Skye ‘Bongly’ seeks to raise awareness of environmental issues

Gillian Alston is calm and collected as she traverses the first stage of the event with the snow-capped Cuillin mountains in the background.

A non-commercial race aiming to highlight environmental issues such as land erosion at some of Skye’s most popular beauty spots took place on the island earlier this month.

The event named ‘The Bongly’ is the brainchild of Skye Adventure guide John Smith. The outdoor activities businessman wants to use the event as a vehicle to raise awareness of the physical toll on the landscape at some of the island’s hotspots and the resulting erosion of the areas.

During the event which took place on Saturday 8th February, competitors – who participated through invite-only – had 12 hours to collect the three main hotspots on Skye through their own endeavour and document their efforts with a selfie at each location. This comprised a mixture of trail running and road cycling.

The Bongly event tasked competitors with visiting three of Skye beauty spots to raise awareness of environmental issues.

The competition opened at 6 am at Sligachan and closed at Florigarry at 6 pm. During which time competitors were required to start at Sligachan with a photo on the old bridge and run to the Fairy Pools to take a photo at the arch pools – a 15-minute time bonus with also offered to any competitors who swam at the Fairy Pools. For stage two the participants were asked to cycle from Sligachan to the Old Man of Storr, locked up their bikes before touching the pinnacle and documenting it with a photo.

The final stage set the competitors the task of cycling to the upper car park at the Quiraing where they had to take their bike with them and proceed to the cairn below the needle and then run up and touch the needle. They then had to take a photo there and return to the cairn before continuing north to the next cairn and down to the gate at Dunans to take one last picture before finishing the race.

Event organiser John Smith fist-bumps a friend while descending on the Old Man of Storr stage.

Speaking to the Free Press, John Smith said: “We want the Bongly to stand in contrast to the big commercial races and events. So many of these types of heavily sponsored challenges are not great environmentally; they include signage, garments, water bottles and all sorts of other disposable landfills. We want to create something that is properly hard for which you receive nothing.  It also has to be financially accessible.

“By using time-stamped photos as our method of recording competitors’ times, you negate the need for a costly GPS timing system. And by removing waypoints, aid stations and any directional aids you not only force competitors to navigate, but you remove the need for marshals and signage – both of which cost money or create waste.”

He added: ” There’s a huge infrastructure deficit on Skye, and the physical toll and erosion to the landscape is palpable at the ‘hotspots’. Plans are in place to repair these areas where possible and prevent further damage. I know our choice of the route means we are a contributing factor, but we feel that there’s a genuine lack of awareness about how affected these places are. By simply getting people to go there and see for themselves, albeit while insisting they stick strictly to paths, we can collectively help raise awareness and encourage positive action.”

Thom Thumb: Thomas Coles gives a thumbs up while taking a bit of breather during the event.

Despite the arduous nature of the event, a king and queen emerged from the field of competitors. Doug Sutton completed the competition in five hours and 43 minutes to become the king and the winner overall, while John’s colleague from Skye Adventure Sarah Sutton ascended to queen status by completing the Bongly in seven hours and nine minutes. Stephen Murchison finished second overall in 5:46 just behind Doug Sutton, while John Smith came in third in six hours exactly.

John said that he planned to charge a small amount for the event in the future so that the money raised could be given to local community councils to contribute to the maintenance and restoration of the areas.

Bongly 2020 results

Complete course: 1. Doug Sutton (King) – five hours and 43 minutes; 2 Stephen Murchison – 5:46; 3 John Smith – 6:00; 4 Angus Murray – 6:30; 5 Calum Maclean – 7:00; 6 Sarah Sutton (Queen) – 7:09; 7 David Hall 7:10;  8 Jordan 7:54; 9 Thomas Coles – 8:00; 10 Jamie Fletcher – 8:45; 11 Calum MacLeod – 8:45

Stage 2 and parts of stage 3: Hayley Wolcott Stage 1 and parts of stage 2: Cheryl McIntyre Stage 1: Gillian Alston; Sarah Attwood; John Downie; Maggie MacAskill, and Kieran Roberts.

Article by Adam Gordon.

Photos provided by Jordan Young.