In the Trespassers’ footsteps

In the Trespassers’ footsteps

The campaign for access to fells and moors has been ongoing since the 19th Century and, thanks to a combination of direct actions and more formal negotiations, we now enjoy much-improved rights than before. But it’s the Kinder Mass Trespass of 24 April 1932, when 400 ramblers gathered outside Hayfield in the Peak District and marched on the then-forbidden land of Kinder Scout, that stands out as the most symbolic event in the campaign for the right to roam. Its 90th anniversary is coming up later this month.

Today, it seems unthinkable that you couldn’t just go for a walk or run on Kinder. A magnificent sweep of upland territory, so close to major conurbations, just begging to be explored. Particularly for us fellrunners, who don’t just stick to the main paths but like to wander and stravaig off-piste at will. So I thought it would be fitting to pay a small tribute to the Trespassers’ legacy by having a run on Kinder sometime this April – yesterday, I got the chance.

I drove round to Hayfield and parked at the Bowden Bridge car park. How convenient that back in 1932 this was the quarry where the Trespassers gathered and began their walk, recognised now by a memorial plaque.

From here, I went along the road and then beside Kinder Reservoir to the bottom of William Clough, as had the Trespassers. They then headed up the clough, where they were confronted by a dozen of the landowner’s men, arrayed on the slopes of Sandy Heys above. After a brief skirmish, they continued to the top of the clough, where they met up with other groups arriving from Edale and the Snake, before returning to Hayfield.

William Clough is a decent little vale to explore, but I chose a slightly different route yesterday, more in keeping with my current tastes. Last year I spent much time in the Peaks doing some simple Grade 1 scrambling; I’m also quite partial to fast-but-not-too-technical descents, so here was a chance to do one of my favorite circuits. First though, I had time to have a short dart up the ravine towards Kinder Downfall, which I’d not visited before. As you progress upwards, you feel increasingly hemmed-in by the spectacular rocky amphitheatre – an awesome and overpowering place. Amazing to think Manchester city centre is only 20 miles away! I got to a point where three difficult Grade 3 scrambles prong out in front of you like a fork. To the left Square Chimney, straight ahead the Downfall itself, to the right Arpeggio Gully. All three looked terrifying and there was no chance I was going to progress further on my own – you need to be experienced, well-equipped and in company to give these a crack.

I was happy to head back down the ravine and instead ascend by one of my favourite Grade 1 scrambles from last year, Red Brook. In late summer it’s quite difficult to access the stream bed due to bracken; no such problems yesterday, plus from halfway up it was dry as a bone. Often I’m happy to take plenty of time over scrambles and savour them, but given good conditions I occasionally do a “speed-scramble”, mimicking a fell race. Well, 13:36 yesterday, third on the Strava segment, maybe I can improve on that later in the summer.

Red Brook

Once on top the wind kicked in big time. Great views on the jog around the Downfall but I made sure I didn’t get too close to the edge. Once at Sandy Heys I was literally leaning into the wind. I thought this might give me a jet-propelled advantage on the fast descent off here. In fact, I was buffeted from all directions so it turned out the slowest of my 3 efforts on the segment so far. Still, dropping almost 1000 feet in a mile is a pretty lively way of spending 6 minutes. There’s much more fun to be had on Sandy Heys than facing men with sticks. At the bottom I rejoined the outward route and retraced my steps back to the car.

Unlike the leaders of the Trespass, when I got back to Hayfield I didn’t get dibbed into the cops, locked up for months and then sentenced to prison. It’s easy to take the way things are now – like our access to fells and moors – so much for granted. But we are where we are thanks to the actions and campaigning of folk in the past, and I was glad to have made a simple acknowledgement of the Trespassers of 1932. Why not take a walk or run on Kinder sometime this April?

https://www.strava.com/activities/6964473186

Hoofstones Fell Race

Another fell race, another write-up. Why don’t I think of something else to blog about? Perhaps it’s just a natural cycle with racing – you prepare, you race, you reflect – and particularly so in winter when conditions are so much tougher. Write-ups can be pretty therapeutic, and help you learn & move on to the next big idea…

This race – Hoofstones – usually takes place in mid-January and is a low-key event with a field of under 100. Low-key it may be but straightforward it is not. It’s the combination of a number of things – distance, climb, navigation, underfoot conditions, plus dealing with the January weather – that makes it appealing.

The race starts in the valley bottom just outside Todmorden and follows a lollipop-shaped route via the lonely summit of Hoof Stones Height (479m). This year’s race took place on the pleasingly-palindromic 22nd of January, 22.1.22.

This was 3 years since my one previous go at the race, 2019, and how that went was part of the reason I entered this year. In those pre-COVID times I was racing a lot and just thought here’s another local race to try. I remember being a bit tentative as the weather had been wintry in the lead-up…. but no matter I’ll rely on the classic fellrunning technique of following everyone else and trusting I’ll get round. Turned out to be something of a harsh lesson, as once on the tops we disappeared into full white-out conditions – snow on the ground and thick mist – and the only thing on my mind was sod this race, just get off this hill asap & back to safety. Others thought the same, so a gaggle of us headed straight down towards the road (which is out of bounds), then followed walls and fences through some pretty dire bogs until bumping into runners heading the other way – retracing their footsteps eventually led us to the final checkpoint and finish. Not very clever really – surely there’s a better, and much quicker, way round?

I wasn’t going to leave anything to chance this time, so for Jan 2022 I decided to recce the course beforehand. Plus conditions seemed OK so it would just be nice to see what it all looked like up there – I’d only ever seen white the previous time. So 11 Jan drove out to Tod and parked by the Staff of Life pub, where the race starts. Jogged up the course route, recognising little landmarks and the increasingly heavy underfoot conditions, until eventually reaching the trig pillar at Hoofstones. The view I’d missed out on last time turned out to be pretty bleak and wild, with not many obvious features. Time for some compass-navigation – took a bearing and headed off across the featureless moor directly towards the next checkpoint, a mile distant. Route finding was OK but underfoot things pretty atrocious. All heavy bogs and tussocks, not very runnable at all. Feet very cold by now so, once through the bogs, headed back down to the car to chew things over.

Back home, decided I’d need to go back out there again and try a Plan B. So a week later, 17 Jan, parked by the road halfway up and started sketching out an alternative line. This roughly followed the descent route I’d taken in 2019, but this time I found some trods which seemed to knock off a few minutes. It was more runnable as well than the slip-fest through the bogs. Overall, it felt like doing a second recce had been well worthwhile.

Race day, Sat 22 Jan. It’s been a dry week and it’s not too cold in the valley. Still, I reckon it will be Arctic on top, so get the full winter gear on. More local runners in just vest & shorts look at me with some disdain – fair enough. Once underway I get into a rhythm on the initially decent tracks and am in about 10th place 2 miles in. I find it much tougher going on the heavy ground up to the trig; still, am in about 15th at the top with a group of 3 or 4 just ahead. Would normally back myself to pick up a few places on the descent, so start wondering about a top 10 finish…… Shortly after, I see the main line of runners heading directly across the moor, where the bogs and tussocks await, while I stick to my longer, but hopefully quicker alternative.

About 15 minutes later I reconnect with the main field, hoping to recognise a few of the vests that overtook me earlier. Nope, it’s an entirely different bunch altogether. Now back on the quick descent I comfortably overtake a few and arrive at the finish to find it’s well populated by a fair crowd of tired but elated runners. Overall, I’ve enjoyed the race, keeping warm and on the move the whole time. On the watch I’ve finished 10 minutes quicker than in 2019, so some obvious improvement there. But I ask the finishing marshall where I’ve come and the answer is 32nd. Somehow in that crucial mile I lost about 20 places. Had the bogs miraculously dried out in less than a week? Is there a quicker line that I fractionally missed on my recce? Did the clear conditons and line of runners, removing the need to navigate, save so much time? Or does Hoofstones just attract the kind of runner that is particularly adept at getting across bogs, a lot better than me?

Always a few minutes or seconds to be gained, here and there, from accumulated experience in races and recces. I guess that’s why fellrunners keep going back to the same races, year after year. Many thanks to everyone involved in organising this one, and the spectators and photographers that braved the cold out on the course.

We don’t do electronic

Six weeks ago I’d pretty much resigned myself to not running this year’s Tour of Pendle, and just sharing a few tips instead. In fact, I’ve now got a second successful completion under my belt, but I did have to work pretty hard for it and learn a few sharp lessons on the way.

I work at a YHA and things have been so busy this year I’ve not got out running as much as I’d have liked. Finally though, a quieter period came just after October half-term, and a chance to recce the course and see if it was worth entering the race. I’d not been on Pendle since the previous time I’d raced – 2018 – so it was good to re-familiarise myself with things. I didn’t rush – checked some points of navigation, admired the views, took a few photos…. got through the cut-off point comfortably enough and fully round in 4 hours. So, 20 November booked off work and entry form & cheque in the post.

The hardest part of this was actually locating my chequebook, and it was amusing to find that the last time I had written a cheque was 3 years ago…. to enter the 2018 Tour of Pendle! As it says on the race website, “We don’t do electronic”. It did make me wonder, now that almost all races can be entered online, if it’s totally fair to limit entry to those that can pay by cheque. Surely not everyone has a chequebook these days? It turned out my experience of the race would have me slightly reconsidering this.

Three weeks to the race and I was hoping to get at least one additional long run in beforehand. Slightly depressingly, the lull at work turned out to be all too brief and I never got the chance. Also felt a bit under the weather in the week leading up to the race. It was only on the morning of the 20th that I knew for sure I was going to give it a crack. Not exactly ideal preparation.

At least the weather in Barley was decent, and it was great to be back on the start line in a big field – saying hello to a few familiar faces, including club-mates Tim, Mick & Mark (who’ve all done the race before) and Dinesh (here for the first time). At 10.30 we were underway and I felt pretty comfortable on the initial steady climb up to the trig. Just below the summit, I made a point of studying the ground closely for the crucial trod junction that you take on the return. I knew I’d missed it slightly on my recce, and even now in clear conditions it was barely discernable.

Descending from the trig towards CP1 a familiar voice is thanking me for acting as such an effective wind-break. It’s Mick, and we start chatting about the course ahead & is it tougher than the 3 Peaks even though it’s 8 miles shorter? (probably). CP1 has moved 100 yards from previous years to a new stile in the wall, and to my surprise the whole field is heading straight ahead rather than cutting across the moor as before. With about a second’s thought I rudely curtail the conversation with Mick and go for the short-cut on my own. It was quite good fun briefly running solo during a big race and dreaming that the rest were heading off in completely the wrong direction and that I was going to win the Tour of Pendle…. in fact I rejoin the main field about 15 minutes later (and the next I see of Mick is in the car park at the end to find he’s finished 10 minutes in front of me – so much for dreaming).

For the moment though things were continuing comfortably enough. Navigation not a problem early on as it’s such a large field. Approaching the Geronimo descent, I was happy to follow a line to the right – steep grass with a bit of bum-sliding, but so preferable to the diabolical stony gully that’s the main path. At the bottom, a gaggle of cowbell-ringing, jellybaby-chucking spectators that really lifts the spirits. And so on, briefly revisiting an earlier stretch of the course on this loosely figure-of-8 route, and down to the stream at the foot of Mearley Moor.

1hr 45min in. Two thirds of the race distance covered. The mind plays tricks on you that you are well in to this race. That the finish is within reach. You can almost smell the tea & flapjack in the village hall…..

But I well knew that everything up to this point had really just been a preamble. That the Tour of Pendle is in effect a 2-hour undulating jog from Barley to the real start line below Mearley Moor. That two thirds of the climbing come in this last third of the distance, in 3 big climbs – Mearley Moor, The Big Dipper and Big End. That it’s these 3 late climbs that make the Tour of Pendle the challenging race that it is.

I shove a muesli-bar down, take my first step up Mearley Moor and wait for the energy and adrenalin to kick in. Nothing. Plod on a bit. Still no reaction, in fact I can barely put one foot ahead of the other. Surely something must happen soon? People start getting stuck behind me. The path widens and they begin to drift past, making encouraging comments. Have I ever gone up a climb as slow as this? I stop thinking about the race ahead and switch to survival mode. Will I be able to get up this climb and back to Barley at all? This is getting embarrassing, I thought I was meant to be a fellrunner….

Then I remember another thing that’s meant to define fellrunners. Something about mental resilience and all that. Without really registering it, I’ve ignored the sensible direct route back to Barley and begun the descent towards The Big Dipper. Even though The Big Dipper is an even tougher climb than Mearley Moor. One look at it is enough to break anyone’s heart, even on a good day. I knowingly keep my eyes to the floor.

Somehow I got up that climb, even at snail’s pace, even though I knew I was causing a massive queue behind me (precious few overtaking opportunities here). Equally, the fifth and final climb, Big End, the top bit of which isn’t even blessed with steps cut in the turf, you just have to zig-zag/cling on to heather etc as best you can. There is a marshalling point either side of Big End, with biccies and jelly-babies laid out. These were an absolute godsend and bless the marshalls here (and elsewhere on the course), not least as the weather had now taken a turn for the worse. Clag down and the wind whipping up. Just need to get down now and off this bloody hill. At least the legs have started moving again. Am thankful I scrutinised the trod junction earlier as visibility is minimal, the field has thinned out and there are few other runners about. The trod widens into a path and feels right, leading me safely to the final CP. From here it’s a mile to the finish along the tarmac, which feels surprisingly comfortable after what I’ve gone through just 20 minutes earlier.

I’m back to the finish in just over 3hr 30, more than half an hour slower than 2018. “What kept you?” asks Tim, who’s been here 20 minutes and has kindly waited to hand me my race t-shirt. But all thoughts are on the spread laid out in the village hall – tea, cake, soup. After what we’ve just put ourselves through, this is our reward.

“Yes you do have to pay” I’m politely informed at the hatch, and no I don’t have any cash on me. I can’t really summon an answer and just head back to the car, half a mile away, where I have just frugal supplies of nuts & water to get me home. Why had I thought the spread would be free? It was only £9 to enter the race, including the t-shirt. And I’ve actually spent much of my career prior to YHA working with voluntary & community groups – if you hire a village hall for an event, they’re going to charge you a small amount for tea & cake whether you’re here to play dominoes or run a 16 mile fell race. And no, they probably don’t take contactless. We don’t do electronic.

It’s coming up to 20 years now since my first fell race, and I’ve done over 100 of them, but you never stop learning. Learning that if you come into a tough race underprepared then it’s going to be difficult. That just because you’re familiar with a course doesn’t mean it’s going to be straightforward. That fell races are organised by voluntary Race Organisers, often with the support and co-operation of other volunteers, so runners have to fit in with whatever the RO is willing and able to pull together.

The Tour of Pendle is a unique, knowingly-difficult event. It’s worth knowing that before you enter, so perhaps it’s for the best that it takes more than a few clicks to do so. If you don’t have a chequebook, perhaps find a friend or club-mate who does. Many thanks to Kieran and his team for the 37 Tours so far, and hopefully many more to come.

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

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.

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!