The sun was still shining over North York Moors and there was a slight breeze as we lined up on Green Bank near Lordstones Café just outside Carlton village. According to the dictionary to meander is ‘to move aimlessly without fixed direction’ which is what I usually do in fell races, so I felt confident that I had the skills needed for tonight’s little race (6.6 km, 390 m climb). The only Striders taking part this time were Scott and I, but I would recommend the Esk Valley Summer Series races to anybody wanting to dip their toes into fell running. These short midweek races are the perfect introduction and not much more strenuous than the Striders handicap as you will probably be walking a fair bit on steeper sections.
The race started on a grassy slope and then followed the Cleveland Way past two marshalled checkpoints. It had all looked quite straightforward on the map with the footpath continuing until the woodland by Broughton Bank, but suddenly I was lost in a sea of bracken with no visible path under my feet. Surely the Mountain Rescue would find me here within the bracken sooner or later? Bracken is poisonous even to sheep so I wouldn’t be able to live on it, but I could live on bilberries and on water from the stream sipping through the bracken until they found me – and I did have a big lunch so could even survive for days.
Ok, maybe it wouldn’t be necessary – my heart lifted as I noticed the line of fell runners further down the bank. But how did they get there? I looked behind me and there were more lost fell runners in the tangle of bracken – maybe I had misled them and we would all have to be rescued together. I did feel very guilty about risking to use the Mountain Rescue’s limited resources for this, so I meandered skilfully through the bracken and, magically, in front of me there was now a grassy footpath. I was on track again, turning left by Broughton Bank and turning back by the stile/check point at Toft Hill.
Hooray, I was catching up with a line of runners struggling uphill through the head high bracken following a clear footpath. The marshal at the top of the hill told me there wasn’t much left now of the course. Going downhill, I concentrated on placing my feet on the flagstones without braking too much and at times I ran along the narrow grass verge. After a while the path turned right and the finish was grassy and only slightly uphill.
It was a great little race, with no free t shirts or mugs or PBs, not requiring superman/superwoman skills, just a little bit of everyday stamina; a mini-adventure keeping your mind and feet busy, which is sometimes all that is needed for a good day out. I’m sure the Mountain Rescue would have found me eventually had I not found my way out of the bracken.