Northern Traverse 2016

This new event by Open Adventure came onto my radar around May 2015 and sparked some good interest on social media. It had been a walk id fancied doing for quite a while over the normal 7-9 days.

So when the entries came out I decided to enter in October before the price increase. The first webinar was in November and was more of a basic run over the route with possible locations for checkpoints and a few questions from the people online.


My training plan was to start the year with the Hardmoors 55 and 160 to test myself out along with some recce’s

The 55 went well, no fast time but no drama’s however the 160 was a different story, my wheels fell off between 50 and 70 miles due to bad stomach pains, sore throat and feeling ill so I pulled the plug to stop me getting any worse.

The month prior to the 160 attempt I decided to spend a few days on a recce of the lakes section of the NT from St Bees to Shap. This would be a slow pace with my large pack and camping gear. So I was dropped off at the start by the lovely wife Jane and pitched my tent at the campsite while Jane drove home.

The Recce

The morning started at around 7am, it was chucking it down, but in a brief spell of no rain I packed the tent up and set of now in the rain. It was a slow trudge in the rain and mud through the bogs to Ennerdale where the route became familiar to Black Sail hut. By now it was around 4pm and still chucking it down and cold so I decided to press onto Borrowdale via Honister slate mine. On passing the YHA I thought it would be a good place to camp as it was now 7pm and not much light left. So I enquired inside about a pitch. With the breaking strain of a KitKat on hearing I could have a dorm room for a few pounds more I went for that option along with a nice shower and warm food. So day 1 recce about 29 miles done.

The next day it was chucking it down again so a slow trudge up Stonethwaite valley up to Greenup edge. By now the clag was in (Clag being that good old RAF term for Cloud Low Aircraft Grounded, every day’s a school day) and visibility was down to about 100m I came across a Japanese older couple who then asked me if this was the path to Grasmere as they did not seem to be able to read their map. I confirmed it was and pressed on only to be shouted back a few minutes later when they asked was it far to the top. No wonder the mountain rescue is kept busy. So after reassuring them it was not far now, 400m to Greenup Edge I carried on.

Greenup edge was a bog but I cut wide and high and missed most of it. It was a bit boggier around the base and Birks gill and Mere beck but most was avoided. A nice steady walk down to Grasmere then back up via Great Tongue to Grisedale tarn and the easy walk down to Patterdale all still in the rain. Again, here I decided on the YHA option again. 16 miles done.

The next day was another 16 miles to Shap with the last part after Haweswater a part people said could be hard to follow across the fields.

So as usual I set off in the rain on the nice pull up to Boredale Hause and then on to Angle Tarn. It’s here it started to first sleet and become very windy blowing in fast from the side, so an extra layer put on and the mits and hat and I plodded on. The sleet became snow and the visibility dropped right down to 50m at times. At Kidsty pike the snow stopped and the visibility cleared some and the whole fells were white with snow. The trudge down to Haweswater was slow due to the snow and sleet on the ground and as I got lower the rain started again. The path along the reservoir was well know from the Lakeland 50 and 100 races. Once at Burnbanks the field section was quite easy to follow as more signs started appearing just the wet boggy fields to cross. Got to love that sticky mud in fields. The rain had now stopped for the final few miles to Shap with more fields and a few road sections. Finally made it to the New Ings Lodge in Shap run by a friend Scott Newburn who I met on my first Ultra, he would later provide a mini service point on the actual race. Excellent place to stop with great food and a Bar. But for me the Roaring fire, shower and warm bed were great. Big thanks Scott.

The next day was my return home via bus and train recce complete.

The Kit

The normal dilemma over kit were compounded by the fact we needed two drop bags one to go to CP 1 & 3 and the other to 2 & 4. So I needed two sets of spare everything in case.

But for my actual racing kit I decided not on my normal Salomon slab 12, but a Salomon 20L daysack I normally use for biking or short walks. This was to enable myself to carry a bit more kit if needed and extra food and water. I decided on 1.5L camelback for the extra capacity over my normal 2 x 500ml flasks. I also chose to carry my poles from the start as day 1 would be 46 miles with 4 big climbs along the way.

For food and water I would use Mountain fuel drinks and my home made flapjack and crackers throughout and buy extra food when needed on route. These would be replenished out of my drop bags.

For shoes I started off in Scott Kinabalu Supertrec’s as I thought it was going to be boggy in places and slippery as per my recce (in fact it was almost bone dry) and put my New Balance Leadville’s in my drop bag 2. For sock I used injinji ones and had no real blisters on my toes.

The Race

We arrived at St bees on Sunday afternoon and set up the camper van and chilled out with an early night as kit check and registration was at 8am.

On the morning the weather was looking hot so I opted for the X Bionics shorts and top with plenty of body glide on the bits that might rub. At registration we got our bibs and hoody. Still don’t know why they are given out before and not after the race upon completion. The trackers were fastened to our pack but no actual kit checks carried out, big boy’s rules. I tagged my drop and finish bags up and placed them in the respective vans outside. At 9:15am we had our final race brief that lasted all of 15 mins to go over a few pertinent points again, something about A19 crossing! A final check of my kit in the van tighten up my laces and then headed off to the start line. A nice group photo was taken with everyone and the 5 mins to go we all just chilled and milled around the start.

At 10am the starters horn went and we were off, a short 200m jog before the first hill and the majority of people started to walk. No point going off to fast as it’s a long way to go.

I decided to take it nice and easy trying to keep my heart rate below 130 for the first hour to get warmed up nicely which was quite easy as the field began to spread out.

A nice steady pace with a mix of walking up hills and inclines and jogging along some flats and downhills was the order of the day. As I’d recced this leg no maps or naving were required.

The ground was bone dry and even the bogs from my recce were not there so I was now wondering if I had made the wrong starting shoe choice, probably yes. But no drama’s as everything was going good. The first climb was up Dent Hill 352m and I felt really good going up here no problems there. Then a nice path and road section to Ennerdale Bridge. By now it was very hot and I began to feel it so a stop at the café for a Lucozade sport was a bonus and a top up of water. From previous races and recce’s I know the path up by Ennerdale water can be slow and wet but this time it was dry again but kept it steady and walked a lot of it. The forest path to Black Sail YHA hut is well boring and a slog of around 4 miles and a hot 4 miles they were. Most people were glad the hut was open so we could refill up with water from the kitchen there before heading back up the next climb up loft beck and across to Honister slate mine. I definitely felt slow going up here but picked up down to the slate mines. I decided not to go to the café there think it might have helped out if I had, but I pressed on down to Borrowdale and onto Rosthwaite. The next hill came up fast and was the long pull up to Greenup edge. I think by now the heat was hitting me as I felt drained like someone had flicked the off switch on my legs, seemed to be going really slow even though I was drinking and eating and just done around 33 miles. So I struggled up to Greenup edge and again found the bogs had all but vanished. I dropped over the top and headed down to the next boggy section which as you might guess was again not boggy.

The long run down to Grasmere went really well and I trotted down now with legs feeling a lot better. On arrival at Thorny How Hostel a cup of tea was in order and a 5 min sit down did me the world of good, many thanks to those running the water stop for the tea. All I had to do was get up one more climb to Grisedale Tarn then down to Patterdale and CP1. The climb up went well and I got my poles out for the first time to help on this one. The light started to fade around the tarn but it was still light enough to get to the road before Patterdale and once on this i did not need any light.

So first leg complete at 11pm 46 miles done.

The checkpoint team were great, Joe was manning the pans and rustled up some great chilli in seconds few along with some soup. The Plan originally was to push through nonstop to Kirby but I had decided after the heat I best get a bit of rest first, so repacked all my kit (Used a kit list to remind me what to do) grabbed a shower then headed to a tent for a few hours sleep. Think I must have got about 1 hours sleep, then the rest of time i lay awake. So I got up just before 4am dressed, re-lube’d had an egg and bacon banjo and headed of in first light.

The next leg started with a long old climb up to Kidsty Pike via Angle Tarn, this is quite an easy climb and I was feeling great after my rest and service stop. The clag was in again with visibility down to around 20-50m but the route was easy to find and I had no problems. Down to Haweswater this time was nice and dry so no sliding all over like on my recce. I was feeling good along the path and making good time but again it was starting to heat up so kept it to a steady pace.

Before long I was into Shap and a visit to the New Ings Lodge where Scott was running a water stop with nibbles and some rather nice cheese and pickle sarnies. A quick chat with him and a fill up with water oh and a brew and I was off again. From here on to Ingleby Cross it would be all new terrain to me, as I’d not had time to recce the rest of the route. Luckily the going was good and it was really easy to navigate in the fine weather and the signage helped a lot. I was feeling good and managed to catch up to several people and managed a good walk/run pace. The going was a mix of open moorland and a few country lanes with only one noticeable climb up to Smardale fell but then it was all downhill to Kirkby Stephen and CP2 at the rugby club. The time was 3:44pm. 82 miles done.

Here again I was into my scripted routine of get food, restock my pack then head for a snooze in a tent. Here inside the tent it was red hot still so not much rest was going to be had. I had a decision to make do I head up Nine Stands this evening or wait till just before first light and go.? I went for the first option, was up and dressed for 7pm and set off soon after, with a few slices of cold pizza to munch on. This time with my NB Leadville’s on, I now had realised I’d put them in the wrong drop bag. Doh...!!

Half the way up to Nine Standards is on road the rest fell path and normally its very boggy but reports of it being bone dry had filtered down. It was on the climb my Garmin watch decided to lock up on me and would not work till I did a hard reset after the race, bummer. So I got to the top in under 90 mins for the 5.5 mile uphill so I was happy. At the top the mist was rolling in and visibility down to 100m but it was still light so I’d timed it well. The run off was really nice and soft underfoot but dry with only the odd slightly boggy patch. I caught a few runners up on the way down and stayed with two of them Dave Rowell & Jonathan Wood to Keld (must have been the game, name a music artist beginning with C that made me stop with them). The light started to go on us at Ravenseat farm and we were all most upset that the cafe was shut as the cream scones sounded nice. At Keld Dave & Jonathan decided to go find someplace to get some sleep. I think they ended up in Keld village hall. We bid our fare wells as I wanted to press on a bit further. It was at this point Hisayo Kawahara came running past and off in front, she had been tailing us from Nine Stands we all said hi and she shot off into the dark mist.

By now it was very dark, the wind was blowing and the cloud and mist rolling in. So off I plodded up the track towards the mines where it gradually got windier and the visibility dropped to about 50m or less. On rounding the corner to Swinner Gill the wind hit me full on and the path got fainter. Not far from the old lead mines I could see a torch light way down the Gill to my right so I stopped and shined my torch down to see Hisayo in the Gill. I waited till she climbed up to me. She said she had lost the path and asked if she could follow me as the visibility was dropping right down now. I said no problem and headed off. By the mines it was now down to 1-2m visibility max so finding and staying on the path was interesting but I managed to keep us on there. We then picked up a much better and wider track that we could trot down. By now it was spitting on to rain along with the still bad visibility so at a junction where our path left the main track I stopped to get the gortex on and batten down the hatches. Hisayo decided to press on ahead while I was getting my extra kit on, but then came back up the path towards me and asked to tag along as she was not happy with the nav. Again no problems there. So off we went, things got really interesting again around Bunton and Friarfold Hush mines and spoil heaps. The rain was coming down harder now and we still had the strong wind and the 1-2m visibility and the path along the heaps seemed to be meandering all-over the shop and all the stone made the ground look the same. But some nifty GPS naving and some hand railing of features and some aim off got us onto the main track out of there. This whole mine section is one I’d recommend doing a recce over to get a feel of the place. Note for next time. So on the main track now we headed generally downhill towards the old Smelting Mill at Surrender bridge at Mill Bottom. Several old mine building kept on appearing at the fringes of visibility at the side of the track but not much else could be seen. It was down here I began to feel tired so I let Hisayo know that I’d be stopping for a short rest when I found someplace. She was happy now on the main track and slowly pulled away as I looked for a spot several times. In the end I got to the old mill and said sod it, that looks like I nice clump of lucky heather, pulled out my green bivi bag laid it on the heather and crawled in at around 3am. I think I had about 40 minutes’ rest there and it was a god send. I started to cool down and my watch said just before 4am so I got up packed the bivi away and headed off feeling very refreshed from my little powernap. The few miles down to Reeth flew over as I was now feeling good so did not stop at the cycle shop for a brew when I passed it. The route followed the road to the old priory where it turned uphill through the woods and lots of old steps to come out near the village of Marrick, then cut through some fields to Marske where I passed a few runners on the road section. From here we followed a good track under Whitcliffe Scar and woods. It’s here I caught up to Hisayo again we chatted for a while then I pressed on along the lane and down into Richmond and into CP3 at 8:36am 117 miles done.

Jon and Shirley Steele from the most excellent Hardmoors series of races were running this checkpoint. So I chatted to them for a while sorted my kit had some nice food and headed for a tent and some much needed rest. I had around 3-4hrs rest here. Got myself another egg banjo, said my byes to Jon and Shirley and set off. The route generally followed the river Swale to Catterick race course the headed off through lots and lots then a few more farm fields and country roads and over two railways before the race directors dreaded A19 crossing. It was still light at the crossing but before I dared to go ahead, I had a more pressing appointment. The Service station at Ingleby Cross, and the gods must have been looking down on me. As there in the fridge, was the hallowed Ginsters pasty and it was mine, my precious, along with a tuna sandwich, pepperoni, nuts and a coffee. So off I crossed the A19 eating my pasty like a tramp on chips and headed up the woods to the Cleveland way. After a mile or so on here it started to get dark so the head torch came on and navigation was easy as I know the path from the Hardmoors races to Bloworth crossing. The hill up to Live Moore always seems to go on and on and now the wind was back in full force and the mist and visibility back to under 5 m at times. But I soon arrived at Lord stones café at 00:12am so it was shut. But alas the toilet block was open so I got out of the wind for 5 mins sorted myself out and had some munchies and put some warm kit on before heading off. The rain was now starting to show its head and was coming in fast and hard from the North so my left side was getting the brunt of it. At times going over the ridges along lordstones and Wainstones I was almost blown of my feet it was that strong and still no visibility but press on I did till clay bank appeared out of the mist. From here it was up to Round hill and across to Bloworth Crossing where a change of direction would hopefully mean the wind was more to my rear. When finally, at the crossing I noticed that my left side was wet through and my newly proofed gortex had let the water in so was starting to get cold. Only one thing for it and that was run to warm up so I did and that seemed to do the trick. Now by my GPS it said I had 4 miles to the Checkpoint so I thought about 1 hour 15mins tops with running and walking fast. What I totally forgot about until I looked at my map that the path went all over the shot contouring the landscape and was actually more like 5.5miles, oh well run some more.

So I arrived at CP 4 at 05:14am 161 miles done.

Joe was there in his van whipping up a cooking frenzy so I had some great hot food and drink the headed to a tent for a quick nap and admin. This is where I first noticed a small blister on the ball of my left foot. I have a bit of a bursar under the toe so have had a few blisters here before. So I popped it then drained it to allow it to air out while I rested before taping.

So after 3 hours rest I was up again feet fixed dry kit on but leggings this time as it was still raining and blowing a gale outside. Luckily I had a spare jacket in this drop bag so my new Arc’teryx jacket came out, I ain’t going to get wet now along with my minimus pants and mits. Another egg banjo (there is a theme starting here for breakfasts) cup of tea and off I went 29 miles ish to go. I now know I should of set off in my Scott trainers for the muddy ground but for some reason forgot to put them on. The moors section was windy, wet and boggy so a fast walk was all I could manage but it soon turned to tarmac and moor tracks. It was still windy but the rain had stopped and was starting to warm up a little. It did not take long to get to Glaisdale were I managed to resist the cake shops and pressed on. East Arnecliff woods proved to be wet and muddy and me in my wrong shoes meant I was sliding all over. But soon we were back on tarmac through Egton Bridge and followed the river to Grosmont where again I did not stop at the shops I had caught up to Andy Cole and we were leapfrogging each other most of the day right till the coast. Andy pulled in for a brew and I pressed on, by now my shins were hurting bad but the rest of me was ok I just had to slow the pace down. The hill out of Grosmont was big steep one so the poles came out but I got up in not to bad a pace, but by the A169 Andy had caught me up again so it must not have been that fast. Once across the main road it was down to Little beck wood and I thought this place looks nice to wander through. As it turns out it was a quagmire inside for about 2 miles of mud and sliding around in my not so grippy shoes. Doh again!! But once clear a short tarmac section then onto the open wet moors. I think the cold water calmed my shins down as they felt a bit better by now, or might of been the 2 NSAID pills I popped in the woods. So trudge onwards across yet more bogs and finally on to tarmac down to High Hawsker and across the A171. It was just after here by pure chance the Jane drove past on the way to the finish so a quick hi and off I continued down through the caravan site to the coast. Here I had a runner Chris Bird come flying past but my shins were not going to let me even think of trying to chase him so a fast walk it was for the last few miles.

It must have been the adrenalin for the finish as with about 1 mile to go I started running, even managing a trot down the hill to the finish. One thing I like to do in all races is run the last part, sort off an all-out till blow out thing. James Thurlow was waiting at the finish and swiftly presented me with my finishers medal and a photo was taken. They then asked about doing the times effort up the hill to which I replied I’ll just walk it. It took me 11 mins including a stop to meet Jane on the way down to the finish to see me.

So I finished the 190 miles in 81hrs 4 mins.

Once at the village hall it was shoes and socks off at the door and inside for some food and drinks. Dave Rowell was there who I ran with before Keld, he had pulled out around Clay bank due to his feet, and they did look bad.

A quick change of clothes later and after thanking all the support staff we headed home to a nice bath and bed with my compression leggings and socks on.

The Feet

In the morning my feet had swelled up massively and my shins felt like someone had stuck daggers in them both so a trip to the walk-in centre was in order. The Doc gave me some strong NSAIDS and told me if it was no better in 48 hrs to go to A&E.

But the pills and rest and compression gear seem to do the trick and the swelling went right down.

Lessons learnt

• A good recce can save you so much time but also reduces any navigation stresses.

• My pack seemed to bounce a bit more that I would like.

• Maybe should have used my poles a bit sooner on the first day

• The camel pack might hold more fluid but its slower to refill and harder to gauge how much you have drunk.

• Stop off at more shops for real food and drinks.

• 1-2 hrs rest at a CP for the first few days is probably enough.

• Good slick CP drills helped a lot and my checklist meant I did not have to think.

• Correct choice of shoes, got this wrong a few times.

• Should of set of from Kirkby with leggings and long sleeve top on for the night shift leg.

• Forgot to carry spare powder / tablets for my water on first leg.

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