24 miles and 3,300 feet
As I sat down on the side of Ward’s Stone, cramping, dehydrated hot and tired, I thought to myself, it wasn’t meant to be this hard ……
The Wyresdale circuit was first completed by fellow Bowland Runner Duncan Elliott in the summer of 2006. He decided against the original route which was a horseshoe (Wyresdale Skyline) starting and finishing at the post offices in Scorton and Qeurnmore respectively. This was first completed by Andy Verden in 2005. I decided that the Circuit made more sense, as well as the obvious benefits of starting and finishing in the same location, it made a nice loop of mixed; not just boggy, terrain. After recceing the part from Clougha Pike to Abbeystead Chapel, I decided that starting at Jubilee Tower was the better option, for the large free car park, and the old monument to mark the start and finish with. Originally I had planned to have an easy run around it, but after reading reports and realising that no one had yet beat the 5 hour mark for either the circuit (which is 2 miles longer and 400 feet less ascent) or the horseshoe, I decided to have a go at doing a sub 5 hour round. Fellow Bowland member Ian Cookson joined me for an attempt. We would be together only until the top of Harrisend Fell were we agreed to go at out own paces.
It was hot t-shirt weather at 08:50 as Ian and I touched Jubilee towers modest turret and set off on our round. We made our way through the farms feeling the heat straight away. After about half an hour we reached Abbystead Chapel, this was to keep the same line that Duncan did and be true to his circuit. After a brief stop and a check of the map we set off into what was uncharted land for both of us. Map in hand we negotiated our way to the crossing of the Wyre easily enough; a woodpecker was working hard on a tree and shattering the silence of the Saturday morning. Passed Swainsdale Hall, again being true to Duncan’s Route! And then after crossing the main road we went a bit off track and had to make our own way onto Harrisend Fell. The line wasn’t too bad apart from the fact that we were accidentally trespassing.
On Harrisend Fell (1h 13) I wished Ian good luck and set off on my own gradually pulling away from Ian I made my way on good mown ground to Grizedale Head (1h 21) this is were the familiar peat hags and bogs started. I new this was tough terrain but thought that the land may have dried out a bit. No such luck, it was as boggy as ever and on more than one occasion I had to leaver my knee deep trailing leg out of a deep bog. Never mind at least the weather was good. Too good, no cooling wind and about 17c was a shock to the system after such a long cold extended winter. I continued working hard and sweating hard onto White Moss (1h 30) then turned for Hawthornthwaite I now realised what everyone means about the Trig point. Amazingly it still stands (1.42). As I set off for Holdron Moss I looked back to see Ian was only about 500 meters behind, he was going well, but this was the last time I would see him on the day. I made an effort to keep my legs moving over this particularly sodden section of Holdren Moss, this was tough going and at times I had to walk a bit to regain my momentum. Over Holdren Moss (2h 02) and I could see the last hill before my drop down to the Trough of Bowland. I made sure I drank my ½ litre bottle of Lucozade dry, ready to fill it up at the stream. So over Top of Blaze Moss (2h 15) and then a nice fast descent to the Trough road, I was enjoying this. But my enjoyment ended when the stream that I was relying on was not there. I really should have paid more attention to this.
So annoyed with myself and with no water at all I set off in the baking sun up Whins Brow. No amount of map reading now would locate any drinkable water on this route; I scoured the map trying but, was kidding myself, I knew that I was in trouble. I think about what bear grills would do, and conclude he would read the map better before setting off. Onto Whins Brow (2h 36) trying to forget my hydration problem I decided to just go for it, no sense hanging around wasting time trying to find a stream. My only strategy was to keep wetting my Buff in bog water; the cooler I kept the less I would sweat etc.
Hydration issues still playing in my head, and being mesmerised at following a fence all the way around, well almost, nearly side tracked me from the little summit of Threaphaw Fell (2h 47) So a quick out and back and I powered on passed the serene Canada Geese at Brennard Tarn, and the laughing gulls (yes they must have been laughing at my stupidity) on Brennard Great Hill (3h 07). The tough going continued to the start of the out and back of Wolf Hole crag. Just prior to the out and back I met my first people of the day, I begged some water off 2 guys, they took pity but only had hot water, I was desperate 200 ml of clean water was very much appreciated and needed. I thanked them again as I passed them on the way back off Wolf Hole crag (3 h 25). I was now on familiar ground again, but this was offset by the fact that I was starting to wilt in the midday sun.
On my way over to Ward’s Stone I had my first sip of the now warm water. I knew it was too little too late. I had only drunk ½ a litre of fluid in nearly 4 hours of hard bog trudging work. I found that I was now walking more of the bits that earlier on I was running. The tank was flickering to empty. On the final approach to Ward’s Stone I sat down, legs cramping and feeling a bit rough. This was a hard day, made harder by my serious error with the water. It was never meant to be this hard.
I stretched off the cramp and steeled myself for the final 5 miles. I had an hour left I, in my deteriorating state I knew it would be tight. So I pushed on to Ward’s Stone East (4.02) steeled myself on the flat run to Ward’s Stone West (4.06) then cramps in my sides and legs over cabin flats and I painfully pushed it running up Grit Fell . (Normally a very run able gradient). I couldn’t stop looking at my watch, as if time would slow down. On Grit Fell (4.27) I met another chap who kindly let me have a drink of his water, I knew it was too late but it made me feel a bit better.
Pushing hard to Clougha Pike (4.38) and I now knew I would make it inside 5 hours. So on the sedge and tussock strewn descent I took a couple of walking breaks just to stretch my cramped up calf muscles. My car was shinning like an oasis in the desert as I approached it and Jubilee tower just meters beyond it. I was glad I had plenty of water in the car. I ran passed it and across the main road to touch the tower. I had done it. 4 hours and 52 minutes 50s. I collapsed on the bench feeling rough but happy with my effort. Ian finished in 6 hours 36 minutes and said he enjoyed the day too. Wisely he set off with more water than me.
It may only be 24 miles and 3,300 feet but it is a lot tougher than those statistics suggest. This was originally planned as a training run for my upcoming 53 mile Highland Fling race, but it became much more than that. There is no doubt I made it harder than need be for myself. But either way I never envisaged having to work so hard to duck under 5 hours. It was a really enjoyable, if slightly torturous, day in the Bowland hills.