Having been accepted for the Spine Challenger race, and with the year’s first OMM Lite just round the corner, it felt like the time to start putting some serious miles in my legs and begin the conditioning required to pull back-to-back long runs out of the bag when needed. Since my aborted attempt to run from Chollerford back to Newcastle along Hadrian’s Wall a couple of weeks ago, my body had been crying out for rest, but Friday found me feeling twitchy and ready to get running again.
I thoroughly enjoyed walking up the Border Ridge on my birthday, and it seemed like an excellent route to use for training. The scenery is fantastic but varying all the way along, and I was interested to find out just how quickly I could make it up to the camping spot, just out of personal interest.
Friday evening saw Lucy and myself discussing options for Saturday, and I mentioned that I’d like to try a long linear run, as long as Lucy was happy to drop me at Byrness, and pick me back up again at Alwinton; but Alwinton isn’t Kirk Yetholm, I hear those of you with a good memory say. No, it isn’t but the driving required to get to Kirk Yetholm is vastly impractical, and I had already envisioned getting to Windy Gyle, and heading back down to the Coquet Valley. Fortunately, Lucy agreed, and plans were made for Lucy’s mum to join us on Saturday morning, so that Lucy could have a nice day out as well.
We set off a little later that we’d hoped in the morning, due to the usual faffing and last minute kit checks, finally arriving in Byrness around 11:30. A quick re-arrangement of food and clothing, and we arranged to meet back in Alwinton, with an estimated 6 hours running time.
Parting ways, I jogged out of the car park at Byrness, trying to get my body to remember how to move; two weeks don’t sound like a long time, but it doesn’t take long to feel just a little off form. I also knew where I was going this time; the way to the Pennine Way isn’t entirely clear if you don’t know where you’re going. Once I was up the first slog out of Byrness it was time to open up and get shifting.
I won’t blather on for too long about the scenery and conditions up to Windy Gyle. For once I managed to take a few photos whilst out and about, and to be honest it was all just a bit Pennine. Anyone who has walked/run along any stretch of the Pennines will know what I mean, anyone who hasn’t, words can’t really do it justice. Magnificent, wild, and always, always damp and claggy.
I made it to my birthday camping spot in about two hours; the time I was roughly aiming for, and took a moment to enjoy the scenery all again. A quick message to Lucy, and one to Phil who had been up there with me previously, and it was sandwich time whilst I slowed the pace slightly on the ascent up to Lamb Hill.
Sandwich consumed and washed down with “tasty” Camelbak water, I passed The Fingerpost fairly rapidly, and settled in for the final long haul up to the summit of Windy Gyle. Interestingly there were a few snow patches up along the edge of the Border Ridge, and I amused myself for a few minutes considering the existence of Northumberland Glaciers. (Not really glaciers, just long-lasting snow patches.)
Reaching Windy Gyle in about three hours I took the mandatory Scotland/England/trig point photos, refolded (a bit tricky in all that wind) and checked the map, threw on a windshirt and headed back down into England and towards Alwinton.
From here on in, it was pretty much all downhill. I went a little off-course on the way off Little Ward Law, but was recompensed with the sight of a deer bounding across the track just in front of me as I descended. Coming up the final bitch of a climb, from the bridge under Hazely Law round the side of Yarnspath Law, I met another pair of runners on their way down, presumably on their way to Windy Gyle. The usual “how’s it going?” ensued, as I struggled my way uphill, blowing out of my arse, to be told “aye, we’re gannin’canny”.
Struggling over the crest of the hill into the forestry tracks, I wolfed down another energy bar (thanks Jim) and pressed on in the knowledge that I was now on Clennell Street, and the end was in sight. Owing to fatigue and slight navigational errors, the leg from Windy Gyle had taken longer than I would have liked, but at about the four hour mark, I was still well in time to hit my six hour estimate.
Jogging down the Street, I passed a group of DofE kids out learning to navigate (good on them) and entered the final forested area. There’s a couple of navigational black spots left; one when leaving the forest ensuring that you head down Clennell Street, and not down the forestry track which would pop you out at Clennell Hall, and then another coming round Uplaw Knowe*.
From here it was just a nice grassy downhill all the way into Alwinton, where I found Lucy and Brenda in the Northumberland National Park car park, having only just arrived, 5 hours and 20 minutes after leaving Byrness. An excellent, but painful run, through some of the best landscape in the country, and to top it all off, done in a shorter time than expected.
*Checking this section on Bing Maps at home to switch between 1:25000 and 1:50000 quickly, it seems there’s a discrepancy, with the 1:50000 version making much more sense having travelled that section. The Clennell Street track on the 1:25000 doesn’t actually exist; for future reference, take the track running round the northern flank of Uplaw Knowe. OS will be notified shortly.
Post by Johan