Fell Running through Autumn Colours

The damp, grey blanket that has hung limply over the area for most of the week has finally gone and once again fell running in the Peak District is a pleasure.

The anticyclonic gloom replaced now by brighter but noticeably colder weather as the Northerly reminds us that winter is not far ahead.  Summer time is over and the shortening days have had their effect on the trees, the leaves turning through a kaleidoscope of green, yellow, brown and red as they give up the fight and fall, recycled into nature to provide shelter and nourishment.  The bracken, cursed during the summer as it enveloped and obliterated the smaller paths now gives its reward, turning rust and gold in its final throes before dying back completely.

Golden Autumn colours

The carefree running of the summer months now has to replaced by more considered planning as tee shirt and shorts give way to long sleeves and leggings.  The tiny bumbag no longer suffices for ventures other than a quick local run as my longer journeys require extra clothing to suit the worsening conditions.  The ground has never truly been dry for many months but now much of the Peak moorland is saturated and boggy and I change to mudclaws with their aggressive tread for my off track adventures.

My run today starts at the Norfolk Arms on Ringinglow and I take the path up through the trees of Lady Canning’s Plantation emerging to the small path through the heather, passing the Ox Stones.  Here the path becomes boggy as it crosses the moor towards Burbage Edge and I hurdle the puddles in a vain attempt to keep dry feet.

Bog hopping on Burbage Moor

I am rewarded with a fine view from the path above Burbage Edge, the first blue sky in 4 days and the colder air brings the distant Peak into sharp focus with the far hills clearly defined and closer, the Burbage Valley a mix of green and gold.

Clear views across the Peak District

I turn south and run along the edge path, weaving between puddles and skipping over the gritstone boulders, always alert as running over this kind of Peak District terrain requires constant attention.  It is not enough to simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat… ad nauseum – Peak District running requires attention to foot placement, stride length and knee lift, the unwary moment resulting in and inelegant stumble at best.

Running south on Burbage Edge

Dropping down off the edge I take the steep path down to the old packhorse bridge across Burbage Brook and stop to appreciate how the sun enhances the different hues in the conifer plantation below Higger Tor.

Running past the conifers below Higger Tor

The area where the old bridge crosses the brook is a wonderful place, shaded by trees on one side and steep hills on two more it is usually calm and I often spend a few moments here, contemplating the lives of those for whom the bridge was a necessity rather than a convenience.

Crossing the old packhorse bridge

I run on, a testing uphill pull to the saddle between Higger Tor & Carl Wark and on over marshy ground to a better path crossing Winyard’s Nick and Owler Tor.

Fine views of Higger Tor, Carl Wark and a distant Burbage Edge

On Owler Tor I pause to take in the fine views, the sculpted gritstone outcrops creating their own shadows and the distant horizon clear under a blue sky.  I move on a short distance to the largest of the tors, the Mother Cap which stands proud and clearly visible above the moor.  This lonely sentinel is easily recognisable, its anvil crown overtopping its sturdy base and from a distance it gives the appearance of a giant petrified mushroom.  Today, close up I can study its angled stratifications, see the layers of ancient sediment that, over millennia, brought this giant into being.

Mother Cap
Running past the Mother Cap

On down through the thin strip of Birch woodland the path emerges at Surprise View car park where I cross the road and take the parallel path that leads me on to the long, green drive below Lawrencefield quarry.  This is a favourite area of mine, the smooth grassy track a welcome contrast to the rough ground usually encountered and it is a chance to stretch the legs.  The track is a remnant of the quarrying industry several hundred years ago which produced millstones, many of which can be seen abandoned after the industry declined.

Abandoned millstones

As I turn onto the path it passes below Beech trees, still largely in leaf compared to the Birch and sunlight dapples the fallen leaves.

Easy running through sunlit autumn leaves

The path meanders gradually downhill through hundreds of mature Silver Birch, their metallic bark intensified today against the blue sky.

Silver Birch

Compared to the rugged gritstone moorland this place is tranquil, peaceful and welcoming and I soak up that feeling as I pass on through the tall, straight trees, their height more noticeable now as their leaf cover is limited to the uppermost branches.

Running through Birch woodland

The easy running ends abruptly at a clearing, dominated by bracken it glows today in the autumn sunshine.

Golden bracken

The path narrows and drops suddenly as I make my way past old quarry workings and join a vehicle track above Grindleford station.  I scent woodsmoke from the cottages and pause to look over the bridge at the stream emerging from the oak wooded Padley Gorge.

Stream below Padley Gorge

Crossing the main road and a tough uphill section takes me through a lovely mature deciduous woodland and handrailing a stream on my right I emerge into an unimproved field below the Longshaw estate.

Uphill running through mature woodland

Out of the shelter of the trees I notice that the sky is clouding, the earlier sun obscured and the wind has increased and with it a keen bite.
It’s still uphill and I work hard to gain the vehicle track through the estate.

Up the field to Longshaw

Turning left I take the good track for several hundred metres before turning right across rough grassland to the parallel track leading to the Lodge.

Track through the Longshaw estate

Under grey skies now I cross the road at the Fox House Inn and run uphill to climb a stile, the path leading back onto Burbage Edge.

Running above Burbage South with a distant Higger Tor

The path becomes rougher now, the same terrain as earlier, uneven with mud and gritstone boulders to contend with and my pace slows.  Soon I drop down slightly to leave the edge path for the diversion to the Houndkirk Road.

Tough running on Burbage Edge

Soon I am on the familiar Houndkirk Road, recently improved after hard years of erosion and I can stride out once more, on the last leg and hungry now.  My watch tells me I’ve run 18km and I estimate that I will be back in 10 minutes.

Home leg on the Houndkirk Road

The cold wind greets me head on as I run the last leg.  It is colder now, the sun gone and the blue sky overwhelmed by steely grey.  Once again I have been rewarded by venturing out early for my Peak District run, catching beautiful autumn colours as the season breathes its last.

Route details – 20km

fell running guide

Posted in Fell running, Trail Running.