Author Archives: Mark Wildsmith

My First Tour of Pendle

Why? – That is a bloody good question. I blame the Three Peaks. I can see Ingleborough from my house; I walked the Three Peaks when I was 12 with the Scouts; and now I like to run. It seemed to me that trying to run the Three peaks one day would be a good idea so I needed to find some qualifying races that I could fit in around marathon training. The two I chose were the Three Shires race earlier in the summer and The Tour of Pendle.

The recce – I had mixed responses on whether or not this was a good idea. Richard Timms pointed out that a recce might just put me off the idea altogether. I discovered Kirsten was doing the race and so we decided to recce the first half of the course – which I later realised was the easy half. We had reasonable weather that day although visibility was a bit poor on the very top near the trig point. We made our way round very steadily and things seemed to be going reasonably well. About 94 seconds after telling Kirsten that the gradient and ground were far more runnable than the I had found the Three Shires race, we arrived at Geronimo – a very steep drop interspersed with rocky and slippery muddy patches. I came down there with all the agility of an arthritic Grandad (I’m not one). We made our way back to the car-park from the bottom of the slope with me feeling pretty tired and wondering how the second half of the race would be, and whether or not I could up the pace to meet the halfway cut off time on race day.

The race – In the buildup to the race I went to the Harriers speed session on the Tuesday night. I heard various encouraging tales: “Expect to inhale all four seasons on the day”, from Richard; Tony telling me that the other year, it was freezing; he nearly got blown off his feet, the last climb is horrific – “I love it, I’ve done it six times”. On another training run two women from Skipton told me about Pendle, “Its harder than the Three Peaks”, and, “it always snows for that one”. So armed with this encouraging information I was ready to go. Richard assured me I would be fine and do it under four hours. Really?

On the day we were unbelievably lucky with the weather although I still opted for southerner-based kit of long tights, gloves and hat. There was the usual nervous milling about at the start with some ineffectual stretching. As we shuffled through to the start point I bumped into Mark Wildsmith who wished me luck – nice to see a friendly face. We set off alongside the reservoir before breaking up the hill towards the trig point. Early on it was quite crowded so a sensibly paced start was unavoidable. Becky passed me around this point and wished me luck too. As we started to climb up through the fields and onto the open ground I was relieved to see that many of the people around me were also walking parts of it. My target was to finish so I wasn’t going to beat myself up about pace. It was a relief to get to the top and have a flatter section ahead. From the first checkpoint over to the second I took a slightly different route than I did on the recce. Fortunately, because the weather was so kind, I was able to see plenty of runners ahead and pick a similar path to them. In this stretch I even managed some almost sensible pace hitting 7.45/mile. This was to be short-lived though.

Another hard climb from checkpoint three reduced me to walking again. I took the opportunity to shovel an energy gel down and some water and as it levelled off we ran on to Geronimo. I took a slightly different line than previously and while it was slippery, there seemed to be less rock to land on. There was quite a bit of laughing as we all elegantly bounded down the steep slope like balanced, confident, mountain goats. Well…I did hear one person got grass burn on his backside and he wasn’t the clumsiest.
I was delighted to hit the checkpoint 4 cut off in about 1 hour 33 minutes, well inside the two hours required. Now all I had to do was drag myself to the end.

From here on, it’s all a bit of a blur. I know we ran alongside the beck before a fairly short climb back on to the main path on the top. Again, visibility was so clear that there was no danger of getting lost as you could see hundreds of runners strung out ahead. I’m not sure whether it was the climb up to checkpoint 6 or 8 that really slowed me down – possibly both. I know I clocked a 28-minute mile around there…not even a decent walking place. It was a steep, long climb, into a fairly stiff breeze. I was yo-yoing back away from Kirsten at this point. I know she’d had a cold, and I’m not sure I would have kept up with her otherwise. It was a relief to get up on to the top again although it was a bit colder by then.

I was ready for the last climb back up past the trig point as I had been warned about the severity. I plastered a fake smile on my face and set off. It is steep. Doesn’t matter how you look at it. I’m assuming that the faster runners don’t run up this either. There was a brief discussion here between a couple of runners about the possibility of hitting a nightclub later – “unlikely” was the gist of the reply, albeit slightly more abrupt and offensive. I was nearly on all fours on parts of this climb. There was an absolute gent handing out flapjack at the top though – a welcome sugary treat. I had caught up with Kirsten at this point so had some company for the last uncomfortable miles.

As we set off back downhill on the trail I realised that the bottoms of my feet were a bit knackered. I think the Inov8 Mudclaws may be the wrong shoe for me on this type of run – I felt like I needed some more cushioning on the fairly solid ground. But I guess it might just be the distance and lack of experience. I had been warned that this part of the race was the best opportunity to get lost but Mark had told me to keep an eye out for the wall running down the other side of the valley where we had come down Geronimo. Again we could see plenty of runners ahead and due to the great visibility we could clearly see the wall. We made our way down to the final checkpoint with the end not far away.

From there we made our way back down the tarmac road by the reservoir, which was feeling very hard indeed on my tired feet. The finish. Hooray. Thank God. 3 hours 58 minutes 2 seconds. A massive 1 minute 58 seconds quicker than Richard had assured me I could manage – he knows his stuff.

It was a tough race, but then I don’t think anybody considering doing this for the first time would expect otherwise. Its like all these things, you have moments of questioning your sanity; moments of camaraderie; moments of looking at the beautiful scenery; moments of looking at the ominous ascents. I felt confident beforehand that I had the stamina required from running marathons, but I have a long way to go in terms of running technique offroad and have sensibly given myself plenty of room for improvement. Going downhill I am particularly slow and lack courage/am sensible (not sure which). I had done plenty of homework on navigation and bought the race map from Pete Bland sports, but in fact it wasn’t necessary due to the great weather on the day. Obviously relying on the weather being great would be foolhardy round here. I think people questioning whether they should give this a try probably should. I am delighted to have done it and now have the required qualifying races for The Three Peaks.

I owe a big thanks to Kirsten who calmed my fears by accompanying me on the recce. Andy and Carol Evans also have helped me with speed sessions on Tuesday nights that I would recommend to others. And thanks to several other Harriers who offered tips and encouragement who I have mentioned.

Give it a go.

  • John Eddington

British Fell and Hill Running Relays 2018

It was a grey, drizzly day but the fluorescent green of Settle shone loud and proud with no less than three teams in fell running’s big day out – the British Hill and Fell Relay Championships at Grasmere.

We fielded a men’s open, ladies’ open and mixed team in the 2018 edition, hosted brilliantly by Ambleside AC on challenging, classic fell routes in testing conditions, with runners barely out of the clag all day.

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Pudsey and Bramley were the well-deserved victors after an exciting day’s racing. Nobody would have bet against Keswick when Carl Bell and Mark Lamb led them home on leg 2 with more than a minute in hand, but a disastrous nav leg proved that going walkabout can happen to anyone. Ladies champions were Helm Hill.

Jess Jill

Our men’s team of Mark Rogerson, John Murfin, Tom Hare, Alex Pilkington, Paul Lambert and Thomas Marshall finished 55th in a combined time of 4.42. Settle Mixed, represented by Jill Gates, Rachel A-F, Carmel Ramwell, Simon Oxley, John Oz and Matt Holroyd, clinched 178th in 6 hours with the ladies – Judy Marshall, Hester Cox, Becky Howard, Carol Evans, Kirsten Angus and Jess Bagnall – just 13 minutes behind them in 202nd.

Judy Matt

Leg 1 took the runners up to Grisedale Hause then the summit of Seat Sandal before a fast and furious descent back to the Grasmere event centre in a four mile, 2,500ft blast. The slippery conditions showed their bite early on with the next to penultimate field soon earning a reputation as the place to take pictures and videos (there’s a good one on FB called Descending – the Good, the Bad and the Bloke From Horwich, which is fast going viral).
Our runners tackled it brilliantly. Judy took a tumble near the finish which dislodged her dibber and luckily another runner handed it in, but anyone following events live online may have seen a ‘dnf’ appearing for our ladies team early on. Not so! The results were amended pretty quickly – panic over!

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Leg 2, seven miles and 2,800ft, was for pairs. It was tough, gnarly and very skiddy taking competitors up to Fairfield, Cofa Pike, Grisedale Hause and back down Tongue Gill. Dubbed the event’s Queen Stage, it was a thorough test of ascending and descending skills which our pairs relished. All of them gained places on this leg.

The nav leg was mainly off-piste and featured bracken, eye-wateringly steep slopes and lots of rocks. Kirsten describes how it went for her and Carol:

A late substitution saw me joining speedy Carol on leg 3, the navigational leg, eeeek! Now, I love an adventure, but I described my navigational skills as ‘rusty’. Alex, Martin and Simon came to the rescue with some quick compass refreshing skills and tips, and away Carol and I went maps and compasses in hands.  We followed the masses and gill to CP1 before we headed further upwards into the clag (the weather was not being helpful). A couple of errors, and a bit of luck and we happened upon the fence crossing (we were looking for a wall) and down to the sheepfold at CP2.  A runnable section on an actual path up to CP3 was quite enjoyable before a calf and gluteal burning ascent in a crawling position towards Great Rigg. Back in the clag and trying to figure out the best descent line to Tongue Gill, actually took a bearing here, yey! Got it roughly right as we descended through a rock strewn fell covered in bracken, it wasn’t exactly quick. Then a quick up and over Great Tongue to CP4. Next, a quicker descent with fellow pairs back down to the finishing field, which was by now very slippy, and producing some interesting running styles and techniques, before being cheered home by the Settle team. And of course, we loved it, what an experience, testing our navigation and we did ourselves proud. It was a grand lakes day out and a pleasure to run with Carol and Settle as always. The whole event was great to be part of with around 240 teams, wow! I’m looking forward to the next relay.

And so to the anchors. Leg 4, for solos, allowed teams to field 16-18 year olds while all the other legs had minimum ages of 18. Settle made full use of this by allowing our talented youngsters, Thomas Marshall and Matt Holroyd to step up to senior competition. Both lads, plus Jess for the girls, smashed it over the four miles and 2000ft trip over Stone Arthur, with what many described as a ridiculously steep, exhilaratingly fantastic descent.

Thomas

As always, a thoroughly enjoyable day out (for the supporters as well as the runners). A chance to catch up with friends from other clubs, bond with team mates and generally celebrate our wonderful sport. Credit to Ambleside for a slick, well organised event with what were universally acknowledged as excellent courses. Well done to all the runners and a huge thank you to team managers Carol Evans and Roger Laycock for a job well done.

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Anyone interested in running next year, it’s being hosted by Dark Peak and the intention will be to try for three teams again. Do let Carol and Roger know if you’re interested!

Words – Julia Murfin, Kirsten Angus
Pics – Settle Harriers (various)

Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay 2018

Last Sunday saw the Settle Harriers take part in the Hodgson Brothers Mountain Relay. Starting and finishing in Patterdale this tough 36km course is split into four legs taking in Angletarn Pikes, High Street, Stony Cove Pike, Red Screes, Dove Crag, Hart Crag and St Sunday Crag. Teams are made up of four pairs each running a leg. The event is heavliy oversubscribed so is essentially an ‘invitational’. We were fortunate enough to get a team in the Mixed category, four women and four men. The weather was thankfully fine although there was a bitter wind which had us wrapped up warm until our starts.

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And they’re off!

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Leg 1 was run by Judy Marshall and Rachel Avison Fell. 140 runners thundering down the playing fields at the start made for an impressive sight and we caught a glimpse of green vests among the horde. Craig, Rachel’s other half, had been press-ganged into bus driver duties so Josh Westward and myself jumped in his van and were whisked off to the start of Leg 2 at Hartsop.

A scene of great excitement as runners from different teams came in to cheers and encouragement. We soon saw Judy and Rachel sprinting down the track to the changeover. Grabbing the ‘dibber’ that acted as baton, Josh and I started the long haul up to Knott and High Street. We held a good pace on the climb and overtook several pairs as we approached the check point at the summit. A previously reccied line around Thornthwaite Crag and down to Threshwaite mouth gained us a few more places. After hitting the checkpoint at Caudale Moor tarn Josh found an extra gear and I struggled to hold on as we flew down the hill towards Kirkstone Pass. Team Settle was in full voice as we crossed the road to hand over to Leg 3 runners Carol Evans and Becky Howard.

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Start of Leg 4 at Sykeside

Carol and Becky looked strong as they powered their way up Red Screes and we watched them for a while on their ascent. Craig had collected Leg 4 runners John Murfin and Tom Hare on his travels and we headed off down the road to Sykeside. After an amusing incident involving sports tape and maltloaf we made out way to the start of the final leg. Runners were spread out now and it was an anxious wait before the sight of green vests appeared from the woods. Carol and Becky handed over to John and Tom and they set off back up the fell.

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carol

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The rest of the team were ferried back to the start at Patterdale where we were able to have tea and cake (and buy new shoes!) and wait for our runners to come in. The first few Mixed teams had been announced over the loudspeaker so it was a case of ‘any minute now’ before we were met with the sight of Tom and John hammering down the finishing straight.

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Settle Harriers finished 41st overall out of 70 teams and 7th out of 14 mixed teams. A good result at this prestigious event. Well done to all the runners and support team!

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Leg 1 – Judy Marshall, Rachel Avison Fell
Leg 2 – Mark Wildsmith, Josh Westwood
Leg 3 – Carol Evans, Becky Howard
Leg 4 – John Murfin, Tom Hare

Support crew – Craig Avison Fell
Mascot – Joy

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Craig, Rachel and Joy

 

Bob Graham Round 2017

Thursday 29th June
22.30 It’s well known that the weather can make or break a Bob Graham attempt. The forecast had never looked great for my chosen date but it had steadily improved over the week and crucially, there was the faint promise of ‘some sunny spells’ on Friday afternoon. I tried to remain optimistic.

Roger Laycock, my Leg 1 supporter, drove us both up to Threlkeld where we were met by my road crew, old school friend Shane and his partner Jane, to take us to the start in Keswick in their van. It was getting dark and gloomy now and we pretended that the clouds hovering over Blencathra weren’t quite as low as they were.
I had foolishly neglected to recce the start of Leg 1 so a quick detour past the leisure centre in Keswick was in order before parking up for a brew and a couple of jaffa cakes, eaten more through nerves than need, before the start.

23.55 Apprehensive and shifty we hung around by the Moot Hall. It was remarkably quiet on the Market Square, perhaps there should be more people here? I was in luck. Some Irish tourists spotted us loitering with intent and asked what was going on. A brief explanation from Shane and they wished us luck promising to return tomorrow evening. It sounded like a long time away.

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Roger and myself ready for the off (SR)

Friday 30th June
Leg 1

00.00 And we’re off! Adrenaline pumping Roger and I shot out of the town square and down our recently reccied path and onto the fantastically named Spoonygreen Lane. A steady climb, then through the fell gate for the ascent of Skiddaw. The lights of Keswick were twinkling below us but soon became lost in the mist as we gained height. Mist turned to rain as we neared the summit and I was briefly worried we’d miss the trig point in the clag. Finally, it appeared and the first peak claimed! Only 41 to go…

I had been dreading the next section. A steady trot down to Hare Crag was pretty straightforward but then the trod became boggy, then indistinct and finally disappeared into the heather. I made for what looked like a grassy patch but it turned out to be more heather shining bright green in the light of my headtorch. After desperately looking for our lost path it became clear there was nothing for it but to pick a direction and keep going until we hit the Cumbria Way somewhere in front of us. Time was lost and energy expended as we hacked our way through the heather. It took me all of the climb up Great Calva to calm down. Roger, perhaps wisely, giving me a bit of space!

I had been concerned that the River Caldew would be in spate after the recent rain but it was little more than knee deep. Roger and I crossed it without incident and made our way up Mungrisdale Common. A dull climb in the day and by night, with additional hill fog, interminable. We missed the faint trod to Blencathra’s summit and made a short detour onto Foule Crag. Quickly rectified, Blencathra’s summit was reached. Doddick Fell was the designated descent due to the wet conditions, its ‘runnable’ surface preferred to Hall’s Fell’s shorter but greasier rock scramble. However it was not without its own problems. Shortly after starting the descent, a mix of shale and slippery rock, my foot slipped out in front of me and I landed heavily on my thigh. Winded and dead legged I heard Roger enquire after my health. I turned round just in time to see him fall in precisely the same spot! A quick once over and with everything appearing to be connected I hobbled down behind Roger to the car park, relieved to be in one piece and still on schedule.

Leg 2
03.48 After a quick pie stop and changeover at Threlkeld, I was now accompanied by Andy Gibbons and Rachel Hill. Experienced BGers, I was swiftly berated for going too fast. “Get ahead of me again and I’ll punch you.” was Andy’s sage advice. Progress now at a more sustainable pace we flogged our way up the relentless Clough Head while the sky became not exactly brighter, but certainly less dark as we ascended back into the mist.
The Dodds came and went and we were soon trotting along the Helvellyn Ridge ticking off summits, Rachel handing me food as soon as I’d finished chewing the last bit she’d given me. This was my third visit to Dollywagon Pike this year and still I was denied a view. Andy located the famous solitary post which marks the start of the steep descent to Grisedale Tarn so we headed down and hit the stiff out and back to the summit of Fairfield.
A short climb up Seat Sandal and I was amazed to realise we’d nearly finished Leg 2. Dropping down to Dunmail Raise we came out of the clouds and could see Shane and Jane’s van waiting for us. I was feeling pretty good!

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Andy, Rachel and me descending to Dunmail (SR)

Leg 3
08.12 I had a good feed at Dunmail. Up on schedule I allowed myself an extra 5 minutes to eat some more baked beans and change my top and shoes. Alex Pilkington was now my navigator and I knew I was in safe hands as we climbed yet again into the mist up Steel Fell. Alex set a brisk pace across the tops on the way to Calf Crag and I began to regret my decision of extra beans. My stomach was churning and I was struggling to eat anything. My mind was leaping ahead to the climbs to come and doubts were setting in. If I felt like this now, how would I feel in three or four hours? I told myself to focus and take things as they came. This seemed to work and before I knew it we were nearly at the top of Bowfell. This is technically the halfway point and a good morale booster although I was still finding it difficult to get food down me. “Finished that Clif Bar yet?” asked Alex. I chewed on grimly.
It was slow but steady over the Scafell massif. Big chunky boulders still slippery in the wet impeded progress and coming off Broad Crag my foot slipped and became wedged between two rocks. Somewhat comically my foot refused to come out and it was a good 30 seconds or so before I managed to wriggle it free.
A brief climb and we were on the roof of England! Nothing to see here however so we pushed on to Mickledore and my chosen route up to Scafell, Lords Rake. A grotty scramble through loose gravel it isn’t pleasant at first, but becomes easier by branching left onto the West Wall Traverse. The swirling mist around us made for a spooky yet exhilarating experience.

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On the West Wall Traverse (AP)

As we popped out onto the summit plateau the sun began to penetrate and the clouds lifted. Was that a view? Jackets removed for the first time, we headed down to Wasdale taking advantage of a strip of scree that provided another frisson of excitement. I think I might be having fun…

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Alex and I coming into Wasdale (SR)

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Leg 4 preparations with Stolly, Jane, and Alex (SR)

Leg 4
14.05 The road team had set up perfectly again and had put out a fine array of delicacies for the discerning runner. Unfortunately, conscious of the climb ahead and, after last time, careful not to eat too much I couldn’t take full advantage of the smorgasboard in front of me. A change of socks and, after a few mouthfuls of soup and potatoes (and possibly some pie), we made our way towards the base of Yewbarrow. Alex and I were now joined by Brian ‘Stolly’ Stallwood who quickly assumed navigational duties and shot off into the distance. The climb up Yewbarrow is brutally steep and concentration is required not to let your feet slip backwards on some sections. Nevertheless, Alex and I chatted away and 40 minutes later we caught up with Brian casually sitting astride a boulder and taking photos making use of the clear skies.

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Nearing the summit of Yewbarrow (Stolly)

We ambled our way over the rest of the Mosedale summits. The mist reappeared and Alex and Brian began discussing pension plans as we skirted under Black Crag. Since the foot wedging incident earlier my ankle had been niggling for a little while and was now becoming uncomfortable. Coming off Pillar, it began to hurt in earnest.  Uphill seemed OK so I was quite glad to start the climb up Red Gully to Kirk Fell. Alex, having had a busy week, decided to miss this one out and said he’d meet us later. My ankle was definitely in trouble as Brian and I picked our way down to Beckhead Tarn at the base of Great Gable. As we began the ascent Alex appeared out of the mist and joined us. I never thought I’d be glad to be climbing Gable at this point, but scrambling up the boulders was infinitely preferable to the pain I was getting on the downhills. Gable is the last big climb of the round and soon we were making our way over Green Gable towards Honister.
After Brandreth I sent Brian off to alert Shane and Jane of our arrival and to get painkillers and coffee ready. Descending off Grey Knotts was both literally and metaphorically painfully slow. I wasn’t going to give up now though and hobbled into the car park.

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Limping into Honister (SR)

Leg 5
18.39 The final leg! A quick stop, coffee, painkillers, food and we were good to go. I was now joined by Simon Oxley, Spencer Riley and Sandy Lockett. Sandy had completed his BG in April so had a pretty good idea of how I was feeling and began passing me bite size pieces of Snickers bars every 5 minutes or so on the way up Dale Head. Dale Head is not particularly steep but does go on a bit and has at least three false summits. Hindscarth isn’t too bad either and this facilitated a welcome distraction of general chat and I was soon swept along to the final climb of Robinson. The false flat of Robinson’s summit seemed to drag on for ages but finally the cairn marking my 42nd and final peak came into view. A quick summit selfie and all I had to do now was get back to Keswick.

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Robinson summit selfie (SL)

Easier said than done. Coming down a steep rocky path I found I couldn’t trust my grip on the smooth rock. Sandy had scampered down easily but I just couldn’t do it and I really didn’t want to be taking any risks now. Simon and Spencer appeared below me having taken a detour around the impasse and I backtracked to find it. Down safely we jogged down to find the track which lead to Little Town where the van was waiting. Drinks, gels and a quick shoe change later we hit the road to Keswick.

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“Have you never put socks on before?” (SR)

Buoyed up by sugar and adrenaline this felt like an evening club run and we made good progress as the light began to fade. It seemed to take forever to get through the outskirts of Keswick but finally we were on the High Street and I made an attempt at a sprint finish. Shouts and applause were coming from somewhere as I raced up the steps of the Moot Hall.

21.25 All done. Photos were taken and Tanya produced a bottle of champagne. Various bystanders including the Irish tourists who had seen me off came over to congratulate me. All very surreal, particularly the chap who was on an Alan Partridge themed stag do wearing a dressing gown! Farewells were bid with the remainder adjourning to the Dog and Gun for a well earned pint.

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Final leg support crew from L-R, Alex, Shane, me, Jane, Sandy, Spencer and Simon

Thank yous
A massive thank you to support runners Roger Laycock, Andy Gibbons, Rachel Hill, Alex Pilkington, Brian Stallwood, Sandy Lockett, Simon Oxley and Spencer Riley. Extra special thanks to Shane Rothwell and Jane Pye who provided 24 hours of support par excellence and without whose dedication this would not have been possible. Most importantly, thanks must go to Tanya, for feeding me, putting up with me disappearing every weekend and leaving smelly socks in the utility room sink.