Dog Hill and Blackstone Edge

The previous weekend, in glorious sun, myself, my lovely wife Helen and our silly Pointer headed off up for a walk/run up and over Ingleborough. This was one of the Howler series of virtual races. (Read about all of our Howler adventures here). Anyway, with lockdown version 3 well and truly on the way out, we opted for another of the Howler events, this one was ‘Minnesota’, which started and finished at Baitings Reservoir, halfway between Rochdale and Ripponden.

As we headed south we noticed more and more snow, but as the roads were clear we thought nothing of it. That is until we started to climb out of Rochdale. The roads hadn’t been gritted and we weren’t the only car that had to pull over. The sun was out and we could see that the compacted snow was melting fast, so after a few more vehicles had passed us we once again tried to make it to the top of the hill. Fortunately at the top the roads become the responsibility of Calderdale Council, who had been out gritting. We grabbed one of the last spaces in the car park and set off across the dam.

Once again Helen was in charge of the route while I kept hold of Nelly, who can be a real pest when we’re out running. After a short section on the road we slowly made our way up through a farm and up a very steep bank before finding ourselves along a ridge, albeit with deep snow.

The route had two main hills, both with Trig points, and it didn’t take us too long to reach the first, Dog Hill. Amazing views and hardly anyone else about.

Helen also took an obligatory selfie at the top, although we couldn’t manage one with Nelly; it was all too exciting for her little pointer brain.

From Dog Hill we dropped down towards Green Withens Reservoir. We stopped at the point where the water would flow over the top, and Nelly tried to jump over the wall, not realising that it was a huge drop on the other side. I stopped her in time, but it was a scary moment.

With a nice flat track we made good time on this section, as the terrain in the snow was hard work. We were also worried about the forecast that snow and rain could start later that afternoon. In the end the snow didn’t begin until we were back in the car.

With the M62 in sight we then started the long climb up to Blackstone Edge, obviously a popular spot as there were dozens of other people.

Fortunately this section had stone flags to walk along, so before we knew it we were at the top with amazing views across Manchester and the surrounding area.

We followed the main footpath down from the top for about a mile before heading east towards the car. Even though it was mainly downhill it was impossible to run as the snow was starting to melt, and it had settled on top of wet grass. I fell over a couple of times and Helen almost did the same. We also thought that it was safe to let Nelly off the lead for a little scamper. If we had let her off earlier we wouldn’t have seen her again, so we have to wait until she starts to tire so that she doesn’t go off too far. At ten years old she still has more energy than dogs half her age.

We dropped down beside an old stone wall where there was a man resting who apparently also had a pointer, but not with him at the time. Into a field with Ewes and lambs, Nelly on a tight lead, before the last road section.

Another fantastic Howler adventure and stunning weather once again. Final stats were just under 19km with just over 400m of climbing. We have two more routes that aren’t too far away, and then the others are south of Manchester, the Peak District and one in Wales.

Ingleborough in the Sun

Lockdown has eased which can only mean one thing, mini-adventure time. At the end of last year I blogged about the Virtual Howler Series that my lovely wife Helen had signed us up for (read about it here). The series consists of ten 10 mile routes, named after US States, although this being Howler there are the odd extra ‘free’ mile. We managed ‘Dakota’ at the end of last year in the snow, which was an amazing run/walk (read about it here). Yesterday we opted for ‘Indiana’, which started and finished in Ingleton and headed up and over the peak of Ingleborough, the toughest of the climbs on the Three Peaks Route.

With Helen’s new Garmin Fenix 6 watch, with detailed maps and the route, we set off from Ingleton Falls car park and headed up Oddie’s Lane. We stayed on the road until a footpath took us near to the top of the falls path, with Nelly pointing us in the right direction. Our first major climb of the day was to the plateau Nelly was looking at.

We weren’t in any rush and was more than happy for Helen to take as many photos as she wanted, as we walked up the hills and ran on the flat and downhill sections. It wasn’t too early in the morning but it was cold even with the sun. We slowly wound our way up to the limestone plateau, only encountering two other people.

Along the top there was one well defined bridleway and a number of small undefined footpaths, but with Helen navigating we stayed on course. We stopped for a couple of minutes when the Ribblehead Viaduct came into view, although the photos didn’t come out very well. Nelly on the other hand decided it was time to make a silly face for the camera (my face is also quite silly).

From here it was a nice steady descent into the very small village of Chapel-le-Dale.

Over the main road and onto the long climb up to the top of Ingleborough. We soon joined the main Three Peaks route and even though the sun was out there wasn’t too many people. In the summer there can be thousands of walkers and runners. Fortunately the path is easy to follow and very well maintained.

In the distance Ingleborough rises up, with a notoriously difficult climb up the almost vertical slope, with very steep steps. Fortunately there were very few other people, no wind and no pressure. Nelly had a couple of little whimpers as we climbed but we were all happy to reach the last easier section to the very top. Obligatory photo at the Trig Point as we admired the amazing views and made the most of the sun. Once again Nelly was pointing the way we needed to go.

From the top it was a mostly steady 5km back down into Ingleton. There were plenty of people out walking, many with their dogs, and it was also good to see lots of young people out, including one woman running uphill quicker than we were running down. Once back at the car we gave Nelly a drink, although we had stopped every time we crossed a stream, before I opened a bag of Haribo for the journey home.

We had thought about doing a different Howler route just south of Burnley, but Ingleborough in the sun with very few people was an absolutely amazing day out. Eight more Virtual Howler events to complete before the end of the year.

One final note about Nelly. She is an English Pointer, renowned for being one of the fittest breeds, and even though she is getting on a bit she was still pulling at the lead at the end of the four hours. We had only taken her out for one short walk the day before, and the the day after will be the same. She is a tired old girl who is currently curled up on our bed, and without doubt she is the best dog in the world.

Belmont to Rivington Pike

Yesterday I blogged about the Howler Virtual Challenge (read about it here). Today I can confirm that our little family (seen below) ticked off the nearest of the ten routes, named Dakota, which is an out and back route from just north of Belmont to Rivington Pike.

I wasn’t too sure about the small lay-by for parking at the start/finish point, but it was almost full of cars when we arrived as there is a good hill for sledging nearby. I also knew that there was a good sized car park up Sheephouse Lane, about half way through the route, where we could potentially park if we needed to. As it turned out, Sheephouse Lane was definitely not a road I would have wanted to drive on without 4WD and winter tyres.

Anyway, we set off and I was in charge of navigation and Helen was on photo duty. The first mile was slow going as we tried not to get our feet too wet in the typical fell terrain. Fortunately at the top of the first hill the path became very easy going as heavy flags had been laid down many years earlier. We almost danced the next mile in the snow. The views were amazing with the masts on Winter Hill visible in the distance. Helen was incredibly pleased with how this photo came out.

First navigation error came up soon after we had passed a group of runners from Chorley. I had assumed that our route would go up and over Winter Hill, which it didn’t so we had to back track a hundred metres to find the appropriate footpath turn. Helen informed me that she had enough photos of me and that she wanted one of Nelly. Fair enough really as she is the best dog in the world.

From here we reached Sheephouse Lane, which was covered in hard packed snow and was incredibly slippery. We skittered along the road until we found the correct footpath. However we also found a family who had only moments earlier rolled their car. Their 4WD car had lost traction around a tight bend and slowly slipped off the road. Fortunately everyone was OK with multiple air bags deployed. The woman asked if we had one of those foil blankets to help keep their very young child warm. We unwrapped one and once we knew that they were all OK and that help was on the way we set off again.

The next section was typical Howler territory with a very steep slippery slope down across a small footbridge and then steeply back up the other side. We let Nelly off her lead to make her own way. She stayed off the lead as we wound our way through a magical snow filled wood and then down to the overflowing Pigeon Tower carpark. We couldn’t believe how many people there were.

Second navigation error as we picked the wrong track, but we managed to find a cut through, as we joined the correct path up to Pigeon Tower.

Lord Leverhulme (William Hesketh Lever), the soap magnate and founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) conceived and built Rivington Terraced Gardens with the help of Thomas Mawson between 1905 and 1925, with the Pigeon Tower being a present to his wife Elizabeth Lever.

As we reached Pigeon Tower there were hundreds of people. We had to walk as the track was covered in packed down snow and was again incredibly slippery. We gingerly made our way up to Rivington Pike, the turn around point on our run. There were hundreds of others enjoying the fine views or attempting to sledge down the steep hill. We didn’t hang around long.

All that was left was for use to retrace our footsteps and head back to the car. It had taken us far longer than expected, mostly due to having to walk most of the Rivington section. We let Nelly off her lead for most of the route back, right up until less than a mile to go where upon she headed off in the wrong direction. A couple of frantic minutes later and she reappeared looking very pleased to see us.

Overall an amazing run, mostly because of the stunning conditions. This is the only out and back route of the ten Howler Virtual Events, and I think the route might have been improved with a little loop from Rivington Pike to Winter Hill before joining the route back to the start/finish, but that is just my opinion.

We are definitely looking forward to completing the other nine routes and had thought about doing the other Lancashire one on New Year’s Day, but with so much snow and ice about we opted to stay local. Hopefully we’ll soon be in Tier 2 when we’ll be able to travel out of the county.

If you fancy a challenge I would heartily recommend this Howler Virtual Challenge.

Howler Virtual Challenges

Howler Events are fast becoming a Lancashire institution with their legendary tough events, or they were before the lockdown curtailed all but a few races. Me and my amazingly fit wife have done three Howler events in the past, all of which have been challenging for various reasons; extra ‘free’ miles, extreme rain or ice and snow (read about them here). To try and keep people interested, Stu, the Head Howler, set up a series of ten virtual routes that could be done whenever. The first iteration involved ten 10km loops all in and around the West Pennines of Lancashire. The second iteration, or the 2nd Coming Virtual Challenge, to its full title, involves ten 10 mile routes. These loops have US States for names and many of them are further afield, so we’ll have to wait until the lockdown eases to travel out of Lancashire which is currently in Tier 3. The good news is that we have a full year to complete all ten. Two of the routes, Dakota and Iowa, are within our county, so we will have a go at these first. Below illustrates the rough area where the routes are located.

Most of the routes will be completely new to us, so we are very excited. If you would like to join the fun, then the signing up information can be found on the Howler Events Facebook group or here.

Forest of Bowland Half Marathon

At the beginning of November me and my lovely wife took part in a Remembrance Day run organised by Howler Events (read about it here). When we had entered that event we also entered the Forest of Bowland half marathon, as it was much closer to home and we had cycled through Dunsop Bridge many many times. Knowing the area we knew that it would be hilly, and as the weather forecast was bad we packed extra layers, over and above what was on the ‘essential kit list’ that we had been told to bring.

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There was also a full marathon on at the same time, although they were setting off an hour earlier and once they had completed the half distance, they would turn around and do the same route in the opposite direction.

We made it to the start with plenty of time and chatted to an old friend who had recce’d the route on a very wet day a few weeks earlier. There were also quite a few familiar faces from the previous event that we’d done. This is one of the things that I like about Howler events in that they are like a great big friendly family.

At the start the weather was cold and windy, but at least it was dry, for now. Despite this I was wearing two long sleeved thermal tops and my heavier waterproof jacket, leaving my lighter waterproof in the car. Full leggings, double layered thermal woolly hat and gloves. I felt a little bit overdressed for about the first mile where it was sheltered from the wind, but as soon as we hit the first hill I was very glad that I was wrapped up toasty. There were a few people who were wearing shorts or were without gloves. I always prefer to be wearing too much. You can always take it off if you get too warm, but if you get cold you can be in trouble, especially if you’re miles from anywhere on the top of a fell, hence the ‘essential kit list’. I will be completely honest, there was one item on the list that I hadn’t got with me, and that was money as I knew that on this route it would be useless. A fold-up foil blanket was a much better option.

As we set off we all went the wrong way, turning left before the bridge into Dunsop and not after it. Most people found that to be quite amusing. As I mentioned earlier, when we climbed up the first very long climb, the wind was absolutely freezing and I was grateful for my beard. It was still quite boggy at the top as most of us unsuccessfully tried to avoid getting wet feet this early in the race. The route then dropped down to the first feed station at about the five mile mark. I had a camelback and food so all I grabbed was a biscuit without stopping.

This section of the route I knew well having cycled it a couple of times on mountain bikes, the last time in similar weather. About a mile after the feed station I went for a drink, but couldn’t get anything. Water in the tube had frozen solid. This was a little worrying, although dehydration wasn’t too likely. (It did un-freeze before the end of the race). The section of the route was on a wide farm track with plenty of frozen puddles to keep an eye out for.

On the Howler Facebook page the organisers had warned everyone about the sharp left turn off this track, which about five or six runners in front of me completely missed, even though there was a great big arrow. What should I do? I chased after them. I caught up with one guy who had stopped to check the route on his phone, realising that he had missed the turn. I tried to get the attention of the other group. Fortunately the other guy managed to whistle loud enough for them to hear. While this was going on, the nearest runner behind me had tried to get my attention. With everyone on the correct route I set off down the steep and technical path.

It was about then that the leader of the marathon went past me in the opposite direction. I was so surprised to see someone that soon that all I managed to say was ‘crikey!’ As the route started to drop we were out of the worst of the wind as a few other marathon runners passed me. They were going to have a rough run into that headwind I thought to myself. It was also about this time that it started to rain, and soon it was raining hard, but not just rain, it was freezing rain. I already had frozen snot in my beard, but now ice was forming on my clothes. Three good layers was just about right for the conditions.

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The last few miles were on a proper paved road, which was hard on my feet with trail shoes, and I almost came a cropper on some ice, as did my wife a little later, but before I knew it I was back in Dunsop Bridge and across the finish line. I wasn’t envious of the marathon runners as the conditions had seriously deteriorated, and I was very happy to see my wife safely across the finish line less than thirty minutes after me.

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The race HQ was full of friendly chat as we were handed our excellent medals. Not wanting to get stuck in the area if the weather turned even worse we headed for home. Later on we found out that the marathon had been called off by the Bowland and Pennine Mountain Rescue Team, who said that it was some of the worst conditions that they had ever witnessed.

Reading between the lines on Facebook the following week I got the feeling that there were a few people who were not prepared for a winter fell race, and didn’t have enough layers. I saw some very cold looking people coming in. The next event from Howler is in Holcombe and pre-race information appears to be far stricter about essential kit, and that it will be checked and if you don’t have it with you, you won’t be racing. Which does make sense to me. Unfortunately, we left it too late to enter the Holcombe Howler, but good luck to everyone who has entered.

The Forest of Bowland half marathon was easily the toughest half that I’ve ever done, and it was very well organised from the whole team. A big thank you to everyone involved and I’m sure that we will see you all again soon.

Remembrance Day Run

I came across Howler Events earlier in the year, and the wife and I decided to enter a couple of their trail runs. Most of their events are based in the West Pennines, which makes a change as most of the trail races that we’ve done or looked at have been in the Lake District.

The Remembrance Day run started and finished in Huddleston, near Darwen, and was advertised as an 11 mile technical trail run which would raise money for Combat Stress, the British Legion and Bolton Mountain Rescue.

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We arrived at the Ranken Arms nice and early and had time for another coffee, as well as plenty of ‘faff’ with numbers and losing safety pins. We both also went with putting our numbers on our thigh, which was a real eye opener. I usually end up ripping my number on my arms, but on the leg it was like I wasn’t wearing a number. I can see why so many people do it.

There was about 200 people doing the event, and the atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed, with the organiser reading a letter sent home from the front during WWI. The start was a gentle affair, with queues to get through a gate and then over a sty, but no one was pushing or shoving, probably because most of us knew how many hills there would be. In fact I don’t think there was a single flat part on the whole route. Up and up we went, and then up some more. On the whole the first half was fairly good running without too much technical paths.

At the half way point there was a feed station, although I had water and snacks with me so I pushed on. At that point I was running with a local who knew the route like the back of his hand, which was handy as it wasn’t always clear where to go, even with red and white tape all over the place.

After the feed station the route went up and up again, with some stunning views.

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Not being worried about how long the race would take I even stopped for a selfie!

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The second half of the race was more difficult, with rocky paths and uneven moorland to traverse. I found myself in a group of three other triathletes who were good company, and one of us was always on the look out for the trail markers so that we didn’t go off course. A few people did, and a couple of very fast women overtook me on more than one occasion.

On one particular technical uphill section I looked at my Garmin and saw that I had completed ten miles. “Only one more mile to go” I said, with a smile, to the guys I was running with. It was obvious that we were going to be doing more than the advertised 11 miles.

The last two miles were back the same way we came, although I saw a couple of people running the wrong way as they weren’t too sure that it was correct. A bit further on and three women missed a left turn but I waved at them and then opened the gate for them as we headed up the last but one steep hill, before the final push back to the pub.

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The medal at the end was very well designed and is easily one of the best in my collection. I quickly changed my shoes and socks and headed back up the first hill to watch and cheer my wife. While waiting I saw another three runners go the wrong way, although they were too far away for me to shout to.

I then spotted my wife’s distinct bobble hat as she laughed and smiled her way up the last but one hill. Big hugs at the finish line and a quick dash for home to take our loyal pooch out for a walk. She would have been a nightmare if we’d brought her with us as she doesn’t like running on the lead.

The final distance for us was approximately 12 and a half miles, but Howler Events don’t charge for extra miles. We were fortunate with the weather once again, as it didn’t rain and it wasn’t too cold, although on another day this event could be very tough. Overall a very well organised event and both me and my wife are looking forward to the Forest of Bowland half marathon in December.