“The Finest Peat Bogs in the North Pennines”
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
… and this was in a dry year!
I’d had a go at this one years ago, and have been wanting to do it again for some time. My first attempt was well before I’d got any fell races at all under my belt, so I’d done it ‘road-runner’ style, taking whatever opportunity there was to do sections on road, thus avoiding the worst of the bog. So after weeks of rain-free weather, it seemed a good opportunity to do this race properly.
Well, it started well enough … there was actually some drizzle at the start. Nice n cool, with a bit of a breeze. About a hundred runners set off, and as I was in my road shoes, starting on a bit of tarmac, I thought I’d make hay while the sun failed to shine, and had quite a brisk start. I slowed down to something sensible as we hit the moors before the first checkpoint, and found the going quite manageable for the first hour. Then onto the rutted dry track up onto Mohope Moor that had me walking for most of it. As we got out onto the Moor, I’d had it in mind to keep to a fenceline all the way up the hill, but all the field ahead veered off on a faint sheeptrack, so I followed them and sure enough it petered out after a while, and more walking and leaping over tussocks ensued. Saw Geoff inexorably approaching behind me now, and after the trig point at Hard Rigg, heading into the bogs, he went past me, as I took a breather and a handful of jelly babies. After the recent drought, you’d scarcely believe just how deep the bogginess was up there. Every ten to twenty yards, or so it seemed, the feet would sink six inches to a foot into peaty gloop. I was happy wearing road shoes, with several very hard sections to come, but I’d been a tad concerned about how they’d cope up here. I needn’t have worried … I really don’t think that whatever was strapped to the bottom of your feet would have made the slightest difference as you heaved them out of the mud.
Finally, out of the bogs and onto the peat hags! No mention of this race ever fails to include these mountains of peat that have to be negotiated before getting to Killhope Law. This year, in the main, they were actually dry-ish, with only a few bits where, I heard later, some runners and walkers took a duff line and went in up to their waists, in some cases coming out without the footwear that accompanied the owner in. So I had little runs between hillocks, in a sort of ‘scuttling’ style that took me quickly down a hag and up onto the next one … where typically I’d have to come up short due to another sort of obstacle. The Walker. Yes, this event is a mixed one, where about 700 walkers set off at the crack of dawn, and we runners get to overtake the bloody lot of them during the day. The only problem being, of course, that on boggy paths, peaty trails, heathery tracks, this ‘overtaking’ is quite an energy-sapping business, needing a fair bit of knee-lifting and persistence as you go off-line to get past.
Good to get to Killhope Law, and get running again, first on some lovely soft grass, then on less-lovely hard stony track. To be honest, at this point I’d given up on getting a decent time for this race, as I seemed to have spent the best part of an hour and a half mainly walking. Yet legging it down the hill went well, and heading along the riverside on grass was great. On to the other ‘feature’ of this race, the Long Drag! I remember this hard bridleway going on forever last time, and being very hard underfoot … and so it was again. By this time, we’d overtaken nearly all the walkers, and the field had thinned out considerably. I was competing (vaguely) against two or three knackered runners who were doggedly but continuously running up the slope … whilst I walked a while, then managed a bit of a run, overtaking a couple, before they again overtook me. I think my strategy worked better, to be honest, because when the drag finally levelled out, I managed to get a bit of speed up and legged it to the last checkpoint at Ladle Well, then managed to get even more speed up over the last stretch of moor, familiar to Hexham Shehobble runners, and now had it in mind that a bit of a sprint through the village might get me under 4h30. So I finally burst into the hall, asking the helpful timing-women if I’d managed 4h29m … and she asked if I was ok with 4h28m?? Well-pleased, thank-you!
Saw Geoff part-way through a cup of tea in the corner, and he’d had a fast run, not hopelessly too far ahead of me. I staggered about waffling to all and sundry before getting changed and getting down to the pub for my Pie in a Sea of Peas … very welcome. There was also a difficult choice between three of my favourite beers, namely Taylors’ Landlord, Wylam Gold and Rivet Catcher … went for the latter, which went down very well indeed in what was now a warm sunny afternoon. Finally managed to catch up with Susan, who’d also had a fast run.
This was as good as this race gets … definitely a challenge, but doable if you leave your racing brain at home, Swaledale-style …
…and Aaron Gourley
As a lover of fell racing I couldn’t resist the thought of taking on the Allendale Challenge, all 26 miles of it!
My first attempt at this race and at this distance I was quite aware of the enormity of the task ahead, but I was feeling good, fairly fit after abstaining from the booze for nearly a year (not completely dry though!) and had done (some) training.
The week leading up to the race had been remarkably good and I’d heard the peat bogs would still be wet but nowhere near their usual man-eating selves. It was looking all too good. Saturday morning and the weather had taken a turn for the worse but the weather forecast for the area said it would be fine. Unsure whether to trust the forecast, I packed everything I have for the worst of the weather and set off.
Arriving in Allendale it seemed all too quiet for a place that was hosting such big event. Registering at the village hall I met up with my fell running partner in crime, Jen to debate over what kit we would need.
10am soon arrived and we were off. My race strategy was not to race, I’d consciously broken down the race into quarters so to allow me to consider this as series of smaller runs. The first two quarters passed without trouble. Making it up to the halfway point in good time I was feel ok but the uphills across the first of the peat bogs had already taken its toll on my energy levels.
Stopping for a cup tea and a few sweets, I was ready to tackle the next section. Now I’d heard all about the peat hags but never expected them to resemble WW1 trenches. This really took its toll on my already aching legs. Normally my races are a maximum of 13/14 miles so I was really beginning to struggle with the constant up and downs in these peat hags. Making it out of these and onto the stoney track was a relief but I was starting to feel cramp so I slowed right down.
Making it to the next check point was a relief and the veg soup on offer was an unexpected bonus. I probably spent too much time here but it was a nice breather ready for the next section, a lovely run alone the riverside up to spartylea checkpoint. From here it was a long slog uphill on the aptly named The Drag. It went on for ever and I was really feeling the burn now so I walked nearly all of this until it levelled out. Picking up the pace down to the last check point I passed a number of walkers who must have noticed my grim features and gave me encouraging words like ‘well done’ followed by ‘not far now’. Thanks for that.
From the last check point it was a few more miles across fairly decent track until eventually you drop back onto the road down to Allendale which is the first section you run up on the Hexhamshire Hobble. Remembering how steep this is I knew there wasn’t far to go but my legs were aching now so it hurt getting back into town.
Turning the corner to be greeted by friends gave me the boost needed for the final stride back to the village hall in 5hrs39mins. Absolutely shattered I had just enough energy to get my pie and peas. Unfortunately I didn’t have the energy to finish them!
In all a fantastic run in a beautiful part of the country, but bloody hard. Will I be back next year? More than likely yes.