Early Easter at Eskdale

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

Scafell and Slightside via Burnmoor Tarn

Another Mother’s birthday, another trip to Eskdale with the family, and therefore another run up from Boot to Scafell. Only this time, I actually managed to get to Scafell.

It’s been a goal of mine for a year or so, particularly as I enjoy the tops between Eskdale and Wasdale a lot – possibly one of my favourite little bits of the Lakes, and an area which usually remains relatively quiet despite its close proximity to Wasdale – arguably one of the more popular valleys.

As a bit of background; we were staying with family friends – Peter and Fionna. Peter especially, is very familiar with the hills surrounding Eskdale, having walked a huge variety of routes from the valley, and as such, is always worth consulting before a run. In this instance I’d planned to head up Slightside, as of last year’s foray, before heading on up to Scafell and dropping back down to Burnmoor Tarn, but Peter suggested running the other way around as the descent from Scafell to Burnmoor Tarn is incredibly rocky. It was excellent advice, as the scree I encountered was just the wrong size for descending quickly; too big to surf, too picky to get through rapidly.

As it was a family weekend, I wanted to get out early to avoid taking over the daytime. A friend of a friend was attempting the Bob Graham (he managed it with time to spare), and it was suggested that I meet them at Rossett Pike to have a look at the route up Bowfell in preparation for my attempt (hopefully in late June/early July this year). However, without a lift up Hardknott, it was going to be a serious day out just for me as well, and I felt would take too much out of the day, so elected for a shorter, albeit awesome, route.

Setting off just after 9am, the sun was out, a light frost was hanging around in the shade from the night before, and there was a slight breeze. In a word, it was perfect.

The first stretch takes you up from Christcliff (which lies pretty much half way between Boot and the Woolpack Inn) to Eel tarn, and is characterised by gorse and bog-myrtle, resulting in a lovely fragrant first ascent. I’d decided to try and run as much uphill as possible, as my performance at the Causey Pike fell race had left a little to be desired for someone with my uphill pedigree.

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As it was, I managed to run all the way up to Eel tarn where I stopped to take in the surroundings. I can never get bored of that area, it’s just fantastic – wide open Lakeland tops, basking in sunshine; Eel tarn is small, but perfectly situated, and you get the hulking mass of Scafell lowering in the background, with all the famous tops around Wasdale thrown in for good measure. Brilliant!

Moving on, I tried to keep the pace up on the flatish section to Burnmoor Tarn. This whole stretch is rapid running on soft, even ground, rising slightly from Eel tarn before dropping you onto Lambford Bridge. Here, the bridge gate was stuck shut – not a problem for me as I just vaulted the gate – and I spent a few minutes trying to un-stick the latch. The chain had twisted around and moved to the far side of its tethering ring, and I just couldn’t budge it.

Giving up on the gate as a lost cause (or something which would take far too long to fix on my schedule), I pushed on towards Burnmoor Tarn. Losing the path, I ended up thrashing my way through some boggy long grass for about five minutes, until the path revealed itself to me, and I could yomp on to Burnmoor.

Burnmoor hove into view, with the shooting lodge peeping over the hillside; “ah, it’s good to be back”. Running up the length of the tarn, I double checked the path up to Scafell, had a quick drink and got shifting again, trying to keep my pace down below 5min/mile.

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It was time for the big ascent up to Scafell summit, and I decided to try and run as much as possible. I managed pretty much the whole way up Hard Rigg, but eventually had to slow down and stomp my way up. Hitting the boulder field which characterises the entire top of Scafell, I slowed right down and followed a narrow path which switch-backed its way up and up. I wouldn’t like to come down this unless I had to, nice local knowledge there Peter, cheers!

After a good 15 minutes of stomping and scrambling, I arrived at the top of England’s second highest peak. At 964m, Scafell summit stands 13m below the summit of its better known Pike. In the clear bluebird April sunshine this was an unexpected blessing; I looked over to Scafell Pike, and could clearly see a number of people hanging out on its summit. In comparison, I was on my own, on my own little piece of heaven.

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If you’ve never been, the views from Scafell are stunning (given that it’s a clear day that is), and I’d even go as far as to suggest the peak itself has more to offer than Scafell Pike. After drinking in the views for five minutes I consulted my map again, had a sip of my dwindling water, and set off picking my way down toward Slightside. I met the only person I saw on my run at this point, a young shepherd by the looks of him, and exchanging a brief “hello” we were both on our respective ways, him heading up, me heading down.

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From Scafell to Slightside, the terrain varies from picky and rocky, to a lovely sweeping grass slope, and back to picky and rocky as you hit Slightside summit. Another stop for reflection and to enjoy the views, and I was back on my way, dropping off the southern end of Slightside and contouring around toward Stony Tarn.

I managed to pick the wrong track between Slightside and Stony Tarn, but realised when Cat Crag and Dawsonground Crags appeared on my right instead of my left. More tramping across boggy ground ensued, and I managed to drop myself onto the track which skirts around the north of Stony Tarn.

The pace picked up again, and I bombed downhill past Eel Tarn and down toward Christcliff, clock watching the whole while. I’d said that I could do it in 2h30 before heading out; Peter had hedged at 3 hours, and my watch was showing 2h11 as I hit the top of the final slope where paths part ways to Christcliff or the Woolpack.

I can get under 2h15, come on.

Belting down the hill, I ignored the gorse and brambles as much as possible, and hit the track up to the house at about 2h12.

Go go go!

Sprinting up the track, I finally made it into their car space and stopped my watch. 2h13, get in!

All in all, including photo stops and gate fixing attempts it had taken 2h31, which was pretty much bang on. I’d managed to get a little sunburnt as well (always happens in the Lakes in April), and arrived home to a big mug of tea and some biscuits. Perfect.

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.

Stanley Ghyll and Birker Force

With the OMM 2016 just round the corner, I’ve been trying to get out and about a little more to get some miles in my legs. The first run of much interest for a while took place this weekend when we went over to Eskdale to celebrate my brother and my birthdays (our birthdays are just 16 days apart).

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The original plan was to get up early and head up via Eel Tarn and Burnmoor Tarn to hit Scafell Pike, and descend back down via Scafell, Slightside and the Great Moss. I’d anticipated about 3 to 3 and a half hours for this round, which would have worked out quite nicely if I’d woken up early. But as Saturdays often work out, we ended up sleeping a little longer than expected, and by the time we were up, fed and watered the 4ish hours it would take for the run and subsequent cool down/shower would put me way out of sync with everyone else.

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Not wanting to pass up my opportunity to run in one of my favourite Lakeland valleys, I had a quick peruse of the map for a shorter route which would provide a bit of ascent and excellent views. I settled on a classic round (for us), joining the riverside path as quickly as possible from Christcliff, running down (West) to Stanley Ghyll, up Stanley Ghyll, East across the tops above Birker Force, back down to Low Birker, and back along the river.

I won’t blather on about the views, which were exceptional as always. I will be just a little nerdy, now having a running watch, and say that I was out for 56 minutes, with an average pace of 6min30/km. So now, I’ll leave you all with a few photos of my run. Enjoy!

Oh, and see you at the OMM…

 

Wainwrights Challenge – Little Mell Fell

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…