Some Stuff About Me ......

I live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire with my wonderful wife and soul-mate Helen. I have two incredible sons - Evan and Matthew - who are occasionally show up at home, usually when they're hungry or need money. The three of them are the best thing that ever happened to me and I love them all. I spent over 24 years in the Royal Navy, but since I packed it all in and got a proper job my life has gone from strength to strength and I've never looked back. I am a die-hard soul music fan, but my heart truly belongs in the fells of Northern England, it's what I was made for. Please read about my adventures and experiences ....

Monday, 20 January 2020

More Best Laid Plans ...

We did the Hebden 22 fell race on Saturday, this event is one of those that kick the season off and actually, it's quite a toughie. Its billed as a 22 mile slog around the Calder Valley with about 4k of climb involved, so enough to be challenging.  Navigationally it's a very twisty-turny and it's easy to mess it up, it's also a race with a bit of an identity crisis; until 2019 it was ran by Calderdale LDWA, but they backed out and from 2019 onwards (i.e. the last two races) it's been promoted by a local Scout group, so not unlike the Rombald's Stride event. I say "identity crisis" because although it's sold as a race, it really isn't - there are no prizes, no age categories and as far as I can tell, no acknowledgment that a given person has won. Last year they really screwed the results up and had no record of which lady had come home first ..... not good really. I think these foibles can be forgiven to an extent, but this [race] is always sold out and presumably scoops in a load of cash for the Scout Group, so I think they need to get that identity problem sorted out.

I'd optimistically set 4:20 as my target, I've never got under four hours here and last year did 4:37, could my improved health lead to a better finishing time? Things got off to a decent enough start and I felt I was running well, keeping Helen in sight for the first few miles. I'd studied the map long enough to be confident I wasn't going to get lost, but then disaster struck with an early fall in the mud (of which there was a lot), meaning a bit of a slide until some convenient rocks halted my progress. Yes, it fecking well hurt and didn't set a good tone for the rest of the race, I was focusing way too much on sore knees and not enough on terrain/navigation. It was a nice day though, so no problems with determining the lie of the land and I managed to more or less get the route spot-on until my silly preoccupied head completely missed a crucial turn coming out of Cragg Vale and thing started to go a bit awry. The course was really chewed-up due to the recent wet weather and it made things tougher than I can remember, certainly I was slower on some descents than I would have liked and I was having cramp issues that made things worse. I proceeded to miss a crucial stile above Mytholmroyd and for some reason it made me really angry.  My reason goes out of the window when the red mist is down, the result being that I forgot to cross the field below Scout Road and had to go the long way round behind the farm, minor mistakes I guess, but they cost time and I should know a whole lot better. I stomped down the finishing track feeling relatively strong, finishing time 4:25:40, so not terrible but could have been better, I feel it should have been ten minutes faster.  I'm not sure which is worse, the fact that I made some minor nav errors or that I missed my target time!!

Results came out this morning and it's a similar mess to last year. They didn't have any kind of a finishing funnel and Helen is listed as coming behind several runners she comfortably beat, so not good really. Constructive feedback to race organiser needed methinks.  

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Grabbed With Both Hands

Well, I'd say that was a weekend seized!  It was a *significant* birthday for Helen last Friday and in order to celebrate I'd been planning a surprise for her, this was a weekend away in her favourite place (the Lake District) with a load of friends and involving a good bit of time out on the fells. The dismal weather last week made me think that it was all going to be a bit of a washout, but the Weather Gods smiled on me for a change and Friday dawned crisp and clear with a good forecast for the rest of the weekend, it was all systems go.

The first order of business was The Espresso Round. This is the little brother of the Abrahams Tea Room Round (ATR) which we did exactly a year back. If you've heard of neither, please let me explain: The idea of the ATR is that you run round all the fells that are visible from the tea room window in George Fisher's in Keswick, it's a decent enough challenge and involves about 30 miles and 10,000ft of climb .... I remember we did it on a bitingly cold day with snow and ice involved, it was a bit of a struggle at the time, particularly as I really wasn't too well and fell-running probably wasn't good for my health at that point. The Espresso is not as taxing, you must visit Catbells, Rowling End, Causey Pike and then Barrow before legging it back to Keswick, it's that simple. I should add that both circuits start and finish outside the GF shop and it's up to you how you navigate between the various fells, clear as mud? Alright then:  We met up with Dave H and Simon F and also the fells legend that is Little Dave, then shortly after 11.00am we were off.  It was a cracking run, the skies were blue with very little wind and the visibilty was just fantastic. Catbells came and went very quickly, we doubled back off the summit in the same way you do in the Anniversary Waltz/Teenager with Altitude fell races, then took ROWs across the Newlands Valley until we found ourselves at the foot of Rowling End. Quite a hard climb followed up to the ridge and then onto Causey Pike, I was disappointed that the much-vaunted angry grouse was nowhere to be seen as I had intended to twat it one :-)  From the summit of Causey we took various routes down to Stonycroft Gill before climbing up to Barrow, the final summit. Barrow is flipping fantastic to run down, the gradient is just perfect and I charged down there with Little Dave, enjoying it a great deal and pretending that I was good at this. There is a fell-runners line that deviates from the main path and Dave zoomed off in that direction, taking me with him; I've not been that way before, it was out of bounds on this years Coledale Horseshoe fell race, why I have no idea as it didn't seem to be on private land or particularly eroded. From there it was a hard right to pick up the roads and pathways that take you through Ullock, Portinscale and the BGR line back to Keswick, we finished in about 3hrs 30, but that involved a lot of faffing around and photo-taking on summits etc, Strava says it was 2:55 moving time and I have no doubt that under race conditions something like 2:30 - 2:45 would be possible. Overall distance 12.36 miles.

Following cuppas/cake in the Tea Room I took Helen back to Newlands where our home for the weekend was located, a lovely old cottage built on the side of the fell with a grand view of Robinson and High Snab Bank. Carol had been in beforehand and decorated with birthday banners and balloons, so it was all a great surprise for her.   It was a fantastic place for a bunch of fell-runners to hang out for the weekend, very quirky, big open fire, flipping tremendous location. We went to the Swinside Inn for birthday tea, this was another winner and one of our friends was kind enough to bring along a fantastic birthday cake (a carrot cake - her favourite) that was just delicious. Various people had arrived by now and we had about 10 - 12 people staying, all very social and just what I'd hoped for.

Next morning a group of us set off to cover a fairly big circuit of the fells thereabouts, the route was my idea and predictably I came in for some abuse regarding my route choice: It was a terrible start, straight up the side of the fell to Aikin Knott and there was no real defined path, it was just up and bash through the heather. From there it was on to Ard Crags, before dropping straight off the side and up to Sail Pass. Onto Sail and then Eel Crag (Or Crag Hill, whatever you call it), by now it was getting a bit nippy, but not enough to stop the usual piccie taking and faffing around on the little tarn on top of Sail. We ran down the familiar line to Wandope and on to Whiteless Pike, before taking the TWA descent (steep!) down to Newlands Hause, then up to High Snockrigg and the perils of Buttermere Moss. It was mostly frozen, but everyone got wet feet I think, not really what you want in those temperatures ... an incentive to keep moving! Robinson and Hindscarth followed, we then followed the Hindscarth Ridge down to the valley bottom, picking up the three Birkett summits enroute (High Crags, Red Knott and Scope End) taking my tally to 427. It was a bit of a complex job winding our way through the various ROWs back to our cottage, but we managed it despite a bit of a discussion with a local property owner (hey, if he want's to buy a home with a public right of way outside the front door what does he expect?) and it's always nice to find new parts of the Lake District, total distance about 11.5 miles, but the 5,100ft of climb was what hurt.

We all mucked in that night and had curry and beer, Helen received birthday cake #2 and was over the moon with it all, she looked relaxed and very happy . There were too many of us to play Exploding Kittens, so Trivial Pursuit was the order of the day, folding around 10.30pm because we were all knackered .... I was fine with this, as I was completely rubbish and was losing badly.

Next morning it was a case of shoveling in huge amounts of breakfast, then getting out on the fell where I'm sorry to say the sausages, delicious though they were, repeated on me for the next two hours.  After some deliberation we went back over to Low Snab and climbed the nose of Hindscarth before Dale Head and the usual dilemma getting down to Dale Head Tarn (it's hard to find the best line). A brisk stomp up to High Spy, then it was across Maiden Moor before dropping down the Newlands again from the col above the old Goldscope mines. Total distance about 10.5 miles.

Everyone but Dave disappeared or returned home that evening, so we had the big old place to ourselves. We had leftover curry for tea and spent the night in front of the fire, catching up with the world and watching the latest episodes of His Dark Materials and War of The Worlds. Next morning it was clear that the Gods really had been on our sides, as the weather was completely different; Robinson was clouded in and the cold clarity of the previous days had disappeared. We said cheerio to Dave - he was going to Ennerdale to bag his final two Wainwrights - and regretfully said goodbye to the Lakes, both of us had to work that afternoon and were about about as reluctant as is possible to return :-(

So it was a brilliant weekend and I'm so pleased that it worked out, in running terms we covered about 34 miles/11,500ft and despite some sore bits here and there, appear to have survived the experience - we're not exactly match-fit, but definitely getting there. We're all fighting the years and accumulated wear and tear, but I'm glad that it's turning out to be a decent scrap.