Windy Gyle Trot
It’s 18th June and the temperature is the highest recorded of the year so far. Blue skies above and very little wind in the valley mean that the meeting point just north of Barrowburn in the Coquet Valley was particularly warm. Today I’m out with North of Tyne Mountain Rescue covering the Windy Gyle Fell Race. Organised by Phil Green and his crew from Heaton Harriers, it could be viewed as a special kind of hot weather torture on this occassion. A proper fell race with rugged hills and no nonsense running.
Having come back to vague fitness I thought it would be a good idea to sweep run and had friend Paul Eggleston Brown join me for the loop. Soon enough the cars arrived and there was very little in the way of nervous pre-run chatter. That tells me that everyone here is pretty capable and this 8 mile course will be despatched nice and quickly. Some familiar faces are in the crowd with Mr Speedy himself John Butters alongside Richard Garland and others.
10:30 rolled around and Phil’s gun was shooting blanks as legs started pumping off to the first hill. Eventually the gun gives a crack and surprises some of the people towards the back of the grid. Trooping off down the road we were soon heading on to dirt tracks as we hooked up with the Border County Ride heading north towards Murder Cleugh. If you thought I did evil starts then I have nothing on Phil Green! This section is midway in the Breamish Behemoth and as any rider will tell you it’s an absolute leg burner.
Near the top of this came the first retiree with a strained calf muscle. He now had the joy of sitting in the sun and watching proceedings. Meanwhile we’d caught up with a lady who was feeling a bit wiped out but was cajoled into continuing by her friends. Having climbed the first super steep hill it would have been rude not to continue so she pressed on. Soon we reached Kev and co at checkpoint 1, opened a few gates and hit the second rather nasty hill of the day.
We’d slowed to a walk here and intercepted a runner coming back the other way who was feeling a bit tired. He was soon talked back into it and soon enough he set off up to the summit with renewed vigour. Once we’d all reached the summit of Windy Gyle it was effectively all down hill from there. However, getting to that summt is a bit of a pain as the steep gradient is held for a solid 300m and lactic acid is building up. Eventually it’s panoramic views in all directions as the high pressure allows for the famous views. It’s not hard to see who I include this spot is so many events.
After a brief chat with Rachel, Mark and his daughter it was time to get going. The fact that they were up on this high summit in just t-shirts and shorts told you everything you needed to know about the weather. Now the ladies we had been walking with had seen the descent and were off running again. Paul and I stopped to chat to a few Pennine Way walkers who were out in force and having a great time. Crossing over to The Street we paused to chat with Stef and co manning checkpoint 3 before heading off down to Slymefoot.
To get there the track is essentially downhill but with a few little undulations thrown in to keep people on their toes. To tired legs these undulations are like mountains and some spare water was dished out to keep people going. Psychology is a wonderful thing though and with the final rise conquoured the finish could clearly be seen and the runners legs sprung into action. The stifling heat brought out the sweat and by the time we reached the team Land Rover the race was run and everyone accounted for. £305 was raised and duly donated to North of Tyne – many thanks Phil and co for their selfless efforts. Plenty of runners took the chance to cool off in the river and that was noted for later.
Not satisfied with the Windy Gyle Fell race the aim was always to head out for another trot to get the miles in. As everyone headed off Paul and I plotted a route which incorporated some of the best tracks in the area. We’d jog down the road, cross over the river at Wedders Leap and then circuvent the massive bulk of Shillhope Law using the sheep track opposite the road. This tight little track needs concentration as it weaves in and out of ferns, long grass and plenty of decent sized rocks and escarpments. We passed a couple of good swimming points and took the opportunity to stick our hats in the water and get cooled off a bit.
We joined the road south of Bygate and pressed on to Shillmoor farm. Our options were up and over Shillhope Law or keep it steady up Usway Burn. Given that the Usway Burn is one of the greatest little sweeping valleys in the Cheviots it was an easy choice. After a quick trot it was clear Paul was feeling the heat and the strain of running so it was time to cool down. About 50m short of the first bridge a lively natural spa was located and soon we’d dunked ourselves in it. The water was cool but in no way cold and I could have stayed there for a long time. The water crashed in off the rocks and created a natural bubble bath which revitalised the soul and the soles.
Duely rested it was time to press on. The sun dried us out in about ten minutes and given that this track is one huge gradual ascent it would be rude not to run most of it and only walk when needed. Rounding Battlesheil the track turned to grass and we closed in and crossed the section with a nice drop down to the left. We came across two mountain bikers heading the other way and reminded me of why this is in the Breamish Behemoth. I watched closely as they came unstuck at that one tricky off camber rock drop whihc ALWAYS catches me out. It’s reassuring to know that others struggle with it as well.
Into the trees and some light relief from the sun. Trees give atmosphere as they work the light, splitting its rays and making them dance around on the floor. A small breeze kept any midges at bay and before long we’d guided ourselves through the last chunks of rock sprawling across the path and popped out at the white house of Fairhaugh. As witnessed at the last Clennell Colossus, there’s some serious forestry operations going on here at present. A sign of a constantly evolving landscape and a brief look back at what this place used to look like before the land was aquired for trees.
We strolled up to the Fairhaugh gate that sits not too far from Kyloe Shin. A now familiar track leading down to The Deer Hut and Barrowburn beyond unfolded. My body was feeling strong so we’d agreed to finish this at our own pace and I set off running down the hill. Sheep made a deliberate effort to run down the hill and trip me up instead of just stepping off the side of the track. I’m pretty sure they get training for this. After slipping through the accommodation I stopped for an intellectual chat with the Barrowburn pigs. Passers by clearly were not as fluent as I in the art of snorting and cast some questioning glances.
A short jog up the road back to the car and a wait for Paul to return. As soon as he showed up we joined three others having a dip in the river and cooled down. Like the old people we are becoming, we lamented the fact that kids should do more of this and less staring at screens. That was a perfect finish to a lovely 17 miles of running. My feet were blistered but then again they always are. A chilled can of coke from Clennell Hall filled our stomachs and then we headed off back to home having filled our heads with more great Cheviot memories.