It's (not so) Grim Up North!
By Iain Prentice
On the first weekend in April, when many local runners were gathering at our excellent Shropshire Way Festival, I took the train up north for an ultra race which was much anticipated after 2 years' delay due to covid: the Northern Traverse. The race follows Wainwright's Coast-to-Coast route for 300 km from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood's Bay in North Yorkshire. It takes the runner through the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors and promised spectacular scenery. It's an end-to-end race, i.e. the clock doesn't stop until you reach the end and your finish time includes any time taken along the way to eat, sleep or otherwise recuperate. Strategy is therefore very important. There were six support points en route, all providing food drink and shelter, and some providing access to your drop bags (with spare clothes, hill food, sleeping bag etc), communal tents for sleeping and even showers!
We had five days in which to complete the course and I had vague aspirations to finish in four. Saturday dawned fine and sunny, and I joined many runners in the tradition of dipping their feet in the sea at St Bees before we set off along the clifftops. Turning inland, we had beautiful clear views of the mountains of the Lake District, which we soon headed towards and into. High adrenaline saw me set off at a decent pace which inevitably dropped once we hit Ennerdale and I stopped at Black Sail Hut to eat for the first time about 25 miles in. After Rosthwaite CP, I buddied up with Kevin, a runner of similar pace, and we dragged each other up and over to Grasmere and then into the night onto Patterdale. We had a bit of wildlife magic at Grizedale Tarn, high up below Helvellyn, where we saw a mouse on the trail determinedly nibbling away at a dropped biscuit among the snow-covered rocks! After Patterdale and the climb to snowy Kidsty Pike, the highest point of the route, we dropped to Haweswater and on to Shap, where the Lakes Traverse runners finished their 60 mile version of the race.
Those of us on the full Northern Traverse pushed on over limestone landscapes to Kirkby Stephen, where I stopped for a brief rest at 81 miles. After 3 hours' sleep I set off up to bleak Nine Standards Rigg, where the weather turned nasty as darkness closed in, and it was a relief to get down through the bogs and off the high ground. Battling against the wind and rain over the Yorkshire Dales I arrived in Richmond at breakfast time. I was soon off again, in the company of Dan, across the flat Vale of York and up on to the North York Moors - surviving the biggest hazard of the race, the crossing of the fast and busy A19 on tired legs and brain! We had steady repeats of ups and downs and after darkness fell struggled to stay awake on the high moor. I had thought that Dan was coping with sleep deprivation better than me until he pointed out quite matter-of-factly that he had just seen Ant and Dec over there with lots of bassett hounds! Eventually we reached the remote and windswept Lion Inn where we had three hours sleep on the floor of a transit van (the tents were at too much risk of blowing away!).
On Tuesday morning Dan and I set off early in good spirits and better weather, past displaying grouse on the moor, and eventually dropping down to join the coast path for the final few miles into Robin Hood's Bay. We set a good pace downhill to the finish together, in a time of 77 hours 44 minutes (38th= finishers out of 140 starters). Kim Collison, the winner, had romped home in an incredible course record 44 hours!
After a ceremonial dipping of my feet in the sea, we trudged back uphill for a celebratory ice-cream, a rest and a welcome cup of tea, - suitably low-key!
The Northern Traverse was a great event, well organised and through beautiful countryside, allowing me to rekindle old friendships and forge new ones through shared adversity. It was a great physical and mental challenge, but above all great type two fun! After all, what's not to like about an epic shared adventure across the roof of England? The buzz is back!
Published: 13th April 2022