Thursday, 17 March 2011

Pies, ales and Yorkshire Dales

Last weekend I was down in the Yorkshire Dales for the weekend with a group of friends. We'd rented a house in Horton-in-Ribblesdale for the weekend and some of us planned on running the classic Yorkshire Three Peaks walking route, and some of us had a 40 mile mountain biking route planned. I was doing the run - a route which I have wanted to do for a number of years.

We all met up on Friday evening and went to the Crown (a few minutes walk from the house) for a final bit of carbo loading. We were all very sensible so by half nine on Saturday morning were ready to set off on our grand day out. From Horton, the 5 runners set off up Pen-y-ghent and reached the top in 40 minutes. It was a nice climb up, enough to get the blood flowing but nothing too strenuous, and a good steep rock section near the top. We were in the cloud on top so no excuse to stop and look at views - soon enough we were off down the Pennine Way and on our way across bogs and farmland towards Whernside, the second of the three peaks.

Whernside looked a long, long way away from Pen-y-ghent (it's the big flat hill in the distance in the photo above), but the running was nice so we ambled along at an easy pace chatting away and admiring the sheep. After about 8 miles we joined a road which led us along to the Ribblehead viaduct, a very impressive bit of engineering. All along the route so far we had been passing walkers doing the same route as us - I was glad to have lightweight running shoes and clothes on rather than the heavy kit most of them were carrying. I suppose it would have been nice to have a flask of tea though.

We climbed up from Ribblehead onto Whernside, where the path got really busy. The walkers we met were really friendly and courteous - they would move off the path to let us past and more often than not had a word or two of encouragement for us. It was almost like having supporters at a race. Atop Whernside it was really windy and we didn't hang around to get cold, and the run down the front of Whernside into the valley was good fun. We'd stuck together as a group of five to this point but decided to split up into two groups to suit our natural paces over the last peak. The climb up onto Ingelborough just got steeper and steeper, but the path was good and the scenery wonderful which kept our minds off our tired legs. Another of our friends was waiting for us at the summit - he didn't fancy the whole run so met us at the summit of Ingelborough for the five mile run back to Horton.

The run down from Ingelborough to Horton was five miles of fairly good paths, a bit rocky over the last couple of miles as we crossed over some limestone pavement. We got back to the house at Horton five hours after we had left in the morning - the run had been 24 miles with about 1,500m of ascent and descent. Then we spent the afternoon eating and resting, before making our way along to the Crown to have a few pints of Old Peculiar, Black Sheep and Monumental (all excellent), some Steak and Mushroom, and Game, pies (also excellent), and very generous helpings of sticky toffee pudding (very excellent).

It was a great weekend and great to spend the day with good friends running a brilliant route. On Sunday morning a few of us had a quick run up Pen-y-ghent (probably my favourite of the three peaks), and a wee mountain bike ride (I fell off into the mud). Then my legs hurt and I haven't run for the last four days because of man flu.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tour de la Val de Carron

It had been four weeks since my last long run, so last Sunday I was out of my bed at 5am to set off on a 30 mile route from home over a few of the hills that surround the Carron Valley. The Carron Valley Reservoir lies in the heart of the Campsie Fells, between Stirling and Lennoxtown. I had run and cycled in the forest next to the reservoir, but had never been in the hills to the south of the reservoir, so that is where I was heading.

Rather than follow the road all the way to Carron Bridge, I went via Lewis Hill and Sauchie Craigs - a great place to run at any time of the day, even in the pitch black with a headtorch on. There was a bit of drizzle as I headed through the woods, and a strong wind on top of the hill, but the weather forecast was for some sun later in the morning so I wasn't too worried. I joined the road after about 5 miles, and there was no sign of life as I passed the hotel and holiday cottages at Carron Bridge a few miles further along the road. I followed the Tak-ma-doon road uphill out of Carron Bridge towards Kilsyth. About two hours and ten miles after leaving the house (I was aiming for a very nice and easy pace for the day), I turned off the road and followed a grassy path to the summit of Tomtain.

Tomtain looked pretty unimpressive as I climbed up it from the road, so I was pleasingly suprised by the great view that appeared as I reached the summit, along the ridge to Meikle Bin and over Carron Valley Reservoir to Stronend and Carleatheran - the next 15 miles of my route were laid out in front of me. There was a small, indistinct path leading along the broad ridge towards Meikle Bin - every 50m or so I was ankle deep in cold water as the path crossed mossy bog after mossy bog. After about four miles through the tussocks and bogs, I turned right through a break in the trees, heading for Meikle Bin. The path reached a new level of muddiness, but once out of the trees the climb up to the summit was grassy and dry. I'd looked at Meikle Bin lots of times from the hills nearer Stirling, but this was the first time I had actually been here. I felt the usual excitement I get as I approach a peak I have never climbed before - I know it's a not-quite-2000-foot high hill fairly close to Glasgow, and not an unclimbed Himalayan giant, but I was happy enough to be there for the first time. The views from the summit were again much better than I'd expected, and the path that led down to the reservoir looked very inviting.

Heading down through the woods towards the reservoir, the sun was shining and the birds were singing in the trees - it felt like spring was here a couple of days early - and then I came round a bend to find a pack of huskies chained up at the side of the track. I passed the west end of the reservoir and headed up a wide new track towards the Earlsburn windfarm. I'm a bit of a fan of windfarms (I'd much rather look at some wind turbines than a coal fired power station or a concrete dam), so I'd been looking forward to this part of run - getting up close to these truly impressive machines. I followed the track for about five miles through the windfarm before heading over the grouse moor towards Carleatheran.

When I reached the summit of Carleatheran, I sat down on the lee side of the cairn - out of the wind and in the sun it felt quite warm, so I sat there for about ten minutes drinking a milkshake and enjoying the situation (on this run, I'd been trying out drinking Alpro chocolate soya milkshakes - each 250ml carton has 175 kcal so I was having roughly one an hour - they were great, really easy to drink and digest, and I felt that I had plenty of energy all the way round the run). It was 10am by now so I phoned home to check everyone was up and let them know I would be home in about an hour. The path down from Carleatheran is an absolute joy to run on, and the views over the Touch reservoirs towards Stirling were wonderful in the morning sun.

I hit the road with two miles left to go. I'd felt good for the whole run, though I had been intentionally taking it very easy and not pushing the pace. When I got back home I'd covered just under 30 miles in just under 6 hours - about 7 miles has been on road, 7 miles on boggy moorland, with the rest on decent tracks and trails. The route had about 1200m of ascent. I was really pleased that I did not feel too tired and still had enough energy to chase my kids round the park in the afternoon. All in all a great way to spend a Sunday morning.