Friday, 30 October 2009

Pies, pints, mud, wind, rain and tatie pot!

I am always up for a flimsy excuse for a trip to the Lakes, so when my Mum suggested coming down with her fella to stay with us for half term I suggested I drive up there to pick them up and perhaps fit a run/race in the hills while I am there. The Screes looked as good as any, being in Wasdale and one I hadn't tried yet. Mark was up for it too so the plan was hatched plus since I would be in Wasdale I arranged to go and visit the farm. While this was being arranged I was offered the chance to stay at the farm for the weekend so after a few last minute (well, Friday lunchtime) e-mails between us we agreed that I would leave work early enough to pick Mark up in the evening then head straight up to Wasdale arriving last thing Friday.

The traffic wasn't too bad but we still only got there just after midnight and Wasdale was looking quite wet and windy. Mark seemed to be getting carsick plus my fuel light came on as we went over Birker Fell which worried me a little with no fuel stations open for miles so it was nice to finally arrive at the farm to the warm welcome of their Staffordshire Terrier who always manages to rip holes in my clothes in his excitement. Woke up early Saturday to the sound of calves mooing in the barn at the back who are being weaned, the cows are being brought in off the fells now for winter.

The farmer jumped a mile when I got up and surprised him in the kitchen, he hadn't heard me come down. Mark got up soon after when he heard our voices, he had apparently woken up to the lovely sight of Lingmell nose in some moody weather. We hung around the farm for a while catching up on the gossip and had a look round the livestock to see what was new then I thought it would be best if we went to try and get some fuel for the car along with food for us and head straight to the race.

It was really wet and I think Mark was getting a bit apprehensive about the route, I tried to reassure him that there really isn't much to worry about, the race being pretty much all on paths visiting the top of Whin Rigg. Nether Wasdale was looking really quiet when we arrived but we were about 2 hours early! We even found ourselves wondering whether the race was actually still on until we remembered the 'Caution Runners' signs we had seen on the road. I toyed with the idea of a pint before the race but thought better of it and got a coke instead. We faffed around for a while getting ready and the sun even came out briefly, Mark stayed sat in the car keeping warm while I thought about doing some warm ups.

We were warned at the start about not heading of up the fell before we had run through a farm and reached a large sign pointing up the fell, something I didn't really take in until later on since most races on the run out to the fell I am usually following everyone else. Jos Naylor set us off and I settled in to about 15th place on the way out. You run down the road to the junction then the track towards the farm near the bottom of the Screes, as we got to the farm there was a guy standing by the gate to the farm and the runners in front were turning right off the track and heading up overa stile. I found this a little confusing after being told at the start about heading through the farm but near the stile was a luminous arrow marked 'Gosforth 10' pointing the way we were now heading so I carried on along with everyone else and assumed I must have heard wrong earlier.

We began a gradual climb now through dying bracken on a good path and I was getting nicely warmed up thinking to myself that it seems a while since I was last running on this sort of terrain - Scafell Pike being the last race about 4 weeks ago. It's usually around this time of year where my trips up north get less frequent and I start to up my mileage and do a few races in Herts/Essex where I live and this has the effect of speeding up my flat running but slowing me down on the steep stuff, so it wasn't long before I started getting passed as we began the steep climb on the path up the fell. Looking back into the village we were due for another downpour it was getting dull again but at least the strong wind seemed to be helping a bit being behind us, then sure enough once we had got past the steepest section on the path and started climbing the trod you come down on the Wasdale race it started raining so I got my cap out of my bumbag to stop my glasses from getting too wet.

It was misty too but just before the summit you could see the runners ahead coming back down the path and heading for the junction with the other path through the woods back to the pub. My back was sodden now with the wind blowing the rain into me giving me the odd sensation of a very cold back against a warm front!

It was quite grim at the summit but the marshalls who we had seen in the pub earlier before they set out were very encouraging, just what I needed since this is the point where we had to turn and head into the strong wind which seemed to be blowing the rain UP the hill. I had to be careful here not to stumble since my visibility was suffering a bit so I couldn't run as fast as I felt I should have but it was still good to be descending. I kept my eye out for Mark on his way up but didn't see him so then got my head down and followed the path down to where there should be a couple more marshalls at the next checkpoint. This was further than I thought it would be, I was running for quite a while without seeing anyone else but there was the odd fell shoe print in the mud for reassurance, though fewer than I though there should be with the number of runners that were in front of me; maybe they knew a less muddy route?

Just before I reached the second checkpoint the guy behind caught me up, the path here was a choice of either knee deep bog or really broken, stony ground so it was hard to keep the pace up. We both caught the bloke in front as we passed the checkpoint and headed down towards the woods. This was a good descent, or at least it would have been if it wasn't so wet and muddy we were slipping all over the place but at least I managed to stay upright. The ground began to level out as we entered some woods and I caught up to the two I was running with on a nice downhill stretch through the trees then it was mainly across some fields back to the road. There was a bloke holding the gate open back onto the road and it was only as I passed him and he said something like 'You're doing well lad' that I realised it was Jos.

Back on the road I managed to pass the guy who had passed me coming down off the summit but I couldn't catch the other runner we were with before the finish. I was absolutely drenched so I thought I would go and get some dry clothes on hopefully before Mark finishes so I can take a couple of pictures of him. Walking down the road the rain was still on and off and I was getting a bit concerned since there was still no sign of Mark when Jos walked past carrying the signs from the roadside. Then I saw Barbara who Mark spent most of the 3 Shires Race with finish and began to wonder whether I had missed him finish and he was sat somewhere in the warm pub. Barbara came jogging back up the road and disappeared off back round the route so I assumed she was heading back to find him. Sure enough it wasn't long before they both came running down the road into the finish.

He was looking a bit worse for wear but he swore he came fourth, apparently we all went wrong going through the farm and him and a couple of others went the right way to the marshall who was after the farm, so I didn't hear wrong at the start! Once he had got changed we parked ourselves in the pub and I had a nice pint of Dizzy Blonde thanks to Barbara to go with my free tatie pot, which was delicious. We ended up staying in the pub until about 6:30pm when most of the other runners had gone home, Jos presented Mark with a prize of a bottle of Yewbarrow for being the last senior runner, he doesn't drink bitter so kindly gave it to me. We chatted to Barbara for a while then when she left we got talking to Gary who runs for Ambleside about various races, he was recommending Jura highly which is one I haven't tried yet. He was also telling us the tale of the route shenanigans at the start; it seemed to be the farmer who had moved the arrow and sent most of the field up the fell, maybe he didn't want us all running through his farm?

We noticed that a lot of 'Reserved' signs were going up on the tables so since we were planning on coming back later for some food I booked us a table before we left. It was very cosy in the pub we should have arranged to meet Mark and Karen there for food but then again one of us would have had to drive then. Quick shower and change back at the farm then I discovered that Karen had booked us into Low Wood Hall instead - she had already rang the Screes and was told that they were booked up and she had insisted that since I was a man I wouldn't have thought to book us all a table. I made her eat humble pie while I ate some of the cakes they had baked that afternoon. We plumped for Low Wood Hall where we had a tasty meal and a few drinks. I was stuffed by the time we got back and Mark was already making up excuses not to go out in the morning.
The cows woke me up again Sunday, I was last up too. Mark was still lacking any enthusiasm to go out though the weather didn't look too bad, the clouds were quite low and it was very windy but with the promise of not going too far and a fry-up when we got back he managed to get into his still wet kit and we headed up towards Burnmoor tarn. Planning on taking it very easy with being entered into an LDWA event next weekend in Essex we just jogged up through thebracken and crossed numerous gills heading for Oliver Gill, my aim was just to climb onto Great How then head back. I felt guilty at one point for getting my camera out ready for Mark falling in since he looked a little unsure about crossing one or two of the streams.
Crossing Oliver Gill was a bit tricky and as we climbed up past the stream there was a waterfall apparently being blown back up the hill the wind was that strong. The clouds kept blowing in so not far from the summit I sat down for a quick look at the map and decided to just head back the way we came but stay a little higher until we got close to the path coming down off Scafell. It got really windy here and I noticed Mark was staying a little close behind me, I can't be much of a windbreak though; he looked really funny due to his windproof top getting all puffed up.

We stopped for a break overlooking the tarn and took a few pics, I love it round there, my stomach was rumbling though and the fry-up was calling so it was time to get back. We ran through the bracken for a bit then over the tussocks heading for the path down from Scafell and then we saw another human, in the distance heading for the screes. I had some fun following a stream back down to the woods, I don't think Mark enjoyed running down that bit and before long we were heading down through the farmer's fields to the farmhouse and food!

Weekends never seem long enough especially the ones I spend in the lakes, but I had a long drive ahead so after the food it was time to express our gratitude and say goodbye again! You would struggle to find kinder people than Mark and Karen, they are always more than happy to welcome me and my family/friends (and my wet, muddy gear!) into their home and never expect anything in return. I always offer to return the favour which brings a laugh from Karen since she cannot imagine Mark spending any amount of time away from their farm in Wasdale.

Next week me and Mark are entered into an event in Essex - 27 miles around the fields and estuaries in the 18th Blackwater Marathon!

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