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Curse of the Countryside: Litter

I’ll start this straight off the bat by saying 99% of people are responsible enough to not drop litter. It’s that tiny minority that is causing the issues. I get to spend a lot of time outdoors and notice if litter is an issue. This can be highlighted pre and post events as it’s clear if there are differences.

Litter is a problem for the environment and has consequences for the landscape and wildlife which are well known. It’s also incredibly lazy to not take away what has been brought in to these places. Seemingly there is an expectation that some kind of magic beings exist that can clear up after others. Well there isn’t.

I’m going to discuss a few recent examples and would like you to consider why this has happened.

Firstly, at the Kielder Chiller 24 a number of large bags of rubbish were left when the event was over. This was an event where everyone was on the course in their vehicles. That alone makes it inexusable to just dump a bag of rubbish by the side of a vehicle with the expectation that someone (myself or Forestry Commission) will clear it up. Take it away yourself.

Unrelated to the events I noticed a lot of empty bottles at the head of mountian bike trails in Thrunton Woods. These lazy feckers had enough energy to carry the full bottles up there so why can’t they take them out? Or do they expect well meaning organisations like the Thruton Trail Builders to just pick it up for them? Not good enough. I picked up as many as I could.

gel wrapperGel wrappers. If one things grinds my gears more than anything else in an event it is people who have gels while running and then throw them on the floor. You took them in so take them out. At Thrunton I reckon there was one person doing this as the gels were always the same brand. If you are a fellow runner you can help: should you see someone delibertely throw away a gel please note their number and report it to the next marshal. I’ll be waiting for a chat at the next point they reach. People who drop gels (or any other litter) are not welcome at events. I’m pretty sure any event organiser will say the same.

dog pooDog poo. This is one I just can’t get my head round. Why oh why would people go to the lengths of picking up dog poo, putting it in a bag and then dump it on the ground? I am not there to pick up bags of dog poo. What makes it worse is at Thrunton these bags were left next to the marquee, within metres of bins! This can equally be applied to any dog walker anywhere, there is no such thing as a dog poo fairy – you either bag it and bin it yourself or you just get a stick and flick it away to decompose. Do whatever, just don’t leave a bag of poo on the floor for someone else to collect.

Tissues. A recent article in TGO magazine highlighted this growing problem. For some reason people are seeing it as acceptable to use tissues/wipes and then just throw them away. I found quite a few on the route on the weekend. If one is being used for blowing noses or whatever then it needs to be carried out with you. These tissues are wipes were most prominent lining the road next to where cars were parked when everyone had gone. This means they must have been used while people were standing next to their cars and THEN just thrown on the ground? Why, why, why? Take the rubbish away with you.

Rant over. I’m sure you’re getting the general picture and understand that it’s a very small amount of people that do this. I’d like to think it’s just ignorance and these tendancies can be corrected. Don’t be afraid to speak out if you see it happening. I spend a lot of time with National Park rangers, Forestry Commission beat officers, farmers and land owners and all they want is to follow the accepted saying: leave it as you found it.

Help keep these places beautiful. Don’t drop litter.

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Fueling for the Hedgehope Winter Wipeout!

Here’s a message from Rupert Bonnington, owner of Mountain Fuel nutrition..

I love running in the fells and am lucky to be based in the Lake District where I can cherry pick classic fell runs and days out as my every day training runs. This is where fueling with Mountain Fuel makes life easy as the day before a race like the Hedgehope I’ll eat as normal and in the evening I’ll also have a Night Fuel to ensure that while I’m asleep my body is fueling so that when I get up, which will be early I can eat light and be ready to go. In the morning as I’ve an early start I’ll make up a Morning Fuel, either as a porridge which takes less than a minute or as a shake if I have a long drive. 

Mountain FuelOn the drive I’ll also sip an Xtreme Energy Fuel as this will ensure that my glycogen stores are fully loaded. Depending on the race distance and time on my feet I’ll also either carry a bottle or two of Mountain Fuel. If I’m going to race for around 2 hours I’ll carry one bottle and start sipping around 35 to 40 minutes into my run to ensure my glycogen (energy) is being topped up in my working muscles. I’ll typically allow one energy fuel per 1 1/2 hours. Again, depending on the distance I also may make some of our famous Morning Fuel power pancakes or even our healthy home made gel.

The last half an hour of my race is motivated by getting to the finish line so I can enjoy my recovery shake, and I’ve got to say there is no better tasting or effective recovery shake out there so you’ll be speeding to that line to get it down you!

I am passionate about running and nutrition which is why Mountain Fuel products have the very best ingredients. Our success is based on word of mouth so have a look at the reviews on our products which are 99.9% 5 star and feel free to follow me on Strava for some running inspiration as I’m pretty well known for great photos of the stunning areas I run. 

We’re also very approachable so please feel free to have a chat or ask any questions at the race , Facebook (@MountainFuel), Twitter or Instagram (@MountainFuel_uk).

Use discount code HighFellEvents to save 15% at www.mountainfuel.co.uk before the big day.

See you on the hills 

Rupert

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Mountain Fuel Partnership

The breaking of a new year is always good as it provides the opportunity for new partnerships and to make new friends. High Fell Events has always been a friendly lot so it was great to tie up with nutrition experts Mountain Fuel for 2017. Expect to see their logo on display at events and even the odd giveaway for those people lucky enough to be at the sharp end of events.

mountain fuelBut who are Mountain Fuel? It’s a company who prides itself on creating some of the best products on the nutriation market. they don’t push the products through every single retailer going, instead they hand pick those with the same ethos and commitment. The products are tested in the real worl by their own sponsored athletes and then modifications made based on the feedback. The core fuel items are:

- Night Fuel. Designed to help your body rest and be ready for the next days exertions.

- Morning fuel. Everyone needs this I’m guessing! Light on the stomach and quickly absorbed.

- Xtreme Energy Fuel. Delivering a sustained energy release and reducing the classic signs of fatigue.

- Ultimate Recovery Fuel. Doing exactly what it says on the tin.

I can speak from experience that these products really do work. I used them on the gruelling Allendale Challenge and the Skye Trail Ultra and found them effective in terms of energy but most importantly to me the taste was suprior to other drink mixes. Too often you can get that sickly feeling but not with these. A thumbs up from me.

For more info have a look on their website:

https://www.mountainfuel.co.uk/

Or if you’re in the North East just pop into the Ultra Runner store and chat to Tony or his crew.

Ingram Trail run

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2016 In Review

It’s the end of 2016 and time to reflect on the second full year of High Fell Events. Wow! It’s been pretty full on with organising 6 events instead of the 3 of 2015. Moving into new areas also presented the additional challenge of ascertaining the identities of land owners, residents and stakeholders but it’s all part of the process.

Underpinning all the big days were the most important element: the particpants. It always amazes me how so many people are prepared to put themselves through so much pain and still smile at the end of it. Even the patented special ending of the Clennell Trail Run couldn’t break peoples resolve! All the runs and bike events are aimed at mixed abilities so a newbie is just as welcome as the experienced old sage.

The Big Days

Let’s have a look back at what happened. First up was the Thrunton Thriller trail run in March. The forest had only recently opened itself up to a small number of events and we were lucky enough to grab a spot. Devising a route took an awful lot of time as it was a combination of forest tracks, twisty singletrack and wide open trails on the hill tops. Let’s also not forget the bog of doom and the special ending to catch people out. You’re welcome. Jon Butters smashed it round in a ridiculous time but equally impressive were the three ladies who came in at the end full of smiles.

San KapilSome months went past and then the signature mountain bike ride that is the Clennell Colossus reared it’s head. Numbers stayed the same as 2015 with over 300 riders coming to take the Cheviots on. Hats off to those that did as they took on probably the hardest course that can possibly be devised, all in thick fog. At least plenty had the great idea of utilising the free camping and took the opportunity for plenty of rehydrating in the bar the night before.

The next new event came in July and it came in the form of the Ingram Trail Run. This presented a unique challenge as the event ambitiously set out to have a 50 mile ultra, a marathon and a half marathon. The planning and the logistics were just massive and those days leading up to the event were an exhaustion driven haze! The run was a revelation with the half marathon having all the views of the Cheviot central massif but with only a fraction of the climbing needed to actually go there. The marathon on the other hand was a right bugger with tough terrain underfoot and the ultra runners were phenomenal as everyone completed the gruelling 50 mile course. The last ultra runner came in just after 10pm following a 5am start. Madness!

fell runnerA few weeks later the Clennell Trail Run came about. Perfect weather led to plenty of free camping which has a habit of being accompanied by beer and big food. Again three distances were on offer but all routes were different to last year, the ultra was new. The half marathon was a lesson in pain with a perpetual motion of climb or descend and I’m not talking about gentle hills here either. Marathon runners were cast off far to the border ridge to kiss the edge of Scotland before coming back. The ultra runners had an extra jaunt to the edge of Roman Chew Green to complete their 38 mile strain.

September ticked around and so onwards to the Breamish Behemoth. A 42 mile mountain bike challenge that has a successful completion rate of under 50%. That should tell you something. To be fair it’s one of the very vest routes available and if you get the right weather then some of the finest vistas Northumberland has to offer are yours for the taking. It’s also excellent riding, comes with free camping and is a very laid back affair.

Cragside was held in November with 450 people signing up months in advance. This event was cancelled in 2015 and almost put an end to High Fell Events before it even got started. Many thanks to all those people who didn’t ask for a refund and instead defered their entry. On a picture perfect day a massively enthusiastic group of runners charged round the inner trails of Cragside and tackled roots, rocks and 10p mix-ups before finishing with a coffee and a cake in the cafe.

The Heroes

marshalsNo event can take place without the help of people who selflessly give up their time so that others can enjoy theirs. I’ll take this opportunity to thank them personally:

- Joanne Richardson. My sister has been at every event since inception. A rock to handle the most remote setting with a friendly smile and encouragement.
- Paul Kemp. Again an ever present who has now become a fellow organiser. Often found puffing on a cigarette whilst driving a big 4×4 out on the hills.
- Eileen and George Wilson. Ever wondered who the friendly faces are at the end of manning a checkpoint? These two tend to be there and many thanks to them.
- Yvonne and Brian Kemp aka Mam and Dad. Chief flapjack maker/food provider and Dad transports the injured back to base when needed.
- Mark Stephenson. Injury has stopped him from competing but he’s given up his time to come and help anyway. Spot on.
- Keith Fawcett and Jason Woodhouse. These two just love to carry big rucksacks at the back of the group and pick up signs.
- Allison and the kids. Registration is nearly always handled by my wife and events started by the kids. Top effort.
- Jim Imber. Loves to be out in the wilds cheering people on.
- David Wilson. Intrepid explorer and outdoor enthusiast, always on hand in some far off spot to keep you safe.

Over the course of the year there have been many more who have helped but we’d be here a long time if I went over them all. A condensed list would be: Paul Appleby, Phil Green, Ellen Creighton, Kerri turner, Lucy Imber, Johan, Mick Barker, Clare Douglas, Jay Pea, Paul Eggleston Brown, Andrew Pogson, Graham Pogson, Andy Robertson, Linda Eastwood, Carl Stewart and many, many more.

Of course events can’t take place without the land owners, farmers, residents, gamekeepers, shepherds, governement organisations, conservation organisations, medical staff etc. There are simply too many to mention covering the Coquet valley, Breamish valley, Kielder, Cragside and Thrunton. You’re always professional and polite and willing to have people charge about over the hills for their own enjoyment.

BarrowburnA key aim of High Fell Events is to promote local businesses. This leads to a number of good relationships being built up over time. No review of 2016 would be complete without mentioning the end of an era with Ian and Eunice leaving Barrowburn farm – a line that stretched back to the 19th century on that very farm. I’ve known Ian for nearly 30 years and I wish this jovial Northumbrian and his wife all the best and can’t thank them enough for all the help, advice and support they have given. Let’s see what happens with Barrowburn moving forwards. The same good vibes are sent out to Clennell Hall, The Valley Cottage Cafe in Ingram, Cragside, Tomlinsons cafe and on and on.

Looking Forward

Now I feel like this is starting to become some kind of BAFTA acceptance speech and focus will switch to the future. I wish everyone the best of fortunes in 2017 and hope you achieve your goals no matter what they are. Remember the main competition is with yourself and don’t let anyone put you off doing what you enjoy. The events list stays the same in 2017 with 2 extras coming on board in the form of the Kielder Chiller 24 hour mountain bike race and a winter run named Hedgehope Winter Wipeout! Neither event has been run in the region before but there seem to be plenty of people prepared to take up the challenge.

I look forward to another amazing year of activities in the beautiful hills of Northumberland. If you haven’t been here before then you really should. Way more remote than the Lake District and with a charm all of its own. Many hours, days and weeks will be spent finding new routes, twisty trails and those spots with great views. Get out there and get stuck in. Now what are you waiting for?

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A Fond Farewell

Saturday night was one that will stay in the memory of the valley for many a year. Barrowburn farm couple Ian and Eunice Tait are leaving the valley for good in November and held a bit of a shindig to say goodbye. We’d been across at Ingram show and made our to Barrowburn as the light faded. As the sun dropped down the temperature dipped but it didn’t stop warm hearts winning the day.

Tents adorned the far side of the river and cars were parked on fields and lining the main road through the valley. Friends, family and the local community had all gathered to wish the couple well with a mighty send off. It’s testament to how many peoples lives Ian and Eunice have actually touched over the years. The Tait family have been in the valley since the 1800s and people recognise the contribution made to the area. Just imagine what the valley would be like without the deer hut, camping barn and tea room.

The pulled pork was lovely even without the bread (I can’t eat it!) and it was washed down with some cider at the mobile bar. A large marquee had been erected and James Tait plus friends were belting out the tunes. The music stopped and soon they prepared for a Ceilidh. Ian and Eunice were certainly going to enjoy the night and as the Gay Gordons belted out they were joined on the dance floor by as many people as could possibly fit in the tent! My kids enjoyed a bit of a dance before escaping the rampaging adults who might have had a bit of a drink by the time :-)

Many familiar faces were to be found in the crowd such as legendary local runner Paul Appleby, walking enthusiast Mark Thompson and rider Nic Gilbert. Nic had just been out practicing for the Behemoth on the 18th by nailing it straight from Barrowburn to Windy Gyle and back via the stone slabs. He said he was hanging around for the party but I reckon his legs had just stopped working!

As we left to put the kids to bed the proceedings looked like they were heating up nicely. I reckon there would have been a fair few sore heads on Sunday morning. Neil from rowhope and Daniel from Shillmoor looked set for a long innings.

All good things must come to an end and Barrowburn has been oh such a good things. Countless people have been touched by the friendly manor and helpful nature. With luck the MOD will find a suitable replacement who can continue the hub of the local community. For High Fell Events it will be a big miss. Refuelling at the cafe was a big help as was the use of the quad bike. Luckily there is one more event passing through and that’s the Breamish Behemoth on Saturday. A final chance for riders to make that pit stop, smash down a bacon sandwich and say goodbye in person.

The valley won’t be the same without them.

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Reaping The Rewards

One of the core principles of High Fell Events from the outset is to promote local businesses and improve the local economy. To do this we ask local businesses to include free leaflets in the goody bags, promote their services, point people towards their offers and ask them if they want to create event specific offers. It’s funny how it works because it’s actually quite hard to get a small business to do this. I’m sure it’s not apathy but more because budgets are so tight in small businesses. However it looks like the efforts have been worth it for one High Fell Events destination.

The Clennell Colossus and Clennell Trail Run both run out of Clennell Hall. This beautiful county hotel set in dramatic surroundings needs as much help as it can get. It has plenty of character dating back hundreds of years but in recent times it has become a hotel that is off the beaten track. Events on it’s doorstep are massively welcome and provide a huge source of income and advertising. The income from food and drink in the bar and rooms being booked out. The advertising from an increased awareness that the place exists.

It’s this latter unquantifiable element that has come to light recently with a lot of new customers staying in the hotel that have competed in an event. This is great news and good for this remote rural business. I bumped into Gaynor Scrafton and her partner recently who took part in the Clennell Trail Run last month. An entertaining night was had. The following morning I was up chatting to two guys who were doing the Sandstone Way and stayed in the bunk rooms and they had flirted with the idea of the Colossus and that’s how they found about about the hotel.

It’s good to know that there is an ongoing impact for repeat business going back into these places. Obviously a spectacular rural setting is a bonus but that’s a moot point if no-one knows about it. Fingers crossed more people will arrive in the years to come and High Fell Events can keep improving the outlook for local enterprises.

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Showing The Way

Prior to the Thrunton Thriller event I was in dialogue with the Trail Running Association about a new grant scheme that has been introduced in 2016.  Having never applied for any kind of grant funding I thought I’d ask some questions and give it a go.  Specifically I was after some new signs and submitted the request to the TRA committee.  A few weeks later the response came back as positive with £180 to be spent on new signs.  Great news!

Using the usual online retailers for events correx signs at around A4 size are typically £3 to £4 each which means you don’t get too many.  Before I made the purchase Rich at Team Cycles mentioned a contact he has at One Sign Digital in Team Valley.  A few emails later and an order for signs at 82p per sign was on the cards.  I couldn’t believe the difference in price!

All the runners at the Thrunton Thriller benefited from these new signs as they were stuck everywhere so as to make it as obvious as possible to follow the route.  A success I’m sure you will agree.  Instead of correx they are an orange hard foam and perfect for events.  Many thanks for the Trail Running Association for their help in sorting this out.

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State Of The Union

Has there ever been a better time for outdoor activities in the North East of England?  The transformation in the last five to ten years has been magnificent and now people have the chance to experience amazing places right on their doorstep.  Or even better, people are visiting from far off places and bringing commerce and tourism to rural areas.  I’d like to focus on the positive aspects of these events and how they bring active tourism to places that otherwise may struggle to get a decent number of people.

One contributory factor is the emergence of the Forestry Commission as a proactive organisation when it comes to outdoor pursuits.  Events have always taken place on these lands but more recently the internal structure of this public body has moved to recreational activities that provide an additional income stream for the Commission.  The appointment of recreation officers such as the indefatigable Alex MacLennan is testament to this new found focus.  On the back of such an appointment the region is attracting a number of national awards as onlookers take notice.  As well as the people to co-ordinate events in the area there are also the those on the ground who help with the nitty gritty such as the amazingly helpful Jonathan Farries at Rothbury or Simon Banks in Kielder.  Without local beat officers like these, those tricky little tracks you find in events may never be known about.

Next up I’d like to look at Northumberland National Park.  In recent times it seems to have begun a process of transforming itself into more outward facing pro-recreation organisation.  Tourism features heavily on the mandate alongside conservation.  Duncan Wise was involved in the creation of the Sandstone Way and continues to push active tourism alongside other organisations such as CyclePad,, Visit Northumberland, Tyne Valley MTB, trail builders and more.  In terms on the image of Northumberland National Park there are people within the organisation who now see the benefits of increasing the profile of the area.  Andrew Mitchell for example, is driving the digital message and aligning the aims to the benefit of the area.  The new website, the carefully considered content and the social media buzz are no accident.  It was delightful to see the park win the Countryfile prize for best National Park recently, not that us regular visitors had any doubts!

Organisers have obviously played a part in creating a scene that is as vibrant as it’s ever been.  Look at Kielder a while back, a vast expanse of water with not much to do there.  Now it’s teaming with rides, runs, star gazing, walks, boating and much more.  The Development Trust plays a big part in this but so do all the smaller players like the trail builders and shops such as The Bike Place and cafes in the castle, Falstone and Tower Knowe.  In High Fell Events main area of operation, the Cheviots, there was next to nothing on offer even just a few years ago beyond the local fell running scene and a couple of events held by the Mountain Rescue Teams.  Now you can soak it all in with mountain bike rides, long distance runs or a casual stroll.

All across the North East event organisers are popping up.  Some good, some nots so good.  Time will always determine those who work methodically and stand the test of time.  Top organisations such as High Terrain Events, Shepherds Walks, Wooler Wheel, Trail outlaws, Run Eat Sleep, Seismic Events, Open 5, Cheviotwalks, NDH, Run Nation, North East Guides and many more.  These are the people who have really looked at a market and brought out strong offerings that participants can trust and associate values with.  This can only be a good thing for building a regional image that projects out to other parts of the UK and beyond.

Functioning hand in glove with outdoor recreation are small businesses that have a symbiotic relationship.  Retailers such as The Ultra Runner Store, Above & Beyond, CJ Cycles and many more not only sell their wares but also go out of their way to be not only associated with events but also to promote events.  This is obviously reciprocated with increased exposure on the back of success but in essence the balance is right for all concerned if pushing in the same direction.  Of all these businesses it is the small cafes that always make me smile the most.  Producing a warm and friendly welcome and good food is the sure fire best way to bring people back to the area.  Some provide short term accommodation options, a real problem in remote areas, to compliment the food and drink on offer.  Examples in the region that I interact with are Barrowburn cafe, Tomlinsons cafe, The Valley Cottage and of course the bar at Clennell Hall.  Bringing a big event such as the Colossus or Behemoth past or at a small cafe can make a monumental difference to the bottom line.  The good experience people then receive at such places only serves to bring them back again in the future.

I hope the area continues to offer up some exciting and appealing opportunities to draw people to the countryside.  Being healthy is no bad thing and benefiting the local and regional economy can only be positive.  This can only take place with a large number of cogs all turning in the same direction, far more organisations than can be listed here.  I for one am delighted to see this market grow and develop and will be watching keenly as it continues.

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Damp & Windy

It’s been over a week since I went wild camping on top of Shillhope Law with my friend Paul but I thought I’d eventually get round to sticking something down in writing.  After a previously aborted attempt to get out it was good to actually commit to a bit of camping out in the Cheviots in January.  There was no snow lying on the ground in Newcastle but as we passed through Rothbury it was clearly visible on the hills.  A few days prior there had been a heavy downpour but subsequent rain had thinned it out.  The forecast for our evening out was that it would start raining late on.

The road to Barrowburn was easily passable and it was great to see a good dose of snow still on the ground.  It was cold as we lumbered out of the car but after climate control in Paul’s Land Rover we still had an inner glow to take the edge off things.  The cafe was still open and so one coffee turned into to and before you know it the winter wonderland descended into darkness before we set off.  There was one of those funny coincidences in life at Barrowburn cafe – before I’d set off I sent an email to Mark Thompson who had wanted to come out last time but couldn’t make it.  When we got to the cafe who do you think was sitting there totally unaware of the email I’d sent him?  Yep, the very same.  He was staying at the camping barn with his friends having a night old knees up and some cracking walks.

BArrowburn cafe

There’s something special about winter adventures in the dark, it can take a familiar area and make it into something special.  For example the cold conditions made the climb from the Bygate area up towards Shillhope very difficult because of the icy, sleety snow on the ground.  Nowhere near enough coverage for crampons but soaked grass covered in super slippy snow made for tricky going.

The comical climb came to an end when we reached a level plateau that I’d found when setting out the Barrowburn Blast.  Ask any regular walker about Shillhope and they will tell you there is absolutely nowhere to camp on top.  They would be right about the summit, but not so this wonderfully flat perfect pitch about 200m off the top.  I could tell you exactly where it is but then I’d have to kill you.  When you’re moving up such a large hill the body temperature is always nice and high but the second you stop to stick a tent up you can feel the rapid cooling effect.  It’s essential to get your tent up as quickly as possible as there’s nothing worse than putting it up when your fingers are like blocks of ice!

My Nordisk tunnel tent is outer first and I love it when it comes to  pitching.  Stick the three poles in, put two pegs in at one end, drag the other and put two pegs in there.  That’s it, the structure is now in place and you just go in and stick all the rest in when you’re ready.  You’re soon out of the wind and putting up the inner section with a good degree of protection.  Soon enough both tents were up and we were settling in for the night.  Light wind was our only companion as we had a coffee mixed with a dab of Baileys and chatted for a few hours.

In the meantime I’d moved onto the thought of food.  Pretty much my entire day is dominated by the thought of food to be honest!  Gas stoves don’t perform well in the cold with the exception of those that contain a preheater which just means the gas line passes through the flame before release and makes it easier to flow.  I was using a simple attachment based gas stone which still works nicely if you turn it upside down but then you run the serious risk of flare-ups inside your tent – not good.  And so the good old fashioned pressurised stove came out.  For years I used a Colemans multi-fuel stove and it never let me down until I used it to destruction.  My brother then gave me a new one and here it was.  This time around I’d opted for the clean burning Coleman fuel to see how it performed against unleaded.  I didn’t really get to find out as this new stove had a leak at the control junction and so I had two areas set alight.  It didn’t bother me as there was no real danger but it badly effected the performance of the stove which I fixed easily when we returned.

With some grub inside myself and the dog it was time to get into my ultra-cost big socks, long johns, down jacket and hat before slipping into the Rab Ascent sleeping bag with liner.  This is what I really love about camping in winter, where you can get snug as a bug whilst there is seriously cold weather all about you.  My dog Bob just found himself a nice little spot and curled up.  At around 9pm the weather decided to change somewhat.  The wind still came from the south but in the space of ten minutes it went from a light breeze blowing gently against the side of the tent to a full on gale with torrential rain that caused the sides to crack like a whip.  I pictured that scene out of the recent Everest film where the weather front just hits him and it all goes pear shaped!  I’d guessed at around 60 to 70mph winds which made sleeping a none event and even talking to each other between tents was hard despite the fact we were just 2 metres apart.

Sleep stayed out of grasp until around 3am when I dozed off and then woke again at 7am.  The wind was still high but nothing like it had been during the night.  The direction of the wind had changed 180 degrees and now blew directly from the north.  This had two effects, the first was that the temperature plummeted.  The second was that the rain was now falling as snow which was just starting to hold on the wet ground.  I lay for hours with the door open just waiting it fall in a weird kind of upside down view.

Shillhope Wild Camping

My friend Paul had a good nights sleep and there’s nothing worse than a cheery walking companion when you’re feeling jaded!  With the snow falling hard we had both eaten and decided to make tracks by heading up and over the summit and down the other side to rendezvous with a great big breakfast at Barrowburn.  Paul’s pace is naturally slower than mine and I had underestimated the wind chill effect.  The summer/running gloves were as good as useless and the slower pace was meaning my body was not churning out the heat it should be.  A quick sit down in the summit cairn of Shillhope and then straight to the steep north side descent.  Windy Gyle stood high in the distance covered in a blanket of the good stuff, a far cry from when mountain bikes chug up it in June during the Colossus.

Winter Trekking

The usual super friendly reception was to be found in the cafe and the food was top draw.  It was nice to bump into dedicated road cyclist Morrison from Rothbury as he stopped to warm his toes before setting off on his return journey.  The drive back was clear as all low lying snow had been washed away during the night and the rivers were clearly a lot higher than usual.  Local photographer Ian Glendinning was spied taking pics of kayakers in the Coquet who must have been up for something a bit fruity that day.  And so another night of winter camping came and went and Paul and I felt all the better for it.  There’s nothing like a night under canvas to recharge the batteries.

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End Of An Era

2016 heralds new starts for many people.  Promises renewed or fresh ones made.  As with all things, time keeps ticking on and changes happen, it’s just the way it is.  And so 2016 will see the end of an institution in the very fabric of the upper Coquetdale community.  Following on from many generations before him, Ian Tait and his wife Eunice are leaving Barrowburn farm at the end of the year.  Yep, that’s the tea room, the Deer Hut and the Camping Barn all with it.  It’s a fantastic opportunity for someone but it’s also the passing of one of the most important characters the area has had.

My own link with Barrowburn started about 30 years ago when my parents drove up to meet Ian’s Dad to buy our dog, Jed.  I still remember when his Dad looked us up and down curiously and said “I don’t get it.  What do you town folk actually spend your time doing?”  We looked at the vast open countryside and thought exactly the same thing.  Little did I know that this single visit to a remote farm in the distant countryside would have a deep rooted effect on me and I’d be drawn back time and time again.  Jed was a great dog and by the time I was old enough to drive myself I took him back up to his place of birth.  Two more Barrowburn dogs followed, Jak and my current brown bomber Bob.

At this time it was Ian who was the farmer and firmly in charge of the surrounding lands.  This is pre Deer Hut and certainly before the camping barn and cafe.  Over the years I got to know him better as I stayed in the Deer Hut and often popped down for chats in front of his little fire.  There was a man at peace with his surroundings and appreciated the way of life that had passed before him for years and years.  From corralling his dogs in the hills to clipping sheep in the barn, he really knows his stuff.

Later on came the cafe.  Eunice left working in Rothbury and set up her own cafe in the Barrowburn house that everyone knows about today.  The coffee is amazing, fried breakfasts are something every cafe should take note of: made to fuel people who work hard in the hills!  The cakes are done in proper portions that can actually fill a hunger gap when you get one.  The eatery has a fond place in many a heart not only for the food but for the warm welcome to one and all.

Which brings me nicely onto the events.  Ian and Eunice were instrumental in getting High Fell Events off the ground with help, guidance and support.  They passed word on to others in the area and also helped with a range of contacts.  Then when the big days came around, the cafe stepped up to the plate and managed to handle the situations brilliantly.  I mean, how would you feel if you’re a tiny cafe and 300 mountain bikers who’ve ridden nigh on 40 miles turn up on your doorstep wanting refuelled?

So let’s say goodbye in style and make 2016 super special.  The Colossus as well as the Ingram (ultra) and Clennell trail runs will pass through here and it’s your chance to wish them well and say thanks for everything they’ve done over the years.  One more chance to eat big chunks of cake and glug down coffee.  And when it’s time to leave you can take one more glance over your shoulder at a bit of history.

Ian and Eunice are two of the nicest people I think I’ve ever met and personally I’ve got a lot to thank them for.  What happens after November?  I have no idea.  That’s the reason the Barrowburn Blast off road duathlon is not happening in 2016 at the moment, just in case you were wondering.  Whatever the Tait’s do next I hope they enjoy it and take it easy.

Barrowburn Tea Room