With legs still slightly aching from the Hull Marathon less than 6 days ago I once again found myself getting kit-checked in the now familiar Sowerby Cricket club. For what is always one of the best trail events of the year. It's almost a unique event in my calender as its the only event I regularly do with no set route. You just get a list of coordinates for checkpoints and plan your own route. A great little challenge, especially for those like me who don't regularly run the area.
I'd first been here in 2008. On a moody day, Calderdale made an impression on me I've never quite forgotten. I tackled just my second ultra, the first running around with usual running partner Mark. As we climbed to Top Withins the rain of the day turned to sleet and snow and it got very cold for awhile. I distinctly remember having to double up my thin gloves on the way down. Lots of rain beforehand also meant lots of mud too! I was knackered at this point from my average 5mph pace, only just over halfway and I reckon I held Mark up a good deal this day. The crossing of Hoof Stones Moor also provided a first as I mid-judged a jump over a muddy stream and sank in nearly to my waist. I was glad I wasn't alone as getting out wasn't a doddle. Then the sun came out and the last section of our 9hr 7min round was a lot more pleasurable.
I returned in 2010 to run around with Claire, expecting the worst of conditions again. Convinced that Calderdale moorland must be some of the boggiest and harshest around. Thankfully my negativity didn't scare Claire off and we had a very different day on a changed route. The sun shone, the air was still if anything some complained it was too hot on this day. And the moorland sections on route were amazingly dry. I though this must be a one off and my lucky day. The route was also a joy with climbs up Thievely Pike and Sttodley Pike contributing to make it one of my favourite routes ever.
2011 and the "mk2" route again - well for me. This time I ran around with Mark and - for much of the route - Dave. Conditions were as last year, if anything even warmer and we had a great round in 7:14.
So what would my "Calderdale route mk3" experiance be like? Much chat on the fellrunner forum beforehand related to the routes over Hoof Stones and surrounding moors, that had been reintroduced to the route following a 3 year absence. Following late winter warnings of a drought around much of England, it rained quite a lot in the week before the event. And when I'd last been in the area, during March, for the Wuthering Hike, the local reservoirs - unlike those almost everywhere else - were showing no signs of drought. Would I be in mud to my waist again sometime during the day?
Going well from the off and this year we leave Sowerby on a western bearing, with this years route being an clockwise loop. The previous route had finished from this direction which is the only way to approach Sowerby without climbing a hill immeadiately beforehand. A steady run walk and we were passed CP1 quickly and hit the trails as we crossed a valley south of Mytholmroyd. I got talking to another local of Hull, Simon, who had also been posting about the event on the fellrunner forum. So the early miles went quickly discussing our various events and our approach to training for hills being from such a flat city.
On the way back up the other side of the valley we somehow got dettached from the rest of the field..... Ok, I'll admit it, Mark, Simon and I were busy gassing and must have missed a turn without others around at the time to correct us. No big issue though, funnily enough this often happens to me and Mark, perhaps we talk too much and should put more energy into navigation..... probably not ;)
No big issue though. Checked map and GPS and we turned north and saw the path running below along the hillside so we followed a parallel path at higher level rather than descend again and add distance. The path did run out though and we had to hop a wall, barbed wire fence and then "commando roll" beneath more barbed wire, but we kept a direct approach and joined CP2 (Erringden Grange), just from a different direction to others.
Onwards and the next target was Stoodley Pike, should be easy today, with an apprach from its shallow, east flank rather than a trudge up from the west. Stoodley pike (CP3) bagged and all is well so I try and keep a good pace down the west-side, dodging walkers, joining the road at Mankinholes to soon reach Lumbutts and CP4 at the church. First full-food CP and I gobbled down a cheese slice sandwich, I do love a sandwich to break up sugary snacks on the longer runs and the Calderdale Hike always provides!
Now after our, almost, frantic round of early CP they started to space out from here on and the route options also started to explode for some sections. Considering we'd been lost..... no off the optimum route once already, maybe I needed to pay better attention to the map. I had a GPS breadcrumb line to follow, but this wouldn't be much help if I'd mapped my route onto a naff path or something.
Leaving the CP we followed others through the car park of a tempting looking inn. And at ultra-plod speed we had adequate chance to even check out the beers on offer. Wonder if I could sell a night away in an inn near "Mankinholes" to the missus..... on second thoughts I'll probably just say its in the more, attractive-sounding, Calderdale.
We descended to and navigated through Millwood and up the bank, sometimes following those little Calderdale low key paths, that could equally be into somebodies back garden. I was confused approaching the Cross Stones checkpoint (near Golf Course) as people were running back towards us and onto the road. At the time this confused me, but looking at the map now I can see how the road route might have been faster underfoot, but it looks a bit longer and can't have been as much fun.
Perhaps the road-following folk knew what was coming next though. A multitude of route choices awaited. At first there were two paths running alongside each other, just seperated by a wall, which made me nervous. The other path peeled off downhill soon though, so I was briefly confident again that we were on route. Then we hit a route choice and I persuaded Mark and another to follow me down a path I mistakenly thought was the Calderdale Way.
We were soon off route again and opted to climb up, slip down, choose a new route and then recommence our climb up a slippery muddy bank up to East Whirlaw. As we edged around a field the farmer came out of the house, "has he got a gun?", "no", "good, keep going".
Back on track and nav got easier again, a decent, sometimes paved path allowed Mark and I to catch a few people who'd got ahead of us on route choice. Soon we were at Mount Cross (CP6) and our next destination loomed into view north. Soon it would be the time for the big route decision.
We headed up the road and joined th track onto the moor. It quickly got a bit damp underfoot and as we steadily climbed we had to navigate around a few water obstacles. The face wind increased and almost within site of the Hoof Stone heights trig and CP the came hail started. This was one of those times where you think, if this continues for the whole moor crossing its going to be horrible! Visions of 8 hours of wind and rain running at Hardmoors 2010 entered my mind. But, thankfully it was brief and ended almost as quickly as it begun.
Big decision time - we asked the CP staff which way people were crossing the moor. The options here are; north along a boggy fence line onto a good eastward trail, east along a possible boggy permissive path to hit a possibly boggy path north, or go as straight as possible diagonally across the moor. It turns out all options had been taken that day so we decided to be bold and cut diagonally across using a lone tree and then Gorple Lower reservoir as our lines.
This went pretty well, suprisingly runnable, not as wet as the alternative routes it seems (we worked around a few pools of standing water and easily jumped cloughs), and the tussocks were confined to thin stretches. I'm not saying it was easy running, but not as tough as I'd prepared for. The only slight disadvantage is we had to drop a fair bit of height to Gorple Upper reservoir dam wall and then it was a trudge back up through some heather to get to the path leading to Widdop reservoir. I reckon we even over took a few people on other routes using this less-distance option.
One thing never changes with this event and that is a well stocked CP at Widdop, here I snacked while mark mixed up some more energy drink - I wasn't through first bottle yet as had been taking on water in one bottle at other CP. We got back on the brief downhill road section before a climb on the Calder/Aire link to meet the lower of the three Walshaw Dean reservoirs.
The next section was fairly tough as we climbed away from the reservoir to Top Withins. I was pushing a good run/walk pace and Mark and I overtook and made good ground on a few others - including a local who told us he was knackered, which didn't sound good at barely over halfway (I've been there in 2008!). The near constant headwind since the climb to Hoof Stone heights was wearing people down. I still felt pretty good though and confident I was well within myself despite the marathon less than a week ago.
We topped out and dropped slightly to Top Withins where people were sheltering behind the ruin or the marshalls tent (obviously drew the short straw). We ran into Nick here who was taking pictures, he's wrote an event report here, which is of his usual high quality and has some bits about feeding slugs you donm't want to read about whilst eating. he was debating route and trying to find the high-level path marked on maps over Haworth moor.
After a quick tuna sandwich we were off again, persuing a small number of people just ahead. We mad good pace and caught a few at the Bronte Bridge, where we spotted the aforementioned 'knackered guy' trudging up a hillside path rather than taking the undulating tourist path like others. After a quick consult of map, we decided to follow as it looked like a brief climb would then lead to a straight track downhill and less distance than the around Haworth moor route that others were taking.
This route choice was just as mapped and no difficulties. We arrived at the Tom Stell's Seat CP near Pensitone hill just after Nick, who we were just behind at Bronte bridge, so it is obviously a much-over-muchness route choice here. After a quick banana and time to refill my energy drink the long trudge over Top o' stairs was on.as we navigated past Leeshaw reservoir and mostly walked up Stairs lane mark and I chatted with Andy who we often see at events. It's not the most inspiring section of an otherwise really good route so it was good to distract ourselves until the fairly steep descent at the other side to the Grain Water Bridge CP.
Here, Mark introduced us to what is possibly a revelation in ultra-runner nutrition, jelly beans which were apparently never the same flavour twice. I'm not so sure about that, but as we marched up the bank along the bridleway to the next CP, I was pleasently suprised my the variety of flavours - including coffee and one that tasted like those 'fiery' gobstoppers I used to get as a kid. Better still, Mark picked these up for a bargain price somewhere, so I'm going to look into getting some of these :)
Soon the bridleway dropped us down to the CP at Horse bridge where I had my third sandwich flavour of the day - ham - and passed on my appreciation to a jovial crowd of marshalls and walkers there. On leaving the CP and starting the pleasent wooded climb to Delf End we passed 'knackered runner' again, who said he was shot, but was keeping going well. He'd passed us at the CP as like many was meandering around at these less then me and Mark. This synchonicity turned out to be a good thing later. Part way up I was suprised to see Andy on an adjacent path across a falling stream from us. He'd been a bit ahead so must have had a delay somewhere and we got to Pecket Well together.
The climb went on after Pecket Well - nearly 900ft in a mile and a half, its quite a long, almost uninterrupted climb you don't really think much about beforehand - and we made a small nav error and detoured a few hundred metres. Back on route and quickly through Delf End CP we grouped with 'knackered runner' again who helped us with a good route over - the potentially very soggy - Midgely Moor. The route followed my map and GPS trace quite closely, but on the ground some of the paths were quite minimal. We got across the moor quickly via a cut corner to a path between the two air shafts. It wasn't until we were comoing off the moor that the ground briefly got quite watery. This was expected from the map and was a necessary evil for the best line.
We then followed the moor edge path at a steady jog, dodging quite a bit of water, but making good time and finding a good track downhill to the indoor CP at Jerusalem Farm. I think there is also a Herod farm on this route or nearby, all very biblical, wonder if there any more references amongst the areas agriculutral residences? We followed our new guide out of the CP who opted for a mostly downhill, if slightly longer than optimum route, but on road which got us moving along well.
Into Luddenden foot and through the last CP. I felt a lot better today than when I got to the same point on the 2008 route. So Mark and I had a good run along the canal path knowing that the climb to Sowerby when it came is quite slow. We were navigationally assisted again as our guardian angel called us back again when we overshot the turn off to Sowerby. After a good solid march up the hill we ran into and through Sowerby and up the drive to the inviting cricket club.
Not a fast time, over an hour slower than last year, but I felt good and well within limits all day. We'd arrived in just behind Nick, Simon, Andy and our reliable navigator for the day. I enjoyed potatoes and chilli sat outside the club house in warming late afternoon sun. Then Mark and I made good on our most constant topic of discussion all day and stopped off at the Kashmir in Bradford before heading home. Some cheap polish lager and a strong, authentic and cheap indian curry topped off a great day.
Another great day out and a good recce for a faster blast at the course next year.