Big thanks to Phil Coop for bringing this post together.
Bowness to Ilkley – Sunday 15th June 2014
Being a member of St Thereas Athletic Club (STAC) isn’t just all about running marathons. Never more did we find this to be true when a group of runners from STAC attempted the Dalesway Challenge (DC).
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the DC, this is a short explanation:
The Dalesway is a popular walk of a good eighty miles starting in Bowness at Lake Windermere in The Lake District and finishing at the old bridge in Ilkley. The route covers many locations within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Just about the entire route is off road.
A group of seven STACies travelled to Cumbria late on Saturday afternoon as we all had a very early start on the Sunday morning.
Geoff and Pauline had painstakingly planned the route for each pair of runners, a daunting and logistical task of which their preparation was superb.
Simon was our designated driver and ‘boy oh boy’ did he work hard!
The early starters were Leg 1 Wanda and Phil, Leg 2 Karen and Nicki.
The story begins:
Alarm bell rings at 01:15 a.m. This can’t be right, who gets up in the middle of the night to go running? Answer: STACies do!
This isn’t your normal run day breakfast!
Geoff and Pauline drove Wanda and Phil to the start in Bowness. Its still pitch black and as we park up near the start we are approached by a group of people who have just left a local nightclub. We did get some strange looks.
Geoff and Pauline drive away, Phil and Wanda get ready to start The Dalesway Adventure!
Leg 1 – Bowness to Low Gill Viaduct
Distance – 19 miles
Runners: Wanda & Phil
It’s 02:50 a.m. and off we go. Headlamp turned on. Phil leading the way Wanda following with map in hand. The first couple of miles are at a brisk walking pace, its still too dark and dangerous to run. Phil’s headlamp reflects light back from a field of sheep. They look like aliens!
Just before 04:00 a.m. and the daylight is beginning to break. Wanda and Phil pacing out a steady trot, signposts doing their job.
After a brief period of confusion where Phil & Wanda completely lost their way due to poor signposts we are back on track. Another slight confrontation with a field of none too happy young bulls delayed us further.
Wanda takes a break.
A policy of keeping a steady pace on the flat and brisk walking up the hills was employed. Some of the scenery was stunning. It was a real shame that due to cloud cover we didn’t get the sunrise we were hoping for.
It did get muddy too! (didn’t it Wanda!)
Several locals guided us on our way when directions became ‘difficult’. Two miles to go and we can hear the traffic on the M6 motorway. What should have been a 19 mile run had now turned into a 23 mile excursion due to poor signposting.
Almost finished now! The final decent, the red brick viaduct at Low Gill now in view. We can see Simon waiting at the bottom.
Leg 1 completed, slightly longer than expected but a great route.
Leg 2 – Low Gill Viaduct – Dent
Distance – 12 miles
Runners Karen & Nicki
A rather excited Nicki and Karen arrive at their start point for 6.30am faced with a 12 mile leg. While we were disappointed not to see Phil and Wanda come up the hill to send us off, we needed to keep the day on track so we set off on our journey.
Down the road we went, over the bridge to follow the river, then the fun began, up, up, up, we went, then a bit down, then more up. Gosh this is like fell running and brought back memories of ‘Over The Odda’. We were able to follow the paths and keep to the allotted route, however, due to the terrain there was no way we could achieve our allocated 12 minutes per mile. One hour later and only four miles covered, we decide to keep going to see if we could make up the time, hoping the terrain would get easier but to no avail. 1 hour 15 minutes and we completed mile 5 we picked up the phone and made the call, Geoff and Pauline, you need to leave on time, maybe a bit earlier if you can in case the going is still tough.
We continued on through paths and puddles, fields of long lush grass that made it harder going, but then we started on a downhill stretch and came to a bit of a road. We have had plenty of giggles on the way, what a lovely way to celebrate Nicki’s birthday. Every sheep, cow, rabbit or hare was spoken to so far; Nicki just keeps on running but ensures they all know we are there.
At 7 miles we hit a snag – we wet through a gate and was met by a dog – the dog was nervy so we dropped to a walk, the dog got freaked and decided it was time for bite, a chunk out of Karen’s leg was taken, then the owner came in sight – your dog has just bit me came the cry, oh no she wouldn’t do that came the reply. He then tried to bring the dog to say hello and Karen just said Nooo – take the dog away. A few tears and a look at the wound, we concluded we could soldier on.
Two miles later we met a sheep stuck in the fence and trapped by its horns – Nicki charged in to free the poor mite. 5 minutes later it did do battle, kept trying to run back through the fence, but once finally freed of it skipped back to its Mum.
We carried on and got a bit lost, out came to map and Nicki got us back on track. 3 hours and 53 minutes after we started we arrived at our destination in Dent – we could not see any welcoming committee – now we were worried as Leg 1 runners should be back, along with the cars and all our goodies, flasks and changes of clothes, we also needed to take on some food.
No mobile phone reception on either phone, no money in pocket what do we do? Lets go the pub and see from there – a very nice man lent us his phone, we called in to Simon to find out if Phil and Wanda had completed their leg. A treasure hunt to find us a car – Geoff and Pauline had to leave us their key – it was hidden under a rock near a tree. We find the car and open the boot and raided the loot – breakfast bars were the order of the day we knew Geoff and Pauline wouldn’t mind – we can give it back when we retrieve our food.
Leg 3 – Dent – Lea Yeat
Distance – 5 miles
Runners Geoff & Pauline
To start with, we had a concession in mileage? Can’t think why. We both left Dent at very quiet time at 8.55am jogging through this quaint cobbled village, down to the river Dee & along the boggy bank, before climbing through a Dalesway signed gate. Confronted by a completely overgrown track full of wet, clinging plants &nettles.
Pauline’s comment – ‘decided to sacrifice my hands to benefit my face and shoulders’.
We reach road, then down to the river again, over 2 bridges fairly quick, up hillside once more before dropping to river and glad to see that Red telephone box. Michelle and Andrew waiting to greet us only 4 mins late at 10. 09am. Not also forgetting the nasty biting midges, which they also left with us.
Leg 4 – Lea Yeat – Ribblehead
Distance – 5 miles
Runners Michelle & Andrew
Michelle and Andrew were the first of the “Sunday Crew” to arrive at their starting point about twenty minutes or so before schedule. Lea Yeats is not much more than a hamlet (too small for the AA Routefinder), though it does possess a telephone box and a bus stop, at the bottom of the hill that leads to Dent Station, which is not really near Dent at all.
Already it had been decided to set each pair off according to the timetable, rather than wait for the incoming pair, but this message hadn’t reached Michelle and Andrew – indeed it became obvious that the survival of the telephone box is probably associated with the absence of any signals for mobile networks – so in the event they were the only pair to receive a handover as Geoff and Pauline appeared apparently from nowhere.
The route took them back along the narrow winding road towards the route to Hawes, past the Sportsman pub and then up, up, and more up beneath the railway at Dent Head Viaduct, and eventually onto a rough path across the side of Blea Moor. But the view looking back over towards Dent was spectacular. Blea Moor is one of those remote places that one reads about in railway histories, as the railway tunnel beneath it took five years to construct. There must once have been a shanty town here for the navvies; now there is just a Network Rail man in a 4×4.
They briefly took a wrong turn, as there are two parallel paths marked on the map and they were heading for the far one, but regained the course after two or three minutes.
Eventually a steep drop off the side of the moor returned to a more solid track heading towards Gearstones on the Hawes road, where they could see familiar cars and bright green jackets, and, in the far distance, two runners – Gillian and Lynne – setting off south. They had missed the handover by about ten minutes, good effort though.
They were greeted by Geoff and Pauline, and by Nicki and Karen, the latter each with an animal tale to tell. Then off to Hawes for a visit to one of the town’s cafés and a further wait for Phil, Wanda and Simon to join the entourage, before setting off towards Yockenthwaite – where they all briefly glimpsed Gillian and Lynne again on the far side of the valley.
Leg 5 – Ribblehead – Yokenthwaite
Distance – 11 1/2 miles
Runners Gillian & Lynne
Lynne and Gillian were all geared up and sat in the car ready to go when the others pulled in looking worn out, dirty and telling us to take our map as not many signs on route!
We set off, straight up a steep stoney hill passing walkers coming the opposite way asking how far we were going! We soon got into our stride and passed a group of walkers going our way (or so we thought) up higher then on a path along the tops with fantastic views we could see a mist & fog. It was drizzling slightly at one point, we didn’t see anyone else for a while so when we saw a guy coming towards us in the opposite direction, we just asked him if we were on the correct track as I was convinced we were, but apparently not!!!
We had gone on a much higher path by somehow missing our turning earlier on for the Dalesway, not a difficult thing to do! He told us we would come to the road soon so to turn right and follow the road back down which would be a little longer!! Oops!!
As we turned onto the road, further on, the mist suddenly was around us and vehicles came flying past us with their lights on. We were running at the side of the road for a mile or so,’ thinking what are we doing’!
Eventually we starting dropping down a very steep hill which went on and on really worked our quads! Ouch! It was then that Geoff and Pauline came past in my car realizing we were off track stopping to offer us a lift to the bottom to where we should have been (which we declined )as we then thought we only had a few miles to go and were looking forward to our sandwiches!
We carried on to the bottom then realized actually we still had a few miles to go along the side of the river with the finish apparently just round the next corner and the next and another bit further up the hill!! We upped the pace and just managed it to the car!
Overall what a great experience and a different way to spend your Sunday! Going through such emotions, one minute stuck at the top in the mist wondering where we were and the next enjoying the run at the side of the water. Seeing the other runners going past in a convoy of moving cars at the top of the valley, beeping there horns at us was a great moral booster.
Leg 6 – Yokenthwaite – Kettlewell
Distance – 7 miles
Runners Sonia & Nykie
Sonia and Nykie turned up at the start of leg 6 to find nobody there. Not even a real village, just a house. Unsure as to whether they were in the right place, they waited anyway. And waited. And waited. Until Geoff and Pauline turned up in the car, telling them to set off. Set off they did, through wet grass, sheep droppings and hundreds of gates. Every gate was different, and certainly towards the end of the leg, it took a great deal of brainpower in order to get through them!
Coming round the corner at the end of the leg was amazing, with a whole group of STAC members cheering and shouting, to the amusement of everyone else in the car park.
Leg 7 – Kettlewell – Grassington
Distance – 6 miles
Runners Wanda & Phil
Its now 2:45 pm and Wanda & Phil are about to start their second leg. What can go wrong, all we need to do is follow the path from Kettlewell to Grassington. Wow what a run this was.
Out of Kettlewell and back onto a very well signposted route. A steady climb out of Kettlewell and once we were on the ‘tops’ the views were stunning. After a very long leg 1 where it was stop and start for much of the way this leg was ‘The Real McCoy’. Wanda and Phil set a good pace only stopping at the top to admire the views and take some photos.
A steady decent into Grassington where we were met by Karen, Simon and Nicki made for a great leg 7.
Leg 8 – Grassington – Barden Bridge
Distance – 6.5 miles
Runners Michelle & Andrew
The route from here was fairly straightforward, following the River Wharfe on one or other side – although following a riverbank does not necessarily mean relatively flat – until they reached their goal of Barden Bridge.
Leg 9 – Barden Bridge – Bolton Abbey
Distance – 4 miles
Runners Sonia & Nykie
Starting leg 9 was tough. Nykie and Sonia were both glad that only Geoff was there to see them off and they could only hope that he wasn’t watching as the tired legs protested for the first mile. The 4 mile section itself was beautiful, passing through Bolton Abbey, with a ford to cross, swings on which to swing and plenty of hills. The map-reading skills were put to the test in this leg too, not with any great success, although the team managed to get to the finish point despite this.
Some chill out time for Sonia.
Nykie screams ‘Not another gate!’
Nykie and Sonia really enjoyed this adventure, running through new places and seeing who would be there at the end to cheer them along the final stretch.
Leg 10 – Bolton Abbey – Old Bridge, Ilkley
Distance – 5 ½ miles
Runners Karen & Nicki
Later in the day we were to run again, both felt ready and were itching to go and 5.30 could not come quick enough. Of we set with cry’s of no – it is all up hill at the start and we still have a long way to go. Thankfully the hill came to a drop and the running came easier, some beautiful sights and lovely scenery, running back along the river and all the greenery, 3.5 miles in and someone finally says ‘Happy birthday’ to Nicki – who has proudly worn her badge all day – hallelujah we say, it has only taken all day and 18 before someone did say the birthday wishes. At four miles we expect the crew to join us for the 1.5 miles, they are not there so out comes the phone, and we ring them again to make sure we haven’t missed them. A slight change of plan they say, we will meet you ½ a mile before the end. On we run until we see the rest of the team waiting for us – together we go to the end of journey. At the end (or is the start?) – The photos we take to show our hard work. 13 very delighted people who have had such a ball – what will we do next we all call.
On to the final part of the day – fish and chips oh what a day – we have all had such fun – who would have though all that from a run.
THE FINISH! – Well we made it – Well done to all who took part.
80 miles of wet grass, rocks, mud, swamp and tarmac (only a bit of tarmac). 80 miles of stunning countryside views. We all gathered at the Old Bridge in Ilkley to await Karen & Nicki as they completed the final two miles. James May (originally down to run leg 1 but had to ‘pull out’ due to an injury) arrived on his bike to cheer us on (great to see you James).
STAC will look to run this event again. It really is a wonderful route and no matter what your running ability is you would enjoy this route.
A special thank you should be awarded to Simon, Geoff and Pauline, Simon for his patience waiting between legs to ferry runners and Geoff and Pauline for organising the event.
GO STAC GO!