With 73 miles of the Cumbria Way Ultra Relay to cover between us all, we are looking to schedule in a few weekends to recce the various sections ahead of race day. Although race organisers will be supplying a detailed “road book” ahead of the event, it is always wise to gather some advance knowledge idea of both the route and the type of ground to be covered.
This Sunday Kev Edwards, Gary Fitzpatrick and myself, (Graham), decided to defy the forecasts and have a run over Leg 3 from the Dungeon Ghyll pub in Langdale up to Keswick. Kevin is currently pencilled in to tackle this stretch on race day, with Gary reserved for the glory leg from Caldbeck to the finish. We met up at 9am sharp in a still sleepy Ambleside for a quick coffee before taking the extortionately priced bus up the valley to the start. with rain battering the bus windows and low clouds blanketing the peaks it was with some trepidation that we stepped off the bus at the Sticklebarn pub to set off up the valley.
This initial stretch is relatively flat as it snakes its way along a rocky path towards the head of the valley and the big climb of the day up Stake Pass. From here the path rises on an increasingly steep incline up the head of the valley, until it reaches its highest point of around 1600ft, before passing over into the next valley, (Langstrath). It was here that the differences in style and experience of the 3 of us became apparent.
Kevin and I have both completed the Lakeland 50 Ultra run and have spent a fair bit of time running around the Lake District. In that time, Kevin has discovered just how much he despises running downhill on slippy wet treacherous rock. Being unable to make up time on the descents as most people would, Kevin instead chooses to run all the up-hills in defiance of all trail and fell running wisdom. Personally, I much prefer adopting the more pragmatic fell runners approach of running where possible, fast hiking where it isn’t, and taking advantage of all that lovely free energy that gravity gives on the way down.
Gary Fitzpatrick had never run a Lakeland track or even taken much of a walk on a fell side before today. This may explain why he chose to sprint the entire climb, skipping from rock to rock like a demented bearded Pixie, before vanishing off downhill as though headlong falls, twisted ankles and broken legs were things that only happened to other people.
A coupe of walkers actually stopped to watch in awe as he ran past them with enough breath for a gasped good morning, before turning their gaze on the slightly less impressive spectacle of me and Kev labouring our way up. I told them we were having Gary drug tested because he wasn’t normal…
After grumbling his way up a staircase of treacherously slippy rock steps, Kev was less than delighted to find the stepping stones over the usually delightful babbling brooks were now submerged beneath the raging waters of streams dangerously swollen by the rainfall. The wind was gusting powerfully at the top of the pass and robbing us of heat so we set off for the fabulously twisty descent into Langstrath down a series of switchback turns taken at full speed. Gary and I loved it: Kevin declared it “worse than the bloody Lakeland 50. He wasn’t having a good time. In fact the only thing that raised his spirits at this point was the thought of Richie Noones face as he encountered this same stretch on race day!
We had quite a debate on the next stretch on how honest I ought to be when reporting the recce for fear of frightening everyone else off. It has to be said that this is probably the toughest section of the entire Cumbrian way with the rest of the route being a lot flatter and on far firmer and more runnable tracks….although Richie can save himself some time and stop reading now safe in the knowledge that from here on its a walk in the park.
Has he gone?
Right then – it got worse!
Once down in the valley there is a choice of paths, left or right of the stream. Kev did what he always does on these outings and buggered off on his own not knowing where he was going and was half a mile up the valley slogging it out alone before Gary and I spotted him and called him back to the river crossing and the split in the path. A quick check of the map showed the Cumbrian way to be on the right as we looked at it….the path Kev had actually been on!
We crossed the river and set off along a windy, rocky, twisty little track that ploughed across raging streams, over boulders, across slippy wet grass and the most challenging, technical, leg breaking terrain imaginable. Gary loved every second off it and took off like a whippet on a mission, pausing every now and then to allow Kev and I to catch up. This is only a 3 mile stretch at most but it requires total concentration and commitment across very difficult ground – the sort Kevin hates – the sort that made us laugh every time we thought of Richie!
Oddly enough, there is a much easier path on the other side of the river of smooth, well packed trail. That’s the route used for the Ultimate Trails race that comes this way and one I have previously used. A quick email to the race organiser Gaynor Prior after our recce revealed…as I began to suspect as Kev effed and jeffed his way down the tougher trail I’d chosen…….that err…. we should have been on the easy path!
The views up and down these valleys are truly magnificent. I know this because I have been here before. On Sunday all we saw were the greyed out outlines of the hills amidst the persistent drizzle. Once out of Langstrath the trail leads through the picturesque hamlets of Rosthwaite and Grange before finally taking us to the shores of Derwentwater.
It was along the shores of the lake that we finally hit smoother ground with well packed trails populated by strolling pensioners. To make progress even easier the sun finally came out, our waterproofs were removed and the tracks began to dry out as our speeds increased. After miles of lethal rock and dodgy footing we were on good quality, easy surfaces…so obviously this was where Kevin went over on his ankle and hit the deck like he’d been shot!
It looked bad for a few minutes, and in hindsight, I’m sure out first concerns were well founded, but Kev chose to “run it off” and limped his way over the next half mile before picking up speed and blocking out the pain.
The last couple of miles into Keswick are about as easy as it gets along snooker table flat paths but we were all feeling the miles by now and looking forward to the finish. We hit Keswick after 17 mile on the Garmins with seconds to spare to meet our planned bus back to Ambleside, (another Kings ransom in fares though – £7.85? I want a ride on the bus not shares in the company!)
This Sunday a few of us are considering having a run out along leg 5, from Caldbeck to Carlisle which promises to be flatter and faster if less picturesque as it makes its way to the finish. We still have leg 1, 2 and 4 to check out over the next few weeks so anyone available for some solid training runs in the Lakes be on standby and check your email!