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Wild Camping in Snowdonia

After a busy week, I was looking forward to a weekend of peace and solitude.

Arriving at the little village of Rhyd-Ddu, one of the stops on the beautiful, scenic Welsh Highland Railway, at the foot of the western slopes of Mount Snowdon, we enjoyed a meal in a local pub.

Suitably fed and watered, and as the last golden rays of evening sunlight kissed the summit of Snowdon, we set out into the hills. Exploring several mine workings en-route, we arrived at the foot of Yr Aran, our intended overnight stop, just as the veil of darkness was drawn across the landscape.

Finding a suitable spot, we settled down for the night in our sleeping bags and fell sound asleep watching a trillion stars dance across the ebony night sky.

We were awakened in the morning by the warm, caressing fingers of dawn on our faces as the early morning sun began to rise above Moel-Siabod to the east. At 2,861 feet, it is the highest summit in the Moelwynion mountain range.

Packing away our sleeping bags and bivvy bags, we climbed the ridge path over Allt Maenderyn and across Clowyn Du and Bwich Main to reach the summit of Snowdon. With the precipitous ridge of Grib Goch shrouded in mist we decided to leave this section of our intended route for another day when the views would be more rewarding, and descended to Rhyd-Ddu via the Snowdon Ranger Path. 

Castleshaw Skyline – A lovely winters morning

Date: 31st March 2013

Only a small contingent of seven runners met at Brownhill’s on what was a gloriously sunny Easter Sunday morning. Many of the regular Sunday morning crowd either had family commitments or must have forgoten to change their clocks to British Summer Time and therefore were still lying content under warm bed sheets.

Brownhill countryside visitor centre is the traditional meeting point for the Saddleworth Runners Club’s Sunday morning outings. Operated by Oldham Council’s Countryside Service, the visitor centre and Lime Kiln Café is situated in the heart of Saddleworth, on the banks of the Huddersfield canal.

Leaving the visitor centre car park, at just gone 10.00am, we headed North along the canal for a short while before picking up the A670 for the short stretch of tarmac to the Navigation Inn. Passing through the little wooden gate, at the side of the pub, we ascending the series of paths which provide a route up onto Lark Hill. Turning North along Harrop Edge Lane we were confronted by a cold wind blowing in from the East. It was these chilling Easterly’s which had brought in the recent bout of snow over the past weeks which, although now receding, as the spring temperatures begin to rise, was lying in deep drifts upon the frozen ground.

As we dropped into the saddle before Hunters Hill a couple of our group muttered suggestions of dropping down past the Saddleworth Hotel into the Castleshaw Valley, to avoid the wind, and follow a route back along the Tame Valley Way. Not wanting to miss the delights of running on the high moors on such a beautiful morning I instigated a coup and led a break-away group in the direction of Millstone Edge.

Parting company with the others we headed for Bleak Hey Nook and, after crossing the normally busy A62, passed behind the old, now long derelict, Horse & Jockey pub and headed up Whimberry Lee Lane. At Stanedge the remaining five ascended pure white, crisp snow fields to attain the trig point on Millstone Edge. Under a clear sky there was not but a breath of wind on this rocky edge which marks the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. The views all around were magnificent and far reaching and we reflected on what the others were missing after opting for lower ground.

Whilst today was glorious this rocky edge is often battered by strong winds, the year round. In bad winter weather this must have been a grim posting for the Roman soldiers stationed at the fort in the valley below, who’s job it was to guard the military road from Chester to York. One of a series of Roman Forts the original stronghold covered over three acres and garrisoned around 500 infantry. At some point it was abandoned until being re-occupied in the early 2nd century A.D. as a small out-post.

Following the Oldham Way we made good progress over the firm snow, the frozen surface of which was yet to thaw under the warming sun. Looking over to the West, the Denshaw reservoirs could be seen glistening in the morning sunlight.

Picking up the Pennine Bridleway we dropped down Moor Lane where it meets Ox Hey Lane, at the old Cross Roads known as Four Lane Ends. Continuing South we enjoyed running on the deep snow drifts that had completely filled the sunken track that is Broad Lane. The views down into the Castleshaw Valley were a delight as we headed towards Heights.

Although we wouldn’t be passing it today, St Thomas’s church is located just a few hundred metres further along the lane. Known locally as Height’s Church it has featured in many film and TV productions. Opposite is a small public house called the Royal Oak which is well worth a visit, if passing this way, as they are reputed to offer fine ales and good food.

Opposite the entrance to Spring Hill we turned South East, towards Grange, and descended the sunken bridleway, which is believed to have been an old packhorse road or ‘saltway’. This area of Saddleworth was part of Friarmere which in turn was part of the Roche Abbey estate. Local historians believe that the Black Friars had a house or ‘Grange’ here which possibly lends its name to the area.

Our descent once again took us over deep snowdrifts and we eventually emerged at the ford which crosses Hull Brook. In summer, after a long run, crossing the ford offers a welcoming, cool relief to hot, tired feet. However, with the brook flowing cold from melt-waters gathered from the frozen moors high above the valley we chose to cross the wooden bridge, a little further upstream, and keep our feet warm and dry.

With our morning outing nearing the end we followed the course of Hull Brook, picked up the Tame Valley Way and followed its route through Delph and Dobcross and back to Brownhill’s in Uppermill.

We had had a fantastic run and marked the start of British Summer Time on what was a beautifully clear sunny morning. A nice hot brew and bacon butty was all that was now needed to end what had been a perfect Easter Sunday morning.

High Peak Marathon 2013

It was over two years ago since my last encounter with the High Peak Marathon. On that occasion, probably due to the lack of training, after we got a last minute entry as a reserve team, I had struggled over the last section of the route from Snake Top. So with a guaranteed entry this year, surely I would arrive at the start line race fit?

Whilst I hadn’t been able to do any regular long distance training, due to work commitments and a busy schedule with my son’s swimming training, I had got some decent runs in with fellow club mates. Andy Gartside and I had completed a night-time round of the Saddleworth 5 Trigs and Howard Chambers joined us for a night round of the new 5 Trigs a couple of weeks later. In addition, fellow HPM team member Gaynor Keane and I had a good run around the 26 mile Anglezark Amble at the beginning of February. With three weeks to go to the HPM I had planned a couple of other long runs on the hills that would stand me in good stead. Like all best laid plans it wasn’t to be. Work etc. got in the way and I had to fly out to the Middle East where I wouldn’t run another step until returning home. Spending all my time cooped on board aircraft, sat in vehicles and hanging around in hotels I could feel my legs wasting away.

Returning home to the UK, I went out for a six mile run on the Tuesday previous to the HPM. Whilst the run went well I woke the following morning with my legs aching. With only 3 days to go it wasn’t a positive sign. With the exception of breaking a leg, or something similar, I knew I would complete the route but I didn’t want a repeat of the last outing.

The High Peak Marathon has a reputation as a tuff and daunting challenge that traverses some of the most severe upland terrain in the Peak District. Combined with the distance and severe weather conditions that can be encountered, along with the fact that the majority of the route will be completed in darkness, it is not for the faint-hearted. Lack of sleep is another contributing factor to the events toughness. With most competitors arriving at the start-line after finishing a full day at work they will be setting out into the night for what, for most, will be over 12 hours of arduous, sleep deprived, running.

Race day arrived and I spent all day at work looking forward to getting down to Edale and getting the challenge underway. My kit was sat at home packed and ready to go and I was eager for the off. After finishing work there would be no time for going home and putting my feet up for a rest. As always I was running about doing one thing another. With the team meeting at my house for 8.30pm I called at the chippy for a late tea. Chips, Pie and Peas. The food of Athlete’s!

Chris Webb and Roy Gardner arrived at my house bang on time. We loaded the kit and collected Gaynor Keane on route to Edale. Chris, Roy and myself know each other well and the drive down was full of chatter and banter. Chris, in his usual joyful manner was going on about us setting, and maintaining, a 7 minute mile pace across Bleaklow and on into Edale. I glanced across to see the look on Gaynors face, who was doing the HPM for the first time, which read, “What the hell have I let myself in for here”.

I ran the HPM with Chris on my last outing. Chris was unsuccessful at getting his team into this year’s event but joined our team after Colin Bishop had to pull out due to work commitments. Chris is a very experienced ultra-distance runner. Extremely fit and highly motivated, with an infectious enthusiasm, he completed the 145 mile Grand Union Canal race, a couple of years ago, in a very good time. There are a handful of people who are a pleasure to run with on long-distance outings and Chris is definitely one of them. Whilst he is capable of quick times over long distances he is a great team player and never looks down on people just because they don’t move at the same pace as himself.

Not long to go now

Arriving at the event centre in Edale we conducted the mandatory kit inspection and then set about devouring the mountains of pre-race food and drinks that are laid on for the competitors. The atmosphere in the village hall is always buzzing and it’s an opportunity to catch up with people you haven’t seen for a while. This event attracts some of the biggest names in ultra-distance fell running but there is no sense of elitism from anyone. The whole room is filled with a vibrant, friendly atmosphere and the students of Sheffield University, who organise the event, can’t do enough for you.

Our start time of 11:29pm soon arrived and we were off out of the door to a round of applause and shouts of ‘good luck’ from organisors and competitors alike. The route to the first check point is straight forward enough and involves a direct ascent up to Hollins Cross. Full of enthusiasm and spring in their steps many teams set out too fast, in these early stages, only to burn out later on. With it always taking me at least an hour to warm up and settle down, on any run, I took the ascent nice and steady. With a couple of teams passing by and the rest of Team SRC waiting at the check point my legs felt good.

The route to the second check point, on Lose Hill, is only a couple of kilometres away but teams chose a variety of lines. The decent towards hope is good going underfoot and on normal occasions is a down-hillers paradise. However, tonight, in a bid to save leg strength, the descent is conducted in a controlled manner.

Passing the Cheshire Cheese public house Roy had the sudden urge to need to find a secluded spot in the woods. Earlier in the evening, at his daughter’s birthday party, she had given him a bottle of Coconut Water. Telling him it was the latest energy giving drink, he had consumed the whole bottle just before we crossed the start-line. Obviously she was getting her revenge on her father who had had to leave her party early to go off and do some mad-capped run. When she gave him the witches brew she could not have envisaged just how many times her Dad would pay for his crimes, throughout the night.

Roy was a last minute addition to the team after Howard Chambers had been forced to pull out due to injury. Standing at over 6 feet tall he is a strong, talented runner and a great team asset. With his relaxed, friendly attitude and supportive nature he is the ideal person to be out on the hills with for any extended period of time.

With Chris setting a quick pace we soon reached Win Hill and made our decent to Yorkshire Bridge. Chris continued the quick walk/jog pace up the long road section that is New Road. Deciding that this was too quick a pace, at this still early stage, I deliberately dropped off the back a little and chatted with an all-female team who were moving at my preferred pace. Always with a spring in her step, and still experiencing the early stage highs of the event, Gaynor was happy to go at Chris’s pace. However, we still had many more miles to go and we still hadn’t stepped foot on any real rough ground yet. Being her first event I wanted to ensure that we moved at the right pace to ensure success and save energy for later on. Besides, I didn’t want to burn myself out either.

It was whilst on this road section that I began to feel a sharp pulling under the arch of my left foot. Whilst not causing any real pain, the nagging worry that it may develop into something worse would plague me for some time to come.

Catching the others up at the track which leads up to Stanege Edge I joked with them about the merits of adopting the ‘Maylor Shuffle’ and jogged by, on route to High Nebb. Another check point down we moved at a good pace over Moscar Moor to the food station on the A57. As with all the check points we were greeted by a group of joyous students in fancy dress.

Grabbing a cup of tea and a sandwich we headed off down the A57 to the checkpoint at Cuthroat Bridge, before striking out across the moor to Derwent Edge. The edge is runnable virtually the whole way and we made good progress to Lost Lad where Roy, yet again, had to pay the price for crimes against his daughter.

Dropping down to Sheepfold Clough we climbed up onto Howden Edge and made way to the Trig Point at Outer Edge, via Cut Gate. From here on the ground is extremely rough and notoriously boggy. However, with temperatures down to around minus six degrees and, in parts, covered in snow we were able to make good progress. The firm snow was a delight to run on and, using it to our advantage, we passed teams who were travelling on rough frozen ground and had not yet recognised the advantages of our new found friend.

Check Point on Outer Edge

With a cold wind now blowing head-on the temperature dropped again and rucksacks and cags became encrusted in a layer of frost. My water bottle had frozen and I couldn’t open the valve to access the solidifying solution within. The traverse across Harden Moss to Swains Head passed by with relative ease, although both Roy and I did break through a frozen bog together and ended up knee deep in its freezing cold contents.

The next section onto Bleaklow is one of the most difficult sections as far as navigation is concerned. Whilst visibility was perfect we wanted a good line across this rough ground which is bisected with countless deep peat groughs. This is where Chris’s intimate route knowledge is an advantage. We decided to continue to use the snow to our benefit and, whilst many other teams seemed to be going across country on a direct bearing, we followed the meandering, snow filled, peat groughs. It was definitely a good choice as we made good progress, whilst saving valuable energy, and emerged just a couple of hundred metres short of the checkpoint at Bleaklow Stones.

The long awaited sunrise

Whilst grabbing a quick bite to eat we enjoyed watching a much awaited sun rise over to the East. It was a beautiful sight and one that we would have missed had we opted to stay at home tucked up in warm beds.

Once again using the tried and tested method of following the meandering, snow filled, groughs we headed for Bleaklow Wainstones. With a warming sun now emerging on our backs we could, at last, turn off the head torches as we picked up the Pennine Way and made our way to the second feed station at Snake Road Top.

After a quick cup of tea we crossed the Snake Road and followed the paved, runnable, path up onto Mill Hill. The temperature was warming up now and Roy and I opted to take off our cags. I only wish that I had had my shorts with me because I was desperate to lose my longs too and get some air to my legs.

Friendly students at Snake Road Top

After Mill Hill we made the short but steep climb onto Kinder Scout and followed the edges past Kinder Downfall over towards Kinder Low. Normally, when running along this edge you would be skipping and flitting from rock to rock with the grace of a ballet dancer. However, with tiring legs and aching joints every rock and boulder now becomes an annoying and unwanted obstacle in the way of forward progress. Many people mistakenly think that if you can make it to the Snake Road Top you are almost home. In fact, this last section, back to Edale, is much further than appreciated and it is now that the dividends of adopting a sensible pace throughout will pay off. Unlike my last HPM I was feeling good. Whilst not running fast I was feeling comfortable and enjoying the whole experience.

Dropping down off the Kinder Plateau Gaynor was starting to suffer badly from a pain in her knee. She had had a great run, so far, but was now beginning to feel the effects of moving into untested distance. Gaynor has a natural running talent. Full of energy and light on her feet, she is fast over the shorter distances and has proven that she also has a talent for long distances too. She is a great person to run with and an ideal team member for an event like this. Knowing how Gaynor likes a challenge she will deffinately be looking to enter the HPM again. Now that she has experienced it, and with the right training and the right team she will probably look to go for a faster time in future.

Reaching the checkpoint to the East of Edale Cross, and whilst waiting for Gaynor, the marshal’s produced a packet of chocolate chip cookies from within the depths of their tent. Offering some to us they tasted fantastic. The taste gave us an instant lift and we set off with new found energy and enthusiasm. Passing Brown knoll we enjoyed running on the last of the snow, and like my water bottle, it was beginning to Thaw. My foot broke through a small snow bridge, over a stream, causing a tumble.

Although Gaynor was now clearly suffering from the pain in her knee, and lagging behind a little, she maintained the effort and we soon reached Rushop Edge before skirting around the bottom of Mam Tor for the final traverse of high ground.

With the last checkpoint in the bag, at Hollins Cross, all that was left was the final decent into the valley below, from whence we came many hours before. The last time I completed the HPM, it took me as long to make this descent has it had done to climb it on the way out. This time I flitted down with relative ease to the road at the bottom.

Joined by the rest of the team we made the short return trip along the road to the event centre and, applauded by organisors and competitors, we clocked in with a very credible time of 11 hours 39 minutes.

Job done

We had had a fantastic event and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience together. The make-up of the characters within the team was ideal and we all worked well together, throughout. I am already looking forward to next year’s event and would gladly run it again with Roy, Chris and Gaynor. Thanks to you all for your wonderful company.

The final words have to go to all the High Peak Marathon organisors. Without the relentless energy and enthusiasm that these students show this successful event would not be what it is. The organisation is second to none and faultless. In addition to all the pre-event organisation, they arrive at the event centre at 07.30 on the Friday morning to get everything prepared. They make all the sandwiches, cakes, pre and post-race meals themselves and transport food out to the two feed stations. Marshalls go out to the remote checkpoints as early as 5:00pm and are there to greet you, in the dead of night, with big smiles and boundless energy and support. Then when it’s all over, and the competitors are heading home to have hot baths and put their feet up, these enthusiastic students still have to pack up and come in off the hills.

Long after the race was done, and just as I was going to bed at gone 11pm, I was reflecting on how I’d been awake since 6am on Friday morning. Forty one hours in total. As I contemplated enjoying a nice Sunday morning lie-in I thought about a conversation I’d had with one of the students after the race. She had told me that she had been at the event centre since 7.30am on Friday morning. Saying that she must be looking forward to putting her feet up on Sunday, she told me that she was studying Neurology and that she had a dissertation to get done. Whilst I was thinking that she probably had a few weeks to get it completed she duly informed me that it had to be written and handed in by Monday morning!

Hats off and a big THANK YOU to them all!!!