Tour of Pendle

I’m reluctantly accepting that due to a busy period at work I’m not going to run the Tour of Pendle on 20 November. Shame, because it’s a great AL (27km/1473m) at this time of year. Otherwise, I’d be preparing for it from about now, so here’s a few tips for anyone thinking of tackling it for the first time.

Conditions on Pendle in late November can be pretty interesting, so it’s worth being as prepared as possible. Before I raced it in 2018, I did a couple of recces – the first a half-circuit of around 10 miles, the second the full course. This helped me get familiar with the route and also made sure I could make the crucial cut-off (Checkpoint 4, in 2 hours). I was then able to complete the race successfully a few weeks later. From that experience, I’d say it’s worth knowing in advance that:

  • There are 5 significant climbs, each one progressively harder than the previous one. The penultimate one, The Big Dipper, is tough enough, but the final one up Big End is the real heartbreaker. Be warned.
  • Three quarters of the climbing comes in the second half of the race. Maybe don’t set off too fast.
  • The route is roughly a figure of 8, and it will almost certainly be windy on the day. So, if you get a backwind on some stretches, you’re going to get it in the face later on. I remember doing the Half Tour back in 2004 and the headwind being so strong on Spence Moor that I “ran” for about 5 minutes without making any progress at all.
  • You’ll probably be able to follow the field in the first half. However, there are some crucial trods and landmarks that are worth knowing in the second half when the field has thinned out. Particularly if it’s misty (likely). On my first (foggy) recce, I ended half a mile up Ogden Clough before realising I was heading in totally the wrong direction. Good to make these mistakes before race-day.

It’s a big field (600 max) so it takes a while for the field to sort itself out. Also, it means parking in Barley can be a bit of an issue, so be prepared for a long walk to registration, and take all your race kit with you.

Latest update (17 Oct) is 316 entries received so far, so still plenty of room. Time to dig out your chequebook (or find a friend who has one). Not bad for £9 – pre-enter here.

Descending Geronimo, 2018. Photo: Phil Donlan

He did it his way

Review of “Faster! Louder! How a punk rocker from Yorkshire became British champion fell runner”, by Boff Whalley

Fellrunners looking for 4 hours’ continual entertainment may look towards tomorrow’s 3 Peaks Race or Langdale Horseshoe; equally, they could just spend a tenner on this latest book by Boff Whalley. I picked it up and breezed through it in one sitting it was that good.

On the face of it, it’s a straight biography of one of the leading fellrunners of the late 80s/early 90s – Gary Devine, from Leeds. But the appeal of the book – in addition to how easy it is to read – is that Gary’s story gets to the heart of what fellrunning is really about. It’s not a tale of striving for athletic perfection, careful preparations, sensible training plans, healthy diets or early-to-bed. It’s about how a young guy worked out a lifestyle that suited him, of which fellrunning was an essential part. Despite the other elements of this lifestyle including ear-splitting punk records and gigs, the full-on punk look, excessive cider consumption, living in squats, police raids, fights and hospital visits – he still became British fellrunning champion. While this could easily be seen as a miracle, I was left with the impression that this overall “package” was in fact the key to Gary’s success on the fells.

A few years ago I read Boff’s previous book – the equally good Run Wild – which is structured around the contrast between his impulsive, thrill-seeking “wild” running and the plodding, corporate beast of the New York Marathon. Similarly, “Faster! Louder!” invited me to question just how much all the sensible running advice out there really applies in practice. Gary’s total embracing of the punk lifestyle in Leeds only really made sense because twice a day he quietly sneaked out the squat, shook off the hangover and headed out down the Meanwood Valley Trail….. but equally the running only really made sense if he did it sporting a pink mohican and if it didn’t stop him going out the night before. This isn’t a biography about a runner’s running, it’s about a runner’s overall life.

One of the more touching passages is when Gary has a bit of a Road to Damascus moment in a hospital bed, the morning after a fracas at a gig. He realises that the balance of his chosen lifestyle has to change slightly, and he will be better off getting into mischief with his fellow Pudsey & Bramley fellrunners than the Leeds punks. So, more piling into the van to some distant rain-lashed start line with smelly kit, a slab of tinnies and the rest of the P&B crew (the author included – part of what makes the book flow so easily is that it’s a knowingly first-hand, fly-on-the-wall account). Once fully immersed in the close-knit scene of the club, Gary’s running goes to the next level.

The “biography” ends in 1990 but in a footnote it’s good to see that Gary is still involved in fellrunning, organising his own race (and indeed supporting tomorrow’s 3 Peaks).

I suppose I could have saved my tenner and used it as 1% of the entry fee for the Spine or something (!) but in fact I was much better off just buying this book.

Scrambles in the Dark Peak

As well as running I quite like a rocky scramble, ie a route where you have to use your hands to progress. These can be fun during a dry spell in summer, so recently I’ve been exploring some lines new to me in the northern Peak District. For this, I’ve been grateful for Cicerone’s handy “Scrambles in the Dark Peak” book (from which the title of the blog is shamelessly taken):

Still working my way through the book, but here are a few reports/tips from what I’ve done so far. Obviously, scrambling has a few potential risks, so the routes in this book are helpfully graded 1, 2 and 3. Grade 1 are OK to do on your own. Grade 2 you might want to take a friend. Grade 3 you might want to take a rope and a friend. As I’ve been on my own so far I’ve stuck religiously to the Grade 1s and yes, generally they’ve been perfectly comfortable to tackle solo.

As most of these routes are actually up the beds of small rivers they are particularly suitable for dry periods. Nevertheless, accept the fact that you’re going to get wet feet sooner or later. I went in fell shoes and shorts and this worked well, although given the risk of ticks at this time of year leggings could be an option.

I’ve been exploring 3 main areas of the Dark Peak – Kinder, Bleaklow and the Chew Valley. Ideal parking spots as described, though note you will need to “get lucky” at some of the lay-bys:

Blackden Brook (Kinder)

Start: lay-by on A57 near Wood Cottage

This is an entry-level scramble up a narrowing valley rising to the plateau edge. There is a collapsing path of-sorts most of the way until you join the riverbed nearer the top. It feels like a hidden vale and the scenery is charming, so you could take your time with this one…. saying that I also found it fun to do as a “speed scramble” and race its Strava segment. Not so good as a descent, but there’s a fast way down The Wicken just adjacent.

Nether Red Brook / Upper Red Brook (Kinder)

Start: lay-by on A57 near Snake Inn

A little bit along from Blackden Brook are these adjacent scrambles, both a bit more taxing. For Nether Red Brook, you break off the Snake Path about a mile from the road and follow the stream bed up. Interest increases with height and there is a step at the top that requires a bit of thought but is in fact perfectly doable. I did a nice run east along the plateau edge from here, visiting some crazy rock formations on Fairbrook Naze before descending down Fairbrook itself, another fast descent. Upper Red Brook is just a few minutes further along, with a slightly more serious feel than its neighbour, and another “interesting” finish that requires a bit of thought.

Alport Castles (Bleaklow)

Start: lay-by on A57 at Alport Bridge

While in the area I thought I’d visit Alport Castles for the first time in years. There is parking for literally 1 car at Alport Bridge and seeing the lay-by unusually empty was too good an opportunity to miss! I’ve seen Alport Castles described as “the biggest landslip in the country” and as you approach from the bottom (ie Alport Farm) you get a sense of the massive geological forces at work. I picked my way up various folds in the landscape and headed for the central “Tower” which involves a minor scramble to sit on the top. From which you see how the surrounding shale cliff has collapsed in some previous era. Although it was all perfectly doable solo the overwhelming sense of nature’s power had me rather missing a companion. Good if you want to feel very, very insignificant in the overall scheme of the universe.

Torside Clough (Bleaklow)

Start: lay-by on B6105 near Reaps Farm

This was a real discovery. I’ve walked the Pennine Way to the top of Bleaklow along Clough Edge often enough without realising there was a hidden gem right below. As you begin the climb break off the main path and just follow the river. Much of the way you walk straight up the smooth rocky bed of the stream, the water never more than ankle deep. In places the rock is covered in a pleasant spongy moss; in fact going barefoot could be an option here! All around the soothing tinkle and crazy patterns of running water, and before long the mind has disappeared into fairyland. Occasionally there are boulders to circumvent which add to the interest. Numerous pools provide ample opportunities for a paddle or even a swim. Eventually the dream ends and you hit the Pennine Way which provides a fast descent route back.

Lawrence Edge (Bleaklow)

Start: car-park on B6105 by Woodhead Resevoir

This was a little different, but nothing wrong with a bit of variety. Very rough underfoot, firstly through an old quarry then though the heather & braken. Two gullies to choose from, one a little rockier than the other. A very quiet area, and good to see the world from a different angle. Again, a place to sit and feel immersed in nature.

Birchen Clough (Chew Valley)

Start: lay-by on A635 at SE 051 063

I don’t know the area around Saddleworth at all well, but this first excursion will have me back soon enough. I started by descending Rimmon Pit Clough and Holme Clough, which are decent enough scrambles in their own right. But the climb up Birchen Clough was even better, essentially a long gradual scramble alongside a waterfall. At the top it’s easy to visit the three-pronged rock tower known as The Trinnacle – apparently it’s possible to sit on top but I wasn’t getting that close on my own! My visit was made all the more memorable by coinciding with the England v Germany match which meant I had the hills to myself – all rather magical.

Crowden Clough (Kinder)

Start: lay-by between Barber Booth and Upper Booth

This popular route up the south side of Kinder is more a bouldery walk, but does have a couple of interesting scrambling sections near the top, one of which graces the front cover of the book above.

Red Brook (Kinder)

Start: Hayfield

This route alongside Kinder Downfall is the best pure scramble I’ve done so far, 30 minutes or so on smooth, dry rock. A bit of bracken-bashing to get to it but good stuff once you’re in the dried-out stream bed. It’s all so engaging that time just passes – it doesn’t really feel like you’re putting effort into climbing a mountain.

Charnel Clough (Chew Valley)

Start: car park at Dove Stones Reservoir

A straightforward but enjoyable boulder-hop up a stream-bed off the main Chew Valley.

Wilderness Gully West (Chew Valley)

Start: car park at Dove Stones Reservoir (alternatively Crowden, and approach via Laddow Rocks)

There are 5 Wilderness Gullies at the head of Chew Valley, and these north-facing slopes have a pretty serious feel. I tackled the most westerly of them and found it at the more challenging end of Grade 1. The entry to the gully is across tricky terrain with many hidden holes…. things improve once in the stream-bed itself, but some thought is still required to successfully exit at the top. I will leave its Grade 3 neighbour, Wilderness Gully East, to more serious scramblers!

Yellowslacks Brook (Bleaklow)

Start: top of Snake Pass, or Glossop, or lay-by on B6105 near Reaps Farm

This area has a remote feel, yet the skyscrapers of Manchester city centre are clearly visible to the west. The scramble initially skirts an attractive waterfall, then takes a smaller cascade more directly, before finally heading towards the summit of Bleaklow along the rocky bed of Dowstone Clough.

So, a fair few of the routes in the book done, but still many more to do. It’s amazing how much interest you can find within just an hour or so’s drive from home.

Jack Bloor Maprun Challenge

On Saturday I tried out a 5-mile virtual fell race on Ilkley Moor – the Jack Bloor Race 2021 Maprun Challenge. It turned out a fun circuit, with navigational choices over varied running terrain. So, definitely one to consider while the event is open during the month of May.

The Jack Bloor Races normally take place on a Tuesday evening in early May, attracting around 300 runners, both seniors and juniors. The race dates from 1985 and is named after a pioneering climber and fell runner. All monies raised support the work of the Jack Bloor Fund, which awards grants to young sportspeople from Yorkshire who want to improve their skills in an outdoor adventure sport. Past illustrious winners include Greg Hull, Victoria Wilkinson, Dave Woodhead and Boff Whalley.

Last year’s race was obviously cancelled, but this year there’s a virtual equivalent, using the MapRun orienteering app. I’ve posted previously about my positive impression of MapRun for virtual fell races. In particular, with the event open for a whole month, you get the chance to properly recce a course and attempt it as many times as you wish – trying different route options, times of day, conditions etc. This suits this course, which is semi-navigational anyway, with 6 checkpoints to be visited in order but by any line:

So, I started out with a slow 2-hour jog round last Monday, with the course map, OS map and compass to hand. The initial climb, from Darwin Gardens up to the Badger Stone (CP1), was a bit of a pull but straightforward enough. You then lose some of that height down to the Swastika Stone (CP2), but it’s a fun descent. It’s then a long, gradual climb up to Cowper Cross (CP3) – I plotted the direct line across the featureless moor, but found it pretty rough underfoot. I then stuck to the main paths to visit the trig at CP4 and the ruin at CP5, while noting that more direct lines were possible in these dry conditions. It was fun to discover the “poetry box” at CP5 and have time to read a few of the witty contributions (why not post your own?). It was then the exciting descent from the top of Ilkley Crags to the finish, via CP6 on the knoll near White Wells. There must be a million and one variations available here – I tried to be clever by going off-piste straightaway and ended up going down several blind alleys. Lesson learned perhaps…

Returned on Saturday, this time with the event now live on the new version of the app – MapRun6. The phone beeped successfully at the start point (the stone bridge), and indeed at all the checkpoints thereafter. I decided to stick to the main paths, rather than trying many fancy short cuts. So, I returned to Keighley Road along the path after CP2 and ran up the track to CP3. I took the main stone-flagged path between CP3 and CP4. And I ran around the back of White Wells before visiting CP6. Whether this made any difference I won’t know until I try out alternatives, which I hope to do before the end of the month.

I’d like to give it another go anyway as I was mildly disappointed with my time of 57 minutes. I could probably go under 50 at best, but have been out of the habit of running competitively over lockdown (a local adventure I took on a month ago may also have something to do with it…). Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable and varied circuit, mainly on the springy turf of the moor, a fast descent to the finish and all those route options to ponder. Back home, I was pleased to donate the usual race fee to the Fund and support this good cause.

Why not give it a try (or tries) anytime during May? All the details are at www.jackbloor.co.uk

A way round Skelton Grange bridge

Earlier this week, Leeds City Council confirmed there will shortly be a feasibility study into re-routing the south Leeds canalside cycle path through Thwaite Mills museum. This would bypass the notorious barrier of Skelton Grange bridge, which significantly limits access along the route. As a resident of Woodlesford and member of Leeds Cycling Campaign, I found much to be encouraged by this news.

For the first time in the long-running saga of Skelton Grange bridge, there is now a firm proposal on the table. Many alternative options have been mooted – such as a new bridge, a long diversion or making adjustments to the existing bridge. But none of these could be implemented soon and guarantee full access. There is now a way forward, and one that already has some momentum behind it. This is most welcome – the big increase in usage of the path in the last 2 years means that a resolution has never been more urgent.

In the first instance, a fully-accessible path through Thwaite Mills would be best for existing users of the route (both on foot and wheel). Not only would it bypass both sides of Skelton Grange bridge, but also the awkward bridge on Thwaite Lane. It would also take the most efficient line, cutting around 100 metres off the current route. Plus it would create a pleasant public space, introducing the important heritage assets of Thwaite Mills to users of the path.

But perhaps just as important, there are significant opportunities for Thwaite Mills itself. Prior to COVID, access to the site was carefully controlled, with the museum’s income primarily coming from school groups, guided tours and booked events (such as weddings). But during COVID the museum has been closed, and considerable uncertainty remains regarding the return of groups and gatherings to venues like this. Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to address its £119m budget gap, the Council has recently consulted on reducing public opening hours at Thwaite Mills. Opening up access could provide new income streams from “passing trade”, such as a cafe and visitors to the museum itself.

In addition, security of the site could be improved. Having people regularly passing through would provide informal vigilance, and minimise any risks to these historic buildings. Clearly, the design of any route should take security and heritage issues (plus the moorings along the canalside) into account.

Thwaite Mills’ website describes it as being “set on an island of its very own, hidden away in the south of Leeds”. In fact, much of the riverside between Leeds and Woodlesford was “hidden away” until recently. But the extensive improvements to the cycle path – and the hugely increased usage of it during the 12 months of COVID – has quite literally opened up a side of Leeds previously unknown to many of its residents. It’s now a pleasant and popular route, taking in many points of interest such as Leeds Dock, Knostrop Weir, Skelton Lake and Woodlesford Lock. Providing access through Thwaite Mills would complete a long-running programme of bringing Leeds’ canalside into the public domain. Of benefit to public and museum alike.

To show your support for this proposal, sign the petition for a fully accessible path at Skelton Grange bridge, or flag up the issue on either the Commonplace or WYCA interactive maps (postcode LS10 1RP).

Tetley Field timeline

Between 2015 and 2019, local residents successfully campaigned to oppose a housing development on a site in NW Leeds known as Tetley Field. The campaign was twofold – opposing both a planning application in the Green Belt, and the threat of the site being removed from the Green Belt altogether. Many of the posts in the “Environment” section of this blog outline my involvement in the campaign during 2016-17. By way of introduction, below is (to the best of my knowledge) a summary timeline of events.

2013

Leeds City Council (LCC) begins a review of its Site Allocations Plan (SAP) for proposed new housing developments.

Leeds Rugby Ltd proposes a 4.5 hectare Green Belt site in Weetwood – in its ownership since the 1990s – for inclusion in the SAP. The site, known locally as Tetley Field, adjoins Meanwood Park and is much valued by local residents as part of the Green Belt and for walking, wildlife etc.

LCC assesses the site and reaffirms it as being unsuitable for housing.

2015

Leeds Rugby informs LCC that the proceeds of any sale of Tetley Field would be used to fund the redevelopment of stands at Headingley Stadium in its ownership.

LCC overturns its initial assessment and includes Tetley Field in the draft SAP as site HG2-49, stating that it “no longer performs a Green Belt function”.

Weetwood Residents Association initiates a campaign of its members to oppose the allocation.

Leeds Rugby unveils plans to redevelop 2 stands at Headingley Stadium – the pre-war “Shared Stand” between the cricket and rugby grounds, and the “South Stand” of the rugby ground – and to finance the work through the sale of Tetley Field (and another Green Belt site in Tingley).

2016

January: Leeds Rugby submits a planning application for 42 houses on Tetley Field, arguing that the “exceptional circumstances” required to justify development in the Green Belt are that unless permission is granted, Headingley will lose its Test Cricket status.

May: Weetwood Residents Association, with the support of other local organisations and residents, launches a Save Tetley Field Campaign. As a result of the campaign, over 1000 formal objections to the application are made, and residents are able to take legal advice.

December: The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) confirms there is no risk to Headingley’s Test status. Soon after, Leeds Rugby withdraws the planning application.

2017

LCC announces it has facilitated a £40m finance scheme to fund the redevelopment of the stadium.

2019

January: Tetley Field is deleted from the SAP (see p.37 of the Modifications Document).

July: SAP adopted by LCC.

August: The stadium redevelopment is completed in time for Headingley to host a memorable Ashes Test Match, featuring a match-winning 135* by Ben Stokes.

2020/21

COVID-19 pandemic. Access to local green spaces provides a life-saver for locked-down residents across the UK. Major stadia stand empty.

Discovering Maprun

This piece first appeared in the January 2021 edition of the Airienteers newsletter.

I just wanted to say a thanks to Airienteers for all the local Maprun events they’ve uploaded to the app. I’m a fellrunner who normally does lots of fell races, but with the fell racing calendar suspended I’ve been looking for virtual alternatives. Maprun has been a great discovery over the last few months.

I started out with the virtual Harriers v Cyclists race, organised by Bingley Harriers with the help of AIRE. Normally, runners and riders race together on a varied off-road circuit through the woods of Shipley Glen and over Baildon Moor. In 2020, we had the whole of November to do it in our own time, with the course marked out by 12 Maprun controls. I gave it a few tries, which helped me get to grips with the app while getting increasingly familiar with the course.

This encouraged me to give the permanent courses on Danefield and Ilkley Moor a try. Both are on great running terrain, and I didn’t mind that Maprun didn’t work too well on the thickly wooden slopes of Danefield – it was still fun just to run round the posts. As with Virtual HvC, running a permanent course allows you to come back and make slight improvements to your route.

A couple of nice things about Maprun are that i. it’s free and ii. it automatically generates a leaderboard. Having shared my initial good impression with club-mates at Valley Striders AC, I thought about designing our own courses. With the help of AIRE, there is now a test event on the app – a simple 4km circuit of Woodhouse Ridge, with a Start/Finish on Meanwood Road + 3 controls. This seems to work well and opens up the opportunity of designing more complex courses in future. Why not give it a try during lockdown if you’re local? It’s on the app at Aire Valley > Valley Striders > Woodhouse Ridge Maprun, or more details on my blog.

More recently I’ve tried out the AIRE events in Chapel Allerton and Colton, and although I’m not a big fan of running on tarmac, it’s been good fun plotting the best routes between the controls.

Just to make some broader reflections from this. I mentioned that I’m in the habit of giving courses more than one try. I know that this contrasts with many orienteering events…. but in fell racing local knowledge and recce-ing the course are very much part of the game. It’s been interesting to find in Maprun a kind-of “halfway house” between fell racing and orienteering.

Also, during 2020 the Fell Runners Association (FRA) has clarified that using GPS to fix your location during FRA-licensed races is now banned. The FRA’s intention is to encourage runners to use map & compass and preserve the unique character of the sport. This may mean that fell races start looking a bit more like orienteering events…… saying that, it could go the other way, with Race Organisers nervous of banning an obvious safety mechanism choosing not to license their races with FRA. In which case it may be that FRA races end up being ones where map & compass isn’t really going to help you, such as short, flagged races, or ones over very complex terrain. All this assuming a return to “normal” racing, of course.

Indeed, while Maprun obviously has some potential to provide a virtual alternative to fell racing (it already has in parts of the Lakes and Wales), how far it’s worth pursuing this rather depends on COVID. I feel COVID has hit fell racing relatively hard, as social contact is such a big part of races – at registration, mass starts, bunching at stiles, finish-line refreshments, prizegiving… and with many taking place at village shows/fetes. Writing this during January lockdown, the return of racing feels very distant. I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up doing a virtual Harriers v Cyclists in 2021 as well as 2020.

January 2021

Sunday 31 January

I wasn’t unhappy to see the back of 2020. I’m even happier to see the end of January 2021. The combination of lockdown, crap weather plus a few health & family issues has made this a most difficult of months.

Keeping this diary has helped though. Will be interesting to look back in future on the various ways we kept ourselves on the rails during this strange time.

For example, in the last couple of days I made it 3 self-propelled return trips between Woodlesford and Meanwood this month. Nice walk up the canal on Friday, then the borrowed car home. Today, returned the car and cycled back. The bike is a useless rustbucket that lives in the shed, only just rideable. The chain came off about 10 times, the gears are stuck at 5th and the tyres only pump up so much. All of which combined to make it a 1hr 25min ride back, 15 minutes longer than it took me to jog last week (OK, there are a couple of runners’ shortcuts as well). Nice change to cycle, and the riverside cycle-path is much improved, but the stretch on the road through Sheepscar and town feels so hazardous. Don’t think I’ll be switching my running shoes for lycra any time soon (good thing too).

Thursday 28 January

“Virtual racing” has been something that has kept us runners motivated throughout COVID. Most commonly, this has involved running a race route on your own and posting your time online. It can also include just going out and running the same distance or height as a well-known challenge, eg Land’s End to John O’Groats, Ben Nevis etc. In January, a few running pals have been going for a “virtual” Pennine Way, and many congrats to Steve, both for achieving the whole distance (270 miles) and for retaining the willing suspension of disbelief throughout.

Reminded me of my own walk of the Way (the real one) with school-friend Jeff, back in 1989, when we were both 16. This had me rummaging through the archives this morning to jog some memories. For whatever reason, I kept a copy of the YHA booking form Mum & Dad must have completed on our behalf. Back then, it was possible to walk the entire Way staying at youth hostels – each roughly 15 miles apart – and you could book the whole thing on one form:

Took us 16 days (we lived near Malham at the time so had one night at home), for a grand total of £186.70, including beds, evening meals, breakfasts and packed lunches for two. Not bad.

Sadly, a number of these hostels (Crowden, Earby, Stainforth, Keld, Baldersdale, Greenhead, Byrness) are now either closed or outside the YHA network (and Mankinholes is really only available for exclusive hire). So you can’t walk the Pennine Way with YHA anymore. You could still theoretically run it while staying at YHAs though, as long as you don’t mind doing it in no more than 10 days, 3 of which would be over 40 miles!

Mind you, it’s actually possible to run it in 2 and half days, as proved by record-breakers Damian Hall and John Kelly last year. They were going after the previous record set by Mike Hartley, which had stood since 23 July 1989. I hadn’t previously twigged this but Mike must have passed Jeff and I somewhere on his run.

On reflection, our parents were clearly very trusting, letting two 16YOs go off into the wilds for a fortnight. As I recall, we did call to say we were OK at payphones en route, although this wasn’t possible every day. I wonder if I would be OK about my own 16YO daughter going off to do the same thing now (COVID permitting), even with phone/internet? Well if I was, she could still use 5 of the exact same OS maps I used, although they might be a little out of date….

Wednesday 27 January

Last 2 days I’ve repeated the trick of 11/12 January, travelling on foot between Woodlesford and Meanwood and “borrowing” the car in between. This time it was running though, which is at least warmer. Weather has continued to be January-foul.

Running through the city not my favourite, but slightly consoled after someone in a more rural area posted this experience on Facebook: Left home, seemed mild, ran uphill to a track with limited kit, track was sheet ice, stopped, turned, hit deck, broke ankle, had to crawl a mile to nearest road. Fortunately had phone so someone was there to collect him, by which time he was absolutely freezing. This was an experienced fellrunner, in fact a Race Organiser. Some obvious lessons there about what to take with you, but also about route selection. Good to be reminded that in January conditions out on a run can be very different to conditions at home, although perhaps less so in the city than the countryside.

Noticed over the weekend that the beeb’s footy coverage included the option of turning off the fake crowd noises, so gave this a try. I much preferred it; after all, there really isn’t anyone there. Also, without the crowd there were fewer histrionics from the players, and the focus was much more on the game itself (normally, you spend as much time watching the crowd as the match). It helped that it was a decent game (3-2); might be really dull for a deadly goalless draw though.

One of my lockdown-coping strategies has been to do at least 1 Codeword puzzle a day. These are the ones where you match a letter to a number in a crossword-style grid. I’m up to puzzle 77 in my book (bought early December, I think). Why I should be so addicted to these I don’t know when, eg, sudokus and crosswords just make my head hurt. Just time to do one now before lunch….

Saturday 23 January

I tried to educate myself about this flood alleviation thing by visiting another spot on the river – Knostrop Weir. This was constructed after the 2015 floods as part of a bigger investment scheme. The weir can be lowered at times of spate to increase the flow and reduce the chance of flooding upstream (ie the city centre). An elegant new footbridge and a mile of new riverside footpath was also constructed, so it’s now an interesting place to visit. On Thursday afternoon the weir had been lowered; by Friday morning back to normal. Although river levels were very high, there was no significant flooding in Leeds this time.

Saturday now and we’re back to a different January weather problem – ice. Puddles hard enough to stand on.

Thursday 21 January

Have indulged in some shameless flood-spotting the last couple of days. The River Aire is just down the road and this morning was as high as I’ve seen it. A mile further downstream is St Aidan’s Nature Reserve which, although managed by RSPB, is also used for flood alleviation. The water is now coming through the floodgates and the reserve is filling up – it can take several trillion gallons, apparently. Paths are mainly puddles and the bits that are visible are mud-baths. Add the wind whipping across the reserve and lashing showers, nature was in its element today.

It was one of those days where taking a photograph was difficult. Firstly, frozen hands. Secondly, the brief moments of sunshine almost inevitably followed by a downpour. 30 seconds after taking this one, I was soaked.

Tuesday 19 January

Snow all gone, and now we are expecting 3 days of heavy rain and possible flooding in Leeds.

With the forecast in mind I got a couple of walks in yesterday. The first, an early morning hour down the canal; the second, a tramp round streets with 16YO. We tried to make it interesting by going to down roads we’d never been along before and seeing where they came out. We ended up sneaking through some flats and arriving somewhere totally unknown, even though we’ve been in the area for 15 years! Reminded me of my 4 months as a postman a few years back, where you get to know every short-cut imaginable.

Survey came back on the house in Keighley, so a bit of progress there.

Sunday 17 January

Friday was clear and sunny, with temps never above freezing, so it was winter wonderland day. There was something quite satisfying about the consistency of this particular batch of snow. It crunched pleasingly as you walked on it but seemed to hold your weight. It was also very good for building. Came across one of the biggest snowmen I’ve ever seen – 3 tiers with onions for buttons. Also, I was able to lift 3 big chunks of icy snow off the wheelie bins and fashion a 7-tier wedding cake/cairn thingy. Ice sculpture quite fun to do really.

Sunday now and just a few patches of ice and gritty slush left.

Thursday 14 January

I had a “perfect storm” of good reasons not to go out of the house today. There is a pandemic on. We are in lockdown – no work, no school. I’ve felt rubbish for the last 2 days. And a bucket-load of snow fell all day.

Well, I did spend most of the day staring out the window, watching the flakes fall…. but nonetheless I poked my head outdoors mid-afternoon. To make a snowman, of course (snow-midget, really). After all, I did have a spare carrot to hand.

As mentioned previously, I got through Lockdown 1 in spring by running around the local area. In Lockdown 2 in November I got into running virtual races (using an orienteering app called MapRun). For Lockdown 3, I again seem to be taking a different approach. I’m not doing any running at all. And quite happy about that for the moment.

Tuesday 12 January

Car back and return walk completed. Leeds city centre was like a ghost town, much of the canal a post-industrial mess and the weather matched the overall gloom. Journeys on foot normally lift my spirits but it was difficult to get too excited about this one. I consoled myself with the thought that things are pretty difficult just now, so must surely get better…

Monday 11 January

I didn’t watch the footy in the end. Went for a walk instead.

Since moving to Woodlesford a year ago, I’ve been meaning to run or walk the 10 miles to Meanwood, where my wife and daughters live (we’ve been in effect 1 household throughout COVID). But the route, being entirely on tarmac, has never grabbed me as a run (I really dislike running on tarmac)…. and the walk leaves you with the awkward question of whether to do another 10 miles home. Anyway, yesterday morning, spur of the moment, I just set off.

There are 2 potential routes, and really it’s a choice of what kind of bad scenery do you want. The slightly shorter way goes along the canal followed by a few miles across the city centre. I chose the longer alternative to the east. A mile along the busy main road out of Woodlesford to start with. Then past the Skelton Grange Landfill Site – this stretch along Newsam Green Road, with the thundering wagons, strewn rubbish and dust from nearby building site could be the most unpleasant half mile walk in Leeds. Things improve as you go through Temple Newsam, with its stately-home-on-a-shoestring-Council-budget feel. Then some dreary estates around Gipton before a final climb up Potternewton Lane. At least there’s some variety I suppose.

Two and a half hours to speed-march the 10 miles. At least it was warm enough to walk today (just). Later on, I pleaded fading light and convinced Kirsty to lend me her car for the return journey, promising to return it in the morning. So, a likely walk back along the canal tomorrow.

Sunday 10 January

Yesterday afternoon spent pulling 10YO daughter around icy streets on the sledge. Many years ago we attached a skipping rope to a tea tray-style sledge…. and that has been our snowy mode of transport ever since. Even though pulling a 10YO is quite different to pulling a 3YO. But you have to do these things when the snow is there – temps to rocket to 8 celsius tomorrow, so thaw is coming.

By means of recovery later I may even sit and watch a footy match on the “telly” (ie – computer, haven’t owned a telly for years). Sad confession but I haven’t watched a match, either live or on screen, since the 2018 World Cup. Been gradually drifting away from the game for some time, and the lockdown-version – with fake crowd noises, cardboard fans etc – just seems beyond ridiculous. Or maybe it’s just that my team are crap these days.

There is potentially an interesting game on today though – non-league Marine at home v Spurs in the FA Cup. I’ve been to Marine a couple of times (it’s in Crosby on Merseyside, where my wife is from). You come into the ground at one end, where the main (ie only) stand is. Down one side of the ground is a kind of covered walkway, like the one you push your trolley along on the way out of Sainsburys. This leads to a small standing terrace at the other end, which is as far as you can get, as the other side is out of bounds (just a row of back gardens). Watching footy here reminds you how physical the game can be, and how seeing it on the telly or in a big stadium rather sanitises the reality of those full-blooded challenges….

Of course there won’t be anyone there today, and perhaps it’s a shame that home fans won’t get to see their team’s big day in the flesh. Saying that, in normal times these games often get switched to another venue, whether for logistical or financial reasons. So we may after all get to see Gareth Bale jump over a garden fence to retrieve a lost ball. Just hope Marine put on a good showing and don’t get too humiliated.

Actually, I tell a lie in that I did watch a full 90 minutes last month…. albeit from 34 years ago. After Maradona died they put the “Hand of God” game from 1986 on the iplayer – I hadn’t seen it in full since, and it was a fascinating watch. Felt like being belatedly presented with primary evidence proving that a guilty verdict in a crime was in fact false. The well-worn myth is that only cheating-Maradona denied England their deserved place in the World Cup semi-final. The reality was…. that for 80 minutes England were utterly hopeless, but Diego was on another planet throughout – you’d struggle to find a better individual performance in any match. The way he toyed with England’s hapless defence and midfield actually rather comic. His magnificent second goal a far better reflection of his overall play than his notorious (but admittedly very well-disguised) opener. 2-0 to Argentina was a fair reflection of things going into the last 10 minutes…. when John Barnes finally put together a couple of mazy runs which pulled a goal back for England and another near miss (who remembers Argentina hitting the post in between?). Says much for England’s tactics that Barnes was on the bench for most of the game and only came on for the final 20 minutes. The final score of 2-1 really flattered England. But time has allowed us to delude ourselves….

Saturday 9 January

Finally managed a decent trip out of the house, after several days hibernating. Only a morning walk across Springhead Park to Morrison’s and back, but given that it was minus 3 and an ice rink it felt like an adventure.

Reflected that only a year ago a few hundred folk (including me, potentially) would have gathered in the park at 9am on a Saturday morning for parkrun. Unthinkingly – out of habit, part of the comforting routine. Running this morning would have been madness on that surface, but we’d have turned up anyway. Perhaps it’s good to be shaken out of our predictable behaviours sometimes.

The sub-zero temperatures have been with us about 2 weeks now, and I can feel my brain freezing up likewise. I don’t think I’m the only one. On a couple of the running forums I follow on Facebook, people have been getting into heated debates about proposed changes to various rules of racing. The elephant in the room is that there are no races, and won’t be for months. I guess people need to find some kind of outlet for exercising their minds.

At least it’s forecast to get a little warmer from tomorrow. My “Midwinter Break” from running continues…., but it would still be good to see some daylight. Otherwise, I’m quite comfortable about lockdown and staying at home. The combination of Christmas and the new varients has seen COVID figures rise sharply, and worryingly.

Thursday 7 January

Woke to news of just another day in the World’s Greatest Democracy.

A quality day of full lockdown. Several cups of tea. Scrolling through the phone. Listening to Spotify. Couple of phone calls. Staring out the window. Just a few more weeks (or months) of this to go.

I did have a short walk down to the canal, which was partially iced over. Haven’t been for a run for 10 days – a long gap for me – but haven’t wanted to. Cold weather, icy surfaces, short days, stiff legs, the state of the world…. no motivation. But it is good to have a break from time to time, and now is as good as any.

Snow forecast tonight. Will begin to warm up from Sunday, apparently.

Wednesday 6 January

Been trying to mentally prepare for the lockdown weeks ahead – 6 minimum, but probably more. A “big idea” helped me get through the first lockdown last spring – exploring for miles around Woodlesford on foot. Well, been there & done that and the weather’s just too grim now to repeat. Perhaps something similar will come up…. or maybe it’s just a case of taking it 1 day/1 week at a time.

Tuesday 5 January

Have spent the last day or two with my younger daughter (10). A few local walks, games of cards, perhaps a bit too much Minecraft. Likely to be the way of it for several weeks now that schools are closed.

Lockdown 3 comes as no surprise and in many ways I’m quite relieved. It’s easier to plan & prepare when you know what the rules are. And with the vaccine now on the horizon it does feel like there may be a way out of COVID, eventually. Compare with the continual chopping and changing of 2020, and the hubris of politicians, employers etc trying to keep up a pretence of normality.

Will mean fewer trips out for runs & walks though. Saying that I’m still achy from Friday’s walk, so presently I’m not too bothered.

Sunday 3 January

A morning drive out to Keighley, to go and have another look at the house I’m in the process of buying. Just in case it’s decided to walk off or get itself demolished over Christmas, that sort of thing. Reassuringly, it’s still there, the only difference being that the board outside now says SOLD. Completion day is still a way off though – house buying always a complicated process, even more so during COVID.

The house is 50 yards up a hill from the main road along the valley bottom. I didn’t want a house that could get flooded… nor one inaccessible in snow and ice. The road today was slippery, so I was comforted to know you could park on the main road OK and walk up. Let’s hope that isn’t the case on moving-in day. Nice to see a bit of snow on the hills from the front door as well.

Saturday 2 January

Everything ached this morning after yesterday’s mini-adventure. Perhaps fortunately, the decision of what to do with the day taken out of my hands by fresh snowfall in Woodlesford. So pretty much a duvet day.

Not that snow makes any difference to a familiar scene across the road from me – the seemingly permanent queue outside the chip shop. It’s difficult to be objective about Farndale’s chippy. The grub is absolutely fine…. but the queues are totally out of proportion. Perhaps more a reflection of stubborn habits than take-away excellence. If I go, I generally try to pick a moment mid-afternoon when you can quickly nip in and out.

I re-read a Guardian article I’d picked up on a few weeks ago, about the 1971 Ibrox Disaster, which was 50 years ago today (66 fans died in a crush on an exit stairway at the end of a Rangers v Celtic match). Before Christmas I’d also got out of the library the autobiography of Irvine Smith – the sheriff in the 1973 test case – which included a chapter on his judgement…. and I also caught a BBC programme. Sad to reflect not just on the tragedy itself, but also that its lessons didn’t prevent the football disasters of the 1980s, which so affected my generation. Poignantly, Rangers played Celtic today at Ibrox, in an empty stadium.

Friday 1 January

Good start to the new year. Like many I imagine, my sleep pattern has been all over the place in 2020. But last night, mercifully, went to bed at 10.30 and woke at 7.30. Didn’t even hear any fireworks at midnight.

New Year’s Day means I’ve been at my house in Woodlesford exactly a year. When I took the tenancy out last Jan, I didn’t think I’d stay beyond the initial 6 months. Such has been 2020.

Elder daughter (16) was staying over, and had asked me to get her up at 9am, so we could have a trip out. In true teenage fashion, we were out the door at 11.30.

The weather has been pretty brutal this week – sub-zero temps and a layering of snow and ice. Combined with the short days (as well as everything else just now), it’s a pretty demanding time of year. Saying that, it’s still important to get out, and if you can take in some invigorating snowy scenes, all the better.

So my plan this morning was to drive to Windy Hill, ie the top of the M62, and have a short walk along the Pennine Way. 40 minutes drive from home, on a road you can guarantee has been gritted. And not leaving Tier 3 West Yorkshire at any point, as the PW goes along the old county boundary.

The journey turned out fine – not much snow until we neared the top, and the car thermom. had us at 2 celsius as we pulled into the layby. Hat, scarves and gloves on and onto the track towards the trig point on White Hill, less than a mile distant and not much of a climb. After being stuck inside for a few days, an immediate sense of heady space. Clear views in all directions – the towers of central Manchester just visible through a distant haze; the immense monument on Stoodley Pike a black spot against the white, 10 miles north. The path in good condition – baked hard into crispy snow, so no falling into icy puddles or mud. A few other folk out, but not too many, which was reassuring.

10 minutes in though (about halfway to the top) the wind chill really began to bite – felt more like minus 5 – so a little bit of jogging and clapping hands to keep things moving. Both OK to continue and we got to the trig for the inevitable summit selfies, but were glad to put the phones away after no more than a minute. Straight back down and to the car in 20 more minutes. Good plan to bring the flask! 40 mins in total then, which was plenty in those conditions. A good reminder not to stray too far from base when it’s like this.

Home via Halifax for fish and chips. In another life, I fancy myself as West Yorkshire’s “Chippy Critic”, so here’s my review of Mother Hubbard’s in King’s Cross: On a previous visit, I’d got discombobulated by their £10 minimum charge for card payments (their fault), and the fact that the cashpoint opposite was out of order (not their fault). Today a much happier experience. They were open for a start, unlike every other chippy in Calderdale it seemed. The cashpoint was working (!). I was wished a cherry HNY and didn’t have to wait. And the F&Cs were excellent. Don’t always judge a place on a single visit.

Leeds Country Way in a day

One of my bright ideas for 2020 was to run the Leeds Country Way (LCW) – an approx. 60 mile off-road circuit of the city – in a single day. Due to a combination of COVID, illness and simple fear, in 2020 I never quite attempted it. I did however do plenty of research and preparation, including running 2 full circuits in various stages. So, for the benefit of anyone else thinking of taking on this challenge, here are a few thoughts and experiences.

Route options

The first thing to decide is which of 2 route options to take. Runners conventionally follow the route of the annual LCW Relay, which uses the original line of the LCW, and clocks in around 64 miles. The advantages of this option are:

  • there are historical records going back some years
  • it is good preparation for the Relay.

However, due to local government reorganisation, in 2006 a 15-mile section of the Way was significantly re-routed. Rather than skirting the edge of Wakefield, the Way now takes in Carlton, Thorpe and East Ardsley. The advantages of taking this option are that it:

  • follows the official line of the Way, as it appears on current OS maps, and is better signposted accordingly
  • is more in keeping with the spirit of a “Leeds Country Way”, being closer to Leeds and more in the countryside
  • is arguably a more scenic, interesting run
  • is overall around 4 miles shorter (!)

The choice is up to you. I ran them both and found the revised line preferable, so my further comments below presume this is the route.

Solo or supported?

Any ultra run is potentially so much more doable if you have other people supporting you, whether running alongside, meeting you at road crossings, or both. You just run – your supporters find the way, pace you correctly, carry the food/drink/kit, keep you cheerful, take you to the pub/home at the end etc. And running “close to home” means it may be easier to organise these logistics than for challenges further afield.

This does mean though that going alone becomes more possible. There are refreshment stops en route, the terrain is gentle and navigation (while convoluted) is relatively straightforward. On a good day you wouldn’t have to carry too much kit. There are numerous opportunities to bail out if you’d had enough. Theoretically, you could save yourself the trouble of organising a support team, and of over-relying on it.

Start/finish point

You can start/finish the circuit at any convenient spot. Obviously, parking and distance from home are factors…. but also think about the location of refreshment stops. When doing my recceing I found good shops right on the Way only at East Ardsley, Thornbury, Barwick and (particularly) Garforth, so plan accordingly.

Clockwise or anticlockwise?

The Relay is run clockwise and somehow it seems intuitive to go in this direction. However, there is no reason not to go anticlockwise. Again, location of refreshment stops and the start/finish may influence your decision.

Time of year

Overall I found spring the best time to run on the Way. Over winter it can be a real mud bath, and obviously it’s cold and daylight is limited. Midsummer can be too hot for a long run, and in late summer/early autumn parts get overgrown. Late April to early June could be good. Historically, times of between 12 and 17 hours have been recorded, so factor in your likely pace (and how much you like the idea of running in the dark).

Training and recceing

Having broadly scoped out how you’re going to approach it, it’s time to put the hard work in. And perhaps the best way of building up your mileage is to do it on the Way itself. There is so much to learn from becoming familiar with the route – navigation, underfoot conditions, climbs & descents (total ascent is around 1400m), distances between landmarks, your likely pace, location of refreshment stops/support points etc etc. The route is divided into 4 sections on the Council website (the relay route 6) and – perhaps with the help of public transport – you could do each section first, then build up to 2 sections and so on.

Personally, I found doing 2 full circuits in preparation (one in winter, one in summer) extremely useful. Not least as it helped get the route “in my head”. I also felt better able to prepare for different scenarios on the day.


Postscript (May 2021)

Despite doing 2 circuits of the route in various stages, in 2020 I never completed the full circuit in a day. However, on 7 April 2021 I made another attempt, this time successful – see my write-up on my running club’s website. I took the current route anticlockwise, starting and finishing at Swillington Bridge. I was “Solo Self-Supported”, meaning I travelled alone, didn’t meet anyone pre-arranged, and carried all my kit and food (or purchased it en route). My time was 14 hours 12 minutes, meaning I just about got round in daylight! (For the record, the best time for the route is 10:41).

Woodhouse Ridge maprun

Here’s a new virtual racing idea for Leeds runners to try out. It’s a 4km circuit of Woodhouse Ridge and Sugarwell Hill, using a free app called MapRunF. You can run it at any time, and there are route options on different surfaces as you prefer. Once finished, your time gets uploaded to a results page, so you can see how you got on straight away.

To access the event, download the app to your phone and, once registered, go to Select Event > UK > Aire Valley > Valley Striders > Woodhouse Ridge Maprun. Info on how to get and use the app can be found on the Maprunners website

The Start (and Finish) point is the pelican crossing on Meanwood Road close to the junction with Buslingthorpe Lane. When you are ready to set off, press “Go to Start”, and shortly afterwards your phone should beep and the clock start ticking. You then have 3 “virtual checkpoints” to visit, in the following order:

1: Junction of Wood Lane and Shire Oak Road
2: Pelican crossing on Meanwood Road, close to junction with Boothroyd Drive
3: Stile at entrance to Sugarwell Hill, at the end of Sugarwell Mount

As you run through each checkpoint you should hear your phone beep (it can help if you turn the media volume on your phone up before setting off).

Once through the 3 checkpoints, you need to return to the starting point, where your phone should beep a final time and stop the clock. If your phone is connected to the internet, your time should be uploaded automatically to the results page. If not, you can use the Upload (Manual) function when you have a connection.

The route you take is up to you. There are both muddy-trail and firmer-underfoot options available, so select your footwear accordingly. You might want to recce your different options in advance.

Obviously, please take care when crossing roads (the pelicans on Meanwood Road have been used as checkpoints for good reason!).

The route is summarised on the map below. Happy maprunning!