6.30 in the morning, I was scrabbling around the house checking my kit then re checking for no other reason than to burn off some nervous energy.
For the last 6 months I’d been bigging myself up about running my first ultra marathon, or intro ultra for those die hard runners. Inspired by the efforts of my two colleagues Paul and Hood who had been in training for the Snowdon Trail Marathon, I decided to set myself a new challenge. I’m not built to go fast so distance seemed like the obvious choice. This led me to the Long Tour of Bradwell, a 35 mile route following the rim of the Hope Valley, with an excursion onto the edge of Kinder.
Preparation had consisted of a few 10 mile runs around the local area but most importantly I bought myself a fancy new running watch; this was obviously going to make the difference. I had even thought about reccying some of the different sections but never got round to it. How hard could it be?
Race day arrived, not a cloud in the sky, the temperature was around 15 degrees but was supposed to climb to the low 20s by mid-afternoon. Had I been doing anything else I would have welcomed a day like this, but today I would have given anything for some cloud cover.
We set off - my first major error happened about half a mile in when I realised I hadn’t turned my new watch on. Anyone who uses tech like this or Strava knows that if it isn’t recorded you might as well not have done it and I wanted every mile to be counted!
A mile in and I was feeling strong. Everyone was walking as we ascended behind the cement works, I ran the bits I could but felt that if everyone else was walking they knew something I didn’t so decided to ease off.
My second embarrassing moment happened when a lady asked me for directions, we were supposed to be descending down cave dale into Castleton. It’s a route that I’ve been up countless times but never down. At this point I realised that maybe checking out the route beforehand would have been beneficial. Being a bloke obviously meant that getting the route map or description out of my bag wasn’t an option; instead we waited for someone to point us in the correct direction.
The first 9 miles of the course was merciless, Hollins Cross down into Edale, up to the Druid’s Stone, then steeply descending to the valley floor before climbing back out via Back Tor to the summit of Lose Hill, then contouring round Win Hill. I was worried, if you didn’t get to the half way mark at the Thornhill trail by 2pm you were cut off and I still had a distance to go. The valley section had taken its toll as I had totally underestimated how difficult it would be. Progress had been very slow especially up Back Tor. But the thought of having to face the guys at work without having completed half the route helped me dig deep and grind out this hilly section of the race.
I made the cut off point, but wasn’t particularly excited about doing so as I was very aware that I was only half way round, physically broken and to make matters worse the chafing had started...
The route now dropped into Bamford through the very scenic mill area then climbed (of course) up to Stanage via Dennis Knoll. I was surprised how quickly progress was made along this section. A mixture of running and walking. That and I was with some ladies that were apparently determined to prove how weak I was, their company was brief as we leap frogged each other before they disappeared into the distance, it wouldn’t have been that bad if they weren’t about twice my age. However I am used to this having run plenty of local fell races, so my pride only stung for a few minutes.
Stanage to Burbage car park was familiar ground, I also had the mental boost of teaming up with a bloke who had decided to enter the event only the previous morning. Having someone to run with made a big difference, I could talk to them to gauge how they were feeling but more importantly I could slip stream them in the tough sections.
Burbage down to Padley Gorge remained steady, at this point I had the mental boost of completing marathon distance. I was about 6 hours slower than I thought I would have been but I was happy. Only seven miles left, easy, about an hour and half left I thought to myself….
The descent towards Hathersage remained steady, however route markers were becoming a bit scarce meaning one or two wrong turns cost me valuable time, I was gaining on the lead runner who was about four hours ahead of me: in fact they had probably already finished but I didn’t want to think about that yet.
We reached the final water station at mile 29. ‘Only a bit of uphill then a steep descent into Bradwell’ we were told…….an hour and a half later I was still climbing. This last section of the race mentally broke me and I was surprised at how much this negatively impacted me. The climb over Abney is long, it would be a great 10k route but after 30 miles I still wasn’t sure if I was going to make the end. As I could only walk the uphills at this point it felt endless. All the chat between me and my new companion stopped and I started noticing weird little details like my little toe nails felt peculiar (I still don’t know if they are attached as I stuck them down with plasters after the race), we hadn’t seen anyone in front for ages and finally to round it off my watch came up with a low battery message….had we been out for that long? We were still climbing, through Abney along possibly the longest track in the Peak. 33miles came and went? We should have finished by now? 34 miles also came and went, where have we gone wrong? Finally, we crested the ridge and looked down onto Bradwell.
The descent was steep, but we were feeling recharged having seen the finishing line. This was short lived as the route markers started to take us from half way down the hill back up. We regained the top of Abney only to realise that these markers must have been from some other part of the race. This was mentally crushing! We descended.
I finally crossed the finishing line after 9hrs 22min. I was surprised how long the last section had taken but having checked my watch, which survived the distance, we had completed 35 miles. It was a great experience with hind sight. I could have done a few things to improve my time; training would probably have been a good start. Reccying some of the sections would have made a big difference but carrying more Vaseline would probably have had the biggest impact!
It’s arrived! I’m excited and nervous, talking race plans and gear with my training partner and Outside colleague Matt Hood in the car. When we arrive, we sign up – me for the marathon and Hood for the half.
We take a walk on the first mile and half of the route, and return via the pub for some pasta based carb-loading. Then comes the packing of the bag for tomorrow. Then the second pack, and a final repack, just to be sure. Why have I brought three waterproof jackets?
Rab Meco long sleeved top
Shorts and socks
Outdoor Research Beanie
Silk liner gloves (dry bag)
Spark Windshirt (not used)
Rab Charge waterproof jacket (very much used)
Ipod and earphones and a £5 note (dry bag)
Phone in an Aquapac case
Peanut butter sandwich (not eaten)
Fenix 3 (on the wrist)
I wake up at 5.30am and it’s dry and mild outside. I allow myself a brief moment of hope before I drop off again, only to wake at 7.30 to the forecasted heavy rain. Brilliant. I throw down breakfast and get dressed for the race before heading down to the start. There are plenty of runners about and in spite of the grim weather the atmosphere is booming.
We are ushered to the start and deliberately take up our places towards the rear of the field – there are a few racing whippets on show at the front of the pack. We take the obligatory selfie and then 10 9 8 7 6 etc. Go! Well the whippets go – we don’t move for another minute and a half, but eventually we’re off!
We take a nice steady pace through town to the bottom of the first hill, where I turn to Hood, shake his hand and we wish each other luck, each now going off at our own pace.
I feel alone now in a sea of hundreds of runners, of all shapes, sizes and weird dress senses! The pack makes its way up into the mountains. I’m feeling good when I’m suddenly shoved into the first drink station. It’s a complete surprise to me. We’ve only come 2 miles and people are rushing to take on gels and drink. At the next one I brace myself for a scrimmage, but we’ve spread out and become civilised by now. I take water and gels and get going, but then realise I’ve got an empty carton to dispose of (a good race rule – any littering results in disqualification) so I reverse and find a bin back at the station.
I check the Fenix and I’m on pace for sub 12 minute miles. As we turn and head for Rhyd Ddu I’m cheered by some people who clap and shout out my name. I’m impressed they know me (surely they can’t have been reading the blog?) but then I realise my name is on my race number. Oh well, not so famous after all.
The field is really spread out now and the weather is grim. We run into Beddgelert Forest and get a little respite from the rain amongst the trees. A steady downhill leads to Beddgelert village and I remember the fiver I stashed in my pack for an ice-cream when we reached this point. Well, not going to happen now. Maybe soup and a roll if I spot somewhere!
The crowds in the village are massive as I go down the main street people are shouting my name and clapping and even the occasional dog joins in – this really does feel good! I wave back and for some reason shout “Merci”, I have no idea why. Maybe I’m going a bit crazy by this point.
Leaving Beddgelert behind the trail goes quiet again and I can only hear the sound of my own breath. The stretch coming up is the bit I didn’t enjoy on my recce, but a check of the Fenix tells me I’m on pace so I keep it steady.
Here we go; slipping, sliding, it’s really muddy now. All the runners are walking this section as it seems the safest thing to do. For about a mile we struggle through and thankfully I avoid taking a tumble. We cross back over the main road and I decide to have a few nuts and raisins. It’s a steady plod for me now – I’m soaked to the skin but it’s not cold so I’m fine.
The next feed station. I arrive wet and tired and take on a couple of cups of water and a gel and remember to throw away my rubbish this time. I take out my poles and head for Pen-y-Pass. Time check is fine, but my pace has dropped; that’s ok so long as I get there before the cut off.
It’s a steady 4 mile climb up to Pen-y-Pass and I’m thankful for the poles. There’s plenty of room for people to pass me if they need to, but only one person does. We exchange the traditional grunt, good luck, well done, keep going. I can see a great string of runners high up on the pass and it looks a bloody long way away. I make a mental note not to look up again. It’s hurting but I’m getting there.
I make it to Pen-y-Pass before the cut off time. My plan of action is to change my jacket here, eat my sandwich and take on a good amount of liquid. Step one – take off wet jacket. Oh my God, it’s almost blown out of my hands. Step two – put on dry waterproof jacket. Step three – leave peanut butter sandwich in my pack, grab a handful of jelly babies and a swig of water and leave! It’s brutal stood here; absolutely horrendous wet, windy and cold – get moving!
So, 20 miles in we get to climb Snowdon via the Pyg track. It winds up and up. Just round this corner, I keep telling myself. I’m alone at this point with only a handful of people coming down off the top. Then I come across a group of youths who begin to shout; “Go Paul! You’re the man! Dig in! Well done!” Then I’m asked for high fives. Wow! This really lifts my spirits and if you’re reading this, thanks guys!
On I go, wet, tired but happy. I’m caught up by another runner; we battle on together and I’m glad of the company. When we come across another fellow runner who’s hypothermic, we stop to see if we can help. He indicates he’s ok, but he needs to be rescued. With no phone signal we continue up and just before we reach the top, a couple of rescue guys are heading down to help him. They tell us we’ve only got 200m of the Pyg track to go.
On reaching the top I feel relieved more than anything. My hands are very cold and so are my legs. I’m still only in shorts. Finally I decide to stop and put on my waterproof trousers and gloves. Instantly I feel better and set off down but Arrgh! The pain in my knees is unbearable; I can only just move forwards. This really is hurting. Half a dozen runners pass me and now they’re asking if I’m ok. “Yep” I reply with a smile. I’m not.
I make a decision to see how I feel at the next water station and in a flash of inspiration decide to try walking down backwards. Poles tucked under my arms, I start singing Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean. I’m good for six steps and then the pace goes into warp speed help! I manage to stop and get my breath back. Maybe not the best idea.
As the terrain begins to level out, I find I can move my knees a bit more. Great, at least I’m moving with a little less pain now. I reach the last water station but everyone has gone. There’s a box of gels left but I can’t find any water. I think maybe the two guys going to rescue the runner near the top might have been called away from here, so I carry on down. Several more runners pass and it’s clear to see everyone just needs to finish now, it’s been a long day.
I arrive on the road just above Llanberis where a marshal sends me into the woods with the words “just half a mile to go, keep going”. I follow the signs into another wood across the road, and I realise that I’m moving further and further away from the finish line. I can hear the tannoy system and it’s getting fainter. I continue about 400m out of this wood before I decide to back up just as a woman pops out. I explain I’m not sure of the route to the finish line. “I don’t care, I just know I’ve nearly finished!” she replies and sets off running down the road. Well ok!
Two more runners appear out of the woods and after a quick discussion we set off after the previous lady. I’ve already run this section, I’m thinking grudgingly as I turn a corner and see a marshal who tells me there’s only 400m to go. I up my pace to a crawl.
I can see the finish line now and I’m buzzing. Hood is there, shouting words of encouragement, wow this feels good, my first ever marathon and I’m going to get a PB! As I go over the chip timer I raise my hands into the air and hear a spectator shout to keep going – it’s only 200m to the actual finish line. Gulp! I dig deep, tears in my eyes as I cross the line in 7hrs 30mins.
Someone puts a medal round my neck and hands me a drink of water. First words out of my mouth are, “I could murder a cup of tea,” and Hood points me straight at the tea and biscuits station. Result!
Did it! Did it! Done! Would I do it again? Yes, yes, yes! What a fantastic day I’ve had. I’m knackered, don’t get me wrong but it’s been a great experience. Huge thank yous to all the people who’ve been into the shop to wish me luck, to all the spectators who cheered and clapped and to all the marshals who stood in the pouring rain and greeted us with smiles and encouragement. Thanks and I’ll be back!
Don’t be put off; there are loads of options for climbing whether indoors or out. I climb all year round and have hardly been to a wall in the last year! After years of getting out there I've managed to get a feel for what's likely to be in condition on any given day, so to help you out here's a few tips. If you fancy a bit of a drive, the southern end of the Peak District can be worth a look. There's a lot of steep, quick-drying limestone down there, on generally good, pockety holds, but in this article I've concentrated mainly on the northern Peak District area, as it's closest to home and work for me, and extremely popular for locals and visitors alike.
The most famous of all grit crags, it's popular for good reason, and in unsettled weather it's not a bad bet as it's is one of the quickest to dry, so long as there's a breeze! Stop for a brew in Robin Hood's Cave if it does start to rain, it'll be dry before you know it.
Who says you can’t polish a turd? My favorite crag has sections that stay dry in the rain and often it has dried as soon as it stopped raining, as does the nearby bolted Horseshoe Quarry.
Yes, it’s hard, but the clean, exposed rock dries in seconds and often (being that tiny bit further south) gets slightly different weather to Hathersage. The same can be said for the end of Froggatt (Chequers Buttress), which is basically Curbar anyway.
It’s always worth trying somewhere at Burbage because there are crags facing every direction, so if you’re hoping to get wind or sun, or avoid wind or sun there, is always somewhere to try. Also sometimes the rain comes down so sideways it blows straight over the crag; this happens a lot at Burbage West in particular. Plus, Higgar Tor is so steep you can climb on it in almost any weather, until you get to that heinous slopey top-out that is!
THE Tor. The best hard sport crag in the Peak can be treated as an indoor wall most of the summer. Stays dry in full on downpours but be aware; it can seep in winter. The routes are hard (the warm up is 7b+) but don’t be put off: go down there, pick a route and don’t be ashamed to fall off every move, that’s what everyone does. Work on it and it will come. Also there is a ton of bouldering that will get you super strong.
A 2 minute approach will take you to a lovely spot by the river with lots of bouldering and traversing which again, can remain dry in heavy rain until the whole place floods or seeps!
The original eliminate wall! Much less steep than the previous 2 options but it’s got more polish than Pledge. You can make your own problems up or follow the (strict) guidebook but it is a great training area and you will learn faith in friction! If you're after bolted routes, there's a handful on Garage Buttress that stay dry in the rain, although you may want to bring your belayer up to the ledge so they don't get a soaking. And should it absolutely shell it down, there's spooky caves to explore.
One for the connoisseur. We love it. Grit’s answer to Minus Ten is Burglar Buttress; a short steep lump with a huge capping roof that keeps it (nearly) dry all the time. Low level bouldering and traversing is the name of the game but unlike its limestone competitors it is littered with jugs. Start eliminating holds and there are some very hard problems to be had!
Ok it’s a bit far from Hathersage but it’s ace. Trad, bouldering, sport, flood lit, all on grit and all under one roof! Confused? It is an odd place, but take a look in the Over the Moors guide to see what I'm talking about. The "other" Tor is steep quarried grit with great trad. It has trees capping most routes and a viaduct (!!) over the main wall keeping it very dry. The starts are steep making for great bouldering and someone has bolted the viaduct pillars to create the only sport climbing on grit. As if this wasn’t enough they've put up flood lights, so come rain or darkness, there’s no excuse!
Conditions can be a fickle thing, it takes many years of climbing on wet rock to learn where to go at any given time to get the best out of a bad day. Jon Fullwood wrote a great article on the Nectar Climbing blog that you may find useful, or, if you're visiting, you could just pop into the shop and chat to someone in the Rock Room for advice. We've also got a webcam, pointing towards Millstone, if you want live weather updates. It's a bit grainy (even though Dad's just cleaned the lens) but it gives you some idea of what the weather is doing before you head out.
Of course you could just climb anywhere anyway! Just occasionally, it’s adventurous and character building to get the waterproofs on and climb on in the rain. Not to mention a valuable skill to have if you have any alpine aspirations. Obviously lower your grade (a lot!), pick well protected routes and have fun! Or simply go aid climbing, an art that it is useful to know about!
If none of these take your fancy, and you're ready to admit defeat, then head to Hathersage to check out the Best Climbing Shop in the World Ever, before hitting one of the Sheffield climbing walls.
Warning – if you don’t want fairly explicit beta on a Tremadog classic, stop reading now.
I stare up at the finger crack. It glares back at me. Both of us are a little exposed and potentially off-route, but only one of us is intimidated by the situation. Politely and with the barest tremor of outright fear in my voice, I call down to my second/wife (not second wife, I’m fairly sure) and query whether I might have inadvertently strayed onto an E5. Her voice comes floating back up from the comfortable belay spot – “gain the ledge and ascend the thin crack above”. Bugger. I’m in the right place. Mindful of the presence of my father-in-law on the same belay ledge below, I restrict myself to a few muttered profanities about the likelihood of this actually being 4b climbing. Whose idea was it to climb Christmas Curry anyway?
Our morning’s climbing at Tremadog had already gone fairly spectacularly wrong. We made the short slog up to Craig Y Gesail, then left Hannah’s dad and his climbing partner to the lovely looking Bramble Buttress, having spotted a promising-looking VS called Princess further to the right. The start was a touch vegetated, but undeterred I geared up and headed skywards. What followed could best be summed up as “might be off route – carry on anyway – definitely off route – unlikely traverse to attempt to regain route – awkward belay in a gorse bush – no idea where the route goes – traverse again – no idea where we are now – time to retreat… via an incredibly awkward abseil down a steep hillside full of brambles”. Hot, scratched, bruised and with our tails firmly between our legs, we decided stopping for lunch was the only sensible solution.
Refueled and ready to go, I was fairly insistent that we left this particular crag behind and went somewhere else to try and do some actual climbing. Christmas Curry had been on my hit list for a while and the Micah Eliminate finish looked like it would add a little spice. Off to Bwlch y Moch we traipsed, (although with no attempt to pronounce it correctly) and after a brief diversion to the wrong bit of the crag, we arrived at the bottom of the route. Two and a half nice pitches later and here I am, the crack and I still eyeballing each other.
Having established that I am unfortunately in the right place, I slot a small nut into a very poor placement, purely for my own peace of mind and taking care not to tug it into place too hard in case it falls out (come on, we’ve all done it). I take a deep breath and look up at the crack once more. Come on, I did Three Pebble Slab the other day, why am I finding this so scary? Then, like one of those magic eye pictures you’ve been staring at for fifteen minutes, handholds and footholds suddenly materialise. It’s still intimidating but at least I can be fairly sure I’m not going to fall off instantly. I grasp the sidepull that’s appeared from nowhere and set off. Oh look, positive handholds and good footholds everywhere. Who would have thought it? The steep bit is over almost immediately and in a much more positive frame of mind I skip merrily towards the arête like a hyperactive squirrel, lobbing a cam in a crack on the way past and mentally chastising myself for being such a massive coward.
Disappointingly, hiding behind the arête and waiting for just this moment is a small put powerful gale force wind, which blows my recently-acquired confidence straight out to sea. Suddenly I wish I’d taken a little more time placing some gear that would, y’know, actually be of any use in a fall. Gibbering like an idiot and keeping as many body parts in contact with the arête as possible, I scramble upwards on reassuringly excellent holds and top out. Phew. Whilst waiting for the hyperventilation to calm itself down, I set up a belay and call to Hannah to start climbing. Sadly there’s no easy way to look down the route in order to make sure she’s just as terrified as I was so I sit back and relax (whilst keeping the rope tight of course, dear). As my heartbeat slowly returns to normal, as so often happens in these situations, the route segues swiftly in my head from “well, that’ll keep me up at night” to “awesome, let’s do it again”.
Eventually Hannah’s helmet appears over the top of the crag, she looks up at me and utters the sweetest words any climber can ever hear: “Crikey, I’m glad it was your lead. Pub?”
I have never climbed in the Rhinogs area of North Wales before and I have certainly never heard of Foel Penolau and Craig Galch, the two crags we climbed on. Foel Penolau is on the 2000’ contour line high above Llyn Trawsfynydd with commanding views towards Tremadog Bay and the Lleyn Peninsula. A series of short routes that pack a punch like ‘Do the Monkey’ E2 5c are well worth the effort on a good day.
However the stand-out route was on Craig Galch overlooking the Dwyryd estuary. ‘Subservient Elephant’ is a Mark Reeves /Leo Holding creation first climbed in 1998; it is given an unconfirmed E1 5b and 3 stars. Steve and myself can confirm that it is an outrageous E1 and definitely worth 3 stars. It has wild, ‘heart-in-your-mouth’ positions, just enough gear and holds that appear just when you really need them. On this occasion we gave it an extra star because as we topped out there was a peregrine falcon calmly watching us from a perch only 10m away.
As good as selective guidebooks are, you could well be missing out on some brilliant routes unless you consult some of the older, less fashionable definitive guides. Meirionnydd (The Climbers’ Club, 2002) is such an example because ‘Subservient Elephant’ appears nowhere else.
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