Late spring snow has hampered my Joss Naylor Challenge preparations, much of the higher route lying hidden under a white blanket for months. Now I’m nearing the end of my training and I still haven’t checked the route from Great End to Pillar. This evening, my final chance arrived. Finishing work early, I drove over to Wasdale Head.
I love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone, and I’d already planned a good route to Great End, first taking in Lingmell then Scafell Pike, bagging an extra two Wainwright summits.
Longer evenings mean setting off for a run in the mountains late in the day is such a liberating experience, as everyone else has gone home. It’s a steep climb out of the Wasdale valley to Lingmell. I followed a sheep trod, rounding a scree slope and joining the main path high up the ridge.
The summit was cloaked with cloud, and I needed a compass bearing to find the correct direction off towards the main path up Scafell Pike.
I’d never been on this path before. The boulders worn smooth and polished from use, reminding me of Croagh Patrick in Ireland, where religious pilgrims climb the mountain path, many of them barefoot. Tonight, I had England’s highest mountain all to myself, alone amongst the clouds. Another compass bearing off, down a rocky scramble to the col, then a short climb to the shoulder of Broad Crag, boulder hopping, choosing the biggest and most stable ones as my stepping stones.
I reached Great End, and the cloud started to lift, Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns sparkling down below. The descent looked suicidal. A sheer, vertical, boulder strewn drop, requiring nerves of steel and the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, not really skills a man of my age has anymore. It was a relief to find the final scree slope, then the more gentle grassy slope to Styhead Pass.
I ran back down the valley, the late evening sunshine filtering through, lighting up the patchwork of stone walls and green fields. I changed, then drove out to the Screes Inn at Nether Wasdale, for good food and good beer.
As there’s no mobile phone coverage in the valley and I knew the pub had WiFi. I could email home to let them know I was safe and sound.
I had an early night too, camping in the back of my van, parked up near to Joss’s farm at Greendale Bridge.
I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, and made a strong coffee. I hid my bike behind a stone wall near Greendale Bridge, and drove to Wasdale Head. It was early, just after 7am, clouds hung low and the westerly wind was tearing across the lake, making huge white caps. At Styhead Pass, I started the climb up the stone path to Great Gable, stopping in cloud near the summit to get out my map and compass.
This is the final leg of the “Joss”. I would now find out what it was like to run it with tired legs. A good rehearsal for when my time comes. The wind was very strong on the summit, and the rocks had a sheen of moisture from the thick cloud, making them as slippery as ice. I took a bearing into the full force of the wind and soon found myself on steep scree slope, making the most of gravity.
On to Kirk Fell, wandering off bearing slightly, cloud as thick as pea soup. Another scree run in the tight gully down to Black Sail Pass, then the long, long climb to Pillar. I got completely blown off my feet nearing the col at the bottom of the rocky descent, the wind at gale force in the compression zone. Stoat Fell, then Steeple were both in cloud, and I made good progress to Haycock.
Another mistake coming off the summit, getting pulled off my bearing by the sheer force of the wind, having to contour back around to get on the right track, then suddenly out of cloud and Seatallan clear in the distance. It was hard work on the final short, steep climb, before another descent to Greendale Tarn and the final climb to the summit of Middle Fell.
I wondered what I’ll feel like when I get here in a week or two, when I do the whole 48 mile challenge. Joss’s farm looked very small way down below. It was a relief to finally stop running when I reached the bridge.
I found my bike, and cycled along the narrow lane back to Wasdale Head, the strong wind pushing me along, making it feel effortless. As I started the long drive home, the sun came out, and the cloud lifted off all the tops.
6 new Wainwright summits, that’s 138 down, 76 to go.
Appalling weather over the Bank Holiday weekend forced us to make our way back home to Kendal earlier than planned. As the afternoon wore on, the rain finally stopped. I had an unplanned chance to make the most of it.
I drove against the traffic into the heart of the Lakes, a steady stream of cars heading the other way. I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale to find plenty of places to park, and headed off, contouring under the crags, jumping over all the puddles.
Water was streaming off the hillside, streams in full spate, from a combination of melting snow and the incessant rain. I crossed the footbridge and jogged up the steep path to Stickle Tarn, a single tent near the weir marking a great place for a wild camp.
The clouds were breaking up, blue sky was showing through. I’d hoped for clear tops, as I wanted to recce the Joss Naylor Challenge route from High Raise to Great End and this evening was perfect.
I found a faint path next to a small, lively stream, making a bee line for Sergeant Man, great views of the Langdale valley opening up below, patches of old snow scattered about. The summit stuck out, an obvious rocky lump amongst an expanse of flat wetland and bog.
It was hard to believe the last time I was here was in a whiteout and I couldn’t even find the summit first time around. It was a short, more or less flat run on to the plateau of High Raise.
New territory for me from here. I’d not been on this section of the “Joss” through to Rosset Pike, and a thin brown trod line marked the route, winding in and out of gullies. It was fast running, and I was soon at Stake Pass, then along the ridge with Mickleden stretched out below, watched over by the near vertical Langdale Pikes.
Someone’s been busy. Small cairns marked the route up to Bowfell, a mixture of steep sheep trods and scree, the views making the tough hands on knees effort worthwhile. It seemed to go on much further than I remembered from all my training runs for the “Bob” last year.
A scramble over the final summit rocks, the jagged Scafells outlined clearly. Familiar territory through to Esk Pike, following the ramp of horizontal rock jutting out of the hillside, a natural road.
Great End was shrouded in cloud, so at the col of Esk Hause, I decided to give this a miss, and veered off right to bag the small summit of Allen Crags.
More dark cloud was gathering now and looking ominous above the higher peaks. I made good time on the descent to Angle Tarn, short cutting the stone path zig zagging alongside Rossett Gill, taking the steep grassy option instead. I ran alongside the path, weaving in and out of small rocks, jumping over streams.
A flash of a small brown bird from under my feet, and I stopped, finding the Meadow Pipit’s nest hidden under dead bracken stalks. Four olive brown eggs in the tiny cup lined with dried grass.
Along the side of Mickleden beck a half remembered bird call. A sandpiper? Could they be back from Africa already? I slowed down, thinking I must be imagining things, then caught sight of two common sandpiper, already staking out their nesting territory.
Huge hailstones pelted me on the final section, urging me to run faster back to my van, then the clouds parted again and sunshine streamed through.
I changed into warm dry clothes and set off for home, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to live in such a fantastic part of the world. I saw no-one on my evening run and had the mountains to myself. The roads were quiet too all the way back to Kendal, one of the bonuses of setting off to Langdale late in the day.
My little boy Ash had just gone to bed, although he was still awake, so there was still time for another bedtime story.
4 Wainwright summits today, that’s 132 down, 82 to go.
All my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about anything in particular, often whilst I’m day dreaming, in a ‘running trance’. This one was no different. I was out for a long run, enjoying one of my favourite Lake District trails along the east side of Coniston Water.
As I climbed out of the woods into bright sunshine, skylarks singing overhead, I stopped and admired the view. Blimey, I thought to myself, as I looked at the toy white yachts, way down below. Imagine an off road course going around the whole of the lake. I wondered how far that would be? Would it be a marathon distance if Tarn Hows were included somehow?
A decade ago
That was a decade ago, way back in 2008 and it took another three years of hard work to turn that dream of an idea into reality. First, I had to convince the National Trust, as most of the course was on their land. This included the ‘hallowed ground’ of the Tarn Hows beauty spot.
Fortunately, I had the help of John Atkinson, who farms up and around Parkamoor and worked at the time for NT. I’d worked with John before with our Coniston Trail event, so we knew each other. He immediately saw the potential of the event and the advantages to Coniston village businesses and surrounding areas. He was a big help in making the first event happen. We even got permission to do a complete lap of Tarn Hows and by including Beacon Tarn, we made it up to the Marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
There were many more agencies and stakeholders to win over though and this took time. Natural England, Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park Authority, Bethecar Moor Commoners, Torver Back Commoners, Cumbria County Council. The list was endless. Meetings in dreary offices with some people who had never run a step in their lives.
In June 2010, I walked the entire course with our nine month old son in a backpack, taking photos of my partner Claire, the ‘model’ for the slideshow of the course. It was another sunny day. The views were breathtaking. I knew immediately that the course was destined to become a classic. Maybe even one day becoming one of the World’s iconic marathons?
I remember bumping into a couple of running friends that day. Myself and Claire must have looked guilty, as they asked me “You’re not planning another of your Lakeland Trails here are you?” We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with another year still to go, laughing it off. Towards the end of the route, we were both hot and tired, our son fast asleep, his head lolling to one side. Then, as an added bonus, we found a few big, fleshy cep mushrooms, a gastronomic treat to finish our day off perfectly.
The first Marathon Trail
So at 7am on a beautiful Sunday morning in 2011, the very first Trail Marathon in the Lake District set off from Coniston. History was in the making. We’d planned this early start with the National Trust, to avoid the busy crowds around Tarn Hows. It’s become a truly memorable way to start our Marathon. The air is cool even on those sweltering June days, the lake often steaming as inverted air tries to escape, still like a mill pond.
Almost a thousand runners started this inaugural event, shared between the Challenge and the Race, setting off two hours later. We gave a generous 8 hour time limit for the course, 6 hours for the Race, knowing that the underfoot conditions and relentless climbs would take their toll.
You can forget about your road times on this course! You have to earn those views with plain graft and hard work. This, the most beautiful marathon in the UK, could also be described as one of the toughest too!
Gradually the event has grown and now runners from all over the world come and take part. A couple of years ago we were even awarded the status of “one of the World’s iconic Marathons”. Another dream come true.
Half Marathon and Mini Marathon 10K added
We included a Half Marathon Trail in 2012, which takes in much of the first half of the Marathon course as far as Tarn Hows. Then in 2016, we added a Mini Marathon Trail Run 10K.
This year is the 8th anniversary of the event. So far, we’ve had six warm sunny days and one cool one when the rain poured down. That year, 2012, was also the year both course records were set – Ben Abdelnoor from Ambleside AC in 2hrs 53mins 50secs and Jo Zakrewski, Dumfries Road Runners, in 3hrs 21mins 34secs. I wonder if anyone will get close to them this year?
Finishing alongside the lake shore, through dappled sunlight, the trail amongst mature oak trees, the water shining silver, you’ll feel as though you’re in running heaven. You’re not going to ‘hit the wall’ either, as we take down the dry stone wall making it easier to enter the event arena.
Knowing once you cross the line, you only have another few steps before submerging in those cool waters to relieve your tired muscles. That will keep you going.
Then to bask in the warm sunshine. The afterglow, knowing you’ve really, really earned your finisher’s medal. And ice cream. And as much food as you can eat. And even more ice cream.
Remember my friend John Atkinson who helped with that very first event? You’ll see John handing out drinks as you pass his beautiful holiday cottage at Parkamoor, just after half way. On Marathon day, one of you will win a fabulous weekend’s holiday to come back and stay here. Now, that would be a perfect way to round the day off, wouldn’t it?
Thick, dark grey cloud hung over the tops like a blanket. It didn’t look promising at all. Yet first thing this morning it all looked so good when I left my home in Kendal. The Kentmere peaks white with late spring snow. Clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight.
This morning was my only window of opportunity to get a long run in, before a family trip to the West Coast over the Bank Holiday weekend. So I’d set off early, and was now parked up in Little Town in the Newlands Valley, jogging up the road, wondering what the morning had in store for me.
Deep snow lay amongst the heather and had drifted onto the narrow path running along the ridge up to the first summit of Ard Crags.
It was shin deep, the top few centimetres were frozen, making the going hard work. Running was impossible. So it was hands on knees, post holing upwards. I’d hoped the snow was windblown along the ridge, making progress easier, yet it had drifted into a deep cornice.
The views made up for the difficult underfoot conditions. Sunlight was streaming over the Catbells ridge, warming the air. Creating spectacular thermal clouds, quickly rising and enveloping the higher tops.
The going became slightly easier along to Knott Rigg, and running became child’s play. I had a huge smile on my face.
Robinson was shrouded in thick white cloud. Wet bog lay under the soft snow. All I could do was keep pushing on as best I could, round Buttermere Moss, then up the steeper slopes, into the mire. There were great views behind me.
Then as I neared the summit, a total white out, the cairn just about the only dark object around. I needed a compass bearing to find my way off to the col of Littledale Edge, following the fence and bounding downhill in huge steps in the deep snow.
I stopped, mesmerised. The cloud was lifting, sunlight was getting through. In seconds the sky was bright blue and the whole of Hindscarth appeared out of nowhere. Again, the climb to the top was an effort, then the fun of the downhill, and a nice ridge run to Dale Head.
Slabs of snow came loose on the descent to Dalehead Tarn, rolling away into huge snowballs. Another grunt up High Spy, thermal cloud swirling around the cairn.
The final run for home along the ridge down to Maiden Moor was a blast, the snow wasn’t as deep, and patches of heather and grass were showing through. The first walkers of the morning appeared, all wrapped up, overloaded with big rucksacs, ice axes strapped on the back.
Catbells was my final summit, looking stunning with the late spring snow.
I changed back at my van, and drove to Rheged, to my friend Peter Sidwell’s cafe, for a strong flat white coffee, and eggy muffins with crispy pancetta.
I flicked through the photos. This is surely my favourite Lakeland horeshoe, and this morning, a lucky one at that.
I got back home to Kendal just after midday. My little boy Ash excited about heading off soon for a train ride on La’al Ratty, and wild camping somewhere nearby on the coast.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 128 down, 86 to go.
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.
Garburn Trail 2006
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.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Runnersworld rated this “the most scenic race in Britain”
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.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Finish arena at Elleray School in Windermere
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.
Garburn Trail 2006
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!
Garburn Trail 2007 – Finish arena at Windermere
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.
Garburn Trail 2007
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.
Flooding – 2009
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.
Kentmere Trail 2010
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.
Selfies on the Summit – 2017
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.
Sting in the Tail 2012
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.
Kendal Mountain Rescue 2017
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.
Kev Kendall in 2012
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.
Batala Lancaster 2017
Save something too for that last lap around the finish field with the drums from Batala Lancaster pumping you with adrenaline.
I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run.
This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.
I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.
Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.
The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.
A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.
Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.
Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.
By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.
There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.
Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.
Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.
Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.
There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position.
A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”
Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.
I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.
A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds.
What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.
11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.
I was the only one on the bus. Understandable really, as it left Kendal bus station at 5.45am. It was surprising that I was actually on it myself. A rare night out with Claire, drinking far too much white wine with our meal. Then “one for the road” at Burgundy’s Wine Bar. This turned into another bottle of red with friends we hadn’t seen for years, ending up a very late night.
Remembering a vague plan to catch the early morning bus. With a sore head, I thought I’d spend some time power napping on the way. The friendly bus driver had other ideas, keeping up a constant stream of chatter, with me in full view of his mirror, sitting in the back.
Amazing to see how much engineering work had been done already around Thirlmere, since the devastation by Storm Desmond. I couldn’t believe the scale of the landslides on the east side of the lake.
My new friend dropped me off at the footpath near the dam. Jogging up the steep climb through the forest, many trees fallen over like skittles. It was a gorgeous morning. There was a cold, northerly breeze. Blue skies and hardly a cloud in the sky.
Sunlight filtered through the trees, the air having an Alpine feel. As I neared the summit of Raven Crag, there were new wooden steps and a boardwalk, frosted white. The view down towards Thirlmere was breathtaking.
On the switch backs, preferring the rough, underfoot conditions of the steep woodland, to the monotony of the graded forest road.
I run through the quiet campsite of Shoulthwaite. Crossing the deserted A591, I follow an ancient trail around the corrugated mound of High Rigg.
Veering off the trail, climbing steeply through snow flattened orange-brown bracken stalks.
Reaching the summit, with spectacular view of Blencathra and Skiddaw. I run down to St Johns in the Vale church, taking photos of the daffodils in the pretty graveyard.
I find a path meandering down to St Johns Beck. A dipper flying out from under the new footbridge. It’s domed nest crammed full of youngsters, balanced on the new steel bars underneath.
Skylarks serenaded me along the Old Coach Road to the climb of Clough Head. The last time I was here was during my Bob Graham Round last May, when it was pitch dark.
This morning the ground was white with frost. Leaning into the steep climb, pushing on my thighs to keep up momentum.
From the summit, a lovely run down towards Calfhow Pike. The ground rock hard up to Great Dodd. Clumps of grass, white with frost near the summit.
An easy run to Watson’s Dodd. Along the ridge, visiting Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside and Helvellyn Lower Man.
The mesmerising ridge line of Helvellyn, edged with snow, getting ever closer.
Old snow marked the descent down Swirral Edge. Crouching down, skiing the short, steep slope on my studs, using my hands as brakes.
The haphazard, broken rocks were scored by winter crampons. I run along trying to bring life to my freezing cold hands. From the small cairn on Catstycam, a steep grassy descent down to Red Tarn.
Suddenly I’m spreadeagled on the ground, sprawled amongst rocks, bleeding from my hand. I pick myself up, my toes bruised and sore, my fingers red with blood.
I take a great route off Birkhouse Moor, straight off The Nab, amongst steep rock, picking my way down through the rough terrain. Eventually meeting the rocky path near Mires Beck.
Refuelling at the Helvellyn Country Kitchen Cafe, with a late brunch, a full cooked breakfast, with a flat white coffee.
I found out they’d only recently re-opened after the floods. Michelle, the owner, showed me photos on her iPad, with flood water one metre deep inside the cafe.
Missing the bus to Ambleside by a few minutes, I find out the next one is nearly two hours away. I look at my map, seeing a line from Hartsop, climbing up to Thornthwaite Crag, and along my favourite ridge, Froswick, Ill Bell and Yoke.
I shouldered my pack, and set off on my long run home.
7 Wainwright summits today, that’s 109 down, 105 to go.
There was ice on the windscreen, ruling out Kirkstone Pass, so I’d have no option but to go the long way round on the M6. It was 5.15am and I was heading for Braithwaite, near Keswick. There was no need for me to set an alarm. I was in bed and asleep by 8.30pm last night. Knowing I’d wake up eight hours later, give or take. I’d already packed my gear, and my running kit was next to the bed.
I crept downstairs in the darkness. First a strong coffee. A bowl of porridge, then I was away. The sun burst over the horizon as I neared Penrith. Soon I was driving along the quiet road into Braithwaite. Two early morning runners heading towards the fells, one wearing a Lakeland Trails tee shirt, making me smile.
Grisedale Pike from Braithwaite, is my favourite climb in the whole Lake District. I love the way it varies from hands on knees steepness, to easy gradients that are great for running.
The ascent quickly takes you right into the heart of these fells, with 360′ panoramic views. There was still frost in the shady patches.
Low sun made spectacular shadows, silvering the meandering ribbon of Coledale Beck far below.
Coach wanted me to keep up a good pace today. I’m in my final training block for the Joss Naylor Challenge, which I hope to attempt sometime in May. “And don’t keep stopping to take photos!”
A lovely ridge run from Grisedale Pike summit, first to Hopegill Head, then along to Whiteside. The rising sun bringing Gasgale Crags and the steep slopes of Grasmoor into sharp relief.
From Whiteside, it would be new territory.
Descending the rocky ridge, with loose scree, all the way down to Crummock Water far below.
Mist steaming as the first rays of sun caught the inverted air.
It was coach’s idea to drop all this height, then contour round Grasmoor End. Setting up a nice, short steep climb to Rannerdale Knotts. Then climbing all the way up to the whale back summit of Grasmoor itself. There were misgivings about the plan, designed for an extra hour on my feet.
I don’t know if I have to thank the local Herdwick sheep or fellow Wainwright baggers, or both. There is the most brilliant, grassy trod contouring all the way to Rannerdale.
The views, with the first light shining on the new yellow gorse blossom, fields green with spring growth, and Buttermere with it’s impressive backdrop of fells, were simply jaw dropping beautiful.
A photographer’s Lakeland dream.
The ridge from Rannerdale summit was another new one. Soon I was back on more familiar territory. Making the big climb to Whitless Pike, everywhere I looked, a picture postcard.
Nearing Wandope a wheatear with a bill full of flies. Proof of newly hatched young in her nest under a rock somewhere nearby. The short grass on Grasmoor a delight to run on, the ground hard and dry.
An easy climb to Eel Crag. The trig point in a poor state, looking as though it had fallen over, then propped back up again, leaning slightly.
Dry rocks on the ridge to the summit of Sail. A a straight line between the new zig zag walker’s path to Scar Crags. Causey Pike marked my 100th Wainwright of the year. Also the first thermal cloud of the morning, bringing texture to the blue of the sky.
It’s often wet and boggy on the descent to Outerside. Today didn’t disappoint, and by Barrow I was being greeted “good morning” by the first walkers. I had to laugh to myself. They were just starting out, and my adventure was nearly finished.
Yellow green new leaf was budding out on the oak trees on the track near Braithwaite Lodge, and swallows were everywhere.
Back at my van, I got changed and looked at my camera. I’d somehow managed to take 189 photos during the run. I’ve absolutely no idea how I’m going to keep that a secret from coach. But that’s the disadvantage of being self coached, I guess.
I had kept a good pace going though, in between taking photos. I thought about all the hours of training I’ve done through the cold, wet, winter months, and realised. It was for days like this.
13 Wainwright summits today, that’s 102 down, 112 to go.
Living and working in the Lakes sometimes means finding yourself in areas seldom visited. A meeting at Rheged, near Penrith, provided an excuse for this little jaunt on my way home afterwards.
Parking up amongst daffodils by the bridge at Dockray, I set off with a map, in sunshine. This run perfectly illustrates the pure joy of Wainwright bagging. Giving a reason to explore new routes, linking up the three rounded outlying hills. I certainly wouldn’t be here otherwise.
Bird song was everywhere. I left the track and started the climb across rough pasture. The first curlew of the year making that lovely warbling call which always makes me feel spring is finally here. I found a trod through the heather, a kestrel hovering overhead.
Climbing over a dry stone wall, I ran the short climb to the summit cairn of Gowbarrow Fell. The views from this little peak are spectacular, Ullswater framed by the steep surrounding fells, capped with snow.
A winding path invites you to run along the rolling grassy ridge, towards the next Wainwright, Little Mell Fell. It then reaches a dense conifer plantation. I startled a roe deer stag. It pranced across the wet bogland back towards the safety of the trees. I stopped and waited for the best bit. An effortless single bound over the barbed wire fence. Then it was gone.
The path was very boggy around the wood. I enjoy the game of trying to pick out the dry spots as I was running. Every now and again misjudging, my foot getting sucked into the mire.
Crossing the road by the weather station, powered by a solar panel, I was soon bent over, pushing on my thighs. Up the steep, short climb and after a few minutes effort the trig point appeared.
Again, for such a small hill, the views all around were fantastic. A fast grassy descent heading towards the final Wainwright, Great Mell Fell. Getting stuck amongst gorse thickets on the final drop down to the road, making a big detour to get round them.
An old friend I haven’t seen for years was walking up the hill with his daughter and mum, so I stopped to have a chat. The last time I’d seen Owain was in Chamonix, where he was living and working as an Alpine guide. Now he was back in the Lakes, having recently moved to nearby Greystoke.
With an audience, I had no option but to keep a good pace going up the rest of the steep climb. As the gradient eases, the trail takes you through stunted pine trees, pushed over by the westerly winds.
I was now on peat. Wet and black underfoot. The summit marked with a small pile of stones. Ribbons of snow decorated the jagged ridges of Blencathra in the distance.
Choosing the most direct route steeply down and over big tussocks, wild like Knoydart in Scotland. I reached an old mucky track, frogspawn in every puddle.
A short section of tarmac, then an ancient, lichen covered footpath sign marking the way. Across a very wet bog, alive with birds. Meadow pipits, skylarks and reed buntings flying out from under my feet.
Soon I was running around the base of Gowbarrow Fell, joining up with the bridleway where I started an hour and a half ago. I slowed to a gentle jog, taking in all the signs of spring. Bright green new leaf bud, pale yellow primroses and the pungent smell of wild garlic.
I looked back for a few moments at the three little beauties, then rounded a corner.
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 89 down, 125 to go.
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All my best adventures start in darkness. When this one started at 4.30am this morning, it was pitch black. After a strong coffee and porridge for breakfast, I was out of the door, driving towards Shap in the gathering light along deserted roads. I always smile at the ‘Welcome to Shap’ road sign. It reminds me of when I first moved to Kendal. My friend Chewy asked me “do you know why they call it Shap?” I had no idea, and he answered after a suitable pause “because they couldn’t decide between Shit and Crap”.
There was a Roe Deer on the road just before Pooley Bridge. It was in no hurry. I had to almost stop the van. I reached for my camera and as I did so, it squeezed through a beech hedge into someone’s garden.
I parked up by St Peter’s Church, near Howtown. In less than nine minutes I was at the huge summit cairn of the baby peak of Hallin Fell. It was clear, although hazy, with very little wind. The reason for my early start was last night’s weather maps. A front was due to move in from the west around midday. So I wanted to make the most of the dry morning on my day off work.
Steel Knotts was my next summit. A toddler peak this time, startling the first skylark of the year. I took a lovely, inviting ridge line down towards Howtown, one I’d not run before. Then the steep vertical climb of Bonscale Pike, taking a detour past a huge badger sett, hoping to see one. Arthur’s Pike was only a few minutes away, overlooking Ullswater, and for the next hour or so, I’d be on the Joss Naylor Challenge route.
The ground was dry as a bone, and I enjoyed running on the firm peat. A splendid male hen harrier was quartering the ground ahead, unaware of me as I was into wind. It’s silver grey wings tipped with black, then suddenly, with a tilt, it was up and away. A magic moment for me, a first, as I’ve never seen a male hen harrier in the Lakes before.
It was fast, easy running up Loadpot Hill then Wether Fell. I found it easier to hold my poles rather than use them. The ridge was disappearing into mist. I stopped to get out my map, then followed the dry stone wall, crunching through old snowdrifts, towards the summit of High Raise. The nearby summits of Kidsty Pike and Rampsgill Head were also in light cloud. Brief glimpses of the view towards Riggendale Crags, the home of the Lake District’s only golden eagle.
Running down out of cloud, up back up the short climb to The Knott. Across tussock grass, looking for a way across an old snow filled gulley, not liking the look of it one bit. I found a narrow section to cross without snow. Looking up at the dark cave of eroded snow drift above, a man trap.
A herd of red deer, maybe twenty strong, watched me run towards them. They let me get quite close before they were off, heads held high.
I contoured around the steep rocky slopes of Rest Dodd on one of their trods, littered with deer shit. Leaving my poles and running pack by the stile, I ran up the easy slope to The Nab. Across dried up peat hags, back collecting my gear again before the short, steep climb to Rest Dodd.
My legs were tiring, although I was still going well. My spirits lifting by the views from Brock Crags towards Brotherswater.
I could see the cloud was moving in from the west, and with just three summits left, hoped I would have enough time. Canada geese echoed across the still waters of Angle Tarn.
On the summit of Angletarn Pikes, my first humans, three Wainwright baggers from Leeds. “Go on then, how many?” one of them asked me. I loved the look on his face when I replied “Fourteen so far this morning”.
Hard going up Place Fell, with more walkers at the summit cairn. Down the steep grassy slopes to Boredale Hause. I follow a deer trod, contouring to the ridge line of Beda Fell. My final, and sixteenth summit of the morning. From here, I run down the lovely single track path, winding along the rocky ridge, all the way to Howegrain Beck. I couldn’t resist the cold water of the river. Wading in up to my knees, standing in the flow for a few minutes by the bridge. Soothing my tired legs, a natural spa.
Walking up the final tarmac lane to my van, my studs squelching and oozing water. I changed into dry clothes, and as soon as I fired up the engine, it started to rain. I drove off, heading to the farm cafe at Tebay Services, for good coffee and local food, not fancying a Shap lunch.
As I was eating, I gazed through the big windows of the cafe at the misty moorland outside. As I did so, a merlin flew past, almost touching the ground. Another first for me in the Lakes.
16 Wainwright summits today, that’s 86 down, 128 to go.
Sign up to my blog to have a chance to win FREE trail running goodies. There are some great gifts on offer, such as trail running product, entries to the Lakeland Trails events and lots of other items too. On the 15th of each month, everyone on my subscribers list will go into a prize draw and the winner announced on the Lakeland Trails Facebook page, as well as by email.