A blog about the wonders of trail and fell running in Northumberland. Rich and Paul Banks tackled the 32-mile Short Round on 7 November and the 43-mile Long Round on 21 November.
Why hill running?
If you haven’t tried it, some of the reasons that people head to the hills range from the simplicity of life around, the supportive nature of hill running, the backdrop, the fact that there is absolutely no need to clock watch, you can fully forget social media or any work or technological pressures (or more likely an amalgamation of all of the above as it is for me).
I had in mind, prior to the latest lockdown, to try and entice some of the Morpeth Harriers to have a run up there as a social collective, in much the same way that John Butters has done for us all over the last few years up at Thrunton and Ingram. Plans were soon scuppered as Boris dictated that you could only socialise outside with one other for this latest lockdown. But from a physical and mental perspective I needed a plan B and felt the need to recce for future activities up there. (I just needed some support as I struggle somewhat without it).
It will come as no surprise to some of you that I asked Paul Banks. He is one of the most supportive guys who will always say yes to a run regardless of time of day, weather, terrain or distance. We had this thought – TRY and do the one of the McWilliams rounds on a good weather day. We chose to run the 32-mile route created by Glen McWilliams, the owner of the Wooler Chocolate shop! He is a stalwart of the trail and hill running scene up north and is always willing to offer advice and support. If you’ve done any running in and around North Northumberland you’re sure to recognise him from the photo below.
The route basically forms a anti-clockwise loop from Wooler town centre which circumnavigates the Schil, the Cheviot and Hedgehope hills. We were blessed with conditions being perfect for the time of year. Lots of sunshine and absolutely no wind. Paul was disadvantaged with long periods with only me to talk to! It was 3 hours in before we met the first person en-route. I continued with my usual ‘muppetry’ by calling the guy “Martin” thinking it was someone from work. Needless to say I need my eyes tested as on closer inspection it looked nothing like him! Hard work was rewarded with some stunning views en-route!
We also had Paul’s dog, the undoubted star of the Spring Lockdown Handicaps, LUCY, (4 PAWS), for company. She is probably the fittest dog in Northumberland! As we ‘happily’ toiled, she skipped around making it look so easy!
As expected, as I started to struggle towards the later stages Paul and Lucy seemed to make it increasingly look so easy. That’s when the support from others can be so important and can be the deciding factor in whether you complete a challenge such as this one. Low & behold, talking of support, there was Gary Mason waiting for us as we headed back towards Wooler. We got such a lift seeing him turn out to cheer us on!
We got around in 7 and a half hours, and on my part it was down to having nutrition left dotted around to collect, a lot of training and planning being undertaken over the months beforehand, and most importantly, with Paul’s support.
Personally speaking the realisation of what we did didn’t sink in until I got home and felt the rush of pride of what we achieved and the experiences we had shared!
A fortnight later we had the same sensation after completing the ‘Long’ McWilliams round on the 21st November. This one is 43 miles and a BIGGER circuit of the Cheviots. We set off in the dark and finished in the dark after 11 and a half hours. Another memorable day!
It is however, worth mentioning, that these are both tough routes which shouldn’t be underestimated. They are not for beginners! If you want to know more the do some research and contact any of the people named below! I’m sure there would be a few including Paul and I who would be happy to support......?!
Suggested tester runs
We are so lucky to have lots of options to get a snapshot of the Cheviots and surrounding area.
One suggestion is to try Glen McWilliams’ 5-mile weekly trail runs every Wednesday evening at 1730. Starting in Wooler town centre (even in the winter -head torches required) and heading around Humbleton hill and back. Having spoken to Glen today, he hopes to reinstate after the latest restrictions are lifted. See this Facebook page.
The Brough Law fell race in Ingram valley held in mid March is a great first fell race.It is another 5 mile run which most certainly tests and rewards you in equal measure. John Butters organises it along with his team of fellow Morpeth Harriers, Mike Steven and Mike and Jane Briggs.
If you are new to the fells and trails and fancy giving it a go then Rothbury is a great place to start with options on the Carriage Drives and the Rothbury Round circuit over Simonside and Lordenshaw. Basically take a common sense progressive view whilst starting to run in the hills if you haven’t tried it before!
Give it a go!
Safety and Equipment
It makes sense to go with other people, consider downloading ‘the what 3 words app’ and OS locate and make sure you inform family and friends of the route undertaken. In races you have to carry standard mandatory equipment including a map compass, sufficient waterproofs, nutrition, fully charged mobile phone etc. I should point out that at this time of year it should be weather dependant and that you plan for every eventuality on a long exposed run up there.
For a club that is primarily known for success on the roads, track and cross country there is actually quite a history of members competing on the fells and trails at all sorts of levels going back to the 1960’s with legends like Peter Carmichael and Jim Alder running on the fells in their prime!
In more recent times 8 members of the club have completed the Bob Graham Round culminating in John Butters amazing performance in 2019, plus members have taken part in many classic Fell Races like the Three Peaks and Ben Nevis. These are at the extreme end of things – there are absolutely loads of opportunities to take part in off road trail type events and challenges – so if this has inspired you to try something different then don’t be afraid to give it a go!
Further questions/further advice?
Speak to me, Paul, John Butters, Kev Bray, Mike Steven or Jane Briggs, what they don’t know about fell running you don’t need to know!
The best feeling is twofold for me, the first being looking across at a friend, as you’re out in the hills, and watching them consider whether to look left, right, up or down as the vista is so stunning!” Second is the friendships and shared experiences pure and simple, like me really, simple!
The official Facebook page of the McWilliams Round.
Andrew Richardson Wooler trail running with Morpeth Harriers.
Andrew Richardson, trail running together with Morpeth Harriers.
John Butters Bob Graham Round.
Tony Holt Bob Graham Round.
Footnote by Kevin Bray: The ever modest Richard asked me to peruse his blog and I noticed he hadn’t included any pictures of himself. So below are Richard and Jane, after the Lowther 13 mile Socially Distanced Trail Race in August 2020. This picture sums up another important aspect of fell and trail running!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
*As related to Peter Scaife
Pausing for one brief moment in his reverie, Holmes put to one side the well-thumbed copy of ‘Athletics Weekly’ he had been perusing, and in one swift and graceful movement arose quickly, checking his card index on the dresser.
‘’I knew I was right!’’ he exclaimed in triumph. ‘’ They featured the same ‘Ten best tips to improve your 10k times’ article in May five years ago. I must get round to cancelling my subscription,’’ he complained.
Guilty briar in hand, he fell once again deep into contemplation of his current case. Though it lacked the sheer anatomy or cold-blooded evil of ‘The Speckled Band’, or indeed the extraordinary dénouement of ‘Silver Blaze’, nevertheless certain features made it one of the most perplexing he'd ever been involved in.
Deep in thought, he registered with a cavalier toss of his proud, leonine head the heavy tread of Lestrade’s footsteps on the stairs, a sound with which we had both become so familiar of late.
‘’Scotland Yard’s finest, if I am not much mistaken. I warned him about the mid-sole on that Brooks ‘The Beast’ after you, my trusty amanuensis, had purchased the same shoes last year,’’ he laughed.
“Lestrade my good man,” Holmes exclaimed as the door was flung open to take in the portly, middle-aged figure of the detective. Like myself, he was a late convert to road-running and was blowing hard from a demanding, newly installed gaslight session.
"Do come in, my fine fellow. I have been consulting the world-wide-web for the results of the Abbey Dash and you will admit, I am sure, they make most disappointing reading for our man.”
“Indeed Holmes is right”, I opined, “and yet he was more than ready for such a challenge. Lestrade here reports his regular Thursday evening attendance at the cinder track sessions, a presence noted and indeed commended by other members of his club, the Metropolitan Pedestrians.’’
Holmes smiled. “That may be. But you will be familiar, no doubt, with the saying ‘it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks’”.
Lestrade demurred. “Indeed. So you may put it down to age. But ‘The Disappointed Dasher’ had been in fine form by all accounts and had most assiduously followed Bruce Tulloh’s schedule in the copy of ‘Running over Forty’ he had been bought at Christmas three years ago and finally got round to reading.”
A sigh of exasperation was momentarily checked by the great detective. He had long since given up believing in schedules.
Looking up, he gazed longingly at the mantle on which still stood his famed ‘7% solution’, now on the IAAF list of banned substances. “I am afraid the answer may be closer to home than we dare to think, Watson. Indeed, it may even now be staring us so closely in the face that we are too close to see the terrible reality of the truth confronting us.”
This was too much for Lestrade. “Confound it Holmes! The Dasher had trained by the book. He had upped his mileage and partaken of two quality sessions a week. He had abstemiously refrained from alcohol and even forsaken human company the night before the race…” He broke off, his voice hoarse both from his own earlier exertions and his bemusement at The Dasher’s loss of form.
“Lestrade, Lestrade, my dear fellow. Calm yourself down and partake of a glass of this fine isotonic fructose tropical flavour high carbohydrate sports drink. Do you not remember my maxim?”
“Why of course Holmes! Eliminate the impossible, and whatever else remains, however improbable, must be the truth. But how does that explain our case? What on earth can be the reason for our ‘Disappointed Dasher?’
“The answer I am afraid gentlemen, is much simpler. For what then was the improbable? The Dasher was, indeed, in the form of his life. He had, as you have correctly surmised, prepared more rigorously than ever before. The times we clocked on my pocket watch were several seconds ahead of anything before recorded. It is not, as the venerable Mr. Alder is wont to joke, that ‘he started badly, then he faded’! But what if the failing was not down to the Dasher?’’
This was too much even for me, used as I was to the great detective’s circuitous explanations. ‘’ Confound it Holmes! Stop for one moment talking in riddles. It is clear that the mystery to this puzzle has long been apparent to you. Tell us what you know, and then Lestrade can go and carry out his stretches.’’
Holmes laughed heartily. ‘’Well, if you must my good friends. The failings were not those of the Dasher, who had indeed run the race of his life. They were of the measurer on his velocipede. For the course was short, and so all the times, not just of our own man The Dasher, have been scratched from the record books…"