I noticed that Colin Youngson’s recollection failed him with regard to races at the new Heriot-Watt University in the late 1960s. Hardly surprising – the “Watt” was an upgraded college, both smaller and less prestigious than Glasgow’s RCST / Strathclyde, but belonging to the same cohort of 1960s promotions of technical colleges to increase the number of UK universities. The “head office” was in Chambers Street; otherwise the new Uni was housed in a number of redundant former school and other buildings in central Edinburgh. In the early 70s came the Riccarton campus, at first nicknamed “Colditz” for its lack of totty…but I digress.
To the best of my knowledge, the new Heriot-Watt Uni XC club was a one-man band, in the shape of no less than Adrian Weatherhead – who will reappear in this tale. Their pre-Riccarton sports ground was at Patie’s Road, almost opposite the Redford Barracks, and Adrian had devised a race route in the nearby Pentlands which was a precursor of some of the hill race routes of today. I can only recall one inter-Varsity race on the course, which Adrian (I suppose) had devised – and led.
Fast forward a decade into the mid-Seventies, and my years of running (with dubious elegibility) for the H-WU XC club. I had been appointed a lecturer in Structural engineering at the School of Architecture at the Edinburgh College of Art, which School awarded “external” H-W. U. B.Arch. Degrees. Although I had been competing with Edinburgh AC, I fancied a return to the student lifestyle, at least in the matter of cross-country running, so joined up without any questions asked.
(I reckon they must have been desperate to make up numbers in a young club?). Anyway, there was a jolly core of about half-a dozen regulars: Gordon Bell, me, Doogie MacDonald, Graham McIndoe, and our star Ian Orton, ex-EUH&H, who was on a postgraduate course at the Heriot-Watt. By now Riccarton was an established campus, but several of us still toiled in central Edinburgh. We decided to set up lunch-time runs from a modest changing facility in a building owned by Heriot-Watt Uni in a courtyard off the Grassmarket. It was there that we encountered an irate Adrian Weatherhead, ten years older, but still churning out a daily schedule of laps round the Meadows.
(I might comment on the extreme disparity of styles of two of the top runners of the period, both of whom favoured the Meadows: Ally Blamire with his flat-footed pit-a-pat, and Weatherhead, who always seemed to run on tiptoe, as if dodging broken glass). Anyway, the latter was far from chuffed to have our jolly company, and was somewhat proprietorial about “his” changing facilities.
Three events stand out in my memory of the H-W years – and they were good years. Above everything else was one of the first Easter running festivals on the Isle of Man, dreamt up to increase tourism. I think our visit there was in 1980, and I took our team of four in my wee A40 car down to Liverpool for the ferry to Douglas. There followed three days of running and boozing; the festival had attracted a number of Scottish club and Uni teams, notably the new Edinburgh old boys club, now the legendary “Boggies”, aka HBT – Hunter’s Bog Trotters. We found ourselves in a substantial guest-house on the prom in Douglas with about a dozen or so Edinburgh Uni runners, present and past, with one brave token lady – Violet Blair – in their midst. At some point on the first evening, the lustful posse decided on a game of strip poker, but since Violet was the only wumman this was going nowhere fast. Around midnight, some ten frustrated runners decided on a beach streak. Our Maltese host begged us to cool it, or he’d lose his license!
Next day came the first of three consecutive road races. I can’t recall exact details, except that one was a relay race, and that by the end of proceedings I was seriously knackered. Three tales merit re-telling from the weekend – one was Willie Day of Falkirk setting out to eat a vindaloo curry, while claiming he’d never tried curry in his life. If you remember Willie, he had a baldy head, which turned purple as he ate…but he managed to finish his plateful. The second tale is of the Boat Race, a boozy challenge where a team of four sit with pints of beer round a table pitted against a rival team.
The challenge is: first man swallows his pint, and to prove it, inverts his empty pint glass over his head, whereat second man follows suit. This goes through rounds like any such tournament. The amazing winners were a team from Manchester, I think (Alehouse Academics) whose team completed their four pints in 13 seconds. The third recollection I’ll leave to your imagination: it involves two local lasses cowering in a phone-box and a “flash of inspiration” by a kilted Boggie.
On our return to Liverpool, the extent of my knackered-ness became evident. While I managed the 200+ miles’ drive back to Edinburgh, I could scarcely manage the four flights up to my flat! I had a swollen knee-cap which kept me out of racing for the best part of a year.
Second recollection is of the Scottish Universities’ XC championships in the early 80s(?) which Heriot-Watt Uni offered to host. We had fun working out – and marshaling – the race round the Riccarton estate. In those days, Riccarton had an ambitious director of sport, one Mike Fitchett (Fitchett by name, Fit Sh*t by nature) whose enthusiasm put the growing Uni on the sporting map.
Finally – and this led to the only pictures I have of my years’ running with Heriot-Watt – there were the Scottish Cross-Country Championships, held at the Jack Kane sports centre in Niddrie, on the tough ex-mining fringes of south-east Edinburgh. A fellow H-W Uni XC runner from the Art College, Graham McIndoe – who (as we know) has progressed to a successful career in photography – took a couple of shots of me in the course of the Senior race.
Here’s a fine song I composed for the H-W U XC club, I think following our trip to the Isle of Man? The tune is “Song of the Isles”, as sung by Kenneth McKellar – and parodied by Billy Connolly:
1. I was running round the Meadows in my grotty running kit
When somebody whistled by me like a shot
When I looked again, the fellow (who was wearing blue and yellow)
Must have been a runner from the Hairy Watt.
For we’ll rout them out at Riccarton, and we’ll smash them at Strathclyde
And at BUSF we will beat the bloody lot
So here’s a hearty bellow for the boys in blue and yellow
For we’re the runners from the Hairy Watt!
There follows a sequence of ill-remembered and unrepeatable satirical verses about the exploits and weaknesses of various club characters (Gordon Bell, Doogie MacDonald, Ian Orton, me…)