13 Pillars of Wisdom

In my last blog I mentioned I’d started “collecting” 13 local trig points (“pillars”, strictly speaking), as one of many ways of keeping running interesting during Lockdown. Well, all 13 are now in the bag. So, I thought I should “report back” on what I’ve found. Both to give a flavour of the current condition of these iconic (but sadly redundant) landmarks, and also to reflect on whether the act of searching for them was worth all the bother.

I list the pillars below in alphabetical order. All were visited on a run from home and appear on the 2000 edition of the OS 1:25000 map of Leeds South (slightly trimmed to fit into a frame).

img_20200330_183725I live somewhere near the centre of the map and, on average, it took around an hour to run to each pillar (well within my comfort zone). Of course, physical distancing was observed at all times. More information about the pillars – location, reference number, visits by others etc – can be found on the TrigpointingUK website.

  1. Barnbow Wood – Destroyed. Although I passed near the site of this one after searching for nearby Brown Moor (see below), I confess I didn’t actually go looking for it, as it was recently reported destroyed for agriculture.
  2. Brown Moor – Inaccessible. The obvious route to the pillar is blocked by ongoing works at the new Thorpe Park development. Plans do suggest though that a new path will be built that passes right next to the trig.
  3. Crow Nest – Good. You can’t actually touch it because it’s in school grounds, but it’s easily seen from the other side of a fence (probably best visited outside school hours then). It has the best view from these 13, perched over the city centre with the football ground prominent in the foreground.
  4. Field Head – Inaccessible. It’s in the grounds of a hospital. I got to the entrance but judged it not a good time to go beyond that point just now.
  5. Garforth Cliff – Good. Tucked out of sight behind a water tower. Saying that, the farmer couldn’t have ploughed any closer without damaging it.
  6. Halton Moor – Destroyed. Got to where the pillar should be to find it’s just the embankment of a road serving a new business park.
  7. Holywell Wood – Inaccessible. Quite a tricky one this. I had to go a little bit off-piste and after some searching saw it in thick undergrowth the other side of a barbed-wire fence. I wasn’t going any further than that.
  8. Hook Moor – Toppled. The pillar is located close to the junction of the M1 and A1(M) and was “unseated” as part of the road construction a few years ago. At least the roadbuilders left it close by (and in good condition) as it reveals the full “anatomy” of a pillar – ie that it is iceberg-like, with as much below the surface as above.
  9. Peter Lane – Good. Tucked into a hedge next to a quiet footpath.
  10. Robin Hood Hill – Inaccessible. It’s at the top of the embankment of a main road and separated from it by killer thorn bushes. All I got for my attempted visit was a shoe-full of spikes. I’ll take my machete next time.
  11. Scotthall – Good. The most visible of all the pillars, being in the central reservation of a main dual carriageway into Leeds. It’s almost possible, on a quiet day, to pull the car up alongside it, wind down the window, and touch it from the drivers’ seat (don’t ask me how I know this).
  12. Tingley Hill – Good. My favourite of the 13. It was actually recently re-located a few yards as part of a housing development. Bless them, the developers made it the central feature of a circular garden, giving it the air of a stone circle or some other ancient sacred site. The only shame is that, now it’s been relocated, it no longer appears on the current OS map.
  13. Thorpe – Good. Similar to Scotthall – right next to a road with distant views.

Well, the obvious sad fact is that only 6 of these 13 are in good condition and accessible. The remainder are either toppled, inaccessible or destroyed. And now that pillars no longer fulfil their original function – OS mapping has been done digitally since the 1990s – there is little that can be done, legally, to protect any under threat. Indeed nationally, there are only around 7,000 pillars left out of the original 10,000. A shame, because they have historic and educational as well as sentimental value. I guess the best suggestion is to continue logging visits on TrigpointingUK, sharing photos on social media etc, to at least keep their profile up. The COVID Trig Point Challenge! group on Facebook does this admirably.

On a more positive note – and while it’s of course disheartening to run several miles to visit a pillar only to find it’s disappeared under a bulldozer – the act of hunting down the trigs has been a real find under Lockdown. Mainly because, it’s made me visit places I would never otherwise have gone to. I don’t think I would have thought of going for a run around Castleford or Belle Isle, for instance, but I got to visit the birthplace of Henry Moore in the former, and the wide roadside verges of the latter were perfect for physical distancing. The abandoned golf course in Middleton Park was another good find for the same reason, plus I got to see the park’s famous carpet of bluebells. One of the more eccentric discoveries was the curved, pitch-black 100-yard tunnel by Parlington Hall, built by the rich nobs in the 19th Century to keep the hoi polloi out of sight as they passed the hall. Next time I’ll remember my head-torch!

Only problem now is – all 13 done, so what next? Lockdown looks likely to continue. Maybe Blue Plaques – there’s 171 of them in Leeds. Follow me on Strava to see my latest bright ideas.

Meanwhile, while tackling the pillars of south Leeds, there’s been some renewed interest during Lockdown in a north Leeds trig challenge I come up with 18 months ago, when I lived on that side of the city. Including an appearance on local radio! Read and listen to find out more about the Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge.

Exiled from the fells

img_20200412_152103Closed landfill sites. Spoil heaps. Abandoned 4×4 off-road tracks. Wasteland. This has been my running “scenery” for the last month.

Back in February – when the world was a different place – my last running blog looked at how to keep the spirit of low-key fellrunning alive when confined to the city. That was inspired simply by the normal limitations of living in town over winter – distance from the fells, bad weather, limited daylight.

We have new normals now, of course. In terms of running, we run from the door. We maintain social distance. We run within our limits. But we can, at least, run; in fact, we have official blessing to do so (once a day). And it turns out some of the tips from that previous blog have come in handy.

Lockdown brought overnight adjustments. Planned races and trips to the fells abandoned. The entire map collection shunned in favour of the one, local OS 1:25000 (in my case, Leeds South). A first glance of the map to find the obvious open spaces and rights of way within reasonable distance of home.

img_20200330_183725Then you get out there and find everyone else has had the same idea! Even at what you thought would be the quieter times. Pick a narrow footpath and sod’s law there’s someone already on it, and an awkward “passing” to be negotiated. Social distancing is not as easy as it seems.

A second, obsessive scour of the OS map (and, I confess, of Google Maps too). This time my eye is drawn to the obscure footpaths that don’t really go anywhere, to “Disused Workings” and “Spoil Heap (dis)”, to the unclassified rough ground and the totally white squares that just seem to be a blank.

At least here you can feel relaxed about hardly seeing anyone (funny how these areas used to feel “dodgy” for exactly the same reason?). And you get to go “beyond the map” by finding features not marked. A decent hill training area, courtesy of an abandoned quarry face. An up-and-down cross country circuit, previously a banger-racing course. Abandoned ground next to a landfill site, as “wild” an area as any you’ll find on the fells (with an added whiff of methane to boot).

As a kind of sideline to keep those long-lost fells in mind, I’ve also located 13 trig points on my map and started “collecting” them. The contrast between these urban trigs and the iconic hilltop pillars so familiar to the fellrunner is mildly amusing. So far I’ve visited one on a busy roadside verge and another tucked behind a water tower. I’ve failed to access 3, due to development, overgrown vegetation and hospital walls respectively. I visited the site of another that had recently been swept away by a business park development. Still on my list is one that is no longer on the map…. because it’s been re-located 50 yards away as part of a housing development and given its own “feature garden”(!). The key thing is that trigs are not confined to the fells – they are everywhere, and I recommend the TrigpointingUK website accordingly (an absolute goldmine of useless information to help you while away the hours).

These are tough times no doubt and it’s easy to get demoralised….. but there are some positives. Running has been officially endorsed by the government as a good thing, something we can do every day. Less traffic, pollution down, more wildlife to be seen. Many (like me) are on furlough, with more time and energy on our hands – we can go running when it suits us, rather than “fitting it in”. And we’re getting to visit places we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

And we know the fells will still be there for us in time.

 

Rural running, in the city

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View of Leeds from Rothwell Country Park, on the site of the former Rothwell colliery

Picked up one of my favourite running books the other day – Running Free, by Richard Askwith. First read it a couple of years ago, and no doubt it’s been a big influence on how I’ve gone about my running since. It shuns the conventional, “urban” style of running – based on roads, gyms, times, expensive kit, big events etc – in favour of a “rural” style emphasising the sheer joy and fun of running: inexpensive, off-road and closer to nature.

I spent much of 2019 putting this into practice when living and working in Borrowdale in the Lake District, a fantasy-land for the “rural” runner, as outlined in my most recent blogs. Equally, the author describes similar experiences running through the fields and woods close to his home in rural Northamptonshire.

There seems to me a logical next step from this. Some people live in the countryside permanently, others temporarily, and most of us will visit from time to time. However, fact is that 80-90% of us live in towns and cities, so day-to-day are not able to practice “rural” running in a rural setting. It would seem pretty important, then, to establish whether it’s possible to practice rural running in an urban setting, so that it’s theoretically available to most.

This is only too apparent to me. Having finished my summer job in Borrowdale in October, I moved back to Leeds, where I’d previously lived since 2005. Over these last 3 months, I haven’t gone out and bought a pair of road shoes, or joined many of my running club’s road interval sessions or signed up for the Leeds Half Marathon. Instead, I’ve been trying to find various weird and wonderful ways of keeping my running varied, interesting, low-cost (I’m not currently blessed with a well-paid job) and, perhaps most importantly for me (a creaky 47 year-old with dodgy knees), off-road. It’s been particularly challenging in these cold, dark winter months, but I’ve given it a go!

Here, then, are 10 top tips for “rural” running when living in a big city, based on my experience of running in Leeds:

  1. Don’t run in road-shoes, run in trail shoes. Road shoes are only good for tarmac (and some will question even that), so if you wear them, you won’t go anywhere else. Whereas, trail shoes allow you to run on all surfaces – paths, grass, mud, and the occasional unavoidable stretch of tarmac – giving you the choice to wander at will.
  2. Seek out the green space. Every town or city has some green or wild space. Parks, woods, fields, nature reserves, accessible reclaimed land, cemeteries, estates, canal towpaths etc. Edinburgh even gets its own city-centre mountain (Arthur’s Seat). Get a decent map and start linking it all up. I’ve recently moved to the Woodlesford area of Leeds which is blessed with enormous stretches of accessible open space, mainly reclaimed from old collieries. Exploring it has been a great way of getting to know the local history of my new patch.
  3. Join a club that does trail/fell running. At my count there are 8 running clubs in Leeds affiliated to the Fell Runners Association (FRA). Indeed many FRA-affiliated clubs are urban-based. An obvious way of finding out about suitable training sessions and races and meeting like-minded people.
  4. If it’s dark, you don’t just have to stick to well-lit pavements (or retreat to the gym). Grassy verges and central reservations are not bad options. In Leeds, the outer ring road, Easterly Road and Leeds Road through Rothwell provide some good well-lit grassy runs. And a decent head-torch gives you the option of getting off the roads at night if you wish.
  5. Find a “green wedge” into the city and run out into the countryside. In Leeds, the obvious example is the Meanwood Valley Trail, which links up with the Dales Way. It’s possible to run mainly off-road from Leeds city centre to the Lake District! (I’ve blogged about this in the past). Our other good option here is the River Aire and accompanying canal, in both directions. Sheffield, I know, has even more options.
  6. Urban ultras. In Leeds we are blessed with a 64-mile continuous trail circling the city – the Leeds Country Way. Many other places have something similar. I jogged round the LCW in 2 days over January, and it was a great way of exploring the varied but, to me, largely unfamiliar edge of the city. And of recce-ing the route of Leeds’ equivalent of the Bob Graham Round. And unlike the real BGR, there are plenty of shops, pubs and cafes en route!
  7. Invent challenges and other running “games”. I had some good fun last year inventing the so-called Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge, based on that icon of the wild places, the trig point, and was flattered that a few people gave it a go. Also, particularly runnable stretches of ground can be made into Strava segments and then be “raced” – I found a fast 2k, all downhill, through Gledhow Valley woods that I enjoyed running flat-out a few times. I’ve heard of night orienteering in city woods too, which sounds like a laugh.
  8. Run the urban fell and trail races. As far as I’m aware, there are 2 races in the FRA calendar within the City of Leeds boundaries – Otley Chevin and Danefield Relay. Local clubs organise a number of trail races, such as Boxing Day’s famous Chevin Chase, the Meanwood Valley Trail race, Guiseley Gallop etc etc. And, increasingly, there are some commercial trail races too – Holly Hustle, St Aidan’s Winter Beast etc – just a google search away. Some of the city’s many parkruns are more interesting than others….
  9. Seek out the mud. There will be stretches of muddy path in every town or city in winter time. So, instead of avoiding it just enjoy the fun of running through it! There is a particularly good 10-minute muddy loop at the top of the Meanwood Valley Trail near Stairfoot Lane car park, incidentally.
  10. Spoil tips. I had a few fun experiences in Borrowdale running down the spoil tips of the old mines at Honister and Seathwaite, so was pleased to find something similar from an old coal mine on the outskirts of Rothwell. A bit like scree-running on a damp sponge, but without any environmental guilt (see below).

Well, there’s probably more on this theme, and I’d be interested to hear anyone else’s ideas. Elsewhere on this site can be found lengthy discourse about my attempts to help save just a small wild space in Leeds from development a few years ago. Returning to the city after almost a year in Borrowdale, which is blessed with wilderness aplenty, has reminded me of the essential need for wild space close to where the majority of people live as well.

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Soft Graham Round

A quick write-up of my first dip into the world of long-distance fellrunning, should anyone feel suitably inspired to follow in my footsteps.

This idea occurred to me earlier this year when I thought I could never do a Bob Graham Round. Not ever – just totally impossible. I’d never be fit enough, nor organised enough, never even be able to stay awake that long! Then I thought – well, would I at least be able to link the 5 leg handover points in a single run? Perhaps I could do that – in half a day maybe? – and I could do it on my own and in my own time.

Six months later and I’ve now done it twice. And although there would be several months of hard training ahead, plus all the planning of pacers and other logistics (and a lot of luck!), I now think a Bob Graham is theoretically in me. Theoretically….

Anyway, in the punning vein of the Frog Graham Round, Puddle Buckley etc, this is the Soft Graham Round. The 5 points you must touch, in any direction and by any route (and return to your starting point, of course), are:

  1. Keswick – Moot Hall
  2. Threlkeld – road sign at junction opposite cricket club
  3. Dunmail Raise – stile leading onto Steel Fell
  4. Wasdale Head – bridge at entrance to NT campsite (don’t be tempted to cut a corner at Wasdale – you must visit the NT campsite!)
  5. Honister – door of cafe

For my first attempt in May, I was based in Borrowdale, so chose to start up the road at Honister. I also felt I needed a tea and chips stop half way round, so decided to run anti-clockwise and rest at the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale. This did add extra miles on to the route and also had the disadvantage of giving me an uphill at the end –  the Allerdale Ramble between Grange and Honister, round the back of Castle Crag. That last bit turned out not very pretty! 78km, 2500m of ascent, elapsed time 12 hours 24 minutes (see my Strava).

That experience slightly nagged at me, so the other day I gave it all another go. This time, in more conventional BGR fashion, I started at the Moot Hall at 7.30am and went clockwise (it was nice to delude myself I was doing the real thing!). Daylight was limited, and conditions were icy cold. This time, I went “direct” between Dunmail and Wasdale which did save time, although the section between Steel Fell and Stake Pass was proper fellrunning – rough (and icy) underfoot and tricky nav. Generally though, much went pretty smoothly – refreshment stops at Wasdale and Honister came at the right time, and going up the side of Great Gable I had the added bonus of the sun on my back as it set over Wast Water. Darkness finally came just before I came off the fells at Grange, so the headtorch came out on the final road section from here. The one snag was that at this point the temperature plummeted, and much as I’d hoped to just jog or even walk this last bit I was actually forced to try and run to keep warm. Arrival at the Moot Hall was very welcome! 67km, 2900m of ascent, elapsed time 10 hours 6 minutes:

strava4939807185659877919So, if anyone else wants to give the “SGR” a go, let me know and I can compile a list of completions. To start with, 10.06 is your target!

Meanwhile, however knackered I may currently feel, it was rather humbling to see, 2 days later and in similarly icy conditions, the real thing run in under 16 hours – the winter BGR record smashed by 2 and a half hours! Well run Kim Collison. By comparison, this version really is a Soft Graham Round.

Free adventures from YHA Borrowdale

I was lucky enough to live and work at YHA Borrowdale in the Lake District for most of 2019. Lucky because there was so much adventure on the doorstep – so much to see, do and explore. Of course, some of this (such as rock climbing) would have required specialist skills or equipment, or some kind of financial cost (entry fees, guides etc). However, most was free and accessible to the average adventurous type (like me), and in-between shifts I didn’t miss out. So, in alphabetical order, here are my top free adventures from the door of the hostel:

Bothies

Go up to Honister from the hostel, then along the old tramway for a mile and you come to Dub’s Hut, a large but basic shelter. I usually preferred however to press on a further half a mile to the more characterful Warnscale Bothy. Only a couple of people could comfortably stretch out in here overnight, but you could cram in many for temporary shelter. It boasts the most magnificent view over Buttermere:

img_20190405_115150Caves

Somewhere half-way between a bothy and a cave is the climber’s shelter under Cam Crag, which is fun to try and locate amongst the rocks. Rather larger, a mile’s ramble along the river from the hostel and tucked underneath Castle Crag, is Millican’s Cave. Big enough for several woolly mammoths to live in, it was actually the home of Millican Dalton in the 1930’s – the era’s equivalent of Ray Mears. Totally contrasting, but equally intriguing, is Dove’s Nest Cave, high up on Glaramara. Less a cave, more a geological fault, it’s well worth the rough 3-miles on foot up Comb Gill. Headtorches can be useful at all.

Night running

Indeed, the best £50 I spent all year was on a decent headtorch. It opened up a whole new world of possibilities, particularly in the dark winter months. Suddenly, going out on foot at night in your own bubble of light became a possibility, then a norm. On a clear night, don’t forget to turn it off from time to time and look up to the stars.

Race recce-ing

My previous blog focused on Borrowdale’s 5 fell races, and much fun can be had recce-ing race lines, over and over again. So much time can be won in races simply by finding the fastest lines downhill. We must have come down Glaramara and Dale Head 5 times each before their respective races, and a different way each time! Very satisfying to find yourself way ahead of much faster runners on race day, just because of your local knowledge.

Scrambling

ie progress on foot where use of the hands is required. The best scrambles I found were up ghylls during dry periods – endless possibilities here. I also enjoyed some simple scrambles on more exposed terrain, such as the summit of Glaramara and alongside Cam Spout in Eskdale, plus a bit of bouldering at Honister. The more serious stuff I left to the climbers.

Scree-running

You probably shouldn’t do too much of this, but the occasional scree-run can be great fun. The classic is the descent from the summit of Scafell Pike to the Corridor Route, taken during the Borrowdale Fell Race. Various spoil tips from old mines can provide a more ethical alternative.

Segments 

Fell races are fun but they don’t always take place when you want them to. However, runners now have Strava – their favourite app – and its segments allow you to “race” various routes whenever you want, and compare your times against others’. Of course, there are loads of segments around Borrowdale, including the hostel’s very own challenge – King of the Castle – from the bar to the top of Castle Crag. I rather liked the downhill-only segments too, such as from Honister to Borrowdale YHAs.

Stravaiging

ie ” to wander about aimlessly”. The routes of so many of my explorations on foot this year I made up as I went along. You can do that in Borrowdale – hardly any of the land is off-limits. If I saw something interesting – a crag, a waterfall, a viewpoint, a sunny patch(!), I’d follow my nose in its direction. I rarely stuck to the beaten track. With time, I built up an ever-increasing mental map of the valley, and got to see and experience it from every angle. My stravaigs were a combination of walking, running, scrambling etc – as the ground dictated. I travelled as lightly as possible – minimal gear, and light fell shoes – and felt that this was the best way of moving around Borrowdale’s rough terrain.

Swimming

Or strictly speaking, any dips in rivers and lakes. I tended to paddle, particularly on hot days. My favourite spots were the pool just next to the hostel (below), Stockley Bridge and much of Langstrath. My favourite spot for a decent swim though was the famous Black Moss Pot, 2 miles on foot from the hostel. Jump in the pool and let the current take you a further 50 yards down the gorge – fantastic. I never had the guts to jump off the notorious 10 foot-high ledge though….img_20190621_152602Ultras

I’d never run more than 25km in one go before 2019, but once in the Lakes I soon found myself caught up in chat about the longer stuff. I helped a friend with her attempt on the Bob Graham Round, and although I found the BGR would be way beyond me, I did start doing longer expeditions. This culminated with me coming up with an abbreviated version of the Bob Graham, which linked the 5 leg handover points by my own route. Although I christened it A Soft Graham Round, it was still 77km and 12 hours of my life I won’t forget in a hurry!

Viewpoints

In decent weather, Borrowdale is spoilt for great views. It was fun to find the well-known chocolate-box ones too and get the camera out. Dale Head, Fleetwith Pike, Ashness Bridge and below – Wasdale from Westmoreland Cairn below the summit of Great Gable.cropped-img_20190226_142450.jpgWaterfalls

Sour Milk Ghyll in Seathwaite and pretty much everything down Langstrath were my favourites, but after heavy rain there are waterfalls everywhere in Borrowdale. On a wet day (and there are many), don’t mope in the hostel – get the waterproofs on and get out and see the falls and rapids at their best!

Winter

On a Saturday afternoon in February I thrashed through the snow drifts from Honister to the summit of Dale Head and back. Probably took an hour in total, which was as much as my freezing cold feet could stand. But so worth it for the view below. In a year of countless memorable adventures, this is the one that stands out most of all.img_20190202_143110

Five fell races in Borrowdale

(20 March 2020 update: Well, obviously the last 4 of these races aren’t going to happen now, but it was a good idea at the time. Who knows, maybe 2021?)

 

I’ve just returned to Leeds after 9 months in the Lake District – living and working at YHA Borrowdale, and indulging in my passion for fellrunning in-between. In which time – apart from serving countless meals and scrubbing countless bogs – I really did rather a lot of running. Looking back on my Strava feed, I recorded over 100 activities, covering over 1000km in distance and climbing around 50,000 metres. But I probably did as much again which I didn’t record – various rambles, jogs, scrambles, stravaigs and other explorations on foot.

The vast majority of my trips out were directly from the YHA. I rarely got into the car first. The hostel, in the hamlet of Longthwaite, is perfectly located to explore Borrowdale’s famous fells, crags, valleys, waterfalls and more. I got to know my patch pretty well, and never got bored of it. Quite the opposite in fact – the more I explored, the more I found to explore.

In amongst all this I quite liked to race. I did 22 fell races in these 9 months, and 4 of them began no more than a 10-minute jog from the hostel. In fact, 5 races in the FRA calendar start within half a mile of YHA Borrowdale. So, in tribute to these few but esteemed square miles of the country, I shamelessly plug these 5 races below. Why not give one, or more (or all 5!) a try in 2020?

1. King of the Castle

1pm, Sun 5 January

Start: YHA Borrowdale, Longthwaite

2.5km, 200m – AS

Organised by: YHA Borrowdale

Early January – crap weather, short days, Christmas & New Year done – we all need a boost. Hence YHA Borrowdale’s very own dash to the top of Castle Crag. Uphill-only time trial, so scope for a leisurely descent before returning to the waiting cake (and drying room). A great way to start the fellrunning year. I hope to be back in 2020 to defend the coveted MV40 trophy I won in 2019 (a plastic YHA water bottle, no less).

2. Glaramara

1pm, Sun 24 May

Start: Glaramara House, Seatoller

8km, 700m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The climb up is strenuous but straightforward, but this race is all about picking the right line on the descent. Can you locate the alleged grassy ramps, that send you hurtling down the fell while normally-faster runners trail in your wake? Local knowledge and repeated recce-ing is a massive advantage here. And bear in mind that the bit you can’t recce (the final part of the descent, which is out of bounds except on race-day) is a potential ankle-breaker of rocks hidden in the bracken. Oh, and from my experience this year, don’t run it the day after supporting a Bob Graham Round – it might kill you.

3. Langstrath

7.15pm, Wed 17 June

Start: Langstrath Hotel, Stonethwaite

7.5km, 430m – AS

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

Well, this is the one race of the 5 that I didn’t get to run in 2019 (due to pot washing responsibilities) but I ran the route often enough. Up the interminable stone staircase of Lingy End, then a rough trail by Dock Tarn to Watendlath (quicker but boggier lines across the moor are potentially available), then back down the main track to Stonethwaite. An evening race at midsummer – one of the best times to run in the Lakes.

4. Borrowdale

11am, Sat 1 August

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

27km, 2000m – AL

Organised by: Borrowdale Fell Runners

The distance and ascent don’t even begin to tell the story of the Borrowdale Fell Race, one of the classic events on the FRA calendar. Indeed “fellrunning” is a potentially misleading term here, as so little of the race involves conventional running. From the walks up Bessyboot, Great Gable and Dale Head, the invisible trods around Glaramara & Brandreth, the boulders up Scafell Pike and the scree-run down it, the technical descents of Gable & Dale Head…. factor in the weather, food & water considerations (the only “feeding station” is a murky trough of juice at Honister) and the challenging cut-offs and you have more an exercise in self-reliance and mountaincraft than a running race. I was just glad to get round within those cut-offs and avoid the “bus of shame” this year.

5. Dale Head

2pm, Sun 20 September

Start: opposite Scafell Hotel, Rosthwaite

8km, 675m – AS

Organised by: Keswick AC

Much like Glaramara – a steep climb up the track, but what is the best line down? The best I can say is – it depends on what kind of runner you are. Better descenders can take the steeper, rougher lines; more workmanlike downhillers like me have to take the longer ways round. Still, in 2019 I ran this race in 57 minutes – 9 minutes quicker than I did in 2018 – a testament to what being in Borrowdale for nearly a year can do for your running!

Well, at the end of October my summer contract at the hostel ended, although I’m glad to say I’m moving on to a job at another YHA, albeit outside the Lakes. I’m sure I’ll be returning to Borrowdale often enough in 2020 though, only this time as a visitor, and giving as many of these races as I can another go.Version 2

A day and 7 minutes in the life of a Bob Graham supporter

bg departureFriday 17 May 2019

2000 (8pm): I set off running from the Moot Hall in Keswick, pacing my Valley Striders clubmate Amanda on Leg 1 of her attempt on the Bob Graham Round. We are accompanied by Paul, who is navigating the leg, and boosted by the cheers of a small group of wellwishers who have gathered to see us off. Amanda’s schedule, based on completing in 23 hours 10 minutes, anticipates us on top of Skiddaw at 2125, Great Calva at 2210 and Blencathra at 2320, completing the leg at Threlkeld at 2353. Paul has accompanied dozens of BGR legs over the years, whereas I’m a first timer. I ran the whole leg around 6 weeks ago, and have revisited a couple of sections of it since, but that was all in daylight and the second half tonight will be in the dark, so fingers crossed.

2119: We arrive on top of Skiddaw 6 minutes ahead of schedule after a brisk walk up in fine weather.

2200: Headtorches are on as we touch the cairn on Great Calva.

2315: Conditions remain good on the long drag up the back of Blencathra, in fact the full moon on the horizon matches the compass bearing exactly. With time in hand I make a deliberate effort to slow the pace. But there is a sudden deterioration on reaching the summit plateau, with the mist reducing visibility to a yard and the wind howling. After 30 seconds lost quite literally walking round in a circle, compasses and devices are checked and 10 minutes later – as if we are searching for a dropped £10 note – we find the flat circular stone on the summit of Blencathra. It’s not a place to linger tonight though, and seconds later we are dashing down Doddick Fell and back to civilization.

2345: Arrive at Threlkeld car park, 7 minutes ahead of schedule. It’s been a very enjoyable evening run, with Amanda very chatty, Paul good company, and a nice sense of team-work at the beginning of a long haul. Saying that, I’m only too glad to get straight into the car (which I’d parked there earlier) and head off back to a warm bed. Amanda, by contrast, pauses for just 5 minutes (refreshments provided by fellow Strider Steve, working a dedicated night shift) and is straight off into the gloaming with her support runners for Leg 2.

Saturday 18 May

0130: Having dropped Paul off at his caravan near Keswick, back to my base in Borrowdale where (unusually for the Lake District) I enjoy a decent wifi connection. Upload a few Leg 1 photos onto social media and finally off to bed.

0900: Check Steve’s Facebook update and Amanda’s live tracker. She has lost around 40 minutes in the mist on Leg 2, and is now running very close to a 24 hour schedule. Bad news for her, but it does spark a greater sense of urgency in me. This could be a close-run thing!

1000: Jump into the car and make the 90-minute drive from Borrowdale to Wasdale Head. A crazy enterprise – 6 miles as the crow flies, 40 miles by road – I could have run it quicker.

1130: The National Trust car park at Wasdale is full but support driver Tom and the Leg 4 runners are there, anticipating Amanda’s arrival shortly. Just enough time for me to drive half a mile up the road, dump the car then leg it back to see Amanda come in.

1205: After a decent 10 minute break, Amanda is off on Leg 4, two thirds of the round done in two thirds of the time. It’s going to be a fun next 8 hours! I am very pleased to be able to offer Alex, one of Amanda’s Leg 3 support runners, a lift back to his van at Dunmail Raise.

1630: Back to Borrowdale, upload photos and a clip from Wasdale, have a bite to eat and check on Amanda’s progress. Likely to arrive at Honister just after 5. It’s still on!

1700: Make the short drive up the pass and find the support team at Honister. Anxious necks are craned up the trod from Grey Knotts, searching for figures. After what seems an eternity, a fast runner dashes down the slope. Sadly, it’s not Amanda, but her Leg 4 support runner Tom, who gives us a breathless update. Amanda is on her way, still with a fighting chance of a sub-24 hour round.

1723: Amanda arrives in Honister car park, muttering about it being no good, she’s lost her chance etc etc, but still runs straight past the refreshments table lovingly laid out for her and is straight up Dale Head. The Leg 5 support gather up their stuff and dash after her, and I tag along, thinking it might be useful….

1803: Amanda touches the cairn on Dale Head with 1 hour 57 minutes left and 2 peaks and 8 miles to go. I think about continuing on the whole of the final leg, but in fact decide that she already has enough people around her, and frankly I don’t want to have to traipse up to Honister later to pick up the motor! So, dash back down to the car, then pop into base to upload a final clip from Dale Head. It’s obvious from a quick glance at Facebook that many people are keenly following Amanda’s progress on the tracker, willing her on. Back into the car and round to Portinscale.

1855: Start jogging up the road from Portinscale, hoping to rendezvous with Amanda and the group somewhere on the run-in.

1922: Meet the group at Little Town. It’s taken me 27 minutes to jog here from Portinscale. Portinscale to Keswick is a 10-minute jog. If Amanda can jog in from here at the same pace I’ve just done so she can still do it! But although Amanda, after 23 and a half hours on the go, is indeed remarkably still jogging, she isn’t doing so fast enough for a sub-24 round! Somehow she needs to up her pace. Cue increasingly desperate attempts by the support team to somehow cajole her legs into moving more quickly. Every crass motivational cliche is spouted – “You can do this!”, “Dig deep Amanda!”, “It’s there for you, just reach out and grab it!” etc etc etc – but the road seems never-ending…

1957: We cross the bridge at Portinscale, and only now all begin to accept that she isn’t going to make it by 8.

2007: Amanda touches the door of the Moot Hall. Then we all go to the pub. To commiserate, but also to celebrate a most memorable day. And 7 minutes. A surprisingly philisophical Amanda is already talking about giving it another crack later this summer…

bg skiddaw

Stile End Dash

stile end dashIs this the quickest quarter of a mile run in the Lake District?

On the left of the photo is Stile End, near Braithwaite. As you drop steeply off the top, the path flattens out a bit and meets another path coming in on the right, from Barrow Door. The next 400 metres – to the clump of trees on the right of the photo – is a broad, sloping grassy path, perfect for a flat-out descent.

Thus – the Stile End Dash, from the path junction to the trees. Why not give it a few tries? Compare your times against previous ones (over a thousand already recorded on Strava). Can anyone do it in under a minute?

Most importantly, have as much fun giving it a go as I did:

Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge

30 April 2020 update: Many thanks for the recent positive comments about this blog, originally published in November 2018. It’s a challenge that seems to have chimed with the kind of running that feels appropriate during Lockdown. So much so that I even got interviewed about it on BBC Radio Leeds today!

My more recent blog Exiled from the Fells mentions a few other things I’ve been doing over these last weeks to keep running varied and interesting. The COVID Trig Point Challenge! group on Facebook is also worth a look. Dave

You have to love a trig point. When out on the hills, they usually mean the end of the climbing, an excuse for a break and the best view. They also tell you definitively where you are – a reassuring navigational presence. Originally functional concrete pillars, they have become icons of the pre-digital age of cartography, and symbolic of the wild places…

But trig points are everywhere, including in the city. And whilst urban trigs may not be quite as glamorous as some of their rural cousins, it’s nice to be reminded of the hills when going about your day-to-day business in town. So, I’ve devised a roughly 9-mile off-road running challenge for us North Leeds-types that links (in a rough triangle, appropriately enough) the 3 trig points spanning the Meanwood Valley – at Scotthall, Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane. Thus, the Meanwood Valley 3 Trigs Challenge. Why not give it a crack sometime?3-trig-map.jpgI’ll try and keep “rules” as such to a minimum:

  • Start at any of the 3 trigs, visit the other two in any order and return to your start point.
  • Choose your own route, but generally I’m envisaging it would be largely off-road. For example, if starting at Scotthall, you might go via Sugarwell Hill, Woodhouse Ridge and the Meanwood Valley Trail, but the detail is up to you (and part of the fun). If you really want to run straight up Scotthall Road and King Lane I can’t stop you, but the spirit of this challenge is soft ground, avoiding traffic and knowledge of the ins and outs of the Meanwood Valley.
  • Another part of the fun is in successfully locating the Tunnel How Hill and Stairfoot Lane trigs, because their location is not immediately obvious. Maybe do a bit of prep to increase the chances of success with this…?
  • …Compare with the Scotthall trig, one of the most “visited” in the country. For safety’s sake, you don’t have to cross Scotthall Road to visit the trig itself – the metal pedestrian gate onto the playing field opposite is sufficient.
  • And take care at the numerous other road crossings. I take no responsibility should you get killed or injured when undertaking this challenge….
  • Perhaps most importantly, I don’t envisage this as a timed “race” as such, not least because the infinite number of route options makes consistent and meaningful timing difficult. I see it more as an exercise in locating and linking the 3 trigs and returning to your start point having enjoyed the circuit.

OK, a list of successful completions to date can be found here and in the Comments section below, with links to routes taken (you can also follow me on Strava to see my various efforts and routes). If you’d like your effort adding, let me know using the Comments or social media, with a suitable link. Any feedback on this idea, route selection etc much appreciated. If sharing, please use the hashtag #MV3TC. Have fun!

Completions so far (@ 19.5.20)

9.1.19. Jon & Jenny

2.12.19. Matt Armstrong

25.3.19. Richard Jones

23.6.19. Tim/Ian/Dinesh

25.6.19. Jon Pownall

25.8.19 Adam Nodwell (view a clip of Adam’s previous attempt here)

21.3.20. Andy Mace

28.3.20. Mats Vermeeren

11.4.20. Hilary Lane

14.4.20. Martin Sutcliffe

18.4.20. Tony Mills

(please also click on the Comments section below for several more completions).

 

Running diary – Nov 18

… following on from Running diary – Oct 18

Thurs 1 Nov

Ran another loop of the old railway line in Norfolk. Heavy rain meant specs-off, which at least made it more of an adventure.

I’ve joined the real world at last and bought my first smartphone.

Sat 3 Nov

Ran Woodhouse Moor parkrun in 18.25, a new parkrun PB. The narrow path means lots of overtaking on lap 3, so you probably run a bit more than 5k. I do a parkrun every 6 months or so as it’s a good indicator of where your running’s at, so to speak. But not really my kind of running.

Sun 4 Nov

Cop Hill Fell Race – more my thing. And a chance to use my new Striders vest, which has arrived in the post, replacing my old washed-out one. At least I may get a few “come on Striders” now!

First did this race years ago, when I lived in Huddersfield. One of the gentler fell races in the calendar – more a hilly multi-terrain really – but nonetheless a worthwhile event. As usual, knowledge of the course an advantage, in this case a 2-lap race. Benign conditions helped me to a course PB by a couple of minutes – 42.37. 15th out of 145.

Tues 6 Nov

I’m back volunteering at YHA Keswick for the next couple of weeks (I did a similar stint this time last year). In amongst all the bed-changing and bog-scrubbing there should be ample scope for running – the fells are on the doorstep and almost all colleagues are mad fellrunners. Indeed, they have helped set me up on Strava and sent me off on a circuit of their invention – from the Latrigg car park, up the Skiddaw path to Jenkin Hill, then a fast descent down Lonscale Fell and back along the track. Miraculously, I successfully upload my first activity!

Wed 7 Nov

A rare double-running day. Before my housekeeping shift, up through quiet woods to the top of Latrigg and back. Later, a short test-out of a newly-purchased headtorch, which should open up lots more options.

Thurs 8 Nov

Tagged along with Keswick AC’s evening session – a few road intervals in heavy rain. Their best runners disappear into the far distance….

Sat 10 Nov

Back in West Yorkshire, running the Shepherd’s Skyline race, from the Shepherd’s Rest Inn above Todmorden to Stoodley Pike and back. More great conditions and a couple of fast descents. 19th out of 168 in 51.03. First time I’ve done this one but I’m sure not the last.

Sun 11 Nov

Back to Keswick and an evening road circuit with headtorch in the rain around Swinside. Shins ache.

Mon 12 Nov

Join 5 YHA staff on an exciting evening adventure around the “Lonscale Loop”. First time I’ve really been up and down a big fell with the headtorch. The descent called for plenty of trust in your footing. Heady stuff.

Tues 13 Nov

Again, road intervals with Keswick AC. I know all this stuff is good for your performance and all that but really I’m into running for the fun and adventure of it. See last night.

Thurs 15 Nov

First thing, a final crack at the Loop. Caught the sunrise first on top of Latrigg. Then did the circuit a couple of minutes quicker than before, in 48.36. Still 7 minutes slower than my colleagues’ best time, but I’m pretty happy nonetheless.

Sat 17 Nov

If you’d said to me 2 months ago I’d be running the Tour of Pendle I’d have told you to get real. But after a summer of doing short races, turns out I really enjoyed everything about my first AL fell race for 12 years (“AL” means very long, with lots of climbing, in this case 27km / 1473 metres).

Felt pretty confident going into it, with a couple of thorough recces of the course and a decent build-up race under my belt (“Grin n Bear It”, from Langsett). The weather is kind on the day, plus the bonus of camaraderie from lots of fellow Striders. I’m grateful to accept a lift from Tim – along with Simon, Ross and Amanda – and hellos to Anthony, Sarah, Andreas and Richard on the start line, plus Ian and Katherine have come to provide moral support. All of which makes it more relaxing and fun.

The field is enormous for a fell race – nearly 500 – and at 10.30 we are off from Barley up the road by the reservoir. Take it steady to start with – it takes some time for the field to sort itself out and I try to remember the key lesson from the recces: there are 5 big climbs, each of which get progressively harder, and they come late in the race (so that at halfway distance you have actually only done a quarter of the climbing). So hold back. Good intentions! As soon as we are past the trig instinct takes over. It’s a gradual downhill stretch of 3 or 4 miles. The summit mist clears and there’s a strong backwind. Too good to resist. We’re all legging it down there. This is what it’s all about.

The course is a rough figure-of-8, so if you get a backwind on one stretch, you’re going to get it in the face later on. It duly arrives on the first of the big 3 final climbs, up Mearley Moor. Struggle to the top and fortunately the rest is a bit more sheltered. Good job – the penultimate climb, suitably known as The Big Dipper, is a killer. But the final one, up the Big End, is the real heartbreaker. It just goes on forever, and gets progressively steeper, with the last 200ft or so being a case of just clutching at the heather and dragging yourself up.

Finally, it’s done, and it’s downhill all the way back to the finish. Privately, I told myself before the race that I’d be over the moon with anything below 3 hours. Actually finished in 2.54.59, 61st out of 461, so am delighted with that. Not that it’s very easy to walk for the next day or two, but it will wear off!

Thanks as always to everyone involved in organising the race, and to all fellow Striders for making it such an enjoyable day out. Same again next year!