Tale of the Kentmere Trail
Tale of the Kentmere Trail
Staveley is where it all began for Lakeland Trails, way back in 2004. This year marks the 15th consecutive event in the village, although the model has changed over the years.
My original idea was based on my favourite Alpine trail race, the iconic Sierre to Zinal in Switzerland. This is a 31km point to point course, with a ‘Tourist class’ for the less competitive, setting off around 3 hours before the “Race”. I always loved these mountain races, and thought it was such a good idea combining these two events. The camaraderie both out on the course and at the finish were tremendous.
So I robbed both ideas, and created a 21km point to point, off road, trail running route from Windermere to Staveley, over the lofty heights of the Garburn Pass. It was called simply the Garburn Trail, and we had both a Challenge and Race, pretty much as we do now.
80 people took part in that first event in September 2004. Many of them were my friends who I’d cajoled into taking part. British fell running champions Rob Jebb and Lou Roberts won that very first event.
People seemed to like the idea of a European style mountain trail race on a marked and marshalled course. So I had much bigger plans in mind for the following year. Cumbria Wildlife Trust were our chosen charity. I found out they had a supply of badger costumes, their mascot.
So I asked Rob if he’d help promote the event, having an impromptu photo shoot on Orrest Head, friends donning badger costumes, running with Rob. The poster we produced looked fantastic. A combination of stunning scenery, fun and excellence.
Lakeland Radio were roped in to come to the event and do a live broadcast, and local business Lakeland Limited came on board as our first sponsors. £500 seemed a lot of money in those days.
Girls love Garburn
I shamelessly promoted the event on the Fell Runners Forum, under a thread entitled “Girls love Garburn”, asking the question why such a high proportion of the fairer sex had entered. Back then, fell running was pretty much a male dominated sport and one or two fell runners took exception to an event of this nature on their ‘hallowed turf’. As the rants on the forum developed, I laughed to myself as the entries rolled in. More and more women were entering, particularly in the Challenge event.
You can imagine “Mr Beard” moaning to his wife about “This bloody trail race happening in t’Lakes, with a website, course waymarking, marshals everywhere. And it doesn’t even go to the top of any of t’fells”. Meanwhile, “Mrs Beard” is thinking, I quite like the sound of that, has a look online, enters, then tells all her friends too!
Within weeks we’d reached our 500 limit. This time the course started in Staveley and finished at Elleray School in Windermere, a drumming band welcoming the runners home. Kids ‘Fun Trails’ bouncy castles, face painting, food stalls – we haven’t changed much since.
In glorious sunshine, National cross country champion Steve Vernon, and World mountain running champion, Vic Wilkinson, took the race honours. The event was a success on every level.
The Lakeland Trails was born
So much so, that at the finish, I opened a box of pre-printed flyers announcing the next one in Coniston in a few months time. The Lakeland Trails was born.
Each year more people took part in the Garburn Trail, finishing at Staveley. We got national coverage in newspapers and on TV. Running magazines gave us awards for the most scenic race in Britain, the best race in Britain. No one else back then was organising family friendly sporting trail running events, although soon our model was getting copied all over the UK.
In 2009 we had some of the worst June weather on record, with the snow line down to around 1200 feet, below this heavy rain and flooding. Working with Kendal Mountain Rescue, we reverted to our emergency route in the Kentmere valley. This was a 17km low level alternative, avoiding the exposed Garburn Pass.
The surprise was how much everyone enjoyed this shorter course. We were inundated with requests to keep the course the same. So we did, changing the name to the Kentmere Trail.
Entries reached 1000 for the first time the following year and we haven’t looked back since. This year, over 1400 competitors will be running on the beautiful trails around Staveley.
As more people were taking up the sport of trail running, we added a 10km event to our programme around 6 years ago, then introduced the 5km Sport Trail last year.
Sting in the Tail
An idea in 2012 to have a bit of fun on Reston Scar culminated in the name “Sting in the Tail” and we got all creative, making a trig point out of printed correx boards.
Now there’s always a crowd of supporters on the summit, with cow bells, drums, horns, you name it. A fantastic motivation for the final climb before the mad, fast descent back to the finish on Staveley Recreation Ground.
We have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have the support of our local Kendal Mountain Rescue team at the event. Over £10,000 must have been donated to them from this event alone over the last fifteen years and long may our partnership continue.
Now all that remains is for me to wish you the very best of luck this weekend. I know that the views will astound you, the bluebells are nigh on perfect. Don’t forget to slow down a bit and look around you. Take it all in.
Save something too for that last lap around the finish field with the drums from Batala Lancaster pumping you with adrenaline.
Good luck and see you on the start line!
30th April 2018