Wednesday, 7 November 2012

A most profitable run

Last night I had a plan to go for a run with almost-elite athlete and total jobbyhead Megan Crawford. Megan is an awful lot faster than me and tougher than a pile of tough things tied together with iron chains of toughness, so whenever I can I like to think of a way to slow down our runs so as to save my lungs from exploding. Luckily last night I had a truly excellent idea indeed.

If you’re a whisky fan, you will already know about Jura, an island on the west coast of Scotland with a population of 200 and a major export industry of incredible whiskies. If you’re a whisky fan on Twitter you can follow them on @jura_whisky. This week they’ve started a competition to promote their ‘Superstition’ bottling, a beautiful single malt full of peat - surprisingly smooth and one of my favourites. Jura’s Twitter people hid a number of ‘lucky pennies’ in Edinburgh since, as you know, if you see a lucky penny, and pick it up, then all day long you’ll have good luck. In this case, you win a bottle of Superstition. Jura’s Twitter feed and the hashtag #JuraPennies gave clues as to their locations - first one to find the penny wins the whisky. Simples.

Around lunchtime and early afternoon, three clues went up on Twitter. By the time I left work around 5pm, one penny had already been found, and my heart sank. Surely the others would be gone well before I was meeting Megan at 6.30pm? I sat at home and fretted.

Undeterred, when the time rolled around I explained the plan to Megan, and though quite reasonably confused and slightly suspicious, she agreed to the hunt. Here’s the first clue we pursued:

So near something called Thomas on Princes Street. With no time to lose, we ran straight there, me trying to explain the wider context of the marketing campaign as we went, though most of our conversation revolved elsewhere. Such was our distraction, that by the time we reached Princes Street I felt a little silly for dragging Megan up here, where there’s loads of traffic and plenty of interruptions to running, which is what she actually wanted from the evening. Pressure to find the penny mounted.

We jogged passed a few of the imposing statues on the south side of the street, looking for anyone called Thomas. We settled on Thomas Guthrie, whose statue sat inside Princes Street Gardens but faced north towards the street. It being dark and late and windy and horrible, the gardens were locked. Without hesitation, we levered ourselves gingerly over the fence – though clearly not gingerly enough as one of the fence spikes went straight through my trainer and into the insole, poking me in the foot but causing no lasting damage. We looked nervously at each other once into the gardens, wondering if this was a tad ridiculous, and what on earth we would say to a groundskeeper or PC should they ask. Eager to move on, we started scouring around the base of the statue using the headtorch I’d brought for the purpose, but to no avail. Bringing Megan was a stroke of genius – she gamely rummaged through piles of leaves and clambered all over the statue feeling for hiding places, but still nothing. Things were looking bleak. We had trespassed on council property on a whim and had nothing to show for it. Hmm.

Just as I thought all was probably lost, I pulled out my phone to re-read the clue. ‘Take a seat to find your penny.’ That’s it! The penny must be under or near a seat! If you know Princes Street gardens and the general area, you will know that there are dozens of benches to hide things under, and we started the process of scouring all of them around the statue. Again having two of us to share the search was ideal. But still nothing.

Hopping carefully back over the fence (no puncture wounds this time) we crossed the road to try the benches which faced the statue, but again found only chewing gum mixed with disappointment. We agreed to give up on this clue and started thinking about the second, though we agreed to have a cursory look on the last few benches on the south side of the street before we left the area.

And we only ruddy well found the penny.

We leapt around like season-winning F1 drivers, confusing the commuters and drawing a load of mad looks. I held the penny aloft like Charlie (of Chocolate Factory fame) and we hastily read the rules on the packet. No doubt about it – we had won ourselves a bottle of Superstition.

But wait, only one? To share?

Five seconds later the penny was stowed in my pack and we were sprinting along Princes Street, heading up the Mound and onto the Castle Esplanade. We had tasted victory and we wanted more. The last unclaimed clue was as follows:

The side of the castle. Hmm. Have you seen Edinburgh Castle? It’s enormous and built on a volcano. It has more sides than you can shake a stick at, and even if you did you would need a stick that could shake at dozens of roads, footpaths, building, alleyways, a railway and plenty of other stuff. And a map? Like a tourist information board, perhaps? Again there are hundreds of those all over the centre of Edinburgh. This could take hours to find.

Running straight up to the castle and through a ghost tour (we probably looked dead and can only have added to the effect) we carefully toured the perimeter of the castle esplanade, looking for a map. In the near-total darkness, we convinced each other that many things were maps – memorial plaques, a guardsman’s hut, a blank wall. Megan even closely inspected a drain cover in case that turned out to be a map. But no joy. Returning to the top of the Royal Mile, we spotted the Scotch Whisky Experience, a visitor attraction all about whisky – and lo and behold it had a map of its many attractions displayed on the wall outside the building! This had to be it.

It wasn’t. We ran our fingers over every possible nook and cranny. We focussed on the phrase ‘lead to your penny’, thinking maybe that it could be hidden near something made of lead. We dismissed this idea. Eventually.

There are some stairs running down the south side of Castle Rock near the entrance to the esplanade, and I suggested we go down them looking for an info board or map, maybe somewhere towards the Grassmarket. Megan eventually agreed after I promised we could come back to the Scotch Whisky Experience and look again if we still couldn’t find it. We ran just a few steps down before coming across a black box, stood on a post on its own at the edge of the stairs. A box that dispensed something. A paper something. A tourist map kind-of-paper something. And taped underneath the box was only another ruddy penny! No doubt you got this hours ago, but here we were on some steps to the side of the castle, finding a map. Obvious when you know how. The ghost tour guide looked a bit miffed at our whooping and laughing and cheering, but we didn’t care. We had two pennies.

The pennies were safe but the night was young. We ran another four or five miles around Edinburgh, taking in a few little hills and chatting some more. When we got back to my flat we took photos, laughed at the madness of it all and sent tweets to Jura so we could claim our prizes. I tried to tempt Megan with a wee celebratory dram, but she took her penny home, probably for some sports supplements and stretching or whatever it is she does of an evening. I stared at the penny I was left with and laughed. What a wonderful and mad evening.

The competition continues throughout the UK as the Edinburgh competition is just the beginning – you should follow @jura_whisky and get your own paws on some tasty aqua vita. I strongly recommend running as a way to find your quarry. If nothing else, runners tend to know their cities inside out, and you may find the clues much easier than the competition will...

Happy running (and hunting!)


2012 to date: miles run - 402.8, miles biked - 73.2, metres swum - 3950, races - 4

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