Time has simply flown by so fast. Yet at the end of last year’s season, after more than sixteen years as Event Director, the time felt right for me to pass the Lakeland Trails flag over to Phil Blaylock.
Phil has been involved with our events for over eight years and we’re all very lucky to have him. From competing himself, then volunteering as a marshal, he’s made steady progress to the top of our Lakeland Trails family tree. Phil’s been a keen student during all the various stages in his event management development and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mentoring him through all of these over the years. I couldn’t have hoped for a better successor. When Phil took over the Event Director reigns last December, I officially ‘retired’ from the Lakeland Trails and stepped down from my role with the events.
Phil running at Keswick in 2017
I thought I could sit back and reflect on all this work with a degree of pride. Take stock and enjoy that contented feeling of a job done to the best of your ability. Like a proud parent, I quietly let go without any fuss, confident that we’d done everything possible to ensure the future of the Lakeland Trails for everyone’s enjoyment.
Then suddenly the ‘cheese moved’. Who could have foreseen back in March the first total lockdown situation only a week or so before the 2020 opening event was due to take place at Cartmel? Phil and his team will need the support of everyone, to ride out all the challenges imposed by the current coronavirus pandemic.
Running at Cartmel in 2018 and the Beast from the East
There’s always a balance running an enterprise for altruistic reasons. Often things just stop when a founder decides to call it a day. Sustainability has always been a big priority for me. Not just environmentally, but economically and personnel-wise too. We’re fortunate to have built some great relationships over the last sixteen years, and there are so many people to thank for helping make my dream of the Lakeland Trails come to fruition.
To everyone who has been involved in any way at all – from you, the competitors, to our fabulous volunteers, event crew, landowners, stakeholders, sponsors, entertainers, service suppliers, catering concessions – many, many thanks for all your support over the years. It just couldn’t have happened without you all!
A typical Lakeland Trails scene from the start
Looking back, since creating the first event in 2004, I was the Event Director for over 100 Lakeland Trails events. Totting up the total number taking part comes to around 150,000 competitors. It’s remarkable when you think the very first event had just 80 entrants and trail running was a relatively new sport to the UK back then. We’ve contributed well over £150,000 directly to local regional charities and community groups. In all, our region, Cumbria, has benefitted economically to the tune of well over £20 Million from the Lakeland Trails during my time. Truly amazing!
My first Lakeland Trails as a competitor in the Derwentwater Trail in 2017 – Back to Front
And who was there in 2015 at the start of the Ultra 55K when Kim Collison broke the 110K course record? I remember we delayed the start by a few minutes so we could welcome him home with a cheering guard of honour and Batala Lancaster drums. Magic sporting moments like these bring tears to your eyes.
Watch the opening 30secs of this video to see Kim Collison’s “Ultimate finish”
Sadness too, with four very special characters from our Lakeland Trails ‘family’ passing away recently and now running in those big trails in the sky. Peter Samuelson, Charm Robson, Lawrie Woodley and Lance Saxby (aka Gerry Giraffe) will be forever in my thoughts. All of them positive, happy people.
Phil at the finish in Staveley with Charm Robson in 2018
Many people start their own running journeys with us, getting off road for the first time and onto the stunning trails I created here in the Lake District. Every now and again I’ll get stopped with “is that Graham from Lakeland Trails?” and then someone will tell me an inspiring story or anecdote. How they’ve just completed an Ultra, even a Bob Graham. Or they’ve just run the 10K event with their teenage daughter, who ran her first Fun Trails as an 8 year old.
It never fails to make me smile when I see someone out and about wearing a Lakeland Trails T shirt, or see one of our car stickers on a vehicle, sometimes far away from the Lakes.
Finishing (and winning!) the Coniston Trail 10km in 2018
Retiring from the Lakeland Trails doesn’t mean sitting around in my slippers. It means I have finally closed one big chapter and can look forward to some different challenges. With more time I’ll be able to coach a few more people in trail and ultra running – give me a shout it you need any help!
Maybe spend more time partying with my partner Claire?
Party time with Claire for one of Ash’s birthday parties
Over a year ago I started a new Primary schools orienteering pilot project in Kendal coaching Year 5 and Year 6 children which ultimately fell victim to Covid-19. I’d love to see more youngsters and newcomers taking part in ‘the thought sport’ – maybe this could be a new project in the making?
Orienteering in the Italian Dolomites
My own performances in orienteering have steadily improved since returning back to the sport just over three years ago, after an absence of 30 years. I’ve been at the top of my UK age group ranking list for almost two years and was just seconds away from winning the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Latvia last year, coming 4th. The previous year, in Denmark, I was 2nd, only one second behind the Swiss winner. I was shaping up nicely too for this year’s cancelled World Masters in Slovakia in August 2020. With hopes of a Covid-19 vaccine, there’s now an excuse to take part in next year’s World Masters in Hungary.
Enjoying the atmosphere of European orienteering
No doubt there will be some new running adventures to write about and photograph, to keep this TrailRunning blog more regularly updated. Maybe recount some fond memories from the early years of Lakeland Trails – what do you think, would you be interested? It also still rankles a bit that I didn’t complete the 55 Lakeland summits at 55 years of age a couple of years ago – some unfinished business maybe?
If anyone does have any memorable Lakeland Trails stories or anecdotes they’d like to share with me, then please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.
Finally, I want to wish Phil and his team every success for the future of the Lakeland Trails in these difficult times.
Here we get to find out more about our Lakeland Trails event manager, Phil Blaylock, the man organising all the work behind the scenes to ensure everyone has a great time whilst out on the trails. I caught up with Phil last week and asked him a few questions :
Would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’ve just turned 44 and currently live by myself in the small village of St Bees, which is on the most western point of the Cumbrian coast. It’s a bit remote which means lots of travelling to get anywhere but having access to a stunning beach, the quieter side of the Lake District and having a fantastic group of friends to go exploring with make up for the time spent in the car. When I’m not running or cycling around the fells, or travelling further afield to bigger mountains, I love spending rainy days in the kitchen (setting up an informal crew Bake Off when I was Marshal Manager was great fun) and taking photos. I also regularly play the guitar but I’m not going to divulge my dodgy musical tastes!
How did your Lakeland Trails journey start?
Love brought me back to Cumbria six years ago to be with my girlfriend at the time. As so often in life, things didn’t quite go to plan. So I joined St Bees Triers to build up my social circle and used running as a way of finding my feet. That in turn motivated me to take part in my first Lakeland Trails in Keswick back in 2013. Even though I was reasonably fit, I still had the nerves on the start line – I suppose it was because I didn’t feel like a ‘proper’ runner and didn’t know what to expect. I needn’t have worried! I loved the event so much that I quickly signed up for the Helvellyn Trail, deciding to volunteer as a marshal as well as run. Even though I was the wettest I’ve ever been, the enjoyment from having hundreds of drenched but happy runners going past meant that I was addicted! Once you’ve been to a few Lakeland Trails, you soon recognise familiar faces and feel part of the community, so a couple of years later, I took on the Course and Marshal Manager role. That progressed to me getting involved with developing our in-house radio communications and here I am now managing and delivering the events.
When did you first start running?
My running journey started out of chance. I was part of the school fell-walking club and the teacher who organised that, a lovely chap called Mr Horsford, was also responsible for the cross-country team. Apart from anything else, I was flattered when he suggested I could be a good runner. So I joined the club, ending up representing my school. It’s strange that the memories I have of that are the green swimming pool at Stonyhurst College (apparently, it’s still there) and listening to a tape of Bon Jovi on the coach trips!
Do you run for a club?
I’m a member of St Bees Triers. The club shares a similar philosophy as Lakeland Trails – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are, so long as you enjoy yourself and try your best. It’s a great club – everyone’s warm and welcoming and we’ve a couple of fantastic coaches. I organise weekly trail runs and have a bit of a reputation for finding the hilliest, boggiest routes – they just make running even more fun!
Last year was your first year in charge of managing and delivering the Lakeland Trails events. How was it?
Well, last year was certainly a challenge! When you asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the event management, it really seemed like a no-brainer. Lakeland Trails has brought me so much happiness and it was a privilege to be able to put my skills to good use to allow people to keep experiencing the magic of the events. The fear of the unknown and the risk of ‘making mistakes’ have been tricky to deal with, so it’s been great to have your support and guidance along the way, as well as that of our wonderful team of crew and volunteers at the events. Putting on the events is like a huge jigsaw. I counted up my action list at the Lakeland Trails in Keswick and there were over 100 points to sort out just on the Saturday! Of course, the event crew did a fantastic job getting them ticked off and the event was a great success. I don’t remember ever getting more than 2-3 hours’ sleep on the night before each event which is definitely something I want to improve on this year.
Any high points from the year?
I think one of the high points (literally) was at Staveley when I left the event start/finish area to climb up to the top of Reston Scar (aka The Sting in the Tail) to do some cheering. I felt the confidence that everything was running smoothly and if anything cropped up, the crew were more than capable of resolving issues. I’ll often be watching the finishers come in too, and seeing their smiles and sense of achievement is so rewarding. Of course, another high point is when I have to pinch myself because my job involves running a lot in the Lake District – turning the corner of Silver Howe on the ultra-course or dropping into the Grisedale Valley on the Helvellyn course always makes me stop and smile.
When you want everything at every event to be a success for everyone, it can be hard to focus on all the positives as there are always things which could have gone better. The first two events last year had a number of issues which I found difficult to overcome. For example, at Cartmel, we could have found a better route through the woods at the finish when the original route was not possible at the last minute due to the waterlogged racecourse. (Incidentally, I had a meeting at the racecourse last week and we have a weatherproof solution so that so runners won’t face that demoralising run in again). Maybe my car parking plans were too complex at Cartmel too, so I got sucked into helping sort that out during the day. I hold my hand up for overlooking the props and signs for theming the Coffin Trail at Hawkshead – I promise that will come back with a vengeance this year! All the things which did or didn’t go to plan are thoroughly discussed in meetings afterwards and lessons learnt for the future. After a busy, challenging weekend, it can be hard, too, to remember that so many people have had an amazing day.
Now I’ve had a complete Lakeland Trails season under my belt, I am much more confident about the year ahead. Hopefully that experience will translate into relaxing and enjoying my role more. Lying awake in bed at 2am thinking things over on the Saturday morning is probably not the best way to prepare for the day! Sometimes the best laid plans don’t always come off, even though we always have a Plan B, or even Plan C to fall back on. Carefully reflecting over the whole event, to learn for improving in the future is really important too.
What did you do before managing the Lakeland Trails?
I suppose you could describe my previous jobs as varied! I’ve got an unused degree in Construction Management as I went straight into Retail Management after university (selling Peruvian alpaca jumpers with the added bonus of regular trips to South America). I got the 7-year itch and re-trained to be a teacher, working in a deprived area of Blackburn before moving back to Cumbria, where after a brief spell in a new school, ended up working in an HMRC call centre for a few months – something I never expected to have on my CV. I was given the option of returning to my old school in Blackburn, but I’d fallen in love with the Lake District great outdoors. I’d been used to working 70 hours a week as a teacher, which I don’t regret, but I certainly wouldn’t do it again. Luckily that was when your offer of managing the Lakeland Trails came up.
You’ve just completed climbing all 214 Wainwright summits – how did that feel?
It was great to finally finish them (although I’m not sure Mr Wainwright would approve of people ‘bagging’ his fells!) A bit like the Lakeland Trails, the challenge has taken me to parts of the Lakes I might not have seen otherwise. Just last week I was high above Ullswater on a glorious day, but I joke that I’m going to publish a book called ‘Mountain Tops in the Mist’ as so many have been covered in clag, and the weather for my final summit last Saturday didn’t disappoint. Fortunately the group of friends I was with remained in suitable humour and we celebrated on the top of Bonscale Fell in 50mph winds and rain.
Any challenges pencilled in for the future?
I tend to be a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to outdoor activities so have lots of ideas on the burner. Next up is the Fred Whitton Cycle Challenge the weekend after the Lakeland Trails in Staveley in May. For those who don’t know it, the route is, let’s say, demanding. It’s just over 110 miles long, taking in all the Lake District passes, as well as some lesser-known climbs, with Hardknott Pass, England’s steepest road to look forward to at around the 100-mile mark. I loved it when I took part a couple of years ago. There’s a great atmosphere along the course and several friends (including some who are also Lakeland Trails crew) were out to support me, providing much-appreciated supplies and encouragement. I managed to meet my goals of cycling up Hardknott Pass and finishing!
What would you say is the best thing about the Lakeland Trails?
This is an easy question because I’ve found it out from my own experience as a runner that it brings so much happiness and a sense of accomplishment and belief to so many people. I love being out on the trails myself and enabling others to experience that pleasure in a safe and controlled way is amazing. It’s a combination of the dedication and friendliness of the crew and volunteers as well as the runners, which generates such a lovely atmosphere at the event and out on the course. Oh, and how can I forget the stunning scenery!
Anything else you’d like to add for our competitors this year?
I can’t wait to be back on the trails in Cartmel on 16th March and am working hard to make things even better than my ‘debut’ last year. As we’re celebrating our 10th anniversary of the Cartmel Trail this year, all our finishers will earn a delicious Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding as a special treat, as well as an event T shirt. I always enjoy chatting to our runners on event day so come and say hello and let me know how we’re doing.
Thanks very much Phil – it’s been a pleasure working with you over the last five or six years and I’m looking forward to many more in the future. Co-ordinating and taking responsibility for the Lakeland Trails events is a massive undertaking, and certainly not for the faint hearted. Experience is hard earned. You’re learning all the time and I have no doubt this all helped with the way you managed the horrendous conditions for our 2018 Dirty Double finale weekend.
We’re all lucky to have such a positive and enthusiastic person at the helm. Good luck with the events this year. Now me and my family are back from France, I’m looking forward to running in some of them myself!
Early bird entry for the 2019 Lakeland Trails is open until 31st January. Visit the Lakeland Trails website to check out the events and enter online.
My feet are up on the couch as I write this, so this title just popped into my mind.
Why we run – for trails like these
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time lying on the couch. In my “glory days” when I was a youngster, it was for much needed rest, my body exhausted from training twice a day. I’m older now, need less sleep, so consequently get up every morning before 5am. By early afternoon, I’m back on the couch, having a granddad nap, or ‘recharge’ as I like to call it.
Looking for inspiration before the Joss Naylor Challenge
The couch is also one of my best place for reading books and day-dreaming. Where all my best ideas usually come from. The Lakeland Trails being a classic example.
Another one of my dreams was to become a professional running coach one day. To help others with my lifetime of running experience, stretching back more than forty years. In this time I’ve had many coaches myself. Each one I owe a debt of thanks. Along the way, I’ve also made many, many mistakes, becoming wiser and learning from them all.
Trail running on the Lakeland Trails
There is only ever one way to do things, and that’s the right way. This is as true for coaching, as for every area of life. There’s no such thing as a ‘quick fix’. Everything needs to be built on a strong foundation. A lot of thought needs to go into why, where and how.
For me, I’ve been waiting patiently for a few years, learning my new trade, going on various leadership, mentoring and coaching courses. The main thing I needed was having enough time to do the job properly.
Me, finally being able to run the Cartmel Trail in 2018
During the last fifteen years, much of my time has been taken up with managing and marketing the Lakeland Trails events. Over the last eighteen months, I’ve been working hard behind the scenes with our Event and Operations Manager, Phil Blaylock. We wanted to create a seamless transition. The Lakeland Trails have now had more than a year looking after themselves with Phil’s great leadership.
So now the time is right for me to get stuck into my next adventure, coaching.
A few of the many books I love to read on the couch
I’ve been a student of coaching all my life. An avid reader of everything and anything to do with running, training, nutrition, psychology and related subjects. I guess I’ll always be a student. Always learning. It fascinates me how some coaches transform individuals and their performances.
What makes them stand out from the crowd?
My own coaching style will take a slow, long term approach. Coaching is a two way process and relationships take time to develop. This is not something that can be rushed or taken lightly. Every individual is different, with their own unique set of personal circumstances. Being able to see the bigger picture is something I’ve trained myself to do over many years. Asking questions, listening to answers, prioritising, then making the best decisions for that particular situation.
The most important thing for me to encourage is to inspire people to dream big. Really big. Sky’s the limit big. As the saying goes, reach for the stars and you’ll maybe land amongst them.
Dream big! Nicky Ridley went from couch to 55K Ultra runner
For some, this may be to complete a 5K ParkRun. The classic Couch to 5K. Why not a 10K? Or a Half or Full Marathon? Maybe an Ultra Marathon? Nicky Ridley (in photo) went from being overweight and on the couch, to Ultra runner – read my blog about her, “Trails less Travelled”. Who knows, you may aspire to completing a personal challenge like the Bob Graham Round in under 24 hours? Even making the podium in a World Championships?
Winning a Silver medal in the World Masters Orienteering Championships 2018
Whatever the dream, it needs to be YOUR dream. It’s worth spending some time really thinking hard about this.
Dreams are what will fuel your determination and persistence.
Trail running inspiration, where dreams are made?
Coaching follows on from knowing that big dream. Then the hard work for a coach begins. Reality checks of where someone is now and where they want to be in the future. Improving poor technique and correcting bad habits. We all have them. We can all improve. So for me as a coach, it’s back on the sofa, doing what I enjoy the most – thinking and planning.
Using all my experience, I can help with making achievable goals along the way, creating realistic, individual coaching plans.
“It’s not about winning. It’s about the journey”
This has become one of my mantras. I say it all the time, as I believe it’s so true. Once you have a big dream, have set some goals, then the really fun bit is starting out on a new journey. Memories from this will last with you forever, regardless of the final outcome. It’s like life. Having a purpose makes things much more worthwhile.
A photo memory from the journey of completing all 214 Wainwrights in 214 days
Getting started and taking the first step is always the hardest.
For my initial period of coaching, I am going to limit the number of clients that I coach to just six people. One of these, Rebecca Atkinson, has been chosen as the lucky winner in a prize draw made at the Lakeland Trails in Ullswater event. To have had a chance of winning, you just needed to be a subscriber to my Trailrunning blog. Congratulations Rebecca!
I started orienteering again almost two years ago, after a 30 year break from the sport. It was a way of trying to encourage my son Ash to take up the ‘thought sport’. I’ve always valued the lessons it teaches about decision making and independence, lessons that can be used in every aspect of life.
One October weekend in 2016, I just told him I was going orienteering on some sand dunes near Barrow in Furness. It was a shock to get lost so many times, unable to see map detail properly, despite my new sports contact lenses. I returned home finishing some 15-20 minutes behind people my own age.
The second time I went, again I couldn’t believe how much time I lost to my contemporaries, although the words that inspired me were from Ash. He was just seven at the time, and as I left the house, he simply said “Daddy, when you next go orienteering, can I come too?”
Those words were music to my ears.
So, our family orienteering journey started a few weeks later in some woodland on the shores of Derwent Water in the Lake District, my partner Claire shadowing Ash. Me running around too fast on the long course, getting lost again and again, unable to find the checkpoints hidden amongst the bracken. Tripping up all the time, trying to run in half eye reading glasses.
It’s fair to say I’ve been a better than average runner, and not such a good orienteer. Over the years, I’ve dipped in and out of the sport, since my first event way back in 1969. There weren’t really any suitable courses for kids back then, and my induction was a PFO club event at Dean Clough, near Burnley. Running in some woodland to the finish from the last control, I was flung backwards, catapulted by a single, rusty wire fence, landing spread eagled on my back. The wire was at head height and I just didn’t see it. I thought I’d got something in my eye, so put a hand over it as I ran back to the finish. Blood was everywhere. I’d been lucky. The wire had ripped one of my eyelids so it was hanging off, and the other was cut deeply. Off to hospital to get everything stitched and cleaned up. I remember wearing an eye patch for the next week or so, like a pirate.
What a badge of honour for my first orienteering event!
My dad, Alistair, was a big fish in Pendle Forest Orienteers in those days, one of the early pioneers in the sport. As a family, we did go with him a few times, although with four children fighting in an overcrowded Morris Minor, these were always chaotic, stressful days out. With nothing to do at the events apart from wait for dad to return, we quickly grew bored. It put my three siblings off any kind of sport for a long, long time.
One of these early orienteering experiences was an event held at Timble Ings, a small wood on the way to Harrogate. It was in around 1972, and I was doing the M12 class, the youngest course on offer, even though I’d only be 9 years old. I remember winning a small Yorkshire cheese, along with a map of the course, with Winner, M12 Yorkshire Championships typed in red across the top. I had this on my bedroom wall for years. It’s still the only ‘perfect run’ with no mistakes that I have ever done.
Unbelievable setting for orienteering at the Italian Dolomites
By the time I reached 16, there were more local orienteering events and this time round I started going without my dad, cycling to events with friends, getting lifts further afield with the late Gerry Charnley. I soon got asked to join Peter Palmer’s GB Junior Squad and had two years improving my rudimentary skills with training camps in Scandinavia. This started my life long passion for travel.
After experiences at big events like the Swedish O Ringen, orienteering in the UK suddenly lost a lot of it’s appeal. Then breaking my leg in a fell race when I was 18, it was some time before I had the confidence to run in rough terrain again. I’d also just gone to University in Cardiff, to study Optometry and found I quite liked parties, girls and booze. So that was it for orienteering for a while.
Instead, I ran cross country and on the roads for a season or two, although never quite made it into the ‘big time’, finishing with PB’s of 30.30 for 10km, 50.38 for 10 miles and 67.32 for Half Marathon.
SELOC Racing Team, 1988 winners of the JK Trophy Relays. Left to Right : Rob Lee (Leg 2), Rob Bloor (Leg 4), Stuart Rochford, Me (Leg 1), Ian Christian, Iain Rochford (Leg 3), Mark Seddon
The most fun I’ve had and my best year’s orienteering in the UK was when I was living with my brother Andrew for a while back in Lancashire. I joined SELOC in 1987 and spent a winter training with the likes of Rob Bloor, Mark Seddon, Rob Lee, Ian Christian & Iain Rochford. We dubbed ourselves the SELOC Racing Team, and with Ian’s contacts at Ron Hill Sports, where he worked, we brought a dash of colourful lycra to the UK orienteering scene. They were great times. Hard training, hard racing, with beers and barbies afterwards. We peaked too early though by winning the JK Trophy the following year. It all went downhill from there.
Then I fell in love with a beautiful Scandinavian girl and moved to live in Denmark for a while, running for Farum Orienteering Klub. I couldn’t even make their A team. Future stars like Carsten Jorgensen and Allan Mogensen were at the club too.
Moving to Bristol in 1989, I set up an Optometry practice on Redland Road, near Clifton Downs, and joined the local club BOK. I did the odd orienteering event, battling with a youngster in the club called Clive Hallett, although by now I was mainly running road, cross country and fell races. However, it was always mountain trail running that I enjoyed the most, after discovering superb races in the Alps, the Sierre-Zinal, Matterhornlauf and Thyon-Dixence amongst many others.
Then I drifted away from orienteering again after selling my practice and moving to live in Ireland. I won the Irish Mountain Running Championships in 1994 whilst living there – the only other name on the trophy belonging to the legendary John Lenihan, who had won it the previous ten or eleven years.
I took up a new sport, paragliding, and spent roughly half the year floating around the skies above the Alps of New Zealand’s South Island, the other half peering into peoples’ eyes, doing Optometric ‘prostitution’ around the more scenic parts of the UK, to fund my travels. Stuart Parker, from WAROC, came out to visit me in Wanaka, New Zealand, one year. He’d been running in the World Masters Orienteering Championships up in the North Island. I remember taking the piss out of him for taking part in an event for oldies.
I never, ever thought I would take part in one myself.
For a decade, I moved around a lot. Travelled a lot. Huge cycle touring journeys, one for six months. Massive hikes. New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Nepal, all over Europe and Scandinavia. Flying with huge birds of prey. Amazing experiences. I couldn’t settle down anywhere though. I was “like a cat on a hot tin roof”, as one of my friends, Shane Green, described me.
Finally ending up here in Kendal in 1999. I’ve been living here, off and on, ever since.
On the Lakeland Trails in Keswick 2017
For the last 15 years I’ve been organising the popular Lakeland Trails running and walking festivals in the Lake District. When I reached the ripe old age of 40, I just couldn’t face chasing veterans titles. So instead decided to put something back into the sport that has given me so much pleasure during my lifetime. I wanted to bring some of that European glitz and glamour to the dull world of fell running. Trail running was new to the UK back then. From humble beginnings – the first event had just 80 competitors, the events soon grew. We now get over 12,000 competitors every year. All ages and abilities take part in events from 400m Fun Trails for the Under 8’s, then on to 5K, 10K, 15-18K, Half Marathon, a Marathon, even an Ultra Marathon of 55K and 110K. Runners and walkers come from all over the world. I’m proudest of the fact that more than half our competitors are women! Check us out here : www.lakelandtrails.org
I gave up Optometry. Now I could combine my passion for sport with travelling during the winter months with my partner Claire. Ash was born back in 2009, and life has reached some sort of equilibrium since then. Although by the time he was six, he had been to New Zealand five times for long trips during the winter months, the first when he was only 9 weeks old!
A blink in time.
Suddenly Ash is seven. It’s October 2016 and I’m orienteering again to inspire him to hopefully join me.
How did that happen?
So the World Masters Orienteering Championships this year in Denmark always seemed to have my name on it. The event centre was even in Farum, where my old club was based. I felt I just had to go back again after living there 30 years ago.
Before this could happen though, I needed to get a few ducks in line. As the World Masters was going to coincide with our Ultra Marathon event in Ambleside, I knew I couldn’t be in two places at once. So this particular journey started even more than a year ago too, helping my friend Phil Blaylock, to work on managing the Lakeland Trails events, taking over from me.
It had been a dream of ours to have a year long family adventure living in France, with Ash experiencing life in a French school. Suddenly this became a possibility too. Last October, just after the Lakeland Trails ‘Dirty Double’ weekend, we bit the bullet, moving out to the Ariege Pyrenees to begin the challenges of a new life in France for the school year.
Me and Ash on the podium in Gran Canaria – Ash 2nd in M10, me winning M55
We enjoyed an orienteering Christmas holiday on Gran Canaria, running in the G-com 5 days there. My very first Sprint Orienteering event too on the opening day. A magical experience at night in the Medieval town of Aguimes. Palm trees and finish gantry lit up with fairy lights. PA and commentary blaring away in the balmy evening.
Our favourite control in Gran Canaria
Controls next to sculptures, our favourite one a camel. Luckily for me, I had a chat before the start with big Jon Musgrave from MAROC. He told me his best sprint races were when he didn’t try too hard. I listened. Instead of running fast, I took it easy and won by 2 minutes!
The start & finish at Agen, home of our French club PSNO
Early in the New Year, we found out about a weekend of “Sprint” orienteering events taking place in France in a town called Agen, a two hour drive away. Fortune smiled on us that weekend. Ash was full of cold so didn’t take part, yet I won both Open Sprints, a day and night one, outright. The organising club, PSNO, Pole Sports Nature Orientation, loved it. A totally unknown English H55 beating all the young guns. They were full of enthusiasm and support, welcoming us so warmly into their big family. Suddenly we were being invited to orienteering events all over France. We are all proud to be part of this fantastic club.
Meanwhile, there was still lots of work to be done with Phil on the Lakeland Trails, with frequent trips back to the UK, combining some of these with orienteering events.
The first Lakeland Trails event of this year was our Trails & Ales Party in Kendal for all our volunteers, around 200 of them, in February. On the same weekend I had an awful performance at the British Night Orienteering Championships in South Wales. Next came the Cartmel Trail in March and an opportunity for me to run in the 10K event, joining everyone in the Baltic, freezing cold. The next day, driving in the early morning through snowdrifts on the M62 to get to the Midland Orienteering Championships, only to find it being cancelled at the last moment due to the weather. A frustrating six or seven hour round trip.
Training in deep snow near our home in the Pyrenees
In France I was getting fitter and training hard, despite the deep snow, although still making some big mistakes with my navigating at orienteering events. So I got in touch with an old friend, Rich Tiley, from Lakeland Orienteering Club, the same one I had joined in 2016. Rich is an orienteering coach and quickly steered me in a new direction. Another person I need to thank. My running speed and fitness needed a degree of balance that I just couldn’t find. With Rich’s help I soon had a framework to build on, some sense of purpose. A formula to work with. Four words summed this up : Plan, Direction, Picture, Distance.
PDPD became our new mantra for orienteering.
I also bought Carole McNeill’s book and this became my bible. For anyone who hasn’t got a copy – buy one now. I read sections of mine almost every day, learning something new each time.
Spring sunshine for the Hawkshead Trail in April and it was now becoming the norm to turn up at the Lakeland Trails, everything perfectly set up. Strange to have time to chat with fellow Lakeland Trailers, being there in case I was needed. However, it was becoming obvious that I just wasn’t. Everything was running smoothly under Phil’s leadership. So I left him to it, and ran in the Middle National event in Graythwaite, just down the road, finishing a couple of minutes behind Quentin Harding.
Winning the French Middle Distance Championships 2018
Staveley in May and time for a big decision. The first Lakeland Trails event in 15 years that I wouldn’t be going to. With Phil now happily in charge, I remained in France, fretting and anxious, like a nervous parent watching his eldest child leave home. Big surprises too this month, despite plenty of errors. Winning my age class in the French Middle Distance Championships, by a whopping 8 seconds. Losing out by a few seconds in the British Long Distance Championships to Clive Hallett, in the sunshine at Balmoral Castle.
The Lakeland Trails Marathon in June and now I’m helping with event marketing, uploading photos and videos, seeing the event from a different perspective, in the virtual world. Finding time during the day to drive down to Corbiere in the morning for a blast round Mediterranean scrub and pine forest, my orienteering improving, winning the Open senior class once again. Back in time to upload the results online for the first Marathon finishers.
Me and Ash at the French Relay Championships 2018, Lens en Vercors, Grenoble
Before we knew it, time had flown by. It’s the end of June. We’ve pulled Ash out of school a couple of weeks early and the start of a month long family orienteering road trip. It began with the French Long Distance Championships near Grenoble, and another victory for me, this time by 5 minutes.
Running from the last control 5 Days of Italy 2018
We all run the next day for PSNO in the Relay Championships, serenaded by a 50 piece band at the finish. A week in the Italian Dolomites, for the 5 Days of Italy, mixing it with the Scandinavians, eating humble pie.
Mixing it with the Scandinavians at the 5 Days of Italy 2018
A few days later we are in Denmark. Spending a couple of days in the warm sunshine at Legoland, a real highlight for Ash.
Ash in Lego paradise
Then we move campsite to be closer to Copenhagen and the World Masters Orienteering Championships.
Sprint podium, WMOC 2018, H55 & F55
It’s a fairy tale that I made the podium in the Sprint race. The whole journey from two years ago has been absolutely amazing. It’s hard to absorb the fact that I only did my first Sprint race just six months ago, and have now won a Silver medal in the World Masters. It’s one thing day dreaming, wanting something and working hard for it. Quite another actually doing it. And to be so close to a Gold medal too. Just one second!
Me, Ash, the Little Mermaid and my WMOC Silver medal, Copenhagen 2018
The higher you go, the bigger you fall. Denmark still had more surprises in store for me.
I thought I was on for a chance of another podium finish a few days later in the Middle Finals too, although it didn’t quite work out that way. It’s interesting that the Control 15 that I messed up big time affected the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fastest overall at Control 14. All three of us lost a lot of time on it. I was going very well up to that control, running within myself, not really missing anything. I couldn’t find Control 15 though – despite going into the thicket three times from the path bend, only 50m away. Eventually I convinced myself that I was in the wrong bit of the forest, and ran a big circle, in a panic, about to pack in completely. Then I realised I could hear the MC at the finish as it was only 450m away, so I relocated on that. The control still took some finding – it was hidden in thick undergrowth.
Whilst the Middle Final was disappointing, the next news was a disaster. Losing so much time at Control 15, nearly 10 minutes, meant I was in the bottom 25%, so would be dropped from the Long A Final on the last day. That was always my target event. Grib Skov is my favourite wood in Denmark. A fast, rolling beech forest criss-crossed with tracks. I was heartbroken!
A thumbs up from Ash on the final day of WMOC 2018 – my B Long Final
Ash saved the day for me. At first, like a petulant child, I said I wasn’t going to run in the B Final. Yet Ash has been doing well all this week, orienteering on his own, gaining confidence, enjoying himself. He wanted to run the M10 event at Grib Skov and it was a reminder to me about why I took up the sport again in the first place – to hopefully inspire him to go orienteering.
Somewhere along the way my own selfish ambitions reared their ugly head. His needs helped me to see things in a more positive light, the bigger picture.
It’s only sport.
So I ran the B Final, finishing 2nd, although I found motivation difficult, making lots of silly mistakes. It was a bitter pill just to be there, watching the A finalists come into the finish, wishing I was one of them. Yet by swallowing it, I can move on. Ash had his best day too, coming 6th in his class. It was wonderful to see how pleased he was with himself, proudly wearing his pink and blue PSNO running kit.
Having had some time to reflect and learn from my first WMOC, if anything, the experience has inspired me to try and get fitter, work harder technically by specific orienteering training on my weaknesses, such as relocation strategies. I want to work on my sports psychology too. My short term goal is simply to try and improve.
Who knows what may then happen when the World Masters Orienteering Championships takes place in Latvia next year?
My long term goal is to be World M90 Champion. I’ve plenty of time yet.
Learning so much from others, I’m now keen to start earning my own tickets as a coach for both Running and Orienteering, so that will be another interesting journey.
Orienteering, a year living in France, a new language to learn and a different role with Lakeland Trails. All these changes in direction have brought us many memorable life experiences. What a wonderful journey.
And who would have thought that just by slowing down, I could run quicker?
20th September 2018
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Last year we gave the Coniston Trail a rest. It was a very tough decision to make. We’d brought forward the big Dirty Double weekend into October in the hope of better weather, although a fat lot of good that did us! We found our autumn calendar much too busy to fit the Coniston event into our schedule.
So the Coniston Trail is making a welcome return this year on the 22nd September and my thoughts turn to the very first event.
Memories come flooding back of the surprise on peoples’ faces, finishing the 2005 Garburn Trail in June, having another event in Coniston already planned for them in September. Trail running in the UK was in it’s infancy back then and completely new to the Lake District. We soon filled up all 500 places on offer.
I hoped the Coniston Trail course would be a hit. The trail has a bit of everything, making a near perfect circuit. First going through the white-washed cottages of the honeypot village. Then climbing gradually on a good track, up past Coniston Coppermines and the Youth Hostel. Splashings of waterfalls and mountains rearing up vertically as a backdrop for company.
Once height has been gained, a contouring single track through slate mines and out onto the Walna Scar Road. Spectacular views of Coniston Water, the shining level below. A long, winding descent takes you through ancient, mature oak woodland, back to the lake, with a couple of kilometres through trees dappled in sunlight along the lake shore.
Autumn has got to be one of my favourite times of year for running. The air is cool, the low light creating spectacular views in the early mornings and evenings. The mountains are quiet again after the busy school holidays. Peace descends to the Lake District.
Trees steal the show, their leaves changing colour daily through September, October and November. Combined with bright sunshine, there’s a sense of magic all around.
For me, this magic also gets sprinkled underneath the trees and for many, many years, I’ve enjoyed collecting wild mushrooms. This passion began when I was in my early twenties, living in Scandinavia. The thrill of the chase. Never knowing what you may find. I can smell the musty, rich autumn fallen leaves just thinking about those times.
Maybe apricot yellow chanterelles?
Or the spiny, almost white, hedgehog fungus?
The mature oak woodlands around the pretty village of Coniston usually come up trumps. I always have a back pack on when I’m running during these months. Dinner is often a surprise. A celebration of one type of fungus or another.
Back to the Coniston Trail
Which brings me back to the Coniston Trail.
In late spring in 2005, I was in a meeting with the guys from Grizedale Arts at the Forestry Commission. One of the local farmers had told me about a big, new festival taking place in the village on the same weekend as the first Coniston Trail event. I needed to know if there was going to be any conflict with our event planning and logistics.
It turned out that the “Water Festival” was mainly orchestrated for TV, some much needed publicity for the region in the aftermath of the foot and mouth crisis. A conduit for the River Cottage team who were going to be filming an episode of their popular television series on Channel 4.
“If Hugh needs a mushroom guide, then please give him my number” were my parting words, meant as a joke.
Imagine my surprise when a couple of months later I get a call out of the blue and someone from the River Cottage team, a ‘fixer’, wants to meet up with me. I guess all the other mushroom experts in the area were too busy that September weekend.
Filming for River Cottage in 2005
River Cottage TV
I’m a big fan of the River Cottage celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall, so when I get asked if I could find him a cauliflower fungus, I agreed without really thinking.
“If I find one though, would you please ask Hugh to come and start the Coniston Trail event?” I was trying desperately hard to think of ways to gain some additional publicity.
When I got home the enormity of the task hit me. I had only ever found two of these strange mushrooms before and never in the Lake District. I knew they favoured growing at the base of conifer trees, particularly Scots pine. I scoured my maps for new places to try, making up new running routes for myself. Inadvertently, these ‘mushroom runs’ gave me new ideas about future potential trails in Keswick and Hawkshead too. It had been a dry summer, and I spent many, many happy hours running through likely looking ‘hotspots’, coming back each time with lots of other mushrooms, albeit not the one I was searching for.
A perfect cauliflower fungus, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittenstall in 2005
Filming was due to take place the day before the Coniston Trail and I struck lucky with only one day left. A perfect cauliflower fungus, the biggest and best I’d ever found.
I met the River Cottage film crew on the shores of Coniston Water, having already spent a few hours course marking most of the Coniston Trail. Hugh was charming, and intrigued by me wearing running gear. We got chatting, and when he heard this was how I go foraging for mushrooms, his eyes sparkled with ideas.
Filming for River Cottage TV in 2005
We spent the next couple of hours running around the woods, all for just a couple of minutes of TV. Once the filming was done, we shook hands, I shouldered my pack and continued with the course marking.
The following day the first Coniston Trail was a great success, the sun shone and the course was praised for being spectacular. Runnersworld magazine even gave the event the title “the most scenic race in Britain”. There was only one blip. Unfortunately in the morning, Hugh got held up filming on the lake, trying to catch Atlantic Char, so we missed out on having a celebrity start the event.
All these years later, I still get friends mentioning me being on repeat showings of that River Cottage programme on TV, running in the woods with Hugh chasing me.
Looking back, what pleases me the most though, is all that time spent looking for potential mushroom sites back in 2005, increased my knowledge of new habitats no end. I now know where to find cauliflower fungus in many areas of the Lake District.
Even better, both Derwentwater and Hawkshead Trails were born and added to the Lakeland Trails the following year.
Me and Hugh back in 2005
We’ve all got Hugh and a search for cauliflower fungus to thank for that.
See you in Coniston on 22nd September for this year’s event?
We’d always planned to climb the last Wainwright together as a family, and Ash wanted it to be a new one for him. So we thought Low Fell would fit the bill. We left our home early this morning to make the most of the weather window, arriving at the little hamlet of Thackthwaite just after 9am.
Ash had brought along Meery the Meercat and Cecily the Snake, his two best “teddies”, as they’re part of the family too, and you can’t argue with his logic.
The air felt cool and damp, black slugs were everywhere, going about their slimy business. We climbed up an old bridleway, the rocks greasy with overnight rain. A blackbird with a bright yellow/orange bill was digging in the earth, then flew off into a walled garden. Ash wanted to climb across a fallen tree trunk spanning a ditch, nerves getting to him looking down at the drop below.
A brown Herdwick sheep with a white head on the path amongst foxgloves. Ash ran towards it and she disappeared into the high bracken. Tiny silver grey moths fluttering around everywhere. I left Claire and Ash to continue up the zig zags without me, and ran off, climbing steeply through wet grass and bracken to the rounded lump of Fellbarrow, my penultimate Wainwright, a stone trig point marking the summit.
A speedy descent, then contouring round small hills, converging on Claire and Ash, who were both running, trying to beat me to the distant summit pile of rocks. “Last one there’s a silly sausage” is our family motto.
Throughout the year, I’ve been running all the Wainwrights on my own, preferring solitude and the flexibility this gives, weaving my own ambitions in to our family life. I never once felt alone during these runs, knowing my “dream team” are always there for me back in Kendal. If I’d left the house at some ungodly hour of the morning, I would usually be high on the fells and in mobile phone coverage around normal breakfast time, for a chat with them both before school. Knowing they are there for support gives constant reassurance, and I know how truly fortunate I am, indeed how fortunate we all are.
Low Fell has a number of false summits, all marked with a small pile of stones. I caught up Ash and Claire and we played “roller coaster”, running fast on the downhill bits and seeing how far we could keep it going up the other side.
Claire had already been laying out a trail of hula hoops, a game we started when Ash was just three years old, placing “treats” along a walking route, to break up the monotony for him. He still loves us doing this and I wonder how long this habit will last.
We set up the camera timer on the final summit, overlooking Loweswater and Crummock Water, the wind now picking up, and the camera wobbling on the mini tripod. One for the family album, my final and 214th Wainwright of the year and Ash’s 26th Wainwright of his life.
More games on the way back. This time I’m laying a trail of Malteesers, placing them on dry rocks along the path. I veer off the path and quickly jog up to the actual high point marked on my map, a grassy knoll without a pile of stones.
We’re soon back at the van, thankful the rain held off. First we had an early lunch at the Keswick Museum Cafe, then all afternoon in the pool at the Leisure Centre, a great place for kids, with a tunnel slide and wave machine.
Another goal fulfilled, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of running the Wainwrights, and writing about them too. Soon a new journey will begin towards an altogether different goal, and I’m already excited and looking forward to it.
The Lake District – what a great place to live, work and bring up your family!
2 Wainwright summits today, that’s all 214 Wainwrights completed in 179 days.
I’d been saving the Wainwrights around Buttermere for the final long run in my 214 summits in 214 days challenge. Leaving home just before 5am, the roads empty, an inversion of mist settling in the hollows, trees rearing above the veil. I parked by the roadside near pretty Buttermere church, and set off wondering what the morning would have in store for me, with a mixed forecast of cloud, turning to thunderstorms by late morning.
I stopped to marvel at the view of reflections on Buttermere, taking photo after photo. The sun had just crested the nearby peak of Robinson, and light was filtering through the trees along the lake shore.
A red breasted merganser floated into view, and further along a family of great crested grebes, the young almost half the size of the adults. Early morning walkers already striding out, this weekend run making a change from the solitude of my usual mid week excursions.
Three middle aged men were having a rest early on the climb of Fleetwith Pike. I stopped for a chat, then pushed on, the view opening up behind me.
Near the summit, the unmistakable musk of fox, sour and ancient. This must be it’s territory.
A lovely run along a single track path, through heather and down to an old slate quarry, the flattened stones blue-green, a tortoiseshell butterfly sunning itself.
Stepping stones across a stream, Buttermere like glass way down below, framed by rock and crags. The fox smell again, and I suddenly remembered Wainwright’s ashes were scattered at one of the tarns nearby.
The mirrored image of Great Gable in Blackbeck Tarn, further on, Innominate Tarn and I stopped in my tracks.
Ahead on the path was an old fox, looking at me, it’s orange fur speckled with white. Then it was off, trotting along the path, looking back to see if I was following it, leaving tiny wet prints on the rocks.
Haystacks and both summit cairns built around an old iron railway track, no doubt from the slate quarry. Lots of walkers coming of High Crag, thermal cloud building and subsiding around the summit.
A ring ouzel, my fourth one this year, along the rocky ridge line to High Stile, far off Ennerdale coming into view.
Thick cloud on Red Pike, and a fast grassy descent and on up Starling Dodd, the cairn a sculpture of twisted metal fence posts.
Collages of green lichen and pink rock on Great Borne, steeply down by the side of a fence, reaching bogland and cotton grass.
Three fieldfare a nice surprise on the way to Gavel Fell, they’ve usually migrated back to Siberia in the spring. This trio must like the Lakes too.
Rolling summits of Blake Fell and Burnbank Fell, down through deep tussock and cotton grass with views of Loweswater, to clear sparkling waters of Holme Beck, foxgloves crowding for attention.
I made up some Nuun drink and watched a wasp as the tablet was dissolving, it flew to a white, melon sized nest hidden at the top of a stream bank.
Around the edge of a mature conifer plantation on a good track, the sun now very warm, another ring ouzel. Further on near Highnook Tarn a buzzard flying low behind me. Something wasn’t right. I stopped and watched, it’s wings were pale and rounded, the flight all wrong. As it flew near it looked at me with yellow and black eyes in a fierce round face. It was a hunting short eared owl.
Through shoulder high bracken, a painted male redstart calling in alarm on the dry stone wall in full view, flying off with a flick of his orange tail.
Up through dwarf bilberry, picking the biggest, juiciest ones, hardly breaking stride, a bleached sheep’s skull grinning at the sky, a large white stone of quartz. Thermals getting stronger on the ridge, the air feeling cooler, clouds darkening by the time I reached the top of Hen Comb.
Over the top, picking my way round rushes and through bracken, jumping the meandering beck, brown with tannin. Tussock grass sapping tired legs, impossible to run, floundering in deep mossy bog.
A final hands on knees climb up the steep slope of Mellbreak, and soon I’m on the way back, Crummock Water and Buttermere getting closer, down through more bracken, a boulder strewn beck, across a footbridge and the final mile or so with tired legs and sore feet, ash trees green with leaf.
Dog walkers, families, a dad with his toddler in a backpack, swallows in the farm yard and I can now stop running. I change next to my van, and drive back down to the farm cafe for a well earned bacon buttie and coffee, sitting outside, watching the clouds build ever higher.
I’ve done it, all the hard work’s over. Now there’s only the glory leg to celebrate running all the Wainwrights within 214 days, and there’s only one way to finish!
12 Wainwright summits today, that’s 212 down, only 2 to go.
House martins flashed above the young bracken shoots, white rumps shining in the morning sun. A green woodpecker, cackling as it looped away. It was worth the wait. I’d already been up lonely Binsey after a strong early morning coffee, thick cloud blanketing the higher northern fells. Now parked up by the Mill Inn pub in Mungrisdale, I was enjoying the luxury of another coffee, sun filtering though, warming the air, clouds lifting.
On the steep ridge of Souther Fell, into mobile coverage, a wake up call home. Higher up the summit of Blencathra now clear, basking in sunshine, skylarks singing everywhere, such a contrast to last night’s quiet hills.
Sharp Edge looked irresistible with no one else around, and I ran along the path towards it, crossing a tinkling stream, stone steps polished smooth by the masses.
It must have been more than fifteen years since I was last on this ridge. I’d forgotten how exposed it is, the rock angled, scored by winter crampons, Scales Tarn a shining level below.
Breakfast on the summit, a nourishing muesli bar, full of nuts and covered in yoghurt. It was too cold and windy to enjoy the views for long, and I was off, gathering speed, loving the loose scree, then the canter to the stones marking the flatness of Mungrisdale Common.
Cotton grass bowing with the breeze, wet bogs underfoot, giving just enough for a decent spring.
A bird shit stained, rounded slab of slate on Bannerdale Crags summit, an inviting path around the escarpment, dark green, lush with growth, too steep for browsing sheep.
Getting very warm by Bowscale Fell, another gorgeous ridge line above Tarn Crags, reaching the steepness near the River Caldew, crossing a fenced area, with high grass and bilberry, self seeded rowan and juniper everywhere.
The nearby hillside blackened from a recent fire. I waded across the river, hopped a smaller tributary, then straight up, picking my way through wet rushes and heather, following a stream bed impressively gouged out, a new habitat for nesting birds, lined with foxgloves in flower.
An endless drag, high-stepping through the rough ground, eventually reaching the washed out upper reaches of Brandy Gill, my next summit High Pike within sight.
The first people I’d seen this morning are just leaving, cheery hello’s in the midweek sun, knowing how lucky we all are.
There’s an impressive lonely slate bench at the top, a memorial facing west, into wind, an old man sheltering on the lee side of the cairn. The long roller coaster to my final summit of the morning, Carrock Fell, and my 200th Wainwright of the year.
I’m feeling both strangely elated and saddened at the same time, as my adventure nears it’s end. Both last night’s and this morning’s run are a product of the journey towards a goal, lovely memories that will live with me forever.
The final descent through deep heather, winding along a narrow sheep trod, then down broken lichen covered slates, a pile of rough steep scree, hot in the sun. I stop and enjoy the first sweet bilberries of the year, ripened by the reflected heat, looking down for a line through the gorse.
Jogging along the lane through Mosedale and on to Mungrisdale, admiring the flowers, purple foxgloves, white pignut, pink thyme, a reed bunting calling from the top of a dwarf rowan tree. What a joy to be out amongst it all, in the hot sunshine.
I change and make a cup of tea, letting the sun dry out my withered, whitened feet, sitting on a wooden picnic bench faded grey by the sun, elderflowers alive with bees and hover flies. Two wasps land on the table, paper makers, gathering material for their nest.
Then it’s time to go. I’ve a meeting in Ambleside to get to, and I’ll need some lunch beforehand from my favourite Rattle Gill cafe.
Another 8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 200 down, 14 to go.
Time is something I’m going to be short of in the next couple of weeks, with our mammoth Ultimate Trails event coming up in just over a week, then a week long business trip to the Pyrenees soon after. With school summer holidays looming, I need to make the most of every opportunity if I’m going to finish off running all 214 Wainwrights within 214 days.
Today I’d started work very early, before 5am, so I could watch our six year old son, Ash take part in the school sports day, on a beautiful warm, sunny afternoon. After tea, I was off, driving up to Keswick, getting stuck in traffic in Ambleside, grabbing a couple of bottles of my favourite Hawkshead beer from Booths for the end of my run.
It was after 7pm when I padded along the quiet tarmac lane east of Bassenthwaite, hedgerows blazing with pinks and purples of red campion and foxgloves. Up the ridge edged with young yellow green bracken, my right achilles tight and sore from yesterday’s long run.
I love the name of the first Wainwright, Great Cockup, running off the summit with a smile. Another short, steep climb to Meal Fell, with views out towards a silver sea.
These small rounded hills were strangely quiet, no birdsong, skylarks already roosting amongst heather and tussock. A fresh south westerly breeze my only company, the running a joy, fast along well used grassy trods. First contouring below Little Sca Fell, then a roller coaster ridge to Longlands Fell, ignoring the contouring path which avoids the extra climb. I love ridge running, wide open views, always worth the extra effort.
A steep plunge down to Charleton Gill, jumping the stream, low sunlight bringing out the contrast of the eroded contours. Hands on knees to Brae Fell, cold wind freshening. I stop and pull on a long sleeved top. Now into wind on the gradual climb to Great Sca Fell, my legs now loose and running strong. Hurdling deep bogs amongst dark peat, reaching Knott, evening skies darkening.
Reeling in distant Great Calva, rounding the valley of Wiley Gill, suddenly climbing the final slope to the windswept summit, marked with a sculpture of stone and twisted iron fence posts. It’s late, nearly 9pm, and the low setting sun lies hidden by dark grey cloud.
Fast down the wide boggy path through heather, reaching the main Cumbria Way bridleway and Dead Beck, a sleepy carrion crow taking flight from a small hawthorn tree at the junction. I could hear the frightened call of young chicks, the crow has a bulky nest in the hawthorn. This robber of other birds’ eggs and young was a coward and had left them behind. I would never have known there was a nest if it had been braver and hadn’t flown off.
Along the rocky track, skittering down an eroded bank to cross Dash Beck, then a steep drag up Birkett Edge, rounded pebbles of white quartz amongst the stones in the path guiding me to my final summit of Bakestall.
From here, a more or less vertical descent down through tussock and bilberry bushes, cutting the corner and joining up with the single track tarmac lane of the Cumbria Way. Another short cut, taking the west side of the drystone wall, through lush bogland, preferring this to the well grazed grass on the other side. It was hard work needing a high knee lift, lovely starlets of pink ragged robin my reward.
My van was parked amongst the trees, with hidden Halls Beck just a few metes away. I gathered a towel and change of clothes, stripped off, and lay on my back in the gentle current of the stream, watching a bat twisting and turning in the light night sky, draining a bottle of Windermere Pale Ale in almost one blissful gulp.
I dried off, pulling on warm, clean gear, the air now feeling cold. I lay on my makeshift bed in the back of my van and opened another bottle of beer, reflecting on the evening’s run, and thought my final summit Bakestall was a great name for dessert.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 192 down, 22 to go.
I wanted to do something special for the summer solstice, our longest day, though the weather was having other ideas. Low cloud and warm summer rain will be great for wild mushrooms, not so good for solo mountain adventures. A brief window of respite was promised in the early evening, so I made plans for a jaunt after work.
Setting off up the steep climb from the National Trust car park near Blea Tarn, I followed the fell running trod worn down in the bracken by Three Shires runners. Horse flies droned, danger when all went quiet and they’d settled on my skin to inflict their painful bite.
Purples of heather and wild thyme, alive with white tailed bumble bees, cloud and shadow bringing the Langdale Pikes into sharp relief. Views stretched out in every direction from the summit of Lingmoor.
Steeply back down, dragonflies dancing in the air, a distant sandpiper piping, the shining tarn fringed with bright white cotton grass. I never did find the fell race trod through the bright green sea of bracken.
So it was hard work wading steeply through it, stumbling on hidden rocks up the flanks of Blake Rigg, the rocky Pike o Blisco summit worth the effort.
Wild bilberry up the climb of Cold Pike, a relief to be off eroded paths on my straight line route to the top.
Leg sapping bogs, wet with recent rain. The crumpled ridge line of Crinkle Crags, a lonely orange tent near the summit. I’d been looking forward to the next section, a wilderness navigating route, steeply down on a tussocky ridge by Rest Gill, the bulk of Scafell way in the distance, wading streams, picking a line, thinking like a red deer. A harsh clash of pebbles in the cliffs above my head. A male ring ouzel calling out in alarm from it’s nesting territory.
Skirting round the wide levels of Great Moss, gingerly testing the bogs, cutting across a narrower section to the noisy waterfall of Cam Snout. Then a climb towards Mickledore, the sheer streaked wall of the East Buttress of Scafell.
Loose rock and pouring water in the narrow gill to Foxes Tarn. Cloud building higher up, the dimmer switch turning. Thick, blanket cloud at the summit, a freshening, cold westerly.
Rock hopping through boulders, trying to find the grassy line, visibility down to a few metres. Then like an island looming out of the cloud, the distant mound of Slight Side, my sixth and final Wainwright on this run.
I knew the hardest part would be the return leg. Tiredness was creeping in, and it would be another wild run through unfamiliar terrain, reading the contours on my map and on the ground. First a plunge down loose scree. Then a bonus, a recent trod, broken with stud marks, no doubt from the recent Great Lakes fell race. I lost the trail wading through the thigh deep, refreshing upper reaches of the River Esk. Picking it up again around knolls and through bracken to part company, as I jumped across the narrows of Lingcove Beck, slicing the rock into two bubbling waterfalls.
Cloud was now heavy and dark, reclaiming the peaks, sinking lower with the fading light. With no food in my pack, I upped my pace, realising there may be a 9pm food deadline at the Three Shires Inn. Into the wetlands of Mosedale, cutting the corner, crossing barbed wire fences with long grass hiding rocks and recently planted rowan trees. Contouring down to Wrynose Bottom, the single track road eerily quiet, everyone at home no doubt watching another disappointing, boring England football match.
A wheatear for company, then an enormous bird of prey, labouring against the wind, heading my way. The hope of a golden eagle transforming into a heron as it flew above, legs trailing out behind.
Finally, I reached my van and took off my wet shoes and socks, throwing on dry clothes, a ten minute countdown before the food curfew at the pub. I arrived with one minute to spare, only to find they’d stopped serving at 8.45pm!
Oh well. Dinner tonight would be a packet of peanuts and a pint, and I’ll be a bit late home.
6 Wainwright summits today, that’s 184 down, 30 to go.