Fiona Harrington Hughes is very good at talking me into doing races.
We decided to give the Gerry Kearsley winter handicap ago because it was a local race and it was free, we just had to turn up and run. Fiona picked me up at 9 am it was a freezing morning -1 . We found Bishop Middleham Community Centre very easy (easier than we found Temple Park a few weeks ago). We had discussed in the car what times we thought we would do, because I had got a PB at riverside parkrun the day before, I had also done the Brass Monkey half marathon the week before and pushed myself, also it was day 19 of RED January, taking all these into account I put 55 minutes because it was a trail race and I had managed 52.44 at Durham City in the summer. I had a 5 minutes handicap.
It was a very friendly atmosphere in the community centre, Christine from Sedgefield Harriers talked us through the route. It wasn’t a very big turn out, but a few from local clubs, it was mainly Sedgefield Harriers.
The race started at 10 am from just outside the community centre, Fiona set off at 10.03 and I was just 2 minutes after her, my plan was to catch her and stick with her for a nice chat, she had other ideas!
I crept up behind her at about 2.5 mile and shouted “you’re a hard lady to catch” her reply was “go and catch the girl in the pink cap” so I thought ok, I’ll give it ago not thinking that I could catch her.
It was a 2 lap course so once I passed the starting point I knew what was coming. The course was well marshalled who all gave encouragement, I could see the pink cap in the distance she was quite away ahead and I couldn’t seem to close the gap.
I slipped a few times going over the stiles due to the ice, the muddy parts of the course were rock hard due to this. We got onto the old railway lines, it was nice and flat I could still see the pink hat and she wasn’t too far away, the gap was closing but I needed to push a bit more. A Marshall shouted you’re in 2nd place, that give me a lift and I managed to pick up the pace.
The pink cap was getting closer. She was in front of me going through the last field and I got behind her. I knew the last hill was coming, I managed to overtake her going down a short hill and as I hit the bottom of the hill I made my arms go and pushed to the top (last weeks Theatre of Dreams session and hill training came in handy).
I could hear her breathing I knew she was close behind and could overtake at any second. I thought I’m not letting her past.
I had Gemma in my head saying always save a bit for the finish. The finish was just round the corner so I had to dig deep. One last push, but I didn’t know where the finish was.
I turned the corner saw a Marshall and she pointed me to the finish funnel. The girl in the pink cap hadn’t managed to get past me, she was only 2 seconds behind me.
I was 1st! However as it was a handicap I thought I hadn’t won because I knew I wasn’t the fastest. Fiona soon crossed the line followed by the other 2 striders. She was over the moon when she found out I had caught the girl in the pink hat!
I still didn’t think I had properly won, but at the presentation I got presented with a massive plaque (that I get to keep for 6 months and my name will go on), a bottle of Prosecco and a buff.
I had won!
They also did a spot prize and Fiona won a bottle of wine and a buff. We had cleaned up!
We had tea and cake after the race in the community centre. It was a nice friendly race that happens twice a year, the next one is in the summer on a Thursday evening, I would recommend this race because as I have proven you don’t have to be the fastest to WIN.
I had planned for this to be my ‘big one’ for 2019. I entered the race in January thinking I would have nearly a full year to build up the mileage and effort required. I was looking forward to braving the elements, and running in the dark – I find this so much fun. The route is out and back from Askham with a loop ‘round’ Helvellyn
Having completed the Old County Tops with Elaine in May however, I didn’t feel like it was uncharted territory anymore – and I became giddy with excitement in the few days before the event!
I had recced the route a few times in sections. My other prep included squeezing all the kit (a fair bit) and food (ditto) into my rucksack, writing the checkpoints on my hand (so no worrying if my mind got foggy), deciding what time to start, planning when and where to snack (easier for me on ups), and what I might snack on (buying race food was a highlight in the week before!)
The weather was kind on the day – no wind to speak of, and although it might have drizzled on me, I don’t recall proper rain. It was mild too for the time of year. Snow, ice, wind, or rain would have changed the day entirely (though there were small patches of melting snow over Sticks).
The route is on tracks and trails, and there is a small bit of road too. There was no navigation needed, though I was pleased that there were runners around me in the low cloud over Sticks Pass and Grisedale Tarn.
I found it very different to other (shorter) races I have done in the Lakes – I didn’t dare tackle the ups and downs as I would usually (full throttle – though that means different speeds depending on direction) due to the distance. I felt I had to hold myself back a little earlier on – it is so tempting when warmed up to really enjoy the downs! I’ve never had much speed on flatter sections, so a steady plod here felt ok.
I saw mum at Side Farm on the way out – I think I surprised her because she shouted ‘slow down!’ (she was trying to take a photo) but she just got a ‘No way! Have a good day!’ I missed her (or she missed me?) on the way back as I was ahead of schedule. I didn’t look at my watch until I got to Side Farm on the return – I didn’t think there was any need, as I could only go as quick as I could go. When I did look I was pleasantly surprised, and this spurred me on for the ‘home stretch’ (10 miles, but it felt like the home stretch!)
Anyone on Barton Fell as the daylight dwindled may have witnessed the ‘Mason shuffle’ – not quite running speed, but quicker than my walk. And achievable whilst snacking on fizzy, jelly sweets – always a winner for me when getting tired, ‘solid’ food is looking less appetising, and I need an instant hit. I do however feel more research on this may be required, and am always on the lookout for new brands, shapes, or flavours to test, and different hills to eat them on.
I pushed on for the last few miles over the moor, conscious of the clock, overtaking a few people and determined they wouldn’t go past – though knowing I wasn’t necessarily racing them, as everyone chooses their own start time. But the competitive urge is always there, so when I spotted (and I think verbally greeted) the gorse bush on the moor above Askham, I knew it was a downhill mile or so back to the village hall. I pushed hard, had to brake suddenly to get over the cattle grid, grimacing to get the legs running again.
And a dash into the heat and lights of the hall, to be dibbed at the finish. I must have looked wild-eyed (wild-haired? tired? windswept? sugar rush or crash?) as I got a few ‘are you ok?’s and ushered into a chair, vaguely disgruntled that I hadn’t even needed my head torch – both starting and finishing in the half-gloom.
Because of the staggered start times I was washed, changed, and full of soup by the time I saw the other Striders. We shared a few war stories, and then thank goodness for the post-race buzz that allowed me to drive home. Great fun, and already signed up (and hoping for snow) for next year.
This is an event I do every year, not because I particularly like it (though I do), but because of the four years that this event has taken place I have taken part.
The half marathon this year, as it was last, forms part of a double event where by you can run both the marathon and the half to get a special prize. Unlike in previous years however the full marathon was being ran on the Saturday, with the half taking place on the Sunday. Weather conditions up on the Cheviot, which the full is supposed to go over, took a turn for the worse and their Saturday route became two laps of Sunday’s half route.
Great, what was looking to be an already soggy and boggy course had been churned up even more with the full runners tackling it twice the day before us half runners got set loose on it. Safety first though and the right decision was made for the full runners.
Running this event with me were two of my work colleagues, marvellous I thought to myself, this means I’ll have to put some effort in to beat them.
So onto the run itself. I’ll summarise this very quickly. If you’re not going up hill, you’re going down and on this occasion if you weren’t running in thick mud you were running in a stream. Yes, my shoes went from nice and clean to very dirty multiple times before they joined me in the shower at home.
This really is a great Half Marathon and I’d highly recommend it to anyone.
I’ve been to the Kendal Mountain Festival a few times over the years and always been inspired by the programme of storytelling, films and other presentations. So when I lined up with over 600 other runners on a cold but sunny morning at the start of the festival’s 10k trail race I felt confident in my ability to tackle a challenging course.
We ascended almost continuously over the first two miles, heading out from the centre of Kendal in a south-westerly direction over the substantial rocky limestone escarpment of Helsington Barrows. We then turned north along Scout Scar with the exquisite Lyth Valley down below us to the west, and a panorama of Lake District fells in front of us. The conditions were much easier now, on gentler gradients and short turf, and it didn’t seem long before we turned eastwards towards Kendal with the Howgill and Barbon Fells coming into view beyond. Just to add to the variety of underfoot conditions the final mile of the route included some muddy downhill slopes and back streets with many steep steps, before finishing in the town centre.
How did I feel at the end of the race? Pretty good really – I’d prepared mentally for the first two uphill miles, and once that section was over it was just a case of keeping a rhythm going and concentrating as best I could on running technique.
An exhilarating experience, setting me up nicely for the rest of the festival to enjoy some more stories of exploration and endurance.
This was a last minute decision. We didn’t have any plans for Saturday and a Leeds friend mentioned he was doing a race which didn’t offer either a medal or a T-shirt. To him this was a negative but to me it spelt out being my sort of race! So on an impulse I booked us in.
The Holly Hustle is a small race with 11k and 22k options (the latter just two laps of the former) with a total maximum competitors of 250. It’s described as a challenging trail race which is a fair description. It was definitely too challenging for some (my road-running friend hated it and dropped out after a lap) and not without its hazards (Tom managed to end up falling head first and damaging his leg and hand) but it is all runnable as long as you don’t mind a lot of mud and rocks and roots to negotiate.
Broadly speaking the lap is a figure of 8 through woods and along the river. Almost all is on muddy tracks apart from a killer hill at the end of the lap which is on tarmac. Notorious for people getting lost I was chuffed with myself for getting round the first half without making any nav errors but on the second lap I had nobody near me (all the one lappers were in the pub!) and I realised it was more complex than it had seemed when I was following other people. There are lots of river crossings and remembering this from the first lap I managed to take the wrong bridge and get myself in a right confusion. I headed back to the last point I recognised and eventually another runner turned up and pointed me in the right direction. He pointed out I should know what I was doing as I’d done it before but he obviously wasn’t aware of my ability to get lost wherever I go… After that point I didn’t see any other runners but did manage to follow the very small pink flags all the way. I finished 4th woman and in under 2 hours, injury-free and pleasantly tired which I was happy with.
I really enjoyed the race and it had a nice relaxed atmosphere. An added bonus was starting and finishing in a pub and free soup at the end. I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of off-road running.
A few years ago I was racing every 2 or 3 weeks, chasing PBs and pushing myself up and down fell races trying desperately to win prizes where I could. I loved it but with a full-time job and three somewhat demanding children it wasn’t something I could keep up. Whilst I’ve not stopped running, I have stopped competing and that combined with getting deeper and deeper into the V40 age range has knocked my pace back.
If I’m honest knowing I was getting slower made me less inclined to race but deep down I knew it was something I still enjoyed so when I spotted the Ennerdale Trail 25k was on a weekend I was free I was keen to give it a go. It’s a race I’ve known other people to enjoy, in a beautiful part of the lake district and organised by High Terrain Events who I know from previous experience put on a good day out.
Once I’d decided to do it next job was to get Tom signed up too… he’s had even longer off racing but with good reason as his knees have been bothering him for some time now after the years of racing up and down mountains and completing stupidly long events. He’s been doing short runs but this was going to be a step up or back in time for him. Also, being a trail race I knew he might find it a bit lacking in mountains and even dull…
Anyway I signed us both up and the forecast promised us good weather so I knew all would be fine. However as we drove over from Eskdale on the morning of the race I realised the forecast was a little off the mark as we drove through incredibly heavy rain which Tom described as “the type of rain which gets you really wet”. Once we got to the race headquarters the rain had calmed a little so maybe we were going to be ok.
The route is a big circuit which starts at one end of Ennerdale water, takes you down beyond the other end to the YHA at Black Sail (the half way point) and then back down the other side of the lake. Nice and straightforward with almost all the climb on the first half according to the elevation profile.
The start was congested and I regretted starting near the back as it was hard to get past people but after a mile or so it thinned out and we were on a wide very runnable track. I enjoyed it but couldn’t help thinking it would be a bit boring and hard underfoot for Tom. The first half continued like this – quite a bit of climbing where I was able to overtake people and the weather was kind was just a bit of rain which soon cleared. I was feeling pretty good and knew I was fairly well up the field as we got to the YHA. I looked at my watch to see I was under an hour and was a little confused. The course record for women was well over 2 hours and surely I’d done the hard half as it was the uphill part?
However as soon we passed the YHA we moved into part 2 which was a very different race. There was a lot of bog to get through to cross the river which was fun but definitely slowed everyone down. Then we briefly returned to the easy wide tracks but with occasional bog to keep things interesting. Then the real fun started. We dropped down to the lakeside and went from path to wet loose rocks. I figured this would just be a short section but how wrong I was… it was so infuriating. The views were stunning but I just couldn’t get any kind of rhythm and I stumbled slightly as I felt someone lurking behind me. I asked her if she wanted to pass me and she said no as she was knackered but as we carried on I had to wave her on as I was getting more and more annoyed with myself for not being able to get going on this tougher terrain.
One positive was that I knew Tom would be enjoying it more… but then the thought occurred to me that it could also mean he’d catch me up! I plodded on and as a couple of others passed me I felt quite despondent and wondered if I’d lost my racing bug completely. Eventually we got onto a steep climb which was slowing most people to a walk but I managed to run up and after a short scramble up and down I felt more in my zone. There was then a short run along the final part of the lake – I could see I was closing in on a couple of people who had passed me but all too suddenly I was back at the finish and having a medal thrust over my head. I chatted to a couple of the guys who had passed me on the rocky stuff and before long I saw Tom happily crossing the line.. only a few minutes behind me he seemed to have enjoyed himself although claimed it was a couple of miles longer than he wanted. Results-wise I was nowhere near where I’d like to have been a few years ago but once I’d got over it was pretty happy with 5th lady. I’m not sure if I’ve got my racing bug back or not – time will tell. But for anyone who enjoys trail racing in a beautiful part of the country I heartily recommend the High Terrain Events – well organised and always in beautiful settings.
The growth of ultra marathon running has been nothing short of spectacular in the last few years. If you’ve not tried one, I would encourage you to give it a go – don’t be scared!
But this growth has meant, and this includes races of all distances in general, that they are getting bigger, often more expensive and quite difficult to get a place in. This year’s Hardmoors 55 was a sell out with over 400 people having fun on the North Yorkshire Moors in the deep winter. Bonkers!
Now I’m not complaining (much) but sometimes it’s nice to run a low key, inexpensive, no-frills kind of race and that’s exactly what I found in the Pen-Y-Ghent ultra.
Organised by Ranger Ultras, this race was the baby of two races that day, the other being a 70k race which took in the other two of Yorkshire’s three peaks of which 100 people had signed up to. If you were feeling really mad they offered the 70k runners to the chance to extend to 100k by heading back out from the finish up Great Shunner Fell to Thwaite and back.
The Pen-y-Ghent ultra was a mere 50k heading out along the Pennine Way from the village of Hawes up onto the Cam Road, an old Roman highway, before dropping into Horton-in-Ribblesdale for a loop up and over Pen-y-Ghent and then retrace the route back to Hawes. With just 19 starters it was certainly low key, and the 70k runners heading out an hour before us meant that solitude was almost guaranteed. Running with my long-time running partner in crime, Jen, the first few miles were a sloppy slog up along the Pennine Way to the Cam Road which gave way to expansive views over the Dales and its three peaks in the distance.
A steady plod was the order of the day. I wasn’t here to break any records, just enjoy a nice long day out, so I maintained a nice pace that wouldn’t have me blowing up at any point. It was a nice easy route to follow as I made my way down into Horton where there was a simple check point offering hot drinks and cold pizza. From there I enjoyed the climb up to the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, it was a bit more relaxed than my last visit in the fast and furious 3 Peaks Fell Race a few years ago. At the summit, the lead runner in the 70k race caught me. He looked strong and relaxed as he bolted off down the nice and new looking flagstone steps that lead off the fell. Taking my time has its benefits but soon, as I approached the last checkpoint with around 6 miles to go, the weather turned getting cold and wet and generally miserable, visibility reducing to near nothing. Cold pizza dipped in hot tomato soup cheered me up and is definitely the future of ultra running fuel!
With waterproofs, hat and gloves quickly put on I made my way onwards to the finish back down the even wetter and sloppier tracks of the Pennine Way and back to in Hawes in just over 7hrs. Not fast by any means but a great way to spend a Saturday. I hung around a little to see some of the 70k runners coming in and for one or two of the foolish souls to head back out for another 30k – what’s the matter with these people?
So, if you’re looking for a low key challenge, I’d highly recommend one of Ranger Ultra’s many races.
OK, strap yourself in. I’m turning the Nostalgia dial up to 11.
Back in the day, when I was a lad, we’d often go to visit my grandparents in Peebles. My brother and I would spend weekends playing in Hay Lodge Park, jumpers for goalposts, and exploring the woods along the River Tweed. My grandparents lived in Hay Lodge Cottage, opposite the park gates, where my aunt still lives. As I grew up in Edinburgh I’d still visit Hay Lodge Park, with my student chums, and late at night, we’d sometimes manage to get into Neidpath Tunnel and walk through casting our torches ahead like something out of Scooby Doo. The real challenge was to walk through, alone, without a torch. Larks.
The whole stretch of line here is an engineering marvel, from the tunnel to the viaduct with its amazing skew-arch construction, which was necessary as the bridge crosses the Tweed at an angle. There are stories that suggest that the Royal Train hid in the 600 yard tunnel during WW2 as the King and Queen visited war damage in Clydeside. Great story. Not even sure if I’m bothered about whether it’s true.
Fast forward 40 years and things have changed a little. Hay Lodge Park now has a parkrun, and the tunnel is open to the public. It’s normally unlit, but for one day, the tunnel is lit for the Tweed Tunnel Run.
I first heard about the run when I saw that Colin Blackburn had ran it previously. It looked a hoot. Three courses to choose from; 20km, 10km, and 4km. I signed up and put it in the diary.
The weather wasn’t looking great for the run, which was a bit of a shame. There’s a lot of autumn colour and contrasts and a ray or two of sunshine would’ve made for stunning conditions with the Tweed running high after all the rain. The Start was an intriguing affair. Like many races there was the problem of bottlenecks early on, especially with narrow wet rocky rough paths within the first kilometre. The organisers tackled this in an interesting way; every runner was set off individually, with the fast guys off first. It reminded me of these scenes you see of people taking a parachute jump; the starter would tap a competitor, say GO, then the next one would move forward, and a few seconds later (4 I think), the process was repeated. They allow half an hour to get all the 20km runners away, then it’s time for the 10km runners.
I’d seeded myself near the back of the pack and it was about 10 minutes before I finally got going. Even so, it became apparent to me pretty quickly that this was not going to be a quick race. I was full of a big tea from the previous evening, and I was beginning to suspect my field research into the relative merits of Clipper IPA vs Broughton Pale Ale had perhaps, on the whole, been a little too extensive. I settled down into a comfortable pace that seemed to be slightly slower than everyone else’s, meaning that I was steadily overtaken on the narrow paths.
On my feet I was wearing a pair of reliable and comfortable but worn Saucony Nomad trail shoes that had served me well. But the recent rain meant the paths were muddy and slippy. The route is mostly trail with occasional track and short sections of road, but even so, if it’s as wet as this next year I’ll wear a shoe with a more aggressive sole.
The route itself was wonderful. I thought I knew the area pretty well but the race took us upriver and across bridges and along paths I never knew existed. I loved the contrasts. I love woodland paths but this was all mixed in with tracks and riverside and open hillside, with twists and turns so you were never quite sure what was coming next.
Having done a few ultras I thought a 20km trail run would be pretty easy and I was surprised when we got to the 10km marker and got that ‘only half-way’ feeling. But I wasn’t pushing hard and I was happy to run easy and enjoy the views. One advantage of non-standard distance races on mixed terrain is there’s no benchmark. So I felt no pressure to go faster, as frankly, what was the point?
We were led onto open hillside and an exposed climb round Cademuir to the highest point of the course where the views of Peebles and the valleys made me stop and stare for a bit. Then there was some fun descending down slippy paths where again I felt the lack of traction in my shoes. It wasn’t downhill all the way though with a few kick-ups here and there, before the feed point and the turn into South Park Wood and the approach to the tunnel.
This bit of the race was a series of flashbacks, probably mostly imagined, as the last time I’d played in these woods was a long time ago, usually involving convoluted plot adaptations of Swiss Family Robinson. Still, every now and then I’d see a familiar path or feature and it was curious to see how much had changed, and how much hadn’t.
The routes converged and split a few times, and on the final descent to the tunnel there was a bit of congestion. There were no obvious problems as far as I could see though, and I guess if I was a bit faster, I’d be in front of the pinch points. I quite like these mixed-pace runs that you often see with LDWA events where the runners catch the walkers and there’s a lovely big melting pot of runners and walkers all out doing their own thing on their own terms.
The approach to the tunnel was quite a thing. Quite theatrical as it got closer, and then 674 yards until daylight again. I liked it. I wasn’t sure I would as I thought it might be a bit cheesy, but I think they got it just right. There were walkers and runners in the tunnel but I jogged through and enjoyed the surrealism, knowing that I’d be back for seconds later.
One of the great things about this event is that after the races are over there’s a 3.5km walk that you can sign up for that takes in a loop over the viaduct then back through the tunnel. This means the day can be a family affair as the runner has time to get back, finish, then go out on the walk again.
I set out with Roberta on the walk, retracing bits of the run route, and this time with plenty of time to enjoy the tunnel again.
I’ve already signed up for 2020. If you fancy a taster of what to expect, and to see some more, ahem, professional quality video of 2019, have a look at the Tweedlove video below. And I’m not just saying that because I make a brief appearance (1:34 since you ask).
I can’t remember the last time I entered a 10K race. Sure, I run 10k’s as training runs, but they are normally at a nice comfortable pace. I made the decision after my last Ultra to give up on distance for a while and just focus on getting my love for running back with some shorter stuff with my ‘Long runs’ being around 10 miles unless I was at an event.
The Coxhoe Trail 10k was just a random event that I knew would see a good Strider turnout. It was local, cheap (£10), and had a nice t-shirt. It was the T-Shirt that sold it for me.
Registration was quick and easy at the Active Life Centre (formerly the Leisure Centre) in Coxhoe itself collecting race number and event t-shirt. It is then a miles walk uphill to the actual race start location. This worked quite well as a bit of a warm up.
At the start area a huge strider contingent amassed and led by Captain Michael a number of us headed out for an out and back warm up. It was at this point I was starting to feel like the odd one out. I had chosen, as I always do, to wear my striders t-shirt and not club vest. everyone else was of course in their vests. Since I don’t like wearing a vest I’d just have to be ‘unique’. Back from the warm up and now assembled on the start line we were ready to go, though I soon realised that I was far to near the front of the pack.
The 10k route spends a lot of its first mile running downhill, and starting to near the front, I of course got swept up in the initial stampede.
Running a 7:30 minute mile downhill is all good and well if you can sustain it onto the flat, I, in my current shape (round), cannot. For long anyway.
As more and more sensible runners passed me having already reached their appropriate cruising velocities I reluctantly eventually reached mine. This was after thinking about a mile in that I was on course for a 10k PB on the flat, never mind off road. Reality soon kicked in and forced me to slow to the far more comfortable 8:30ish pace on the flat.
After the initial downhill sprint (and delusions of grandeur) the Coxhoe Trail 10k course is actually really nice. It’s an out and back loop course, so head out along the flat trails, which I assume are a former railway line, drop down, and then at around 2.5ish miles start a long steady climb up to Quarrington Hill. Several runners were struggling on this climb, but I felt strong. Anyone who has ever ran a Hardmoors event would probably only consider it a minor blip on an otherwise flat section, but to those who haven’t I can understand why it was a struggle.
As said, this is an out and back with a loop, and what goes up must again come down. As I approached the summit of the climb I passed fellow Striders Ian Jobling and Lesley Charman, who obviously weren’t loving the climb as much as I. They both caught up with me as we descended, and Lesley kept with me for the majority of the rest of the race, though I kept both of them in my sights.
Down the hill, back along the flat former railway line (please someone tell me if I’m wrong) and back up the hill which I flew down at the start. Going up the hill, I again felt strong, perhaps because my delusions of grandeur had long since passed and a PB was now just a passing memory. As I eased my way up through the field I was about to pass Lesley when she suddenly let out a huge scream and pulled up in pain. Concerned I stopped to make sure she was ok, she assured me she was so I pressed on with Ian Jobling now in my sights.
I passed Ian, again on the final hill, and noticed Anna Mason was just ahead, she too looked to be struggling on the hill, and as we approached the top I shouted some words of encouragement to her “Don’t get beaten by a fat lad”. I suspect it didn’t work since I didn’t see her again.
Slightly cruel, but to finish this race you actually have to almost run past the finish and into the woods for a final loop, I did this and entered the finish field to see the Strider finish staff doing their jobs admirably.
Ok, so lessons learnt; Hills for strength, Track for speed. Guess where I’ll be headed alternate weeks on Wednesdays, even though I dislike track (sorry Allan). I really enjoyed this race, even though I’m not used to ‘racing’ and would recommend it to anyone. Special Congratulations to Gareth Pritchard for 1st male and Emma Thompson for 1st Female, and to all the other Striders for some great efforts.
In mid-July an email from Nigel Heppell* entitled “This one’s got your name all over it”, contained a website link to the Abraham’s Tea Room Round. “A tea room? Does that mean there is cake?” I thought wistfully….and clicked to explore further. Fast forward two months, and Nigel’s dangled carrot resulted in probably one of my most enjoyable days on the hills to date, and the reason for this report (both to cement it in my memory banks, and to tempt other folk to give it a try…).
*please note: IT WAS HIS IDEA!
Ok so here goes for the background history bit…The George Fisher store in Keswick was originally the Abraham’s photographic shop, but in 1957 George Fisher turned it into an outdoor equipment store. High up on the top floor, with spectacular views – is Abraham’s Tea Room. The view from the café is beautiful, but often obscured by the weather, so someone has painted the view above the window, and labelled all the fells that you can see on a clear day.
A remark from Alan to Jacob (who work at the store and had clearly been looking at the painting and daydreaming) apparently went along the lines of “Tell ya wat Jacob. Garn round skyline from Tea Room would be a grand day out eh?!”
This inspired the 30 mile route that starts at the front doors of the shop, it’s creation coinciding with George Fisher’s 60th Anniversary – see the George Fisher Blog.
The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’ are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge, and place on their leader board.
The website states that the tops you need to ‘touch’
are: Catbells, Robinson, High Stile, Grisedale Pike, Hopegill Head (AKA
Hobgarton), Eel Crag, Sail, Causey Pike, Rowling End and Barrow. You can do
them in any order/sequence that you like, and successful completion of the
route (photos and submission of a GPX trace as proof) is awarded with a badge,
and place on their leader board.
Having had a relatively empty race calendar since my Hadrian Hundred at the end of
May and no trips to the Lakes at all this year, I was feeling rather dubious
about our chances; not worried about the distance, but rather by the climb…with
“12,000ft +” it has over twice the amount as the Tour (de Helvellyn) which I
have done a few times and is always a tough one. Was this bonkers?!
Nigel and I vaguely pondered logistics…usually
in the pub after club night, and mostly without any resolution (other than
continued consumption of pints and soggy thrice-fried chips). When to do it?
Clockwise or anti-clockwise? Who could we rope in? Could we run it as a relay?
Were we fit enough? Were we mad enough?!
As the weeks went by, summer was fading and it
felt like this was a project best saved until the Spring, with better weather,
longer daylight hours and more serious recces under our belts. We’d vaguely
considered the 23rd September as a possible date, but long term forecasts
didn’t look that hopeful, and we had agreed that – after my two previous 100
mile rainstorms – this was NOT going to be a bad weather outing. But then the
Met office predicted a strange thing…was this a mini heatwave on its way?
Surely not?! I emailed Nigel…. we had a weather window! would he consider an
outing sooner than planned…in fact very soon…like, THIS weekend?! Shall we just
go and DO IT?!
After roping in another last minute willing victim
in the shape of Mike Hughes, at 5.45am on Saturday morning 14th September, we
were driving down a deserted motorway bound for the Lakes, not quite sure what
the day had in store. We parked in Keswick, made our way to George Fisher’s
(slightly eerie walking through empty streets that were usually rammed with
tourists) and took the obligatory starter selfie on their doorstep before
setting off soon after 8am.
The route starts with a short run out to
Portinscale village before heading up and over the top of Catbells. As we made
our way up the first climb, the early morning sun was shining, spirits were
high and we were all enjoying the distinct lack of tourists – a rare occurrence
here! A calm Derwent Water was gleaming below us, and we stopped frequently to
savour the views. If it continued like this, it was going to be a cracking day.
We descended down into Little Town in the Newlands
Valley, trotted past Newlands Church and up the grassy banks of Robinson:
familiar territory from leg 1 of the Bob Graham, only difference being this
time I was allowed to pause for breath! After another selfie at the summit
cairn – all grinning from ear to ear – we descended Robinson using an easier
grassy route than the hideous slippery rock scramble down to the road that we
had tried on a recce (when I had ended up on my bottom x4 times), this time
taking us straight to Gatesgarth and the shores of Buttermere. Well aware of
the most difficult section that lay ahead, we enjoyed a quick pie pit stop and
psyched ourselves up for heading into virgin territory for the loop on the
other side of the Lake.
The climb up High Stile starts innocently enough
as the path contours parallel with the water, climbing gradually until you
cross a fast flowing gill, but then you clamber up through the crags ..up and
up…a relentless quad-burning and calf-popping climb (there was swearing), which
wasn’t helped by the increasing strong winds. But the views back over the Lake
(and beyond in all directions) were breath-taking, and at one point the three
of us just sat down to gaze back into the valley and soak it all in.
Knackering, but what better place to be on a Saturday morning?!.
After a windy summit photo stop, the only way back down was to tick off Red Pike Summit too (staggering views on the ridge line but avoid Chapel Crags edge), and the descent from here down to Bleaberry Tarn was dismal…sliding/staggering down on loose scree and rocks that smashed at your ankles and sapped the (now waning!) energy from the legs. The route back to Buttermere eventually takes you through Burtness Wood, on a never ending path of rocky steps that –with wobbly legs – was frustratingly impossible to attack with any sort of speed (if you still valued your teeth).
Ah, returning to Buttermere was a relief! All feeling a bit battered, we headed to a cafe to refuel on shortbread and tea (well, it was a tea room round after all!). As we sat savouring our cuppas, my comment of “anyone fancy getting the bus back then?!” was met with unanimous agreement that we were going to crack on. After this we would be committed to be up in the hills for a good few hours, but I think we all felt ok. The thought of coming back and having to do High Stile again if we failed on this attempt was all the motivation I needed to carry on.
It was soon after 4pm when we left Buttermere, the possible rain that had been forecast hadn’t appeared, and in our minds – even though we had hours ahead of us – it felt like we’d broken the back of it. For the first time that day, it dawned on me that we had a good chance of completing the round, and we trotted out of the cafe feeling rejuvenated. As we headed out of the village up through the woods alongside the river, I grabbed the chance to devour another of my sarnies before I needed both hands for my poles and the climb up Whitless Pike. As we clambered up to the top it got progressively rockier and ridiculously windy (same as last time I was there…coincidence, or bad luck?) and the poles were soon ditched to make sure I had both hands to grab on safely.
Over the top, we took the track to Wandhope and over to pass east of Crag Hill. By now everything felt a lot more isolated & exposed, and the only other faces we saw were the fluffy-cheeked smiles of Herdy sheep that were idly chomping on their early supper, but the terrain was more runnable in parts. Stretching out in front of us to the left was Sand Hill & Hopegill Head behind it, and Grisedale Pike to the right, both of which we had to climb. The skies (that had been full of high cloud for most of the afternoon) were clearing, and the low sun gave everything an orange glow as we set off to do this out and back. The odd shaped triangular bit of the route on the map didn’t look too daunting compared to what we’d already done. Someone commented “this bit’ll be over in a jiffy”, which of course wasn’t the case.
It was hard going, but again the views from Hopegill Head were a just reward. The ridge route along Hobcarton Crag was, er, bracing! (and another crawl on all fours in parts…just felt safer when my bum was on the floor!) and after a quick selfie stop on top of Grisedale Pike, the pace quickened to get back down asap, and retrace our steps back to the crags, and back to the route that returned to the eastern side of Crag Hill. After a ludicrously steep but relatively short climb up to Eel Crag, we pushed on to Crag Hill summit, and paused. This was the highest point, with spectacular views and beautiful skies in all directions, and the landscape around us was burning in low evening sun. Wondering if I’d ever be lucky enough to experience these kind of views and conditions again, I just stood there and savoured it for a bit.
Shortly afterwards on our way down, we sat in a line on the grass, legs stretching down the hill and resting back on our rucksacks, and just had a breather. It was just before 7pm, and my Garmin said we’d done 25 miles. Only 5 miles to go? Hhmm I was starting to suspect it would be longer, and it wouldn’t be long before we lost the daylight. But the toughest climbs were behind us…for the next few miles it was a case of running along the ridges with gradually decreasing height…it felt like the end was in sight.
We pushed on across to Sail, past the squiggly ‘fix the fells’ giant zig zag path, and along Scar Crags. The increasing wind had become bitterly cold (yet more layers were pulled out of the rucksack), and again going was slow as safety demanded trying to get as much contact with the rock as possible. The side wind on Causey Pike summit was mental…I struggled to stay on my feet, removing my glasses before they were whipped off my face. The sun was just setting behind us as we descended down, creating orange and pink clouds ahead of us and rich inky shadows down to our left in Rigg Beck Valley.
The out and back run from Causey Pike to Rowling End was memorable due to the attentions of an extremely stubborn and persistent grouse*. Not content with bursting out of the undergrowth around us every few minutes, flapping about our heads and generally making a horrendous din, it manoeuvred itself on the path in front of Nigel and became our little bobbing front runner! This somehow seemed even funnier on the return journey. But even so we were glad to be rid of it when we turned to drop down into Stoneycroft Ghyll.
* it turns out the grouse had almost celebratory status on the ATR facebook group. George Fisher commented “we actually decided you needed a bit more of a challenge so have been training “attack grouse” to help keep your times competitive”. On a more serious note, they realised that it was probably protecting a next somewhere and have asked folk to be considerate.
By now it was almost completely dark, and I could just make out Nigel and Mike’s silhouette’s as they headed down into the valley through the heather ahead of me. Even in daylight, there is no visible path or trod…. it’s a case of spotting the path up (eventually bearing right, up to Barrow) on the opposite side of the valley, heading in that general direction and hoping that you can cross the beck when you get to the bottom. It was a long slog down, but thanks to Nigel’s lead, we found the path, crossed the beck, and paused to put on head torches before we climbed up again…the LAST ascent…and not before time.
We climbed up in silence, tired but determined, the world around me confined to the small pool of light from my torch, with spiders, toads and other wriggly wildlife things scuttling out of sight. At Barrow summit we stood and looked down at the twinkly lights of Braithwaite and Keswick. The three of us let out an audible sigh of relief…we weren’t home yet, but it was all downhill from here.
The inky black route down to Little Braithwaite seemed blanketed in calm after the earlier windy heights. We let gravity tug us down over the gently descending grassy banks and every now and then spotted the little flicker of a glowing insect (beetle?) flashing up from around our feet. Once down on the road, for the final couple of km (that dragged!) we followed the signs to Portinscale and Ullock and the feeling of nearing civilization grew as the houses became more frequent, until we found ourselves back on the same path leading back into Keswick, and walked through town back up to the market square. We got some odd looks from Saturday night revellers who were spilling in and out of the pubs around 10pm, and looking at the selfie we took when we reached the doors of George Fisher, I’m not surprised!! We looked somewhat more bedraggled and weather beaten than we had at the outset, but the big smiles were still there. We had done it!!
At the end, Mike had muttered something under his breath about “never opening an email from Jules again”…!…but over the few days that followed there was swapping of photos and stats. 32.89 miles; 14:01 hrs; 14,603ft ascent: 7hr15m going up: 5hr43m going down; and 1hr05m flat time. After emailing our gpx proof to George Fisher, a reply informed us that we had been added to the Leader Board of Glory and would also receive some spoils in the form of Badges of Honour, and…wait for it…. free tea and cake in the café next time we are there!
Next time I am there? Will I be in Keswick to just to sit in the café, or will it be to try this again? There is no doubt we could have done it quicker (skipping the food shops/food stops/sit downs/café visits/grouse chasing episodes), but would I want to? I’m not so sure… the day was pretty near perfect as it was.
But one thing is certain…next time I am in Keswick for whatever reason, there WILL be cake.