Wicklow Diaries Part 4

Day 7 – There’s a reason Ireland is so green

A very fine morning enjoying the comfort of the Glenmalure Hostel gardens

As we sat sipping coffee in the warm sunlit garden of Glenmalure Hostel it was easy to imagine a glorious day of weather ahead, but by now I knew better. The sun may be shining in the valley in the early hours but I knew things could be quite different on the ridge and sure enough after bidding farewell to my new found friends following a fabulous breakfast of fresh pancakes I began the climb back up the trail to Black Banks Pass and could already see dark clouds closing in.

I hoped to reach four mountains today strung out over more than 20miles of rough terrain including a long ‘out and back’ to Lobawn. I had considered cutting this from the route in order to make it back to Dublin on time but after a good night’s rest I was feeling confident that I could make the distance today. In fact things went pretty well out to that summit, it was not yet raining and after some peat hag obstacle negotiation there was something of a faint path to follow and I made some good early mileage. I could clearly see a wide band of heavy rain heading my way and on the way back down reluctantly pulled out my rain gear again before it hit.

Possibly the wettest week of my outdoor life!

It continued like this for a while – heavy downpour followed by short, windy dry spell until the cloud dropped once again, visibility faded and the wind and rain became more persistent. I’ve long since learned that short cuts are rarely quicker or easier but decided to drop down into the valley to avoid a long route around the ridge and steep descent. It was slow going and very wet but I was rewarded with stumbling into the largest group of deer I had yet seen in these mountains. Sika deer were introduced to the Powerscourt Estate in Co. Wicklow in 1859 and they soon escaped and started to breed with the closely related native Red deer. Most of the deer are now likely hybrid as there are very few Red Deer remaining. I marvelled at their grace and easy agility as their barks and whistles alerted the herd to take flight up the gully onto the ridge. I could only wish I was able to move with such flow through these hills. How impossibly heavy and cumbersome I felt in comparison. I watched as they kept pausing to look back at me but ultimately decided to create a good distance between us.

This short cut left me the wrong side of a ‘stream’ and I had a worrying sense of deja-vu when the cloud cleared enough to catch a glimpse of waterfalls coming off the hills and the loud roar of fast moving water. It was certainly bigger and trickier than I expected but after about ten minutes of scouting about for a good place to cross I picked a safe way over around the rocks, no more than knee deep and was back on a path!

On the other side of the valley my route up the next mountain was a bit, shall we say, ‘unconfirmed’, on the map. Leaving a road I entered a forestry track where I got the feeling hill goers weren’t really welcome. My onward path turned quickly off the track and continued promisingly upward in a negotiable line between the trees where others had clearly passed, albeit not often. Crossing the track again much higher up my path continued for a short way then fizzled out to nothing but a tight clump of trees. Pushing through to see if there was any onward route it was clear I had reached the end of the line. I returned to the track and reluctant to retrace all my uphill efforts right back down again followed the forestry track up in the vain hope it might pop out onto the open hillside. I wasn’t too confident as the map showed it just coming to an abrupt end in the forest and shortly that’s exactly what it did.

At that moment I spotted another deer just ahead of me and was impressed that for the first time the deer had not seen me first. That was until three others leapt from the trees, covered the track in one bound and leapt effortlessly up a three metre high cutting and back into the dense tangle of trees. For sure, they had seen me coming! I couldn’t fathom how they so easily melted into the trees, the branches and undergrowth were so thick and tightly packed it barely seemed possible for anything to squeeze through let alone such a large animal. The open hillside was less than 100 metres through those trees but there was no way I could even wriggle through on my elbows so I started back down eagerly searching for some space through the dense forest. Eventually I came to a small area that had been recently felled and a churned up machinery track wove up it to reach open land and the National Park boundary. Again I was aware I shouldn’t really be on this spot and eager to get back on National Park land I slipped and slid up the muddy channel as quickly as I could to tumble over a low battered fence onto the moor for once feeling extremely grateful to be back on that boggy rough heathery and pathless terrain which was far more accommodating by comparison.

Wet feet guaranteed!

Gaining height the weather deteriorated badly and I was soon being blasted by strong side winds and sheets of very heavy rain all the way to the summit which then required a bit of bold negotiation in thick clag over a featureless and peat bog plateau. This would be the shape of things for the next few hours as I had to hold my nerve to navigate in some of the worst visibility so far over 5 miles of featureless moorland. Keeping the wind at my back I followed a bearing through the murk hoping not to come across too many peat hag bogs that would try to throw me off course in this eerily gloomy landscape.

The small direction post was the only feature to navigate to on a misty Moanbane summit

I was concentrating so hard I barely noticed the heavy sheets of whipping rain that intermittently caught up and overtook me. Finally over the wide expanse of Billy Byrnes’ Pass I dropped to lower ground and as evening crept up gaps broke in the cloud to allow a glimpse of a vast shimmering sheet of grey-silver far below – Poulaphouca Reservoir, known locally at Blessington Lake. I scoped out some wet ground that was slightly less wet than all the other wet ground and the weather was kind enough to stop raining for just enough time to get my tent up, shake off my layers and crawl inside.

I even had enough time to get the stove going to fill a flask with hot tea and cook my three minute moroccan cous cous meal. A brief but beautiful cloudy view of tomorrow mornings’ and the final mountains of my journey faced me across the valley before the cloud gently closed in again and I closed up the tent zips as the first drops of rain began to fall.

Day 8 – Dublin bound for a drop of the black stuff!

Final Day in the Wicklow Mountains

It was 46 kilometres and four final mountains to the end of my plotted trail back to Dublin which I had to reach today as it was time to return to work. I suspected the terrain over these final hills would be a little easier going than that in the heart of the National Park and now I had eaten most of the food in my pack it was weighing in a few kilos lighter. It was still an ambitious distance and I was pretty tired from the tough week but I was lucky to meet Avril, a very kind lady from Larack, herself a keen hill-goer who insisted on giving me a lift along the long road section of my route to the foot of Seefin, a popular summit with an ancient Passage Tomb burial chamber situated at the top.

The Passage Tomb on Seefin

Though I did originally want to complete the entire circuit on foot I had already had to make a few adjustments due to delays and so wasn’t feeling so purist about these road miles. I was there, after all, to summit the mountains so I happily accepted her offer and we zipped along the rural back lanes exchanging outdoor adventure stories and her tales of Wicklow life while I tried to apologise for the seriously rank smell that was by now a constant emanation from my wet feet. Before long we were wishing each other farewell and I stood at the bottom of a climb to Seefin summit now with a much more manageable 34 kilometres ahead, just over 21 old-school miles!

A fantastic spot by the river for an early lunch cook-up.

Today turned out to be the best weather day of the entire adventure. Sunny spells and not a single shower hit me – it felt as though the mountains were finally rewarding me with a show of glorious beauty for all my tenacity battling through everything they had thrown at me over the week. It was certainly a perfect way to finish the journey with long views back over the wild mountains I had traversed. I tip-toed over a couple of easy stream crossings, enjoyed the riotous colour of swathes of hillside heather and followed well used trails over these final mountains – I even saw five other people out in the hills today, a veritable crowd by previous standards!

Reaching Corrig Mountain and Seahan the entire city of Dublin was laid out below and it was quite a contrast to look north over the vast developments of the city and its surrounds and then glance back over my shoulder to the miles and miles of wild, deserted moorlands through which I had passed.

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A long view toward Dublin Bay

It would be odd to return to the frenetic pace and noise of the city and I really wished I had more time to pitch up my tent and watch the bay from afar, especially as it was now, suddenly, brilliant wild camping weather! But all that was left was the long downhill to the outskirts, suburbs and increasingly urban landscape below and a couple of hours later I was sat in a pub celebrating my ‘Wicklow Round’ with the obligatory glass of Guinness.

A VERY welcome celebratory Guiness!

I had covered 208km (130miles) on foot with 7600m of elevation gain and loss and managed to ‘bag’ 35 of the 39 mountains. Considering how testing the week had been I was pretty happy with the result and the four elusive mountains that remained meant that I would soon return to this beautiful region, after all, surely the weather couldn’t ever be any worse!?

Leaving the wonderful, wild, Wicklows for now…..but I’ll definitely be back!

During my #RunningtheSummits challenge I hope to summit 1000 Mountains of the UK and Ireland – you can vicariously join the adventure at Running the Summits on Facebook with regular posts about fantastic routes (and #type2fun days😉) in our fabulous hills.

Happy trails😁👣

Wicklow Diaries Part Three

Day 5 – The Glendalough Skyline

My dramatic relationship with the weather would not be over yet but for this day at least I would have a reprieve. With most my gear drying out in the hostel I took the advantage to create a circular loop of the mountain summits of the Glendalough skyline. With seven mountain summits over a distance of 29km this would be a good catch up on time lost in the Tonalagee struggle. It also meant I could travel light and do some real running in these hills. The mountain weather forecast I had been following seemed to be remarkably accurate at predicting weather once it had passed but a little more vague when it came to future weather forecasting. In fact it seemed to be updated several times a day to reflect what the weather was actually doing rather than accurately providing any kind of advance ‘heads-up’. If the weather forecast for ‘tomorrow’ didn’t transpire it would be reforecast for the following ‘tomorrow’. By this point the best thing seemed to be just to look at the sky and generally expect to get wet at some point.

Incoming shower…

Today looked like a mix of sun, cloud and heavy showers which was a massive improvement on the story so far and after a moody start it turned out to be a great circuit, with only the section in the middle full of the peat hag assault courses I was becoming accustomed to. With wonderful views of the sea, coastline and valley below it seemed a shame only to see two other people in the mountains all day. When I joined the Wicklow Way back down to Glendalough and reached the valley floor with its jaw dropping views however, I discovered that’s where EVERYBODY was.

The very photogenic Glendalough valley

This stunning glacial ‘Valley of the Two Lakes’ is very famous and extremely popular with an estimated one million visitors a year to the valley and particularly busy on an August Sunday afternoon. The contrast between the solitude of the hills and the bustling crowds in the valley was entirely overwhelming and several smartly dressed, camera toting visitors tip-toeing along the edge of the lake gave me quite a wide berth as I ran down the hill soaked with sweat and walked straight into the cooling waters of the lake with my shoes still on! “Clearly a madwomen” they were probably thinking. It’s true that the more time I spend outdoors in all the elements the more, almost feral I become. Usual inhibitions seem to fall away as I become relaxed and at home in my outdoor surroundings and I sometimes have to remind myself that things I might do in the mountains are just not socially acceptable when strolling around Tesco!

Day 6 – Big ‘ol mountain day and the (almost) forgotten valley of Glenmalure

After a more than arguably generous day yesterday, todays skies promised much the same – a bit of sun, a lot of cloud and those ever present highly localised furious downpours. At least you could see them coming from the mountain ridge and be prepared for impact! After losing so much time with the river crossing shenanigans I would have to cut out four outlying mountains in order to complete my Wicklow Round in the time remaining. Frustrating, but it meant it would possible to complete the route with three big days over 15 mountains. And the mountains would still be there another time! Today included Lugnaquilla, the highest mountain in Ireland outside of Kerry and yet the straightforward grassy plateau made this possibly the easiest summit to reach during my whole time in the Wicklow Mountains despite the nasty weather that hit as I was heading up.

 Lugnaquilla provided an easy and gentle summit despite looking uninviting from below!

After another seven summit day over 29km with 1500m of elevation I crossed a stream – easy enough on this occasion and found a decent camping spot sheltered though still fairly waterlogged. However, I was a bit torn because close by in the valley bottom was Glenmalure Hostel, a simple mountain lodge described as ‘basic’ on account of having no running water, electricity or indoor plumbing of the toilet variety. It was really a cosy bothy where evenings would be spent in candlelit conversation around a roaring log fire and was quite famed for a warm welcome and its idyllic location…oh, and of course, its resident ghost, ‘Scary Mary’ who apparently is a kleptomaniac for cosmetic accessories!?

The welcoming cosy hearth of the Glenmalure Hostel…..and no sign of ‘Scary Mary’

The valley has seen many battles over the centuries and some of the trails are said to be haunted by marching ghosts of deceased soldiers. Despite the spooky stories I felt it would be a shame to miss out on visiting this legendary place. It was just 4km down into the valley although that would mean a 4km climb back up in the morning, but it seemed well worth it and I could hang up my wet things again overnight.

Down into the peaceful Glenmalure valley

I arrived just in time for dinner which was a very unexpected and welcome surprise. The hostel is cared for by volunteer wardens and as well as a wonderful welcome they prepare delicious hot meals. It was a great evening as we put the world to rights over a glass of wine or two by the fire as the river raged by outside the window. During the previous rough spell of weather the track over the river here had been impassable too and they had been unable to get out for a couple of days. Seemed the storm had caught many people out. Not a bad place to be ‘trapped’ though. After a hearty meal, great conversation, feet warmed in front of the fire and that glass of wine I had the best sleep of this whole adventure!

The Wicklow Diaries – Part Two

PART TWO

Day 3 – The Epic…

After the maelstrom of the previous night I awoke, although that does suggest I was sleeping!?, into a very soggy half light of morning. The rain was solidly falling in sheets, cloud was down around me and there was considerable wet ‘seepage’ into the tent – hardly surprising when every spot you stood saw your feet sinking a few centimetres into the sodden, wet ground. It was not exactly the scene of an idyllic Instagram‘able wild camping trip! (As I really didn’t get many meaningful pictures of these two days some of the following photos are from the previous day which did allow me to briefly see the beauty of these mountains!)

Brighter times the previous day!

I packed up quickly in the rain, impressed again at how the tent had seemed to take the conditions in it’s stride though not sure the same could be said for me. My goal for now was to get to the road, climb the mountain on the other side of the valley and reach the shelter above Glendalough valley. With visibility poor I used the line of a fence to make some progress upward. It was hard going as there was no path and the terrain was steep with thick, deep heather and rocks and everything was wet and slippery. All too soon I had to navigate across the open hillside to get back onto the ridge for the climb to Tonelagee, the provinces third highest summit. Emerging from the sheltered side of the ridge all hell seemed to break loose approaching the summit plateau. Gale forces winds pummelled me and I had difficulty staying on my feet. The wind whipped the rain sharply, lashing it painfully against my face. Tonelagee or Tóin le Gaoith literally translates as ‘backside to the wind’ and as soon as I had reached the summit trig pillar I took the name as sensible advice, turned away from the onslaught and hurriedly found my route off the top.
I had been looking forward to stunning views of the heart shaped lake of Lough Ouler below but there was only thick, misty cloud swirling in the void below, a smoking basin below a precipitous drop. I had been so focused on reaching the small road at the foot of the valley and distracted by the intensity of the weather I had almost forgotten about the small matter of a river crossing between me, the road and my onward route. The map showed a definite crossing place and suggested another (albeit without a bridge of any kind) but it had been raining heavily for over eighteen hours by the time I reached it and the Glenmacnass river was now in spate, churning wild white-water over the rocks between fast moving deep channels that appeared to be easily chest height in places. I would not be crossing so easily!

Stopped in my tracks!

It was slightly surreal to come off the mountain and see the road and small parking area right there, barely ten metres from where I stood but with no way to reach it. To the left stood a forest and the map showed some buildings and potentially a bridge over the river about 2km downstream. The forest was not too dense and although quite flooded in places I could make relatively easy progress through it. However, I very soon came to an abrupt halt at the huge Glenmacnass Waterfall head as it raged over a rocky precipice and vanished, out of sight, to the valley far below. I had completely underestimated the tight band of contour lines on the map which were realised here as a long, steep drop to the flat land of the valley and my potential escape route. Peering over the edge there was a short section of smooth rock I could have climbed down but with no way of knowing exactly what was beyond and considering I would have some major difficulty getting back up this rock, particularly with my heavy pack I reluctantly wrote off this route and turned to pick my way back through the trees.

The Glenmacnass Waterfall – even on a calm day like this I doubt I would be attempting the climb down!

My next plan was to follow the river upstream where I hoped it would eventually be crossable. This was a hard slog and there were many tributaries that had sprung up, all pouring into the river from the mountainside and they all had to be crossed, often involving lengthy clambers inward to higher ground to find safe places to get over. Eventually I reached the section where the river split into two and was able to cross one part but the main torrent didn’t seem to let up at all. I caught a glimpse of another huge waterfall coming over the edge of a sheer corrie wall which was clearly feeding into the river. It was obvious there would be no way to safely get over this river and any onward route would involve a very steep climb up the corrie sides to get to the top of that waterfall. This was not really a feasible option, it was too late in the day to end up back on top of a mountain in the conditions and the climb could be fairly treacherous as it had been raining heavily non-stop the whole day. I made the decision to retrace my steps immediately in order to get past the tributaries before they got worse and potentially impassable which would have left me cut off and stranded. After five hours battling along this river I made camp for the night on slightly higher ground to rest and think about the other escape options. Again I managed to find some shelter from the worst of the wind, although all the ground was well waterlogged so pitched over a patch of heather to try to stay above the water. One advantage of no one being around meant I could freely strip off all my dripping wet clothes and leave them outside before diving into the tent to warm up. My impromptu pitch was quite sloping and I had to literally hook myself over a thick, gnarly heather stalk that was sticking up to avoid constantly sliding off the air mat but I was warm and relatively dry inside so long as I kept away from the water pooling in the corners of the tent so hunkered down for another wild night on the side of the mountain.

Looking and feeling pretty frazzled after unsuccessful hours trying to cross the river!

*This day brought home to me the importance of having the right gear and level of experience for your chosen outdoors activities. I was certainly pushed outside my comfort zone but at no time felt scared or overly concerned, a good part due to the fact I was carrying food for a week, shelter and a set of dry thermals wrapped in 4 layers of dry bags. There were several ‘escape’ routes so it was certain one would pan out and even if not I could have hung out for several days if need be until conditions improved, it would have been uncomfortable and pretty miserable but I would have been fine and at least would have no problems finding water!

Day 4 – Escape from Tonelagee Mountain…

Perhaps unsurprisingly it was raining still as daylight broke. I was surrounded by sheep who, quite frankly, were all looking a bit miffed with me for spending the night on their favourite patch, the only tiny square of non-flooded ground to be had as far as the eye could see. It was the first time I have noticed that very wet sheep shake themselves dry in exactly the same way as dogs do!? Fortunately they hadn’t chewed through my tent in retaliation and despite the little pools of water in the corners it had held up excellently once again. A bit of cold food and an uncomfortable nights rest constantly shimmying back up the tent after continually becoming unhooked from the pokey heather stalk I had ‘hooked’ my hip over had given me plenty of time for problem solving and I had devised a plan! The only other potential escape route on this side of the mountain was short and would get me back on track but with it’s own potentially problematic water crossing and a couple of areas of ‘unknown’ I decided not to even bother. The most sensible option was clearly to climb back over the mountain and get off the other side. I had avoided this option as, (a) I felt a bit lazy about climbing back up and over the three summits I had already climbed the day before and (b) I didn’t fancy revisiting the insane wind conditions up there – I guess the second excuse was a valid argument! From the summit of Tonelagee there were three options – a very direct route straight down off the mountain to the road – my clever use of maths in relation to contours and height lost over distance gave me the calculated result of “it’s a bit steep” and I dismissed this as steep was more tricky with the heavy pack and would undoubtedly be very slippery and possible a near vertical mud slick by now, not to mention it would be straight into the gale force wind. The second option was to follow the south east ridge for five miles towards Glendalough. This was my initial choice but not knowing what surprises that five mile ridge might contain and given that it would be fully exposed and the cloud was down with very limited visibility I wimped out and went for the third option which was to retrace the way I had come yesterday and use the forestry track ‘escape route’ I had identified on my previous camp. This was further and meant some seven miles of hoofing it along the road to get back on track but I knew the route, there were no hidden surprises and no watercourses potentially out of control. There was a vague possibility that a bridge before the road could have been damaged or washed away but I figured some things were just beyond my control.

Plan made, I wrung out as much water as I could from my sopping clothes and put them back on (that was a particular joy!) It was still not going to be an easy day. I had a long steep climb back up and the wind was just as violent as the day before but at least once I got over Tonelagee plateau it would be behind me. There was a short, sketchy section to navigate over rough ground in very bad visibility to get to the forest and avoid dropping too far back into Barnacullian Bog but fortunately it only had a few small peat hags to negotiate. It was no small relief then when I finally hit the forestry track and started to believe I may actually get off this mountain today. Crossing the fully intact bridge and suddenly being spat out onto the road into a world of people whizzing by in their warm, dry cars was a bit surreal after literally seeing nobody for three days in the hills. I imagined in good weather there would have been far more hill-goers enjoying these mountains especially as it was technically summertime but they were probably all far too sensible to be wading about in these conditions.

On the long slog along the road I had time to think about what to do next, something I had put off, simply focusing on getting off the mountain before anything else. I really wanted to find somewhere to regroup, dry out all my wet gear and think about how get my ‘Wicklow Round’ back on course. It was bad timing that it was Saturday and I knew the very popular Glendalough Hostel was fully booked all weekend but I decided to give it a try and perhaps appeal to their sympathies to at least allow me to hang my stuff in their drying room for a few hours.Just a mile from the hostel a couple of ladies in a car stopped and insisted on giving me a lift down to the hostel. They had abandoned their own planned Saturday afternoon group walk along the St. Kevin’s Road due to a river stepping stone crossing being washed out and since it was still raining had decided to go to the pub instead.
Standing, dripping in my own slowly growing pool of water at the Glendalough Hostel reception they did indeed go above and beyond to help me out. Not only was I welcome to use the drying room and even take a wash for no charge they also promised to find me a bed somewhere. Personally, I was quite happy to put my sleeping mat down in the corner by the vending machine but this was a welcome opportunity to dry everything out, repack and study the maps to get this mountain challenge back on track and all accompanied with a luxurious supply of hot coffee!

I already missed the beautiful scenes from the first day I entered the Wicklows!

Despite everything that had happened over the last couple of days, with my kit on it’s way to being dried out and some warm food and drink inside me, it really wasn’t too long before I was itching to get back out there!

The Wicklow Diaries Part One – my first Irish Mountains.

In august an off-grid week of wild camping and mountain summitting in the desolate beauty Wicklow Mountains, my first foray into the Irish summits had all the makings of a fantastic adventure. Things certainly didn’t quite turn out as planned but nevertheless, an adventure it certainly was! Here is Part One of the four part drama!

I had plotted a 220km route looping from Dublin to include the 39 mountains in and around Wicklow National Park. With over 8500m of elevation gain, very rough terrain, notoriously fickle weather and the surprising remoteness of the area I looked forward to a week long, fast-packing, wild-camping adventure which in reality turned into the toughest mountain week I have experienced to date! It was definitely NOT a week of instagrammable camping sunsets but more of a special forces training expedition for one!

The Wicklow Diaries : Day 1 – The Calm Before…

Just under 10km through Dublin city from the Ha’Penny Bridge over the Liffey is Marlay Park, the official start point of the popular ‘Wicklow Way’, a 127km upland trail. I would dip in and out of a couple of small sections of this route as it doesn’t visit any summits but skirts mostly along the eastern side of the range.

Fuelled on a small Guinness I began following some easy paths of the Wicklow Way and soon the first mountains gave a hint of the nature of the terrain in this region. Though granite at their core these mountains are blanketed with peat bog which on many summits and cols form the impression of a ground that has been stretched and ripped resulting in boggy mazes of peat hags and channels.

It’s really surprising just how remote and desolate these mountains can be when you consider they can be reached on foot from the bustling capital city of Dublin in just a few hours. Heavy, intermittent rain showers were the order of the day but my only real challenge on this ‘warm up’ section was the uncustomary weight of my pack – a hefty 17kg – I was carrying a weeks food as my route would not pass any place to restock after the second day. This was quite something to contemplate hauling up and over 39 mountains but at least it would gradually get lighter as I munched my way through the supplies!

Day 2 – Closing in….

Setting off, my pack must have easily been 500g lighter after last night’s dinner and a hearty porridge breakfast! An ambitious 20 mile route over 10 Mountains was the plan and I made good ground through the morning, even dumping that monster pack halfway up a hill for a quick ‘out and back’ on Kippure – after all, (a)there was nobody around and (b)if anyway did try to hoof off with it they would not have been making a very fast escape under that load so I was confident I could give good chase!

After six summits I was a bit behind schedule having been slowed by the bogs and was yet to cross Barnacullian Bog – an expanse of peat bog generously described in guidebooks as “complicated ground”. This desolate landscape is an obstacle maze of peat hag islands, black holes and channels deep enough to be described as crevasses, all ready to swallow the unsuspecting hill goer.

Distracted by the task of navigating over the saddle to begin the climb to my last three mountains I had barely noticed the bad weather closing in and thick dark clouds dropping to smother the mountains as the wind began to rise. Heavy weather and high winds were forecasted but not until the following day and I had been planning sensible shelter for the Friday night but this was 24 hours early and suddenly looking grim. It was 6pm and at the speed I was making it would take some time to get over the next three mountains and down to more sheltered ground. Not knowing the terrain ahead and with Tonelagee summit looking less inviting by the second I made the decision to start scouting out a camping spot amidst all the bog. Dropping down off the main ridge in the lee of the increasing winds I found a pretty good spot sheltered by some large rocks and on well drained ground. Putting up the tent in double quick time I just got everything thrown inside including myself before the downpour began.

And so began a very long night as my tent was tested for the first time in torrential rains, high gusting winds and then to my absolute horror, a thunder and lightning storm. The lightning was an unexpected and un-forecasted additional worry factor as I was a little higher than I would have liked to be at 590m elevation and next to some pointy rocks. But I was off the ridge and perched on my air mattress (for all the good that would probably do) and had even formulated an escape route should my tent blow away so I curled up inside and nervously watched the lightning illuminate the tent as menacing cracks of thunder drew ever closer and louder…suffice to say I didn’t feel like I slept at all but (spoiler alert) I obviously survived the night, yet as I peeked out from the comforting bubble of the tent as daylight grew the weather was not improving and it looked certain it would be a challenging day ahead…

Making a Right Hash of it!

A Quite Unusual New Running Experience

For many years I have noticed runners with ‘Hash House Harriers’ on their running vests prefixed with nationwide locations to their name. Bizarrely, despite having an occasional momentary wonder about the meaning of the name, I had never yet discovered it…….until……

The hashing ‘hounds’ hareing off “On On” the trail…

A spontaneous visit to Tamar Valley’s weekly ParkRun which was having a takeover week by the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers resulted in, not only my premier ParkRun experience, but also an invite to join the ‘hashers’ for their next weekly ‘hash’ ….I had it on good authority that the ‘hares’ this week were particularly excellent – a bit worrying as I mostly follow a vegetarian diet!

Be sure to give the ‘Chalk Talk” your full attention!

To clarify my confusion a little the enthusiastic Harrier recruiters explained some background. The Hash House Harriers (which from here on I will refer to as HHH or H3 in an effort to avoid repetitive strain injury from all the additional typing) is an international group of non-competitive running social clubs, with a strong emphasis on the social. So social in fact it is jokingly said that they are a drinking club with a running problem! ( I say ‘jokingly’ 🤔?!) An event organized by a club is known as a hash, hash run or simply, hashing, with participants calling themselves hashers or hares and hounds. The important thing to understand is that these are merely titles and there are no actual animals or indeed ‘hash’ involved!

A Dark Disappearance into the Depths of Dartmoor

It was all originally formed in Malaysia in 1938 when groups of British Military Officers and ex-pats began meeting on Mondays to run in the style of a British ‘paper chase’ in an effort to run off the indulgent excesses of the weekend. After fading away during World War II it restarted during the late 1940’s and in the 1970’s did the equivalent of modern day ‘going viral’ and gaining huge popularity.

Back in the day setting up a group constitution it was stated :-

Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.

Perhaps NOT the best healthy lifestyle advice, though the objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950 were :

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

There are now over 2000 3H groups globally so a member can get their fix wherever life takes them.

The Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers ready for the off!

So… how do you hash?

The best thing is you don’t have to have a clue what goes on the first time you show up, just follow the madness and soon you will be picking up the meaning of the flour symbols scattered around what seems to be a ridiculously erratic course, understanding the loud cries of ” On On”, probably getting poked in the eye by an errant tree branch and before you know it, sitting in the pub looking dazed and confused and wondering what on earth just happened! A fundamental point of the hash is to be fun and to never be taken seriously. There are zero cares for PB’s or Split times on this run. But they are certainly getting something right as some of the Tamar Valley H3 members I spoke to had been hashing for over 30 years.

Always expect to get your feet wet….and possibly your hair!

A word of jovial warning – levels of ‘wildness’ can vary from group to group with some groups considering themselves “one of the tame ones”. If you are of a more sensitive disposition it might be prudent to find a tamer group for your first experience to avoid potentially being traumatised for life. The course is often no holds barred and forget about sticking to paths – crawling under low overhanging trees through woodland is deemed fair game and watercourses and rivers perhaps just cause for a mere, momentary pause, simply to confirm the route you understand – no one cares about looking for a bridge! I got lucky this first time, returning safely back with ( relatively) dry feet and all my limbs still attached, an outcome that is not entirely guaranteed.

Getting a bit side-tracked on the annual ‘red run’ – and this is BEFORE the pub!

A couple of people whom, it may be insinuated, have slightly sadistic tendencies will volunteer as the ‘hares’ – their job being to lay the trail for the group to decifer and follow. Symbols with various meaning are made on the ground with flour, sawdust or chalk. Then the whole group dart off chasing this trail of floury ‘breadcrumbs’ shouting fairly indeciferable instructions in code back to the rest of the group. . If i had remembered amid all the excitement to start my Strava recording I have no doubt the route would have looked something like this….

As clear as a ball of string!

However, within this madness true genius lies for the creation of the course enables everyone to participate, from super fast cross country sprinters all pepped up on sugar to ambling walkers stopping off for a nice cup of tea along the way. The course plays out so that the speedy spurters get sent off around a big old loop to meet back with the steady shufflers who were on a more direct trajectory. False trails are laid to further fox the eager beavers and give tentative trotters a chance to catch up thus ensuring the whole group stay relatively close together for the duration. Furthermore, though there is some very basic and extremely minimal guidance to hash etiquette normal race rules do not apply and shortcutting , far from being punished, is highly encouraged, though may receive some additional ribbing in the pub if it becomes a common and, more annoyingly, successfully tactical habit. To give you an idea, an example from the Tamar Valley H3 ‘rulebook’ reads as :-

Always try to keep at least one hasher between you and anything which looks at all fierce such as bulls, pit-bull terriers, landed gentry, geese and pigs.

In the interests of safety a ‘scribe’ is elected to act as mother hen, noting all hashers and checking them all safely back in at the end of the hash . H3’s NEVER leave a hasher behind! However, if you do intend to join the group at the pub afterwards you are then on your own so be sure to plan ahead.

Hash House Harriers : Never to be taken seriously!

There is also some unique hash code lingo to get to grips with. As a “Virgin” or “Just John” who doesn’t know their “shiggy” from their “dead trails” listen up to the “chalk talk” before the off, so you can correctly negotiate a “check”, avoid a “check back”, respond appropriately to an “RU” and most importantly keep “On On” to “On home” so you may go “on down” to the “circle” where there may be a “down down” afterwards. Easy for me to say,

Nothing better than a bit of a sing song and a beer after your daily run!

Remember, it is all a bit tongue in cheek and regulars are known by cheeky ‘hash names’ which can be a bit risque to say the least – likely harking back to hashings’ beginnings in a more politically incorrect time. Hashing newbies cannot name themselves but will earn an appropriate name by some head nodding achievement or wild stupidity demonstrated along the trail. Indeed, new hashers should beware of trying to influence their own hash name for risk of being re- christened with a more offensive or inappropriate name. In contrast, any rebels trying to gain a shocking monica will more likely be awarded a softie hash name such as “Twinkle”.

A tea ‘naming’ ceremony?

The highly prestigious Toilet Seat Award for some well sustained hash longevity

Personally, the elements that I enjoyed most about the hash ( aside from “on down” at the pub after ) was being able to run around after dark with no concerns about navigating or worrying where I was, just following the group ; the stop/start nature of the run and the fact that there was so much to focus on that there was none of the ‘this is hard work’ feeling which often accompanies a more convential run ; and that it was just pure, childlike, adventurous, fun!

Hashing chapters also don’t confine themselves to just two feet. Following roughly the same principles you can join a group Hashing by Bike or even Snorkel Hashing – I would be VERY wary of this latter malarkey!

It was lovely to see Charlotte , aka “Footloose” receive her tea pot celebrating 100 hash’s

I can absolutely and heartily recommend visiting one of these fun, mad, highly social events. Look up your local H3 chapter, leave any inhibitions at home and go along and have a fantastic “virgin hash”. If you have been a little alarmed by what you have read here don’t loose hope as there do exist many levels of H3 and very ‘family friendly’ groups are out there if you would rather avoid too much innuendo strewn banter. Checking out a charters website and having a read of one of their hash mags will give you a full ‘heads up’ of where they sit on the scale of Carry On style cheekiness.

See you at the ‘On Down’ 👍🍻

Huge thanks to the Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers for making me so welcome and introducing me to this zany pastime as well as their very kind donation to the Running the Summits fundraising for Mountain Rescue England and Wales, the Mountain Rescue Search Dogs and Fix the Fells.

⊙Photos (mostly) courtesy of Tamar Valley Hash House Harriers. Small disclaimer : apologies for any slightly risque double entendre phrasing in this blog – I can only put it down to the bad influence I have been under. (Ooo’err)

251 Mountains – the Zen post.

You wait for a post then two come along at the same time. So much has happened since I last wrote that I didn’t know where to start or what to write about to update this highly neglected blog site so I decided here to put down some ‘keeping it real’ thoughts after yesterday passing the 250 mountain mark and 25% completion of the Running the Summits challenge. If this post sounds a bit too touchy feely and you prefer your yang to your yin check out the alternative 251 Mountains – The Wahoo post 👊

Right now, the Brecon Beacons are just outside the window. I can’t see them, lost as they are to the clouds, curtains of rain drifting across my view of only the very lowest of the lower slopes. Even the sheep are huddled close into a tree sheltered corner. It’s the third consecutive day of unfathomably and distinctly eclectic weather – one of deep snow and teeth chattering wind chill, one of warmth and clear sunny skies and today, one of wet, claggy cloud and sheets of rain. I was well overdue in taking some time out to get caught up on those real life chores – refilling water supplies, doing laundry, scraping all the farmland muck off the campervan and responding to weeks of emails. Yet, still, early this morning I peeled on my slightly damp, offensively smelly running gear, eager to be out, hauling my (as yet still not athletically-toned) bum up a mountain or two. I think it has become a mantra.

It is said about the Camino de Santiago – a favourite long distance escape of mine – that there are three stages to the endeavour. Firstly the physical, as our body aches and suffers at the sudden increased demands put upon it until it miraculously adapts and grows stronger.

Free from the physical distractions the second stage is the emotional as our minds gradually move from doubt, fear and questioning to perspective and acceptance. Finally, the third stage is that of the spiritual where, only because we have passed through the first two stages and shed the unnecessary can we now fully experience a total awareness, immersion and gained sense of freedom. While specifically aimed at the experience of the Camino I strongly believe that any adventure, large or small can be a great metaphor for life with many lessons to be learned.

Zen and the Art of Adventurous Living?

Now, I still think my body has some considerable ongoing work at Stage one (as mentioned, I had been expecting to, at least slightly, resemble the streamlined physique of an athlete by this point) and trying to run uphill just doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. To be fair both of these issues could be explained by cake.


Possibly the reason I do NOT look like a finely honed machine!?

But even with a lingering toe or two in stage one I do feel I have made some small progress to the great blue orb of enlightenment. I have indeed discovered that this, as all adventures in life, can best be described using that oft spouted clichéd saying ‘It’s been a journey’ (and is going to continue to be a journey for some considerable time as I still have 749 summits to run). But as well as dipping my toes, usually unintentionally, into bog, rivers, bog and more bog I also feel I have been dipping them into stages 2 and 3 and learning a thing or two. (just not how to avoid bog!). As in life, we do not move cleanly from one stage to the next but there is a blurring of the edges and knock backs when new challenges fall out of a cupboard and smack us in the head (also metaphorical – if I have grasped the correct use of the concept!?)


Patch – The Enlightened One

Super-enthused adventurer Anna McNuff wrote a wonderful poem (1) along a similar vein telling of a journey that begins doing battle with nature – setting out to conquer, before becoming beaten down by nature’s far superior and ambivalent….well, nature! Eventually, this traveller no longer passes through or against but travels with and in this natural environment. This is the journey I have been really hoping and expecting to make and I am already becoming familiar with the elements (literal and metaphorical).

On the 251st Mountain summit, I sat for a long while (as long as was possible before extremities started to go numb) fully absorbing the views, the solitude, the peace, the simplicity and vastness of the landscape around me, calm and happy to be right where I was, unencumbered by concerns or stresses. As the terrain and climatic challenges grow greater it is liberating to gradually become confident and at ease in your surroundings as you learn and use new found skills and understanding. There is still an awful lot to learn but hopefully I am becoming willing and humble enough to listen and appreciate all that the mountains have yet to teach.

On a literal note I am throwing in a reminder that my Mountain Joggist Extravaganza is also in hopes of raising a few well needed squidlies for the amazing volunteers of Mountain Rescue England & Wales, Mountain Rescue Search Dogs(the doggy rescuers formally known as Search and Rescue Dog Association England!) and Fix the Fells.

Please spare a pound to chuck in the bucket if you can HERE😁 Thank You

It’s also really easy to donate by text too…. just text TOPS50 followed by an amount to 70070 . Thank You❤

(1) PS. Anna McNuff’s poem is featured in the book Waymaking – an anthology of prose, poetry and artwork by women who are inspired by wild places, adventure and landscape.

Happy trails 😊👣🐾

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251 Mountains – The “Wahoo” post

You wait soooo long for a new post, then two come along together! So much has happened since I last wrote that I didn’t know where to start or what to write about to update this highly neglected blog site so I ended up with two posts – two sides of an adventure coin if you will – to fully celebrate passing the 250 mountain mark and 25% completion of the Running the Summits challenge. If too much wahoo’ing and air punching is not your bag check out 251 Mountains – The Zen post 🌱- it also has cake👍

Talking about bags there are now 251 in the proverbial summit bagging backpack. 749 mountains still seems like a very long way to go, and it is, but reaching another milestone is always a good time for a little pat on the back and check list run down –

  • Feet still attached? check✔
  • Knees still operational? check’ish✔
  • Shoes still in one piece – gaffa tape assisted bandaging allowed? check✔
  • Flapjack stores still brimming? check✔…..hang on, might need to double check….back in a minute…🍰

Before this challenge grew into 1000 Mountains (i.e. after too much wine and chocolate was consumed in one sitting resulting in a state of falsely percieved super hero omnipotence sparking the ‘here’s a great idea’ moment!) it was set to be a challenge to run the mountains of England to prove to the doubters that ‘yes we do have mountains in England’! Using the initial criteria, that meant 180 Mountains. Sounded like a great adventure indeed. But then, after the aforementioned loss of absolute sense moment, it got A LOT BIGGER. Changing the criteria to include those lumpy places classified as Hewitts, Nuttalls, Marilyns and Wainwrights also doubled the number in England. If you want to ‘get your anorak on’ about how all these classifications work and the wonderfully lovely art of hill-bagging there’s a whole other post about it HERE (don’t forget to come back though👍)

Still only part way through the English and Welsh Mountains there is still Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man’s single but lovely mountain yet to visit. Not to mention all the people who run, bike, hike, walk the dog, work and live in those majestic places yet to meet. I have already been lucky to meet so many extraordinary, kind and fascinating people simply because of my journey into the high places of Britain.

Physically so far, including my moment of madness ‘Virtual Everest’ by elevated treadmill and a brief ‘holiday’ to climb Mount Toubkal for New Years this challenge has had me climbing a vertical elevation gain of almost 70,000 metres , more than seven times the height of Everest, which makes it close to a miracle that my knees are even still attached to my body and haven’t fled in anger to a warmer, flatter place…….like Peterborough (if Peterborough was in southern Spain!) 

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Meeting inspiring everyday runners, adventurers, mountaineers and athletic legends

Tough at times, taking on this challenge has also given me a real “GET OUT OF BED“📣 🛌 alarm every morning for those times when otherwise I probably would not have got up in the cold, pre dawn to spend the day in the pouring rain and wind squelching through boggy miles of bog drenched bog!…….and that’s a GOOD thing😁, because those ‘type 2 fun’ days are some of the most memorable (though not always ‘wished to be repeated’) days.

Since I began this whole running adventure challenge shenanigans another world has opened up to me too which has resulted in me doing things I would never have imagined (aside from running, running up mountains and…..er, running!) . Meeting lots of adventurey folk like those above, being mesmerised by incredible stories of relative derring do, public speaking, writing for magazines, becoming nifty with crampons and ice axe ( there’s a whole dance routine video to prove it!), tasting 20 different flavours of flapjack, running with Joss Naylor for goodness sake! – all things I still can’t believe have happened. I can only share the notion to always be open to new opportunities….and GRAB THEM, because you never know where it might take you.

One of those ‘so glad I got out of bed early’ days!

I have also been lucky to meet and spend more time with some incredible Mountain Rescue Team members and witness Search Dogs trainees progress further through their training. They are now becoming so much more than adorably cute puppy faces as they advance through the various stages of training on their way to becoming qualified, registered Search Dogs fully skilled to work with their handlers to help the team save lives.

It’s always hard to find words to describe how amazing these teams are

Talking of which…. ( aha – you say- here we go) – although I have reached 25% of my mountain challenge target we are still a long way from reaching 25% of the fundraising target ( nearly 20% short as it happens – facepalm emoji!)

So if you have a few shiny coins rattling around in your winter coat lining/ down the back of the sofa/ car door cup holder/ you get the idea,

dig ’em out and sling’em int’ bucket RIGHT HERE – GO ON!, GIVE IT A CLICK😉 👍 You know you are epic!

It’s also really easy to donate by text too…. just text TOPS50 followed by an amount to 70070 . Thank You❤

Happy trails😊👣🐾

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Not every Marilyn is a Munro

Many people have compiled lists of the hills and mountains of the British Isles over the last 130 years, so much so it has become a British hill-walking sport to tick off the various collections, a pastime known as ‘Hill-Bagging’ or ‘Peak Bagging’. In my #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountain challenge I will need to become a fairly obsessive participant of this activity but there is no definitive 1000 mountains collection so how do I go about compiling such a lengthy list of my own for this challenge?

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Mike Knipe has a very amusing detailed blog delving further into this bizarre British pastime featured on the UKHillwalking website.
20180607_091304Standing on the ‘pointy bit’. CAUTION : always bear in mind, getting down is much tricker than getting up!

It started, as these things do, with the question over a pint or two “What makes a mountain a mountain?”……some time later and after much debate, disagreement and admittedly a little drunkenness, the question had not been adequately answered so I later turned to that font of all knowledge- the modern, universal library……Google!

20180607_150548Some baffling trigonometry behind measuring a mountains height – points deducted for not showing my workings out!

There seemed to be a consensus of agreement that to constitute ‘mountain’ status in Britain a peak needed to be 2000ft (609.6metres) or higher. Question simply answered you might think…..well, no. This was where the clear black and white line ended. Because there are many humps and bumps along a ridgeline for example that can easily be argued to be part of the main summit as opposed to mountains in their own right. In order to make some sense of this jumble of peaks, ridges, bumpy shoulders (technical term!), crags and outcrops various lists began to be compiled to categorise the peaks into orderly groups of hills that could be qualified, quantified and best of all, ‘bagged’. How we British love lists. I am a dedicated list maker myself so this particular, logistical part of the challenge really got me keenly reaching for the coloured marker pens.

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My Multi Coloured Map of English Mountains and hills  – happy hours of plotting on the Viewranger App!

Now if a person wanted to climb a large number of the highest mountains in Britain they really need not look much further than Scotland which hosts way more than its fair share of fabulous high and wild places. But my objective with the Running the Summits challenge was to showcase a broader selection of peaks throughout the Isles and to highlight the fact that Yes, we DO have mountains in England.

Screenshot_20180605-204556Some fairly ‘mountainy’ looking peaks in Britain

So the first list that I decided to use for my 1000 mountains compilation is the ‘Hewitt’s’ , an anacronym of sorts…Hills of England, Wales and Ireland over Two Thousand feet. This list was compiled by Alan Dawson and the contenders were originally quite aptly called ‘Sweats’. The additional criteria that secures a peaks place on the Hewitt list is a topographical prominence of 100ft (30’ish metres). In simpler terms that’s basically the amount of height the summit has over the surrounding ground, i.e. the ‘pointy’ bit that makes it stand out! There are over 500 Hewitts spread out across England, Wales and Ireland so my 1000 mountain list was immediately half full.

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I then added ‘Nuttalls’, named after John and Anne Nuttall who compiled the list published in their books ‘The Mountains of England and Wales’ – all of which also qualify for mountain status by height, but these peaks only need 50ft (15m) of ‘pointy bit’ at the top to qualify as a Nuttall. Whilst all Hewitts are also Nuttalls, the full Nuttall list of 444 mountains adds a further 126 summits to my compilation.

20170327_001431Ingleborough – one of the highest peaks in Yorkshire and part of the popular Yorkshire 3 Peaks Challenge, an all round top day out followed by cake and a pint of tea at the Pen y Ghent Cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale – just get round before they close!

During my research I also came across an opinion that as well as peaks over 2000ft, a peak over 1000ft, if it had considerable topographical prominance, i.e. stuck out like a sore thumb, totally dominating its surroundings, it could, loosely, in some circles be considered a mountain. I have since misplaced my reference for this argument but I am sure it was hidden somewhere in the pages of the mountainguide.co.uk which, incidentaly lists 10,000 peaks throughout the British Isles and is a fabulous source of reference and hill-shaped vital statistics, if you like that sort of thing. One list that would include such attention grabbing peaks is the ‘Marilyns’ (the name a pun to the Scottish ‘Munro’s’ – there is no such list as ‘the Mansons’!)  This extremely voluptuous list of 2010 peaks in the British Isles, also compiled by Alan Dawson includes all hills with a prominence of at least 500ft (152m) (i.e. ones with extremely outstanding ‘pointy bits’) regardless of their overall height. I felt some of these peaks deserved a place in my list, after all – my challenge, my rules!

received_10160169254685234Pen y Ghent lost in the clag – a Hewitt, Nuttall AND Marilyn all in one!

All the Marilyns of England, Wales and Ireland above 2000ft are by default also Hewitts, but for the purposes of my list of 1000 I will be including an additional number that stand between 1000ft and 2000ft in England and Wales qualifying as ‘Mini Mountains’. This classification group also gives me the chance to travel a little more widely around England too as all of the 2000ft+ mountains bar two are situated in the National Parks of northern England.

20180607_093550They might not be mountains but Chrome and Parkhouse Hills are as pointy as a witches hat.

I’m not sure exactly how many Marilyns I will include yet as I am still scoping out the illegal ones – those hanging out on private land – which I will probably be avoiding, not least because carrying bolt cutters would heavily encroach upon my ‘fast and light’ policy.

Then of course when we look to the Lake District which hosts by far the majority of English mountains we have that wonderful list, the ‘Wainwrights’, which just brings a romantic sigh from the mouths of hill walkers everywhere – a list of 214 Lakeland peaks, just to confuse matters further, locally known as ‘fells’. These 214 fell tops are a definitive group with no statistical criteria. They were illustrated and written about by Alfred Wainwright in his collection of guides to the lakeland fells for no more than aesthetic reasons and constitute some of the most beloved mountains and hills of the region.

20180606_205528The view from Haystacks – Alfred Wainwright’s favourite fell

Wainwright bagging is also a very popular activity, which would probably have been much to the chagrin of the mild mannered, shy man himself who cared little for any form of rushing around in the hills, list ticking or bagging. I have long admired his simple, uncomplicated lifestyle and love and knowledge of the Lake District fells so it seemed fitting to finally reach the summits of all of these places that I have previously only dipped into, as a part of this challenge.

20180606_205705Kirk Fell looking non too inviting…

Many of the Wainwrights fall into other categories – Hewitts or Nuttalls giving them full mountain status for the purposes of my list. Some are also Marilyns, classing them as ‘Mini Mountains’ and a few aren’t on any other list but I have chosen to include them, adding another 62 (dubiously classed) mountains to my list. All the Wainwrights stand above 1000ft bar one, Castle Crag, which I intend to summit to fully complete the Wainwrights ( i’m sure the idea of leaving just one hill on any list un-bagged would surely send an ardent peak bagger into a state of incomprehensible shock) but Castle Crag will not count officially towards my 1000 Mountains.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0853.JPGSmall but beautiful – Neither a mountain nor a mini mountain by the criteria but Arthur’s Seat surveying Edinburgh is a firm favourite running hill.

So that’s alot of peaks already throughout England, Wales, all of Ireland and the Isle of Man. But no journey around the Mountains of the British Isles would be complete without a hefty dose of  Scottish mountain magic. In fact, if I just wanted to reach the sublime total of 1000 Mountain summits, more than enough contenders –  around 2100,  could be found in Scotland alone.

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Scotland has a whole other set of list for fervent hill-baggers. The mightiest of all the mountains here are those that reach the lofty status of ‘Munro’ , named after Sir Hugh Munro who produced the first list of such mountains in 1891. A ‘Munro’ is a peak of 3000ft or more regardless of relative elevation. Despite much debate about the ‘true’ peaks and subsidiary tops and re-surveys over the years with more accurate equipment there are now 282 Munros and 227 subsidiary tops.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1131.JPGAs a break from the mind boggling lists and numbers – a gratuitous pic of Patch on Christmas morning brewing up on the summit of Stob Mhic Mhartuin ……………..now back to the numbers

‘Corbetts’ of which there are a nice round 222, are mountains between 2500 and 3000ft with the added criteria of 500ft (152m) of prominence. Then there are ‘Grahams’, named for Fiona Graham and often referred to as lesser Corbetts, standing between 2000 and 2500ft with the same relative prominence of 500ft, of which there are 224.

20180606_211314Just a glimpse of the poetic Ben Lomond overlooking the waters of Loch Lomond

The final chunk of my 1000 Mountains list will consist of a wonderful selection of the most well known, favourite, legally accessible! and best suited to hill-running mountains from the lists of Munros, Corbetts and Grahams.

20180606_212428A drizzly day cannot detract from the unmistakably dramatic silhouette of Suilven

Even after all that I still have some spaces dedicated to iconic little peaks which are much beloved by local standards but fail to make any list. This was inspired by my recent discovery of a diminuitive but attention grabbing peak called Roseberry Topping on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Known locally as the Yorkshire Matterhorn this little peak caught my eye driving south from Northumberland to the Yorkshire Coast to meet friends for Sunday lunch. From a distance it looked like a huge mountain, totally dominating its surroundings and I had something of a ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ moment as I became totally entranced by this peak and in danger of hypnotically sculpting it out of mashed potato during Sunday dinner to the, no doubt, bemused confusion of my friends. (this reference won’t make any sense at all if you haven’t seen the classic 80’s film which was actually in 1977!)

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As the road took me closer and closer I had to stop to make a detour run to its summit – just because you do! Roseberry Topping, aside from having a great name stands over 1000 feet and I was sure it must be a Marilyn but its prominence must fall short by a few metres because it doesn’t make the list – harsh judgement! I know there are other local ‘Matterhorns’ around the country and I think it is a shame to miss out on them just because they don’t quite meet the box ticking statistics. Such aesthetically pleasing peaks will always be firm favourites among anyone who loves the outdoors even to those who are content to only admire them from the bottom. So – my challenge, my rules – a handful of such peaks will make it onto my list of 1000. I am already aware of a few of these special places but if you happen to have a mini-matterhorn overlooking your back yard please get in touch and let me know!

20180605_201638The ‘Yorkshire Matterhorn’

Incredibly, the lists still go on, probably enough to keep the fanatical bagger occupied for several lifetimes over, scaling Simms, Donalds, Deweys, Hardys, HuMPs, TuMPs, Lumps and Bumps (the last two I just made up!) but for me it is time to put my tired feet up and enjoy the views.

Screenshot_20180605-204418.jpgOverlooking the Miner’s Track  from the PYG path on the flanks of Snowdon

disclaimers :

some of my feet to metre measurement conversions might be not entirely accurate to the centimetre but are rounded to a more….well…..rounded number for the purposes of this piece. Some, though, are entirely accurate to the fourth decimal place, just to keep you on your toes.

This is also designed to be a gentle overview when it comes to these classifications in order that most readers should retain consciousness. If you are a list ticking, stats devouring fanatic on the other hand there is literally a figurative mountain of info on the subject on that highly reliable source Wikipedia!

Finally, my use of the term ‘pointy bits’ is probably over selling many mountain tops but ’rounded hump’ did not sound quite so enticing.

My #RunningtheSummits 1000 Mountains in 365 days challenge is not just entirely for my own amusement or merely just some perverse attempt to torture my knees but also has a goal to raise a mountain of cash to support our Mountain Rescue Teams, Search and Rescue Dogs and Fix the Fells, all incredible volunteer manned charities that are the real heroes of the high places. 

Please donate a little if you can  – just click on the big heart below to donate…..thank you 😊👣❤

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Why run 1000 Mountains?

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After my seemingly spontaneous decision to take my #RunningtheSummits Mountain Challenge to a whole new level it seems only fair to answer the big question……why???

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When I had the idea to take myself off on a little jog over the 180 Hewitt classified ‘Mountains’ of England that in itself seemed pretty daunting and to tell the truth I found the whole idea quite scary – I only had to climb a mere THREE summits on my #3PeAksRun, on all of which I experienced bad weather and some challenging conditions, and this was summer time on the most visited mountaintops in Britain with good paths and rarely a place to find yourself really alone. Of the hundreds of other mountains around the British Isles many are much more remote, difficult to reach, pathless and far less visited places.

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I do have a strong background of hill walking, a reasonable level of experience and have taken several courses in summer and winter hill skills and navigation, but I still hold a very cautious and wary respect for the mountains as places where I have often been tested. I relate it a little bit to the person who dives into the ocean proclaiming themselves a strong swimmer – it doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are, you will never be a match for nature!

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But at the same time, being in the mountains has brought me moments of my greatest joy, and certainly nowadays, running trails. As trail, mountain and fellrunners will surely attest, there is nothing quite like the feeling of freedom and agility of moving quickly along a technical trail skipping lightly from rock to rock. When the trail stars align the experience is that of a sublime dance with thd landscape. Then again, when they do not and you faceplant into a tree it can smart a bit!

So the decision to attempt to reach the tops of 1000 Mountains was not taken lightly. But I was feeling that the challenge needed to be something bigger, something to really test my mettle, but also a (dare I say) ‘journey’ to experience and learn so much more about our high places. I wanted the whole experience to last longer and have the opportunity to involve many more people. I had also set a ridiculously big fundraising target and felt it needed a challenge to match.

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I also seemed to be getting signs ( I know, sounds a bit sketchy) – but I kept coming across inspiring adventures of others, relating to their motives and experiences while my own growing obsession with mountains was quietly cultivating away. I was beginning to get strong emotions attached to random hills and was discovering I could recognise many peaks from photos of their ridgelines or surrounding landscapes as easily as old friends. The time was right to spend some serious time in the hills!

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I recently came across a trailer for the upcoming film ‘Edie’ starring Sheila Hancock which is the story of an elderly woman fulfilling a long held dream to climb a mountain in Scotland. The mountain in question is Suilven, an enigmatic peak which had held me quite entranced when I finally saw it for the first time last winter while spending some time in this remote corner of Scotland. I was equally as inspired by Sheila Hancock. Although the story behind Edie is a work of fiction the true story is that Sheila at 83 years of age did indeed climb that mountain proving the films tag line that it’s never too late.

assynt-suilven-autumn-glencanisp-lodgeThe majestic Suilven – photo credit James Barlow Photography

A final and far more straightforward reason to up my game to 1000 Mountains is simply…..because they are there? Not in a flippant sense but because we actually have so many incredible peaks in the British Isles and it seemed a shame to limit my adventure to so few of them. Climbing only those classified as Hewitts did seem to mean missing out on so many beautiful summits so the #RunningtheSummits 1000 will include peaks classified as Hewitts, Nuttalls and Scottish Munros…..all meeting the loosely accepted definition of a mountain by rising to a minimum of 2000 feet, and Marilyns, which include some lower hills but they do all have an elevation of at least 150 metres relative to the surrounding terrain making them really dominate their surroundings – true ‘mini mountains’. I also plan to include some people’s choice favourites that may not have made it onto any peak-bagging list! There have already been some fantastic hilly recommendations!

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Perhaps a bit of a cliché but #RunningtheSummits has all the potential of an adventure of a lifetime for me and I can’t wait to begin. But what I am most looking forward to is seeing some of you guys out there in the glorious British hills and meeting more of the incredible people who voluntarily give their time to help others as part of the Mountain Rescue Teams, Search Dog handlers and Fix the Fells – the real heroes of this story!

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Please join this mountainous adventure by following this blog, liking the facebook page and supporting the mountain charities by donating a little if you can.

 
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Happy trails – see you on a summit!  Tina and trail dog Patch😁👍👣🐾

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Mountain, Camping or Expedition Meals sorted with TentMeals!

 

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Jess and the amazing team at TentMeals are now supporting me during my Running the Summits mountainous challenge and I am hugely grateful because not only are they a fantastic small team who really care about their customers, their products and the environment they also make super scrummy camping meals!

credit Will Goodall Copestake. 800kcal Almond Jalfrezi

In their own words they are…

…wholeheartedly dedicated to making the best expedition food – meals that are delicious, natural, high energy, lightweight and easy to prepare.

Meal selection. Credit @coachmacca

Each packet is nutritionally packed with the good stuff ( no nasty additives or preservatives) and are suitable for vegan diets. What really amazed me though was how truly tiny the packs are! They looked very small on the website but when they arrived I was amazed – absolutely perfect for squeezing into stuffed backpacks and keeping things fast and light! Conversely, when prepared ( which was also even more quick and simple than I could have imagined) the meals bloomed into very satisfying portions. I am a pretty big eater and thought I would have no troubles wolfing down the large ( its all relative) 800kcal packs but even I had some laters leftovers. On an energetic day on the hill these would make the perfect recharge dinner.

Cooking up a Blueberry Burst breakfast. Credit @pcolledge

The meals also require much less cooking than I expected which also means they are very quick, easy and light on fuel usage, all of which is great at the end of a long days’ running (or hiking, climbing, trekking, kayaking, ski touring, SUP’ing, canoeing or long distance space hopper’ing!) Basically you just add boiling water to the pack contents and leave for the required time….though in practise I did prefer to bring the meal back to the boil before eating. You can even prepare them with cold water so if your fuel runs out, your stove is playing hard to get or your stormproof matches are losing a battle with gale force winds you can still have a tasty and nutrient rich meal at the end of the day.

credit Will Goodall Copestake. 800kcal Blueberry Burst Breakfast.jpg

I am particularly impressed with just how easy the meals are to prepare – there IS basically no preparation! This is going to be such a joy at the end of long running days during this challenge – I can set up camp by which time dinner will have virtually made itself! Finding, carrying and preparing ingredients became quite a chore during my #3PeAksRun and I often missed out on healthy well balanced meals because of it.

Almond Jalfrezi curry. Credit TentMeals

The Tent Meals facebook page is also full of quick and easy recipe idea posts that maximise energy or protein intake for when you can pick up fresh ingredients on your adventures.

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Tent Meals also supply trail mix packs and some base dried ingredients, especially useful if you like to throw an extra handful of veggies into your meal as I do. This makes them a one stop shop for your outdoor adventures nutrition whether you are planning an overnight wild camp or an arctic expedition. No need for any more end of day squashed sandwiches!

credit Will Goodall Copestake. Almond Jalfrezi

 

But don’t just take my word for it –  check them out for yourself at TentMeals.co.uk or bring a spoon and catch up with me at dinner time on one of my 1000 summits! (would love it if someone actually did that!😁)

Happy trails 👣