Windermere to Wear Relay, Saturday, June 23, 2012

David Shipman, Nigel Heppell, David Catterick, Danny Lim

First, David Shipman…

To kick off the Charity relay Mike Bennett and I left Chester-le-Street at 6am heading for Bowness, spurred on by texts from Geoff which said in sequence 1.It’s very, very wet 2. It’s blowing a gale and we may have to review the bike ride leg 3. Great North Swim is cancelled. Only the third one, whilst a real disappointment for the club members planning on swimming, was positive for us, as it meant there would be less traffic and less commotion around Bowness.

Striders at the finish

…and now Nigel Heppell…

Leg 1: Windermere to Staveley, 5.74M

Atrocious weather for late June meant the postponement of the Great North Swim which was fortunate for us as we had chosen to meet in one of the designated car parks for that event. As it turned out, there was no shortage of parking space and the only sign of activity was a lone street-sweeping machine sending up a bow wave as it sloshed through the surface water.

Just before 9am the rain eased off and Dave S, Mike B and Benjy saw Nigel H and Geoff W dip a toe in the water of Windermere before setting off on leg 1 from the ferry landings at the western end of the Dales Way long distance path.

We had only gone a few hundred meters through town when I was surprised to see Geoff accost some poor girl struggling up the hill under a loaded rucksack and grab a quick embrace – it turns out that they do know each other! On and up we went to find the first bit of off-road track that led through some very scenic undulating countryside. Water featured large at every twist and turn, if we weren’t dodging puddles we were getting soaked from sodden grasses and nettles that had handily sagged over the track under the weight of rainwater in a most refreshing manner. All gullies, gutters, streams and rivers were alive with fast-flowing water.

It soon transpired that we had picked up the wrong map for this leg but decided to continue on memory and relying on this well-defined route to be well marked, which it was; most of the time; but not always. At one farmstead we spent a few minutes wondering which of two tracks to take before deciding on the one with slightly more bent grass. This could have been an illusion but turned out to be the right choice as we picked up the Dales Way signs several fields further on. There seemed to be a lot of cattle in the fields in this area, most of them with calves in tow, and in light of recent events in other parts of the country Geoff and I formulated a plan such that if we were pursued by an irate mother(I’m talking about the cows now, not the earlier incident in town) to sprint ahead together before each making a 90 degree turn in opposite directions at the last moment and in that way giving ouselves a 50/50 chance to avoid being pounded into the fellside mud.

And that is how it continued; up, down, left, right, until passing under the railway bridge at Staveley pretty much on time to meet once again with Dave and Mike who set off on Leg 2.

Leg 3: Grayrigg to Sedbergh, 8.31M

Geoff had obviously had enough of me by the time it came to start leg 3 as he swopped with Mike B who elected to continue straight through from leg 2 – two long legs together; quite appropriate really. This time we made sure we had the right map but I have to confess that neither of us had really studied it beforehand so there were regular halts to check that we were still on the correct route. Even so there were several places where the track seemed to dematerialise and no amount of staring at the map made any difference. Annoyingly, on the map someone had put a lot of red blobs along the relay route and some of the fine detail was obscured. Consequently we would enter a field at a Dales Way stile only to find ourselves trying to find a way through barbed wire fencing a few hundred metres further on. Likewise, near Beckfoot, on the map the Dales Way joined a road for (apparently) 100m before heading off onto a track on the other side of the road; could we find it? err, no, and so a long road leg followed which usefully helped bring us closer to schedule which had slipped a bit by this time. We lost the route later on at Branthwaite too.

Where the road from Beckfoot meets the River Lune there is a stunningly pretty collection of stone buildings and beautifully tended cottage gardens set off by a cascade of waterfalls(splendidly full today) and an old mill. The Dales Way continues along the banks of the Lune for a couple of kilometres before deviating uphill through Thwaite, Bramaskew and Branthwaite; each of these is a farmstead and the Dales Way passes right through the farmyard. Off to one side the bulk of the Howgills hills looked impressive with a dark cloud base skimming the tops. Somewhere shortly after the last of these buildings, although we were following what seemed to be the only well-defined track with public right-of-way signs, it became obvious we were once again going off-piste as the route was set to drop back down to the riverside when in fact we should have been ‘contouring’. Mike and I were tired by now and we decided to compromise by following a long-disused railway line rather than climb back uphill. Not marked as a right of way, the old line was still equipped with stiles where there were fences and made good running on the grassy surface kept short by sheep and rabbits until we came to a completely overgrown bridge that could not be passed.

From here we picked up a lane and soon joined the A684 main road for a steady jog and a bit of traffic-dodging over a couple of kilometres into Sedbergh where we were met by Jan and Benji just as the heavens opened and it began to pour down.

…back to David…

Carrot Cake by Candlelight anyone?

Sixteen hours later we were outside the Tan Hill Pub, trying to work out how 3 men, a dog, 6 sets of wet kit, 3 bags of food and 3 bags of clothes/camping gear/wet running shoes could fit into my campervan, as the gales were still blowing and Mike and Geoff had decided that pitching tents was not an option. Paul Gibson made the same decision earlier – not sure if it was chivalry or cowardice, but, faced by the scene of several flattened tents held down by stones, he volunteered to drive Mandy and Louise back to Cowgill and then home to comfy beds and dry surroundings, on condition that they all returned for leg 8 on Sunday.

We had survived running and cycling in horrendous conditions,we had placated Scarey Mary serving food in the pub,all meekly agreeing to have mash even though we had all ordered chips. We had enjoyed good company, a few beers, live music and George doing his fundraising bit with the Olympic Torch – how that worked its magic, with young and old all wanting a photo or a hold – but how would we get through the night?

Frantic piling up of gear ensued,in darkness apart from 2 headtorches and a candle on the front dash board, with the van swaying constantly as the wind and rain continued. Detailed negotiation established the boundaries – I am having a bed (me). I will need to get to the loo during the night (me). I will sleep anywhere as long as its not out there (Geoff). I don’t think I snore(Mike). I am happy to sleep with the dog (Mike).

In the end we were sorted,gear piled up to the van roof in every available space,Geoff and I “top and tailing” on the bed ,Mike in the front passenger seat in full recline,Benji (the dog) on the floor under the dashboard,with enough space to allow access to the loo and stove,comfortable enough for Mike to reveal a large slab of homemade carrot cake which we washed down with hot tea. Sleep was fitful, my trips to the loo, the continuing storms, the noisy party in the pub, 3 men and a dog tossing and turning in a very confined space and a strange, damp, soggy odour permeating the van, which strangely got worse and worse as the weekend progressed.

By daybreak the whole place smelt like a bag of ferrets, the van doors were flung open and under a blue sky with no rain we breakfasted al fresco in the company of two of Geoff’s friends, a pair of tame sheep who apparently grew up by the fire inside the pub. A good job he hadn’t met them the night before, as I haven’t a clue how we could have fitted them in as well!!

…and now David Catterick…

Leg 9: Eggleston to The Grove (Hamsterley), 5.77M

Arrived at Eggleston on a dry Sunday morning to meet a rough looking lot. (Apparently it rained yesterday). The plan was to run over the Dales to The Grove with Will. This I was looking forward to as I hoped to pick up some fell navigation skills (licking fingers, navigating by the sun etc etc). Well, Will arrived and announced that he was going to push his son`s bike up the hills (good handicap I thought) but it turned out the terrain was too bad.

Off we went. It was then that Will announced that his faithful GPS had just broken (What GPS?!) So it was down to good old map reading after all. Anyway, after we got lost and tracked back, we had a lovely run down into Hamsterley to meet up once again with the motley crew.

Leg 10: The Grove to Wolsingham, 5.17M

This time I ran with Barry Bird. Barry joined the Striders 25 years ago when he was 21. As we ran I learned a bit about the history of the club. This chit-chat distracted us from the Doctors Gate climb. Where was the nice cool rain when you need it? (More later!). The gate is called Doctors Gate as it was where supplies were handed over to villagers at times of Plague). After a lovely run down the road into Wolsingham we were cheered into the Market Place.

Leg 11: Wolsingham to Waterhouses, 7.77M

Girl Power! So it was that Sue J, Emma, Angela and myself headed up the hill out of Wolsingham towards Tow Law where Jan joined us. At Tow Law we found the off road route, which, in parts suggested that the OS maps needed updating! As we passed through a wood the rains started. (A bit too rainy thanks). Back on the road with a mile to go a search party of Dave ( bike) and John H ( running – what else) appeared. So it was we arrived at Waterhouses where we were greeted by the Final Leggers. Thanks to the organisers for another excellent weekend of fun and thanks to Georges Flame surely a record sum raised. Roll on next year!

…and finally Danny Lim

Legs 12 & 13: Waterhouses to Broompark to the Castle, 5.5M & 2.38M

I was doing the last 2 legs into Durham. I started off in Waterhouses joined by Angela Proctor, Claire Readey, John Hutchinson and Roz Layton. Dave Shipman and Stephen Garbutt were our bike escorts. It was a pleasant run along the bike paths. Though, the heavens soon opened and it became a puddle run. At least, I didn’t need to take a shower! At Broompark, we were joined by George Nicholson, Melanie Hudson and a few others, who i apologise for not naming. By now, it was all familiar territory. We paused briefly at Windy Gap before our final dash to the Castle. We were welcomed by friendly faces and to a round of applause.

It’s quite an achievement to run a relay all the way from Bowness to Durham. As far as I was concerned, I was doing the easy bit. David Shipman and Geoff Watson spent so much time organising this. We had a fantastic support crew too. And I must thank our supporters along the way. Last but not least, the best part was the company and being able to run alongside such great people. What a fantastic club!

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