Grant Park in Forres was the unlikely setting for one of the greatest British marathon running performances 55 years ago this month.
A healthy number of locals, alongside a smattering of tourists, had gathered for the annual Highland Games to watch the athletics, cycling and dancing competitions.
And they applauded politely when a wiry Aberdeen runner entered the arena to complete the final 100 metres of a marathon which had started in Inverness.
Alastair Wood, a 33-year-old college lecturer and member of Aberdeen AAC, ambled round the grass track and stopped the clock at 2hrs 13mins 45secs. He broke the course record by 16min and finished 11min ahead of his closest rival.
And, although few spectators perhaps appreciated it, this was a British and European record and it was the fastest time run by anyone in the world that year.
Initially there was widespread and unwarranted scepticism, mainly from other parts of the country, fuelled by unsubstantiated suggestions the course must have been short.
These claims were without foundation and were nothing less than an insult to Wood, who had by then already shown he was a top class athlete.
Aberdeen AAC’s Wood had pedigree
He first made his mark as a student at Aberdeen and Oxford Universities, as well as when competing for the RAF.
On the track, he went on to win the Scottish six miles title four years in a row between 1958 and 1961, as well as picking up the three miles title in 1957 and 1959. He also set Scottish native records for both distances.
He added the national cross country title to his collection in 1959 and represented Scotland at the international cross country championships six times between 1959 and 1964, finishing a highly creditable seventh in 1960.
Wood won the first of his six Scottish marathon titles in 1962. No-one has matched that tally.
He also finished second to Coventry’s Brian Kilby in the AAA Championship race at Welwyn Garden City, a performance which earned him selection for the European championships in Belgrade where he finished fourth. Kilby won the title.
Wood represented Scotland at that year’s Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. Kilby again won the gold, but the Aberdeen runner was forced to pull out after 18 miles, suffering from the after-effects of a bout of food poisoning.
Never afraid to speak his mind – or hit out at stunning Inverness to Forres run doubters
He was often outspoken and never scared to voice his true feelings, a trait which occasionally landed him in trouble with officials. He was controversially overlooked for the 1966 Commonwealth Games, but claimed not to be bothered by the decision because he loathed many of the formalities and rigmarole which accompanied big championship events.
However, after that setback he decided to retire from the sport, but was back in full training 10 days later.
He admitted that “never quite making an Olympic team” was frustrating, although he came close in 1968, finishing fifth in the British trials.
Having conquered the marathon, Wood moved on to even longer distances and won the London to Brighton 56 mile race in a record time and set world track records for 30 miles and 40 miles.
He also won the world veteran marathon title at Paris in 1974.
His performance at Forres in 1966 remains the 13th best time recorded by a Scottish marathon runner and is accepted as such by the governing body of the sport.
It annoyed him and many of his friends that for many years some people refused to acknowledge the result.
In an interview, in 1987, with another top Aberdeen marathon runner, Mel Edwards, Wood said of the Forres race: “It was a cool day and I felt so good that I knew I was on a blinder.
“I reached ten miles in under 50 mins and then slowed deliberately because I thought I’d blown it. There was considerable disbelief about the time, but the course had been measured by surveyors and the North of Scotland AAA.”
At the height of his athletics career, he was asked how long he intended to stick with the sport and replied, “I shall probably go on running for healthy exercise till they carry me away.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Alastair died in December 2002, 10 days short of his 70th birthday.