Tuesday, 20 February 2018

The Northern Traverse just got real

I had been struggling to find the enthusiasm to do much about this race in May even though it was one my main targets for the year. Until my foot was resolved I had no idea whether I would be on the start line. Now I just have no idea whether I can get to the end! Time to start some recees.
I have plotted the whole route onto OS maps so that I can print out A4 tiles when I want to and I do have much of the route covered by 1:25000 paper maps too so I had spent some time deciding which bits were most important to recee assuming I could not just start at St Bees and do the lot. Most of the Lakes I should know or at least know where to be careful and also towards the start I am less likely to be totally alone- I hope. I should also know the Cleveland Way part but would be happiest if I have time to run this too.
First up was the eastern lakes through to Shap. I had hoped to do Kidsty Pike as an out and back from the end of Haweswater but our evening drive proved tricky and the road was icing over. We didn't want to be stuck there and I also guessed the steep edges coming off the Pike might be tricky too. It will all be thawed and gone in a week or so I expect so it didn't seem worth the risk.
Back to Kidsty Pike from Odendale

There seemed little point running along Haweswater- surely you can't get lost there. It left me with a shorter run from Burnbanks through to Shap.  I did first trek back to the lakes side path just to check it was as I remembered and was rewarded by spotting red squirrels at play. From here moving east the route took me onto new areas and it was good to explore. I started fairly early and much of the ground was semi frozen. Towards Shap I recognised bits from other races and as it got warmer the ground got more boggy.
Shap Abbey from the 3 Rings of Shap
I found it all without any errors but it was good to check some lines and be certain where gates and stiles were. It took less time than I had predicted so I found the van but no husband. Luckily the village toilets were warm and I popped into the New Balance shop. By the time Bob appeared and we had bought each other Valentines presents in the shop the weather had taken a severe turn for the worse.
Shap to Oddendale I know well and Oddendale across the tops to Orton I have done may times as training runs.
One of our favourite van stops and running areas
I had hoped to go up to Orton and run the next bit but there seemed little point doing so in gales and blizzard conditions. Still, a tiny bit of the NT was done and I had made a start. It also meant we were back in time to join Lostock AC for their Horwich Street O event and then after a day of chores to climb on Friday morning and set off again.
The plan was 3 days to do more of the NT. Friday afternoon was planned as Orton (the moor above the village) to Kirkby Stephen. It would be mostly low level and there should be plenty of time before dark even if I moved slowly. I made notes as I ran as this could be dark during the race and knowing to 'aim for the white house' etc helps when you are tired.

Writing little notes slowed me down but I no know this section is pretty runnable even in the dark and I sorted out a couple of dodgy nav bits.

Some was on deserted lanes and farm tracks but lots was on grassy paths that are a feature of this area where the bedrock is limestone. I had done the first couple of miles before but forgotten.

A highlight was the area around Smardale Bridge with views to the viaduct but also to the Howgills and high Pennines.

A fair bit was well signed with finger posts but by no means all of it. Dropping into KS was easy and I found the rugby club with no problems.

I was early after just 21km of running so I explored to Franks Bridge on the other side of this small market town.

I was pretty sure I would recognise it from The Yomp and I did. I was back at the van and changed before Bob reappeared (I had taken a key today). At Franks Bridge was a useful sign - 82 miles done and 108 of the Coast to Coast to go!
Saturday would see me climb into the hills. Sadly the forecast was not quite as good but neither was it awful. I couldn't actually see the hills in the morning and so was unsure how much snow or ice to expect. I made and early start and ditched my kahtoolas in the hope that I could avoid any icy paths on the way up to Nine Standards.

The first few miles were easy nav and up the lane that is a dead end onto the moor. I met a farmer who seemed quite surprised anybody else was up and about and even more surprised that I was on my own and heading to Reeth. The main track had a few icy patches but they were easily avoided. Higher up the path was obscured by snow drifts in a few places. Some of the snow supported my weight but in others I broke through to bog, icy streams of just heather.
Murky and cold on Nine Standards
The vis was pretty poor but the low cloud didn't really produce any rain, it just seemed to wet me from the air. It was chill but not really cold. The next section bothered me a little as I knew the tops were pretty featureless and snow was obscuring the paths. At one point I found the new flag-stone path but then as it twisted round a boggy section I lost it under snow drifts again. In the end I opted for running south ish on a compass bearing and picking up bits of paths the best I could. I knew not to go east into the bog and wilds of Whitsun Dale and knew not to go too far right or I would drop steeply to the road. It worked out fine and as I dropped slowly I found the pillar marked on the map and could see the road down to my left. Then there was a finger post and a shooting track. Even better the track led to a hut that was open. I stopped briefly for food before heading on to Ravenseat which seemed very isolated. I was now out of the murky weather and off the bog- although not off the mud.

 The path into the main valley of Swaledale was slow at first but then as I neared Keld it improved lots and my speed picked up.

 I also started meeting just a few people out walking. After Crackpot Hall ruin the path got smaller again and near Swinner Gill had quite a serious drop into the gorge. Hopefully I won't be there in the dark.

It was a  tough climb out of the gill at first but then I met the new flagstone steps. Nice grippy gritstone ones too!  There was some snow but it wasn't at all icy here. Towards the top of East Grain stream there was more snow but by now I was on a big track which dropped me into Gunnerside Gill. It wouild be easy to get carried away running down the track and I made careful note of the cairns and small path off to the left. Here I met deeper drifts of wet snow and footprints that on me were thigh deep. Fortunately it was a short section. Having crossed the river there seemed to be many paths going up onto the moor. I chose an early one to avoid dropping to the ruins and hoped this would be OK as far as James the RO was concerned.

Towards the top I met posts and cairns so perhaps it was correct. The top was like a moonscape of old mine workings and rock waste.

A big track through this area made easy running and I was soon heading towards the pleasantly named barney Beck. All the buildings here were locked but some did have some shelter and seating. Immediately after crossing the minor road I made a small error (mainly because I was too lazy to dig out the 1:25000 map from my sack). I quickly realised I was too low and close to the river. Luckily there was a stile over the wall and I was able to get back on route and another good path then track that would lead me to the moor above Reeth.
Hard to believe it was the same day after the snowy tops
A walled footpath led me down to the village but again I missed a small path that cut the corner. It was warm in Reeth and The Green which I had expected to be fairly quiet at this time of year was packed. Bob had only just found a parking place for the van. I stripped off my wet socks and shoes and then we went exploring. It is a picturesque village.

 Even better though was the Dales Cycle Shop. We missed Stu Smith by less than 5 minutes but did have a very nice coffee and piece of cake. Not a bad day - some useful notes taken, 37km run and a whole new area explored.
Sunday was shorter and easier in that is was flatter. Knowing that if I started early we could get home before the end of weekend traffic I set off early. It was chilly. Luckily the first section was along a minor lane so I was able to up the pace and get warm. Then there was the ancient path from the ruined Priory up to Marrick leading me up into the sun and more warmth. A strange roundabout but well signed route got me through the tiny village and out onto grassy fields. There were boggy bits but mostly it was good running. The drop down the road to Marske was steep and just slightly slippery where the sun had not reached.

 Then more field paths led me to the limestone cliffs of Applegarth. The grassy paths were a joy but sadly ended and became a muddy track in the final woods before Richmond. In no time I was descending to the river and looking for the final paths to the main road and the side road up to the rugby club.

 It was freezing down by the river- the coldest I had been all day.

The lane up to the CP was steep but Bob had found space to park despite the rugby game. I stopped for a coffee and food - 17km or so done. I only had maps to do another 10km to Bolton on Swale. The paths here were ploughed and a total mud fest. I tried to run but was anxious not to fall and get coated in mud. Luckily as the route diverted away from the river (official diversion to avoid A1 roadworks) I left the fields and joined a lane. It wasn't great to run along the A6136 and over the A1 but at least there was a wide pavement and it wasn't long before I dropped back onto the river side path which thankfully was grassy and not more ploughed fields.

I found the van and stripped off my socks and shoes again. 28km done today and no major nav issues. It would have been nice to carry on to the A19 and the Osmotherly area but I had no maps and it would also be good to get home at a reasonable hour.

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