all about ……..

so much to learn , who to learn from ?

so much to learn , who to learn from ?

One constant that appeared everywhere in my research was that learning good sidemount is all about the instructor and finding one that regularly dives in sidemount style was paramount. I dug deeper and a few instructors stood out from the rest . A decision was now needed, whether to learn here in the UK or to learn in a friendlier more relaxed environment abroad. As I am now predominantly a regular UK diver the decision should be black and white, but as a rock climber I had always been a great believer and advocate of “bouldering” (hard but safe, hence more relaxed and fun climbing at ground level) and its ability to safely develop abilities way beyond where they would be if learnt at the sharp end of a run out.  The decision was made , I would put down my sidemount foundation abroad in bright warm dive sites with the sun on my back and develop from there.

Steve Martin .. El jefe' de sidemount

Steve Martin of  .. El jefe’ de sidemount

Given the heritage of my past mentors I at least owed them someone special to take up the mantle of keeping me safe 😉 ….  Steve Martin of  was my clear choice and he would be charged with imparting his vast knowledge to make me a fully qualified sidemount diver. My choice was perfect and I would later find him to be a true advocate of Sidemount and a fantastic , fun yet very disciplined instructor.


The plan was now to  travel to the island of Gozo and take the Sidemount Essentials course and stage workshop .This course has been specially devised by Steve to help divers develop into  experts of sidemount diving. A truly all-encompassing course covering equipment set up, skills ,  dive theory, dive planning and during the course every aspect that we touched  was covered with discussions, past experience and occasional whiteboard explanation.  The course once passed would tune my existing skills and enable me to sidemount up to my present technical qualification level and set me up for the journey beyond.

Steve Martin .. El jefe' de sidemount
Steve Martin .. get used to his face on your telly

Communication with Steve before Gozo was excellent and part of his course is a set of online video workshop presentations  covering all aspects of sidemount including cylinder set up , Wing and Harness set ups , tips , skills … almost 15 hours worth.  YES! you read it right , 15 fucking hours !!  😀 😀   Luckily they are excellent and shot in a very easy to watch, friendly and informal format. Discussing all the aspects of the chosen workshop and explaining in-depth as it moves along a very logical progression. No watching the “Big Brother” this year for me , just a daily diet of Steve Martin, his dog and his very patient brother 😀

Gozo Technical Diving
Gozo Technical Diving .. 5 star establishment

Gozo itself was a beautiful island and a divers dream with dive sites near every cove. Wrecks , caverns ,walls …. take your pick it’s all there in abundance. My course was based in part at the friendly and exceptionally capable Gozo Technical Diving.  Ran by the super chilled Tom Steiner and the beautiful Audrey Cudel. It was a fantastic dive centre to spend time and a hot bed of interesting and diverse characters . I always feel that I gain a lot from the people I have the pleasure of meeting  and Gozo was no exception. During  my time there I was lucky to meet Matt Jevon a very fine diver/instructor and sports psychologist, you can read some excellent articles written by him here at Psychological Skills for Diving and he was impressively way more knowledgeable about Hawick Rugby club than I was :)  I also bumped into Freddy and Andreas of 8 Days of Cave Diver training fame, these two very fine and friendly Swedish chaps were laughing,joking and smiling constantly. Also my pleasure to meet a very charming South African named “Scuba Steve” of course 😀

James Walker ! Legend !
James Walker .. Legend !


Day 1 Xwejni Bay  started at 8:30am when Steve rocked up to my hotel in Xlendi with a smiley sandy haired Londoner by the name of James Walker in the front seat. James was to be my partner in crime for the next few days.

dry finning , mastering our back fin technique ;-)
dry finning , mastering our back fin technique

James was friendly from the outset and he was an absolute legend who kept me laughing every day.   Steve keeps his courses to a tight 1:2 ratio so he can give you all the attention you need.  As James and I had covered the video learning back at home so we were able to move through the equipment and theory workshops quickly and it wasn’t long before we had left the diving centre and were headed for the sea. The fin technique workshop started with myself and James face down on a wall dry finning away much to the delight of the tourists nearby. 😀

Buoyancy check ....
Buoyancy check ….

Soon though we were gearing up to start our weight checks and get wet.  Steve certainly gives you his attention underwater , he is totally involved with you . James and I were subjected to drill upon drill , repeat repeat . no no pull your knees up , don , doff , don , doff , switch switch switch switch, don doff don doff …. After a solid 2 hours of skills training in the bay I waddled up to the car and collapsed on the wall….  And If that was not enough it was back to the dive centre for video analysis . In my head I am “Mark , master of the deep” yet on the video I have a dive double “Mark,the floundering seahorse” .. James and I look at each other ashamed of our past delusional self opinions and our new self realization of mediocrity :)

Single cylinder trim check
Single cylinder trim check


Day 2. Hondoq..The Bay of Bad Buoyancy takes us to a new dive site and donning while floating around is our first skill of the day , my long hose is a slippery python who just doesn’t want to be contained and my buoyancy is so tuned in that my old sink like a stone while weighted to the max technique just does not want to let me leave the surface.

working hard to maintain perfect buoyancy
James and I working hard to maintain perfect buoyancy while don and doffing cylinders

Steve patiently waits while James and I sort ourselves out and make a team descent , but not perfectly so its back to the surface , go again , again and then its perfect .. another LONG dive of skills , skills and a few more drills . It seems more fun this dive, we are definitely improving at Steve’s hand.



Day 3. MV Karwela is our mission this extends our training to dive planning , Nitrox bottom times ,navigation, wreck penetration safety , lots of points openly discussed and advised on by Steve …  We geared up , hit the water and went through our safety checks , descended , drilled then took a bearing ….

hello there ..
hello there ..

I was the depth man , James the compass … he headed out into the bay looking ahead for signs of the Karwela  , soon we were excitedly on her and while exploring her depths a fantastic hole opened up in the floor inviting me in , it was freezing in there so up I went , followed by James who was doing the full “Darcy Bushell” out the hole behind me 😀

Karewla staircase
Karewla staircase

We found the staircase and glided up it to escape out the windows above and make our ascent to shallower ground as our decompression limits approached … it was a great dive and we most definitely were a little excited to be exploring it, the dive wasn’t over yet though as we spent another hour at 10 metres doing S-drills , don doff don doff , OAE OAE OAE , drill drill drill ….. Such a nice guy above water is Steve Martin , a strict Sergeant Major under it  😀  …. I finished that dive happy , Steve’s thorough lessons and repeat practice were taking effect , I was dialling it in , it was all clicking into place.

P29 tight penetration ... easy cylinder removal and exit.
P29 tight penetration … easy cylinder removal and exit.


Day 4. P29  Minesweeper patrol boat is the wreck of the day…  Another morning spent discussing dive planning and skills before heading over to Malta on the ferry. its only a stones throw and we are gearing up ready to go. It’s a little rough and the entry is surging but no problem to the sidemount diver as we don our kit easily in the water . Safety , team descent, drill and we are off on our chosen bearing .. there is a solid current and we are forced to swim hard to move forward, it takes us a while to reach the wreck but its worth it. It’s a beauty and there is a tight penetration that requires the removal of my cylinder , in backmount I couldn’t even consider going in there but no problem in sidemount especially after the amount of don/doff repeats I had done 😉

The Big Gun :D P29
The Big Gun P29

I had a pose on the gun when I was topside to , sure why not, when in Rome  :) … We left the patrol boat behind and finned our way back to the drop off , It was the last day of James’ course so we celebrated with ……….. you guessed it , skills skills skills don doff don doff , S-drill S-drill S-drill ….and more back fin. Eventually after another eternity of skills our air was running out, happy days I thought  😀 😀 , so we set up for a cylinder removal and headed for shore happy !

James and I prep for removal of cylinders while heading for shore
James and I prep the removal of our cylinders while heading for shore

That night we went out to celebrate properly our completion of the Sidemount Essentials course with a pint and a meal with Freddy , Andreas, Matt , Steve and Scuba  …When outdoor men get together stories abound , Mexican caves , huge white-water rivers, Pakistan Border post encarsements, deep dives and wrecks and more wrecks … men talk 😀 😀    Steve and James drop me at my apartment late that night and with a heavy heart I say goodbye to James, until next time compadre’ but as luck would have it he reappeared at St.Abbs the following week !


The awe inspiring Azure window and blue hole
The awe inspiring Azure window and Blue Hole

Day 5. Inland Sea to Blue hole with added “exciting whirlpool” exit 😉   This was to be a  deco stage workshop and dive . Learning to handle a stage in sidemount with the associated understanding of equipment set up,trimming,procedure, gas switching , donning , doffing and the now expected drill upon drill that Sergeant Major Steve gives me 😀 😀  We arrived at the Blue Hole to find a small swell  , not quite a maelström but looking uncomfortably white all the same. Water is a powerful beast and certainly the connection between surface and sea is the most turbulent….. We decided that we would make a decision on the exit strategy when we were actually under the blue hole , plenty air on our plan to reverse the dive if needed. We put in on the little pier at the Inland sea and after spending a short time discussing stage handling we finally put the thumbs down and dropped beneath the sea.

heading from the Inland sea to the Blue hole
heading from the Inland sea to the Blue hole

The dive was beautiful , a narrow canyon winds its way between the cliff face to the open sea, then a long  wall dive before swimming under a huge under sea arch and ascending into the middle of the blue hole. We reached the blue hole and looked up … it appeared clear , the swell must have subsided. We continued on into a set of chimneys and a large cavern , all the time doing stage skills and the occasional sneaky “freeflowing” regulator drill … he’s a fly one that Steve 😀 😀

out in the blue ... and a beautiful blue at that!
out in the blue … and a beautiful blue at that!

Eventually gas was getting low and our decompression limit running out so we headed up and back to the blue hole .. 40 mins must have passed since we last looked and this time it was decidedly more white and aerated above, we were already way beyond the point of no-return so heading back to the Inland sea was out, an exciting exit it was to be. On the deco stop I was constantly aware of the aerated water above and to be honest I have never exited in such an enclosed hole so I was a little nervous as I entered the white-out of the aerated maelstrom above…

Ascending into the whiteout of aerated swell :D
Ascending into the white-out of aerated swell

My head popped out the water and I quickly fully inflated my wing .. Aerated water is not as buoyant as hard water and even fully inflated I was barely head above when the surges hit. I was starting to worry a little as I was swirling round in wide circles and constantly being sucked towards the back corner where the surge was pouring into crashing rocks, finning hard to stay out of it but Steve looked calm and its not like my kayaking career hasn’t seen me swimming round in a few big whirlpools 😀  this one was a Himalayan sized beast, maybe If I had been in my kayak there would have been cartwheels, rolls and smiles but neck-deep laden with steel tanks I wasn’t having quite so much fun.  One of the positives of sidemount however is the ability get those tanks off quick and easy,  so pretty soon Steve was up on the rocks and I was handing single tanks out the water before a treacherous ascent across the hole. If I’d been backmount laden it would have been a different experience , in fact a nightmare. Thanks Steve for a fantastic finale’ dive to my week……….  Roll on cave training !

An exciting finale to a perfect program....
An exciting finale to a perfect program….  handsome bugger isn’t he ?

So what do I think of sidemount now ?…… Sidemount gave me just what I was after , superior mobility and excellent self-reliance. You can see all your own equipment, easily access and if necessary repair it. You can manipulate your cylinders safely. You can achieve exceptional trim and buoyancy. It’s a system so flexible it fits into every diving discipline from caving to open water recreational .. every one benefits. This flexibility requires you to learn a few more skills and gain a little more knowledge but this is only beneficial .   It begs the question why don’t we all dive this way ?   …… the answer to that is I don’t know, but maybe one day we will 😉


Sidemount , ah yeah !!

UXB is the dive for me !

Posted by Mark Lyons in diving, Fun | 2 Comments
Hellooo there ...

Hellooo there …

I am intent on getting my diving skills back up to scratch again for various reasons so most of my spare time seems to be spent on … you guessed it !! DIVING!  so heres another diving post 😀 …… with a twist 😉

Stobs Camp 1903

Stobs Camp 1903

Since the early 1900’s Stobs Camp has been a huge part of Hawick and indeed the Borders history. Originally a training ground for soldiers, then a prisoner of war camp , a Polish refugee camp and even a territorial army stomping ground until it was decommissioned in late 1950’s. Above the camp was a series of lochs created to supply the water, some of the dams were blown up but the largest one remains and is now used for fishing by the local angling club. I use it regularly with friends for wild swimming so I thought it might be a great micro-adventure to explore beneath the surface. Stories abound as to what lies on the bottom, from Sherman tanks to Sten guns I have heard it all. So I enlisted the help of Undersea Wullie and we headed to the Barnes loch as it is correctly known.

Unloading at the Barnes Loch

Unloading at the Barnes Loch

You need a four-wheel drive to access the Barnes loch, so we were in luck. Otherwise a 2 mile walk in diving gear would certainly have put us off :)   we unloaded and geared up .. the water was  sub-10 degrees and had a visibility of about 2-3 metres. As we dropped to the bottom I lost sight of Wullie quickly so we surfaced again , swam closer to each other and descended again before setting out exploring the bottom. It was stoney at first but as we finned away from the beach it became obvious there was a deep layer of silt .  I put my hand in and it disappeared up to the elbow .. scary . It’s the kind of place you could hide a body in. Hmmm!! I shit myself as the thoughts of Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th set in.  Slowly we zig-zagged and cross sectioned our way up the loch , finding only an old tyre and several cans with naked women on the side 😛 … every cloud has a silver lining 😉

Every loch has one :D

Every loch has one :D

But then finally we hit pay dirt as what appeared to be a mortar bomb loomed out of the murky depths just above the silt line … Aha !!  it was indeed , an old bomb from a bygone era , but was it dead? I resisted the urge to touch it , even photographing it I felt a little nervous. It’s not every day and unexploded bomb is 6 inches from your nose. I moved on and subsequently found 5 separate mortar shells  PIATS is what we think they are  … I thought of the times I have swum over the top of these, scary !  and I bet the fisherman would get a shock if they landed one of these babies 😀

Booom ...

Booom …

I don’t really know how dangerous these are, they are obviously wet and have been on the bottom for 80 years at least, better to beware all the same .. I have heard stories of someone finding one in Alemoor and taking it home and defusing it in his sink , sounds a right nutter by all accounts  !!!!  😉

Another beauty ..

Another beauty ..

We changed our wild swimming course to avoid crossing them, wet or not you never know !! I certainly do not need to be getting blown out the water , I have enough injuries already !!  😀 😀

Undersea Wullie...

Undersea Wullie…

lovely place to hang out ....

lovely place to hang out ….



Kushimoto .. Japan rocks the diving world.

Posted by Mark Lyons in diving, Fun, Mojo, Motoviation | Tagged , | 2 Comments

hanging down Fuji way :D

Recently back on the diving scene, I have been lucky enough to have had some cracking dives across in the Mediterranean sea off Cyprus Lebanon , and latterly the infamous UK North Sea !  So what better way to fill my weekends on a month-long working trip out to Japan than to hunt down some undersea adventure in the Pacific ocean. And man !! … I sure wasn’t disappointed with what I found ……


Kushimoto coast line…

After hours of research on the internet I decided Kushimoto was the place to be and as luck would have it I was working less than 100 miles North of there. A wreck called the Stellar Polaris looked very interesting but my February/March dates coincided with some very strong and exceptionally dangerous ocean currents so I was to look elsewhere.  Finding good information was a nightmare, It was scarce on the ground and even harder to find in the English language. My Japanese may be good enough for ordering a tasty Ramen but for nailing down technical dive lingo it certainly is not !  So I posted on the Osaka/Kansai Diving club website and I hit the jackpot when David Graham CEO of Fourth Element dive equipment got in touch. A real cool and very helpful guy indeed, he put me on to the Mr Miyagi of Japanese diving Akihiko Tanimai … What this fellow hasn’t dived isn’t worth diving and he even hooked me up with a stay at his legendary diving hostel, the Bayside Inn , full of fellow divers and right on the harbour to boot .. Aces !!  

Bayside ..

Bayside ..

The trip finally arrived and soon I jumped on the train for a 3 hour trundle South through beautiful Japanese countryside and coast to the Kushimoto station.  Aki was waiting for me and after a short tour of the town we headed straight down to the dive centre. Time to sort out equipment and dive plans, the weather on the coast was wet and windy but Aki was keen to get me in the water. After a cup of sweet tea and a few tales of what to expect in the Pacific ocean (sharks, hungry ones) I met Nakajima who was also to accompany me on my first dive exploring the undersea pinnacles of Kushimoto point, the most southerly point of the Japanese mainland. We geared up and headed for the famous Nanki Seaman’s club. A dive centre, boat charter hub and a staging point for many famous south Japan explorations.


The most southerly point in Japan … and the site of our first exploration of the pinnacles.

The boat was ready and we loaded the gear onboard…. out to sea we went, in what can only be described as an “interesting” conditions. After 30 minutes of literally bashing our way across the ocean we arrived at the dive site. The dive boat was pitching wildly and I wondered whether we would be diving at all but Nakajima sat calmly on the edge in a kind of side-saddle position and dropped into the water on the lowest point of the pitch.. Oh well fingers crossed, when in Rome (Japan) :)  I rapidly descended to 6 metres, just below the swell where the sea was much calmer, met up with Nakajima to start our descent. Dropping a further 40 metres down into the darkening Pacific we had reasonable visibility even with the swell above. We started our exploration of the pinnacle and after a brief stint in a large dark cavern ,  ascending slightly to check out some amazing rock structures and marine life. Over the course of our dives that day I managed to see many new sea creatures that I had never encountered before and I was elated to see a Shark Ray which can only be seen in the early months of the year so my timing was perfect !

Going down ...

Going down …

My trip later saw me explore several other great dive sites and I had the pleasure of meeting many, many very friendly and accommodating Japanese divers. I also stood goggle eyed at some “out of this world” camera and video equipment that certainly put my Go-pro to serious shame 😀 😀

Camera club !!  :D

Camera club !! :D

Kushimoto was exceptionally beautiful with a coast-line that will make your jaw drop. A fantastic place to visit and spend time, not just for the diving but for the scenery, culture and especially the people. . I will let the rest of my pictures do the talking ….

The most southerly point ...

The most southerly point of Japan..

Aki and I hanging ..

Aki and I hanging , he really was an amazing host.

Watch the sunrise on the most southerly point .. right here !

Watch the sunrise on the most southerly point .. right here !


Picture postcard beauty …. it truly was a spot that no camera will ever capture

Kushimoto coast ..

Kushimoto coast ..

Shrine to missing divers :-/

Shrine to missing divers :-/


Pacific Butterfly


Clowns and their anemone host , always my favourite


Box Puffer


Kushimoto Storms ..

Kushimoto Storms ..

parking the boat .. :D

parking the boat .. :D

Bayside Harbour ..

Bayside Harbour ..


Puff puff puff …






Pinnacle top


follow that guy …


Eric …




Heading out ..

Heading out ..

allo allo ..

allo allo ..

lets av a butchers then ...

lets av a butchers then …

leaving at sunrise ..

leaving at sunrise ..

Beautiful time of the day ...

Beautiful time of the day …


room for one more ….


bubbles …


hanging around for a spot of deco ,,


sea spider …



The indomitable Paul Giblin …. Ultrarunner extraordinaire

Posted by Mark Lyons in Fun, hill racing, Mojo, Motoviation, mountain running, Ultrathon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul Giblin doing what he does best !



I met Paul Giblin years ago,way before he was the running monster he is today. A modest, friendly and warm character that I liked instantly .. , we stayed friends and I’ve watched him grow into one of the UKs number one ultra runners. His achievement has been inspiring and what ever he is doing it works !! He was as happy plodding round the trails chatting with me as he was blasting to the podium in an Ultra-race. I really couldn’t think of anyone more approachable and better qualified to help ANYONE achieve their running goals .. It takes more than just medals to be a running coach/mentor, you need knowledge,communication and the ability to form a good relationship. Paul has it all in abundance .. Go check out his website and no matter your ability if you think this might interest you then don’t be afraid to make contact, there’s a friendly voice waiting.

chicken legs

The infamous White Sock run …


The Ice Bucket Challenge ….

Posted by Mark Lyons in Marathon des Sables | 2 Comments

Bill Gates taking one for ALS

The Ice Bucket Challenge ….

Lately its all been about the ALS ice bucket challenge , a viral fund-raiser where  people are nominated by previous challengers, then after doing the challenge themselves they are able to nominate the next unlucky people and so on. Originally orchestrated to gain recognition of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) the American name for the condition we Brits usually call motor neurone disease (MND) .  Here in the UK the leading organisation is called the Motor Neurone Disease Association. It brought about good and bad press, stories of huge wages being drawn by the directors of ALS have abound but icy bucket after icy bucket has been poured over heads all across the world and well over $50 million dollars worth of donations have been made, Even Bill gates was seen online soaking himself for the cause  …. 

Ive had a few Ice baths in my time as a kayaker ..

I’ve had a few Ice baths in my time as a kayaker ..

Eventually several nominations ended up in my lap from various people including  my sister who lives over in Qatar so I was forced to play the game … However given my history as an International White-water kayaker who has had his head, and occasionally whole body 😉 soaked in Icy water in more countries than I can remember, left me with no option but to make an extra effort …. So I rocked up to the local loch with the lads, which on the night sat at a “penis shrinking 12-13 degrees” and swam a 1 Kilometer lap in my swim shorts .. and I’m not afraid to say that half way I was afraid I had been a little ambitious but I kept going and made the challenge stick :)  bloody freezing man !!! BBRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…… 😉

I would like to note that I am making a small donation to MS Borders  and not ALS , it’s a charity that I support in any way I can , a local one where unpaid volunteers give their own spare time to care for MS sufferers here locally … no half million pound wages for these guys … just satisfaction :)  .  If you can find it in your heart to give a small donation to help them then you can do it RIGHT HERE

MS Borders .. a truly deserving charity ..

MS Borders .. a truly deserving charity ..



Running the Waverley line …..

Posted by Mark Lyons in Marathon des Sables | 13 Comments
Beware of the Trains ....

Beware of the Trains ….

Now I’m definitely no trainspotter but for a long time I have had an interest in the Waverley line. The one time rail link from Carlisle to Edinburgh was decommissioned in 1969 at the hands of DR Richard Beeching and his cut throat handling of the British rail restructure. A cut which subsequently left a whole region without any form of rail service despite having no adequate road links. Effectively cutting the Scottish Borders off from both Edinburgh and Carlisle…. The line has its place in history for this alone but it was also highly famed for its beautiful journey across Southern Scotland. Climbing steeply through hills , moorlands and past riversides it was renowned by many. It boasted the steepest rail track inclination of its kind in the UK. And right now its very topical due to the Government rebuilding it at the cost of ten million pounds a mile, yes you read that right, TEN MILLION! … From Edinburgh to Galashiels they are re-building it with the intnetion fo an early 2015 opening . Locally there is also a campaign to continue rebuilding it all the way to Carlisle again. If I am honest I really wish I had thought of running it way before the work had started on the Northern section, as to have ran the whole line from Edinburgh to Carlisle would have been mint, and quite the achievement :)

Shankend Viaduct ..............

Shankend Viaduct …………..  gem of the Waverley line

I live barely 2 fields away from the what is now a long track-less causeway that carves its way through the Borders making its presence known with bridges , derelict old railway buildings and long overgrown embankments. Everyone from my area has walked, played or looked upon this railway line … it is just begging to be explored fully :)  I run along it a lot , in both directions, normally as a start or finish to a longer run, but I have never until recently ventured beyond my regular section on my Stobs camp run. I have recently found a bit of motivation in my running again and this trip beckoned , so after a little recce last week It had to be done while the momentum was there, so a plan was hatched. I would go from Central Hawick where the old Railway Station had been and run from there all the way along the Waverley line to Carlisle staying true to the track as best I could. map   I plotted the course out on Map My Run and decided that I would leave late Friday night, running 13-14 miles and hit the bothy at Riccarton before sunset for a decent sleep before heading for Carlisle 30 odd miles away early the next morning. The weather looked to be on my side so it was on :) The plan had been for a solo mission, however my mate Mark Watson rang me on Thursday afternoon wondering if I fancied a hill run in the evening, I told him I couldn’t and filled him in why. Secretly sewing the seed of interest nicely, an hour later he was back on the phone and he was coming :) I expected this, the lad likes a challenge.  EXCELLENT !!

Hawick Station back in the day ...

Hawick Station back in the day …

As usual a last-minute deadline had me working late, rushing home, grabbing my kit and heading to meet Mark all in the space of 15 minutes. I parked the car right next to the bus stop. We would be getting off right there on our return. After all I certainly didn’t want to walk far after 45 miles of running 😉 We saddled up our packs and headed off !  Straight up an old railway embankment left from the long gone bridge and right away we were running down the old line .. The Waverley adventure had started. Soon we had left Hawick behind and had started to weave our way over old bridges and through the tree-lined avenues of the old line, at a steady pace we notched up the miles and soon we were approaching the Whitrope tunnel , the 4th longest in Scotland at 1200+ feet. We couldn’t run through it as it has been fenced off due to a cave in. Instead we followed a bridlepath up and over the hill , this was to be our highest point of the trip at 1406 foot.

approaching Whitrope tunnel and the heritage centre

approaching Whitrope tunnel and the heritage centre

After a long descent we found ourselves at the Border Railway Heritage site where a group of enthusiasts have rebuilt a section of the railway and now run it as an educational tourist attraction. It is quite amazing to come across this station in the middle of nowhere. From here we had just a couple more miles of running before we arrived at “Wills Bothy” , a stone shelter renovated and equipped to commemorate William Ramsbotham a mountaineer and fell runner who the day after breaking the Cader Iris fell race record , died climbing on the same mountain . an extraordinary fellow by all means.

Mark warming up by the fire in Wills Bothy

Mark warming up by the fire in Wills Bothy

Fourteen quality and continuously interesting trail miles full of beautiful hills, old railway buildings , Jacob sheep and highland cattle , not a bad nights work.  Satisfied we settled in to the bothy , shed our sweaty running kit and got the fire going .. Mark had a fantastic array of goodies hidden away in his pack and we ate like kings .. the highlight of my night was a little tin of beans and sausages , we know how to treat ourselves us lads 😉 😀 IMG_9296 6 o’clock i

the morning  and my alarm was buzzing .. brrrrrrrr,  it was a beautiful crisp morning , 3 degrees and sunny … I slipped my running kit on and found my hat .. gloves would have been nice but unfortunately no cigar …. we sorted out a little breakfast but our intention was to punch out the next ten miles to Newcastleton and have something substantial before embarking on the final 20 miles. The run from the bothy was fantastic , the views staggering in the early morning light as we ran along the track sat high up in the forest and took in the views of the valley far below us .. soon we were dropping down into Newcastleton, a beautiful little village not far from the English Border. Home alos to one the world famous 7 Stanes MTB venues .. Here we filled our boots with rolls and coffee , before heading along the line to Penton the next railway station on the track …

Mark Watson taking in a beautiful early morning view high above Newcastleton ....

Mark Watson taking in a beautiful early morning view high above Newcastleton ….

Here however progressed was hard fought , we had found the first of what would be some epic bushwhacking .. up to this point the running had been on perfect trail , now we were up to our necks in jaggy bushes and nettles . There seemed to be a switch that tripped in our brains, maybe from tired legs, it was one that prevented us heading back over old ground to find a way round , we fought on regardless with dogged determination .. and for this we paid severely .. falling out of this Scottish jungle exhausted and severely stung by uber-virulent nettles from ankle to knee .. I had tan lines from the stings .. f**** I was sore.  if you intend to do this run , then seriously look to find a detour for this 2 mile section it just isn’t worth it :) I am still paying for our battle today 😀

Mark catching a breather after the "Im a runner get me out of here" battle with the Penton jungle

Mark catching a breather after the “I’m a runner get me out of here” battle with the Penton jungle

After this we had a good time , running great trail , following the river Esk all the way to Longtown with ease and found the High street stape, Spar . In hindsight we should have called it a day here and waited for the bus but we intended to get to Carlisle no matter what ! Our legs were still good and we only had 5 more miles to go  .. what could go wrong ?  😀  The trail from here gets pretty rough and very overgrown.  And Gypsies littered the last few miles , using the track as a scrapyard or small holding where ever there was a road access. One particular gypsy didn’t want us to cross his land and when he agreed his last words were watch out for the horse …

Gypsy attack Horse ..

Gypsy attack Horse ..

I had to run and quickly jump a fence from that particular very aggressive sabre toothed  horse and f*** me with 40 mile in the legs that wasn’t easy ! It was nearly RIP when a herd of cows stampeded us , crashing through a fence in front of us , taking half it with them… then a Bull in the last field from home was just icing on the cake.. The mental image of Mark and I running/limping for that final gate still has me laughing … but we made it , we certainly did … the Southern section of the beautiful Waverley line made a fine running adventure indeed ..


The trip along this line was at times beautiful, the views up high were staggering especially on the cold brisk morning we encountered but that wasn’t what made the trip .. It was how continuously interesting this trip was ,throwing bothies, bridges, tunnels , the architecture of old stations and even the way mother-nature had grown around this disused line …. I dare you to try it sometime , have a change from pacing the roads or being in the mountains .. make an effort to find this Waverley line and enjoy something different, it will repay you a thousand time over … three cheers for the Waverley line !

I forgot my passport ..

I forgot my passport ..

notes:    Hawick to Newcastleton in my opinion is a very fine trail run worthy of 5 stars anywhere in this country , you will be rewarded with excellent running , fantastic views and continuous interest … after Newcastleton there are nice sections but nothing quite as continuous due to some parts being overgrown and the views not really comparable to the section before.


nice trails on the english side ….. some of the time :D


The Border Esk near Canonbie

Wills Bothy ...

Wills Bothy …

William Ramsbotham ...

William Ramsbotham …


Finally the welcoming pylons of Carlisle 😀 :D


Borders Railway Heritage centre….

F*** me I think I went to far :D

F*** me I think I went to far :D

Running the Hawick Circular

Posted by Mark Lyons in hill racing, Motoviation, mountain running, Training | Leave a comment


Hawick Circular

Just follow these and you will finish … MAYBE !


I was first introduced to this route by my friend and fellow outdoor sportsman Kenny Short , who in one of his first ventures into long distance hill-racing had used it in his training for the famous Lairig-Ghru race.    It is a superb adventure indeed whether ran in its entirety or in shorter sections. And with the recent upsurge of Hawick off-road runners I have been asked a lot about the running of this, so I will try to write it up in a rough running guide style.

The Hawick Circular

Captu66re   Capture2

Distance: approx 25 miles;  Ascent: 2115′ by Garmin   Map: OS Landranger 79

Navigation: Straight forward, mostly sign-posted and never really gets to far from a road despite a nice feeling of remoteness on the off-road sections. I have added 2 downloadable maps at the bottom of the page.

Terrain: Rough fields, sheep trods, tarmac road and gravel path.

Start/finish:  There are many starting points. Really anywhere the circular crosses the road. Personally I like to run it anti-clockwise starting from Hornshole. Mainly so I have fresh legs for the biggest climb and on VERY tired legs a long descent to finish.

Time required:  depends on how fast you are :)  I am not a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination and I have always managed to finish this run between 4 1/2 and 5 hours when fit … but its been 5:36 and a dook under the bridge at Hornshole for my sore legs when I haven’t been 😀  Definitely plan for longer times if its your first time round given the need for navigation.


The Hawick circular is a riding route circumnavigating Hawick in the Scottish Borders and makes a fantastic off-road running route, primarily made up of four short sections and can easily be split up for a shorter run.  It is sign-posted for the most part with bright blue and white horse shoe signs that can be found on most if not every gate you go through when entering or leaving a field , so you shouldn’t ever get to far off track. An anticlockwise run with a start at Hornshole is my preference so I will describe it like that here.

The Start of a hard day out

The Start of a hard day out

Its a long climb up from Hornshole out to Clarilaw via Appletreehall or with local knowledge find an off-road alternative but once you reach Clarilaw take the little track heading up the hill and your finally off-road, follow this up and then cross Hassendean burn before a rough trail leads you to the old Drove road at Muirfield and turn left , a long slow climb ensues on a rough landrover track until you reach the junction with the A7 just north of Halywell Hill.


The highest point of the runDrinkstone Hill 318m

Look across the road and to your left, you will see a small gate with the Blue sign on it , enter here and go right almost running straight up the field following a faint trail to the top resisting the urge to veer left . You will find a little gate through a dry-stone dyke. Enter here and run left over rough fields along the dyke , pass the pylons heading for a break in the dyke taking you through the woods.



From here follow the fields using great sheep trods , past a derelict Shepherds cottage at Drinkstone and a gradual but still undulating descent over beautiful countryside, until you descend onto the tarmac of the drove road near Calaburn , follow this down to the roman road and then up following Wilton Burn until you reach the stile … I personally do not run the road section , it’s probably faster but it’s a long way on tarmac for my liking so I either jump the wall and join the Langheugh trail run through the hills to the stile or I cut off and run up and over WiltonBurn hill, a look on the map should make this clearer.


Drinkstone Hill

From the stile you head over the field and pick up the trail heading right up and round the fields bringing you out on the Roberton road. From here another few miles of road takes you via “The Joogly” bridge and across the A7 to the start of a steep climb up Haysike. Here you cut right up a small road about a third of the way up heading for Fenwick common where you join a trail leading to the bottom of St Leonard’s Park race course , locally called The Mair or Mare ?  , scene of the finale to Hawicks famous or rather Infamous “Common Riding” .


The Flex

From here you follow the trail up and out of the race course and head towards “The Flex” a long road section through a beautiful descending country road before entering a great off-road section over Collifort Hill.


Up you go (steeply)

Beware of the steep start , its a killer! but after this its a beautiful trip over the hills on a good trail, running past another old cottage and through some woods, enjoy the views over Adderstone Lee.


Adderston Lee

Soon you will join a long farm track slowly descending until you hit the road near Kirkton. Follow this for only a few 100 metres until you see the blue sign heading up past a little track right of a cottage.


Cavers Church

From here you run a rough track through a few fields and a forest, before joining a B road. From here keep and eye out for a little gate on the left running through an avenue of trees . Follow this before crossing a field and coming out at Cavers Knowes. follow the road for a short section before cutting right down a steep path bringing you out at Cavers Church and just right of it a stile and follow the signs down the field for the victory mile to reach the finish at Hornshole… :)


The Finish


Downloadable map

Downloadable map


Downloadable map

Downloadable map


Shout out to the Kayaker , a true king of adventure …

Posted by Mark Lyons in himalaya, Mojo, Motoviation, stories from the past, Uncategorized | 5 Comments



Sat here on holiday looking out the window at the rain, semi-consciously willing it to lay off just for a short while so I can chance a quick hill run to keep my training schedule in check. A 100% turn around from a few years ago when I would be up North with my kayak praying for more rain and the chance to dive off exploring hidden highland gorges full of pumping white water,  this got me thinking about…..



Sam Ellis and co … men with little boats looking for adventure at the famous put in for the Stikine Canyon in Northern BC

The Kayaker with his little plastic boat and paddle, dressed in his Helmet , buoyancy aid and dry-suit is amongst the most adventurous of explorers. Pitting against natures most unpredictable of elements. Fighting in the wind , the rain and often in dangerous almost inescapable places.  The kayaker travels hundreds of miles in a weekend searching for the hallowed white-water. The Kayaker is on the river as much as is humanly possible during the short daylight hours of winter. The Kayaker finishes a river in the dark with only the light of a head torch.


Leaving the Kinglass of Argyle in the dark … only 5 mile back to the car

The Kayaker goes to places that no one but fellow kayakers will ever be, literally flowing through the arteries and veins that feed the beauty of the surrounding Countryside.  The Kayaker sees the moody magnificence of rain-swept mountains, hears the rush of remote rivers and the surge of crashing waterfalls.The Kayaker feels the power of the river both under him and within him.  The Kayaker knows the fine line between the knife-edge of control and a beating..

 The Kayaker lives for adventure!



In the UK a kayak day is a precious one, it will have rained heavy through the night , the levels are right for a favourite river or a recce run of a new section. Often involving several miles of rough hiking over hills and through forests to the river. Arriving at the access , an abseil may be required to get the kayak and kit to the river’s edge . A good team of strong kayakers will be trained in white-water safety and rescue , have first aid knowledge and ALL will be equipped with safety equipment.  A trip into a flooded  gorge will require a sharp, forward thinking and very aware team. Team work will be the essence of a smooth and safe trip. Navigating a fast flowing and extremely powerful environment where one mistake can cause chaos, the team must be capable of minimising the risk to acceptable levels.

Neil F EasaC

EasaChataidh , Glen Orchy

Abroad there are well-developed relatively safe areas like the more common rivers of the French and Austrian Alps to hone the skills of the less experienced but for the skilled adventure kayaker the world is waiting. Fabulous river trips abound in Norway, Canada , India , Pakistan, South America to name but a very few of the destinations that offer real adventure to the Expedition kayaker.


Very few outside the sport of Kayaking will have heard of our top UK whitewater explorers , paddlers old and new like Mick Hopkinson , Dave Manby , Pete Knowles , Andy Jackson, latterly Sam Ellis , Daz Clarkson , Simon Tapley and many more unsung kayak explorers, the latter who in the past few years have travelled the globe . sought out and navigated some of the worlds biggest and most remote rivers including the mighty Stikine river in Canada yet even now get no more a whisper in the press ..

Second full descent of the grand canyon of the Stikine from SB Productions on Vimeo.

Adventure Kayakers due to the nature of the sport rarely get or want recognition. After all who without having spent time learning and fine tuning the skills to pilot a kayak in white water can truly appreciate just how difficult it is ?. Who can appreciate what a large Himalayan rapid looks like when sitting 3 foot high bobbing around in a little plastic boat. Who can appreciate the chaos in a maelström of fast moving heavy whitewater, the need to hit perfect lines in a long dangerous rapid. ..who can appreciate what the Kayaker sees and No-one but the kayaker can feel what he feels ……

A big shout out to The Kayaker !  King of Action Adventure !


Cheers to everyone in my pics , the makers of these amazing videos and good luck to all the Kayakers out there in the big water … YOLO and all that 😉

Runners Own …. Short Videos to fire you up

Posted by Mark Lyons in Marathon des Sables | Leave a comment


Video Shorts made by runners for runners 

Following on from the brilliant little Vid of Finlay Wild Natural Obsession , I want to start this page as a collection of runners own short home-made videos that inspire you to lace up those shoes and no matter the weather get out and on those trails and hills.

The first two I’m adding are really nice little edits and capture a little of just what it means to “get out there” even in the worst of weather. They have been produced by the indomitable Paul Giblin one of Scotland’s elite Ultra runners and present record holder of the West Highland Way race.

Christmas on the Braes

Encapsulating the mood and atmosphere of a wild day out yet still managing to portray the fun

Isolation – reasons to run .  

You get up , you get ready , you get out .. you enjoy .. your on your own.

If you have a favourite get in touch and let me know about it but try to remember the page is not about professional edits or big projects , It’s about that raw, made at home edits that light us up inside.

Natural Obsession

Posted by Mark Lyons in Marathon des Sables | 1 Comment

Natural Obsession ……


Every now and again you see something online that encapsulates just how you see the sport you do …. I saw this video and it set me on fire with fresh dreams

Natural Obsession starring the amazingly talented Finlay Wild .