An account of a post lockdown Lakeland long traverse by Simon and Loz…

What it’s about – Simon

The Joss Naylor Challenge is a route conjured up by Joss in 1990 when he was 54. It traverses 30 summits on its way from Pooley Bridge to Joss’ village in Greendale (in Wasdale). This is about 67km and 5000m of ascent or 48 miles/17000’ in old money.  The route has become known as the ‘old man’s Bob Graham’ and this had probably put me off the idea for a while as memories of how hard I’d found the BG 30 odd years ago still run deep. But then after Loz and I had run the Lakes in a Day ultra a couple of times, we realised that the JNC should be not much harder. It’s a bit shorter but with more climb, although, unlike the LIAD, the climbing is loaded towards the end of the route over most of the big Wasdale fells. The other factor that – unusually – worked in our favour is being relatively ancient. The time limit for completing the challenge is on a sliding, age-dependent scale so at 50 you only have 12 hours but this increases to 15 hours at 55, 18 hours at 60 and a leisurely 24 hours at 65. So for us that gave 18 hours which seemed like a viable challenge, at least from the comfort of an Excel spreadsheet at the kitchen table.

The route is divided into four obvious legs: From the start along the High Street range to Kirkstone Pass; crossing the Fairfield group over to Dunmail Raise; a longish hack up to Bowfell and over Great End to Styhead and then the final leg over the high fells around the head of Wasdale to the finish at Greendale Bridge. A very cold recce last November with Roger over the first two legs suggested the required pace was OK – at least over 7 hours or so. But then of course lockdown brought a halt to anything that wasn’t out of the back door.

A view of Leg 1 from the Pooley Bridge car park

Once Boris allowed us to venture a bit further afield Loz and I did a 9 hour recce of the last half of the route from Dunmail Raise to the finish. The logistics of this are a bit tricky as you end up a long way from your car. Luckily Tom Oxley had just got his provisional driving licence and was easily conned into the idea that driving Hilary over Wrynose and Hardknott to pick us up would be good driving practice. Gill was also there to meet us and asked how we’d feel about turning round and doing another half of the route. We looked at her like she was crazy and, as always, we felt we really needed to get fitter to take on the full Challenge.

However, looking at diaries and family holiday plans suggested that the long summer days could easily slip by without an attempt being fitted in. So we’d better just get a grip and do it. By mid-July the brilliant weather of the early summer had turned into unstable squally stuff but a good weather window was forecast for a few days’ time on Sunday. Roger was keen to join in (as a leisurely recce to see where the hours would be knocked off on his ‘proper’ attempt later on) but was unavailable that day so we assembled a small team of supporters at short notice for a low-key traverse with a 4am start from Pooley Bridge.

Leg 1 – Loz

I’m not one for early starts.  In fact, if this start had been any earlier, I’d have just made a late night of it, the evening before. I hate the restless hours in bed, in a funk over how horribly soon I have to get up.  Once up though, it was a nice pre-dawn, T shirts and shorts even at 3:30.  Just light enough not to need our head torches, which was as well, since they were in Mark’s bag to meet us much later. It’s a slightly odd start through a large static caravan park but then you’re soon on the fell. First peak: Arthur’s Pike, crossing the route of the Lakeland 50 en route.


Sunrise on Loadpot Hill at 5am


The sun popped up just before 5:00, just as we were keeping our fingers crossed that a stream we thought we remembered was there. If not, we’d be going thirsty. We carried our own kit throughout, so kept water to the bare minimum needed to get to the next source. Filling up and a few dawn pics lost us 6 mins on the schedule. Incidentally, Simon’s computations (spanning many spreadsheets and furrowed brows) had come up with the strikingly precise projection of 17h 9 m for arrival time at Wasdale. We pushed on. At this stage of an ultra it’s good to keep the pedal off the metal, and move efficiently, rather than to risk early flame-out.  We were back on schedule by Kidsty and then saved another 6 mins by Kirkstone. The wind was a bit fresh and cool from the west, but only my hands were cold: unlike my sensible companion, I hadn’t brought gloves.

The section had been enlivened by a fox on Arthur’s Pike and couple of Bambi-style fauns on Raven Howe. Other than that and a couple of tents, we’d seen no sign of life. Dropping towards Kirkstone, I spotted a couple of people on a knoll and to my surprise, they got up and ran towards us.  Turned out to be Becky and Tom. That was nice but even better was to follow when they offered chocolate pancakes straight out of the pan.  Now that was definitely a first, and very enjoyable too – thanks guys! That little burst of energy helped us get the ideal line down to Kirkstone and our first support.

Leg 2 – Simon

Jude and Dominic Spracklen had readily volunteered for a 7:45am rendezvous at Kirkstone where a mini rave seemed to have been going on over night. Rejuvenated by the smell of weed wafting over the fell-side we started the grind up Red Screes. Tom and Becky had also managed to pack up their pancake kitchen and joined us for the climb before peeling off somewhere near the top. Across Scandale Loz and Dom seemed to be deep in conversation about the economics of biomass power generation while Jude kept me entertained by drip feeding raspberry flapjacks – more my level at this point. We seemed to be making good progress though across the Fairfield section and were 18 minutes up on the schedule at Grisedale Hause. Here Jude and Dom ducked off down to Grisedale Tarn and Loz and I last had sight of them swimming around 500’ below as we climbed over Seat Sandal. The BG descent route is a quick way down to Dunmail Raise but you’re constantly aware of your immediate destiny up the apparently vertical face of Steel Fell dead ahead. Hilary’s impressive picnic table greeted us at the road – the last road crossing on the route and the lowest point between the start and finish. This is pretty much the half way point in distance but with most of the climbing still to do.

It’s surprising we got much further after this enormous picnic (Photo: Tom Oxley)


Leg 3 – Loz

If Fairfield and Hart Crag had reminded me of Lakes in a Day, a blurred Dunmail feeding frenzy followed by trudging off up a horribly steep fellside was pure BG throwback. Thanks to Hilary though for all the cakes!  Martin Holroyd was with us from here, and he did sterling work to Sty Head. Steep Steel Fell came and went. High Raise is a bit of a plod too. Happily, Joss took pity on his followers around here, and let us off the intervening Calf Crag and Sergeant Man. After that bit, it’s a good downhill to cross just below Stake Pass and into the rockier terrain of the western half of the route.

On Rossett Pike, we got the right line after our recce a few weeks earlier.  Then the third water stop on this leg (which is well provided with streams compared to the rest), at the foot of Bowfell.  That big steep climb up Hanging Knotts was a struggle for me. I had a roll I was trying to eat (and eating gets harder the longer you run); I had my two poles to carry and I was trying to grab a drink as well. Coupled with needing to touch rocks to balance up the steeper bits, I felt like an octopus missing half its tentacles.  Eventually I emerged onto the plateau feeling like my legs were spiralled together. The others seemed to be packing away their almost-finished copies of War and Peace by the time I staggered up to the summit. Politely, they pointed out the direction of Esk Pike and I managed to redeem myself a little by finding the racing line which I’d re-discovered on an earlier recce. It’s the way the Langdale comes (going the other way), but my brain on that occasion had been deep into oxygen starvation by that stage, so I’d remembered nothing.

Esk Pike is a fine hill and I was almost managing to keep the others in sight ahead going from there to Great End. Martin kept musing about turning back – he had to reverse most of the route back to Dunmail – but then he would “just come along one more top” with us, and so ended up dropping down the very rough descent to Sty Head (the slowest bit of the whole route) to complete the whole section with us. A heart-felt thanks to Martin, you really helped us keep moving.

Martin sees us safely to Styhead (Photo: Mark Wildsmith)

Leg 4 – Simon

We’d been on the go for over 11 hours and were half an hour up on our target time here and so had 90 minutes in hand on the 18 hour schedule. Although nothing was said out loud, it seemed to me that barring disasters we should make it round fine and this allows you to relax a bit and enjoy the trip.

Mark Wildsmith had kindly made the big commitment to drive all the way round to Wasdale Head and met us at Styhead. His preparation for supporting us on leg 4 had been a 250km off-road bike ride the previous day – he rightly assumed we wouldn’t be pushing him too hard at this stage. The final leg is about 18km and 1500m with an immediate start-as-you-mean-to-go-on brutal bash up Great Gable. This was about the only place on the route we saw many other people but we were quickly down the other side and up onto Kirkfell. There’s a handy stream outlet from one of the summit tarns here – pretty much the last water before close to the finish. I think we carried about a litre and a half each from here.

Not a bad afternoon to be in the Western Fells

Joss’s Gully is a rough but quick way down to Black Sail pass and we were then on the long slog up Pillar. In my mind this is the final crux and it seems sort of downhill after Pillar – psychologically rather than literally. It was somewhere here though that I suddenly felt light-headed and wobbly as Loz and Mark pulled ahead over the rocks. The sure sign of an incoming bonk – so I stuffed down a Mars Bar, quickly followed by a Snickers. On the whole I think we’d done very well on nutrition – eating pretty continuously and mostly proper food like sandwiches and pizza rather than fistfuls of Jelly Babies. But on these long runs you always seem to be not too far from hypoglycaemia so the emergency Mr Mars is a useful tool for me and I was fine again in 5 minutes.

Joss’s Gully on Kirk Fell

After Pillar there’s a cunning traverse to avoid an unnecessary top and you’re on Scoat Fell. Confusingly Little Scoat Fell is higher than Great Scoat Fell and in between the two there’s the out-and-back to Steeple where we had great views across Ennerdale in the late afternoon sunshine.

Three hills to go now and Haycock doesn’t seem bad. There’s a choice of descent routes here and we opted for the fast scree shoot that we’d found on our recce a few weeks previously. There aren’t many runnable scree descents left in the Lakes so this one’s a bit of a surprise. Whatever time we made up here though was probably lost in the palaver of emptying small stones out the shoes at the bottom.

A bit of a slog up Seatallan (Photo: Mark Wildsmith)

Middlefell – the final top! (Photo: Mark Wildsmith)

Seatallan was a grind but Middle Fell beckons as the final climb and is a great view point. This included a view of our parked vans down below in Greendale. Gill, Hilary and Tom had been swimming in Greendale Tarn but were there to greet us – although only briefly as we sped through the parking area on our way to the ‘true finish’ on Greendale Bridge 16 and a half hours after setting off.

On the bridge (Photo: Mark Wildsmith)

Final thoughts – Loz

It was nice to finish and satisfying to have at least beaten Joss’s benchmark time. He must have been feeling generous towards the elderly when he set that one. It had been a brilliant day on the hills, as they usually are once you get going. We’d been lucky with the weather which was only cold a couple of times. And we’d had some very kind support given generously.

The route does have the feel of a real mountain route as opposed to a trail-type ultra. That makes it very worthwhile. I am glad we did it whilst still (just) able to put one foot in front of the other for long enough, and I’d recommend any other ageing runners to give it a whirl while they can.

With Storm Denis on the horizon for last weekend I was considering my options on the Friday evening:

  • Bleasdale Circle on the Saturday – 8 km with 380 metres of ascent – a Settle Harriers Championship race
  • Or Barbon on the Sunday – 3 km with 360 metres of ascent – a Kendal Winter League race
  • Or both

Having studied the OS map for Bleasdale, curiosity got the better of me: a school, a church and a parish hall, all with no road leading to them??  I’d have to take a chance with Barbon and just hope that my knee would be up for another race on the Sunday.

The journey to Bleasdale was, thankfully, uneventful; it even stopped raining, and there was just one flood to negotiate which, so long as it stayed dry, I reckoned I’d be able to get back through.

I arrived in good time as I hadn’t pre-entered, but I needn’t have worried; with only 59 out of a maximum number of 120 there was plenty of room for everyone on the start line.  Spot checks were carried out to satisfy the full kit requirement, although by now a lot of runners were wearing most of their kit as it had started to rain again…

The route headed north from the parish hall, turned east to cross sodden farmland for a couple of kilometres past Bleasdale Circle (no time for sightseeing) and then climbed steeply up onto Fair Snape Fell at 510m.  While one couldn’t really describe the conditions as pleasant, the climb up to Paddy’s Pole on the summit was fantastic: the wind was so strong that I seriously considered unzipping my waterproof to harness this relentless stream of free energy.  Would this be classed as cheating I wondered?  In the end it was the reluctance to get soaked which made me desist rather than the ethics.

On the summit conditions really were atrocious as the marshal grabbed me by the arm to steer me round the stone shelter in case I got blown away.  The race organizer had very prudently decided to shorten the course that morning making it a there-and-back to Paddy’s Pole rather than continuing along the ridge to Parlick; in fact at the start line he told us that the summit marshals had been instructed to descend if conditions worsened and that the turnaround point would be wherever you happened to meet them!

As it was, there was only one DNF, everyone got back safely, and I finished a very respectable – for me – fourth from last.  And back at the parish hall there was a seemingly endless supply of hot soup, hot tea and delicious home made cakes.  It was still raining.

Once I was warm and dry and fed, my mind turned towards the homeward journey.  I set off and eventually reached the flood which, to my surprise, was not as bad as I had remembered it.  I drove through it, rounded the next bend, and realized that that was actually a new flood: the original flood was now twice as long as it had been a few hours ago and was receding into the distance!

As I drove home I thought about my daughter Chloe; having signed up for the university caving trip she had driven from Cambridge to South Wales on Friday evening bombarded with dire warnings from her mother about being sensible and intelligent students, and I wondered where she would get her sense and intelligence from…

And Barbon?  Obviously I was devastated when the race had to be cancelled, but secretly I think my knee was quite relieved.


Jill Gates

Post-run pub chat at this time of year inevitably turns to our much-loved, iconic local classic, the Three Peaks Race.

In honour of this famous event on our doorstep – and to remind you to enter (it’s a club champ) –   here’s some fun peaky facts…

  • The Three Peaks as a round was ‘invented’ by two teachers from Giggleswick School who completed a circuit in 1887 in 14 hours and 27 minutes.
  • The first foot race took place in 1954, starting and finishing at Chapel-le-Dale. It was won by Fred Bagley, one of three finishers from a starting line-up of six.
  • The route has changed a few times over the years, most recently to use the ‘new’ path round Sell Gill, Penyghent summit, and the flagged route off Whernside. I think we can all be pleased it no longer goes across Black Dubb Moss – aka the bogs of doom.
  • The Daily Mirror sponsored the race for a number of years.
  • Yorkshire TV made a programme about the 1976 edition. Well worth a watch on YouTube
  • Chris Hirst is the fastest Harrier, having clocked 3.10.50 and 12th place in 1992. Other fleetfooted completions include Alistair Scholey and Adrian Pickles who have both run 3.25.
  • Carol Evans is our speediest female with a PB of 3.54. Rachel Hill has also broken four hours.
  • Settle Harriers had 16 runners complete the race in both 2014 and 2016 – our largest turnouts.
  • Judy Marshall’s sister, Helen, was first female in 2006.
  • Steve Moor is always last out of the start field. It’s the law.
  • Judith Allinson has been known to serenade competitors with her flute on Ingleborough.
  • Mike Wynne’s marshal post on Ingleborough was legendary. The finest slurp of tea ever tasted.
  • The shoe debate is nearly as old as the hills. It’s possible, apparently, to run it in road shoes in a dry year. However, Andy Peace set his 2.46.03 record in 1996 wearing Walsh PBs and I believe Victoria Wilkinson’s 2018 record run of 3.09.19 was in Inov8 X Talons, both of which are very grippy!
  • The late John Rawnsley, long time organiser of the Three Peaks Cyclocross, which started in 1959, completed the fell race 30 times. That’s as well as riding the cyclocross 45 times! Wendy Dodds has run it 35 times. Jon Sharples has 22 completions to his name running for Clayton-le-Moors. We must have others with multiple runs in double figures – anyone? Who’s our club member with the most completions to their name?
  • If you’re still looking for qualifiers, try Black Combe (AM and a club champ) on March 7.

Anyone else got any fascinating or funny facts about the peaks?

Some ‘historical’ photos…

Julia Murfin


13 Harriers took part in the Skipton ParkRun on Saturday 7th December – the 2nd of the Settle Harriers ParkRun meet-ups.

Most were seniors as a lot of our juniors have succumbed to the lurgy going around the schools at the moment.

3 of our contingent ran “PB”s for the course (congrats to Charlotte, Jan & Julia) and we had 4 “first-timers (Sam, Carmel, Richard and Kath)

Well done to all !


Skipton ParkRun – 7th December

9 Sam BRUMMITT Male VM45-49 19:38 First Timer!
21 Simon OXLEY Male VM60-64 21:58  
29 Andy EVANS Male VM60-64 22:55  
50 Charlotte PEART Female JW11-14 24:50 New PB!
55 Jan-Friedrich WULF Male VM45-49 01:09 New PB!
69 Carmel RAMWELL Female VW45-49 26:08 First Timer!
73 Richard TIMMS Male VM50-54 26:37 First Timer!
81 Oscar WULF Male JM11-14 28:09  
115 Julia MURFIN Female VW50-54 30:59 New PB!
135 Kath DAVIS Female VW50-54 32:10 First Timer!
159 Sophie TAYLOR Female JW11-14 35:11  
165 Sharon TAYLOR Female VW45-49 35:52  

(Unfortunately Oliver Brummitt had to retire with an injury)

On Sunday morning (24th Nov), 4 of us drove down into deepest Lancashire to compete in the Lee Mill Relays. The event is in its 5th year running and this year there were 87 entries.

The course is just over 10 km starting along a narrow track up through a disused quarry then onto the open fell. The terrain was very wet due to rain and had a mixture of very steep short ascents, good downhills and flat open running.

I ran the first leg in 55:55 however I seemed to come back a different colour to everyone else one bog being a lot deeper than I expected! Next was Will Buckton in a time of 1:02:55 who came back a lot cleaner than me.

Mark Wildsmith ran the next leg in time of 56:00 before handing over to Tom Hare on the last leg who ran a fast time of 52:51 to boost us up into a final position of 15th and a time of 3:47:41.

Which I think was a very competitive all round performance. However, more impressive was a solo runner called Chris Holdsworth who ran all 4 laps of the course in a time of 3:43 beating us by 4 minutes!

A good event for a damp November day and hopefully we will have a team next year.

Matt Holroyd

(couldn’t find a photo of you Tom sorry)

Results here

On Saturday 19th October, 12 Settle Harriers made the 2 hour-plus journey to Fairholmes in the Peak District and joined approximately 250 other teams for the British Fell Relay Championships. Aiming to cut down on carbon emissions around the race-site, competitors parked 6 miles from the start and boarded a shuttle bus.  The whole day, hosted by Dark Peak Fell Runners, was impeccably organised and those in charge couldn’t have done a better job. The back-drop to the hand-over/start area was stunning; the imposing Derwent Dam was accompanied by the forest and craggy hills of the National Park.

The courses were over rugged terrain, with large parts of the courses off-path and over thick heather. A few bogs and steep sections were dotted about the courses, very much making it a proper fell race and one which would take everything out of our legs.

The relay consisted of 4 legs: a solo 5 mile leg with 360m climb; a mapped 7.5 mile leg with 480m of climb (2 runners); an orienteering route of 7 miles and approx. 550m climb (2 runners) and finally another solo leg of 5 miles and 375m climb.

First off for us was Matt Holroyd of the Men’s team and Catherine Speakman of the Mixed team. Both runners placed their teams in great positions for the following legs, with Matt picking off several runners on the descent before finishing 73rd and Catherine moving through the runners to come back 189th.

Our duos for the 2nd leg were Matt Fretwell and Matt Cardus (Men’s team), and Richard Timms and Sam Allsopp (Mixed team). Both teams moved up a lot of places on this leg, as Matt and Matt had the 41st fastest lap time and Sam and Richard had the 127th.

Leg 3 was the most challenging leg of them all, as the runners were only given a map of their route a few minutes before setting off. In addition, this map was not the most straight-forward of maps, and therefore tested their orienteering skills greatly!  Martin Holroyd and Zach Jennings had a cracking run as they propelled the Men’s team into the top 40, with a 48th fastest time of 1:34:45. Carol Evans and Sharon McDonald also had a great run, finishing 206th on their leg.

Several hours after the start of the relay, leg 4 runners eventually set off on their route. For the Men’s team, I moved us up into 34th and 27th Open Men’s team with the 59th fastest leg time and John Osborne propelled the Mixed team several places up into 168th and 18th Mixed team as he registered the 105th fastest time for leg 4.

Both teams had a stellar performance, but more importantly, everyone had an amazing time and the great fell running atmosphere was not lost in the competitiveness of this race.

Report by Sebastian Segger-Staveley

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

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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

Pre-Start at the Real Food Café – Tyndrum

In the beginning…

The Highland Trial 550 race has been on my radar for some time, previous years I have been committed to a team on the Three Peaks Yacht Race, a different sort of endurance adventure race, I had done this four times and was ready for a change, I am always keen to try new things and I soon get bored of doing the same event. I emailed the creator of the HT550 – Alan Goldsmith last November and he asked me to send in a resume of my rides, in it went and that was it, he said I was in! – it was six months to go to the event… I was already apprehensive of the undertaking, not having mtb’ed so far before in one go; also my concern for the reliance on technology was my biggest worry. All my previous ‘expedition style’ races were Adventure Races (ARs) with traditional paper maps, where proper ‘navigation’ and good route choice is the key. I had not really entered the world of GPS apart from using my iphone maps – call me a Luddite!

I was lacking my ‘race head’ this year, having taken a step back from the AR and MTBO circuit, but I had enjoyed a year that was made up of long, hard touring style adventures; so having to ‘bury’ myself in ‘race mode’ was another minor worry, also I wanted to enjoy the journey and quite often it is not always appreciated when your head is down and racing. As such I was keen to do some reccies at a ‘touring’ pace and to soak it all up beforehand. The reccies were all ‘opportunist’ based on the weather, fortunately this year my work has been quiet, so getting a ‘long weekend’ was not a problem and my family is very understanding to my needs! What was a problem was the long winter that the UK has had this year, this meant carefully checking on which sections to reccie.

The HT550 Route

In February I did most of the northern loop in dry and super cold conditions, the highlight was crossing Fisherfield – I did not see a person from entry to exit, the solitude was almost overwhelming, I stayed in Shenaval Bothy and even had to break the ice in bare feet to cross the river, it was no place or time to have a problem! That was about 170 miles of the actual HT route reccied. Next reccie was a month later, more snow cover this time meant a more limited reccie of the middle section, the highlight was the frozen tundra of Loch na Stac. That was about another 80 miles of the actual route reccied. Final reccie came at the end of a week of family holiday on Mull in April, feeling slightly warmer now, but still in winter kit I joined a bike-pack buddy and we did the first section from Tyndrum to Melgarve Bothy, so that was another 70 miles done. With these three reccies I had started to feel that I had just ‘touched the sides’ of the whole HT thing. I had enjoyed every minute of each reccie and was blessed by lovely weather each time.

In the months running up to May I started to hone my kit and get new stuff and properly test it, so again more excuses for bike-pack bivvies in my local area of the Lakes and Dales, each week I’d try to spend a night out under the stars, so much so it now feels like my life norm – something that I plan to carry on for the rest of the year! Half of the fun of these ‘expeditions’ goes into the preparation and in the absence of multi-day bike-packing experience, good preparation was the best thing I thought. A little bit about ‘the’ bike… for the last couple of years I have been given a Trek Stache to test ride around on. The 29+ tyres seemed a gimmick to me at first, however as my rides on the bike progressed, as did my love for it – it was a comfy, capable, reliable and fast old stead – I loved riding it and it soon became my Mtb of choice – I recommend that you try one!. It did have some niggles though; the 1×11 gearing was limited – meaning easy to spin out, it was also quite a chunk heavier than my previous endurance Mtbs (Chiru Pulse), the Stache was around 13kg. Over the winter months I got the funding permission to build my own new 29+ bike. It soon started to take shape, most of it from China – Frame, Rims, the group-set was the super-sexy Sram X0 Eagle – engineering excellence! I loved sourcing and building it all up, even spoking up the wheels. In January the ‘Fatster’ was born a superlight 29er+ weighing in at 9.8Kg – even with the volumous Chupacabra 3” tyres!

Pre Race Countdown…

The year rattled past quickly and soon the month of May arrived, it was now countdown time to the race… I learnt that Rich Rothwell would not be racing as he had the Colorado Trail race to attend and also the Phil Addyman had decided not to race after having had 3 HT550 races in him already, this was a bit of shame as I was keen to meet those guys and enjoy the journey and race with them. Having read their HT blogs from last year I felt like I already knew them, I also enjoyed reading Neil and Chris’s accounts; they were all so well written and gave a good insight into all aspects of the race. So I hope that my account can do similar!

Pre-race Social – enjoying a HT550 beer down by the river

I travelled up to Tyndrum with Stuart Cowperthwaite another race veteran and it was a good opportunity to pick his brains on the little things that were still bugging me. I had never used a ‘Spot’ tracker before and had hired one from ‘No Worries’, so after a bit of guidance on how to make it work I was okay with this bit of kit. I considered buying one, but for the amount of use the hire option from ‘No Worries’ was ideal and I would recommend them. Tyndrum was nicer than I had remembered, with a lovely camp site and a small selection of places to eat, but mainly the ‘Real Food Café’, arriving on Friday afternoon we prepared the bikes, because of the dry and warm forecast some kit was ditched – out went the lightweight duvet jacket and other such stuff (I have done my kit list at the bottom of this account). We then had a lovely evening group ride down the valley to a river; some special HT550 beers were provided by Stu Taylor of Kirby Lonsdale brewery – another local to me rider / bike-packer. It was a great prologue to the race and the beer would be my last for a few days. The weather was warm and dry, as was the forecast for the week ahead and as had been the previous few weeks weather, the trails would be dry and fast, however the heat could be a problem as could finding ‘good water’.

Day 1 – Tyndrum to Garve. 157miles. 16,000ft. 17.00hrs riding.

Race-day dawned, I had had a mediocre sleep, the bunkroom had been quite noisy all night. I stuffed down a mammoth 6 Weetabix, Stuart out-gunned me having a whopping 8 Weetabix. We were good to go and rolled around to the café for a strong coffee, with riders all congregating and chatting about the journey ahead, it was warm and shorts and top would be the norm. I was fascinated by all the different bike set-ups and rigs – stuff attached to the bike in all sorts of odd places! At the start line by the cemetery Alan called five riders forward to start – I was one of them. I had met Alan the night before for the first time. I liked him, he was a bit of a comedian and it seemed he liked to ‘big up’ the competition in the race and apparently I was told I was one of the race favourites. I was not overly welcoming of that, but I did know I could ride a Mtb bike quite well for a long time and was good with dealing with ‘shit’ and all the pressures of multiday races. I have a strong view that a long race is won on efficiency in the second half rather than speed in the first half. I was keen to set off at my own pace and ‘cruise’ – racing would come later on day 3 and day 4 perhaps.

As expected it was a pretty fast start and I settled nicely into a group of 4-5 riders. Stu Cowperthwaite edged away and was soon out of sight – I’m sure that was not the ‘game-plan’ he described to me on the way up…. A fast pace I thought, no one put up chase. Glen Lyon soon came and soon went, then a big climb over to Loch Rannoch. I found a nice Exposure Diablo light on the trail, I assumed it to be Stu’s – he might be needing that I thought! Soon across the ‘bog of doom’ under the majestic Ben Alder, the bog was in fact okay and could almost have been ridden, but I choose to push – save the quads and a helpful opportunity for a leg stretch. For some reason along here I got really bad cramps down the inner quads, really painful and worrying at this stage – just 50 miles in, perhaps the heat had caused it, but I had been having plenty of electrolyte.

Soon on the Ben Alder single track which is mostly all ridable, but the going was tough under the unusual and intense heat, Lee Cragie rattled past me up here. A quick word about Lee… I had not met her before, but I certainly knew of her, it was nice to have a girl with us at the sharp end; she was a pedigree rider and was here to ride hard. She had done the race in 2016, but due to GPS failure had missed out a short section of route and the ride time was DQ’ed, a tough nut to have to swallow! A couple of other riders came past on this single track Huw Oliver another strong contender and previous race veteran; and then the incredible single-speed legend Javier Simon, who I was told was a ‘postie’ from Spain – so I thought the ‘Post mans’ path down Loch Maree must be his favourite section! Ben Alder was hot going, it was my first time in the heat this year, so I was not yet conditioned to it – I was keen not to push it into the ‘red zone’. Not long after and with the fast decent we soon arrived at Laggan Wolftrax, a cold coke and ice cream was much needed, I caught up with Stu here and gave him back his Diablo in return for said coke and ice cream – it was lush! Stu and I then rode together over the massive Corrieyairack Pass into Fort Augustus – 95 miles ridden it was 18:30 and time to re-stock at the garage (also on offer was Pizza or Chip Shop). Not keen to pig-out too much I settled with food from the shop. It was 10 degrees colder in Fort Augustus, with a strong north-easterly blowing and I was keen to eat-up and get going again to warm-up.

Stu was looking cold, I urged him to get going and I set-off. That was the last I saw of him in the race, sadly he scratched as he discovered an issue with his front wheel axle rattling. Two riders were ahead – Javi and Huw.

I was ready for the evening-into-night section, there would be two big climbs and about 40 miles of trail and 20 miles of road ahead, my plan for the night was to get to the ‘lean-to’ shed that Phil had used last year near to Garve village. The darkening evening was cooler, which was good as it meant the pace could be ‘upped’ a little and not risk over-heating. The hike-a-bike (HaB) around Loch na Stac was spooky in the evening mist but it was good to test the bike a bit on the rough lake shore path, the soft tyres allowed it to roll-through the rough going terrain and it was good fun. I came across Huw by the spooky old house, so we rode together and it was nice to chat and get to know each other a little, I left him at the road where he was ’layering-up for the night section. The 10 miles or so of road where a welcome respitr as you can just press the pedals and relax a little, also the ‘tri-bar’ set-up on my bike allows a rest of the hands – it works well for me, despite the laughs it gets! I rode past the ‘Hydro’ bothy without even noticing it in the thick hill fog, but no intention to stay there, I wanted to be off the mountain and through Contin, ready for the next day. The lean-to soon appeared and it was full of roof insulation packs, these where perfect and I fashioned a nice bed, ate some food, sorted some stuff and went to sleep. I went to sleep very quickly – it was 02:20. I wanted 3hrs of sleep, this is usually a good minimum and from the research and practice from in our previous ARs, 3hrs is sufficient for the to reset the mind and rest the body.

Day 2 Garve to Suilven. 136mile. 16,000ft. 19hrs riding.

Early Morning Day 2 – Inchbae Forest

I awoke naturally at 05.10, a rider had just sped past, I think it was Javi. I had some more nosh – like a quick porridge (aka Breakfast Bomb), packed my stuff up and was off quickly by 05.25. I felt refreshed with the short sleep and it was good to be back rolling along. The next sections where nice fast trails and would take us back into the wilds, I saw a deer and was aware of the back-ground melody of the Cuckoo, also the sweet smell of the Silver Birches was noticed, it seemed that my senses where hyper-real. 40 miles to Oykel Bridge. I was not sure if the hotel there was amenable to racers and decided not to stop, besides I was good for food and drink. I caught Javi just after Oykel he was ‘spinning away’, a brief chat and I pressed-on. It was quite a bit of fast road over to Loch Shin and so to the start of the top Bealach Horn section, Huw soon appeared in the distance and 30min later we were riding together and chatting again.

These social interludes were a pleasant interruption to the solitary riding. The weather was clear skies and warming up, I had sun creamed-up already, but was keen to have a short break and power-nap before the big Bealach Horn climb. I found a nice flat shady spot, ate some food, watched Huw disappear up the long slope, got my feet out and closed my eyes – 10 minutes should do me.

Day 2 – Dusty trails en-route to Bealach Horn

Javi cluttered past on the rocky track 15min later and triggered me to get going, so I 5 min I was rolling and it was about 13:00. Normally a ‘power-nap’ is a great way of getting a ‘waning’ pace back up again, not on this occasion though, I felt really ‘flat’, no leg power and a general willingness to get off and push. So that it was. The climb went on and on, Javi soon disappeared, but no one behind yet, the heat was intense and the sweat was causing additional chaffing – my backside was a bit sore and a slapped on some Sudocrem which eased things greatly. It’s a tough trail up to the back of the Bealach Horn, mainly all HaB and it must have taken 2hrs to do the 5 miles, ahead I saw Huw’s distinctive blue top, I was surprised to see him. I stopped for few moments before him, the scenery at this point was mind-blowing – a rocky amphitheatre with lochans at different levels – it was Eagle country for sure. Eventually I caught Huw and he said he was rough, I assumed he’d over-cooked it on the climb and told him to get his face in the next stream. He started moving again, so I also carried on assuming he’d pull-through.

I later found out he had a gotten a stomach upset, presumably contaminated water, from somewhere lower down…? Having had a bad stomach in previous races from consuming dodgy water, I was treating my water with an iodine dripper to sterilise it. It makes the water taste unpleasant, but it does do the job. Huw was assisted off the Bealach by a fellow racer / friend (Scott Lyndsay) and then decided to scratch from the race, which was a real shame.

The long descent off the Beallach Horn was dry, dusty rock-spitting fun – something more like in the south of France and not Scotland. Soon at the start of the next climb, I asked at a house for some water and got a bottle filled, the young guy there was interested in our journey and I told him he could watch it all on Trackleaders, I was super-thirsty and it was nice to have a big swig of drink. The next climb almost broke me, the heat was over-bearing and I eventually summited after a hard 45min push. On the summit I felt nauseous and seeing me wobble around a bit some campers came to me, sitting me down in the shade of a shieling, I soon started to feel better and we chatted, I appreciated their assistance, they were doing the Cape Wrath Trail. After a 10min rest I was okay to get going again, Kylesku Bridge and hotel was about 10 miles away. Some real food and a cold coke were on the mind.

Traversing the Loch and who should come past, but Lee, it was nice to see another racer, but she wasn’t for slowing to my pace and was soon disappearing into the distance. We caught up again at the hotel and had a nice ‘fast-tracked’ meal together, some soup, bread and salad, could not stomach much more. The staff at the hotel where ace. 30 min in there and it was time to hit the ’roller-coaster’’ road to Drumbeg and so on to Loch Inver. I stopped at Drumbeg Store and got more coke, some fudge packs and a couple of yoghurts. Again another example of race solidarity, Steve from the store was happy doing night shift and welcomed me by name as he was following the race on the tracker. The food was good and I was starting to feel a little ‘more me’, I had been off form all the afternoon. My sleep plan was to get past Loch Inver and bivvy on the trail side somewhere by Suilven at the end of the rideable track and before the Assynt HaB. I had hoped to be nearer to end of the HaB or even Oykel Bridge, but I was grateful for just feeling better.

Day 2 – Loch Inver Sunset

The moon which was almost a full one, hung in the sky above the mountain, a warm easterly wind was blowing, it was almost midnight and still 17 degrees. I could not believe that this was Scotland! I soon found a good spot on a glacial slab, the usually routine started – food down me – bike check and prep – bed prep – teeth – treat any sores / abrasions and clean myself with a baby wipe. I even rinsed my socks as well and hung them on the bike. I led down watched some stars and was soon fast asleep in no time. I did not set an alarm as I would wake at first light around 4ish.

Day 3 (which merged into Day 4).  Suilven to Tyndrum. 257miles. 24,000ft. 45hrs riding.

A awoke with a midge nibbling my face, it was 4.05, no time to soak up the nature, there was a job to be done and the midge was present. I was packed up and rolling at 04:25, I had plugged in some tunes and it felt really good to be moving, the best bit was that my socks had dried out! The Assynt trod is a good quality HaB, some sections are okay to ride, but not much. I even had a spring in my step and enjoyed running with my bike, the sun had not yet appeared but the skies were clear. Am I really in Scotland? Arriving at the end of Cam Loch was a photo opportunity, not much of a ‘selfie’ fan it had to be the bike with the mirrored loch and Suilven behind. Soon I was on to the long road section from Ledmore Junction to Oykel Bridge and I had a big fat breakfast on my mind…

Early Morning Day 3 – End of the Assynt HaB

I was feeling really good today, the bike was flying and I was thinking that this would be ‘race day’ perhaps…?

I arrived at the hotel at 08:30 and was surprised to see Lee, she was finishing her breakfast, we chatted a bit before she packed and I also had a ‘job’ to do while a loo was nearby – it was good to get sorted and cleaned up a bit before my hotel breakfast – us hobo-like racers were in the bar with no other guests nearby so it was okay! The owner lady was following the race and keen to provide a fill. The breakfast and coffee was eagerly consumed – my body was hungry for calories in any form! The lady informed me that the rivers were so low the fishermen were unhappy as the fishing was poor – I privately laughed at them, they were there in the mountains surely they could do something else…? Outside was parked my bike and then a line of ‘Range Rovers’ with their rods attached. Some people have more money than sense – I was glad to be a hobo bike-packer! I was soon rolling again up the long Strath Mulzie, the song of the Cuckoo and the Sweet smell of the trees was back – it was another gobsmackingly nice day! It was going to be hot, hot, hot. I sun creamed up before I left.

Day 3 – Oykel Bridge Hotel – A Good Breakfast!

I did not want to put an effort in to catch Lee, I had another much bigger plan hatching… The Oykel to Ullapool crossing went well and I was riding strong, eating lots and enjoying the moment, highlights of this section being the technical single track and Broom descent to Ullapool. While going along here thoughts of an old friend – Mike, who past-away this time last year came in to my mind, I felt quite emotional, but I could feel his good vibes encouraging me along. I was so lucky to be doing this great adventure!

My body was beginning to feel that it had gone through a ‘Change Curve’

Day 1 – Shock

Day 2 – Rejection

Day 3 – Acceptance

Day 4 – Normalisation

Once in town I decided that Tesco’s would suffice, I had a fair bit of stuff to get, that I had been thinking about on the way in, I used a handy little draw-cord bag to carry it all in – so into the basket went fresh fruit, milkshakes, juice, ice creams (Solaroes), chicken slices, packs of sandwiches, baby bels, meat sticks, crisps, fudge, sweets. I ate the ice creams and gave one to a chap (can’t recall his name) who had just done the HT550 the previous week from Ullapool where he lived, he filled me in on the race, it was good to know what was happening. Lee 15 min up front, Javi 120min up front, Fraser 90min behind. The food was good and I must of looked a bit wild eating it all so quickly while sat in the shade next to the parking drop-off. The Coffin Road loomed!

Before the start of the infamous ‘hill’ I decided to park the bike at the river bridge and go for a cooling dip in the water – air cooling was no longer enough, we needed water cooling! It felt beautiful and I was looking forward to the big hill. Sure enough it was despatched quickly and I was then down at the bottom of An Tealach – time for another swim before the next climb. I enjoyed the fruit that I had got; it was good to eat something healthy and real! The Fisherfield section is next and possibly my favourite of the ride, it is about 33 miles between entry and exit, on a good ride it is about 8hrs to cross it, it was 14:40.

The music was playing some nice tunes, I especially enjoyed Avicii and the words to the songs were very clever, it’s sad such a talent has now gone… I rode most of the hill, while the water was cooling me. Soon arriving at the ‘crossing’, which was pedalled easily through, I met a friend – Jim who I knew as race marshal from the ‘Open Adventure’ races, it was nice to see another face and one that was familiar, I was happy to chat for 5 min, he was on a wild camp with some friends. Jim had had a bad fall on a Welsh fell Race 5-6 weeks ago and required many stiches to the head, so it was nice to see him back in action. I was not envious of their camp, in fact quite the opposite; I was still loving my ride and LIVING THE DREAM!

Day 3 – In the middle of Fisherfield and fancy bumping into Jim and Hilary…

Near Carnmore Lodge I stopped for my Chicken Dinner, which I knew would be a winner! I also dried and talc’d my feet which made them feel much more comfortable. Despite the holiday weekend and the lovely weather the place was still empty in the early evening sun. The single track to Letterewe was good going and almost all rideable. It was nice to get to Loch Maree and the start of the Postie’s Path. I put on some compression socks to protect my legs from the brush and also from ‘pedal bites’. I really enjoyed this section and my biking skill on the narrow off-cambered trail was super precise and sharp – better than I have known before. Next up on my mind, I was wanting to get a coke at the next hotel, it would be close call for last orders, but was not going to bust-it to get there.

I got there at 22:55 and went in the landlord was clearing up saying that last orders was 5min ago, after pestering him and the offer of just leaving two quid for him, he just gave me a can. I was happy, but I did not want to upset him; however I did think he should make the most of the trade while he can – I would have done. I was surprised to see that Javi was still at the hotel – odd..? I found out he was having problems with his rear axle, he’d been there a while, maybe 2hrs. He said he was scratching from the race, but then a short while after he changed his mind and started down the route again. He passed me while I was getting my lights and night time kit sorted – I was getting eaten alive it was a horrible midge experience. Javi has a lovely riding style, it seems like a constant cadence he pedals, I have immense respect for him. We headed into the night and into Torridon…

My planned night stop was the Tea House Bothy, it sounds romantic, but it is at best a 6’ x 8’ shed sleeping 3 at squeeze, so by my reckoning it would be Lee, Javi and me, however it may already have guests…?

The night was warm, clear and it was a FULL MOON. Never waste a full moon I thought!

Arriving at the Tea House stood three bikes and Javi who had just ‘pipped’ me there. ‘Awesome’ I thought – a good excuse not to stop, lets push on through, no way was I spooning a hairy Spaniard (as cuddly as he was) in a hot shed, nor was I going to get eaten alive by bivvying outside! I told Javi I was going to ride on a bit, and set off up the Achnashellach single track.

I put on some Armin van Burren and turned the music up, there was a party in my head and the mountains where my dancefloor! Off I flew into the night and it was the best nights riding I’ve ever experienced.

Not sure if it was me but everything was flying past, I had a lot of lighting power – an Exposure Toro and Petzl NAO, the slabby decent was great fun, as was the road section and steep climb out of Glen Attadale – which I even managed to ride. The legs were just not for tiring! Riding down Strath Carron I was aware of smelling wood smoke, I kept expecting to pass a little camp fire. Something caught my eye above me on the left and on the skyline the mountain was a blaze – this was bizarre sight and I thought it can’t be happening – it all added to the moment, which will never ever be repeated I’m sure.

Night 3 – The Burning Mountains of Attadale Estate

The track down to Glen Ling is okay, but the bit along the river is rough, I was having problems with my right thumb, changing ‘up’ gear was hard, my thumb was stopping working, legacy of a previous injury, it was messing up my shifting and my riding was ragg’ed. I had a small ‘off’ over the bars here, but was okay and gave myself a talking too – to take more care! I lost one of my phone power packs here I think, but I had a backup one, I did not want my phone to die, I was using it for everything – in particular my music! Dornie Castle was reached at sunrise and was looking surreal. The little back road out of the village up the hill side was cycled, it did not feel too bad, despite its 180m sea level climb – but I was now wanting to get to Camban Bothy for a rest!

However, it was a hard climb up the back of Kintail range and the weather had changed to a cold easterly wind and a strange mountain mist was present. With the waterfalls up there it felt un-welcoming and cold, in this unchartered territory I was now tiring and the wind was pushing me back on the steep climb, in a gust of wind my headphones ripped out and stopped working, which was most annoying, but it was good to give my ears a rest! At 07:30 I arrived at the bothy, I went in, one room full and people all asleep and snoring, I went into the other – empty, so shoes and socks off and a porridge breakfast made.

I had ridden hard for 27hrs, I was going to have an hour shut eye, no sleeping bag, I would wake up shivering and set off quickly to get warm again – I didn’t want to get comfy. I guessed I was an hour ahead of the other two after my rest.

Glen Affiric, although very picturesque, was hard for me, I kept getting the ‘sleepies’ and needed to ride quicker, I also needed proper food and Fort Augustus was 35 miles away. I was now paying the price for the fun in the night…

I have been ‘here’ before and knew how to deal with it; it is best to keep thinking good things and not letting the mind wander or feel negative.

Tomich Forest was beautiful in the warm morning sunlight, another place that I had not before visited and I pledged to return and enjoy the trees sometime. I ate the last of my sweets and half of the last bar. I had some biltong, but was not enjoying that. On the second big hill I took a wrong turn and pedalled a mile up hill, sensing I was wrong I checked my phone – DAMN my ‘dot’ was off the line, back down I whizzed. The error maybe cost 20min, but I think that it was a good thing as it woke me up and got me racing again, an hour later, around 14:30 I was back at the filling station in FA. More sandwiches, ice creams, gold bars, pies and fruit. My feet where killing me after the bumpy descent and needed to be aired – I headed up the locks and de-gunged myself there, I had fancied a rest, but now that I was in 4G land I checked the tracker, it looked like Lee was about 80min behind, which sounds like quite a lot, but can soon disappear at this fatigued stage of the race.

The Great Glen route was a pleasure to ride, we had a north easterly wind helping things, and it was nice to get down on the tri-bars and spin a bit. Fort William was about 32 miles away, may be 2.30hr if all goes well…? We followed the vast canal on shady paths, there was some sections of single track, to break up the easy bits – I was happy with ‘easy’, but had to follow the route line. The route line was my life and I was in my race ‘bubble’. I stopped at Coop just before Fort William, it was just after 17:00, more ice creams, coke, sandwiches, chicken and Friji. I afforded myself a 10min rest and de-socked again. This was a ‘scuriest’ moment of the race, at the back of the Coop in the shade, I sat – a pile of dried vomit one side and a small drunk man the other. He pestered me for money to buy a tin of Tenants beer. I check the tracker again and it looks like Lee is 20 mile back and Javi 25 mile back, you have to be a little wary of the trackers as the updates aren’t always at 5 min intervals.

For once in this the race the end now felt in sight, but that was still 40 miles and 6-7hrs of hard riding away.

I was happy with things and set-off through the suburbs of the town. Turning off up the ‘Glen’ a roving reporter ambushed me for a chat, it was quite nice she wanted to get some of my insights to the race – it wasn’t easy for me and I think I strung together some garbled nonsense… It was very welcoming to get out of the vast metropolis and be back on the forested trail, the climb was steady away and my legs where still happy pedalling – I can’t believe how well this day had gone! – which was now a merge of day 3 and day 4 into one!


Day 4 – WHW The back of the Devils Staircase …enroute to the finish!

The West Highland Way is a popular trail but at 18:00 it was now empty and fun to travel along. The fat tyres soaked up the bumpy terrain – the bike had been faultless. A lovely long valley lay before me and a steady climb before the steep drop into Kinlochleven, it was another stunning evening. Soon the descent arrived, another fast rock-spitter. On the descent I missed a turn and had to back track up again to re-join the WHW – my second navigation mistake, but not too bad – some walkers had been stood blocking the way marker!

Kinlochleven looked interesting and very industrial with the big black pipes and the big buildings – no time to sight see though! Very quickly it was back climbing again and surprisingly rideable, apart from the steep start, this section leads up high and on to the ‘Devils Staircase’. The going was slower especially with tired legs, I was keen to progress over the mountain and get to easier terrain before darkness. I managed the decent without lights it was around 22:30 and it was pretty rough going, I aired on the side of caution and pushed down some bits – no time for a stupid prang. I did not realise the King House Hotel was shut and being refurbished as I had banked on getting a coke there. Not so. I was super thirsty and Rannoch Moor was inhospitable – even with a big bright moon, with the dry weather there was no healthy looking water around, I passed some campers having a fire and sing along – it looked so nice to crash and joint their party, they afforded me a bit of water and said there was tap back down at King House – I had no intention of going BACK!

I was getting lazy and not being bothered to look at the map I did not realise how long that cobbled road went on for, at least after a short climb from the Glen Coe Ski Station it seemed to be a slight downhill for a long while. I had to wrap up as it had got cold on parts of the moor; so on went the hat, waterproof and thick gloves. I eventually found a good mountain river and filled my bottle; this was just before the last HaB section which was a ‘new’ addition to the HT over previous years. I prayed that the decent was rideable, fortunately it was and I was in Bridge of Orchy soon after, at about 01:00. I was starting to ‘shut down’, I had pushed myself to the limit and I remembered the pictures in Phil’s blog of him wrapping up in a space sheet and taking on the look of an alien at this point in the race – at least it was warmer tonight – I could have just slept anywhere I recon. I rang Kerry saying I was about 30 min away – it was about 5 ½ miles and actually took 52 min – the last push up through the railway cutting was a ball-buster. It felt good to be finishing and return to ‘normal’ life. A lot of emotion passed through my mind as I rolled into the village. The route was magical, the weather was perfect (if a little hot) and I had raced the best that I had ever done. I was elated – I’m pretty certain all this will not happen again. Scotland was so, so good to me, I simply loved it!

At the finish Kerry was there and the boys and a couple of photographers, it was a minimalist and sweet finish. Kerry was expecting me to look worse I think, we hugged, she said I smelt, which I was surprised about given all the swims that I had! After a couple of pictures later and we rolled back down to the camping. I was craving food and beer, so had a quick feed and crashed into a deep snoring sleep…

The morning after it was sunny (yet again) and I met Stu and his family and we walked up to the café and then met Lee and Javi who had arrived not long since. Breakfast was SO good.

Times for top 5 finishers (Trackleaders times):-

Alex Pilkington – 3:16:52

Lee Craigie – 3:20:59

Javier Simon – 3:22:00

Nelson Trees – 4:04:00

Pete McNeil – 4:06:31

This year’s race had claimed a higher rate of attrition than previous rides, probably due to the heat and also drinking untreated water.

Post race

Almost a week after finishing and I’m still feeling a little tired, my sleep pattern is not the normal circadian rhythm yet. My hands and backside are okay and my thumb is starting to work again, my feet now have leather skin on them and where it is cracked it is a little painful, but they are healing. I went into the race at 76.5kg and came out at 73.5kg. My ideal race weight is 75.0kg and I’m loving the eating! The extra weight is no bad thing in these long races, especially if it is colder conditions, as it makes you far more robust than a skinny speedster. The bike just needed a quick dust-off; nothing was too trashed apart from the saddle that had cracked in half – the third saddle I have broken on long rides – do other folk have problems with saddles breaking in half or is it my skinny hard arse that does it?, the other thing was my soft soled, lightweight North Wave cycle shoes – these where practically new on at the start and the front of the right shoe is now separating!

My next big ride is the Trans Pyrenees as an Independent Time Trial (ITT) in August. The question is will I be back again for the HT550…? Maybe – I loved this one, but I may go and try something bigger… I know I won’t get a ride quite like this one again – everything seemed to align so perfectly! I would like to say a massive thanks to Alan Goldsmith – he is a legend and should be so proud to be the creator of this iconic race – I got him a bottle of Whisky as a token of my gratitude. My family have been unbelievably supportive and I felt them willing me along during the race, as have all my ‘dot-watching’ supporters, wider family and friends – I hope I put on a good show! Also to all the fellow competitors, you’re all nuts and some of you have the most intimidating beards ever – but you are a new circle of wilderness loving folk that I now have the pleasure of knowing, so please keep up the exploring and adventures!

HT550 – Alex Pilkington

Kit List:

‘Fatster’ 29er+ Bike Lavender-oil (antiseptic and bug repellent)
Alpkit Food Caddy Foot-powder
Topeak 10l Seat Post Bag Sudocrem
Alpkit 8l Bar Bag Caffine Pills
Topeak Top Tube Bag Multi-Vits
Drawstring bag (packed away) Mountain Hardware (MHW) Water-proof Top
750ml bottles x2 Montane Featherlight bottoms
Spokes x2 North Wave light weight Shoes
Tubes x2 Mavic Windproof
Chain Links & Spare Rear Hanger MHW Base-Layer
Puncture Kit MHW Arm Warmers
Zip-ties Short Sleeve Top
Gorrilla Tape Assos Bib-Shorts
Multitool Compression Socks
Pump Leyzne High Vol Gore Fingerless gloves
Bungs & Plastic for tyre repairs MHW Warmer gloves
Chain Oil MHW Hat
Suunto Ambit+bar-mount (route logging) Buff
Iphone (navigation, camera, music) Giro Helmet
Spot-tracker + batteries Rudy Photo Chromatic Glasses
Charger-pack (x2) + leads Alpkit Bivvy-bag
Petzl Nao Head torch MHW Hydrophobic Down Sleeping-back
Exposure Toro light Inertia Sleep Mat
A4 Back-up Maps Midge-net
Earphones Biltong x4
Sun-cream For Goodness Shakes powders x4
Bum-cream Bacon Strips x2
Toothpaste + brush Flapjack x4
Wipes & Tissue Chocolate / Granola / Paleo Bars x8
Comprehensive 1st Aid Sweets
Iodine (water treatment and for wound treatment) Nuun Electrolytes
Breakfast Bomb x3 (porridge/protein stuff)

…quite a lot of stuff – but a lot less than I would have taken if the forecast was not so good!