Crowden & Kinder

Crowden Clough

The climb up Crowden is a challenge for any fell runner: uneven, loose, slippery and so steep in its upper reaches that most people will be slowed to a hands on knees walk.  But the rewards are fantastic views and good running on the path flanking the Kinder plateau.

Accessed from Upper Booth rather than Edale, Crowden sees less traffic than its neighbour Grindsbrook Clough but shares the same characteristics.  Starting in Edale I work my way through a network of fields and footpaths to Upper Booth and immediately take the path through the woods by the stream which leads to open country.  The path emerges abruptly from the trees giving a view of the clough as it rises northwards, steeply towards the guardian of Crowden Tower.

I stop to take in the view for a few moments before running again eyes fixed to the ground; the path is rough, skipping over boulders and flitting from one side of the brook to the other as it seeks the line of least resistance.  As the clough steepens to enclose the brook the path leaves to take the left flank of the hill below the imposing gritstone sentinel of the tower.  The gradient eventually eases and I take a rest, looking back at the route far below.

Looking down on Crowden Brook

Turning right I pick up the path to rejoin the brook where it emerges off Kinder, its peaty brown water pooling briefly before tumbling down the boulders to the valley.

The top of Crowden Brook

The running becomes easier now as the path follows the plateau edge, firm and sandy with large flagstones laid in sections to prevent erosion.  I can take in more of the view now and soak up the vistas as I progress eastwards, the steep sided Grindsbrook Clough, the rocky Ringing Rodger further ahead and way across the valley the twins of Lose and Win Hill looking small from this lofty setting.  Hundreds of thousands of years of wind and rain have shaped the gritstone outcrops into strange shapes, nature’s own sculpture park .

Natural Sculptures
Weathered gritstone framing a distant Lose Hill
Erosion control

After a short run along the edge path I turn left and head northwards to cross Kinder at its narrowest point to Blackden Edge and the northern hills come into view.  Just before I reach the north rim of the plateau I chance upon a pool reflecting the blue of the sky.

Pools on Kinder

I reach the edge and view from here is equally impressive, Blackden Brook drops down to the artery of the snake road far below and on the horizon the distant hills of Bleaklow and Howden Moor.

Looking North across Blackden Moor

Running eastwards I pass Madwoman’s Stones, wondering about the story that must be behind their odd name, and swing round southwards to cross the head of Jagger’s Clough.  The sky is cloudier now and sunbeams break through as I reach the Druid’s Stone, again the name conjuring thoughts of the history behind the name.

Crepuscular rays over the Druid’s Stone

Towards the end of the run now I drop below the imposing rocks of Ringing Roger that stand tall above the village of Edale and pick up the zig zag path leading down to Grindsbrook.

Looking back up Grindsbrook

I pause one last time to look back to where I stood earlier, taking in the view up the steep valley of Grindsbrook reaching westwards onto Kinder.  Then its down to the fields and onto the road back to the start, happily tired.

For information on joining me for a guided run visit; http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/guided-runs-2/


Fell Running: You Win, You Lose, You Win Again

The Peak District, despite it’s name, doesn’t have the high mountains of the Lakes, Wales or Scotland and so doesn’t give the opportunity for running constantly uphill for much more than 300 metres (1000ft).  But if you know where to go you can combine multiple climbs and descents in order to pack a decent amount of ascent into your run.

Win Hill and Lose Hill are less than 4km apart and stand as guardians over the southern side of Ladybower reservoir.  At 462m and 476m respectively they are not the highest points in the Peak, in fact Kinder is more than 150m higher. However unlike the higher plateaus of Kinder and Bleaklow these two hills are in fact peaks having relatively steep aspects, dropping 300m from their summits into the surrounding valleys of the Derwent and the Noe.  Viewed from certain aspects Win Hill gives the feel of a mountain with its rocky “Pike” dominating the skyline.

A wintry Win Hill viewed from the west

The pair are easily accessible from several points and so give numerous places to start and finish as well as offering different distances of route.

My regular run starts at the car park on the east side of Ladybower.  I cross the road and dam wall and depending on my mood turn left or right to either tackle the fiercely steep Parkin Clough or take the just steep path which switchbacks up through the woodland.  Both paths emerge at a gate and the route follows a path due west.  I push on hard to the summit, rewarding my effort with a pause at the top to take in the fantastic views.  My gaze is draw across Ladybower and the A57 to the rocky crest of Derwent Edge and then the darker hills to the north.  Turning to the west I see a distant Mam Tor and closer, Lose Hill just over 3km away as the crow flies, this is my next target.

Mam Tor (left) and Lose Hill (centre) seen from Win Hill summit


I have a choice of routes, today choosing to continue northwest towards Wooler Knoll before kinking left and down to pick up the road to Fullwood Stile Farm.  I back off the pace as I cross the railway and drop down to the river – I know from experience that the 2km climb to come will hurt.  I glance at my watch as I turn off the road and start the climb, it will be about 15 minutes to the top on a good day.  Although there are steeper climbs to come I always find this one the hardest and I try to block out the pain and focus on staying relaxed.  A walker is coming down the path from the summit and I set myself the challenge of getting to the stile before they do.  A cheery “howdo” from the walker as I start the rocky steps and change my stride, taking shorter, faster steps as I hit each slab. I think of the hard work that went into constructing the path and wonder how many times I have run up it, how many heartbeats I have spent on it, how many breaths?

The summit gives a welcome rest and even though I’ve been here many times I never tire of the scenery, taking time to soak up the views: the ridge continuing west to Back Tor, Mam Tor and on along the Edale skyline towards the remote Brown Knoll; then the Edale valley with the village itself tucked away below Grindslow Knoll; and to the north west across the valley the flank of Kinder and its deep incisions of Ollerbrook, Lady Booth and Jaggers’ Clough.  

I have choices to make now, I could retrace my steps down the flagstones then off down through the fields towards Hope and back up via Twitchill Farm and the steep, steep fields leading back to Win Hill.  But today I seek a longer run and my eyes turn to the north as I look over to the route I am going to take, down to cross the Edale valley and back up to the edge of Kinder.
So I press on along the well worn path, up and steeply down Back Tor taking care not to trip on the tricky descent and then, glimpsing Castleton below on my left, onwards to Hollins Cross.  Down now on the rough path and tiptoe through the slurry and inquisitive cows at Peter Barn before crossing the road and taking the path to Ollerbrook.  I’m off the tourist trail now and the steep bilberry clad slopes and rocky outcrops beckon me to my favourite part of the route, the steep climb to the gritstone prominence above Rowland Cote moor.

Steep ground above Ollerbrook Clough

Heather and bilberry ally with the steepness of the slope to slow me to a walk as I take the line of least resistance up to cross the fence then up the final steep few metres, hands on rock and heather to emerge on the plateau.  Here again a rest, sitting down facing south, a handful of jelly sweets the physical reward, the view and the solitude offering a deeper, intangible satisfaction that will stay with me not burn away with the coming miles.

I am now eastbound, skirting the head of Jaggers Clough and losing height as the rough path gives way to grassy fields down Crookstone Hill and meets the bridleway passing Hope Cross.  The early part of the Edale Skyline fell race takes this route, the runners still fresh before the toil to come.  For me tiredness is beginning to creep into the legs but the ground allows me to maintain a steady pace and I can see in the distance the summit of Win Hill, my next target.  For some reason this stretch can seem to take ages so I play mind games, not allowing myself to look towards my goal until the next wall, that way it looks much closer when I finally allow myself a glance.  Along the last flat stretch and up the final path, keeping running until I touch the trig point and the last climb is done.  I take in the view again, this time looking back over the route I’ve taken.

Been there done that – looking back towards Kinder from Win Hill

Satisfied, I set off on the descent back to Ladybower taking care with tired legs on the rocky steps.  Into the woods again, reversing my outward route to emerge at the reservoir and glance at the scary “plughole”, overflowing after recent rain, as I pass it by. (I always wonder what’s down there).  

The “plughole”


Across the dam wall again and the final 400m to the car, happily tired – I won, I lost, no I won!

Win, Lose,Win – 25km and 1250m climb


Profile showing 3 big climbs

To join me on a guided run visit http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/contact-us-2/

Supporting Mike’s Bob Graham

When club mate, Mike asked for runners to support him on his Bob Graham attempt (approximately 70 miles, 42 Lake District Peaks, over 28,000 ft of climb all in less than 24 hours!) I was happy to help.

He was particularly looking for help on the night leg from Threlkeld to Dunmail raise, approximately 13 miles with nearly 6000 ft of ascent.  I was happy with the physical challenge having covered that sort of distance plenty of times, but what about navigating in the dark whilst trying to maintain a 24 hour pace – would I get him lost and blow his chances?

Mike & Mark, ready for the off

Mike set off from Moot Hall in the centre of Keswick at exactly 7pm hoping to be back before 7pm the next day. I started my watch and waved him and Mark his supporter off on the first leg and went back to camp to pack my bag for the next leg. It was tricky to know what pack to take as I needed to be able to carry my own kit, some safety equipment plus leaving some room for any of Mike’s kit, food and drink that he needed carrying.  Having checked all my kit including new batteries in my head-torch and tried to eat at a time when I would normally be going to bed it was then time to get to the changeover.

It was twilight at Threlkeld and torch lights could be seen descending the ridge off Blencathra as nervous supporters waited for their teams to come off the hill.  Mike arrived just ahead of schedule and managed 10 minutes of feeding and changing kit before we (Mike, Mark, Martha and myself) set off, across the main road towards the hills and on into the night.

The climb up Clough Head is steep and there is no obvious path but I knew to take a line avoiding the scree before turning to reach the top.  Just before the top the cloud came down and visibility dropped – not a good sign for the 12 miles to come.  Thankfully the navigation here isn’t too tricky and we soon picked up the trail leading on to Great Dodd and left the cloud behind.

There is something special about night running: enveloped in your own small pool of light listening to the silence, your senses seemingly more alert, the need to concentrate on your footsteps, the way that the land looms around you with even the smallest hillocks giving the impression of mountains in your peripheral vision.

Night running

The leg was straightforward from here until Dollywagon Pike with good paths meaning that only slight detours had to made to bag the summits allowing us to roll along at a good pace.

After Dollywagon we had to choose the best way to summit Fairfield, the choice being a good descent path and less well trodden route up or a grassy descent to pick up the main, loose scree path to the top.  In daylight I would have chosen the former but in darkness it would have been easy to stray into rocky ground and lose time so we opted for the main path.  This made for a tortuous climb on steep loose scree but led us safely to the summit from where we retraced our steps to a col and the last climb of the leg, Seat Sandal.  The summit was again in cloud and so we ran on a compass bearing westwards, gradually dropping towards the road.  A slight moment of worry when, with the lights of the cars in sight, we found ourselves in deep bracken, our torches illuminating a boulder field below but thankfully a short traverse brought us to a path and a swift downhill run to our waiting support crew with Mike’s fuel of choice – a Pot Noodle!
4 hours 26 minutes of night running and on schedule.

3.15 am Leg 2 / 3 changeover

After the scheduled 10 minutes refuel a new support crew took over to guide Mike on the longest leg to Wasdale.  This included the technical climbing section and he was in the capable hands of Matt and Mike G who were to get him safely up Broad Stand whilst Kirsty and Richard were to do the navigating. The sky was just starting to lighten as they set off and they would soon be able to run without torches. For me it was back to camp for some sleep. 

Dawn, high in the Lakes

After a welcome hot shower I managed a handful of hours sleep and then spent the morning drinking tea and eating.  I wondered how Mike was getting on, the signs were good with only a little low cloud on the highest peaks and it was calm and dry. Then we had a phone call to say that he had struggled a bit on leg 3 and was 30 mins behind his plan. Feeling reasonably fresh I packed a bag and drove to Honister, the changeover for leg 4 / 5. My plan was to reverse leg 5 and meet up around Great Gable.  The weather was colder now with a chilly breeze and as I climbed out past Grey Knotts I could see Gable’s summit in cloud.  On Green Gable the conditions were dramatic, one moment visibility was down so a few hundred metres, the next the cloud lifted to give fantastic views of the valleys below.

Lifting cloud revealing dramatic views

I reached the summit and decided to stay and wait for Mike and his support of Andy and Julia. I had company from spectators and marshals of the Wasdale fell race that was taking place.  Just as I was beginning to worry that something had gone wrong they emerged from the gloom looking tired but pleased to have reached the top.

Emerging from the cloud on Great Gable

The descent of Gable is tricky on tired legs – steep and rocky but after that and a short climb to neighbouring Green Gable it was an easy downhill via Brandreth and Grey Knotts, picking the best grassy lines down to the supporters at Honister where dry socks, flapjack and drink were thrust upon Mike by his crew.  Then the 10 minutes were up and the final leg back to Keswick began.  In theory this is an easy leg, a generally grassy section, 3 hills with 2500 ft of climb leading to roads and a gradual downhill into town.

Mike and Julia leaving Great Gable behind

There was a sense of optimism in the air as the merry crew set off up Dale Head, only a disaster now would prevent Mike from getting round in 24 hours.. wouldn’t it?

Mike and supporters leaving Honister

“Drink Mike, have a jelly baby, want a gel?”  The well meaning support crew were anxious that Mike kept up his energy levels but after 20+ hours of force feeding himself sugar he had had enough. He was tired, he even admitted it.  Luckily Phil insisted and he was able to manage sips of Coke and on autopilot now he continued up and over ticking off Hindscarth and Robinson, the last of the 42 hills.  Matt spotted a quick line leading to the valley and we dropped down quickly, leaving the hills behind and only the run in left to do.

A quick change into road shoes and the famous club vest but Mike was so tired, he was almost falling asleep in the chair as Simon attended to his feet like a father dressing a child! A couple of minutes and we were off, 3 miles of almost flat running and it would be over.

Left foot up, Simon attending to Mike’s footwear

I don’t know if it was the magic of the Dark Peak vest or the background as a 10k runner but suddenly Mike was looking strong, his long legs eating up the road and his sense of humour returned as he teased Dan about not being able to keep up. 
Helen was up front with the map looking for the footpath leading into town and there it was .. with a big fence and a sign saying footpath closed!  but we weren’t in the mood for any detours now so it was around the fence hoping there wasn’t an impasse further along the path.  Suddenly there were cars and pedestrians, the main street into town and the roof of Moot Hall visible 500 metres away.  A swerve through the market traders who were packing away and the glory was Mike’s as he mounted the steps where it had begun 23 hours 45 minutes before.

The final steps
Well done Daddy!

Helvellyn Triathlon Training

My friend Matt has entered the Helvellyn Triathlon, due to take place at the start of September and he asked if I would go round the course with him as part of his training.

It’s always good to know what to expect on a race and if you haven’t done it before the best way is to go round it at an easy pace, making a mental picture of the terrain – where to take it easy, where to push on and to know where the main difficulties lie.  That way you avoid nasty race day surprises such as steep or rough sections.

We decided to ride the bike route first, again in order to know the route and to try to replicate some of the tiredness that you are bound to experience whilst running up Helvellyn after having (hopefully!) ridden up the “Struggle”.

We decided on a midweek date to avoid the crowds, camping at Gillside campsite which is right on the run route.  We set off at an easy pace on the bikes, enjoying the scenery of the quiet roads to Troutbeck before the rude awakening of traffic on the A66.  Here it was best to blast along the 5 miles or so to Threlkeld to minimise our time in the close proximity to the traffic thundering past.  It was a relief to turn off towards St John’s in the Vale and back to tranquility, passing farmland and slowing down to soak up the view.

Soon we came back onto the main road, although not so busy this time, and enjoyed a gradual, undulating downhill past Thirlmere and Grasmere and on into Ambleside.  We were under no illusion of what was to come and had fuelled up, taking energy gels and drink in preparation for the struggle to come.

There is no gentle lead in to the climb, as soon as you turn off the main road in Ambleside it hits you and for the next couple of miles we were working close to maximum until the road flattened to give a brief respite to gather our breaths before the final steep pull up to Kirkstone Inn.

Matt completing the “Struggle”

Thankfully it was downhill all the way now, a lovely high speed descent losing all that height, straightening out the bends and hoping the sheep wouldn’t walk into the road! Then a steady spin through Patterdale and back to the start.

Back on the campsite out transition was a leisurely one, refuelling and changing over a cuppa!  Then the run, again straight into a steep climb up the track from the campsite and onto the fell taking the well maintained path beside Mire’s Beck.  Arriving at the wall we stopped to check the map to make sure we didn’t miss the turn off to Birkhouse Moor then pushed on to the summit achieving 500 metres of ascent in less than 2 kilometres.

Matt working hard on the climb to Birkhouse Moor

The next section to Red Tarn was a straightforward flat run before hitting the climb up Swirral Edge to the summit.  We could see Helvellyn now and the path disappearing into the cloud at the steep rocky section of the climb.  We passed Red Tarn and the final climb began, the well made path gradually deteriorating as we got higher and the cloud enveloped us.  Visibility soon dropped, as did the temperature, a sound reminder that the mountains are serious places and  shouldn’t be underestimated.

Poor conditions on Swirral Edge

Eventually we were at the top, the climb ending abruptly and although the race route doesn’t visit the actual summit cairn we decided on a brief detour just to “bag” it.  Then it was back onto the race route, checking the map and compass as visibility was poor and it would have been easy to miss the junction to Whiteside Bank. Psychologically we felt we had done the hard work as we had reached the summit but in fact we had another short effort to regain height before beginning the long downhill.  After the hard work of the uphill and due to the wind picking up we both felt cold and stopped to put on jackets.

Emerging from cloud on the descent

The next section actually felt harder than the climb, the steep descent down the zig zags to the valley taking its toll on weary legs and we were both careful, wary of taking a trip.  We soon reached the good track leading down to the Youth Hostel and the home straight on to Greenside and the finish at Glenridding.

All in all a good hard day out, and from Matt’s point of view very worthwhile – he now knows where he’s going and where the hard bits are – err, that’s most of it isn’t it?

To arrange a guided run visit: http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/

Burbage Evening Fell Run – Racing the Clouds

My favourite running area is the Burbage Valley, close to Hathersage in the Peak District.  

It is only 10km from the city centre yet gives the feel of being rugged and remote, especially if you can avoid the weekend crowds.
There is plenty of parking at the top and bottom of the valley and a choice of terrain to run on including trail, fell and steep hill.  It has everything an off road runner needs and if you park at the Fox House you can reward your efforts with a little “liquid refreshment” afterwards.

Carl Wark & Higger Tor above Burbage Brook

I took advantage a brief gap in the wet summer weather to enjoy an evening run around “Burbage”.

Starting from the car park at Burbage North I take the upper path above the crags, heading southwards. Recent heavy rain had made the ground wet and boggy and it is a case of dodging puddles and looking for the driest line.  After a couple of kilometres a stream makes a natural break in the rocky outcrops separating the north and south sections of the valley and I drop down its side to pick up the lower track.  This has been recently improved and makes for faster more even trail running in contrast to the higher path which is more fell running terrain.

The lower path offers trail running terrain

Continuing southwards I look across the valley on my right and see the 2 summits of Carl Wark and Higger Tor under a threatening sky, maybe I won’t escape a drenching after all.

Stormy Skies over the Burbage Valley

I could continue to follow the track down to the road and on towards Padley Gorge but I  decide to cut right towards Carl Wark on a grassy path and cross the stream by a tricky leap across some rocks. Sometimes this is a simple stride but occasionally after heavy rain it is more a leap of faith!  I then climb up through a boggy patch (wet feet again despite it being mid summer) to the ancient hill fort of Carl Wark.  It fascinates me to think that this flat topped hill with its natural defences was occupied around 4000 years ago!

Running on Carl Wark with Higger Tor behind

A quick trot across the flat, boulder studded plateau and then a short, steep drop before climbing again to Higger Tor and its fantastic views.  I pause to look over at the route I’ve taken and gaze at the towering cotton wool clouds, pure brilliant white from afar but dark and threatening at close quarters with the threat of further rain.

  Burbage South quarries and Carl Wark from Higger Tor

Racing the gathering clouds I press onwards now on the final leg towards Burbage Bridge where the brook passes under the road in 2 sturdy tunnels.  

Burbage Bridge

I take a quick peek into one before it’s back to the car, pleased to have avoided the rain.

Under Burbage Bridge
Racing the Clouds

For information on joining me for a guided run visit; http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/guided-runs-2/

Fell Running: It’s not just about the sun

Much as I love fell running in warm sunshine, sometimes (just sometimes) the Great British Weather has other ideas.

Higger Tor shrouded in low cloud

Driving out through the rain to my favourite running spot wasn’t particularly inspiring and although the rain had eased when I parked, the sight wasn’t encouraging – low cloud shrouded the hills obscuring the usual panoramic view from Abney out to the far heights of Bleaklow.

Emerging from cloud on Higger Tor

Undeterred I set off, I had run from here throughout the winter and this wasn’t the worst weather I’d encountered.  I was expecting a soaking so wore a waterproof top but as I descended off Higger Tor the cloud lifted to reveal the trees of the Burbage Valley with tendrils of mist clinging like smoke.

The trees of the Burbage Valley wreathed in mist

I crossed the streams at the head of the valley and took the high line above the crags, no climbers today, and sensed a brightening.  Briefly the clouds broke to reveal a small patch of blue, a promise of a change to come?

A fleeting glimpse of blue – a false promise

It proved to be only a fleeting glimpse as the skies soon darkened again, threatening more rain
and by the time I had returned to the car the English summer was once again upon us.

Dark clouds threaten Higger and Owler Tors

For information on joining me for a guided run visit; http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/guided-runs-2/


Fell Running: Into Bleaklow

I love fell running, getting away from the crowds and off the beaten track. 

It allows me to keep on top of my navigation skills but more importantly offers peace and tranquility and a feeling of being at one with nature.  This is my meditation, nothing but the natural sounds around me: a skylark singing on the breeze, a curlew calling my attention away from its young, my own footsteps, my own breathing, the sound of my own heartbeat.

Taking advantage of a fine midweek forecast and wanting a long run I decided to head into the heart of the Peak District. Parking on the west shore of the Howden reservoir I set off northwards along the track to Slippery Stones, passing a walker and a family on bikes.  These were the only people I would meet for the next 3 hours.  The track is easy at this point, allowing 4 wheeled access for landowners of the grouse moorlands.  Soon I am enclosed by the steep sides of Oaken Bank with the infant river Derwent reflecting the sun as it meanders north-westwards to its source.  

The infant River Derwent

Below the Horse Stone high and remote, the track gives way to a path and I need to concentrate on my footing a little more.  The valley is opening out now as it gets higher and the path is becoming less well defined and by Hoar Clough there is no obvious line.  I could go north to Shepherds Meeting Stones but that is for another day.  (I will visit and sit amongst them, maybe on a day very unlike today with wind, rain and mist and will wonder about the hardships those men endured whilst tending their flock).  Pressing on I find a faint line through the heather which takes me up to Swains Head.  From this vantage point I can see the main Woodhead road less than 2 kilometres away with its constant stream of traffic. I wonder how many of those thousands of people who pass by every day ever take time to visit the beauty of their surroundings.

The strange shapes of Bleaklow Stones

A check of the map here as getting to my next target, Bleaklow Stones isn’t straightforward with the route following a watershed and deep, boggy groughs lie in wait.  I manage to find a good line, the recent dry weather has left the ground firm and I find myself approaching the short climb to Bleaklow.  At a height of over 620m this is almost the highest point in the Peak District and today offers fantastic views: the mast of Holme Moss to the north; Margery Hill to the east; the high, flat plateau of Kinder to the south and over in west the haze of Manchester and Stockport.
I spend some time at this vantage point, taking in my surroundings and familiarising myself with the lie of the land. I’m not following any marked paths from now on so I need to be sure of my route.  Once I’ve decided where to head next my attention comes back to my immediate surroundings and the strangely shaped boulders scattered around.  You could believe that nature has a sense of humour in sculpting these hard lumps of grit.

Heading on now I run south towards the Ridge and swing around the head of Raven’s Clough.  This is the hardest part of the route as the terrain is thick heather and I slow to a walk until I am on the brink of a steep drop into the Westend Valley.  I rapidly lose 300 feet of height as I plummet down then work hard to regain the height on the other side, using a wall as a handrail I emerge at the head of the strange gulley that is Black Dyke.  This now gives easy running in a gradual descent and I take a final look around from my high vantage point before dropping down Linch Clough and finally emerging back at Howden Reservoir.

The Route

For a guided run visit http://www.fellrunningguide.co.uk/guided-runs-2/