On the Thursday before the event, the Mountain Weather Information Service forecast a "complex weather pattern" that would have the potential for "significant effects on hill walkers". Although the forecast was uncertain, heavy rain seemed guaranteed. By Saturday morning as we gathered like lambs to the slaughter in Hazel Grove, the sun shone through broken clouds and the threat of rain seemed remote. The conditions were ideal for a 56 mile romp through the glorious Peak District courtesy of 3rd Hazel Grove Scouts.
|When the hammer strikes the anvil, the event begins.|
This year my friend Mark "unfinished business" White came back to avenge his DNF from 2004. During the last 9 years Mark has attempted to forget his previous retirement but a DNF on the Bullock Smithy is a memory not easily forgotten. Almost a decade later Mark was back, accompanied by his brother-in-law Simon, both in good shape and ready to put the Bullock to bed.
I had also managed to
dupe encourage a couple of friends from Grantham Running Club. Ben "methodical approach" Mason and Ben "I've never quit anything in my life" Hatherley had both signed up after hearing me bang on about the event throughout the previous year. It is easy to sell the positive aspects of the Bullock Smithy to potential contenders, camaraderie, self satisfaction and the raw humanity found in the collective pursuit of a difficult challenge are but a few. The negatives which can last for days or weeks can include exhaustion, muscle soreness and mental fatigue. It's fun to cite the positives to friends and let them find out about the negatives. After the event it is good to do an assessment to make sure you have some friends left!
The iconic anvil was struck at noon and 250 or so entrants left Devonshire Park through various different exits. I soon found myself in good company running with various repeat offenders who without rational explanation had come back for another dose of Bullock Smithy pain. Stockport Harriers had again fielded a strong team led by Usain Buccleuch who took an early lead across the fields towards Anson Road. James Scott-Buccleuch of Stockport Harriers is the Bullock Smithy record holder. In 2011 James romped round in 8 hours 46 mins. This year there were rumours that James was looking to better his record time.
I ran steadily up to the first checkpoint to Bow Stones conserving energy on the climb whilst chatting to Nigel Aston and Steve Jackson. During the descent from checkpoint 1, I could see event leader James far in the distance. It was inspiring to see a white speck on the hill in the distance as he headed out towards Whalley Moor. It was also interesting to see that someone had gone with him. I doubted anyone could challenge James. Who was competing with him at the front?
I ran on from Bow Stones to Chinley taking a bad line towards Whalley Lane. I caught up with five familiar faces from Stockport Harriers on the climb to Chinley Churn and we ran on together more or less all the way to Peak Forest. There were more recognisable faces operating the drinks station at Peep o Day including Julie Gardner who was aiming to improve her chances of gaining entry into one of the classic American 100 milers. I grabbed a biscuit, filled up my water bottle and ran on towards the long climb to Edale Cross. The sunshine was still penetrating distant clouds. I was grateful that I had decided to take my small day sac. I had almost plumbed for a larger 10 litre sac so I could take extra waterproofs and warm clothing in case the rain came but the dry path up to Edale Cross and the extensive views behind towards Manchester confirmed that I has made the right choice of kit by travelling lighter.
|Colin Wood & Roger Gill|
The next section is short but involves a stiff lung busting climb to Hollins Cross before a tricky descent into Castleton. The trig point on top of the hill was busy with resting walkers who shouted encouragement as I laboured up to the top. I tred cautiously down the descent to Castleton and again caught up with Stockport who seemed to be working well as a team. Another fast run on the tarmac road bought all six of us to the checkpoint in the car park. Surprisingly the promised rain had come to welcome us at the checkpoint, in addition to the friendly checkpoint volunteers.
There is an on going debate about whether it is best to run from Castleton to the next checkpoint at Peak forest via the more popular route to Cave Dale or alternatively take the stiff climb up Goosehill. Last year I swore never to go up Goosehill again and so this year I went up Goosehill................ again.
In hindsight, It was a measured decision. I had been to have a look at the route a couple of weeks previously and rather than take a direct line up the steep grassy slope I had been advised to take a diagonal towards the stile at the top. I had been discussing the pros and cons with my Stockport comrades on the way into Castleton. They seemed certain that Cave Dale was preferable. Stockport were going to run up Cave Dale and I was going up Goosehill, perhaps today we could conclusively settle the issue - whoever got to the top first would have a good claim to having ascended the best route.
We all left Castelton more or less together, the Harriers being just a few seconds in front. I ran to the foot of Goosehill and began a diagonal up the grassy slope. Just minutes later Deja Vu came back to haunt me as painful memories of that God awful grassy bank came flooding back. I was soon in the same state as the previous year, labouring with hands on knees, sweat rolling off my nose and my chin, occasionally on all fours and swearing aloud at the adjacent sheep who were staring, sheepishly at me in pity. Diagonal or straight up, it matters not - that grassy bank is nasty. I quickly became demoralised. I wasn't three quarters of the way to the top, "Stockport would surely be out of Cave Dale by now, why didn't I go with them"? I carried on towards the part that levels towards the stile.
It is often said that the benefit of Goosehill is that you get the climb done quicker and then you meet a runnable section at the top. I met the runnable section but was far to exhausted to be runnable. I asked another staring sheep what it was looking at and then staggered on angrily over the stile and towards the junction. If I hadn't have been so slow, I should have met Stockport coming up Cave Dale at that point. There was no initial sign and I couldn't see them ahead. "They must be at Peak Forest already". I managed to start a shuffle and as I approached the junction I was surprised to hear voices I looked down the Cave Dale route and saw the famous five now reduced to four approaching through the gate. The "best route" debate must continue!
A herd of cows stood menacingly guarding the gate before the barn at Miller's Dale. The path forms a tunnel with a farm building on the right and a high bank on the left. There was nowhere for the cows to go. I could see Peter Wood's head peering over the cows from the other side of the gate and he laughed as he could see I was a little concerned. Any other day I would have retreated to find an alternative path but this was Bullock Smithy day. I had to be brave and walk amongst the herd. I took a deep breath and ventured slowly forward. Pete opened the gate and as soon as there was enough space for me to get through I bolted from the herd to the other side, more amusement for Pete but relief for me, phew! A brief stop at Miller's Dale and then time for the second half. I wondered when my friends would arrive at half way later in the day, Mark avenging his DNF and Ben, Ben and Si on their first attempts at the Bullock Smithy.
Walk 100 paces, run 100 paces was the method used to get me to the A6 road junction. I carried on to the top of the hill. I like this bit, the majority of the significant climbs are done, there are some flat runnable sections to come and best of all your are now running for home. From the top you can see the checkpoint near Chelmorton at 32 miles I don't remember seeing the Stockport four in front but when I arrived at the checkpoint Lee Barrett had sadly come to grief with back problems, the four were now three. I enjoyed a doughnut and decided to run on at pace still feeling pretty good. The lane to the A515 goes on a bit but its runnable. The scary cow fields into Earl Sterndale were next. I could see the cows in the fields but happily they were some distance away I gave them a nod of respect and carried on into the quaint village of Earl Sterndale at 36 miles. It was great to see Geoff Pettengell and Mike Nelson out in support. Both previous finishers, Geoff with an amazing 24 completions to his name. Sadly no time to dwell other than to grab a piece of Mrs Nelson's flapjack which went down a treat, thanks Mrs N.
On the way between Earl Sterndale and Brand Top the sun began to fade. I would need to keep a good pace to get down the rocky path to Cumberland Cottage in the daylight. That was my sole motivation for I didn't fancy the rocky path in the dark. I walked up the tarmac road which cuts through the remote landscape and ran down towards Booth Farm avoiding a farmer with a couple of yapping Jack Russell dogs on the way. There is an eerie static caravan which perches on the hill at the top of a muddy track just before the Brand Top checkpoint and I was a bit startled when a young girl appeared in the early evening dusk to ask me politely to close the gate at the top of the track. I kept running into check point at Brand Top with 39 miles now in the Bullock bag.
I always enjoy the leg between Brand Top and Cumberland Cottage. Its energising to run through the remote lanes at the back of the Roaches with good views of Shutlingsloe in the background. The sun was now descending at pace leaving a warm glow to the clouds behind. There is a nice stillness on the roads to Three Shire Head and everything points towards the close of what had been another excellent day of running. I crossed Three Shires Bridge at the place where Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire meet and ran on towards the climb to the A54. As I approached the first part of the climb I was surprised to see a gaggle of people climbing the ladder stile high above. It was the Stockport three. I hadn't seen them since Peak Forest earlier in the day. I had no intention of giving chase, I was too tired by now and more interested in getting to the ladder style myself to look behind and make sure nobody was chasing me!
The climb to the ladder is steep. I paused at the top and looked back across the Peak District. The shadow of the hills through which I had run sat peacefully in the dusk for miles in the distance. It was time to say goodbye to the Peak District and run back towards civilisation. The welcome party at Cumberland Cottage checkpoint was awesome the volunteers were outside cheering my arrival. It is surprising how such a welcome can lift your spirits. I recognised Tom Buttery who was volunteering on the check point and it was nice that he remembered our Bullock Smithy in 1998 when we had run the latter stages together.
By now I had largely had enough. It was time to grind out the final 13 miles. I ran all the way to the Stanley Arms and then power walked up the hill. I had noticed a shadow waking up towards Charity Lane which later, I think turned out to be one of the Stockport three, Phil Burns of Stockport leaving just Neil Thompson and Stephen Jones in the group ahead. I didn't dwell at Walker Barn, it was time to get this thing done.
On the way to Whitely Green I was running along a particularly dark lane in Bollington with my head torch switched off, when, all of a sudden, I noticed, in an instant, a dark shadow approaching fast in front. It was clear that whatever was coming towards me was going to hit me at speed and I had noticed it perhaps two seconds before impact. This was a quiet country lane and it was pitch black. I grimaced, tensed and let out a "uuuuurrrgghhh" which I thought might help to absorb the impact. At the same time the shadow coming towards me at speed let out a similar noise and somehow miraculously the cyclist avoided me. We were both unlit and wearing dark clothes and the cyclist was really speeding along. That cyclist must have been scared to death. Never in a million years would he have expected a runner to be coming down the middle of that remote lane on a Saturday night dressed in black. I suspect he might have thought that he had seen a ghost and in a fit of deliriousness, I ran down the next cobbled path uncontrollably laughing out loud into the night.
|Keeley Buckley, Cath & Alex Tye|
My sister had come out to support at Whitely Green and Tracy was also there to offer encouragement. Great to see them but no time to waste. I ran on out of the checkpoint to the Middlewood way for the obligatory three mile nightmare to Higher Poynton. This year it was so dark I had to keep my head torch on and I later wondered if that was the reason the bridge at the Miner's Arms arrived sooner than it ever has done.
I was able to keep up a good pace running all the way through the final miles to the finish. I finished fifth in 10 hours 30 minutes. Time to congratulate the Stockport runners, Neil Thompson and Steve Jones who also maintained a strong finish to come home in 10:09. James Scott-Buccleuch stormed round in 9 hours 14 minutes and suggested he might use his talent on longer road ultras in the foreseeable future, I hope he comes back to the Bullock Smithy. James had been pushed hard throughout by Charlie Sharpe. It was Charlie who had accompanied James across the hill near Whalley Moor earlier in the day and Charlie had stayed in pursuit throughout, coming home just nine minutes behind James.
|Mark White the day after the Bullock Smithy.|
After a breakfast supper it was time to go out and see how my friends were doing. Ben Hatherley and Ben Mason came home in 14 hours 43 minutes, a very decent time considering it was their first attempt at ultra distance. Ben M did a sterling job navigating and Ben H followed with a foggy eye as he had pierced it with a drilling accident the previous week making his completion even more impressive. Mark White and Simon Platts romped home in 20 hours 18 minutes, Mark finally putting the Bullock to rest and going on to put his Grandmother's stair lift to good use.
Thanks to the good folk of Stockport Harriers for your company in the early stages and thanks as always to the volunteers who give up their time for the pleasure and pain of those who take part.
Until next year....