Blencathra Fell Race 2024

Mungrisdale, Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Organised by Eden Runners - AM / 8.1 miles / 2,000ft

Tamsin Imber

© Grand Day Out Photography

I was inspired to do this evening race after reading Nick Latham’s 2022 report. It seemed excitingly decadent to drive to the Lake District and back in the evening for such a short race! My usual rule is that my time spent running somewhere must be longer than the time spent driving there and back to make it worthwhile. I’m not a fan of driving, however, I have a fondness for the A66 as this has been my road to adventure over the past few years owing to my Bob Graham attempts. The weather forecast promised sunny intervals with heavy showers, so basically not too bad, so off I set.

This race takes place in an area of fells in the north of the Lake District, accurately named the Northern Fells. Behind Blencathra these fells are rounded and grassy (although not without individual character). It’s an ideal training ground for fell runners when the weather is bad, rendering the rockier areas of the Lakes not safe to go to. Having done most of my Bob training in the winter months, I had been to the Northern Fells many times, BUT l had never seen the ones behind Blencathra from afar because of said poor visibility. Today was different! On my approach I could see the top of Blencathra and the tops of all the fells around! Whoop whoop! They looked majestic. Evening sunshine brought out the greys, browns, oranges and greens in the fell-sides. I sang along to “Let’s do the Conga” in the car as I approached the turn off to Mungrisdale village where the race started.

The race was well organised by the Eden Valley Fell Runners. Parking marshals in abundance at the farm made it easy. As soon as I stepped out of the car I was met by a very strong icy wind, which explained why the fells were mist free. After throwing on some layers I shivered my way to registration in the barn. Then it was a short walk to the race start where a small crowd of fell runners, family, friends, dogs and sheep were gathered.

The race start line was on a stony track (which, being a fell race, didn’t feature for more than the first 10 yards). I placed my jumper on top of a stone wall amongst fox gloves and long grass for collection afterwards. The sky was light blue with big billowy dark grey clouds. The sun glowed on the green of the valley and it did indeed feel like a summer evening (summer in Lakeland terms) (did I mention the freezing cold wind?).

How many layers should I wear? I dithered in indecision. The FRA rules are quite strict in that race numbers must be worn on the front on your top and be visible. Do I risk putting it on an outer layer that I might want to take off? (and have the scenario of having to re-pin the number mid-race, as has happened to me), or put it on the undermost layer and risk not needing to take the top layer off and having the bother of pulling my top up at every marshal point? (Also done that before and in a fell race last year a marshal said he thought I was flashing at him). Clearly the solution is to bring a photocopier to make duplicates to wear on all my layers. Not having bought one this time I looked around and saw that most people were only wearing a race vest with their number on. I decided to follow suit to my peril, forgetting historic evidence that I am more thermally conductive than others.

There was a friendly race briefing and then we were soon off dashing towards the hill-side though an uneven ground of ankle-sucking bog and long grass set within a watery sinking squelch. Arms and legs of people flayed about, including mine. There was dodging about as people strove to remain upright and create forward propulsion within a crowd. After the bog came the first climb. This was a very steep grassy slope. I would estimate 80 degrees. I do love a good climb! I clung on to bits of longer grass with my hands to help pull myself up. Once the ascent levelled off a bit of faster climbing was possible and runners started to spread out which was great. In fact, thereon people became more and more spread out throughout the race. As we got higher up the wind got stronger and my arms and legs fell off (okay that’s slightly over-dramatic). Despite numb / lack of appendages, it was great fun running along the undulating top of the ridge towards the first summit, Bowscale Fell. And today was about enjoyment. I had not got much sleep recently so awake race pace was not happening. I mainly looked at where to put my feet because of the rocks but a few occasional glances to the side showed beautiful views, especially of the carved out Bannerdale and then further on of the meandering Glenderamakin in the valley below.

Last time I was on Bowscale Fell summit was in January in the mist and I had got there via compass. It was nice to see it today. It really is a spectacular cairned grassy summit, and feels like a gateway to the fells of the north. The freezing wind was going through me still though as ascending had not warmed me up enough to mitigate it. I got my long sleeved top on then leapt downhill towards a saddle complete with water logged bog and cotton grass. There were two guys about 500m ahead and I watched where they went to see where to avoid. We then continued up the steep climbs to the summit of Blencathra. This section is a bit more rocky. The best line is to go behind Foule Crag along the Bob Graham trod. I had last been there a month ago in the middle of the night on my second Bob Graham attempt. I recalled being there in the dark, rain and mist with Georgina, Trish and Michael as I retraced my footsteps of that adventure! The wind blasted me still so I pulled on my waterproof jacket and hat and ran. In my spinnings round in the wind to get my arms into my jacket I glanced back. I couldn’t see anyone behind me. Had I had only just made the last cut off and everyone else had been sent back, or had everyone else stopped to put even more layers on? There was just one guy in the distance ahead of me.

After Blencathra summit and its views across to Clough Head and the valley plain came the steep descent down Scales Fell, then a trod towards the third and last fell of the day, Souther Fell. My quads were feeling it. (I blame Yewbarrow for this from the weekend when I supported on David’s Bob Graham). I was passed by a lady, then caught up with the guy ahead as his shoelace had come undone so I had a few fleeting conversations with both. After that I saw no-one. I had memorised the route from the map beforehand and had been on these fells before so was confident of the way (plus had the map and compass in my bag should I have needed). I bounded along the long top of Souther Fell, another lovely high up ridge run. I had warmed up so stopped and took my waterproof and hat off and arm wrestled them into my rucksack whilst trying to run. Then came an extremely steep grassy and slippery descent off Souther Fell! This is probably not a route people might choose. I am sure it was convex at one point! There were some marshals near the top, which was very helpful for navigation. I ground my heels into the more vegetated areas to try and prevent a fall. This was hilarious. Down, down and down to the sinking bog next to the river, then a wade of the river and a short run down an actual path to the finish! The marshals had skilfully placed the finish line just the far side of an ankle deep puddle that flooded the path. Excellent planning. I splashed through it to join the other finishers. It had been a brilliant evening fell race of many flavours. Had it been worth the drive? Definitely. Thanks Nick for your recommendation.

Race Route

Results

PosNameClubTimeCatGen PosCat Pos
1Harry BoltonKeswick AC01:04:50MSEN11
26Jessica HoughtonEden Runners01:16:46WSEN11
98Tamsin ImberElvet Striders01:40:42W45121

Full results can be found at Eden Runners (pdf).

Full race details are here.

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