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You donít need to do the Jura Fell Race to enjoy the Paps of Jura

You donít need to do the Jura Fell Race to enjoy the Paps of Jura
Jura is a rugged and slightly mystical isle. Wilder, more windswept and less visited than its near neighbour Islay, it’s best known for its three impressive peaks known as the Paps of Jura. They dominate the island landscape and can be seen from much of the surrounding area, including Kintyre and almost every other island in the Southern Hebrides.

The highest Pap is Beinn an Oir (748m), then comes Benn Shiantaidh (755m) and finally Beinn a'Chaolais (734m). With their steep, scree-covered slopes and location exposed to the changeable Atlantic weather, the Paps of Jura offer fantastic, if challenging, hillwalking. There are optional routes to take, varying from three to six miles. To climb all three peaks will take around eight to nine hours.

If you think walking the Paps sounds tough, how about running them? Every year, hundreds of intrepid fell runners take them on in the Isle of Jura Fell Race, an event that has developed something of a cult following among this hardy and super-fit fraternity. It’s one of the toughest challenges in British hill racing at this distance; a true test of hillcraft, endurance and technique. Adventurer Mark Beaumont took them on as part of his Wild About Argyll challenge, saying the running the iconic peaks has long been on his bucket list and they lived up to their tough reputation!

The race dates back to 1973 when 24 people took part. The numbers actually dwindled from that point and the race disappeared after only 13 runners started in 1975. The race was revived in 1983 with around 60 runners and has never looked back. The number of runners is now set at 250. The route is a circular one, starting and finishing in Craighouse, taking in the Paps as well as four other peaks. At sixteen miles long it entails 17,500 feet of ascent and descent with 7,500ft of ascent coming in the first ten miles. Although ten miles shorter than a marathon, the fastest runners will do it in an hour more than a record marathon time such is the punishing nature of the terrain.

It has been described as more of an event than a race with participants usually coming for the weekend or even making a whole week of it. As there is no airstrip on Jura most people get to the island via Islay, which has both regular flight and ferry connections to the mainland. Cal Mac operates the ferry service from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Port Ellen or Port Askaig. During the weekend of the Fell Race an amended timetable operates to facilitate travel. Islay and Jura are separated by the Sound of Islay, a half-mile wide stretch of water, with a ferry operating from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin on Jura. On the crossing, which takes about ten minutes, you’ll be treated to great views of the Paps, which may create a sense of foreboding if you’ve entered the race for the first time! Rather than taking their cars on two separate ferries, many competitors leave their vehicles on the mainland and cycle to Craighouse. Another other option is to catch the passenger ferry from Tayvallich in mid Argyll to Jura which runs from Easter until the end of September.

Most people tend to stay in and around the Jura Hotel. The hotel itself gets booked up a year in advance for the race weekend, so people camp on its front lawn overlooking the Sound of Jura.

Aside from the stunning scenery and the nature of the physical challenge, the camaraderie experienced on the race and social scene around it are two of the major factors that attract runners to the event. With the Jura Whisky distillery just across the road, the bar in the Jura Hotel is famously packed after the race with runners and their supporters sharing a dram or two. And despite the rigours of the race, everyone still seems to have the energy to enjoy the event’s ceilidh which has been known to start at 1.00am!

Fancy taking part in the Isle of Jura Fell Race? You’ll need to wait until 2018 as this year’s race, which takes place on Saturday 27th May, is already full. Online entry for the Isle of Jura Fell Race normally opens on 1st December and fills up quickly. Be aware that you’ll need to be able to prove your competence in tackling mountain running before you’ll be allocated a starting place. The race is not for the faint-heated or unfit, nor is it for those who are inexperienced in mountain environments.

If you’re not quite ready to run the Paps of Jura, take a look at our events diary. You’ll find a host of other running events taking place across Argyll and the Isles from 10Ks to half marathons. Check out the Wild About Argyll winning page too.

Header photo: Mark Beaumont running the Paps of Jura by Kieran Duncan
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Mark Beaumont running the Paps of Jura Mark Beaumont in front of the Paps of Jura by Kieran DuncanJura from Kilmore Knap
Jura HotelOn top of a PapJura Whisky
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