A weekend of walking, drinking and camping at Loweswater – with a trip up Blencathra thrown in for good measure.
A weekend of walking, drinking and camping at Loweswater – with a trip up Blencathra thrown in for good measure.
The Old County Tops.
What a race! What an experience!
Well, after this year, one I’m not sure I’m going to repeat for a while…
Last year, Chris (of Kong Adventure fame) and I ran in the Old County Tops (OCT). We managed to get round in one piece, which seems to be considered an achievement of sorts, but much slower than we would have liked. This was mostly due to the fact that I was mid-injury, and unable to do any real training (or even running for that matter). So, hoping for a better time for the round, I managed to persuade Chris to try the OCT again this year.
The Old County Tops is a classic long distance fell race which summits the three highest peaks of the old counties of the Lake District – that is Helvellyn (Westmorland), Scafell Pike (Cumberland) and Coniston Old Man (Lancashire). The route starts from the New Dungeon Ghyll in Great Langdale and summits each hill in the order given above, creating a round of (nominally) 37 miles, and an ascent/descent of about 10000 feet (or about 3000 meters).
On the Friday evening before hand, I headed over to Keswick, met up with Chris and Rachael for a pint, and we then headed on back to their house for a pasta chili to fuel up for Saturdays trials. After a quick post-tea bag pack and map study, we headed off to our respective beds, ready for a 6:15 start on Saturday.
Waking up on Saturday morning, hopes were up for good weather. At Chris’s house, opposite Threlkeld, it was sunny and fine, with a few clouds passing by. No real hint of rain so to speak, but oh how little we knew! Flailing around, we scraped a breakfast of scrambled eggs on toast together, plus some other things on toast, abluted, and threw ourselves into the car a little later than we’d hoped.
Time was tight, and so we opted to take the back road from Grasmere, over the tops, to drop into Chapel Stile – twisty as hell, but quicker than the Ambleside road. Just as we were dropping into Langdale the heavens opened, but just as quickly closed again, and we hoped that would be the worst of the weather over for the day.
As soon as we pulled into the Stickle Barn car park, it really started to hammer down – massive raindrops soaking everyone caught out in the open, whilst everyone still getting out of their cars stopped momentarily or hid under their tailgates, struggling into waterproofs. Not the best start to 30-odd miles in the Lakes…
Running over to registration, I found Chris inside the marquee set up by the Achille Ratti Club (the race organisers) mid-way through kit check. Joining him, I dropped my bag on the table and struggled to get everything out and back in again to satisfy the marshals, before heading over to get our race numbers from a different table and flail around, yet again, trying to safety pin my number to my front. One of the race organisers announced that it was time to head out to the start, raising a collective grown from the gently milling masses. Oh well, here we go again!
Setting off, we kept the pace slow in the knowledge that there was an awfully long way to go. It was hard not to get caught up in the early excitement and get dragged along faster than we wanted to go. Everything was feeling good on the way over to Grasmere and the weather lifted a little – waterproofs off!
Running past the Traveler’s Rest we turned up onto Great Tongue to skirt Seat Sandal and Grizedale Tarn on our way up Dollywagon Pike. As we passed the pub, the heavens opened again (waterproofs back on) and we ran by Lucy and Jim just as I was grappling with a zip malfunction; an excellent photo opportunity.
The way up Great Tongue went fairly well, a nice run/walk allowed ground to be made relatively quickly without burning out. We even reeled in a fair few people who had passed us on the way through Grasmere. As soon as we started heading up the flank of Dollywagon the clag set in. There was a charity walk of some description heading down from Fairfield, and they all seemed fairly cheery in view of the damp weather.
The temptation was to push as hard as possible up Dollywagon to try and gain a few places, but again Chris dispensed some words of wisdom and pointed out that even with our slower pace, we were actually only about 2 minutes behind last year’s time. This was to prove important about half an hour later on when we left the first food station.
The track from Dollywagon to Helvellyn passed without incident – nice and fast with mostly running, walking only when our calves complained. The walking group had set up a couple of tents just shy of the summit, so that in the clag you got an exciting “Ooh, we’re there – ah crap, no we’re not!” Fortunately, the summit proper really wasn’t very far away, but in the clag it wasn’t visible from the walker’s tents, eliciting a brief moment of despair followed quickly by a moment of relief and elation.
At the summit we unzipped jackets and shouted “108!” at the marshals (thank you marshals for sitting up there in the shitty shitty weather) and about-turned to drop South off of Helvellyn to the Wythburn car park, and some well-deserved sandwiches. It’s a steep descent, and I find it pretty tough. However, we managed it better than last year, and I was able to switch my legs back on pretty much straight away. Hitting the car park, we de-bagged, de-jacketed (and re-jacketed with windshirts), grabbed a couple of sandwiches, refilled water bottles and got shifting – much better than last year where I ended up standing around for 10 minutes trying to get my legs back awake and to force a couple of sandwiches down.
We trotted up a little forest track to the road crossing for the Wythburn, feeling pretty fresh – at this point last year I was struggling to run at all. Crossing over the A591, all was well, and as we came across the first field next to Steel End Chris commented on how much better we were moving compared with last year’s attempt. Lucy and Jim had picked an excellent spot again, and shouted encouragement whilst taking a couple of photos as we plodded past.
Oh dear! At this point, nature called and I had to answer. I won’t go into any details here, but we lost about 10 minutes and a lot of positions.
Feeling lighter, we got moving again on possibly the most horrendous stretch of running in any race, anywhere. The Wythburn might be glorious in sunshine, but I’m yet to experience it! We managed to get to The Bog before the rain decided to make a reappearance, and by the time we hit Greenup Edge it was jackets back on.
It’s bloody grim up there.
From Greenup Edge you skirt the northern flank of High Raise and aim for Stake Pass. Chris was moving quickly here, but my left ankle was starting to cause me problems. The weather had also come in again, and we were subjected to a wet cold wind, whipping into our faces. This was where I became somewhat hypothermic last year, and we were both conscious that we were cooling down with the worst yet to come. I kept telling Chris to keep moving, but of course he couldn’t get too far ahead, so we were locked in a battle of Chris trying to keep warm enough, and myself trying to move fast enough to allow it.
Just on from Stake Pass, we met a group of runners with a lovely collie who encouraged us on. “Well done lads, keep it going!” “Thank you, where are you off to?” “We’re out supporting!”
It was nice to see a few friendly faces, and even better considering the gopping weather we were experiencing. So whoever you were mysterious supporters – thank you!
Eventually, Angle Tarn appeared, and we skipped across the stepping stones to the marshals and a welcome mouth full of soggy liquorice allsorts. Again, the difference in how we were moving when compared with last year was remarkable. This time was a quick “108” “right off you go”; last year was a good ten minutes spent drinking tea and then a deathly shuffle away from the check point.
Off up to Esk Hause we went, moving reasonably well, but Chris still commenting on feeling cold. Just after the fork in the path to go to Great End or Scafell Pike, I suggested that it might finally be time to put our waterproof trousers on. A quick sit down and a problem with cold hands and zips later, we set off, slightly warmer and a lot more waterproof.
The grind up to Scafell Pike seemed much worse this year – that’s probably because I remember it this time round. Last year I definitely wasn’t entirely lucid! We passed a couple of large groups of walkers, obviously really “enjoying” the weather, and who helpfully failed to move aside at all.
At one point on the way down Ill Crag I sat down for a second on a stone block (naughty naughty). I was starting to cool down a little too much, and unusually Chris seemed to be succumbing to the effects of the weather as well. Nearing the top of Scafell Pike, I slipped over on the wet rocks, precipitating a pretty impressive side-slam accompanied by some rather strong language. I don’t really remember a whole lot about this section other than a lot of slow moving across greasy rocks, and awful, awful weather.
Eventually, we hit the top of Scafell Pike, although how Chris managed to recognise it I have no idea! It may have been the marshal huddling in the clag (thank you marshals), but again, I have very vague recollections of this whole section.
As with last year, we plumped for the direct descent from Scafell Pike down to Great Moss, heading down steeply just right of Esk Buttress (excellent climbing on Esk Buttress by the way, sampled during a previous life). Chris was definitely moving much faster that I was at this point; the lack of training on my part was starting to show. Chris managed to stop for a second just before we bottomed out to Great Moss and pull his water proof trousers off, whereas my slow pace left me with my trousers flapping around my legs.
By the time we were at Great Moss and heading toward Moasdale the weather had cleared a little bit. The worst was finally over weather wise, but mistakes loomed on the horizon (quite literally).
Moasdale passed without any particular incident – fairly rapid downhill running. We reeled in a few people, were passed by a couple of teams and started looking forward to more sandwiches at Cockley Beck.
Reaching the food station, we started loading up on cakes, sandwiches, tea and juice. I have to put in a huge mention for the volunteers here – they were awesome. Cheery, a bit of banter, and they all seemed quite happy to help out tired runners despite (presumably) having been stuck outside in the rain and wind for quite a while. So Cockley Beck food station people – thank you, you’re awesome. One of the ladies offered to refill my flasks, and as I was packing them back into the race vest I was struggling a little.
“Get in there you… Flange!”
It’s good to make people laugh, and to have her respond with “brilliant! That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day!” was a delight. I meant it as a throw away comment at an inanimate object, but I’m glad it made someone laugh. It’s for the running commentary that a few of my friends used to go climbing with me.
Trousers off, sun shining, and refuelled, Chris and I headed off on our last leg – The Old Man of Coniston.
We were still moving better than last year but knew we hadn’t done enough to hit our 8 and a half hour target. Never mind – push on.
The way to the Old Man is pretty mundane although the views are fantastic. Up the side of Grey Friar, heading for the saddle point between Grey Friar and Great Carrs. A reasonable track is then picked up which skirts Swirl How and hits Levers Hawse. Greavesy appeared above us at this point which was encouraging – he was on the way home with his partner, but it felt as though we weren’t too far behind at least.
But oh how little we knew. We picked up the start of the racing line to the top of Old Man, which avoids the summit of Brim Fell and kept moving at a reasonable pace. We really should have been paying a little more attention here. A few silly mistakes all compounded together and ended with us heading half way up Dow Crag – oops.
On the way over from Grey Friar, I had pointed at the mass hiding Old Man and asked “that’s Old Man isn’t it?”. “No, that’s Old Man” Chris had replied, pointing at Dow Crag. “Ok” I said, whilst a tiny alarm in the back of my head went “that doesn’t look like Old Man”, but I just went along with it. Usually, I run with a map in my hand, but in our fatigued state, and with my navigating mind switched off, I let it roll.
So down into Goat’s Hawse we went, rather than taking the cunning line up and around to the summit of the Old Man. And then up onto the flanks of Dow Crag. Annoyingly, I felt like I was moving pretty well here, and we’d have been on top of Dow Crag pretty quickly had it not been for Chris going – er, this isn’t Coniston – and then a walker cheerily informing us that we were on the way up Dow Crag.
Ah, bollocky cock wombles!
Well, back we go.
As we hit the bottom of Goat’s Hawse, two more runners appeared and we waved them back. “Oh no, have we gone the wrong way?” “Yep.” So as a four we headed up the undesired extra climb – woohoo!
After not too long, we hit the summit, shouted our numbers to the marshals and took the correct line back down toward Black Spouts from whence we would descent to Three Shire Stone.
From the Old Man of Coniston there was a group of about four teams all moving roughly together. In the final stages of the race, it felt as though there may be a little race on! One lad was obviously suffering, and we quickly passed him and his team mate, passing on our commiserations. I believe he made it back though, so that’s good; fair play to the lad!
After a quick traverse and a slippy descent down to Three Shire Stone the race was one. A team of a couple of ladies had nearly caught us on the way down, whilst a couple of lads had dropped behind. Not wanting to be caught, we pushed on down the road – lovely jarring road – before turning left towards Blea Tarn. Keeping the pace up, we managed to keep and even slightly extend our lead. It’s been said that the Old County Tops, unless you’re a proper racing snake, is a race against yourself and is more of an adventure than a race, but now it was a race!
We passed Blea Tarn, trying to keep the pace up and slowly reeling in a pair ahead of us. The few we dropped at the Three Shire Stone we could often hear, but not see. All good, and we dropped down the final hill to the campsite with what felt like a bit of breathing room.
Again, we took the road option, having failed yet again to recce the shorter routes through the fields. It adds a couple of hundred meters, but at least it’s fast and easy. Coming passed the first lane on our right, the pair of women runners appeared from the lane and we kicked the pace up a gear.
“Oh, burn us off now then!” we heard them comment as we almost bounded off. Well, er, yeah, sorry.
Then, just as a bonus, the pair of lads we’d be chasing around Blea Tarn emerged just ahead of us, coming down the next lane on the right.
One more gear notched up and we practically sprinted into the finish, ahead of both our micro-race competitors. I just need to learn to run at that intensity for more of the time, it felt great!
Well, until we stopped at least. Then I collapsed, lay down on the floor, and Chris mooched off to find himself some grub. After a few minutes I managed to get back up and start moving – Lucy kindly fettled me with some soup (which was excellent) and a piece of cake. Dom appeared, which confused me – last time we’d seen him, he was coming down Scafell as we were heading up. Turns out he’d taken the path back down to drop by Chambers Crag to Great Moss, which had taken ages. The direct route is faster after all.
Eventually, I scraped myself off of the floor. Chris, Lucy and I all gathered to head back to Chris’, and we said our goodbyes to Jim who was heading back to Newcastle. I fell asleep for much of the journey home – apparently I was just flopping about in the front seat – and after a shower and a brew at Chris’, we all headed over to the Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld for a much deserved pub dinner.
A grand day out, despite the Wythburn.
In the immediate aftermath, I was pretty sure this year was the last time around. Chris, I’m sure, is done with the OCT, but I’ve redeveloped a desire to give it another crack. We’ll see how we’re feeling in the New Year…
As always, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading; I hope it wasn’t too much of a rambling tale.
Check out Racing Snakes for more photos of the event:
The weekend before Easter, we had our annual weekend at Eskdale for Johan’s mum’s birthday. We have been doing this now for the past 4 years (where has the time gone?!) and each time I fall in love with the valley a little bit more.
We are lucky enough to be able to stay with friends when we are over there (Johan’s god parents, who went to university with his mum) and I am continuously envious of their fabulous lifestyle. I have picked up a tendency to take myself away with a camera while we are visiting and shoot the surrounding fields, hills and land. Although, I often enjoy simply wandering around their gardens and shooting the wonderfully diverse flora and fauna that can be found there. They are always working on something, and have made constant improvements/changes to their land.
I always feel at peace when visiting Eskdale, it’s such a beautiful place, and I truly hope that Johan and I can emulate Peter and Fionna in our later lives.
Below is a selection of the images that I took while wandering around their house and garden, and more can be found on my Flickr page: https://flic.kr/s/aHskUEbs7k
Another year gone, another slog along the side of Ullswater with a short, sharp trip up and down Hallin Fell in the middle for good measure. Slog may not quite be fair, as it’s one of my favourite runs on the calendar, but the Daffodil Run, put on by Joe Faulkner of Nav4, is a little tougher than its approximately half marathon distance may suggest. It’s not the hardest half marathon I’ve ever done, but it’s a fair stretch further than a nice flat road half…
Lucy, Brenda (Lucy’s mum), and myself all set off from Newcastle to reach Pooley Bridge for about half 10 on Saturday 18th March, which should have, in theory, given me a nice half hour or so to get registered, and final checks sorted before setting off in the mass start at 11. Once we got into the village hall for registration however, we were told that everyone was just heading out as and when, so once I was good to go, I could get shifting if I fancied.
Nipping back to the car (we’ve got a shiny new car – woohoo!) I changed into my trusty Fellraisers, got into my running shorts, and made sure I had everything I needed in my bumbag, before popping back into the village hall to let Joe and co know that I was setting off, and to record my start time. Last year, when I ran the Daffodil Run with Kip, we came in at 1h59min, so I was keen to get a faster time, and was secretly hoping for sub-1h50min.
The start of the daffodil run is a long drag up from Pooley Bridge, onto the Ullswater Way and up to The Cockpit. Initially running on metalled roads, this soon gives way to the characteristic rocky track which makes up the majority of the run, but there’s still a little way to go before hitting The Cockpit. From The Cockpit, you’re treated to a lovely rolling descent all the way down to Howtown. Whilst you have to keep half an eye on the track, the views are spectacular! Ullswater isn’t a lake I usually head to, but with the clouds sitting high and the Helvellyn range in the background, it’s hard to beat.
Due to the non-mass-start, the running started to get really quite fun; it became a game of spotting someone in the distance and then trying to reel them in. Admittedly, I only managed to pass one quick runner on the way out, but whilst approaching the top of Hallin Fell another chap passed me on the way back down, and I knew the chase was on!
It was also a race of mixed weather; mild to start, passing to pretty damn brutal on the way from Howtown to Martindale (although the rain felt like it would pass quickly so I decided on keeping my windshirt on rather than switching to a waterproof), then to gloriously sunny pretty much as I hit the top of Hallin Fell, where I found the legendary John Bamber – a pleasant surprise to say the least. After a quick chat, and a summit photo, I said goodbye and got shifting once again, happy in the knowledge that I had a runner to chase on the way back.
A quick sip of water on the rolling top flank of Hallin Fell, and I was on my way. Descending isn’t really my forte, but this felt good – steep grassy hillside allowed for reasonable relaxation, and I arrived back at Martindale Church just as a group of walkers I had passed on the way to the church were leaving. “You’ve been all the way up and down already?” Yep, and it’s time to crack on.
Stopping for a minute or so with Jim at the food station, I downed a cup of water, inhaled a Jaffa Cake, adjusted my shoes – my foot-beds had folded up on the way downhill – and skipped off up the bank out of Martindale. I met a couple who were walking the Daffodil Run, informing them that they were almost half way through, which was met with great ‘enthusiasm’ by the lass. On the way to the main path again, I took the right-hand trod, decided that was wrong, crossed to the left hand one, and then found out that the right hand one was, in fact, the better option. Never mind! I dropped straight down to the path proper and got on my way.
I could see the guy I from the top of Hallin Fell in the distance, so I got a pace on as best as possible. You’d think that on the way back all the hard work was over – not so. The nice long rolling descent from the way out becomes a gradual uphill all the way back to the Cockpit.
Slowly, slowly, I reeled in various runners, pushing to catch up. The distance between the other runner and myself seemed to be reducing, but the uphill was making it hard to get a real pace on. Eventually, I had to accept settling into a walk/run progression, but still, ground was being gained.
Eventually, Stu Smith hove back into sight – the Cockpit, and thus the final descent, wasn’t much further. Push. Push. Push. Pass the marshal at the Cockpit (ensconced in a Nordisk Telemark II; nice tent), to hit the track and descent. My quarry had made enough ground to get away for good, but I managed to reel in a couple more people as I made my way down the hill into Pooley Bridge.
Finally, I ran by Lucy and Brenda, returning from their short outing, but kept shifting as fast as possible as the end was quite literally in sight. Trotting into the village hall, my time was recorded, and I was pointed towards tea and cake. The cake is always good on Nav4 events, it really must be said, and this time round I enjoyed and excellent fig slice.
My final time was 1h52, a 7-minute improvement on last year’s effort, but still just shy of the sub-1h50 I was aiming for. Maybe next time? I’d definitely like to run it again – it’s certainly a very well organised event, along a very enjoyable route, and with an atmosphere that I find promotes taking it at your own pace – be that full race pace, or as many families were doing, a relatively leisurely stroll. And just because it bares mentioning again, the food is cracking! Soup, cake; some of the best I’ve ever had, and what more could you want?
After a quick chat with the other runners, we headed off back to Newcastle to recover for the next day’s race (The Thrunton Thriller). My left ankle was feeling a little stiff, but overall I was happy with how it had gone, and looking forward to the next race and the rest of the season.
On our continuing mission to seek out new hills, far from civilization, the next target was The Dodds – the fells making up the northern end of the Helvellyn range. Fortunately we know people who live in Threlkeld, which removed difficult parking issues, and provided us with a BBQ to come back to in the evening.
Setting out a little later than planned, we crossed the A66 with ease (not something you hear every day), and started the climb towards Threlkeld Knotts. If you haven’t explored this area I’d really recommend it. Although part of its appeal is that it’s much quieter than many of the surrounding areas, so don’t all rush at once…
Threlkeld Knotts is a hidden gem. Much like my other favourite Lakeland fells, it’s not the biggest, but offers excellent views just off the beaten track. It also provides an interesting route up Clough Head, passing a couple of disused quarries. The higher, smaller quarry contained a couple of locals pissing about on dirt bikes which looked like a cracking way to spend a sunny Saturday morning. From then on we saw no one until the final traverse onto the southern flank of Clough Head.
Neither of us have previously explored these fells, which is where a large amount of the appeal of The Wainwrights lies. Clough Head provides unparalleled vistas across to the Northern Fells, with bonus views of the Eden Valley and the Pennines. What’s not to love? We also bumped into a group reccying the Bob Graham round – good luck to them for their attempt at the end of the month.
The joy of the Dodds is that once you’re up, the hard work is pretty much done. There’s a bit of a sting getting onto Great Dodd, but really it’s comfortable yomping the whole way along. The problem is that it’s totally exposed, with Lucy being blown all over the place on the summit of Great Dodd.
Watson’s Dodd is, by comparison, nice and gentle – an extended plateau protruding between Great and Stybarrow Dodd. Unfortunately due to the BBQ in the evening we had to turn around. Skirting around Great Dodd, we dropped onto Mosedale Beck to join the Old Coach Road back to Threlkeld. At Mariel Bridge we were treated to a parade of green-laning Landrover Series who kindly offered us a lift to Dockray. It’s a shame that was the wrong direction as it looked awesome.
It looked like there was a quick cut from the Coach Road back to the track to Threlkeld. It doesn’t exist. We took a bearing which should have dropped us right on to the cut, but found nothing. Before accusations of crappy navigation are thrown around, my nav is not that bad, and Chris backed me up when we got home; obviously he’s had the same idea in the past, with the same result.
Finally we were tramping back up past the little church in Threlkeld to enjoy a well deserved BBQ. Nipping back into Kewick we availed ourselves of the excellent beer selection in Booths, and rounded the day off with a tasty 7.5% bottle of Halcyon.
We have given ourselves the challenge of bagging all of the Wainwrights within a year. We’ve already been up a few, bu decided to start from the beginning and do it properly.
We started on our 3 year anniversary and ticked our first one off: Little Mell Fell. Straight from work, we headed over the A69 and took the Alston road, over the top. It was a lovely evening, we were so lucky.
We turned off the A66 on the way to Keswick, and headed to the Lowthwaite where we parked up just opposite the footpath onto the flanks of Little Mell Fell. Following this up until it started to contour and then drop, we turned off the path up the gentle(ish) hill to reach the trig point.
Standing at a mere 505 meters, Little Mell Fell isn’t large by Lake District standards, but holds a situation shared only by its larger sibling Great Mell Fell – way out on its own, completely separate from any of the nearby large ranges. This isolation means that even with its diminutive stature, the views from the top are just awesome! Ullswater, the Helvellyn Range, Blencathra, the Solway Firth, and the Northern Pennines surround you with views even Scafell Pike would be proud of.
Reaching the top, we took in the views and got the stove out to start boiling the water for our boil-in-the-bag Extreme Food. Tucking into our meals, we watched the clouds begin to boil dramatically over the far eastern fells. By the time we had finished the temperature had begun to drop, plus it was passed 9.30. Time to head back down from our idyllic eyrie and towards home.
Little Mell Fell is surely a hidden gem within the National Park. Everyone drives by it; if you’ve been to Keswick you’ll have seen it sitting there in isolation, nestled behind its larger sibling. It is however, well worth a visit, giving vistas far in excess of the moderate climb required to reach its summit. But enough for now, it’s time to let the pictures do the real talking…
After getting home from the OMM Lite and turning on my phone, I discovered that I’d received a missed call from the one, the only, Chris Swanepoel. Chris was the manager of planetFear (now Kong Adventure) in Keswick while I was working for them, and we’ve stayed in contact ever since I left to do my MSc in 2014. I’d been thinking of calling him and asking if he’d be interested in doing the OMM with me this year anyway, so I was interested to find out what the craic was. To cut a long story short, Chris wanted to know whether I’d come and race the Old County Tops with him, and I wanted to know if he’d come along for the OMM. We both said “yes of course”, but I had to warn Chris that I was basically confined to barracks due to a foot injury which only seemed to be getting worse, and wouldn’t be able to get any training runs in beforehand.
Skip forward a month, and the Old County Tops were looming (both literally, and figuratively in my mind). For those unaware, the Old County Tops is a fell race which summits each of the highest peaks in the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire (Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and the Old Man of Coniston respectively). Each peak on its own is usually considered a reasonable day out by sensible folk, so to summit all three, adding on the distance between to start and finish at the New Dungeon Gill in Langdale, was going to be an interesting endeavour.
Interesting proved to be a fairly accurate assessment. The race is around 37 miles long, with somewhere around 10000 feet of ascent (or 3000ish metres), and we’d decided to set our sites high and aim to get round in 8 hours, although not entirely expecting to achieve this.
It’s a good job we weren’t too tied to our expectations as we ended up coming in at around 10 and a half hours! I hold my hand up to say that this was really my fault. Chris was running much more strongly than I was, and whilst we had a nice strong start up and down Helvellyn I began to suffer a little on our way up to Scafell. I just couldn’t get my legs to start firing properly again after a steep descent off the front of Helvellyn, and was starting to feel better when the rain set in.
Despite the race being held in mid May this was a true Lakeland hoolie, and to compound matters it seemed that my waterproof top was all but that. Hypothermia reared its ugly (but somewhat too familiar head – I should probably do something about that), and Chris mistaking my odd behaviour for hunger tried to feed me through the cold. Eventually, I just sat down and put on my waterproof trousers to try and trap a bit more warmth, and by the time we were at Angle Tarn I was almost back to “normal”. Some legend of a race marshal had a cup of tea, and after a couple of biscuits we were back on our way.
I’m actually quite proud of our descent off Scafell Pike. Visibility was low, and the rocks are magnetic, so the original plan of using a bearing to get us down past Esk Buttress wasn’t entirely possible. At this point, the entire reason Chris had invited me along – my navigation skills – came in useful. We’d joined a couple of other pairs trying to take the direct line down to the Great Moss, but with clouds swirling it was proving difficult. It was a case of taking half a minute to have a look at the features available, and I managed to drop us down through a small saddle onto a trod down. We did end up just a little further round than I’d hoped, but that was ok as it actually ended up giving us a better line to the path down to Cockley Beck.
From Cockley Beck onwards it was just a pure slog up Coniston Old Man and back to the Three Shires Stones. I had to sit down once or twice on the way up, which really isn’t typical for me, but we could all but taste home. I ate as much as Chris would allow on the road down from Three Shires Stones, but my legs were suffering. Chris was as well, but at the moment he’s just a much better athlete than I am, and was in much better form. Unsurprising considering the two months off I’d taken due to injury after my Byrness – Alwinton run.
As the New Dungeon Gill came into site, and we could see some guys who had split off from us just after Blea Tarn crossing a field in front of us, but not ahead. Chris urged me to start shifting “we can’t let those guys with the poles beat us on the last stretch”, and so we dug deep, and for the first time I left him behind with nothing he could do about it. Always save those last beans for the finish!
All in all, it was an excellent experience! Thank you Chris for inviting me along, and I’m already excited to try again next year. Hopefully, I’ll have trained a bit more for the next one, and my clothing will not produce any surprises!
The Old County Tops is an excellent day out, and I have a lot of respect to the top boys and girls, as well as all who completed or even entered. Definitely my hardest day out yet, but with the Spine Challenger lurking in January, it’s going to be far from my hardest outing ever…