Tag Archives: High Cup Nick

High Cup Nick, Dufton, Saturday, February 27, 2016

BM / 9.3 miles / 1509 ft

Camilla Laurén-Määttä

This is a race I’ve always wanted to do but somehow it has always clashed with cross country. This year it did overlap with the XC Nationals, so with the number of Striders heading to Dufton this year the Striders XC team was probably smaller than it could have been. We added up to a total of 9 Striders, both runners (Anita, Debs, Diane, Catherine, Nigel, I) and a bunch of injured but enthusiastic walkers/cheer-leaders (Mandy, Joan, Jan). Mandy and I arrived early, but there was already a solid queue building up inside Dufton Village Hall waiting to register – and a cake stall at the back of the hall selling delicious cakes and tea. The other Striders arrived soon after and there was enough time to take a group picture and scuttle round the village green a bit.

traditional group pic (thanks to Catherine Smith)

High Cup Nick is quite a popular fell race so there were around 350 runners setting off from the village hall after a safety talk, where I had to guess the content (don’t get lost/shot/run over by sheep?) as I was standing quite far back. We set off along the village road and then turned left towards Bow Hall Farm. The field was similar to that of Esk Valley Fell races in North Yorkshire – reasonably experienced runners but with a variety of paces. After the farm, we turned left onto a footpath following a stone wall along the fields for about 0.5 mile and then turning left onto a wider track. After a while the route turned right onto a narrow path with Stud Gill on the left and a tarn on the right and onto moorland with a tow of runners heading towards the majestic whin sill rocks at High Cup Nick.

We kept running high with the footpath only gradually descending towards a stone wall where the route turned to follow the wall. Fellrunning and dry feet don’t go well together, so now it was high time to get our feet wet by wading over the water-covered stepping stones. We continued trotting along the path and after crossing a little bridge we ended up ploughing through a field of large boulders. I was concentrating on keeping up with the lady in front of me, as the slope gradually steepened, following the steps in the clay. I had recced the route earlier, with my keen dog helpfully pulling me up the slope, but now I had to resort to a bit of scrambling. I didn’t stop to look round me this time, but I knew from last time that the views were fantastic, with the beck meandering down the valley and with solid wave-shaped cliff formations on both sides.

I was now standing at the top of High Cup Nick and the rest of the route mostly followed the Pennine Way. The lady in front of me had pushed away during the climb, but with the help of gravity I now managed to get away a bit faster leaving her behind, but being overtaken by a man in red who had struggled with the climb. Somewhere along the way there was some cheerful shouting from Jan, Mandy and Joan which kept me going. After a few miles of descent it was time to turn off to the right, away from the Pennine Way and across some muddy farmers’ fields and past a rather frozen marshal. I had worried about getting lost at the last bit which went over private land and I therefore hadn’t recced, but with all the coloured flags marking the route I couldn’t have got lost even if I had tried. The route led up in between a few houses and finished off near the village green. Nigel had already arrived and the rest of the Striders’ pack was not far behind. The soup and roll included in the £7 entry fee made this a good value

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Inov-8 High Cup Nick, Dufton, Saturday, February 28, 2015

BM / 9.3M / 1509'

Nigel Heppell

High Cup Nick is just that; a nick in the western Pennines escarpment not far from Appleby-in-Westmorland; not any old nick but a long, deep, glaciated valley cut through many different layers of rock laid down over eons and characterised by an impressive ledge of dolerite/basalt Great Whin Sill delineating the perimeter. For the last nine years the quiet little village of Dufton has seen fit to cause people, including me and Phil Owen on this occasion, to run from the village green along a short stretch of road then farm track before squelching across undulating fields and tussocky boglands on a gentle ascent followed by a grin-making steep descent into the valley bottom and a wade through a stream(river today), turning to view the long haul up the cleft of the Nick.

Runnable at first, this soon breaks down into a run-walk for all but the hardened fellmongers disappearing ahead (my personal run/walk moment came earlier; much, much earlier than expected, legs and lungs just did not want to know for the first mile or two). Ultimately everyone is walking as the valley narrows and the track steepens into a boulder field; then a strenuous scramble up the rock face alongside the backwards-flowing waterfall; yes, the breeze which had been comfortably caressing our backs up the valley was now blowing seriously hard as the funnel of the nick narrowed down and the temperature dropped accordingly. Just as well the cloud came down to obscure the dramatic drop back into the valley. One or two competitors ahead of me did seem to experience a ‘moment’ on the wet slippery rocks but I saw that as an opportunity to overtake a bunch of queuers.

Once I’d hauled myself out of the shelter of the Nick the bitter wind really hit hard, blowing sideways across the track we were to take, and with jelly-legs from the climb I was joined by others in a comedy parade of silly walks to amuse the marshals. Eventually persuading all four limbs into some kind of vaguely coordinated lope we stumbled off down the track of the Pennine Way (also traversed by competitors in the mid-January Spine race under very much colder conditions) concentrating hard on picking a safe route along the rock-strewn path.

Some interesting trading of places occurred within my cohort on this long steady downhill section and I was fully expecting to be overtaken on the short uphill sections nearer to the finish but it would appear that my stategy of walking early on in the race had paid off as I regained places lost to early downhill overtakers and even overhauled a few others I’d not knowingly seen before, finishing with a dash across the village green and into the community hall for a cup of substantial home-made veg’ soup and a roll.


Rocks – about 480 million years;

Runners – N Heppell 1hr 45min(ouch!)177/211 – P Owen about 1min longer – Race winner in a new course record of 1hr 01 min 03 secs, the approriately-named Ricky Lightfoot of Ellenborough.

Nigel adds …

Special mention for James, who ran with us for the first time last week and also competed in this race. He finished in a very respectable time of 1hr 18min and was placed about 37-40th in the field.

and a 24second video of the start was filmed – just possible to make out Phil O at the rear.

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High Cup Nick Fell Race, Dufton, Saturday, February 25, 2012

BM / 9M / 1500'

Dougie Nisbet

There’s a wonderful elegance to this fell race. The long dramatic ascent up High Cup Gill is striking with its snake-like line of runners stretching ahead and behind you as you scramble up over the boulders. Mostly ahead of me to be honest, with just a small bit of tail behind me. The hand-over-hand climb up the last few yards of the Gill is rewarded by a magnificent view and the thought that it is downhill all the way to the finish. As descents go it’s a good one as it’s all runnable and the distance home seems to be chomped up in no time at all compared to the tough outward journey. I was a shade faster than my previous PB, and rewarded myself with cake, soup, tea, and then some more cake in the village hall afterwards.

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High Cup Nick Fell Race, Dufton, Saturday, February 27, 2010

BM / 9M / 1500'

Shaun Roberts

I’d heard great things about this race, so as for the first time it didn’t clash with a Harrier League fixture, I thought it was time to give it a go. Nigel and Dougie also came over the Pennines, and as is becoming traditional, we had the discussion as to whether to wear a Helly or not – I was for, Dougie against – but we were both happy with our choices in the end, so there you go. Bit of a long drag to start with, but after a while we had a nice undulating stretch that took us over to the east and the approach into the High Cup valley itself. Up and over a ‘shoulder’ and there it was – a superb view of High Cup Gill opened up before us – quite magical – and we descended into the valley. Very boggy section here until the boulder field at the head of the valley – we could forget running for a while and just had to scramble over large rocks. Then deep snow, that the organiser, Morgan Donnelly had helpfully cut steps into earlier. Brilliant open views down the valley from here:

Clambering through the snow above the boulder field.

Off and running again, now through deep snow at the top of the crag – followed by an exhilarating run down the valley side, on an unpredictable mix of snow, mud and rock. Near the bottom I saw my wife, and we shouted a few pleasantries at each other – but soon after I heard her talking to someone else, and guessed Nigel had caught me up on the descent (as had quite a few others to be honest), so I put a bit of a shift on over the last section through grassy fields to get to the finish in Dufton. Sure enough, Nigel wasn’t far behind, and Dougie came in soon afterwards. Soup and a roll in the village hall went down very well.

The organiser introduced the results by making some very gracious remarks about runners at the back of the field – he said never mind the hundred or so runners in the front – they should remember that there were sixty million or so people in the country who couldn’t imagine doing this sort of thing – a comment that could apply to nearly all running races, methinks.

A great race, and Dougie’s managed to get some superb photos on the way round, link below …


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Chris Steele Borrowdale M 1:04:18
102 Shaun Roberts MV50 1:33:26
107 Nigel Heppell MV50 1:34:47
129 Dougie Nisbet MV40 1:44:26

145 finishers.

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High Cup Nick Fell Race, Dufton, Saturday, February 28, 2009

BM / 15km / 460m

Two reports, first from Dougie Nisbet:

Dufton is quite a bit further from Durham than you might think, and if you don’t want to arrive 15 minutes before race start in a bit of tizz, it’s worth being a bit more organised than I was. I registered, relaxed and looked around. Hallo, what’s this, another Striders vest! Nigel was being interrogated by an earnest lady who wanted to know whether he was looking forward to the race. They were having a bizarre conversation on wind when I bounded up and said “Hello”. He wasn’t looking too good. A bit peely-wally it has to be said, recovering from a persistent cold. But more on that story later.

We wandered the few yards from registration to start and I couldn’t help notice the abundance of base layers underneath everyone’s racing vests. I looked down at my bare arms and legs and then up at the clouds and realised that I may have committed a rather serious and extremely chilly logistical error. It was warm in my house when got up, so it’d be warm at High Cup Nick. Or something.

As we waited at the start we got into a bit of a bidding war about who had run the least over the last few weeks, who was feeling the most wretched, and whether Nigel’s cold could outbid my over-enthusiasm for steak and red wine the previous evening. We would find out. My race plan was to run, ‘speculatively’, and if throwing-up looked unlikely, pick up the tempo.

Off we went and off he went. Nigel soon became a speck and I settled down. As with many fell races you have the rather humbling view of seeing exactly where you’re heading unfolding before you. High Cup Gill drifted into view and the cloud loitered around the valley with mischief on its mind. As we climbed steadily up the valley I began to feel better and passed a fair few runners. I was feeling pretty comfortable. Nigel kept appearing on radar, walking, then he would break into a run and disappear again.

It was on the climb up to High Cup Nick itself that I passed Nigel. Feeling pretty pleased with myself I gathered ample photographic evidence just in case challenged later in court. It’s a dramatic broody climb up to the top and I loved it. Over the top and a furtive glance back and I had made good gaps over many of the runners I’d passed and was feeling pretty smug.

There’s some fantastic descending in this race. It’s mostly runnable. Charging down through the cloud with glimpses of other runners ahead was an exhilarating experience. It couldn’t get any better. And it didn’t. A steady trail of familiar vests that I thought I’d seen the last of filed past and I just couldn’t match their speed. And then, a few miles from the finish, Nigel sailed past with a cheery nod, looking a million times better than he did on the ascent. Not for the first time the phrase “Nigel, you bastard!” was heard to utter from a Strider’s gob. [Nor the last time either, I expect. Ed]

It was a good run into the finish and then just a few short yards to soup and warmth. The day was nicely rounded off with a photo shoot by a student who wanted to build a portfolio of portraits of Fell Runners “looking tired”. No shortage of volunteers there.

Nigel being photographed by Dougie in the mist and the murk.

… and from Nigel Heppell:

Knowing that Striders, as of Wed’s night, had a full men’s team lined up for Cramlington, I excused myself from attending the Harrier League and denied myself the chance to help out in the eating of cakes afterwards, and headed off over the Pennines to try out the 9mile, 1500ft, High Cup Nick fell race for the first time.

I left home in warm, bright sunshine looking forward to spectacular views over the Lake District and the dramatic geology of High Cup Nick itself. It began to rain at Barnard Castle and stayed overcast and damp for the rest of my time in the west. The small village of Dufton was a rather soggy venue for the start/finish but it was brightened up by an array of 140ish runners in all manner of colourful kit, and a few familiar friendly faces – although how I know what they look like when I normally only see them from behind during a race is one of life’s little mysteries. Shortly before the off Dougie Nisbet turned up as the only other Strider (Will Horsley ran as NFR).

DN and I started from our rightful position at the back of the field and followed the crowd up the lanes until we were turned loose across the fields and low foothills. The going was very definitely ‘soft’. After a number of relatively gentle rises and falls we entered the valley floor leading to HCNick and proceeded up a steady incline criss-crossed with streams and bogs before hitting the boulder field (the going was now ‘hard’) and a savage increase in slope hidden in the cloud layer. Dougie left me behind at this point (in the nicest possible way) and went away out of sight into the mist above. By this time I was concentrating on placing all four limbs on secure hand/footholds and was quite glad I couldn’t see what lay ahead or behind.

The last few metres to the top lay alongside a small waterfall that, due to the funnelling effect of the valley, was being blown as a heavy spray in the reverse direction by a gale-force wind. A cold shower was the last thing I needed at this point as we turned into the wind and began the long descent along the route of the Pennine Way. A headlong charge downhill inside such a cloud would be an ethereal experience if it wasn’t for the battering of your feet on sodden, broken ground littered with stones of all sizes; – but this bit I enjoy because I seem to be able to overtake a few others under these conditions, Dougie included. We were diverted off the Pennine Way about a mile from the finish, and after a brief climb over another rise, ran down to the line on the village green and a welcome cup of home-made soup with enough pepper in it to restore the circulation to all extremities.

For those who know it, this race has a similar feeling to the Bowderdale race, albeit at a much colder time of year. I’ll ear-mark High Cup Nick for next year (Harrier league permitting) in the hope of some clear weather and sight of the elusive views.

Dougie’s taken some great photos along the way – well worth a look. Follow the link, below … Ed.


Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Darren Kay Horwich M   1:01:47
26 Will Horsley NFR M   1:13:27
110 Nigel Heppell   MV50   1:35:58
113 Dougie Nisbet   MV40   1:36:52

141 finishers.


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