Northern Section: Friday Leg 2 – Byrness to Bellingham – 15.5 miles – with Diane Watson
As we waited for the arrival of Kerry & James, our northern leg 1 runners, we took the advantage of having tea in the local inn and gaining some inside knowledge on the route ahead. On asking the rather grumpy woman at the inn, she took a long breath and turned her head slowly to the clock, then looked back at us: “are you planning to do this today?” We were obviously not giving her the impression of experienced fell types that were capable of tackling 15 miles of the boggiest part of the Pennine way (a feature she was also keen to warn us about).
Luckily we managed to regain some positivity and returned to wait patiently at the checkpoint. Text messaging allowed us to get some idea of Kerry & James’ progress. In the meantime we had a leisurely chat with a guy who had nearly finished his 18-day walk of the whole PW and then there were Kerry & James, bounding along looking quite fresh after their epic 25-mile first leg trek.
So Diane and I were finally on our way! Navigation was required for the first half of what was a fairly undulating but not too hilly route. Luckily there had been plenty of time to study our OS map and so we had more or less memorised the route ahead.
Due to the delay and the fact that we didn’t want to arrive too late for Scott, who was waiting to take over at Bellingham (we were nearing 3 hours behind schedule) we took the option of missing out the boggiest part of our section (we were also warned about this by two people we met) but had to add an extra half mile of easier ground. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it would have been nice to just follow the course of the PW but common sense took precedence. As a result, the ‘baton’ [or ‘map’ as it also known – Ed] was passed on safely at the bridge over the North Tyne in pretty Bellingham, pausing only to take some photos, before Scott was on his way…our job was done!
We encountered only beautiful scenery and a slightly surreal sense of being a little part of a much bigger event knowing that all of our friends in the club were with us in spirit and that we were making our mark in the history of the club.
Central Section: Sunday Leg 5 – Sunderland Bridge to Palace Green – 10 miles
We ran through armpit-high thistles with our arms in the air, got rashes from foot to shoulder from the long grass…I spoke to Striders I had never spoken to before…I turned round and saw a whole tribe of purple behind me in the beautiful countryside…I weed in a field with someone I’d only spoken to once before who I’m now proud to call a friend…I talked about the sadness of losing babies and the support that 4Louis provide to bereaved families with a total stranger…I cheered Striders running further than they’ve ever run before…I enjoyed meat pie and a pint with new friends in The Elm Tree and shed a tear at Paul’s speech. Thank you Striders – it was just what we all needed! X
Dave Shipman’s white van
Southern Section: Friday, Saturday & Sunday – Support
Thursday 6.30 am: Contents being removed including old lawnmower and box of unsold car boot stuff which I have carried round for ages. Must be an expedition coming soon? Parked up next to house, suspect we will head off after work?
Thursday 5.30 pm: I was right: all surfaces hastily cleaned and bags of kit thrown in.
Thursday 6 pm: ‘Driver D’ joined by ‘Kiwi Mike’ (with no dog this time, but several more bags and a tent). Off we go!
Thursday 6.30 pm: Durham City, pick up ‘Lady J’ (must be in for a long trip if the number of bags she has are anything to go by!).
Thursday 8.30 pm: Got through all the road works (and avoided running out of petrol) to Woolley Edge services. Joined by Driver D’s double, known as ‘Our Kid’ apparently – and yet more bags!
Thursday 9.30 pm: Fiddly, wiggly roads to the campsite. Abandoned in car park for the night – typical!
Friday 5.30 am: Kettle on – bloody hell, this is an early start! Joined by what looks like a black coffin -carrier but on investigation it’s a multi-purpose removal estate car on its way back from an end-of term university visit – my sympathies, done that run a few times! Mobile catering function required for several sleepy campers after what they describe as a snore-interrupted night (nothing to do with the beers they drank before bedtime then?).
Friday 5.55 am: Bleary-eyed bloke carrying two rucksacks approaches; also has what he calls ‘a tent’; looks more like a full-body condom to me! All goes in through the back door; he sets off running and away we go!
Friday 12.00 noon: After several hours hurtling over hill and dale, parked at length on the end of Saddleworth Moor. No sign of Kiwi Mike. Eventually he arrives after losing his way but by then I’ve moved on to Yorkshire where I’m joined by a red Honda Jazz and two more runners with lots of kit bags.
Friday afternoon: Yippee! Into Calderdale relay country after ‘Pirate Nige’ (the driver of the black coffin-carrier) and Lady J (she of the many bags) have been off-piste looking for hairy sausage caterpillars! Familiar roads and hills that I’ve been round a few times.
Friday night 8.00 pm: Make it to Malham before nightfall as required but then drive backwards and forwards on narrow, stone-walled lanes looking for Moon’s Farm campsite. Find two campsites but not of that name and eventually work out that it’s the one at the foot of Malham Cove. Joined by a red Golf and red Polo, so relay convoy status is now established. No room on the campsite but Mrs Moon kindly lets me use her car park, assisted by red Golf moving over to give me breathing space which I need after the last 24 hours!
Saturday 7.00 am: Mobile catering required again: runners seem even more bleary-eyed but still enthusiastic. Bags, damp tents and sweaty kit thrown in the back, along with an assortment of food and drink.
Saturday 8.15 am: Runners set off in beautiful sunshine. I get my insides swept out and Kiwi Mike beats my carpets – first time in a long time!
Saturday 8.30 am: Off for a beautiful trip round the Dales: up to Arncliffe, down both sides of Pen Y Ghent seeking runners on the move with no success. Then to Horton where I’m left in a pub car park but am eventually rescued by Kiwi Mike.
Saturday 2.00 pm: After being abandoned for a couple of hours in Hawes, found by Driver D and ‘Chatterbox Jan’, both looking sweaty and weary but with bags of food and drink and off we go again.
Saturday 6.00 pm: On the road for ages, over Butter Tubs Pass, people in and out, stops at Tan Hill, a tunnel under the A66, supposed to be heading for near Middleton but left parked next to a barn: sign says “To be kept clear at all times” so I will probably get towed away by a tractor! Passengers seem intent on standing in a field with cows, staring for over an hour at a distant horizon. Farmer arrives and doesn’t tow me away, instead gives friendly advice about how savage cows can be then, once the red Polo has been moved, farmer drives off up track. Eventually runners appear, pause briefly for water from my diminishing supplies then head off up the track after the farmer.
Saturday 8 pm: At last! A campsite instead of a car park! Company of other vans and tents; passengers have all gone to the pub; night may not end well!
Saturday 10 pm: As I suspected, a crowd of folk have returned to use my lounge facilities: Kiwi Mike brings out cake; ‘Party Jean’ finds a bottle of Amaretto left over from Xmas; rattling bags of cider and beer come from cupboards and rucksacks. Remarkably, peace and quiet by midnight.
Sunday 7.30 am: Breakfast time again: folk seem more bleary and tired, less energetic until joined by ‘Tigga Till’ and Joan who set off up the hills. Random packing follows before I head for Wolsingham Station via Bollihope Common and across the moors. Apart from our convoy, there’s hardly any traffic and no people.
Sunday 12.00 noon: Tigga Till and Joan arrive at the station, no trains running, so join us for a drive to Witton Park where I am left on my own for hours by the side of Paradise Park (an over-generous description when compared to the scenery I have been through in the last 48 hours!). Seemingly, Bleary-eyed Paul, Pirate Nige and Lady J got lost in the long grass!
Sunday 1.00 pm: Diversion to Newton Cap Viaduct seeking ‘Captain Anna’, who in turn was seeking Kiwi Mike; no sign of either so on to Willington…
Sunday 1.20 pm: Willington: amazing crowd of runners, all waiting for Kiwi Mike, none with bags and none needing a lift thank goodness! All say they are running to Durham.
Sunday 2.30 pm: Sizeable group head for Durham; party atmosphere. Kiwi Mike leaves me near Durham Rowing Club and heads off with Bleary-eyed Paul to do yet more running.
Sunday 5.30 pm: Kiwi Mike and Driver D return in pouring rain but good spirits. Appears that the trip has been a great success!
Sunday 5.45 pm: Parked up in Chester-le Street; over 450 miles covered; job done! Kiwi Mike and Driver D remove a few bags of kit and walk away. Wait a minute! Come back! What about the bags of wet and sweaty kit? What about the soggy bananas and left over cake crumbs, half-eaten sandwiches and water bottles? And who do these red boxer shorts belong to?!!
Southern section: Friday Legs 5 & 8; Saturday Leg 1; Sunday Legs 4 & 5
Friday, Leg 8 – Ickornshaw to East Marton – 9 miles – with Paul Evans: having said I probably shouldn’t run at all (dodgy ankle making me whinge a lot), I decided I wasn’t content with the 10-miler earlier with Steph and Paul so volunteered to take on what turned out to be the final leg of the evening. I was told it was easy-ish and not too long (which I guess is what 9 miles and 1,250 feet is for Paul Evans!). But even he was tired (after more than 20 miles) and the climbs seemed bigger than they should have been and whilst it was lovely to see the sun setting from a perfect viewpoint it was also a bit nerve-wracking as we had no head-torches and there were still a few miles to go.
More worrying though, were the cows, one of which seemed to take a dislike to me and after a little lurch, started heading towards me. Paul recommended jumping over the fence but as it was about shoulder height for me – with barbed wire on the top – I didn’t rate my chances! To cut a long story short, we managed to escape unscathed but still had to race the light to reach East Marton by nightfall.
When we got to the canal we knew we were nearly there but when a slight edge of doubt crept in to Paul’s voice I was beginning to get a bit concerned. Then I spotted a lonely beam of light flickering in the darkness ahead – it was Steph! Come in search of us! And so, just before 10.00 pm, our leg was done. Sadly too late for the pub dinner I’d promised myself but still leaving me with a very content smile on my face.
Southern section: Friday Legs 2, 3 & 7; Saturday Legs 4, 5 & 6; Sunday Leg 2
As I write this, the three days of the southern legs are now a blur of…chilly dawns…hurried muesli…squeezing wet tents back into bags…driving…plodding…eating cake…driving…running…wonderful views…eating cake…running…endless views of rolling green hills and patchwork fields…waiting…cheering and clapping for smiling Striders out in force…drinking coffee…wonderful company…running…weary legs…waiting…runners’ heads bobbing up over the horizon…dreaming (of a hot shower)…drinking coffee… “there they are!” …running…COWS!…”what if it’s a bull?”…slow to a walk…eyes down…be invisible… beautiful, peaceful countyside…lovely banter…”how many more miles?” …getting late…pitching tents in the dark (hilarious!)…racing to the pub (too late for food)…crisps and alcohol for supper again!…”another round?”…”why not!” …returning to campsites in the dark…no showers…grim…feeling stinky…sleeping bags…overtures of snoring…chilly dawns (again)…hurried muesli…”off we go”…”
Northern section: Saturday Leg 3 – Knarsdale to Garrigill – 14 miles – with Debs Goddard & Jean Bradley
Nothing could be nicer than standing in the middle of unfamiliar countryside on the Cumbrian/Durham border on a warm day, surrounded by orchids, harebells, cranesbill and buzzing insects. Just a nagging worry affects the mood: where are they? Are they OK? Have I missed them?
Thank goodness for a good phone signal and Debs’ clear decision-making (…leave Alston, come and meet her and Jean further up the route at Knarsdale). This turned out to be an abandoned station on the old South Tyne railway, with platform, an old ticket office and signs threatening forty shilling fines…
It wasn’t long before Debs and Jean came trotting along the track, cheerful but a bit frustrated by the disappearing Pennine Way ‘acorns’ [motif that indicates the Pennine Way trail – Ed]. So much for the Pennine Way becoming an eroded motorway then – even when we could find the route it was often overgrown!
Jean and I could only admire the map and its reader as we were ‘spectacle-free’ and so we continued, skirting Slaggyford happily enough but losing time as what ‘acorns’ there were led us over stiles and into fields with no apparent exit. On one occasion we found ourselves face to face with a herd of cows and their calves and – yes – climbing to his feet as we approached, a big creamy bull guarding the gateway!
Alston to Garrigill had less drama but was just as pretty. We anticipated ‘lashings and lashings of ginger beer’ but a wonderful half-pint outside the newly refurbished pub won out, underscoring the satisfaction of running twice as far as I’d expected and the ‘Striderly’ pleasure of running with good friends.
Northern Section: Saturday Leg 6 – Cauldron Snout to Holwick – 9 miles – with Andy James.
After doing ‘Park Run’ in the morning I checked my OS Teesdale map of early-60s vintage that didn’t even show the Tees being dammed at Cauldron Snout to form Cow Green Reservoir (luckily the contours were in the same place however). I then joined Andy at Ebchester for the drive to the start of the final northern leg of our charity relay, arriving there about 4.00 pm for an estimated start time of 5.30 pm. No other Striders were in sight but it was early days…
The weather was sunny: 14 degrees with a gentle breeze but then a black cloud appeared, bringing heavy vertical, then horizontal, rain and HAIL! (Was this July?). So, like the sheep around us, we sheltered behind a stone wall (baaa!). The storm passed, the sun came out again and we soon dried out.
By about 6.00 pm we concluded that with no one else was going to join us, and that we might have missed a ‘relay running late’ message. Miraculously, we found a sign near the dam which said ‘GOOD MOBILE PHONE SIGNAL HERE’ (move one yard either way – no signal!) and called Steph who said Jon Ayres was on his way from Dufton and should be with us in an hour and a half. Being the good civil and electrical engineers that we are, off we went to explore the dam and its water pressure measuring boreholes, generators and anything else we could find (howay, it filled in the time!).
To our delight, Jon arrived a tad early from his magnificent solo effort across the tops and after sharing info and pleasantries, his legs then had the luxury of driving Andy’s car to Bowlees visitor centre.
Still no more troops, so off we went, down the side of Cauldron Snout and onto the rock-strewn paths of the Falcon Clints’ boulder field (could have been on the moon) along with the odd board-walk then eventually onto something vaguely runnable. This was not going to be a 10K PB!
The first half of the leg was on the north bank of the River Tees (the south bank appeared to be marked on the map as an MOD training area). After the tribulations of the Clints and Holmwath Escarpments, we arrived at Widdy Bank Farm where we could at last make good progress after our mountaineering experiences. Then we saw the sign that said it all: three and a half miles back to Cauldron Snout, three and three-quarters to High Force. HEY UP – we thought this was a 10K!
Across ditches, and through stones walls via little wooden gates, across the bridge over Harwood Beck, then crossing to the south side of the River Tees at Cronkley, then onto a wide track for 400yards (which made us look like models on a cat walk).
Next was a trip around a farm yard (no Old Macdonald or quarter-pounder’s to be seen) where we encountered a problem due to the lack of way markers: options were to follow a boggy fence line, climb a steep hill covered in gorse or back-track towards the MOD area. We chose to climb the hill (probably a short cut to dry ground but slightly longer) until we hit the PW again.
Next obstacle was a barbed wire-topped fence where we put our high jump skills to the test (gold medals being awarded to both participants). Then it was back down to low ground to see some friendly faces albeit a flock of sheep (who decided not to follow us due to the fact they were not as fit as us athletes!).
At last we hit a reasonable track, so, putting more coal on the fire, we reeled in the miles to High Force. What a long three and three-quarter country miles that was (must have been all those photo stops)! A quick decision not to dive into the cold, fast flowing, peaty waters at High Force then we pushed on to Low Force and Wynch Bridge (a suspension footbridge built for lead miners in 1830).
Here we saw a poster nailed to a tree saying Strathmore Arms, 1 mile – nectar! In the heather we caught a glimpse of a young ‘Monarch of the Glen’ [a deer – Ed] scratching its lug at the sound of these two explorers; he then showed us how to cope with cross county hills by bounding away.
Onwards across the quickly darkening fields with Andy’s phone shattering the quiet of the countryside. It was Paul asking if we are still alive and what our favourite tipple is! Back to tarmac and the comforting lights of Holwick (or IS it Holwick? – No sign of a pub and only a few well strung out houses – have we got the wrong village? – We stop and knock on the door of a house at 10.00 pm – “Where is the Strathmore Arms?” – “Just there love” – relief!).
Finally, after two-and-a-half hours, we receive the most rousing of receptions from the locals and many of the lads and lasses who ran the Southern and rest of the Northern legs. Then it was into the pub with just enough time to embrace everyone in sight, hoy a pint down our necks (courtesy of the landlord) and enjoy the band.
The campers then made their way to bed so they could be fresh, waiting for Paul’s foreign accent to ring out at 7.00 am: “Hi de hi campers, your breakfast is ready and no cooking required: IT’S IN A CAN!”.
We intrepid explorers continued our adventures: a one-and-a-half mile cross-country walk to the car (thanks for the torch Nigel) and then over the dales to Ebchester. I never knew rabbits came out in such numbers at night, with the journey being a rabbit slalom course (we managed it without harming any, so rabbit pie was off the Sunday menu).
Hope you enjoyed the above tale. It could have been the tail of Peter………..Oh come on, they don’t get any better!
Central Section: Sunday Leg 1 – Holwick to Wolsingham – 16 miles – with Till Sawala.
Today I picked up a total stranger that I met via a Facebook message then got quietly freaked out on arrival at the campsite at 8am to be told by fellow bleary-eyed striders that Till can run…didn’t you realise Joan?.. really quite fast…sub 3-hour marathon actually. Till then proceeded to run ‘really quite fast’ although he referred to it as ‘relaxed social pace’. He was certainly able to converse with ease as he bounced along beside me in his Hokas (quite a lot like Tigger) consistently up a big hill, then on tarmac (that’s another first). Words of encouragement were offered by a convoy of the aforementioned striders in their cars before we struck out over the moors and down into Weardale. We took slightly longer than the 2 hours on the original schedule for this leg but had a great morning out and we didn’t get lost.