Time is something I’m going to be short of in the next couple of weeks, with our mammoth Ultimate Trails event coming up in just over a week, then a week long business trip to the Pyrenees soon after. With school summer holidays looming, I need to make the most of every opportunity if I’m going to finish off running all 214 Wainwrights within 214 days.
Today I’d started work very early, before 5am, so I could watch our six year old son, Ash take part in the school sports day, on a beautiful warm, sunny afternoon. After tea, I was off, driving up to Keswick, getting stuck in traffic in Ambleside, grabbing a couple of bottles of my favourite Hawkshead beer from Booths for the end of my run.
It was after 7pm when I padded along the quiet tarmac lane east of Bassenthwaite, hedgerows blazing with pinks and purples of red campion and foxgloves. Up the ridge edged with young yellow green bracken, my right achilles tight and sore from yesterday’s long run.
I love the name of the first Wainwright, Great Cockup, running off the summit with a smile. Another short, steep climb to Meal Fell, with views out towards a silver sea.
These small rounded hills were strangely quiet, no birdsong, skylarks already roosting amongst heather and tussock. A fresh south westerly breeze my only company, the running a joy, fast along well used grassy trods. First contouring below Little Sca Fell, then a roller coaster ridge to Longlands Fell, ignoring the contouring path which avoids the extra climb. I love ridge running, wide open views, always worth the extra effort.
A steep plunge down to Charleton Gill, jumping the stream, low sunlight bringing out the contrast of the eroded contours. Hands on knees to Brae Fell, cold wind freshening. I stop and pull on a long sleeved top. Now into wind on the gradual climb to Great Sca Fell, my legs now loose and running strong. Hurdling deep bogs amongst dark peat, reaching Knott, evening skies darkening.
Reeling in distant Great Calva, rounding the valley of Wiley Gill, suddenly climbing the final slope to the windswept summit, marked with a sculpture of stone and twisted iron fence posts. It’s late, nearly 9pm, and the low setting sun lies hidden by dark grey cloud.
Fast down the wide boggy path through heather, reaching the main Cumbria Way bridleway and Dead Beck, a sleepy carrion crow taking flight from a small hawthorn tree at the junction. I could hear the frightened call of young chicks, the crow has a bulky nest in the hawthorn. This robber of other birds’ eggs and young was a coward and had left them behind. I would never have known there was a nest if it had been braver and hadn’t flown off.
Along the rocky track, skittering down an eroded bank to cross Dash Beck, then a steep drag up Birkett Edge, rounded pebbles of white quartz amongst the stones in the path guiding me to my final summit of Bakestall.
From here, a more or less vertical descent down through tussock and bilberry bushes, cutting the corner and joining up with the single track tarmac lane of the Cumbria Way. Another short cut, taking the west side of the drystone wall, through lush bogland, preferring this to the well grazed grass on the other side. It was hard work needing a high knee lift, lovely starlets of pink ragged robin my reward.
My van was parked amongst the trees, with hidden Halls Beck just a few metes away. I gathered a towel and change of clothes, stripped off, and lay on my back in the gentle current of the stream, watching a bat twisting and turning in the light night sky, draining a bottle of Windermere Pale Ale in almost one blissful gulp.
I dried off, pulling on warm, clean gear, the air now feeling cold. I lay on my makeshift bed in the back of my van and opened another bottle of beer, reflecting on the evening’s run, and thought my final summit Bakestall was a great name for dessert.
8 Wainwright summits today, that’s 192 down, 22 to go.
I wanted to do something special for the summer solstice, our longest day, though the weather was having other ideas. Low cloud and warm summer rain will be great for wild mushrooms, not so good for solo mountain adventures. A brief window of respite was promised in the early evening, so I made plans for a jaunt after work.
Setting off up the steep climb from the National Trust car park near Blea Tarn, I followed the fell running trod worn down in the bracken by Three Shires runners. Horse flies droned, danger when all went quiet and they’d settled on my skin to inflict their painful bite.
Purples of heather and wild thyme, alive with white tailed bumble bees, cloud and shadow bringing the Langdale Pikes into sharp relief. Views stretched out in every direction from the summit of Lingmoor.
Steeply back down, dragonflies dancing in the air, a distant sandpiper piping, the shining tarn fringed with bright white cotton grass. I never did find the fell race trod through the bright green sea of bracken.
So it was hard work wading steeply through it, stumbling on hidden rocks up the flanks of Blake Rigg, the rocky Pike o Blisco summit worth the effort.
Wild bilberry up the climb of Cold Pike, a relief to be off eroded paths on my straight line route to the top.
Leg sapping bogs, wet with recent rain. The crumpled ridge line of Crinkle Crags, a lonely orange tent near the summit. I’d been looking forward to the next section, a wilderness navigating route, steeply down on a tussocky ridge by Rest Gill, the bulk of Scafell way in the distance, wading streams, picking a line, thinking like a red deer. A harsh clash of pebbles in the cliffs above my head. A male ring ouzel calling out in alarm from it’s nesting territory.
Skirting round the wide levels of Great Moss, gingerly testing the bogs, cutting across a narrower section to the noisy waterfall of Cam Snout. Then a climb towards Mickledore, the sheer streaked wall of the East Buttress of Scafell.
Loose rock and pouring water in the narrow gill to Foxes Tarn. Cloud building higher up, the dimmer switch turning. Thick, blanket cloud at the summit, a freshening, cold westerly.
Rock hopping through boulders, trying to find the grassy line, visibility down to a few metres. Then like an island looming out of the cloud, the distant mound of Slight Side, my sixth and final Wainwright on this run.
I knew the hardest part would be the return leg. Tiredness was creeping in, and it would be another wild run through unfamiliar terrain, reading the contours on my map and on the ground. First a plunge down loose scree. Then a bonus, a recent trod, broken with stud marks, no doubt from the recent Great Lakes fell race. I lost the trail wading through the thigh deep, refreshing upper reaches of the River Esk. Picking it up again around knolls and through bracken to part company, as I jumped across the narrows of Lingcove Beck, slicing the rock into two bubbling waterfalls.
Cloud was now heavy and dark, reclaiming the peaks, sinking lower with the fading light. With no food in my pack, I upped my pace, realising there may be a 9pm food deadline at the Three Shires Inn. Into the wetlands of Mosedale, cutting the corner, crossing barbed wire fences with long grass hiding rocks and recently planted rowan trees. Contouring down to Wrynose Bottom, the single track road eerily quiet, everyone at home no doubt watching another disappointing, boring England football match.
A wheatear for company, then an enormous bird of prey, labouring against the wind, heading my way. The hope of a golden eagle transforming into a heron as it flew above, legs trailing out behind.
Finally, I reached my van and took off my wet shoes and socks, throwing on dry clothes, a ten minute countdown before the food curfew at the pub. I arrived with one minute to spare, only to find they’d stopped serving at 8.45pm!
Oh well. Dinner tonight would be a packet of peanuts and a pint, and I’ll be a bit late home.
6 Wainwright summits today, that’s 184 down, 30 to go.
Mist hung over the valleys around Derwentwater, prickly thistles marking the rounded summit of Latrigg, my first of the morning. I’d set off very early, before 5am, driving from my home in Kendal to Latrigg car park, surprising a proud roe deer stag, deep red in colour, who looked up from the lane and bounded off into the wood.
Higher up the tarmac chewed away at the verge by recent floods, nature reclaiming her territory. There wasn’t a breath of wind. I ran back past my van and up the climb towards the high Skiddaw fells, already getting too warm.
Climbing steeply opened up the view, a family of four ravens sitting on the fence, croaking their encouragement, or worse, as they took off into the still air. I veered off the main path, along a faint trod heading for my second summit of Lonscale Fell, mist arriving as the air warmed from below.
Skiddaw Little Man next, a newly made gravel path to the twisted iron fence posts marking the summit. The trig point on Skiddaw itself, worn and eroded like a rotten tooth, mist washing up like a tide against the ridge.
I took a line contouring across the scree, marvelling at the arrangement of all the slate stones, lined up like an army, all facing north west. A small climb to the summit of Carl Side, then along the lovely ridge, one of the best short ridges in the lakes, rolling as it does first to Long Side, then to Ullock Pike. A tiny black lamb, bleating and running off with it’s mother.
Steeply down plunging in heather and bilberry, finding the old ride that slices nicely through the plantation trees down to the forest road, climbing again up to the final summit of Dodd, a memorial cairn to a Scout master on the summit, giving me an idea that Latrigg would be a good place to remember Bob Graham, sitting as it does with views over Keswick and almost the entire BG round.
On the way down my first cuckoo sighting of the year. It was calling by the path, perched in a rowan tree, taking off and fluttering with it’s sparrowhawk long-tailed profile, no doubt to trick meadow pipits into flying off their well hidden nests in alarm, inadvertently giving their location away. The thief returning when no-one’s at home to lay it’s own egg for them to adopt.
A dilemma on the back road at Millbeck with the bridge being closed, blocked with security fences. I had a close look at the map and found a small path further back, coming out on the other side of the beck by the village hall. The long drag along the warm tarmac back to the car park, foxgloves and fragrant elderflowers breaking up the monotony. After changing, I drove into Keswick for a strong Costalot coffee and croissant, two of my running club mates just setting off to recce the first leg of the “Bob”
My morning’s work wasn’t over, I wasn’t even half way through it yet. I drove through Whinlatter, parking up by Scawgill Bridge, my legs taking their time to loosen up again on the steep climb to Greystones. I love these low, grassy, mounded Wainwrights, and followed the winding trod through bogland with the wailing call of curlews.
Climbing up amongst heather, a male whinchat calling in alarm, more beautiful than his brighter, gowdier cousin, reaching the summit of Ling Fell. Another path to follow, the short grass yellowing with the dry weather, down through bright green bracken. The trail to the summit of Sale Fell like a well kept lawn.
After so much easy running, I took a downhill line through the rough tussocks, wet with cuckoo spit, joining up with the footpath again at Kelswick Farm, across fields, before climbing by a big badger sett onto rough pasture, cotton grass white like snow as far as the eye could see.
Flies were starting to gather around my head, eager for salt from my sweaty brow. The backdrop of the Skiddaw fells, dark and huge, a wonder I was running over them only a couple of hours ago.
From Broom Fell, a roller coaster to Lord’s Seat, and some company on the way to Barf, Jackie, a sprightly, tough looking 64 year old fell runner from Ellenborough AC, the uppers on his studs worn and knackered. We shook hands as we went our separate ways, me doubling back up towards Lord’s Seat, before contouring through deep, wet bog and heather, finding the path down to the forest road, taking me up to the mountain bike trail.
A short cut over fallen conifer trunks, onto leg sapping tussocks again. There’s something deeply rewarding about keeping going when you’re spent, and I was now running on empty. Whinlatter summit, the high cairn, then the lower, and a vertical plunge downhill through knee high heather, grabbing at my shoes. A red grouse shot out from under my feet and I stopped in my tracks, looking for it’s nest. As I gently pulled the heather apart, a meadow pipit flew out, it’s camouflaged nest with a full clutch of four eggs.
The stream in the valley bottom had washed away the path, wanting to meander, as it surely will at some point. I washed in the clear, cool water, and looked forward to well earned late lunch in Keswick after my morning of Wainwrights. First the highs, then the lows.
15 Wainwright summits today, that’s 177 down, 37 to go.
The forecast for late morning was for thunderstorms and lightening with localised flash flooding, so I left my home in Kendal just before 5am, driving through thick mist to the village of Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale valley. I laced up some brand new studs, a recent gift after my Joss Naylor record run, and set off in the muggy early morning heat.
It had rained during the night here, deep puddles on the track, and a stench of sheep through the farmyard, black badger turds dotted along the path by the stream.
Cuckoos were calling, the zig zag climb through the old slate mine to the first summit of Castle Crag made eerie by the thick cloud. I doubled back, picking up my running pack from my van in Rosthwaite. I may well need my cagoule, map and compass this morning.
The early climb was like running through someone’s well kept garden. The path twisting round ferns, boulders and over small dried up streams. Higher up the washed out trail towards Watendlath, I veered left off the main path along a well worn trod, reaching burnt bracken undergrowth, the air heavy with the scent of a recent barbecue.
Pale blue sky the colour of a starling’s egg appeared amongst the white cloud, a rocky knoll marking the top of Grange Fell. Across the valley, my ridge line of High Seat just above the inversion layer. The bogs were still very wet, despite the recent dry spell, sweat was pouring off me from the humidity, I contoured through the cotton grass towards Great Crag.
Then the magic happened.
I had climbed above the cloud, the valleys all around a white sea, islands of mountain peaks basking in the warm early morning sunshine.
Droplets of water sparkling on every blade of grass, the sky now a gorgeous blue, Dock Tarn a mirror of reflections. Heather, deep tussock grass and wet bog making the going tough work, before reaching the faint trod to distant Ullscarf.
These are quiet hills, off the radar for all but Wainwright baggers and nature lovers. Just as I was thinking about red deer, a menacing RAF jet roared low overhead, two deer appeared from nowhere, startled first by the noise of the jet, then by me running towards them.
Blea Tarn like glass, then the rounded hump of Armboth Fell, a nondescript peak with views down towards Thirlmere and Raven Crag. Across more wetland to the lump of High Tove, peat hags and deep green man eating bogs on the way to the trig point summit of High Seat. The early morning inverted cloud had now gone, the first thermal clouds were bubbling above the peaks all around.
A jet black raven waited for me on the pile of stones near the next summit of Bleaberry Fell, launching with a loud flap of it’s wings and a croak into the still air.
Down by the grassy side of the main path all the way to Walla Crag, Derwentwater flat calm far below.
Doubling back and saw my first person of the morning, another runner, making her way uphill and going well, we called out good mornings as we passed by.
As I reached Ashness Bridge and splashed cool water on my face, a lady was opening the shutters of the nearby National Trust building. I jogged over and asked her where the Bob Graham Memorial stone was – I’d seen it last night on my map, and wanted to pay a visit.
“Over the bridge and follow the stream” I did as suggested, the whisper of a path deteriorated into thick green bracken, and I ploughed my way through it, swatting off the hungry horse flies, back to the tarmac of the road. Further down by the roadside, the mushroom shaped memorial stone, like an ink cap, nestled amongst the bracken.
I thought two things were strange. The location, lying as it does nowhere near any of the Bob Graham Round route, and using his full name Robert on the memorial.
I jumped on my bike, hidden amongst the trees further down the lane, and pedalled back to Rosthwaite, taking photos of the bright yellow buttercups in the hay meadows, a backdrop of towering cumulus clouds overdeveloping all around.
I drove back to Ambleside, and as I tucked into an early lunch at my favourite Rattle Gill Cafe, the heavens opened with a rumble, and rain poured down. The rugged wildness and peace of the hills gave me a real taste of Scotland this morning
9 Wainwright summits today, that’s 162 down, 52 to go.
I knew I must have had one beer too many last night, as when I arrived in Borrowdale I’d brought the wrong map with me. We’d been away for a few days cycle touring with our little boy Ash, camping at night and being kept up by the Bank Holiday party crowds. This morning when I woke I had no idea where I was. It was only when I remembered an early Wainwright bagging session, that I jumped out of bed and got the coffee on.
The higher summits were still in cloud, a fresh north easterly wind, the promised sunshine still yet to appear. I set off along the road from Stonethwaite, wearing my comfortable “slipper” trail shoes. With no map to guide me, I could pick my own routes through the landscape, and I started the game immediately, going straight up Eagle Crag from the bridge over Greenup Gill, bluebells still in flower in the dampness.
As it got steeper, I scrambled up rock steps, grabbing at handfuls of heather. A bird shot into the air with a clatter of wings, as it wheeled around it stared at me long and hard, the masked face of an angry peregrine falcon, caught by surprise on sentry duty. Bands of vertical rock near the smooth stone of the summit.
Easy running through the heather along dried up peat, and as I looked up at the incline to the next peak, a ring ouzel flew across my path, the mottled white arc on his chest clearly visible. As I started the climb, I could first hear, then see, his browner mate down below amongst the boulders. Fantastic, a breeding pair.
On Sargeant’s Crag, the sun broke through, bright with shadows and it looked as though the cloud was breaking up across the valley on Rosthwaite Fell. Last year this route was my last day of Wainwright bagging, with Base Brown the final summit, thick with cloud and the rivers swollen in spate.
Today it was getting warm, already feeling like summer. I picked my way carefully down to Langstrath Beck, stepping across boulders by the gash of Black Moss Pot. Hands on knees climb through tussock grass, then following a worn trod to the top of Rosthwaite Fell.
I could see another good looking route skirting Comb Gill, a scramble climb up jumbled boulders, opening out onto the summit plateau, with the cairns of Glaramara lined up ahead.
I’ve already been up Allen Crags this year, so looked down on the steep valley of Ruddy Gill, searching for a line. It looked steep, wild and remote, ticking all my boxes. A slash in the hillside that I couldn’t cross, sheer cliffs either side. Without a map, I didn’t know this was Allen Gill, and I had to lose a lot of height to get around it, making the climb of Seathwaite Fell more of an effort. A raven flew off a rotting carcass of a sheep at the edge of a tarn, no doubt stuck in mud earlier in the year. Great views of the Borrowdale valley from the cairn.
A traverse down a grassy ramp to Styhead Gill, and a steep contouring climb all the way to Base Brown, my legs starting to feel tired, my feet aching and sore. A hot climb up the exposed path to Green Gable, passing the first walker of the morning, views of Ennerdale my reward.
Fast along the well worn trod to the next Wainwright, smiling at it’s name, like someone from a posh public school. “Good morning, Brandreth” A family from the Peak District on the summit of Grey Knotts, on their way to climb Great Gable.
Running down to Honister Pass, remembering my Bob Graham round last year, my feet now very sore, the damp skin must be shedding off my old blisters inside my shoes, the wounds raw and bleeding. Along the bridleway for a while before joining the steep road, admiring the light on the oak trees in the ravine. An army of poled pensioners at Seatoller, making their way up the side of the road from their coach, house martins like flies, in and out of the eaves.
Wild poppies along the roadside, yellow in the sunshine, then I’m back at my van and the sheer luxury of taking off wet shoes and socks, fresh air on bare feet. I changed and joined the holiday traffic back to Keswick, fuelling up on coffee and a pork burger outside in the sunshine at the Museum Cafe, before the slow drive home.
I felt strangely liberated by my run today, making me think I should use map memory more often.
9 Wainwright summits today, that’s 153 down, 61 to go.
It was cold last night in my makeshift bed in the back of the van. I had to keep getting up to put extra clothes on, the summer duvet wasn’t warm enough, and the cold north easterly wind buffeted the van, finding it’s way through gaps in the door.
I woke feeling the whole van moving violently from side to side. I looked at my watch, 4.45am. There must be a storm outside, yet there was no sound of rain on the roof. If anything, the van was swaying even more and I peeped outside into the early morning light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The huge rear end of a big horse was rubbing itself against the side of the van! I opened the side door and two jet black horse heads peered in at me.
Surreal, there were maybe 30 or 40 in total, some of them huge, most were black and brown, and the three next to the van kept me company whilst I made some strong coffee. I’d planned to get an early start, although not quite as early as my equine friends wake up call.
The wind had dropped, although it was still coming from the north, feeling cold. I changed into my running tights, thermal, wind top and beanie, put my cagoule in my backpack, and tied up the laces of my wet, smelly “slippers”. I had a meeting in Cockermouth before lunch, and my plan was to bag three more outlying Wainwrights to make the most of my long drive west. I set off, away before 6am, feeling slightly stiff and sore from yesterday.
I soon loosened up. It was easy running, the main difficulty with these minor peaks is in their remoteness. It made a lot of sense to tick them off whilst I was in this neck of the woods. Huge divots were carved out of the grassy ground on the first small descent, the horses had obviously been galloping down here when it was softer.
The going was officially “soft” for me too, ploughing through wet bogs whilst climbing the first one, Lank Rigg. Cloud hanging over the bigger western fells and views towards the sinister sprawl of Sellafield on the coast.
Jogging down the well worn trod from the summit, then taking it easy up the lesser peak of Whoap. From here, another easy descent down to old sun bleached tree stumps, picking my way over a bridge over the dark, peaty mire, made of old fence posts.
The sun broke through on the short climb to Crag Fell, and I took photos of my shadow as I was running along. Great panoramic views of Ennerdale Water, shining below, with the skyline in stark relief. My phone battery decided to pack up with the cold, so the best views remain only in my memory.
It wasn’t far to the next summit, Grike, an ugly mobile phone mast next to the footpath, keeping people connected, whatever that means. I soon reached the top, loving the grassy descent to a forest road, winding round to another small climb through cotton grass in flower.
As I neared my van, the alarm call of a male Stonechat, a chinking of pebbles, perched in front of me in some stunted gorse. I slowed to take in his bright features, admiring his white collar and orange red chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I caught sight of the female, then as another fluttered in amongst the bushes, I realised they were fledglings. Judging by the crash landings, probably making their first short flights. I counted four of them, a full clutch hatched out and making their way in the world.
I changed and had some breakfast back at the van, early morning commuters driving fast along the narrow lane. I made another coffee and sat outside, soaking up the views, reflecting on how Wainwright bagging makes you visit these out of the way places.
When it comes to summits, size isn’t everything, and small is beautiful.
3 Wainwright summits today, that’s 144 down, 70 to go.
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?