Cumulus and Cotton Grass

One thing I love about fell running in the Peak District is how the scenery changes with the seasons.

The last couple of weeks has seen an explosion of Cotton Grass, turning parts of the moors into a shimmering, silver sea.

A sea of Cotton Grass

A sea of Cotton Grass

Although it is now fading, the cotton heads being blown away on the wind like huge dandelion seeds, there was still enough to provide a pretty backdrop for the recent Introduction to Fell Running course held in the Goyt Valley.

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Cumulus Clouds and Cotton Grass

Four intrepid women wanted to improve their fell running skills and the varied terrain and hills was a great location giving lots of opportunity to practise running downhill…

Practising downhill technique

Practising downhill technique

and back up again!

Making the uphill look easy!

Making the uphill look easy!

Watching each other’s individual styles gave us chance to discuss running techniques, race strategy and fitness training; (I delivered the unwelcome news that the best way to get good at running uphill is to spend lots of time running uphill!)  Some map and compass work saw us leaving the path and heading across the moors on a bearing and tough running through the deep mix of bilberry and heather.  Smiles all round when we found the path we were aiming for.

Where's the path gone?

Where’s the path gone?

The grey cloud of the morning gradually gave way to fairer weather as we reached the valley bottom and the pretty stream but it was lunch time for the midges and so we didn’t linger!  Escaping the woods brought respite from the voracious little things and we spend some more time looking and listening as we took turns at playing “guess the runner”

Guess who it is?

Guess who it is?

The runners all had a go at estimating distance covered – a vital skill for navigating – by counting the number of paces they took.  Backing this up with map work; interpreting the contour lines and other features we ran through the Cotton Grass under high, Cumulus clouds until eventually we arrived back where we had started.

Fell Running in the Peak District

Fell Running in the Peak District

Happy runners, friendly faces, lovely scenery – another great day fell running in the Peak District.

Bring Me Sunshine

It’s late May, I should be fell running under early summer skies.

But today the wind is from the north bringing cold, squally showers and even though the Peak District should escape the unseasonable wintry flurries forecast for Scotland and Snowdonia, dry days under blue skies seem far away.

So I need a reminder of the joys of fell running, something to hope for, to look forward to in days ahead.  Days like these:

Spring, Sun and Snow

Fell Running in the Peak District has been difficult of late.

But this weekend Spring showed her long awaited face and warmth returned.  Blue skies, sunshine and a respite from the nagging, bone chilling easterly wind that we have endured for weeks made for perfect conditions to get out onto the hill.

Snow still lay, deep in places too and consolidated into steep banks but this enhanced the conditions adding an element of interest to the run.

My route took me along Derwent Edge, picking up the route of the Ultra Tour of the Peak District to Lost Lad, then headed off to the beautiful Abbey Brook before climbing back up to rejoin the race route and follow it towards Derwent Moor.

Consolidated Snow Drift

Consolidated Snow Drift

 Equipment I used:

Montane Featherlite Jacket
Inov-8 Roclite 285
Helly Hansen l/s merino mix base + thin polyseter T
Ron Hill leggings
Windproof beanie
Rab Powerstretch gloves
Buff
Inov-8 Race Pac 4 sack containing:
OMM Rotor Smock
Montane Featherlite trousers
Heatsheets Emergency Bivvy
Emergency phone & food

Food & Drink consumed

4 cubes of Cliff Shot Bloks
I tend not to drink except in hot conditions even on this 3+ hour run, preferring to hydrate before & after.  (I was starving & thirsty at the end though!)

Video
Hopefully this will give you a feel for the stunning scenery and give you a taste of fell running in the Peak District:

Winter Lingers

A year ago I sat in the sun on Grindslow Knoll, marshalling on the Edale Skyline fell race.

This year I had planned on doing the race and was looking forwards to a gruelling 20 odd miles of running, however Mother Nature had other ideas.  The stubborn area of high pressure to the north dragged bitter easterly winds from Siberia and where these met the warmer, moist Atlantic weather fronts it snowed..and didn’t stop.  The race was inevitably cancelled; main roads were impassable let alone getting to remote hill tops.

Edale Skyline 2012

Edale Skyline 2012

So a year on finds me running (or at least attempting to) on one of my favourite routes in the Peak District; the Burbage Valley.  No vest and shorts this year, I’m in full winter kit vainly trying to cover all flesh, to avoid the icy daggers that the cruel wind picks up and flings against my skin.

winter kit needed

winter kit needed

The going is tough, unpredictable, sometimes runnable as, scoured by the wind the ground it bare of snow yet in other places it is piled up and blown into deep drifts.  The run is a constant stop – start, just as I get into a rhythm I am abruptly halted as I flounder knee deep into a drift, then firmer ground – running again then flounder…and repeat.

difficult running conditions

difficult running conditions

Over Higger Tor I drop down to the road to avoid the deepest of the snow, no traffic today.  I am amused to see a temporary sign warning drivers of hazardous conditions.

road sign

you don’t say!

Past the twin bridges I take the main path heading down the valley and here gain some respite from the wind.  At last I can run relatively unimpeded as only a thin layer of snow covers the path.

Burbage snow

easier running: Burbage Valley

I cross the road and follow the brook for a while before cutting right, back towards the car park where I started.  I follow a sheep path for a minute, the snow only ankle deep.  Just as I am thinking that the conditions over this area are better than expected the path disappears.  I have a choice: the sunken path to my left which has collected at least 5 feet of snow or the open moorland ahead of me which seems to vary from shin to thigh deep.

snow wading

tough going

The lesser evil is the moorland route and I wade across it.  Exposed tufts of heather stick out but these islands are a false hope offering little to assist my progress.  The moor is exposed here and the wind picks up spindrift and sends it swirling in small vortices into the distance – beauty and malevolence combined.  I am glad of the ski goggles that I am wearing but as I tug at my face mask and try to cover my nose it slips down immediately.  I hold it up momentarily but realise that I need both hands to assist forward motion and prevent face planting in the deeper drifts.

deep drifts

deep drifts

Eventually I reach the path leading to the road crossing.  Here a huge drift has formed forcing me to detour to gain the road but within a couple of minutes I am safely back at the car park.

Five miles, not the Skyline’s 20, but a different type of hard.

Equipment I used:

Helly Hansen merino mix baselayer under short sleeved polyester T shirt
Montane Featherlite jacket
Lowe Alpine powerstretch tights
Inov8 Mudclaw 300
Inov8 Debris socks
Buff, Rab powerstretch gloves, cheap windproof beanie, windproof face mask
Decathlon ski goggles
Inov8 Race pro rucksack

Taken but not used:

OMM Rotor smock
Montane featherlite trousers
Spare fleece gloves
Kahtoola MicroSpikes
Heatsheet Emergency Bivvy

Navigating when it’s Grim

Teaching navigation skills in bad weather is a good thing…

…and the last week has been particularly “grim”.  Cold, windy days with the Peak District hills hidden away under a heavy blanket of low cloud.  Normally, running in these conditions isn’t particularly pleasant, but the bad weather happened to coincide with two navigation sessions I was delivering and so provided a real test of the runners’ map and compass skills.
It’s easy to convince yourself that you can navigate when you’re warm; when you can relax your grip on the map without fear of it being whipped from your hand to disappear into the distance; when your bare hands can turn the compass dial unencumbered by thick gloves; when your eyes don’t stream from the fierce wind and blowing sleet; when you can feel your fingers, toes and nose and when the sun casts shadows on the distant hills.
But when it’s “grim”, what then?
Navigating in “grim” weather
On Wednesday, a bitter easterly wind and hill fog greeted us as we climbed onto the moor from Ladybower reservoir, leaving behind the security of the path and heading into the gloom.  
“How long do you think it will take?” I must have asked John the question a dozen times as he grappled with the numerous variables that were going to affect our speed: distance, terrain under foot, wind direction, ability to focus on recognisable features, and all whilst dealing with cold hands, running nose and steamed up glasses.  It would have been very tempting to call it a day, go back to the shop for a hot drink and look at expensive jackets, but he persisted.  A little hint here and there – “look at the contour lines” and then, BINGO! Out of the murk the tiny sheepfold we had been looking for emerged – well done! Confidence lifted, frozen feet temporarily forgotten, where next? “How long do you think it will take?”
Into the gloom
And on to Saturday, different location same weather.  The featureless Dark Peak moors can be intimidating at times and in poor weather the expression “godforsaken” springs to mind.  And so it was off into this harsh, unforgiving environment that we went, micro-navigating, looking for tiny features in the landscape.  Graeme and Lynne were familiar with the basic concepts of navigating and wanted to fine tune their skills to enable them to be more precise when locating features and thus become more confident for fell races and orienteering events.
Counting paces…60 steps…we should be there…where’s the pond?…stop…check the compass…have we drifted?…is this it?…call this a pond?!
You see that bit of heather?
And thus it continued, taking compass bearings on barely visible lumps of heather and counting paces. 
“It should be 100 metres in that direction.” 
“What does 100 metres look like?” 
“Well Usain could run it in under 10 seconds! I’d like to see him do that up here!!”
What does 100 metres look like Usain?
And again success, stream junctions emerging on cue, a change in the slope right where we expected it to be and two happy runners with more confidence in their abilities.
We like “grim” conditions, if you can navigate then, then you can navigate.

If you would like to book a navigation lesson in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

Winter Morning on Higger Tor

I love fell running on mornings when the air is crisp, cold and clear.

Sunrise Running
When last night’s forecast promised such conditions I decided to get up early and head out into the Peak District.  By 7.30 I was enjoying a glorious morning run.
Join me here!
 

If you would like to book a guided run in the Peak District, visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

Snow Blows

Fell running in the Peak District isn’t always about blue skies & sunshine.

Today the wind howled, snow blew horizontally and the world was reduced to cold shades of grey.
cold shades of grey
This was no day to be out on the high fells, even at low level the wind’s icy fingers found their way through the smallest chink in my armour of windproof clothing, feeling for, finding then chilling any exposed skin.
Facing the wind, big damp gobs of snow numbed my face and drove into my eyes.  
Last week I learned a hard lesson when in even worse conditions on a remote hillside I had wished for my ski goggles lying unused back home.  Today I had anticipated the worst and packed them and it didn’t take long, running semi blind into the fusillade, before I stopped to put them on.
eye protection
Other than the blowing wind, running conditions weren’t too bad. It seemed that my route, exposed as it was, wasn’t producing those horrible, energy sapping drifts where you disappear up to your knees (and beyond), rather it was scouring the ground leaving a thin compacted layer. I had chosen a short tour of Burbage, using the snow covered Ringinglow road for the last 2 kilometres.  Here the few vehicles that had passed had compacted the snow into a thin icy layer and I stopped to don microspikes over my Mudclaws.
microspikes
Once down towards Lady Canning’s plantation the trees afforded some protection although large flakes still sped horizontally past – whirling away in their own mad dash, racing each other into oblivion – as I ran down the road.
blowing snow
The video shows a short section of the run:

To book a Peak District guided run or navigation training visit www.fellrunningguide.co.uk

Dig Deep

Here’s a little taste of what you can expect to see on this year’s Dig Deep races!

Whether you choose the full 60 miles Ultra Tour of the Peak District or just the 10k – we can’t guarantee sunshine (or snow!) but we can guarantee some fantastic Peak District scenery.

View from the Hill

Fantastic winter conditions whilst fell running in the Peak District.

Nicely Icy

Snow; fallen and frozen, air; calm, cold, crisp, sky; blue & high cloud. Fantastic conditions for a run on the higher ground of the Peak District.

Stunning winter conditions
The Hope valley was wreathed in its customary cloak, the cold air, subsiding overnight forming an inversion and resulting in cold, grey conditions.  Climbing the flanks of Win Hill I emerged from the fog into stunning winter conditions.
Temperatures were sub zero but the climb proved sufficient to warm all but the exposed skin on my face.  Soon I was treated to a fine summit view – eastwards blue sky and high cirrus, westwards the distant high moors stretched away under a thicker, opaque cover.
Win Hill summit
Distant hills under opaque skies
Joining the route of the Edale Skyline race I dropped down toward Twitchill Farm, leaving behind the brightness to descend into the bank of fog again.
Into the fog
On reaching the railway bridge I decided to divert from the race route and take the scenic fields rather than road, then rejoining to climb Lose Hill.
And out again
In the valley away to the south, emerging from the fog the cement works chimney pointed a slender finger towards the sun.
Slender finger to the sky
A few minutes hard work and the summit was achieved.
Last steps to the top
The view south showed the Hope valley, the remnants of the fog mirroring the pearly opalescence of the sky.
Lose Hill under a pearly sky
The ridge to Mam Tor gave good running, the snow having been scoured to leave a crisp, icy crust and good grip.
Leaving Lose Hill for Mam Tor
I descended the steep icy path on Back Tor with caution.
Descending Back Tor

A cold wind greeted me on Mam Tor and I paused just long enough to drink in the view before I descended quickly into the shelter of the Edale Valley, leaving the race route for now.

Mam Tor looking to Kinder
Through Edale and into Grindsbrook to tackle the steep zig zags up Ringing Roger, back on the “Skyline” route, this being the start where fresh legged runners begin their gruelling struggle.
Climbing Ringing Roger, Grindslow Knoll behind
Ringing Roger gave fine views across Grindsbrook to the edge of Kinder.
Grindsbrook 

Right turn, homeward bound now I followed the sinuous path, contouring round the head of Jagger’s Clough and dropping down towards Crookstone and the solitary fingerpost.

To Jagger’s Clough
Above Crookstone heading for a distant Win Hill

 The old gritstone way-marker of Hope Cross has withstood many a harsh winter and I wonder who passed this way, mapless, relieved to see it reaffirming their location.

Hope Cross marks the way
Back to Win Hill

 Hungry now, my snacks long since eaten and beginning to feel the cold I pushed on to Win Hill, pausing briefly at the trig before descending through the trees to emerge at the reservoir.

Tired, that satisfyingly tired feeling after another wonderful run in the Peak District.

28km 1475m climb

 To join me for a guided run or navigation training visit: www.fellrunningguide.co.uk