Living in the Lake District, I am lucky enough to be able to run from the back door of my house in Kendal and in just a few minutes be on limestone hills with panoramic views of the fells.
I want to share some of this Lakeland inspiration with you, gathering together twelve of my favourite photo memories taken whilst running over the mountains in last few years. There is one photo for each month of the year, with the story behind it too linked up too. I hope you enjoy them.
Fingers crossed, the national Lockdown will soon be lifted. Then everyone will be able to come and enjoy this beautiful part of the world too.
Just thinking about Pete Hartley brings a warm glow deep inside and makes me smile to myself. Despite all the current world troubles and freezing cold winter weather.
What a lovely man.
On the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Memories come flooding back as I’m looking through all the photos Pete gave me from the early days of the Lakeland Trails. From 2005 through to 2012, Pete regularly came up to the Lake District capturing the true essence of the events.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He really did understand the ethos of what I was trying to achieve. His iconic, picturesque images catapulted the Lakeland Trails into people’s imagination, directly contributing to the events becoming so successful. With Pete’s dramatic photos, normal everyday people could picture themselves running in the stunning Lake District landscape. Maybe you were one of them?
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
He tirelessly helped me behind the scenes, sending his images to National magazines and newspapers, always letting me know with his infectious enthusiasm and positivity.
On the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
“Runnersworld asked for a good shot from the Garburn Trail” he’d tell me on the phone. ”Their readers just voted it ‘the most scenic race in Britain’, so I’ve emailed one for you, I’m sure you’ll like it”
“The most scenic race in Britain” – on the Garburn Trail – photo Pete Hartley
When Pete first came to photograph the events, he was working for an outdoor website. He needed to sell quite a few of his photos direct to our runners, just to cover his travel expenses. This seemed a complete nonsense to me.
On the Kentmere Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Instead, I came up with a much better plan. Simply cut out the middle man and pay Pete myself for a proper day’s professional sports photography. We could then give the photos away digitally to anyone that wanted them. It was one of those win, win, win moments. Everyone benefited. Our competitors could download free photos via Facebook, Pete was paid properly for his work and we got some amazing images. This soon became standard practice with almost every mass participation event since. Yet we are proud to say we were the first!
At the Derwentwater Trail – photo Pete Hartley
Through the eye of a lens
Pete’s work still lives on in the Lakeland Trails through our current photographer, James Kirby. For a number of years, both would be working at our events, Pete quietly taking James under his wing. It’s fantastic to see many of the locations James still uses today are ones Pete originally highlighted. Capturing runners in their element was a real skill of Pete’s and he willingly passed on all his experience to James. A true teacher.
On the Marathon Trail – photo Pete Hartley
It was fitting that James came along to help me at Pete’s funeral, taking photos, helping with our gazebos, outdoor PA and speakers. The church was packed and hundreds more were crowded outside.
Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
In the pub afterwards, everyone had a story about Pete. Smiles all round. Tears of joy through knowing him. Pete brought something special to all of our lives.
Through the eye of a lens – A tribute to Pete Hartley
Just before Christmas, a new hard cover book was published, featuring Pete’s stunning photographic work. It’s been a labour of love for Pete’s partner Denise Park, as he left behind over sixty thousand images.
Pete Hartley and Denise Park – photo Pete Hartley
“Through the eye of a lens” is a fond tribute to someone who was liked and loved by so many in the running world, me included. The book is full of beautiful images, stunning scenery, total mountain and trail running inspiration. If you want a copy, you can order one here
Six years have passed since Pete lost his battle with cancer back in November 2014. I remember writing some words in his memory at the time and thought I’d share them once again here:
The Magic of Pete Hartley
It’s early evening and I’m sitting at home in front of the wood burner, plugging in the laptop for a quick check on the internet. Suddenly I’m stunned. Shocked. I read Denise’s post on Facebook, that Pete Hartley has died from cancer.
I didn’t even know Pete was so ill. I must admit, I didn’t know Denise and Pete were so close.
Like many others, I’d been enjoying the quiz Pete had been posting on Facebook, guessing the runners and races. His photographs brought back so many long forgotten memories of all those people that have been part of my running life. I’d also seen Facebook images of Pete and Denise travelling around, enjoying themselves. I naively assumed they must have just got together and were spending some quality time with each other – good on them, I thought. I was at Edisford Primary School in Clitheroe with Denise, and we even share the same birthday. Knowing them both for so long and then hearing this sad news completely out of the blue, stopped me in my tracks
Pete Hartley. Pete Hartley …
I first met Pete when I was a young lad at local orienteering and fell races in and around my home in the Ribble Valley. He was always friendly, he always had time to chat and encourage. It was Pete’s images of the fell running greats that helped inspire me to take running more seriously. Imagine being on the cover of the Fellrunner one day? Although I never did make that honour!
Time goes on and throughout the next two decades, I’d often bump into Pete at fell and mountain races, with his camera and ready smile. He never changed. Always friendly, always time to chat.
Over the last decade, we met each other much more regularly – he was my first choice photographer at the Lakeland Trails events. That’s when I realised how hard Pete worked to capture those unique and iconic running images. Pete always arrived a day or two before an event, having first spoken at length on the phone about the course, who the favourites were, discussing who we thought would win. His enthusiasm for everything to do with running seemed boundless. Then he’d set off around the courses, checking the backdrops, checking the light, re-checking start times, calculating the best places to be throughout the day. A true professional.
It didn’t just stop there though. After going around the course, he’d help us in any way he could. I vividly remember our very first event in Keswick in 2006. The day before the event it was bucketing down. Pete abandoned his course check and helped us assemble the marquees and run in, smiling and chatting to everyone, all day long, in the pouring rain. He decided he was going to join me and Claire camping in the marquee. We couldn’t afford security in those days, so had to do it ourselves. In the evening, we brought fish and chips back with us to the marquee, and in the fading light, watched the downpour from the shelter of the tent, still chatting and laughing. Pete held up a chip and said “magic fish and chips, these!”
Last Sunday evening I went out for a walk on the limestone scars above my home in Kendal, and thought about Pete, about what made him such a special person for me and countless others. I know he would have enjoyed the spectacular sunset with the Lakeland fells in silhouette. I thought about the strength of his personality, how he dealt with his own struggles after the car accident cut short his running career. About how he turned to photography, to enable him to continue being a part of the sport he loved the most. And the photographs themselves, what they meant to so many people. I thought about his recent battle with cancer, how he just got on with it, keeping it all to himself. His partner Denise too, I thought about what she must be going through.
The one word I kept coming back to was “magic”, and I realised that was a big part of Pete’s special gift. He could see the magic that surrounds us all, the magic in people, in wild places, in the simplest of things. Yet he could do even more than that. He could capture that magic moment forever in his photographs for us all to see the world through his own eyes.
It was dark by the time I got home, and whilst my little boy Ash was playing with his Lego, feeling sad, I turned on the laptop.
I read this, from Pete’s son Michael :
“My sister Claire and I grew up assuming that it was everybody’s Dad who climbed the Matterhorn, ran the London Marathon, cycled across deserts, took them canoeing down rapids and was the master of fancy dress. As we got older, we realised how lucky we were to have such an inspiring, supportive and loving Dad. His optimism and enthusiasm for life inspired nothing but kindness.
Yesterday, our Dad’s fight against cancer came to an end. Our heads are full of happy memories which will last forever, so please don’t be sad for us. He’s just off on his next big adventure…”
Reading those words made me feel so much better and I can think about the pleasure he brought to me and be reminded of him forever through his photographs.
I can remember Pete’s big smile and think of him, off on his next big adventure.
Sunset at Pete’s funeral – photo James Kirby
10th January 2021
Sign up to my blog and have a chance to win a copy of “Through The Eye Of A Lens”– A tribute to Pete Hartley. We’ll be making a draw on 15th January 2021 and two lucky subscribers will win one of these beautiful books.
Time has simply flown by so fast. Yet at the end of last year’s season, after more than sixteen years as Event Director, the time felt right for me to pass the Lakeland Trails flag over to Phil Blaylock.
Phil has been involved with our events for over eight years and we’re all very lucky to have him. From competing himself, then volunteering as a marshal, he’s made steady progress to the top of our Lakeland Trails family tree. Phil’s been a keen student during all the various stages in his event management development and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring him through all of these over the years. I couldn’t have hoped for a better successor. When Phil took over the Event Director reigns last December, I officially ‘retired’ from the Lakeland Trails and stepped down from my role with the events.
Phil running at Keswick in 2017
I thought I could sit back and reflect on all this work with a degree of pride. Take stock and enjoy that contented feeling of a job done to the best of your ability. Like a proud parent, I quietly let go without any fuss, confident that we’d done everything possible to ensure the future of the Lakeland Trails for everyone’s enjoyment.
Then suddenly the ‘cheese moved’. Who could have foreseen back in March the first total lockdown situation only a week or so before the 2020 opening event was due to take place at Cartmel? Phil and his team will need the support of everyone, to ride out all the challenges imposed by the current coronavirus pandemic.
Running at Cartmel in 2018 and the Beast from the East
There’s always a balance running an enterprise for altruistic reasons. Often things just stop when a founder decides to call it a day. Sustainability has always been a big priority for me. Not just environmentally, but economically and personnel-wise too. We’re fortunate to have built some great relationships over the last sixteen years, and there are so many people to thank for helping make my dream of the Lakeland Trails come to fruition.
To everyone who has been involved in any way at all – from you, the competitors, to our fabulous volunteers, event crew, landowners, stakeholders, sponsors, entertainers, service suppliers, catering concessions – many, many thanks for all your support over the years. It just couldn’t have happened without you all!
A typical Lakeland Trails scene from the start
Looking back, since creating the first event in 2004, I was the Event Director for over 100 Lakeland Trails events. Totting up the total number taking part comes to around 150,000 competitors. It’s remarkable when you think the very first event had just 80 entrants and trail running was a relatively new sport to the UK back then. We’ve contributed well over £150,000 directly to local regional charities and community groups. In all, our region, Cumbria, has benefitted economically to the tune of well over £20 Million from the Lakeland Trails during my time. Truly amazing!
My first Lakeland Trails as a competitor in the Derwentwater Trail in 2017 – Back to Front
And who was there in 2015 at the start of the Ultra 55K when Kim Collison broke the 110K course record? I remember we delayed the start by a few minutes so we could welcome him home with a cheering guard of honour and Batala Lancaster drums. Magic sporting moments like these bring tears to your eyes.
Watch the opening 30secs of this video to see Kim Collison’s “Ultimate finish”
Sadness too, with four very special characters from our Lakeland Trails ‘family’ passing away recently and now running in those big trails in the sky. Peter Samuelson, Charm Robson, Lawrie Woodley and Lance Saxby (aka Gerry Giraffe) will be forever in my thoughts. All of them positive, happy people.
Phil at the finish in Staveley with Charm Robson in 2018
Many people start their own running journeys with us, getting off road for the first time and onto the stunning trails I created here in the Lake District. Every now and again I’ll get stopped with “is that Graham from Lakeland Trails?” and then someone will tell me an inspiring story or anecdote. How they’ve just completed an Ultra, even a Bob Graham. Or they’ve just run the 10K event with their teenage daughter, who ran her first Fun Trails as an 8 year old.
It never fails to make me smile when I see someone out and about wearing a Lakeland Trails T shirt, or see one of our car stickers on a vehicle, sometimes far away from the Lakes.
Finishing (and winning!) the Coniston Trail 10km in 2018
Retiring from the Lakeland Trails doesn’t mean sitting around in my slippers. It means I have finally closed one big chapter and can look forward to some different challenges. With more time I’ll be able to coach a few more people in trail and ultra running – give me a shout it you need any help!
Maybe spend more time partying with my partner Claire?
Party time with Claire for one of Ash’s birthday parties
Over a year ago I started a new Primary schools orienteering pilot project in Kendal coaching Year 5 and Year 6 children which ultimately fell victim to Covid-19. I’d love to see more youngsters and newcomers taking part in ‘the thought sport’ – maybe this could be a new project in the making?
Orienteering in the Italian Dolomites
My own performances in orienteering have steadily improved since returning back to the sport just over three years ago, after an absence of 30 years. I’ve been at the top of my UK age group ranking list for almost two years and was just seconds away from winning the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Latvia last year, coming 4th. The previous year, in Denmark, I was 2nd, only one second behind the Swiss winner. I was shaping up nicely too for this year’s cancelled World Masters in Slovakia in August 2020. With hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine, there’s now an excuse to take part in next year’s World Masters in Hungary.
Enjoying the atmosphere of European orienteering
No doubt there will be some new running adventures to write about and photograph, to keep this TrailRunning blog more regularly updated. Maybe recount some fond memories from the early years of Lakeland Trails – what do you think, would you be interested? It also still rankles a bit that I didn’t complete the 55 Lakeland summits at 55 years of age a couple of years ago – some unfinished business maybe?
If anyone does have any memorable Lakeland Trails stories or anecdotes they’d like to share with me, then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
Finally, I want to wish Phil and his team every success for the future of the Lakeland Trails in these difficult times.
Here we get to find out more about our Lakeland Trails event manager, Phil Blaylock, the man organising all the work behind the scenes to ensure everyone has a great time whilst out on the trails. I caught up with Phil last week and asked him a few questions :
Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve just turned 44 and currently live by myself in the small village of St Bees, which is on the most western point of the Cumbrian coast. It’s a bit remote which means lots of travelling to get anywhere but having access to a stunning beach, the quieter side of the Lake District and having a fantastic group of friends to go exploring with make up for the time spent in the car. When I’m not running or cycling around the fells, or travelling further afield to bigger mountains, I love spending rainy days in the kitchen (setting up an informal crew Bake Off when I was Marshal Manager was great fun) and taking photos. I also regularly play the guitar but I’m not going to divulge my dodgy musical tastes!
How did your Lakeland Trails journey start?
Love brought me back to Cumbria six years ago to be with my girlfriend at the time. As so often in life, things didn’t quite go to plan. So I joined St Bees Triers to build up my social circle and used running as a way of finding my feet. That in turn motivated me to take part in my first Lakeland Trails in Keswick back in 2013. Even though I was reasonably fit, I still had the nerves on the start line – I suppose it was because I didn’t feel like a ‘proper’ runner and didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have worried! I loved the event so much that I quickly signed up for the Helvellyn Trail, deciding to volunteer as a marshal as well as run. Even though I was the wettest I’ve ever been, the enjoyment from having hundreds of drenched but happy runners going past meant that I was addicted! Once you’ve been to a few Lakeland Trails, you soon recognise familiar faces and feel part of the community, so a couple of years later, I took on the Course and Marshal Manager role. That progressed to me getting involved with developing our in-house radio communications and here I am now managing and delivering the events.
When did you first start running?
My running journey started out of chance. I was part of the school fell-walking club and the teacher who organised that, a lovely chap called Mr Horsford, was also responsible for the cross-country team. Apart from anything else, I was flattered when he suggested I could be a good runner. So I joined the club, ending up representing my school. It’s strange that the memories I have of that are the green swimming pool at Stonyhurst College (apparently, it’s still there) and listening to a tape of Bon Jovi on the coach trips!
Do you run for a club?
I’m a member of St Bees Triers. The club shares a similar philosophy as Lakeland Trails – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, so long as you enjoy yourself and try your best. It’s a great club – everyone’s warm and welcoming and we’ve a couple of fantastic coaches. I organise weekly trail runs and have a bit of a reputation for finding the hilliest, boggiest routes – they just make running even more fun!
Last year was your first year in charge of managing and delivering the Lakeland Trails events. How was it?
Well, last year was certainly a challenge! When you asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the event management, it really seemed like a no-brainer. Lakeland Trails has brought me so much happiness and it was a privilege to be able to put my skills to good use to allow people to keep experiencing the magic of the events. The fear of the unknown and the risk of ‘making mistakes’ have been tricky to deal with, so it’s been great to have your support and guidance along the way, as well as that of our wonderful team of crew and volunteers at the events. Putting on the events is like a huge jigsaw. I counted up my action list at the Lakeland Trails in Keswick and there were over 100 points to sort out just on the Saturday! Of course, the event crew did a fantastic job getting them ticked off and the event was a great success. I don’t remember ever getting more than 2-3 hours’ sleep on the night before each event which is definitely something I want to improve on this year.
Any high points from the year?
I think one of the high points (literally) was at Staveley when I left the event start/finish area to climb up to the top of Reston Scar (aka The Sting in the Tail) to do some cheering. I felt the confidence that everything was running smoothly and if anything cropped up, the crew were more than capable of resolving issues. I’ll often be watching the finishers come in too, and seeing their smiles and sense of achievement is so rewarding. Of course, another high point is when I have to pinch myself because my job involves running a lot in the Lake District – turning the corner of Silver Howe on the ultra-course or dropping into the Grisedale Valley on the Helvellyn course always makes me stop and smile.
When you want everything at every event to be a success for everyone, it can be hard to focus on all the positives as there are always things which could have gone better. The first two events last year had a number of issues which I found difficult to overcome. For example, at Cartmel, we could have found a better route through the woods at the finish when the original route was not possible at the last minute due to the waterlogged racecourse. (Incidentally, I had a meeting at the racecourse last week and we have a weatherproof solution so that so runners won’t face that demoralising run in again). Maybe my car parking plans were too complex at Cartmel too, so I got sucked into helping sort that out during the day. I hold my hand up for overlooking the props and signs for theming the Coffin Trail at Hawkshead – I promise that will come back with a vengeance this year! All the things which did or didn’t go to plan are thoroughly discussed in meetings afterwards and lessons learnt for the future. After a busy, challenging weekend, it can be hard, too, to remember that so many people have had an amazing day.
Now I’ve had a complete Lakeland Trails season under my belt, I am much more confident about the year ahead. Hopefully that experience will translate into relaxing and enjoying my role more. Lying awake in bed at 2am thinking things over on the Saturday morning is probably not the best way to prepare for the day! Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always come off, even though we always have a Plan B, or even Plan C to fall back on. Carefully reflecting over the whole event, to learn for improving in the future is really important too.
What did you do before managing the Lakeland Trails?
I suppose you could describe my previous jobs as varied! I’ve got an unused degree in Construction Management as I went straight into Retail Management after university (selling Peruvian alpaca jumpers with the added bonus of regular trips to South America). I got the 7-year itch and re-trained to be a teacher, working in a deprived area of Blackburn before moving back to Cumbria, where after a brief spell in a new school, ended up working in an HMRC call centre for a few months – something I never expected to have on my CV. I was given the option of returning to my old school in Blackburn, but I’d fallen in love with the Lake District great outdoors. I’d been used to working 70 hours a week as a teacher, which I don’t regret, but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. Luckily that was when your offer of managing the Lakeland Trails came up.
You’ve just completed climbing all 214 Wainwright summits – how did that feel?
It was great to finally finish them (although I’m not sure Mr Wainwright would approve of people ‘bagging’ his fells!) A bit like the Lakeland Trails, the challenge has taken me to parts of the Lakes I might not have seen otherwise. Just last week I was high above Ullswater on a glorious day, but I joke that I’m going to publish a book called ‘Mountain Tops in the Mist’ as so many have been covered in clag, and the weather for my final summit last Saturday didn’t disappoint. Fortunately the group of friends I was with remained in suitable humour and we celebrated on the top of Bonscale Fell in 50mph winds and rain.
Any challenges pencilled in for the future?
I tend to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor activities so have lots of ideas on the burner. Next up is the Fred Whitton Cycle Challenge the weekend after the Lakeland Trails in Staveley in May. For those who don’t know it, the route is, let’s say, demanding. It’s just over 110 miles long, taking in all the Lake District passes, as well as some lesser-known climbs, with Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road to look forward to at around the 100-mile mark. I loved it when I took part a couple of years ago. There’s a great atmosphere along the course and several friends (including some who are also Lakeland Trails crew) were out to support me, providing much-appreciated supplies and encouragement. I managed to meet my goals of cycling up Hardknott Pass and finishing!
What would you say is the best thing about the Lakeland Trails?
This is an easy question because I’ve found it out from my own experience as a runner that it brings so much happiness and a sense of accomplishment and belief to so many people. I love being out on the trails myself and enabling others to experience that pleasure in a safe and controlled way is amazing. It’s a combination of the dedication and friendliness of the crew and volunteers as well as the runners, which generates such a lovely atmosphere at the event and out on the course. Oh, and how can I forget the stunning scenery!
Anything else you’d like to add for our competitors this year?
I can’t wait to be back on the trails in Cartmel on 16th March and am working hard to make things even better than my ‘debut’ last year. As we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of the Cartmel Trail this year, all our finishers will earn a delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding as a special treat, as well as an event T shirt. I always enjoy chatting to our runners on event day so come and say hello and let me know how we’re doing.
Thanks very much Phil – it’s been a pleasure working with you over the last five or six years and I’m looking forward to many more in the future. Co-ordinating and taking responsibility for the Lakeland Trails events is a massive undertaking, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Experience is hard earned. You’re learning all the time and I have no doubt this all helped with the way you managed the horrendous conditions for our 2018 Dirty Double finale weekend.
We’re all lucky to have such a positive and enthusiastic person at the helm. Good luck with the events this year. Now me and my family are back from France, I’m looking forward to running in some of them myself!
Early bird entry for the 2019 Lakeland Trails is open until 31st January. Visit the Lakeland Trails website to check out the events and enter online.
Last year we gave the Coniston Trail a rest. It was a very tough decision to make. We’d brought forward the big Dirty Double weekend into October in the hope of better weather, although a fat lot of good that did us! We found our autumn calendar much too busy to fit the Coniston event into our schedule.
So the Coniston Trail is making a welcome return this year on the 22nd September and my thoughts turn to the very first event.
Memories come flooding back of the surprise on peoples’ faces, finishing the 2005 Garburn Trail in June, having another event in Coniston already planned for them in September. Trail running in the UK was in it’s infancy back then and completely new to the Lake District. We soon filled up all 500 places on offer.
I hoped the Coniston Trail course would be a hit. The trail has a bit of everything, making a near perfect circuit. First going through the white-washed cottages of the honeypot village. Then climbing gradually on a good track, up past Coniston Coppermines and the Youth Hostel. Splashings of waterfalls and mountains rearing up vertically as a backdrop for company.
Once height has been gained, a contouring single track through slate mines and out onto the Walna Scar Road. Spectacular views of Coniston Water, the shining level below. A long, winding descent takes you through ancient, mature oak woodland, back to the lake, with a couple of kilometres through trees dappled in sunlight along the lake shore.
Autumn has got to be one of my favourite times of year for running. The air is cool, the low light creating spectacular views in the early mornings and evenings. The mountains are quiet again after the busy school holidays. Peace descends to the Lake District.
Trees steal the show, their leaves changing colour daily through September, October and November. Combined with bright sunshine, there’s a sense of magic all around.
For me, this magic also gets sprinkled underneath the trees and for many, many years, I’ve enjoyed collecting wild mushrooms. This passion began when I was in my early twenties, living in Scandinavia. The thrill of the chase. Never knowing what you may find. I can smell the musty, rich autumn fallen leaves just thinking about those times.
Maybe apricot yellow chanterelles?
Or the spiny, almost white, hedgehog fungus?
The mature oak woodlands around the pretty village of Coniston usually come up trumps. I always have a back pack on when I’m running during these months. Dinner is often a surprise. A celebration of one type of fungus or another.
Back to the Coniston Trail
Which brings me back to the Coniston Trail.
In late spring in 2005, I was in a meeting with the guys from Grizedale Arts at the Forestry Commission. One of the local farmers had told me about a big, new festival taking place in the village on the same weekend as the first Coniston Trail event. I needed to know if there was going to be any conflict with our event planning and logistics.
It turned out that the “Water Festival” was mainly orchestrated for TV, some much needed publicity for the region in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis. A conduit for the River Cottage team who were going to be filming an episode of their popular television series on Channel 4.
“If Hugh needs a mushroom guide, then please give him my number” were my parting words, meant as a joke.
Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later I get a call out of the blue and someone from the River Cottage team, a ‘fixer’, wants to meet up with me. I guess all the other mushroom experts in the area were too busy that September weekend.
Filming for River Cottage in 2005
River Cottage TV
I’m a big fan of the River Cottage celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall, so when I get asked if I could find him a cauliflower fungus, I agreed without really thinking.
“If I find one though, would you please ask Hugh to come and start the Coniston Trail event?” I was trying desperately hard to think of ways to gain some additional publicity.
When I got home the enormity of the task hit me. I had only ever found two of these strange mushrooms before and never in the Lake District. I knew they favoured growing at the base of conifer trees, particularly Scots pine. I scoured my maps for new places to try, making up new running routes for myself. Inadvertently, these ‘mushroom runs’ gave me new ideas about future potential trails in Keswick and Hawkshead too. It had been a dry summer, and I spent many, many happy hours running through likely looking ‘hotspots’, coming back each time with lots of other mushrooms, albeit not the one I was searching for.
A perfect cauliflower fungus, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall in 2005
Filming was due to take place the day before the Coniston Trail and I struck lucky with only one day left. A perfect cauliflower fungus, the biggest and best I’d ever found.
I met the River Cottage film crew on the shores of Coniston Water, having already spent a few hours course marking most of the Coniston Trail. Hugh was charming, and intrigued by me wearing running gear. We got chatting, and when he heard this was how I go foraging for mushrooms, his eyes sparkled with ideas.
Filming for River Cottage TV in 2005
We spent the next couple of hours running around the woods, all for just a couple of minutes of TV. Once the filming was done, we shook hands, I shouldered my pack and continued with the course marking.
The following day the first Coniston Trail was a great success, the sun shone and the course was praised for being spectacular. Runnersworld magazine even gave the event the title “the most scenic race in Britain”. There was only one blip. Unfortunately in the morning, Hugh got held up filming on the lake, trying to catch Atlantic Char, so we missed out on having a celebrity start the event.
All these years later, I still get friends mentioning me being on repeat showings of that River Cottage programme on TV, running in the woods with Hugh chasing me.
Looking back, what pleases me the most though, is all that time spent looking for potential mushroom sites back in 2005, increased my knowledge of new habitats no end. I now know where to find cauliflower fungus in many areas of the Lake District.
Even better, both Derwentwater and Hawkshead Trails were born and added to the Lakeland Trails the following year.
Me and Hugh back in 2005
We’ve all got Hugh and a search for cauliflower fungus to thank for that.
See you in Coniston on 22nd September for this year’s event?
We’d always planned to climb the last Wainwright together as a family, and Ash wanted it to be a new one for him. So we thought Low Fell would fit the bill. We left our home early this morning to make the most of the weather window, arriving at the little hamlet of Thackthwaite just after 9am.
Ash had brought along Meery the Meercat and Cecily the Snake, his two best “teddies”, as they’re part of the family too, and you can’t argue with his logic.
The air felt cool and damp, black slugs were everywhere, going about their slimy business. We climbed up an old bridleway, the rocks greasy with overnight rain. A blackbird with a bright yellow/orange bill was digging in the earth, then flew off into a walled garden. Ash wanted to climb across a fallen tree trunk spanning a ditch, nerves getting to him looking down at the drop below.
A brown Herdwick sheep with a white head on the path amongst foxgloves. Ash ran towards it and she disappeared into the high bracken. Tiny silver grey moths fluttering around everywhere. I left Claire and Ash to continue up the zig zags without me, and ran off, climbing steeply through wet grass and bracken to the rounded lump of Fellbarrow, my penultimate Wainwright, a stone trig point marking the summit.
A speedy descent, then contouring round small hills, converging on Claire and Ash, who were both running, trying to beat me to the distant summit pile of rocks. “Last one there’s a silly sausage” is our family motto.
Throughout the year, I’ve been running all the Wainwrights on my own, preferring solitude and the flexibility this gives, weaving my own ambitions in to our family life. I never once felt alone during these runs, knowing my “dream team” are always there for me back in Kendal. If I’d left the house at some ungodly hour of the morning, I would usually be high on the fells and in mobile phone coverage around normal breakfast time, for a chat with them both before school. Knowing they are there for support gives constant reassurance, and I know how truly fortunate I am, indeed how fortunate we all are.
Low Fell has a number of false summits, all marked with a small pile of stones. I caught up Ash and Claire and we played “roller coaster”, running fast on the downhill bits and seeing how far we could keep it going up the other side.
Claire had already been laying out a trail of hula hoops, a game we started when Ash was just three years old, placing “treats” along a walking route, to break up the monotony for him. He still loves us doing this and I wonder how long this habit will last.
We set up the camera timer on the final summit, overlooking Loweswater and Crummock Water, the wind now picking up, and the camera wobbling on the mini tripod. One for the family album, my final and 214th Wainwright of the year and Ash’s 26th Wainwright of his life.
More games on the way back. This time I’m laying a trail of Malteesers, placing them on dry rocks along the path. I veer off the path and quickly jog up to the actual high point marked on my map, a grassy knoll without a pile of stones.
We’re soon back at the van, thankful the rain held off. First we had an early lunch at the Keswick Museum Cafe, then all afternoon in the pool at the Leisure Centre, a great place for kids, with a tunnel slide and wave machine.
Another goal fulfilled, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of running the Wainwrights, and writing about them too. Soon a new journey will begin towards an altogether different goal, and I’m already excited and looking forward to it.
The Lake District – what a great place to live, work and bring up your family!
2 Wainwright summits today, that’s all 214 Wainwrights completed in 179 days.
I’d been saving the Wainwrights around Buttermere for the final long run in my 214 summits in 214 days challenge. Leaving home just before 5am, the roads empty, an inversion of mist settling in the hollows, trees rearing above the veil. I parked by the roadside near pretty Buttermere church, and set off wondering what the morning would have in store for me, with a mixed forecast of cloud, turning to thunderstorms by late morning.
I stopped to marvel at the view of reflections on Buttermere, taking photo after photo. The sun had just crested the nearby peak of Robinson, and light was filtering through the trees along the lake shore.
A red breasted merganser floated into view, and further along a family of great crested grebes, the young almost half the size of the adults. Early morning walkers already striding out, this weekend run making a change from the solitude of my usual mid week excursions.
Three middle aged men were having a rest early on the climb of Fleetwith Pike. I stopped for a chat, then pushed on, the view opening up behind me.
Near the summit, the unmistakable musk of fox, sour and ancient. This must be it’s territory.
A lovely run along a single track path, through heather and down to an old slate quarry, the flattened stones blue-green, a tortoiseshell butterfly sunning itself.
Stepping stones across a stream, Buttermere like glass way down below, framed by rock and crags. The fox smell again, and I suddenly remembered Wainwright’s ashes were scattered at one of the tarns nearby.
The mirrored image of Great Gable in Blackbeck Tarn, further on, Innominate Tarn and I stopped in my tracks.
Ahead on the path was an old fox, looking at me, it’s orange fur speckled with white. Then it was off, trotting along the path, looking back to see if I was following it, leaving tiny wet prints on the rocks.
Haystacks and both summit cairns built around an old iron railway track, no doubt from the slate quarry. Lots of walkers coming of High Crag, thermal cloud building and subsiding around the summit.
A ring ouzel, my fourth one this year, along the rocky ridge line to High Stile, far off Ennerdale coming into view.
Thick cloud on Red Pike, and a fast grassy descent and on up Starling Dodd, the cairn a sculpture of twisted metal fence posts.
Collages of green lichen and pink rock on Great Borne, steeply down by the side of a fence, reaching bogland and cotton grass.
Three fieldfare a nice surprise on the way to Gavel Fell, they’ve usually migrated back to Siberia in the spring. This trio must like the Lakes too.
Rolling summits of Blake Fell and Burnbank Fell, down through deep tussock and cotton grass with views of Loweswater, to clear sparkling waters of Holme Beck, foxgloves crowding for attention.
I made up some Nuun drink and watched a wasp as the tablet was dissolving, it flew to a white, melon sized nest hidden at the top of a stream bank.
Around the edge of a mature conifer plantation on a good track, the sun now very warm, another ring ouzel. Further on near Highnook Tarn a buzzard flying low behind me. Something wasn’t right. I stopped and watched, it’s wings were pale and rounded, the flight all wrong. As it flew near it looked at me with yellow and black eyes in a fierce round face. It was a hunting short eared owl.
Through shoulder high bracken, a painted male redstart calling in alarm on the dry stone wall in full view, flying off with a flick of his orange tail.
Up through dwarf bilberry, picking the biggest, juiciest ones, hardly breaking stride, a bleached sheep’s skull grinning at the sky, a large white stone of quartz. Thermals getting stronger on the ridge, the air feeling cooler, clouds darkening by the time I reached the top of Hen Comb.
Over the top, picking my way round rushes and through bracken, jumping the meandering beck, brown with tannin. Tussock grass sapping tired legs, impossible to run, floundering in deep mossy bog.
A final hands on knees climb up the steep slope of Mellbreak, and soon I’m on the way back, Crummock Water and Buttermere getting closer, down through more bracken, a boulder strewn beck, across a footbridge and the final mile or so with tired legs and sore feet, ash trees green with leaf.
Dog walkers, families, a dad with his toddler in a backpack, swallows in the farm yard and I can now stop running. I change next to my van, and drive back down to the farm cafe for a well earned bacon buttie and coffee, sitting outside, watching the clouds build ever higher.
I’ve done it, all the hard work’s over. Now there’s only the glory leg to celebrate running all the Wainwrights within 214 days, and there’s only one way to finish!
12 Wainwright summits today, that’s 212 down, only 2 to go.
House martins flashed above the young bracken shoots, white rumps shining in the morning sun. A green woodpecker, cackling as it looped away. It was worth the wait. I’d already been up lonely Binsey after a strong early morning coffee, thick cloud blanketing the higher northern fells. Now parked up by the Mill Inn pub in Mungrisdale, I was enjoying the luxury of another coffee, sun filtering though, warming the air, clouds lifting.
On the steep ridge of Souther Fell, into mobile coverage, a wake up call home. Higher up the summit of Blencathra now clear, basking in sunshine, skylarks singing everywhere, such a contrast to last night’s quiet hills.
Sharp Edge looked irresistible with no one else around, and I ran along the path towards it, crossing a tinkling stream, stone steps polished smooth by the masses.
It must have been more than fifteen years since I was last on this ridge. I’d forgotten how exposed it is, the rock angled, scored by winter crampons, Scales Tarn a shining level below.
Breakfast on the summit, a nourishing muesli bar, full of nuts and covered in yoghurt. It was too cold and windy to enjoy the views for long, and I was off, gathering speed, loving the loose scree, then the canter to the stones marking the flatness of Mungrisdale Common.
Cotton grass bowing with the breeze, wet bogs underfoot, giving just enough for a decent spring.
A bird shit stained, rounded slab of slate on Bannerdale Crags summit, an inviting path around the escarpment, dark green, lush with growth, too steep for browsing sheep.
Getting very warm by Bowscale Fell, another gorgeous ridge line above Tarn Crags, reaching the steepness near the River Caldew, crossing a fenced area, with high grass and bilberry, self seeded rowan and juniper everywhere.
The nearby hillside blackened from a recent fire. I waded across the river, hopped a smaller tributary, then straight up, picking my way through wet rushes and heather, following a stream bed impressively gouged out, a new habitat for nesting birds, lined with foxgloves in flower.
An endless drag, high-stepping through the rough ground, eventually reaching the washed out upper reaches of Brandy Gill, my next summit High Pike within sight.
The first people I’d seen this morning are just leaving, cheery hello’s in the midweek sun, knowing how lucky we all are.
There’s an impressive lonely slate bench at the top, a memorial facing west, into wind, an old man sheltering on the lee side of the cairn. The long roller coaster to my final summit of the morning, Carrock Fell, and my 200th Wainwright of the year.
I’m feeling both strangely elated and saddened at the same time, as my adventure nears it’s end. Both last night’s and this morning’s run are a product of the journey towards a goal, lovely memories that will live with me forever.
The final descent through deep heather, winding along a narrow sheep trod, then down broken lichen covered slates, a pile of rough steep scree, hot in the sun. I stop and enjoy the first sweet bilberries of the year, ripened by the reflected heat, looking down for a line through the gorse.
Jogging along the lane through Mosedale and on to Mungrisdale, admiring the flowers, purple foxgloves, white pignut, pink thyme, a reed bunting calling from the top of a dwarf rowan tree. What a joy to be out amongst it all, in the hot sunshine.
I change and make a cup of tea, letting the sun dry out my withered, whitened feet, sitting on a wooden picnic bench faded grey by the sun, elderflowers alive with bees and hover flies. Two wasps land on the table, paper makers, gathering material for their nest.
Then it’s time to go. I’ve a meeting in Ambleside to get to, and I’ll need some lunch beforehand from my favourite Rattle Gill cafe.
Another 8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 200 down, 14 to go.
Time is something I’m going to be short of in the next couple of weeks, with our mammoth Ultimate Trails event coming up in just over a week, then a week long business trip to the Pyrenees soon after. With school summer holidays looming, I need to make the most of every opportunity if I’m going to finish off running all 214 Wainwrights within 214 days.
Today I’d started work very early, before 5am, so I could watch our six year old son, Ash take part in the school sports day, on a beautiful warm, sunny afternoon. After tea, I was off, driving up to Keswick, getting stuck in traffic in Ambleside, grabbing a couple of bottles of my favourite Hawkshead beer from Booths for the end of my run.
It was after 7pm when I padded along the quiet tarmac lane east of Bassenthwaite, hedgerows blazing with pinks and purples of red campion and foxgloves. Up the ridge edged with young yellow green bracken, my right achilles tight and sore from yesterday’s long run.
I love the name of the first Wainwright, Great Cockup, running off the summit with a smile. Another short, steep climb to Meal Fell, with views out towards a silver sea.
These small rounded hills were strangely quiet, no birdsong, skylarks already roosting amongst heather and tussock. A fresh south westerly breeze my only company, the running a joy, fast along well used grassy trods. First contouring below Little Sca Fell, then a roller coaster ridge to Longlands Fell, ignoring the contouring path which avoids the extra climb. I love ridge running, wide open views, always worth the extra effort.
A steep plunge down to Charleton Gill, jumping the stream, low sunlight bringing out the contrast of the eroded contours. Hands on knees to Brae Fell, cold wind freshening. I stop and pull on a long sleeved top. Now into wind on the gradual climb to Great Sca Fell, my legs now loose and running strong. Hurdling deep bogs amongst dark peat, reaching Knott, evening skies darkening.
Reeling in distant Great Calva, rounding the valley of Wiley Gill, suddenly climbing the final slope to the windswept summit, marked with a sculpture of stone and twisted iron fence posts. It’s late, nearly 9pm, and the low setting sun lies hidden by dark grey cloud.
Fast down the wide boggy path through heather, reaching the main Cumbria Way bridleway and Dead Beck, a sleepy carrion crow taking flight from a small hawthorn tree at the junction. I could hear the frightened call of young chicks, the crow has a bulky nest in the hawthorn. This robber of other birds’ eggs and young was a coward and had left them behind. I would never have known there was a nest if it had been braver and hadn’t flown off.
Along the rocky track, skittering down an eroded bank to cross Dash Beck, then a steep drag up Birkett Edge, rounded pebbles of white quartz amongst the stones in the path guiding me to my final summit of Bakestall.
From here, a more or less vertical descent down through tussock and bilberry bushes, cutting the corner and joining up with the single track tarmac lane of the Cumbria Way. Another short cut, taking the west side of the drystone wall, through lush bogland, preferring this to the well grazed grass on the other side. It was hard work needing a high knee lift, lovely starlets of pink ragged robin my reward.
My van was parked amongst the trees, with hidden Halls Beck just a few metes away. I gathered a towel and change of clothes, stripped off, and lay on my back in the gentle current of the stream, watching a bat twisting and turning in the light night sky, draining a bottle of Windermere Pale Ale in almost one blissful gulp.
I dried off, pulling on warm, clean gear, the air now feeling cold. I lay on my makeshift bed in the back of my van and opened another bottle of beer, reflecting on the evening’s run, and thought my final summit Bakestall was a great name for dessert.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 192 down, 22 to go.
I wanted to do something special for the summer solstice, our longest day, though the weather was having other ideas. Low cloud and warm summer rain will be great for wild mushrooms, not so good for solo mountain adventures. A brief window of respite was promised in the early evening, so I made plans for a jaunt after work.
Setting off up the steep climb from the National Trust car park near Blea Tarn, I followed the fell running trod worn down in the bracken by Three Shires runners. Horse flies droned, danger when all went quiet and they’d settled on my skin to inflict their painful bite.
Purples of heather and wild thyme, alive with white tailed bumble bees, cloud and shadow bringing the Langdale Pikes into sharp relief. Views stretched out in every direction from the summit of Lingmoor.
Steeply back down, dragonflies dancing in the air, a distant sandpiper piping, the shining tarn fringed with bright white cotton grass. I never did find the fell race trod through the bright green sea of bracken.
So it was hard work wading steeply through it, stumbling on hidden rocks up the flanks of Blake Rigg, the rocky Pike o Blisco summit worth the effort.
Wild bilberry up the climb of Cold Pike, a relief to be off eroded paths on my straight line route to the top.
Leg sapping bogs, wet with recent rain. The crumpled ridge line of Crinkle Crags, a lonely orange tent near the summit. I’d been looking forward to the next section, a wilderness navigating route, steeply down on a tussocky ridge by Rest Gill, the bulk of Scafell way in the distance, wading streams, picking a line, thinking like a red deer. A harsh clash of pebbles in the cliffs above my head. A male ring ouzel calling out in alarm from it’s nesting territory.
Skirting round the wide levels of Great Moss, gingerly testing the bogs, cutting across a narrower section to the noisy waterfall of Cam Snout. Then a climb towards Mickledore, the sheer streaked wall of the East Buttress of Scafell.
Loose rock and pouring water in the narrow gill to Foxes Tarn. Cloud building higher up, the dimmer switch turning. Thick, blanket cloud at the summit, a freshening, cold westerly.
Rock hopping through boulders, trying to find the grassy line, visibility down to a few metres. Then like an island looming out of the cloud, the distant mound of Slight Side, my sixth and final Wainwright on this run.
I knew the hardest part would be the return leg. Tiredness was creeping in, and it would be another wild run through unfamiliar terrain, reading the contours on my map and on the ground. First a plunge down loose scree. Then a bonus, a recent trod, broken with stud marks, no doubt from the recent Great Lakes fell race. I lost the trail wading through the thigh deep, refreshing upper reaches of the River Esk. Picking it up again around knolls and through bracken to part company, as I jumped across the narrows of Lingcove Beck, slicing the rock into two bubbling waterfalls.
Cloud was now heavy and dark, reclaiming the peaks, sinking lower with the fading light. With no food in my pack, I upped my pace, realising there may be a 9pm food deadline at the Three Shires Inn. Into the wetlands of Mosedale, cutting the corner, crossing barbed wire fences with long grass hiding rocks and recently planted rowan trees. Contouring down to Wrynose Bottom, the single track road eerily quiet, everyone at home no doubt watching another disappointing, boring England football match.
A wheatear for company, then an enormous bird of prey, labouring against the wind, heading my way. The hope of a golden eagle transforming into a heron as it flew above, legs trailing out behind.
Finally, I reached my van and took off my wet shoes and socks, throwing on dry clothes, a ten minute countdown before the food curfew at the pub. I arrived with one minute to spare, only to find they’d stopped serving at 8.45pm!
Oh well. Dinner tonight would be a packet of peanuts and a pint, and I’ll be a bit late home.
6 Wainwright summits today, that’s 184 down, 30 to go.