Last weekend three intrepid explorers and myself headed up to the Dark Peak for a couple of days of the aforementioned mud and adventures. The only firm plan we had was Wolf’s Pit fell race on the Sunday morning, but it made sense for me to crack on with a recce of part of the Ultra Tour of the Peaks route too, as I only have limited opportunities to get up to the Peaks between now and the race in August.
After a Friday evening spent poring over maps in front of the fire at our lovely B&B, we had a plan; Lee and I would recce the 20ish (very ‘ish’ as it turned out) miles from Yorksire Bridge at the base of Win Hill, up along one edge of the Kinder Plateau, down into Edale, over Hollins Cross into Castleton, up Cavedale, down into Bradwell, up onto Bradwell Edge and finally down along the river to Hathersage. Katie and Rich would join us for the first half into Edale, pick up Katie’s car from there and meet us in Hathersage in time to eat ALL THE FOOD in the pub.
On a good day this would have a been a nicely challenging long run with plenty of up hill and down dale.
As it was, we had 45mph+ winds and periods of driving rain, with temperatures getting on for 0 degrees in the wind. The kind of day that justifies having all the kit with you, and you end up using everything shy of the emergency bag and the first aid kit. Katie and Rich really got the arse end of the weather, with the wind being in our faces for pretty much all the section they ran, but once we were down off Kinder Lee and I had a much kinder (ahem) time of it.
Despite all that, we had a great time. The trails were relatively quiet for first half and we were treated to some nice views along the top. Lee’s fingers were still working well enough to take pictures, so I have stolen them for here (thanks Lee!)
The descent down The Nab came just in time to circumvent hypothermia and catastrophic sense of humour failure, and we all perked up a bit on getting out of the chilling wind. Lee and I said goodbye to R and K with strict instruction to get into warm clothes and a cafe ASAP, and we headed onwards towards Hollins Cross and Castleton.
There proved to be far too many humans for either of us between Rushup Edge and the top of Cavedale, including a fair few extremely unimpressed looking teenagers in school groups – some huddled down like sheep in the shelter of ‘dry’ stone walls, trying to eat their lunch. I expect the weather was enough to put many of them off, but I’d like to think there would have been one or two who were mainly exhilarated by it. After the Mecca of Castleton it quietened down a bit and we were into less familiar territory. From the top of Bradwell Edge we spied the mast that was to be a feature of the following day’s fell race, and from here we were very much on the home stretch.
Upon arrival in Hathersage we located (a somewhat warmer and drier) Katie and Rich and immediately retired to The Bull in Castleton for lots of food and some rugby, and from thence to our B&B for kit drying, warm baths and an evening in front of the fire.
All in all an extremely useful day for me, that allowed for a few navigational errors that I hopefully won’t be making between miles 30 and 50 in August!
Out of the frying pan, and into the Wolf’s Pit…
The following morning dawned drier, but it was still blowing a hoolie. We had a relatively leisurely breakfast and then decamped to ‘the second field on the right’ in the wonderfully named village of Shatton to register for the Wolf’s Pit fell race. Not ever having done a fell race before, I’ll admit I was more than a little bit apprehensive. Not because I was overly worried about managing the terrain or navigation, but more because I was sure I’d make some fell racing faux pas that would mark me out as a softie southerner with no place out on the hill.
In the end I needn’t have worried – registration was a super slick affair, despite the popularity of the race, and the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed. Not a soul mentioned the weather, which, had we been back at home, would no doubt have elicited many complaints about the strength of the wind or the depth of the mud; we were all there to enjoy a 5.7 mile/1500ft romp round Abney Moor whatever the elements decided to throw at us. The route consisted of a ford crossing, a climb straight up to the mast, an undulating loop round the top of the moor, and a sharp descent that retraced our original steps back through the ford to the finish.
The race briefing consisted of the calling out of two random race numbers to have their mandatory kit checked in front of everybody, and one not-so-random number who had to have his kit checked and then had to
endure enjoy a rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ from the assembled 🙂 Then it was time for the off, and nearly 300 crazy people legged it to the bottom of the field, through the ford and up away to the moor.
I’m not going to lie – my legs were like lead after the previous day’s exertions, and I just wanted to get round in one piece. I was extremely pleased to find that I held my own, even gained many places, on the ascents, but my already-tired quads were completely trashed on the downhills where my technique leaves quite a bit to be desired. By the final descent I couldn’t trust my legs any more and lost quite a few places. I cruised comfortably along round the top of the moor, but found it frustrating being in a procession of so many other runners – not able to look ahead to nip round runners in front because I was unable to to take my eyes off the narrow single track immediately before me, the rest of which was hidden from view by other runners and a good ground covering of heather.
The highlight of the race was being graced by one of the clearest and most spectacular rainbows I’ve ever seen, but I must admit that I like my forays into the hills a little (a lot) less crowded. I loved the experience; no frills, £7 turn up and race, grab a hot drink, go home… but I’m not up for sharing with hundreds of others, no matter how like-minded they are. In the car on the way home we came to the conclusion that all I really needed was a longer fell race 😀
So there we have it – I’m a bona fide fell runner now! The DOMS at the start of the week was severe, but it’s all little stepping stones on the journey towards bigger races in the Lakes (KMF 50k and SLMM with Katie) and the Peaks (UPTD in August). Hooray for the Hills!