> 2008 race reports
15/11/08 Tour of Pendle - from John Telfer

16.8 miles 4,830 feet of ascent

John at one of the numerous stream crossings - photo: Pete Jebb

Despite a night of high winds and incessant rain, Saturday dawned dry albeit somewhat gloomy, which made you wonder if it was going to be one of those days when it never got light. However, for once the fellrunning gods took pity on their minions and left us to “enjoy” a dry day (from the knees upwards) with even a bit of afternoon sunshine thrown in for good measure.

The Tour of Pendle starts and finishes in the quaint little village of Barley nestled at the foot of a number of hills dominated by Pendle Hill, which was to play a large part in the day's proceedings. This area is famous for the legend of the Pendle Witches, and the topic of witches dominated pre-race conversations – “which is the most appropriate footwear”, “which is the best route off Pendle Hill”, and “I see Doncaster Rovers are playing Ipswich today”.

I won’t even try and describe the course in any detail because it has so many twists, turns, excursions and cross-over points it would only serve to confuse the reader as much as it seemingly did to a few who were actually running. Perhaps the best way of illustrating this point is to say that the course really only takes in three distinct hills, but manages to deliver six ascents ranging in severity from the mildly painful to the “even the sheep use climbing ropes” variety. Added to that the race also “boasts” three of the steepest descents where many places can be made up or, as the author found out, you can end up with a very muddy pair of shorts.

201 (or 200 non NFR members) went to post, almost 40% down on last year, for the 25th running of this race. At £5 (if pre-entered) with a free T-shirt thrown in, this has got to be one of the best value races going. The first mile and a half is along a road serving the two reservoirs of Lower and Upper Ogden with only a gradual ascent until the dams of each reservoir are reached. From here it turns right for the long and almost never ending slog up Pendle Hill. From the summit there is then a three mile downhill run to the next checkpoint which sounds fine apart from the fact that it entails either having to run through shin deep peaty bogs or along paths which have assumed all the characteristics of a river. For added character most of these paths have copious amounts of large stones sticking out ready to catapult the unsuspecting fell runner into the adjacent stream. Other than that it is fine so long as you don’t look more than three feet in front of where you are going.

For the next five miles the route either winds its way up steep muddy paths through a mixture of dead bracken, heather and grass or goes into ultra-descent nose bleed inducing mode, where staying on two feet is a feat in itself (does that make it three feet or three feat?). Just for good measure there are numerous streams to be trudged through, which at least allows some of the tar-like peat to be washed off your shoes for about a minute before the next cloying bog is encountered. At this point I was going to do the joke about a “peat hag” but whoever heard of a witch called Pete?

Having got to the top of Merely Clough six and a half miles from home the runner can be lulled into thinking that they are then in for a sensible bit of ridge running back round to the top of Pendle Hill. This would be absolutely true were it not for the fact that on two occasions a sharp left needs to be taken all the way to the bottom of the hill at an incline of around 45 degrees just to climb all the way back up again albeit by a different but equally steep route. Without these “diversions” the race would be about 2 miles shorter with 1,500 feet less climb so where is the fun in that?

By this stage of the proceedings, although the sun is now shining, any amiable conversation has long ceased, to be replaced purely by the grunts and wheezes of a phalanx of stooped fellrunners showing all the joie de vivre of a set of condemned men and women making their way to the gallows.

At the brow of the hill following the final ascent runners sway as though drunk as they try and get their legs moving again in a running-like motion as the ravages of cramp kick in. However, metaphorically and physically, it is all down hill back to the dam at Upper Ogden reservoir and a final mile or so on the tarmac down to the finish outside the village hall.

The results should appear on the Clayton Le Moors website but I did notice that the men’s race ended in a dead heat. I failed to establish whether this had been as a result of a Corinthian decision to share the spoils or a tooth-and-nail fight to the finish. All I do know is that they finished nearly an hour ahead of me - they must have used broomsticks on the uphill sections.

Caked in mud there was nothing for it but to jump into the village stream to decant myself of half of Pendle Hill. Legend has it that the land in the village was owned by a gentleman called Robinson which means that this was the only time that I have washed myself in Robinson’s Barley Water (boom boom)!!     

John Telfer


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