Cross Fell Race – July 2023

The third of the long category races in the 2023 club championship, the Cross Fell race is an easy long category race to the one and only summit. Cross Fell is the highest point of the Pennine range and the highest peak in England outside of the Lake District at 893 metres (2,930 ft) above sea level. Driving up the M6 on a clear day, you can easily see Cross Fell with its close neighbour, Great Dunn Fell to the South with the white radar station domes on the skyline, often covered in snow in the winter months. Cross Fell is closely associated with the Helm wind, which is the only named wind in Britain, this occurs when a north-easterly air flow hits this high part of the Pennines. The result is a ferociously cold easterly wind which we feel the effects of.

Six Harriers made the journey across the Pennines to the starting point – the quaint little village of Garrigill, nesting in the South Tyne Valley.   At 14.9 miles and 2231 feet of ascent, the race is categorised as a ‘BL’ but it is more like a 12 mile trail race with a bit of a climb in the middle. It follows the Pennine Way on a well maintained game keeper’s shooting track amongst the grouse shooting moors which surround the area.

I had vowed not to do this race again because of the endless track there and back and I knew what to expect. However I decided to give it another go and joined the other 32 elite runners as we made our way into the headwind to the high ground in the distance.  For 6 miles all the way up the track, I had Kirsten and Simon hot on my heels no more than 25 metres behind. I was probably still tired from doing the Tebay race a few days prior to this one but hung on in there, (hat’s off to Jill who also did the Tebay race so was probably feeling the effects of that race also). Kirsten and Simon finally passed me in the clag when I missed the turn to the summit; I didn’t hear their frantic shouting from them and other runners in the wind! Luckily I glanced to my left and saw them disappearing into the clag to the summit. There were route options around the summit area with the race map showing a clockwise or anti clockwise loop to the summit checkpoint. But the only rule was to get to the summit and back and all three of us decided on doing an out-and-back route to avoid the risk of getting lost on the claggy summit and missing the left turn off the plateau. Cross Fell is a bleak and lonely place (think of a much larger summit plateau like Ingleborough), so not a place to get lost especially with its history – in ancient times it was known as Fiends Fell and believed to be the haunt of evil spirits.

The most enjoyable section of the race was the quick 10 minute descent off the summit across boggy ground only to soon end up on the track to retrace our steps to the finish. This was made slightly more enjoyable with the tail wind. We managed to drop Simon with Kirsten running strongly behind me. The three of us finishing a few minutes apart with Kirsten collecting a trio of lovely engraved glassware, not only the first lady but first lady V40 and the first women’s team with Carmel and Jill. Simon collecting the first V60 prize, so not a bad haul. Only me and Richard missing out.  

Tea and a selection of lovely cakes and scones made by local ladies was enjoyed in the little village hall afterwards, all included as part of the entry fee so good value for money I’d say.                                                    

Blooded knees but still smiling, Jill crossing the finishing line, not realising she was in the prizes.  

Settle Harriers cleaned up and collected a lovely selection of specially engraved glass tankards depicting the Cross Fell cross.

John Osborne (Oz)