A mini birthday escape

It was my birthday last Saturday, and so Johan and I escaped up to Scotland for a long weekend of relaxed celebrations. Due to his competing in the OMM 2015, Johan was entered into a prize draw to win a stay at the Hearthstanes Estate  self catering cottages. Luckily, his name was drawn out of the hat (so to speak), he’s so jammy! And so, we used the opportunity for a birthday getaway.

We had planned on getting out as much as possible and exploring the local area in more detail, rather than running around the place as Johan had previously done. We bought the relevant maps and packed an assortment of outdoor gear, ready to hit the surrounding hills and trails. However, I soon learnt that I was in dire need of a rest and so my mind and body decided to shut down and demand that I take things easy. Patchy internet access and lack of a TV allowed us to embrace the peace and quiet, and so we read and chilled out in our lovely little 1-bed cottage. It was so cosy and comfortable, and I found myself drifting off into naps periodically – I must have needed it!

We did go for a couple of wanders around the valley surrounding the estate and enjoyed a nighttime romp up a hill opposite our accommodation.

On the way home, we took a drive through the Tweedsmuir Hills and gawped at the snow-capped mountains; it was truly beautiful. I would definitely recommend staying in the cottages at Hearthstanes, especially if you are looking for a ‘getting away from it all’ break.

Happy New Year – The Four Passes

First and foremost – Happy New Year to everyone reading this! (And to everyone not reading this.)

Now on to business.

I’ll start with a bit of background – January is set to be a busy month with The Spine Challenger as the main event of the month, and possibly even the year. Added on to this, Chris (of Kong Adventure fame) and I were thinking of running the Marmot Dark Mountains at the end of the month, but a little more on that later.

After a number of communication problems (Chris just moved over the valley and changed his landline, which I didn’t have), we managed to finally organise a training run with Chris suggesting The Four Passes as a good day route. The Four Passes is a round, traditionally started from the Rosthwaite Hotel in Borrowdale, which takes in four Lakeland valleys by crossing over four iconic passes.

Briefly, (we elected to shave off a couple of road miles and start in the Seathwaite valley) the route heads up Styhead Gill to Styhead Tarn before skirting round Great Gable down to Wasdale Head. From Wasdale Head, the route turns immediately north and uphill over Black Sail Pass, depositing you at the famous Blacksail Hut. You then get to enjoy all of about 100 meters of flat running before heading over the most gentle (haha!) pass of the day – Scarth Gap – which drops you down at the head of picturesque Buttermere. Finally, the longest climb of the day brings you up and around the southern flank of Fleetwith Pike, depositing you at the Honister Slate Mines before a final rolling descent back down to Seatoller and then on to Seathwaite.

The day started out for me with a windy, but reasonably rapid drive from Newcastle to Threlkeld, depositing Lucy just outside work on the way. Arriving at Chris’ at about 10, we embarked on the usual catching up and faffing; coffee, toast, exciting developments and packing kit, before hitting the road just before 11am.

The run started much as it was to continue; grey and drizzly, but mild on the valley floor. I’d elected to go for full sex mesh (Brynje string) base layers to double check them before The Spine, layering the tights with OMM ¾ tights and the top with my trusty Arc’teryx Alpha SL pull-on (no longer made which is a shame as it’s one of the best bits of outdoor kit I’ve ever seen or used in my opinion). Starting out, I felt a bit Christmassy if you know what I mean. Chris said that he was also a little unfit, but I’m not sure Chris knows what unfit means.

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Heading uphill, my poles gave me a bit of an advantage, pretty much the only one I’d get all day. Styhead Tarn soon hove into view and we pressed on into the cold and wind round the side of Gable. The path down to Wasdale gave a “nice” picky descent, with faster sections of loose rocky path. Hitting the bottom, we got one of maybe three flat km of running on the whole loop before pausing briefly for a cheese before heading up Black Sail Pass.

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As we were ascending, it felt as though the weather was starting to clear, and Mosedale opened out below us. It’s often all too easy for me to forget the beauty and drama of Lakeland scenery, and heading up towards Ennerdale (along with most of the rest of the run) made me wish that there was a decent physics department in the Lake District, but you can’t have it all now can you.

 

Dropping to Black Sail Hut, the weather remained almost clement, although the wind became a little more noticeable. We both agreed at this point that it was lunch time, and so we nestled behind the hostel to enjoy our “Huw Special” sandwiches – jam and marmite – which were surprisingly good, or I was surprisingly hungry.

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Heading back out into the wind, and body temperatures dropped quickly. On this round that’s not much of an issue however, as you’re pretty much always going either up or down, and we were just about to start the 3rd of our four passes, thus raising both our elevation and body temperature again.

The ascent over Scarth Gap was probably the wettest of the day. In all fairness, we had it easy for January, but it was a bit claggy and damp up there. The path also petered out slightly, or I just stopped paying attention and blindly followed Chris, until he met with the only serious bog of the whole round, at which point I danced off to the left to avoid a good calf-wetting.

Coming over the crest of Scarth Gap, we began the penultimate descent to Buttermere down another picky, rocky track. My lack of recent fell running was definitely becoming apparent, and I was a little disappointed with how slowly I descended. This wasn’t helped by my periodic musing, which caused me to basically stop in my tracks, but being out in the hills tends to do that to me once I’ve settled in a little. Where better to contemplate ones thoughts and plans other than surrounded by some of the best scenery to be had?

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Finally, we dropped past the High Crag wall into Buttermere, and cruised along to the start of our final climb by Warnscale Beck. It’s up this climb that the Warnscale Bothy (or the Room With a View) is found, and Chris casually pointed it out as we made our ascent. It looks like a lovely spot to spend the night, although, as with many of these things, I’d be surprised to find it vacant other than in the low season; one for this new year perhaps?

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We’d also spotted a couple of walkers making their way up the pass, and as it is with fell runners our first comment was “right, lets catch them”. And catch them we did, although at this point my right calf decided that it was time to start cramping. Chris was adamant that it was due to the cold on my muscles, but I’m still more inclined to go with I needed to eat more. I’ll happily raise my hand and admit that I’m not in my best shape right now, and that I need to re-fat-adapt rather quickly for The Spine.

Finally passing Honister Mine, with Buckstone How to our left (oh it feels like home!), we took the rolling C2C bridleway down to Seatoller and turned right up the lane to Seathwaite. That final km back to the car was the hardest of the day, but arriving back at the car, my dreams of food which had been plaguing me since the top of Scarth Gap were almost fulfilled. A quick drive back up Borrowdale and out to Chris’ new house (which is amazing), and we were tucking into fried eggs, coffee, tea, flapjack and crumpets to round off an excellent day.

So now I sit back at home, writing, with sore quads from all the ascent and descent; a happy man, feeling just a little more prepared, but also a little more scared for the race ahead. We also had a quick chat about the Dark Mountains, and decided that ultimately, if we were going to enter we wanted to be competitive, which isn’t going to happen with 108 miles of Pennine Way recently put into my legs. No Dark Mountains this year…

I also have to attest, once again, to the incredible performance of Brynje baselayers. Just incredible. Not too warm, not cold, kept my skin almost dry the whole way around. All you have to do is wear something which looks a little bondagey/hillbilly, but if you’re running, who cares?

So thank you once again for reading. I’d thoroughly recommend the four passes as a day out, either for running or walking, and until next time, take care.

Lumley Fee Bunkhouse

A couple of weekends ago, we stayed at Lumley Fee Bunkhouse, just outside of Kendal, with a group of friends for a weekend of walks, drinks, catching up and good food. It was fabulous! We can’t recommend the bunkhouse enough, it was simply stunning!

OMM Lite/Bike Autumn 2016

After two unsuccessful attempts at placing first in the OMM Lite Long Score, this time round felt as though it may be the one. I had convinced Chris Swanepoel to be my running partner, on the assumption that if I was running with someone who was a stronger runner than I was, then it was likely that we would be able to cover more ground, and thus stand an excellent chance at placing highly/first.img_2659
I have to admit I was a little nervous; when we ran the Old County Tops together Chris was in much better shape, and I could only feel like I’d let the side down. I really didn’t want this race to be a repeat of that, especially as we’re running the OMM together in October. The OMM Lite was an excellent chance to calibrate our pacing, route planning, and get Chris used to OMM format events.img_2665
This, it turned out, was an excellent idea. We eventually placed fourth overall, but covered way more distance than anyone else we talked to – over 100km across the weekend!
Our troubles started on the Saturday. Running wise, the weather was excellent; not raining, clear skies, and a nice breeze to keep us cool. However, and this is really stupid, having almost cleared the course on the Spring Lite whilst being much less fit, we assumed we’d be able to repeat course clearance again. Which was wrong. Very Wrong. img_2666
Running on the assumption that we were going to get to every check-point, we very quickly planned a route and set off. As always, the first checkpoint felt sooooo far away, but after dibbing for the first time, the wheels of the machine started to turn much more freely. Soon, we were blasting round our chosen route, picking up even the awkward controls, and even passing teams we’d passed already due to our wiggling path. It felt good! It always does when you’re moving well…
As three and a half, and then four hours passed, it became obvious that we weren’t going to get everything. We were at top of the course about then, so had to start making provisions to get back to camp. Ditching an attempt to get a difficult 50-pointer, we headed  toward the start of what would have been our second loop. We were both running low on water as well; fortuitously we found a water-butt full of rainwater and, without any better options, refilled our bladders.
The end of Saturday was an exercise in suffering. We started up a path which looked like it would cut off a reasonable corner, only to find it was overgrown and virtually impassable, so had to turn back and go for a serious hike up the road. We then followed a path through the forest, which should have dropped us about 300m from a control, but this time the path disappeared almost directly after a foot-path sign. Stumbling through dense vegetation and lumpy, boggy ground, we made it back onto a major track, only to struggle with the problem of not knowing where on the track we were. Fortunately, a cyclist bombed past us on the major trail, and we picked up the run again.
Eventually, and after a serious conversation, we pushed on to grab a final couple of check points. We were going to be late, but these points would tip the overall balance into the positive. Forest tracks are hard going at the best of times, but with the clock ticking, and a voice in the back of your head saying “Go home! Go home!” this final leg was a serious test of how deep we could dig. Picking up the points, we made swift time down through the forest, and to the base of the hill up to Cropton.
Here, the hill made us pay, and at the end of 60+km it was slow and painful. Chris had his watch on, and said at the end that the hill on its own had cost us somewhere around 50 to 60 points, slowing us down just as we had to get back. But we were back, and not feeling too bad, all things considered.
A pub burger, a pint, and a good sleep got us ready and raring for the next day’s challenges.
A Sunday morning breakfast of Extreme Food and Mountain Fuel porridge filled us up ready for another 5 hours of running. This time round, we planned to pick up big points where we could, with contingency plans for heading back if we were running behind schedule. We also both felt surprisingly fresh considering the previous day’s running.
Hatching a plan, we set off down the Hill of Despair towards our first check point, which was our final check point from the Saturday. Cogs were turning as we made our way, and before long I asked Chris how much it was worth. 20 points! Is that all? I’m not dragging back up that long slog, let’s go along the lower road and pick up these 10 pointers instead. Just as many points, flatter running. Great!
All-in-all the running was going well. We hit our check points at, or even just before expected, and were feeling strong at the furthest most point with about two hours to go. It was here that we made our final error.
Experience was telling me that we should be heading back, pretty much the fastest way possible. Chris was excited, and had a loop of high value check points firmly in his sights. We sat for a couple of minutes looking at the maps, and against everything I know, I agreed to continue on with Chris. It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm; we were running well – it seemed completely feasible.
The mid-day sun was beginning to take its toll though. I’m not good in hot conditions, and there was little to no shade around this part of the course. Running started to slow. Navigation was still pretty good, but a single error, followed by another confusing woodland section compounded matters. Psychologically, I was beginning to feel the strain, but the only way out was onwards.
Dibbing at the penultimate control, home was in sight. We were still shifting reasonable, although I was really starting to feel like throwing up. Chris, being South African, wasn’t bothered by the heat. Damn Northern acclimatisation, it’s usually good for sports like the OMM, but not this time.
Approaching the final control before home, we arrived to find it being packed away! “It’s after 2 now” we were told. Fair enough, but what about late arrivals like us, and amusingly, another team behind us. The final push began.
I’m pretty sure I whimpered a little when Chris demanded that we pick up the pace again. Oh dear, I’m dying. This is horrible. The team who were behind us peeled away up an obvious track, which, in hindsight we should have used. In my absolute certainty in my navigation, I said we should continue, and pick up a smaller, but more direct track. It never showed. We fortunately came across the next track along, and took it up the merciless hill back to the finish. Finally, we were just outside the camp, and pushing through everything, we trotted back in to finish on 300 points for the day, after a rather hefty fine of 150 points!img_3688
I’d like to say I could have given more, that we could have made it back a little faster, but I couldn’t. Chris didn’t seem bothered by the heat, but I get a feeling that we’ll be in reversed roles on the OMM. Cold and wet is my forte.
To look at the positives though – we placed especially well, considering all our mistakes and 240 penalty points. More than that though, we ran well together, kept pace together, and proved that our route finding skills, although the planning could do with a little tweaking, were generally pretty damn good. It’s also left me feeling like I won’t let Chris down on the OMM, which is important. I was upset with our time on the Old County Tops, and I knew that one was my fault. img_3692
As always, the campsite was good, the vibe was excellent, and there were plenty of old friends and familiar faces to catch up with. Good work OMM, keep ‘em coming. We’ll be there again. (Until I place first on the Long Score; guess I’ll switch to bikes after that…)

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Wainwrights Challenge – (almost) The Dodds

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.

Daffodil Run at Pooley Bridge

After the devasting affects of this winter’s storms on Cumbria, there have been many fundraising events and opportunities to help the Cumbrian communities. We really wanted to get involved and help in anyway that we could and so Johan signed up with one of his friends from Uni, to run in the Daffodil Run from Pooley Bridge, organised by NAV4 Adventure, and I tagged along for the day (any excuse to head over to The Lakes).

Pooley Bridge has been hit really hard by the effects of the flood as the beautiful old bridge for which it was named was washed away during the catastophic flooding.

The bridge was re-opened today, seeing a fabulous turnout of people:

Unfortunately we were only in Pooley Bridge for the day, but it’s so good to see so many people showing their support for this beautiful village.

It was awful to see the aftermath of the floods and the way in which it has affected the community, but the spirit of the locals was amazing. Everyone that we spoke to in every shop/cafe/pub that we went into was welcoming and warm; really inspiring. It certainly feels like Cumbria has been left to just deal with the flooding issues itself and just ‘get on with it’, and it seems that they are doing just that.

My mum and I had a lovely few hours pottering around the villlage while Johan was running in the fell race; brunch at Granny Dowbekins, a look in the shops and a Magnum next to the river while we waited for them to finish.

While the boys were enjoying their complimentary cuppa and homemade cake, we were joined by a lad, called Tom, who had come up for the day from London, especially to take part in the run. It was his first ever fell race, and his first experience of being out in the hills. His enthusiasm was amazing and he totally epitomised the spirit of why we were there. He couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was, and as he was on his own I asked if he wanted to hang around with us for the rest of the afternoon. He gratefully stuck with us and spent the rest of the day with a huge smile on his face, asking a ton of questions and learning as much as he could about fell running and all things outdoors. It was so refreshing to see such enthusiasm.

The day ended with a pint at the Sun Inn with my dad and a few of the Daffodil Run marshals and a drive back east with the sun setting behind us.

A cracking day in a beautiful area.

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Start briefing

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All smiles at the start

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Main field on their way

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Cracking home made ‘Pooley Gingerbridge’ from Granny Dowbekins given as a complementary thank you for simply eating there.

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Coming into the finish

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Post race chat

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Pooley Bridge

Johan stayed on in The Lakes with his race partner and wild camped last night, followed by a light run around Ennerdale today. I’m certainly jealous as they had a cracking weekend for it. His race report and right up of the weekend will follow shortly, once he decides to come home and get back to reality!

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