Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Sedbergh Hills fell race

Driving north on Sunday morning in pouring rain I couldn’t help but reflect on our recent visits to the Howgills as this was looking like the second soaking this season, the first being in July.  This would also be the third time I have done Sedbergh Hills and the previous two occasions (2004 and 2008) were also marred by poor conditions on The Calf, at the very least. The weather hadn’t deteriorated to the most pessimistic conditions which would have included a 55 mph wind gusting in excess of 80 mph so there was some room for optimism.

Almost ready for the Off

With noon approaching it was time to emerge from the hall and face the elements. The grey streaks on the above are rain drops and although one or two are wearing jackets most runners considered them unnecessary or, more likely too warm. Too warm it remained while the wind was behind us and beyond CP3 the route is sheltered except where it briefly crosses the ridges. After CP4 the long, but sheltered, drag to The Calf begins. Until reaching the ridge the weather still didn’t seem too bad but once there the wind was driving the rain so hard it felt like running into a hailstorm. Almost instantly it was too late to stop and put on a waterproof top – keeping going to keep warm and, more realistically, get down out of the wind seemed the only option. By Winder, below the worst of the wind, the rain had stopped and was a pleasant afternoon.


Three hours later

As before, I forgot how many climbs there are between CP3 and CP4 but I won’t forget again. Before I saw the conditions I wondered about the sub 3 hour time I considered possible in 2008 (when I finished in 3:04) providing I could find the trod round Calders. Once I saw the conditions I gave up any hope of finding the trod and so wasn’t disappointed when I couldn’t. I thought the wind might cost me 3-4 minutes and I think it probably did but I also lost 3 or so minutes between CP3 & CP4 and then finished with a poor line off Winder. I am disappointed about the time lost getting to CP4 and although I was aware at the time I needed to be pushing harder I just wasn’t enjoying it and I, more or less, just wanted to get it over with. I don’t think I have ever felt like that before and if it happens again I’ll try to remember the disappointment I feel now about not pushing on into CP4 last Sunday.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Anglezark Amble – the reprise

The Anglezark Amble is a LDWA Challenge Event organised by the West Lancashire group in February each year, around Anglezark as the name suggests. At around 24 miles and 3000 feet of climbing it is enjoyed by fell runners as well as walkers but this year John Coope (of Coope's Dozen) had a poor day out, retiring not many miles from the finish. Keen to ‘lay the ghost’ of February, John wanted another go at the route which provided an excuse for Pauline, Nicole, Ray and Ed & John Swift to run, at least part of it. So good was this opportunity that Keith came down from Kendal to join in and ‘tick’ Winter Hill, one of the 1200 or so “Marilyns” listed in the Relative Hills of Britain by Alan Dawson. Nicole’s husband, David, agreed to provide a ‘check point’ with food and drink and I agreed to provide the other which would compliment the stashes placed earlier in the week by John.


Unperturbed locals

Unperturbed locals and the Lancashire plain under a characteristic grey sky


South over Manchester

Sun always shines somewhere else – in this instance, south over Manchester from the Two Lads


 Pike Cottage

 Northwest over Pike Cottage


Rivington Pike

 Northwest again, with Rivington Pike


The weather was more benign than the forecast suggested and the heavy rain didn’t last too long (that is how we know it is summer in Lancashire) and a good time was had by all – John, Pauline & Keith all made it back to Rivington.


Ray, John Coope & Nicole  Ray, John Coope and Nicole


John Swift, Keith and Pauline 

John Swift, Keith and Pauline


Ed Swift

Ed Swift starting the climb at Pike Cottage

Friday, 14 August 2009

Eastern Carneddau

Lying north east of Snowdon these green rolling hills are reminiscent of Lakeland’s Northern Fells although they are higher and some have rocky summits they are quiet and provide a wholly enjoyable solitude, in complete contrast with Snowdon. The edge of Bethesda provides easy access over Gyrr Wiggau and from there the rest of the group are within easy reach. These are amongst the most northerly summits in Wales and provide views to the north that sweep down to the sea. Sheep are everywhere, of course, and wild ponies wander over all these hillsides barely interested in passing strangers.

Yr Elen

South over Yr Elen

Over Drosgl, Bera Bach and Bera Mawr to cross Afon Goch on its way to Aber Falls and the start (or finish) of the “Welsh 3000s” – a traverse of the 14 Welsh 3000 foot summits. Some years ago we attempted this route, in the middle of summer, starting at Aber (going the ‘wrong’ way) only to find ourselves walking into a gale force wind. In this valley we were fairly sheltered but still concerned about the wind and by the time we reached the ridge at the head of the valley we were, literally, stopped in our tracks. After, perhaps, an hour of doing battle with the wind we realised we didn’t have the strength to keep going for another 10 or 11 hours, into the wind, and turned back to Aber. We hadn’t been back until last weekend and I had forgotten just how fierce the wind was that July morning, until last Sunday when the memory was as fresh as ever.

looking North West

North West to the sea

south west to Yr Elen

South West to Yr Elen with the Gylders beyond

Ponies on Foel Grach

Ponies on the slopes of Foel Grach

Carneddau Llewelyn

Yr Elen and Carneddau Llewelyn

These are wonderful hills. Away from the main ridge the paths are barely worn and little frequented. Last Sunday we saw two or three people and only one of them was within hailing distance – there were another 3 on the main ridge but only six people during the whole day when we must have seen more than 50 wild ponies. Hills we will come back to, for sure.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Northern Gylders

North of Y Garn the Glyders change in character and the wild rocky summits and ridges for which they are renowned are replaced with big grassy hills some of which have rocky summits. Between Snowdon and the Carneddau they enjoy a privileged position providing stunning mountain views in all directions. We have previously wandered over them all, except Elider Fawr which is off the main ridge sitting above Marchlin Mawr reservoir looking down over the slate quarries to Llanberis. We had about half a day before the cloud cover was forecast to reach 100% with a base below 2000 feet and so headed Elider Fawr straight from Nant Peris. Apart from a group of lads tackling the “Welsh 3000s” we had the hills to ourselves.

Foel-goch and Tryfan

Pauline looking south beyond Foel-goch to Tryfan with a shoulder of Pen Yr Ole Wen on the left

towards Snowdon

Clouds building over Snowdon suggesting they might reach the summit of Elider Fawr before we did.

South over Y Garn

South over Foel-goch and Tryfan from below Elider Fawr summit

Elider Fawr summit ridge

Reaching Elider Fawr summit at the same time as the cloud base

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Without doubt Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa in Welsh, is the most commercially exploited mountain on these islands. Like Cairn Gorm it has a summit railway, like Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis it has its endless stream of “National Three Peakers” and other “sponsored walkers” and then to cap it all, quite literally, there is the summit cafe. A long weekend in Nant Peris gave us the opportunity to walk up and have a look at the new cafe last weekend and while Pauline’s broken elbow excluded Crib Goch there are plenty of other interesting routes. Sitting outside the Rucksack Club hut we could hear and see the trains at Clogwyn station.

Clogwyn Station from Nant Peris

The faint spiral of smoke in the centre of the picture is from one of the stream engines waiting on a descending train to clear the section from Clogwyn station to the summit station and so allow it to complete its journey to the top. There are routes straight up the facing slopes but we preferred a (slightly) less steep route just out of picture to the right. On our way to Clogwyn station we met the first of the seriously underprepared and woefully equipped Charity Walkers – “Doing a wonderful job raising a ‘decent amount’ and there are 11 teams out today” according to one of the check point marshals. I may have got this wrong but sending people out on Snowdon, or any other mountain, wearing trainers, tracksuit tops and jeans is both wrong and dangerous. These teams weren’t being looked after by capable leaders between check points, they were left to make there own way either without or unable to use a map and compass – at least one group were reduced to asking other walkers for directions to their next check point.

Most of the people travelling to the summit do so in the relative comfort of the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

Approaching Clogwyn 1

Approaching Clogwyn 2

Approaching Clogwyn Station

Approaching Clogwyn 3

Approaching Clogwyn 4

Beyond Clogwyn Station we joined the stream of walkers making their way to the summit, in the clag. With no views to be seen in any direction we enjoyed a hot drink in the new cafe which is better than the previous one but if you were to think dammed by faint praise you wouldn’t be far wrong. You may be wondering why we bothered, at all, but once away from the main paths, the cafe and the trains Snowdon is a real mountain at the head of a big horseshoe, in the centre of a grand massif.

LLyn LlydawLlyn Llidaw with Crib Goch in cloud on the left and the Glyders beyond

Y Lliwedd

Llyn Llidaw and the ridge rising to Y Lliwedd on the left

Yr Aran

Yr Aran from Y Lliwedd

Descending to Y Lliwedd we met a group of 3, two of whom weren’t well equipped but were simply ecstatic - “we’ve been up Snowdon today” one exclaimed. “It is our first time and it has been brilliant, we’ve got this proper mountaineer to look after us and it has been really hard” he concluded. That is why we were there too because it is brilliant and Snowdon is in the centre of an area of big hills of immense variety – there are quieter, more remote and more spectacular summits but Snowdon retains a certain grandeur despite the trains, the crowds and the cafe.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Borrowdale fell race

At 17 miles and 6500 feet Borrowdale isn’t the longest (Ennerdale 23 miles & 7500 feet) or the toughest (Wasdale 21 miles & 9000 feet) of the Lakeland 'classic races. These comparisons ignore the Old County Tops which makes a strong case for being both the longest and toughest  at 37 miles & 10000 feet although it is run in pairs. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you Borrowdale isn’t tough - it is, even for fell runners. First run on a Sunday in August 1974 but now run on Saturdays and still sponsored by Miles Jessop of the Scafell Hotel who completed the race in his ‘slimmer days’, as he described them to us a few years ago. Borrowdale isn’t just tough, it is one of the toughest, summiting England’s highest peak (Scafell Pike 3209 feet, 978 metres) and crossing some of the roughest ground in the area this race deserves its reputation.

From the start in Rosthwaite village the race checkpoints are Bessyboot summit, Esk Hause Shelter, Scafell Pike summit, Sty Head, Great Gable summit, Honister Hause, Dale Head summit with the finish in Rosthwaite village. The altitude profile looks like -

Borrowdale Profile

Neither the altitude profile nor a close inspection of a map gives any real idea of how rough and difficult some of the ground is but think about the world marathon record of 2:03:59 (for 26.2 miles) and while you are doing that consider Billy Bland’s, yet to be beaten, 1982 record of 2:24:38 (for 16.5 miles). Billy Bland wasn’t a great marathon runner but he was a great fell runner, a fearless descender and in his home valley where, as he says “I might as well be last, if I don’t win here” so you can be sure this is a very, very fast time for the route.

To many, runners and non runners alike, Borrowdale epitomises tough Lakeland racing and while not quite in the same league as Ennerdale or Wasdale it attracts big fields even in non-championship years and this year was no exception with the 500 places filling quickly when entries opened at the end of May. I didn’t start thinking about racing until I was beginning to recover from the earlier ultra runs, hadn’t considered entering Borrowdale until after it was full and so had given up all hope for the 2009 race. A serendipitous glance at the fell runners’ forum a week ago revealed a place being offered and within minutes I had a substitute’s place thanks to George Bate. Once the euphoria had evaporated I began to realise I hadn’t raced since March in the High Peak Marathon and I wouldn’t have the chance to race before Borrowdale. Training for very long runs involves not only the obvious physical work but also a mindset tuned to keeping going and conserving energy whenever possible – not always an ideal approach for a race.

A very wet Saturday morning awaited us and the journey to Borrowdale did little to suggest the ‘improving weather’ forecast would be correct but minutes before the 11:00 start the rain blew away, the clouds started to lift and the all the waterproofs were put back into bum bags.

Borrowdale 2009 - "and they are off" 


leaving Honister Hause

Needing to be racing rather than merely running, I started uncomfortably fast and pushed on as hard as I could - aiming to be further up the field than usual when the steep climbing started. The first climb isn’t the one to push hard on and I wasn’t surprised to lose some places before the first summit.

The drying but still greasy rocks around Scafell Pike cost me places and minutes I hoped not to lose but this is difficult ground. Descending to Sty Head was faster and easier than I expected. With jelly babies galore (thanks, Richard) and a bottle of carbs waiting with a Horwich club mate, Mark Sammon, I was ready for the last two big climbs and their corresponding big descents.

Pauline joined me briefly at the start of the 1200 feet climb to Dale Head, the final summit.  Time for the last of the carbs drink and time to find out if there is anything left in my legs. Having lost a couple of places at the start of the climb I got them back before the summit.

Only frantic shouts from spectators (thanks Tony & Christine) prevented me going wrong only yards from the finish but the final result was 171st place in 4:29:21 which put me in the top half of the field having taken 9 minutes off my previous best time.



Borrowdale 2009 winner Robb Jebb

Race Organiser “Scoffer” offering his congratulations to the winner Robb Jebb who has already won Ennerdale and Wasdale this year. Winning all three in the same season is a feat accomplished previously by only Billy & Gavin Bland.