It’s only 3 weeks or so to go until this years 3 Shires fell race. Described as the youngest of the Lakeland classics, it takes a circular route from Little Langdale crossing Wetherlam, Pike O Blisco and Lingmoor Fell in the process.
August Bank Holiday is not usually the time to be heading into the narrow confines of Little Langdale but the un-August like weather seemed to have sent anyone sensible scurrying for the pubs and tea-shops, I quickly found a parking spot only a few hundred yards from the pub and set off through the cool afternoon air.
My collie, Seren, was clearly to get on with it, pulling rampantly on the lead as we headed down to the river. From here we turned right to head westwards along the valley track that would allow us to attack Wetherlam’s northern flanks. The race summary describes this point as the place where the race starts proper, what that means in plain English is that it’s the point where an unrelentingly steep hillside roars upwards, swathed in obstructive bracken and pitted with rock steps with little in the way of let up for 300 odd metres until you reach the relative safety of a steep grassy ramp that weaves it’s way to within a few metres of the summit.
I took what I thought to be one of the better lines up the hill-side, it was hell. I paced upwards on long bursts, occasionally stopping to look back and check for other more obvious lines I could take in the future, none were apparent. All there was were hidden, rutted sheep trods and rocky Outcrops hidden under a continual forest of bracken. There is something utterly soul-sapping about this type of terrain, anything other than total commitment turns an ascent like this into a spirit draining slog, and I was less than 100% enthusiastic. I kept stopping too often, lack of drive levels running as high as lack of fitness. Why was I doing this, why did I think I had missed fell running for all those months I asked myself. There wasn’t an immediate answer other than competitive drive filling my head with thoughts of being roundly beaten by swathes of better people. With Seren leading the charge, I kept heading upwards.
As we drew higher, the cloud level sank lower, an advancing band of showers was lining up in wait as I reached the summit of Wetherlam. A quick re-read of the race notes and I was off across open ground down towards the prison band before climbing again to the mist shrouded top of Swirl How. It was cool and damp atop Swirl How, a storm and cold wind was gusting around the exposed summit top. Picking my way down towards Wrynose Pass and the 3 Shires stone, I momentarily lost concentration and lost the running line, sticking to the ridge with it’s rockier and more technical descent before landing myself at the road.
Looking at the watch I had been out for 1 hour and 45 minutes. That was ok I thought, I’d not been pushing too hard and running with the dog is never fast. I took my time on leaving Wrynose, the route weaves I way up and past the Black Crag, a pleasant outcrop where I’ve climbed a few times before and home to possibly the Lakes’ easiest E2’s, but having only walked up here before I was keen to not miss the vague trod that winds it’s way across the fell side. It’s classic fell terrain, seemingly not that steep, encouraging you to open up the strides to then be hit by a debilitating lack of strength as that modest incline asserts it’s authority. Passing a family out walking, I couldn’t bring myself to revert to walking, I shuffled up to the summit of Pike O Blisco.
The last hour was a battle between lethargy and fatigue. I was tired and would rather have been in the pub than on the fell. But there was still plenty of route finding and running to be done. Weaving my way across the undulating fells, I eventually found the steep descent down through more swathes of bracken towards Blea Tarn.
The final section of this route winds it’s way over Lingmoor Fell, but not before Pete Blands special race description attempts to send you down the road to the valley bottom. Having crossed the cattle grid adjacent to the national trust car park there is a stream with a faint trod weaving it’s way alongside the small stream that tumbles from the fell above, what there isn’t is 50m of road running or an obvious rib to ascend. I chose my route nose over race notes and wound my way up to the boundary wall and onto the summit of Lingmoor Fell. All that was left was a steady descent back down to Little Langdale and a well earned pint in the 3 Shires pub.
13 miles. 4500 to 5000ft ascent. 3 1/2 hours.