The Duergar Nightcrawler Run, Simonside Hills, Northumberland, Saturday, February 23, 2019

Jonathan Hamill

Intrigued by the picture on the Duergar Run website of a fierce looking character, and the prospect of being chased through the fells by a wild creature or suchlike, I decided to find out more. I discovered that Duergar comes from the old Norse word Dvergar which means Dwarf. There are many old stories which suggest that these Duergars live in the rocks and hills around Simonside, their purpose being to lure unsuspecting hikers or travellers by torchlight over rocky ravines or into deep bogs. I reckoned they would be happy to target unsuspecting runners too.

If you go down to the fells tonight, you may be in for a big surprise …

I downloaded the GPX route and imported it into my OS Maps app – my ‘just in case’ navigation aid, then pondered the relative merits from my shoe arsenal, opting in the end for my newish Hoka Mafate Speed 2’s, which amongst comfort and cushioning promised much for technical trails. I checked that I could comply with the kit list and that my head torch was charged then set off for the 1-hour drive North to Rothbury.

Steep Ascent, Slippery Descent …

I couldn’t make this event last year due to a clash with the Northumberland Coastal Marathon which Lesley had run. Although Lesley had recommended I run the Coastal Marathon this year, our eldest Son’s drum exam meant that the only sensible alternative was to take my chances on the Duergar Run!

When I arrived, I parked near to Tomlinson’s Café and Bunkhouse where registration was taking place. I noted a swathe of competitors engaged in essential carb-loading preparations, the choices on offer making me lament my choice of a triple-chocolate muffin from a global chain of coffee shops en route.

I strolled across the bridge to Haugh Car Park, engaging in discussion with other runners (including fellow Strider Karen Wilson) about the ‘steep climbs for 4 miles’ and ‘treacherous declines’. We listened attentively to the safety briefing, which amongst other things called for dynamic risk assessments by all runners. Then we were off, and up, up, up and up a bit more on Whitton Bank Road and Hillhead Road until we hit a trail which continued to climb. Leaving the normality of farm tracks and paths, and passing the first water station, we encountered the challenging climb past caves and a man in traditional costume fiercely beating a bodhran.

At various points which followed we encountered marshals who encouraged us but we also heard screams and noises which could only be associated with a dreaded Duergar! The climbs were often on stone steps which slowed progress, and on the flats (or sections which were less hilly) we had the challenge of running on stone slabs, which were irregular and with gaps between them sufficient to catch an unsuspecting foot.

After Simonside Crag we had a steep technical descent and then a set of forest trails, which were certainly not tourist paths but on balance less climbing to contend with. We enjoyed a further series of descents on slippery loose rocks before the lights of Rothbury started to appear in the distance. At the final water station, I had three jelly beans which provided me with a welcome sugary boost and then I set to work on the final section which was net downhill.

Pleased at this point as I knew I was within 1km of the end, I let my guard drop and on exiting (falling through) the final gate at the drop down to the bridge in Rothbury, I performed one of my trademark barrel rolls. Having managed to maintain forward momentum I regained sufficient composure to lift my pace over the bridge to the finish. A friendly welcome at Tomlinson’s, a t-shirt and a welcome cup of mulled wine followed.

I’d recommend this event without reservation, if you are content with a challenging trail/fell route and the prospect of being captured by a Duergar! Well done to Cold Brew Events for slick organisation, and to the marshals and those involved in supporting this excellent event!

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