Formally known as the Anniversary Waltz, this race is now hosted by Cumberland Fell Runners following the sad passing of former organiser, Steve Cliff in 2018 who set up the race to commemorate his wedding to wife Wynn at Newlands Church in 1996.
This race, along with its angry sibling, Teenager With Altitude (TWA) is firmly established in the Lake District’s fell racing calendar so it would have been a great shame for them both to disappear following Wynn’s decision not to host them anymore.
A traditional Lakeland ‘horseshoe’ round Coledale from Braithwaite Lodge, taking in Grisedale Pike, Crag Hill, and Barrow. As the race map describes it: ‘a superb race with a monster climb at the start, a bit of scrambling in the middle, and a lovely grassy descent to finish’.
This was my first race in the Lakes. Despite other fell races I’ve done, I was very nervous. Mum and I had recce’d the route in fairly wintry conditions a couple of months ago, so I knew what to expect in terms of terrain.
Saturday’s forecast looked good, and when I arrived at Braithwaite (early, to see Mum and Tony at the campsite where they were staying) the day promised to be glorious – sun, clear blue skies, no wind.
After a spring of chasing Elaine Bisson around the fells in preparation for her Bob Graham Round, pacing on her and Stuart’s rounds and completing a few local fell races, I thought I might move up to the big league and try a Lake District Race. The Grisedale horseshoe starts in Glenridding and takes in Catstycam, Helvellyn and St Sunday crag; by far not the biggest, longest or hardest route the Lakes has to offer but a sure step up from the North York Moors and the Esk Valley Summer Series.
It is not a difficult route to navigate and I know the area quite well, but I like to be confident of the route and what to expect on race day, as generally, by the time the map comes out, chances of a good placing are gone. I took Jack and headed over a few weeks before; whilst he had a fantastic time I complained all the way to the top of Catstycam about how steep, or grassy, or hilly, or hard work it was… just about anything I could think of, I moaned about. We took a map and loaded the route on to my fancy new Garmin watch and found that we used the map plenty, and the GPS track not much!
On race day, I picked up Geoff and Stuart who were also taking part, and Sam who fancied a day out in the fells. Registration and kit check took place in the village hall, before nervously hanging around outside watching lots of tough looking, mostly male, runners warming up along the track where the race started.
Off we went, the first half-mile or so is a fairly flat track past the campsite which helped to settle into a decent position for the climb, and being faster on the flat bits, I found a decent place and expected to be overtaken on the climb, so didn’t worry too much when people passed me. Nearing the top of Birkhouse Moor, Stuart and two ladies overtook; I kept the same pace, knowing that there was a nice runnable section coming up before the next ascent to Catstycam. I caught one lady and had Stuart in view as we started on up Catstycam on what seemed to be the worst way up to me – straight up the side through the long grass. Is the path a hundred feet away really that much slower? I saw Stuart ahead using his hands as well as his feet on the ground – that’s how steep it was! I kept reminding myself that I was here voluntarily (why??) and that the climbing would have to stop eventually. The top was in cloud and rather windy, I shouted my number at the marshals and headed off to Swirral edge, to the lovely rocks that are much easier to negotiate!
Up and over the top of Helvellyn, then follow the BG route to Grisedale Tarn, easy enough – except coming off Dollywaggon I decided that the people ahead of me heading down sooner than I expected must have known something I didn’t and followed them for a while. Turns out they came off too soon and I was once again negotiating that boggy tufty grass that makes up most of the fells, while Stuart sped past over to the left on the actual descent, laughing at my poor route choice (I had caught him up somewhere along the top). Past the marshals at the tarn and I overtook Stuart once again as with a shout he fell waist deep into a bog/stream/river.
I had caught the lady in front on the descent and having warmed up nicely by now, stuck on her shoulder on the run-up to St Sunday Crag. The climb was much less steep and therefore more enjoyable than the previous climbs. I thought she might be fading a little so didn’t worry too much about overtaking yet and waited until the summit checkpoint before heading off down a nice rocky path. She and a few others followed – I’m not sure they thought much of my route choice as they dropped back quite quickly. The long descent through Blind Cove into Patterdale is lovely and a few runners commented that I seemed to be having too much fun as I slid down through scree, mud, bog and plenty sheep muck. Through a field at the bottom to an audience of huge cows, a splash through the river at the bottom and onwards towards the last hill, nearly home!
I think Patterdale is one of my favourite dales, it’s very pretty and apart from race day, always appears to be deserted. I commented as much to the man running next to me and he just looked at me like I was mad, perhaps I am.
The final climb back up to the Helvellyn tourist path is brutal, and not so short – a definite ‘hands-on-floor’ ascent. I counted the steps until I got to around 700 before losing count, and was still nowhere near the top. However, I didn’t seem to be losing any places and everybody else was struggling in a similar fashion. One man cried out when he realised we had only reached a false summit; I reassured him that it really wasn’t far now!
Trying to muster up a run along the easier parts, we finally reached the last checkpoint and the start of the descent. Some friendly runners told me to enjoy the run back down; there was no need to rush as the next lady was still back in Patterdale somewhere. Someone opened a gate for me when I couldn’t work out what side the hinges were on and ushered me through. When we got to the bottom track there was a shout along the lines of ‘go on lass, go get the rest of them!’, and back to the village hall, sweaty handshakes all round and lots of tea and sandwiches.
Stuart came in sometime later, followed by Geoff and we waited around for the prizes – wine and chocolate (Aldi special!) for the category winners, first fell race, a lady whose birthday it was and the children of some runners! It’s a generous sport, and a challenging few hours out for the grand price of £5 and on the day entry.
It was hot when I arrived at Keswick football club on Sunday morning – the type of heat you expect when you step off the plane upon arriving at your summer holiday destination. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car made it feel even more intense.
I’d arrived with the family in tow so they set off for a wander around Keswick while I made my way over to register for the race. The usual fell club vests were on display, hanging loosely from the skinny bodies of those whose playground the high fells of Cumbria belong.
I paid my £7 and went back to the car to get changed. I’d last run this race in 2015, in cooler conditions and had had a blast. For the unknowing, this is a fast out and back race up to the summit of Skiddaw, starting and finishing on the field between the football and cricket club of Keswick’s Fitz Park.
The race was due to start at 12:30 pm with around 100 runners gathered awaiting entry to the start pen following a very thorough kit check. It may have been hot with no chance of conditions changing but the organisers were fastidious in ensuring everyone was carrying the required kit set out in FRA rules.
Once everyone was checked in the start area and following a quick brief from the race organiser, we were off.
The pack spread quickly as the route snaked its way out of the park and up the lane towards the bridge crossing the A66. From here the gradient begins to steepen up through the woods. It was also nicely shaded here.
The path winds its way up out of the tree line to a car park at the foot of Skiddaw. From here the route hits the wide path that leads directly to the summit. A few little ups and downs the bang – straight on to the slope. The path steepens sharply as it zigzags its way up and mine, and everyone else’s pace drops dramatically.
It’s now hands on knees for the long slog to the top. There is no air; it’s hard to catch a breath. Sweat begins to pour off my head, into my eyes and off the end of my nose. I look up; I’ve not gone very far. Ahead of me, there are just headless bodies, everyone is doubled over marching their way up the hill with hands on their knees.
My breathing is swallowing, my legs are trembling and I’m having negative thoughts. I’m pretty sure I can’t make it to the top. The last time I was here was with Stuart Scott in November training for his BGR. It was cold, windy and covered in snow that time. What I’d have given for those conditions right now.
I pass two walkers (turns out it was Steph Piper) who shout encouragement and it gives me a temporary boost. Onward I march until eventually the gradient levels out enough to stand upright, catch a breath and break out into some kind of run once again.
Just as I’m approaching the gate at the foot of Skiddaw Little Man, the lead runner comes hurtling past on his way back down. He’s got a huge lead on the second place runner who also beats me to the gate.
Eventually, more runners come past on their way back down as I make my way to the final short sharp climb towards the summit plateau. It’s still hot but there’s a mild breeze blowing behind me, which helps a little as I make my way over the rocky path to the summit and turnaround point.
I’m greeted by two marshals, directed around the summit cairn and then it’s back the way I came off the mountain. The views are stunning and it’s hard not to gaze, but full concentration is needed to get back off quickly and safely – those rocks ready top trip you over at any time.
Slap, slap, slap go my feet as I try to make my way down the steep slopes quickly and efficiently. There’s a skill to downhill fell running, one that I think I’m fairly good at, but it takes a lot of concentration and nerves of steel to trust yourself and your foot placements. If only I could get up these hills quicker I’d have a fighting chance of being competitive.
The heat and my breathless assault to the top have left me exhausted so coming down is not done with my usual vigour. My thighs are burning and I’m struggling for breath. I pass some of the more cautious downhillers whilst those with more energy fly past me.
Eventually, I reach the bottom of the slope and have the run back through the car park and into the woods. This should be a relatively straightforward run back but I just haven’t got any energy left and the heat has taken its toll so my pace is slow as I make my way back to Fitz Park.
Finally, the finish field is in site and I cross the line and slump to the floor under the shade of the trees.
I check my watch for the first time during the whole race – 1hr59mins – 19 minutes slower than my previous effort. I knew this was going to be slow, given the heat, but I was disappointed at just how much slower it was. And so my struggles continue as I try and find some kind of form but I’m hoping it won’t be too long before I can take in a race with some real effort.
As I reach the finishing straight my 3 year old daughter wants to run with me, so I slow and let her run along, but she decides she’s no energy left, so I scoop her up and carry her over the finish line before slumping in a heap to the floor.
“Daddy, can we play snap now?” she asks as I lie wheezing on the grass outside Keswick Cricket Club after completing the Skiddaw Fell Race. She has no concept that I’ve just run up to the summit and back down from England’s fourth highest mountain standing at 931m covering 9:43miles in 1hr40mins on a hot July day.
It started out relatively easy as the 115 competitors set off at 12:30pm from the edge of the cricket field in Fitz Park, a sharp left up a road and across a foot bridge over the A66 leading into the woods.
Soon the gradient increases and the pace drops. Onto the track at the foot of Jenkin Hill the gradient steepens further – head down, hands on knees power walk begins.
After a while the gradient shallows and it becomes strangely runnable as we pass the gated junction leading to Skiddaw Little Man. It’s on this path the lead runner passes on his way back down closely tracked by the second placed runner. I’m in awe as I plod onwards and upwards.
As I near the summit more and more runners come hurtling down towards me then on the summit plateau, Hardmoors queen, Shelli Gordon passes. I reach the top and find it necessary to touch the summit cairn before I turn to make my descent, but not before I remove a stone that’s sneaked into my shoe.
It’s a beautifully clear day, to my left is Blencathra in all its glory and immediately ahead, the Helvellyn range shadowing over Keswick and the valley below. It’s moments of beauty like this that make fell running such a fabulous sport. But I daren’t take my eyes of the ground for too long as the gradient on the descent steepens.
Up ahead are a group of runners, I catch two guys who are tentatively making their way down and target the two ladies in front but as the path levels out, their pace seems to increase, (or is it mine decreasing?). As we make our way back through the woods they disappear, a final steep descent back to the foot bridge at the A66 sees me caught by a girl from Horwich running club, who powers past me for the final stretch.
This is a fantastic no-nonsense fell race, tough but a relatively simple out and back race with the opportunity to eat your £7 entry fee in cake at the end!
If you can only do one fell race in the North York Moors, Guisborough Three Tops would be my strong recommendation. Highlights include the stunning view of Yorkshire villages from Highcliffe Nab; picture-perfect like a postcard. This is followed immediately by a daring downhill dash into headwind so strong that your snot flies vertically, back into your face!
There is the breathless scramble to Roseberry Topping’s trig point past amused walkers and tourists. And my favourite bit of all, that slightly insane descent down the steep, grassy side of Roseberry Topping. A true fell runner will descend in what would be best described as a “controlled fall”.
This time, only four Striders braved the start line; which is surprising considering it is a GP race. Mike Bennett was the first Strider home but was stung by a 15 minute penalty for missing a newly introduced loop. Camilla and Jan also finished strongly, perhaps adding to their wine collection?
Best of all, this race will take place again this September as part of the English Fell Running Championships. So come on! Sign up now at the Esk Valley Club’s website and hope to see you there.
On March 22nd, three Striders completed the Blakey Blitz fell race; 17k/855m ascent. The three should have been five, but Anita C. and Paul E. both unfortunately had last minute domestic/ family incidents. From race registration at the Lion Inn; a welcoming shelter for windswept weary travellers on Castleton Rigg; the route features a 2k downhill start to Moorlands Farm in Rosedale and footbridge over stream, then climb begins.
First past Dale Head Farm; advertising tempting ‘teas’; onto heather moorland towards the paved George Gap Causeway to Great Fryup Head, where we were cheered on by a number logging tented marshal. We stayed high along Glaisdale Rigg, before descending into Great Fryup Dale. A wicked climb out of the end of the dale, to retrace our steps back to the start, remembering to save something for the 2k ascent out of Rosedale to the Lion Inn.
Camilla was ahead of me along Glaisdale Rigg, but I managed to overtake on the Fryup Dale descent and kept a gap between us, until the ascent at the dale end, a group of us reaching the top together. Determined to stay ahead, I tracked a runner in front of me, using his pace and taking shelter from the wind, knowing Sturdy bank into Rosedale is a long downhill and that I’d ‘get away’. I find route knowledge useful as you know when to make an effort and I did call to two runners who were going ‘off piste’.
Mike and the gaggle at the finish were a welcome site; for all my enthusiasm, I had used up all my energy. Much to celebrate, as points all round on NEFRA winter series and wine for age group winners. Next outing Striders’ GP race, Guisborough 3 Tops on Sunday 5th April.
The sound of the piper drove the lingering mist away from the hillside, exposing the Carnethy Five in its full glory. Across the lowland the initial climb and final descent awaited and called upon the 500-strong clan of fell runners to do their best. The gun released the rabble and the onslaught began. Across the grass, through the bog, around the thistles, through the gate, and then to find your place for the first of the 1000 feet climbs over just under a mile: up, up and more up. Stubborn mist made its greeting at the summit, along with a light but unforgiving breeze, cooling the sweat on the brow. An ever so slight decline permitted the legs to momentarily build momentum, until the next incline. Fast and furious the terrain went from up to down, back to up, and then into a glorious, several hundred foot rapid drop into a short-lived valley bottom the legs free wheeled. Funnelling through another gate, the final slope encounter beckoned: another 1000 foot climb in just under a mile. Steepening gradually with every step, it was now time to dig deep. Volcanic rocks marked the summit that was ephemeral, as was the plateau at the top. Over the top all went, down down down. Eight hundred feet in a few hundred meters. Across the scree, over the heather the thighs burned. Finally the finish line was in sight, all that was left was, once again, through the gate, past the thistles, through the bog and across the grass.
… Rachael Bullock
Having known Susan and Geoff for a while, I’ve realised that they are fairly selective about what races they enter. So seeing as they’ve both done the Carnethy over 20 times, I figured there must be something special about it. It’s also a ballot entry – pretty unusual for a fell race – another sign that it is popular and worth the journey up to Edinburgh. The race definitely didn’t disappoint. There were hills. 5.7 miles of some of the hardest and most unrelenting hills I’ve ever faced during a fell run. Hands on knees jobbies for much of the way. The penultimate hill was a killer, a long drag on rather tired legs by that point. Sadly, I thought (well really I was just hoping optimistically) that it was the last hill and I gave my all. It wasn’t till I reached the top and saw another monster climb ahead that I realised it was not the last hill. Heart-wrenching stuff. The final hill was a struggle, but pure determination, knowing I had put so much effort in already and that it would be a shame to waste it, kept me going. It was such a relief to get to the top….but only to be greeted by one of the nastiest descents I’ve ever encountered. Very steep and covered in slippery heather. As usual, the more hardy and experienced/senseless, fearless fell-runners skipped past me, as i dithered and tried not to fall. I really didn’t enjoy this bit, but sadly, it was the only way to get to the finish, so it had to be done. Once the skidding and sliding was over, it was a nice flat stretch of boggy, tussocky ground to stretch the legs out towards the finish. Here I tried to capitalize on recent Harrier league training to pass a couple of other ladies before the finish line, where Geoff cheered me in, and I was followed shortly after by Dave and Susan. Then it was back to the local high school for a good feed of pie before heading home! Despite the pain incurred, I would not have to think twice about doing this race again! It was pretty damn awesome and I can’t really think of a better way to spend Valentine’s day?!
On yet another unseasonably warm day in November with autumn’s colours glowing rich and golden in the weak sunshine, seven Striders gathered in the grounds of Guisborough Rugby Club for the third race in the Northern Runner/NEHRA Winter Series; on this occasion a roughly 13 km jaunt would take in the lofty features of High Cliff Nab, Roseberry Topping and Hanging Stone all lined up along the northern edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, waiting silently to receive the briefest of visitations from 128 frenetic fell-runners.
Contenders for Elvet Striders on the day were (from left to right in the image above): Rachael Bullock, David Selby, Penny Browell, Paul Evans, Danny Lim, Camilla Lauren-Maatta and Scott Watson. Rachael was coming back from an innocuous but nasty cycling injury and Penny was attending her very first fell race as part of a meteoric debut season with Elvet Striders. For everyone else (to the best of my knowledge) it was just another day at the fell-running office.
The race briefing on the upper reaches of Belmangate emphasised the consequences of trespassing, the potential effects of fallen trees (cleared away as it turned out) on the race start and necessity of avoiding collision with mountain bikers. Then with a faintly disinterested ‘off you go’ from the organiser, Dave Parry, we were away up the path and into the wood.
From my position somewhere in the middle of a jostling pack I could see Paul starting steadily as he is inclined to do. Penny was just ahead and everyone else appeared to be behind me. As with so many fell races, the uphill starts are demanding and we were soon strung out in a long, gasping line as the track narrowed to a muddy trail. Then it was just one long, lactate-producing, ascent out of the woods and up to High Cliff Nab.
No-one can ever accuse me of not being 100% committed when I’m racing and it was at this point that I had a minor meltdown with a gentleman from a Yorkshire running club who appeared to be chatting to everyone he was passing on the way up (none of whom seemed inclined to reply). I KNEW he was going to say something to me and when it came I’m ashamed to say that I wasn’t very polite. This led to him referring to the race as a ‘Sunday stroll for him’ which in turn led to me suggesting that he “sod off up the front and win it then!” (I have to confess I didn’t actually use the term ‘sod’ as such).
When he overtook me on the flagged section on the way to Roseberry Topping nothing was said and we continued on our merry way towards Roseberry. After being picked off continually by runners coming up from behind and being left for dead on the descent we finally hit the slopes of Roseberry Topping where I found that all the places I’d lost were quickly regained. As I came up to the next toiling group I could hear a familiar voice recalling at length how somebody had told him to sod off on the last climb. ‘Aye, it was me’ I grunted and to be fair he took it quite well.
By then we were almost at the trig point after which it was a case of making your own luck on the descent. Again I was just blown away by more accomplished descenders, so I resolved to do my own thing and see what I could do on the climbs. The frustrating thing was that I felt I was actually going quite well but I just wasn’t at the races figuratively speaking (not sure if it’s the knees or the nerve).
In the trip across the common from Roseberry to Hanging Stone I still can’t decide whether I made up places or lost them, I only know that the group that eventually appeared in front of me out of the bracken was considerably bigger than the one I left on Roseberry Topping.
The climbs seemed to be where it was happening for me today though, with the last big ascent to Hanging Stone being made on a mountain bike course, allowing me to happily focus on the carnage that would be caused by a flying mountain bike hitting a pack of runners at 30 mph instead of on the discomfort in my rapidly tiring legs. It must have done some good because at the top I’d caught and passed everyone who’d left me behind on Roseberry.
A short but steep descent brought us to Hanging Stone which I completely failed to recognise and shot past. Luckily shouts of ‘Whoa, this way son!’ prevented me from going too far down the hill. I amused myself on the long drag back to the final trig point on how good it felt to be called ‘son’ again! Unfortunately I spent most of the distance being caught once more by all that I’d passed on the last climb including my mate from Yorkshire (who didn’t look to me like he was out for a Sunday stroll any more).
The script stayed the same however and with the last couple of dragging and rolling climbs came a series of minor ‘victories’ as, once again, I caught and passed the usual suspects. Unfortunately though, a long, long, fast descent awaited me in the woods and I knew that the outcome wasn’t going to be pretty.
After rounding the final trig point I stayed with a decent group, off the moor, into the woods and onto the brow of the descent – at which point they all ran away from me! The only positive was that because they’d literally ALL gone, I knew I was no longer under pressure from behind. That was until we hit the steepest and narrowest part of the descent when this chap that I thought I’d left miles behind came bombing past. But what can you do?
Now on a broader, flatter, forest track at least I was able to keep him in sight to the finish which approached very rapidly (another reliable indicator of when you’re having a decent race). I finished 40th overall – well inside my objective of first half of the field – and 5th in the M50 category so can’t complain. One profoundly impressive result I noticed was that of Ben Grant from Harrogate Harriers, who finished 19th, two places behind our own fast finishing Paul Evans, and who was first in the M65 category!
Almost the very first person I saw at the finish was my mate from High Cliff Nab who seemed to take my lack of manners in good humour and of course, to whom I apologised. Paul had had a brilliant run, eventually coming in 17th and citing the same shortcomings in the downhill department as had afflicted me.
It wasn’t long afterwards that Penny and Danny came barrelling home with Danny just being outsprinted by the formidable Penny, in 56th and 57th positions respectively (Penny was 6th lady in her debut fell race). David (95th) came in next, a couple of minutes ahead of Rachael (99th/17th lady) with bloodied knee – both looking pretty pleased with their efforts – followed a few minutes later by Camilla (108th/21st lady). All in all, the ladies had done particularly well being third in the ladies’ team competition while the men were eighth in theirs.
Weather conditions had been kind, if a bit blustery and the ground was relatively firm, providing decent and much needed grip (especially through the woods). The three major climbs are a good challenge but there is an awful lot of paving on the transitions between them. This race has been noted for its route choice after Hanging Stone and in previous years it appears to have been won by runners taking a fast route along the bottom of the wood. This year, as far as I could see, everyone was returning the way they had come. All in all though, it was a great day out on the North Yorkshire Moors.
Gale force winds buffeted me in every direction and visibility was down to 50 yards. I was somewhere on the Coniston Masiff, looking for my second elusive checkpoint. This was a world away from the sunny Duddon valley from which I had started an hour ago. The runner ahead was just about visible and I really didn’t want to lose him.
Then through the mist, a lone waif-like figure stood. Facing the blustery wind, he held himself upright with two walking poles. “Well done!” he called out. As I approached, I saw a weathered, gaunt face framed by white eyebrows and a long, narrow nose. His beady eyes carried a piercing gaze, a distinctive look which I recognised instantly. “Joss Naylor?”. “Aye!”, he replied.
It was a surreal moment, meeting him atop a desolate peak in the mist when I least expected it. Here was the legendary “Iron Joss”, breaker of so many course records, some of which still stand decades on. And here he was in his seventies, marshalling a remote checkpoint, encouraging runners including the ones at the back. And all for a good cause, as all race proceeds were going to the Alzheimer’s Society. For a second, I forgot I was in the middle of a race. A quick handshake and I reluctantly carried on.
I had lost my quarry and found myself alone in the mist. It was a disconcerting feeling, but I carried on in the bearing I was supposed to take. Eventually, I joined a pack of runners and followed them towards the next checkpoint, the summit of Old Man Coniston. On descending from the “Old Man”, I veered away from the main path, followed a sheep trod which eventually petered out. I found myself on the side of a steep, grassy slope dotted with crags and boulders. I also had a great view of the big, precipitous drop into the valley below. As I fumbled through, trying to traverse the slope, I realised that the runners behind had taken exactly the same line. “You don’t have to follow me, I’m making this up as I go!”, I joked. Nobody had a sense of humour.
We soon reached the next checkpoint at Dow Crag before making our way to White Pike, the last climb of the race. From here it was 20 minutes of exhilarating, quick-stepping, knee-jolting descending through the sheep folds towards Turner Farm Hall. What added to the thrill was knowing I was being chased. I had managed to get ahead of the pack and I could intermittently hear heavy footsteps behind. A last cruel perimeter of the field and I was across the finish.
If you have managed several fell races in the North York Moors and want a step up, this will be a good one to try, though navigational skills is a must. I was initially fazed by my fellow runners. They have thighs that show every sinew of muscle, craggy weathered faces, frames devoid of body fat and a determined and confident expression. But everyone really is friendly and up for a bit of banter, especially after the race. This is only the fourth running of this race, but the route is a horseshoe run over a mountain ridge and boasts great views throughout. It certainly has potential to become a Lakeland “classic”.