Thursday, 24 November 2011

Wensleydale Wedge 23mi. 20/11/2011.

People were saying that 2011 provided the best weather in the history of this event, which I can quite believe. Every time I’ve run it there has been one constant – cold that gnaws into you. Add to that any number of variables – frost, snow, sleet, rain, swilling mud and wind. This year it was calm, warm and sunny with cloudless blue sky. The only cloud was at ground level in the form of fog, which clung to the valleys and sometimes wafted over the ridges. The day was pure magic and Nidderdale LDWA did us proud once again with their friendly organisation and support. It was a sell-out with no entries on the day – a good accolade for an event based in Askrigg, which could be regarded as being a bit out of the way. For most it takes considerable effort to get there, do the event and get back home in one day.

Although we ran through some wet and muddy patches it was nowhere near as liquid as in previous years. The low river levels in the valleys and the dried-up stream bed reminded me once again of the lack of substantial rain this year. We don’t often get to see such low river levels in summer, let alone in late November.

Martin Dietrich arrives at checkpoint 3.

People who have done this event in recent years will have noticed the evolution of the rocky ATV track on the descent into Thoralby, which merges and unmerges with ‘our’ footpath. It finally led me astray this year. I had just been caught up by another runner at CP4. Shortly afterwards, the grassy bridleway forked left on a gentle ascent across the moor. We didn’t recognise this so we backtracked to the rocky track to continue our descent down that. He soon disappeared into the fog as we descended and I found myself alone, running down a track I did not recognise. I passed a couple of horses, one doing the usual Jake the Peg impersonation, like they do.

I came to a fork and took the left across the stream. I felt unsure so I dithered and backtracked. I finally got my map out but I could not make my plotted route fit what I was seeing. I checked my compass and confirmed that I was descending in the correct direction (NE), so I carried on. No-one had caught me up like should have happened with all my dithering, which added to my concern. The track became a tarmac lane, whereas the track I should have been on turns sharp right and left with steep rocky descent to the tarmac, where I would turn left.

I jogged on, hoping that all would become clear. Two workmen on my right were smiling as I passed. The smiles might have been leers and a sarcastic comment might have been on the tips of their tongues. I offered a friendly “Hello” to test them and got the same in return, from both of them! The warm November sun must be doing some good, I thought. I passed some discarded fluorescent fittings on my left (4' singles, tubes included, since you ask). They looked perfectly serviceable and I thought they might come in handy one day, but I was already carrying two drink bottles and might have struggled to carry them. I passed them by with a heavy heart. ;-)

Shortly I saw some other runners ahead descending from the left to the lane I was on. I realised what had happened. I had somehow found myself on the alternative right-hand parallel descent down Side Road, which I had always been aware of on the map but never taken. Now I’d taken it by accident. It was good to try out the alternative for the first time, even though it was inadvertent. I might just take it every time from now on as there is little to choose between it and the intended Haw Lane descent, and there is no proscribed route description to oblige us to take a particular route.

I arrived at CP5 in Thoralby Village Hall, a fraction under halfway, in 2:05 or so, having wasted what must have been 10 minutes with my navigational dithering. Since I always slow down as events progress, I knew already that my PB of 4:04 was way outside my grasp. Still, so what? The day was beautiful and I would get to spend longer out in it, innit?

As I crossed the main road at Aysgarth to the church drive, the bells began to peel to call everyone to the Sunday service. I have not heard this for a good few years. I must have been late enough this year to hear them once again. The lopped trees that lined the drive still had plenty of green leaves, which contrasted well with the golden colours of autumn on others – not bad for late November. The absence of frost so far has delayed the fall.

The church near Aysgarth.

There was no point in pushing for a time since it had already slipped through my fingers, so instead of turning right up the road to take the most direct line to CP7 like I and most others do, I decided to carry straight on and check out the footpath up through the woods towards the canal, to descend back down to the checkpoint from the other side. Someone in the car park at the top said: “Oh, you’re doing that Wensleydale Wedge, aren’t you? How’s it going?” “It’s a lovely day for a bimble”, or words to that effect, came my reply. I took Adrian Dixon by surprise as I sneaked up on his checkpoint from behind, having gone the long way ‘round.

As I emerged from our latest fog blanket, Bolton Castle, the position of the next manned checkpoint, glowed on the other side of the valley as it basked in permanent sunshine. My legs were leaden as usual and I walked at 3.5mph or shuffled at 4.5mph for as long as I could switch my mind off the discomfort. I was enjoying taking photographs to provide some sort of excuse for my turn of slowness. I glanced at my watch and suspected that even a sub 4:30 finish was out of the question. Other runners had been overtaking me since the start but I had been alone for a while now. I walked up past the castle to CP9 at Castle Bolton, getting caught and catching up at the same time. I had company once again.

Bolton Castle basks in the late November sunshine.

Checkpoint 9 at Castle Bolton.

I wasted little time in setting off on the final 7 miles westwards to the finish in zero wind and warm sunshine. The fog bank was never far away across the valley to our left, but the escarpment to our right glowed brightly in the low winter sunshine. A group of four runners (two men and two women) overtook and slowly pulled away as I shuffled pathetically on heavy legs along the long, undulating green path. A rocky stream bed that descended from the escarpment on the right was dry. The old lead mine workings were the driest I’ve ever seen them.

Ivy Scar and disused lead mine workings.

Shortly before the final checkpoint, CP10 at Heugh, Ken and Jenny caught up with me. Jenny asked how I was doing and I had a bit of a whinge to vent my frustration about legs that had refused to cooperate for most of the day (sorry Jenny). I used Ken and Jenny as incentive to pull me into the checkpoint, pausing only long enough to get my tally clipped and take a couple of pictures. I glanced at my watch and realised that sub 4:30 might be on the cards after all, but I’d have to push hard and would not know for certain until I’d hit the road and crested the final rise before the village hall.

Leaving checkpoint 10; 1.2 miles to the finish.

I set off on the final 1.2 miles of (mostly) downhill to the finish. At last, some lovely grassy downhills and technical path through the woods to let gravity take me. I suddenly found myself bounding past the others who had overtaken me on the slog from Castle Bolton. For the first time the running was flowing relatively freely as we ran across the fields and squeezed through the wall stiles, holding the hand gates open for each other. As I worked my way through the other runners and built up a bit of a lead, holding hand gates open was no longer necessary and I could really let myself fly. It was just past midday, the sun was at full strength (such as it can be in winter) and there was no breeze. It felt like a warm spring or autumn day. The effort was making me overheat. My Buff, which had been around my head as a bandanna initially to soak up the water droplets from the fog, now had to come off to aid head cooling.

I hit the road and ran downhill to the final little rise, which slowed me down alarmingly, before descending to the final left turn. Then I did something I wouldn’t normally do. I overtook another runner just 10 yards from the village hall. I couldn’t help it. I was on a roll and wasn’t going to slow down now in the interests of good manners and gentlemanly behaviour. “You first.” “No, please, after you.” I hoped he wouldn’t mind. I checked in and turned around to shake his hand and offer my congratulations as he arrived. He was cool. :-)

My time was 4:27, which was better than I had feared. However, the conditions were the best ever, yet I have run it faster on 4 occasions and slower on only 2 occasions. It’s a case of ‘must do better’. Am I finally over the hill? Judging by this year’s virtual absence of PBs, I have to assume so.

After refuelling and chatting for an hour or two, I set off on the long walk back to the car parking area in the factory yard. On the way I passed a view that I have always admired in Askrigg but have never before seen in such a good light. I got my camera out for the final time to photograph the ancient stone-flagged footpath that winds its way up the fields towards the church with the escarpment providing the backdrop.

Askrigg in November.

Here is the crop of the pictures.


  1. Super photos Nick - looks like it was a cracker of a day! Nice to see so many familiar faces too. I remember going past the Church at Aysgarth one year and the organ was belting away with a hymn - I was quite tempted to nip in and have a good sing! You'd have been long gone.

  2. Mad, I know what you mean. I love a good sing-song. If I heard the organ I'd be in like a flash, but it'd have to be a grinding Hammond with full warble a-wrenching ;-)

  3. Wish I could have made it for this one, looks like a great day out! Bummer I have to work sometimes... The sunshine looks much nicer than the snow we had on the WW last year!

  4. Hi Nick, This sounds like my sort of event, lovely area to be around and great pics, as ever, did laugh at the Jake the Peg reference. I must do this event next year!!

  5. Gorgeous pics of a cracking event Nick. Your astill running well after a year of tough events.

  6. Thanks all. Nice warm sunshine makes such a difference. Everything looks so much better and photos are so much more evocatice.

    DE, this year's been kind to me and I still seem to be going strong. Fingers crossed for next year, not just for me but you and everyone else too.

  7. Thanks for photos and the blog ...

    For the record I'm the blody in red in the photo --
    Leaving checkpoint 10; 1.2 miles to the finish.

  8. Thanks Shaun. I'm liking your map storage system ;-)