With it being my first ultra and the furthest I’ve ever run, I wanted to make sure that things would go as smooth as possible. A recce run would be a great way of exploring and familiarising myself with part of the route and experiencing the biggest climb – the Honister Pass. Fortunately I have family living near the starting point so was able to combine the run with a visit and have somewhere to stay.
With the long slog up Honister Pass intersecting the first third of the race from the rest of the route it made sense to concentrate on that part as I could turn around at the peak and head back to the car. Using a combination of the route plan and the excellent OS Maps website I plotted a route from near Portinscale to Honister and then rather than doubling back on myself heading up over Dale Head and along the ridge down along Cat Bells and back to Portinscale – a total of ~19 miles.
I parked up near Nichol End Marine on the edge of Derwent Water. The marina is probably around 4 miles into the race and is on the edge of Fawe Park. The route heads through woodland and occasionally joins the Cumbria Way path before sneaking out to the edge of Derwent Water where you would find it hard to resist stopping to take a photo, whatever the weather.
After Manesty Park, the route rejoins the Cumbria Way and heads away from the south edge of Derwent Water and along a road to Grange. Taking the path between some buildings at Grange the route re-enters woodland and despite starting off dry, it started raining so on with the jacket (all good practice). At this point I did take my eye off the map and missed a turning but thankfully I didn’t stray too far. Back on track I headed along the river to Rosthwaite where the first of three checkpoints would be. Rosthwaite is the perfect spot to refuel as it’s about 30 minutes before hitting the first of the big climbs – Honister Pass.
Leaving Rosthwaite and heading to Seatoller I made another two very minor navigation errors which were easily corrected and just proved the benefits of doing a practice run beforehand.
Heading out of Seatoller you head up along the side of the Honister Pass on a steep but steady climb that was still runnable. At Honister Slate Mine I realised that I had not run up the toughest part of Honister! Exiting the mine you climb very steeply up a winding track and it was at this point I realised that this was the toughest part of Honister!
At the top of the climb I made another very minor navigation error but quickly realised my mistake and headed across a feint path toward the old tram line which heads back to the mine. At this point the race would continue down toward Ennerdale Water but for this recce I headed down the tram line back to the mine and then up towards Dale Head.
When planning the route I didn’t pay too much attention to the contour lines on the map and very quickly into the ascent to Dale Head I wish I had. This climb was very steep, very long and in some ways more of a slog than the climb up Honister that I had just completed. It was one of those climbs where you couldn’t quite see the summit and each time you saw a summit you discover that it’s not the summit you want but just a smaller summit on the way. The long, exhausting trek was worth it when I reached the summit and I was greeted with a genuinely jaw-dropping vista that easily ranked as one of the best views I have seen so far in the Lake District.
From Dale Head I had to head back toward the car and down to Dalehead Tarn and the up towards High Spy, Maiden Moor and onto Cat Bells. As with the climb to Dale Head, I underestimated this section of the run and the descent to Dalehead Tarn was steep and boggy and even though the OS map indicated a path there was no clear one to be seen. Climbing up towards High Spy and Maiden Moor you started to see more people especially at Bull Crag and then when you hit Cat Bells you encounter a lot more people looking to tick the peak off their list.
At the base of Cat Bell’s I still had a couple of miles left to go back to the car and I think I was starting to hit a bit of a wall. With a mile to go I helped a Polish runner from Glasgow (!) to get back on track to Keswick so was a bit of company on the last jog/walk back to the car.
Was it Worth it?
The chance to run part of the route beforehand will be invaluable come race day and even though half or more of the total run was off race route it was great practice running over similar terrain and being on my feet.