Ah, the Lake District! The place where the only way to celebrate a significant birthday is by running up as many hills as you are year’s old. And who am I to ruin a long-standing tradition?!
Back in July a friend’s sister-in-law, Sarah, asked if I wanted to join her in attempting 30 Wainwrights in a day. We both turned 30 this year (and of course I celebrated by running, read about that here) so it seemed an appropriate challenge. Inspired by Andy Blackett’s challenge documented on the gofar website (https://www.gofar.org.uk/30wainwrightsat30.html) we started planning our own challenge.
We liked Andy’s route, it started on unknown territory bagging the Wainwrights around Ullswater to the East of Kirkstone Pass and ended on Helvellyn and the Dodds – familiar ground as we’d both ran that route a few times (although never in that direction). It seemed a good idea to be on old turf at the end of the day when our legs and brains might be tired and our navigation not so sharp. We also couldn’t find any other 30 Wainwrights that could be easily linked with less distance or height gain, so we used Andy’s route, making just a couple of tweaks to the start and end points and replacing Seat Sandal with Clough Head.
I was a little apprehensive about this run, wedding planning and house renovations had consumed most of my summer leaving little room for running. I had been averaging less than 10 miles a week and hadn’t ran over 15 miles in one go since April. Not exactly ideal training for a hilly 39 mile run. I was quite grateful that we’d planned a recce weekend on 22nd/23rd Sept before attempting the route in one go on 13th Oct.
Sarah had found a gorgeous (and amazingly cheap) cosy cottage in Newbiggin for the recce weekend and i was all set for easing myself back in to long distance running with a weekend of walking the route over 2 days…. that was until Sarah threw a spanner in the works. “I’m just going to throw this out there, I was chatting to a friend who knows the route well, he said navigation is pretty easy, if we get a clear day on the recce weekend it might be worth just going for it and doing it all”. Eeeek! Initially i thought this was a recipe for disaster but the idea grew on me, the nights were drawing in, there wouldn’t be much daylight by mid October and there was a good chance the weather would be worse. The route we had picked had another advantage – it was in a nice horseshoe shape with the vertical sides running roughly parallel with Kirkstone Pass which meant we were never more than 5km from a road. So although I really didn’t plan on using it the proximity to the roads provided a nice escape route if needed.
Sarah: The spanner in the works is credit to David Ralphs aka ‘Daddy Dave’. I went round to Dave’s with our proposed route for a few tips and he put the idea of skipping the recce to me. I had the exact same reaction as Libby. Over a couple of days I slowly mellowed and suspected Libby would follow the same thought process. I didn’t fret too much when she didn’t reply for a few days and smiled when she replied giving a thumbs up to the new proposed plan. GAME ON!
The forecast for Saturday 22nd September looked perfect, clear sunny skies, low winds and no rain so we decided to go for it, no recce, just run it in a one-er! We left the cottage before sunrise, drove through Pooley Bridge and up a narrow road to the start of our route. It was just getting light but there was a bit of drizzle in the air, not quite the cloud free day that was forecast but it could have been worse.
As it began to get light we were climbing up to our first Wainwright, Arthur’s Pike. We touched the top and admired the view over Ullswater. We jogged on and were so involved in conversation that we almost missed out Bonscale Pike which was hiding in a fold in the map, fortunately it was only a little way back to go and touch the top. Lesson learnt, we needed to keep a better eye on the map!
As we jogged on over Loadpot Hill and towards Wether Hill Sarah told me that Wainwright didn’t always sketch from the summit but from the spot he deemed to be most scenic, therefore, occasionally, the true Wainwright isn’t actually the highest point. We weren’t carrying a copy of Wainwright’s books with us so we’d just have to guess where Wainwright had sketched from. As we summitted High Raise, Kidsty Pike, Ramsgill Head and The Knott this became quite a fun game, which spot had the best view? Where would Wainwright have chosen to eat his sandwiches, get out his sketchpad and sit down to draw? Would the view have looked different 60 years ago? We settled for touching the top and then also visiting a spot which we deemed to be the most scenic.
The weather wasn’t quite as good as promised, there was a chilly breeze and plenty of white cloud but visibility was very good and from the summit of High Street we could see the hills stretching out ahead of us. We forked out East to Mardale Ill Bell and then on to Thornthwaite Crag which had one of the biggest and most impressive cairns I’ve ever seen! We met some runners recce’ing the Hodgson Brother’s Relay route on Thornthwaite and skidded our way down the steep scree and up the other side to Stony Cove Pike whilst trying to keep up with them and also have enough breath to sustain a conversation.
We were getting hungry and whilst we were carrying plenty of food with us we discussed stopping for lunch at the Kirkstone Pass Inn which we’d pass on route. It was chillier than we’d expected and the thought of some hot soup or chips was very appealing. The thought of food spurred us on, possibly a bit too much, as we arrived at the pub 50 minutes before they started serving food! We didn’t want to hang around that long so we settled for a cup of tea and a bag of crisps. A procession of walkers came in and each remarked on how miserable it was outside, this did nothing to encourage us to leave but we dragged ourselves back out before our stomachs convinced us to hang around for lunch.
It wasn’t actually that bad outside and the sun was starting to break through the clouds. I think the walkers were just mourning the end of the amazingly hot summer. We certainly warmed up as we climbed up the steep path to Red Screes. I hadn’t looked at the route after Red Screes very well and i had imagined it to be an easy jog along the good path to Hart Crag and then to Fairfield where we just followed familiar ground back to Threlkeld. Unfortunately i’d forgotten about the many out and backs along the way to bag a few outlying Wainwrights. My heart sank a bit as we set off towards Middle Dodd, then doubled back and looped round to High Hartsop Dodd.
Sarah: N.B. Libby is one of the most bright, positive and energetic people I’ve met in a long time. Her idea of heart sinking is most people’s idea of glass half full, basically she just sings a little less.
Fortunately Sarah kept me going. Whilst we’d met a few times i didn’t know her that well but I think running is a great way to get to know someone. There’s time to talk about anything and everything, there’s no need for any of the usual formalities and if you’re on a run with someone then you already know you have one thing, a love of running, in common! We’d been chatting solidly since the start and by this point I felt like Sarah was an old friend i’d known for years. Before i knew it we were on the way back towards Little Hart Crag.
Sarah: As Libby said, we really didn’t know each other that well before this! I had heard of her running antics and followed the Continuous Munro Round with awe. I was thrilled when she agreed to the 30 wainwrights challenge without a second thought. At that moment I realised we would probably get along just fine but I had no idea what a great buddy I had found! I love a solo challenge; being self-reliant on the fells is a thrill but it can get tough if you start doubting your own nav or you can’t distract yourself from that niggle. If exchanging life stories, singing our hearts out and sharing our favourite running snacks wasn’t enough, I loved that Libby and I were able to quickly lift each other’s spirits at different points, something I was particularly grateful for on the out and back to Great Rigg!
We met a family on top of Little Hart Crag who were walking Wainwrights with their 5 year old daughter, she was having a great time. I vowed to myself that if i have kids i was going to be like those parents and show my children how much fun you can have in the hills. We looped round to High Pike and met a woman with a very cute fluffy dog who posed for a photo for us. There were certainly a lot more people out on this side of the valley.
We ran over Dove Pike and Hart Crag and on to Fairfield. We were so engrossed in conversation that we started to run on auto pilot towards the path down towards Grisedale Tarn before realising we were forgetting Great Rigg! We kicked ourselves slightly and turned round to climb back up to the top and run along the ridge to Great Rigg. Rays of sun were breaking through the clouds and the views were magnificent. We took a cross country route, contouring round Fairfield Brow on sheep trods to save ourselves some ascent. The cloud blew off and we were treated to blue skies and sunshine as we tackled the steep slog up form Grisedale Tarn to Dollywaggon Pike. I was relieved to be on the home straight.
We picked off Nethermost Pike, Helvellyn and White Side. We chatted about the ski lifts as we ran over Raise. They’ve always puzzled me, surely it would be an epic walk in for anyone with downhill skis and for anyone on touring skis a 300m tow surely can’t make much difference? I’m not much of a skier though. My knees (which had been niggling all summer) were starting to ache and i wished there was a ski tow down the hill from Raise to Stybarrow Dodd that i could have jumped on to make the descent a bit less painful.
From Stybarrow we only had 3 Wainwrights left. As 2 of these were on our direct route home we decided we only really had 1 left – Watsons Dodd. After that even if we’d wanted to drop out we would have to run over Great Dodd and Clough Head anyway on our way back to the car that we’d dropped near Threlkeld the night before. That gave us the motivation we needed to finish off the last few peaks. It’s funny what mind games you can play with yourself whilst running.
The steep descent from Clough Head was tough on my knees and our hearts sank a little bit when we noticed the Old Coach Road (our route home), which we thought was flat appeared to be going uphill. When we got there though it turned out to have been an optical illusion and it was actually trending downhill! Win! We arrived back at the car just as it was getting dark.
It had been a brilliant day out on the hill and I felt really chuffed to have ran it and enjoyed it considering how little i’d ran over the previous few months and I knew I largely had Sarah to thank, both for suggesting 30 @ 30 and for making it so enjoyable. It’s not every day you can bag 30 Wainwrights and a lovely new friend and running buddy. We were both pretty pooped but so proud of ourselves. A bottle of prosecco and an Indian takeaway rounded off the day and we rolled into bed to dream of the next adventure.
Sarah: Reading this a couple of months after our 30 wainwrights challenge, has brought back so many happy memories. This was by far one of the best days I’ve had out on the fells this year. I can’t believe how everything just casually fell into place. We naturally found that pace where you feel you can run all day and run all day we did!