15th January 2012
Sometimes you push against situations that seem to be telling you to stop. From a logistics point of view the weekend was difficult and most “sensible” people would have understood if I’d said, “Nah, didn’t go – a lot of hard work for a day’s running”.
The running in question was the first 26 miles of the Lakeland 100 route – actually 105 miles – which winds its way around the Lake District and scampers over 23,000 ft ascent. This section only had 7000 ft – but what feet they were! More of that later.
The organisers had lined-up an interesting set of talks for the Saturday evening – in Keswick, starting at 6pm. The recce itself, on the Sunday, was from Coniston to Buttermere but since most people would need their cars at the end of the day a coach was laid on to take runners from Buttermere to Coniston at 8am. So, where to to stay on Saturday night? And when to eat?
The talks were excellent, although the second one went on a bit too long – even though the advice was really useful. And it was good to meet-up with people I’d be seeing at 8am the next morning. At 9:15pm the talks finished and I went in search of food. Most pubs had stopped serving and the restaurants were too expensive, so a Chinese take-away had to do. And it was awful.
I chose to stay at the Youth Hostel in Keswick, which was a mistake. The YH itself is excellent – warm, clean and comfortable and of course inexpensive. However one of the room mates had a deep, loud snore which never ceased – even after prodding! Not the good night’s sleep I’d been looking forward to. I’m normally an optimistic person, but I was feeling less than ready for the event ahead.
At 6.30 am on Sunday I got dressed and de-iced Trebor. I’d been tipped-off that both Honister and Newlands passes would probably be closed, so I drove to Buttermere via Cockermouth. Others were less lucky and had tried the passes first before having to resort to the round-about route.
Consequently it was nearer to 08:30 when the bus left, and 10am before we set off from the school at Coniston.
Then everything changed.
At Coniston the sun was glorious and the second I started running – despite the initial climb – I felt ready to go. Once my heart-rate had settled down the going was good and the climb over Walna Scar was comfortable, the run down to Seathwaite enervating and the scenery fabulous.
The whole of the Western Fells could be seen and Harter Fell stood prominent as the next target.
On the main event there will be a checkpoint at Seathwaite but today we just carried on and over the western shoulder of Harter Fell – a wet, boggy, tree-rooty wilderness that seemed never ending, but eventually did end with a steep descent and tricky rock work to take us to Boot, and the first refreshment stop.
On then over Eskdale Moor, by Burnmoor Tarn and into Wasdale. This was an easy section, but the scenery was awesome. Scafell sat high to my right, Illgill Head to my left and the Holy Triumvirate of Yewbarrow, Kirkfell and Great Gable directly ahead. In the late winter afternoon sun the sight was wonderful.
Although feeling chipper on leaving the checkpoint at Wasdale Head, I was aware of what was ahead and once the main flow of Gatescarth Beck was crossed at the boulders the mountain kicked-in. Steep rocky path. Ice flowing over steps. Unendingly up. The wind increasing, the sun gone and the temperature dropping. I put my head-torch on at Black Sail Pass summit, and a natural group of 4 people formed – two Pauls and a Jan!
Descending into Ennerdale was treacherous – steep and icy, but we crossed the footbridge, found the sleeping Youth Hostel (closed for the winter) and then made the relatively easy ascent to Scarth Gap. The descent into Buttermere was, perhaps, even worse than its predecessor – evil erosion, very steep and the path switching back and forth and ducking and diving under crags. On top of all this was the ice – threatening every step.
However, all things must pass and soon we were running for joy along the edge of Buttermere towards the finish. The jet-black night was a backcloth to a dazzling array of stars, and the lights of the village twinkled across the lake whose lapping against the edge of the path is one of the memories I’ll take from the day.
I checked-in, found Trebor and grinned from ear to ear. What a fantastic day! Now, just a small matter of finding coffee* and driving the 140 miles back to Chester.
When you’ve worked against the tide and it pays off, it’s a great feeling. Thanks to everyone who helped that weekend. Can’t wait for the next one!
*The BP petrol station in Keswick has a Costa self-service machine, and it was certainly most welcome late on an icy-cold Sunday evening.