Despite sending out an email letting people know about this option for New Year’s Day I hadn’t planned on doing this race myself. When, late on New Year’s Eve, Elfie saw the weather forecast for Tuesday she suggested a trip up to Rothbury just to get out of the house after being pretty much housebound by constant rain and high winds for the holiday period. Then I read about the landslip in one of the roads into Rothbury and wondered if we’d even be able to get there. But we did and the weather was glorious, perfect running weather.
I registered very early in the Newcastle Arms and then went for a walk around the town – there wasn’t much happening first thing on New Year’s Day. Popping back into the pub to use the loo lots of runners had started to arrive and I came across Geoff and Sue and Shaun and Ros. Shaun and Ros had spent the night in Rothbury and so Shaun was about as race-ready as they come! After a bit of a warm-up the faithful gathered outside the church just before 11.
Hillforts and Headaches is that rare thing in fell racing, an uphill-only race. A straight 3 mile blast from Rothbury to Beacon Hill via at least one hillfort. This year the route was a little different due to the road bridge being rebuilt. The race started outside the church and went down the very narrow ginnel and over the narrow footbridge crossing the swollen River Coquet – all a bit of a squeeze. After a short road climb the route heads up onto the fells towards Lordenshaws. With all the wet weather it was very slippery under foot on the footpath up the fell. One guy in those 5-finger things was slipping all over the place. Shaun later told me after chatting to the runner that they were the off-road Vibrams, it certainly wasn’t a great advert for them!
After the slight rest on the approach to Lordenshaws car park from Lordenshaws Hillfort the final climb up the rocky, flagged and stepped path to Beacon Hill starts. This contains the steepest sections and is hard under foot but you can eventually see the finish. By the time I was on this section the earlier finishers were jogging back down to Rothbury calling out encouragement to those of us making up the back half of the field. Then you get to the wind-break shelter on the hill and the effort is all over. At this point it was quite a struggle to get my windproof out of my bumbag and put it on before it blew away, but it was certainly needed up there once I stopped moving.
Unlike other years when I’ve done this race there was no snow, no cloud, no rain. Just glorious views across Coquetdale.
After a couple of minutes to catch my breath I joined those heading back down and saw the tail-end runners still struggling up the hill. At Lordenshaws I met Elfie who’d been walking up on Beacon Hill and had also taken a few photos of the race. Since our car was parked there and we were ultimately heading to Wallington Hall we decided not to head back into Rothbury for the presentation, but I’m sure it was as good as ever with bread and soup available. Wallington wasn’t! Although open on New Year’s day their sandwiches and cake were definitely on the stale side – I hate to think when they were made!
This is definitely a race to be recommended if you’re not too bothered about GP points and you don’t want to be out too long.