I’ve just discovered a magazine/revue called ‘RUNdown’ on the Elvet Striders website.
According to the December 2021 issue, at the same time as loads of Striders ran in loops around the XC course at Sedgefield, I could be found competing in the Bollihope Carrs Fell Race!
This is a new race route with its first running organised by our friends over at Durham Fell Runners (DFR). I saw it on the SIEntries email and thought why not?
It’s a relatively local (for a fell race), low cost (like most fell races), Bollihope is a nice place (in the summer), and I haven’t entered an official race since the pre-Covid era.
Come the day it was grey, misty, and 3°C at home, but after dropping the wife off at the railway station in Durham (did I not mention that?) and a slow drive into Weardale, the temperature picked up to 6°C and the breeze picked up to really quite windy.
What looked like a lot of cars parked down in the valley around the wet and be-puddled riverside carpark at Bollihope Quarry yielded a field of 42 runners, amongst them our old friend Dougie Nisbet, but no sign of any other Striders.
I had to remind myself to submit to kit check before collecting race map and number, and then started hopping around trying to keep warm before the off.
Being a fell race there is no prescribed route but DFR issued a map highlighting a circuit generally west up the Bollihope Burn valley, turn north up the hillside to the first checkpoint at Carrs Top (540m), along high ground to the second checkpoint at Catterick (426m), then straight down shoulder of the hill until some undetermined point where a 90° right-hand turn would leave you dropping onto the race finish.
Evidently a lot of DFR recce’d the route beforehand (and I note this is an approved recommendation from the FRA) but I had limited myself to looking it over on Google Earth and eventually fell foul towards the end when what looked like a decent track on GE turned out to be a drainage ditch, no use for running on at all.
On the other hand, the start was quite amusing as there were no obvious tracks leading away in the right direction – short video on DFR facebook page.
Visibility was good so there was no problem navigating as you could see what you were heading for (or follow everyone else ahead of you – not recommended by FRA) but after a while the field split up with some runners continuing along the valley bottom and others spreading out across the hillside. I picked out my own line up the hill holding roughly the same distance (150m) behind a Swaledale guy and ahead of DFR Denise Tunstall. Entering a remnant of snow field (over knee-deep in places and big boulders beneath) Swaledale man seemed to completely stall whereas I managed to plough through and overtake. At the same time DT swung further west onto an easier track with the result that all three of us were at the trig’ checkpoint simultaneously.
From there it was obvious that Denise knew an efficient route as Swaledale and I ran off along separate higher routes only to eventually rejoin her lower down.
Roughly halfway now, the magic of fell racing exerted itself and we could see no-one else, ahead or behind.
The track off Carr Top was fairly obvious as we knew we had to meet and cross the B6278 near its highest point and quad bikes had churned a trail. But after that it was anyone’s guess as to the optimal route through the heather; all the zig-zagging was enough to give my Garmin a headache. And so the three of us arrived at Catterick Trig’ more or less together and set off downhill on the last stretch.
Real fell stuff now, no tracks, no trails, not even any fellrunner footprints! I like this, but after a while I admit to stopping and taking out the map, not sure if I had overshot the drop to the finish. Swaledale and DT caught up, a quick consultation and off we go again, crossing that drainage ditch I mentioned earlier, and with the help of distant elephants (trees that is) I can work out where I am and know where to descend. Even though I can’t see the finish it has to be over the rise, still on pure heather moor, it’s not too deep and is a joy to run on. And so to the finish, Swaledale and DT taking a little more cautious route follow on.
Personally I’m quite happy with my time (30th overall, 1hr 23min), thoroughly enjoyed the route, being in a race, meeting folk I’ve not seen in a couple of years, but where on earth did the guy who was first in my age group come from? … 20 minutes ahead of me in a 6 mile race! … Hunwick Harriers that’s where … well done Graham Bradshaw!