Posts Tagged With: Win Hill

Finding riches within the Dig Deep landscape… literally, no really!

Digested Read: more recceing of the Dig Deep 30 route. This time Win Hill to Shatton.  I don’t care what the course organisers say, Win Hill and the hoik up Rebellion Knoll after Bradwell sure feel like monster climbs to me.  Found abandoned riches en route, and a rock shop.  Who knew?

This was the recce where I had to take a deep breath and face my nemesis.  This would be the day that I’d do a recce encompassing both Win Hill, which most definitely constitutes ‘undulating’ territory and also return for round two with Bradwell and the long hot haul up to Rebellion Knoll before descending into Shatton, which appropriately on this day had indeed been copiously shat on, by passing cattle.  I know.  My hallway still  has a distinctly rural aroma a couple of days on.  I will get bored with writing blog posts about the Dig Deep eventually, but fully appreciate you might already be bored of reading them.  Remember though, you don’t have to.  You could just log off, and go and do something more interesting instead, like removing hair from the shower plug hole, washing up or playing spider solitaire on your phone, whatever grabs you.  If you choose to read on I take no responsibility for you wasting your life away with such pointless procrastination when you could be proactively engaging in exciting and stimulating activities including the illustrative (but not exhaustive) list of suggestions above.  Take some personal responsibility, make a choice, choose …. life.

Yes dear reader.  I am talking again about a recce of  a section of the Dig Deep Intro Ultra/ Peak Trail 30 .  In case you lost concentration in an earlier post, or a newbie to my blog, this is a 30 mile ultra that according to the website blah de blah

The Dig Deep Peak Trails 30 (formerly known as the ‘intro ultra’) covers some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK. At around 30 miles the route takes in some of the finest trails in the Peak District. The route has roughly 1388 metres of ascent and whilst there are no monster climbs the continued hilly nature of the course earmarks this race as a tough one to complete. However, the distance falls just within the ULTRA category – so if you are after your first ULTRA scalp – this could be the one!

The Route
The route has been chosen because of its stunning scenery and the tough nature of the route. Whilst developing the race we have worked closely with local landowners and the Peak District National Park Authority to ensure that the race is sustainable and avoids sensitive areas. For this reason there are some strict route restrictions in place on some areas of the race. Please follow these wherever indicated.

The route will be partially marked but navigation may be necessary. Sport ident dibbing stations will be in place along the route – each of these must be visited.

The race will form part of a festival of running to be held at Whirlow Farm Hall in Sheffield (camping available). As well as the 30 mile race there will be several other races starting and finishing over the weekend

I accidentally entered yonks ago in a fit of ‘what the hell‘ thinking and now I am thinking What the hell? indeed.  It’s over the August bank holiday so but a few weeks away, and my fitness is lamentable.  I am desperately trying to recce the route in advance to help prepare me for what lies ahead, but mainly it’s making me appreciate the enormity of the challenge and the gap between the ideal fitness levels for a potential participant and my actual ones.  Hint, it’s quite a big gap. Way bigger than even the gaps at the London underground station that disembodied voices are always warning you about as you disembark.  I don’t really know if I’m even going to make the start, but I haven’t yet withdrawn or transferred to another distance.  My only objective is to get around, it was originally to get around without crying, but I’ll settle for just finishing before the cut offs.  The cut offs are the same as for the 60 mile hard-core ultra taking place on the same Saturday, so it should be possible even if I walk the whole thing.  Actually, I have even calculated that if I take longer, I might just get caught up in the 10k participants yomping home on the Sunday morning, so might still be ok.   The recces are therefore continuing to advance, even if my confidence in my abilities retreats in direct relation to the amount of recces I do.  Ah well, it’s my home patch, I can always catch the bus home.


This day’s recce was to start at Win Hill, what better way to start a race recce than with a vertical climb through gnarled tree roots after all, to Hope and  then through Bradwell finishing at Shatton.  I had a recce buddy again. Hooray!  It does help morale, and is navigational support too, although, as previously established, I have now discovered that navigation is within reach of anyone with suitably corrected vision, as long as they have a decently scaled map.  It’s taken me a while to come to this conclusion, but it’s been a game changer.  I’m way more confident out and about, naturally I have retained the ability to get lost, and of course I do have to continually spin the map until it’s orientated the same way as the landscape around me to find where I am, but I still feel much more in control of where I’m putting my footsteps than I have ever been before.

I say we started at Win Hill, but actually, we rendezvoused with the cars in Shatton, then drove in one to the base of Win Hill – a side track just before the Yorkshire Bridge pub. The forecast was rain, and it was a lot cooler than last time I tackled the hill.  We’ve had some rain, and it made a huge difference. The water was flowing more quickly, and everything freshened up.  We had a bit of preparatory faffing before heading off.  My recce buddy was chatting away to me companionably as I dived behind a bush to reduce my load for the forthcoming ascent. When I emerged she looked confused.  Seems we had both been in full flown simultaneously, and she hadn’t immediately spotted my absence.  Oops, sorry about that.

Suitably prepared, we eyed the forest ascending above us.  I don’t care that the race blah de blah says there are no ‘monster climbs’ I think Win Hill is.  Think Jack in the Beanstalk, and you get the general idea.  It was a bit skiddy because rain had settled on dry earth.  Lose earth had been washed away, so the path, such as it is, was even more deeply rutted than usual.  Bits of it are, for me at least, full on climbing, as I grabbed exposed tree roots to haul myself up.  Progress was slow.  In my defence, I was battling through another recently acquired injury.  Admittedly one acquired in a residential muesli-belt context rather than a hard-core tough mudder one.  Specifically, earlier in the day I had thwacked the side of my knee on a coffee table that mysteriously launched towards me as I was exiting a room.  You can smirk all you like, but it blooming hurt, both at the time and subsequently.  A few days later and i still have quite an impressive bump, though the bruising hasn’t come out to anything like the extent I might have hoped.  Being injured is hard enough, but it is indeed to add insult to injury to have an injury that doesn’t colour up nicely in order that you can show it off coquettishly to other athletes (ahem) as a badge of honour.


I’ll say one thing though, if you stop now and again, which I did often, and look back, the views were gorgeous.  The woodland is lovely too, because the ascent is so steep, you feel like you are in the tree canopy of a rain forest.  It’s extraordinary.  I freely admit I wouldn’t have voluntarily clambered up here but for the necessity of doing this race route recce, and I made heavy work of ascending, but the rewards in terms of views are lovely.  I tried to take comfort in the knowledge that I doubt very much even experienced ultra runners would waste energy running this section, I don’t think it would be possible, and if it were, it wouldn’t be an efficient use of limited reserves to do so.  I think though their power walks might leave my crawling progress for dust, oh well, we all still make the same elevation I suppose, which was a lot.

Look from whence we came though:


As we clambered, I was trying to articulate to my companion, what misguided logic makes me think this event ought to be doable.  I explained I’d been examining the results of Dig Deep events for 2017.   Finish times of the slowest 30 milers last year 2017, final finisher came in at 10.43, whereas the fastest 60 miler was – unbelievably fast – at 9.27.  The final finisher for the 60 miles was out a staggering 22.07 hours, respect.  Allowing for the 30 mile starting 2 hours later, if the cut offs are similar, I’d have 20 hours to get around, and I really don’t want to be out that long, if it looks like I will be, I’d retire, or, pause for a nap and join the 12.12s coming back on Sunday morning the next day (joke).  I was saying all this out loud in an attempt to persuade myself as much as my recce companion.  I mean really, I have no idea what I’m letting myself into, or who long it might take, but I keep telling myself, if I don’t test my limits how can I ever know what they are.  Also, this is local, worst case scenario I can get a bus home, and we shall never speak of this again, and it will be as if this whole thing ’twas but a dream.  It never happened.  Never.  Fact.


So we took a couple of steps; paused, looked back at the view, stepped on.  Paused, chatted, took a few steps.  Paused, mopped our liquid brows, stepped on… you get the idea.  On one such power pause (I think that’s a thing, if power naps are, I don’t see why power pauses shouldn’t be, they are in my world now though) I espied and claimed a 5p piece.  Riches dear reader riches!  I took this to be a fine omen, but then again, I am easily pleased.  Obviously, if you are reading this post, and you believe this 5p piece to be yours, feel free to get in touch with a description and I will return it to  you.


Eventually, the steep slope opened out onto a gentler terrain, a ‘proper’ fell runner skipped past, heading downward – and we could see where we were heading.


Eventually, you emerge onto a ‘proper’ path and can continue up Win Hill to the Trig point.  About here, we met another runner.  She too, it turned out, was training for an ultra in Edinburgh later in the year. She was staying at Castleton YHA hostel, and aiming to do 21 miles today. She’d got lost, so we walked together for  a bit to get her back on track, and shared stories as we did. She was quite well-travelled, and though born in Hungary had lived and worked all over the world.  These facts are important for later dear reader, so concentrate!


We got to the intersection where we were descending through a gate, and left her trekking on along the roman road.  At this point, I glanced at my watch as it vibrated to indicate we’d covered another mile.  Want to know our progress rate dear people?  You’ll be amazed, I was.  We hadn’t covered another mile, we’d covered one.  One solitary mile and it had taken a WHOLE HOUR.  That is ridiculous.  One mile an hour?  What happened there?  We had stopped to chat and send our new friend on her way, I’d had my al fresco comfort break earlier on, there was a lot of faffing on the way up, but even so.  I can’t spend 30 hours doing this ultra, blimey, at that pace I’d miss even the 12.12 finishers, I was going to need to up my game.

We did speed up a bit, descending Win Hill is lovely actually.  Apart from the sight of the dead and mangled stoat/ weasel.  Now, I accept that photographing dead animals isn’t the most universal of hobbies – though I daresay there are niche sites out there dedicated to roadkill across the globe – but I am interested in whether this is in fact a stoat or a weasel, as I still haven’t positively identified whatever it was I saw on the looping the loops recce of the other week.  So here it is, dog kill (presumably) but what is it?  I’ll return to this another time. Sad, but surely interesting too, to know what wildlife is lurking in all that purple haze.


The view above was better than that at our feet:


We scampered down through the heather, into a field, green grass


and then, winking up at me from the ground, a pristine bank card, dropped recently by some poor walker or other.  The name was quite unusual.  We decided it must belong to our Hungarian friend.  The logic was, novel name, correct gender, recently dropped and we knew she’d come up this path earlier because it was from here she overshot and went the wrong way.  Upshot was, we agreed to stop in Hope, ring the Youth Hostel and see if we could return it to her there.  Good excuse for a latte also.  We were moving at glacial pace, maybe not even as speedily as that, with climate change and ice caps melting, I imagine some glaciers are moving positively speedily, albeit receding backwards rather than advancing.  In the circumstances, a lunch and latte stop would make little difference  to anything other than our morale.

On our way down to Hope, we passed the best no parking sign ever.  Raises the tone, don’t you agree?


and there were white doves massing.  In a good way, not like Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.


We were distracted by conversation, and nearly over-shot the official route down Farfield Farm. In fact, my recce buddy did an official recce of this section a few weeks back, and also overshot. In case you care, it doesn’t actually matter if you overshoot and hit the main road and go right later on, you’ll end up in the same place without missing the dibber point and the distances are pretty similar. Even so, we went the ‘proper’ way, because hey, I have navigational super powers and chose to conform, so we took in the pretty little bridge.  We also passed a small forested cemetery where an intimate burial was taking place.  It was a lovely spot to say goodbye to someone, we tiptoed past.


Into Hope, and straight into cafe adventure – a lovely intimate cafe with great food and a warm welcome for cyclist and walkers, and bank card couriers.  Knowing our Hungarian friend was out for hours there was the option of using her contactless card for a slap up meal, but we rose above that temptation.  Latte for me and tea for my buddy, and I had courgette fritters with salad, because, well it was lunch time now, and we’d given up any pretence of a purposeful power walk morphing our adventure into a leisurely meander populated with micro adventures along the way.

I didn’t take a photo of the cafe, but previously Phil Sproson has taken this rather fine artistic one that I got off their Facebook page.   Thanks both 🙂

phil sproson photo

We got the number for the YHA, well my buddy did, because she has a smart phone, I don’t, but I had a companion who did which amounts to the same thing.   The number puts you through to a central switchboard.  I explained the situation, in what I hoped was a non stalkery way, as I didn’t know whether they’d be able to confirm so and so was staying at the hostel without breaching confidentiality  I had that once before, trying to return a purse and id card to a school as I’d found it right outside the school gates.   They wouldn’t confirm the person was there, so I ended up having to return it to a police station elsewhere, and then heard that when the police phoned them, they moaned about having to go and collect it.  There’s gratitude.  Not. I hoped the YHA contact might be more pragmatic. I  spelt out the name, a lot, and after a few permutations as many and manifest as I seem to encounter when trying to put in my upper and lower case and multi digit 1000 digit wi-fi access code – he said he’d see if he could get in touch with Castleton Youth Hostel and phone me back.

We ate.  I over ate.  It was very nice though.  Some people have huge problems with eating on ultra challenges.   They end up throwing up copiously to the point that even flat coke re-emerges through their nostrils I understand.  This is why you are supposed to practise what you are going to eat on long challenges before the day.  One friend of mine who did a team  ultra at Dig Deep last year, was berated by another team member when they arrived at the Bradwell feeding station.  It was a full on wedding buffet, as she face planted into the feast she was dragged away ‘never eat anything new on race day!’ her running buddy reminded.  I get this. But then again, I figure I’ve had a life time’s experience of practising eating things, I  think I’ll be OK.  In all seriousness, I think with the speed I’m going at, it is less likely to be an issue, although there was a lesson today in that I ate too much just because it was there, and although I wasn’t ill for the second part of our adventure, it did slow me down sitting on my stomach like ballast and telling me really I should be lying down and surrender to postprandial somnolence that’s food coma to you and me.

As we were sat there, my phone rang. It was very surreal.  The nice man from the YHA had spoken to the bankcard holder, they were back in London.  Uh?  In one of those bizarre coincidences, it was indeed someone who had stayed at Castleton YHA, but it was a few days back.  I don’t know what nationality they were though.  Still, what were the chances eh?  Quite high obviously, but I found this novel.  Then again, as you know already dear reader, I am easily entertained.


Bye bye cafe, off we went again.

This time though, we – or more accurately my Brutelles recce buddy, spotted this interesting sign:


How did we miss this before. There is still the high walled corale very much in evidence.  I think that’s interesting.  I wonder when it was last used, looks useable still, but only for sheep say, as the entrance was low.

Trotting on, through the brutalist industrial features of the Hope Cement Works. I rather like the incongruity of this landmark.  It is like you imagine a soviet era Russian factory to be.  Would be a great film set I think.


Emerging, we had two more discoveries. Firstly, the bee hives.  If you have been concentrating dear reader, you will know that on a previous Dig Deep recce we discovered a hidden community orchard, but couldn’t be bothered to walk to the end of it to check out the hives.  This time, we espied them through a gate.  They were really active, loads of bees buzzing around industrially.  All about collectivisation of the workforce here too…


As well as the collective industries though, there was also a free trade initiative a bit further up the lane.  This was I think, one of my favourite ever things to come upon on a walk.  Some local children had set up a rock selling initiative.  Choice stones were displayed on a wooden plank, with an honesty box for payments.  50p a stone.  At first I thought they would be painted stones, as I’ve come across these before, but no, they were stones.  Ostensibly similar to those on the path all around, but no doubt hand picked for having some uniquely attractive characteristic that, whilst it might not be immediately obvious to the casual observer or the untrained eye, was unmissable to a true rock connoisseur.  Impressive eh?


Yes, I did rattle the tin, no, there wasn’t any money in it.  I did briefly wish I’d got some change on me, as I like to imagine the budding entrepreneurs finding it, but I didn’t and also, adding rocks to my load was maybe not the best of ideas.  And yes, you could leave the money and just not take a rock, but I felt that would not be in the spirit of the endeavour.  If you are passing, and don’t have another 20 miles still ahead of you, you could maybe chip in though.  Just a thought.

On to Bradwell.  We took the triangle ‘properly’ this time, to check out where the feed station would be.  From there, we looked up and saw the summit of Rebellion Knoll, it is indeed steep, no wonder it’s such a drag to get up there.


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Past the fire station and church, over the little bridge and its pretty stream, past the flower bedecked houses of Bradwell.  Emerging the other side and this is my least favourite part of the whole route.  A long hot tarmac road stretches upwards.  It maybe didn’t help morale that as we tackled this part we were discussing toxic work environments, how being trapped in such contexts seems endless, hard, demoralising and pointless.  All adjectives that were especially resonant right there and then.   Eventually, you get to the end of the road and it’s the climb up.  Although this is a short section, both times I’ve done it the route has been really exposed.  The sun beats down on you, and it’s a grim climb up.  The path isn’t particularly attractive, unless you stop and look backwards at the view.  The highlights are marvelling at the water content of a random slurry pit, that must be on the top of a spring of some sort surely, otherwise how is there a puddle there despite weeks of no rain?


It was a lot speedier this time than last though, as we didn’t get so confused about the route, though we still took a wrong path once.  Doh. It’s confusing.  It was great to reach the top though and the gate that would take us to the next dibber point and the gravel road.


and it was pretty speedy after that.  Recces definitely make the route feel shorter.  Gravel path and our wall man friend


Down, little bit along, and pretty soon we had descended and taken a right into the village of Shatton.  It seemed a ‘sudden’ conclusion to our walk.  This section was notable mainly for the copious amounts of lose cow pats we encountered along the way.  I don’t mind this particularly, it is a rural location after all, but out of context back home in my hallway it was clear that I’d not circumnavigated the little land mines of excrement as cannily as I might have hoped.

Drove round to pick up the other car at Yorkshire Bridge, and that was that, another recce down. So this was the recce that took in the riches of a found 5p piece, a lost bank card, a dead stoat (or possibly weasel), brutalist architecture of Hope Cement Works, bees, a pinfold and an improvised rock shop.  That’s not a bad return on a few hours yomping.  I wonder what my next Dig Deep recce adventure will reveal…  Always something, don’t get that on a treadmill now do you.

strava route

For all my Dig Deep Series related posts, click here, and scroll down for older entries, or don’t, it’s up to you

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Fell Frolics – Bamford Sheepdog Trials 2016

And they say the camera never lies?  Well, it’s not that I’m not grateful to generous George for being there, but really, it’s more complicated than you might at first fully appreciate …

GC maintained my position the whole way round

So, let’s think about it a bit shall we?  This candid action shot appears to show a moment of running ecstasy.  A happy athlete approaching the finish tape (that red and white bit of plastic in the foreground is surely it).  You might reasonably assume from her expression of ungoverned joy that she’s almost certainly in uncontested first place, romping home after a nigh-effortless gazelle-like sprint across the hills.  You might think that… It would be wrong.

So dear reader, I cannot tell a lie, ’tis  I myself in this shot!  It is true, in that moment I am truly ecstatic, but it wasn’t so much joy at what I was experiencing, but the other sort of fun. You must know the kind?  The sort of fun that is really only evident retrospectively, or, as in this case, the sort of joy that manifests itself when a moment of hell is about to end.  You thought you were going to die (even actually rather wished you would but a moment earlier), but instead ‘hooray‘ you have survived this feat of endurance, the end is in sight.  You can see relief and support ahead, all things come to an end and this will too.

This snap has captured the very moment of survivor’s euphoria as I came in not in fact first (try not to be too surprised) but last, at the Bamford Fell Race.   You can possibly just make out the people in green in the background of the shot.  They were the St John’s Ambulance crew at the ready at the finish, probably specially called in to place in case I didn’t quite make it.  In truth,  I am still processing this event, I think it does fall broadly into the category of ‘I’m not sure if I enjoyed myself but I’d have been dead pissed off to have missed it.‘  In case you are thinking of taking this challenge on for yourself, my highly subjective and slightly traumatized account follows…  read on at your peril.  First though, let’s calm it all down again with a nice sheep.  Got to love a nice sheep, especially when there are no mallards handy, then sheep are a reasonable calming substitute.

GC sheep shot

So the basics, this was Bamford Sheep Dog Trials Fell Race, late May bank holiday monday 2016.  Not to be confused with the Bamford Carnival Fell Race, which is mid July-ish.  These are apparently COMPLETELY DIFFERENT events, even though they both start at the Thornhill Recreation Ground and go up to the top of Win Hill and back.  They do take different routes though, so I am told. Though each take on just over 1000 feet of ascent, cover 4.5 miles and involve downwards bits that have been described as ‘death-defying descents‘, so maybe I should have done a bit more research in advance before rolling up on the day …  Wise after the event, I can provide strava proof that it is actually like this, which is very steep indeed going up thank you for asking.  I don’t understand why the elevation stats in my split thing doesn’t add up to 1014 feet, because that is the total on my strava summary and what the event is described as, it will have to be another mystery:

route map

  So, let’s rewind shall we, and try to bring about some chronology to this event.

It all started with an innocent enough post on the Smiley Paces Facebook page.  Who fancies joining me for this little innocuous sounding fell race, said Fell Flying Smiley.  Well, I think I was momentarily distracted by the prospect of going to a Sheepdog Trials, fond memories of ‘One Man and his Dog’ and my Aunt Elisabeth who, alone, ran a small sheep farm in Northumberland and could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy. Small country shows.  Surely there would be hand carved sticks, a cake stall, maybe even a small hen show alongside?  I took in the distance (4.5 miles is definitely manageable) but on reflection, I was a bit vague about the more critical details around ‘elevation’ and possibly the word ‘fell’ as precursor to the word ‘race’.  Basically, I was expecting the sheep dogs to be subjected to trials not myself.  A few other keenies piped up and before long ‘hooray’ we have a smiley outing.  Some nay-sayers predicted torrential rain, but I was optimistic.  It might well be a may bank-holiday monday fixture, but I was banking on benign weather on the day, and even if it did rain, it wasn’t going to be cold.  Bring it on!


 So, on the appointed morning, I cadged a lift from a fellow Smiley, who kindly scooped me up en route.  We found our way to Bamford, and despite a brief dip in confidence as to whether or not we’d find the venue as we sailed through the village with not a scrap of bunting in sight, we eventually saw a painted sign directing us off to the right and to a hidden flat field and tennis club (bizarrely) which was the event venue.  A smiling aide directed us to where to park, and another had to run after us to tell us ‘not there’ as we found we both failed to assimilate the original instructions and circled into the ‘presidential parking’ area as if we were born to it.  A few spins round the grass later, and we came to a stop.  It was a bit over-cast, not warm, and I was glad of my long-sleeved top.

 It was a short stroll from the car parking area to the event entrance.  It was £5 entry, but this includes FREE entry to the Fell Race as a given.  A snip I felt.  You could if you wished fork out an extra £1 for a programme, but I found it worked pretty well just to wait for my accompanying Smiley to purchase one, and just appropriate it for my own personal use at the first possible opportunity.  It was a good programme actually, including details of entrants for the various Sheep Dog Trials, a picture of the obstacles sheep had to be guided through, and times of various classes – hand sheep shearing amongst others.


We got a raffle ticket by way of admission, and we were directed to go off and register for the fell race clutching this as proof of payment.  There was already a little gathering of other runners (ooh, actually they did look like ‘proper runners’ not so much turning up in their jeans and wellies as ‘have a go runners’ which was what I’d imagined…).  It was explained you just fill in a little form (name, categories, emergency contact) and then joined the queue to collect a number.  We did join this queue, even though this was a tad optimistic as there was no-one staffing the table at the front of it.  Just as we were contemplating coming back later, an elegantly coiffed and smartly turned out in tweed woman appeared and carefully took our forms and gave numbers in exchange.  Yes there were safety pins.  There was also a loo, with NO QUEUE.   However, word of warning, the interior bolt appears to work but doesn’t.  I managed to do a big reveal on one woman whilst she was enthroned (that made her precautionary pee more adventurous and fast flowing than she’d originally planned I bet) so good idea to have an exchange lookout system. I had to fight off at least one other trying to get in and surprise my Smiley soul mate.  The problem was the loo was just a solitary cubicle but it was within what looked like a festival set of cubicles, so sort of invited others to climb on board. Anyway, you have been warned.  We milled about a bit, watching others registering, and reviewing the map.

We got to have some chit-chat with other runners who had done it before.  Belatedly the penny was dropping.  This fell race would involve going up a lot of hill, it was going to be steep.  ‘Will I need to navigate?’ I asked a runner who was back again for another year ‘oh no, not at all‘ she gushed reassuringly.  Before adding ‘oh actually, one person did get lost one year, but they turned up after only a couple of hours so that was ok – gave the organisers a bit of a panic though!’  She skipped away contentedly, I stood blinking less enfolded with contentment, and more engulfed with a growing sense of I’d not really thought this through.

Oh well.  Plenty of time (the race didn’t start til 1.00 p.m. and it wasn’t even noon).  We pinned on our numbers and went for an explore.  There was the obligatory cake stand; a poster competition – school children’s collages for the event; a honey related stand; a sheep related stall; ice cream; burgers; some hand hewn wooden furniture – usual suspects.

That was all background noise though, for the main event!  There was a massive flat field with a gorgeous wild rural backdrop, which was the venue for the sheep dog trials.  We settled ourselves on some handily vacant orange plastic seating, and watched the dogs being put through their paces.  Not really understanding what was going on was probably a bonus.  That way we could use our imagination to try to fathom what the objectives were.  Also I managed to blag to some extent based on my childhood holidays in Northumberland which did involve local shows and sheep related activities.  (We stayed in a tied cottage next to the resident shepherd on a larger farm, and he used to take me out on the moors with him from time to time, plus I’d ‘helped’ with sheep dipping on my aunt’s farm so that makes it practically genetically inherited knowledge surely? My aunt had a small holding with sheep that she ran on her own, she was an amazing woman, could still vault a five bar gate at the age of seventy.   I’ve never been able to do that in my life!).  Anyway, I could feign a marginally more authoritative tone than my knowledge strictly merited when my only audience was a total rookie to sheep keeping circles.  It was great that, quite compulsive. The challenge for one dog to move three sheep through an assortment of gates was testing indeed.  I don’t think any achieved this whilst we were watching, not within the allocated time.  There was a shift for paired dogs to show off their skills, also hard.  Amazing to watch, the dogs keenly tuned in to their herders, the sheep nowhere near as compliant as the film Babe would have you believe.  The way the dogs crawled on their bellies or shot of rocket like across the field in response to mysterious dolphin whistles or clicks was astonishing.  You can see the inner wolf though, those stalking dogs looked controlled, but still predatory.

I enjoyed this bit.  Watching the sheep and the dogs and the people.  It was fantastic for people watching all together.  It was a snap shot of a very different way of life.  The weather was gorgeous. After a while, other familiar faces appeared.  Some more Smileys (Yay, can never have too many of them); pretty big turn out for other clubs too.  I misjudged this event really.  I thought it would be a bit of a laugh with yes, some people doing it seriously, but a large of tail of ‘just the once  a year’ typr runners.  Not so, this was a fell race that clearly features in some people’s annual racing calendar.  That’s not to say it wasn’t welcoming, it was, but I had that sinking feeling early on, that I was not going to acquit myself with glory…

So inevitably, the hour drew near.  All too soon, a commentator encouraged fell runners to assemble on a road adjacent to the recreation ground.  I slotted myself in towards the back.  The sun came out, and suddenly, I went from being just right, to knowing I was going to be waaaaaaaaaaaaaay to hot.  I felt a moment of absolute empathy and communion with the heavily fleeced sheep who were romping around unshorn, in anticipation of the hand shearing contest later on. Except in my case, contributory negligence had me decked out in my  long-sleeved top and smiley vest over it.  There was some sort of briefing, nope, no idea what that comprised.  There was the usual clapping, with which I joined in, clueless.  Eventually, the cry for ‘awf’ went up and each and all set off their GPS devices and off we swarmed.  It was a sort of Mexican wave, which was a race start variant new to me. We surged forward, then halted, then surged for again.  It didn’t feel unsafe exactly, but it did feel strange.  I wondered if someone had fallen over, but no sign of it. Within seconds I was overtaken by almost everyone (flashbacks to the start of Wingerworth wobble).  On the plus side I was still in sight of the pack.  On my  shoulder was a friendly guy who identified himself as the tail marker.  Oh well, at least I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, though I was a bit worried about maybe having to make conversation… on the way round.

The start of the race was flat pretty much, and on solid road, turning off onto a pretty permanent compacted path.  It was very pretty actually, and there were some supporters at the send off, including our bespoke Smiley photographer Mr Carman.  I’m happy to report he snapped me – and indeed other runners at this juncture.  You might make out that I’m just ahead of the guy in the green shirt.  Yup, he’s the tail marker, and, for your information, I maintained that position without deviation for the entire duration of the run.  So, whatever else may not have been up to par on this occasion, running wise, you have to give me credit for the consistency of my pacing.  How many other runners out there that day could make the same claim I wonder?  Not many!  There is also an incredibly rare shot of my back disappearing into the distance.  Very, very few runners have ever seen the back of my Smiley vest as usually it is me bringing up the rear.  One day when I get my fifteen minutes of fame this picture could be worth a bit to be honest.   To be clear, the copyright is with Mr C, in the meantime you saw it here first.

So off we yomped, cheery enough to start.  Cow parsley in abundance, shade of the woods, and easy under foot.  The route was about 1 1/2 miles of gently undulating trail.  I was in fear of the climb ahead.  The sweeper behind me was very kind and supportive.  I explained about not being able to talk and run at the same time and he was understanding about that.  He was a local, and said he was happy to lope round slowly.  He didn’t crowd and kept a bit behind which was good.  I did wonder if he had either incredibly poor balance, or some issue with bladder control, as behind me at periodic intervals I could hear him randomly crashing into the bushes on either side of the path.  Eventually, (rather later in the run than I like to admit here), I realised that he was simply deviating from the path to rip down and retrieve the red and white tape that was marking the route. This was good actually, as this meant it slowed him a bit behind me.  There were a few marshals along the way too, the first of which appeared to completely block a rather charming path ahead instead directing runners by pointing menacingly up a near vertiginous slope towards Win Hill.  Gulp. This is where it started.

This bit was seriously steep.  It wasn’t much of a path, it was dry, so not too bad in that respect, but you did have to pick your way up, in my case hanging on to the odd protruding tree route to avoid sliding back.  I really don’t know if or how lead runners navigated this. Surely everyone would have to walk?  It was clambering territory.  I might have enjoyed this on a hobbit yomp, but in the race context, right at the back, even though the tail marker was lovely, I did feel under pressure.  To add to my predicament, at intervals there were walkers who politely gave way to runners – usually I’d bank on being able to use the old ‘no no, you first‘ ploy to bagsy a brief interlude when negotiating such challenging such steep terrain.  I was way too hot, and quite thirsty too.  The back marker did say I could strip off if I wanted and he’d carry anything which was incredibly kind, but a whole new area of angst to negotiate so I figured I’d just press on rather than disrobe whilst clinging on to what seemed to be essentially a cliff.  In reality, I don’t think the other runners were all that far ahead, but they were out of sight.  The climb went on for ever.  Eventually we reached a point where it flattened out and a road crossed.  ‘Well done, we’re nearly half way‘ said the tail marker cheerily.  ‘Kill me now‘ said my inner voice, surely we had conquered more than that?

Eventually though, we did reach the end of the really steep bit.  It levelled out, and it was beautiful.  Towards the end of the path was another marshal calling encouragement.  ‘You are nearly there, hurry up!‘  (I wasn’t altogether keen on the ‘hurry up‘ comment to be honest, but I accept the sentiment behind it…).  You then emerge from a wooded path, and looking up to the left you could see a final steep haul to the summit of Win Hill.  There were some runners still negotiating this, at a walk in some instance, (yay, these are my people) and I could make up at least one Smiley vest just ahead too.  At the top of the hill were a trio of volunteers/ supporters furiously ringing cowbells, which they did for every runner, not stopping until I too had made it.  That was pretty darned good to be honest, I think you for your efforts.

I tried to linger a bit as I wanted to turn around to take in the stunning view of Ladybower reservoir, but another marshal was now on my heels.  However, I did manage a brief pause as a camera wielding ally called ‘go smiley’ and her companion golden retriever dog gazed at me adoringly.  I paused for a doggy cuddle.  On reflection, fell flying smiley has previously told me a tale of how mid run she was in need of a restorative hug, and unable to muster the confidence to demand one from a random marshal, she found instead a bouncing dog which showered her with ecstatic and boisterous affection at just the moment it was needed.

I haven’t found a photo of me at the top, but there are plenty of stunning shots of other people to give you an idea.  It is a gorgeous route, no question.  Actually, I wonder if I could find a way to Photoshop that other Smiley vest wearer to incorporate a black long-sleeved look and blag it as me in the light of a flattering filter?  Or maybe I could persuade you I did disrobe on the way up and that’s actually me?  It is certainly how I wished I looked at this point in the event, I have a feeling the camera might say otherwise…  Also being ahead of other runners could call into question the legitimacy of my claim.  Oh well next time maybe…

So I did a solitary lope to the marker at the peak of Win Hill, whilst the tail marker bounded from side to side gathering more markers which had (rather cleverly) been tied around various stones and rocks to guide the way.  You’d think at this point the knowledge that it was now downhill all the way might have been restorative.  In fact, the immediate challenge was to pick down the dusty, slippery and stony path, and I was not courageous enough to run that, though I’m sure some did.  Then there was heather, with hidden knotted roots, and chasms in amongst the peat which I took carefully.  It was fun though, it felt like ‘proper’ off road’.  After not too much longer, another marshal pointed me towards a downward grassy path.  That was my favourite bit.  The tail marker was further back, chatting to the marshals, this was a steady surface where you could confidently run, and the down hill gradient gave me the illusion of being super-speedy.  Plus you had fabulous views still, and a warm sense of relief that the upward bit was now truly behind.  Here by way of illustration is an action shot of my chauffeur buddy smiley at this very juncture.  Looks fun eh?  (Thank you Jeffs for your shots, I’ve used them freely here, but I promise I did make a donation too 🙂 ).

SNJ flying home

I did at one point espy another photographer at a point I was definitely cautiously negotiating heather ‘I hope you know how to Photoshop to make me look like I’m running‘ I exclaimed ‘I do, but no need‘ she replied ‘you will be soon‘ and she waited for me to build up some momentum before taking her snap.  Not the most flattering of shots perhaps, but as with the opening number in this post, it has the ring of authenticity catching me apparently screaming all the way down…  In fact, I have a horrible feeling that if you put all the photos snapped of me en route in sequence, I would have apparently screamed continuously up, along the top, down and through the finish without pausing for breath. Thank goodness I didn’t get lost up there. Imagine having to have all these ‘last seen’ or ‘have you seen this woman’ images broadcast on Look North as people were asked to look out for a screaming banshee on the hillside in an attempt to find me before it was too late.  What would my celebrity crush Harry Gration make of it?  Doesn’t bear thinking about…  I’d never be able to high-five him at the start of a half-marathon again – even if I did get rescued.

SNJ running scared

The downward route was lovely, grassy fields where other runners were made to look like they were recreating a timotei ad followed.  Then, narrow woodland tracks that would be muddy in winter but on this day were dry so you could skip over the little streams of water which were guided across the path with some lovingly laid stone drainage systems.

After a bit you ended up rejoining the outward track, and probably it was just another half a mile or so on the flat to cover before you returned to the start.

The end was a sort of hobbit appropriate one.  Have you ever seen any of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films?  Well, I can’t remember which one it was.  But there was one that went on and on and on, and then just when you thought you’d reach the climactic finish you realised it wasn’t yet, there was another climactic bit, and then another… endless apparently.  To be fair, this Bamford Sheep Dog Trials fell race was way better as an experience overall, but, there was a false ending.  As you got back to where you started there were a couple of marshals holding some tape across the road, and I took this to be the end point.  WRONG.  Epic fail.  Instead you had to make a sharp right and rejoin the flat green field of the Thornhill recreation ground, sprinting (I use the term loosely) past some attending St John’s Ambulance people, who were sat in canvas chairs by their emblemed vehicle soaking up the rays and the scene.  I was so relieved at this point I cornered (captured by the Divine David  there especially to record the moment – Mr Carr I thank you):

.. and still screaming, and still maintaining that coveted last place, I espied a swarm of supporters. The great, the good, the curious and the just happened to be there, but it was fantastic. Even a not-seen-for-ages Wingerworth originating Smiley, so that was a nice and unexpected reuinion!   Cheers went up, the camera clicked with that opening shot above, Established Squeeze was standing by to offer reviving water, and all the torments of half an hour before were entirely expunged from my memory.  I did remember to breathlessly express my appreciation to the attentive tail marker before he disappeared into the crowd.

Maybe this is an opportune moment to say thanks to the whole organising team, all of them.  The people who plotted it in advance, the marshals on the day, photographers, supporters, timers and finish line cheerers.  The cake bakers, the planners, the route finders, the bell ringers – one and all!  You are all awesome and worthy of recognition.

before and after

We joyfully regrouped, shared running tales, and made our way to the – well I was going to say pavilion, but really it was more of a shed, where awards were given.  There were loads and loads of prizes.  I do wish I’d taken a proper shot, as there was a table utterly laden with lavish home-made cakes each wrapped in colourful blue cellophane.

Prizes for fastest men and women runners in various age categories.  Prize for fastest local runners.  However, most excitingly for our gaggle, a spot prize for the runner whose race number corresponded with their finish position!  Reader, it was one known to us.

The prize was a bottle of Rose, which put me in mind of an occassion when a friend and I went out for a meal.  We were thinking of sharing a bottle, but then it emerged I only drank white wine and she only red.  The waitress, trying to be helpful suggested rose as a compromise.  We both glared at her like she was mad.  ‘Why would we do that?’  So both of us were equally miserable with the choice of wine presumably.  Anyway, good he got a prize for both awesome running and awesome counting too perhaps.  On reflection, if I’d known about this I should have registered late and I’d have been a shoo-in for that award, still I don’t really like rose.  I reckon the rule for that prize should be that you still have to try in order to gain the award, and although I was definitely last, I did genuinely do my best, which is a bit sad really, but also true.  In the circumstances had I claimed it that would be legitimate.  I also think if you deliberately got number one with the intention of winning and claiming that prize it would be well deserved too, so that covers both extremes of the continuum.

The sun was out, so we queued for and consumed ice creams.  Whisky and ginger was one option, I went for more traditional rum and raison the blackberry having sold out.  We had a bit more milling around, including watching some hand sheep shearing which was interesting if a bit rough around the edges at times.

It was good for people watching and run debrief.  I am glad I did the event, but I wish I’d understood a bit more what I was taking on as it was more fun in retrospect than at the time, and I had way too many clothes on.  Friendly though, very beautiful, and I absolutely lurrrrrrrved the surrounding sheep dog trials, even though I don’t know which of them were acquitted or otherwise, nor indeed why?  Though I presume these ones were found guilty:  (stole the joke, but it’s worth the rerun surely?)

guilty dogs

Nor have I worked out if sheepdog is one word or two… who knows?  Life would be dull if we knew all the answers though wouldn’t it?  By the way, if you look at the photos that follow carefully, you will spot that the one with two be-vested Smileys in the foreground has a guy behind them who looks like he’s wearing the yang vest to go with the Smiley yin.  No really, look carefully!  Clue – juxtaposition of red, black and white stripes along the side…

Eventually, sated with ice cream we wended our way back to the car park, and dispersed our separate ways home.  A succesful outing I’d say, and one to do again, but with a bit more respect for the fundamental concept of Fell running, which is that you will be required to run up, a lot, and then run down again.  It really isn’t that hard an idea to grasp if you just open your mind to it.  Actually, don’t listen to me, just  believe the evidence of your own eyes!  Through the wonders of veloviewer I bring you a graphical representation of each little detail of the gradient for the 2016 Bamford Sheepdog Trials.  Hmm, impressive eh? No wonder I felt sick going up!  I feel better now, for seeing  that!

veloviewer profile

 Learn from me…  It was also pointed out to me that I might have finished a bit faster if I hadn’t stopped to greet dogs and look at the view on the way round.  Worth thinking about I suppose.  I’m also though wondering if I should just accept my fate, and see if I can go for a fell racing hat trick by coming last at my next race outing as well.  Also, I have just found out that in cycling coming last is known as ‘lantern rouge’ which actually sounds classy.  Plus being last is an important role which someone has to take on.  In fact there is a website dedicated to the stories of runners who came last at various events.  Unfortunately, I can’t find that right now, but I have found a Runners World forum for Last Finishers Lounge, which is a start.  A fairly exclusive group I’d say…. Goals should be realistic after all, and that one is certainly teasingly within my grasp…  Watch this space.


And finally:

Photo credits to the The Jeffs who ask for donations in return for their photos to the Buxton Mountain Rescue.  (Does anyone else remember Dougal and The Blue Cat?  Wasn’t their a King Buxton The First in that).  Their photos were put up on the Fell Runners Association Facebook page.   Thanks also to the Mr Carr (or David the Divine as we like to call him) for sharing the sights seen down his telephoto lens at the Bamford Sheepdog Trials, our Generous George celebrity photographer Mr Carman for his offerings and anonymous others from whom I have borrowed or stolen with appreciation, if not always recognition.  I do try and acknowledge photographers where I can, so apologies if you have been missed.  You can tell some photos are even my own, they are the blurry ones with poor composition for ease of reference.  Many other photos have ended up on the Bamford Sheep Dog Trials facebook page, but it seems a little visited resource.  Go on, have a look, boost its visitor numbers, you may even see a snap of yourself if you were there!

If you are very lucky you may even have one with as much oomph and Chutzpah as me!  Thanks Mr Carr…

DC b&w

Categories: fell race, motivation, off road, race, running, running clubs | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Heading for the hills…

Smiley off road run this Sunday 11th is Win Hill from Bamford. Meet at the Anglers Rest in Bamford 9am for a scenic 7 ish miles of forestry tracks, moorland paths and fab views, returning to the cafe in the pub (double bonus)…  some interesting route finding on the recce but can definitely vouch for the tea and scones

Wasn’t sure if I’d be too stiff to tackle this, but woke up ‘the morning after the day before (Wngerworth ~Wobble)’ feeling fundamentally OK.  Not exactly ticketee boo, but just a bit of muscle pain, and if I want to up my game then I think I need to start to toughen up a bit and not wimp out of off-road running opportunities or I’m never going to get any better.

Headed out, a misty morning, but a great one for running.  I was first to arrive in the car park – my fear of being late paranoia dictating a too early start all over again.  I wonder if I’m subconsciously trying to compensate for always being last to finish on the runs.

It was a good crowd of Smileys, about 20 or so, and pleasingly didn’t get as strung out as usual, so it turned out to be quite social, an opportunity to catch up with people various and meet new members – although as ever my ability to converse when running limits communication to a degree!  One person did a face plant early on, flying into a bramble bush and emerging suitably scratched but pronouncing herself OK to carry on.  There are faster runners, but I was pleased that I wasn’t alone in favouring walking up the steeper sections.  It was really lovely to get up to Win Hill, the heather and openness is really appealing.  We met a few walkers all of whom were friendly and amused/supportive of this unlikely posse of women charging across the hills.  We paused for the obligatory group photo at the peak- remembering to remove the one of our number who had taken to the top of the marker for the shot – before we galumphed off again.

win hill group shot

Uphill was challenging on account of it being up hill as well as rough terrain. Downhill was also a problem though. Even though gravity helps, I am nervous on the rocky ground and a bit fearful of tripping on tree roots or slipping on grass.  I also haven’t really worked out how to run downhill if that ‘doesn’t sound too weird.  If I land on my heels I feel more stable, but feel the impact up my legs and that can’t be right.  If I land on my mid-foot or toes, it is quite painful because of the arthritis in my feet and I feel I’ll fall over.  Honestly, mountain goats don’t have these problems.  Nor do other fell runners, I’ve seen the more experienced ones flying downhill (and up to be fair) fearless and lightly springing from foot to foot.  It is nigh on miraculous to me that they can do that. win hill

Even so, it was a lovely run down, through woodland trails, grassy paths and over the stepping stones at the watermill, I am so unbelievably lucky to have this glorious countryside on my doorstep, and the support of an inclusive group of runners who get it together to organise these monthly off road runs out, as well as the weekly training sessions.

bamford millHaving been up and over the hill, taken in the views, and put the world to rights through conversation (not so that you’d notice perhaps, but in our own way) en route, we returned to the Anglers Rest in Bamford.  They were somewhat overwhelmed by our descending on them en masse, but cheery enough, cake was eaten and coffee drunk.  I was the last in the queue to order and the last to be served and it took about an hour (literally ) for my order to come, so it was unsurprising that I found myself finishing off my coffee on my own.  This detail set the scene for a rather unlikely bit of interaction  … I was officially recognised for my running!  No really, this is how.

As I was leaving, some other runners – not with our group, but people who had also been out enjoying the hills and come in for a post run coffee spotted me.  One called out a really friendly ‘hello’ and I turned around, instinctively replying in kind as I did so, before realising that I had no idea who it was.  She helped me out.  ‘You were at the Wingerworth Wobble yesterday’ she said.  I was amazed, this is a conversation that I never imagined would happen to me. It may yet turn out to be a pivotal moment in my running journey, one runner, recognising another fellow trail blazer out in the hills!  It turned out that she was the originator of the inaugural Wingerworth Wobble, though now it has been handed over to someone else.  She rarely got a chance to run in it herself over the years as she was busy organising or marshalling, but she did do so yesterday.  I felt honoured to have met her!  It is further evidence of what a friendly and inclusive lot these Wingerworth Wobblers are, and they do get quite far afield it seems too.  I passed on again my thanks to her for such a great day yesterday – and congratulated her on having set it all up the first place too.

Anyway, I turned away with a spring in my step, pushing to the back of my mind the maybe disappointing, but growing realisation that she possibly remembered me for a reason.  That reason would be the maybe less than flattering one that I was the distinctive apple-shaped runner bobbing my way up the hill some minutes behind the rest.  (Does that make me some sort of apple bobbing champion I wonder). Still, someone has to be ballast at the back, why shouldn’t it be me, and if that is to be my claim to fame I’ll take that.  It is still better to be out there doing it badly, than not to be doing it at all.

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