“It wasn’t so much a run as a challenge” – Penny about Simonside

It seemed like a good idea, when I entered it back in the autumn. The Duergar Nightcrawler – 10 miles up to the Simonside Crags and back. All off road and in the dark: I’m used to that, surely.

I hadn’t expected 3 storms in a row in February – Ciara, Desmond and Jorge – meaning that for a start the ground was soaking. Even walking from the car park over the river Coquet in Rothbury and up to register meant splashing through a large puddle, and whilst the river was lower than it had been you could see that it wouldn’t take much for it to flood. It was also quite lively. Even so, what’s a bit of rain – we’d run down at Lowther and alongside the Eamont a week or so before and got completely and utterly drenched (we dripped all over the cafe at the end).

Jeremy, from Head Torches (‘my’ running group) even said, as we ran through Kershope forest one evening, scrambling round trees which had fallen, that he liked to think we were hardcore – running in the dark, rain, wind and mud.

I hadn’t somehow quite been prepared for Simonside though. There was a very short uphill bit on the road and then the track turned to mud. Someone a few metres in front of me fell over; as we got higher there were stones under our feet (when you could see them for mud and water) but the rain turned to sleet and started blasting our faces. I wished I’d worn my woolly hat that I wore for skiing, and which keeps my ears and the back of my neck warm. We went up – and up some more – and up some more. I’m sure it must be stunning in the day time.

Sleet coming at us; the hill ahead

Coming down from the top meant coming down some stone steps of varying heights. By now the sleet had become snow and the stones were slippery. I normally love downhills but this took more concentration than normal: in the darkness I was having to look down a lot of the time, rather than ahead. Penny was ahead of me and the defeatist part of me wanted her just to go on and leave me behind, so I could go slowly and feel sorry for myself.

At least coming down was more protected, but it wasn’t long before we were retracing our footsteps, though not through the woods, which might have provided a bit of shelter, as the organisers had decided the winds were likely to be too high and dangerous (trees falling on us etc.). So as we stumbled and jogged, or sometimes ran, back to join the path we’d originally been on, the snow now came at us from the other side.

Going down the previously muddy path was then quite enjoyable – still slippery but if you kept to the sides and the snow-covered grass, you could make quite good progress. I quite enjoyed that bit.

As we got back to the track and then the road I caught up with a soaking wet man who said rather sadly ‘I haven’t really enjoyed this’. “No, I haven’t either”, I said – and ran with him for a bit before he stopped to walk again and I went on ahead to try to catch up with Penny. Over the river – the puddle even bigger by now – and up some steps and then a short run down to the pub and the finish. As we arrived the marshalls said joyfully “so would you do that again?”. “NO” I said adamantly. “Well, there’s mulled wine for you inside”. “OK – I might consider doing it again…”. We also got a rather cool black tee-shirt.

Penny looks happy; what am I thinking?

Once inside we found the mulled wine had run out, so there was a bit of a wait, though it was worth it – it was the perfect after challenge pick-up. I put the heating on full blast in the car and we headed home, having to turn round and retrace our steps towards the top of the first hill because the car couldn’t grip in the snow. We had a rather longer drive all the way down the A1 and along the A69.

At home I started shivering with cold – perhaps the worst part of the entire evening – but soon recovered with some beef casserole and a glass of red wine. I hadn’t run at all well but I felt a sense of achievement for having completed it, and as Penny said, it would be great to do the route in the light in the summer.

Mark A. then asked me what my next challenge was going to be. And by a circuitous route, Head Torches is now going to run 2020 km between that Simonside run (which took place on the auspicious date of 29th Feb.) and the end of October (our last event will probably be the Ennerdale trail race), aiming to raise £2020 for the Lake District Search and Mountain Rescue Association. More will follow about the various runs we’ll do around the area and further afield, but if you feel like helping us meet our target then please donate via our JustGiving page:

You just never know when you might need the amazing volunteers who work for Mountain Rescue, however well-prepared you may be.