Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Coope’s Dozen – 25th July 2009

Long established as a Horwich RMI Harrier’s club run, Coope’s Dozen visits 12 summits on the Winter Hill massif in Lancashire. The route has been refined over the years and date is now established as the last Saturday before the Borrowdale fell race which, generally, means the last Saturday in July. Originally a closed race, restricted to HRMI members, it now attracts the occasional guest as well as runners wishing to join in the fun without subjecting themselves to the rigours and pain the entire 18 mile route would involve.

Final PhotoThus we gathered at the Upper Barn car park last Saturday for the leisurely start at or around 09:00. The obligatory ‘final photo’ is taken before before the motley crew makes its way to the start line. On the extreme left of the picture I find myself wearing the same vest as I wore in last year’s ‘final photo’ which suggests the weather was good last year too. Introductions to the entire cast would take too long and two of the more important members don’t actually run. Between taking photographs, John’s wife Joan and Ray’s wife Christina meet us at two road crossings to ply us with all manner of homemade cakes, flapjack and other assorted goodies – more on this later. The ‘John’ mentioned above is John Coope (of Coope’s Dozen) and is on the left of the picture in the white shirt. This is one of a few races Pauline and I both run and she is third from the right.

Until the final summit (Healey Nab) is reached the race is run in a group or more recently in a number of groups. By the first summit (Noon Hill) three groups had established themselves. Pauline was in the second group with Nicole (2nd from right) and Ray (extreme right) and they were to chase the first group (myself, Tony (centre, dark blue tee shirt and without his famous yellow hat), Colin (centre, red tee shirt) and Albert who dragged me round last year (hiding behind Pauline). At least, they were to chase us until making a huge route finding error on their way to the final summit. Pauline & Nicole now need a miracle at the FRA Navigation Course later in the year. This is all well and good except for the fact the Ray (the 3rd member) has already done the course and couldn’t help them get it right! This wasn’t their only significant error as Pauline’s GPS trace established they missed Spittler’s Edge summit entirely. We weren’t immune to such errors, they were just on a smaller scale.

Coope's Dozen 2009

The final summit (Healey Nab) lies NW of the large reservoir and the two tracks diverge as they approach the reservoir – the blue track is my group (on the shortest line) and the red track is Pauline’s group which goes horribly wrong.

Approaching the Two LadsTony Varley approaching the Two Lads (still without his yellow hat) 

From Noon Hill the route visits Rivington Pike, Two Lads, Whimberry Hill, Egg Hillock, Counting Hill and then Winter Hill itself before leaving Winter Hill to reach the first road crossing at Horden Stoops where Joan and Christina are waiting with food and drinks. One of their cardboard boxes made us wonder about its contents.

Not For Human Being

Despite the labelling the contents were delicious and fortified we set off for the second half of the route having just seen Pauline, Nicole and Ray start their final descent to the road crossing.

After a less than optimum route choice we reached Old Adam then Spittler’s Edge and Great Hill where we met a number of walkers and a black spaniel who seemed as puzzled as anyone about why we do what we were doing.

Great Hill summit

On to Sugar Loaf and another road crossing where we met John before going the wrong way to Healey Nab, the 12th of the 12.

Waterman's Cottage

We knew we had gone the wrong way to Healey Nab even before we saw John, who had set off after us, reaching the summit ahead of us. As we set off to leave the summit (in different directions) John couldn’t be persuaded that we knew a better way back to Rivington – fortunately we were right, this time. This final section of the route is fairly flat but involves more road than any of us really wanted but we made it back to the Upper Barn car park in a bit over 4 hours to complete Coope’s Dozen for 2009. To cap it all, as it were, Tony was then persuaded (without much difficulty) to let us see the famous yellow hat he had been talking about almost all the way round – what better way to finish off than this?


2009-07-25 Coope's Dozen 023 01

Thanks to you all and in particular thanks to Joan and Christina for another great day out on Coope’s Dozen.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Greendale Bridge

Greendale Bridge nestles below the triumvirate of Buckbarrow, Seatallan and Middle Fell and is the final destination on the “Joss Naylor Lakeland Traverse”, reached some 48 miles after leaving Pooley Bridge. These three fells provide a short, thoroughly enjoyable round with very fine views of Wasdale far from the comings and goings further up the valley. After a late night and an equally late breakfast in the sunshine at Brackenclose, looking across to Yewbarrow and Kirk Fell, we headed for Greendale Bridge with Keith Foster. With fresh legs, Middle Fell has a very runnable, very enjoyable descent to the bridge and we have always done it that way, often on or recceing the “Joss”. Last Sunday we climbed Middle Fell from Greendale Bridge for the first time thus avoid the steep pull up Buckbarrow. A sandwich on the summit provided a reason, if one was needed,to linger in the sunshine.

Yewbarrow with the Scafells and Kirk Fell beyond

Great Gable with Kirk Fell and Yewbarrow







Wasdale is a magical place and Middle Fell is a wonderful spot from where to appreciate the grandeur of the Wasdale Head and its surrounding fells. It allows you to look in to Wasdale, almost like Alice’s looking glass, knowing you are on the rim of a special place.

Stone Pillar with the Crees beyond


Over Seatallan and down on to Buckbarrow we eschewed the usual descent and jogged back towards Middle Fell following a faint trod that suggested it might offer a grassy route back to the valley floor. Below Glade Howe overlooking Greendale Gill an expertly built stone pillar stands alone on the hillside. Unmarked, it is a mysterious sentinel far from any trod or bridleway and quiet alone.



Nether Wasdale looking down Greendale Gill

Greendale Gill provides an easy way back down to the valley and passes the final waterfall of the weekend.

Tongues Gills

Last Week’s Numbers: 57 miles; 11000 feet; 16:39:46

Thursday, 23 July 2009

A Cool Windy Wasdale Afternoon

In contrast to the previous weekend last Saturday was a cool afternoon with a low cloud base and a cool wind above about 2000 feet. Also in contrast to the previous weekend we weren’t there just to be spectators. Despite the lousy forecast the sun surprised us on Saturday morning, appearing intermittently as clouds blew by. We saw very little of it later but nevertheless decided to visit all the main tops south of Wasdale between Whin Rigg and Scafell Pike. Initially we planned to go to Mitredale from Brackenclose and from there to Whin Rigg but fearful the weather might close in and rob us of views from the tops we followed the Wasdale race route to Whin Rigg – at a pace more comfortable than we could have got away with the week before. The cloud base dropped a little lower and we were in clag before reaching the top of Illgill Head. Still in clag when we returned from Whin Rigg we dropped down towards Burnmoor Tarn to have a look for a route to somewhere between Great Howe and Slight Side.

Wasdale Head from Whin Rigg

A pair of becks drain the Sca Fell ridge and one offers an easy way on to the ridge, at least that is how it looked on the map and from afar on Whin Rigg. Running down and across on good trods we chose to edge round the worst of the bogs rather than going as far as Bulatt Bridge to cross the river. Nearing the becks we began to realise how spectacular their waterfalls actually are. Plunging over granite outcrops they have worn and polished the rock over thousands of years to produce a small wonderland of pink rock and foaming water.

Long Gill

 Long Gill Long Gill

Long Gill plunges down a number of small falls and rushes across a polished granite floor so smooth it couldn’t be crossed.






Just beyond, Oliver Gill pours precipitately down fewer but higher falls, again over pink granite, equally smooth and polished.

Oliver Gill

Oliver Gill 

This was an unexpected pleasure, one we lingered over and shared only with ourselves, far from the incessant streams of “Three Peakers” making their way to or from Scafell Pike.

By Slight Side we were in the clag again, dropping out briefly at Mickledore just long enough to watch a fairly weary Bob Graham aspirant scramble up Broad Stand. Over Scafell Pike and down to Lingmell where it was quiet enough to linger just below the cloud base.

North over Styhead Tarn

Lingmell provides wonderful views to the northern and north western fells (another one we must come back to on a clear winter day). The clouds just kept blowing in and out, alternatively revealing Blencartha on the far skyline and concealing Styhead Tarn not far below us. Turning into the wind we  headed for the nose and the final run down to Brackenclose.

Wasdale Head panorama

Google Earth Route: Wasdale 18-07-2009.kml

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Nailed Boots

Last weekend we were staying at the Fell & Rocking Climbing Club hut at Brackenclose in Wasdale which must have amongst the very best views in England. All the visual interest in not outside, however, as the hut has a collection of old photographs and one or two artefacts including an long handled ice axe and a pair of nailed boots. Although I have seen nailed boots previously, I have never been close enough to them to appreciate just how alien Vibram soled boots must have seemed to those who knew and loved nails. Many climbers had their own personal, distinctive and recognisable pattern of nails. Each boot weighs several pounds and those who wore them must have had strong legs, indeed.


Friday, 17 July 2009

A Warm Wasdale Afternoon

At 11 o’clock last Saturday morning a couple of hundred, or so, fell runners left Brackenclose to tackle the toughest fell race in the championship calendar. Championship races attract runners from all over the country and the Wasdale FR is no exception although its deserved reputation may deter the faint-hearted, the lure of championship points and a grand day out even if points could be out of reach attracts others. 21 miles with 9000 feet of climbing over the finest hills to be found in England is a tough day for anyone but these runners have the additional challenge of beating the cut-off times at checkpoints so simply shuffling round at your own pace isn’t an option for most of the field. On a warm day like last Saturday the challenge becomes tougher – keeping cool and hydrated is even more difficult. I know just how much more difficult because in 2005, the last time it was a championship race, on the hottest day of the year I was unable to beat the cut-off at Pillar. I’ll spare you the details of the desperate struggle to reach Pillar before the cut-off time, suffice it to say that my greatest concern, on approaching the summit checkpoint, was that I would be allowed to continue.

Rob Jebb leads them out of the start field

Just as fell running isn’t only about racing Brackenclose isn’t only the start and finish of the Wasdale fell race it is also a road crossing on the Bob Graham Round where aspirants are fed and watered on their way back to the Moot Hall in Keswick. Last Saturday it was the turn of Duncan Richards who, 25 years after his Bob Graham, was coming back and  attempting 50 summits (instead of the standard 42) at 50 years old. We weren’t sure if we would see him but as he was behind his schedule we were there in time to wish him well and enjoy a cuppa with Rhiannon who provided his road support.

Duncan and Bill Williamson prepare to leave for Yewbarrow

Watched by Pauline, Chris (from leg 3) and Rhiannon, Bill Williamson prepares to take Duncan up Yewbarrow and on to Honister Hause. Already suffering knee problems at Wasdale Duncan suffered a stress fracture to a tibia and was forced to retire at Honister.

Having found out how to really enjoy both the Wasdale FR and an extended Bob Graham Round we went to the Wasdale Head Inn for lunch, had a stroll round St Olafs (smallest church in England) and returned to Brackenclose to see the first runners home.

Wasdale Head Inn from St Olafs Churchyard St Olafs Church


down Wasdale towards the sea

Great Gable








Getting ready to welcome the winner

With Scafell Pike and Sca Fell on the skyline the final preparations are completed at the finish. Conditions were too warm for very fast times which meant spectators waiting a little longer for the first runners. With the wait lengthening the tension mounted as eyes strained searching a fast descending runner from Lingmell.

Rob Jebb wins Wasdale 2009

Less than four hours after leaving Brackenclose Rob Jebb wins the 2009 Wasdale fell race in conditions he described as “not too bad”. For the next three and a quarter hours runners would continue to arrive at the finish, some 141 through the last checkpoint to complete the race while others would arrive from wherever they had been timed out or simply retired. A long fell race isn’t really a spectator sport it is an intensely personal experience, a struggle against the conditions and against yourself but most of all it is an intensely satisfying way of enjoying a day on the fells.

Finally, to see what happened between the start and the finish have a look at Andy Holden’s video

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Another Place

Having my Dad staying with us for a few days gave us an excuse to become tourists in north west England where we live. On our way to Southport for a blast of sea air we stopped at Crosby Beach for a look at Anthony Gormley’s sculpture, “Another Place”. The sculpture consists of 100 cast iron figures which face out to sea, spread over a 2 mile (3.2 km) stretch of the beach. Each figure is 189 cm tall (nearly 6 feet 2½ inches) and weighs around 650 kg (over 1400 lbs).

Watching the tide move up the beach submerging the figures creates slightly eerie feeling, probably because it shouldn’t be happening – like cream cakes that shouldn’t be left out in the rain – cast iron statues shouldn’t be left on the beach for the sea to cover.

Beyond the slight eeriness induced by the incoming tide there is also a sense of hopelessness and, perhaps, weariness as though they are fulfilling a long standing obligation to look out for something coming over the horizon irrespective of the consequences. The consequences are repeated twice a day and will be, presumably, until nature completes its corrosive course. Watching the statues emerge as the tide recedes is likely to produce quite a difference effect and I wonder if it might be more positive and optimistic.


In some ways a lone figure produces a more powerful effect, adding solitariness to hopelessness and weariness. With the water just lapping around his feet the figure creates some discomfort in spectators by standing and facing the tide instead of turning and walking or running away.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

The ‘Must Do’ Hills

As the M6 motorway works its way north through Lancashire and Cumbria it leaves the industrial north behind and threads its way through rolling countryside where cattle give way to sheep as the land rises. Just north of Killington Reservoir it turns right to join the West Coast Main Line ready to turn left, with the railway line, into the narrow valley created by the river Lune. The hills on the left, to the west of all three modes of transport, around the “other Borrowdale” generally attract little interest from passing motorists whereas the the hills to the east dominate the valley to such an extent that they cannot be ignored. We, like many others, drove up and down through the Lune valley for years thinking, and even saying, “we must do these hills, one day”. We did “do them” eventually on a cold February day in 2001 when they were covered in deep snow. We had a great day, one of the last for a while as “Foot and Mouth” was already closing the fells, although low clouds denied us the views we should have enjoyed. Sitting in the car afterwards we thought and said, we must do these hills again, in clear weather. We have been back several times and every time concluded the day (or night but that is a different story) with the same thought..

The Rucksack Club took us back to the Howgills last Saturday to visit the 600 metre Tops starting from Sedbergh where a warm sunny morning greeted us. A doom-laden forecast for later in the day was put to one side as we set off on the long gentle approach to Yarlside and and Green Bell beyond.


Towards Green Bell with the Pennines behind


Green Bell (the bump in the middle distance) is the most eastern of the 600 metre tops and marks the point in our route where it turns due west, across the grain of the land, and begins to reveal the real character of these rolling grassy hills. The dilemma facing walkers and runners crossing the grain of the land is how to minimise the impact of crossing consecutive ridges and we are still trying to find an effective way to do it.


Across Bowderdale & Langdale beyond



After Randy Gill Top (from where the above was taken) the route crosses Bowderdale, over the next ridge to Langdale and then on to the ridge on the skyline. In about 2 and a half miles you give up 800 feet, climb 500, give up 500 and final climb 900 feet to reach the second ridge and if you didn’t understand the character of these hills before you will now.


Preparing for the climb out of Langdale


By Fell Head, one of the summits visible from the M6, we had done most of the climbing for day and could enjoy views from the ridges leading to The Calf and beyond. Leaving Calders and watching thunderstorms sweep north over the Cumbrian Fells the thought struck again – we must do these hills again, preferably on clear winter day, when the Pennines and Yorkshire Three Peaks will be seen in all their glory. Any smugness we may have enjoyed watching the storms away to the west was short lived as the next bank of storms didn’t confine themselves to the Lakes but wandered sufficiently far east to sweep over the Howgills.


Last blue sky before the storm


Time to don waterproofs and run for Sedbergh

Just before we ran for Sedbergh


If you have ever looked at the Howgills and thought I must do these hills, I can only suggest you should think no longer but simply get out and do them and, if you are a runner, there is always the 14 mile, 6000 feet Sedbergh Hills race on Sunday August 23rd at 12.00 noon.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

There’s a kind of magic

Almost as though every aspirant on a Bob Graham Round, a Joss Naylor Traverse, a Paddy Buckley in Wales or a Charlie Ramsay Round in Scotland carries a bag of excitement to scatter in his or her wake there is a kind of infectious magic that  touches and affects all those with even the slightest involvement. In summer, the sight of a small group of runners moving together at a comfortable pace creates interest and intrigue even amongst the uninitiated – in June on Pillar, I think, we were asked if there was a race on. Just “the height of the Bob Graham season” we explained, knowing there were many more about to leave Wasdale for Honister. To the initiated the sight invokes strong, deeply held memories of their own round. Their own feelings on the same hill all those months or years before come flooding back on an uncontrollable surge of emotion.

Iain Kelly coming off Dale Head

Last weekend waiting on Iain & Karl on their last lag we saw a group leaving Dale Head summit and moving fairly quickly. Staying together as they descended they had all the hallmarks of a BG team and I started taking photographs, not because I knew who they were but because I knew what they were doing. Eventually, they reached us and we couldn’t recognise any of the runners but the special question “Bob Graham?” produced an unexpected response “Ian?” We realised then it was Iain Kelly running strongly en route to his 41st summit of the day. We ran along with them to the top, offering our encouragement and best wishes for the remainder of his journey.

Karl Taylor leaving Dale Head

A little later Karl’s team left the same summit and we descended with them before turning back to Honister to make sure we were at the Moot Hall to see him finish. There passers-by would be affected and burst into applause as Karl sprinted the final yards to the Moot Hall where complete strangers would come and offer congratulations. We watched as they completed the descent and started the climb to Hindscarth knowing, as for Iain before him, that the time to relax and enjoy it wasn’t far away, knowing that all the hard work had been done and done successfully – not just during the previous hours, not just during the previous night but during all the previous weeks, months and even years since the idea of a 24 Hour Bob Graham first began to germinate.

Even in winter on the Lakeland fells a frisson can be felt when a small group of runners is encountered, paying particular attention to little used trods as they seek the optimum line in preparation for their big day. Once touched by the magic there are very few who can just walk away from the possibility of one of these big days out and it sustains future contenders from the intensity of road support or running a leg this year through the winter preparations for their own attempt next year or the year after. Iain & Karl probably didn’t realise they were spreading magic as they crossed the 42 summits on their way back to the Moot Hall but they were and it affected everybody involved, however slightly, just as it should.