It’s just before 8am and I’m standing in a field of a private school just outside the lake district on a beautiful Saturday morning. I should have finished the CCC a few hours earlier in the town of Chamonix. How did I find myself here though?
Well, it’s a funny story really. On the train down to Winchester to the start of the South Downs Way 100, I, like many thousands of people received and email form the UTMB group offering us the chance to defer our races to 2022 because of possible travel restrictions that might mean we wouldn’t be able to make the start line. We had 3 simple choices:
- Risk it, take the place and if we didn’t make it then we would lose our spots.
- Defer to 2022 for free.
- Full refund.
At that time I was pretty anxious about foreign travel with all the hassles of tests etc. So, after a short time of contemplating what this would mean I decided to take the deferral option. Moved my flights and cancelled my accommodation. I let Gillian know and suggested a family holiday in the Lake district. Why you may ask, well I obviously still wanted to do another summer race, lol. I had my eye on “The Grand Tour of Skiddaw” for a while and something was drawing me back to the lakes. Something that started in 2010.
February that year was my first experience of the Lake District. Gillian and I decided to have a weekend away. I wasn’t running at this time. We both liked a hike though, so we decided to combine this love with our other one, food. We booked a lovely little place that was called “A restaurant with rooms” near Whinlatter forest. We ate well, we walked around Rydall Water, the forest and bagged what would be our first Wainwright in Grizedale Pike (I had no idea what a Wainwright was). This was February though and I did have a little slip off a snowy path on the ascent and had to be rescued by some fell runners, doh! The views at the top were stunning. I will always remember that feeling of awe.
Little did we know that Gillian was actually pregnant at the time with Poppy and this would be the last time I saw the lakes until 2019.
The Cumbria Way race would see me come back though, when I failed to get into the CCC ballot, I looked for a different challenge to fill that void and I found it here. Something I didn’t write about in the blog was that I didn’t really understand how all the fells related to each other. I still don’t fully but am much better at it now. Back then I was just running through the valleys looking up at the fells and across the lakes, enjoying the views and trying to survive. It lit the fire again though. When I finished I knew I would be back. I even tried to get into the Lakeland 50 for 2021 but failed in the ballot, but I had the Skiddaw race up my sleeve as it was run by the same company as Cumbria Way and they are awesome.
Flash forward to June 2021. After finishing the SDW100, we started looking for somewhere to stay, which was tricky with prices rocketing and demand outstripping supply, we did find somewhere though in a lovely village and I booked the race. I knew that I wanted to do some pre-race training in the north though. My Coach Mags and her Partner live up there and have the perfect training ground. They kindly agreed to host me for a weekend in July to help me find my mountain legs again over the course of the 3 days.
The first outing was to the Howgill fells on Friday afternoon. A little secret place that I probably shouldn’t be writing about as they are so quiet, we didn’t see anyone at all!I lovely 14km, with a punchy ascent to get the lungs going and fun descent to remind the quads they were alive. 788m+
Saturday, I joined the guided run that Howard and Mags had already booked in. Each month they will take runners on a run in the lakes/surrounding area to help them explore some stunning scenery. You can find out more about these runs here. This particular day it was a 15km/1000m+ adventure up the mighty Helvellyn one of “The big ones” in the lakes then a run along the top before dropping to a tarn for a dip before heading back down to the woods to the carpark. It was hot out but a beautiful day! Plus I finally got to meet Angela. We have been chatting running and other crap on IG for quite a while now. The great thing about this day was I got to see a full 360 of the lakes with expert knowledge of the surrounding fells given by Howard, Mags and Angela. I started to form a better idea of where everything is in relation to each other. That evening I ordered the Wainwright book collection!
Sunday, I asked if we could go to a place, I had seen Mags photograph a few times. The famous “High Cup Nick”. A stunning gorge on the northern Pennines, that just makes you have all the feels, once you stand at the end. It also sits on the Pennine way, which made me super happy to finally tread on a bit of our oldest and longest national trail! A lovely hike up and a run back down. Perfect, way to end this trip.
Once back home, I was buzzing. I knew that in just a few weeks I would be back, I started planning. It was of course a family holiday and Poppy isn’t the biggest fan of hiking. Finding the right balance of enjoyment for me and making memories with the girls would be key.
Run/hike 1 – Kentmere Horseshoe (21km- 1200m+)
This was suggested to me as an option by Mags as it was just up the road form where we were staying Staveley. Supposed to be a beautiful route, a classic Horseshoe with 10 Wainwrights. Angela agreed to come up and join me on this one. Alas, the weather gods brought us mist and rain. We had fun though, a long ass climb up to Yoke then ticking off all the summits along the way. Visibility got pretty bad at one point but wasn’t too cold, there was a weather warning in place for lightening but thankfully it didn’t come (we had an escape route). I was super impressed with Angela’s almost Sat Nav like skills on the fells as she predicted which way we were going to go before my watch beeped. We were treated to some bogs on the other side of the route, which was actually kind of fun and eerie at the same time. The mist finally cleared as we descended back to the car and I could see some of the valley. A really great run and I have an excuse to go back in the sunshine one day as I missed one Wainwright off the route, doh!
Family Hike – Loughrigg Fell from Rydal (8km 379m+)
I picked this as it wasn’t too long of a climb for poppy. I had bought her some poles though as she has wanted some since we were in Switzerland in 2019! It’s a lovely little loop and the climb was fun with a bit of scrambling for Poppy to enjoy. Annoyingly it seemed to be flying ant’s week in the lakes and a bazillion were hanging out on the trig! The views were stunning though as the weather was on point. We had snacks a little further away for working our way back down to the caves. Alas I messed up and only spotted the hard to get in caves and not the easy ones round the corner. Dad fail!
Run/Hike 2 – Brunt Knott and Potter Fell (9km 434m+)
I planned this little route from our Cottage in Staveley, so that I could get out in the morning before Poppy and I did laser tag in the woods. Some beautiful rolling farm fields led to a 30% incline climb up to Brunt, that got the lungs going lol! Again, stunning views with a bit of a cloud inversion. I could see over to Kentmere Fell from the summit. The descent was fun too!
Run/Hike 3 – Part of the Langdale Horseshoe including Bowfell (16.6km 1177m+)
Gillian and Poppy had planned some Gorge Scrambling in the Langdale valley for Weds afternoon. I didn’t fancy this in case I got injured pre race. I worked out I had 3-4 hours to do a route, I looked at where they were booked in on a map. Its looked weirdly familiar, yes I can get that from maps! Then it clicked, I had run through this valley as part of the Cumbria Way. I remember looking up and around me in awe at the fells. The route that day just took us up through Stake Pass at the end, but not to the top! I instantly decided I wanted to go up and around a bit. Then I saw that the mighty Bowfell (one of the 900s) was on the other side of the valley. That became my goal fell, but I planned the route around some other Wainwrights, of course!
NOTE: doing this kind of run/hike 3 days before a long race is not good but in my defence, this was a holiday and the race was more of a fun thing anyway, so allowed myself this little indiscretion.
On the day, I set off at 12.30 and it was pretty warm. I had enough water for 4-5 hours though. The climb up was tough with about half the total elevation right there, often with gradients of about 25-35%. I paused a few times to take in the views. One such time was actually to chat with a fell walker who at 65 was taking his dog on his own Wainwright journey. The very cool dog only had 20 to do and was about to bag 5 more!
The climb took longer than I had planned though and after getting to Loft Cragg (fighting off more ants), I ran along to Pike of Stickle, but was met with a vertical scramble to bag it. Alas this is where my vertigo kicked in. I figured I would be ok climbing up but was worried how long it would take me to get back down. After checking my watch and realising I was behind schedule I decided to abandon this for another day. It was also at this point I realised I left my lunch (a cheese wrap) at the cottage, doh! Luckily enough I do always carry extra food in case I make this kind of idiot move. The rest of the run along the edge was delightful, then when I crossed the pass, I ran up, I stopped to take in that moment and chatted to a family who were hiking the Cumbria way, it made me happy to see this! I was then running along the end of the horseshoe to Rossett Pike and the views down the valley were stunning. I could also see across to Scafell Pike, summit covered in the clouds. I then had to drop down to Angle Tarn (this was my last chance of an escape route pre Bowfell) but I figured I could do it all within the time now, although a dip in the Tarn was so tempting! The climb back up between Esk and Bow was interesting as the path pretty much disappeared and I just followed a stream up to the top through rocks. Then it got even rockier! Angela had warned me about this though, and brilliantly you could follow the cairns almost to the summit. At which point it was some nice boulder scrambling for the 360 views across to other summits covered in clouds. Time was getting on though and I had get back down to the girls. Again, using the cairns, to get off the rocks I managed to find the path back, which again was pretty technical. I put my sensible shoes on and took it easy. It’s one thing to overexert yourself a bit before a race but trashing your quads to would be next level dumb. Once down into the valley I had planned on getting on the Cumbria way back to the car park but time was getting on, so I just opted for the road for speed. Returning 4hrs 15mins after I started. Somehow, I spent 1 hour larking about on the fells taking in the views and pictures but that’s why we do it right?
After this exertion, I promised coach, I would chill for two days. We did some kayaking and a gentle walk around some waterfalls before race day!
The Grand Tour of Skiddaw is a 74km 2300m+ ultra in the northern lake district. It has, what I call a “lollipop” route. An out and back with a loop. The loop takes you round the northern fells, with of course a climb up the mighty Skiddaw. Another one of the big ones in the lakes.
After I signed up, I went to look at the route a bit more and noticed that I had actually run on some of the route as part of the Cumbria way race but this time I would be doing it in reverse. This didn’t bother me but was kind of intriguing. What would it be like this time on fresher legs? I was also going into this race with the pure thought of just finishing and having a nice day out. It also had the added bonus of some friends running it too. Livvy, who I was coaching specifically for this race, Dai, Yvette (who had to take Jules’ place due to injury) and Al. It’s also a small race with a real family atmosphere, much like the Cumbria Way. I love what Gaynor the RD has done in creating these races!
Friday evening was kit check. And they take that very seriously, as they should. I had been training with pretty much everything in my pack all week anyway. Two years ago, they had to detour the route due to a storm which hit, this weekend, the good weather was predicted to continue though. Although maybe it was too good!
PART 1 – Start to Caldbeck.
An 8am start is a dream. The first section is a nice easing into the race through fields and woodland following the river. I had run most of this part before but it was dark, I just remember the sound of the river to my right, which was now on the left and all the cows.
It was a beautiful start to the day. I mostly ran with Al and Dai, nattering away. Yvette was off in front. We actually made pretty good time to the CP in the hall. Where we grabbed some snacks and I filled up my 3rd bottle as I knew it would warm up on the next section, which was also longer.
PART 2 – Caldbeck to Latrigg
This section has the climb up to High Pike, the most northerly Wainwright. Again, I had done this in the opposite direction. Although not super steep (400m), it goes on for a while, so I decided to get my poles out and the definitely helped! I am sad to say that we left Al behind at this point as we powered on up. This was Dais first trip to the lakes, so I was excited for him to bag his first Wainwright in High pike. The next part I wasn’t looking forward to was the descent down a gully, which I remember was horrible going up as the path is tricky to see and it is pretty boggy. In fact I think I swore quite a lot when I was going up it in 2019. Going down was a bit easier but still very slow for me. Dai bounded on ahead at this point, that man is a mountain goat! I came very close to falling a couple of times and got one leg stuck in some mud too. Once down though I successfully managed to put my poles away, without having to take my bag off, which was a big win as I had struggled all week, with this simple task!
The next section is pretty weird, and I remember feeling that last time too. You run around the side of the higher fells on quite a rocky path that’s also quite wet at times. I enjoyed running solo, I could see Dai and the yellow bag of Yvette in the distance though. My mind wondered, I got a little down for about 10mins but then perked up and was really enjoying myself. Mostly because I was playing the ultra-game of back and forth with turquoise man (he eventually stormed on ahead later). We must have swapped places about 10 times during that section. It was starting to warm up though and I was relieved when it was time to run into the aid station. I was even happier to see Yevette and Dai, getting stuck into the picnic! I decided to take ad bit of extra time here to refuel and the others waited for me too, which was nice. We had the big climb to come though!
PART 3 Latrigg to Peter House Farm
This is why we came, the reason the race had its name. It was time to climb Skiddaw! A 600m climb over 4km. it was definitely poles out for me again. The first part was really steep as well, with the gradient going to 34% at times. As we climbed the views were getting more and more epic though. A perfect opportunity to stop briefly every so often to take a pic and get our breath back.
As we got closer to the top of this first section, Jules came bounding down. She was hoping to meet us at the summit but we were running a touch slower than planned and her car parking was running out lol! She wrang her bell and wished us all the best and bounded off.
The climb plateaued a bit and to our left we could see “Little man” another Wainwright, but our course wouldn’t take us there. This kind of annoyed me, as I knew I would have to come back some time to cross that one off! Before long though we were on the final rocky climb to the summit and the cloud had come across taking all the views away, classic! As part for this race though, they put a bell on the trig and some volunteers were there to cheer us on. Loved that!
The route off the summit brough us back down the way we came a little then we had to detour off to the right on to an unexpected scree path with a drop off to the right. I had put my poles away as I was more expecting something rocky and wanted the use of my hands. This part was quite nerve wracking for me, so I took it cautiously. Dai, again bounded off with skill. Then Yvette caught me up and pushed on as well. I think if it hadn’t been for the drop off I would have given it a bit more welly here, damn you vertigo!
Once down this section we had an awesome ridgeline to run up and down though. I caught up with Yvette on a climb and then with Dai, who was chilling with a waffle in the sunshine. The views were back and we had an awesome but technical run down into the fields below. It was tough on the quads but I felt that I did alright here because of the recent practice. It was getting hotter now though, the lower we got!
The arrival at the aid station was very welcome. Time for some coke, a sandwich, some jaffa cakes and water melon!
PART 4 – Peter House Farm to Caldbeck
After diving across some fields we found ourselves on a country lane, with no shade and an incline that seemed to never stop. This was the lowest point for us all. I think most races have the equivalent in some form or another. Whenever there was a slight bit of tree, we all moved to that side. Hats were turned around, water was being drank and sweat was pouring. I think this section went on for about 5km or so but in truth I have no idea. As soon as we got off it, there was much rejoicing and soon we found a stream to soak out buffs and refresh out necks and faces. This whole section was quite undulating, meaning nothing major in the hill type but a touch annoying but as soon as we got back on the side of the fells it was much more agreeable. There were a couple more streams, that helped massively. We all wondered why we hadn’t gone back up onto the fells after the farm but guessed the route would be too long and mean too far a distance between the aid stations and runner safety is key. After a fair bit of run/walking we finally came back to the path we had previously been on several hours earlier and we knew the welcome site of the hall aid station would be upon us soon! I now desperately needed a toilet break of the site down variety and knew this had the facilities required. Plus I was ready for some more real food!
PART 5 Caldbeck to Finish
Back on the stick of the lollipop. I just wanted to get it done now. Sorry for leaving you Yvette but I just wanted to get to the finish, sit down, have a beer and eat some pizza. As we ran past the Inn where I was staying Gillian and Jules had come out to cheer us on, which was lovely. Although I think they were miffed it took us a while to get there as they didn’t know the CP was just round the corner and wondered why we had stopped lol! The rest of the run in was pretty un eventful, lots of running back across the fields, with just one small navigation error right before the finish, doh! The sun was starting to set but the finish was in sight and before we knew it, we crossed the line to the sound of cheers and loud bell.
It was funny because initially the marshals thought we were first pair because Dai and I finished together. Alas it wasn’t us, if only we had signed up as a team, we would have got a trophy and a goody bag each, darn it!
The actual first Pair of Mike and Andy finished about 6mins later. Then Yvette, Al and then Livvy.
The post race vibe here at the school was excellent. Plenty of chairs, a fire, a Bar, a pizza van and the best homemade soup!
We sat and chilled, chatted and refuelled as each of the runners came in. We had been back and forth with Mike and Andy for quite a bit of the race. A lovely couple of guys who seem to love and hate each other at the same time (whilst running) lol! I think we’ll be seeing them at a few other races in the next year.
For me though this race was about enjoying myself and I did for most of the time. When we started the only goal was to finish before headtorches, which we did. Dai and I came in 11hours and 18mins. Like I said before, I didn’t taper for this race as I was having too much fun on the fells. The race was just another day out for me on the holiday. I know I can go quicker if I was actually racing but it wasn’t about that. It was also Dai and Yvettes first time in the lakes and I know they will be back for more!
I am especially proud of Livvy as her coach for all the hard work in training for this race, then taking on technical descents out of her comfort zone and coming in ahead of goal time. I am also proud of myself for getting in another ultra in 2021.
I have come away from time spent in the lakes this summer even more in love with this place than I was in 2010. I had some quad pain but otherwise felt good in the body. The heart was full. So much so that I entered the ballot for the Lakeland 50 and got in. I now have an excuse for some more 5-6 hours drives up north in 2021.
Plus I also want to tick off as many Wainwrights as possible in my life, from running or hiking. The Lakeland obsession won’t be ending for a while! Sorry Gillian.
HINTS AND TIPS from a NOOB!
Always wear and carry the right gear! My pack always had:
Spare base layer, WP jacket (no trousers that week as was so dry), First Aid kit, Spare food, Suncream, At least 1 litre water, sometimes 1.5, Gloves, Buff
I also had a selection of other kit with me on the trips just in case the forecast was looking more changeable.
Look at mountain weather forecast not just your regular one. This will give you guide temps/wind for the summits. If it looks like weather might come in, make sure you have an escape plan off the fells if you need to get down quickly.
Plan for how long you will be out for not the distance as you’ll be hiking up quite a bit
Then take the right amount of food/water
When planning routes, if you don’t know the area, ask people who have experience. Do some research as well. There are plenty of helpful guides online about many of the ascents and descents so that you can see how technical they might be. There are many famous routes that range in distance from 5km up that you can steal!
Make sure you tell someone where you are going.
Respect the countryside. Take all your litter with you and shut those gates!
Remember to enjoy it. Stop, take in the views!