Peak District Crawl

Route: From Hathersage to Chinley, 26.31 miles

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I have many fond memories of running over the Kinder plateau as it is home turf for the Pennine Fell Running Club for which I run. It is also where the first UK National Park was established after the mass trespass of 1932. It therefore seemed fitting to run a route which crossed this famous gritstone plateau. It was always going to be an emotional day but with mixed weather and fatigue setting in, it turned out to be particularly so.

After the Snowdon marathon the day before Pam and I were tired and weary as we woke early for our morning stretching routine. Helen Allison, our support for the day, arrived within the hour to discuss our plans. Helen has multiple talents as she is a formidable ultra-runner, osteopath and downright lovely person. After loading her sack with extra water and checking the forecast for the day, pangs of guilt ran through me. Heavy rain was forecast for the first three hours of our run and Helen now had around 4 litres of water on her back! This was because we would have little access to fresh water once we were up on the gritstone edges and did not want to have to drop down prematurely. I knew that Helen would only be helping us if she believed in our cause, so decided to stop apologising for loading her up like a camel and to accept her offer of support gracefully.

Bags packed and poles at the ready, we piled into Helen’s car and drove over to Hathersage, the start of our run. Our two Science focuses for the day were to be background radiation and the physics of adventure sports like climbing which the gritstone edges form a natural playground for. Gritstone is a coarse-grained, siliceous sandstone which contains clay minerals, feldspar, micas and quartz. This mineral rich rock emits radiation in small pockets as the isotopes within it decay to more stable forms. We were hoping to detect some of this during our traverse across the Peak District National Park. As it happened, we did notice some variations in the readings but they were insignificant when you took the sensitivity of the meter into account. A more extensive study would need to be carried out to confirm our predictions.

A couple of weeks earlier, I had been fortunate enough to meet up with Chris Robinson who is one of the Education Officers for the Peak District National Park. He explained some of the other Science themed projects that they engage young people with whilst out and about in the park. One of the most memorable included measuring the depth of peat bogs which naturally store carbon dioxide (CO2); the gas that contributes to climate change. According to the Peak District National Park website, it is estimated that Britain’s peat bogs store the equivalent of 10 times the country’s total CO2 emissions. This is one of the many reasons to preserve them and to engage the next generation in doing so.

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The rain lashed down on Helen’s car as we drove over to Hathersage. It was not long before the car was parked up and Pam and I had to tear ourselves away from its warmth and comfort. Leg muscles aching from our run the day before, motivation was in short supply. However, Helen’s enthusiasm and curiosity as we took the first of our background radiation readings for the day kept us entertained. We set of again. She let us set the pace as she positioned herself at the back; quietly observing our progress and any signs of fatigue. After a long gentle stretch by the river, we started the steep, unrelenting climb up to Win Hill. It was then that Helen hinted that we could be using our poles a bit more efficiently when we went up hill. Eager to gain any insights that I could from this ultra-running legend, I pleaded with her to demonstrate this technique for me. As she took my poles and stormed up the near vertical slope at a record pace, I felt a little incompetent. She broke down the process for us in simple steps and we slowly went about trying to adopt this new approach. We could both immediately feel the extra work our arms were having to do and if this meant taking some of the weight of our exceptionally tired legs, we were sold on it!

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Eventually the end of the climb came into sight and the summit of Win Hill could be seen on the horizon. Pleased to be nearing the top of the longest climb of the day and with the rain clearing our mood lifted. We posed for some photos at the top before running down the short descent on the other side. It was nice to be picking up some speed again. We trotted along the gritstone edges taking readings on route. As we did I could feel my troubled left leg getting heavier and heavier until I felt that I was physically dragging it along. Not able to hide my condition from Helen’s trained eye, she soon pulled me aside and kindly set to work on my leg at the top of Ringing Roger. Not only had she carried an excessive amount of water up in the pouring rain for us, she was now massaging my leg on route for me. Relieved at the attention my leg was finally getting, I could feel the knots unravelling in it as she massaged it with her magical touch. Minutes later and I was back running again. Helen carried on with us for another mile, before handing over the remaining water and setting off back for her car.

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Pam and I plodded on. Although we were both mentally struggling with the challenge of the day, we both felt immensely privileged to be running this route in such beautiful conditions. Unlike our recce of this route a few months earlier, the ground was now dry underfoot and the views clear to see. We stopped for a few pictures at Kinder Low and another radiation reading before recomposing ourselves and breaking the remaining miles down into small manageable chunks. We both knew that we needed to be kinder to ourselves. We agreed that we would do this by stopping in Hayfield for a coffee and brief rest, slowing the pace down and taking slightly less technical lines wherever we could.

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Tired, exhausted but relieved that we would soon have two days’ rest, we dragged ourselves around the remaining 6 miles from our coffee stop in Hayfield. We felt guilty that we had not given the Peak District National Park the attention it deserved as our minds played tricks with us. Yet, as is so often the case, with time, only the good memories remain. As I write this blog, it is those magical views and unique shaped gritstone outcrops that jump into my mind when I refer back, not the pain or fatigue that we felt on the day.

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