Hedgehope Ice Breakers – High Fells of Hedgehope Race Report
I’m sitting at home with a coffee and looking out the window as the cars stream by. A bustling urban sprawl filled with rain, preoccupied people and cars. Only a few days prior the splended setting on Hedgehope and the Breamish valley had occupied all my thoughts as the High Fells of Hedgehope Half Marathon exploded into life.
Before all that though I’ll take you back to the week before. A group of us had done a recce run to make sure there were no obstacles on the course. It was great fun and with good company. However, hard ground could be found early doors so the going was good. The snow line was down well below the final gate and a think layer of ice had formed which had cut my ankles when they broke through. All in all a perfect day out! These were all worries leading up to the event but I keep forgetting just how resilient people are when tackling such events.
The day before the event I was up at the crack of dawn and started walking the course from 6am to get it marked up. My trusty dog Bob was loving every second of it! It was soon evident that the hard frost of the prior week had been replaced by a layer of soft squidgy goodness. I couldn’t believe just how much water was soaked into the ground but my heart was filled with joy to think how much you runners would suffer going through all of this.
The situation changed a little bit from Cunyan Crags onwards as altitude is rapidly gained and winters grip was still clinging on. On the exposed ridge of Dunmoor the winds whipped in without any kind of cover bar the shooting stalls. The dip down behind Threeburnstone Wood to the seriously wet gate was perfect for running but as an omen of things to come this is where Paul got the quad sunk in and stuck. Only a very large fence pole driven into the ground and a winch got him out. Visions of runners disappearing under the bog flashed through my mind. Maybe in 3000 years they would be found perfectly preserved.
Only the last push to the summit was snowy with some truly wintry conditions. The wind was blowing hard and meant the chill kept the temperatures way below zero. With the cloud levels so low they just hovered across the hill and then disappeared back into the mist. It was not a day for hanging round so down we came again. I do feel slightly guilty about all this as Bob is an older dog and although he loved his time on the hill he then could barely walk a few hours later or the next day. He’s back to normal now though.
This only left the river crossings to sort out. On with the shorts and into the Breamish. There’s an old story of a nearby servant girl who got swept away in this river and found 2 miles away a week later. For this run the river was playing the game and levels were acceptable enough to stick you all through it. The first dip is the deepest. Waist high on me, enough for an intake of breath as the chill envelopes your chimmy-changers. The next 2 are knee deep but with faster running water and some decent sizes rocks under the surface so care must be taken. Once through it’s time to jump over the fence and finish the race.
Sheila in the cafe had spent several days cooking, baking and preparing. Her gluten free pie for me and regular pie for Paul had kept the show going and it’s never in doubt that all runners would be happy with her home made soup. The river crossing is really just to clean everyones shoes before going the cafe. In fact, let’s just say it’s all Sheila’s fault.
Sunday comes around. Up again super early and jet black darkness fills the skies. The occasional star peeps out from behind a layer of slow moving clouds. The winds had died down from yesterday but were scheduled to pick up again as the hours went past. The final prep began as we moved back and forth past Mike Gill’s campervan. The first ultra keen runner arrived just after 7 am soon signed on and sat down for an invigorating coffee to get psyched.
Marshals and participants soon flooded the area as game time was approaching fast. The planning had all been done weeks and months leading up to the big day and now it was all about execution. It was great to see some familiar faces such as Dawn Metcalfe, Garry Scott, Luke Kennedy, Georgina Hilton-Lewis, Karl Baxter, Andrew Hewitt and many more. That’s one of the good things about these events, you get to meet some really good people.
One aim that’s always at the forefront of my mind is safety. On this occasion I thought why not try something new and dish out some whistles at the start. Some people looked quizzically at the bright orange whistles but they are a nice little safety device easily carried at the bottom of your bag just in case they are needed. Next time everyone gets a free St Bernard dog.
Everyone seemed in high spirits as they attached their numbers to their kit and then serenely sat in the cafe sipping the odd coffee of a glass of water. The queues for the toilets were as long as usual with a nervous pre run wee on most peoples minds. Walking through you could hear the nervous chat from newbies and the reassurances of those people who had been there and done it before. Peice of cake innit?
Soon enough 9:15 rolled around and it was time for a safety talk. Being a winter fell race and with cloudy conditions the talk was a little longer than usual and culminated in a birthday announcement for three ladies who were tackling the course. All done and only 10 minutes to go. My sister Joanne thought it was a good idea to get everyone fired up with some motivation Rocky tunes and soon enough the start was here. GO!
The start of this race is everyone filtering into a small track to reach Ingram bridge and it was soon clear who the main contenders were. Gary Jones was off like an Exocet missile with Paul Brunger in hot pursuit and Matt Briggs keeping tabs. As they disappeared off the road I could see them in the distance beginning the first ascent. I’m sure the first runners were going faster than we could get the quad up there!
From then on it became a listening game for me as feedback was relayed from each of the marshals on the way up. First runner here, first runner there, sweep walker here, etc. I could imagine a few people walked the first bit and then enjoyed the semi flat section across from Reavleyhill to Cunyan Crags before it all got rather steep. Cunyan is the first place where people started to feel the icy touch of winter as the temperature started to drop and the winds picked up. They swirled about in a vortex as winds hit exposed rocks on this prominent ridge.
The reward for eventually getting up the steep trail through Cunyan Crags is another good old hill up to Dunmoor. This plateau top edges to the right and the race follows the fence line along a little dip to a marshy gate. Usually you’d get a clear sight of Hedgehope summit from here but today it’s just clouds and limited visibility. It’s enough to know that it’s there, brooding in the chilly winter air.
The bog enveloped gate is always a popular place. All those people who had carefully picked their way across the saturated ground were now given zippo choice but to splosh straight through the good stuff and get soaked. Now with muddy water between everyones toes it was time for runners to push on up to the summit proper. A steady climb followed by an exposed path as any cover offered by trees evaporates. Up and onwards towards the final gate and splatterings of snow over the heather became more condensed.
Through that final gate and brown stuff just got real. Semi exposed rocks could just be spied underneath the snow and a crusty layer of ice clung to the top surface. People had to pick their way through as the clouds came streaming over the summit to drop the real feel temperatures to double minus figures. A qiock loop around the summit flag, possibly grab some flapjack and sweet whilst having pity for Andrew and Katherine and then turn round for the descent.
And oh how much easier is it to go down than to come up? Having confidence to descent quickly is a real asset and this time was no exception. It can gain loads of time but the risks of a mistake can have severe consequences. The large patches of super slippy ice did catch a few out as I heard tales of people having more than one tumble. Down flew the runners, feet grasping for grip on rock, heather or anything else close by. Through the gate of bogs and then back up the only return climb to get to Dunmoor.
The pace quickened for the leader as they flew down to Cunyan Crags, skipped down the rocks and then made for a steady pace across to Reavleyhill. Somewhere along this section Paul Brunger made his move and got some distance on Gary Jones. All that was left to do was to get down to the road and cross that river. 3 times. I was waiting for him as he arrived and heard a big splash before he trudged through to where we were, crossed the last bit knee deep and then hopped over the fence to take the win. Hardcore! Gary arrived soon after and Matt Briggs just after that.
First lady was Liz Gray, a name that I’d complete forgotten about when looking at the start list. Always smiling and super friendly but when it comes to running she’s just a machine so hots off to her. Samantha Rendall and Dawn Metcalfe came back 2nd and 3rd ladies. A really strong showing from the women this year and I hope this continues in 2019.
With the top spots taken care of the fun of watching people come back along the special finish could begin. Several people swore, one person tried to throw me in but pretty much everyone was full of smiles. I remember one guy was so tired he just stood with his hands on the fence summoning the strength to climb up and over. He gave it 2 minutes and then did it.
Little Lucy was loving handing out the medals to runners as they finished. Big, metal chunks of love to signify that you took on the challenge and survived. From there you went into the cafe to sign out and get some goodies. T-shirt, Pedaling Squares voucher, sticker, Mountain Fuel sachet and the coveted Hedgehope mug that was then filled with hot soup by the cafe. What better way to finish a run in the freezing cold than with some hot soup with friends?
Being the first time I’ve ever actually been at the end of an event it was fantastic to see so many happy/exasperated faces. I was at Skye with Owen Williams just before he had a major injury and this was his first run since then and I’m happy to report he’s all good. Nice easy return to action then. Garry Scott was another returning to action and he limped over the final river crossing but as usual he was in high spirits.
All radio chatter turned to the job of following people in from the end of the race. The sweep was reporting his position and signs were being collected in. Radio control closed on Dunmoor and the last 5 runners were watched in to fill in the gaps and ensure everyone was accounted for. Another fantastic day out in Northumberland National Park on one of it’s most inspiring summits.
By this time the presentation had taken place. We gathered in the registration area and went over all the winners of the various categories. We had waited an extra 5 minutes because we wanted to give out a very special V70 prize to Mike Gill who just keeps on smashing out the miles. How does he do it? The overall winner got the prestigious Sarah Wilson Cup. Sarah was a local farmer passionate about the area who passed away a couple of years ago. Her son Ross was coming to do the presentation but sadly got called away and couldn’t make it. I’m sure it still looks cracking in Paul’s home.
All results can be found here: https://www.racesplitter.com/races/FF861C20C?split=1
Thanks to everyone who made the effort to get along and enjoy the day. All the planning and preparation that goes into these things is nothing if people don’t enjoy the experience. The cafe really appreciates the business and the local economy benefits in so many ways, not just on event days but from repeat visits. The barren hills of the Cheviots offer a beauty all of their own and you’ve really got to get out there and experience it. For those of you who chose not to stay at home and not to stay comfortable in a warm house I salute you. It’s that inner drive and determination that makes you all special. Well done to each and every person who took part.
Last but least are all the marshals. Their selfless dedication to stay out in harsh conditions is to be applauded. They do this to ensure your safety and well being in a challenging environment. All connected by radio they formed a safety blanket on your run which can be relied on should anything happen. They are the true stars of the show and are listed here:
Paul Kemp – Quad man. Course marking/take down and safety.
Joanne Richardson and Allison Kemp – Timing
Lucy Kemp – My daughter dishing out medals
Keith Fawcett – First and last marshal out on course.
Alfie Fawcett and Joe Kemp – 2 young uns who stuck you through the water. Helped by Andrew Hewitt and his camera.
Brian Kemp – Car marshal where road met hill
George Wilson – Reavleyhill
Jim Imber – Reavleyhill
Yvonne Kemp – Registration
Jason Woodhouse, Laura and a massive Malamute – Cunyan Crags
Karl Wait – radi control on Dunmoor
Mick Barker – Boggy gate of doom
Andrew Clarke and Katherine – Frozen summit
Until next time everyone…