After a long break of doing nothing I thought I'd at least report on some of my muckers happenings in the absence of any running of note on my part. Here's a write up from Clare Griffin of Goyt Valley on her sucessful run over the Old Counties Tops. Clare was paired with a mutual friend Kirsty Hewitson who was on good form having spent the spring months recceing the Paddy Buckley Round to death up in Wales with Julie Gardner (Dark Peak). Well done on a good run Clare and Kirsty.
Held in May, The Old County Tops Fell Race is a 37 mile/10,000ft. event (distance and climb dependant on whether you go the right or wrong way). The Race starts in Great Langdale and takes in the tops of Helvellyn, Scafell Pike and Coniston after which the survivors are fed and watered.
The Old County Tops 2011 (or 'Clare gets a beasting round the Lake District').
I hate 5am alarm clocks. 5am itself I quite like, in an 'admiring the new day and enjoying the birdsong from bed' sort of way, but 5am alarms, in my experience, mean either work or Big Scary Fell Runs. This one was the latter.
The Old County Tops is a 37 mile 10,000ft Lake District race for teams of two, taking in the highest points in the old counties of Westmorland, Cumberland and Lancashire - Hellvellyn, Scafell Pike and the Old Man of Coniston. I'd originally been talked into it by Will Meredith but his ongoing virus meant he was unable to take part so my friend Kirsty from Macc Harriers (even though she lives in Oxford) stepped up.
Bayesbrown Campsite in Elterwater (which I recomend highly) was coming alive despite the hour: nervous looking people were wandering about wearing that tell-tale pre-race outfit of lycra shorts and wellies and we exchanged pleasantries and worries about kit (shorts or tights, it could be cold on the tops; does my bag feel too heavy - the usual). A big fat stratus cloud was sitting cheerfully on Crinkle crags, looking as if it had brought a packed lunch and was settling in for the day,
but the Langdale valley was dry, if a bit damp. Race HQ
was at the New Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, and, after an admirably quick check-in procedure we were off, running
along a mile of track then the road, to the first climb
up the low fells to Grasmere.
This early section was easy going, a stiff but short climb brought us in sight of Grasmere, still sleepy before the tea shops opened for business, with Helvellyn beyond. Kirsty and I chatted with some friends as we trotted up the Coast to Coast route round the back of Seat Sandal, up to Grisedale Hause and onto Helvellyn's turfy lower slopes. The stratus cloud, or one of its mates, began to rain on us as we climbed but we knew this bit of the route well as it is the reverse of an early section of the Bob Graham round (painful memories always stick well in my mind). Kirsty is a much better climber than me and the climb up Helvellyn gave me my first sight of what was to become my main view of the rest of the day - her back, with a cheerful face every few minutes as she turned around to chat.
The old border of Westmorland and Cumberland lies along the Helvellyn Ridge and we ticked off the first of our summits before scampering down the slithery slopes (with only one buttock/grass interface) running to the checkpoint by Thirlmere for restorative jam sandwiches. A quick dice with death on the main road and we were soon beginning the slow slog up the Wythburn Valley. I don't know this bit (and in my usual well-prepared way, hadn't reccied it) but it was straightforward and we climbed to the boggy top, enjoying the tricks played by those innocuous looking swathes of green moss that hide
thigh-deep pools underneath.
Ronald Turnbull, author of the great book 'Lakeland Mountain Challenges, describes this area as "a fine place to get lost in, and often used for that purpose by walkers on Wainwright's coast-to-coast path" but today we navigated it ok (helped by my previous experience of being lost there on the coast to coast, but also by the hordes of other lycra-clad trotters ahead and behind) and got safely across the tussocky few miles of High Raise and beyond to Angle Tarn. At Angle Tarn I experienced the beginnings of a growing sense of unease about the day - we'd been warned of a strictly enforced 3pm cut-off at Cockley Beck and, anticipating running with Will, who shares my views on what constitutes a comfortable pace, I'd entertained fond thoughts of being timed out there and being able to saunter back to Langdale the short way. A 1:30 arrival at Angle Tarn is considered to be the latest possible time to give any hope of meeting the cut-off. I checked my watch - 12:45. Damn, it appeared that I may have to do the whole thing.
Again we rejoined the Bob Graham route at Esk Hause, mhich is also the tourist highway to Scafell Pike. Stuck behind a large slow-moving group of rather inappropriately clad Pike-baggers I couldn't resist mentioning loudly to Kirsty that the weather had been much nicer on Helvellyn earlier.
Scafell Pike was its usual self - one day I might see it in clear weather but today wasn't going to be that day. I know three ways off the mountain but the race route doesn't take any of them, in fact the route I would prefer, via Mickledore, is expressly out of bounds, with dire warnings of disqualification for anyone seen going that way. We'd planned to take a safe but slow route down, which involved back-tracking a little but avoiding any risk of plummeting, but we were lucky enough to meet Ross and Catherine, two more Macc friends, who generously allowed us to benefit from their recceing, and descended via a steep zig-zag path to the Mosedale valley. I am sorry to say that my 'granny with a zimmer frame' descending technique meant I was by far the slowest of the group, despite Ross having one finger sticking up at a jaunty angle, the result of a slip in a stream some three hours earlier (he said it didn't feel broken but it didn't look at all pleasant!).
I had the first of several 'flat spots' as we followed the Mosedale valley and Catherine and Ross soon forged ahead, but we made reasonable time to Cockley Beck, arriving
well within the cut off (double damn). Cockley Beck is one of my favourite places in Lakeland as my late mum loved it, but today there was no time to stand and admire the view - we were on a schedule. The weather closed in as we began to climb Grey Friar and soon we were in one of those classic Lakes early summer days of strong winds and horizontal blatter. Throughout the day we'd been passing and being passed by another friend Gerry (a girl), her friend Steve and now, from Cockley Beck, also her lovely fell-running Staffordshire Bull Terrier Lily. The five of us plodded uphill, feeling distinctly weary, into a grey-out that made navigation tricky. Coniston Old Man is an out and back section and other runners loomed at us out of the mist as Gerry, who'd reccied the route some weeks previously, confidently navigated us through the clag, ably assisted by Lily, who was on scouting duty.
Eventually the summit came and we turned back into the wind, finally heading for home. I had another attack of the feebs on the way down (or perhaps I'm just a rubbish descender) but a gel soon sorted that out. A trot along the road was hard going in Inov8s but we soon turned off and, joy of joys, sighted Blea Tarn which I know for a fact (courtesy of a run with Paul Hunt and Will) is only a few short miles from Great Langdale. This bit was heaven: I may pretend to be a fell runner but it was so nice to be on a stony track and I felt a new surge of energy as we ran through a lovely woodland alongside the tarn, crested a little rise and saw the finish ahead, twinkling in some watery sunshine. A few gently sloping fields later and we were finished, in 10 hours 19 minutes, not a record-breaking time by any means (we were 54th of 70 finishing teams) but good enough to claim this year's ladies team prize (not to be confused with being the actual first ladies which we definitely weren't, not by miles!) So we'll have to go back near year to hand the trophy back and have another go. I'll know what I'm getting into next time!