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.
I couldn’t resist the siren call of Wainwright bagging. With a good forecast, I made plans to finish work early and see if my feet could handle a few minor peaks after my recent “Joss” run. By the time I left my home in Kendal, clouds had gathered and the promised sunshine looked unlikely. I took the steep Wrynose Pass route to the head of the Duddon Valley, marvelling at how quickly the Lake District becomes wilder as soon as you reach the top of the pass.
I parked up near the pretty packhorse bridge near Hinning House, bluebells still in flower and bracken fronds unfurling. I had been for a few short runs over the last four days, and this would be the first time in my fell studs since the “Joss” almost two weeks ago. It felt good putting my studs on, although as I flexed up on my toes, there was something amiss.
They felt loose and were pressing against my damaged toes. I looked more closely and saw the reason – both shoes were coming away at the toe cap, debris crammed between the sole and the upper. The penny dropped. So this is why my feet got so battered, they’d done one scree run too many during the “Joss”. With the sole coming loose, the toe box was giving too much, explaining how the small stones that caused me so much pain had got in, creating the blisters and bruising.
Yet they didn’t fall apart and held together until the finish on Greendale Bridge. I had run in them for a whole year, on every single fell run, through rough terrain, with micro spikes in snow, through bogs, down rocky screes, across rivers. I reckon around 500 hours of running. They have been the best pair of fell shoes I’ve ever had by a country mile.
Fortunately I’d brought another pair of running shoes, my lightweight “slippers”. Named not just because they’re comfortable to wear, they also have next to no grip. I’ll have to take it cautiously, especially on the steep descents.
Crossing an ancient packhorse bridge, I cut through old, damp, mossy plantation trees, hurdling some of the fallen trunks. A rough scramble up through scrub and onto the forest road. A buzzard wheeled overhead. It seemed to be tracking me, using the thermals to keep just behind me. I wondered if it had a nest in the nearby cliffs, if it was one of those that likes to defend it’s territory. I don’t know why I felt that way, and remembered reading about one that attacked runners and mountain bikers near Garburn Pass, but not walkers. So I walked, and watched it warily.
Once out of it’s territory, I could run again, jogging up the trail through stunted birch trees, making a bee line for Hardknott Pass. I took a direct route across the haphazard boulders of Raven Crags, following trods winding round tarns, small knolls and the edge of bogs to the summit of Hard Knott, the Scafells making a moody backdrop.
A different route back to Hardknott Pass, finding a nice, steep grassy shelf, taking it nice and easy in my “slippers”. It was still overcast, although cloud base was nice and high, and the views of Eskdale opened up on the climb to Harter Fell.
Three walkers at the summit taking photographs, a dad with his two sons. Another careful descent, then suddenly a Meadow Pipit flew out from under my feet. I stopped to look for it’s nest, spending ages looking amongst every tussock, driven by the call of a distant cuckoo. I’d never in my life found a cuckoo’s egg or nestling, and this looked like prime habitat. The nest evaded me, making me smile. I like it when I can’t find them. Hidden nests having more chance of success against predators than ones that are easier to find.
I took a vague line through heather and tussock grass around the lower slopes of Crook Crag, patches of blue sky now appearing behind me. I stopped to take photos, the distant peaks now basked in late afternoon sunshine. I picked up the worn trod to the summit of Green Crag, my third and final Wainwright for this run.
It was wet bogland on the descent, cotton grass in flower, a single white orchid. Onto the forest road below Kepple Crag, the sun now warm, lighting up the spring green leaves of birch tress and casting shadows on the surrounding hillside. Another meadow pipit flew from the path side by my feet, this one with newly hatched nestlings.
Approaching Birks, the buzzard appeared again in the same place. I was convinced it was lining up for an attack. The thermals were strong, yet it angled it’s wings to keep behind me, maybe twenty metres above me. I walked again, this time taking my running pack off and putting it on my head! It escorted me off it’s territory without incident. I put my pack back on, tracing my steps back through the mossy plantation back to my van.
I drove through the bluebells in the late sunshine, down the Duddon Valley, over Corney Fell and into Nether Wasdale for dinner and a couple of pints.
I parked up by the minor road above Ennerdale Water, watching the sun set behind the clear outline of the Isle of Man. It feels great to be back on it!
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 141 down, 73 to go.
Late spring snow has hampered my Joss Naylor Challenge preparations, much of the higher route lying hidden under a white blanket for months. Now I’m nearing the end of my training and I still haven’t checked the route from Great End to Pillar. This evening, my final chance arrived. Finishing work early, I drove over to Wasdale Head.
I love nothing more than killing two birds with one stone, and I’d already planned a good route to Great End, first taking in Lingmell then Scafell Pike, bagging an extra two Wainwright summits.
Longer evenings mean setting off for a run in the mountains late in the day is such a liberating experience, as everyone else has gone home. It’s a steep climb out of the Wasdale valley to Lingmell. I followed a sheep trod, rounding a scree slope and joining the main path high up the ridge.
The summit was cloaked with cloud, and I needed a compass bearing to find the correct direction off towards the main path up Scafell Pike.
I’d never been on this path before. The boulders worn smooth and polished from use, reminding me of Croagh Patrick in Ireland, where religious pilgrims climb the mountain path, many of them barefoot. Tonight, I had England’s highest mountain all to myself, alone amongst the clouds. Another compass bearing off, down a rocky scramble to the col, then a short climb to the shoulder of Broad Crag, boulder hopping, choosing the biggest and most stable ones as my stepping stones.
I reached Great End, and the cloud started to lift, Sprinkling and Styhead Tarns sparkling down below. The descent looked suicidal. A sheer, vertical, boulder strewn drop, requiring nerves of steel and the athletic grace of a ballet dancer, not really skills a man of my age has anymore. It was a relief to find the final scree slope, then the more gentle grassy slope to Styhead Pass.
I ran back down the valley, the late evening sunshine filtering through, lighting up the patchwork of stone walls and green fields. I changed, then drove out to the Screes Inn at Nether Wasdale, for good food and good beer.
As there’s no mobile phone coverage in the valley and I knew the pub had WiFi. I could email home to let them know I was safe and sound.
I had an early night too, camping in the back of my van, parked up near to Joss’s farm at Greendale Bridge.
I cooked bacon and eggs for breakfast, and made a strong coffee. I hid my bike behind a stone wall near Greendale Bridge, and drove to Wasdale Head. It was early, just after 7am, clouds hung low and the westerly wind was tearing across the lake, making huge white caps. At Styhead Pass, I started the climb up the stone path to Great Gable, stopping in cloud near the summit to get out my map and compass.
This is the final leg of the “Joss”. I would now find out what it was like to run it with tired legs. A good rehearsal for when my time comes. The wind was very strong on the summit, and the rocks had a sheen of moisture from the thick cloud, making them as slippery as ice. I took a bearing into the full force of the wind and soon found myself on steep scree slope, making the most of gravity.
On to Kirk Fell, wandering off bearing slightly, cloud as thick as pea soup. Another scree run in the tight gully down to Black Sail Pass, then the long, long climb to Pillar. I got completely blown off my feet nearing the col at the bottom of the rocky descent, the wind at gale force in the compression zone. Stoat Fell, then Steeple were both in cloud, and I made good progress to Haycock.
Another mistake coming off the summit, getting pulled off my bearing by the sheer force of the wind, having to contour back around to get on the right track, then suddenly out of cloud and Seatallan clear in the distance. It was hard work on the final short, steep climb, before another descent to Greendale Tarn and the final climb to the summit of Middle Fell.
I wondered what I’ll feel like when I get here in a week or two, when I do the whole 48 mile challenge. Joss’s farm looked very small way down below. It was a relief to finally stop running when I reached the bridge.
I found my bike, and cycled along the narrow lane back to Wasdale Head, the strong wind pushing me along, making it feel effortless. As I started the long drive home, the sun came out, and the cloud lifted off all the tops.
6 new Wainwright summits, that’s 138 down, 76 to go.
Appalling weather over the Bank Holiday weekend forced us to make our way back home to Kendal earlier than planned. As the afternoon wore on, the rain finally stopped. I had an unplanned chance to make the most of it.
I drove against the traffic into the heart of the Lakes, a steady stream of cars heading the other way. I reached the Old Dungeon Ghyll in Langdale to find plenty of places to park, and headed off, contouring under the crags, jumping over all the puddles.
Water was streaming off the hillside, streams in full spate, from a combination of melting snow and the incessant rain. I crossed the footbridge and jogged up the steep path to Stickle Tarn, a single tent near the weir marking a great place for a wild camp.
The clouds were breaking up, blue sky was showing through. I’d hoped for clear tops, as I wanted to recce the Joss Naylor Challenge route from High Raise to Great End and this evening was perfect.
I found a faint path next to a small, lively stream, making a bee line for Sergeant Man, great views of the Langdale valley opening up below, patches of old snow scattered about. The summit stuck out, an obvious rocky lump amongst an expanse of flat wetland and bog.
It was hard to believe the last time I was here was in a whiteout and I couldn’t even find the summit first time around. It was a short, more or less flat run on to the plateau of High Raise.
New territory for me from here. I’d not been on this section of the “Joss” through to Rosset Pike, and a thin brown trod line marked the route, winding in and out of gullies. It was fast running, and I was soon at Stake Pass, then along the ridge with Mickleden stretched out below, watched over by the near vertical Langdale Pikes.
Someone’s been busy. Small cairns marked the route up to Bowfell, a mixture of steep sheep trods and scree, the views making the tough hands on knees effort worthwhile. It seemed to go on much further than I remembered from all my training runs for the “Bob” last year.
A scramble over the final summit rocks, the jagged Scafells outlined clearly. Familiar territory through to Esk Pike, following the ramp of horizontal rock jutting out of the hillside, a natural road.
Great End was shrouded in cloud, so at the col of Esk Hause, I decided to give this a miss, and veered off right to bag the small summit of Allen Crags.
More dark cloud was gathering now and looking ominous above the higher peaks. I made good time on the descent to Angle Tarn, short cutting the stone path zig zagging alongside Rossett Gill, taking the steep grassy option instead. I ran alongside the path, weaving in and out of small rocks, jumping over streams.
A flash of a small brown bird from under my feet, and I stopped, finding the Meadow Pipit’s nest hidden under dead bracken stalks. Four olive brown eggs in the tiny cup lined with dried grass.
Along the side of Mickleden beck a half remembered bird call. A sandpiper? Could they be back from Africa already? I slowed down, thinking I must be imagining things, then caught sight of two common sandpiper, already staking out their nesting territory.
Huge hailstones pelted me on the final section, urging me to run faster back to my van, then the clouds parted again and sunshine streamed through.
I changed into warm dry clothes and set off for home, feeling an enormous sense of gratitude for being able to live in such a fantastic part of the world. I saw no-one on my evening run and had the mountains to myself. The roads were quiet too all the way back to Kendal, one of the bonuses of setting off to Langdale late in the day.
My little boy Ash had just gone to bed, although he was still awake, so there was still time for another bedtime story.
4 Wainwright summits today, that’s 132 down, 82 to go.
All my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about anything in particular, often whilst I’m day dreaming, in a ‘running trance’. This one was no different. I was out for a long run, enjoying one of my favourite Lake District trails along the east side of Coniston Water.
As I climbed out of the woods into bright sunshine, skylarks singing overhead, I stopped and admired the view. Blimey, I thought to myself, as I looked at the toy white yachts, way down below. Imagine an off road course going around the whole of the lake. I wondered how far that would be? Would it be a marathon distance if Tarn Hows were included somehow?
A decade ago
That was a decade ago, way back in 2008 and it took another three years of hard work to turn that dream of an idea into reality. First, I had to convince the National Trust, as most of the course was on their land. This included the ‘hallowed ground’ of the Tarn Hows beauty spot.
Fortunately, I had the help of John Atkinson, who farms up and around Parkamoor and worked at the time for NT. I’d worked with John before with our Coniston Trail event, so we knew each other. He immediately saw the potential of the event and the advantages to Coniston village businesses and surrounding areas. He was a big help in making the first event happen. We even got permission to do a complete lap of Tarn Hows and by including Beacon Tarn, we made it up to the Marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
There were many more agencies and stakeholders to win over though and this took time. Natural England, Forestry Commission, Lake District National Park Authority, Bethecar Moor Commoners, Torver Back Commoners, Cumbria County Council. The list was endless. Meetings in dreary offices with some people who had never run a step in their lives.
In June 2010, I walked the entire course with our nine month old son in a backpack, taking photos of my partner Claire, the ‘model’ for the slideshow of the course. It was another sunny day. The views were breathtaking. I knew immediately that the course was destined to become a classic. Maybe even one day becoming one of the World’s iconic marathons?
I remember bumping into a couple of running friends that day. Myself and Claire must have looked guilty, as they asked me “You’re not planning another of your Lakeland Trails here are you?” We didn’t want to let the cat out of the bag with another year still to go, laughing it off. Towards the end of the route, we were both hot and tired, our son fast asleep, his head lolling to one side. Then, as an added bonus, we found a few big, fleshy cep mushrooms, a gastronomic treat to finish our day off perfectly.
The first Marathon Trail
So at 7am on a beautiful Sunday morning in 2011, the very first Trail Marathon in the Lake District set off from Coniston. History was in the making. We’d planned this early start with the National Trust, to avoid the busy crowds around Tarn Hows. It’s become a truly memorable way to start our Marathon. The air is cool even on those sweltering June days, the lake often steaming as inverted air tries to escape, still like a mill pond.
Almost a thousand runners started this inaugural event, shared between the Challenge and the Race, setting off two hours later. We gave a generous 8 hour time limit for the course, 6 hours for the Race, knowing that the underfoot conditions and relentless climbs would take their toll.
You can forget about your road times on this course! You have to earn those views with plain graft and hard work. This, the most beautiful marathon in the UK, could also be described as one of the toughest too!
Gradually the event has grown and now runners from all over the world come and take part. A couple of years ago we were even awarded the status of “one of the World’s iconic Marathons”. Another dream come true.
Half Marathon and Mini Marathon 10K added
We included a Half Marathon Trail in 2012, which takes in much of the first half of the Marathon course as far as Tarn Hows. Then in 2016, we added a Mini Marathon Trail Run 10K.
This year is the 8th anniversary of the event. So far, we’ve had six warm sunny days and one cool one when the rain poured down. That year, 2012, was also the year both course records were set – Ben Abdelnoor from Ambleside AC in 2hrs 53mins 50secs and Jo Zakrewski, Dumfries Road Runners, in 3hrs 21mins 34secs. I wonder if anyone will get close to them this year?
Finishing alongside the lake shore, through dappled sunlight, the trail amongst mature oak trees, the water shining silver, you’ll feel as though you’re in running heaven. You’re not going to ‘hit the wall’ either, as we take down the dry stone wall making it easier to enter the event arena.
Knowing once you cross the line, you only have another few steps before submerging in those cool waters to relieve your tired muscles. That will keep you going.
Then to bask in the warm sunshine. The afterglow, knowing you’ve really, really earned your finisher’s medal. And ice cream. And as much food as you can eat. And even more ice cream.
Remember my friend John Atkinson who helped with that very first event? You’ll see John handing out drinks as you pass his beautiful holiday cottage at Parkamoor, just after half way. On Marathon day, one of you will win a fabulous weekend’s holiday to come back and stay here. Now, that would be a perfect way to round the day off, wouldn’t it?
Thick, dark grey cloud hung over the tops like a blanket. It didn’t look promising at all. Yet first thing this morning it all looked so good when I left my home in Kendal. The Kentmere peaks white with late spring snow. Clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight.
This morning was my only window of opportunity to get a long run in, before a family trip to the West Coast over the Bank Holiday weekend. So I’d set off early, and was now parked up in Little Town in the Newlands Valley, jogging up the road, wondering what the morning had in store for me.
Deep snow lay amongst the heather and had drifted onto the narrow path running along the ridge up to the first summit of Ard Crags.
It was shin deep, the top few centimetres were frozen, making the going hard work. Running was impossible. So it was hands on knees, post holing upwards. I’d hoped the snow was windblown along the ridge, making progress easier, yet it had drifted into a deep cornice.
The views made up for the difficult underfoot conditions. Sunlight was streaming over the Catbells ridge, warming the air. Creating spectacular thermal clouds, quickly rising and enveloping the higher tops.
The going became slightly easier along to Knott Rigg, and running became child’s play. I had a huge smile on my face.
Robinson was shrouded in thick white cloud. Wet bog lay under the soft snow. All I could do was keep pushing on as best I could, round Buttermere Moss, then up the steeper slopes, into the mire. There were great views behind me.
Then as I neared the summit, a total white out, the cairn just about the only dark object around. I needed a compass bearing to find my way off to the col of Littledale Edge, following the fence and bounding downhill in huge steps in the deep snow.
I stopped, mesmerised. The cloud was lifting, sunlight was getting through. In seconds the sky was bright blue and the whole of Hindscarth appeared out of nowhere. Again, the climb to the top was an effort, then the fun of the downhill, and a nice ridge run to Dale Head.
Slabs of snow came loose on the descent to Dalehead Tarn, rolling away into huge snowballs. Another grunt up High Spy, thermal cloud swirling around the cairn.
The final run for home along the ridge down to Maiden Moor was a blast, the snow wasn’t as deep, and patches of heather and grass were showing through. The first walkers of the morning appeared, all wrapped up, overloaded with big rucksacs, ice axes strapped on the back.
Catbells was my final summit, looking stunning with the late spring snow.
I changed back at my van, and drove to Rheged, to my friend Peter Sidwell’s cafe, for a strong flat white coffee, and eggy muffins with crispy pancetta.
I flicked through the photos. This is surely my favourite Lakeland horeshoe, and this morning, a lucky one at that.
I got back home to Kendal just after midday. My little boy Ash excited about heading off soon for a train ride on La’al Ratty, and wild camping somewhere nearby on the coast.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 128 down, 86 to go.
Staveley is where it all began for Lakeland Trails, way back in 2004. This year marks the 15th consecutive event in the village, although the model has changed over the years.
My original idea was based on my favourite Alpine trail race, the iconic Sierre to Zinal in Switzerland. This is a 31km point to point course, with a ‘Tourist class’ for the less competitive, setting off around 3 hours before the “Race”. I always loved these mountain races, and thought it was such a good idea combining these two events. The camaraderie both out on the course and at the finish were tremendous.
Garburn Trail 2006
So I robbed both ideas, and created a 21km point to point, off road, trail running route from Windermere to Staveley, over the lofty heights of the Garburn Pass. It was called simply the Garburn Trail, and we had both a Challenge and Race, pretty much as we do now.
80 people took part in that first event in September 2004. Many of them were my friends who I’d cajoled into taking part. British fell running champions Rob Jebb and Lou Roberts won that very first event.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Runnersworld rated this “the most scenic race in Britain”
People seemed to like the idea of a European style mountain trail race on a marked and marshalled course. So I had much bigger plans in mind for the following year. Cumbria Wildlife Trust were our chosen charity. I found out they had a supply of badger costumes, their mascot.
So I asked Rob if he’d help promote the event, having an impromptu photo shoot on Orrest Head, friends donning badger costumes, running with Rob. The poster we produced looked fantastic. A combination of stunning scenery, fun and excellence.
Garburn Trail 2006 – Finish arena at Elleray School in Windermere
Lakeland Radio were roped in to come to the event and do a live broadcast, and local business Lakeland Limited came on board as our first sponsors. £500 seemed a lot of money in those days.
Girls love Garburn
I shamelessly promoted the event on the Fell Runners Forum, under a thread entitled “Girls love Garburn”, asking the question why such a high proportion of the fairer sex had entered. Back then, fell running was pretty much a male dominated sport and one or two fell runners took exception to an event of this nature on their ‘hallowed turf’. As the rants on the forum developed, I laughed to myself as the entries rolled in. More and more women were entering, particularly in the Challenge event.
Garburn Trail 2006
You can imagine “Mr Beard” moaning to his wife about “This bloody trail race happening in t’Lakes, with a website, course waymarking, marshals everywhere. And it doesn’t even go to the top of any of t’fells”. Meanwhile, “Mrs Beard” is thinking, I quite like the sound of that, has a look online, enters, then tells all her friends too!
Garburn Trail 2007 – Finish arena at Windermere
Within weeks we’d reached our 500 limit. This time the course started in Staveley and finished at Elleray School in Windermere, a drumming band welcoming the runners home. Kids ‘Fun Trails’ bouncy castles, face painting, food stalls – we haven’t changed much since.
Garburn Trail 2007
In glorious sunshine, National cross country champion Steve Vernon, and World mountain running champion, Vic Wilkinson, took the race honours. The event was a success on every level.
The Lakeland Trails was born
So much so, that at the finish, I opened a box of pre-printed flyers announcing the next one in Coniston in a few months time. The Lakeland Trails was born.
Each year more people took part in the Garburn Trail, finishing at Staveley. We got national coverage in newspapers and on TV. Running magazines gave us awards for the most scenic race in Britain, the best race in Britain. No one else back then was organising family friendly sporting trail running events, although soon our model was getting copied all over the UK.
Flooding – 2009
In 2009 we had some of the worst June weather on record, with the snow line down to around 1200 feet, below this heavy rain and flooding. Working with Kendal Mountain Rescue, we reverted to our emergency route in the Kentmere valley. This was a 17km low level alternative, avoiding the exposed Garburn Pass.
The surprise was how much everyone enjoyed this shorter course. We were inundated with requests to keep the course the same. So we did, changing the name to the Kentmere Trail.
Kentmere Trail 2010
Entries reached 1000 for the first time the following year and we haven’t looked back since. This year, over 1400 competitors will be running on the beautiful trails around Staveley.
Selfies on the Summit – 2017
As more people were taking up the sport of trail running, we added a 10km event to our programme around 6 years ago, then introduced the 5km Sport Trail last year.
Sting in the Tail
An idea in 2012 to have a bit of fun on Reston Scar culminated in the name “Sting in the Tail” and we got all creative, making a trig point out of printed correx boards.
Sting in the Tail 2012
Now there’s always a crowd of supporters on the summit, with cow bells, drums, horns, you name it. A fantastic motivation for the final climb before the mad, fast descent back to the finish on Staveley Recreation Ground.
Kendal Mountain Rescue 2017
We have been incredibly fortunate over the years to have the support of our local Kendal Mountain Rescue team at the event. Over £10,000 must have been donated to them from this event alone over the last fifteen years and long may our partnership continue.
Kev Kendall in 2012
Now all that remains is for me to wish you the very best of luck this weekend. I know that the views will astound you, the bluebells are nigh on perfect. Don’t forget to slow down a bit and look around you. Take it all in.
Batala Lancaster 2017
Save something too for that last lap around the finish field with the drums from Batala Lancaster pumping you with adrenaline.
I had no appetite when I got up. It was so early. A strong coffee, and I was off, driving away in the darkness. Breakfast could wait until after my run.
This morning I was heading to Wasdale, making the most of my day off work. The plan being to run over the final leg of the Joss Naylor Challenge route. The fields were white with frost. A bright half moon in the clear sky overhead, although there was a lot of cloud about. An osprey at the estuary near Greenod, labouring for lift whilst clutching it’s catch. A nice surprise at this early hour.
I took the short cut over Corney Fell, the single track lane over the moor busy with traffic, everyone driving like lunatics, flashing their lights, overtaking on blind bends, oblivious to the ice on the road. It was only as I crested the hill and saw the bulk of Sellafield in the distance that the penny dropped. They must be on the early morning shift, racing to get to work on time.
Sunrise was dramatic through the clouds. Soon I was heading off on foot, leaving my van near Joss’s house, close to Greendale bridge. My legs already tired from a heavy training schedule. The higher peaks were blanketed in thick cloud. So I reverted to plan B, a new route taking in the lower peaks and a complete circuit of the lake.
The woodland track from Greendale bridge along the stream was edged with primroses, in the far distance the call of a cuckoo. I crossed an ancient packhorse bridge, and started the steep climb to Whin Rigg, views of the famous Wasdale screes opening up as I gained height.
A snow flurry near the summit, the first of many throughout the morning. The ground was dry, and the cold northerly breeze was refreshing to run in, although I was well wrapped up. Glimpses of the lake between snow showers, soon reaching the summit of Illgill Head. My legs were loosening up, and I was enjoying myself, making good time on the descent to the National Trust car park at the head of the lake. Gorse was in flower, bright yellow, and suddenly the sun came out.
Up the steep climb of Yewbarrow, familiar from last year’s Bob Graham, the sky now bright blue. My technique here is simply not to look up until I’ve counted 500 double steps. By this time, I’m nearing the summit.
Another brief snow shower along the ridge, then I contoured around the rocky slopes of Stirrup Crag to the col at Dore Head, the rocks icy and dangerous.
By Red Pike, there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Rocks now patterned with green lichens and white snow flakes.
There were dramatic views from Scoat Fell, the northern grassy slopes crusted with snow and ice, rock glazed with a veneer of frost.
Cloud was building up on the arrete to Steeple. Another shower of snow flakes on the fast descent towards Haycock, the summit cloud playing games.
Now you see me, now you don’t. Ennerdale glimmering in the distance.
Caw Fell sticks out, a lonely summit at the end of the ridge, overlooking the sprawl of Sellafield. The Isle of Man clearly outlined out to sea on the horizon. I was thirsty, so descended, taking a contouring route amongst boulder fields around Gowder Crag. Coming up trumps with clean, clear springs, the water cool and refreshing.
There’s a great fast downhill trod towards Seatallan through the tussocks, I caught a toe on a hidden rock, almost face planting, although my momentum saved me, first speeding up then staggering back upright from a near horizontal running position.
A steep, grassy line down avoiding the eroded trod, Greendale Tarn a shining level down below. Two walkers were at the summit of Middle Fell as I jogged up the final climb to the summit cairn. “Go on, how long did it take you to run up here then?” I looked at my watch – “Over four hours”, I replied, “Although I went the long way round!”
Buckbarrow was my final summit of the morning and I couldn’t resist running down to the small cairn perched on the crag itself, overlooking the valley.
I found a route around the crags, taking care down the steep slope amongst the gorse, admiring the many stone wall sculptures, testament to the living legend of Joss Naylor.
A frenzy of small birds were making a racket in the garden by the farm. I stopped and waited, and a sleepy tawny owl flew across the road, chased by a noisy mob of blue tits, chaffinches and blackbirds.
What a morning run – now I was ready for breakfast.
11 Wainwright summits today, that’s 120 down, 94 to go.