> Kielder Borderer Recce - John Telfer

Sunday February 1, 2009

Twenty four hours ahead of the hysteria that was to grip the nation to mark the advent of snow actually settling on the streets of London, eleven intrepid souls gathered in the chilly car park at Kielder Castle just after 9am on a mission to stave off hypothermia over the 17 miles of the Borderer and get a sneak preview of the first race in the 2009 Club Championship. No pictures I am afraid, but exposing bare fingers on a day like this was to court instant marriage with third degree frostbite.

8 NFRs, Dave, Phil S, Bernard, Karen, Matt, Ross, Terry and yours truly were joined by Phil and Rachel Vincent and Stewart Barrie who I had escorted down over the border fresh from his 34 mile run around the Boundaries of Edinburgh the day before.

The run down to the viaduct, which we nearly missed, and up through the initial part of the forest was sheltered and was bordering on the pleasant as an easy pace was set. However, it was not long before the boggy uphill ground began to suck away at our ankles. The first surprise of the day came when on taking the right turn through the firebreak was finding that the undulating swamp has now been replaced by a pristine, but still undulating, cycle path. With drainage channels built on either side we all missed the turn up to the Fire Tower (albeit only by about ten yards).

Veering around the Fire Tower the soggy ground conditions turned to crème brulee conditions (i.e. crusty on top but pretty mushy underneath) we sallied forth onto Grey’s Pike and Three Pikes before the steep descent down through the edge of the culled forest over the bridge and down to East Kielder farm.

It was at this point that the intrepid eleven became the daring dozen as we were joined by Louise who we had all thought had wisely stayed in bed. Across the Kielder Burn, certainly deeper than on my previous ventures to these parts, we got up a good pace on the hardcore road up to what must be one of the most remote farms in England. Acting upon Louise’s personal assurance that she was on friendly terms with the farmer at Kielder Head we chose to ignore the signs about proceeding on pain of death although we let Phil run ahead of us at this stage in case the farmer was lying in wait. Luckily he wasn’t but his retinue of noisy border collies were so it is unlikely our passing went un-noticed.

The long slog up through the next forest got us up to Grey Mares Knowe and the hunt was then on to find the famous trod to guide us down to the Carry Burn. It took us a good ten minutes fanned out across the desolate moor to locate said trod and then wonder how we had not found it earlier. We also had the luxury of a clear day to take bearings on Knox Knowe ahead of us, a luxury which may not be afforded on race day.

After a few minutes for re-fuelling next to the Carry Burn, Terry declared that his feet were now sufficiently cold to warrant that some imminent movement may be advisable and we route marched up to the barren and pretty featureless summit of Knox Knowe. Then, whether by luck or skill we managed to curve round down the Trouting and arrive bang on at the conflux of the three streams and the rotting fence posts which took us over Haggie Knowe and down to the Kielder Stone (or Stane as the signposts insist on calling it).

As we set off up to Peel Fell the weather, already not tropical turned itself down a notch or two and essence of serious wind chill factor became evident. Worse still, the ground conditions were getting pretty hairy with large patches of old snow which had either turned to sheet ice or would yield to the foot but when dragging said foot out felt as though you were rubbing your ankle against a chain saw going full throttle. The alternative was trying to run through deep heather.

These conditions persisted all the way round from Peel Fell and over Deadwater Fell until we re-assembled cowering behind one of the rather ugly radar / aerial mast buildings. Just when we were looking forward to a swift descent down to civilisation Louise pointed out that this route is now part of a bike trail. The fact that it was covered in ice and frozen snow settled the matter and we elected to run through the heather by the side so as to avoid serious injury from either bikers or the elements.

At last we got below the permafrost line and jogged our way back down along the forest track and back to the Castle. Our en masse arrival in the tearoom was greeted with a mixture of dismay (as they looked as though they were just about ready to pack up early) and joy (as the takings from cold and hungry runners probably meant their income shot up twenty fold from what they had taken in the past five hours).

Thanks to Dave whose idea for the recce I think this was. Let’s hope for slightly more clement conditions in five weeks time !!!

John Telfer

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