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.
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.
Mist hung over the valleys around Derwentwater, prickly thistles marking the rounded summit of Latrigg, my first of the morning. I’d set off very early, before 5am, driving from my home in Kendal to Latrigg car park, surprising a proud roe deer stag, deep red in colour, who looked up from the lane and bounded off into the wood.
Higher up the tarmac chewed away at the verge by recent floods, nature reclaiming her territory. There wasn’t a breath of wind. I ran back past my van and up the climb towards the high Skiddaw fells, already getting too warm.
Climbing steeply opened up the view, a family of four ravens sitting on the fence, croaking their encouragement, or worse, as they took off into the still air. I veered off the main path, along a faint trod heading for my second summit of Lonscale Fell, mist arriving as the air warmed from below.
Skiddaw Little Man next, a newly made gravel path to the twisted iron fence posts marking the summit. The trig point on Skiddaw itself, worn and eroded like a rotten tooth, mist washing up like a tide against the ridge.
I took a line contouring across the scree, marvelling at the arrangement of all the slate stones, lined up like an army, all facing north west. A small climb to the summit of Carl Side, then along the lovely ridge, one of the best short ridges in the lakes, rolling as it does first to Long Side, then to Ullock Pike. A tiny black lamb, bleating and running off with it’s mother.
Steeply down plunging in heather and bilberry, finding the old ride that slices nicely through the plantation trees down to the forest road, climbing again up to the final summit of Dodd, a memorial cairn to a Scout master on the summit, giving me an idea that Latrigg would be a good place to remember Bob Graham, sitting as it does with views over Keswick and almost the entire BG round.
On the way down my first cuckoo sighting of the year. It was calling by the path, perched in a rowan tree, taking off and fluttering with it’s sparrowhawk long-tailed profile, no doubt to trick meadow pipits into flying off their well hidden nests in alarm, inadvertently giving their location away. The thief returning when no-one’s at home to lay it’s own egg for them to adopt.
A dilemma on the back road at Millbeck with the bridge being closed, blocked with security fences. I had a close look at the map and found a small path further back, coming out on the other side of the beck by the village hall. The long drag along the warm tarmac back to the car park, foxgloves and fragrant elderflowers breaking up the monotony. After changing, I drove into Keswick for a strong Costalot coffee and croissant, two of my running club mates just setting off to recce the first leg of the “Bob”
My morning’s work wasn’t over, I wasn’t even half way through it yet. I drove through Whinlatter, parking up by Scawgill Bridge, my legs taking their time to loosen up again on the steep climb to Greystones. I love these low, grassy, mounded Wainwrights, and followed the winding trod through bogland with the wailing call of curlews.
Climbing up amongst heather, a male whinchat calling in alarm, more beautiful than his brighter, gowdier cousin, reaching the summit of Ling Fell. Another path to follow, the short grass yellowing with the dry weather, down through bright green bracken. The trail to the summit of Sale Fell like a well kept lawn.
After so much easy running, I took a downhill line through the rough tussocks, wet with cuckoo spit, joining up with the footpath again at Kelswick Farm, across fields, before climbing by a big badger sett onto rough pasture, cotton grass white like snow as far as the eye could see.
Flies were starting to gather around my head, eager for salt from my sweaty brow. The backdrop of the Skiddaw fells, dark and huge, a wonder I was running over them only a couple of hours ago.
From Broom Fell, a roller coaster to Lord’s Seat, and some company on the way to Barf, Jackie, a sprightly, tough looking 64 year old fell runner from Ellenborough AC, the uppers on his studs worn and knackered. We shook hands as we went our separate ways, me doubling back up towards Lord’s Seat, before contouring through deep, wet bog and heather, finding the path down to the forest road, taking me up to the mountain bike trail.
A short cut over fallen conifer trunks, onto leg sapping tussocks again. There’s something deeply rewarding about keeping going when you’re spent, and I was now running on empty. Whinlatter summit, the high cairn, then the lower, and a vertical plunge downhill through knee high heather, grabbing at my shoes. A red grouse shot out from under my feet and I stopped in my tracks, looking for it’s nest. As I gently pulled the heather apart, a meadow pipit flew out, it’s camouflaged nest with a full clutch of four eggs.
The stream in the valley bottom had washed away the path, wanting to meander, as it surely will at some point. I washed in the clear, cool water, and looked forward to well earned late lunch in Keswick after my morning of Wainwrights. First the highs, then the lows.
15 Wainwright summits today, that’s 177 down, 37 to go.
The forecast for late morning was for thunderstorms and lightening with localised flash flooding, so I left my home in Kendal just before 5am, driving through thick mist to the village of Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale valley. I laced up some brand new studs, a recent gift after my Joss Naylor record run, and set off in the muggy early morning heat.
It had rained during the night here, deep puddles on the track, and a stench of sheep through the farmyard, black badger turds dotted along the path by the stream.
Cuckoos were calling, the zig zag climb through the old slate mine to the first summit of Castle Crag made eerie by the thick cloud. I doubled back, picking up my running pack from my van in Rosthwaite. I may well need my cagoule, map and compass this morning.
The early climb was like running through someone’s well kept garden. The path twisting round ferns, boulders and over small dried up streams. Higher up the washed out trail towards Watendlath, I veered left off the main path along a well worn trod, reaching burnt bracken undergrowth, the air heavy with the scent of a recent barbecue.
Pale blue sky the colour of a starling’s egg appeared amongst the white cloud, a rocky knoll marking the top of Grange Fell. Across the valley, my ridge line of High Seat just above the inversion layer. The bogs were still very wet, despite the recent dry spell, sweat was pouring off me from the humidity, I contoured through the cotton grass towards Great Crag.
Then the magic happened.
I had climbed above the cloud, the valleys all around a white sea, islands of mountain peaks basking in the warm early morning sunshine.
Droplets of water sparkling on every blade of grass, the sky now a gorgeous blue, Dock Tarn a mirror of reflections. Heather, deep tussock grass and wet bog making the going tough work, before reaching the faint trod to distant Ullscarf.
These are quiet hills, off the radar for all but Wainwright baggers and nature lovers. Just as I was thinking about red deer, a menacing RAF jet roared low overhead, two deer appeared from nowhere, startled first by the noise of the jet, then by me running towards them.
Blea Tarn like glass, then the rounded hump of Armboth Fell, a nondescript peak with views down towards Thirlmere and Raven Crag. Across more wetland to the lump of High Tove, peat hags and deep green man eating bogs on the way to the trig point summit of High Seat. The early morning inverted cloud had now gone, the first thermal clouds were bubbling above the peaks all around.
A jet black raven waited for me on the pile of stones near the next summit of Bleaberry Fell, launching with a loud flap of it’s wings and a croak into the still air.
Down by the grassy side of the main path all the way to Walla Crag, Derwentwater flat calm far below.
Doubling back and saw my first person of the morning, another runner, making her way uphill and going well, we called out good mornings as we passed by.
As I reached Ashness Bridge and splashed cool water on my face, a lady was opening the shutters of the nearby National Trust building. I jogged over and asked her where the Bob Graham Memorial stone was – I’d seen it last night on my map, and wanted to pay a visit.
“Over the bridge and follow the stream” I did as suggested, the whisper of a path deteriorated into thick green bracken, and I ploughed my way through it, swatting off the hungry horse flies, back to the tarmac of the road. Further down by the roadside, the mushroom shaped memorial stone, like an ink cap, nestled amongst the bracken.
I thought two things were strange. The location, lying as it does nowhere near any of the Bob Graham Round route, and using his full name Robert on the memorial.
I jumped on my bike, hidden amongst the trees further down the lane, and pedalled back to Rosthwaite, taking photos of the bright yellow buttercups in the hay meadows, a backdrop of towering cumulus clouds overdeveloping all around.
I drove back to Ambleside, and as I tucked into an early lunch at my favourite Rattle Gill Cafe, the heavens opened with a rumble, and rain poured down. The rugged wildness and peace of the hills gave me a real taste of Scotland this morning
9 Wainwright summits today, that’s 162 down, 52 to go.
I knew I must have had one beer too many last night, as when I arrived in Borrowdale I’d brought the wrong map with me. We’d been away for a few days cycle touring with our little boy Ash, camping at night and being kept up by the Bank Holiday party crowds. This morning when I woke I had no idea where I was. It was only when I remembered an early Wainwright bagging session, that I jumped out of bed and got the coffee on.
The higher summits were still in cloud, a fresh north easterly wind, the promised sunshine still yet to appear. I set off along the road from Stonethwaite, wearing my comfortable “slipper” trail shoes. With no map to guide me, I could pick my own routes through the landscape, and I started the game immediately, going straight up Eagle Crag from the bridge over Greenup Gill, bluebells still in flower in the dampness.
As it got steeper, I scrambled up rock steps, grabbing at handfuls of heather. A bird shot into the air with a clatter of wings, as it wheeled around it stared at me long and hard, the masked face of an angry peregrine falcon, caught by surprise on sentry duty. Bands of vertical rock near the smooth stone of the summit.
Easy running through the heather along dried up peat, and as I looked up at the incline to the next peak, a ring ouzel flew across my path, the mottled white arc on his chest clearly visible. As I started the climb, I could first hear, then see, his browner mate down below amongst the boulders. Fantastic, a breeding pair.
On Sargeant’s Crag, the sun broke through, bright with shadows and it looked as though the cloud was breaking up across the valley on Rosthwaite Fell. Last year this route was my last day of Wainwright bagging, with Base Brown the final summit, thick with cloud and the rivers swollen in spate.
Today it was getting warm, already feeling like summer. I picked my way carefully down to Langstrath Beck, stepping across boulders by the gash of Black Moss Pot. Hands on knees climb through tussock grass, then following a worn trod to the top of Rosthwaite Fell.
I could see another good looking route skirting Comb Gill, a scramble climb up jumbled boulders, opening out onto the summit plateau, with the cairns of Glaramara lined up ahead.
I’ve already been up Allen Crags this year, so looked down on the steep valley of Ruddy Gill, searching for a line. It looked steep, wild and remote, ticking all my boxes. A slash in the hillside that I couldn’t cross, sheer cliffs either side. Without a map, I didn’t know this was Allen Gill, and I had to lose a lot of height to get around it, making the climb of Seathwaite Fell more of an effort. A raven flew off a rotting carcass of a sheep at the edge of a tarn, no doubt stuck in mud earlier in the year. Great views of the Borrowdale valley from the cairn.
A traverse down a grassy ramp to Styhead Gill, and a steep contouring climb all the way to Base Brown, my legs starting to feel tired, my feet aching and sore. A hot climb up the exposed path to Green Gable, passing the first walker of the morning, views of Ennerdale my reward.
Fast along the well worn trod to the next Wainwright, smiling at it’s name, like someone from a posh public school. “Good morning, Brandreth” A family from the Peak District on the summit of Grey Knotts, on their way to climb Great Gable.
Running down to Honister Pass, remembering my Bob Graham round last year, my feet now very sore, the damp skin must be shedding off my old blisters inside my shoes, the wounds raw and bleeding. Along the bridleway for a while before joining the steep road, admiring the light on the oak trees in the ravine. An army of poled pensioners at Seatoller, making their way up the side of the road from their coach, house martins like flies, in and out of the eaves.
Wild poppies along the roadside, yellow in the sunshine, then I’m back at my van and the sheer luxury of taking off wet shoes and socks, fresh air on bare feet. I changed and joined the holiday traffic back to Keswick, fuelling up on coffee and a pork burger outside in the sunshine at the Museum Cafe, before the slow drive home.
I felt strangely liberated by my run today, making me think I should use map memory more often.
9 Wainwright summits today, that’s 153 down, 61 to go.
It was cold last night in my makeshift bed in the back of the van. I had to keep getting up to put extra clothes on, the summer duvet wasn’t warm enough, and the cold north easterly wind buffeted the van, finding it’s way through gaps in the door.
I woke feeling the whole van moving violently from side to side. I looked at my watch, 4.45am. There must be a storm outside, yet there was no sound of rain on the roof. If anything, the van was swaying even more and I peeped outside into the early morning light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The huge rear end of a big horse was rubbing itself against the side of the van! I opened the side door and two jet black horse heads peered in at me.
Surreal, there were maybe 30 or 40 in total, some of them huge, most were black and brown, and the three next to the van kept me company whilst I made some strong coffee. I’d planned to get an early start, although not quite as early as my equine friends wake up call.
The wind had dropped, although it was still coming from the north, feeling cold. I changed into my running tights, thermal, wind top and beanie, put my cagoule in my backpack, and tied up the laces of my wet, smelly “slippers”. I had a meeting in Cockermouth before lunch, and my plan was to bag three more outlying Wainwrights to make the most of my long drive west. I set off, away before 6am, feeling slightly stiff and sore from yesterday.
I soon loosened up. It was easy running, the main difficulty with these minor peaks is in their remoteness. It made a lot of sense to tick them off whilst I was in this neck of the woods. Huge divots were carved out of the grassy ground on the first small descent, the horses had obviously been galloping down here when it was softer.
The going was officially “soft” for me too, ploughing through wet bogs whilst climbing the first one, Lank Rigg. Cloud hanging over the bigger western fells and views towards the sinister sprawl of Sellafield on the coast.
Jogging down the well worn trod from the summit, then taking it easy up the lesser peak of Whoap. From here, another easy descent down to old sun bleached tree stumps, picking my way over a bridge over the dark, peaty mire, made of old fence posts.
The sun broke through on the short climb to Crag Fell, and I took photos of my shadow as I was running along. Great panoramic views of Ennerdale Water, shining below, with the skyline in stark relief. My phone battery decided to pack up with the cold, so the best views remain only in my memory.
It wasn’t far to the next summit, Grike, an ugly mobile phone mast next to the footpath, keeping people connected, whatever that means. I soon reached the top, loving the grassy descent to a forest road, winding round to another small climb through cotton grass in flower.
As I neared my van, the alarm call of a male Stonechat, a chinking of pebbles, perched in front of me in some stunted gorse. I slowed to take in his bright features, admiring his white collar and orange red chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I caught sight of the female, then as another fluttered in amongst the bushes, I realised they were fledglings. Judging by the crash landings, probably making their first short flights. I counted four of them, a full clutch hatched out and making their way in the world.
I changed and had some breakfast back at the van, early morning commuters driving fast along the narrow lane. I made another coffee and sat outside, soaking up the views, reflecting on how Wainwright bagging makes you visit these out of the way places.
When it comes to summits, size isn’t everything, and small is beautiful.
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 144 down, 70 to go.