Thursday, 10 September 2009

Where Eagles Fly

Unsurprisingly, the weather forecast was poor (heavy rain driven by 40-50 mph winds at 3000 feet) because last Saturday was the Grisedale Horseshoe fell race. On Friday I decided to join Pauline and run “Where Eagles Fly” instead. Revived after a few years’ absence, it is one of very few LDWA Challenge Events in the north west of England we haven’t done which made Pauline’s decision to tackle it on her own all the more commendable. The result was she spent hours poring over the route details, plotting them carefully on the map and fretting for days about the messy route finding at the start and not long before the end. Having made a last minute decision, I plotted the route, had a quick look at it and thought I knew the area well enough to work the bits I wasn’t familiar with. Organised by Morecambe Bay & Bowland Group the event starts from Burneside Cricket Club and having opted for the runners’ start at 09:00, an hour after the walkers, the club was quiet when we arrived. This is great, low key event attracting, probably, just enough people to make it worth running. The tea and toast at the start is included in the entry fee and provides a leisurely second breakfast.

Tea & Toast before the start

Tea and Toast at Burneside

Initially the route wanders out of Burneside going north for the low fells above Longsleddale, one of the more remote dales on the eastern edge of the Lakes. Crossing wet boggy upland before dropping into Longsleddale and the first check point at Sadgill. I was in second place here, the leader was about out of sight and I could see no one behind me although the leading walkers and the rest of the runners couldn’t be far away. Beyond Sadgill the route climbs into the clouds, at least on a day like today it does, on its way to Gatesgarth Pass and the descent into Mardale. Longsleddale is a quiet, remote place and all the better for it.

down Longsleddale Looking back down Longsleddale

up Longsleddale

up Longsleddale towards Gatesgarth Pass (and the cloud base)

Having stopped to put on a waterproof top before reaching Gatesgarth Pass I saw a couple of runners behind me and began to suspect I would have to work hard to keep my second place. The bridleway down into Mardale is a rough rocky one and the grass on the left is better running, even if did produce two standing glissades before I reached the valley floor and the second check point. Stopping long enough only to refill a bottle and take some biscuits, I wanted to be away and out of sight before the chasing runners arrived – these events aren’t races, most organisers don’t publish results and the “challenge” is to complete the event ahead of the cut-off times but that doesn’t mean they aren’t competitive.

Small Water Beck Small Water Beck

I also wanted some photos of Mardale but even below the cloud base everything was grey and wet in very flat light and most of Mardale just disappeared into the greyness. The becks and their waterfalls were pretty full and with a little more time I might have spotted the rain drop on the lens! There are three stone shelters by the side of Small Water on the way up to Nan Bield Pass. According to legend, or Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial guide to The Far Eastern Fells, which is much the same thing:

“Testimony to the former importance of Nan Bield Pass as a route for travellers and trade are the three shelters alongside the track where it crosses the bouldery shore of Small Water – erected for wayfarers overtaken by bad weather or darkness. These shelters are roughly but soundly built and roofed. but they are low and can only be entered by crawling. Once the body is insinuated snugly in their spider-infested recesses, however, the weather my be defied.”

two shelters at Small Water Two shelters on the shore of Small Water

Beyond the shelters the “track” becomes a path and starts to climb steeply for Nan Bield Pass which is above the cloud base and well below the summit of Harter Fell and the ridge over Kentmere Pike and Shipman Kotts which is descended to Kentmere village for the next, and last, check point before the finish. Approaching Nan Bield I could hear the chasing runners talking and see one of them pointing upwards in my direction. Knowing I could stay out of sight in the clag above I pressed on for Harter Fell and turned into the blustery headwind for the long run off down the ridge. Over Kentmere Pike and still ahead, over Shipman Knotts and still ahead but now down out of the clag and if they are close only the twists and turns of the route can conceal me. In and out of the last check point, pausing only long enough to collect some blackcurrant cordial and away before the other runners arrived. By the top of the next ridge I began to relax and looked for some final photographs of the high fells.

Kentmere Horeshoe in cloud Back to the Kentmere Fells wreathed in low clouds

Beyond here the last four miles or so looked really messy on the route description but I thought I knew the area well enough to work it out. Wrong! Almost immediately after stopping to take the above photo I was unable to reconcile the number of gates on the route description with those I had counted since the last position I was 100% happy with. Fortunately, I met some other entrants who had retired and were making their way back to the start and they pointed me in the right direction. Ironically, I have been over all of the remaining miles a number of times but always in the dark and it wasn’t long before I was again unsure of my exact location and deciding, wrongly, I had overshot a turning I headed downhill knowing I would reach the River Kent which would get me to the finish. The end of the route is along the banks of The Kent so I wasn’t concerned until I realised the twists and turns of the meandering river were going to add about 2-3 miles on to the route. Too late to sort it now and so I just jogged gently along the grassy river bank to Burneside and the finish. I lost, probably, half an hour and should have spent more time working out where I was before deciding I had overshot the turning I was looking for. This is a lesson I need to learn before next weekend’s Mountain Trial or it is going to be a very long day, indeed.

Pauline finished not too long afterwards having got lost in the clag after Kentmere Pike, recovering after the Kentmere check point and with a little help from Jenny reached Burneside without getting lost. This is a long hard route and one to come back to and do again, paying more attention on the last section. The route in passing through Mardale goes through the territory of Eastern Lakeland’s remaining Golden Eagle which we saw soaring above Ulleswater a couple of years ago, hence the name “Where Eagles Fly”.


  1. did you hold on to 2nd place after all ian?

  2. No - I got lost after missing a turn or two, added several miles to the route along with perhaps an extra hour and finished about 14th, I think