“Look here, its one of those nutters”…
I paused briefly as I jokingly commented to the two walkers descending down the Garburn Pass that I thought they were talking to my dog, but as I resumed picking my way along the loose stones and rain-washed grit of this ancient mountain route I reflected on his unintentional compliment, little were they to know, but it had been a while since I was last called a nutter by a passing fell-walker.
It had been two years since I last set out up the Garburn Pass, intent on running the round of the Kentmere Horseshoe, 18 months since I had been told by an NHS consultant to consider giving up running and nearly 14 months since i had knee surgery. I was back on comfortable ground.
Leaving the small cluster of farmhouses at the head of Kentmere, there was a distinctly cool breeze blowing. Rain was forecast for later that afternoon and it definitely did not feel like a balmy end to Spring.
The run up the Garburn Pass is long and sustained, never too steep, but with the loose underfoot conditions attempting to sap any initial enthusiasm from your calfs it’s a pass that has slowed many a runner. I took my time, today was not about personal bests, it was about another link in the long-chain back to full fitness.
Before long, having passed a handful of walkers I reached the field gate that marked the high point on the Garburn Pass. From here I would head northwards, onto the high fells towards Yoke and Froswick before eventually skirting around the top of High Street.
Since the National Park completed their ‘improvements’ to this path a couple of years ago, the path northwards is now obvious and easy going underfoot, steadily rising upwards and presenting little navigational challenge. Their initial improvements were to say the least unsympathetic but following additional work I am told, in time, its edges will soften and it will absorb itself into the mountain landscape once more, which the previously eroded track would never have done.
I enjoyed a brief respite from the strength-sapping ascent, running across the Cotton Grass fields before it was time to dig in again as I began the pull up and onto the summit of Yoke (706m). Once past the final boundary wall, a series of slate steps in the final few hundred yards gives the a final sting in the tail for aching quads and calfs.
From Yoke the terrain briefly flattens before a steady but relatively short ascent rears up to summit Ill Bell (757m). By now the wind was blowing steadily and the temperature had fallen sufficiently for me to start feeling distinctly chilled in just my Crux Tee. So i stopped to pull on my shell, given the conditions I wouldnt normally have been reaching for a hardshell but it was another good opportunity to put our soon-to-be-released GORE-TEX Active Shell through its paces. Either way I was glad to have it; buffeted by the wind i began the steep drop down the northern side of Ill Bell.
Once the ground had flattened out I chose to take the ‘race route’ that skirts around the summit of Froswick rather than ascend the 100 or so metres to its summit, only to have to lose it all again on the other side. A faint but visible track heads leftwards contouring the steep western slopes of Froswick before returning to rejoin the main path on its northern flank.
An hour or so had passed as I began the final haul on the flat-topped summit of High Street. My head was being constantly attacked by my hood, in the gusting side-swipes of the wind, so I stopped briefly to fold it down and catch my breath before putting in one last effort.
And just as that 900m or so of ascent is beginning to take its toll, the terrain suddenly flattens out. Running around the top of High Street is a magical thing, all of a sudden the views open up not just to the far West but also across to Helvellyn and in the far east across to the high pennine hills of Cross Fell ans Great Dun Fell, the running suddenly feels easy, all of the ascent done and for a heady few minutes you can run feeling like your in a dream.
Its then time to reflect, your only half way around, there are still many miles of running to go and your on a high fell, along way from the comforts of the valley. And so I traced my steps around the southern edge of High Street before beginning my descent down to Nan Bield Pass.
From here the classic route heads up and onto the slopes of Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike, but today i had done more than enough and so took the fast descent down into the upper Kentmere valley. A long and steady descent then ensues back to the drystone walls and farmland pastures before picking up tracks once more that take you towards Kentmere.
No PB’s today but one very big personal objective met.