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.
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